Day 25- Scott McCloud on Comics

What does a scientific mind do in the arts?

The author of ‘Understanding Comics’, Scott McCloud answers this question in this talk about the magic of comics.

Of all the senses, McCloud values sight the most. His father was born with full sight but a bacterial infection caused both him and his sister to go blind as children. He went on to study in Harvard and became a scientist, engineer and military contractor, racking up a number of patents for guidance systems. McCloud himself was a nerdy child, interested in politics and the space program and microbiology. When his friend gave him his first comic book at 14, he knew that was what he wanted to do.

McCloud tells us his father had a blind faith in his abilities as a cartoonist, despite being unable to see his work. McCloud himself has little time for faith in the unknown, preferring to trust the scientific version. However there is a middle ground and it lies within the vision where things which have yet to be proved are reasonably possible.

There are four basic principles to following this vision; learn from everyone, follow no-one, watch for patterns and work like hell. The third principle is where visions of the future begin to manifest themselves. McCloud has named the four different ways of looking at the world; the Classicist, the Animist, the Formalist and the Iconoclast. These seemed to correspond to Jung’s four divisions of human thought.

When McCloud started making comics he also began to try and understand them.Through the visual medium of comics the storyteller tries to embrace all the senses. Pictures, words and symbols are all transmitted via the visual conduit. Sound and its texture are represented visually. Comic structure also represents time, in a temporal map also present in ancient history (such as the Tomb of the Scribe in ancient Egypt).

Once print was invented in 1450, the structure and characteristics of modern comics began to shine through. Speech bubbles appeared within 100 years. In 1993 McCloud began looking at post-print comics, examining how they could use CD ROMS. In the beginning they transferred comics directly onto screens, which broke with the continuity of presentation. McCloud then hit on the idea of the infinite canvas; creating a turn on the screen which was literally a turn, doing circular narratives which were literally circular. He shows examples of 2 from the early 90s.

Modern developments in the comic, according to McCloud, mean they have become more comic-like than ever before. According to him, this allows us to enter the world through many windows and ultimately see its shape.


Day 24- Why I chose a gun

This talk by Peter Van Uhm may make you feel uncomfortable. The Netherland’s chief of defence stands in front of a crowd at TEDex Amsterdam holding a gun and flanked by several members of the armed forces. He describes that while others use the instrument of a pen, a brush, or a camera to make a contribution to society, he chose the gun. I was tempted to stop watching after 2 minutes.
Van Uhm’s story starts with his father, a baker in the Netherlands who was in the Dutch resistance at the beginning of the second world war. A competent marksman, he realised he’d been given an old gun as he fired at the advancing Nazi soldiers yet was unable to stop any. This haunted him for the rest of his life. In high school Van Uhm was gripped by the story of the Allied soldiers, who fought to liberate his home town. As he tells us, he became aware that sometimes only a gun can stand between good and evil to protect the vulnerable in society.
Van Uhm stresses he isn’t pro-war. Instead he aims to promote a state monopoly against violence. Failed states are dangerous. This is why there’s attempts to promote a judicial system in Afghanistan, why police are trained and why the Dutch constitution states one of the main tasks of the armed forces is to uphold and promote the International Rule of Law. In a world where the presence of penalties outweighs the benefits of using violence, he states that the gun is sometimes the only instrument people hear.
According to Van Uhm, statistics support use of the gun, but more importantly they bear testimony to the need for controlled states. Violence has declined dramatically in the last 500 years while the murder rate in Europe has dropped by a factor of thirty since the Middle Ages. War is no longer the best option. But peace and stability come at a price; the gun seems here to stay.

Day 23: Tales of Passion

A Jewish Adage says, “What is truer than truth? The story.”
Isabel Allende is a Chilean-American writer who has published more than twenty works and has been described as the world’s best selling Spanish language writer. In this talk she describes the passionate women who inspire her main characters.
Allende has been a feminist since a young age, when as she says, nobody actually knew what feminism was. Her organisation, ‘The Isabel Allende Foundation’, works with non-profits in the San Francisco Bay area and Chile to empower women and girls. In 2006, she was one of the flag bearers at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. She begins this talk with the story of her time as a flag bearer.
Allende recounts her experience in Turin with good humour. After the initial shock of her call up, she met with the actresses Susan Sarandon and Sophia Loren. She also met with two lesser known yet passionate and inspirational women. There was Wanghari Maathai, the Nobel prizewinner from Kenya who planted 30 million trees and Somaly Mam, a Cambodian activist who fights against child prostitution.
These are the type of women who form the basis for Allende’s heroines. As she tells us, nice people with common sense don’t make interesting characters- just good ex-spouses. She describes more of her real life heroines. There’s Rose Mapendo, a pregnant widow in a Tutsi IDP camp in the Congo in 1998 who eventually was taken to a new life in the U.S. Or Jenny, an American dental hygienist who volunteered in a clinic in Bangladesh while on holidays, removing teeth without a licence in order to lessen the severe pain of her patients, only to be confronted the following day by a man who’d beaten his wife up because she was too late home to cook his dinner (as Jenny was treating her).
Unfortunately, the message hasn’t got through to all of society. 80% of people in refugee camps are women and children. The poorest and most backward societies are those that put women down. For every dollar given to a women’s aid program, twenty are given to similar organisations targeting men.
Allende would love to have the figure of Sophia Loren, but she’d prefer to have the heart and passion of her characters. To improve the world, we need women in positions of power and we need to nurture the feminine energy of men. Or as Allende says,
Let’s get off our fannies, roll up our sleeves and get to work passionately in creating an almost perfect world.

Day 22- How movies teach manhood

I have a feature film idea. There’s a female protaganist and she has many female friends who she speaks to in the movie. But the topic of the majority of her conversations? Love and the men she’s obsessing over.     
In real life, women talk about everything. With my friends, I discuss, in a non-exhaustive order- brunch, news, sport, wine, clothes, music, films, ideas, writing, books, work, family, friends. I know, this may surprise the men out there writing films. Because female protaganists don’t sell. Overall, the portrayal of women in the movies is wrong. According to Colin Stokes proud dad and director of communications for Citizen Schools, this needs to change.     
When his daughter was four, Stokes watched, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ with her. Some key points of this film include the fact the main character and most others are female, the protaganist is strong and ultimately a good example; she wins her battles through making friends rather than guys fighting. Several years later they saw ‘Star Wars.’ This time, he also had a three year old son. The differences? In ‘Star Wars’ Luke fights a heap of guys and there’s very little female action apart from when he gets his reward, i.e., the girl! Did his son pick up on the themes of courage and perseverence- or simply that the world is full of dudes?!     
Is this political correctness a step too far? I doubt it. Some other facts;  
– Pixar, the only studio NEVER to produce a flop, this year produced, ‘Brave’ with a female heroine. It was slated by many for being a ‘princess movie.’
– 11 out of the 200+ best movies of 2011 had female protaganists.
– The Bechdel Test examines the female friendliness of a movie. There are three questions. 1) Are there at least 2 women?      2) Do they talk to each other?      3) Is their conversation about anything other than boys? At the moment, my concept failed. Then again, Argo completely flunked. The male characters have deep and meaningful chats while their wives poke heads in doors and ask politely if they’re coming to bed. Is this all we can come up with?!     
Writers write, directors direct, producers produce ideas that sell. Stokes suggests this simple test; next time you rent a movie, seek out the female protaganists, the heroines who show a good example, nudge your sons to follow this lead. As he says, girl power won’t protect us when boys are using boy power.

Day 21- Deep sea diving in a wheelchair.

This talk is accompanied by a stunning underwater photograph of Sue Austin diving in her wheelchair, or her ‘portal’ as she calls it. I was sold.  
The artist has been wheelchair bound since suffering from a long illness in 1996. When she first got her wheelchair, she describes how peoples attitudes to her changed. She became invisible, defined by their views of her and living her life in response to these views. Instead of giving in, Austin decided to use her chair as a medium for art, hoping to dispel the stereotypes imposed by society.  
When she learned to dive in 2005, Austin decided she could combine this with her art. She shows the audience a video of her diving in the specially made chair. She tells us when there’s no frame of reference for the wheelchair, people are forced to think about it from a new perspective.  
Novel and inspirational. As Austin states on her website;  
“My studio practice has for some time centred around finding ways to understand and represent my embodied experience as a wheelchair user, opening up profound issues about methods of self-representation and the power of self- narration in challenging the nexus of power and control that created the ‘disabled’ as other.”    

Day 20: Ellen Gustafson- Obesity and Hunger= 1 global food issue

Do you think America is full of obese people sucking on gallon cups of Coca Cola? Would it surprise you to know that 49 million people there are hungry? Ellen Gustafson tells us there’s a definite link between the two. That connection is in poor food production methods.  
She deals firstly with agriculture. In America, 75% of food consumed is processed or fast food. This comes from the main products of their agricultural system; corn, soy and wheat. Small farm holders have been forced out by formation of mass consolidated farms and in the interim nobody has passed on suitable farming practices to those in Africa. As a result, African agriculture has fallen as hunger has risen. Amongst the most hungry people in the world are subsistence farmers.  
Gustafson, along with Jamie Oliver and Michael Pollan, assert it takes thirty years to change the habits of eating. In this talk she launches the 30 project, a drive to change the way food is produced and the produce we eat.
Gustafson has worked as a U.N. spokesperson and is the co-founder of FEED, a charitable project which sells products to combat world hunger. She is passionate about her cause, speaking quickly and animatedly. Her talk is only 11 minutes long yet the transcript is almost three pages. However there are gaps in her plans and the manner in which she arrives at her conclusions. My verdict; watch Michael Pollan.

Day 19- Pictures that bear witness to modern slavery

Lisa Kristine takes haunting photographs of indigenous people. Her pictures capture another world; the wide eyes of an African child, the inner workings of a gold mine in Ghana. Behind the beautiful and moving nature of her pictures lie a number of uncomfortable truths about the world we live in.

In 2010, Kristine met a representative from an NGO called, ‘Free the Slaves’. She was amazed to learn of the extent of slavery in the modern world, and offered to help them in any way possible. In this talk, she tells the story behind a number of images she took in countries all over the world.

There are approximately 27 million people enslaved in the world. That’s more than twice the amount who were taken from Africa in all the years of the slave trade. Entire families can be enslaved over a death of as little as $18. This debt is passed down through generations’ Kristine shows us the face of one man who was trafficked by his uncle to work with him in the mines. When his uncle died, he was forced to stay to pay back his debt. At the time of meeting with Kristine, he had worked there for 14 years. He’d suffered a leg injury so severe doctors said it needed to be amputated. He also had tuberculosis.

There are more stories which will bring tears to your eyes. The children forced to fish on Lake Volta in Ghana, despite being unable to swim. The women trafficked as sex slaves in Nepal. The people working in brick kilns in India and Nepal for 16 or 17 hours daily without water or breaks. Kristine displays pictures which bear witness to the numerous industries in which people are abused, mistreated and forced to work without pay. These include mining, gold panning, fishing, textiles, the sex industry, agriculture. She reminds us this happens under our noses. It’s estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 children are sold into sex slavery yearly in the U.S.

Lisa ends with photographs of some of her subjects holding a candle. These symbolise the hope that remains, hope that they will be rescued. Her talk is an excellent testament to the power of images.

(There is a donation to the cause with images purchased on Lisa’s website)