Monthly Archives: March 2016

Some Basic Thoughts on Austerlitz

There is no doubt that the stylistic choice of long narratives in Austerlitz is a pain to the reader. However, once you get into the pace of reading, I found that the narrative would begin to be a bit easier to understand (plus, the pictures helped haha). Before lecture begins today, I’d just like to blab about a few things that interested me.

I found that the most interesting part of the book were the descriptions of biology such as the function of the moth. Perhaps this is simply because I have a bias for biology over the other sciences.

Sebald, through the narrative voice speaking on behalf of Austerlitz’s account, goes into a great length about the threshold of temperature for these creatures and any others in general. He almost makes you pity the moths by causing the reader to familiarize with the event that you encounter one in person. For instance, he mentions how the moth will fly into your home, recognize it is not a familiar place to be in, and become scared. (Yes. A moth. Scared. You read right.) At this point, the reader is probably skeptical about the narrative’s closeness to the moth. However, he then goes on to explain these feelings by personifying the moth and making it seem helpless at our disposal where the narrated character must take the moth back to nature where it belongs. As much as I, myself, hate moths and would gladly exterminate any that entered my home, Sebald’s narrator provides long descriptions about the simplest of things that forces you to appreciate the beauty/uniqueness of each creature. It is with the passion found in the narrative voice that causes readers to sympatize with the narrator and his concern for these moths.

As someome who raised birds for over a decade, another interesting section in the book was obviously … the mention of birds. More specifically when Sebald’s narrator suggests that Austerlitz’s uncle had a parrot (Macaw) that lived to be 50 years and older.

As absurd as it sounds, yes, these species can live up to said age. In fact, there are some other species that can live to be 100 years old. However, the fact that it is suggested that the bird lived past its normal lifespan in captivity is fascinating. The narrative is notorious for making Austerlitz’s accounts sound true even if it is entirely fiction. (I don’t deny that there are some sections -the facts mentioned about biology- within the book that are odd). The plausibile situations input by the narrator causes readers to believe it would be possible that: A) that Macaw truly had a devoted human partner, B) the narrator exaggerated, for the upmost optimal conditions must be met for the Macaw to reach past its normal life expectancy, C) this Macaw was no ordinary birdy, or D) some mix of all the above and other factors potentially influencing the narrative or the bird itself. Either way, Sebald did not fail to grab my attention and he most likely did so with other readers who were surprised by this fact. After all, the use of pictures after the lengthy but interesting descriptions practically forces the audience to associate the narrative with them and enables the narrator to pass their accounts as real.

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Buddha (vol. 1) and Pop Culture

One of the things that I found most striking about Buddha (Vol. 1) by Osamu Tezuka is the juxtaposition between the story itself and the frequent popular/modern culture references that are made throughout, including the way in which the art style is so heavily reminiscent of Disney’s. It is a testament to Tezuka’s influence that this sort of strategy has been repeated heavily and more frequently in the decades following this book’s release. For example, Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet employs similar strategies of intertextuality, drawing on people’s prior knowledge of genres such as the action film and infusing them with Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. This not only adds to the novel’s overall richness as a text, but also to its beauty in a visual sense. The contrast between the cartoonish stylization of the characters and the beautifully detailed rendering of the landscape creates a striking visual impression on the reader that will not be forgotten quickly.

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Comical Conjectures on the Art of Comics

According to my father, there is a play out there titled simply Art. The main issue in this play is apparently that one character buys a canvas painted white for an exorbitant price, which leads to a series of jokes/conjectures regarding the state of the art world. While not be the most original sentiment, its relevancy does point out an issue in the art world, an issue which makes the question of whether or not comics constitute ‘art’ seem slightly comical in itself.

A frequently-invoked example of modern art preparing to eat itself is a 1961 work by Italian artist Piero Manzoni, wherein he produced 90 cans supposedly filled with his own excrement. There is also the found objects of people like Marcel Duchamp, most notable for his signed urinal ‘Fountain’.  Manzoni’s cans (which may have just contained plaster) were originally valued at their weight in gold; Duchamp’s signed pisser ended up reproduced in the Tate Modern. The fact that these are considered art may be bothersome, but it makes sense; you can get snobs and idiots to invest meaning and money in just about anything if you play to pseudointelllectual posturing or a regressive obsession with irony. What is bothersome is that comic creators put stories and images on a page and these twits put the contents of their bathrooms in museums, yet it’s the former who aren’t credited as the creators of true ‘art’.

Debating as to what constitutes true art in this scenario seems about as healthy and plausible as attempting autofellatio. Tezuka’s Buddha blends surreal comedy with a layered and at times touching story about a prominent religious figure, presented without overwhelming rhetoric or contemplation. Alan Moore’s Watchmen blends story arcs featuring themes of political divide, Cold War culture, human fallibility and ethical preponderance in order to create a powerful, unforgettable story about the human and superhuman. Even Jeff Smith’s Bone, a bizarre comic series that combines its own take on high fantasy with middlebrow cartoon humor, manages to sustain a suspenseful, emotive and contorted story arc in spite of its silly presentation. If one could do any of these things in a book, film or other ‘established’ form of media, it is not likely one would be so quickly disregarded as an artist. The fact that this is apparently an issue may actually lend some credence to Manzoni’s excremental enterprise –  the art establishment, whoever that is, has decided that this is art and that comics are not, probably because they and those cans are full of the same thing.

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It’s About Time

FINALLY. MANGA. WE GET TO REVIEW MANGA. At this point, just having the oppotunity to have manga acknowledged or at the very least analyzed in ArtsOne is fantastic. (Good choice of manga, Jason *thumbs up* !!) However, this is both advantageous and troubling to some extent. Advantageous because this is the field of art and story-telling that I’ve dedicated most of my life to (hobby-wise and potential career-wise), so I’ve researched my fair share on the matter. On the other hand, it’s just as troubling to talk about because manga/comics are, like any medium of art, flexible in its form. There are so many factors to consider: the history, the style, the editing processess, the aesthetic, etc. Where do I even start?  … I suppose the best thing for me to discuss here are some examples that have influenced me as an artist and the essential processes of manga. Let’s see where this goes …



Osamu Tezuka (手塚治虫) is no doubt the “God of Manga” and “Godfather of Anime”. As a young child, however, my influences were Rumiko Takahashi (高橋留美子) and Tite Kubo (久保 帯人). Rumiko Takahashi is one of the most influential mangakas (manga artist) of Japan where she is acknowledged as one of the best selling female comic artists globally and rumored to be one of the wealthiest women in Japan; since the 1980s, Rumiko’s manga has and is still distributed worldwide in a variety of languages. Some of her most famous works at the time include Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku, and Mermaid Saga. Rumiko’s works often range from comedy, Japanese folklore, action, horror, and romance. Near the early 90s,  Ranma 1/2 and Inuyasha were two large and popular series that divide her styles more definitely: both manga are influenced by Japanese folklore/fantasy where Ranma 1/2 is a romance-comedy and Inuyasha is more akin to the horror/dark genre of storytelling.

Similarly, Tite Kubo’s serialized works such as Bleach, focus on action genres put in a modern setting. At the same time, he influences the story with Japanese folklore (死神 – Shinigami/Death Gods). There’s no doubt that folklore in the Japanese culture is extremely important, but only a few great artists are able to produce successful manga such as Tite Kubo and Rumiko Takahashi. Mainstream/overrated manga or not, you have to give credit to these artists. Why? Because at the end of the day, the manga industry idealizes a great story over great art. If you’re able to do both … perfect.


Working Out the Kinks

Most mangaka start off by becoming a mangaka’s assistant, completing tasks like inking, photocopying, etc. Another common method is to create a single piece of manga (called a “oneshot”) consisting of an average of 30-40 pages. From there, one will either contact a manga agency for review of the work and potential serialization or enter in contests where the same thing happens afterword.


“Oh! It’s only 30-40 pages! How hard could it be!?”, said a fool in the distance.


It’s stressful making a manga, much less anything satisfactory as an artist. Because the manga industry is extremely competitive, creating a good storyline/artwork may not be enough to get acknowledged. This makes the entire process of starting the piece is difficult (I’ll touch on this in a moment). But, BUT! As corny as it sounds, being passionate about making manga is absolutely essential. If you do manage to overcome the stress, get approved by an editor, and meet your deadlines on time, then congratulations! You’re practically on your way to becoming a true mangaka. Then again, sure, you’ve made it to the biz, but you have an even rougher road to go.

For most manga publications, the serialization process for each chapter is condensed to a week. This eliminates any slackers wishing to create manga, as no mangaka is ever in charge of when they want the artwork to be finished. The tight deadline forces one to get the work done or risk being fired; the mangakas finishes their share of the work and the publication team ensures that art get distributed in a timely fashion.

Before the production of the next chapter, a storyboard must be drafted (with panels/potential dialogue) and presented to the editor. The editor is essentially, your boss who will recommend any last minute changes to improve the series. Sounds pretty standard here, but the real catch is if your storyboard isn’t up to the editor’s standards, is lacking some oomph, or isn’t well developed enough, where the editor will then need you to change some or the entire draft you’ve just made. This means, those 30 pages of potential reading material just went down the gutter and you must learn to be flexible with your work to accommodate for these instances. The good news is that this step is the most difficult and the rest are pretty smooth-sailing. For the next few days, a mangaka will draft the images onto manuscript paper.

  • Day 1: Roughly sketch the basic shapes/position of the characters + general backgrounds
  • Day 2: Line art + Define features (hair, eyes, fingers, etc)
  • Day 3: Shading + Screen tone, Lines, Sound effects
  • Day 4: Speech Bubbles
  • Day 5: Inking
  • Day 6: Any final fixes + production crew takes over
  • Day 7: Plan for the next chapter
  • (Repeat)

(A general order of the process of manga)


The Good News

These days, becoming a self-sufficient manga artist is easier. There are an abundance of social media (Smack Jeeves, DeviantArt, Tumblr, etc) that allow artists to showcase their work online and computer programs such as Sai, Photoshop, Manga Studio that take away the stress of traditional manga making (panels, inking, etc, by hand). For a more time-constrained artist, this option is the most favorable, however, the popularity of the work may not be as successful as entering the manga industry with a company. Online self-publications usually risk the threat of art theft/plagiarism and credibility. Despite this, the majority of social media sites have adequate protection against these factors. Another benefit is the ability to maintain contact with the audience through commissions and fan mail; additional income if the artist creates merchandise. We cannot forget, of course, the joys of working as a free-lance artist.


Panelling Magic

Let’s end this ramble off with amazing works of panelling.

The best panelling I’ve ever seen?

That would have to be Yusuke Murata’s (村田 雄介) One Punch Man in back to back pages.


Fan-made OPM gif 1






Fan-made OPM gif 2 (color)

(Click to see the gifs!)


Look at it in its glory. Need I say anymore?

It’s flawless.


If you’re interested in looking at more amazing (fan-made) gifs of Yusuke’s work , the site is provided at:

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The Law of Attraction & Post-Modernism: Support and Contradiction

In Thursday’s seminar, we discussed the growing skepticism regarding metanarratives which defines postmodernism. Postmodernism challenges a single metanarrative by encouraging localized and diverse narratives; postmodern thinkers claim that existence is too complex to simply be told in a single narrative.

The Law of Attraction is an increasingly popular paradigm in the western world. Historians claim it has roots in the American New Thought movement and German Idealism; however, it appears to also have emerged in the East in Vedanta, ancient Chinese philosophy and many other schools of thought. The Law of Attraction (by my understanding) is a belief that the universe is more complex than can be understood by human perception. As a result, our perceptions of reality are based on our own thought projections and beliefs — whatever it is that we focus on and wish to see, will be able to manifest itself (like attracts like).

For example, if a person tells themselves “I always seem to be sick,” then their body would subconsciously manifest illness. This may not occur instantly, but the Law of Attraction states that it opens the possibility for sickness to occur. This manifestation may also be subtle — perhaps the individual in question begins to forget washing their hands, or begin to eat questionable food — regardless, the mental thought (sickness in this case) would be rendered more likely to materialize than if their belief was “I rarely get sick”.

This is one simplistic example in what is a complex philosophy — nevertheless, the basic premise of the Law of Attraction is able to simultaneously support and challenge postmodernism as a whole. The Law would allow each person in the world to experience a different reality — this fits with the postmodernist idea of “petits réchits”. However, the idea that each person’s interpretation of the world is different stems from a single basic metanarrative: whatever one experiences is manifested by themselves. In this case, the Law of Attraction simultaneously supports and contradicts the anti-metanarrative ideas of postmodernism.

One criticism of the Law of Attraction has been its lack of falsifiability (the ability to prove a hypothesis as false). Scientists claim that the Law is not scientifically testable. If the experiment results in the claim that the Law of Attraction does not work, believers would merely say that the researcher simply manifested the result which they wished to see, and that in itself is able to prove the Law. As a result of this lack of falsifiability, the Law of Attraction has subsequently been given little thought under scientific study — but this may just be further proof of the issues with using science as a metanarrative.

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What Comes After Post-Modernism

In our last seminar together, we discussed the ideas of postmodernism and how it began as a reaction against the tenants of the modernist philosophy, namely of the belief of grand narratives, or metanarratives about universal or absolute truths such democracy, progress, science and the belief that these narratives are leading up to some as-yet-unknown great destination. It encouraged an attitude of incredulity and skepticism of everything and the acceptance that there are no single truth but an enormous plurality of competing narratives each containing different aspects of the truth.

In recent years however, a growing number of critics – including such acclaimed scholars as Noam Chomsky, Daniel Dennett, and our very own Jacob Clark, have began to question the usefulness and the longevity of the postmodern condition.  They argue that merely reacting against metanarratives is not enough if they do not offer a suitable alternative in its place. They say it is far too vague just to say there are countless numbers of localized narratives in the world and that such ways of thinking does not offer much more insight than is already immediately apparent (i.e., certain systems of thought is advance by certain power structures and therefore is not always reliable). They argue perhaps the approach ironically examining and deconstructing existing metanarratives, which may indeed have severed an useful purpose at the time of its conception, has run its course.

Some critics argue that new sensibilities has already begun to evolve. One such proposed alternative is  metamodernism, that is a way of combining both modernist and postmodernist sensibilities. Dutch philosophers Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker says that metamodernism “can be conceived of as a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism” an acceptance that “grand narratives are as necessary as they are problematic, hope is not simply something to distrust, love not necessarily something to be ridiculed.” They recognize that while there may be no universal, absolutely unchanging Truth out there in the Platonic sense, it is not futile to try and find pursue some approximation to it to the best of our collective abilities. If we wish to move forward, a balance must be struck between ironic detachment and sincere, passionate engagement, one must “embrace doubt, as well as hope and melancholy, sincerity and irony, affect and apathy, the personal and the political, and technology and techne”.

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Just Some Thoughts on Mulvey

According to Laura Mulvey, the movies of the classic Hollywood era are made for the male gaze. The female characters in these movies are reduced to objects which the male audience could enjoy looking at. This trend has not died off since the publication of her essay, many movies nowadays still uses female characters as “eye candies” for the male audience to look at. However, I think there is also a large degree of male objectification in the entertainment industry nowadays, which balances off the female objectification. Men show much more skin and are much more sexually appealing in contemporary movies than in the movies of the classic Hollywood era. Just think of all the actions movies or romantic movies where the man takes off his shirt to show off his six pack or whatever. This is clearly meant to impress the ladies among the audiences, and perhaps to also add motivation for the guys to go to the gym. The increase of male objectification is likely due to women having more buying power in the contemporary society. Back in the classic Hollywood era, men were the majority of the workforce while women generally stayed at home. This meant that the men had financial power and the ability to consume cultural products. Movies are meant to make money after all, so to suit the taste of the men who have the money, women became objectified in movies. In the contemporary society, women are just as prominent in the workforce as men are. The financial power of women is similar to men, if not superior. After all, women generally buy more than men. To suit the taste of the largely women based consumers nowadays, men became objectified too. I believe that such objectification is very natural. Men generally want women, and women generally want men, and both sexes enjoy looking at the beautiful members of the other sex. So it is natural to use men to attract female consumers and use women to attract male consumers. Objectification of a particular sex would only become a problem when it is used in a degrading sense.

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Vertigo & The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

An interesting element of Vertigo, for me, was the similarities between it and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Thematically, both films focused on our innate fears (castration in the case of the former and perception of reality in the latter, amongst other things) and used the landscape and architecture to display this. In Vertigo the Mission San Juan Bautista and its clock tower are used to devastating effect, the phallic nature of the structure and the heights of the tower serving to place the viewer – emotionally – on edge. In Dr. Caligari the landscape serves a similar role, its contorted angles and oppressive presence serving as a reminder of the sinister events that are taking place. They both go to show how important the surrounding world (natural or man-made) are when it comes to framing and interpreting events.

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Is This Karma?

In ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Laura Mulvey makes a point of saying, on page 12, that men ‘cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification’. When she made this observation in the 1970s, the media climate was certainly much more one-sided in that it objectified women not exclusively but much, much moreso than it objectified men. Forty-odd years later, the cultural landscape has changed, and the balance is still skewed, there has been a leveling of sorts in that men have become more exposed to the same exploitative media trends that women have been exposed to for over a century. While this is a legitimate concern, it also has an overtone of ironic justice to it, which is even more disturbing.

In Laurie Penny’s excellent book, Unspeakable Things, she points out that both genders are held up to impossible standards, taken to illogical extremes by the media they consume. Advertisements, implicit or explicit, create self-hatred and envy, which drives one to uphold the convictions or buy the products therein. She also points out that, while eating disorders in women are well-cataloged (however ineffectually) and well-researched, the rising trend of dysmorphic disorders in men is largely unexamined despite coming from the same source – the self-hatred provoked by people whose jobs focus around how to make you give them your money for something that probably isn’t worth it.

What Mulvey predicted and what Penny flatly states boils down to ‘women like to look too’, and that’s perfectly fair. Culture is inescapably visual, and the increased presence of worldviews that are not those of white, straight men within a certain age bracket broadens the potential for turning the gaze on the gazers. There was always pressure on men the same way there was pressure on women, but it didn’t intersect this directly. The ideal woman, according to (broad) media trends is feminine, passive, sexy (but not sexual), thin, and white (or if not, titillatingly and stereotypically exotic); the ideal man is strong, wealthy, sexually insatiable, emotionally inscrutable and capable of (victoriously) inflicting violence. Those stereotypes still exist and in force, with the technological advancements required to present them all with even more unrealistic aesthetic appearances. When people are exposed to hundreds of ads in a day (and that’s before they get to what’s depicted in their recreational media), it’s pretty understandable that things are starting to go into the domain of equal-opportunity misery, although it’s still a decent way away.

It’s pretty well impossible to fit these criteria, which advertisers, producers and their associates know full well. This perceived deficiency has made a decent number of people quite wealthy, and to an extent they probably don’t or didn’t know how things would fall out on their consumers. Coincidentally, an overwhelming percentage of these people are (like this writer) white, male extroverts with a remarkable deficit of ethics and shame. When Mulvey was writing, visual culture was nowhere near its prevalence today and thoroughly dominated by this demographic. Now, those standards are multifarious, absurd in their presentation and near-completely inescapable, and the demographic that benefited from them the most is now visibly suffering from it. That, at least to some, is a prime instance of gruesome irony.

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