An­i­ma­tion with a Mis­sion

Animation Magazine - - Features -

In­de­pen­dent film­maker, com­mu­nity ac­tivist and co-founder of the Women with Knives tour Kelly Gal­lagher com­bines her love of art and pas­sion for so­cial jus­tice in her col­lage an­i­ma­tion. Her lat­est short, Pen Up the Pigs, ad­dresses the roots of racially mo­ti­vated polic­ing and is cre­at­ing a stir at film fes­ti­vals around the globe. See more of her work at pur­p­le­riot.com. By Mercedes Mil­li­gan. It ac­tu­ally hap­pened a bit ac­ci­den­tally. I was an un­der­grad in the film pro­gram at Penn State, work­ing on the first film I ever made for a class, and I just started play­ing with the cam­era and hand­writ­ing my ti­tle cards and cred­its on paper. I thought it would look in­ter­est­ing if the text was mov­ing a bit, so I just started hav­ing fun play­ing and learn­ing the cam­era and what it could do and what writ­ing out my film ti­tle 30 dif­fer­ent times on dif­fer­ent paper would look like, film­ing each one for a short time and edit­ing it all to­gether quickly. Be­fore I knew it, ev­ery live-ac­tion film project I had to make for a class in­cluded some scene of stop-mo­tion. I had too much fun do­ing it, and just couldn’t stop. I was es­sen­tially self-taught for the first few years I an­i­mated. I was in a film pro­gram that didn’t have any an­i­ma­tion fo­cus, but a cou­ple classes that skimmed over some ba­sic things like di­rect an­i­ma­tion, paint­ing on cel­lu­loid. So I learned how to scratch 16mm film and paint on clear leader and was in­spired by a lot of ex­per­i­men­tal films we would watch in class. Once I got out of school I went to New York and worked for the amaz­ing an­i­ma­tor and film­maker Martha Col­burn who does beau­ti­ful, po­lit­i­cally charged cutout an­i­ma­tion col­lage, and paint­ing. Work­ing for her and a hand­ful of other an­i­ma­tors in NYC, like Richard O’Con­nor and Jeff Scher, I learned a lot of im­per­a­tive tech­ni­cal skills that have helped me fur­ther de­velop my an­i­ma­tion craft. Some ma­jor an­i­ma­tion in­flu­ences of mine are: Martha Col­burn, Kelly Sears, Stacey Steers, Lewis Klahr and Lotte Reiniger. … A non-an­i­ma­tor film­maker who was a huge in­flu­ence to me early on was Lizzie Bor­den, who di­rected the rad­i­cal cult clas­sic film Born in Flames. Craig Bald­win’s work and oth­ers who ap­pro­pri­ate found footage and prac­tice dé­tour-

in var­i­ous ways play a ma­jor role in how I think about the po­lit­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties of cre­at­ing new mean­ings from found ma­te­ri­als. What is the key mes­sage you sought to present with Pen Up the Pigs? The­mat­i­cally, I wanted to vis­ually ex­plore his­tor­i­cal con­nec­tions be­tween slav­ery and mod­ern day racist polic­ing and mass in­car­cer­a­tion. I wanted to also ex­plore vi­o­lence, and make a film that was ex­plic­itly sup­port­ive and un­der­stand­ing of more vi­o­lent means of re­sis­tance dur­ing strug­gles against racism, white supremacy and op­pres­sion. I wanted to chal­lenge our ideas of what the word “vi­o­lence” even means. White supremacy and racism are ev­ery­day vi­o­lences against people of color in our coun­try. Racist polic­ing and mass in­car­cer­a­tion are in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized sys­tems of vi­o­lence.

Aes­thet­i­cally I wanted to ex­plore the po­lit­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties of col­lage. … Uti­liz­ing col­lage in Pen Up the Pigs was im­per­a­tive be­cause it al­lowed me to ex­plic­itly bring light to links be­tween slav­ery and mod­ern day polic­ing and mass in­car­cer­a­tion. Con­versely, It also al­lowed me to clash dif­fer­ent worlds to­gether, like plac­ing the world of na­ture, an­i­mals and flow­ers against the world of people en­gaged in strug­gle. Ev­ery time some­one in the film fights back against op­pres­sion or speaks out against racism, flow­ers blos­som and bloom and ges­ture to­wards the new life that is born and cre­ated out of strug­gle. My cre­ative process in­volves a lot of heavy re­search­ing dur­ing the pre­pro­duc­tion stage. For ex­am­ple, for Pen Up the Pigs I re­searched the ori­gins of the Philadel­phia Po­lice Depart­ment since I’m from the Philadel­phia area, and

I found these hor­rific be­gin­nings of polic­ing in Philadel­phia that mir­rored the South’s slave pa­trols.

I gen­er­ally re­search the film topics ex­ten­sively and then I be­gin my search for im­ages to cut out. I go to used book­stores and scour tons of books, scan­ning the pages for pic­tures and vis­ual sparks. For Pen Up the Pigs, very early on I found an amaz­ing book of gi­ant pic­tures of pis­tols and ri­fles with the most beau­ti­ful color and de­tail. Along­side my used-book­store scour­ing, I also do a lot of ex­ten­sive In­ter­net im­age re­search­ing. Early on in the be­gin­ning of my Google im­age re­search, I was notic­ing these mir­ror im­ages of slave-own­ers beat­ing slaves and po­lice of­fi­cers beat­ing pro­tes­tors of color. When I found all these im­ages I knew I wanted to jux­ta­pose them dur­ing one of the very early scenes on the plan­ta­tion in Pen Up the Pigs. All the an­i­ma­tion I do is com­pletely by hand. For Pen Up the Pigs, I used paper cutouts that I an­i­mated on a multi- tiered sys­tem of plas­tic panes, so that I can have dif­fer­ent back­grounds and chang­ing fore­grounds and play with depth and shadow. It’s all truly a pretty sim­ple set- up, as I just use house lamps for light­ing and a dig­i­tal DSLR cam­era on a tri­pod to shoot stills while I an­i­mate. I be­lieve that hand­crafted an­i­ma­tion is es­pe­cially suited for ex­plor­ing po­lit­i­cal and so­cial topics and his­to­ries be­cause hand­crafted an­i­ma­tion is it­self such a rad­i­cal aes­thetic. Hand­made an­i­ma­tion makes la­bor pro­cesses vis­i­ble. For ex­am­ple, when we see the scis­sor marks on paper, or hand­writ­ten an­i­mated text or hand-painted ro­to­scoped im­agery, we are re­minded that the film­maker is a worker them­selves, la­bor­ing over the process of an­i­ma­tion and cul­tural pro­duc­tion. Hand­crafted cin­ema is also well suited to be uti­lized to ex­plore po­lit­i­cal themes be­cause it is a fairly ac­ces­si­ble medium … any­one with ac­cess to a cam­era and some paper and scis­sors can make a hand­crafted cut-out an­i­ma­tion. In my mind, hand­crafted cin­ema is one of the most rad­i­cal aes­thet­ics be­cause it makes la­bor vis­i­ble and the hu­man re­la­tions of cul­tural pro­duc­tion more trans­par­ent — and it also is one of the most ac­ces­si­ble modes of film­mak­ing that ex­ist to­day. Are there chal­lenges to us­ing the medium this way? The ma­jor chal­lenge to us­ing an­i­ma­tion to fa­cil­i­tate so­cial and po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary would prob­a­bly be time. It takes some time to make an an­i­ma­tion, but that shouldn’t be dis­cour­ag­ing. I ac­tu­ally think an­i­ma­tion can have more im­me­di­acy then people re­al­ize. The more you an­i­mate, the quicker you can get with it. And of­ten times some of the short­est films I’ve seen are the most po­lit­i­cally poignant. What kind of re­sponse have you re­ceived for Pigs? Pen Up the Pigs has al­lowed me to en­gage in the most re­ward­ing and in­ter­est­ing post-screen­ing Q&A’s of any film I’ve made yet. It’s re­ceived ac­claim from fes­ti­vals, it won the He­len Hill Award at In­die Grits and it is cur­rently be­ing pro­grammed in the Artists’ Film Bi­en­nial at the ICA in Lon­don. How­ever there are al­ways a cou­ple au­di­ence mem­bers who are a bit un­set­tled by the film and it’s rad­i­cally left pol­i­tics. … The film has also al­lowed me to en­gage in some re­ally great con­ver­sa­tions with some au­di­ence mem­bers de­bat­ing about paci­fism and vi­o­lence dur­ing strug­gles of re­sis­tance. I am cur­rently mid-pro­duc­tion on an ex­per­i­men­tal doc­u­men­tary en­ti­tled John Brown in Iowa, which is ac­tu­ally my first live-ac­tion film in a very long time (though there will cer­tainly be some an­i­ma­tion mixed in, of course!). And I am just be­gin­ning pro­duc­tion on a 20-minute an­i­mated biopic en­ti­tled Re­lent­less Re­sis­tance: Sindy’s Story, which ex­plores the life of an amaz­ing rad­i­cal ac­tivist, Sindy, and her strug­gles as an un­doc­u­mented woman in the United States.

Tom Tay­lor is one of the hottest names in comic books right now. A for­mer play­wright, he broke in to comics in 2009 writ­ing Star Wars comics for Dark Horse. He’s since gone on to write the se­ries Earth 2 for DC as well as In­jus­tice: Gods Among Us, a dig­i­tal-first pre­quel to the hit videogame that’s the best-sell­ing dig­i­tal ti­tle in Western comics his­tory.

Now, he’s got his sights set on an­i­ma­tion, turn­ing a graphic novel se­ries he cre­ated with artist James Brouwer called The Deep into an orig­i­nal se­ries from Tech­ni­color set to de­but next year.

The Aus­tralian writer says his ca­reer path is any­thing but nor­mal, and in­cludes a stint as a child-care pro­fes­sional be­fore he be­came a suc­cess­ful play­wright — a vo­ca­tion that was cre­atively sat­is­fy­ing but lack­ing in other ways.

“It sounds im­pres­sive that you have plays on four con­ti­nents, un­til you re­al­ize that I was paid about $50, and re­al­ized that the­ater is a bit like a crime in that it doesn’t pay,” he says. But one of his plays struck a chord with award-win­ning New Zealand artist Colin Wil­son, who adapted into a comic Tay­lor’s play The Ex­am­ple, which is about an unat­tended brief­case on a train plat­form.

The work im­pressed Dark Horse Comics enough to of­fer Tay­lor the writ­ing gig on the Star Wars: In­va­sion se­ries Wil­son was draw­ing. “They ob­vi­ously saw some­thing in a 10page comic about a brief­case on a train plat­form and went, ‘Yes, that guy can write for Star Wars,’” Tay­lor says. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s lit­er­ally how it hap­pened.”

The Fan Fac­tor

A long­time comic-book fan, Tay­lor took to the medium so quickly that long­time Dark Horse VP Randy Stradley said he’d never seen any­thing like it. “I had been a fan all my life of this medium and the more I read of them, the more I un­der­stood it,” says Tay­lor. “When it came time to fi­nally do it, I was handed Star Wars, which had helped be­cause I’ve al­ways known Star Wars as well. I knew the voices of Luke Sky­walker and Han Solo and all of that and sud­denly I was be­ing paid to play with the toys I played with as a kid.”

Get­ting into the medium opened up a whole new world for Tay­lor. “Ev­ery­thing I learned about di­a­log, I prob­a­bly learned as a play­wright,” he says. “What comics does is it just com­pletely ex­pands you and ex­pands your imag­i­na­tion. It takes you a while, but even­tu­ally you re­al­ize that you can write any­thing and that’s ex­actly what the artist will draw.”

Tay­lor hit the ball out of the park with In­jus­tice: Gods Among Us, which has be­come a phenom­e­nal hit in the still-new dig­i­tal comics arena as well as in print edi­tions. Set­ting up the game, in which Su­per­man has lost his moral com­pass and taken over the world, the se­ries chron­i­cles the Man of Steel’s fall from grace and at­tempts by other DC char­ac­ters to halt his de­cline. The comic’s third year, which Tay­lor de­scribes as Su­per­man ver­sus magic, has just been an­nounced.

Ex­plor­ing Worlds Be­low

Ob­vi­ously, a writer as pro­duc­tive as this isn’t go­ing to stop at work­ing on other people’s char­ac­ters, and Tay­lor was in­spired by his ex­pe­ri­ence as a fa­ther to two boys in cre­at­ing what be­came The Deep, about a fam­ily ex­plor­ing the hid­den depths of the oceans.

Once, many moons ago, the comic book racks used to be as full of ti­tles based on car­toons and funny an­i­mals as they were of su­per­heroes. And while the guys and gals in tights still dom­i­nate the comics scene, an in­creas­ing num­ber of hip li­censed comics based on an­i­mated shows are find­ing a suc­cess­ful niche in the mar­ket.

No ti­tle ex­em­pli­fies this more than Ad­ven­ture Time, which has spawned in two short years a huge amount of comic book ma­te­rial via a steady stream of minis­eries, spe­cials, an­nual, col­lected edi­tions and more from ka­boom!, the all-ages im­preint of Boom! Stu­dios.

Much of the comic’s suc­cess comes from the qual­ity of its con­tent. Boom! founder and CEO Ross Richie says it was key when Cartoon Net­work ac­cepted the pub­lisher’s idea of es­chew­ing strictly on-model art­work to al­low a wider range of art styles.

“Typ­i­cally, an­i­ma­tion com­pa­nies are very fo­cused on do­ing on-model ma­te­rial,” he says. “A lot of credit goes to the li­cens­ing depart­ment at Cartoon Net­work be­cause they were sup­port­ive of that and it in­jected a lot of ex­cite­ment into the ti­tles.”

Boom! Stu­dios has been in­volved in li­cens­ing all kinds of prop­er­ties since it was founded in 2005, han­dling ev­ery­thing from Pixar and The Mup­pets to Planet of the Apes, Die Hard and Farscape.

It cur­rently li­censes an­i­mated prop­er­ties such as Peanuts and Garfield and has a deal with Cartoon Net­work that gives Boom! the first op­tion to li­cense comics based on its new shows. That’s lead to suc­cess­ful comics based on Reg­u­lar Show, The Amaz­ing World of Gum­ball and, start­ing in Au­gust, Steven Uni­verse.

Li­cens­ing comics helps in­de­pen­dent pub­lish­ers raise their profiles and pub­lish books that can reach a wider au­di­ence than the die-hard su­per­hero fans comic book shops tra­di­tion­ally serve. “Li­cens­ing comics guar­an­tees you an au­di­ences,” says Richie. “What­ever brand it is ... you know that there are fans who watch the shows and are po­ten­tial read­ers.”

Li­cens­ing comics is also a way to keep older IPs ac­tive af­ter they’re off the air. For ex­am­ple, IDW Pub­lish­ing has picked up a num­ber of older Cartoon Net­work prop­er­ties in ad­di­tion to cur­rently ac­tive ones like My Lit­tle Pony: Friend­ship is Magic. It is pub­lish­ing this sum­mer a tra­di­tional su­per­hero cross­over event ti­tled Su­per Se­cret Cri­sis War!, fea­tur­ing the likes of Pow­er­puff Girls, Sa­mu­rai Jack, Ben 10, Dex­ter’s Lab­o­ra­tory and Ed, Edd & Eddy.

That ap­proach re­mains a po­tent one in comics, even for a ma­jor pub­lisher like DC En­ter­tain­ment, which pub­lishes comics based on He-Man and the Masters of the Uni­verse and Scrib­ble­nauts.

“Some­times, (these prop­er­ties) are hot for a while and then take a break, so do­ing comics al­lows us to keep those prop­er­ties out there,” says DC co-pub­lisher Jim Lee.

sey-based comic Tom Scharpling, who plays the voice of Steven’s fa­ther, Greg Uni­verse, and has not met any of his other cast mem­bers.

“We’re def­i­nitely go­ing to show some se­cret un­aired clips and I re­ally can’t wait to an­swer lots of ques­tions,” says Su­gar. “I hope to also do some­thing with mu­sic and I have lots of plans. I’m go­ing to have to fig­ure out what we have time for be­cause I want to do it all.”

Spot­light­ing the cast and crew is an­other goal for Su­gar. “I re­ally tried to make the show flex­i­ble enough that we could all have it be per­sonal to us,” she says. “The more we all learn I think the more in­ter­est­ing and spe­cific it gets. ven to me,” she says. “And he’s very gen­uine, which is re­ally right for Steven.”

Cre­at­ing a Com­mu­nity

The same goes for the trio of ac­tresses voic­ing the war­riors: Deedee Magno Hall as Pearl, Michaela Di­etz as Amethyst and Estelle as Gar­net.

“The fact that Pearl is such a ma­ter­nal char­ac­ter is re­ally all Deedee, which seems re­ally nat­u­ral, and Michaela’s Amethyst voice is re­ally her voice and she’s just the coolest per­son I know, so that’s been fun to write for be­cause it’s very nat­u­ral,” Su­gar says. “And Estelle makes Gar­net Gar­net. The way that she says things, it’s like no­body else would say them quite like her. And the way that she does fight sounds al­ways blows me away.”

For Cal­li­son, the abil­ity to record most of the time with other cast mem­bers makes Steven Uni­verse his fa­vorite show to work on. “It cre­ates a com­mu­nity,” he says. “And it’s re­ally nice be­cause it al­lows you to build off each other.”

The whole cel­e­bra­tion is per­fect for Su­gar, who pro­fesses her love for comics like Hell­boy and The Goon. And while hav­ing a panel for your show is ex­tremely cool, con­ven­tions can’t help but bring out the fan even in some­one as ac­com­plished as Su­gar.

“I’ve been to a lot of Comic-Cons as a comic artist, go­ing around pick­ing up comics that I wanted and liked, and meet­ing artists that I liked, so I think it’ll be in­ter­est­ing to be there with the show and with the crew,” she says. “But I’ll also try to sneak off to ac­tu­ally pick up some comics.”

clud­ing Bat­man Day, set for July 23. As part of the fes­tiv­i­ties, fans who visit par­tic­i­pat­ing comic-book stores and book stores will re­ceive a free, spe­cial edi­tion of De­tec­tive Comics #27, fea­tur­ing a reimag­in­ing of Bat­man’s 1939 comic book de­but, de­signed by Chip Kidd with a script by best­selling au­thor Brad Meltzer.

In ad­di­tion to the comic book, DC En­ter­tain­ment is pro­vid­ing re­tail­ers ac­cess to an as­sort­ment of other col­lectibles to help in the cel­e­bra­tion of Bat­man Day, in­clud­ing a Bat­man 75th an­niver­sary cape, book­marks fea­tur­ing es­sen­tial Bat­man graphic nov­els and four Bat­man masks de­signed by comic-book artist Ryan Sook spot­light­ing a va­ri­ety of the char­ac­ter’s iconic looks from his 75-year his­tory.

There also was a 75th an­niver­sary short an­i­mated film from Timm, pit­ting the Dark Knight against Hugo Strange in typ­i­cally stylish fash­ion.

Se­ries, a ver­i­ta­ble ex­plo­sion of comic book ti­tles, even more an­i­mated se­ries, sev­eral an­i­mated DC Uni­verse fea­tures, the ac­claimed Christo­pher Nolan movie tril­ogy and, soon, a team-up with the Man of Steel in Bat­man v. Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice.

Draw­ing At­ten­tion

Lee him­self has con­trib­uted sev­eral key chap­ters in the Bat­man saga, draw­ing the ac­claimed Hush sto­ry­line writ­ten by Jeph Loeb, and col­lab­o­rat­ing with Miller on the un­fin­ished and con­tro­ver­sial se­ries All­Star Bat­man and Robin the Boy Won­der.

“Those were fun op­por­tu­ni­ties for me to work with writ­ers I long re­spected,” says Lee. “Gen­er­ally, I like to work with writ­ers I can learn some­thing from. They both know the char­ac­ter so well and por­tray it dif­fer­ently but they know it so well and they re­ally un­der­stand the me­chan­ics of why this mythol­ogy works, that Bat­man works when he has great vil­lains and foils to work off of.”

Re­cent years have seen the char­ac­ter re­de­fined yet again by writer Grant Mor­ri­son, whose talent for in­no­vat­ing within the con­fines of strict comic-book con­ti­nu­ity is un­par­al­leled in comics. “Grant is a writer that prides him­self on look­ing at the en­tire his­tory of the char­ac­ter, ev­ery sto­ry­line that pre­ceded his and, in his mind, fig­ures out a time­line and con­ti­nu­ity where they can all ex­ist and be canon,” says Lee.

More re­cently, Scott Sny­der has taken on the role of lead Bat­man writer in DC’s re­launched uni­verse, The New 52. “The Court of Owls was just re­ally a nice change of pace,” says Lee. “It had a very lit­er­ary qual­ity to it — prob­a­bly more words on the page than one had seen in the past — but he re­ally cre­ated a dense and vi­brant take on Gotham City.”

The Bat­man ti­tles are, by far, DC’s most pop­u­lar, with two new ti­tles — Gotham Academy and Arkham Manor — just an­nounced for a fall de­but, en­sur­ing the Dark Knight will con­tinue to pro­tect the cit­i­zens of Gotham City — in any medium — for many more years to come.

Pen Up the Pigs uses hand­made an­i­ma­tion tech­niques to con­vey a mes­sage about slav­ery, racism and mod­ern-day mass in­car­cer­a­tion.

Of­fered an el­e­gant and de­fin­i­tive take on the char­ac­ter and con­trib­uted such pop­u­lar el­e­ments as Har­ley Quinn. Be­low, Bat­man evolved in comics from his de­but to The Dark Knight Re­turns and All- Star Bat­man.

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