International Space Age Comics

The European Space Agency broke onto the scene (or at least my consciousness) in a big way this year with their Rosetta project.  If you haven’t heard about this, I’m definitely not the person to explain it, but let’s say that Rosetta pulled up alongside a moving comet after a decade, then landed the Philae probe onto that moving comet.  Exciting stuff!

This was the first I’d heard about the European Space Agency, but going through the archives of one of my new favorite webcartoonists recently, the Frenchman Boulet, I found out that he’d been invited onto a reduced gravity aircraft by the Centres Nationales d’Etudes Spatiales to experience Zero-G and make comics about it!

His comic about the experience covers the anxious build-up, the kinds of experiments being run on the craft, and of course the main attraction, the experience of weightlessness…

The further back I go into Boulet‘s archive, the more I see why he was invited on this trip, as an amateur science enthusiast with some strong opinions about space exploration, as well as some strikingly exquisite sci-fi imaginings, as below…

And of course, as far as space exploration outside the US goes, there was a more direct, and more controversial, comic response to another noteworthy space mission, this time out of India:

Political cartoon on India's Mars Mission by Heng Kim Song

India’s Budget Mission to Mars, political cartoon by Heng Kim Song in New York Times

Singaporean cartoonist Heng Kim Song made the above comic in response to the Indian Space Research Organization’s Mars Orbiter Mission, which was done on the cheap but has succeeded in orbiting Mars.  The cartoon caused a bit of a furor with the New York Times apologizing for running it, but India is definitely an unexpected entrant to the space race…  But the democratization of space exploration is an exciting prospect; the more the merrier, science wins all around!

I Guess Opera can still Shock…

This weekend, the Met Opera gave it’s last performance of what became the hot button cultural event of the season here in New York, John Adam‘s 1991 Death of Klinghoffer.

Death of Klinghoffer premiere at La Monnaie, photo by Baus Hermann J.

Death of Klinghoffer premiere at La Monnaie, 1991, photo by Baus Hermann J.

The opera is about the the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by four members of the Palestinian Liberation Front, during which a 69 year old Jewish American passenger was murdered.  As you might imagine, controversy has dogged the work since it’s premiere at La Monnaie, in Belgium, just six years after the original events.  That being said, the reception in New York seemed especially strong compared to other recent productions in the US.

Having seen the piece myself last week, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts on its merits.

Musically, the opera is known for its choral pieces, which are mostly quite lovely/striking, ranging from peacefully meditative to distressingly aggressive.  Besides the choral music though, I found the music pretty flat at the beginning.  The second part had more diverse music though, from agressive expressions of anger to one weirdly 90s commercial jingle interlude…  All in all though, that diversity I thought included stronger music and made for a more interesting musical experience.

Textually, the libretto by Alice Goodman alternates between poetic and more concrete language, which I found problematic…  Given the reality of not just this particular hijacking and murder, but of the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, any time someone’s given obtuse poetry to recite feels like a missed opportunity.  Furthermore, it seemed that the Jewish characters were more frequently given poetic lines than the Palestinians, so the Palestinians had more concrete things to say, while the Jews were just harder to understand…

All that said, I don’t think the opera is antisemitic or glorifies terrorism, two critiques often thrown at it.  It obviously depicts hatred, and I think that’s done heart-wrenchingly well.  While Palestinians are given a voice in the choruses, and allowed to express their grievances as displaced people, the terrorists aren’t really sympathetic.  But that comes to another critique, about humanizing the terrorists…  And of course, they are indeed human, not pure avatars of evil, so I think that aspect was pulled off alright…  Despite some glimpses of underlying shared humanity, their actions are never sugarcoated.

All in all, a  gutsy albeit ultimately imperfect attempt to analyze an unapproachably taboo subject through opera…

Now for some totally inappropriate emotional whiplash!

In an infinitely more light-hearted case of operatic culture clash, Juilliard is presenting Rossini‘s 1814 comic opera Turco in Italia starting this Thursday (tickets $30).  Below, the full opera from Zurich Opera in 2001:

AltOpera Fest, now actually accurate…

Next week is InsightALT, American Lyric Theater‘s mini-fest of new opera.  The centerpiece of the event are three concert readings of new operas, running the thematic gamut of Alan Turing, war vets returning home, and a Mexican drug “queenpin”.  Click here for full descriptions, and a special code for $5 off single tickets!

The composers being featured are Jeremy Howard Beck, Justine Chen, and Jorge Sosa (triple J’s, nice), a pretty diverse crew, which is nice to see in the world of opera.  Today I’ll start with Jeremy Howard Beck.

MASSIVE EDIT: Turns out there are two composers named “Jeremy Beck” and the one in InsightALT is Jeremy Howard Beck.  I feel like an idiot, but seriously, what are the odds!  Well as it turns out, they’re pretty high…  Anyway, here’s my revised post:

Based on the memoir of the same name by Brian Castner, former Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit member in Iraq, The Long Walk is about veterans’ struggles on adjusting to life back home after returning from war.  Should be interesting stuff…

Here’s a performance of Beck‘s 2009 piece Awakening, by it’s commissioners, trombone quartet The Guidonian Hand.  A trombonist himself, Beck says the piece was inspired by the then-recent passing of Proposition 8 in California (overturning the legalization of gay marriage there) and its concurrence with the Jewish high holidays, with their use of the shofar horn.

And here’s the InsightALT trailer, reproducing an interview with Castner by BBC.  Their YouTube channel, has features from past events too, so good way to get a feel for InsightALT generally.

Belated Inauguration with Marian Anderson

Inauguration Day 2013 sorta snuck up on me, so I didn’t get to come up with a topical post…  But in honor of the Martin Luther King Day / Black president double whammy, here’s Marian Anderson singing the anthem at Eisenhower‘s 1957 inauguration.

That same year she began a tour of India as a goodwill ambassador for the US government, which is just totes adorbs.  Don’t get that nowadays, huh.

The History (Motion Comic) Books are Written

It’s been a week since the 2012 presidential election, and the official history has finally arrived in the form of a strange strolly motion comic from the UK’s Guardian, America: Elect!

America: Elect!By The Guardian‘s US Interactive Team, Richard Adams, and Erin McCann

Interesting to see the history of this screwball election as seen from across the pond…

Obama Fanfic

Now that we have four more years of Obama to look forward to, you might want to read some exclusive behind-the-scenes comics by Steven Weissman

Barack Hussein ObamaCopyright Steven Weissman

His gag strip Barack Hussein Obama is being put out by Fantagraphics (buy it here), and it’s a strange little thing, so maybe read Comics Alliance‘s great interview with Weissman to try to wrap your head around it all…