Signing the Electric

Signing the Electric

A review of Terri Favro’s “Let Slip the Sluicegates of War, Hydro-Girl” in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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In “Let Slip the Sluicegates of War, Hydro-Girl”, Terri Favro creates a technologically advanced steampunk Canada in the midst of the war of 1812, using the hydro-electric dam at Niagara Falls as a barrier to American invasion. Favro’s tale follows the life of Laura Secord-inspired character as she navigates the complexities of life on the margins. Setting her narrative on the edge of the Canadian border with the United States, Favro’s tale is edgy for more than its geographical setting. Favro brings attention to populations that are generally pushed to the fringes of our own society. Laura is reinvented as a sex worker whose live has been devoted to providing pleasure to the men who work on the Hydroelectric dam. Laura is chosen for her role as a sex worker because of the geography of her birth, growing up in a racialised neighbourhood with people from groups that are considered disposable.

 

Laura is able to distinguish herself by her use of fingerspelling, which allows her to communicate with the workers on the dam, many of whom have become deaf due to the loud sound experienced at the turbines and when drilling. Because of the huge amount of the population that are employed in working in the dam in Favro’s reimagined Niagara, a large amount of the population is deaf and have developed fingerspelling to communicate with each other. Despite the fact that they do not use formal sign language, this community has adapted fingerspelling into a form of text speak, using abbreviations for common phrases. This idea of a sign language developing from a large deaf population mirrors the origins of ASL (American Sign Language), which partially developed from the large population of deaf people on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, where a sign language developed to allow for the communication between members of the deaf population and was used by the hearing population.

 

Like sign language, the fingerspelling of the workmen is largely ignored by the hearing community and is dismissed by the officer Laura reports to as “a language for girls and idiots” (214). Also similar to the treatment of the deaf population by the hearing population, sign language is only adopted by the hearing community when it is seen as having a use for them. Laura’s fingerspelling is observed by a military officer who sees the potential use of her signing for military applications, using the fingerspelling created by this community as a means for covert message transmission. Favro explores the complexity of language as both a facilitator of communication (and thus something that has the capacity to bring understanding) and as a tool of exploitation (only acknowledged as significance when it has value for the dominant population). Laura’s sign language gives her the ability to escape from the exploitative sex work she was forced to experience (which involved physical abuse and non-consensual sex) and was able to find new possible roles for herself.

 

Favro’s narrative explores the links between bodies, communication, exploitation, and geography, examining the complex networks of identity that shape existence. In addition to her exploration of underrepresented racial and linguistic populations, Favro examines a diversity of sexual identities, exploring lesbian and trans identities in a genre that tends to erase queerness. This is a boundary tale, and one that is able to draw in the complexities that thrive in those borderlands where everything is in flux and where explorations begin.

 

You can discover more about Terri Favro’s work at http://terrifavro.ca/ .

 

To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html

 

And Dominik Parisien’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology

 

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Weaving Tales in Word and Image

A Review of Hope Nicholson’s (ed) “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection” (AH Comics Inc, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo for Moonshot

Cover Photo for Moonshot

The comic book industry has generally had an exploitative relationship with indigenous peoples. Generally indigenous peoples have been portrayed in comics as villains or sidekicks and their character development limited to cultural stereotypes and one-dimensionality. In superhero comics, generally even the superpowers of indigenous superheroes have been expressions of cultural assumptions – communal relationships with animals and trees and special connections with nature. Indigenous people have often been portrayed as extensions of the landscape. Hope Nicholson’s “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection” tries to open up a space for indigenous stories that come from indigenous peoples. The collection features the work of 30 authors and artists expressing diverse stories that render indigenous voices into image and written word.

Often when asked to contribute to collections that interact with cultural and artistic expressions, indigenous people are encouraged to talk about the past, which problematically structures indigeneity as something of the past rather than a vibrant, current culture. This collection emphasises the vibrancy of indigenous culture, including tales from the past, but also modern adaptations of these tales, new tales of the present, and science fictional tales of the future. These are tales of superheroes, animal spirits, dark figures from the water depths, space travellers, futuristic inhabitants of other worlds, encounters with otherworldly and sometimes extraterrestrial beings, encounters with possession, tales of robbery and recovery, robopocalypses, and environmental travesties.

David Mack plays with the interaction of indigenous identity and Deaf culture in his superhero character Echo, who explores her understanding of herself as a Deaf indigenous woman. David Robertson and Haiwei Hou play with light and colour as they play with the Cree tale of Ochek the Fisher and opening the world to new light. Dayton Edmonds and Micah Farritor use animal and anthropomorphic animal spirit forms to tell the story of the gathering of bright stones to become the stars and Coyote’s accidental scattering of the stars across the canvas of the sky. Sean and Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsely and mention3 tell the story of the Qallupiluk, a figure from Inuit tales who rises out of the cold water. Arigon Starr and David Cutler tell a cross space future version of “The Young Man Who Turned Into a Snake”. Elizabeth LaPensee and Gregory Chomichuk use only visuals to tell the tale of a hunter encountering the Star People. Michael Sheyahshe and George Freeman tell a tale of two brothers with special gifts who seek to solve the disappearance of their mother on an alien world. Tony Romito and Jeremy D. Mohler tell an arctic tale of an inuit hunter who encounters otherworldly beings from under the arctic ice. Ian Ross, Lovern Kindzierski, Adam Gorham, and Peter Dawes explore the impact of anthropology on indigenous cultures and the robbery of indigenous artefacts by anthropologists. Richard Van Camp, Rosa Mantla, and Nicholas Burns explore the interaction between the traditions of The Night the Spirits Return among the Dene and the Celtic-originating tradition of Halloween. Todd Houseman and Ben Shannon tell a tale of the future where pollution has destroyed much of the North American continent and a war between humans and robotic life forms has meant widespread devastation. Jay and Joel Odjick examine a first hunt and the interaction between the human and animal world. Elizabeth LaPensee, Claude St. Aubin, and Andy Stanleigh explore the impact of mining and the attempt to connect to the Memegwesiwag, a people who love copper and can only be seen by the pure of heart. These tales weave together in a fabric of intwined words and images, and also a twining of multiple worlds and worldviews.

The art styles vary in “Moonshot” between mixed media art, ink on paper, pencil crayon on paper, watercolours, fractal-influenced digital art, traditional comic panels and frame-breaking violations of the ‘gutter’ space between panels. They use word bubbles, text-free comics, or large swaths of text, illustrating the potential for expressing the idea of ‘story’ through multiplicity. This is a collection as diverse as the indigenous peoples who contributed to it. No longer relegated to the role of sidekicks or villains, the indigenous characters in these comics are able to tell their own tales, rich in complexity and multi-dimensionality.