Saturday, February 20, 2010

Legends of Kamishibai

This week just gone, we enjoyed another visit from staff of Tokyo's National Museum of Nature and Science to Melbourne Museum, where I work. Above, with the lyrebird on his shoulder, is Yoshikazu Ogawa, our visitor and Head of the Education Division back home. The lady who the emu is looking at is one of my colleagues, Priscilla Gaff, Program Coordinator of Life Sciences. The bloke whose bum is being nibbled by a wombat is of course me, the humble Programs Ofiicer.

Yoshikazu was following in the footsteps of Koichi Kubo and Koichiro Harada, all of whom have visited Melbourne Museum since I returned from Tokyo in November 2009. He was particularly interested to talk about pre-service and on-going teacher education, which he and Priscilla discussed in detail, but I was particularly interested when he described the sort of presentations that are done for groups of pre-school children visiting the National Museum. Speaking of these, he used a Japanese word which electrified me.

And the word was this:


Really? Did my ears deceive me? Turns out they didn't. (Thanks, ears!) Turns out Yoshikazu really did say, 'Kamishibai'. As in, Manga Kamishibai: the art of Japanese paper theater (sic), as in the book that my mother bought me last week (thanks, Mary Anne!) from the Paperback in Bourke Street. Kamishibai is a Japanese storytelling form where the performer presents a series of painted images, much like the storyboard of the tale, and also makes sound effects and provides character voices and the narration.

Before they began the tale, the storyteller would sell lollies to the kids who'd assembled around the kamishibai 'stage' (sometimes mounted on the back of a bicycle!), then tell the kids that week's instalment of a Golden Bat Adventure, or a thrilling episode of the life of the Prince of Gamma, who hails from Atlantis.

Last century's iteration of this tradition began in the 1920s and continued through to the early 1950s, when television brought it down.


Those of you who know of my enduring love for both performance and comics will be able to guess how much my temples throbbed when I saw those words, 'paper' and 'theatre', used together. Kamishibai, eh? And then, to have Yoshikazu mention the very word not a week later, well frankly, it's hard for me not to detect the ring of destiny in that word.


Watch this space.

Monday, February 8, 2010

That's RRRight folks, we're back!

Lovely to be back on air with Richard Watts last Thursday morning on his weekly Melbourne cultural roundup 'SmartArts' on 3RRR, 102.7 FM. I join him for the monthly 'Drawn Out' segment, on which we discuss local and international comic book news and releases.

First up this time was 'The Book of Other People' (Penguin 2008), edited by Zadie Smith - a collection of 23 stories by tippety-top writers (including Smith, Nick Hornby, Miranda July, Jonathan Safran Foer, Colm Toibin, Johnathan Lethem and Dave Eggars) - and it's a benefit book, so some of the money goes to Eggars' 826NYC which helps kids to get reading and writing. As Smith says, it's a case of 'real people making fictional people work for real people'.
Each story's title is eponymous (does that work the other way?) and I'm writing about the book here because, in the great McSweeney's tradition, there's comics in them thar words, folks: in this case 'Justin M. Damiano' by Dan 'Ghost World' Clowes and 'Jordan Wellington Lint to the Age 13' by Chris 'Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth' Ware. Folks, the Clowes 4-pager alone is worth the price of admission. Although I gotta admit, I was loaned the book by my mum after she discovered the comics floating amidst her sea of text. Thanks Mary Anne! Sorry illiterate urchins of New York City!

And hey there's an exhibition of installation comics work on upstairs at Brunswick Bound, the great bookshop at 361 Sydney Road Brunswick. 'Der Stadtschaftschaubild' is a made-up German word made up by Alice Mrongovius, who has also made the works- she reckons it means something like 'the cityscape diagram'. Mrongovius is a fine artist and a comic book artist (and the one does not preclude the other, of course) and in this show, on until March 21, she is expanding the comic book form into installation art and then making a comic from that.

Occasionally, just ever so occasionally, you get something from the work Kris Kringle that you actually really like, in fact sorta blows your tiny mind, but it's gotta be said that that person who has gotten it has usually blown the cut-off point for the money that you're supposed to spend. So it was that, back in December, I received the above book. (Thanks Biana!)

Thomas Ott is Swiss and has been doing these wordless scratchboard comics, as well as caricatures for mags and newspapers over Europe way for some time. (Selected titles: 'Tales of Error', 'The number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8' oh yeah) 'Cinema Panopticum' (Fantagraphics, 2005) is a 100 page hardcover book of 4 short wordless stories framed by a narrative of a little girl going to the fun fair with too little cash. It is a quite remarkable, grostesque, hilarious book, which also performs the moebius-strip trick of actually transforming itself into one of the terrifying Cinema Panopticum machines. Incredibly satisfying.

Another comics exhibition is on in town at the moment: MP Fikaris' show 'Good Sauce' features drawings paintings and a new comic booklet from this local master of the dada/beat/art comics form. It's at Nine on Seven Artspace, Level 7 Curtain House 252 Swanston Street in the city, until February 20, open 7 days 2pm until late.

And in the spirit of last-but-worth-waiting-for:

Linda Foote is from Perth, is remarkably 24 years old and is even more remarkably, not an animator. I could have sworn when I picked up this gorgeous A5 mini at Sticky, that she must be an animator, given the Miyazaki feel of the story but also the incredibly assured quality of the artwork. Harder still to believe, this book is a 24 hour comic (ie, produced in one straight 24-hour stint) - though Foote does let us know that the shading on the drawings came later. This book is a masterpiece of pacing, a glorious example of a comic in which nothing happens. well when I say that, of course things DO happen, it's just that the emphasis is almost totally on the relationship between the creatures (friends? brothers?) Devan and Shaya.

This book is very fine, builds a beautiful world, and leaves you with the feeling that you want to spend more time there. Congratulations to Linda on constructing such an enjoyable comics reading experience, and I look forward to reading more work by her.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Two Tangos: too much?

Well, it's been a month and a half or so since the big double Tango launch, and it's time to have a bit of a look back at that night and more generally at doing two big books in the one small year.

Night of the launch, 10 December 2009, making some comment that's making Mirranda Burton wince. Probably a pun.
Photo: Peter Jetnikoff

At this point I can say that I'm very proud of both books, but I have to admit that by the time Tango9 rolled around, rose up on its haunches and became the 350 page behemoth that it is today, it had outgrown my capacity to handle, muzzle, or restrain it. The sheer volume of pages and number of contributors flipped a switch somewhere in the tiny tinny little administration centre in my noggin. Mistakes were made. (And still are: only yesterday Greg Holfeld, author of the excellent 'Homefront' (page 124), emailed to say, "Um, could I please have my contributor's copy?" Oh, gosh.)

But the most significant errors on my part were to leave out stories which I had said were in. Yes, that's right. Two stories had been selected for the book, the authors informed, and then, in the utter madness of the final book assembly, I ... misplaced them. One of these, 'Interview with the Dictator's Mother', was a collaboration between Mark Scillio and myself (yep) - I realised it was missing the night before we went to press, and couldn't at that point change things. With the other story, Justin Woolley and Brendan Hayday's 'In the Trenches', it was only on the night of the launch, that this situation was revealed. To these three gentlemen, Mark, Justin, and Brendan, I offer my sincere apologies - I am terribly sorry. What happened with your stories was really the opposite of what I set up Tango to do.

But here's the silver lining: both stories are now available to be read on the Tango9 page on the Cardigan Comics website, here. Thanks to Justin Caleo for making this happen.

Hey look! It's dapper Neale Blanden!
Photo by Peter Jetnikoff

And thanks to brother Luke, it's now possible to buy Tango via Paypal on the website, here. Tango9 sells there for $25 and earlier Tangos for $10, and hey, psst! If you've ever wanted to fill in a hole in your Tango shelf or even if you just have fingers that twitch for a bargain, I'd get in now and make a purchase before I work out how to add a postage amount there.

That's right Tango fans: get in quick while you can, and order your books postage-free!

Animated David Blumenstein and Jovial Jo Waite, skylarking.
Peter Jetnikoff took the picture

And hey. Let's not forget that other fine Tango of last year, 'The Tango Collection'. It has not escaped my attention that having two of us (viz: Elise Jones and I) working the editorial angle of that book meant that it worked out a lot more smoothly. And yes, you're right, it's published, marketed and distributed by Allen and Unwin, too, (all of which is magnificent) but I'm focussing on the administrative aspect here, and I'm thinking that for 'Tango10: Love and Music' (planned for 2011), I will assemble an editorial team...

ANYway, if you're a Melbournite, you should really buy The Age this Saturday (all 16 kilos of it) and open the A2 section and check out the 'Books' section: the word on da street is that there will be a review of 'The Tango Collection' there. Please, stain it with coffee and croissant crumbs, for me.

And cry huzzah!

Finally, himself. Peter Jetnikoff, I think photographed here by David Blumenstein, next to a copy of Peter's biography and his portrait from 'The Tango Collection'. The rest of the group of photos of the launch from which the ones in this post were selected can be found here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Goodbye, J.D

Strangely (from the vantagepoint of the events of last week), in the interim between Christmas and New Year of last year, a month ago now, I read again 'Franny and Zooey', by J.D Salinger.

I needed a book.

There it was, to hand.

I read it.

And three weeks later, he died.

Here's the comic that I made a month ago:

Vale, Jerome David Salinger (1919 - 2010), creator of the immortal Glass family.