Tag Archives: surrealism

Neil Gaiman’s “Miracleman” Issue #6

Miracleman_06

This issue concludes the Golden Age. The first issue of the Silver Age arc was supposed to have been released this month, but I heard from my friend at the comic store that it has been delayed and no word on when it will be out. Alas…

Anyway, this issue, like the others, is very surreal and leaves you with a heavy feeling, oscillating between hope and despair. At the end, people take hold of balloons and float up to the heaven, a symbol of transcendence and separation of the soul. The words are exquisite and worth including here.

I drift upwards, perfectly, unspeakably happy. I see the city, spread out below me like a child’s toy; its streets and lanes thronged with more people than I have ever imagined. And one by one they rise to join me. Magical, glittering children fly among us, laughing and darting like will-o’-the-wisps. I weigh nothing. It’s like a dream; a dream of love and perfection. Some of us call out to each other, happy, near wordless cries of good fellowship and joy. I watch the sun setting in slow flame, painting the low summer clouds with light. I watch it; a huge orange balloon that seems to fill half the sky. It commences to sink below the horizon; and as it does, its last rays catch the stray clouds, silver and mauve and grey; transmute them into ruby and amethyst and gold. Purest, most perfect, eternal gold.

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Neil Gaiman’s “Miracleman” Issue #3

Miracleman_03

This is a very surreal issue. The story features clones of Andy Warhol, and the artwork is done in a style that alludes to Warhol’s work. It addresses themes of consciousness and whether consciousness is holistic and resides in every cell.

Hmm. So does that mean that memory is holographic? That each cell contains the entirety? Obviously not? Magnetic fields, perhaps, or Kirlian fields…

(p. 4)

I wish I had more to say about this, but it just left me feeling strange. Like I was in a dream instead of reading a comic. Like I said, this is a very surreal issue.

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Neil Gaiman’s “Miracleman” Issue #1

Miracleman_01

I read recently about a “new” comic arc written by Neil Gaiman. Being a big fan of Gaiman’s writing, I inquired about it at the local comic store. The owner said that it was originally written in the 1990’s and only part of the series was ever published, and that they were finally releasing the rest of the arc. He got the six original issues for me and said the first “new” issue is scheduled to be release in March.

I really enjoyed this first installment. It is classic Gaiman writing, rich in mystical symbolism. The writing is augmented nicely by Mark Buckingham’s artwork, which feels surrealistically modern, yet appears classical in style.

In this first issue, four pilgrims are climbing the stairs of a massive temple to reach their god, Miracleman, where they can pray directly to him. The climb is symbolic of the struggle one must take to attain a spiritual goal, where each level represents a stage in the spiritual ascension.

I ache all over. The rhythms of the climb begin to imprint themselves on my consciousness. Step after step after step, hour after hour, until we reach the next floor. Then we walk around the inside of this tower of miracles, through hall after hall filled with oddments and delights of every shape and kind, until we reach the bottom of the next rung of stairs. And up.

One of the floors of the temple is a hall of mirrors. The mirrors symbolize the stage in the spiritual quest when one begins to examine oneself through the lens of altered consciousness, seeing yourself in new and myriad ways, catching glimpses of your subconscious mind.

I don’t know how long we spent on the hundred and fiftieth floor in the mirror halls. We must have walked for miles, looking for a way up, or a way out, finding only mirrors. Regular mirrors, row after row of them. Distorting mirrors, that made us look fat, or thin, or twisted. And other mirrors. Taipek said he saw an angel in one of them. I didn’t see any angels. In one mirror I saw myself naked. In another I was looking out at myself, but I was holding up a piece of paper.

I love a graphic novel that uses visual art and written word to explore the intricacies of the mystical and the subconscious. This clearly falls into that category of graphic novel. I am eager to delve into issue 2.

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“The Sandman: Overture – 6” by Neil Gaiman

SandmanOverture_06

This is the final issue in this arc, and it is nothing short of amazing. Gaiman is such a gifted writer and the surreal artwork that accompanies his text draws you into a world of symbols that speaks directly to the subconscious.

In this final installment in the graphic novel, Dream struggles to save existence, entreating Hope to convince the souls on the mystic ship to use the creative power of their collective consciousness to recreate existence as it should be, as opposed to what it has become. At the end, the cycle is complete and everything begins again, renewed. This is only logical, since all existence is cyclical.

I feel that whatever I write about this will not do it justice. It would be like trying to describe and explain Mozart’s music to someone who was born deaf. All I can do is encourage you to experience this graphic novel for yourself.

I will finish with a quote, which really stood out for me. It expresses the power of art as a way to convey the ineffable through symbols and myth.

One day, perhaps, we will have become legends. We’ll pass this way outside of space and time, when what they’ll know of us will be just questions. They’ll carve our deeds in stone. Build us in rhyme. The things they’ll tell about us will be lies. But lies of such a kind as tell a truth perpetual. Our lives will be revised. Preserved, we’ll mouth the epics of our youth. Actors will play us, braver than we are, more funny, deeper, prettier by far. Their lines will be more resonant and wise than anything we said. Majestic lies. So wait. Some tales might be the truth one day. For now, alive, we huddle, ache and pray.

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“The Sandman: Overture – 4” by Neil Gaiman

SandmanOverture_04a

After months of patient waiting, issue #4 has finally arrived. It was definitely worth the wait.

The issue is a little bit confusing because it seems to be occurring at two dimensions in time and space simultaneously. In one dimension, Morpheus, the Dream Lord, is entering the City of the Stars with Hope and Cat (Cat being a manifestation of himself). Yet on a seemingly parallel plane, Dream is also meeting with his father, the masculine aspect of the Divine Dyad.

The Dream Lord entreats his father to help him prevent the undoing of all existence. His father is disinclined to assist him. In the end, though, the father concedes that he may be willing to help. The illustrations which accompany the sections relating to Dream’s encounter with his father are psychedelic and vividly colored. In fact, they reminded me a lot of Peter Max’s work.

SandmanOverture_04b

By contrast, the scenes that take place in the City of the Stars, while still surreal, are much more fluid and the colors border on the pastel.

SandmanOverture_04c

When Dream and Hope meet the insane star, the star destroys Hope. I found this to be symbolic of society’s loss of hope in the world. And the irony is that clinging to what little hope is left in the world will actually change nothing.

Hope: I… am Hope.

Star: Unfortunate last words, given the context. Three words that mean nothing. As if saying that might ever change something.

The issue concludes with Dream being imprisoned within a dark star. The colors turn ominous as deeper shades of purple, black, and grey swirl together into a dark vortex.

Star: So we will not kill you, Dream King. We will simply render you unavailable. Inside the event horizon of a dark star, nothing ever gets out. No light. No information. And definitely no dreams. Goodnight.

This was such an intense issue, I feel like I need to read it at least a couple more times to fully grok it. In fact, I will probably re-read the entire series so far. I’m sure I will catch things that I missed on my first reading.

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Parody in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

HitchhikersGuide

It’s hard to believe that I had never read this book before, but I have finally gotten around to it. It was a popular book when I was a teenager, but for whatever reason, I just never read it. The book is very funny and full of witty parodies. I blew through it in no time at all and was thoroughly entertained from cover to cover.

I figure rather than writing a summary of the book, I would instead look at some of the parodies that stood out for me.

One of the first parodies that struck me was the Guide’s detailed explanation of the importance of a towel.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapor; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it around your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you—daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

(pp. 27 – 28)

Reading this reminded me of Rabelais, who also used long lists as a form of parody. What comes to mind are the pages in Gargantua and Pantagruel where he describes all the various things that one can use to wipe one’s behind.

Another scene which I found hysterical was when Ford and Arthur are captured by the Vogons and as a form a torture, they are forced to listen to Vogon poetry, which is considered to be the second worst in the universe. So not only does Adams parody bad poetry, but he pokes fun at pompous scholars who write criticism. He does this by having the captives try to come up with a critique of the offensive poetry to make it appear to be some form of high art.

“Oh yes,” said Arthur, “I thought that some of the metaphysical imagery was really particularly effective.”

Ford continued to stare at him, slowly organizing his thoughts around this totally new concept. Were they really going to be able to bareface their way out of this?

“Yes, do continue…” invited the Vogon.

“Oh… and, er… interesting rhythmic devices too,” continued Arthur, “which seemed to counterpoint the… er… er…” he floundered.

Ford leaped to the rescue, hazarding “… counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor of the… er…” He floundered too, but Arthur was ready again.

“… humanity of the…”

Vogonity,” Ford hissed at him.

“Ah yes, Vogonity—sorry—of the poet’s compassionate soul”—Arthur felt he was on a homestretch now—“which contrives through the medium of the verse structure to sublimate this, transcend that, and come to terms with the fundamental dichotomies of the other”—he was reaching a triumphant crescendo—“and one is left with a profound and vivid insight into… into… er…” (which suddenly gave out on him). Ford leaped in with the coup de grace:

“Into whatever it was the poem was about!” he yelled. Out of the corner of his mouth: “Well done, Arthur, that was very good.”

(pp. 66 – 67)

The last parody I will discuss is a brilliant bit of satire that lampoons philosophers and workers at the same time. The philosophers are depicted as individuals who feel they have a monopoly on the truth. They are also extremely self-righteous and just like workers are ready to go on strike at a moment’s notice if things do not go the way they want. So in this section, the philosophers are incensed because a computer is being tasked with discovering the answer to the ultimate question of existence, which the philosophers feel is their domain and if the answer is discovered will jeopardize their jobs.

“I’ll tell you what the problem is, mate,” said Majikthise, “demarcation, that’s the problem.”

“We demand,” yelled Vroomfondel, “that demarcation may or may not be the problem!”

“You just let the machines get on with the adding up,” warned Majikthise, “and we’ll take care of the eternal verities, thank you very much. You want to check your legal position, you do, mate. Under law the Quest for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers. Any bloody machine goes and actually finds it and we’re straight out of a job, aren’t we? I mean, what’s the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine only goes and gives you his bleeding phone number the next morning?”

“That’s right,” shouted Vroomfondel, “we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”

Suddenly a stentorian voice boomed across the room.

“Might I make an observation at this point?” inquired Deep Thought.

“We’ll go on strike!” yelled Vroomfondel.

“That’s right!” agreed Majikthise. “You’ll have a national Philosophers’ strike on your hands!”

(p. 172)

So as you read the craziness in the news and start to worry that the end of the world is nigh, just keep in mind the profound words of advice from this sage book: DON’T PANIC.

So long and thanks for all the fish.

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“Hollow City” by Ransom Riggs: Myth and the Subconscious

HollowCity

Hollow City is the second book in Ransom Riggs’ “Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children” series (see my review of the first book: Symbolism in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs). This novel picks up where the first on left off and follows the adventures of the peculiar children as they race through World War II London in an attempt to save their ymbryne, Miss Peregrine (an ymbryne is a person who can shape-shift into a bird and has the ability to create and maintain time loops). They are hunted by wights and hollows. Wights are amoral beings who seek to exploit peculiars to gain their strengths, while hollows are Lovecraftian creatures who feed on peculiars.

As with the first book, this novel’s greatest strength is the inclusion of abundant photographs. These photos drive the story and augment the mental imagery that the writing evokes. They are all black-and-white photos and could easily be included in a surrealist art exhibit. While I appreciate vivid colors in art and photography, there is something eerily evocative about black-and-white pictures. Maybe it’s the shadowy texture or the dreamlike quality. It’s also very likely that they tap into memories of watching old black-and-white sci-fi and horror films on Saturday mornings as a kid. Regardless, the illustrations in this book work really well for me and I think the story would suffer if it did not have the pictures.

There are two other topics that are explored in this book which I found interesting: myth and the subconscious. They are both subjects that fascinate me and are incorporated into the story in a creative and engaging manner.

“Do you realize what this means?” Millard squealed. He was splashing around, turning in circles, out of breathe with excitement. “It means there’s secret knowledge embedded in the Tales!”

(p. 64)

Great art and literature often seeks to express things that cannot be conveyed through traditional communication, hence the use of symbols and metaphor to express the ineffable. The use of symbolism is also a way to mask ideas that may be dangerous to either the writer or the reader. Hence, our literary history is filled with works that contain knowledge which is not visible on the surface, but requires decoding on the part of the reader. In fact, as one of the characters in the book points out, there are some things that can only be expressed through myth and symbolism.

“Yes,” said Addison. “Some truths are expressed best in the form of myth.”

(p. 98)

The book also explores the subconscious in some creative ways. One part that stood out for me is when Jacob was having a dream, which in and of itself draws on the symbolism associated with Jacob’s dream in the Bible, where he ascends to Heaven and wrestles with God. In this story, Jacob also wrestles in his dream, but with his personal fears. What I found most intriguing, though, was that while Jacob is dreaming, he is talking in his sleep. His words are incomprehensible to his friends, because the language of dreams is all symbol and taps directly into the subconscious. There is no way to adequately express in words the realm of dreams.

I bolted upright, suddenly awake, my mouth dry as paper. Emma was next to me, hands on my shoulders. “Jacob! Thank God—you gave us a scare!”

“I did?”

“You were having a nightmare,” said Millard. He was seated across from us, looking like an empty suit of clothes starched into position. “Talking in your sleep, too.”

“I was?”

Emma dabbed the sweat from my forehead with one of the first-class napkins. (Real cloth!) “You were,” she said. “But it sounded like gobbledygook. I couldn’t understand a word.”

(p. 189)

A shift into the subconscious, or any altered state of consciousness, is often symbolized by a descent into a dark place. In this book, the characters descend into a crypt using a ladder, which again ties in to the biblical myth of Jacob. This entry into a dark and subterranean space represents a shift to the shadowy realm of one’s consciousness.

The ladder descended into a tunnel. The tunnel dead-ended to one side, and in the other direction disappeared into blackness. The air was cold and suffused with a strange odor, like clothes left to rot in a flooded basement. The rough stone walls beaded and dripped with moisture of mysterious origin.

(p. 240)

Overall, I liked this book a lot. It was exciting, fun, and it also contains “secret knowledge” that one can discover if one reads carefully. I look forward to the third book. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long.

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