Saturday, May 31, 2008

Indy Movie Night

Just saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – thought David Duchovny was about to pop up any time. Had Gold Class cinema tickets (yay!) – sat in plush seats and ate an overpriced but yummy seafood platter. It was good to see Harrison Ford back in the swing of things: it was even better to see Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood – the definitive Indiana Jones heroine who I've missed terribly in the previous two installments. Not going to review it or give away the plot but will briefly touch on a couple of obscure references. (Caution – semi spoilers ahead!) 

Great opening sequence, especially when the contents of the smashed crate in the warehouse are revealed – not the magnetised box but the other one ... you'll know when you see it. Also like the way in which Indiana Jones escaped from his predicament by hiding in the fridge. For me, action-adventure films aren't about the car chases or the gun battles or the other action sequences – it's about how the hero can use his or her creativity and problems solving abilities to escape being killed despite the odds being stacked against them – Indiana Jones is fabulous at that, as is Bruce Willis's John McLane in the Die Hard films. 

Enjoyed the supersized flesh-eating ants, the likes of which haven't been seen since the Marabunta in Charlton Heston's and Eleanor Parker's Naked Jungle. Not quite sure about the graveyard guardians – they came and went too quickly. A big debate ensued with the people I saw the film with – were they zombies or not? Some of the dialogue suggested the cemetery was guarded by the undead, but I don't think that poison darts can rekill zombies. Something doesn't quite compute and I'll have to watch the film again to see whether we (or in fact the movie) got it wrong.

Tired now. Got to work tomorrow – Sunday. Will go. Maybe more about this later. For my last comment all I'll say is that Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favourite movie of all time, and though this one was fun, it won't ever match the original or the feeling of utter exhilaration I had on my first viewing. 

Friday, May 30, 2008

TokyoPop Contract Warning!

Bless the Internet and bless the blogs and discussion groups (as well as the two Aussie creators who brought this issue to Black Mermaid's attention!) who are warning the comics community about a travesty against creators' rights in the form of the new TokyoPop Manga Pilot Program. 

TokyoPop recently posted its "Shining Stars Program Pact" onto its website. This is written in a simplistic "hey dude" style of language, seemingly with the intent of gaining the trust of aspiring but vulnerable manga artists and writers not yet educated about the subtleties of contract speak and intellectual property rights. The agreement appears to have been formulated in a way to get emerging creators to relax, submit and ultimately pledge over their new borns (in the form of their creative projects). It reminds us of the worm like tongue of the snapping turtle, designed to lure oblivious prey into its cavernous mouth at which point the jaws snap down to devour the fishling. 

DO NOT SIGN THIS AGREEMENT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WITHOUT GETTING LEGAL ADVICE! We feel it is exceedingly condescending and full of traps. To see why, head over to the following blogs where the bloggers have dissected and challenged pretty much every clause in the agreement: Lea Hernandez's DivaLive Journal, as well as Bryan Lee O'Malley's Live Journal.

And in defense of the French who originated the idea of moral rights which, according to Lynne Spender's book Between the Lines: A Legal Guide for Writers and Illustrators (2004, Kessing Press, Australian Society of Authors, Sydney), constistutes the following  ...
Moral rights are personal rights relating to your reputation and they require that you be acknowledged as the creator of a work and that the integrity of your work be respected.  Moral rights can't be bought or sold, assigned or licensed. They stay with you (and your heirs) and the work regardless of the physical or copyright ownership of the work.

There are three specific moral rights:
(i) your right to be identified as the author (right of attribution);
(ii) your right not to have your work falsely identified as someone else's (right against false attribution);
(iii) your right not to have your work subjected to derogatory treatment or in a way that is detrimental to your reputation (right of integrity).
... we think they're a bloody good idea!. We would also have you know that the French culture has had a long heritage of embracing comic books and graphic novels. In fact, one proud French cartoonist who was in the audience of an event where we both spoke in our capacity as Australian Society of Authors' Comics/Graphic Novels Portfolio Holders, proclaimed to have 800 graphic novels in his library. Now that's dedication and a commitment to the art form!

Getting back to our main point, please proceed with caution in regard to the aforementioned contract and please share this warning with others.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

ASA Comics/Graphic Novels Portfolio Seminars

The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) and Supanova are sponsoring two professional seminars for comics creators. The Sydney session is called "How to Write a Graphic Novel Proposal for the Mainstream Book Market" and will be held on Saturday 21 June 2008. The Perth session is called "The Time is Now! Marketing Your Comics to Book Publishers" and will be held on Saturday 28 June 2008. Download the flyers at the ASA website or go to the Events page on the Black Mermaid Productions website.

Black Mermaid™ Pearls of Wisdom 1

Don't put your loosely screwed water bottle into your gym bag (or any other bag for that matter) with your mobile phone unless you're prepared to buy yourself a new phone.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 Launch

We received a Press Release the other day in our email box and thought that comics creators might be interested. Apparently, Mark Victor Hansen, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, recently launched an online publishing business called for the purpose of getting digital creators and consumers to interact online. The marketing material says:
Integrating aspects of YouTube, Facebook and Amazon with unique, new thinking and technology in an ultra easy-to-use online environment, YouPublish is the place where unlimited creators go to publish their digital content for sale or for free distribution to consumers. 
People can register as users and publish their creation in minutes, as the site has been designed to accommodate any electronic digital file in any format. Over 1000 authors, musicians, composers, photographers, poets and other creative artists from more than 20 countries have already placed content on the site. As of today there is one comics property online – we wouldn't be surprised if this increases in the upcoming weeks. eliminates the hassles of self-publishing or working with dozens of fragmented websites to place, market, distribute and collect royalties for sales of creative content. The new portal is a single publishing source/destination, which allows authors, musicians, video producers, photographers and others to effortlessly manage, publish and distribute their materials in one location and reach a massive consumer audience internationally and worldwide.
Royalties are cited to be 50% of sales, so it will be interesting for comics creators to compare the conditions and the service agreement to other similar e-publishing ventures. 

Monday, May 26, 2008

Kitty 2 & 3 Find a Great New Home!

Remember a few weeks ago (on 6 May to be exact) when Kitty 2 (a white and silver tabby) was returned to me, well I'm pleased to announce that he and his brother Kitty 3 who has Sylvester-like black and white markings (as in the cartoon character but a whole lot cuter and far more intelligent – he would have had Tweety for breakfast by now!), have gone to a wonderful home. I dropped them off to Liz today who lives on a 15-acre farm nearby. Liz has four dogs, two horses and loves animals. We put the little ones in the sunlit back room and they started exploring straight away. They purred, ate, purred some more, played with the ping-pong balls and climbed up a roll of carpet. They both appeared to be very relaxed so I felt comfortable and peaceful about leaving them there. In weeks to come when they're older and allowed to explore the garden and the terrain they're going to have a grand time in an eight-room stable out the back, which has the warm smell of lucerne and horses. They're ten weeks old now and very robust, and Liz has kindly extended visitation rights to me if I want to see how they're going. In the interim, I'm sure there's going to be a lot of photos and updates sent to my phone. The pics were taken when they were about five weeks old, so they're a little bigger now.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Elf~Fin Leaks & Peeks 1

Well ... you've been asking for more info on our upcoming Elf~Fin project, so here's a little taste of what's to come. This panel appears on the first page of the opening sequence of the first book in the series. It features four new characters (from left to right) – Spax, Reed, Brell and Jayshu – getting up to their share of mischief. Go to the Black Mermaid Productions website to see a snapshot of Hyfus. We'll leak a little more in the upcoming week. We're excited! It's all happening!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Baz Lurhmann's Australia

I'm going to have a casual little off the cuff boast about a couple of things ... In the 80s and 90s I used to go to the theatre all the time. Way before many Aussie actors made it big on the silver screen, I was watching them on stage. Amongst others, I saw Nicole Kidman play the Julie Roberts' role of Shelby in Steel Magnolias. I saw Mel Gibson play Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. I saw Hugh Jackman play Gaston in Beauty and the Beast (he also played the lead male role in Sunset Boulevard but that only had a Melbourne season and didn't make it to Sydney), and I saw the original stage production of Strictly Ballroom which I believe was co-written and also directed by the amazing Baz Luhrmann whose work I think is marvelous. His version of Romeo and Juliet just rocked. Now he's on the cusp of releasing his new film Australia. I saw the trailer the other day. It looks good. I liked its old Movietone News font. Just one little squabble I have with Baz baby – he gazumped me on one of his film locations. I used it as a key location for a visionary fiction book I have written, only to find that he's used it in his new film. The location in question is a historic house called Camelot, which was built in Camden, New South Wales in 1885. Now, I ADORE this house. It inspires me and I somehow feel connected to it. I often drive past just to look at it. In the late 80s or early 90s it was open for one rainy weekend to the public. I sloshed through the flooded front garden and took rolls and rolls of film of its staircases, ceilings and rooms. Shortly after, I also attended an auction where it sold for something like $2.3 million. The real estate agent looked at me and saw the desire in my eyes. He said it was a house for princesses. I don't necessarily agree with that assessment – I think it is more worthy of a Jane Austen heroine (even though the period isn't right) because the house has a lot of character and moodiness. Anyway, you'll probably get to see it first on screen before your read about it in my book, so all I can say is – damn you Baz! I wanted to keep that house for my own selfish creative purposes. In the meantime, go and check out the Australia trailer for yourself on YouTube and make up your own mind. I still think Baz has got the golden touch.

Lyrical Story Telling

I'm a huge fan of Audio books, I'm listening to one right now as I paint the first issue of the new Elf-Fin comic – in this instance it is a Stephen King novel called Lisey's Story.

It takes time to paint, and the time can fly past very quickly as you moosh around the paint for hours. Tt's only a small space you work on for that extended period, and sometimes those few 3-5 min songs don't cut it, even the 1-2 hour musicals can be over in too quickly a time. But the spoken novel can sometimes take well over 20 hours to tell. So here is a journey that I can experience that is in tune with the timing processes of creating my artwork.

It used to be that I would refuse to listen to an audio book till I'd first read the book. I did this because I liked my own voice – created in my head – for each of the characters, and somehow, the characters would always be so much more alive in my own head than when listening to a spoken book. It was also good to read it first because sometimes I did not like the reader's voice (even with an actor such as James Spader whose film work I love, but who I cannot stand listening to when he's reading a book... I've still not listened to it all the way to the end). I lookat the audio book as my way of revisiting a book I liked and had read once already, but with the lazy ease of replaying a favorite musical. I have some audio books that I listen to again and again (like The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham), almost yearly because they are so beautiful or amazingly crafted, or they move me so.

After my first relationship ended after 11 years and we divided our goods, we made a decision that all the printed books went to my then partner, and all the audio books came with me. After that time, with an empty bookshelf in my lounge room, the need or experience to have the printed book lost its meaning to me, and I plunged head first into experiencing audio books as a first time listener/reader of the works. This has been an interesting discovery, for I'm now totally at the mercy of the story twists and turns in a way I'd never been before. This can be fun and exhilarating in a new way. However I know I've lost the experience of having my own voice attached to each character by reading it as a book first.

This experience for me of audio books originated with childhood musical "book and record" stories. These were little book/albums that had lovely picture-books and a vinyl record with the story either spoken or sung (or both). I remember some of them only partially, but remember them fondly:

Segments from Thumbelina:

Thumbelina Thumbelina yes that's me
Thumbelina Thumbelina full of glee
A cup of tea will be my lake, a boat of petals we can make
Thumbelina Thumbelina oh how glad I am
Thumbelina Thumbelina oh how glad we are
Thumbelina Thumbelina oh how glad I am
I'm me.

Sleep well my pretty little bird
Cherish the songs that we have heard
Together, You and I
Fly up high, in the stars so high.

Segments from Hansel and Gretel:

I drop little pebbles as I walk along
with every little pebble dropped i sing this song
Please little pebble where ever I roam
Please oh please help us find our way home.

Segments from Blinky the Lighthouse Ship:

Blink blink what do you think, i have a friend that goes blinkety blink
What do you think, i have a friend who goes blinkety blink

He blinkety blinks with all his might
Blinkety blinks the day and night
He blinks for all the ships to see
Blinky Blinky, that's me.

The old north wind gave a party, for he was a very merry chap
the rain pitter pattered, the lightning struck, and the thunder went clap clap.

I think these may still at my parents' place. I'll see if they are there, so I can record them and listen to these wonderful children stories and musical numbers as I work on the comic. If not at my parents home, I'll be looking to hunt them down.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

CSI Darkness

I've been an avid fan of CSI for many years and have been loyal to the franchise since its first screening. CSI Miami is my favourite because I love Horatio and the team and because the storytelling in the Florida landscape is terrific. CSI New York got off to a slow start in its first season possibly because it was shot in a cold colour palette of steel blues and greys (perhaps to mirror the perceived stone coldness of the city itself, although I am going on the record to say I LOVE NY). I am exceedingly suggestible and can honestly say I would sit there shivering through the NY episodes. Apparently the first season didn't do too well despite the casting of Gary Sinise who I think is a bloody terrific actor. The producers must have taken note of viewers' feedback because the second season looked and felt different. Now it is one heck of a classy show with original storylines. But what gives with the latest dark episodes in the CSI Vegas series? 

The other day I semi-watched an episode of the upmost cruelty involving dog fighting. The instigator of the crime in question got her comeuppance, but that denouement wasn't good enough for me – I had to channel-surf through some exceedingly distressing moments and come back for the climax to solve the mystery of who had killed our master villain. This was not an isolated episode – I've gradually been switching off CSI Vegas for a while because it is increasingly becoming more difficult for me to suspend reality and try not to let this supposedly fictional content about evil people doing evil things, affect my psyche. 

A couple of years ago, I ghostwrote a biography about an Australian man who had fought in World War II. When he came home in 1945 he refused to talk about his experiences in the Middle East or in Papua New Guinea, simply because he didn't want to imbed violent images that would never be able to be shaken away into the minds of his family and friends. 

I also remember listening and talking to a Hollywood screenwriter named Eric DelaBarre at a Mark Victor Hansen writing and book marketing event a couple of years ago. DelaBarre (who incidentally was a writer on Law and Order) talked about how he would go to parties and all he would do would be to scout the location obsessively looking for potential murder weapons he could use in violent scenes in his upcoming television work. Recognising that there was something amiss with this scenario and that he wasn't honouring his spiritual self, he did what Hollywood insiders would consider to be the unthinkable – he left his job on the crime series. 

What Eric demonstrated was the power we have to choose a path, so I am taking a stance now –  I am saying goodbye to CSI Las Vegas and unfortunately even the beloved Gus Grissom isn't enough of an incentive for me to stay.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Little Wonders

Sometimes while I'm driving, a song that really grabs me starts playing on the radio. Inevitably, if it's one I haven't heard before I patiently wait till the end (or even a couple of songs further in) for the announcer to tell me who the singer or the band is and the title of the song. Unfortunately, I could be waiting forever because there appears to be a new practice at least amongst Sydney radio stations to keep you in suspense and, in equal measures, to keep you guessing and frustrated simply because it is more lucrative for the radio station to have listeners sms their song title request in so they can get the playlist in return. 

I recently had such an experience with a song that stirred my soul and left me wiping tears from my eyes. After hearing it half a dozen times and believing rather naively that perhaps one generous radio jock will let slip the title, I was forced to go elsewhere for my answer. That place was the Internet – you just have to Google a line from the song – in my case "these small hours" and the word "lyrics" and the singer's name if you know it (thank goodness I recognised the voice of "Rob Thomas" of Matchbox 20 because I have one of his solo albums). Voila – I finally had my answer. Seems like I was not alone in my request. Many other people had been asking the same question and had also been moved by the sheer simplicity and sincerity of Rob Thomas's interpretation. The song by the way is called 'Little Wonders' and here is the first verse and chorus (words and music by Rob Thomas):

Let it go
Let it roll right off your shoulder
Don't you know the hardest part is over
Let it in
Let your clarity define you
In the end we will only just remember how it feels

All lives are made
In these small hours
These little wonders
These twists and turns of fate
Time falls away
But these small hours
These small hours
Still remain

It's a funny thing about lyrics. If you know the melody they resonate with a greater energy. If you don't, you need to read them as you do poetry. Either way, these lyrics work for me and my next mission will be to track down and  buy the CD. If you don't know this song, then I encourage you oh mighty readers to check it out and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

US 2007 Graphic Novel Sales Reach $375 Million which tracks "What's Hot, What's Next, and What's Good" in American pop culture has released its annual white paper documenting the latest statistics on graphic novel and comics publishing. 
The U.S. retail graphic novel market reached $375 million in sales in 2007 ... The growth came from both bookstores and comic stores, which were both up around 12% over 2006 sales... The periodical comic market was $330 million in 2007, according to the ICv2 white paper, bringing the total 2007 comic and graphic novel market to $705 million for the U.S. and Canada.

This kind of research gives both publishers and creators context for their products and also demonstrates that comics as a medium, as well as graphic novels as a format, are going from strength to strength. Congratulations to the ICv2 insiders headed by Milton Griepp for a superlative job in the analysis of these trends. We thoroughly recommend that both professional and emerging comics creators subscribe to the ICv2 daily newsletter and the mags.

New Webcomics Site

Top Shelf Productions in the US has launched a new web-comics site called  Top Shelf 2.0 with publisher Brett Warnock and editor Leigh Walton at the helm. Top Shelf has garnered the reputation as being a publisher (we'd love to say "purveyor" which sounds good but doesn't make sense!) of quality literary graphic novels such as Alan Moore's and Eddie Campbell's From Hell. What is significant is that this appears at face value to be a creator-friendly enterprise:

Throughout the process, content will remained [sic] creator-owned, with artists and writers free to leave at any time. "We see Top Shelf 2.0 as a laboratory for new ideas and new creators," Walton explained. "Any webcomic that gets an outstanding response will naturally suggest that we consider it for print publication, but in the meantime we're happy to give these creators and fans an opportunity to discover each other."

Keep an eye out for Aussies Jessica Mcleod and Edward J Grug III (Love Puppets). The full story by Laura Hudson is available on the Publishers Weekly website.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all you wonderful mums out there. She doesn't know this yet and will only find out at lunchtime (so please don't tell her) but my mother (and my dad who is receiving a very early Father's Day present) are scoring tickets to the Cirque du Soleil shows O at the Bellagio, as well as Ka the MGM Grand when they visit Vegas later in the year. I saw these shows with my friend Kathy from Wisconsin in March 2007, post NY ComicCon, and we loved them! I have the Ka soundtrack – dramatic and inspiring.

More Robin Jacques

Here's another pic from A Book of Mermaids by Ruth Manning Sanders with drawings by Robin Jacques.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mermaid Influences

I've known Jozef for nigh upon 18 years and I learned something new about him the other day after reading his first blog post "My First Flippant Recollection" (Thursday 8 May 2008) where he so eloquently told us about falling in love with mermaids at the age of four after he spotted a beautiful mermaid statue in a shop. It made me reflect about the moment I came to embrace them too, and I was taken back to the time I got my first library card for the local library. I was eight years old and I was proud as punch. My sensible mother took me into the library on a Saturday morning and I would borrow the maximum number of books possible each time and consume them over the course of the week until my next library visit. 

One day, while I was browsing the mythology shelves devoted to the slightly older readers, I came across a collection of books by UK writer Ruth Manning Sanders and illustrator Robin Jacques one of which was the gorgeous sumptuous A Book of Mermaids. My love affair with mermaids began at that moment.  I borrowed that book at least three or four times a year after that, even into teenagehood, and read the stories over and over again. I also borrowed the rest of the collection, which included titles such as A Book of Giants, A Book of Charms and Changelings, A Book of Witches, A Book of Ghosts and Goblins, A Book of Dragons and many more. But I always returned to my mermaid stories, which were drawn from Wales, Denmark, Ireland, Scotland, India, America, Portugal, Germany, Italy and Arabia. I coveted those books but they were never my own, and they became an obsession that I think any collectors among you can relate.

In the late 80s I was working as a bookseller, and I decided to check if they were still in print. I tracked down about five of them and happily purchased them. However, the ones I really wanted such as the mermaid book had been out of print for many years. It was the time before the Internet so I got onto a local antiquarian book dealer who progressively over a period of about two years got me all the books on the list. All my hard earned cash went into paying for them, and they didn't come cheap – I paid in the vicinity of $200 for some of them. A Book of Mermaids was the last one to come in, and the dealer found two of them at the same time. I snatched them both up and Jozef bought the second one. I want you to see what I am raving about and why this book is so dear to me, so here is the book cover by Robin Jacques. The edition I have was published in 1967 by Methuen, London. If you are interested in them, then head to eBay.

The Squeaker Sisters!

My two dumped kittens that I have dubbed the "Squeaker Sisters" for obvious reasons (they don't meow yet) have got the runs. At the moment they are sleeping and purring on my lap, but I have had to clean up several sloppy dollops of brown goop from my pink office carpet over the last couple of days with my Martha Gardener's Country Homestead Wool Mix. There are soapy patches on the carpet now and the entire room smells of eucalyptus, and I've gone through more towels and sheets than an army hospital. Need to give the sisters a kitty shampoo and massage tomorrow, and check them out at the vet. Will also need to get my carpet cleaned some time soon. Here's a little (slightly out of focus because they keep moving darn them!) peek at the two critters. 

Scam Alert!

My mother received some official "time sensitive" documentation including a "cash transfer express certificate of eligibility" the other day in the mail that let her know that she was in the running to receive $11, 650.00. Lucky my mother is a very bright woman and knew within a glance that this was the latest scam to procure 25 bucks from her for "filing and administrative purposes" of course. She received another letter from the same mob a couple of days later that included her in the "Road to Riches II" prize pack of $12,090. The paperwork came from the North American Award Center in North Kansas City, Missouri, USA. We decided to do a little digging and checked out the WA ScamNet website. This is what it had to say:
On first reading the personally addressed letter seems to proclaim that you are a winner of a major cash prize ($13,2000 and upwards). Of course, you haven't actually won the money, just the opportunity to enter a competition to win the money. All you have to do is send AUD$22 and answer a question. You then go into a series of tiebreakers, which will require you to spend more money, to win the USD$15,000. You can pay more to compete for the extra bonus cash. Maximum costs to play for all advertised prizes totally USD $25,000 is USD$125. North American Award Center's website states it typically takes two years or longer from the first mailing of the initial puzzle until prizes are paid. Neither WA ScamNet nor our contributors have heard of anyone winning a major prize in these competitions.
The Consumer Affairs Victoria Resource Centre also has an extensive listing of scams, including the aforementioned one. Needless to say these documents will be spat on and then shredded. And all I can say to our readers is – beware!

A Dignified Death

Yesterday afternoon a crested pigeon flew into a  glass window on the farm where I live and broke its neck. Our huge black, King Kong of cats, Scotchgard, instantly leapt towards the poor creature but was swiftly diverted by a pack of screaming women who wanted to check if the bird was still alive. It wasn't. I quickly picked up its body and swaddled it in a towel, hoping our initial triage assessment was wrong and that it was merely stunned. I put the bird in our sports room and closed the door so that no inquisitive animals should take it upon themselves to wander in. Needless to say, when I looked at the bird again, I could no longer deny the reality when confronted with full blown rigor mortis. It got me to thinking about its burial. I know that some people will toss an animal's body haphazardly into the trash, but I think otherwise. I firmly believe a human, bird or beast should be allowed a dignified death.  I believe it should be honoured by going into the ground to become one again with nature, which was indeed what happened to my poor pigeon who was buried right outside my office window.

It also got me to thinking about a writer who had a huge impact on me both as a teenager and as an adult – Oscar Wilde. His short stories were, and still are, amongst the most beautiful soul-centred ones I have ever read and they still inspire me and make me weep every time I reacquaint myself with them. My little crested pigeon reminded me of one of those stories – The Nightingale and the Rose – (warning: spoilers ahead!) a story about a nightingale that sacrifices her life to create a red rose for a young man to give to his love who in turn rejects him and the flower he bears. In a fit of pique, the young man then willfully tosses the rose into the gutter where it lies with the dead body of the nightingale getting trampled by horses and carriages and passersby. 

So this is a lament for all the broken bodies of animals labeled as road kill, for the poor dumped pets out there who die carelessly and without compassion, and for the wild creatures that die inhumanely at the hands of the unsympathetic few.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Food Warning!

I've been reading about the evils of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and corn syrup – ingredients used prolifically in prepackaged food (and please don't shoot the messenger!) – especially American food. Oprah's favourite physician, Mehmet C Oz, MD who co-authored the YOU books with Michael F Roizan, MD (YOU on a Diet,  YOU: The Owner's Manual) tells us in the first aforementioned book (page 47) that, 
... fructose in the HFCS, which sweetens our soft drinks and salad dressings, isn't seen by your brain as regular food. Because your brain doesn't see any of the fructose in the thousands of HFCS-containing foods as excess calories or as NPY [Neuropeptide Y] suppressants, your body wants to keep eating... That's a contributor to weight gain, since the fructose in HFCS doesn't turn off your hunger signals. 

Now why is this relevant or a topic for the Black Mermaid blog? Well, only because I want to give you a warning to look after those fit and lithe bodies of yours. Being a food label reader from way back I am aware of how to read the ingredients list to determine how healthy or unhealthy a particular food is or, in fact, how it could impact on our body chemistry. Well, the other day I was in a supermarket and I found a new food item in the dried fruit section. I had just been to the gym and was a little peckish, so I decided to buy a small packet for myself. I broke all my rules and didn't read the label. I then ate about 50gm of wild blueberries, which one would think would be completely natural or at its worse, contain a preservative or a drying agent. A good workout usually suppresses my appetite, but this time it had the opposite effect and I became ravenous. When I eventually checked the label, the reason was clear. Here is a list of ingredients – Dried Blueberry (80%), Corn Syrup, Golden Syrup, Sugar, Citric Acid, Glycerol, Natural Flavour, Preservative (202). So much for "natural" products!!!

So ... all you Black Mermaid readers out there, take care of your health. Sometimes it's only the small things we do like checking labels that will impact most profoundly on our bodies.  

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My First Flippant Recollection

Welcome to the Black Mermaid Productions Blog (for me and for you).

It's Jozef here from Black Mermaid Productions (BMP for some). I've been a bit scared as what to write for my first Blog posting, as Julie seemed to have created such a brilliant opening post, I was humbled. I'm co-creator with Julie on all our BMP intellectual properties (IP), and the Illustrator half of the creative team. That said, Julie and I comfortably edit each others work only to strengthen the whole.

I've always loved mermaids from early childhood. With family reminiscences, I recount the story of my parents antique furniture shopping with me in tow (about 3-4 years old). Where finding a beautiful nude wooden mermaid statue almost to my own height, an instant and enduring bond between us was created. Her tail looped around to meet at her waist, creating a teardrop negative space, I hooked my arm around her tail and apparently did not let go, I'm sure she held back just as tightly. My parents bought the statue for me, and she and I went home to spend our first night together. Laying close beside me, looking at her with my falling-to-sleep eyes was very comforting. However being huge and made of wood, she was not a soft figure to bump against during the night in a childs' single bed, and surely without my conscious knowledge, I kicked her out of the bed. I slept on in the top bunk as she fell, only a small light bruising on the bridge of her nose marked the incident of her fall. In the morning I saw her on the carpeted floor, looking at her I was so grieved that I had forced her out of the bed as I did, having damaged her nose. I sought my father to help with the situation of the mark on her nose, and he with his talented creative hands smoothed her nose with a polishing blanket followed by a new oiling of the whole wooden statue. This seemed to repair her and even bring a new, before unseen color and glow to her. It was deemed by my parents that she was no longer to be my sleeping buddy, and had earned her place in our home, greeting guests as they arrive in the entry to the house. Still my beautiful mermaid resides there, Statuesque in her place of honor. I'm sure she's forgiven my child action, for every time I visit my parents home she greets me as I enter, and we share a knowing smile, for you see, I've never forgotten our special night together, and I don't think she has either.

When I travel, or even in my everyday life, whenever I see a mermaid statue, or doll or artwork, I take it as a "sighting" to prove to me that mermaids are real (if only in my heart). If it's something I can only capture through my camera, then I'll take a snap (or more), and treasure the captured image. There are so many mermaids out there, and they're all so beautiful and unique.

When I met Julie at the age of 20 (through Bruce Love), I was amazed that I'd found another mermaid-lover like me. So this connection created a bond between us. She introduced me to mermaid books and art I hadn't seen before, and helped me to collect these books for my own art library. The three of us even went to a halloween evening event fully costumed, with Julie as a beautiful blue-green sea spirit/goddess, with me doing her make-up. Maybe one day she'll post those photos here on the BMP Blog if you ask her nicely...

I guess there are so many things I've discovered I want to say and share by creating this first posting, it would be prudent of me to deliver it over time on the BMP Blog, for that's what Blogs are for.

Confessions of a Reality Show Fan

Okay, I'm not proud of this statement, but I LOVE reality shows. Not all of them mind you – just some. There are shows like Survivor and Amazing Race that I have no compunction to embrace loudly and proudly. But there are some like the British show Ladette to Lady that I kinda blush about simply because I should know better. For the uninitiated amongst you, LtL is a kind of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady style of show where eight guttersnipes a hundred times worse than Eliza Doolittle ever could be, are supposedly given the tools and training to turn themselves into ladies. When they first arrive at Eggleston Hall, the stately English finishing school where they will stay for five weeks, these girls are binge-drinkers, foul-mouthed, and exceedingly promiscuous to put it mildy. By the end – in theory – they should have elevated themselves to the status of lady, but many of them fall by the wayside and either quit or are either expelled. In the end only three are left standing and the winner is announced at some kind of social gathering like a ball or a fashion show in the midst of all the invited gentry.
During their 'journey' (which seems to be the most overused word by both hosts and contestants on reality shows), the ladettes wear 50's style uniforms which change from one television season to the next; stuff geese with pheasants, the pheasants with ducks, the ducks with chickens, the chickens with quail for dinners at the manor; practice deportment with the classic (as Maxwell Smart would say it) book on the head routine; are taught to round their vowels; coif their hair; clean toilets; make hideously old fashion floral arrangements; and hob nob with "eligible young bachelors" from the social set. The teaching staff at Eggleston Hall are in many ways worse than the girls themselves – they are both prejudiced and pretentious – and exude a kind of snobbery that I thought the English had grown out of long ago. The exception to the rule is Deputy Head Rosemary Shrager, a tough bird with a soft heart who teaches cooking.

Despite all this nonsense and despite the fact that both the teaching staff and the producers obviously set the girls up to fail dismally by sending them down to the pub by themselves or leaving them in a room with a carton of wine, I am riveted to the show. In truth, I partly watch it with a kind of maternal worry that perhaps parents feel towards their daughters. Entertaining as the show is, I am saddened at the girl's lack of self worth and their self-sabotage. These girls actually need a good dose of therapy and to take stock of their strengths and weaknesses in sympathy with their aspirations. I think there are better ways than doing that than LtL, but possibly not as compelling. Or is this just me showing my true character or lack of it ...

Check it out for yourself on YouTube

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bonjour Again Kitty 2

Kitty 2 has returned home. Apparently, he pined so much for human and animal companionship when he was left alone that it was heartbreaking. Ashlie being the sensible woman that she is, recognised that he was exceptionally social. To deprive him of animal interaction for the better part of the day while she was away at work would have been tantamount to cruelty. The sad thing is that she and her son had bonded nicely with him. They had played with him and had given him a bath so he was extra clean and fluffy when I picked him up. He cowered and yowled all the way home and I needed to keep petting him through the cat cage and reassure him with countdowns – "we're only 15 minutes away from home ... only ten minutes to go ... nearly there, it's just around the corner". When he was reunited with his siblings he became a new cat – leaping about with joy, purring his contentment and exploring the room again to reacquaint himself with his domicile. The experience was extremely stressful on both the cat and me. I was told the other day that one of the most stressful jobs in the world was in animals welfare and that there is a quick burnout rate. I can believe it. Rehoming animals by way of merely interviewing interested parties and quickly assessing their competency as loving and responsible human beings willing to undertake to protect their animal family's health and welfare, is a huge job in itself. These kittens deserve to find people who will love them unto old age and death, and I will turn away anyone who doesn't fit that criteria. I will make one of many public proclamations right here right now – anyone working to save animals is a hero in my eyes.

The Graphic Novel Authors Breakfast

Book Expo America which is being held on 29 May to 1 June 2008 at the Los Angeles Convention Centre, LA, California, is hosting the Graphic Novel Authors Breakfast. Guests include Jeff Smith (Bone), Jeph Loeb (co-executive producer of Heroes), Mike Mignola (Hellboy) and Art Spiegelman (Maus).  The event is sponsored by Diamond Distributors and will be held on Saturday 31 May from 8.00 to 9.30am. Registration is $25.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Capricorn Hill Revisited

My mum, my cool friend writer/producer/director Zoe Harvey of Torrid Films and I said goodbye to Capricorn Hill yesterday. This 100-acre rural property on the road to Canberra served partly as a country home and also as a writers' and artists' retreat for several years through the generosity of owner Ken Methold, an AWGIE award winning scriptwriter and educational writer who now spends his time between a beach house on the South Coast and his Southern Highlands country retreat. Jozef, Bruce and I of BMP (Classic) were among the lucky ones to have stayed there in 2001 when it first opened. I remember bringing a plate of chocolate fudge brownies for Ken when we came to visit. They were pounced on by the other guests, the caretakers and (dare I say this rather sheepishly) us, and poor Ken nary got one. On my return home I promptly baked another batch and delivered them to him with the strict instructions he was to share them with no-one! Anyway, Ken has just sold the property and I wanted to revisit it again one more time before it passes over to its new owners, and to also show it off to my mother and my friend who have an affinity with nature as much as I do. 

It was a glorious day to visit. The sun was out and it was completely silent except for sound of the whistling wind, lapping water and various vocal birds. We walked down a slope of winter grasses to two dams brimming with water. We discovered about eight wombat burrows – absolutely wonders of excavation. Wombats are nocturnal creatures so we didn't see any up close and personal but there was lots of evidence of their travels through the pastures in the form of rather substantial droppings. Wombats can be deceiving – you think from their photos or film footage that they are small and cuddly, but in fact they can grown to about a metre in length. I saw one at dusk a few years ago crossing the driveway of a relative's property and had to wait several minutes for him to waddle to the other side before continuing in my car – he was massive (about the size of a pig but close to the ground). 

During our sojourn at Capricorn Hill, a flock of about 30 black cockatoos flew over the pine forest next door in semi formation. They don't screech like the white ones – instead they make a sound that's kinda hard to describe – for me it was like like a squeaky wheel and for Zoe it was like a rusty gate. My friend Sue Hudson who is an Aboriginal archeologist told me that black cockatoos are rain heralds if they fly in from the west. This has proved to be accurate countless of times in terms of my family farm – whenever  a couple of black cockatoos appear, we get rain within 24 hours.

Our time at Capricorn Hill was spent climbing fences, spotting butterflies and wild ducks, sitting on the deck and admiring the view, and completely surrendering to the experience. I felt lucky and grateful to have visited several times but to also have said goodbye on such an amazing day. Thanks Ken.

Au Revoir Kitty 2

I would have called him Leo if he had stayed, but I already look after 14 cats (6 domestic and 8 feral cats, the latter of which I am in the process of getting desexed). He is gregarious, exceedingly affectionate and a frenetic purrer, and he loves eating and wrestling. It was with tears that I said goodbye to Kitty 2 who went to a good home with Ashlie and her son Damon who promised to keep me informed on his progress.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Kitty 1 Finds a Home

I've been fostering seven kittens, and the first one – a little white female with black stripes that look as if they have been painted on with a brush – found a wonderful new home thanks to Jemimah (hope that's how you spell it!) and Craig. Thank you both. I'll be able to sleep soundly now knowing the kitty will be safe and loved. In case you're wondering why she's unnamed it's because it becomes more difficult to part with a named kitten and it also gives the new family full naming rights.

Free Comic Book Day

Get your free comics! Tomorrow – Saturday 3 May 2008 – is Free Comic Book Day with participating retailers in North America and around the world. To find a comic book store in your area go to the FCBD Store Locator. To check out some of the titles being given away on the day go to the giveaway FCBD Comics page. For Sydneysiders such as Jozef and myself, Kings Comics will be having signing sessions with comics writer and movie producer Jeff Katz who writes Booster Gold and the Freddy vs. Jason Ash mini-series, as well as Australian artist Nicola Scott who has worked on Star Wars and Birds of Prey

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Spacing Style Gaffes

The obsessive perfectionist editor in me is becoming extremely frustrated at the line-spacing slip ups in our blog postings. As you can see from our recent posts, the style spontaneously changes from single spacing to one-and-a-half spacing and it is NOT a pretty sight at least to my eyes. On the new postings page we can apply justification, font size and type and other stylistic choices to our text, but we can't do the same for line-spacing. I am assuming that a particular style of line-spacing is imbedded as a default into the template, but alas it is not working out that way. Once I publish the new posts,  for some reason the template changes the line-spacing midway into the text. I have looked on the blogger Help menu and apparently this is not an isolated problem – many other neophytes and blogging pros are experiencing the same phenomenon (and I only thought that Microsoft Word had the capacity to change your layout midway through a document without any prompts from the author!) Unfortunately I cannot find a practical solution or even instructions on how to bring consistency into the blog page. Will keep trying but in the meantime, are there any Black Mermaid readers out there that can miraculously come up with the answer?

17 June 2008 UPDATE: Some time in the last week or so, all the line spacing problems through our entire blog have mysteriously resolved themselves. Thank you to the style fairy out there in the wild yonder who took care of it. 

A's and B's and Circadian Rhythms

Read an interesting article in Sunday LifeThe Sun-Herald Magazine (27 April 2008 issue). Entitled 'Wake-up call' by Dan Roberts, it discussed the difference between A-people who are early risers and who enjoy working from 8am to 4pm, and the B-people who are "genetically predisposed to wake and work later". The idea took off in Denmark where Camilla Kring formed the B-Society to campaign for changes in the way people learn, work and live. The B-Society now has 5000 members, and according to the article, "its manifesto which calls for 'an uprising against the tyranny of early rising' has persuaded the Danish Government to support B-certified companies in offering flexible working hours". 

Apparently the difference between A's and B's is linked to variations in circadian rhythms which control our body temperature, hormone levels, heart rate and sleeping-waking cycles. Moreover, Professor Jim Horne, a sleep researcher and expert from the Loughborough Sleep Research Centre in the UK defnes A's as 'larks', and B's as 'owls', with the latter being more suited to  shift work and coping with jet lag. Owls work best in the afternoon and evening. For further reading and to access the 'Are you a lark or an owl test' get hold of a copy of Professor Jim Horne's Sleepfaring: A Journey Through the Science of Sleep (2006), Oxford University Press, Oxford.

These theories go a long way to explaining the differences between Jozef's and my own work habits and energy cycles. I've always classified myself as a morning person (and indeed I usually wake up around 6am and want to do the bulk of my work prior to or just after lunch) whereas Jozef prefers a late start and doesn't kick in creatively so to speak until mid afternoon. He is also more prone to doing all-nighters to get his work done. The compromise we've come to is to start our business meetings and our brainstorming sessions at lunch time and to go beyond the standard 5pm work day, although I do privately lament the loss of three hours in the am. But hey – that's the sprightly singing lark in me!

Mother's Day Moon Bears

Great idea for animal loving families looking for a unique Mother's Day present. The AnimalsAsia Foundation which has rescued over 500 farmed bears in China (as far as I'm concerned founder Jill Robinson is a saint and her team are champions!) is offering a Mother's Day sponsorshop program called 'Befriend a Bear'. For a $100 your mum will get to support a moon bear for a year. She will also receive a photo of the chosen bear in a Moon Bear Rescue display frame, an AAF mobile phone wrist strap, and a magnet. You can choose from any of the following bears: Rupert, Banjo, Crystal, Freedom, Bottom and Somerset. Read their bios and view their photos on the Donate to Bears page on the AAF website.