Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Highly Anticipated 'American Gods' Series Debuts April 30

We have been excited about Neil Gaiman's amazing novel, American Gods, coming to the small screen in serial form (how could a movie ever explore this world thoroughly enough), and the tailer certainly has a lot of people excited.

We would be counting down the days ourselves, if it weren't for the #bucketsofblood, because, wow. There are many - gratuitously many - buckets! So take that as a heads-up for watching the trailer, by the way. Nevertheless, there will be lots of mythic and folkloric content for those willing to dive in, albeit being wrapped up very contemporary clothes and language, along with heavy doses of 'weird' (that is, in fact, one of the marketing tools for the show: 'expect 'weird sh*t!').

Here's the show's premise:
American Gods, the show follows Shadow Moon, who is thrown into a war between the gods of the old world versus the new. 
When Shadow Moon is released from prison, he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday and a storm begins to brew. Little does Shadow know, this storm will change the course of his entire life. Left adrift by the recent, tragic death of his wife, and suddenly hired as Mr. Wednesday’s bodyguard, Shadow finds himself in the center of a world that he struggles to understand. It’s a hidden world where magic is real, where the Old Gods fear both irrelevance and the growing power of the New Gods, like Technology and Media. Mr. Wednesday seeks to build a coalition of Old Gods to defend their existence in this new America, and reclaim some of the influence that they’ve lost. As Shadow travels across the country with Mr. Wednesday, he struggles to accept this new reality, and his place in it.
Here's the trailer (viewer discretion advised):

That should be no surprise to people familiar with the book and most people, including Gaiman himself, are super-excited. Along with perhaps turning down the 'red' on our screens a tad as we decide to put up with the #bucketsofblood for the inevitable good stuff, we will be watching closely for the public response to the series.

This featurette, including an appearance with Neil Gaiman, who Executive Produces the show, makes the series look very intriguing. If you're not up for the trailer, this is a good overview for you (no #bucketsofblood in this one):

One excellent thing to look forward to, is that Gaiman, who always intended to write more of the world than he did for his novel, is seriously looking at creating new stories specifically for the series as well, and he has a specific angle in mind - one we're keen to see explored.
From io9:
There’s plenty of material for more stories set in the world of American Gods. Both the book and the show contain a main, present-day story, but are also peppered with “Coming to America” shorts that explore how gods from other countries immigrated to the United States along with people. At the panel for the show at San Diego Comic-Con last year, Gaiman mentioned that he’d originally intended to do a vignette about Japanese internment during World War II in American Gods. 
“It wasn’t even that it got cut,” explained Gaiman about the story. “It just never got written because I was already at 200,000 words and I was being told by my publisher that the novel couldn’t be more than 150,000 words. So now I was already cutting and the internment story was one I was looking forward to.”The show might act as an impetus for Gaiman writing not only that story, but other ones he has in his mind. 
..The show’s tackling of (Essie Tregowan's) story—which expanded it to fill much of an episode,—has inspired Gaiman to write more stories in the American Gods universe and give them to the show to reinterpret for the small screen. “So Bryan is now going we could do more of these big ones,” continued Gaiman. “And I went, well I wanted to do the internment camp one and that would have been a big story. That would have been a 20-30 page short story. And possibly a little longer, it would have been a novelette in my head. And it would have been a kitsune story and I’m happy to write that story now and I’m happy for Bryan to adapt it.”
Gaiman has a lot to say on 'America's hypocritical relationship with immigrants and diversity' and as such, the series is not only highly anticipated, but suddenly become more relevant in this social climate, than it ever has since being published. The fact that it looks like Gaiman will get to focus on this theme is one of the big draws of the show for us, making it very likely to be put on our list of Recommended Resistance Reads and Viewings. #RRR
America has a very contradictory relationship with immigration. The stories we like to tell are about people coming here with nothing but ambition and becoming important or rich. But America is also obsessed with talking about whether or not immigrants have assimilated, and saying that some groups can’t, so they shouldn’t be allowed in. It’s a specific American truth that Gaiman captured in the book and that the show has run with. 
“You have come from an old country, now stop being that thing,” is how Gaiman summed it up. “I love the fact that Canada has the concept of the mosaic. You have come to Canada from your country, we are a mosaic made up of lots of different countries... The American idea seems much more...melting pot. Become one. We are all one, we are like this. No, we’re not! No one is.”
It’s not being American that Gaiman thinks let him write the book.  
... Gaiman’s outsider perspective mirrors how genre fiction has always managed to present volatile ideas in palatable ways. “That’s what it’s for,” said Gaiman. “It’s the distorting mirror, it’s showing you something at 45 degrees, it’s showing you something that you are familiar with from an angle you have never seen it from, to make you see it for the first time.” 
We couldn't agree with this more.

The network showing the series, Starz, is a 'prime paid' network so a lot of folks aren't going to have the opportunity to jump in at the beginning for the journey, but that won't stop an internet buzz from happening, and we expect the big pop culture websites to be all over the premiere and have lots of interesting things to say.

We love how the latest interview Gaiman has given discussing American Gods finishes:
Even with the distance of talking about gods and supernatural occurrences, people connect with the stories in American Gods in very personal ways. It resonates even more now, somehow. Gaiman knows why.

“Because we’re human and we tell stories and telling our stories and telling stories we were told in our childhood is one of the most important and beautiful things we can do. We have stories, now, that are older than any city. Some of them are older than the countries they are now told in. We can trace the age of stories sometimes by landmarks, by volcanoes, by things mentioned in them. And stories last. And stories matter. And sometimes, at my maddest, I like to think that stories are merely the vehicle that stories use to propagate themselves to make sure they continue.
What a wonderful (and slightly intimidating) way of putting it! Fairy tales are unique as a 'genre' precisely because they behave specifically like living things in the way they spread and adapt, and are one of the biggest reasons they interest us. Myths aren't quite the same but they can behave similarly, and it makes sense that Gaiman's fairy tale influence in telling and retelling myths brings out this quality.
Can you tell we love this creature?
Summary: we're looking forward to seeing what happens with American Gods, both as a series and with regard to social impact. Here's the opening title sequence to give you a taste (no #bucketsofblood in this one, we promise).

Monday, April 24, 2017

Huldufólk: Iceland Residency Exhibition celebrates hidden folk & folklore of the land

"Rain" by Justin Oaksford
There's been a renewed world-wide interest in Iceland's rich mystical heritage and land in the past few years, which is wonderful to see. We get excited about this because the fairy tales and folklore are, at first glance, very different from the wood based fairy tales and folklore most people are familiar with and associate with fairy tales, which brings a greater awareness to different types of tales world wide. Though at first look they might appear very different from the canonical fairy tales, it really doesn't take long to notice that these tales have grown out of the land, traditions and peoples, just like tales from other places have. And just like folk visiting the Black Forest in Germany feel close to and inspired by wonder tales, so too, it seems, that people visiting Iceland cannot help but feel that folkloric vibe, directly off the land itself.
"Near" by Bridget Underwood

"Troll Hill" by Andrew Olson

Light Grey Art Lab's Huldufólk Exhibition is all about unique Icelandic, land-based wonder, which, no surprise, includes folklore and fairy tales. Although not all pieces have clear depictions of folkloric creatures, and many pieces of the exhibition are straight landscapes, it doesn't take too much squinting to see giants, trolls and large land people crouching and brooding over the world in those paintings and sketches either. Do you see a sleeping giant head, with pointy beard, in the landscape below like we do?
"5" by Erin McGuire
The exhibition, which even with just a handful of specifically folklore and fairy tale focused subjects, inspired storytelling, grew out of a special, on location residency. A group of (lucky!) artists traveled to Iceland and toured, bringing their art supplies with them of course, to study the landscape and be inspired by the natural and mystical wonders in person. The exhibition is a collection of work created (or at least started) during the tour.
Huldufólk Exhibition celebrates the hidden folk, trolls, fairies and folklore found in Icelandic culture. The faces in the rocks, hidden pools, smoking earth, and ever-surprising landscape influences some of the characters and mythology inherent in Iceland storytelling. The Huldufólk Exhibition includes artwork by the artists that attended the Light Grey Iceland Residency in 2015. Each artist exhibits a unique collection of prints and originals inspired by their experiences in Iceland.
"To find your way in bad weather" by Kate O'Hara

"Thunder" by Justin Oaksford

"Iceland Proverb: The Hills" by Michelle Schwartzbauer

"Hrafntinna" by Corey Godbey
(who illustrates here how John Bauer's work grew out of the mythical landscapes of his beloved Scandinavian countries)

"To avoid ghosts and evil spirits" by Kate O'Hara

"Hear" by Bridget Underwood

Light Grey Art Lab brings together artists and designers from all sorts of disciplines to learn, educate and exhibit together, with the goal of fostering a 'global creative community'. Artists are welcomed to participate, submit from all over the world for various exhibitions, events and for special residencies, and it's no surprise to see folklore and fairy tale subjects pop up quite often - both as themes for an exhibit or as part of one. We've subscribed to make sure we don't miss out on anything wondrous in the future.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Photography: 'Grimm Compact' by Laura Zalenga

 We've been wanting to share German photographer, Laura Zalenga's fairy tale series, titled Grimm Compact. Created as an homage to tales printed by the Grimms, the photos show a key or iconic active moment from a fairy tale, frozen in the frame and, usually, zoomed in. It's a unique a wonderful way to distill a fairy tale down to a recognizable moment, without words and without much context, and it's one of the best series - whether illustrative or photographic - that we've seen, do this.

(Laura) is convinced that photography is a type of therapy that gives you the ability to heal yourself and others.
"Till today that big Old Brothers Grimm fairy-tale book stands next to my bed. And quite obviously it inspired me. For this specific series I wanted to create an homage.. but there were already so many interpretations out there. I was thinking about what makes these stories unique and one big point is that they are rather simple but still - or because of that work so well, that Disney turned some of them into movies. Whenever we see a girl with a red coat we think of Little Red Riding Hood, whenever we see a single show some point out that it must be Cinderella. So I focused on these one or two elements in every one of these fairy-tales, that one scene that everyone remembers from the story. Actually that is a thought that I like for my photography in genera;l. We see one frame of a story and the rest is up to our minds." (Source)

Do we need to list the fairy tales for you? These are mostly canonical tales so we shouldn't... Enjoy!

You can learn more about Laura's process HERE and see more of her photography HERE.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Political Cartoons & Fairy Tales 2017: 'The President Who Cried Wolf'

Artist unknown - Source HERE

Using fairy tales in political commentary, and especially political cartoons is something of a tradition. The current state of US politics and national division being what it is, it's no surprise to see certain fairy tales making regular appearances again. Always popular for referencing politics are Pinocchio, The Emperor's New Clothes and Jack and the Beanstalk, all making regular appearances in tense times and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, though usually less used, is a regular 'go to' for 2017, accompanying cries of fake news and 'alternative facts'.

Above is a political cartoon by Tom Toles, from The Washington Post, focusing on distractions - the other, related, theme of Cry Wolf.

Charleston City Paper has regular cartoons, drawn and written by Stegelin, and uses fairy tales regularly for social commentary as well. The latest makes use of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, with the emphasis on 'alternative facts'.

We'll just leave it here for you to critique. (Click to view full size.)

Friday, April 21, 2017

'Where The Water Tastes Like Wine' - An American Folklore Game About Traveling, Telling & Collecting Stories

Listed as one of the best Indie games of 2017 by GDC (Game Developer's Conference) and Gameinformer magazine, Where The Water Tastes Like Wine sounds like no other offering we've heard of. I mean the all-governing currency is stories that you collect during your travels and tell around the campfires. What a fantastic mechanism!

And if you like Bluegrass, Blues, 'roots' and Woodie Guthrie inspired music, you'll probably want the game, just for the OST (official soundtrack).

You play a traveler wandering through the United States - and through a century of history and the Great Depression era - to meet a variety of people, each with their own stories to tell. Presented as a "bleak American folktale", the currency is stories you collect on your travels, and that you tell around the campfires. A fantastical undercurrent runs through the game, with anamorphic people and surreal encounters being a common occurrence. The map is a gorgeous illustrative overlay filled with trees, highways, and campfires that glow in the night. (We've included some development art in this post.)

Envisioned as "a bleak American folktale," Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is a gripping and morbid adventure game that lets players explore the landscape of the country, using stories they find along the way as currency. The brief snippet we played showcased gorgeous visuals, a lovely soundtrack, and fantastic short stories that were both moving and macabre. – (Javy Gwaltney, Gameinformer)

Sounds pretty interesting, right? Well it gets better. Turns out there are multiple characters to be found all over this America, both with folktales and personal stories to tell, and the developers employed a wide variety of excellent writers to be the 'voices' for each one. (You can read their impressive bios HERE.) This means the telling is done differently by each character and the flavor of the stories and the person change, just like they do when collecting stories in life.
Take a look at the trailer:
We get more insight into the game and the folktale aspect via a few different interviews. Excerpts are below with the source credited after each extract:
"The art suggests that there's more going on in the world than what we necessarily see," Nordhagen told IGN. "Every once in a while we see through the cracks in the world and get a peek at other realities. It's recognizably America, though - poker and trains, the Southwestern desert mesas, and something that suggests the colorful and idyllic farm produce labels of the beginning of the 20th century. It's the sort of America that might live in tall tales, in blues, folk, and bluegrass songs, and travelers' stories." (IGN)
"The title comes from a folk song, or, more accurately, lots of different folk songs," Nordhagen explained. "American folk culture is one of collaboration, sharing songs and stories but giving them your personal twist. It comes from many different cultures - the European settlers, the slaves that were forced to live here, the workers who have traveled here in search of opportunity, and of course the people actually native to this land." 
"Many of the songs, stories, and poems deal with hardship, especially in the blues genre, and many are about traveling the country," he added, citing such influences as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath and On the Road. "There are many stories of other American wanderers that rarely get told - the spread of African Americans from the south, the movement of migratory farm workers, or the forced marches of native people. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine wants to capture the feeling of those songs, poems, stories, and wanderings in a game." (eurogamer)
Heroic travelers aren't the only people featured in the game. "Most of the romantic road stories out there are white males traveling and having adventures," he said. "That is a freedom only available to those people, but a lot of travelers don't have that freedom and I want to tell stories of people who have been displaced." (polygon)
Here are some screen shots:

Sounds ambitious - and wonderful! Right now the release date is yet to be set but this will be available for Steam, PC/Mac later in the year, and other platforms XBoxOne and PS4 sometime later after that. We're thinking of preordering!

To finish, here's an interview with the creator (known for his critically acclaimed previous game Gone Home) at the convention SXSW 2017 (South By South West) in which you can hear a little more about how this game came to be, and see some more of the art in motion and a little gameplay. It begins with a typical upbeat 'gamer' intro, but quickly gets into the meat of the interview. Totally worth watching we promise. Enjoy!