A Little Torture With My Pirates: A Review of the Isle of 100,000 Graves

Vehlmann and Jason’s Isle of 100,000 Graves

Cover Art From English Edition
Jason's Isle of 100,000 Graves

Fantagraphic Books, May 2011

ISBN 978-1-600699-442-9

Really, how could I have walked on by a graphic novel on the new shelf with a pirate ship and the mention of 100,000 graves and not pick it up. And so I found myself in the midst of another hectic weekend of thesis work picking and reading through this particular graphic novel.

For those not familiar with the work of Jason (the illustrator/artist) and Fabien Vehlmann (writer) they do come with some renown back Europe way. Jason is well known for his previous graphic novel I Killed Adolf Hitler and his album series which includes Green Manor and Seuls. Jason, born John Arne Sæterøy in Norway, is known for his drawings of dogs, cats, birds, and other animals and making they do rather extraordinary things.

And in this the case the rather extraordinary things revolve around a Tarantino-esque tour with a lost father, a pirate ship, and an island full of torturers. The story holds that the main character known simply as ugly little girl finds a map in bottle and tries to follow in hope of finding her lost father. And it is that voyage that lands ugly little girl on an island such of torturers with a ship full of pirates. Now, it would  go against the purpose of telling you about this graphic novel by telling you any more about the plot. It is rather dark and wee-bit on the violent side and because of that we’re looking at young adult and up. And there is a funny take on college-life in that belongs rather uniquely to this world. It is solid enough in its general oddness to be worth recommending for the general read.

But it’s the art that seems to work here best. It’s understated, in a relatively mild palette that does much to accentuate the general gloominess of the piece. The conversations between characters are rather restricted and tend to work well with the totality of the artwork here. Most engaging is the idea that in keeping the illustrations simple (that is lack of most every traditionally strong details such as pupils in the eyeballs, fingernails, etc.) is a connection to a more classic rendition of a tale. And classic in that violence can be implied but is so rarely illustrated in frame. Sure, this adds to the general “classy” (as opposed to “pulpy”) aspect of story but it helps to place the story itself more in line with traditional theatre of Shakespearean/Elizabethean notions of theatre. A tradition that is well embraced still today by a good many Western theatre-goers.

And on the whole, this newest graphic novel by Jason would seem to a nice addition to his already strong catalog of work and good quick read for anyone feeling the gloom or angst that many more contemporary takes on pirates or torture schools have given us.

St. Pats Harbourfront Golden Ale – First Brew of 2011

After much previous hype, I’ve finally re-entered the homebrew ring. (First time since 2005) And given the new digs in Irvington and recent growing group of homebrewers we have put together the time seemed right. So here it is, the basic info on the first batch of what I’ll tentatively call the Naptown Ale Works:

St. Pat’s Harbourfront Golden Ale – Batch 1

Grain Bill: 12 lbs in total: Maris Otter, Bries 2-Row Pale, Rye Malt, Crystal.
Hops: Mt. Hood and Glacier Pellets.
Yeast: Danstar Windsor Ale Yeast (Dry)

Mash Temp: 158 F

St. Pat's Harbourfront Golden Ale in the Primary

Total Boil Time: 90 Mins
Original Gravity: 1.056
Est. Final Gravity: 1.015
Est. ABV: 4.3%

Total Grain to Drink Time: 4 – 4 1/2 weeks

The idea of this beer was to make a higher end clone a traditional golden Canadian Ale (ala. Molsen Golden). The name is meant to honour former NHL Head Coach Pat Burns and the Toronto Area (because of my found memories of drinking beer and a watching Hockey Night in Canada). The mash conversion seemed wonky with the original gravity feeling a little on the low side. It is currently in a secondary fermenter and in total the conditioning time in the secondary will be able two weeks. Then it’s bottle time. An old school English Mild Ale (with a recipe from 1783) is on-deck. I’ve a free primary fermenter, so I might bust that out soon.

Teaching, Professional, and some thoughts inspired by Richard Dreyfus on NPR

For those of you who know me know that I often struggle with the idea that academia sets a notion of standards for education. And not that I come down against the idea of having standards for education. Far from it, I feel like there must be specific criteria to make any notion of education a successful endeavour. My questions typically revolve around the idea that the type of ivory towerism that revolves around pedagogical thought would seem to privilege a specific school of thought. A school of thought that would find itself more mired in its own sense of correctness and a paralysis of doing something that might be perceived as incorrect or just plain wrong that the thought itself becomes much much more important than the action. I know it sounds vague at this point, this post but bare with me.

In terms of standards, I’m referring to the very idea of how we sort of “gatekeep” the instructor positions in our society. We value schooling over experience and thinking over action. Our institutions of higher learning are plagued by instructors that find the weight of their worth in terms of knowledge coming from the time they spend studying the fairly conservative manner of communication and education. (i.e. reading, lecture, essay) This is the case to a lesser extent with secondary and elementary school levels, but still it can be seen as an issue.

And what I’m clearly not calling for here is the desire for politicians to make these kind of choices. We should all be more than well aware of the general ineptitude that most elected (and occasionally appointed) individuals have in terms of deciding what type of standards individuals should be educated to. While we would like to think that politicians act entirely in the interest of the people they purportedly serve it should have become clear to most everyone by this point in political landscape that interest and service focus of elected officials extents well into corporate issues (they do employ a good number of us), personal moral issues (we all have these, so why wouldn’t they), and most clearly political party lines. We must also be concerned that politicians see the world in at worse 2 year election cycles and at best 4 year election cycles. In short, we should be turning to a set of standards that would take into account a more community drive account of what education should be where instructors should gain their credentials.

Educators are there to provide a service for their communities and their societies. And we’ve learned anything from Reganomics is that top-down approaches are generally set-up beautifully for failure. We’ve heard from places like the environmental movement and the civil rights movement, but grassroots based decision-making is perhaps the best case scenario for addressing the needs of a community and the education of themselves and their children.

This is all about being stakeholders. Right now the big machines of either political institutions or academic institutions are setting agendas for communities about which they have at best limited knowledge and experience of and with. Often parents and community members feel as though their say over what is taught in schools or who teaches in their schools is orchestrated from afar and without real input from their community. School becomes a place where parents send their kids (be it grade school, high school, or elementary school) and hope for the best. These are not the actions of stakeholders these are the subconscious motions of cattle. Education should be a process of empowerment, a means by which power can be spread out to the largest group of people possible. A community-generated list of criteria for education of its members affords a type of stakeholder relationship amongst its various members.

Does this mean, I have a directed way of saying what type of process we can set-up? No, I don’t. But like any successful community-based plan a conversation needs to start. Often this conversations start with an idea. So here is one. Something different from the top-down passive-user education system we’ve acquired.
Education, regardless of whatever the exact system we hope to enforce, is built upon experiences. And these experiences must be reflective of the communities they serve, mirror the aspects that people in those communities determine to be their preferred paths.

All of this comes from an interview on the Diane Rehm show this morning with actor Richard Dreyfus. He has wanted to be history and civics teacher and talked about this drive despite his lack of education. Yet, he had experience in the field, has read about it, talked about, and engaged with these subjects his whole life. The interview made me start thinking about education and the criteria and standards that are currently set. Basically, I had to wonder who would want to be taught by Richard Dreyfus (or would see a value in his lessons) as opposed to a Ph.D holder or licensed teacher. I, at least, thought that it warranted some consideration.

Some Notes From Irvington

Just some quick updates from Irvington, Indianapolis for y’all. The next series of short fiction works (mainly centered around the Gallatin Valley in Montana and Southern Ontario) are reaching their final stages before they are thesis readable. The first of the year should be able to see me through to get this guys rounded up. This is a very nice break from the toil of the last semester. On the upside from the semester, I managed to produce two decent research papers: One on the Vatican influence over the forms of literacy pre-1450 and the other or the current characteristics of On-Line Lit Journals (not all pretty by the way). What can I say though, the academic root just doesn’t feel right for me. They were both a struggle and I feel much, much better returning my attention back to the fiction work.

For anyone from Indy and more specifically Irvington, I was up on Washington Ave out this way doing some Christmas shopping (at Homespun, great, great, store for handmade/homemade stuff) and found out from the clerk there that the Washington Ave Streetscape work should starting either this Spring or Summer. No official designs for the project are up (it doesn’t look like they were due to the city until Dec. 15) but come this time next year Irvington’s main drag should have much classier front to it. I’ve heard tree lined medians and historic light fixtures. There are some great businesses on the stretch between Arlington and Ritter (and a few outside of this stretch) that will really benefit from these renos. I’ll post some plans if and when I come across them. Can’t say enough how much this little urban/neighbourhood downtowns matter to a community and to a city. I’m glad to be living in a city that sees some importance in these.

That’s all for now. Everyone have a great holidays.

Semester Wrap-Up and The Big Move

The big move is finally done and we’ve settled into our great little 134-year-old house here in Indianapolis. All of this should mean much, much more time to dedicate to writing, a much, much needed change of pace from the previous few months. On the rather serious upside, two new poems of mine (“Through the Magic City” and “Gravel Lot Above Crow Agency”) are due out in Spring in Front Range. All those Montanans out there can pick up easily as this cool publication is out of Great Falls up your way. This marks my second time in this fine publication. They do an excellent job out there.

I’ll be back on the manuscript wagon after I finish up the last paper of the semester. It’s a content analysis of on-line literary journals. Really just trying to see if it’s possible to define a genre of web sites for these guys. Get a little bit of a picture of what is actually going on out there in the publishing world. The first major round of this will be done by Thursday. Fingers are crossed about this one.

Lastly, I’m firing back up the Gooch Hill Brewery. Those of my Bozeman friends out there might recall the glory days of brewing back in 2005/2006. With a great space in the two car garage here in Irvington the restart is a natural. I’ll be going all-grain. Pictures will be posted of the set-up after we get it all set up.

Still at it, I swear

So here’s the deal with working on two Masters Degrees, teaching, buying a house, and trying to finish up a manuscript of short stories: Well, you’re blogging life becomes rather limited, if non-existent. But on the upside, this means that there is a clear and significant amount of goodies to report on. First, we’re on the move to Indianapolis. We’ve purchased a 144-year-old home in Irvington and will be Hoosier our lives up there in quite short order. Indy is much, much better than city than most of the world could possibly imagine. The next bit is that I’ve had some considerable additions to my list of publications. All poems, I have pieces forthcoming in the Sugar House Review (“Letter to Gzowski from Bancroft” in fall 2011), another in the Windsor Review (“Off-Season in Gardner, MT also in fall 2011), and most recently one in Paradigm Journal (“Mission to the Hurons”). I’m about two thirds of the way to compiling a full length poetry collection. But given the time constraints given over by the short story manuscript, I’ve got hold off these boys for awhile. I probably won’t be finishing anything of this order off until the summer of next year at the earliest. That’s it for the quick update. I will be back on with more notes of interest hopefully before Christmas.

Follow-up to Gordon Hempton and Acoustic Ecologies

I received a  comment from filmmaker Nick Sherman about the previous posting. He’s made a film titled Soundtracker that follows Gordon Hempton and his quest to capture soundscapes. It looks very cool and thought anyone out there reading the last post might be in to seeing this film. It is available via Netflix.

Soundtracker trailer:

Accoustic Ecology and Thoughts about Place

I was reading through the September 2010 issue of The Sun and came across this great interview with Gordon Hempton about Acoustic Ecology and the place of silence and noise in our environment. It’s funny for us because we live less than 200 feet from an active rail line and have neighbours that love to yell and their children and children that just love to yell. Even when there are no people yelling and the trains are miles away in Evansville or Indy, we can hear the noise of emergency vehicles and the constant hum of Highway 37. All of this noise  is very odd for a couple that met in relatively quiet Bozeman, MT. Odd because as Hempton might indicate this noise has to be having some kind of effect on us. And most likely not  a positive one.

So what is this acoustic ecology? Well for Hempton (who lives out Washington State way) it’s not so much about silence, but the lack of human pollution of the natural soundscape produced by the ecosystems around us. He talks about his first experience of this more “pure” ecology by sleeping in a corn field in Iowa on his way to graduate school in Madison, WI. It was the crickets, the distant thunderstorms, the sound of wind through the corn stalks that gave him such a “true” experience that he dropped out of graduate school and worked on preserving these nature soundscapes through audio recordings. While his more notable endeavours at preserving these acoustic ecosystems have taken from Iowa to the deserts of Africa and the expanses of the Western US wilderness areas, it seems that his insights into noise and human health become of the utmost importance.

There is in Hempton’s words the kernel that we are all part of our evolutionary past; those upright apes on an African savannah. And the sounds of birdsongs, the rustle of grass and leaves, the calm rolling of distance of rainstorms all does something wonderful to us. They have positive effects on our unconscious hearing. The hearing that in large part helps us form a connection to our place. Hempton faults automobile and air traffic as the greatest threats to our natural acoustic ecosystems. He shows this with the research done in Europe about birds changing their song frequencies in response to the passing of vehicular traffic. However, standing in our backyard at night and hearing the cars grind along in nearby Bloomington and Monroe county, I’d have a hard time arguing with him. And as I recall, you could readily hear planes over the mountains in Montana on any given day of the week. It all affects us and those effects must push in some way that is not wholly beneficial and not in all keeping with our animal selves. According to Hempton, we can to try to block out those poisonous noises, but those blocks matters little to our unconscious selves.

So what of silence then? What about cars and highways and noise pollution? No, we’re not about to tear up to the concrete world around us to create or restore that acoustic ecological existence that Hempton talks about. But maybe in listening, stopping and focusing on the bird songs at sun-up, or the slow-moving roll of approaching storms, we might get what it is that we’re missing. And in getting what we’re missing, we might make better decisions for our future that leads to a healthier understanding of place and our connection to it.

Quick Review: The Name of the Nearest River: Stories

Alex Taylor's The Name of the Nearest River

So, I do my usual thing when in the Library over a rather protracted heatwave. I look for books that I might enjoy and something that most notably might help me cobble together my thesis for this MFA I’m working on. Such is the case with Alex Taylor’s The Name of the Nearest River: Stories. It was very, very pleasant surprise to come across this collection of some highly engaging and very memorable pieces.

Taylor’s collection comes from a series put out by the Sarabande Publishing house that focuses on Kentucky area writers. Maybe it was this fact that initially drew me to the book (I have a love affair with Louisville and Kentuckiana that is maybe not altogether too healthy), but this regional focus is not something that should take away from the strength of this work. Taylor engages so much of the rural and near-urban spaces of present day and even past vistas of the bluegrass state with memorable characters that both supersede the landscape they come from and feel so rooted in it that they simply have to be alive. There is an enchanted (or perhaps better stated disenchanted) reality of this world that Taylor places his characters in that leaves a burning shadow of these stories in the reader’s mind that lasts weeks after you’ve made your way through them.

There are stories that range here from burning barges to catfish wrestling to crash-up derbies. And in them you can feel that Appalachian heartache that stands in for the pulse of this oft ridiculed region. One of the strongest pieces to me centers around man who participates in amateur crash-up derbies with some buddies and the connected world of his troubled love life. I’m not one to give away stories. Just trying to pass along the love on this given work. So much of Taylor’s prose in this collection is wonderfully poetic and helps to encase this Kentuckian world with an sense of wonder and realism that comes with the gift of storytelling. In short, this is very solid read and comes highly recommended from yours truly.

A Nice Reminder From John Haines

I was putting together my W203 Creative Writing syllabus for the fall and have been focusing on Rocky Mountain state writers. Naturally, sometime after Rick Bass I found poet John Haines’ work and have been spending sometime nosing around his work for stuff that is teachable. To say there is a lot would be a clear understatement. But as Creative Writer with a considerable amount of training in social informatics, I found the following excerpt from his “Poetry Chronicle I” enlightening. Particularly in a world that is seemingly dominated by NYC urban dribble poems (ala Billy Collins).

“For what I found often enough was more of what I find all too abundantly in poetry now: in fairly ordinary language, no subject beyond this uninspiring urban self with its minor distractions, combined with a school-bred tendency to force one’s poem in order to appear to have something important say. To point up the moral, imagine Keats or Wordsworth writing verses about the bad plumping in his house, or how scratchy his underwear felt that morning! Did William stub his toe while walking the country roads? We don’t know and we don not care.” (Haines 113)

Sadly enough, I’ve been preoccupied with worries about useless “ain’t it funny” crap poems after looking leafing through some of the garbage that’s been passed off as the year’s best in poems and fiction. We don’t like to talk about morals in writing. It’s hard to do in a world that none of us feel should be prescriptive. And maybe moral is the wrong word. But writing and most everything we do should be done with not only the Buddhist moral passed on to us by Gary Snyder “do no harm,” but more appropriately with a concern for the other. The words we write and things we spend time on matter, if only because both are so finite. There is something beyond all of us in the beauty of writing that touches us beyond the simple “Isn’t it funny when my coffee machine breaks.” Pull us the ordinary to show us something about ourselves and our relationships with others. All of this is to thank Haines.