“Kindred”: Octavia Butler’s dark fantasy gets the graphic novel treatment

august 11 2016

Octavia Estelle Butler was an American novelist whose science fiction narratives featured strong Black women protagonists in stories that questioned the past, present, and future. She used elements of science fiction and fantasy to reflect on the realities of race, gender, and society. Butler paved the way as an African American woman, from the beginning of her writing career in the 1970s until her untimely death in 2006, to encourage writers- particularly those of color- to shake off the restraints of a white male-dominated genre in order to tell stories that were inclusive, diverse, and trailblazing.

Butler was a self proclaimed “pessimist” if she wasn’t careful, and “a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.” She reshaped what science fiction could look like and who could be its main characters. She was a pioneer, and unfortunately there are far too many outside of the literary world who don’t know much of her work or who she was. That may soon change with the January 2017 release of the graphic novel that will adapt one of Butler’s bestselling works, Kindred. Through the use of art and comic book form, the prolific author may well be discovered by a new generation.

Kindred uses time-travel and fantasy to give a modernized perspective to the slave narrative of the United States. First published in 1979 it features a Black woman protagonist, Dana, who becomes torn between two worlds as she involuntarily travels between her home in California and a pre-Civil War Maryland plantation. She finds herself in a battle for survival as she tries to navigate a time that is foreign to her, but which is all too familiar when it comes to oppression and restrictions.  Through Dana’s first person narrative, we are taken on a journey through a brutal time of oppression and slavery, forced to witness its everyday violence and terror, and bits of hope, as Dana does. The themes of the novel explore race, gender, and power dynamics. The structure comes close to that of a grim fairytale.

The graphic novel adaptation, published by Abrams ComicArts, attempts to present Butler’s  Kindred in a new form through artwork and comic book style dialogue. Damian Duffy and John Jennings are artist and adaptor, respectively. Duffy is a cartoonist, writer, letter, and co-editor of Black Comix: African American Independent Comics Art & Culture. Jennings is co-editor of the Eisner-nominated anthology The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art, along with being a professor of visual studies at SUNY-Buffalo.

At a panel on the project at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Duffy talked about the work that went into bringing Butler’s novel to a new genre. The cartoonist explained at the panel that the themes of the novel explore the intersection of race, gender, and labor, and that when “you talk about Black History you’re talking about American history. It’s not separate. No one wants to have that conversation.”

Duffy told the People’s World why Kindred is an important novel to bring to a new audience. He explained, “Octavia Butler’s goal with Kindred was to make the reader “feel history,” which we worked our hardest to convey through the comics form. The first time Dana sees a whipping is the novel’s first depiction of explicitly racialized violence, so adapting that scene was particularly difficult. But I hope we’ve done our job right, and readers pay as much attention to the scenes where characters just talk. Because those conversations are where you connect with the humanity of the characters, where you really “feel” like history was something that happened to real people, not unlike yourself.”

Duffy went further to state that he hoped that the graphic novel was able to achieve what Butler’s work often does, which is “an empathy towards people who look different from oneself that is apparently and appallingly lacking in too-large swaths of American racial discourse.” Duffy said that it would be “extremely gratifying” if the graphic novel served in bringing readers in greater numbers to discover or rediscover Octavia Butler’s genius.

In obtaining an uncorrected proof of the soon to be released graphic novel I can attest that Duffy may well get his wish, as the work does a wonderful job in bringing Butler’s words to life in a new and interesting way.

In the original novel one of the opening lines are Dana’s chilling words, “I lost an arm on my last trip home.” Now, through the use of artwork that line takes on an even more direct nature as it is coupled with an image of Dana in a hospital bed, the stump where her left arm used to be bandaged, as her stare is directly on the reader. We can’t look away as we are challenged to turn the page and begin this journey with the protagonist. For those that have read Kindred before, the story is given a graphic renewal, and for those new to the story it is able to stand alone as an engrossing tale of survival and dark fantasy.

The graphic novel will hopefully entice readers to go read the original novel itself, (as the graphic novel can not, and does not, fit in all the wonderful prose without sacrificing the artwork), along with all of Butler’s other acclaimed writings.

As Butler once explained in an interview after the publication of Kindred, “I wasn’t trying to work out my own ancestry. I was trying to get people to feel slavery. I was trying to get across the kind of emotional and psychological stones that slavery threw at people.” And feel it people will with this latest adaptation of the award winning writer’s work. It’s a relevant story of American history that should push readers of a new generation to take a closer look at the past and how it shapes our present and future.

Via People’s World

Green Party “safe state” strategy is neither safe nor a strategy

august 5 2016

The Democratic and Republican party conventions are over and the presidential election has entered a new phase. The sprint is on to Election Day.

Since the GOP convention, which adopted its most reactionary platform ever, alarm has grown over the threat to democracy posed by Donald Trump, his appeal to hate and fear and policies that would cleave the nation and violate the constitution.

Practically every speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), including those by President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, emphasized this danger.

But the warning is also coming from some in the Republican Party establishment, past and current GOP elected officials, the foreign policy and national security establishment and big donors.

Trump’s attack on the Khan family, parents of a Muslim American army captain killed in Iraq, created anger among military veterans and Gold Star families.

Unprecedented early endorsements of Clinton have appeared in the Washington Post and Houston Chronicle, which described Trump as a “danger to the Republic.”

Many refer to Trump as an extreme authoritarian or worse, as a fascist.

The message from the DNC was the polar opposite. It reflected the broad electoral coalition backing Clinton, including the labor movement, African American, Latino, Asian and other communities of color, women, the LGBT community, youth, environmentalists, immigrant and disabled rights advocates.

It includes Bernie Sanders and his supporters, over 90% of whom, according to polls, now back Clinton. Those Sanders supporters were instrumental in shaping the Democratic platform which is widely regarded as its most progressive ever.

But there are still some progressives, including some Bernie or Bust activists, who refuse to support Clinton. They deeply despise her ties to Wall Street and call her a warmonger and a liar.

They see nothing positive in Clinton, her historic candidacy or the Democratic Party platform. They dismiss the broad electoral coalition, including the labor movement, that is backing Clinton and that has shaped the platform, a coalition with obvious leverage.

To them, she is as bad as Trump.

Some are voting for Green Party candidate Jill Stein to “send a message.” Still others hope a Clinton defeat provokes a crisis in the Democratic Party leading to its break-up.

Others see the danger of Trump and want to defeat him. But like Sanders supporter and RootsAction.org founder Norman Solomon, they advocate a “safe state” strategy: vote for Clinton in the battleground states to ensure she wins but vote Green Party in the solidly blue (safe) or solidly red states.

This is a flawed strategy. First, like it or not, we have a two party system. One of the two major parties will win and govern. If this were a parliamentary democracy different tactics would be called for.

Wall Street interests may dominate both parties but they reflect vastly different electoral coalitions and class, racial and social make up.

Many leaders of labor, civil rights and other democratic grassroots movements, including democratic socialists, are leaders within the Democratic Party.

To call for a vote against Clinton is to separate oneself from this electoral coalition.

Secondly, it’s dangerous to declare so-called “safe states.” This election has been volatile and another terrorist attack, mass shooting or some calamity could make the outcome unpredictable.

In some blue “safe states” the GOP and right wing controls the governorships and state legislatures and in some cases have elected Republican U.S. Senators and have been busy passing voter suppression laws. Since voters often vote down a straight line a Clinton landslide in those states is need to sweep out of office the maximum number of GOP right wingers who now have a lock on sate governments across the country.

Trump has been dismissed at every turn as a  “passing phenomena” and “unelectable”. He has not only survived, but his extremist message resonates among millions and he has erased Clinton’s fundraising advantage.

Left and progressive activists shouldn’t make the same mistake as the pundits. Trump is a clear and present danger, an unpredictable candidate in an unpredictable election.

“Safe state” advocates forget the role of Ralph Nader and the Green Party in the 2000 elections. They were the difference in the vote in New Hampshire and Florida. The rest is history.

Thirdly, mandates are real. This election will be a national referendum on racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and Islamophobia. The aim should be a landslide defeat of Trump and a decisive rejection of hate.

The election of Clinton as the first woman president would make history. A landslide would not end sexism, but it would represent a mighty blow just as the election of President Obama was a blow against racism. It would advance democracy.

A landslide makes it more likely that GOP Congressional and state legislative majorities can be ousted and an end put to the politics of obstruction. Most people tend to vote straight ticket.

A landslide will give added weight to the progressive platform adopted at the Democratic Convention and give encouragement to appoint progressive Supreme Court justices. It would be added pressure against backsliding on opposition to TPP and other trade deals. It will put public opinion and the movements in a better position to pressure against Clinton’s tendency toward military adventurism and policies of regime change.

With a Democratic president and Congress the post-election political terrain will shift and give immediate momentum to the new Clinton administration.

Even if Trump is defeated, the movement he spawned and the extremist ideas powering it will be a factor in politics for a long time to come. A massive repudiation of Trump will weaken and isolate this movement.

Fourthly, politics is more than voting one’s conscience. It’s about building electoral and governing coalitions that can broadly advance struggle on the issues. Voting is tactical and rarely does someone vote for candidates they agree with 100%.

One’s associations also collectively shape voting. Unity of the broad people’s coalition before, during and after the election will do more to ensure the progressive Democratic Party platform is implemented by the new Clinton administration.

The broad coalition of labor, communities of color, women, LGBT, young people, environmental, immigration, disability rights activists, etc. is the only force capable of effectively challenging corporate power and changing the country long term. This electoral coalition and its grassroots capacity are being built through the electoral process, giving it the ability to influence and mobilize key constituencies.

This coalition will not only continue to influence Clinton in a progressive direction, but forms the basis of growing political independence and a future labor-led third party that will advocate radical economic, political and social restructuring.

Parts of this electoral coalition are also taking up Sanders’ challenge to run thousands of candidates at every level committed to the “political revolution.”

Voting Green Party separates activists and voters from these key forces. One cannot credibly engage in mobilizations of labor, civil rights, women’s organizations, LGBT community, and environmentalists while also advocating voting Green Party.

As in everything, if we struggle together and vote together, we win together. There’s power in unity.

Photo: Voting Green Party in the blue states is neither safe nor sound. A Clinton landslide is needed in those states if their GOP state governments in power are going to be swept out of office.  |  Wikipedia (CC)

Via People’s World