Sunday, October 3, 2010

Post-Apocalyptic Mythology Part 1: What is worth holding onto in the vast wasteland?

When the world ends our trash will become treasures. Things that seem so important to daily life will no longer be of value, and things that we forgot or threw away will be gold. So when the world is over what is important? The film "The book of Eli" attempts to answer that question. The main character has a pack that he refuses to part with, and perhaps on the surface level that pack is important because of the titular book it holds. However, that pack is important for many more reasons beyond the book. Eli's livelihood is within that pack. Every character has objects that are of extreme importance in this post-apocalyptic world. So what would you need?

Of the three characters who remember the world before their needs vary greatly. The villain needs weapons, of all types. He is a collector of gasoline, armored cars, and fast vehicles. He has his own army well equip with bullets which are exceedingly rare, and has a town at his disposable trapped by his hidden water cache (which is what is most desired by all people). But despite all this power and wealth, he is desperately looking for the one weapon which he needs most. The female from the before times only needs her daughter's safety. Finally, Eli has a few possessions which he treats with religious devotion. First is his iPod, which seems to be the only way he sleeps at night. Second, his machete which is cleaned and sharpened with the same care one gives a lover. And lastly, of course, is his book, the sole reason for his existence.

This is a culture stores that puts the highest price on things like soaps, lip balm, and shampoo. Lighters are a dime a dozen, but nice clothing is hard to get. Guns are carried without bullets and most people travel by foot as gas is only for the powerful. Everything is hoarded with the hopes of a good trade, if for nothing else, for water. However, the two main characters who were not from the before time require less tangible things. The main henchman just wants a woman, and the main girl desires anything more than she has. It is not things she needs but ideas. Her hopeless world is too empty for her.

This post-apocalyptic world is complex and interesting. It shows the human interactions in the trade, theft, and gifting of possessions, which may not be necessary for life, but are for living.

I give the entire tale a 4 out of 5.

Holding tightly onto her beloved book,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Those Dead Sure Do Get Around

The Dead, or living dead, or animated corpses, or unconsecrated, or zombies, or whatever the kids are calling them these days, sure do get around. Zombies are everywhere you look these days. There are nazi zombies, female man-hating zombies, and you have zombies in America, England, etc. With so many zombies how does one find the stories that are worth while, not the ones that have gratuitous violence with a sprinkling of naked chicks? I have luckily found two comics which are both based on novels and both wonderful. The first is a graphic novel version of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and the second is a companion graphic novel to the "World War Z" universe, "The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks". I have read "Pride and Prejudice", seen the movie, and read a graphic novel version; however, the comic "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is by far my favorite version to date. Unfortunately, I have yet to read the book "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" (which I can only assume to be equally as good). "World War Z" is also on my list of books to read, but until then "The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks" will have to do. If you are looking for fun with Zombies and comics, these are the way to go.

The "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" graphic novel is adapted by Tony Lee and illustrated by Cliff Richards. Originally written by Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith, I cannot comment on how well the story translated from text to comic, but I can comment on the final comic product. The graphic novel is hilarious. Imagine that ever slow part of “Pride and Prejudice” is changed by adding zombies. The whole Collins-Charlotte episode is improved by the minister’s wife is slowly decaying into the undead. Instead of a stuffy battle of words between Lady Catherine and Lizzy, it is a battle to the death with swords. There is never a moment that I wished there were not zombie hordes roaming England. The Bennet sisters are greatly improved with their newfound zombie fighting skills. The excessive violence is what Jane Austin needed in her original. The art was well done, with unique shading that reflected the darkness of the world and the characters in this new version. I must say that overall "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is a vast improvement.

"The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks" is written by Max Brooks, the zombie expert who brought the world "World War Z" and "The Zombie Survival Guide." “The Recorded Attacks" is a well thought out addition to the mythos that Max Brooks had created. Spanning from prehistory to modern day and the outbreak that caused World War Z, the presence of Zombie’s in the world is clear. The story telling is fresh and a nice blend of myth, plausible history, and zombie-tastic fun. Avatar Press takes care of the illustrations, which are plenty gruesome and just realistic enough that at times I want to turn my head away. The story telling and images work well together to create an interesting tale.

So, if Zombie is on the menu, instead of a hack and slash Zombie IV film, try one of these comics. They will not disappoint.

Sharpening her Machete to fight undead hordes,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Sunday, July 4, 2010

American Mythology

For the special 4th of July post, I want to wish my fellow Americans Happy "Independence Day” (Happy "Forth of July" to everybody else). This day is one of my top holidays, it's no Halloween, but it's a good one. I love my country, and I am proud to say I'm a patriot. I believe in the core doctrine of the land and salute my flag. I am not an "'Amurka' is spelled F-R-E-E-D-O-M" patriot, but we can't all be. I want to take this moment to look at what America has given the world in terms of mythology. As a ridiculously young country, most of our mythology is stolen, borrowed or adapted. As such, purely American myths are few and far between, but as the years go by they grow in number. Our oldest myths belong to the west and the spirit of exploration. In fact these myths are so a part of our culture that they are typically forgotten. I'm talking about Tall Tales.

Elementary students hear about the exploits of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, John Henry, Johnny Appleseed, and Pecos Bill. Unfortunately, when asked about these figures later without a small bit of prompting they typically forget many of them. The region that you are from does influence which of these tall tale heroes you are most familiar with. In the Midwest Paul Bunyan is all the rage, his statue is all over Wisconsin. The Michigan vs. Michigan state football game winner gets a Paul Bunyan trophy. The Wisconsin vs. Minnesota game winner gets Paul Bunyan’s axe. As a Lumberjack his story is intertwined with the history of the region. Pecos Bill is a cowboy through and through and is the reason for the Lone Star of Texas. John Henry proved that the American dream is stronger than any machine as he drove steel for the railroads. Johnny Appleseed is so ingrained in the American mind that even the Girl Scouts have a song about him that they sing before meals from time to time. Johnny also has the distinction of being a real man whose life has been remember through myth. There are many other American men (and women) of legend. They continue to shape our modern mythology (e.g. “Steel” of DC comics is a modern take on John Henry).

So on this 4th of July, this day of Independence in America, take a moment to think of those mythic heroes who embody the ideals of this country.

Enjoying the holiday,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Thursday, June 10, 2010

September Issue: Calling for Art


Dante's Heart ( will release its long-awaited fourth issue in early September, 2010. There will be a section devoted to trickster figures, as well as a richness of other work.

We are currently seeking art -- all media are welcome, but we will publish digitally online -- both for the issue's cover and interior. Art focused on trickster figures is welcome, but we will also consider anything relevant to fairytale, myth, folklore, fantasy, or the moment of wonder.

Please spread the word! Interested artists should contact me or submit work at

Daniel Fusch, Ph.D
Editor, Dante's Heart

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Music and Fantasy

Quietly it crept in
And changed us all

-Blind Guardian

When contemplating fantasy music it is often the instrumental pieces, like those heard in the new Lord of the Rings Trilogy that come to mind. However fantasy has had a long and comfortable home in Heavy Metal. Many Metal artists are nerds, the coolest nerds ever, but never-the-less nerds. The Metallica song "Things That Should Not Be" was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's "Old Ones". Led Zeppelin also gave a fantasy twist to much of their music, with a number of songs based on the Lord of The Rings (i.e. "Over the Hills and Far Away", "Misty Mountain Hop", "The Battle of Evermore," and "Ramble On"). While many thrash metal, heavy metal, and general metal artists will have a song here or there about the fantasy world, there is one type of metal that is based primarily on fantasy. Power metal is inspired by the world of the fantastic.

According to, there are over 5000 power metal bands in the world. Power metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that combines traditional and speed metal elements, and is often more symphonic in nature. Along with a similar music style, power metal songs tend to share the same theme, fantasy and magic. Elvenking takes not only their name from the fantastic, but their songs include those same elements. Elves, dragons, kingdoms, and magic all appear in power metal songs. For example Evenking's “The Perpetual Knot” uses language reminiscent of highly magical days of Viking days of yore:
"Walking the trails of the perpetual knot
Search for the fibres,
the dwelling light net of Wyrd
Roaming souls on branch of Mother Earth"

Dragonland, while also conjuring old English settings, delves right into fantasy in their song “Majesty of the Mithril Mountains”:
"The time of wonders has come
The Dragons soaring high."

If Viking movies and novels are up your alley, or you just want something which brings you back to the magic of old, Power metal is the way to go.

Rocking it out with Elves,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Friday, April 16, 2010

Post-Apocalyptic Mythology: A Brief Introduction

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
—T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men" (1925)

Humanity has long had an obsession with death, from stories of the undead to quests for immortality. The only seemingly sure thing, death, has plagued the human consciousness. However, the death of the individual is not the only death that Humans worry about. Like creation myth, many cultures have their own end of the world mythology. The Christian faith has revelations which speak of devastating war and destruction, where as the Mayans have the world ending in different cycles with different methods. Story tellers have imagined into existence millions of ways to end the world. But the world's end is not the end of the story.

With the world over, the logical question is “what's next?” The issue of the post-apocalyptic world has its’ own set of mythologies. Some myths are quite old belonging to ancient cultures. For example, Christian Revelations puts the post apocalyptic world in a paradise. Modern writers, more often than not, do not share that cheery end of the world. As varied as the ways the world dies, are the ways humans handle what's left. They can escape to space or underground, evolve to fit the new world or an imagination’s worth of other possibilities. These myths are in some ways more compelling than the end of the world scenario that spawned them.

If this is the way the world ends, then what happens next?

Looking beyond the end,
J.R West the Raccoon

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Cure for Exhaustion

Tonight the editor of Dante's Heart is rummaging the house to find a cure for exhaustion. He remembers having seen it before, a tiny little quartz bottle with a cork stopper, an heirloom from his great-grandmother. He remembers the liquid inside sounds like the humming of bees when you shake up the bottle.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Long Ago Far Away

Dear readers,

I have been delighted to find a few clips on youtube (here is one below) of a television series I grew up with, Long Ago Far Away. This series of animated fairytales (using every medium from line drawing to stop animation) was often introduced or narrated by James Earl Jones of Darth Vader fame.

This wonderful series of fairy tales was a delight of my childhood. Definitely take a look at this clip of "Janko Raven" - you will be enchanted!

Does anyone know, by any chance, where recordings of "Long Ago Far Away" can be located/purchased? My machete-hunting through the wild ferns of Ebay has not turned up much....

Editor, Dante's Heart

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Other Side of the Mirror

Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor with Liz Cavalier and art by Ben Templesmith is a graphic novel based on a series of books with the same name. It is a reversal of the standard Alice in Wonderland. This Alice is a Wonderland princess lost in our mundane world. The characterization of the titular Hatter is spectacular as a royal guard of Wonderland appearing to be the definition of mad in our linear world. However, with his narration as a guide, he is easy to relate to. Additionally, the use of the art style and color in Templesmith's illustrations adds a new depth to the story, particularly to the characters. Beddor takes a familiar story and creates an intriguing and witty reversal.

The role of the hatter is much expanded from the original story. Instead of running a mad tea party this Hatter is Princess Alice's personal guard, trying to find her in a world that is far from the fantastic world he is used to. He replaces Alice as the focus and proves to be a brilliant character. His remarks at times are completely non-sequitur but appropriate in tone. Even his hat is more than a decoration; but instead is a bladed weapon he is well trained in using. It is a thrill to take the adventure with him.

The comic takes care to show visually the difference between those characters with ties to Wonderland and those who are terribly mundane. The hatter is draped in blue tones, colorful, but melancholy. Children who still imagine Wonderland are wrapped in bright colors and fanciful shapes. Adults not trapped by the lackluster of the normal world are colored while the rest are blue-gray, dull and lifeless. Very rarely are hard lines drawn; fuzzy curves dominate the art. Crisp definite boundaries are avoided; making the world feel dreamlike, as if the Hatter cannot accept our world as reality.

Hatter M: The Looking Glass War is a refreshing take on the classical tale. The artistic choices are brilliant and reversing Alice's role makes an interesting variation. Finally, the use of the Hatter as the protagonist caps this lovely comic. I give it a 4 out of 5.

On the wrong side of the Rabbit Hole,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Congratulations to our Art Editor and Editor-in-Chief

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate two of the staff members on the addition to their family. I wish them all the happiness in the world and send all my love to their new little girl, River.

With Love,
J.R. West