Drawing Attention to Oppression

A review of Jerome Stueart’s “You Will Draw This Life Out to Its End” in The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

As much as Jerome Stueart’s “You Will Draw This Life Out to Its End” is a love story between an artist and a man involved in the mining union of a distant moon, it is a commentary on the power of art to bring attention to issues of oppression. Renault relies on his celebrity status as an artist to bring issues of oppression of miners to the attention of the solar system, pointing out that they rely on people skilled in mining for their water and air, but don’t guarantee the safety of miners. 

Through painting the lives of everyday people, Renault gains an understanding of the struggles that miners are expected to go through and the lack of support they have to survive in hostile conditions. He refuses to leave their mining colony because he realizes that his celebrity status means that certain protections are provided to the colony that wouldn’t be if he weren’t there. Renault engages in a form of Artivism – art-based activism – to advocate for safer conditions for the miners by first illustrating their everyday lived experience and letting the solar system see the conditions they live under, illustrating their humanity, and by making the miners art themselves, transforming their lives into powerful stories about human ingenuity and survival. 

Stueart brings attention to the role of art in sharing under-represented stories, making marginalized people’s lives noticeable in a world that likes to pretend that oppressions don’t exist, and the transformative power of art.

To find out more about Jerome Stueart’s work, visit https://jeromestueart.com

To find out more about The Angels of Our Better Beasts and other ChiZine publications, visit http://chizinepub.com

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What is Means to Be An Outsider

A review of Kate Story’s “Am I Not A Proud Outlier” in Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound (Laksa Media Group, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

In a hive, dance is crucial. Dance is the way that decisions are made, but dance is also a way of expressing dissent. Kate Story’s “Am I Not A Proud Outlier” is a tale of a space hive with typical bee like characteristics. This hive is moving from planet to planet, and colonizing as they move, but something has gone wrong in the hive. A space that is supposed to be unified has become disrupted and violence has broken out between different factions leaving a Queen without support. This hive has a caste system like most bee hives do, with certain members specialized to fulfill certain roles like building, nursing, and cleaning. But, this hive also has a role that is meant to present alternatives, the Outlier caste, a small group of isolated people who bring up ideas and perspectives that the harmony of the hive hasn’t considered. They are built to be contrarians and to be introverts.

Outlier 31’s role is to resist that sense of security and safety that comes with belonging, to counter the uniformity of the rest of the hive to open up questions about the status quo and challenge unilateral thinking. In Outlier 31, Kate Story creates the quintessential image of the artist. She points out that the role of the artist is to live in a state of intellectual curiosity and uncertainty, always willing to push boundaries into alternatives that others may not think of. She reminds the audience that art has an important role to disrupt easy answers and ask new, more potent questions. But, perhaps more importantly, Story connects art to the act of care-giving, the focus of the “Sum of Us” anthology, pointing out that artists provide an important caring role in their acts of critical questioning. 

Outlier 31 thinks of words that have not been used before, brining the power of language to the task of re-assessing meaning in her hive, she dances histories that the hive prefers to keep secret in their desire to present one unified historical narrative. Outlier 31 is an essential part of a community, but is forever kept separate from it. Yet, things change in times of crisis. Outlier 31 must simultaneously take on care-giving roles (roles that are suited for other members of the hive like the Nurses), changing her fundamental make-up, while still being true to her need to be contrarian. 

To find out more about the work of Kate Story, visit http://www.katestory.com

To discover more about Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound, visit http://laksamedia.com/the-sum-of-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause-2

Radical Acts of Beauty

A review of Daniel Heath Justice’s “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” in Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 2” (Edited by Hope Nicholson, Alternative History Comics, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Daniel Heath Justice’s “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is a comic about resilience and transformation, highlighting the desire of a two-spirit boy to change the world around him through acts of beauty. Despite homophobia, environmental degradation, and all forms of hate against each other, Strange Boy seeks to heal others by bringing beauty into the world. Like many people who seek to bring healing and beauty into the world, especially if they are marginalized, Strange Boy experiences violence. He discovers that a lot of the violence from the people around him is an externalized form of self loathing, their hatred of themselves projected outward toward anything beautiful, anything that represents a reminder of joy that they can’t imagine themselves having.

“The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is an act of beauty in a harsh and close-minded world, it is Daniel Heath Justice’s act of transformative magic, sharing a story of transformation with a world that needs beauty. It is a tale that reminds us that no matter how much violence the world inflicts on us, we can speak back by bringing beauty into the world. Our acts of art can be transformative, remaking the world and opening up others to express their beauty. 

Beautifully illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre, “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is filled with images of movement and light. It is a comic that can show the interiors of bodies and make even our bleeding, organic insides things that can be filled with a certain magnificence and wonder. Alvitre is able to capture the etherial quality of hummingbirds, their darting magnificence.

The intwined arts of Daniel Heath Justice and Weshoyot Alvitre add to the message of the story, emphasising the focus of the story on collaborative arts and the ability of one form of art, one story, to resonate in another.

To discover more about Daniel Heath Justice, visit http://imagineotherwise.ca

To discover more about Weshoyot Alvitre, visit https://www.facebook.com/Weshoyot/

To find out more about Moonshot Vol 2, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1350078939/moonshot-the-indigenous-comics-collection-volume-2

Reconnecting

Reconnecting
A review of Ursula Pflug’s “Washing Lady’s Hair” in Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law (Laksa Media Groups Inc., 2016).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Ursula Pflug’s “Washing Lady’s Hair” explores a new drug or medication in a future market called Green. Taking the drug is referred to as diving and this is because it generally evokes images of sea life, drawing on the magic of the natural world and sea life. The drug inspires art in some people, but also provides an opportunity to access parts of the subconscious to find new ways to cope with post-traumatic stress. These alternative pharmaceuticals can be a way of healing, but they also contain the danger of potentially creating chronic users who use Green as an escape from reality rather than a method of seeing reality from askance to gain new perspectives on the world.

Green is connected to the exploration of ideas of the natural world, allowing users a space to see the sacred in the world around them and to explore ideas of the environment and environmentalism and Pflug creates a complex interaction between her characters and their drug use. Her characters explore ideas of the romanticism of a pre-industrial society while also levelling critiques about the capitalist control of choices in modernity and the damaging effects of industrialism both on the environment and on human agency. 

On a personal level, her character Karen is able to undergo self-healing from the sexual assaults that she experienced at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend and the damage and distance that these assaults created between Karen and her mother. Karen’s use of Green and her artistic expressions allow her to explore the complexity of feelings she has about her mother and the numinous power of Green (its ability to allow for a spiritual connection to nature) allows her to find the protective mother figure she was searching for in the form of a mother goddess. 

Like much of Pflug’s writing, “Washing Lady’s Hair” doesn’t provide any simple answers (the issues Pflug explores are far too complex for simple answers), but, rather, evokes questions for readers, asking them to interrogate their own feelings about the relationship between art and therapy, environmentalism and healing. Pflug provides a space for characters to critically question themselves and their choices and to imagine new possibilities. “Washing Lady’s Hair” is a tale of uncertainty and potential and the healing that can come with asking critical questions about the status quo.

To find out more about Strangers Among Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/strangers-among-us-an-anthology-with-a-cause/

To discover more about Ursula Pflug, visit her website at http://www.ursulapflug.ca

Deadly Musings

Deadly Musings

A review of Mary E. Choo’s “That Brightness” in Expiration Date, Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick (Edge, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille
  

Having a gift for artistic expression is a challenging thing. It tends to come with a heavy dose of “imposter syndrome” and the feeling that one is never doing enough or that one’s work is not good enough. When Jess sees a woman in white tie red balloons around the necks of various artists, killing them and trapping part of them in the balloon, she begins to think that her psychological disability has changed to include delusions, but the experiences are seen by other artists, propelling them to produce more work and express their artistic gift.

Mary E. Choo’s “That Brightness” explores the complexity of artistic experience and the societal pressures surrounding the artist to create new works of art. This is work on the palette knife’s edge between life and death with a muse who inspires through threats to offset the incredible amounts of doubt that surround any artistic pursuit in a society that de-values art and presents the artist herself as a cultural consumable object. 

To discover more about Expiration Date, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/expirationdate/expirationdate-catalog.html

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 49: An Interview with Vincent Marcone

In this Episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I conduct an interview with author/artist Vincent Marcone. Vincent Marcone’s graphic novel “The Lady Paranorma” (ChiZine Publications, 2015). I had a chance to see some of Marcone’s artwork at Fan Expo Canada and wanted to talk to him both about his writing and his artistic work and the integration of art and writing in “The Lady Paranorma”. Marcone and I discuss perspective, art, the power of folklore narratives, the relationship between text and image, the power of darker narratives in folklore, the nature of queer fiction and LGBTQ stories, and challenging cultural assumptions about graphic novels.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

You can explore Vincent Marcone’s work at http://www.mypetskeleton.com/ and discover more about his graphic novel “The Lady Paranorma” at http://chizinepub.com/books/lady-paranorma

Quote – Every Shell is a Life Journal

“Every shell is a life journal, made out if the very substance of its creator, and left as a record of what it thought, even if we can’t understand exactly what it thought. Sometimes interpretation is a trap. Sometimes we need to simply observe.”

– Nalo Hopkinson, Message in a Bottle