Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Looking Ahead Into the Past

Hard as it is to believe, 2023 marks the ten-year anniversary of TAROT OF THE ZIRKIS MÄGI, the project that quite literally saved my life. The correct pronunciation, by the way, is “Maggie” — as with the old comic strip characters Maggie and Jiggs, or Maggie O’Connell, the free spirited lady pilot of NORTHERN EXPOSURE whose boyfriends are known for their mortality rate. It is an Estonian surname.

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know this. I didn’t know the correct pronunciation myself until years after the deck had been published! This is particularly embarrassing, as before the deck arrived I wrote an entire novel centered around a circus family named Mägi — and I was mispronouncing the name in my head the whole time! The misperception within the tarot community is that the deck is named for the Biblical Magi, who were the three Kings “following yonder star” of the song. It’s not: it’s named for a circus which is the focus of all the action in my novel SEE THEM DANCE (which is still in print, by the way!).

So now you know! 

Ten years seems like a long time when those years are in front of you, but once they’ve passed into the rear-view mirror they seem like Nothing At All, Really. Just little “phht,” and then they’re gone.

Life Never Waits, always remember that. I wish I could remember it more consistently myself, or at least live as if I remembered it!

When I worked in the library at a local college, I used to say to my work study students, “Nothing in the first twenty years of your life prepares you for how fast the next twenty go by.” That still holds true, but I must say it gets Markedly Worse after forty.  Some of you already know what I’m talking about. Those of you who don’t, will. Surviving ten years in any business would have seemed like a Big Accomplishment to my Younger Self. Now I’m old enough to understand that it’s nothing more then pure stubbornness!

The big news this month is that I have Mostly Finished work on my latest deck, MYSTIC TAROT, and hope to fund the publication of a nice offset edition in 2023. Watch this space for future announcements. In the meantime, you can see all the cards in the short teaser film that’s currently playing right up there at the top of this post!

My main inspiration for this one comes from the strikingly gorgeous posters produced in Victorian and Edwardian times for the great magicians of that era — Thurston, Blacksone, Kellar, Houdini, and others less well-remembered. These images often dealt in supernatural themes, and were designed and made with a lushness of detail that is unequaled to this day. Not surprisingly, since our modern mode of tarot derives from works created in the same time period, I was able to find many connections between the two art forms. This was another labor of love that combined several of my enthusiasms, and I hope that the resulting deck will resonate with Tarot readers and collectors. 

You don’t have to live in the past or blind yourself to the many injustices and hardships of the past to appreciate the historic accomplishments that humanity made with fewer technological advances than are available to us now. But after all, there is still injustice in the world, and just as in the past, much of it is perpetrated by self-righteous chest-beaters who are convinced that right is on their side. I do not advocate living in the past. I never have advocated that. I *do* advocate familiarity with the past, warts and roses and all, to inform the work we do now, and help us decide how we move into the future. That’s where I’m coming from with the tagline I’m using for this deck, “Look Ahead into the Past.”

Watch for a crowdfunding campaign, coming soon! In the meantime, I want to thank everyone who has supported my work for the last decade. Without you, I might very well not have survived these ten years. You are my hope for a better future.


Friday, February 17, 2023

A Dose of Happiness


It was with a mixture of Bliss and sadness that I finished reading volume 2 of Jack Kent's KING AROO the other day. AROO is a genuine Hidden Gem, a not-widely syndicated comic strip that ran in newspapers for a decade and a half, from 1950 to 1965, kept afloat during that time more by its ardent supporters within the industry than by the kind of reader success found by Charles Schulz and others. The Library of American Comics was able to bring two volumes of the strip back into print in 2012 and 2013, covering adventures through 1954, but as LOAC Associate Editor (and longtime personal friend) Bruce Canwell informed me, humor does not seem to be performing well with the modern audience.

This is probably because no one under the age of about fifty even knows what humor is anymore, or has been exposed to genuine humor in any of the available mediums, but that's a subject for another post, maybe.

The message I want to get through here is that KING AROO is a rare joy and a delight: dealing in the adventures and conflations had by the citizens of the little kingdom of Myopia. There's Aroo himself of course, the pudgy, earnest and well-meaning if ineffectual ruler of the land, aided and abetted by his jack-of-all trades retainer, Yupyop. There's Wanda Witch (a personal favorite), and Professor Yorgle, and Mister Elephant (who is of course the most forgetful resident), and Mr. Pennipost (a kangaroo who serves as the local postman) -- and a host of others, as has sometimes been said; even, occasionally, the Beautiful Princess from the kingdom next door, who may or may not be a frog under a spell. The humor is frequently reliant on whimsey and puns; and it's always gentle, kind-hearted and charming -- something we need more of in the 21st century!

I was saving the second volume for Someday, and this winter proved to be That Day. I'm very sad that it's over, I love it that much, but I know that I will return to these books (which I believe are still available, hint hint) again in the future. They are Just That Delightful. They make me Happy in a world that is currently crushing happiness as fast as it can push its shoots through the surface.

For your edification, I include a few AROO strips below (click to enlarge, I think) that I was able to glean from online sources. If you like the samples, you will LOVE the books, as I do. And Because Reasons, here is an interview with LOAC Associate Editor Bruce Canwell -- who additionally, wrote the new QUIRK adventure which I'll be posting at this site, come Springtime. Everything that The Library of American Comics publishes is worth your attention, but KING AROO is good for the SOUL. It will pick you up, dust you off make you smile and put a bounce in your step.


Monday, February 13, 2023

Back to Gont


Because Reasons, it seems to have taken me sixteen years to get around to Goro Miyazaki's TALES FROM EARTHSEA. Despite its deliberate slow pace (and it is sometimes VERY slow) I thought it was Kind of a Masterpiece -- especially for a first-time director. I was a little bit shocked afterward to discover how badly the critics savaged it, and by how wide a mark they missed the whole point of the thing. I was a little bit less surprised to learn of Ursula Le Guin's disappointment with it, although reading her full comments I could at least understand why she felt that way.
A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA was one of the first fantasy novels I read as a young teenager, and it made a big impression on me: although I was not smart enough to grasp all the implications of Le Guin's themes, I could at least see and understand that she was dealing with Big Stuff: like, quite literally in this case, coming to grips with one's own mortality. It remains a favorite, although I never went on to any of the other Earthsea stories that Le Guin wrote later. To some extent I afraid of being disappointed; and Ged's story was complete in this one volume; I didn't feel a need for continuation. I feel differently now, and suspect I'll headed back to this realm after all.
Because it was a joy to see Ged turn up forty years later, very well realized on film. Some of his story was given to another character, but despite the author's disappointment I very much felt her presence in this picture.
I was forced to watch this in the English dub, which is NEVER my choice for foreign language movies; but this is a better than average job with a good cast.
I say the critics and the author are both wrong here! This is a very good (though slow and measured!) film fantasy, and MUCH more thoughtful than the average.

-- Thorn.


Friday, February 10, 2023

"D'you Want Onion Rings With That?"


Something at the heart of Popular Culture died on the day that we started to accept the notion that our heroes are nothing more than “franchises.”

I hear it all the time: the STAR WARS “franchise,” the MCU “franchise,” the DOCTOR WHO “franchise” — even The Universal Monsters “franchise,” although the franchising of anything, even food, was scarcely a phenomenon back in the 1930s when Universal was first spinning its shambling, misfit anti-heroes into sequels. 

But fiction, art, film and pop culture are not hamburgers, although the huge multi-national conglomerates that own everything in the twenty-first century have certainly been treating them as if they should be served with a side order of fries. Today, it’s considered simpler and more cost-effective (as it probably is) to keep artificially pumping life into an existing “property” than to create something new. There’s no profit in originality, at least not a profit that’s perceptible to their tiny little business-college trained minds.

The problem is that, inevitably nowadays, the management of a “franchise” falls into the hands of someone who would rather be doing something else, and the “property” falls into disrepair in a way that is painful for the fans.

Once upon a time, people made Entertainment. Even when Television was a meat-grinder and series producers were expected to churn out as many as thirty-eight weekly episodes a year, producers still took some pride in what they were doing, in delivering real stories about interesting characters — and when those series had run their course, as happens in the real world, the tent was folded and everyone moved on to the next Big Thing.

Characters and stories. Cycles that end. What a concept!

Fictional characters, just like living people, have a lifespan. They live, and they die. We have reached a time in the death cycle of Popular Culture when long-established characters like Batman, Spider-Man, Doctor Who and Superman have been done, and done again, and again, and again, until all that is left is ridicule and disgrace. They have long outlived their natural lifespan. 

Perhaps their ethics and character become incompatible with a new generation; perhaps they exhaust the potential of their notions. The time comes for them to pass on, and join the Immortals in another realm. Those of us who love them can still hold them in our memories, and continue to enjoy their adventures in the same way that we watch old serials and read old comic books, but the window for new adventures has long been closed, though we hate to admit it.

The world of the present seems inhospitable for my dusty old heroes. Time for new adventures from a new generation of heroes — if a new generation of creators can step up to the plate and deliver fresh characters and stories worthy of our time and support. The failing here is that not much of value has come down the pike, and the only thing that young creators seem capable of is mocking the work of their betters. 

And so rather than give the heroes of a more civilized world a decent burial, we are forced forever to watch their crumbling, reanimated corpses lumber across our screens in an ever more tragic state of decomposition and decay. I for one am tired of it. Let our heroes rest in peace. They have earned it.

-- Thorn.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Quirk: Resurrection

I'm happy to announce that QUIRK will return in 2023!

For something like five years in the late '90s it ran as a weekly webcomic on my old site. I'm not going to go into the whole backstory at this time, but if you're curious about QUIRK, the place to start is the dedicated mini-site attached to this blog, linked here and in the sidebar. There you will find character descriptions, story synopses and more.

The comic ended right in the middle of a terrific story written for me by my good friend Bruce Canwell, associate editor of The Library of American Comics and co-creator (with Lee Weeks) of a little something you might have heard of: BATMAN CHRONICLES: THE GAUNTLET

For reasons that you will probably be able to infer if you're familiar with the contents of this blog, I was unable to finish drawing Bruce's story. I made several attempts to complete it over the past decade, but it was a struggle. I was never able to finish the story until now. 

It's done. "In the can," so to speak. And it will FINALLY premiere here (and on the page linked above), starting probably in April. 

If it goes well, there are several other untold QUIRK stories that I would quite like to get out of my system. Stories that will allow me to finally write "THE END" to the whole saga. We'll see about that. 

The main thing is "The Prunes of Ire" is at last seeing the light of day. Keep watching this space for more on this, that, and the other thing!



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