Sunday, 20 March 2011

Craig Thompson's Blankets

This is a heart-stoppingly beautiful book, and a real testament to the power of the art form. The melding of story, speech and art are done so as to transport you into the author's very mind as he tells of his struggle with faith and love as a teenager. It's 600 pages long -- I promise you'll be through it in a day. And at it again the next. I don't want to over-hype it so those who look for it won't be expecting the best book they've ever read, but this should be required reading for anyone who's ever been a teenager.
The more you read it I think the sadder it becomes; the more it speaks of how tortuous it can be being a teenager. It also brings you right into American teen culture, in a similar, though less grotesque, vein as Charles Burns' Black Hole. One reason I enjoyed it is that the style is similar to my own; and I can't emphasize enough how much this inspired me to put as much effort into my drawings as Thompson does. The black and white medium is handled with skill and grace; beautiful detail here, tantalizing suggestion there. Every page is a canvas. I am over-hyping it, aren't I? Go out and find a copy.

Comics as fine art

I am a comic nut -- nobody knows this about me because I am properly ashamed of the fact. Luckily I seldom get questions about why, as an English major, over half of my bookshelf is filled with graphic novels. I've gone through those days of worshipping those modern myths, the super heroes, and I will be forever grateful to Spider-Man and the Justice League for getting me into drawing comics in the first place (really it was Tintin and Calvin and Hobbes which got me started, but it wasn't until later that I realized it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life). However with the discovery of the graphic novel, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and the wild world of Vertigo, my style of drawing and outlook changed very much.
        I hate reading analysis of stuff that's supposed to be fun, so skip this paragraph if you like. But I've struggled wit myself for some time pondering whether comic books can constitute 'fine art'. Whoever says that comics cannot speak poetry, let him read Krazy Kat, Pogo, the later Calvin and Hobbes strips, and graphic novels like Craig Thompson's Blankets. But comics of epic and timeless value, foremost of which are the likes of V for Vendetta, have to be put in perspective before they are labelled, as I did initially, as high art. They will shine through the ages above all other comics, but do they hold a candle to other modern art, like Munch or Mondrian? The effort involved, the creativity required, the origins of the idea and the cultural significance are all there (now I'm thinking specifically of V). To falter at my own hurdle, I have no idea. With more reading I expect I'll succumb to my own bias and decide "of course comics are fine art, you illiterate!" But to be honest, this isn't something that is ever going to effect my immense appreciation and enjoyment of the art form.
For the next week or two I'll begin reviewing my favorite comics and suggest which are surest to suit your pleasure.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Upcoming trip

Click to see my basic route.
For those of you who might be interested in visiting Morocco, I'll outline my plans as far as they've been set in stone.
I'll be flying into Marrakesh, which is your classic bustling Berber city with winding streets and carpet sellers -- only inundated with tourists. It's definitely worth a look 'round just for the culture, but I won't stay long here.
Spices on sale in Marrakesh
 I'll make for the mountains hopefully on the first day. I'll find a mountain pass that runs just north of Mount Toubkal national park. Toubkal is the highest mountain in the Atlas and I'd really like to climb it, but it's still snow-covered at this time of year, and I'm travelling light; can't take any winter climbing equipment when I'll be spending most of my time in the desert.

Ouarzazate (pronounced wa-za-zat)
 I'll be aiming for (and hopefully hitting if I want to restock on food) the mythical desert frontier town of Ouarzazate, a real oasis with incredible architecture and history. I might spend a day or two here resting up and meeting people. I'll depart northeast by bus, heading for the town of Merzouga and the famous Erg Chebbi. 'Erg' is the Moroccan word for dunes, and they're harder to find in the Sahara than you'd think (banish from your mind the image of thousands of miles of sand dunes; most of the Sahara is gravel and salt flats).
Erg Chebbi
This location is unfortunately very popular with tourists, so I'll have to trek out a bit to avoid the commotion. I'd like to rent a camel and a guide if it isn't too expensive. At any rate, it will be amazing to pitch my tent out here under the stars.
I'll hopefully have a week left at this point, so I'll head directly west to see the Dadas gorges, also popular, but filled with ancient Berber strongholds and alien rock formations. This area is rugged, but should be easily navigable with a compass. I'll play it safe and get back to Marrakech early; hopefully having a few days to spend soaking in more of the culture of this fantastic country.
So yeah, expect an update about how that went in three weeks!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Metablogging (i.e., ripping off other blogs)

Googling Chaucer after my last post I found 'Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blogge', an absolutely genius site. Here is the prologue of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code as written by Chaucer. Compare to the original chapter after you're done snickering.


Oon night ther forwarde dide ystagger fayntynge
A man hight Saunierye who knewe of payntynges
Thurgh archwaye vaulted of the Louvre he passid
And seised at nerest canvass as yf gassid;
A Carravage yt was, wyth gilded frame,
Ovt from the walle thys man dide tere the same.
In hepe beneth the canvas doun yfallen
From far aweye he herde thalarme to callen. 
He thoght hym ‘ich yet lyve’ and caste his eyen
Arounde the roome a refuge for to spyen. 
As crawlede he forth a voys dide saye ‘Halt, stop!’
So close yt was! Yn feere hys jawe did drop.
And ther thurgh irene barres he sawe a man
-for, ich sholde saye, accordynge to the plan
Of Palais-Louvres securitee ful grete
By cause of the alarum from lyne VIII
Ther hadde ydropped a gate of muchel strengthe
That trappid Saunierye yn that roomes lengthe. 
The man on thothir syde (art thou stille wyth me?)
Was an albino, ful pale and straunge to se
For nothynge striketh feere yn mortal soules
Lyk to the pale! A boate ful of hooles
Ich rather wolde thurgh sharke-rich watirs stere
Than oones come to an albino neere! 
A pistole from his coat the pale man drewe
And aymed yt at Saunieyre the trewe.
In accent odd, ‘Was litel vse to runne,’
He sayde, ‘Now wher ys yt? Or get the gunne!’ 
‘Tolde thee I haue,’ the gode man dide proteste
‘Of what thou spekst ich haue nat the fainteste’ 
‘Thou liest’ thalbino sayde, ‘Thou and thy brotheres
Kepen sum thynge that by ryght longeth to otheres.’ 
Adrenalin in Saunieyres veynes dide synge
‘How coud he,’ thoght he then, ‘knowe of thys thynge?’
‘Tonighte,’ pale weirdo seyde, ‘the rightful men
Thys thynge in seisin holden shal ayein –
Telle forth and lyfsblud for thynselfe reservest
But telle me nat and by my gunne thou stervest.’
So Sauyniere lyk Sinon storye tolde
False as the devil, and seyde yt forth ful bolde
For he hadde yt rehersd many a yeer
(Ye notice, o myn gentil rederes deere,
Ich telle yow nat of what thys ‘thyng’ might be-
Yt ys a tricke poetic vsid by me 
To kepe yow yn confusioun most plesynge
Thurgh alle thys vague and nonspecific tesyng). 
So, wyth the tale of thys McGuffin tolde
Sire Lilye-White did logh, ‘Ich knowe of oold
Thys storye false, for oothirs haue yt seyde’
Sauyniere dide gaspe and blaunchen lyk a mayde:
Yf pale-face spoke the treuthe, than al the thre
Of senechaux (aske me nat what they be)
Had dyede the deeth and tolde the selfsame tale. 

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Canterbury Tales Rap

A search on YT for 'canterbury tales rap' turns up about a hundred results; mostly aging English teachers trying to be hip. But this is the best one; you can tell these guys really know what they're saying, and put the rhythm of the poem well to a rap beat. More than that, their pronunciation is excellent.

If you haven't read any Chaucer and lack the incentive, let me provide you with some: a few of the Canterbury Tales are absolutely filthy, even by internet standards. Stuff ranging from anallingus to St Paul going around magically covering people's entire bodies with penises. And contrary to internet standards, they're almost always funny. Look up the Miller's Tale for a start.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Book suggestions

I know my readers are a literate crowd; any suggestions on what books to take on my backpacking trip? Something warming for relaxing in a tent during a thundershower? Leave 'em in the comments!
I was thinking one of poetry and one fiction/nonfic. I've thought about something by Jack London in his stories about Alaska (just to contrast the desert I'll be in) and maybe some poems by Herman Melville.

Monday, 7 March 2011

One-Person Sierra Designs Lighting-XT

Another thing that gets asked a lot on the Lonely Planet forums is which one-man tent to get. This is something I am actually not very knowledgeable in, save that I own a very good one. It's the only one I've ever really used so I don't have great context with which to write this review, but I can still recommend the Sierra Designs Lightning XT as a brilliant tent.

Interior: well-placed pockets, loops, and those sorts of trimmings. Nice big doorway for easy exit (or escape). The rainfly lets in a lot of light, so you can read with it on in the evening. Also it creates a nice dry space outside your door to keep boots, and other things you don't want in the tent. It's vital when you're thinking about buying one of these that you get one with enough room to comfortably sleep both you and your enormous backpack. I'm not a big person, but I get along fine if I have my bag down next to my feet. Tall people with large packs will want to test this out before buying.

Exterior: looks quite nice, doncha think? I like the unobtrusive colors so you can be sneaky while camping on private property, or where there's a risk of some crazy wandering through the woods looking for expensive boots to steal (it's happened). The only flaw: its thin and wide dimensions are not good at handling strong winds when the rain cover is on. I learned this the first time I tried camping on a mountaintop in a rainstorm. That said, it isn't so hard to find shelter from the gales. Do make sure to pull the rainfly tight, or rain will pool up and begin to leak through (this is true of any tent).

Set-up: probably the best part about this tent. It's a bizarre design -- the three poles are all connected by little knobs, and swivel around. You've got to bend them every which way and make damn sure you've got it the right way 'round or you'll be starting all over. But once you get the hang of it, the whole tent goes up in 60 seconds or less. Fantastic if you're hit with a sudden shower.

Price: I think mine was around $220. I am bewilderingly cheap when it comes to buying camping equipment; I slowly back away when anybody tells me how much they've paid for a backpack or pair of binoculars. But it's worth dropping a little extra on; this kind of tent will literally last a lifetime, and won't quit on you in the middle of an adventure. Recommended.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Man who was Thursday

I started reading this over the inevitable 26-hour journey from Chicago to the UK in February. It's a fantastic book, and I had to stop reading it two chapters from the end. It's clear that GK Chesterton had some agenda when writing it; I only wish I knew what it was. I won't spoil, but it goes exponentially from being undeniably slow to heart-pounding and utterly surreal. The subtitle is "A Nightmare" and there are a lot of indications that by no means are you to take this book seriously. Only you want to. The main character is just a straight-up awesome dude and it spins such an enticing world.
The premise is Gabriel Syme, a member of the secret police, finds himself elected into a top rank in an international terrorist organization. Sound very topical for today? It was published in 1908.

 So the plot is insane, brilliant too, and will have you smiling like a Cheshire Cat as you turn each page. If I gave it away here I'd be the world's biggest bastard, but it's fair to say that it's unique in the world of literature. To put it bluntly, Chesterton has written a book about the pursuit of God.
There's something enticingly movie-like about the novel, what with all the chases around London, special effects (including a memorable elephant), sword fights, dreamscape countryside and constant mortal peril. But like all that's good about Chesterton, it also has a devil-may-care, winsome, romantic streak a mile wide. If it was going to be a film, it should have been directed by Hitchcock; this really is like the 39 steps as written by Kafka.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Food on the trail

Nutrition is gonna be a big issue when I'm out for 16 days, and there won't be any supermarkets around to sell good camping food. And if I couldn't catch a rabbit in Scotland I won't be doing it in the desert. So I'm making a list of food to bring that will hopefully last me a week at least.
I'd like to see if anyone has suggestions to add. So far I have.

Oats or quinoa (quinoa has complete protein, but isn't as tasty)
Cans of fish (fish gives more nourishment per weight than other meat)
Pumpkin and sunflower seeds as a snack/protein supplement
Tea can make the harshest environment seem like home. Provided you can get a fire started.
Wholemeal biscuits
Protein drink powder, (ultra lightweight, for emergencies)
Some packets of sports drink mix in case of dehydration
Cliff bars (that's my brand, yo)
Powdered milk

I'll be purifying water with chlorine tablets. Supposed to be easier on your liver than iodine. It'll make the placid mountain streams taste like swimming pool, but oh well.

Comment with suggestions/experience!