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Saint Helena: Isle of Exile (Part 3)

The third, and final, instalment in my webcomic mini-series about my trip to the island of Saint Helena.
Read Part 1 and Part 2.

 

StHelena3.1bStHelena3.2b

 

Saint Helena: Isle of Exile (Part 2)

This is the second instalment of a three-part series about a recent trip to the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. See Part 1 first.

 

StHelena2.1_LetteredStHelena_2.2_Lettered

 

Saint Helena: Isle of Exile

Deep in the South Atlantic, halfway between Africa and South America, there lies a tiny, stalwart outpost—a pastoral—of 1950s Britain. One of the UK’s few remaining overseas territories, the island of Saint Helena seems to exist both out of place and out of time: where a stroll up the main street is prolonged by morning greetings, and a visit to the bank is delayed as much by the mechanics of paperwork as by the conversation with the bank teller.

Characterised by sheer, volcanic cliffs and dizzying ravines, this remote island fortress is most famously known for being Napoleon’s last place of exile, though it served as a prison for a number of Boer POWs and the son of a Zulu king, as well. In April of this year I made the journey out there, travelling by sea (the island currently has no airport) on one of Britain’s last Royal Mail Ships, the RMS Saint Helena.

Below is the first instalment of a three-part webcomic recounting my short time on the island. Part 2 continues here.

 

 

StHelena_1.1_Lettered StHelena1.2 StHelena_1.3_LetteredStHelena_1.4_Lettered

 

      Go to Part 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Restoration—a sci-fi miniseries of awesome

 

I love me some sci-fi—love, love, love the stuff— and I’m pleased to announce that I recently had the pleasure of working in the genre for this brilliant little miniseries, Restoration:

 

2019. A company – RESTORATION LIFE SERVICES – offers individuals the service of having their memories downloaded for backup. So, in the event of death, those memories can be uploaded into a new body, a generic host, nicknamed a “jerry”.

After a routine backup, Oliver Klein wakes up to find that his memories have been restored into a body that is not his own. Trapped in this foreign body, Oliver Klein struggles to reconnect with his family and his life, and must come face-to-face-with the truth that he is not the only Oliver Klein.

 

It’s a three-part miniseries slated to shoot in August and with an elite A-team of creatives behind it. Producer, Toby Gibson, and director, Stuart Willis have accumulated an impressive number of films behind them including Superman Returns, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Lego Movie (yes, everything is indeed awesome). And the screenplay was co-written by Willis, who co-hosts the screenwriting podcast Draft Zero, and journalist/screenwriter Matthew Clayfield.

The team have set up a Kickstarter page to help with funding, and if you’re a fan of sci-fi and independent film-making, please don’t hesitate to show your support.

It’s a fantastic project. It has all the elements of hard science fiction, it asks tough questions and it never forgets that character is at its heart. Also, it will look frakking awesome.

Below are a couple of my concept pieces from the campaign, and links to the film’s website, Kickstarter page, Facebook page and recent press releases.

 

Restoration, concept art

Restoration, concept art

 

Restoration, concept art

Restoration, concept art

 

IMPORTANT SITES
RESTORATION Kickstarter page
RESTORATION website
RESTORATION Facebook page

 

PRESS RELEASES
Futuristic sci-fi series to shoot at Docklands’ (InsideFilm, 1st July 2014)
 ‘Crowdfund This! Aussie Online Scifi Miniseries RESTORATION’ (TwitchFilm, 1st July 2014)

 

 

A Blast from the Past

I’ve been neglecting to update my blog this past month due to a tightly-scheduled trip through South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, and a four-day wedding in Bali (I’m not complaining, believe me). But with my travels for 2014 coming to an end next week, I hope to once again start posting on a weekly basis.

For now, though, here are a few images I drew back in 2010 and recently rediscovered in the bowels of my hard-drive:

 

Office Space.

Office Space.

 

Everyone's a Critic.

Everyone’s a Critic.

 

iNews.

iNews.

 

Lost in Conversation.

Lost in Conversation.

 

Ascension Island

“It is situated in the South Atlantic Ocean, 900 miles from Africa, 760 miles from St. Helena, and nearly 3500 miles from England, the geographical position being in latitude 7 deg. 56 min. south of the Equator, and longitude 14 deg. 25 min. west of Greenwich. The island is but seven miles and a half long, from west to east, and six miles and a half broad, from north to south, with a surface of thirty-eight square miles. It is very rugged and barren, consisting of extinct volcanic craters, lava streams and beds, more or less decomposed, and ravines filled with scoria and pumice-stone. The Green Mountain, however, rising to a height of 2820 ft., is wooded and in some parts, towards the summit, has pieces of fertile soil cleared for cultivation. The climate is esteemed one of the most salubrious in the world; the air is very dry, and the heat is constantly tempered by the south-east trade-wind; in the hottest months the temperature ranges from 85 deg. on the shore to 76 deg. on the high land. There is little rain at any season, and the few springs discovered in the woods yield but a limited supply of fresh water. The sea-turtle come from Christmas to Midsummer (which is not summer in Ascension) to lay their eggs in the sand.”

- excerpt from an 1888 edition of the London Illustrated News, courtesy of the Ascension Island Heritage Society.

 

An example of mid-nineteenth century terraforming.

An example of mid-nineteenth century terraforming.

Once barren volcanic rock, Green Mountain was transformed in 1860 with the planting of some 27 000 trees and shrubs under the supervision of British horticulturalist, John Bell. The purpose of the endeavour was to create a cloud forest which would increase rainfall on the island for the stationed garrison.

 

View of Green Mountain from Two Boats.

View of Green Mountain from Two Boats.

Home to around 800 non-permanent residents, who have to be gainfully employed on the island to live here, Ascension’s population is a melting pot of American, British and Saint contractors who service the various organisations that have set up shop here: the American Air Force, the RAF, the BBC World Service, the Ascension Island Government, and the various smaller companies that help keep the island ticking over.

 

Cricket Valley

Cricket Valley

Ascension Island is actually the peak of an underwater volcano, the base of which sits some 4000 metres below the surface of the Atlantic. The island, itself, hosts as many as 44 dormant craters, a number of which have transformed, over time, into lushly vegetated valleys.

At the back doors of the bullring

Outside the bullring a truck is blocking the street. Its side is branded with the image of a bull. The truck belongs to “Taurica & Simon S.L.: Toros de Lidia”. The doors at the back of the truck are wide open and a crowd has gathered around a man with a forklift. The man begins to raise the forklift’s arm and even though it’s obscured by onlookers I understand what weighs it down. The arm rises above the crowd and deposits its load – a dead bull from the arena – into the back of the truck. A prong of the forklift is slick with blood.

I hang around as the crowd thins. A noise comes from inside the truck like the sound of a high-powered hose. The doors are still open and enough people are still standing around to be drawn to the sound. I join them and we are greeted by a man in apron whites with a cutting instrument in his right hand. Both it and his arm are coated in the same slickness as the prong of the forklift. On the floor of the truck the dead bull lies, split from neck to groin. The driver closes the door and we move off. From the bullring the crowd roars and I pass a second van further up the street.

I return later to await the end of the corrida. A truck is still there; the same as before or another, I am not sure. The crowd is still there, too, though it has grown, and I believe that most of the people in it are awaiting the corrida’s end as well. There are thumps from the truck and the back doors open. Another man, this one in white fishing overalls, steps out and grabs for a chemical cannister. Individuals break away from the crowd to peer inside the truck.

Behind the forklift there is an ambulance.

I peer inside the truck again. A bull is on its back at the rear of the truck. Its legs are broken at the knees and hang loosely from the joint. Its belly is split open and the man in overalls is fishing out pieces from its gut and tossing them into the pail beside his feet. His arms are bloody to the biceps.

Fathers lead sons and mothers lead daughters to the back of the van to look. A whistle sounds and the attention of the crowd turns to the ambulance and now it is the back doors of this vehicle that swing open. The crowd moves towards it and I realise that perhaps it’s not solely the corrida’s end that has drawn them to this particular street corner.

A third set of doors open – the ones into the arena – but instead of a gored matador another dead bull emerges. A glimpse of the ring: matadors in their suits of lights, the audience beyond, and then the mules bringing out the body. The bells on their harnesses remind me of Christmas. Another forklift and this bull is added to the last, corralled by the flashes of camera phones from the crowd.

Again the whistle sounds and the Guardia Civil shepherd the crowd to the side of the street. The lights of the ambulance flash amber and we take another step back, this time of our own accord. The corrida is over and its audience has begun to flow out onto the street. The ambulance starts up. As it passes us by the crowd applauds its mystery passenger.

Ciudad Rodrigo

On the bank of the river Agueda, some twenty-five kilometres from the Portuguese border, sits the small Spanish town of Ciudad Rodrigo. The site of two sieges during the Napoleonic Wars it is now a largely uneventful place with a population of only fourteen-thousand people. Once a year during the five days leading up to Shrove Tuesday it hosts its Carnaval del Toros, an event which unites its celebration of Carnival with its love of the bulls.

During Carnival Ciudad Rodrigo is riddled with wooden barricades which serve to separate onlookers from the running bulls.

During Carnival Ciudad Rodrigo is riddled with wooden barricades which serve to separate onlookers from the running bulls.

 

A man pushes a carretón, or cart, a fake bull's head on wheels. During Carnival children play at running from bull's and passing bulls using these contraptions.

A man pushes a carretón, or cart, a fake bull’s head on wheels. During Carnival children play at running from bull’s and passing bulls using these contraptions.

 

Onlookers stand safely behind the barricades as the bulls run through the streets.

Onlookers stand safely behind the barricades as the bulls run through the streets.

 

The desencierro, a reverse encierro in which bulls are run through the streets from the bullring to the corrals at the edge of town.

The desencierro, a reverse encierro in which bulls are run through the streets from the bullring to the corrals at the edge of town.

 

A capea held in the town's make-shift bullring. During a capea, aficionados and thrillseekers are able to jump into the ring with calves or steers and demonstrate their skills in front of a large audience.

A capea held in the town’s make-shift bullring. During a capea, aficionados and thrillseekers are able to jump into the ring with calves or steers and demonstrate their skills in front of a large audience.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Salamanca!

‘Welcome to Salamanca! Escúchame. Listen to me. I’m old dog. I have been to all the countries. It’s the same shit everywhere. But this place, Salamanca – I don’t know what it is, I love it. It catch me. Welcome to Salamanca!’

Our new friend, Martin Mateas – or Tío Mateas (Uncle Mateas) as he says he is known around Salamanca – raised his sixth or seventh beer and we toasted to the new friendship and ‘the right people in the right place’.

We had found the workman’s bar on a side street off Plaza Mayor. It wasn’t the first workman’s bar I had been to in Spain, but it smelled the most authentic – like wet dog, which I was assured was on account of the legs of dried ham hanging behind the bar. The bartender was a lanky youth with buck teeth and smiling eyes and a desire to be as servile as possible. The regulars at the bar treated him as so many uncles might. On hearing our English, one of the regulars – a Spanish Peter Finch – grabbed his beer, abandoned his mate and introduced himself to us as Tío Mateas. Our brief respite from the cold grew into an extended dinner of bar tapas, top-ups and increasingly more fervent conversation.

‘Be yourself, be yourself, be yourself,’ Tío Mateas offered to us as life advice. ‘Es muy importante. My father, I love my father, he was a good man, but don’t listen to your father. Be yourself.’ His phone rang, not for the first time that evening, and he interrupted his sage advice to placate his much younger Russian girlfriend, Anita. ‘She is shy,’ he explained when we asked why she wouldn’t come down and join us. ‘But she has character. They have bad luck in Russia. It’s a complicate country, but I love Russia. It is the only place I go and it feels to me like home. But Anita, she does not want to go back there. What can I say?’

‘Welcome to Salamanca!’

The young bartender, who had been dutifully topping up our drinks all night at Tío Mateas’s request, was joined, at that point, by an older gentleman with the same smiling eyes. ‘They are father and son,’ Tío Mateas explained. ‘We are from the same village, Avila. It is a very small village. Only four thousand people.’ He paused for effect before breaking out into laughter, ‘I joke! It’s a joke. It’s probably more like ten thousand.’ He turned to the bartenders and requested another top-up despite his still full glass of beer on the bar. ‘It’s okay. They know me. We are from the same village. I often say I’ll pay and then I don’t. They know me.’

‘Escúchame. Listen to me. Do you know what in life I am going to recommend you? Spanish and Italian cinema from the 50s. Es muy importante. But Fellini, I tell you, Fellini was not god. No one is god. Do you know Garcia Lorca? I love Garcia Lorca. I have read all the poets and he is like no one else. Él es la perra. He is the bitch. And Kafka, Have you read Kafka? I read Metamorphosis when I was sixteen or seventeen. It has in it the meaning of life, but I did not get it then.’ Again, the phone. ‘Anita! Por favor! Por favor! Pozhaluysta! Pozhaluysta!’

He hung up. He paused. He looked at us.

‘Welcome to Salamanca!’

By the ninth or tenth beer a gypsy woman appeared at our elbows carrying sprigs of rosemary and offering them to us. Tío Mateas greeted her warmly. ‘This woman, I love this woman! I have known her for many years, she is very clever. I love this woman.’ He explained to us the significance of the rosemary, ‘It is for love (amor), health (salud) and felicity (fidelidad),’ before suggesting to the gypsy woman that she tell my fiancé, Matt, her life story. Which she did, in Spanish, and Matt, who was on his sixth or seventh glass of red, did his best to comprehend her. While Matt was being regaled, Tío Mateas turned to me, and chuckling, explained ‘I have known her for many years, but you can not trust her historias (stories). You can not trust a word she says,’ and, as if to illustrate the point, Matt loudly announced, ‘She’s telling me our future! She says that we will have two children. One boy and one girl, and they will not be able to eat potato … wait, no,’ he frowned, ‘She’s telling me her life story. She has two children – one boy and one girl – and they can’t eat potato.’

The phone rang again, and again it was Anita. She was standing outside the bar, on the phone, and with their small shih tzu on the lead. ‘I must go,’ Tío Mateas apologised, and we thanked him for the wine and the tapas and the conversation. He kissed both our cheeks and our hands. ‘Welcome to Salamanca!’

The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba

One of the entrances to the mezquita-catedral de Cordoba.

One of the entrances to the Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba.

Above is a quick study-from-photograph of one of the entrances to the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. Like Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, the Mezquita-Catedral is an architectural mash-up of civilizations: Islam and Christianity, one writing over the other, a palimpsest. Unlike the Hagia Sophia, which overwhelms you with its open floor-plan and sheer capacity, the Mezquita-Catedral is overwhelmingly disorienting. The repeated designs of the pillars and archways create the same sense of infinity one gets when staring at the reflection of a mirror within a mirror within a mirror.

The site, which is believed to have been first a Roman temple and then a Visigothic church, was converted to a mosque in the 8th century AD by Abd al-Rahman I. A son of the great Umayyad dynasty of caliphs in Damascus, Abd al-Rahman I fled to Islamic Spain after his family was overthrown and replaced by a rival dynasty. Once in Islamic Spain he established a separate caliphate with Cordoba as its capital.

The site remained a place of Islamic worship until the conquest of Cordoba by the Christian king, Ferdinand III, in 1236. On the very evening that Cordoba fell to Christianity the mosque was ritually cleansed and consecrated by bishop Juan of Osma. The next day King Ferdinand III attended mass in the newly-consecrated cathedral.