Wednesday, February 9, 2011

FYC replay: Some New Kind of Slaughter

For Your Consideration: Some New Kind of Slaughter ~or~ Lost in the Flood (and How We Found Home Again): Diluvian Myths from Around the World from mpMann and A. David Lewis
By Chris Beckett

The 411:
Some New Kind of Slaughter ~or~ Lost in the Flood (and How We Found Home Again):
Diluvian Myths from Around the World
Written by mpMann and A. David Lewis
Art by mpMann
136-page HC, full color, $19.95
Archaia Comics

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

Ziusudra, the Sumerian predecessor to Noah, is restless. Having convinced friends and family to join him, they now sail across their flooded world in a great wooden ship, and he finds himself alone with the darkness, questioning the wisdom of that choice. Ziusudra erected the vessel at the behest of the god Enki, who spoke to him through a crack in the wall of the city Shuruppak. Is that the action of a sane man? He has no answer, and none is forthcoming in the damp night. Haunted by visions, Ziusudra wonders at how calm the beasts are and wishes that same solace could blanket the rest of the crew.

These visions come unbidden to Ziusudra, heightening his anxiety. A woman in his far future – our present – worries for her daughter as a hurricane rapidly approaches. In Arnhem Land, the rainbow serpent Yurlanggur raises a flood, taking the lives of two boys he’d orphaned when their mothers attracted his notice. In Africa, a magical pot that never runs out of water is carelessly shattered. Flowing endlessly for a year, the torrent it releases not only creates the great river Nile and the Mediterranean Sea into which it flows, but also drowns the family to which the pot had been entrusted. And all the while, the tale of Noah moves across Ziusudra’s visions, passing in and out among these multiple tales while the fate of the mother and daughter from his future is also revealed to Ziusudra.

One thing that makes humankind unique is our need to tell stories. Across millennia, and around the globe, bards have shared their tales of wonder and despair with all willing to listen. There were no twenty-four hour news channels centuries ago, and the spreading of news relied upon the memories and the tongues of travelers. Over time, many of these stories were lost to the ages, but just as many – if we are allowed a hint of optimism – survived in one form or another. And today the tradition continues with new stories, as well as old, being written and rewritten for a newer generation.

A close reading of these fictions, particularly the ancient texts that have survived, can more readily illuminate a culture than any direct observations. These stories open up our collective souls, and lay bare the deepest fears and greatest hopes of generations. It is interesting to note that, despite the wide expanse of geography and time, many of the same stories – or at least similar ones – can be found in almost every society. This is the motivation for Some New Kind of Slaughter by Lewis and Mann. Within this four-issue series from Archaia Studios Press, these two creators have brought together multiple flood myths from across the world – China, India, Australia, Africa, and the Americas – in order to create a compelling and emotional narrative that touches upon the most basic of human instincts – survival and acceptance. It is a creative use of ancient stories that sheds light upon the fears and desires of modern society through comics.

When I first learned of this series from artist mpMann, I made the assumption that Slaughter would be an anthology, but that would have been the easy way out and not as entertaining. Instead of taking that route, Lewis and Mann chose to create one single narrative that ties in all of these myths. For a medium that seems to thrive upon the perpetuation of the status quo, this was certainly a gutsy decision to make, and readers should thank them for taking that risk.

What Lewis and Mann offer with Slaughter is an incredibly complex story that effortlessly moves in and out of these various tales. Although the first narrative jump could be jarring for readers, once they are aware of the intricate fashion in which this series has been crafted, they can settle in for an enjoyable and thought-provoking ride. The authors utilize both written and visual cues to help transition from one period to the next, and subsequent readings will offer readers a better understanding of the multiple depths hidden within this tale.

Some New Kind of Slaughter is another step forward for the comic medium, showcasing a complexity sorely lacking in most of the comics found on racks today. Co-written by Mann and Lewis, who live on opposite coasts, it is a testament to these two creators that the text reads seamlessly, and Mann’s artwork is again a wonder to behold. His pared down style evokes more emotion than a more “photo-realistic” artist might be able to. Not only is this a well-written book, but it is also a “pretty” book that fans of great storytelling will enjoy.

The only way for comics to continue to evolve is if challenging books such as Some New Kind of Slaughter find an audience. The first issue is in the October edition of Previews, and if you enjoy great comics that are challenging and will make you think, then you should inform your local comic shop. That’s the only way to guarantee you won’t miss out. And if you want to check out a behind the scenes look at the creation of this book, head over to A. David Lewis’s website and read the production blog he is posting there. It is a rare and interesting look at the creative process.

An Interview with A. David Lewis and mpMann:

THE PULSE: Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

A. David Lewis:
Some people have argued that we're wired for comics. That is, our brains enjoy processing images and words together, combining them together for even more potent messaging. To some degree, I agree, and that makes comics rather rare. On the other hand, I'm just a fan of good storytelling, whether it's through film, song, prose, or what-have-you. As it stands, I've simply found that I have greater success -- whether that's skill or luck -- performing storytelling through comics than through, say, short stories or poems. (Trust me on this.) It fits for me, in short.

THE PULSE: When you first mentioned Some New Kind of Slaughter as a collection of flood myths, I expected the book to be an anthology. I was very impressed at how you interwove all of the stories in order to tell one long tale. How did the idea for this book, and its narrative form, come about?

Marvin Mann:
Dave is the one who first broached the idea of doing something with *all* of the world's flood myths. It was quickly obvious that we couldn't do ALL of them, but would have to give a representative sampling, with an emphasis on several, based on the similarities and differences, plus the amount of story available for each.

We settled on four.

The story of Ziusudra comes from Sumeria by way of Babylonia through the Epic of Gilgamesh. It is thus the most ancient known to us, and it became the throughline for the entire book, with the other stories occurring as his "visions.”

You can't do a flood book without Noah, and Dave went to town culling variants and developing a vision of the story that shifts the usual focus. This is the crown jewel of the book.

I was able to collapse two distinct flood myths from China into one coherent narrative, and I'm proud of the synthesis. It comes together like one story.

And the fourth story, the modern one about a woman who enters a flood zone to find her lost family highlights the theme of mankind's responsibility to the world, which runs in a minor key through most of the myths.

There are around a dozen other myths and stories that pepper the book in quick hits, and we tried to pick up themes and ideas as we run from one story to the next and back again.

THE PULSE: The storytelling in Some New Kind of Slaughter is very complex. How did you and Marv come to the decision to write it in this manner, and did you have any reservations about presenting the story this way?

A. David Lewis:
No reservations here. It'll challenge the reader, but I'm not one who likes playing to the lowest common denominator, generally.

The choice of narrator is largely Marv's, I feel, but I entirely stand by the decision. When I brought the idea of World Floods to him, he was already playing with the whole Ziusudra myth in his head. And, rather than foregrounding Noah any more than we had to -- audiences already being knowledgeable with the biblical story, perhaps to a fault -- I think we opted to go with a less familiar "proto-Noah.” It kinda decenters things from the get-go and signals the reader that this won't be the traditional story she might expect.

THE PULSE: With Some New Kind of Slaughter and Lone and Level Sands, you two seem to have carved out an ancient myths niche for yourselves in the comic publishing world. What is it about these ancient stories that speaks to you and convinced you that writing them would be a sound creative and business decision? And Marv, What is it about these ancient times that appeals to you as an artist?

A. David Lewis:
For my part, I sort of backed into it. I mean, I didn't say, "You know, I should really focus all of my comics writing on adapting myths and biblical stories for comics!” So, at first, it really wasn't any sort of business decision. But, back when I was self-publishing my Mortal Coils comic, I found that's where many of my stories kept going: While set in the modern day, they all started naturally developing ties to various myths, classic stories, or pantheons. I found that I was writing pieces that were more satisfying (for myself, at least) if they had these nuggets lying in their cores.

After a while, though, I was inclined to go straight after those "cores" themselves -- thus, The Lone and Level Sands. There were aspects of the Exodus story that never sat right with me and, frankly, no adaptation had ever addressed in a way that worked any better. (Most often, these hiccups and obstacles were swept under the rug by, say The Ten Commandments or Prince of Egypt rather than confronted.) In collaborating with Marv on the project, I didn't know if it would be profitable or a quiet financial failure; I just knew that I wanted to do it and had a great artist (and storyteller in his own right) to do it with.

The Lone and Level Sands, ultimately, worked. And so, we were a little more inclined and a little less shy, I guess, about going after a whole world of sacred or mythic traditions for Some New Kind of Slaughter than only sticking with the Judeo-Christian-Muslim source. In a way, the full title of the series somewhat reflects how wide we're aimed with this one: Some New Kind of Slaughter, or Lost in the Flood (And How We Found Home Again): Diluvian Myths from Around the World. That's a lot to deliver, but we're eager to do it.

Marvin Mann: I wanted to do sword and sorcery.

Well, that's a flippant answer, but there's a kernel of truth. I like ancient history, and myth and origins. I also like to read books on evolution and cosmology (for laymen, mind) and stories about the gods. And these stories are the foundation of Conan and other sword and sorcery tales.

Still, I didn't set out to do this; it just developed, and my next project will be a comedy/horror western, so there's a change of pace. But I've some projects for next year that will bring me back to the ancient world.

THE PULSE: Since you were writing and drawing Slaughter, how did the creative process go for you on this book? Did you work from a full script or prefer to thumbnail and dialogue from that?

Marvin Mann:
I work from a full script, mostly to develop the dialogue and narrative captions. My panel descriptions tend to be lean, and focused on the emotional nuance to be projected. Sometimes I'll indicate close ups or full shots, and key elements that must be included. For talking head scenes, it's not much more than the dialogue and emotional intent.

Dave and I went back and forth quite a bit on the first chapter, both during outlining and in the first draft. As we figured out what we were doing, the mutual edits became lighter. Dave had done huge research on Noah, and that was his chief focus. I tended to take the lead in pushing things forward, with Dave's consent, but the initial idea was his and this book would never have happened without him.

THE PULSE: What did you learn from your experience writing Some New Kind of Slaughter, and how will you be able to apply that to your artwork, and your writing, going forward?

Marvin Mann:
I've had difficulty in drawing things I've written in the past. It becomes too precious, I think. Doing this gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to partner with myself in the future.

THE PULSE: For aspiring writers reading this, what is the most important piece of advice you can share that is often overlooked by untested talent?

A. David Lewis:
It's important to remember that you're not just creating comics; you're creating stories. Therefore, it's important to be versed in storytelling both within the comics medium but also from traditions well outside of it. How stories are told are as important to me as what stories are told -- or why. Therefore, knowing your motivation, knowing your message, and knowing your medium is as important as your plot (or, heaven forbid, your style). Sometimes I manage to figure out all four!

THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell readers about?

A. David Lewis:
I had the opportunity recently to be part of Jason Rodriguez's Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened with art by Danielle Corsetto (Girls with Slingshots). And, I've done a little bit of changing gears for a bit by writing a series of upcoming role-playing adventures for Archaia Studios Press's Artesia: Adventures in the Known World system. Meanwhile, I'm co-planning a big academic conference at Boston University called "Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels" taking place in April. (Our patron, the Luce Foundation for Scripture and Literary Arts, has it listed on their site at .) Lastly, I'm developing a new series that still requires a lot of research, tentatively titled Stitches, but that won't surface for at least a year, if not more...

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