Sunday, December 6, 2009

Anita Blake: Excelling in multiple forms

Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter's Guilty Pleasures and Laughing Corpse by Laurell K. Hamilton convert cleanly from book to graphic novel. This is due to the conversational nature of the story which matches the common comic book style. Additionally, the comic illustrator Brett Booth took care to match Hamilton's colorful description. The Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series is possibly the most accurate translation from comic to novel.

In both novels, Guilty Pleasures and Laughing Corpse Anita Blake narrates, her voice is a casual inner monologue which doesn't edit for the reader. This style almost exactly matches the style in the square narration boxes of comics. Her interior thought are highly reminiscent of Spiderman and Deadpool. They cleanly translate into the narration of a comic. It was almost as if Hamilton knew her novel was going to become a comic. In addition, to the voice of the narrator, Hamilton gives ample description of her world. Her illustrative description is almost enough for a sketch artist. The exact skin tone, hair type and color, body shape and size, and over all body language is covered in high detail. The illustrator is given a clear guide for each character. Booth takes the description and flawless converts it into images.

It was a thrill to both read the comic and novel version of the two stories, Guilty Pleasures and Laughing Corpse. I would recommend reading one version if you like the other.

Always looking for good comics
JR West the Raccoon

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Petsalad: The art of coin cutting

Time flies.... For weeks I have wanted to share with you all my latest discoveries in the wonderful world of art, but work has kept me up lately as we all prepare ourselves for the Christmas period. I still just have a little time but I had to share with you this shop named: Petsalad.
I must admit it was, at first, not the work which caught my eye, but a small description of the shop showing at the top of the page. It said: "What Rob does when he's not playing banjo". Well, you can understand this made me very curious.

When I took a better look at Rob's shop I realized that the pendants I saw were actually coins. It was the first time in my life I came in contact with the art of cutting coins and I was absolutley blown away by the detail and beauty of these little pieces of art.
Though all these coins are beauties, the coin featuring St. George is the most stunning of all. It is hard to belief that these pendants are made with nothing more then a jewelers saw. No electricity or whatsoever is used during the process.

So, now you know what Rob does when he is not playing banjo....

Monday, November 16, 2009

Images of Beowulf Part 2: Animation Creation

The 2007 Beowulf movie directed by Robert Zemeckis is a computer generated animation film. The film endeavored to be different in both story and animation style. It takes liberty with the plot of the original Beowulf legend under the guise of portraying the "truth" behind the epic; assuming that the old English version is an oral tale that was distorted with time. The film is built on the idea that no man is perfect and the "real" Beowulf was flawed. This premise proves interesting, since literary the Beowulf was nearly perfect. I think that this assumption improves the story greatly, since the traditional tales of how Kings are remembered are rarely synonymous with not how they truly were. Furthermore, many of the side characters give the movie an unexpected depth, especially the Queen, who survived three corrupt rulers. She was one of the only genuinely good characters and a true pleasure to watch.

However, even though the story was enjoyable, the animation was not. In an attempt at realism, the 3D computer animation mimics real people, using actors as models and then animating over. This tactic failed. The main characters felt fake, with the stress on realism becoming a distraction. Instead of falling into the world of the film, every flaw in the recreation of the actors kept the view at arm's length. Moreover, the side characters are caricatures of people that barely fit in the world created. While the animation failed in its portrayal of people, the monsters were fantastic. Both Grendel's and the dragon's forms were a blend of the expected and the creative. Grendel is a humanoid with a unique physical feature that clearly explains his hatred for humans, in contrast with Grendel's mother who is a modern portrait of the perfect feminine form. She is curvaceous with gentle and delicate hands. Her monstrous feet and tail are reminiscent of a Judeo-Christian demon. She is clearly a Lilith type creature, as referenced in the original tale, beautiful and deadly. If only the majority of the film could have focused on the monsters, it might have been spectacular.

Since it did not, I give the animation a 2 out of 5 and the story a 3.5 out of 5.

Still waiting to be impressed by Beowulf,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Best Holiday Ever!

With Halloween just past, I thought now would be perfect time to hit on a common figure currently saturating our culture: The Vampire. Therefore, I took a moment on this lovely holiday to assess the vampire overload in my own life.

Example 1:
Midnight Opera by Hans Steinbach is a OEL (original English language) manga. The main character is a guitar playing vampire with a nemesis for an older brother. The first manga in the series was decent enough, but I have not gone through the trouble of finding the next.

Example 2:
Vampire Wars is a facebook application which doubles as a game. You create a gothic vampire avatar who then completes missions for his or her clan. You can fight other vampires in an old world based gaming style. It is a basic game, but I do love collecting pieces for my avatar.

Example 3:
Foxtrot had a brilliant comment on Twilight's destruction of the traditional vampire last Sunday. And as much as I love Twilight, I agree with Jason. Nothing beats the traditional Nosferatu.

Example 4:
The Vampire Diaries is a CW television show for teenagers. It is a cliché story of girl lover’s vampire, but he thinks he is wrong for her. There is even a nemesis brother; it really is just another Twilight. The only saving grace is that the vampire looks far more vampire-like than the guy that plays Edward in the Twilight movies.

This is just a quick guide to my recent encounters with vampires. It does not include the wide number of book, movie, and comics surrounding vampires, or even the White Wolf role-playing game. Take a moment and count the number of vampire inspired things in your life, you will be amazed.

Loved the Recent Holiday,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Monday, October 26, 2009


Dear readers,

This is very worth a look -- a setting of Sibelius' tone poem Luonnotar to some beautiful video photography of northern Finland and the Arctic:

Those of you new to this particular piece can read more about Luonnotar here. I had quite forgotten how beautiful this composition was, and the video above reminded me.... Watching the end of it particularly, those towering mountains of ice in the sea, while listening to Sibelius' music, one feels in the presence of an old and terrible beauty.

Few traditions have spoken (or sung) of the beauty of singing and the power of song as the Scandinavians have:

The old man said from the stove:
'Here there has been heard
either heard or seen
ever in this world
no better singing
no more careful cunning man
than when I cooed, I
carolled as a younger man
sang upon the bay's waters
and echoed upon the heaths
cuckoo-called in the spruces
recited in the backwoods.
My voice was great and graceful
my tone very fair:
as a river then it ran
as a stream it flashed
travelled like a ski on snow
a sailing ship on the waves.
But now I cannot recite
nor this can I rightly tell--
what has stifled my great voice
laid my sweet voice low: now it
does not as a river run
nor as waves ripple, but it
is like a harrow among
treestumps, a pine on hard snow
like a sledge on seashore sands
a boat on dry rocks.'

(From the twenty-first book of the Finnish Kalevala, Keith Bosley's translation.)

Such of a love of song shines in modern singers from that region of the world, no less; ABBA's Thank You For the Music comes to mind.

Not that I want to sound superlative -- one might praise the American blues or a number of other traditions for their celebration of the way 'that nothing can capture the heart / as a melody can' as well as the Swedish or the Finnish. But something in me today longs for the subarctic.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dante's Heart Art Contest - And Tricksters

Dear readers,

There are a lot of new plans for the first half of 2010 that I wanted to share with you! We have grown our team of editors, which means that we have also grown our ability to run new calls for submissions, contests, and other opportunities to invite fresh work. Here's what's coming:

Trickster Works

One of our fiction editors, Ashley Argyle, has this to say about tricksters in literature, art, and lore: "Tricksters live in a world of ambiguity and chaos. They know no boundaries--with nowhere they can't go and nothing they can't do, they are oftentimes the world's ultimate creators and destroyers."

Dante's Heart invites you to explore the unruliness of the trickster and is calling for submissions featuring trickster works in all media -- literary or artistic, fiction or drama, photography or mixed media. Check here for more details; entries are due May 1, 2010 and the most compelling entries will be considered for a special edition of Dante's Heart.

(The artwork shown above is an interpretation of Wagner's Loki from the never-forgotten Arthur Rackham.)

Urban Fantasy Art Contest

As our first issue began with a range of mythopoeia and fairytale work, this year our art editor is interested in something (potentially) a bit grittier. Send us your best urban fantasy -- whether photography, drawing, painting, or other -- we are open to all visual art forms. Submissions must be digital, though the original medium need not be. Previously unpublished work only.

Check for the contest rules here. Entries are due April 30, 2010, and will be judged by Jessica Fusch, Dante's Heart art editor and owner of Seaelven Studios.

(The image pictured above is Sandow Birk's Inferno, an urban interpretation of Dante's Divine Comedy.)

Spread the word -- and we look forward to seeing what appears in our inbox!

With great joy and a sense of play,

The Editors,
Dante's Heart

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Faye Stories Part 5: Spinning Spider Stories

There is nothing like telling old fairy tales with a new twist. My father used to tell me a story where the Big Bad Wolf was a man named Abdul from Cleveland. Marvel has done the same thing, but instead of naming a wolf after a Basketball player, they have put Peter Parker into famous fairy tales from around the world.

"Spider-Man Fairy Tales", written by C.B. Cebulski, is a collection of four stories: "Off the Beaten Path", "The Spirit of Friendship", "Eclipse", and "What You Wish For". These are retellings of "Little Red Riding Hood", "Anansi the Spider God", "Tsuchigumo the Japanese Spider Spirit," and "Cinderella". The stories chosen to be retold says a lot about the character of Spider-Man. Spider-Man, who was destined to be the Totem of the Spider, flawlessly translates into the role of Anansi and Tsuchigumo,they are both totems in their own culture. The spider and the spider-man is not unique to marvel or western culture. The animal exists around the world and has continually captivated imaginations, and therefore, it was right and proper to include tales from around the world.

With the more western tales of "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Cinderella", the comic has its own flare. With Mary Jane as a strong Riding Hood and Peter as a timid woodsmen they work together to save the day. Their teamwork reflects some of their better relationship moments in the comics. Peter then takes on the role of Cinderella to the Osborne family, with Mary Jane as his helper in making it to the ball. Following the Spider-man mythos, the Princess dies while Mary Jane pines for Peter. While keeping the main elements of the Cinderella tale, the comic is loyal to the Spider-man Mythos.

"Spider-Man Fairy Tales" is a creative collection of known stories with a marvel twist. While the graphic novel is a fairly quick read it is worth picking up. Overall, I give it a 4 out of 5.

Watching for Spiders,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Myth of the Dark Knight

Tonight while channel flipping I found “Batman Unmasked: Psychology” on Hist-1 at 8pm EST. The nerd in me had to watch. The episode had psychology experts, DC editors and writers, literary experts and other professionals. They gave their opinions of the mythology behind the Batman.

I found that some of the experts offered interesting insights into Batman. There of course was the main question, who is the real man: Batman or Bruce Wayne. The creators of the batman comics, as well as, the psychologists could not agree. As a general trend the creators claim he is Batman, which I agree with, however the psychologists felt that Bruce Wayne’s past and humanity was of more importance.

Additionally, they give insight on Batman’s villains (the rogue’s gallery). His enemies are sociopaths, narcissist, and the worst of humanity. The experts showed how his enemies are his opposites, with their personality flaws causing villainous habits. Each villain is compared to real-live villains and their form of psychosis. The villain that gets the most focus is of course the Joker. A villain with a completely evil nature whose main goal is the corruption of others. He is a Batman without any morals, causing mayhem for his own twisted amusement. His every desire plays out without care. He lives to entertain himself with suffering. The villains are the darkest, most vile traits of humanity.

Batman is a hero to us because his lives in a world built out of the most horrible parts of our reality. His world may be a dark reflection of our own, but it only makes him shine so might brighter. The mythology of Batman differs from other superheroes because he is a hero dwelling in a world where only monsters can thrive. We cheer for a man that in reality would horrify us if we ever actually encountered him. His world puts him in a hero’s cowl not a murder’s ski mask.

Reading my Batman comics again,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Monday, August 31, 2009

Madame Aradia

Madame Aradia is a wonderful artist I discovered only recently. Her work depicts the most dark, haunted and fabulous scenes. Some of her works are illustrated folktales, others are inspired by the world of fairies and fairytales and then there are those which come from her own imaginination. But all of them are simply beautiful and make us long to hear the story behind it. Luckily, Madame Aradia tells us about the tales behind her work at her DeviantArt page, so we can not only enjoy her works of art but also read about the characters depicted in her work.

(story can be found here)

(story can be found here)

Besides making art Madame Aradia spends her time as a garden-witch. At her website you can find articles on magic, folklore and symbolism connected with plants and flowers accompanied by photographs of her own garden.

It is a true pleasure reading her articles and watching her art works. I am certain most of you will love it!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Well, that is unfortunate.

Today an interesting new report came out on the website A British mathematician has published research on zombie outbreaks, and it does not look good for humanity. However, it is not the results that interest me as much as the research itself.

As a fellow researcher and theorist, I often have to defend the use of my research. However, when scientists look into the likelihood of humanity surviving a zombie attack, the news makes sure to report it. Zombies, while scary as all get out, are not the most pressing concern of humanity, and I wonder the usefulness at this research (as I have yet to see a zombie). It does not have initially apparent uses; however as a culture, zombie-ism is an important issue. It is a fear that has been in western culture for centuries. The dead walking is a basic human horror and it is possible that the research could help. Except of course, that this study shows that the zombies could easily win. Nevertheless, even this seemingly useless study relates to outbreaks of rapidly spreading diseases that could infect large numbers of people. The algorithms used to track the spread of zombies, could also be used to track the spread of flues.

Power to the researchers who got funding for zombie research; I hope that the information does more than just amuse the masses.

Researching something other than Zombies,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Myths Attending the Total Solar Eclipse of July 22, 2009

CNN's coverage of the total solar eclipse visible from many parts of Asia included this item: "In Chinese tradition, there is a story about a heavenly dog eating the sun. As the story goes, people would make noise to scare off the dog and rescue the sun, said Bill Yeung, president of the Hong Kong Astronomical Society." This prompted me to try to find out a little more about this ancient story, and I ended up at iLearn, which provided the historical response of communities to this astronomical event viewed as a manifestation of a mythical tale:
"In ancient China it was a heavenly dog that ate the Sun. Whilst the heavenly dog is devouring the Sun (or moon during Lunar eclipse), people would set firecrackers, beat the drums and shout to chase the dog away.

"Of course, that was the past and people no longer believed in the heavenly dog. However, the term 天狗食日 ‘Heavenly Dog Devours Sun’ is still commonly used, retaining a romanticized sense of mystery in this rare astronomic spectacle."

Like many people, I'm all for the "romanticized sense of mystery" and only wish I could be there to witness it!

The enchanted art of Susan Schroder

Have you always dreamed about being a fairy for a day? Well, it is not as impossible at it seems. Susan Schroder, a wonderful photographer and artist, can actually make your dream come true!

I greatly admire her work for quite some time now. Her eye for detail, her talent to create the most enchanting scenes and her endless imagination catches you in a moment visiting her gallery.
The images she creates are made with the utmost care and she has a great knowledge of the materials she works with. I think especially the later deserves much attention as Susan Schroder does all the photography herself. Backgrounds, models and even animals showing on the pictures are her own work. All fantasy elements are digitally painted and the most stunning of all; even most of the costumes are designed and made by her!

I don't think it is possible to put more love in your work then Susan Schroder does.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Magic of Comics

f it is cliché to say, I believe a good story takes one into another world. Comic books have their own unique magic, and if a picture is worth a thousand words, then comics are the longest books out there. However the magic is not always in the comic book its self. Many collectors and fans of comics can remember how and where they received their first comic. It is a treasured memory for those who keep their comics wrapped in plastic. Comics can even remind us of our childhood and that is a magical awareness.

I had a rare opportunity recently. In order to thank a dear friend who has helped me over the years I decided to get her an Anita Blake comic. I knew she had read the books and thought she might enjoy the comic. Little did I realize, but the two comics I gave her were the first she had ever owned. This grown woman had such a smile on her face when I handed her the two comics, and explained their proper storage and the point of having the plastic wrapper. It was like watching a child on Christmas in a way. It was magic. More than the stories I review, I saw something special.

If you ever get the chance share your favorite comics, books, or stories with someone who has never seen them before, remember to spread the magic.

Enjoying simple pleasures,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Enjoying simple pleasures,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Celebrating Little Golden Books

In her celebratory article "Picture Perfect," Claudia Anderson recaptures the joy of the Little Golden Books I remember so well from childhood. Then, I loved the pictures and the marvelous stories the illustrators transformed into paint and ink. So many of the ancient folk and fairy tales found their way into these lovely books. We always had The Saggy Baggy Elephant and Little Red Riding Hood for quiet moments. The exhibition, Original Art from 65 Years of Golden Books, will travel the U.S. through 2011.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Saints in Art

Last week I went to France and while I was staying at the abbey of Sainte Odile I encountered many beautiful artworks; murals, sculptures and stained glass windows, depicting the lives of saints.These icons intrigued me so much I decided to do a feature on this subject once I arrived home.
We all know the traditional, Medieval & Byzantine style in which these religious works of art are made but how much do we know about religious art made by artists today?

It was quite a task, as I did not know any artists who 'specialize' in these matters, but eventually I managed to find a couple of artists who gave their interpretation.
So, here is a selection of all these great artworks I came across during my research.

(top) Left to (bottom) right;
Unexpected joy? , By Allie Hartley
Bittersweet, By Izabella Pierce
Carmelite nun, By Lord Theophilus Shadowblade
St. Charalambos, By Theodoros Patrinos
Saint Bernard de Clairvaux, By Benoît Billion

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bruno's Art and Sculpture Garden

Some time ago, a friend sent me a slideshow of
Bruno's Art and Sculpture Garden in Marysville, Victoria, Australia. Full of wonders, I knew I had to share it with you. What I did not then know was that the Marysville area was devastated by fire February 9, 2009, and Bruno's home and gallery were destroyed, along with much of the forest that was the site of the sculpture garden. There is a universal and needful message for us all in the lingering impact of the event and the response of Bruno and his friends: "We experienced a range of emotions upon making the discovery and some of these feelings can only be described as contradictory and unexpected. Despite the obvious personal impact of the carnage, we all agreed that there was still an undeniable beauty amongst it all. Seeing the sculptures standing bare and scorched against the stark landscape, somehow amplified the characters that Bruno captured in them. The sad ones seemed sadder. The contemplative ones appeared to be deeper in thought and carried heavier burdens. The characters that smiled at us from amongst the ashes, asked the hardest and most compelling question of all, ‘If we can smile whilst standing here burnt and battered, why can’t you?’" Please visit the website and its poignant "Rebuilding" page for your own experience.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Ledger of the Year's Dead

In a rare gore read I stumbled upon the graphic novel "Dead High Yearbook." It is a collect of eight stories by variety of authors with two editors, Mark McVeigh and Ivan Velez. The authors portray the darker side of human nature at its worse, with each short focusing on both the problems and deaths of high school students. The narrators Zombie Boy and Zombie Girl delve into the lives of teenagers. The story takes common themes and presents them in an entirely new and unique way.

The earliest story focuses on outcasts and the pressure to fit in. The desire to be normal can ruin the goodness of a person. However the outcasts were not blameless either, they suffered from the same shallow desire to outcast others. Homophobia, pride and vanity, gang violence, romantic jealousy, familial obligations and academic stress are all issues addressed. In this story, death does not onlygo after those who need to be punished, but is indiscriminate and sends the dead to both heaven and hell. In the entire graphic novel, the most interesting twist is the back stories of Zombie Boy and Zombie Girl.

Overall, I give it a 4 out of 5 to this collection of interesting stories.

Not ready to be in that year book,
J.R. West the Raccoo

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Magical Marionettes

I have always loved dolls and puppets, small visions of fancy inviting our imaginations to invigorate them. Several years ago, I became acquainted with the Czech tradition of marionette-making and never fail to be enchanted by new creations based on folklore and old fairy stories. The Large Wizard from the Riki collection at Czech Marionettes in the Czech Republic just mesmerizes with his fantastic eyes!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Kundry's Inner World

From all the 'worlds' I have visited, Kundry's Inner World must be one of the warmest and enchanted places I have ever been.
Fairies, mythical beasts, witches and sea gods are just a few of the things you can find when you are taking a trip through the marvellous landscapes of Kundry's Inner World.

Besides scenes which have been derived from the artists own imagination you can also find a large selection of illustrated fairy tales and myths, such as the stories of Odin, Baba Yaga and the Sandman which is shown below.

I don't know if it is because of the characters which are depicted, the bright colors used, the romantic scenes or if it is just her style which I so much adore, but these works are truly magical. I couldn't help dreaming away while looking at her work, stories simply arose in my mind and constantly I felt myself surrounded by a calm and warm feeling which didn't leave until I left Kundry's Inner World.

It is a world you must visit, though keep in mind it is hard to leave......

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Faye Stories Part 4: What makes a Monster a Man?

Alex Flinn's novel "Beastly" is a fresh new telling of the Beauty and the Beast story, that focuses on the Beast and his path to redemption. Even though it keeps some of the basic motifs; a mystical woman, the beast’s flowers, and the proverbial beauty, these traditional aspects are employed in unique way. This original story is well worth the read.

Kyle is your typical neglected rich kid, vain and showy. Except, he showed one bit of human kindness the night of his transformation. Due to that, the mystical woman who transformed him gave him the opportunity for redemption. While he was physical transformed, Kyle, now calling himself Adrian, goes through an internal transformation as well. Adrian the Beast goes through the typical change in view, and it is Adrian whom the reader comes to love. The story makes the Adrian into a worth while man, and deserving of a story that bears his name. Don't read this expecting Beauty's story.

Additionally, Flinn adds interludes that make references to other fairy tale stories. Adrian joins a chat room for transformed humans and interacts with The Little Mermaid, The Frog Prince, and The Bear Prince from 'Snow White and Rose Red'. This small side plot adds a bit more flavor to a good story. Overall, I give the story a 4 out of 5.

Enjoying Beauty and the Beast in a technological age,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Friday, May 1, 2009

Little wonders

As a camera-person, I watch the world with a photographer's eye, but I don't always have a camera with me. This means that so many pictures never materialize, except in my memory. My magical day yesterday was a day of animal wonders. I never expected that, having driven my mother to the airport, I would see on the return to the city a whole herd of dear grazing among the trees near the highway. The meadow with the mist-covered mountains behind seemed transformed by the presence of these beautiful, peaceful creatures, making a picture I can never show but only tell of. Later that day, I had to go take care of an errand in one of those suburban office parks with man-made lakes and benches for the workers to commune with grass and trees during a break. As I always do in a place like that, I parked my car facing the little lake. When I came out from the building an hour later, a large grey Canadian goose was contentedly sitting in front of my car, close to a pile of pine cones I had not noticed before that looked like a pile of treasure, tempting me to imagine the goose collecting them, as surely he might have done in a story I haven't read yet.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Little People of Flores

The New York Times ran a fascinating article yesterday with an update on current research and debate into the origins and nature of hobbits...

Not the hobbits that crawled into the wastes of Mordor with a magic ring; no, this article is about homo floriensis, a cousin-race to humans whose fossils and tools were discovered on a South Pacific island (Flores) a few years back. For those not in the know, this is a species of tool-users who stood less than three feet high and who went extinct on that isolated island about 17,000 years ago. The scientific community -- or the media (I'm not entirely sure which) -- has dubbed this lost species "hobbits." A hobbit skull is little larger than a grapefruit, yet they were adept tool-users.

The wonder of the extinct hobbits is that no one knows where they came from or how exactly they are related to us. Were their ancestors the seven-foot tall Erectus, the giants out of the west? Or did the Little People come first? Where is the common ancestor? A number of theories have been advanced, and the New York Times gives an admirably summary, very worth a read. Paleontologists share something in common with readers of fairy tales -- they operate in a state of wonder, and love riddles.

A further wonder, to my mind, is the thought that there once were Little People, quite literally. Are the stories in so many cultures throughout the Old World and parts of the New descended from some species-memory of Homo floriensis, some encounter thousands of years back? Or did our ancestors ever meet the hobbits?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Faye Stories Part 3: A Knitting Hero

essica Day George re-spins the fairy tale "Twelve Dancing Princesses" in her novel "Princess of the Midnight Ball". All aspects of the original Grimm tale are kept in her well written adaptation. The twelve princesses dance every night at midnight and are saved by a native soldier home from war. But unlike the original story, this soldier chooses the eldest daughter instead of the youngest (who has yet to reach puberty). However George's version takes that basic premise and creates a lovely novel full of details missing from the short tale.

The girls dance not for their own sins, but those of their mother who made deals with a devil figure. Sweet and bound by enchantment they hope for rescue, but cannot ask for it, since anyone who tries to help dies horribly. The soldier is a young man, who lost everything to war, save his intelligence and self worth. His kindness leads a special stranger to gift him with an invisibility cloak and two enchanted balls of yarn. He is valiant and makes a great hero.

The most unique aspect of the story is the soldier's unusual talent of knitting, cultivated by a need for warm clothing during the harsh months of war. His knitting is a major plot point. If he is sitting, it is mentioned that his hands are always busy knitting. In giving away a cloak he knitted, he was given the tools, including magic yarn, needed to help him save the princesses. Without being able to knit a strong black chain from the same yarn he would not have been able to save the princesses from their dancing curse. While the characters in the novel view knitting as a feminine activity, the soldier makes it a way of life. This extra detail adds depth to the story.

"Princess of the Midnight Ball" is a lovely, well crafted and intriguing story. Though, it follows the Grimm tale almost exactly, the magic is in the details and embellishments. Overall, I give it a 4.5 out of 5.

Wishing to be saved by a knitting hero,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Technology is not Always a Good Thing

Scott Christian Sava wrote and illustrated "The Dreamland Chronicles," a comic book created using 3D computer imaging software. The plot slowly develops in the first volume around a college student named Alex, who has not dreamed in years. His first dream since childhood however is more real than he expects. When his heart flat lines during REM and his wounds from “Dreamland” cross over into reality, Alex has to question where he really goes when he sleeps. With a group of friends in the real world and another group in Dreamland, Alex tries to understand what is happening to him in both worlds. "The Dreamland Chronicles" is an interesting story, but has a major flaw.

The illustration style in this comic was a poor choice. The 3D computer graphics give the comic amazing texture and consistency from frame to frame. However, it feels artificial. Traditional comic illustration had more life than the 3D computer imitation. The inconsistency of the art in traditional comics give the story life and energy. The 3D rendering of “The Dreamland Chronicles” is far too perfect and static to be real. It has all of the life of a clear still pond. I recommend the story, but not the illustration style.

There are a three volumes in print currently. There are a total of 13 chapters online, and each Monday another page is posted at Overall I give it a 3 out 5.

Unsure if poor illustration can ruin a good story,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Faun Fables - Songtelling

Who can not fall in love with the beautiful songs of Faun Fables....
Faun Fables, created by Dawn McCarthy, is the most wonderful combination ever made between theater, music and storytelling.

It is hard to discribe the songs as the experience is one which has to be experienced. Thus I advice you to visit the website of Faun Fables and hear for yourself.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cosmic Hand or...?

CNN just published this amazing image by NASA's Chandra Observatory. I agree that on first sight the nebula resembles a hand with its fingers reaching for a starry halo. But then I started thinking about what it might look like from a direction other than Earth. From a location opposite to ours, it might appear as the figure of a luminous person with a spirit-glow at its head standing on a vibrant disk (or a skateboard?). So many possibilities--

CNN Caption: NASA's Chandra Observatory captured this hand-shaped image of an X-ray nebula.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Two Sides of a Coin

Manhattan is a special city and in Avi's story "City of Light, City of Dark", Manhattan is not the city we think it is. The island which the People believe they own belongs to the Kurbs, a dark species. The Island is loaned only as long as a very specific ritual is performed. The energy that keeps the city warm comes from the Kurbs' Power. The People, as people usual do, put the entire responsibility of performing the yearly ritual to a line of women and forgot the loan from the Kurbs. The story takes this premise, and shows the greed of modern man as he fights the scared woman to get the Power and prevent the ritual. The comic-book novel is an interesting story told in an interesting manner.

Avi creates and intriguing story of a group of people entwined with the secret world of the island. Additionally, the illustrator, Brian Floca, creates a familiar city with an unfamiliar air. The story has an interesting feel as it is a novel wrapped in images. While it is a unique idea to put a novel in a form closer to a pure comic, it does not work well enough. The story might have been better suited as a novel with the occasional picture. The comic setting at times is a distracting. The Kurbs would be more powerful as a mental image than a physical image. Brian Floca does a fine job, but it was not the place for images.

The story had a lot of potential, but the reliance of images to tell the story hurt the overall prose. The role of women as heroines and men as villains is interesting, as it is men who are traditionally builders and women nurturers and protectors. The women protect the entire island while the villain wants the power to prove his supremacy. Without much depth of the story, the message is superficial and just a repetition of stories that do it better.

"City of Light, City of Dark" had potential, but was buried in images. While I am a fan of comic books, the medium is not right for all stories. Sometimes a novel should be a novel.

Overall, I give it a 2.5 out of 5.

A bit disappointed at a waste of potential,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Interview with Aaron Paquette

Dear readers,

Visit the Dante's Heart journal for a new interview with Canadian artist Aaron Paquette. You can also see the color and raw vitality of Paquette's art on his blog.

The painting to the left is A Fearless Heart (2008).

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

I think we are drawn to birds first and most simply because they can fly. The story of Icarus daring to reach for the sun is locked in our collective subconscious. The air is a place for men to go in dreams, not reality! Modern technology has broken those barriers, but I think the instinctive fear and wonder of flight remains. After all, our worst dreams are still those of falling. What birds represent for us is the bridge - or intermediary - between our world and the world of the heavens, the world of dreams. They are portents of change and the fact that they come from a seed, break through the walls of one world and into the next when they are born, and then break the bonds of gravity itself! It's not hard to imagine why we have built up myths around them.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Faye Stories Part 2: She's not your Ordinary Golden Hair Damsel

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale is not your mother's Rapunzel tale. As my dear cousin said, "What's up with the Cowboy Rapunzel with snake hair?" Rapunzel's Revenge starts ordinarily enough, but she is no damsel in distress. This western version of Rapunzel mixes the Wild West with old fairy tales and mysticism. Additionally, Nathan Hale paints her world with vibrant colors to make the personality of the girl. He creates a vivacious redhead to replace the wilting golden haired would be princess. Both the story telling and the images give life to this new Rapunzel.

Rapunzel starts her life living in a lovely garden with her mother a growth witch. She find out her life is a lie supported by the work of slaves and her "mother" sucks the life out of the land using her magic. As Rapunzel rebels against her adoptive mother, she is locked in a tree tower that was magically grown. While the beginning starts out normal it is at the tower that things change. With magically grown hair Rapunzel learns to use her hair as rope and whips. With her own strength she escapes planning to end her evil "mother's" reign while saving her birth mother. The girl name after a leafy green joins forces with Jack (of Beanstalk fame) and his goose (Goldy, guess why). She makes a name for herself by saving the oppressed. Rapunzel quickly becomes a cowgirl with whip braids faster than most guns. The stereotypical hero is a fool and out smarted by Rapunzel who needs no rescuing by plans to do some herself.

Nathan Hale makes an interesting choice with her red hair and pale skin. She is as lovely as any princess but with plenty of spunk. Jack is a smaller guy in comparison to the other men in the story. He is clearly from a poorer class with sun tanned skin and cunning sense of the world. His dress blends in with the environment which is colorful despite the desolate background. Nathan Hale gives vibrant moving images to go with the plot.

The story is enjoyable and takes a clever twist to Rapunzel's story. Overall, I give it a 4 out of 5.

Wishing that her hair could be used as weapons,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Monday, March 30, 2009

Fairy Houses.

Today I would like to share with you the work of Debbie Schramer. She creates the most beautiful fairy houses you have ever seen.
I'll bet fairies would love to inhabit these wonderful creations and I am quite sure that many of you would like to live inside these houses yourself.

These houses are literally dream houses, 'otherworldly' is probably the best way to describe them. I can only imagine how wonderful it must be to see them for real, as most details are not visible in these photographs.

Besides these fairy houses Debbie Schramer also makes poetic photo collages, short films and paintings. All very much worth a look.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tread Softly for you Tread on my Dreams

Queenie Chan’s “The Dreaming” is a dark comic set in the bush of Australia. The use of images and the plot are beautifully combined to create a gripping and creepy tale. The main character Jeanie navigates the reader through the confusing world of haunting, superstition and missing girls. She is the hero trying to protect the school and her sister. But at the same time, she only half believes the mysterious aspects of the school. Her sister Amber is positive that the school is wrong and evil. The tale is intriguing and a page turner.

A horror story plays out for Jeanie as she follows painted images that reflect the disappearances of the girls at her school. The images are well done, cryptic and lovely. The paintings mesh so well into the plot it seems not a detail, but a reality of the world the girls live in. In addition to the incredible paintings are the characters themselves. They are realistic and vibrant causing a reader to care what happens to the girls trapped in the bush. As the story progresses fairy tale and Aborigine mythology elements are added. The story is layered and complex though the manga is only three volumes.

Overall I give it a 4.5 out of 5.

Afraid to sleep,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Magical Girls

So, the other night I was watching Sailor Moon. Hey no wisecracks, I loved Sailor Moon as a child, and I hate grading lab reports in total silence. Anyway, while watching Sailor Moon, I started to think about magical girls. Sailor Moon (which came to America long after it was out in Japan) is a fine example of a magical girl story. Japanese cartoons and comics are filled with the magical girl stories—stories of young girls who find they have magic powers and save the world. America has far less magic that Japan in this area. Before Sailor Moon, there were no popular magical girl teams. Until, Joss Whedon brought, our ultimate magical girl, Buffy the Vampire Slayer to America. Buffy produced a mythos and a history. The line of the Slayer is described in “Tales of the Slayers” by Joss Whedon. These magical girls protected through the ages and belong to the American mythology.

The “Tales of the Slayers” follows the stories of eight girls, none of which are Buffy. From the first nameless slayer to last girl Fray, each girl has her story. The first tale is the tale of the first. It is a sad short piece showing the loneliness of the Slayer. The second tale is of a middle ages Slayer, burned for being a powerful young woman who could protect her from, for being a witch. The third is a tale of evil not of Vampire but of the Slayer’s watcher in revolutionary France. The forth tale shows the hardship of the female form in the Victorian age. The Wild West and bond of sisters comes out in the fifth. The Slayer in Nazi Germany fights many evils in the sixth tale. The seventh shows a slayer not far ahead of Buffy, Niki the New York Slayer. Finally, the last story is of the last Slayer, a lone girl, Fray, of the future disconnected from the full history of the Slayers. Each story is a quick read, but shows these girls lives fully. The life of the slayer is complex. Not just because of the gift/curse they bare, but the times they live in. Whedon shows pieces of history through the eyes of exceptional girls.

The comic brought up good ideas and in an easy to understand form. Overall, I give it a 4 out of 5.

Rooting for girl power,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen? If You've Read the Comic You Should

I had the great joy of watching the movie "Watchmen". As a huge fan of the comic, my anticipation was quite high. Would Rorschach still be an absolutist who saw interesting things in ink blots? Would Ozymandias still be like his namesake? Would Manhattan be larger than life? The previews were interesting, but not enough to tell if Alan Moore's vision would be preserved by director Zack Snyder. Luckily, I was not disappointed.

In the previews Nite Owl II looked young and hip, however I was pleasantly surprised when his human ego did not stand out, and was still impotent (a symbol of his life without being the Nite Owl. his actor pulled over the emotion needed for his character. Ozymandias was less like his namesake, and more of Alexander the Great. But that did not hurt the movie. Dr. Manhattan was as aloof and amazing as I hoped. His clock on Mars was cg masterpiece. Rorschach was brilliantly insane, he was who I expected. Gritty and passionate. I loved watching the scenes when he did not have his face on. Of course, reading the comic I knew who he was, but it was a thrill anyway. Even seeing the newsstand guy with the boy reading the comic was perfect. Though their subplot was not included in the movie, it was a friendly reminder that the comic book is out there.

The ending surprised me. It is where the major deviation occurred. I will not spoil it for those who have and haven't read the comic. I would like to say that the deviation did not bother me. The heart of the comic was kept. Actually, most of the movie was the comic frame for frame. I was able to compare what I saw on the screen to what I read. Even Dr. Manhattan's habit for not wearing clothing (some friends have complained about the presence of his large blue manhood). Many of the characters looked like their counterparts, even the President copied his comic caricature instead of a realistic Nixon. Overall the look was persevered.

The movie itself was a visual joy. The transition from paper to movie kept the grizzly images juxtaposed with the bright colors. The current technology allowed for the world of "Watchmen" to be what fans expected. Dr. Manhattan was the god the comic made him. The fight scenes were incredible and Ozymandias was the perfect human by the grace of movie magic.

I was very please and cannot wait to own the movie. I give it a 5 out of 5.

Watching Watchmen,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Sparky, the seriously paranoid robot.

A couple of weeks ago I came across this adorable little shop I found through Etsy, called; Reclaim2Fame. My visit turned into a great adventure when I got introduced to all these wonderful creatures which inhabit the shop.

Big Hug Harry, Alien Queen and Woof the almost mechanical steampunk trusty terrier robot are just a couple of the curious figures which you can find at Reclaim2Fame.

But my personal favorite is Sparky, just look at that little fellow....

All of the creations are made of at least 80% recycled materials and some of the pieces are composed of more than 80% reused material.
Reclaim2Fame gives you an altogheter new view on 'garbage' and what it can become.
It leaves you wondering what bits of it have been and in wonderment of what is created from it. Luckily the creator of Sparky and his friends eases your curiosity by giving you a good discription of the creatures previous life.
More then worth a visit!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Review of X/1999 Part 1: It’s the End of the World as We Know It

The Clamp mangaka team (comic writing team in Japan) created the manga series X/1999. It has spawned a movie and a television series. It is a related to Tokyo Babylon and Clamp School Detectives (both take place before X/1999). It can be analyzed on so many levels, so I have decided to look at it in a series of posts. Starting with an overall review of the series, with a focus on the first seven mangas.

The world of X/1999 is full of magic, priestesses, monks, wind summoners, and fire summoners, with a hint of technology surrounding the mystical world. The characters by and large are superhuman. The story focuses on Kamui, "The one who represents God's will" or "The one who hunts God's will" the only character who can choose his own fate. Kamui must choose between joining the Dragons of Heaven and saving humanity or the Dragons of Earth and saving the planet by killing humanity. There are six Dragons of the Earth and six Dragons of Heaven. The seventh member to either team is Kamui. The tale begins with his choice which up to volume seven has not happened. Kamui has lived through a lot of hardship and seems to not care about anything but himself. Until you see his interaction with Fuma and Katori, his childhood friends. However, they along with powerful magic user in the two sets of dragons are sucked into the fate of the 1999, which only Kamui can choose.

The character play in the first few books is interesting. The Dragons are not easily noticed when they are not using magic. They are children, mild-mannered adult or people kept away from everyday life. The intrigue of how the end of the world will occur with two conflicting predictions of the future keeps the story interesting. How the characters deal with the knowledge that their lives are planned in interesting.

Overall, it is a great read and I would recommend it to End of the World fans. I give it a 5 out of 5.

Enjoying 1999 all over again,
J.R West the Raccoon

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Faye Stories Part 1: Extending Fairy Tales

Donna Jo Napoli has a gift. She is an accomplished youth writer who specializes in a very unique genre. Napoli writes fairy tales. However, do not expect the old school Grimm or Anderson. Napoli takes stories, some that are familiar and some that aren't, and expends them into full novels that answer all of the questions that short stories leave.

Donna Jo Napoli's possibly most famous piece is "Zel", a retelling of Repunzel. Instead of a story about a girl locked in a tower, we get a story of a girl. Zel, who like the original tale is raised in a tower by a witch who owned a garden, is a strong willed girl who is curious. It is not the story of a witch stealing a child, but a witch holding onto childhood. Zel is not trapped in the tower until she shows signs of maturing into a woman. Her "mother" so appalled by puberty and Zel's growing desire for men, that she is locked away. The witch stole a child, and then stole that child's ascent into womanhood. Napoli took a simple love story, and made it a deeply personal tale.

My favorite Napoli story is "Beast," a Beauty and the Beast story where Beauty only shows up in the last two chapters. How did the Beast fall from manhood? Where is he from? How long was he a Beast? Napoli answers all those tales, giving the man under the animal skin a real story. Additionally, "Bound" takes Cinderella into China drawing on ancient forms of the story from the Middle Kingdom. She spins a story about a girl not with fairy feet, but with large unbound feet. "Breath" makes the piped-piper story about those in the village. About their descent into madness and fear. "Sirena" gives us a look into the ancient Greek tale of Philotectes from the Trojan War and the Sirens from the Odyssey. The sirens have a turn to tell their story through Napoli.

Napoli takes stories that we have heard and expands them into epic tales about characters we might have overlooked. She has a gift to give voices to those long forgotten. If you get a chance pick up some of her work.

Rereading stories from her childhood,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fuzzy Imps

I live with a large number of fuzzy imps both lazy worshiped imps and hard working imps. When I drive home the working imps welcome me with the hope of attention and love. All the while, the indoor imps snubbed me. What are these imps? They are cats. I live with two indoor cats and about eight farm cats, mousers. Though, most cats are like the indoor cats, lazy and royal, the mousers are important to the health of the farm. Without the mousers killing on the farm everything falls apart. Yet, I see the mousers, and I want to lavish them with all the love possible. The indoor cats snub such love, unless they demand it. So why do I, and many other people, love these odd creatures. They love the stealing, snubbing, and typically lazy creatures. I bet when I mentioned working cats, there was a pause. Outside of farming communities, I cannot think of another place where cats work except T.V. And this is nothing new.

Ancient Egyptian worshiped cats, the Goddess Bast had a feline form. Ancient cats were no less snubbing back then. In fact, we have domesticated cats, long after the now obedient dogs, and it shows. Still, many houses give way to cats, and serve cats as if they were Kings and Queens. The Jade Emperor forbade cats from Heaven because of their lazy nature.

Why do we love these creatures so?

J.R. West the Raccoon

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The art of Kelly Louise Judd

Dear readers, today I would like to share with you the work of Kelly Louise Judd. An artist who stole my heart from the start and I am quite sure most of you will love her work as well.

This artist has a very recognizable style, which makes it hard to forget her work. In general it is a bit on the dark side.Paintings and drawings depicting surreal and haunted scenes which remind you of old, Victorian times. But the thing which really makes her work so interesting is the way she uses 'symbols' : owls, rabbits, crows, shadows and night views. Animals and scenes which have deeply rooted in our subconsciousness which call up feelings of the unknown and dark. Things which generally fright us but attract us as well. And, that the 'dark side' can also be very attractive is proven by the work of Kelly Louise Judd.

She makes the most beautiful dolls as well, which look as if they came walking out of one of her paintings. They are just as surreal, characters which are a bit excentric and leave you wondering about the story of their lives. And if this all is not enough for you, she also makes splendid jewelry.

I know I always praise the artists I write about in my column as I love all their creations and I love art. But this time I don't just like someone's work, or admire someone's work, I am litteraly deeply in love with her work.
I seem to fall in love with everything she lays her hands on. Her melancholy dolls, her surreal paintings and her jewellery which would make any person who wears it a walking, talking work of art, I love it all.

You might be wondering if this artist really is as special as Isabella claims her to be? Yes, she is and, yes she is even better then that.

But if you have any doubts please go visit her site and see for yourself....

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Scientifically, there is no way to prove this could happen, but...

The Man who Grew Young by Daniel Quinn and illustrated by Tim Eldred is a mythological adventure. Instead of a world were time moves forward, it is a place where we wake from the dead, grow young, and enter the womb. It gives the reader an opportunity to look at our own world and wonder if we did it right, when we went forward time.

The main character, Adam, is the first and last man. While every other human in his world finds their mother in time to enter the womb, Adam has no mother. He has wives that he pulls from the ground and lives with until their first (really last) meeting. The un-mine the ground, and remove factories. They leave America to go back to Europe. In this reverse world Adam is left to find his place, since he has no mother.

Adam, as possibly the first and definitely the last man, encounters many sages who give him wise words on why the world works. Interestingly, the sages are women, three each with an important message about life. One woman realizes the backward and forward nature of time. Another woman understand Adams origin, years before Adam come to understand. Finally, Adam meets Eve the first and last woman he ever knew.

The Man Who Grew Young is in fact about a tale of a man who never physically grew young, when everyone else did. He grew knowing with his place in the world--his importance as the observer of all that happened. He is guided the women who are surrogate mothers, filling the role of his silent mother Earth.

It is a good read, and a bit deep. Overall I give it 4 stars out of five.

Keep questioning the world,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Arctic Unicorns"!

Last year, my husband and I were fortunate to be in Vienna. We went to see the crown jewels at the Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury) and happily found ourselves enchanted by the sight of the Hofburg Palace's "unicorn" horn. For centuries, these mysterious objects have been coveted and held by people of power. Most commonly, a horn identified as having come from a unicorn is actually the tusk (the front tooth) of the mystical narwhal. Now you can see a video of the narwhals' fantastic migration just released by the BBC.