Comic Books … or Graphic Novels?

Originally marketed at the semi-literate in the 19th century, comics were eventually perceived to be childish, and moved on to target children. They were certainly popular during the 1960’s when I was growing up but my parents always derided them as ‘comi-cuts’ or ‘penny dreadfuls’, no doubt due to the fact that in 1955 the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Home Secretary and the National Union of Teachers among others prohibited “any book, magazine or other like work which is of a kind likely to fall into the hands of children or young persons and consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures (with or without the addition of written matter), being stories portraying (a) the commission of crimes; or (b) acts of violence or cruelty; or (c) incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature; in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it might fall”.

It was certainly unusual to see an adult reading a comic at that time. My father seemed convinced that comics would undermine a solid basis in reading books and by implication, my successful studying later.

It didn’t really matter to me what my parents approved or didn’t approve in those days because comics were too expensive for me. Comics like the Beezer, the Dandy – with loveable but fierce Black Bob – and The Beano were beyond my purse but someone always had a copy and was happy to lend.

Later it was the Valiant and the Eagle with Dan Dare and their glossier pages and more post-little-kid stuff yet the majority of the content was still humourous, derring-do, adventure, exploration (I fondly remember The Wolf of Kabul and his (nameless?) sidekick whose weapon of choice was, for some insurmountable reason, a much battered and taped cricket bat – or ‘clicky ba’ as it was referred to), and that kind of thing until the advent of the 68 pager.

Then there were the ‘Commando’ comics, unique, in that, first off, they cost a shilling, and they were a much smaller size (7 × 5½ inch), and could easily be kept in a jacket pocket and they always featured war stories and displayed a slender commando style dagger on the back cover with a précis of the story.

Graphically told in strong black and white images, stories were of hidden British valour, – a cricket player accused of cowardice under fire redeeming himself by accurately lobbying a grenade down a Panzer tank’s barrel or a Scottish roughneck chafing under military authority successfully defeats a sword wielding samurai soldier in the Pacific theatre of war, the samurai drawing on his training, the Scottish guy depending upon his heritage and background!

Of course there were the Dell and Marvel comics of Superman, Batman and other super heroes but I have to confess I was never really into them. Comics were, nevertheless, common among all ages and backgrounds in Europe, but I never paid any attention to what people were looking at or reading until I was living in Italy in the late seventies.

IMG_2697I knew a little Latin and phrases like ‘Avanti’, and ‘Mama mia’ all gleaned from old Commando comics summed up my knowledge of Italian and then I encountered ‘il Giallo a Fumetti” comic books, pretty much the same size as the Commando, and I developed an obsession with Diabolik and the skill with which the anti-hero was developed along with my clumsy grappling with Italian language.

Diabolik was a master thief, a ruthless killer, a force to be reckoned with on account of his uncanny ability to mimic the people he replaces. Along with his lissom side-kick, Eva Kant, the two enjoying a high octane lifestyle of luxury and danger, endlessly pursued by the drab Inspector Ginko in his staid striped tie.

I had never really considered the noises different cultures ascribe to sounds and animals. For me, dogs had always said – ‘bow-wow’ and roosters went ‘cock-a-doodle-do’ but here in the world of Diabolik, a cockerel went ‘kir-ree-ker-ree’ and silenced guns went ‘stumpf, stumpf’ while a key turning in a Yale lock went ‘ trac-trac’.

The difference here was that Diabolik was outside of that ‘proper’ world where heroes were clean-cut and good, always prevailing over bad, and the wicked got what was coming to them. Not here in these (subversive?) comics, as Diabolik always outwitted and easily eluded the forces of justice, leaving Ginko, and the rest of the police force in the fictional city of Clerville, frustrated. I vaguely remember something about Diabolik being banned in various countries for the same reason that cowboys in white hats always won out in Hollywood movies but that all just added to his mystique.IMG_2700

Supporting that strong taut storyline was the excellent graphic art in stark black and white. The ‘chiaroscuro’ – an Italian word for the play of light on dark (!) – brought scene elements into sharp focus – Eva’s pensive face in half-shadow, Ginko’s fist clutching his pipe – but it was not until Christmas of 1980 that I came across the colour version in a collection of stories in a bumper size annual.

IMG_2698The use of colour, pastel shades of pinks and blues, purples and red were, for me, anyway, a companion to the lighting in rock’n roll theatres worldwide. Sharp, vivid colours clarified action and defined intent.

Then, in the very early 80’s, Lat, the cartoonist for the New Straits Times (Malaysia) published ‘Kampong Boy’ and later ‘City Boy’ and I was hooked once again by both the storyline and strong black and white pictures as well as being an excellent introduction into village or ‘kampong’ life in rural Malaysia.IMG_2702IMG_2701

Nevertheless, I successfully avoided all further contact with graphics and manga despite their spiralling success and popularity throughout the world – think of TinTin and Asterix – but I have to say I always found the latter two a bit too cramped and cluttered for my liking.

Jump to now and in a bookshop, idling looking for stuff IMG_2704for grandchildren, and myself I came across the beautiful Amulet Series by Kazu Kibuishi. Since when were ‘Comics’ on the New York Times Best Seller lists? Gone were, I have to admit, the rather chunky, blocky portraits of Diabolik and the nubile Eva Kant, here all were flowing and sinuous, the colours swirling and blending in unimaginable ways while the storyline was emotionally taut – the children’s father dying in an car crash in the first few pages – so much so that IMG_2705some parents felt it was too intense for children, rather in the same way some mothers protect their children from perceived monsters with Max in ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ being deemed an undesirable associate!

Manga (comics) and Anime (animation) seem to be widespread with their vivid characterisation and visuals, comparative to cinematic style, shots of profile or details around the eyes, or the hands clenching a pipe, along with other close-ups in sharp, contrastive colours or the whole vista in a long shot.

IMG_2707Overall, I am terrible impressed with the skills involved – graphically retelling a story already written, Game of Thrones, for instance or known IMG_2708as in (slightly risque) The Legend of Cú Chulainn or to tell, from scratch, a 100% original story such as the Amulet.

Comics are not books and graphic novels are not movies just as movies are not TV. Each medium is obviously different and while there may be some overlap between them, they each present a different approach to entertainment and that cannot be a bad thing.IMG_2709

 

 

 

 

 

Iron Age Hero Traits

Along with the rise of the hill forts circa 1000 BCE, and the emphasis on items both as weapons and ornamentation, the stratification of society, into chieftains or kings surrounded by nobles and warriors supported by priests or druids interceding for farmers, craft-workers and slaves, was firmly established. This hierarchy inevitably involved the notion of the hero or champion and was marked by a leader able to distribute gifts and largesse while, at the same time, host feasts and celebrations where warriors would vie with each other for the favour of their liege. Such restrained power necessitated the rise of the heroic warrior, the hero, to stand alone and unbeaten. No doubt the flowering of literature of the twelfth century French Romance and Mallory’s later Arthurian romances must all have stemmed from the Iron Age concept.

Not everyone would – or could – be a hero. While all young boys played fierce physical games with wooden sticks – a proto Hurley? – before weapons could be handled, a hero was always set apart. Never having recognised parents and a mysterious background, Arthur is fostered at an early age just as Oedipus is brought up in ignorance of his parents and Lancelot of Arthurian legend is raised by the shadowy Lady of the Lake while Cú Chulainn’s birth is similarly shrouded in mystery.

Not obvious parentage means the hero has no name and must acquire one through his own actions – Sétanta kills the forge hound and becomes Cú Chulainn, while later Celtic heroes, Finn and the Welsh, Gwion, gain their later names of brilliance and light. The significance of having no family means a concomitant feeling of standing alone – the hero can expect no aid in his quest for glory but at the same time no limits are placed on his ambitions for his name to live on, forever, on the lips of men.

Never accepted in his own country, the Iron Age hero must leave his comfort zone, undergoing training at the hands of learned druids or experienced warriors. Tests of physical prowess, – ability to jump or vault over a stick their own height, run barefoot through a forest without breaking a twig underfoot, defend against 9 men throwing spears, remove a thorn from his foot while running – must be passed, but the hero must also be erudite and knowledgeable about poetry. Strangers approaching the territory of a chieftain had to undergo single combat or compose a poem on the spot.

Cú Chulainn trained under the tutelage of the warrior woman, Scáthach, who presented the fearsome gae bolga to the hero, along with a warning of its consequent use. Beowulf sought out sea monsters before going on to defeating Grendel and its mother, Arthur trained under the venerable Sir Ector de Maris, all to achieve the fame they sought. Beowulf leaves for the court of Denmark; Tristan of Arthurian legend travels to Ireland from his native Cornwall.

Nowhere in the manuscripts is it ever suggested that Cú Chulainn is not from the kingdom of the Ulaidh (modern day Ulster in Northern Ireland) nevertheless, when all the fighting age men of the area are stricken with an ancient curse, Cú Chulainn alone is exempt. Like all his fellow outsiders, having no ties to hamper his actions, the hero inevitably becomes a force for disruption, change and catastrophe.

Heroes must claim their weapons forcibly or obtain them from supernatural forces – Lancelot receives his sword from the Lady of the lake, Beowulf discovers a sword in the lair beneath the lake, and Cú Chulainn smashes King Conor’s armoury before the king himself presented the nascent hero with his very own weapons while the youthful Arthur plucks the sword from the stone.cropped-img_0328_edited1.jpg

A tipping point occurs in all the lives of the heroes when the focus on honour and glory supersedes the needs or bonds of their society. Achilles rejects his mother’s help and chooses to die before the walls of Troy. Cú Chulainn hears the druid’s prophecy of bloody and glory but still chooses to seek the latter. This tipping point influences the remaining portion of the heroes’ life. Every further irrevocable action with the umbrella-like spear, the gae bolga, that Cú Chulainn accepts from the hands of Scáthach maintains or furthers the glorification of his name. Chulainn, in his killing fury, is just as prepared to slaughter his enemies as his compatriots once his battle fury descends upon him.

Mortal enemies of the heroes often involve demonic or supernatural forces as human weapons have little effect upon them, Achilles is dipped in the pool of immortality, Arthur is protected by the power of Excalibur and Cú Chulainn is unassailable when he is in his battle fury. The inevitable downfall of the hero is, therefore, always linked with the breaking of a vow or the forsaking of an oath. Arthur is killed at the hands of his illegitimate son, Cú Chulainn dies alone after breaking the taboos that ruled his life, Beowulf meets his demise by neglecting his role of kingship and acting as if he were still the hero.

 

 

 

 

A rod for my own back

I know, I know,  I should be beavering away, churning out the pages of my new bestseller – oh, by the way, I think I am up to four sales so far on Raiding Cúailnge, not counting the two I made myself – and the fact that I didn’t do any writing at all on the day after Raiding Cúailgne made its debut, despite having publicly sworn to do so here on this blog, should make me feel guilty.

However, the truth is that I couldn’t sleep  (for the excited anticipation of Hollywood calling?) the night before my novel entered the world of readers and I got up and started to scribble in a notebook and then swapped over to the computer and banged away at about two or three different scenes before going back to bed and sleeping until late that morning.

Anyway, I haven’t done any other writing since and I don’t feel bad because I have the perfect excuse for not doing anything.  I mentioned a while back about a distinction between horizontal and vertical writing.  Well, I’ve decided to go vertical again and if it takes me another dozen years, I don’t mind!

The Táin and the Manuscripts

cropped-img_0322_edited1.jpgAn Tána – or in English, the Táin – is the Old Irish word for a raid or a foray, usually involving attacking a neighbour and carrying off slaves and cattle and whatever else was available, although most wealth in those days involved cattle. The most famous examples are the Táin Bó Fraoch or the Cattle Raid of Fraoch and the Táin Bó Cúailnge, or the Cattle Raid of Cooley (an area in the north east of Ireland).

The latter is the central tale in the manuscripts dealing with what is known as the Ulster Cycle comprising almost eighty tales of heroes. Unfortunately, most of early Irish literature has been lost. Originally, tales were passed down in a strictly oral tradition until the advent of Christianity in the mid fifth century. The mythological and heroic tales were then recorded by scribes in the early monasteries and centres of Christian learning and it is not surprising that they overlaid the pagan tales with Christian overtones. The manuscripts that survive show clear linguistic signs of having been copied from earlier manuscripts, now lost, having been destroyed between the eight and eleventh centuries during the incessant Viking raids of that period. Much of what was saved was then, in turn, destroyed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by the organised policy of the English Penal Laws in a deliberate attempt to destroy Irish culture.

The oldest of the surviving manuscripts is the Book of the Dun Cow, or Leabhar na hUidre, an 11th century manuscript written in the monastery at Clonmacnoise, now preserved in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. Unfortunately, the MS contains a rather jumbled version of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, which is augumented by another jumbled account in The Yellow Book of Lecan, a 14th century manuscript now held at Trinity College Dublin.

The origins of the Táin are much older than the surviving manuscripts. The language of the earliest versions of the tales have been dated to the 8th century while some of the verse elements are possibly two centuries earlier. Most Celtic scholars now believe that the tales of the Ulster or Heroic cycle must have had a long oral existence before they were given a Christian overhaul bu monastic scribes.

Free!

cropped-bookcase.jpgI just want to let everyone know that my book Raiding Cúailnge will be published on Wednesday 20 April 2016 as a multi-format ebook. As many of you may know, the book is an historical / fiction novel based on Old Irish manuscripts. I hope you’ll take time to take a look at

Smashwords:

where you can download the book for free with this coupon YR29P which is valid for one month, when you go to the check-out.

Could you also take a moment to spread the word about my book to everyone you know?

Thank you so much for your support!

Cheerio

Stephen

PS Of course besides being available (free) on Smashwords.com, my book is also available on

Amazon:

Apple iBooks:

Barnes & Noble:

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/serkeen16

Find me on Facebook: Facebook profile

Two Weeks to go!

cropped-bookcase.jpgI wrote a recent post somewhere  where I was almost gloating about having cracked this blog thingy and I wrote something just now, destined, I though, for the Book category and then I did something – probably not saved the bloody thing – and it all disappeared.  I know if that happened in Word or something like that, I could probably get it back but here, I am a mere suckling in the wilderness.

Anyway, what I had written about was that this day two weeks from now, my first novel , Raiding Cúailnge, will be published.  Published, is that the right term?.  My novel will be available as an Ebook at all major retailers.

Does that demean, diminish or belittle the work?  Does it open the floodgates to vapid twaddle if everyone has a “licence” to write?  What do the gatekeepers of traditional publishers feel about the inroads being made into the preserves of the privileged few who landed a contract with a publishers?  To tell you the truth, I don’t care.  I couldn’t care less about it but Iam just thrilled to have my novel, my brainchild, out there, available online to God knows how many countless millions if they could only just find it!

Ornaments & Jewellery

cropped-img_0322_edited1.jpgOrnaments and Jewellery

By the third Century BCE a distinctive and clearly recognisable Iron Age Celtic society emerged. Known for its widespread use of jewellery and ornaments, its common artistic designs were developed first in central Europe by Celts and became known as the La Tène style from the area on the north side of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland, where thousands of objects were discovered in 1857.

3385221167_2d87308566_z The Torc is a twisted metal ring usually worn around the neck and could be of gold, bronze or iron. It was almost certainly a symbol of rank. Gold, pretty much like today, was out of reach of all but the nobility and champions.  Far more common were bracelets and necklaces of bronze and polished stones or pottery beads.

Examples of Celtic art include torcs, or neck rings, with the two open ends ornamented with animal heads; the silver repoussé Gundestorp cauldron (circa 100 bc, National Museum, Copenhagen); a bronze lozenge-shaped shield with circular medallions and small enamel circles (1st century bc-1st century ad); and a bronze mirror with enameled decoration (1st century bc).

Brooches were made from silver and gold studded with amber and pieces of glass, used to hold a cloak in position.

Glass was made from salt, crushed limestone and sand and coloured by adding powdered minerals. Glass was also used as enamel, a thin transparent layer bonded to metal underneath.

Personal ornaments include pins, fibulae, beads, bracelets and neck ornaments. Simple collars of twisted gold strips are known but there is also the sumptuous gold collar found on the seashore at Broighter, Co. Derry.

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