What Was You Are Here 2013?

It was a festival that happened in Canberra, and a bit on the internet, and a bit in people’s heads, and a bit elsewhere maybe, but mostly in Canberra from the 10th to the 24th of March, 2013. It was so much and so many things. It was several of these things for me and maybe for you too. It was planning and preparation and going over the neon program. It was something you had to experience. It was heading on in to Smiths Alternative Bookshop bursting with so many lovely people that it seemed I couldn’t talk with even one, but I ate a lot of party food, bought a copy of Burley, heard wonderful words and hugged some of those people. It was gRage that night and every weeknight with the ‘in-compere-able’ James Fahy and projections from laptop to screen: Marilyn Manson, Nina Simone, the White Stripes, tUnE-yArDs, Xiu Xiu and more and readings, and popping in late one night to be blown away by Adam Cooke’s band. It was movies like Conan the Barbarian with both director and live commentary. It was one stage, many bands, one song each, a mixtape love letter to and from Canberra. It was when the baby tottered up to the stage in the MC gaps in the middle of all that and “uh, awkward, we left you in the KFC carpark, son” and then it was everyone crowding in close to dance hard to Fun Machine and don’t trust their naked bodies. It was Art, Not Apart full of crepes, performance, music, sun, people, art. It was WORDLAB and a to-do-list love letter limerick, a calming mantra, haikus aplenty, missives mostly written  and oceanic, collaborative, dinosaur, punderful, political cake design. It was wonderful volunteers. It was wandering buzzing distracted. It was Mall Stories, uploaded to my mp3 player, waiting for a post-March empty weekend. It was how I chaired a small panel and it ran smooth, free and well across a multitude of topics, detouring into a plague pit perhaps, but towards a quiet confidence in Canberra, among many other things. It was Hadley making me laugh nervously just by his uttering of ‘Christmas’ and the popcorn bags, beep test, music and more. It was Monique seamlessly crashing the performance at the lovely The Near and How, even though she didn’t have a giant head, and also Monique being poisoned by the honey of a dead beauty queen and also Monique and Josh on a couch and also lovely people like Monique and Josh on a couch sending a message for me because I forgot my phone and my jacket. It was Joe Woodward in Trinculo’s Bathtub and Emma Gibson and The Cell and THE ICE AGE. It was meeting old friends, some from interstate, some from across town, some from down the road who I hadn’t seen in a while. It was saying hello. It was conversations striking up. It was new faces and faces I’d only known from the internet and how they inhabit new dimensions now. It was meeting new friends. It was Prayers in the Streetlight and Der Wolf and how, despite everything, even a whole new second backup space, I hid and flicked on headlights and it went wonderfully several times over and the cleaners came by amidst all the cars and it was an extra audience member standing there. It was watching the responses to the balletic, clownish, confrontational, wonderful work she’d made. It was panic and success, both shivering. It was Hashemoto crammed into a van, Poncho juggling, automobile gallery, mannequin accident, full-spectrum carpark wonderment. It was Yvonne, Gemma and Pete making rad music together and they didn’t even have a name yet but I would buy their CD yesterday. It was Walter Burley Griffin having a lot to answer for and I want to know more. It was DEBATE. It was real. It was good. It was staying for a bit more. It was gliding across quiet Tuesday night streets to the beautiful off-centre centrality of the National Film and Sound Archives, with Pablo on a cherry picker, performance magic, heckling sailors, black and white mashup, Shine Tarts, double saxophone and overall radness. It was [_____________{insert yr experiences here}_______________]. It was a Eulogy for a City, and so many hidden and personal histories and new ways to notice. It was a highlight. It was all the highlights. It was calling from a dirty payphone about aforementioned because I couldn’t leave, not yet. It was dashing back for a second run in the original space and flicking on and off again and maybe the backup to the backup plan was actually the best? It was walking past BAD!SLAM!NO!BISCUIT! and hearing the yawps from within, but opting instead for a celebratory dinner of  burger and waffle with Yee, with Fun. vs Fallout Boy on the TV, as the festival continued around us. It was compulsively re-checking Facebook, Twitter, photos, #hashtags, Vimeo, YouTube and email, from work, home and elsewhere. It was Heartbroken Assassin. It was wishing I got my nails done. It was wishing I made it to that other one. It was mistakes made and lessons learned and the things forgotten and the failures and all else imperfect. It was more dining out and takeaway than has ever been usual and the Moon Girl and the waving puppets in the forest and then iPho and then a dance piece I didn’t understand but I found impressive skill and beauty in it by the end. It was being a Literally Too Many DJs passerby. It was Pearl’s Ode and We Are Perpendicular and running out of superlatives and adjectives for my enthusiasm. It was finally seeing Rosie play the cello. It was walking into a darkened old menswear store to join in on a listening party and sinking right into the couch, closing your eyes and disappearing into the music and stories. It was Scissors Paper Pen and editing Papercuts reviews at work and at home and being impressed at how little I had to do — a comma here, a hyphen there mostly — to buff up an already brilliant review or seven and then they filled the front page. It was not wanting to be at work, and my work reflecting that for a fortnight. It was Something Else and that was, as always, something else and so very much more than exhausted puns. It was my last event before Smiths Alternative dropped the Bookshop. It was “Are you there God? ARE YOU THERE ARE YOU THERE ARE YOU THERE ARE YOU” and a Ramones cover and so so good. It was dancing perhaps more than I’ve ever danced before and a kind of perfect circular symmetry with the last time I danced to ‘Hey Ya!’, and an understanding of why Lady Gaga et al are so popular because when the right song plays loud in a dark room with all the bodies and minds unique and unified and even amidst unheard conversations and even with the cops outside you just wanna DANCE. It was only a glimpse of a wonderful zine fair and the ZINES and many more to come? It was Paul Magee vs. Tim Kent vs. Andrew Galan vs. Barcham the ‘Sound’ Guy and what a wonderful celebration of the possibilities of poetry in multiple people’s minds and mouths and bodies it was. It was laying the festival to rest with dedicated remnants and styrofoam cup candles and me dubbed an inflatable-liferaft-fulla-leftovers pallbearer, a processional down the streets, through the bus interchange and through Garema Place ‘as I went down to the river to pray’ and into the old Watch House that I didn’t even really realise was there before this festival and we laid the raft and the bits and the pieces and the memories and the festival down and with the guitar smashed the festival felt over, but we stayed a while longer for a Landlords hip-hop tribute to what was and to Canberra and then the guy in the bunny suit came on and people didn’t know what to do and people began to leave so eventually I did too and I walked home and it was needing a good lie down and a bit of telly maybe, then talking as we go to sleep.  It was true festival hangover, a sugar-rush art-high come-down. It was something you want to keep hold of, think of, write of, talk of, and about, for weeks and months and probably years later. It was the end of many things and the seed of many others. It was all of these things, and more, and moreso for so many others. It was You Are Here 2013. It was awesome. It was.

Some stuff I did write elsewhere

I’ve been sick with a post-TiNA cold and (just as I’ve nearly recovered) I’ve been handed an unusually busy work week. So rather than failing to write something new and substantial, on this, my one-day weekend, I instead present an assortment of stuff I already wrote recently. Hopefully a TiNA-based post and other good new things will ensue soon. Until then, enjoy?

First, if you’ll cast your eyes down to my previous post, I’ve rescued and revived something I wrote for National Young Writers Month entitled Why I (Don’t) Write.

I’ve also recently put another piece up on my other blog, Suburban Flotsam and Jetsam. During National Young Writers Month, I wrote a piece each week for SuFaJ, and since I was pretty happy with what resulted, I decided I’d continue with it, not weekly, but whenever I can. Hence, my fifth piece ‘o.n.o’ is up there, along with the inspiration for the impending sixth.

I’ve been writing some stuff for Canberra street press mag BMA. Here’s my piece on Canberra musician Pete Akhurst, and my review of an evening of spoken word, Urban Soul Food.

And finally, if you haven’t already got a copy (or a subscription [why not?]), you should grab the previous issue of Voiceworks. That’d be #85 OTHER, the one with my non-fiction piece about seeking ghosts, psychics and otherworldly experiences in Canberra. The piece is called Ghost Town and I’ve been invited to read something Ghost Town-related at a special Halloween-themed night of readings organised by Voiceworks and the Victorian Writers’ Centre next Friday, the 21st of October, at the good ol’ (actually, still quite new and shiny) Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. See the Facebook event and/or the VWC website for extra details, so you may come along and be enthralled by all.

Rightio then, that’s all for now. Enjoy your weekend. I hope it’s longer than mine. May your nostrils be not runny and your spring days fairly sunny.

EWF update: Disco discourse, Quarter-hour launches, Bootcamps, Bon Scott and more!

The Emerging Writer’s Festival has been zooming along like a runaway locomotive, with plenty of events whooshing past and a weekend cornucopia rapidly approaching. Let’s see if I can make sense of the blur that has been my past five or six days.

Sunday’s Page Parlour was a jolly good time for all.  I browsed the tables thrice and then again, sat in on an interview with the wonderful Mandy Ord, got prodded with Ronnie’s attention-grabbing prodding stick and finally settled my spending at three rad-looking indie publications: Red Leaves, Caught in the Breeze and Flinch, which may all result in reviews one day. I was too tuckered out for the 48 Hour Play Generator that night, but if the reports are anything to go by, I really did miss out.

Meanwhile, there’s been a storm of TwitterFESTing, #ewfchat hashtagging, digital launches, online conversations and more, all as part of the online side of the festival. Check out all the EWFonline happenings here, or plough through the ever-growing hashtag archive on Twitter.

Back in the land of face-to-face, for four nights, four publications got their 15 Minutes of Fame.  Thuy Lin wrote a great summation of the first round on Monday. Jodie at Voiceworks/Virgule did too, but remember: it’s not a competition.

That being said, let me claim a FIRST on Tuesday night. But in an effort to rein in my logorrhoea, I’ve restricted myself to 15 words for each 15 minutes of fame-r.

1. My Pilgrim’s Heart by Stephanie Dale: ‘Journey through marriage and other foreign lands’.  Mullumbimby.  All humanity vibrating in Istanbul. Unlearning expectations.

2.  The Nine Flaws of Affection by Peter Farrar: Laconic. Carveresque. Drought. ANZAC. Comas. Wounds. Violence. Aftermath. First-person. Affection’s flipside. Kill those darlings.

3. Ondine by Ebony McKenna: Fantasy. Girl meets scruffy, black, Scottish ferret/boy at Psychic Summer Camp. Magic and love.

4. Offset journal: an unfamiliar journal, with DVD! Victoria University’s poems, songs, artworks, stories. Multimedia first publishings wonders.

Good stuff! Unfortunately, I didn’t get along to Wednesday or Thursday’s series of quarter-hour launches. Lose. Who else went along? Still, the two I did attend exceeded expectations. Even the publications I suspected might be a bit naff ended up surprising me and they all became books I’d happily snaffle.

Ooh, also on Tuesday night, I got along to You Can’t Stop the Musing, Craig Schuftan’s Disco Lecture. Working as a funny critique and defense of disco, his basic argument (full of wit and disco backing tunes) was, sure, disco is repetitive, stupid and artificial. But we like to dance to repetitive music and disco has mass popular appeal, so people can sneak into it what they want to say to a large group of people. Disco connects us to our bodies and our internal rhythms. Its stupidity challenges the mind/body dualism that forms the core of Western thought. And it may be artificial, but this can be a positive for oppressed sectors of society, such as gay people, who’ve been told their whole lives that their desires are ‘unnatural’; it’s basically challenging biologicial determinism. His lecture really did give me a greater appreciation of Saturday Night Fever, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and disco in general, old and new. Craig says his goal is to increase happiness in the world in this way, so that when we hear these songs on the radio, we derive greater enjoyment from them. Works for me!

On Wednesday night, I went along to the city library to try my hand at the Creative Writing Bootcamp in person, rather than the digital edition/s. Voicework’s Maddie Crofts ably guided a huge crowd of people in a variety of great exercises that I reckon I’ll re-use in the future.

After that, I went off to the Willow Bar for The Last Hurrah, which is somewhat-EWF-related, in that it was night of readings culminating in the launch of A.S Patric’s Music for Broken Instruments, which also received a digital launch at EWFonline. I was delighted to be kidnapped by the poems and stories of the Black Riders.

Thursday saw me attending my first Lunchbox/Soapbox at the Wheeler Centre, where Torpedo‘s Chris Flynn argued that, while past decades have had Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Inspector Rex, K9 and the like, this decade needs its own heroic hound if we’re to have any hope . Pretty much one the most unique speeches I’ve seen. Great stuff.

Then that night, another Creative Writing Bootcamp, this time with Komninos. This one took a while to get started, but it too built up to some great approaches to generating stories and ideas.

Then it was time for Wordstock. This year’s theme was AC/DC. Can’t say I’ve ever been a fan, but I’d be lying if I said that night didn’t make them a little more respect-worthy. Clem Bastow dressing up as Bon Scott, visible package and all; Emilie Zoey Baker’s nostalgic bogan tribute; two ukelele tunes (one about circumcision, the other about reality TV);  Sean M. Whelan poetically applying the Schrödinger’s cat concept to Bon Scott’s life/death; Vachel Spirason again wowing us, with a construction worker’s flamenco/breakdance/aerobic  routine ; neo-feminist responses to Acca-Dacca traditions; awkward karaoke renditions; and Ben Pobje’s concluding ode to riding free and punching babies in the face.

After all of that, Friday’s lack of EWF programming was a chance to get my bearings, gather my resources, take a few breaths, make a few plans and ready myself for the weekend rush.

And now the Town Hall weekend approaches. How hectic is this program? I’m going to have a hard time choosing which panel I want to go to almost every hour. And I’ll have to pop out at some point to check out the zine bus and all the DIY wonders it holds.

Finally, before I forget, Bookseller and Publisher’s blog Fancy Goods has a wrap-up of the festival thus far. Meanwhile, their past editor, Miss LiteraryMinded/Angela Meyer has also done a wrap-up of her own.

Righo then, see you at the festival, or maybe on the other side!

First Words on EWF

I arrived about 10 minutes before The First Word was scheduled to begin. Before entering, I helped two women who looked a bit lost to find their way, assuring them that the event to the left, with its hordes of loud men drinking booze from kegs and eating sausages, was a festival of beer, not writing. The First Word was to our right at the ever-shiny BMW Edge Theatre.

Amongst a few familiar faces and plenty of new ones, I found a good seat and waited for the show to begin. A gentleman named Phillip sat down next to me and introduced himself. I later realised he was Philip Thiel, a man of impressive blogging determination who’s speaking at the Town Hall next weekend. The current subject of his blog, soliciting kisses, was not raised. In fact, before we had much of a chance to chat, it began.

The echoing and amplified voice of Lisa Dempster welcomed us, and soon we were treated to a scene from a play by, I believe, Alison Mann.

A young stripper brings an older woman back to her place. They converse, look at photographs and eventually kiss. But the older woman wants to share all the doubts and uncertainties plaguing her mind.  Neither seems to be looking for the same thing. I felt that, in keeping with night’s theme of Love and Angst, one woman represented love (or lust?), while the other was filled with uncertainty and angst. A good snippet to begin with.

Then there were the speeches by the Co-Director and the Arts Minister (am I the only one who thinks Minister’s speeches could usually stand to be cut in half?), then the 48 Hour Play Generator was launched and the playwrights were introduced and given their theme. No envelopes, just a setting of a scene. Something along the lines of: two people: one standing, one kneeling, looking into an open grave. Nice. Whatever results from that will be seen at the Malthouse.

Toni Jordan then gave a great keynote speech about the love of writing, the love that infuses and inspires her writing, and the role of writers: to record and to bear witness. To be ready so that when someone says ‘can you describe this?’ you will reply with ‘yes’. I wish I could remember the name of the Russian poet she mentioned, who sold millions of books in her home country, pre-Sovietism.

Next was the wonderful Vachel Spirason with a physical performance that had very little to do with writing but everything to do with being hilarious. He put on boots that possessed him to tap dance. He put on a Collingwood Magpies beanie and was transformed into a footy hooligan. And he danced like Michael Jackson right off the stage after putting on one white glove.

After that was a reading by Amy Espeseth from Sufficient Grace.  It featured blood, snow, ticks, dead coyotes and the ‘mangy beard of Jesus’. Great stuff.

Then Craig Schuftan took to the lectern with his laptop and proceeded to give a speech that was genuinely both funny and intelligent, tying together a dizzying blend of pop culture and high art. He talked about the future as imagined in the Bill and Ted movies and Yeasayer’s latest music video. He related the Romantics of the 1800s to both 1980’s rock power ballads and emo. He managed to tie it all together to say, I think, that what we like determines who we are, and it matters. And our feelings matter too, but they’re not the only thing, even though the Glory of Love is pretty important. I’d always been a fan of his similar Culture Club segments on Triple J, but it was great to hear a longer talk from him, even though there was so much to take in. Like many others, I expect, I’ll be very keen to see his even longer Disco Lecture on Tuesday.

Then: Interval. Toilet. Beer. Tweet. Return. Sit.

And we were back with another reading. This time, a time-twisting story about art, read by Mike Bartlett. I believe it was Out of the Picture from his  Salmon and Dusk podcasts.  Another great, well-read piece, that reminded me somehow of the Dirk Gently novels by Douglas Adams.

And finally there was the Two Sides of the Coin Debate: Love vs Angst. With Michael Williams as chairman, Josh Earl, Michaela McGuire and Kate McLennen debated themselves on the topic. Each speaker stood up twice, once for Love, and then again to argue against themselves for Angst. The laughs came fast, whether it was after lines from Michaela’s teenage asthma-inspired angst poetry, Kate’s jaunty rendition of ‘All You Need is Love’  or Josh’s comparison of an infinite numbers of monkeys writing about love or angst.

All three were hilarious, no matter their argument, but in the end, though it sounded like Angst won, Michael Williams declared a ‘draw’ on the clap-o-meter. Love and Angst remained the partners they always were.

And then with final pronouncement from the booming Voice of Lisa, it was over. I felt that, with only two acts after the interval, it needed a finale or a coda to tie it all together. Maybe a short poem or a musical piece? Still, a minor gripe in a great night.

As I left, more drunk men and Collingwood Magpies footy fans were swarming Fed Square and the rest of the city. It all seemed fairly appropriate, both as a counterpoint to all the wonderful talk of angst, love and writing, and an apt reminder of a certain dancing man in a Magpies beanie earlier in the night.

*

With the First Word finished, there’s plenty more EWF stuff I intend to get involved with:

  • Today saw the first event in the online program: a Blogger’s Brunch wrapped up just as I posted this. It’s still open to be commented on, and there’s plenty to read. But then from 12-5PM today is the Page Parlour. I’ll be seeing what’s on offer, feebly attempting to not spend all my money, and lending a hand at The Lifted Brow‘s table. I may or may not go along to the 48 Hour Play Generator tonight too.
  • From Monday to Thursday, 7PM, is 15 Minutes of Fame. I’ll be getting along to as many of these as I can to find out about some new publishings.
  • Tuesday night is ‘You Can’t Stop the Musing‘ a disco lecture with Craig Schuftan. I’d better buy my tickets to this, because after his piece at the First Word, I think it’s gonna be pretty popular and awesome.
  • (8PM Wednesday Night means ‘Black Rider presents The Last Hurrah‘. Not an EWF event, but near-bursting with literary talents!)
  • Thursday day sees a Lunchbox/Soapbox at the Wheeler Centre with Chris Flynn talkin’ ’bout heroic hounds.
  • Then on Thursday night: Wordstock. I’m not a fan of AC/DC, but I’m still hoping to go to this.
  • Then there’s the Stuck in a Lifts, Creative Writing Bootcamps, TwitterFEST and all the other parts of the online program throughtout the week. Hoping to get into as many of these as possible.
  • And finally, the gargantuan cherry on top, the Town Hall Weekend Program, which is far too massive to even think about now. I just hope I find time amongst it all on Saturday to get on the Zine Bus.

I think after all this I’ll be bloated with words, ideas, inspiration, bloggery and good festival vibes for quite a while.

Exhibition Review: Magnificence of Embroidery: Yao Hong Ying Embroidery Art Exhibition

(This review was originally posted on ArtsHub a few days ago. Although this particular exhibition is over now, I’d still recommend checking out Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery, particularly for their tea house’s great selection of teas and tasty vegetarian treats.  Their next exhibition may or may not be worth checking out, there’s the temple and the gift shop if you’re interested, but yes, I can definitely vouch for the lasting worthiness of their tea house.)

Magnificence of Embroidery: Yao Hong Ying Embroidery Art Exhibition
(Free, at the Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery, 141 Queen St, Melbourne)

If you’ve always thought that embroidery was just a hobby handicraft, then seeing this impressive exhibition will immediately break down all your preconceptions. In fact, the range of artwork within The Magnificence of Embroidery shows such a diversity of styles, approaches and subjects that you may have trouble believing that every artwork was created with nothing more than needle and thread in the deft hands of just one woman: Yao Hong Ying.

Born into a family of embroiderers in 1970 in Suzhou, China, and growing up in the village of Zhenhu, which is famous for its embroiderers, Yao Hong Ying’s profession may almost seem predetermined. But whether naturally gifted or exceedingly disciplined, she has managed to stand out and excel in her art.

With a mixture of artworks, ranging from vibrant and luminous to simple and elegant, this eclectic exhibition offers a great introduction to Yao Hong Ying’s work. Although many of the works are reproductions of paintings or photographs, each one is meticulously realised and given new qualities in appropriation.

A reproduction of a portion of Along the River During the Qingming Festival (deemed by some to be China’s Mona Lisa) showcases miniscule details and a talent for both subtlety and broad, proportioned landscapes.

There are other natural landscapes, such as Snow Mountain and Oak Forest, that seem almost like photographs, with finely textured foliage and intricately shaded hillsides, all made through variations of thread patterns. Other photo-like pieces such as Incense Burner seem to be glowing and appear to almost bulge into 3D.

Elsewhere, The Eight Immortals, although a reproduction of an old painting, seems to almost resemble a modern manga or comic book with its bold outlines and stylised figures, demonstrating the union between traditional and contemporary art apparent in many of her appropriations.

One of the most striking pieces is Wang Zhao Jun, with a serene, porcelain face at its centre, surrounding by a swirling, brightly-coloured dress, spilling across the screen. Also of special note is The Kiss, a radiant reproduction of one of the most famous works by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, which is notable for being one of the pieces that transcends East-West dualisms.

Some works demonstrate the art of double-sided embroidery, like Mountain and River, mirrored on either side and set within an ornate, free-standing frame. Looking through the thin, semi-transparent canvas, you can see the large wooden Buddha statue facing you on the other side.

Several other works also represent the Buddhist element of the exhibition: Eighteen Arhats, for example, and various depictions of Avalokiteśvara, ranging from works that resemble pencil-drawn line art to more traditional murals. The descriptions that accompany these works also provide a great insight into some Buddhist tenets.

Beyond that, a fair portion of the exhibition consists of simpler still lifes of flowers, or renderings of birds. Although these aren’t overall as textured, detailed or immediately impressive, they remain beautiful.

My biggest quibbles with the exhibition would be with the plaques and descriptions throughout. None of the works have dates listed, so it was difficult discovering to what extent the exhibition represents the breadth or progression of Yao Hong Ying’s work over time. Additionally, roughly half the exhibition lacked any background detail beyond a title, though perhaps this is more about letting the pieces speak for themselves; I realise that not everyone shares my nerdy desire for the trivia behind every artwork. But all up, these issues didn’t significantly detract from a great experience.

If you already have an affinity with embroidery or Buddhism, or if you have a curiosity or willingness to learn about either, it’s unlikely that you’ll walk away from this exhibition disappointed. Like me, you might even find yourself thoroughly impressed. Amid the scent of temple incense, the gentle tones of Chinese flute music and the lure of the nearby tea house, it’s definitely worth immersing yourself in the surprisingly magnificent world of Yao Hong Ying’s embroidery.

(Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wolfman-k/3850115933 / CC-BY-NC 2.0)

Review: Planetary: All Over the World and Other Stories

(So ends another blogging hiatus, hopefully the last for a while. Back to at least one post a week, yes? Yes! Okay! So! Here’s a review of a comic book I read recently)


Planetary: All Over the World and Other Stories

by Warren Ellis (writer) and John Cassaday (artist)

Ever since I read his incredible Transmetropolitan series, I’ve been keen to devour more Warren Ellis (his work, not his flesh), so although I didn’t know what the heck Planetary was about, when I saw the volume one trade paperback, collecting the first six issues of  27, I had to grab it.

Planetary: All Over the World and Other Stories begins with a superhuman fellow named Elijah Snow (able to freeze the air around him and such, hence the name), who is drinking bad coffee in a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere. Out of this nowhere arrives Jakita Wagner (of superhuman strength and speed) who enlists Elijah into a highly secret organisation called Planetary, which is dedicated to investigating some highly fantastical goings-on. He soon meets the third member of Planetary, The Drummer (able to manipulate things like data and radio signals with the power of his mind), while another member, the shadowy Fourth Man, is only hinted at. Up to this point, I felt the beginning was a little thin and shaky, and I didn’t really see Elijah’s deeper motivation for going into it all so readily (well, besides the million-dollar salary). But my doubts were soon gradually eroded by a series of spectacular happenings.

In just the first issue’s mission, both Elijah and the reader are faced with otherworldly artefacts, a computer built in the 1940s that can recode the fabric of reality, and superheroes coming through an interdimensional portal to defend their dying planet.

If the presence of Ellis and an introduction by the well-respected Alan Moore hadn’t already given a hint, this isn’t a run-of-the-mill superhero action comic, not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with some good WHIFF, BAM and SNUH. But while other stories would be content to just follow in a straight line from this beginning, instead, issue two has a Japanese cult leader/novelist taking his followers onto a secret island, littered with what appears to be the decomposing corpses of Godzilla, Mothra and all their pals.

Not enough? How about the ghost of a Hong Kong cop seeking to avenge his own murder? Disappearing skyscrapers? A secret Nazi space program? Yup, and then some.

It’s not until about issue five that things start making some crazy kind of sense, just as I was wondering if all the disparate pieces would ever come together. As I wondered if these superhumans would do little more than just observe one extraordinary spectacle after another, Elijah seems to voice the same concerns. The grand events continue, but Elijah, shaking off some of the befuddlement the reader may be sharing with him, takes the reigns and gives the plot a clearer drive and focus. The adventures of these archaeologists of the impossible were cool enough, but with Elijah’s help, it looks like Planetary might start using its resources to take action and actually get involved in what they’re investigating.

Throughout this great six-issue story arc there are also some nice jabs of coarse humour and a good dose of righteous indignation at the horrors so often inflicted by those with power. By the end of this first collection, I felt as if I’d just witnessed a mighty, satisfying introduction to an awaiting adventure. I trust Mr Ellis will not disappoint in the following 21 issues.

Warren Ellis, with writing implement and pokemon

It’s not just him though. Besides the inker, letterer, colourist and the like (all probably unfairly underappreciated), it’s artist John Cassaday who helps bring this story to life with his illustrations. Most of the time his art is solid, sometimes subtly bleeding or exploding across the page, other times deftly capturing the action in so few frames that it stunned me. Sometimes I found the illustration a little patchy, or it didn’t quite hit the mark, but overall – though I’m still learning when it comes to the visual aspect of comics – I thought the art was great.

My only other criticism would probably be that while issue five’s “pulp novel within a comic” was a nice idea, it came off as a bit tacked-on and disorientating, which detracted slightly from the tying up of threads that was in motion at that point.

It’s hard to guess how the series will progress; I’m sure the rest of it will be just as unpredictable. There are still so many questions that need answering: who’s the Fourth Man? What’s hidden in Elijah’s past? And seriously, what’s the go with all of this crazy crap going on?

To me, sometimes the best works of fiction are like glimpses into a strange parallel universe. Weird, somewhat like our own, and offering us a chance to make sense of our own world in a different way, no matter how bizarre it all seems. Planetary got me thinking, amongst the spectacular setpieces, about all manner of such things. That’s something I love about Ellis: he fills his work with such varied and outlandish ideas and possibilities, yet it all seems to slot together so nicely. He packs insight into his comics, subtly playing with their conventions. As far as I can see so far, in Planetary he seems to be interrogating the 20th century in an interesting way, via the alternate history of a parallel Earth (or Earths), along with an exploration into comic book-related history and mythology. But it’s also just a none-too-dense, plain fun read.

I thoroughly enjoyed this in the end. I’m keen to read the remaining issues and it might be interesting to review the series as a whole when I do. Heck, this just confirms that I really want to absorb everything with Warren Ellis’s name on it. He’s a mad bastard genius and with Planetary, it looks like he’s given us a transhuman, transdimensional epic worth pursuing. With John Cassaday at his side, I trust that the near-infinite worlds of possibilities will continue to coalesce into something wonderful

Marieke Hardy’s m-Book

We’ve had Facebook and eBooks, now here’s an m-book.

In this case, m-book stands for mobile book, but it could also stand for Marieke’s book. You might know Marieke Hardy as part of the breakfast show trio on Triple J, as writer of columns in The Age’s Green Guide, as Ms Fits on her blog Reasons You Will Hate Me (now on indefinite hiatus), or as the regular on First Tuesday Book Club who’s not Jason Steger or Jennifer Byrne. Among other things, she also writes for television and even wrote a few episodes of Neighbours, but I won’t hold that against her. I think she’s great, and she’s something a book nerd crush for me, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend. A number of other people I know have disagreed vehemently with my glowing opinion of her, so she definitely divides people.

In any case, I’m a fan, so I was definitely curious when I read about her new project. She’s writing a story called Vigilante Virgin for The Age, about a socially inept woman who tries to jumpstart her life by joining up with a bunch of community activists. So, this story is something you sign up for on your phone, hence the m-book. If all goes to plan, you send a text to them and then you get sent a message every morning at 7 AM. Simple, right? But the message you get isn’t the story segment. It’s a link to a website containing the story segment that you can read on your phone if your phone is internet-enabled.

But there’s more. I was curious enough to buy into it, if only for a day and for the sake of an experiment. But apparently if you’re on 3Mobile like me, you can’t view it. I found this out when every time I tried to subscribe, I got an error message. So I gave up.

And yet, when the story launched on the morning of October 12, I somehow received two messages containing the link. For whatever reason, these also would not view on my phone! However, as I soon found out (through the utilisation of l33t $killz) it is entirely possible to just type the link into your computer’s internet browser, unsubscribe on your phone and continue reading on your computer for free. The link remains the same every day, and you can look into the archives for every previous segment.

If it wasn’t already clear enough, there’s no reason for anyone to keep subscribing, other than a sense of loyalty to Marieke or The Age. Or maybe a devotion to Borders, with their ad running at the base of the story every day. One could subscribe on the second last day and, with that link, read the entire archive for a fraction of the amount paid by a loyal subscriber. So basically, The Age is doing it wrong.

Maybe it would be better if the story instalments were simply received as text messages daily. This way, anyone with even the most basic phone could receive the story segments and easily store them to read later. Then it would truly feel like an m-book. Sure, maybe then people would just forward the story to their friends, starving The Age of subscription revenue, or maybe it would work as free publicity, encouraging some friends to take up a subscription of their own. Or maybe by designing a story service with greater interactivity, more people would get interested and involved. Each person could be given an individual log-in as an incentive to participate in the conversation, and maybe have the chance to vote via SMS to influence the progression of the story. An en-masse mobile-phone choose-your-own-adventure story. Now that would be a cool way to really embrace the medium.

As it is, the subscription should be much cheaper. Right now, a full-paying subscriber pays 55c a day for 20 days, plus the sign-up SMS of 25c. So at roughly 350 words a day, you’re paying a total of $11.25 for a 7000-word short story, not a book.

Still, keeping up with a serialised short story is always fun. I’d be almost glad to pay for more things like this in the future, if the price was much more reasonable and if things worked a bit better.

As for the story itself, it’s good so far. Definitely has a touch of Marieke’s distinct sardonic wit and some evocative descriptions. So far, it’s been more about character, mood and humour, rather than a barrelling plot progression. Still, it’s going to interesting places and I’m definitely keen to see where Judy, the sausage-roll-shaped protagonist, is plonked by the story’s end. Maybe I’ll provide a summary of my thoughts once the story has reached its conclusion. George Dunford at Hackpacker is planning to the same, and he’s already shared his thoughts so far, much of which I agree with. Adam Ford blogged a little about it too, but isn’t keen enough to subscribe. He also points out a number of others who have been doing serialised online works before this. Gullybogan, meanwhile, is rather cynical about the whole thing.

Anyway, if you’re interested, The Age put up an edited version of the first week’s instalments. It’s a good representative sample. But I wonder if people who already paid for the first week felt betrayed and then unsubscribed? And maybe the story will come out later in another form. Who knows? It’s up to chapter 15 and only has another 5 weekdays left, I believe. I’ll keep reading for free on my computer (so…then it’s a c-book?) until the end and look with interest for whatever The Age and Marieke are doing next. I wonder if they’ll decide to take this sort of thing any further.

For all its faults, I hold Marieke in no disrepute. This is mostly The Age’s experiment. The story itself is solid, she’s the writer, and her writing and coquettish ways will remain delightfully compelling to me, no matter what my girlfriend or anyone else says, dagnabbit!

W+E4DM Web Feature Portfolio Part 2 – Review: Rooftops by Mandy Ord

This is part 2 of my Web Feature Portfolio for Writing and Editing for Digital Media. My articles are for ‘the Australian online magazine of culture and the popular arts’ The Enthusiast. My second article is a review for their ‘Books’ category.

7/10 Stars (again, no Enthusiast star images or sweded images)

Rooftops is ostensibly about a day when Mandy Ord watched Ghostbusters at the cinema with some friends, then drove home and had chatted with her housemate. Simple. But it manages to be, in a gently odd way, an absorbing and thoughtful story.

This is Mandy Ord’s first book-length comic, which I suppose you’d call a graphic novel, and it was published by Finlay Lloyd. They have a frustratingly creaky-looking website, but their books are often thoughtful and beautifully made essay collections, like When Books Die and Animals. Ord did feature in the latter though, so clearly she’s part of their efforts in new directions.

Despite being more of a graphic novel, it retains Ord’s preoccupation with the little things that stand out amongst the ordinary and mundane. In this way, the story’s subject matter and conversations cover coincidences, the search for meaning, Bill Murray’s career and the literature of mystics and philosophers. Her overactive imagination regularly merges with the everyday and she further illuminates the narrative with thoughts and visions conjured by a mind that loves scaring itself. A demonic imp-like man climbs over a toilet door at her. Images of Ghostbusters ghouls and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man fill her head, her life and her panels.

From every black page spread, four equal panels of white and black pop out. The panels are filled with Ord’s wobbily handwritten speech bubbles, realistic cityscapes and urban interiors of Melbourne, and distorted but curiously realistic cartoon figures, most notably the one-eyed protagonist herself. These slightly twisted figures reminded me at times of Albert Tucker’s work. Her drawings from movie scenes are also evocative and spot-on, yet still true to her overall technique.

Despite the twisted style and imaginative divergences, it’s essentially a work of realism, possibly memoir. These are musings, moments and memories from an individual perspective. There’s no clear moral lesson, no ‘heroes journey’. This is real life and there’s rarely a big answer or resolution at the end of each day. Her story goes on, continued in her other comics, in bits and pieces. Rooftops itself is not an amazing work, but still a pleasant, leisurely and enjoyable read.

In any case, I’m still a fan and I’ll be keeping an eye out, watching her progress as an artist and storyteller. In fact, after reading Rooftops I noticed her work popping up all over the place: in recent issues of The Lifted Brow; a serialised historical comic/essay with Kate Fielding in Meanjin; in Sleepers’s wonderful Conceived on a Tram; in the Paper Life Boat exhibition during the Fringe Festival; and in myriad comic anthologies, zines and small press endeavours. Clearly prolific, she also sporadically updates her blog with sketches and character portraits – they’ve taken on rather hirsute qualities lately. Amongst all this, I hope she’s still finding time to put effort into another long-form work. Until then, I’d recommend checking out her stuff. Rooftops serves as a great introduction.

W+E4DM Web Feature Portfolio Part 1 – Review: Attract/Repel

This is part 1 of my Web Feature Portfolio for Writing and Editing for Digital Media. My articles are for ‘the Australian online magazine of culture and the popular arts’ The Enthusiast. My first article is a review for their ‘The Stage’ category.

Starring: Jing-Xuan Chan, Fanny Hanusin, Georgina Naidu, and Terry Yeboah
Directed by:
Ming-Zhu Hii
Venue:
The Storeroom at Parkview Hotel, Fitzroy

9/10 Stars (unfortunately, I don’t have The Enthusiast’s star images, nor their flair for sweding images)

Terry and Jing-Xuan in rehearsal. Image: Buxton-Walker, Fringe Publicity http://www.buxtonwalker.com/fringe/media/

Terry and Jing-Xuan in rehearsal. Image: Buxton-Walker, Fringe Publicity

To quote a song from Avenue Q: everyone’s a little bit racist. But Attract/Repel, which just finished a rather successful run at the Fringe Festival, confronts issues of racism without being flippant, and asks why we’re still being racist, without heavy-handededness. In fact, it stands as an honest, challenging and compelling piece of theatre.

But to call it theatre is almost wrong, at least in the traditional sense of theatre. It was more like we were eavesdropping on the casual conversations of four people getting to know each other. Rather than performing, they seemed to be discussing and we were silent witnesses and participants.

The actors take turns introducing themselves to one another, giving their names and backgrounds. They recount their memories; real stories, both humorous and horrible, surrounding their experiences with racism, how they perceive their racial identity and, all in all, candidly sharing their thoughts.

Accompanying their conversations: blackboards waiting on the walls and fluorescent tube lighting scattered around the stage. Both features play an integral part. The actors pull out chalk and mark their place on the ‘chink scale’ – do they blend into Asian stereotypes, Australian ones, or somewhere else on the spectrum? Georgina and Terry scrawl racist slurs across the walls and throw ironic racist jokes at one another, which soon becomes hurtful. Then the conversations continue, almost as if nothing has happened, but with uneasiness bubbling away underneath.

Soon, all of this gives way to several abstract and surreal interludes. The fluorescent lighting flickers out, and the actors roam the dark stage in anger, bashing against the walls. They hold fluorescent lamps and scrutinise one another’s bodies. Terry dances frantically. Jing-Xuan is excluded, trapped and crying in a prison of light while Fanny cackles at her. Towards the end, perhaps in some parody of ‘integration’ and ‘acting white’, Georgina puts on white gloves, Jing-Xuan squeezes into a white corset and Terry’s face is daubed with white makeup, bringing to mind the infamous Hey Hey blackface sketch.

All in all, Attract/Repel was structurally and stylistically unconventional, but utterly potent, with the perfect mix of hilarity, honesty, confrontation and worthwhile discomfort. The everyday met the abstract, with a lasting final effect of thoughtfulness, humility and appreciation.

In its production, casting and conversations, the play raises issues of diversity in theatre, particularly ethnic diversity. Director Ming-Zhu Hii wrote about this in both the Age, and on RealTime Arts and it’s recommended reading. Beyond that, go to The Melbourne Town Players’ website, check out some great photos from the show and read what other reviewers reckon. Attract/Repel was definitely among the best of this year’s Fringe Festival and it deservedly won the Kultour Tour Development Award at the awards night, so undoubtedly we’ll see more great stuff from this team soon.

My Melbourne Writers Festival Experience

After my last post I did get a chance to attend a couple of events at the Melbourne Writers Festival, so here (to make up for a bit of a blogging hiatus), are some recollections and thoughts. Better late than never!

I ended up only attending free events, but I was not disappointed! Though the festival began on Friday the 21st of August, my first event was on the night of Thursday the 27th: The Festival Club. This event, which was on most nights, offered a mixed bag of what the festival had to offer. The main portion of this event when I was there was the SPUNC Reading and Writing Spectacular. SPUNC stands for Small Press Underground Networking Community, for those not in the know, so it was a good showcase of small indie publishers doing great things! Three things stood out that night:

  • Affirm Press’s Rebecca Stafford spoke about their upcoming Long Story Shorts: short story collections that they’re currently planning and accepting submissions for. If you’ve got a collection of short stories in your drawer, computer or mind, then you should send something their way. This is a publisher doing a great mix of things, and I’m interested to see what they come up with.
  • Sleepers Publishing was represented by author Kalinda Ashton, whose new book The Danger Game had previously failed to entice me, but after hearing her give a reading, I think I might have to check it out. Sleepers is becoming more awesome by the day: they put out a weekly video newsletter, the annual Sleepers Almanac and, recently, The Age Book of the Year, Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam, which I can’t wait to read.
  • Finally, I correctly answered a question (“What will Affirm Press’s short story collections be called?” See above!) and MC Angela Meyer rewarded my attentiveness with a copy of My Extraordinary Life and Death, a delightfully hilarious little picture book! Huzzah!

So my night was interesting, informative and I got a freebie!

On Saturday the 29th, I went along with friend and girlfriend to watch that day’s Artist in Residence: the author and illustrator Shaun Tan. If you haven’t seen or read his work, check out The Arrival. It’s a fantastic story about the immigrant experience told without words. And for no price beyond the tram ticket to get there, we could sit in our deckchairs and watch Shaun choose a little doodle from his sketchbook and then turn it into a finely crafted pen-inked drawing of a griffin mother and child, or wax crayon picture of a sinister penguin banker. We could either watch up-close or see his handiwork projected onto a huge video screen. He made it look so simple! He was a friendly guy; he would chat to people and answer questions as he was drawing. He even signed dozens of people’s books purchased from the nearby festival Readings store, including my friends copy of Tales From Outer Suburbia … I really must borrow it someday.

Shaun Tan giving a speech

Shaun Tan giving a speech

(Photo by anna_t, under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa license)

In our brief chat, I was intrigued to hear that he also did some of the preliminary concept drawings for the animated films Wall-E and Horton Hears a Who and is working on an animated short at the moment. This whole experience just cemented that he’s one of my favourite artists. It was so cool to get a chance to watch and engage as a talented artist created his work. Inspiring stuff! I just wish I could have seen some of the other artists and authors in residence.

Later that evening, I got along to another Festival Club. The Age’s Literary Editor, Jason Steger, was there for a chat. Among the interesting tidbits was his revelation that he read War & Peace in just one day, spread across a couch at home. And he gives it two thumbs up!  Other than that, there was more from SPUNC:

  • A representative from Spinifex Press spoke about their new work Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls. It sounds like a comprehensive and important work on a troubling topic. The brief interview gave me the impression that this is a bigger problem than I’d ever suspected.
  • Emmett Stinson, who some of you may have had classes with, spoke about Wet Ink, where he’s the Fiction Editor. They were giving away free copies and I managed to bag one. I’ve had a look over a few issues now and it’s a quality publication. I’d like to subscribe once I get a real job as , say, a Fiction Editor?
  • There were words with the editor of Extempore, a biannual jazz journal, which actually sounds really amazing, even though I know next to nothing about jazz.
  • And Griffith Review, yet another journal that looks intimidating in its greatness. I don’t think I’ll ever have time to read all the snazzy-looking publications out there, thanks to events like this!

All in all, another great day and night at the festival!

My final part in the festival experience was a little bit of The Morning Read on Sunday the 30th, the final day of the festival. This event, chaired by Torpedo’s Chris Flynn, ran almost every morning of the festival and presented three authors reading from their works and fielding questions from the audience. I’d never heard of any of the three, but I was pleasantly surprised:

  • Peter Bakowski was first, and he got past my misguided prejudice against the pretentious beret-wearing poet cliche with his gentle, wise and casually talented words and manner. His reading of Portrait of blood floored me. I want to get one of his books already.
  • Petina Gappah, a Zimbabwean author, read some short excerpts. I’ll definitely keep her in mind, with her detailed and colourful tales of daily life in Africa.
  • I didn’t hear Nicholas Rothwell read any of his work, but he did field some questions. He was so softly-spoken, introspective and thoughtful and used such descriptive language, I assumed he was a poet too. But upon internet research: nope! Journalist for The Australian!

Goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover!

Aaaaaand with that, I think that’s enough literary-related blathering for several weeks, at least on this blog. I promise my next post will be short, pithy, well-chunked and related purely to the interwebs.

In summation: There were so many events I wish I could have made it to, but I’m glad I saw what I did. I feel much more familiar with the festival and know exactly what sort of things I want to get in on early, next year. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see everything I want in 2010!

Beyond that, for anyone else who’s interested, the MWF Website has a roundup of all the blogging that’s been done about this year’s festival, as well as a selection of audio/visual recordings from the programme.

So that should have you covered if you missed out! Anyone else manage to see anything? Don’t let me be a lonely litnerd!