Winter is coming

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If you think you’ve read today’s post before you may very well have. It’s recycled.

I used to blog over at the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website. I wrote posts for years for them in anticipation of the magazine being renewed. (I eventually got tired of waiting and stopped writing. I’m told that they are publishing fiction now, but I have long since stopped caring)

Either way, I have dusted off this old ditty about the coming of winter, a topic that is becoming more and more depressing to me as I shuffle off into old age.

Winter is coming.

If you’re a reader of fantasy, particularly of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (or you just watch the series on HBO), you’ve heard that phrase, usually said in long, Yorkshire tones by actors like Sean Bean and infused with much dread and despair. Winter is only one of four seasons but it can also be a feeling, a state of being.

There are a lot of fantasy and science fiction works set in winter environments. There are works where the winter is not just a climactic condition but an overall feeling or mood. Winter is much more than just the presence of snow and ice.

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Winter Landscape by 88grzes

It is December first today and, yes, winter is coming.

In some places, mostly in the south, winter is not a big deal. But in the north its different. And if you live in the Great White North (a.k.a. Canada) as I do, then winter is more than just a season, it is a state of mind. Canadians identify with winter. Indeed, in some parts of our country, winter defines who we are as a people. In the province of Quebec, for instance, there is a song called Mon Pays, which was composed by Gilles Vigneault in 1964. The song became kind of an anthem for Quebec and for Canadians as a whole to some extent. “Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver” the lyrics say. “My country is not a country, it is winter.”

 

In fantasy and science fiction, winter is never usually just a setting. If there is winter it is usually symbolic. In George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series, winter, the season that always seems to be coming, represents a return of the fearsome supernatural creatures that once held sway in Westeros. They were defeated and held back by the wall, a huge barrier made of ice. The people of the north make a philosophy of being prepared, of guarding against their return. Indeed, in the land of Westeros, winter, when it comes, can last for hundreds of years. Winter in Martin’s books is not merely a characteristic of the north. It threatens to claim the entire world.

Again, Martin’s winter is not merely climatic. Winter in Westeros means a return to the dark age of superstition and terror and an end to a world built by reason and prosperity.

mdjackson_winter_the-left-hand-of-darknessAnother world where winter holds constant sway is Gethen, or Winter, as it is called by the citizens of the Ekumen in Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness. Gethen is a planet where it is constantly winter, but that’s not merely a quirk of setting. The constant winter is symbolic of the state of the planet’s inhabitants. Neither male nor female, Gethenians live in a state of asexuality, only adopting sexual difference during brief periods called kemmer. The climate of Gethen mirrors the sterile nature of the planet’s inhabitants and society.

Le Guin doesn’t just use winter as an interesting backdrop against which her novel’s narrative can play out. The nature of Gethen’s climate serves an important metaphorical purpose to the story.

Sometimes, though, an icy background is merely that—background. In the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, the ice planet of Hoth serves as a background for the rebels’ battle against the Imperial armada. I suppose one could stretch the setting of Hoth to represent the frozen hopes of the rebellion against the might of the evil empire, but, as I said, it’s a bit of a stretch. This is only Star Wars. One can’t expect sophisticated metaphors. The winter setting is visually stunning, however, particularly in regards to the planet’s creatures. The tauntaun on which the rebels ride while patrolling, for instance, is an interesting creature. They are sort of a cross between a mountain goat and a kangaroo and seem relatively easy to domesticate for the rebels’ purposes. Then, of course, there is the wampa, a huge, shaggy, deadly creature who captures Luke Skywalker and puts him on ice (pardon the pun) in preparation for eating him (we can only assume).

The wampa is kind of like another creature from the frozen north—the yeti.

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The yeti are ape-like creatures that live in the frozen mountains. I have used the yeti in my own artwork. This image was featured on the cover of Issue 1 of The Dreamquest magazine.

Or perhaps it is just a typical day in the Great White North? Naked yeti fighting is a popular Canadian activity. I am confident that it will soon be an official event at the Winter Olympics.

Winter as a setting for science fiction and fantasy is usually more than just backdrop. It usually serves a greater thematic purpose. Winter can represent sterility, bleakness, death, or worse. In real life there is some danger in the wintertime, but when you live in the northern part of the world, you adapt. You bundle up. You buy snow tires. You light a fire and sit back with a cup of hot cocoa and wait for it to be spring again.

Winter is coming. But it won’t last forever.

*No yeti were harmed in the writing of this post.

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Images

Some of you may know that as well as writing as Jack Mackenzie, I so artwork as MD Jackson. As artist M. D. Jackson I also write for the AMAZING STORIES website.

A recent post I wrote required me to gather up some images from the web and, as usual, I collected far more than I could use. So I’m going to share them here without any explanation or context, just posting them for fun!

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Amazing Stories Feb 1939

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Star Wars: The Force AwakensPh: Film Frame

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm 2015

Vampirella: Character or Commodity?

(This is a cross post with the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website where I blog as MD Jackson)

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gonzalez6ftposterPoor Vampirella.

You look at her and you think that she’s free to do what she wants, that she is in charge of her own destiny. The truth is, she is merely a commodity, bought and sold like so much chattel. She is a slave dancing to the whims of her cruel master, who, at this time, is Dynamite Entertainment.

Like a slave from bygone times she has had several owners throughout her miserable life. She has been bought, used up and then sold off to the next buyer.

But it’s not just her alone. All fictional characters are owned by somebody and most of the ones that everyone knows about have likely been bought and sold at least once. They are properties of their creators or their publishing or other entertainment companies and will be until they get so old that they get to enjoy a kind of retirement when they finally slip into the green pasture known as Public Domain.

It was September of 1969, just after the “Summer of Love”. Flower children everywhere were basking in the warm glow of the apex of the hippie era, blissfully unaware of the harsh cold winter that was about to come upon them. It was a time of great upheaval and social change and Forrest J. Ackerman thought: “Hey! We need a sexy vampire woman!”

vampi_trina_robbinsInspired by Jean-Claude Forest’s science fiction heroine Barbarella, who had been made into a film the year before by Roger Vadim, starring his then wife Jane Fonda, Forrest J. Ackerman and James Warren of Warren Publishing came up with the idea of a “vampire-ella” as a counterpoint to the ghoulish male presenters of Warren’s comic magazines Eerie and Creepy.

Ackerman and Warren took the idea to artist Trina Robbins who came up with the general look and a costume which would suggest a vampire’s usual attire but be kind of bathing suit-like to show off Vampirella’s physical attributes.

They took this idea to a rising star in the art world, a powerhouse of an artist named Frank Frazetta. Robbins described the outfit and Frazetta provided the first illustration of the character. Frazetta’s interpretation of Vampirella from Trina Robbin’s description gave her more of some things and less of others… like clothing.

frazetta_vampirella69sep“His original cover art of Vampirella looked a lot like my idea,” Trina Robbins said. “but her costume shrunk.”

With each issue the men drawing the sexy heroine seemed to find ways to make the costume smaller to show off more of Vampirella’s other assets. “By now it doesn’t bear any resemblance to what I designed.” Robbins says.

Vampirella began life as a slightly tacky bit of titillation used to introduce the real horror stories in the early issues of the magazine that bore her name. Eventually, though she grew into a strong character in her own right with her own entourage of supporting cast – both heroes and villains. As time passed the focus was less and less on the traditional horror story and more on the Vampirella story, which quickly established itself as the lead story and the cover page subject.

Jim Warren had the good sense to recognize real artistic talent and many of the top writers and artists in comic book history were published in Vampirella. The one artist who stood out head and shoulders over the rest and who’s art defined Vampirella for decades to come was José “Pepe” Gonzalez, a talented artist originally from Barcelona, Spain.

barbaraleigh-fjaThe magazine was a big success and it ran for 112 issues, finally ending its run in 1983 with the demise of Warren Publishing. After a period in limbo Harris Comics bought the Vampirella title and launched her back into the spotlight.

Their first foray was a “continuation” of the Warren magazine format with issue #113, which had limited success. As such, it is one of the most sought after and rare Vampirella comics. Having tested the water, Harris then produced a range of comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines as well as various peripheral items such as statues and trading cards.

After a steady decline in sales Harris Publishing decided that the Vampirella character was no longer a viable concern. In 2010 Vampirella was sold to Dynamite Entertainment. Dynamite kicked off a new look Vampirella with a monthly series in November 2010.

talisa-soto-2In her time as a comic book icon Vampirella has been drawn by many artists and portrayed by a multitude of models and other pin-up girls. Hammer films tried to turn the property into a movie in 1976. Plans were to have Peter Cushing and John Gielgud in supporting roles to Barbara Legh’s Vampirella. Sadly the project fell through as did Hammer Films shortly afterward.

Vampirella eventually did make it into the movies, albeit not in such a big way. Roger Corman produced a direct-to-video Vampirella in 1996. The film was done on the cheap and it looks it (Vampirella’s outfit looks like an off-the-rack plastic Halloween costume). Former Bond Girl Talisa Soto was cast as Vampirella, despite not having quite the same… assets.

Poor Vampirella. She has been bought and sold, exploited by men, forced to wear a skimpy, barely-there costume, had her origin story changed several times, had her memories stolen, altered and returned to her, and still she goes on working for her cruel masters, providing cheap titillation for the fanboy masses.

When will her suffering end? Will she ever reach the promised land of the Public Domain?

Okay, maybe I’ve pushed the slave metaphor a bit too far. Maybe I’m trying too hard to make some sort of salient and profound point in order to turn this post into something more than just an excuse to show pictures of Vampirella. Then again, Ralph Waldo Emerson said that beauty is it’s own excuse for being. Maybe we can say the same about Vampirella?

Or maybe I’ll just be quiet and you can look at the pictures.

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Resistance of the New

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(*NOTE: This is a cross post with the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website where it appears under the byline M. D. Jackson. I’m reproducing it here)

It’s the second day of the new year. Are you looking forward to seeing what wonders it will bring or are you dreading it? Are you embracing the new, or are you resisting it?

81711841_1336987555_1367217745_540x540As science fiction fans it is usually expected, even if we only expect it of ourselves, that we will embrace new things, new technologies, new ideas. That’s who we are, or, at least, that’s who we tell ourselves that we are. We explore strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations. That’s us – boldly going and all that.

But do we really?

I’m sure most of us do. I’m probably preaching to the choir here. But sometimes I run into resistance of new things, even things that seem like a fait accompli, and it baffles me.

LudditesSmashingLoomLarge-757004I started thinking about this recently when a couple of co-workers expressed their opinion that the internet and the whole world of online connectivity, was a bad thing. They were lamenting the loss of the days before the internet, before email and texting.

These weren’t cave dwelling Luddites. They weren’t cranky seniors. These were professionals who work in an office environment. They regularly use email, i-phones, Facebook, etc. So it surprised me that they considered the whole digital age to be, on the whole, a negative thing. I disagreed with them. I said that there is good and bad in everything but that, on the whole, the internet and the connectivity of our world is a positive thing.

They remained dubious.

We didn’t discuss it further but it still confused me. Why the resistance? Why focus on all the negative things about our connectivity and ignore all the benefits?

anti-technologyPartly, I think, it is the human tendency to do just that – to focus on the negative. We tend to seek out bad news and ignore good news when it doesn’t effect us personally. As someone who has worked in the newspaper industry I know this very well. An old circulation manager told me as much shortly after I began working for a particular paper. “I get less returns on papers when the front page story is bad news,” he said. “An accident, tragedy, disaster, whatever. Those papers sell out. A “feel-good’ story on the cover means I get lots of returns to deal with.”

Partly it could be fear. The present moment moves from the past into the future and we move along with it like being swept away by a current. We grab on to things… hold on in a desperate attempt to feel safe and grounded. When we encounter something new we don’t want to lose those things that make us feel safe so we hang on to them tighter even if they threaten to pull us under by their ponderous weight.

FredricWerthamE-books were once regarded with fear, distrust and disdain. I know. I was one of them for the longest time until, as an e-author, I saw first hand the advantages and benefits of e-publishing.

Before the advent of e-books there was the great resistance to another fledgling medium, the comic book. When comics hit the scene voices decried their evils and shrill warnings sounded about how they would corrupt the youth of North America. Well meaning (but ultimately self-serving) figures like Psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham and writer Judith Crist decried the evils of this fledgling medium.

Today the majority of the highest grossing films are based on characters from the comic books. Far from turning a generation into raging delinquents, the comics fired up imaginations and led to new expressions of creativity. The medium has produced works, such as Art Spigel’s Maus, that has garnered some of the highest awards that the world of letters can bestow.

Maybe Douglas Adams put it best: “There’s a set of rules that anything that was in the world when you were born is normal and natural. Anything invented bet ween when you were 15 and 35 is new and revolutionary and exciting, and you’ll probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.”

worldtechnologyRight now our connected world and the mediums made possible by the internet are producing works of astounding quality. If we can resist the Luddite urge to tear it all down (or the business world’s urge to corporatize it) new mediums, mediums of which we have not even dreamt, will produce some of the greatest art that the world has ever known. As we move along with the stream of time we will let go of our fear of art that is not presented on canvas or literature that is not presented on paper, or films that are not shown only in movie houses (Yes, I am referring to Sony’s groundbreaking release strategy for The Interview, regardless of how accidental it was) and we will embrace the new.

The New Year is here. Yes, it can be frightening seen through eyes that are clouded by fear (or perhaps just a hangover) but it also holds endless possibilities. Go boldly. Find those possibilities and grab onto them. Tell stories in whatever new medium comes along.

Just make sure they are amazing.

LOVING THE ALIEN

MD Jackson has another article over at the AMAZING STORIES website:

Human beings have always had a fear of and, at the same time, a fascination with the “other”.

Almost as soon as humans were able to make art on cave walls depictions of strange and bizarre creatures began showing up amongst depictions of their fellows and animals. The stone walls of ancient Egypt were rife with depictions of gods with human bodies and the heads of jackals or eagles or snakes.

In modern times, when gods were replaced with aliens, depictions of beings from other planets have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Before the twentieth century a number of Victorian illustrators, chief among them French illustrator Isidore Grandville, were adept at creating menageries full of wild and outrageous creatures, but it was in the twentieth century with the rise of the science fiction pulps, that alien creatures really took center stage.

J. Allen St, John, a marvelous illustrator from the very earliest part of the century, had the enviable opportunity to be one of the first to illustrate the fantastic tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Although mostly remembered as the author who created Tarzan, Burroughs also wrote planetary romances set on the Moon, Mars, Venus and even at the earth’s core. Burroughs’ books contain a menagerie of alien creature which were ably depicted by St. John. From Martian Thoats to Lunar Kalkars St. John’s depictions inspired the imaginations of readers of the Blue Book and All-Story Magazines where Burroughs’ stories first saw print.

Read the rest of this article over at the AMAZING STORIES website.

Dress For the Occasion: The Scantily Clad Female

AMAZING STORIES has posted another article by artist M D Jackson, this one about a subject close to my heart (or maybe a little lower) The site is now live!

So, here’s a question:

Say you’re a beautiful woman (I assume some of you reading this actually are women. Please believe me when I say that in my eyes all women are beautiful. If you’re a man reading this, then use your imagination) and you need to leave the relative safety of your spacecraft to go out into the vacuum of space or maybe planetside where there is a strong possibility that you will run into hostile aliens.

What do you wear?

It’s a tough one, I know.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that a self contained space suit with a substantial air supply and radiation shielding. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

But not so fast. If we’re examining the history of science fiction illustration (which, at the moment, I am) then we have to think outside the box of conventional wisdom. Here we must enter the strange wisdom of the science fiction cover illustration.

So, what does the typical beautiful woman wear into space?

How about an evening gown?

That seemed to be a good idea to the woman depicted in a Norman Saunders’ painting for Marvel Science magazine in May 1951 in which two adequately suited spacemen appear to be manhandling a negligee-clad woman into a spaceship.

Now, according to something that we like to call science, the human body cannot survive unprotected in a vacuum. So the chances that the lovely lady in this painting is alive are slim to 0 to the power of 10 billion. She does, however, leave a beautiful corpse, which is surprising since her body has been exposed to hard vacuum.

You can read the rest of the article at the AMAZING STORIES website.

NEW! MODERN! CONTEMPORARY! HIP!

I’m taking a break from The Price of Redemption for this week. AMAZING STORIES is back and they have a website and a team of bloggers. One of them is M.D. Jackson.

The site is still in a Beta test.

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I have spent a lot of time in previous posts dwelling in the past. I have been like an old man suddenly lost to the present, the memory of times past reeling behind his eyes while he absently stirs his tea. Well, I think perhaps I should bring this topic into the present and talk about some of the science fiction and fantasy artists working today.

There has been an explosion of fantastic art. In the past fantastic art’s only reason for being was as illustration to fantastic literature. That changed and today fantastic art is it’s own reason for being. You can find fantasy art on posters, tee-shirts, coffee mugs. You can find it on the internet almost as easily as you can find pornography or lolcats.

Digital art, made possible by programs such as Photoshop or Painter, has exploded onto the electronic canvas of the internet like a Jackson Pollock painting. No longer do we rely on the “delivery devices” of magazines, book covers, calendars or the like. The art is completed and posted online within hours, sometimes in the very minute of its completion.

The digital revolution in art is a big topic and one that I will not tackle in this post. I’ll get to that later. For now I just want to touch upon a few artists still working with traditional materials today who, in my mind at least, stand above the crowd.

You can read the rest of the article here.