May 26 was the 2nd Annual Mini Comics Day, where cartoonists come to the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts and write, draw and print a mini-comic from 10:00-5:00. It was also my Mother’s Birthday, so I dedicated my mini comic to her as a gift.
Read on to see scans of “Abra-Ka-Deborah - The Marvelous Misadventures of My Mom!”:
I set up the table with homemade book stands and sold posters and prints of my portfolio pieces and several comic booklets. I also wore my Hedorah Fedora.
I still have plenty of inventory, too, so if you want to order something drop me a line.
Read on to hear stories about how the con went, and to see some pictures I made while I was there.
Highlights of the con:
I brought ten copies of my 2008 painting, “Why So Curious, George?” and sold out of them an hour before the con ended on the last day. Why So Curious was my “crowd magnet” and helped facilitate a lot of other sales.
For example, ten minutes into the first day, a lovely family came up, laughed at WSCG, and then told me that it was their 2-year-old son Carson’s birthday and that he LOVES Curious George. So I made sure to make them a (non-violent) commission of George, like he appears in the books, with a “Happy Birthday, Carson!” greeting written across the top. I made his day and that made my day. Easily my happiest moment for the whole con.
Then I started drawing random fan-art and putting up signs that said “I draw 4 u!” I’d brought a large pad of paper and an easel so that people could see what I was working on.
I had a few people come up asking for sketch cards, which is always awesome. I’m still getting around to those, actually, but I’ll put them up when they’re ready.
While I waited for customers I drew this:
Optimus Prime and Megatron face off on Cybertron while misc. Autobots and Decepticons fight in the background. Charcoal.
On the second day, these two nice young men came up and commissioned this picture from me:
Wet charcoal and sanguine chalk drawing of the burning Godzilla from Godzilla Vs. Destroyah (1995)
And I was commissioned to do a small sketch of Jason Todd version of The Red Hood from Batman (not pictured)
I also got introduced to an MCAD professor, and ran into my drawing and painting teacher from childhood. The community here is really interconnected and you’ll always be surprised who you’ll meet.
All in all, it was really, really fun. A great first experience with conventions. I can’t wait to go to FallCon, that’s for sure!
The MN Opera has a habit of inviting The Black Hat Collective to dress rehearsals for new performances of classic operas, but this April we were blessed with a very special opportunity to see an brand-new opera, written specifically for young voice students (between the ages of 8 and 18) based on the enormously popular children’s novel The Giver by Lois Lowry.
The plot of The Giver revolves around Jonas, a 12-year-old boy living in a society that is carefully designed to be free of pain, fear, and difference, but which is also devoid of color, history and heights of emotion. Jonas has a gift —he has begun to see colors! On the day when all twelve-year-olds are assigned their duties in society, Jonas is sent to apprentice as a “receiver of memory.” He shall become the one vessel for all of humanity’s collective memories, good and bad, so that the members of his community may live in blissful, destructive ignorance. And the person who imparts this knowledge to him is known as “The Giver.”
In the end, Jonas and the Giver decide that what the community has done to itself is wrong, and they concoct a plan so that Jonas can escape, the act of which causes all the memories to return to the people.
The opera is staged on a small thrust stage with a large scaffold above. It features a Greek Chorus of sorts to narrate the action as the main characters go through their motions and sing their lines. When the Giver transmits memories to Jonas, actors from the chorus come out from the sidelines holding canvas screens, onto which film footage is projected. These memories cover the lovely things like snow, color, animals and love, and the terrifying things like pain and war.
The opera was composed by Susan Kander, who loves to write music for young audiences and performers. She has composed several successful youth operas in the past.
The music is very good. It’s melodic and makes good use of chorus. While it doesn’t use rhyming, it does have a poetic repetition scheme and has places for the young talents to really shine and show that opera is more than just talking up and down a scale.
Lois Lowry herself was present at this showing, and she stayed afterwards to talk to the kids who performed in the show.
The Giver was already completely sold out by the time we saw the dress rehearsal. If that weren’t the case, I’d be urging everyone to go see it —not only for your own enjoyment, but to support the creative dreams of these very talented children.
I’m confident that this opera will keep playing. The current cast is graduating out of the educational program that it was created for, but other groups will perform it because it’s good enough to last. Keep your eyes peeled for it in the future.
In March 2012, French bandes dessinées artist Jean Giraud, better known as Moebius, passed away. Moebius’ science-fiction work, often in collaboration with writer-filmmaker-guru-psychomagician-artist Alejandro Jodorowsky, influenced feature films such as the Fifth Element, and Moebius created pre-production storyboard art for films such as Tron, Alien and most heavily, Blade Runner.
This April, the Minneapolis chapter of the International Cartoonist Conspiracy convened to bring to you a Moebius tribute jam comic:
You’ll notice that this one is only 5 pages because there weren’t very many people there that day. Also, you’ll notice that I worked in a shot from the gritty christmas superhero story that I’m working on:
The Black Hat Collective was invited out to another show at the Minnesota Opera on Thursday. Our mission is to view the opera, interpret it with cartoons, then blog about it.
This time the show was Silent Night — An adaptation into opera of the 2005 film Joyeux Noel, which is a beautiful story about the 1914 “Christmas Truce” of World War 1.
Read on to explore the history, music, art and drama behind Silent Night in this fully-illustrated article —with cartoons, videos and more! First, some background on the Christmas Truce. In 1914, British and German armies met on the front lines, ready to kill each other. But on Christmas eve, when soldiers were nostalgic for home and under the influence of the Christmas Spirit, each army overheard the other one singing Christmas Carols. Neither side desired violence on Christmas, and so they took the chance to have a formal truce, to bury their dead, and to mingle together.
Here is a short documentary about the Christmas Truce:
And here is a song about the truce, “Christmas in the Trenches” (1984) by John McCutcheon.
In 2005, a film was made. Joyeux Noel gives a fictionalized account of a Christmas Truce between Scottish, French, and German soldiers. The film features dialogue in all three languages and won lots of awards. Watch the trailer for Joyeux Noel.
The opera Silent Night is a direct, scene-for-scene operatic adaptation of the film.
Silent Night summarized and illustrated.
The play opens with the main characters being called away to war. We see what they have going for them and just what they have to lose.
Audebert, top. Ponchel, bottom.
In Scotland, brothers Jonathan and William are caught up by patriotic fervor and join the army. Their priest, Father Palmer, is concerned for their safety and joins the same army as a medic.
Lieutenant Audebert, leader of the French faction of the military, has a pregnant wife at home. And his aide, a local named Ponchel, longs to visit his mother who lives only 2 miles away.
Arguably the main character of this story is an opera singer named Nikolaus Sprink (yes the main character was an opera singer, even before the Movie was made into an opera, how meta is that?)
Sprink is called away from his career (and the love of his life, a soprano named Anna Sørensen) to take part in the war, but does so gladly. The German lieutenant Horstmayer, on the other hand, does not like Sprink at the beginning of the story for one reason:
Tell it like it is, Horstmayer!
This cast of characters convenes on the battlefield, which is located in France
The set for Silent Night centers around a rotating circular stage that serves as the elevated war zone between trenches
A battle ensues. William, the older of the Scottish brothers, dies, and Jonathan is heartbroken and maddened. Audebert loses his only photo of his wife (which is in his wallet) and is also heartbroken.
In the middle of all the fighting, Sprink is called away to give a Christmas recital for the German Princes and generals.
The recital is a duet with his love interest, of course.
I’d be grossed out too.
The safety and pomposity of the generals compared to the men in the trenches disgusts Sprink. He and Anna make plans to run off back to France and give a performance for those who deserve it - the german soldiers in the Trenches.
When Sprink and Anna arrive, the nearby Scottish soldiers are singing their own songs, and playing bagpipes. The Scots are playing for themselves, but the Germans can hear it.
Sprink sings for his German compatriots, and the Scots can hear it.
Sprink is so moved by the playing of the bagpipes that he musters up the courage to wander out into the center of the battlefield, carrying a small Christmas Tree, and sing.
This part is the best section of the opera, musically, IMO.
A bagpipe/opera-singing jam session!
Scottish Lieutenant Gordon. Must. Resist. Batman reference!
Audebert looks sharp
The lieutenants of each respective army frantically run to the center of the scene to keep things from becoming violent. Instead they propose a truce for Christmas eve.
All the soldiers convene and mingle. They trade booze, tell stories, play soccer, and do other fun things to cut the tension of wanting nothing but to murder each other moments before. Horstmayer finds Audebert’s wallet and gives it to him, solidifying their friendship.
The only person who doesn’t have fun is Jonathan, the younger Scottish brother. He finds his brother’s corpse, cries over it, buries it and vows to KILL EVERYONE.
On Christmas Day, the armies catch Jonathan burying his brother and decide to spend the day burying all of their dead. Father Palmer, who followed Jonathan and William into battle, leads the ceremonies.
These squiggles are actually a poignant depiction of the casualties of war
By the third day, the truce is officially over, but nobody can bring themselves to kill their new friends. However, eventually word gets out that this truce has happened. And then all of a sudden everybody is in
German (left) and British (right) Majors read news of the Christmas truce and freeze as if to say, “OH NO YOU DI-ENT”
The bosses come out to the field to crack down on fun.
The German bosses announce that the whole team is being relocated to a war zone in Russia. They also decide that Sprink is to be arrested and thrown in jail for a long time because it’s all pretty much his fault. Sprink and Anna share a romantic freak-out moment.
In the movie, they have sex or something. In the Opera, it’s a duet
Sprink and Anna decide that rather than get split up, they will walk across the battlefield and let themselves get taken as prisoners of war by the French military. Horstmayer knows he has to stop them but he lets them go anyway, because he’s a nice guy deep down.
The British bosses show up to the battlefield to berate everyone. When they see a lone man dressed in a German uniform, the British major demands that he be shot down. Nobody complies at first, but then Jonathan, who still wants revenge on all that lives and breathes, guns the poor guy down.
It turns out that the guy in German costume was actually Ponchel, the French aide! He had disguised himself as a German so that he could get past the blockades and see his Mom one more time. With his dying breath he informs Audebert that his wife has given birth to a son. This makes Audebert happy to be alive and willing to endure the crap he’s going to receive for allowing the truce to happen.
When the German soldiers are deposited in Russia, they march off to battle singing a Scottish Christmas Carol, illustrating the power of memes.
Then holographic letters pour out of the sky with choral voiceovers, implying that word of the event was spread and the Christmas Truce was immortalized.
Watching this production warms the heart, but also gives one a sense of the terrible irony of war —where humanity is looked upon as “weird” and violence is the norm. I think the message of this play is not only that “Artists make bad soldiers,” as Lieutenant Horstmayer points out at the beginning of the play, but also that good human beings make bad soldiers.
“Unsolicited criticism — Always a good seduction technique!”
Now I will REVIEW “Silent Night.”
Let me start by saying that I love the Christmas Truce. I am a history nerd. I geek out over history so hard. I am also a film person, and Joyeux Noel is a great film. Given that this opera is based on a great historical film, I think it’s safe to say that anybody who is either a history or a film enthusiast like I am will greatly enjoy this opera for its content.
When it comes to the form of the opera, I am also a theater person and a classical music enthusiast, and in the formal arena I have to say that while I liked it a lot, it could’ve been better. Here follows my well-reasoned critique:
The staging of this opera is brilliant. As a staged version of Joyeux Noel, it’s perfect. The costumes are great. The circular stage gimmick works really, really well. There are hologram effects, great sounds, great acting. This could have been a normal play and still had 75% of its charm.
I say that because, musically, my opinion is split 50-50. The incidental and background music (the stuff I can only call the “soundtrack”) is pretty darn good. It sounds very reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann to my ears. Occasionally it gets a bit dissonant and cacophonous in an unpleasant way at inappropriate times —between scenes, during transitions between one location and another. But overall I was pretty positive about the soundtrack.
On the other hand, there’s the dialogue-singing —what I would call the “songs.” These are my main area of concern. When compared to average operatic fare, these are well-written. The composer is clearly a talented classical mind with a style he’s developed and likes to stick to.
However, that’s my problem. Think about this: There is only one style throughout this entire play. I gather that the composer was more interested in composing his own opera than he was about composing the Christmas Truce opera.
Because when you’re dealing with a story about three armies from three different countries, you have a lot of openings for mimicking and blending regional styles of song. Unfortunately those avenues were not taken (except in the scene between the bagpiper and Sprink, which was beautiful and I loved). The scenes with the Frenchmen don’t sound particularly different from the scenes with the Germans and the Scots don’t seem musically Scottish at all.
Here’s what I would have liked to hear: Each army should have melodies or leitmotifs inspired by each nation’s musical or operatic tradition.
German opera has a style. It’s Wagner, Mozart (just to name a few). The music of Beethoven.
French opera has a different style. Think Debussy, Berlioz, Bizet, Offenbach, Gounod.
Britain, admittedly, doesn’t have much of an Opera tradition. Unless you count ballad operas, light operas, and musicals. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a great lyrical music tradition. —especially the Scots!
One could easily model the music in the Scottish Army’s section off of traditional Scottish, Celtic, or folk melodies. It would have been brilliant to turn to the songs written by poet Robert Burns, for example.
And then when Christmas happened, the styles could merge and influence one another and the melodies could form counterpoints.
That would have made the show a *masterpiece.* I’m drooling now to imagine what that would sound like.
So as such, the background music is good, but the songs were not great. And the two different strains often blended together in an unsatisfying way. But the staging was perfect.
Either way, Silent Night is an amazing stage adaptation of Joyeux Noel. I rate it 3.7/5