Murray Ball finds a Slice of Heaven

It is with great sadness that I write a tribute to one of New Zealand’s best cartoonists.

Murray Ball (26 January 1939 – 12 March 2017) was from my home town, Feilding. Stanway I’m pretty sure, or at least Halcombe. Proud as punch they are – because he also made the All Blacks.

Murray Ball with two characters from Footrot Flats. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP-Portraits of New Zealanders-Ball, Murray-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23111673
Murray Ball with two characters from Footrot Flats. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP-Portraits of New Zealanders-Ball, Murray-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23111673

Murray Ball was someone who made us laugh, love, dream, and curse the Nor’ Wester. He brought great characters to life in Wal, The Dog, Horse, Cooch, Cheeky Hobson, and many others besides.

I’ve always been into comics. Footrot Flats is a love I share with my Dad. I remember collecting the annuals to add to our collection. We all went to the movie. A friend of mine walked down the aisle to “Slice of Heaven.” Lol.

Murray’s cartoons and characters addressed pivotal moments and issues in our history – the Springbok Tour coming to mind – rugby being very close to Ball’s heart. I still have the clipping from the Manawatu Evening Standard, when the Dog wrote in to say he was hanging up his All Black Jersey.

See ya mate. Love from Fee and The Dog.

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Local author Jane Seaford : The Insides of Banana Skins

CoverI’ve read a few authors on counter culture: Jack Kerouac, James Baldwin, W.S. Burroughs, Irvine Welsh but The Insides of Banana Skins is more like Marianne Faithfull’s account of life on the wall …

Jane Seaford (Lyttelton, Dead is Dead and other stories) tells a story of a group of young naive women and men who live together, exploring the freedom of late 1960s London. Camden, actually.

Chapters flick between characters’ first experiences of relationships and sex, alcohol, smoking and drugs, work and study, and living in squalour. Oh the joys of flatting. Sukey, Minnie, Jaz and their friends find moments of epiphany and a sense of community in good times and bad.

But then a string of really bad things happen…

From their innocence as new arrivals to some hair raising moments with the people they meet, this book is a taste of the seedier side of freedom.

Most charming and original are the afterwords that end some chapters, asides from the character looking back on this chapter of their life. Life is after all, a mirror. Or as the narrator puts it:

Sukey often framed events as if they were the result of conscious purpose…after all, memory was more ordered than experience. (p.182)

Enjoy!

Lucy Dillon – All I Ever Wanted

Cover of All I ever wantedCaitlin and Eva have something and nothing in common. They’ve both lost their husbands. While Eva is the poised, business-like widow of a celebrity actor, Caitlin is a free spirit who dropped out of university to have a child, and is seperated from Eva’s brother, Patrick.

When Patrick volunteers Eva’s pristine, designer house for fortnightly visits between Patrick and his children Joel and Nancy, Eva is forced out of her comfort zone of grief and into facing her future without Mick, her famous husband.

Nancy, only four, is carrying a secret. Unable to speak since the separation, Nancy thinks it was her wish that made her father go away…

All I Ever Wanted tells the story of how this family is broken apart, then brought together by a common goal: to get Nancy to speak again,

Lucy Dillon writes with an eye for physical detail and emotional nuance, she skillfully relates the feeling of a parent unable to help their child, the frustration of a couple unable to communicate and the pain of Eva’s childllessness. She notes the personality traits that make us unique, and the ways in which we understand and misunderstand one another.

I was swept up in the often moving journey of her characters. A little gushy towards the end (I’m not normally a romance reader) this is a powerfully written book.

All I ever wanted
by Lucy Dillon
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781444796049

Dragon Springs Road – Janie Chang

Cover of Dragon Springs RoadDragon Springs Road by Janie Chang has as many layers as a Chinese puzzle. This beautifully painted tale is a saga containing a mystery, with elements of romance, fantasy, fairy tale and Chinese spiritualism. The story is set against the dramatic backdrop of the 1911 Chinese Revolution; the last reign of the Xing Dynasty.

Jialing is a young hun xue (mixed breed) girl abandoned by her mother. The other word used to describe her isn’t very nice. Jialing’s mother was Chinese, her father British. Her plight highlights the status of women and those of mixed race in a changing society. Women at this time were regarded as property, with little options for independence.

Grandmother Yang, the Matriarch of a well respected family, takes Jialing in as a Bond Servant. She is property of the family until she can buy her freedom. Unfortunately for Jialing, her options as an adult are limited. Although educated, discrimination against her Eurasian appearance makes her almost unemployable.

When a family finds itself in financial difficulty, even wives can be sold; or as servants, or worse, into brothels. Jialing can only hope to be a mistress or a prostitute, unless she is lucky. Aided and protected by a Fox Spirit, Jialing attempts to find a home, friendship, her mother, independence and love.

Janie Chang is also the author of Three Souls.

This is the perfect book to read during Lunar New Year!

Dragon Springs Road
by Janie Chang
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780062388957

Lunar New Year events

All about China

The Beano Annual 2017

CoverDid you read comics when you were young?

I’m English and grew up on this one. If you enjoyed The Beano in your younger years, or are young now, you’ll get a laugh out of this annual. Many of the classic characters are still there – such as Dennis the Menace (and his dog Gnasher), The Bash Street Kids, Bananaman, Roger the Dodger and Minnie the Minx.

The old favourites look ever so slightly different, as some have been drawn by new artists. The stories are up to date with modern technology, media and language, but the essence of the old Beano remains.

Christchurch City Libraries also hold a really interesting History of The Beano which tells how Gnasher first arrived (then mysteriously disappears) in Beanotown. A must for purists.

CoverAnd did you know, you can also view the latest weekly issues of The Beano on PressReader? The last three months are available – just sign in with your library card number and password.

I also discovered Blimey! a blog on British comics.

Enjoy!

Salman Rushdie: Storytelling as Scheherazade

I love reading Salman Rushdie. He weaves the most colourful and beautiful stories, with a little magic shining through like gold threads. Transporting the reader to different cultures, countries and times, his stories often address current issues through the medium of fantasy.

Cover of Two years eight months and twenty eight nightsTwo Years Eight Months & Twenty Eight Nights is a fabulous tale of a War of the Worlds. If you can do the maths, this adds up to 1,001 nights in the Arabian Nights legends. The gates between  Earth and Peristan (Fairyland) have reopened after thousands of years. Mischievous Jinn (Genies as we know them) are messing with human lives in terrible ways, in order to subjugate humans, or ultimately destroy us.

Rushdie adopts the role of Scheherazade, unfolding many stories like the Chinese box sent to poison the King of Qaf. Dark Jinn, creatures of fire, visit curses on mankind – rising curses to make people float above the atmosphere, crushing curses to kill us with gravity, infectious diseases and open attacks.

But Humankind have someone on their side. The Princess of Peristan, Aasmaan Peri; Skyfairy the Lightning Princess. Naming herself Dunia (The World), she fell in love with a human; the philosopher Ibn Rushd, the last time the gates were open. Dunia becomes mother to a race of humans who are part Jinn and part human, with latent powers waiting to be whispered into action to save the human race.

Ibn Rushd was a philosopher in ancient times. He really did have a feud with Ghazali of Iran (a champion of Islam). Ibn Rushd, an Aristotelian rationalist, believed in a kinder God and a less fanatical faith. Salman Rushdie’s father changed the family name to Rushdie to align himself with Rushd and his arguments against Islamic literal interpretation of the Koran.

This is the first book of Rushdie’s that I have really noticed an undercurrent of parable, between the fantasy story and the world of today. Rushdie’s narrator writes from a future Earth a thousand years after this historic battle: without religion, discrimination and war; making clear that the world has no use for “murderous gangs of ignoramuses (whose aim) is “forbidding things.”

Further reading

David Bowie : The Man Who Stole the World DVD

On 10 January 2016 David Bowie died, leaving us his last album, Blackstar. The world as we knew it changed forever.

The Man Who Stole The World DVD is a tribute to the man “who stole the world and put it in a better place”, according to the narrator. The short documentary, the first to be released since his death, covers David Bowie’s life and music, looking at what made his albums so ground breaking; changing people’s perceptions of themselves, music and society.

I was worried, as a huge fan, that it would be corny and sensational. It isn’t. This is a moving account of the man’s life and incredible creativity. The DVD includes interviews with people who had a business or personal relationship with him, such as English DJ Paul Gambaccini and former NME photographer, Kevin Cummins. Some of the footage is new, and some you may have seen before.

Merry Christmas, David Bowie Fans

Christmas Tree, Central Library Manchester (Angel made by Kelly Davies)
Christmas Tree, Central Library Manchester (Angel made by Kelly Davies)

More music resources

Mortal Engines rule!

CoverIf you haven’t read Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, you’d better get on to it. Or you won’t be able to compare it with the movie – our very own Peter Jackson will begin shooting on this film in March 2017!

Written for young adults, Carnegie Medal winning Mortal Engines is a fast-paced tale of good and evil. The first of four stories, Mortal Engines is set in a dystopian, steampunk future where cities and townships have become portable, driven by machines; and predatory.

The Traction City of London has chased down and eaten a small town. Eaten!!? As celebrations begin, fifteen year old Tom Natsworthy, a third-class apprentice in the Historian’s Guild, discovers corruption in the heart of the city.

The man he respects most, Thaddeus Valentine, is not what he appears to be. Tainted with this knowledge, Tom is ejected from London: pushed down a waste tube and out into the Hunting Grounds of Europe. Aided by a scar-faced girl intent on murdering his mentor, Tom must find his way back to his city, to fight for its future.

Philip Reeve creates great characters and scenes. The book is so visual that it reads like a movie. I’m excited to see how Phillip Reeve’s Steampunk ideas of huge metal and cog cities, driven by steam, will translate to the big screen.

Angel Catbird and Margaret Atwood

CoverMargaret Atwood has written a Graphic Novel? Wait, what?

Who’d have thought the popular award-winning Canadian novelist, poet and short story writer would put out a comic book. I’m amazed.

And Angel Catbird is amazing! Harking back to early comics of the 1940s, this entertaining story has all the elements of the genre. Surviving a near fatal collision with a car, his beloved cat Ding, an owl and a DNA changing serum, our Hero Strig Feleedus is transformed into Angel Catbird. The once-quiet scientist now has a six-pack, owl wings and a cat’s tail and must come to terms with his new abilities. There are some funny scenes as he learns to supress his baser instincts.

Evil villain Dr Muroid; part human, part rat, commands an army of rats he intends to humanise, feminise (eewww), and take over the World! If only he can get his clawed little hands on the formula. Meanwhile, down at Club Catastrophe, Cate Leone prepares for war … Part Femme Fatale and half cat, Margaret wanted Catbird’s a love interest drawn sexy but not gratuitously, as befits a feminist author.

In her introduction Atwood explains that even though she is “a nice literary old lady”, she drew comic book characters as a child and has never stopped; influenced by early comics such as Little Lulu, Mickey Mouse, Rip Kirby, Mary Worth, Marvel and Dick Tracy, and the later political satire of Walt Kelly’s Pogo.

Nature Canada, a cause close to Margaret’s heart, has added the odd footnote to the story – suggestions on how to protect both cats and the environment. The statistics are interesting without lecturing.

I’m hooked and can’t wait for Volume 2 – due out in February 2017.

Margaret Atwood 2015
Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Cup and Show Day Reading : Give a Man a Horse by Dianne Haworth

Give a Man a Horse CoverHere’s a book to whet your appetite for Christchurch Cup and Show Week!

Give a Man a Horse is the biography of celebrated Cambridge Stud bloodstock breeder Sir Patrick Hogan, owner of the famous Sir Tristram.

This is an entertaining and often poignant tale of farming, family and horse breeding in early New Zealand. Author Dianne Haworth eloquently traces the roots of this famous New Zealander from the mists of seventeenth century Ireland to the modern world of horse racing.

Beginning with an Irish family myth of a rebel Hogan horseman, the book follows Patrick’s father Tom’s emigration to New Zealand in the early 1900s to his establishment of the family’s first Clydesdale breeding stock farm in the Waikato in the early 1930s.

His father’s canny anticipation in the 1950s of the end of working draft horses on farms changed the course of Patrick’s life. Sharing his father’s natural ability in spotting and presenting a good horse, Patrick learned first to show calves at Calf and Show day, then followed his father into breeding thoroughbred horses for the high paced racing world.

Sir Patrick’s is a story of calculated risks, exciting wins and impressive bloodlines. Close associates speak of him as someone who would always give a little guy a go, while never mincing words when it came to horse business. I’ve enjoyed reading this book, for its relaxed style and history of a fixture of New Zealand life. I even found myself reading the statistics!

Give a man a horse: The remarkable story of Sir Patrick Hogan
by Diane Haworth
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781775540960

More reading:

Horses parading in the ring at Riccarton Racecourse [ca. 1960] Flickr CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0030
Horses parading in the ring at Riccarton Racecourse [ca. 1960] CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0030