Sunday, 31 October 2010

Big Numbers

‘Mad Love’ was a publishing company established by comic book writer Alan Moore, his wife Phyllis and their mutual lover Deborah Delano in 1988.
The first production of the company was ‘AARGH’ (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia) an anthology challenging Clause 28, a law designed to stop schools and councils in the United Kingdom from ‘promoting homosexuality’.
Following this Moore worked on a comic called ‘Shadowplay: The Secret Team’ for Eclipse Comics. This was part of an anthology called ‘Brought To Light’which was commissioned by the Christic Institute and examined the role of the CIA in drug smuggling and arms dealing.
The artist on this project was Bill Sienkiewicz whose blend of photorealism and abstraction had revitalised comic art in the 1980's.
This proved to be a successful partnership between the two men, whose love for detail and discord combined beautifully.
For his next project for ‘Mad Love’ Moore was to push himself to new heights creatively and would need an artist that could keep up.
‘Big Numbers’ was the story of a new shopping centre in a small town in England.
On the surface this seems straightforward enough but Moore had decided that the best way to examine the impact of the opening of this new structure on the lives of the people in the town was to use a combination of Chaos Theory and the Fractal Geometry of Benoit Mandelbrot.
Moore felt that the only artist that could handle the shift between the mathematical ideas underpinning the piece and the human drama at the forefront was Sienkiewicz.
The first two issues were published in April and August of 1990 with another ten due to follow.
However, Sienkiewicz was overwhelmed by the work that the book required and soon began to miss deadlines. Eventually he backed out of the series completely, having got as far as finishing the majority of the art for the third issue.
The delays meant that the book missed slated publication dates and the overheads of the project, with no product being released to generate revenue, caused the production to stop.
Kevin Eastman, the owner of Tundra Comics, stepped in to take over the publishing of the comic and Al Columbia, Sienkiewicz’s art assistant, was hired to provide the artwork for the remainder of the series.
After beginning work on the fourth issue Columbia also quit the book, claiming that he had destroyed the artwork he had produced.
In 1999 the ten pages that Sienkiewicz had produced for issue #3 were published in the magazine ‘Submedia’ and then in 2009 a photocopy of the complete lettered art of #3 appeared as part of a lot on eBay. It was bought for $49.99 and included issues #1 and #2 of the published books. The successful bidder, having got permission from Alan Moore first, published scans of the work on LiveJournal.
In 2000 Al Columbia posted his version of events on the ‘Comics Journal’ message board:

“...I was paid $9,200 to complete issue number four of ‘Big Numbers’.
A lot of times Paul Jenkins (the editor) was good enough to pay me as I went along without even seeing the pages.
Okay, don’t tell anybody, but the truth be told I didn’t even finish the issue-but was paid for it anyway.
You see, I never had any intention of staying with the project but merely attached myself to it in order to gain a certain prominence, at which time I would quit in the manner we have all heard about.
This way, with no visible proof of the artwork, it would always shine as a masterpiece in people’s minds and imagination.”

Alan Moore has spoken about the future of the piece a number of times.
In 2000 he said:

“I don’t see any way that I can resurrect it as a comic script...
For ‘Big Numbers’ the television’s the idea of selling it...
I mean, I think fractals and shopping is a great idea but not as a pitch to hot, young Channel 4 presenters who are just mainly thinking ‘Let’s do ‘Queer As Folk’ again and see if we can shock some more retired colonels from the Home Counties and get viewing figures off the back of it.’”

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Crazy Horse Memorial

In 1948 Korczak Ziolkowski, a Polish-American sculptor, received an interesting new commission. Chief Henry Standing Bear, the leader of the Native American Lakota people had written inviting Ziolkowski to create a monument to Crazy Horse, a famous Oglala Lakota warrior.
In the letter Chief Henry Standing Bear outlined the significance of the structure to the Lakota people saying:

“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes too.”

Ziolkowski was intrigued, partly by the scale of the project.
Chief Henry Standing Bear wanted the statue to be carved out of a mountain with the completed structure becoming the world’s largest sculpture.
Ziolkowski had worked on Mt. Rushmore, the monumental sculpture of the heads of four Presidents of the United States, located in the Black Hills region of South Dakota so had some experience on projects of this scale.
He initially wanted to carve the statue in the Wyoming Tetons where the rock was better for sculpting but the Native American leaders insisted that they wanted their creation in the Black Hills area, close to Mt. Rushmore.
The Black Hills region is sacred to the Lakota people and the position of Mt. Rushmore was an affront to a great deal of them. As well as being a memorial and statement of the legacy of the Lakota people they also wanted their statue to be a riposte to Mt. Rushmore.
For that reason they demanded that the sculpture of Crazy Horse be substantially bigger than that of the Presidents.
When completed the Crazy Horse memorial will consist of an image of Crazy Horse on horseback pointing into the distance.
It will be 563 feet high and 641 feet wide. The head alone will be 87 feet high.
The heads of the Presidents at Mt. Rushmore are each 60 feet high.
There is some controversy among the Lakota people on the value and veracity of the project.
Crazy Horse was never photographed and was buried so that his grave would never be found.
The idea of an image of him being fixed to one place has offended some Native American people.
Lame Deer, a Lakota medicine man, spoke out against the project saying:

“The whole idea of making a beautiful wild mountain into a statue of him is a pollution of the landscape. It is against the spirit of Crazy Horse.”

Ziolkowski defended the work, claiming that it was not supposed to represent a definitive image of Crazy Horse as a man. He said:

“Crazy Horse is being carved not so much as a lineal likeness but more as a memorial to the spirit of Crazy Horse.”

The image of Crazy Horse with his arm extended into the distance is designed to represent a moment where he was asked by a white man about the fate of his people.
The man had mockingly asked the defeated Crazy Horse where his lands were now.
Crazy Horse pointed out in front of the man and replied:

“My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

Work began on the sculpture in 1948 and is far from completion.
The project receives no Federal or State support and is reliant on fundraising and private financial support.
Ziolkowski died on October 20th 1982 and left the final instructions for the sculpture with his wife. He told her:

“You must work on the mountain. But go slowly so you do it right...”

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Nelson Pillar

Nelson Pillar was a memorial dedicated to Horatio, Lord Nelson that stood in O’Connell Street in the heart of Dublin from 1808 to 1966.
Its construction actually predated the more famous Nelson’s Column, which is of a similar design and is located in Trafalgar Square in London.
The erection of a statue honouring Nelson and those who died at the Battle of Trafalgar, including a large number of Irish volunteers, was the idea of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, James Vance.

It was also seen as a celebration of the defeat of Napoleon’s imperial ambitions in Europe.
The cost of the Pillar was met by public subscription although, tellingly, it took two years for the sum of £5,000 to be met.
Initially, objections as to the Pillar revolved around aesthetic considerations, with many feeling that it’s disproportionate size overwhelmed the space around it.
Soon, people also came to see its location in the centre of O’Connell Street as a cause of traffic congestion.
After the Easter Rising of 1916 the arguments against the Pillar became even more focused.
Its location, overlooking the GPO which had been the headquarters of the Republican forces, was seen as an affront to those who had died.
The figure of an British war hero towering over such a potent symbol of Irish nationalism was just too much for some to bear.
In 1955 a group of students from University College Dublin occupied the Pillar and attempted to melt the statue of Nelson with homemade flamethrowers. Gardai attempted to arrest them but were dissuaded by sympathetic bystanders and the students were released without charge.
1966 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising and the debate over how appropriate it was for Nelson to be in such a prominent position in the middle of Dublin began again.
At 2 a.m. on March 8th 1966 a bomb destroyed the upper half of the Pillar, toppling the statue of Nelson and sending rubble into the street below.
Despite the force of the explosion there were no injuries and the only damage was to one window of a nearby taxi.
Two days later, engineers from the Irish Army demolished what was left of the Pillar in a controlled explosion.
This blast caused most of the windows on O’Connell Street to be broken and left the city with a massive list of claims for compensation.
Within a week of the explosion a song called ‘Up Went Nelson’ by the Go Lucky Four was at the top of the Irish music charts.
Joe Dolan also wrote a song called ‘Nelson’s Farewell’ about the incident which The Dubliners recorded for their 1966 album ‘Finnegan Wakes’.
The head of Nelson was stored in a warehouse in Clanbrassil Street but was stolen by students from the National College of Art and Design.
They attempted to demand a ransom for the head’s return to pay of their debts but when this was denied to them they instead hired out the head to various people.
They first received £200 from an antique dealer in London who displayed it in his window. Later, they rented it to the makers of a women’s stocking commercial and loaned it to The Dubliners for a show at the Olympia Theatre.
Ronnie Drew, one of The Dubliners later recalled that the crowd were sceptical that the head was genuine until another member of the band, Luke Kelly, took a run up and kicked the head to prove its solidity.
The students eventually returned the head to the Lady Nelson of the day and it can now be seen in the Gilbert Library in Pearse Street, Dublin.