Blood and Spit into this Artwork

Blood and Spit into this Artwork.  A review of Andrew Wilmot’s “Fostering Artistic Talent” in Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories Edited by Kaitlin Tremblay and Kelsi Morris (Exile, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

We are always told that art is sacrifice and we have embedded the idea of the suffering artist into our public imagination, but what about the suffering of the tools of our art. Andrew Wilmot’s “Fostering Artistic Talent” examines morals around artistic production and the relationship between the human and animal environment. Famous artist Samael kills cephalopods to produce art, using their writhing movements and fluid bodies to spread paint and bodily fluids around on canvases. Samael does sacrifice for his art… he just doesn’t engage in personal sacrifice.

Samael de-values animal life, seeing the cephalopods he kills as disposable art tools rather than as beings worthy of life and capable of suffering. By bringing attention to the clash between Samael and animal rights advocates, Wilmot’s tale brings attention to the complexity of artistic expression and the limits of artistic expression. This is a tale that engages in debate about animal agency, animal cruelty, animal intelligence and the ethics of art, inviting readers to engage in critical questions about aesthetics and animal life. 

Wilmot purposely choses to focus his tale around animals that are generally not treated as aesthetically pleasing on their own, cephalopods, to bring attention to the critical issues around animal rights and the focus of animal rights discourse around cute animals. By including a cephalopod named Kandinsky, named after an artist itself, Wilmot brings attention to the idea of living cephalopods as art and his artist’s need to transform this beauty into his own artistic works instead of recognizing the natural beauty of the living, unmodified animal. He brings attention to human-centrism and the human conception of art as things that are modified and manipulated by us.

To find out more about the work of Andrew Wilmot, check out his site at http://andrewwilmot.ca

To find out more about Those Who Make Us, visit http://www.exileeditions.com/shop/those-who-make-us-the-exile-book-of-anthology-series-number-thirteen/

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Truths in Fiction

Truths in FictionA review of Kate Story’s “Where Will The Seas Roll Up Their Thunder” in Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories edited by Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay (Exile, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Where Will the Seas Roll Up Their Thunder”, Kate Story speaks through a voice that is underused in fiction in generally, and especially in monster stories – the voice of an older woman who lives in a long term care home. This woman is having a conversation with a student about a topic that is generally unrepresented in fiction featuring older adults – the future. Story still explores ideas of the past and nostalgia, which are firmly connected to the representation of older adults, but she connects these not to the woman’s age, but to her status as a Newfoundlander, interested in Newfoundland history.

Story captures the rambling quality of a good storyteller, willing to make connections between seemingly disparate ideas and willing to go into tangents and rants. She captures the magic of storytelling and links it to exploring the truth behind narratives. She interacts with key features of narrative like the feeling of being chosen (a theme that is over-represented in fantasy narratives) and the problematic quality of this theme and how it stems from a life that seeks significance when being underrepresented as a woman in canonical stories. Her unnamed older woman wants to have made an impact on the world around her, a significant change and not to be easily erased. She interacts with notions of truth and fiction and the assumption that older adults are indulging in fantasy if they mention the strange and unnatural rather than representing truths. Her narrator has access to truths that others ignore. She points out the interweaving of landscape and story by presenting her narrator uncovering truths located beneath the surface of the Newfoundland landscape and things hidden in plain sight.

Story blends science and fantasy in her narrative, giving a new origin story for the tales of dragons and connecting past and future in a cycle of death and rebirth. 

Story connects the skepticism of the student researcher to the possibility of truth in a narrative inside of what seems to be a folkloric story. She highlights the multiplicity of truths and points out that “truth” itself is a story, always subject to revisions and changes.

To discover more about Kate Story’s work, visit http://www.katestory.com

To discover more about Those Who Make Us, visit http://www.exileeditions.com/shop/those-who-make-us-the-exile-book-of-anthology-series-number-thirteen/

Here Be Monsters

Here Be MonstersA review of Michal Wojcik’s “A New Bestiary” in Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories edited by Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay (Exile, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Michal Wojcik’s “A New Bestiary” is a posthuman tale about body modification. In this near future fiction piece, Mojcik presents a world where people are remaking themselves into monsters as a way to claim a new, non-human identity for themselves. Ranging from Centaurs to Satyrs to Merpeople to Cyclopes, these monsters are not merely evincing biological change, they are building new, resistant identities. 

However, these identities surpass medical modification and the changing of the biological start to change the world, shifting the world to a new space of monsters, a new cartography and vision for the functioning of the world. Islands begin to appear in the ocean that hadn’t existed before and the world seems to be altering itself to medieval settings in a form of vast restoration. Bodies are no longer scarred through their transformations and medical modifications, but are reborn as monsters. The medical is undone and replaced by the miraculous.

Wojcik offers a transhuman tale that questions the idea of the simple boundaries of human existence, inviting the reader to imagine the role of the monster as the ultimate outsider to challenge the simple boundaries policing human definition.

Wojcik’s narrator, Melanie, originally biologically modifies herself as a way of speaking back against resistant classifications and to gain confidence. She embraces a chimera image of assembled animal and insect parts, not wanting to limit herself to existing monster imagery, but instead to construct a new identity. But her identity isn’t just a challenge for others, it is an internalized question, an invitation for her to redefine herself and her place in a world that values normalcy even when there are possibilities for transhuman bodies. 

Wojcik’s “A New Bestiary” collides against normativity in our world, inviting us to reimagine our world and rankle at our restrictions. This is a story of home that asks how we define “home” and “belonging”. 

To discover more about Those Who Make Us, visit https://thosewhomakeus.wordpress.com

Slavic Myths and Human Monsters

A review of David Demchuk’s The Bone Mother (ChiZine, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

David Demchuk’s The Bone Mother brings together snippets of strange lives into a tale that hints at connections between these individual stories and provides shadows of a larger narrative tying them together. Each of Demchuk’s tales ties in with a snapshot shown at the beginning of the story and diverts into the mythical, magical, mysterious, and monstrous. These images of the normal are interrupted by tales that Other them, transforming them into something complex and uncertain. The unexpected is a stream that runs through Demchuk’s narratives, complicating them to illustrate the way that stories always hold complex truths that are always part fiction.

The Bone Mother features fairy tales turned dark and infused with the mechanical, featuring an ever present factory standing as a symbol of industry intersecting with myth to create a landscape of smoke and shadow. Demchuk tells tales that connect the mythic to industry, proving that the mechanical can’t fully succeed in chasing the creatures of the human imagination back into the dark, and may, in fact, give them a space to thrive. The Bone Mother brings together Rusalka, ghosts, golem, mirror monsters, Baba Yaga figures, and other manifestations of Slavic myth and makes these figures into family secrets, hidden differences that dwell in the blood rather than the imagination. He ties these fairy tale figures in with circus freaks and those who defy social and biological norms, bringing out the diversity of the human form. The most dangerous quality of this mythical world is normalcy, which tries to turn everyone into simple, uncomplicated forms, denying diversity. All of these figures who could be called monsters only serve to show a mirror to humanity, illustrating that we are the monsters for trying to enforce conformity. 

To find out more about The Bone Mother, visit ChiZine Publications at http://chizinepub.com/the-bone-mother/
To discover more about David Demchuk, visit http://daviddemchuk.com/ .

Northguard Resurrected

A review of Anthony Falcone and Ron Salas’ Northguard #1 (Chapterhouse Comics, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

I was a huge fan of Mark Shainblum’s and Gabriel Morrissette’s Northguard comics, even though I discovered them long after they had stopped being published. I had a fascination with the idea of the conflicted superhero, Philip Wise, whose love of comics allowed him to change military technology into a superhero identity, dressing himself in the Canadian flag and taking on the image of the superhero to try to do some good in the world. Like Canadians ourselves, Wise was uncertain about his identity and constantly reassessing what it meant to wear the Canadian flag and how this related to his identity. He was a superhero who was defined by intersections, defined by his own desire to constantly question what he thought he knew and any easy answers that were provided for him. 

I was incredibly excited to find out that Chapterhouse Comics had decided to bring back Northguard, but was hopeful that Shainblum and Morisette would be writing the comic. I had worried that others wouldn’t be able to capture the character’s uncertainty, his conflicted nature, and his naive innocence. I finally decided to give Anthony Falcone and Ron Salas’ run of the comic a chance. Their Northguard is an older, more seasoned superhero, lacking the innocence and naivity of the younger Philip Wise. This is a Northguard who has already proven himself and made a name for himself amongst officials at PACT. 

Like Shainblum and Morissette’s Northguard, the Chapterhouse Northguard quickly becomes enwrapped in conspiracies and in conflicts between Canada and organizations in the United States who believe they have a place in determining Canada’s future. My hope is that we can see some of Philip Wise’s personality coming through this Northguard – some of his uncertainty and questioning of the world around him, and his interrogation of the notion of Canadian identity, particularly from his perspective as a Jewish Canadian who has experienced discrimination before. I look forward to seeing some depth develop for Northguard, some conflict. 

It was exciting to see that Gabriel Morrissette had written a mini-comic as part of this issue of Northguard featuring the character in his 80s garb, and allowing a bit of retro playfulness come through this character. Morrissette’s flashback gives us some insight into Philip Wise’s time between the early run of the comic and the Chapterhouse revisions of the character.

To discover more about Chapterhouse comics, visit https://www.chapterhouse.ca

Infected by Repression

A review of Colleen Anderson’s “Sins of the Father” in OnSpec #105, vol 28, No. 2
By Derek Newman-Stille

Colleen Anderson’s deeply psychological tale “Sins of the Father” brings attention to the long term repercussions of violence, not only on the victims of violence, but on the family of the person who is perpetrating violence. Anderson’s narrator is the daughter of a murderer who was hiding his murderous behaviour from his family. He was able to perform the image of the loving father, not allowing his mask to slip in front of his wife and daughter until he was finally convicted. 

Anderson’s narrator bares the wounds of her father’s actions in her nightmares, guilt and shame, trying to purge his dark legacy by doing as much good as she can, taking work in the hospital to try to make the world a better place.

Anderson explores the idea of violence, of predatory behaviour as an infection, a black mould that creeps and crawls through human monsters, a fungus that taints people beneath their human faces. Her monsters are not otherworldly, but, rather the human predators, the monsters that conceal themselves in their humanity. Her narrator can still feel her father’s blight infecting her soul, but she uses this tinge of darkness to find the criminals in her world, to feed their own crimes back at them, letting them experience what their victims experienced. 

Anderson examines the horrors that come from an absence of empathy and ideas of repression, imagining a literal fungus germinating in those who victimize others, letting them become prey to monstrosities that grow within them.

To find out more about OnSpec, visit https://onspecmag.wordpress.com/current-issue/

To discover more about Colleen Anderson’s work, visit https://colleenanderson.wordpress.com 

Golden Age Girls of Canadian Comics

A review of Kalman Andrasofszky and Blake Northcott’s Agents of PACT # 1 (Chapterhouse, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Many of the new Chapterhouse comics seem to be focussed on the narratives of men, so it is exciting to see that Agents of PACT is focussed on women. As a fan of the original Northguard comics by Mark Shainblum, I was extremely excited to see that Agents of PACT # 1 opened with the Northguard character Fleur de Lys. This flash from the past set the tone for the comic as one that is bringing back a golden age of Canadian comics, exploring figures from Canadian comic history and newly revised versions of these characters. 

Agents of PACT #1 interweaves narratives from Chapterhouse’s new Captain Canuck narrative with figures like Fleur de Lys, bringing in new narratives with characters that speak to a history of Canadian comics. Chapterhouse portrays a world on the edge of transition and change, with new powers arising in different people, organizations fighting over political power and the ability to shape the future, and the intrusions of further paranormal activity. 

This is also a comic about what it means to be a superhero, a question that is poignant for the Canadian comic book fan since frequently comic book historians like John Bell have suggested that Canadians are uncomfortable with the idea of the superhero, particularly given the superhero’s highly individualistic and self-aggrandizing nature. Marla is a character who has developed abilities to control liquid gold, but doing so causes her physical and emotional pain, and she is still trying to figure out what it means to be a superhero and if she, herself, counts as a superhero. Andrasofszky and Northcott draw on aspects of Mark Shainblum’s Northguard in producing a superhero who is self-critical and self-questioning, a character who invites questions about what it means to be a superhero. 

To find out more about Agents of PACT, visit https://www.chapterhouse.ca/collections/agents-of-p-a-c-t