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Raven's Children - Issue #1: Cover

And so we begin! Well, technically what you get today is the Issue #1 cover.




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This isn't the very first cover, which was black and white, but I can't find the original cover at all. I can't even remember what was on it. (Chains? Possibly?) All I remember now is that I gave a copy of that issue to Neil Gaiman at a book signing in 2001 and may never get over the humiliation. *g* Anyway, I first printed the issue at magazine size on 11x17 paper (which folds down to 8.5x11 when you fold it in half), but once I'd actually seen some minicomics and realized they were much more economical and easy to make if they were smaller, I reprinted it with the above inkjet-printed color cover on 8.5x11 paper (folds down to digest size - 5.5x8.5").

The woman on the cover is Jemer. She's not from the Raven Tribe; she's from the people called the Wagaibe who live to the east. Actually, you know what would be super useful here? A MAP.



This map (without the annotations in red) appeared in both the trade paperbacks. I would like to point out, regarding the title, that I had never heard of A Song of Ice and Fire, and thought I was being all original and stuff. ("Ice and Fire" was going to be the name of one of the story arcs, too. Another one was "Blood and Iron", which has also been done. Dammit, everyone is getting there first.)

So Jemer and her brother Jained are from the Wagaibe, who are the Raven Tribe's nearest neighbors and occasional enemies (as the Raven Tribe and their brethren raid them). As I mentioned in a previous installment, Raven's Children is basically two pre-existing settings, the original Raven Tribe world and Fivemoon, smooshed together. The Wagaibe are partly nomadic, in the process of becoming settled pastoralists. The general look of their clothing, etc. is sort of generically European with some Mongolian influence. (I was actually going off Mongolian and Tibetan clothing designs, but in the process of simplifying them to be drawn more easily, they ended up coming out with more of a European gestalt.) The Wagaibe decorate their clothing with simple, bold geometric patterns.

The Northwest-Coast-style formline designs decorating Jemer's shirt (and the logo) are an afterthought. They're on the cover for one reason only: as a shorthand way of evoking Arctic/north to the reader.


...


This is something that I keep circling around as I go through my early Raven's Children pages.

Like I said in a comment I wrote earlier today on the cultural-appropriation entry, I don't think there is an across-the-board right or wrong way to handle real-world elements in fictional cultures. I do, however, feel that on several occasions, I missed the mark in a major way in Raven's Children, and this is one of them.

Using this type of design as a decorative motif is, I think, a textbook example of cultural appropriation as discussed earlier: taking something out of its usual cultural setting, and plunking it down somewhere that it simply doesn't fit. The disrespect is not the act of taking and reusing, per se -- at least I don't see it as such (though this can be argued). It's what you do with it then: how you use it, and why, and where.

And what I did with the Wagaibe, basically, was that I took random elements from real-world Native American and Asian cultures, because I thought they were cool and interesting, and gave them to a culture of blond, blue-eyed, Caucasian-looking people.

Of course I didn't think of it that way at the time. Actually, it didn't really hit me until I moved back to Alaska, and realized that the people whose culture I was borrowing are now my neighbors, and (potentially) my customers: people who might come up to me at a book signing and see the cover, be happy and excited, and wish to buy the book from me -- or just ask me why I made the decisions that I did, and why I decided to portray the cultures in the book in the way that I did.

I don't have a good answer. I don't feel that I can justify it, and this is one of the reasons why RC stops at issue #13 and probably will never continue beyond that.

In some ways, the whole Raven's Children's series is like a comic-book katamari, randomly accumulating things that appealed to me at the time, which are poked in wherever I could fit them. It's not impossible for a writer to make this work, and there are places where it almost works. And then there are places where it really, really doesn't work, and I think this is one of those places.

This entry is also posted at http://layla.dreamwidth.org/182891.html with comment count unavailable comments.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
jkcarrier
Apr. 7th, 2012 08:10 pm (UTC)
I took random elements from real-world Native American and Asian cultures, because I thought they were cool and interesting, and gave them to a culture of blond, blue-eyed, Caucasian-looking people.

Ouch, when you put it like that, yeah, I can definitely see the potential for offense there. Do you think this is something that can be salvaged, perhaps by altering their appearance? Or are you pretty much writing it off at this point?

I still love that formline logo, though. I remember when you were first hashing it out on the old Sequential Tart forums.
laylalawlor
Apr. 8th, 2012 04:26 am (UTC)
I still love that formline logo, though. I remember when you were first hashing it out on the old Sequential Tart forums.

Awww, man, yes, I was just thinking about that the other day, actually. The good old days! :) (Is the board completely defunct now? I tried to go there the other day and just got an error message ...)

And thank you. At the risk of sounding egotistical, I actually agree with you -- I think it's a gorgeous logo, and I'm really proud of it! And yet ... I feel awkward about it, because it strongly references a specific set of cultural influences that aren't really featured in the book (at least not featured in a positive way).

Do you think this is something that can be salvaged, perhaps by altering their appearance? Or are you pretty much writing it off at this point?

This is something I've struggled with, actually.

The thing is, I don't think RC is unsalvagable -- at all! There is a lot I still like about the series (and I appreciate the encouragement that I got while I was working on it SO much -- I'll never forget that you were the first person who ever asked me to trade minicomics, when I was so new at it that I didn't even know trading minis was a thing!). At first when I finished the current story arc, I was just going to move on, do better in the future, and try to ignore the mistakes that bothered me so much in the early part of the series. But I got hung up because it's so very ongoing-story-focused; I think it would be easier for me if it was something like, say, Kismet (or Fantasy Theater!), where there are a bunch of self-contained stories, and you can jump into the later ones as easy as the earlier ones. But with RC, you really have to start at the beginning, and I got increasingly uncomfortable at the idea that everyone was going to have to work their way through the earlier, shakier work to get to the better stuff.

I just can't motivate myself to continue the series as it stands. What it would need is to be rewritten (and thus, redrawn). If it were a novel, I don't think it would be that hard to do. But as a comic ... SO MUCH WORK. And that's where I'm getting stuck, because I'd rather work on something new rather than pour that much effort into redoing a project I've already done once.
jkcarrier
Apr. 8th, 2012 03:26 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, was I really the first person you traded with? How cool. I always did have an eye for talent. ;-)

I know what you mean about the struggle between trying to "fix" old stuff and just living with it and moving on. I've been tempted many times to go back and re-do the early Glori stuff especially. At one point I was even working with an artist on a new version of "Children of Woe", with an eye towards publishing it professionally. We didn't get very far on it, and perhaps it's for the best. You can easily fall down a rabbit hole obsessing over this stuff.

I know a guy, a terrific artist, who put out 5 or 6 issues of his comic and then went back and started over from scratch because it wasn't quite "right". He did this 3 or 4 times, and last I heard had given up on comics entirely. I always think of him whenever I start to get too critical or fussy about my work.

Nope, I can't get to the Tart boards either. It's probably been over a year since I last looked at them, and they were pretty much dead then. I guess they finally pulled the plug. Sad to see, it was a pretty swingin' place back in the day.
laylalawlor
Apr. 8th, 2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
You can easily fall down a rabbit hole obsessing over this stuff.

Yes, this, exactly. I've revised some of the early Kismet stuff, too, but I'm trying to put the brakes on doing TOO much of that. I find that I learn more and enjoy myself more and just get more out of the whole experience if I make something new rather than pouring too much effort into redoing an older, flawed project.

That's a shame about the Tart boards. I can see why they would do it, since the boards had become a spam magnet and were otherwise abandoned, but I have such fond memories of it, and I made so many friends there.
laylalawlor
Apr. 8th, 2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, and yes, you were indeed the first one to trade with me! I remember that you asked me if I wanted to trade and I was really surprised, because I didn't know people did that. Ahh, I was so young then. :D
ravenmoonart
Apr. 8th, 2012 07:01 pm (UTC)
"Of course I didn't think of it that way at the time. Actually, it didn't really hit me until I moved back to Alaska, and realized that the people whose culture I was borrowing are now my neighbors, and (potentially) my customers: people who might come up to me at a book signing and see the cover, be happy and excited, and wish to buy the book from me -- or just ask me why I made the decisions that I did, and why I decided to portray the cultures in the book in the way that I did".

I can really relate to this, as I felt very concerned at times about the use of culture-specific elements in my artwork that are not from my own cultural background. Specifically, I have a couple of pieces with Tlingit button blanket imagery. Now, while I am of Native decent, I am NOT Tlingit...so I worried quite a bit about how customers from that tribe would react to those pieces.

My experience was this: people seemed pleased with the elements I used, and felt that it was a *good* thing that they were not a slavish imitation, but rather more "influenced" than copied. On the other hand, it was made (frequently) clear to me that they also wanted me to *understand* exactly were those images came from and what they meant. I found myself more than once sat down for a detailed lecture on Tlingit traditions of matralineal decent...in great detail!

You may wish to keep in mind also, that most native cultures tend to emphasis family and upbringing over race...in other words, blond and blue eyed adopted tribal members are considered every bit as much a part of the group as one with native blood. Now, whether this counts when the characters are all Caucasian...? Hmmm...I dunno.
laylalawlor
Apr. 9th, 2012 01:10 am (UTC)
*nods* Yeah, the general impression that I get is that most people really don't mind artists/writers/whatever being inspired and influenced by their culture, as long as the artists and writers try to be respectful of it and to understand what they're using and how much importance it has. This was something that I never really thought about when I was working on Raven's Children, and it makes me cringe, now, to realize that the thought never occurred to me to pay attention to it beyond being all "ooh, shiny!" with things that caught my creative interest.

In the series of novels that I'm currently working on, I'm making the best effort that I can to talk to people from the different groups whose culture and religion I'm using as inspiration to get their feedback on the way that I'm using it and whether I'm going to be accidentally stepping on sensitive areas that I don't even realize are there.

This is something I really wish that I had done with Raven's Children. Actually, I think one reason why I'm working on this retrospective/annotated version is in an attempt to ... well, not justify it exactly, but analyze what I did and figure out what I can do differently in the future. To redeem it in my own eyes by using the negative and problematic parts of it to learn to do better.


You may wish to keep in mind also, that most native cultures tend to emphasis family and upbringing over race...in other words, blond and blue eyed adopted tribal members are considered every bit as much a part of the group as one with native blood. Now, whether this counts when the characters are all Caucasian...? Hmmm...I dunno.

Yeah ... this makes sense, but I think the problem that I have with it, at least the way that I did it, is that it takes the cultural elements but erases the actual people, if that makes any sense? Sort of like the Last Airbender movie did. Obviously that's not what I was thinking about at the time -- I mean, it's not something that I did on purpose. But that's the end result.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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