I have been a big admirer of the works of NC Wyeth for a long time. You might remember his illustrations from your favorite classic YA adventure novels (now assigned texts in college 19th Century and turn of the century literature classes), books like Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Last of the Mohicans, A Boy’s King Arthur, Kidnapped, The Yearling, Robin Hood, The Deerslayer, etc. Very popular books in the early 20th Century with themes and storylines still made into movies today.
I loved his style! BIG color, lots of drama, action, adventure, stunning landscapes. I wished I could paint like that ever since I saw my first Wyeth up close at Texas Tech University. But I was a cartoonist at the time, and an occasional portrait artist, and I was working towards a PhD in Creative Writing. I wasn’t thinking of myself as an Artist, nor was I think of myself as an Artist who was going to study Wyeth.
As a gay man, growing up so Other from other boys, I had a peculiar relationship with the World of Boys and Men (which I will write about more in a later post) and that was a world that belonged to Wyeth as well. I had felt excluded for a long time from that world, and made up for it by being in other worlds. But I lingered outside the borders often and looked in at Things Which Were Not For Me.
So I pursued writing and teaching as a career, making art wait.
But in the last few years, my teaching situation changed, and it was difficult to find work as an adjunct teacher. I also continued to almost make it in the job market for tenure track positions. So i decided to make a change in my life–to build my art career–because I needed the money, a new source of income, and my art had waited long enough.
Y’all, I read this awesome story, and I want to tell you about it. It’s about a mother and daughter who are witches, tired of having to move from town to town to hide their identities. They finally say, no, and decide to push back on all the rumors, fake stories, and prejudice so they can stay in community with the town. They’re happy there, to an extent, but negative rumors about witches and children and ovens are spreading in the city about them, so they have to take action. Mother takes her daughter into town to confront those rumors head on! And she is not someone to be messed with. Does she use witchcraft to get her way? She does not. She uses reason.
Along the way, she discovers a bigger secret hiding in the town, and must be the witch the town needs in order to survive.
I loved this story for many reasons.
Yes, it has a trope I love—family. I’m a sucker for brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, any combo of family. So I’m already biased going in. Family for me comes with its own stakes already in place. In nearly every family story there is a question of “how do we keep the family unit intact?” How do we survive together? The characters are not just strangers, or friends, or a D&D Party (all good groups!), but have shared history together that an author can explore, and a familiarity with each other that can really aid a story. I think Zig Zag Claybourne uses all these positives to his favor in this story.
It is difficult to know how to address the current situation, how to speak out against the police violence and purposeful escalation of violent action against peaceful protesters, angry protesters, and protesters in the street speaking out against police brutality. They are often met with police brutality.
I’ve watched too many videos where police drag a protester into the middle or catch one on the side and physically assault them while they are “arresting” them. All the other officers crowd around the officer beating someone to make sure no one else interferes. They all cover each other.
It’s protected assault.
Officers have “qualified immunity” from work related violence that they do as part of their job. If they can say they needed to do it, then they can do it. They never have to be held criminally liable. Oh they MAY get fired, but then transferred to a new precinct, a new city, ready to start the abuse over again.
The Blue Code, the Blue Shield, Blue wall of silence, or other names, is an unwritten code of conduct that police officers buy into—protecting each other’s abusive or illegal activity. Even if they go in with the best of intentions, they will end up following the code and not turning in other officers, not speaking out, for fear of what might happen to them.
#BlackLivesMatter— At the end of my statement there are Columbus area black artists to follow, and a long list of video links to the Columbus Police using violence on Peaceful Protesters. #WeBearWitness
Normally I do joyful paintings about queer heroes and monsters, about large hairy men in love, or portraits of friends and family, but last Friday, protests for racial justice began in Columbus, Ohio during a worldwide pandemic. The combination of these two things prevented me from participating in the protest, as I’m immuno-compromised. And so, like for the last two and a half months, I was sheltering in place but watching the videos of my friends and fellow Columbus-residents as their peaceful protests were met with violent, overreactive police retribution. They were sprayed, gassed, shot at, beaten, arrested during a peaceful protest meant to highlight the problem with police brutality. Well, nothing highlights police brutality like more police brutality.
For one protester who made a video, there was a moment all the violence started: when a police officer socked a protester. When the protesters objected to being assaulted by shouting, they were all sprayed with pepper spray. (Bryan Battle Jr video is also linked below)
Video after video surface from the #columbusprotest showing the Columbus Police using excessive force and assaulting citizens of Columbus (whose taxes pay for police and whose right it is to protest injustice–and whose taxes pay out the settlements in law suits made against the police.)
Infuriated by the videos and my inability to be there to support the movement, I did what I could. I took a screenshot of the video and created this painting.
Very happy and honored to tell you that my novelette, “Postlude to the Afternoon of a Faun” originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Mar/Apr 2019) is a finalist for the 2020 Eugie Foster Memorial Award!
The Eugie Foster Memorial Award for Short Fiction (or Eugie Award) celebrates the best in innovative fiction. This annual award is presented at Dragon Con, the nation’s largest fan-run convention. Starting with the 2020, we will add a video presentation of the award online, along with a reading of a section of each finalist.
The Eugie Award honors stories that are irreplaceable, that inspire, enlighten, and entertain. We will be looking for stories that are beautiful, thoughtful, and passionate, and change us and the field. The recipient is a story that is unique and will become essential to speculative fiction readers.
I’ve had a wonderful two days just telling people that I became a finalist and receiving so much positive feedback. I kinda feel that being a finalist with all these cool authors and stories is its own reward! It’s really filled my soul with love in this very tumultuous time.
There are still many changes to make in the world. We will make them! Today, it was nice to feel loved.
PS. Yes that is my illustration for the story. It was something created way after the story was accepted and in print… but it was fun to doodle.
Today I want to share with you work that I completed while at the Columbus College of Art and Design, and which would have been part of the Columbus Arts Festival 2020 in June (but WILL be part of the festival in 2021!)
I fell in love late in life with a character from a Christmas special: Yukon Cornelius, created by Romeo Muller as part of the 1964 Rankin/Bass production of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”–a stop motion special that is shown every Christmas. You might recognize the character:
Burly, positive, full of helpful asides “Bumbles Bounce!” and “the fog is as thick as peanut butter!”–Yukon helps our heroes realize their dreams by a) saving them from the Abominable Snowmonster, b) taking them to the Island of Misfit Toys to carry a message to Santa to come get these toys and pair them up with kids and c) reforming said Abominable Snowmonster and making him tame, and cool for Christmas Parties.
I don’t know why Yukon stayed with me. It might be that I went to live in the Yukon for nearly 10 years. I mushed some dogs (tbh, only as a one-day fun thing in Inuvik, NWT–though I attended and watched the Yukon Quest as much as I could), and spent time out in the wilderness. But I also lived in the great city of Whitehorse being a friend and misfit to a lot of other friends and misfits, who are also great musicians, artists, talented amazing people.
Maybe it was that Yukon was very burly, and I was attracted to him, or even attracted to the kind of man he represented–a big “bear”. He seemed like a better version of a male hero than I had previously encountered. Though he had a gun, I don’t think he ever shot it. He was practical, helpful, encouraging. He had a lot of knowledge about Abominable Snowmonsters! And he was much more interested in saving people than in killing monsters. In the end, because Bumbles bounce!–Yukon and Bumble somehow come to an understanding. Bumble is just another misfit that needs to find his right place… and he does, next to the Christmas tree.
In another post, I will tell you more about that Queering the Hero journey I made–and continue to make. But here are my paintings, extrapolating three things:
Yukon Cornelius could be gay. People have commented before on the queer undertones of the show–read the articles here from Vulture, and KQED and in 2019 The New York Times opinion page—- about themes of bullying, about being different, about being rejected, about finding acceptance for your unique qualities. Romeo Muller was himself gay. It’s not a stretch to see the queercoding in the show. Making Yukon Cornelius gay is not a stretch either, since he doesn’t make mention of a wife, and reads as what we would call a “bear” today–a burly, bearded, slightly overweight, slightly hyper-masculine man.
Yukon has a way of charming beasts. His expert past knowledge of the Abominable Snowmonster speaks to prior run-ins with “Bumble”—and then he is able to tame and speak to the Bumble (who miraculously grows back his teeth in the final few minutes of the special!)
Yukon deserved more of an adventurous life.
So, I created that life for him–and for me. The copyright on characters from this movie had a misprint in it, making all characters in public domain (outside of Rudolph who had prior copyright). So I adopted Yukon as my hero and gave him a life of meeting cryptids (Bigfoot, Mothman, sea monsters, etc.) Using acrylic and myself as a reluctant model–or at times a stand-in, I painted these paintings. (side note: I’d planned to have several cooler guys than me become Yukon for these paintings–but planning photo shoots was not easy.)
So if you’ve always wanted a rollicking adventuresome gay hero, I offer you Yukon Cornelius–rescuing, negotiating, protecting, singing, reading, allowing himself to be loved.
I just saw Doctor Strange in theatres. It’s a good movie, but this is not a review. I went into the movie not knowing much about Doctor Strange. His was not one of the titles I followed in 80s. But when I saw the movie, I recognized something familiar about his origin story: like most superheroes, he starts rich.
I guess I started to realize something was up with the economic distribution of superheroes when I thought about all the gadgets Iron Man and Batman both had. Unlimited weaponry, endless supply of toys. But it was when I was teaching a class on Superheroes, Social Justice, and the Principle of the Common Good (the kind of class you can develop at a Catholic Marianist University like University of Dayton) and as a class we started to see a pattern in the heroes. While each of them manifested different powers—most of them, most of the famous ones, had something each of us did not. Most had sources of wealth and positions of elite privilege before they got superpowers.
This is important to think about when we think of Superheroes and Power—that power is often not given to those who have no power before, but is given to those who have always had power. With a few notable exceptions, becoming a superhero requires money. This means that the average person doesn’t become a superhero without money—just like they don’t become a lot of things in the real world without money. And that is an interesting thing to think about when you think about superhero escapist fiction. We have all these possibilities! We can choose ANY storyline. We think it’s about a redistribution of power—that ANYONE can become a superhero–but analyzing origin stories, the results say something different.
The Net Worth of Superheroes
Those who have power in the superhero universe and who have the job of protecting citizens are often unacquainted with most of the 99%, are used to being wealthy and powerful, and are often living far removed from common society in Fortresses of Solitude, atop penthouses, or in private academies on large estates, or in mansions or whole buildings in downtown NYC (there are exceptions—I can hear you already, bursting to say names—but I’m talking about a surprising majority of the major superheroes we have today).
Definitely Not the Opera, (DNTO) a CBC Radio One program devoted to the art of storytelling in Canada, asked me to tell my story of coming out to my church for their Nov 3 show “Lost Causes”.
I had pitched the idea to them last year for a different show called “Making Enemies” but withdrew the pitch because a) I don’t think I meant to make enemies, nor do I think I have made enemies; and 2) because I didn’t want to restir a pot that has finally calmed down.
But they remembered my pitch. And they sought me out. Which is humbling, and cool. We recorded on Friday morning and they are editing my lengthy story to 3-4 minutes. I appreciate Andrew Friesen’s belief that my story was important and needed to be told. I feel like the story is more appropriate under “Lost Causes” because trying to reason with people who don’t want to listen to you, or discuss with you–and believing that you alone have to spark change–well, it can feel like a “Lost Cause”. But in the end–and the end hasn’t come yet–who knows if the cause is lost? I think every person who says the church must look at the evidence, must consider the Christian testimonies of LGBT folks in the discussion, is a step towards change. We need more people who realize how many people have fallen away from the faith, have decided against Christ, have been repelled from the church, and who, sometimes when there is no hope left, taken their own lives, all because the Church has historically refused to consider the scriptures in an accepting light–and this causes their members to refuse to accept their children in an accepting light. This splits familes. My God and my Christ are not what I encounter when I come into a Baptist Church anymore. I daresay they wouldn’t recognize it. Churches are not all one defined Mass though–as many churches are beginning to change their minds about LGBT people. Episcopals, Lutherans, Presbyterians, United Church of Canada–all have begun seeing that this is just the next issue the church has to rethink. As it did slavery, race, and its treatment of Women. And divorce. Change comes when people inside churches decide they can’t hold false doctrine anymore. Christianity and Faith are not the problem. Interpretation is.
I was living with my folks the last time I saw the Ring Cycle on PBS in the US. I made my parents endure several hours of it before they said, enough! After all I had hi-jacked the TV for several nights. And I was in the middle of Siegfried, and well, maybe….. actually my mother came to me and said, “Are you really enjoying this?” with a hint that she’d probably prefer something else. And actually, then, without the absence of distraction–I was inside the living room of an active six person house with dog–I don’t remember much of the Ring Cycle at all. I do remember telling my mom that we could change the channel.
I know, high recommendation eh? But it was a small tv, on a fuzzy station, in a mad house of six people and dog— it wasn’t the Yukon Arts Centre, with its HD and surround sound. It’s giant screen. And it wasn’t hunky Bryn Terfel, the Wotan of this Ring Cycle. I’m unabashedly crushing on Bryn Terfel.
Needless to say, I am looking forward to going through my first RING CYCLE in its entirety! As a fully realized, aware, culturally-interested adult (without a dog). I want the t-shirt that says I got through it. I may ask Triple J’s to make some!
Anyway, a FREE movie begins the cycle–it’s Wagner’s Dream: the Making of the Ring Cycle at 7pm on Saturday, May 12.
Because we are offering the Ring Cycle and because I’m kind of the defacto host of these Met Opera’s, I needed to know more about it–so I looked up the story. It’s freakin’ amazing!
It might sound familiar: A ring forged that will let the wearer rule the world, dwarves fighting for the ring, dragons that guard it, doomed lovers— seems like Wagner’s Ring Cycle might be The Lord of the Rings with music. It’s not true.
Though there is a strong case that Wagner and Tolkien both got their source material from the same places–German and Norse mythology and sagas–what they crafted is very different. And with all proper credit to Tolkien, Wagner’s opera has just as much amazing storytelling as the tale of hobbits and wizards.
Tolkien’s Trilogy of books starts off with a prelude book, The Hobbit, just as Wagner’s trilogy of operas starts off with Das Rheingold.