Tuesday, April 26, 2016

'I want to write a book about Silence; the things people don't say'

"To feel anything strongly was to create an abyss between oneself and others who feel strongly perhaps but differently. It appeared that nobody ever said a thing they meant, or ever talked of a feeling they felt, but that was what music was for."

I read Virginia Woolf for the second time last year with her non-fiction essays A Room Of One's Own, and Three Guineas. The first time I've encountered her was when I bought a secondhand copy of Carlyle's House and Other Sketches. I found her so intriguing not just as a writer but as an individual especially the struggles she had about her mental health (she was diagnosed as a manic depressive). It could be said that her creativity is strongly tied or may even be enhanced by her sporadic mood swings and intense emotionality. Whether that's the case or not, Woolf is a celebrated author because she is innovative in the way she portrayed the inner workings of a thinking woman who aspired for intellectual stimulation and dedicated herself to a life of passionate pursuit for artistic achievement. The Voyage Out is the earliest novel Woolf ever published, and introduces the character of Clarissa Dalloway who will become her lead protagonist in Mrs. Dalloway which is one of her best works.

In The Voyage Out, we meet twenty-four year old Rachel Vinrace; a deeply sheltered yet inherently curious young woman who embarks on 'a journey of self-discovery' as she was taken under the care of her aunt Helen Ambrose who expressed her anxiety over the fact that Rachel knew so little about the world and all it has to offer; including the relationships with women in a polite yet slowly but surely progressing Edwardian society, as well as the burden and expectation of marriage and lifelong compatibility. Rachel is musically gifted, but wants to learn more about herself and others by getting acquainted with books, and having conversations with other older and more learned women such as her aunt and her friends. She also becomes drawn to two very different men--St. John Hirst and Terrace Hewet. 

The former is a rather disparaging and academic man whose depressingly misogynistic views and sense of entitlement often creates a tension with Rachel because he keeps on belittling her person; while the latter she finds a real connection with because he respects her and eventually falls in love with her. The Voyage Out might as well be called The Voyage In because a lot of Woolf's passages for this novel are composed of self-reflection and evaluation of characters' inner lives and their turmoils. One thing I could commend about this book a lot was how well-rounded Woolf's characters had been--even down to the ones I find very disagreeable in nature and manner. I could compare and contrast this with the Jane Austen novel Emma which I read this January and struggled to finish. The stark difference in both novels is that Austen's protagonist Emma Woodhouse is confident about herself and knows who she is and what she wants--only to spectacularly fool herself about a very important grain of truth about her person. Meanwhile, Woolf's Rachel Vinrace knows next to nothing about herself and the depths of her ignorance and passion to become the best version of who she is--only to discover that the greatest inhibition on her way is only herself. 

"Of course we're always writing about women--abusing them, or jeering at them, or worshiping them; but it's never come from women themselves. But the lives of women of forty, of unmarried women, of working women, of women who keep shops and bring up children, of women like your aunts--one knows nothing about them. They won't tell you. Either they're afraid, or they've got a way of treating men. It's the man's view that's represented."

However, I confess that I like Emma more as a character and as a female representation that Rachel. In spite of her flaws, Emma is remarkably admirable; she demands only the best because she respects herself enough to understand no one should ever mistreat her or cast her aside. That being said, Rachel's journey of self-discovery was more nuanced and fully realized than Emma had been in her titular novel, and that lies in how Austen and Woolf writes their female protagonists. Woolf was simply not satisfied by making her heroine fall in love with a man and leave it as that. Throughout her narrative of Rachel and Terrace's love affair, she poses questions regarding gender roles and interpersonal distinctions between how a man and woman communicate, live and pursue their respective vocations. 

I also can't help but view Rachel and Terrace's relationship as a representation of how Woolf views her marriage with her husband, whom she was deeply devoted to even if she did commit suicide due to accumulated stress over the years. I maintain personally that there will always be an inequality between men and women in relationships, no matter how much we want to believe we can extinguish this. Opposite-sex relationships can only be meaningful if there is an innate understanding that couples should focus more on their complementary traits. Men and women were never meant to be equal, at least not all the time. I'm sure this wasn't the intended message of The Voyage Out, but it's definitely what was on my mind the entire time I was reading it since I already have established opinions. But this novel doesn't tackle romantic relationships in a way where it romanticizes them and where every couple is better off marrying and raising a family just because it is what is expected. Not at all. 

In Woolf's point of view of Edwardian society, a power struggle not just in gender politics but also religion is unavoidable. The women are becoming independent and outspoken of their views already; even those who are blissful with their domestic lives as wives and mothers. They are more willing to talk to their suitors and husbands about what they want, and this is a challenging shift in dynamic for both sexes--but Woolf has portrayed it in a manner that is respectful of both men and women. Helen Ambrose, my favorite character, is one of these progressive women. She doesn't have to be a radical feminist who fights vocally about women's rights. That's not why I found her particularly admirable. 

What I love about Helen is that she is happy with her choices--and encourages Rachel to make her own choices and face both rewards and consequences no matter what. Helen was such a splendid woman in her forties who values the wisdom of her age without imposing it on others, especially Rachel. She may not agree with people and their conceited and narrow-minded views, but she is willing to listen and discuss issues with these people, and try to understand where they are coming from. This is notable in the way she welcomes the critical perspectives of St. John Hirst (who never ceases to annoy me so much) who learns to respect her not because she earned it from him but because she is worth it.

"I worship you but I loathe marriage. I hate its smugness, its safety, its compromise, and the thought of you interfering with my work."

I selected that quotation above, which is something Terrace Hewet said to himself as he contemplated the future he may have with Rachel, precisely because it shockingly exposed my very worst fears about domestic life as a whole. But after a few more years went by, I've come to terms with the truth that I'm not afraid or loathsome of marriage as an institution--in fact, I may even respect it too much as a sacred union that I don't want to become a part of it in fear of invalidating its importance. A rather foolish and immature view, I know, which was why I've finally amended it. I think marriage can become a part of my lifelong goals--but it's not my only final destination in life. What I strive for is a career in writing myself, as well as to find a true partner--regardless if it's a man or a woman--who can share and work together with me without sacrificing my individual prospects and desires.

The Voyage Out was a really memorable and enjoyable novel to read. Rachel Vinrace's intellectual awakening to the world of books and philosophy is also a noteworthy representation of Woolf's own initiation to the Bloomsbury Group; an association of like-minded individuals who have encouraged her writing and perspective on things and where she also became more enraptured with her husband who never once discourage her creative voice from reaching its heights. I love and would recommend this book because Virginia Woolf's prose needs to be experienced by anyone interested in seeing things in an invigorating, exploratory way such as she has done with her works. I may not relate to Rachel completely, but I respected how she evolved in the book, and was definitely happy about her relationship with Terrace Hewet, mostly because Woolf didn't focus on the short-lived romantic fantasy about relationships, but rather the struggles to achieve compatibility and compromise with your partner in spite of your differences in views, experiences and upbringing.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Webcomics Watch: The Collected Works of Emily Carroll

For my second choice of webcomics people should read, I selected the stories and illustrations by Emily Carroll whose ongoing works can be found in her official website as indicated. However, I found a soft copy of her collected works in a torrent site which compiled fifteen of her stories plus other drawings. What was so immensely enjoyable and riveting about Carroll's works is the metaphysical quality of her tales. Most are horrific while others are downright poignant albeit while still being creepy. I discovered her when I stumbled upon a best online short story horror list which I found one day, and it included her tale entitled His Face All Red. It was instantly unforgettable for me. My review will tackle the seven out of the fifteen stories present in this collected file that I consider to be my personal favorites. The rest are pretty great themselves too, however.

I also want to add that Emily Carroll does have a published anthology you can probably buy which is entitled Through the Woods and I could also readily recommend it. It's a great introduction to her art style and narrative and her entries for that collection have exciting and fresh concepts. I think I can describe Carroll's works in general as fairy-tales by themselves, and they mostly shine light on the tantalizingly terror we all get that often hypnotizes us into actively staring into the abyss, abandoning all reason and caution. A lot of her stories are ambiguous in delivery, although some of her climaxes have been certainly off-putting and yet impressive enough to keep you invested long enough after just reading them. Carroll is definitely a most promising cartoonist and storyteller.

She had also written her share of quirky love stories and the one I really liked was Anu-Anulan and Yir's Daughter which is a tale about a goddess falling in love with a beautiful girl with long locks of silver hair which she freely offered to the goddess and others who would kindly ask for it. It's such a nice queer fairy tale that reads as a simple myth.

The six other tales that I definitely love are the following:

In, MARGOT'S ROOM, readers would get an interactive story where they can click certain items in the room illustrated based on the clues given on the prose itself (the mirror, the window, the doll etc.). By clicking these objects, the reader is then taken to a series of panels varying in style. One page will have vertical panels which you scroll down to, while another has horizontal ones that you scroll right to. The experience is a unique one as a reader explores the deepening and troubling psychology of the narrator as she struggles to make sense of the tragedy of her daughters'd death. It's a visually entertaining and gripping down to the very last clever panel. THE PRINCE AND THE SEA applies the same visual structure minus the interactive stuff. It's an unsettling story about a mermaid whose devotion to a prince went beyond what was considered normal. And then there's HIS FACE ALL RED.

Chances are, this is the Carroll story which people would have first because it garnered fairly popular reception in a lot of online recommendation lists for short story horror. This was a really brilliant piece that has a slow build-up, maintaining the suspense all throughout. Carroll's visual tricks also make it so hard to stop scrolling down to, right at the harrowing revelation itself. It's disturbing, much like the next two.

These are OUT OF SKIN, and ALONG THE WALL. Both stories are impressively rendered with stylistic panels that create a tension and atmosphere as their respective narrators reel us. For the former, the point-of-view is that of a female recluse who is being haunted by voices and images that seek her assistance to fulfill a vengeful task. For the latter, two girls were in a dark corner of the room, talking about seemingly innocent things first until they gradually prove to be otherwise. Along the Wall is somewhat tied to another multi-part story found in Carroll's published anthology Through the Woods so readers who have read that book first may be familiar with these characters presented already, while others would no doubt be left baffled until they also read said tale that was featured in Through the Woods

That being said, I think All Along the Wall can still stand by itself because the ending of this piece was frustratingly creepy that even with the knowledge of the other story it is tied to, the effect of those last two panels really resonate well as its own horror.

Finally, we have the twofold tale of THE 3 SNAKE LEAVES which present the readers with two separate endings which depend on their choice of character to click. We have a prince and a princess who are trapped inside a room. They are bound to stay there together until a miracle happens that sets them free. The reader then finds out what happens to these lovers' relationship after they were both set free from the curse...but things do not become as happily-ever-after as it seems. It is worth mentioning that there are two runner-up stories that I'd consider to belong to the eighth and ninth places of favorites, and they were When Darkness Presses and The Hole the Fox Did Make because they are also scary enough to hold one's imagination. The first one has a combination of several approaches in visual narrative while the latter was drawn as a horizontal comic strip in black and white. 

Other amusing contributions have to be the author's personal Dream Comics whose visual interpretations were interesting to look at, as well as The Grave of the Lizard Queen which was a work that was strictly told in a series of panels without any words. Finally, we have the final entry The Neighbor's House which actually made it to Carroll's published anthology.

Emily Carroll has three recent stories that were not included in this collection and they are Wild Creatures, The Groom and Some Other Animal's Meat. They're more well-rounded than most of her previous works which I think also showcased that her style and voice have evolved for the best. You are all free to check them out yourselves in her official site.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Webcomics Watch: 'Nothing is Forgotten' by Ryan Andrews

I've been an avid fan of the sequential art of storytelling for a good fifteen years now and though my foremost love are superhero comics, I do enjoy other genres of the medium, as well as other forms such as manga and webcomics. This year, I decided to devote some time reviewing the latter because there are so many outstanding webcomics out there that are actually worth publishing in print. The best thing about webcomics, however, is how accessible it is since they are posted and updated online, so anyone around the world with internet connection can read them. My first pick of this year belongs to the anthology written and illustrated by Ryan Andrews. Thanks to a kickstarter campaign, his four unique comics were published, and I want to talk about them.

Nothing is Forgotten collects only four stories but these are stories that truly stay with you, and therefore fulfilling its titular quality of being unforgettable. You don't have to worry about the fact that you can't read this for yourself because these stories are all available here. I'm going to discuss each one from the least to my most favorite story, without revealing too much about their endings. Still, this review might not be that spoiler-free, so if you are interested to read the stories themselves, then I suggest you click the link for them, and then just come back to this review if you still feel like it.

With a short list of tales, it's quite easy to pick favorites and the truth for the matter is that I enjoyed all of them but if I had to pick based on personal preferences, I'll categorize them like this: my two least favorite stories are The Tunnel and Our Bloodstained Roof. These tales are the most visually striking of all the tales, however, and also the most horrific. You would think that I would choose them as my most faves, but the reason I didn't was simple. The completely imaginative The Tunnel whose illustrations were really creepy, and whose story operated on a metaphysical level, paled in comparison with Nothing is Forgotten, which is one of my two most faves. Both stories have a Twilight Zone vibe to them, especially The Tunnel which I think would translate so well in a five-minute short film. Both stories are also comparable because there are no narrative or dialogue boxes to read at all, and the images alone tell the story. I thought The Tunnel was brilliant and creepy, but Nothing is Forgotten had a more emotional resonance and heartfelt symbolism for me about grief and childhood trauma. The final scenes of both tales remain ambiguous, however.

My second least fave Our Bloodstained Roof is comparable to my first most fave Sarah and the Seed. These stories finally have words to them, and they move with a languid pace that slowly build up a suspenseful climax. They're also stories that center on family drama. In Our Bloodstained Roof, three brothers become fascinated with the death of several geese in their roof much to the chagrin of the father who suspiciously wanted them to think no more of it. For Sara and the Seed, an elderly couple's relationship was put the test when the wife started to display early signs of dementia because of her pathological fixation on a seed. Both tales unfolded like basic horror stories, only that Sara and the Seed had a happier and more satisfying conclusion. Our Bloodstained Roof had a perplexing ending that felt unresolved, making it quite frustrating to figure out.

I heartily recommend this anthology webcomic collection  by Ryan Andrews. The tales are exquisitely rendered visually, and the framework of the storytelling itself for each is searing and memorable, both uplifting for some, and baffling for others.