MA in Comics Studies at The University of East Anglia promo video

Check out this awesome promo video for the MA Programme in Comics Studies at the University of East Anglia (the first English-language program of its kind in the world), which is being headed up by my dear friend Frederik Byrn Kohlert. The video features the imagery from the mini-comic I created last year to promote the new program.

 

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Joe Biden reads “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden

In honour of today’s inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States, here is a video put together by Jim Avis pairing my comics adaptation of Robert Hayden’s poem “Those Winter Sundays” with a more-than-competent reading by ol’ Joe himself. Say what you will about Biden, it is impossible to even imagine his predecessor reading this or any poem with even an ounce of human feeling. This difference in itself seems like grounds for optimism at a time when we will all take what we can get of it.

The original comics adaptation, along with 23 others, can be found in my new book, Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry (Plough Publishing, 2020).

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Interview in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics

Exciting news! Rajesh Panhathodi (University of Hong Kong), Augustine George (Amrita School of Arts and Sciences, India,) and Aswin Prasanth (Amrita School of Arts and Sciences) have published an interview with me in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. You can read the interview here: Full article: ‘I like to think of my comics adaptations as my own recitations … ’: in conversation with Julian Peters (tandfonline.com)

“The Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics is a peer reviewed journal covering all aspects of the graphic novel, comic strip and comic book, with the emphasis on comics in their cultural, institutional and creative contexts. Its scope is international, covering not only English language comics but also worldwide comic culture. The journal reflects interdisciplinary research in comics and aims to establish a dialogue between academics, historians, theoreticians and practitioners of comics.”

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Views of an Imaginary City 7: Tizabu Park and Tizabu Prison


Sensuka, to be sure, is a place of endless fascination and delight, but it can also be a heartless place. When one enters Sensuka Harbour and first looks out upon the colonnaded wharves and polychrome marble facades rising from the emerald waters, and behind them the glorious tangle of domes, towers, palaces and gardens, spreading out every which way as far as the eye can see, the effect can be intoxicating. The city’s iconic skyline seems gilded with the promise of extravagant pleasures: pastel boxes being wrapped with ribbon in the luxury boutiques, seductive glances across the glittering theatre foyers, bowing waiters in the famous restaurants, twinkling fountains in the innermost courtyards, rooftop parties with the bright young things sourced from all four corners of the empire. In truth, however, these pleasures are reserved only for a privileged few. The dazzling dream of the place makes one liable to forget that, somewhere beneath that endless sea of rooftops, an evicted family is having its belongings tossed out onto the street, that in an airless room, ragged children stand hunched alongside one another over a silk spinning machine, that in a basement of the Imperial Palace, a knife is being sharpened against a whetstone before the terrified eyes of a man about to be “processed” into a eunuch for service at the emperor’s court. There is a definite undercurrent of cruelty that runs through the city, the natural consequence, perhaps, of its position at the confluence of so many forms of exploitation.

Few projects, for instance, could have been more maliciously conceived than the Tizabu Prison, which takes its name from the district in which it is located, in the northwest corner of the city. The prison building consists of an immense stone block, seven storeys high, very long and not very wide. The ground floor is reserved for administrative functions, and its windows give off onto a walled courtyard. The other floors are entirely occupied by jail cells, laid out in such a way as to give each one a view of the adjacent Tizabu Park through a small, barred window.

This public park, which was laid out alongside the prison as part of the same project, is a magnificent recreational green space, featuring two kani fields, dimba courts, an outdoor gymnasium, tanning chairs, and an assortment of little romantic gazebos. These are all much-appreciated amenities in this rather underprivileged area of the city, and the park always attracts large crowds. On most evenings, save during the cold winter months, there is live music from the bandstand, and people congregate to dance or to have a drink at one of the outdoor “wine gardens,” which are permitted to remain open into the wee hours of the morning. Throughout the summer, there is a seemingly never-ending succession of festivals, which draw in visitors from all over the city and beyond. All of these events are financed by the municipal government, with what it views as the doubly beneficent aim of providing entertainment for its citizens and of delivering just punishment to the prison inmates. For indeed, the suffering endured by these prisoners, alone forever in their tiny cells and confronted at almost all hours of the day and night with the terrible reality of other people’s happiness, can scarcely be imagined. It is true that they can choose not to look out their window, but they cannot choose not to hear the sounds of music and of laughter. And once these are heard, not looking generally only makes things worse. One pictures the freest, most joyous dancing imaginable, and the flash of white teeth between the lips of the prettiest girl, directed at a man she is just beginning to fall in love with.

In this print, the artist presents us with a view of Tizabu Prison from across the park. It is raining heavily, and the park appears empty, save for a few people who have taken refuge under the bandstand. If the rain keeps up, the evening’s concert (advertised on the sandwich board) will have to be cancelled. The inmates will thus be given a brief reprieve—a few silent, gloomy hours in which the world around them will seem to be in sympathetic harmony with how they are feeling inside.

For many Sensukans, the act of having a good time in Tizabu Park before the unseen eyes of the inmates is regarded almost as a civic duty, a way of taking part in the righteous carrying out of justice. By choosing to depict the prison on a rainy day, however, the artist may have intended to express some measure of compassion for the thwarted souls behind each of those narrow windows.

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Views of an Imaginary City 6: Dastazuriki in the Little Switzerland Neighbourhood

Western traders first arrived in Sensuka soon after the city’s founding by the emperor Bulodi I as his new imperial capital. Two decades later, however, following a moral panic over the corrupting influence of Western values, religious beliefs, and food, the empress Nanèh issued an edict prohibiting all commerce with foreign nations. Nevertheless, another two decades after that, in the reign of Bulodi II, an amendment was made to this ban so as to exempt merchants from Switzerland. The young monarch held a personal soft spot for the Swiss for a curious reason: his extreme fondness for cuckoo clocks. This passion eventually led to the construction of the Great Imperial Cuckoo Clock over one of the gates of the Imperial Palace, thought to be the largest such clock ever built (See n. 27). As numerous Swiss clockmakers and clockmaking materials had in any case to be brought over to Sensuka for the purpose of completing this project, the emperor was persuaded to allow Swiss sailors to bring other goods as well. This policy has persisted, with the Swiss remaining as the sole go-between importers of all overseas products to the empire. The result is that there is now a fairly large community of Swiss residents in Sensuka, most of whom live in the neighbourhood known as “Little Switzerland” on the eastern side of Sensuka Harbour, facing Orepi.

The print presents a view of the Dastazuriki (Zurich Street), the neighbourhood’s main thoroughfare. The street is lined with shops selling imported Swiss products, which cater both to the ex-pat community and to locals wishing to indulge a taste for the exotic. The Dastazuriki is also home to many restaurants serving both Swiss and Sensukan dishes. Swiss cuisine is very popular in Sensuka, although the traditional recipes have been considerably modified to appeal to local tastes. The restaurant with the red sign on the left side of the print specializes in the much beloved Swiss cheese fondue, which in Sensuka is always mixed with resinated wine and various seafoods. Rösti—potato fritters topped with spiced jellied eel—are also a favourite.

For the Sensukan child in the foreground of the image, a visit to the Dastazuriki’s quaint and curious shops—replete with perplexing trinkets and odd but tasty treats, and with painted images of white mountains, blonde dairymaids, and windowsills filled with flowers—could well mark the beginning of a lifelong fascination with all things Swiss. It is, however, as the child may already dimly realize, not the real country of Switzerland that is so captivating for him, but rather a dream Switzerland, as kept alive in the hearts of people residing half a world away from their homeland—and then filtered still more through the highly romanticized conceptions of the Alpine Republic that exist in the child’s own Sensukan culture. Even if, once the child has grown up, he were to somehow make his way to Switzerland, he would surely discover that the place he has fantasized about his whole life was never to be found in that actual country. The essence of what he was looking for will have always been back here, in the enticing, mysterious Dastazuriki shops of his childhood. It is hanging in the very air, intangible and ineffable, mingling with the dim light and the odours of strong cheese and mulled wine spices, floating over the stacks of fondue pots, the cowbells, the tidy landscapes on the chocolate boxes, the jumble of alphorns in a corner gathering dust.

The Dastazuriki terminates in a stone pier jutting out into Sensuka bay. Near the far end of this pier, sitting on a mooring post, we can see a Swiss sailor wearing the traditional lederhosen breeches. His pose gives him a somewhat wistful air as he gazes off to sea, dreaming, perhaps, of the far-off shores of his native land.

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Christmas on Rue Champigny

This watercolour was commissioned by the Montreal financial services firm ASSURART Inc. for their 2020 company holiday card. It was very much inspired by the magical winter scenes by the Japanese printmaking artist Hasui Kawase (1883-1957). Although the image is based on photographs that I took on rue Champigny in the neighbourhood of Côte-Saint-Paul near where I live, I had to add quite a bit of snow, as we’ve had so little of it so far this year.

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Video of “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower” by Dylan Thomas

A video interpretation by Jim Avis of my comics adaptation of one of Dylan Thomas’s first poems. Featuring a stirring reading by the poet himself.

The original comics adaptation, along with 23 others, can be found in my new book, Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry (Plough Publishing, 2020).

Posted in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot, comics, illustration, Poetry, Poetry Comics, watercolour | 2 Comments

Video of “The World Is Too Much With Us” by William Wordsworth

A very amusing video by Jim Avis, based on my comics adaptation of William Wordsworth’s c. 1802 sonnet, “The World Is Too Much With Us.” The reading is by Tom Hiddleston. 2020, a year in which, for many, the world was not with us enough, marks the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth. It is also the year in which I finally caved and got myself a smartphone.

The original comics adaptation, along with 23 others, can be found in my new book, Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry (Plough Publishing).

 

 

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Views of an Imaginary City 2: The Teposensuki or “Lovers’ Bridge”


The Teposensuki (“Sensuka Bridge”) is the widest and most monumental of the bridges spanning the Juminta River in the central area of the city known as the Kadini (“Nest”). It is also notable for being the sole bridge in the capital built on two levels: a wide central carriageway for commercial traffic and two narrower raised pedestrian passageways on either side, along which citizens and tourists can walk at a more leisurely pace and take in the impressive views over the riverfront.

Mounted at the very centre of the bridge’s south balustrade is a stone statue of a man and woman embracing, known simply as “The Lovers.” Such is the fame of this statue that the Teposensuki is often referred to as the Teponemoi (“Lovers’ Bridge”), and indeed that is the name by which it is most commonly known outside of Sensuka. The statue was created over a hundred years ago, in the reign of the Empress Aritokéh, by the celebrated sculptor Pumanton. According to legend, “The Lovers“ was originally two separate sculptures, commissioned for the garden of a nobleman’s villa. Upon completing the two figures, however, Pumanton was so taken with the beauty of his creations that he decided to keep them for himself. He therefore immediately set to work on a new pair of sculptures to give to the nobleman in their stead, temporarily placing the finished statues next to one another in a corner of his workshop. Such was the beauty of the statues, however, that they fell in love. When Pumanton arrived at his workshop one morning, he discovered the two in their present position, locked in each other’s arms. Far from being pleased by this supreme testament to his skill, however, Pumanton was overcome by a jealous rage and set upon the statues with his carving hammer—This is said to be the reason for the chips on the male statue’s right arm and on the female statue’s right knee. Fortunately, an apprentice presently arrived upon the scene, and forcibly subdued his master before he could do any more damage.

There is of course no historical evidence for this tale, and indeed there are records in the Imperial Archives of a commission for a statue of a pair of lovers to decorate the bridge. It is true that the two figures appear to be made out of two slightly different types of stone, but this is a result of the sculptor’s skillful handling of natural variations in the original stone block.

It has become popular for tourist couples to have their portrait taken next to the famous lovers. We see three such pairs posing at the base of the statue, being sketched by three short-order artists seated directly on the paved stone passageway. The neighbourhood just to the east of the bridge is home to many artists, mostly struggling, for whom such tourist portraits are a significant source of income. It is possible that the shaggy-haired, bespectacled portraitist on the left is a self-portrait of the artist.

In the foreground of the print, we see the top sections of closely packed carts and/or wagons on the central carriageway, suggesting the bridge’s characteristic hustle-and-bustle. Seated atop a pile of hay on one such vehicle, a curious child figure is holding up a banner on which is written a sentence that might be translated to: “Oh Sensuka, with you, business never stops.” This is a popular saying about the city, which could be seen as being illustrated here by the heavy commercial traffic along a bridge so closely associated with romance. Its inclusion may also be intended as an ironic reference to the monetizing of The Lovers’ statue by the portraitists and by the city’s tourism industry in general.

The lovers themselves, meanwhile, sit high above the tumult on their stone pedestal, unconcerned with anything outside of their forever culminating passion for one another. Even as they kiss, they appear from their expressions to be on the verge of both laughter and tears, grasping at each other in ecstatic disbelief at the miracle that has brought them together forevermore.

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Video of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” read by Joseph Miller

The American actor Joseph Miller has put created this short video featuring his  dramatic reading of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” combined with my comics illustrations of the same poem.

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