Life Is… (Li Kunwu)

Like any big meal, it takes some time to digest what you’ve consumed and let the food settle before you can fully appreciate what you just went through.

The wait for a table, the anticipation growing with every waft of food that lingers by on outstretched fingertips as the waitress hustles order number 56 off to table twelve. The decision making process of what to order itself is an experience, and then the final push comes as you promise yourself to limit the dinner roll indulgences as you sit there some more as the food is prepared.

Finally, the food arrives.

You take it all in, and consider the journey you are about to take. It’s never what you pictured in your mind, but any good chef is capable of surprising you, and hopefully she has laid a good foundation for your senses to adapt to dinner.

 

Or maybe this is all just a metaphor for a book I read last month, and finally got around to writing about in early April.

Tracing A Remarkable Journey

The author of about thirty books, Li Kunwu has been a central figure in The Daily in Yunnan for decades now. He is has made painting, drawn comic strips, and published his own works, one of which I personally read recently as part of my monthly book exercise.

Can you guess what theme he fits into?

It’s actually two categories – LIFE and LOVE.

A Chinese Life is an autobiography presented in a graphic novel format, and it chronicles the journey of Li Kunwu throughout his life in China. He was born in the 1950s, so we get to experience the development of the People’s Republic of China through his youthful eyes. A member of the People’s Liberation Army, Li manages to recapture his own memories in a way that is both intimate and large enough in scale to be understood by an average historical student. There are parts filled with humour and with drama, but it never feels too heavy in one camp or the other.

It takes a few sessions of concentrated reading to get through, coming in at about 700 pages worth of content, and to be clear, the combination of text and image is at almost equivalent distribution.

Read Army

 

What I found most interesting in reading this story was not how little I really knew about The People’s Republic, nor how little I knew about Li himself. What I found most interesting was how well his story translated to english and how despite all of the seemingly incredible adversity he faced over his lifetime, that a lot of his struggles were universal.

From learning how to relate to his father, to finding love, to discovering his purpose in life, to simply living and experiencing a host of different things, A Chinese Life is an excellent demonstration of a life lived full. And Li does follow his purpose, all the while choosing to believe in what he has believed in from a young age.

It’s incredibly rewarding to see him make art to serve the purposes of a party member hairdresser, and how he finds ways throughout his youth all the way into adulthood which make him into a better artist, and which often tie in directly with his political climate. Illustrating for propaganda posters and newspaper cartoons alike.

Even when Yunnan has it’s first life model class.

And eventually we reach a point well into Li’s adult life, after his father has died, he has been through a divorce, and is taking care of his child as a single parent, that he meets a French writer and diplomat at a comic book convention. This is the point when the story begins to wrap up, and we have a moment to reflect on what we’ve been witness to.

The Modern Age

This is a story all at once encompassing and yet missing details.

Much like any good story, things have been embellished, while other pieces have been glossed over and left out. For instance, as much as I enjoyed the journey from youth, to adulthood, the final 100 pages or so seem sparse and cover a great period of time. This is intention of course, otherwise we’d be left with a 1400 page graphic novel, and I’m not sure that many people would have picked it up.

It is fascinating to see the world through the eyes of someone on the other side of it, and especially of one who holds a different political viewpoint then we are used to, but then again, life is… complex.

At least that’s my theory.

Tim!

When Music and Politics Collide (Gord Downie, Secret Path for Chanie Wenjack review)

Politics and music have always been brothers in arms. The connection between expression and intention can be seen in a number of different cultures and subsets of cultures too. While we cannot know the implication of making music that has a political slant, it is in the emotion that we become effected, and hopefully change for the better.

As I hold my chest in anguish and joy, I can say that this project is worth it.

Gord Downie – Secret Path (for Chanie Wenjack)
released October 18, 2016
********** 10/10

forchanie

Gordon Edgar Downie, better known by his stage name Gord Downie, is a Canadian rock musician, writer, and sometime actor. He is also the lead singer and lyricist for the Canadian rock group we all know and love, The Tragically Hip. As an independant artist he has released five solo albums: Coke Machine Glow, Battle of the Nudes, The Grand Bounce, And the Conquering Sun and now Secret Path (for Chanie Wenjack). On the first three of these records, he was backed by the Country of Miracles; with The Grand Bounce specifically credited to Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles.

And I would be remiss not to mention this, but it wasn’t too long ago (May of 2016) that The Tragically Hip announced on their website Downie had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. Downie has responded well to treatment, but unfortunately what he has has been deemed as uncurable. Downie toured with the band in the summer 2016 after reporting his cancer and to support Man Machine Poem, the band’s 14th studio album. The band confirmed that the tour would be the final one for the group and it concluded with a concert at Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston, the hometown of the band, and it was streamed live by the CBC, viewed by roughly 11 million people.

Then in September 2016, Downie announced he would be releasing a solo album, Secret Path in October, and dedicated it to Chanie Wenjack. The album was also set up with a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire and which Downie also collaborated on, and later an animated film. Secret Path is likely the last studio album we’ll ever see by Gord Downie, but interestingly enough, it is not about Gord Downie, not at all.

Maybe I’m guilty of both loving and hating this album immediately for what it represents, but I think you’ll agree that this is a powerful concept album. Chanie Wenjack was a young Anishinaabe boy from the Marten Falls First Nation who died in 1966 while trying to return home after escaping from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian residential school while facing brutal winter conditions outside. This is a very sad thing, and one which has marred the history of Canada without “white Canadians” even knowing the impact of it. We have no way of measuring the impact, because the Canadian government stopped recording the deaths of residential school children in the 1920s, and many original records have been lost or destroyed, but an estimated 6000 children lost their lives in an attempt by local churches (funded by the federal government) to “take the Indian out of the child.”

What Secret Path does is tell the story of Chanie and exposes the history of these schools, which is hardly ever mentioned, and certainly not taught.

It starts with The Stranger, and Downie protests that he is stranger, and that you can’t see him. But as the album unfolds we learn how Chanie escaped in Swing Set, what he may have been thinking as he walked the train tracks in I Will Not Be Struck. As the album enters it’s final moments, Haunt Them, Haunt Them, Haunt Them brings the emotions upwards and lets us know that Wenjack will not be forgotten and that the pain is all too real. It becomes even more real with the closing track, Here, Here and Here and how we know the story plays out. But I admit that the album by itself is not a clear indication of what happened, its in the combination of its parts – the album, graphic novel, film, and marketing by brothers Mike and Gord Downie to bring this to light that we feel the weight of it all.

 

 

 

This is not a solution to a non-history, its the beginning of a lesson and a reconciliation which we all need to participate in. The secret path is not so secret any more, and hopefully within a century we’ll be able to look back on this moment as a turning point in our humanity beginning to swell towards embracing all cultures and protecting the previously alienated. Canada has a future, we just need to follow the unbeaten path.

Tim!

Earn The Power of Self-respect (Bryan Lee O’Malley)

There was a time when I loved comic books, so much that I would buy new ones impulsively just to continue to round out my collection, get lost in the stories, and hold onto something I thought was real. Ironic given that I was enjoying fantasy stories.

But the thing is, just because I loved comic books, doesn’t mean I should have sworn them off for good, and then burned all of my copies in a fire of cleansing. Literally. I literally burned them all. Because I thought I was addicted. Read: WTF was I thinking. Yeah, I’m gonna come back to that story some other time. You don’t just get the good stuff right out the gate friends. You should know how the carrot dangle works by now.

(Foreground) Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson) - (Background L-R) Andrea (Laurie Holden), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies), Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride), T-Dog (Robert 'IronE' Singleton) and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) - The Walking Dead - Season 2, Episode 7 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Yes, I’m watching The Walking Dead, and no I don’t care that I’m at least 4 seasons behind everybody. I’ll catch up quick. Like The Quick and the Dead.

Anyways. I was trying to make a point about indulgence.

Consumption of even the seemingly healthy things you love the most can cause you to gain weight my dear readers. Physical weight, emotional weight, spiritual weight, whatever. You name it, and someone has overindulged on it.

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And it’s important to enjoy the things you love, because if you don’t, nothing else will probably fill that void. Romantic and platonic relationships are important in life for connection, but without purpose, and entertainment, which often go hand in hand if done correctly, you might as well be a zombie.

Layers.

Which is consistent with the them of today’s spotlight author. That’s right, I’m sharing another post on the The 5 L’s of Language, because I know you need nutrition, and I promised to read the book I bought for my sisters birthday and which she wanted me to read so we could talk about it. So I did it Katrina, and I enjoyed Seconds. I really did.

But before I dig in too deep, we should run a quick refresh of what The 5 L’s of Language are all about –

I will read one book a month from the 5 groupings below, slowly expanding the number of books read so that I reach the point of 5 books a month. A book for each group

  1. LIFE – Biographies/Art/Music
  2. LOVE – Classic Fiction/Non-Fiction/Graphic Novels
  3. LEARN – Business/Leadership/Self-Help
  4. LABEL – Philosophy/Sociology/Psychology
  5. LEET– The Internet

I might be beating you over the head with this concept, but even I need a reminder now and then, and if The Devil is in the details, lets make sure we are thorough to avoid conviction. Today we are looking at Bryan Lee O’Malley and his particular brand of creativity which often shines right through in his illustrations, writing, and sometimes music. O’Malley authored the Scott Pilgrim series after all, and thus the theme at hand is LOVE. Because graphic novels.

Bryan Lee O’Malley vs the World

O’Malley doesn’t take himself too seriously. Well, at least not anymore. When he dropped out of film school and decided to create his first graphic novel, Lost at Sea back in ’03, it didn’t go over well with anyone. Especially not his friends. They were expecting him to put together something fun and irreverent, because that’s how he views life and that’s how his interviews come off when you read a bunch of them in a row.

But then he wrote Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life and seemingly exploded over night, even gaining the attention of film studios. Which is how Scott Pilgrim vs the World got made.

He makes art that combines video games, martial arts, romance, manga, and music all together in a sort of collage of pop culture. I immediately got what he was going for, because I grew up with all of those things around me. Almost to the point that I felt like it was a chronicle of my own fantasies. Which is impressive.

Scott Pilgrim, Seconds, and now Snotgirl, all have that manga look to them. But where Scott Pilgrim focused on martial arts and video games, Seconds was more about food culture and folklore. It was definitely a step away from the Scott Pilgrim books, movie, and video game. Seconds was definitely more mature than I initially expected too, though it was a shorter book, so it didn’t have time to run into the details and explore as many characters.

My point with this post is this friends. Make things that you love, because Bryan Lee O’Malley did, and even though he found a huge opportunity, I’m willing to bet a loaf of bread that he would’ve been happy no matter what success he got once he took a second attempt.

Check out his website here for more information, and this interview for some insight.

I’m out of theories for today, but check back tomorrow when I give you my own update. Should be a good one.

Tim!

Knight Time (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns review)

Sometimes a person falls out of favour with their circle of friends, and sometimes they find a way back into social graces. Timing, humility, and quality of interaction all play into this result.

If you were to travel back in time to the mid-nineteen eighties, you wouldn’t have though much of The Batman. He wasn’t particularly cool and people weren’t that interested in what he was doing.

But today’s Theatrical Tuesday entry tells the story that got him back at the cool kids table? That’s right, you guessed it, we’re reviewing…

 

 

 

The Dark Knight Returns (2013)

Cast: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Michael Emerson, Mark Valley
Director: Jay Oliva
re-released on blu-ray w/graphic novel on February 24, 2016
********** 10/10

Dark_knight_returns

IMDB: 8.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, Audience Score 94%
The Guardian: N/A

Jay Oliva is a Filipino-American artist, producer and animated film director; one who happens to work for Warner Brothers Animation.

He got his start on the FOX Spider-man series of the 1990s, and has been involved in animated versions of Ghostbusters, Godzilla, Starship Troopers, and He-Man. Since then he has worked on numerous animations for both DC and Marvel and numerous years before he was assigned the task of creating the two-part animated movie The Dark Knight Returns.

If it it isn’t clear by now, Oliva has a good track record when it comes to creating comic book inspired worlds or adapting already written stories like The Dark Knight Returns mini-series.

For the sake of the review, let’s go over the story, if somewhat briefly.

Taken from Wikipedia and edited,

Set in a dystopian near-future version of Gotham City. Bruce Wayne, at 55, has retired  for ten years after the death of Jason Todd. Wayne has a breakdown and assumes the role of Batman again. He first confronts Harvey Dent, who was thought to be cured after therapy and plastic surgery (which Wayne financed).

Batman saves 13-year-old Carrie Kelley from an attack by a gang called the Mutants. Kelley buys herself an imitation Robin costume and searches for Batman, seeking to help him. She finds Batman at the city dump, where he fights an army of Mutants. Though Batman defeats the Mutant army with his weaponry, the Mutant leader beats him in combat. With the help of retiring Commissioner James Gordon and the new Robin, Batman defeats the Mutant leader on his own terms. The Mutants disband and some rename themselves the Sons of Batman.

At the White House, Superman and the president discuss the events in Gotham, with the latter suggesting that Superman may have to arrest Batman. Superman is then deployed by Washington to the Latin American country of Corto Maltese where he fights Soviet combat forces in a conflict that may ignite WWIII.

Batman’s return stimulates The Joker to awaken from catatonia at Arkham Asylum. With renewed purpose, The Joker manipulates his caretakers to allow him onto a television talk show, where he murders everyone with gas and escapes. Batman and Robin track him to a county fair, where he is already killing people. Batman defeats The Joker in a violent confrontation, nearly killing him. To incriminate Batman for murder, The Joker seemingly commits suicide by breaking his own neck. A citywide manhunt for Batman begins.

Superman diverts a Soviet nuclear warhead which detonates in a desert. The United States is hit by an electromagnetic pulse, and descends into chaos during the resulting blackout. In Gotham, Batman realizes what has happened, and he and Robin turn the remaining Mutants and Sons of the Batman into a non-lethal vigilante gang. He leads them against looters and ensures the flow of essential supplies. In the midst of electromagnetic pulse, Gotham becomes the safest city in the country. The U.S. government sees this as an embarrassment, and orders Superman to remove Batman. Superman demands to meet Batman.

Superman tries to reason with Batman, but Batman uses his technological inventions and mastery of hand-to-hand combat to fight him. During the battle, Superman compromises Batman’s exoframe, while Green Arrow shoots a kryptonite-tipped arrow to greatly weaken Superman. Batman reveals that he intentionally spared Superman’s life by not using a more powerful kryptonite mix; before he can finish his monologue, Batman suddenly has a heart attack, apparently dying. Alfred destroys the Batcave and Wayne Manor before dying of a stroke, exposing Batman as Bruce Wayne, whose fortune has disappeared. After Wayne’s funeral, it is revealed that his death was staged. Clark Kent attends the funeral and winks at Robin after hearing Wayne’s heartbeat resume. Some time afterward, Bruce Wayne leads Robin, Green Arrow, and the rest of his followers into the caverns beyond the Batcave and prepares to continue his war on crime.

I tried to edit that down as much as I could folks, but it was important to include all of those details for the next part of the review.

I will start by saying this, if you like animated films, but don’t know a lot about the Batman mythology, start here. The Dark Knight Returns is a great Batman story and because it is set in an alternate future, it won’t screw up or confuse you with subsequent readings of other books. The animation is well done, and echoes the source material as well.

That being said, it is an incredibly long story which includes what seems like almost every single detail of the original mini-series. So be prepared for a narrative which expects you to pay close attention.

Pros: As is the case with most of the DC line of animated films, it’s faithful to it’s source material and very entertaining. Peter Weller does a great job as Batman, as does Michael Emerson as The Joker. You have to follow the entire story through to appreciate everything, but it’s well worth it.

Cons: It is difficult to sit through 2 hours and 30 odd minutes of an animated feature. TBH, I blame Disney for conditioning us to expect animated films to wrap up in 90 minutes or less.

Runtime: 2 hours 32 minutes

Points of Interest: The Joker visits the David Endochrine Show which is based off the David Letterman Show. However the David of the animated movie is voiced by Conan O’Brien and as such resembles him. Though not explicitly stated, the POTUS in the film looks like and sounds like Ronald Reagan.

What I find  most interesting about this story is not that we get to see how Batman would act if he returned to crimefighting after a hiatus, but that he is clearly themed around a fascist messiah, and most people who read the book, watched the animated film or went to see Batman v Superman didn’t really care to recognize that. Which says something about humanity even now in the wake of Batman v Superman.

This Batman is one who “realizes” the world is broken and that only he can judge it properly, so after cleaning up his city, he fakes his death, and builds an underground army while he waits for an opportunity. Almost 20 years later, Frank Miller wrote a follow up to this story titled The Dark Knight Strikes Again which details how Batman goes about “savining” the United States from rule by Lex Luthor. A third mini-series, The Dark Knight: The Master Race is also currently in the works, and makes me wonder about the conclusion of this Batman story.

You should definitely watch and/or read The Dark Knight Returns, IF you want to better understand how easily fascism can crop up in society; because we all want a hero to save us, but maybe that’s not the best solution. This story definitely helped drive Batman back into pop culture, and incidentally, tomorrow’s post has some wisdom about Buzzworthy content. I’m out of theories for now, please comment, subscribe, and share this post if you liked it!

Tim!