Wednesday, 1 May 2019

A Panoply Interview with The Acropolis Gallery.

Antiquities belong in museums (*Indiana Jones shouting*)! So what do you do when you want to brighten up your home or classroom with a bit of classical pottery action? One answer of course is to turn to a replica maker. Today we're talking to Anna Kolinska & Patrick Kolinski, the Athens-based artists behind The Acropolis Gallery (https://www.etsy.com/shop/AcropolisGallery). The Acropolis Gallery creates replicas of ancient works on ancient shaped vessels and new designs based on ancient iconography. Replica-lovers will find a shop link and discount code at the end of the interview. In case you're wondering, Panoply and the Acropolis Gallery are not connected businesses, we're just mutual vase enthusiasts!

1) You have a pretty enjoyable line of work. Tell us a bit about how you got into it.
From my very first years I loved to paint. I just painted on everything...with all types of different oil paint, graphics and pencils. Everything started when I chose to live permanently in this wonderful place. I met people who love this type of ceramic and a potter who lives here in Athens. It was that step - he impressed me with his skills. It was magic, to go from a piece of clay to this amazing result with so much history of beauty from the past. Greece is a historic place full of art and colours; that motivated me to work in that direction. After all these years I know that everything around Greece (the climate, sea, sun, the blue of the sky) stole my heart. I choose to stay here to work and give to the world pieces of Greek art. So, in our store we not only sell Greek handmade ceramic souvenirs, we give the positive energy of this place to our customers.

Above, an Acropolis Gallery plate featuring the Minotaur.

2) Do you feel that it's important to keep this tradition alive in Greece?
Pottery was important to the ancient Greeks for storage. Everything from wheat to wine was stored in pottery. Pottery was made by shaping clay on a wheel, decorating the pot, and then heating the clay in a kiln... All these steps and that history come from the past. We have to continue it, to make people feel excited about them. I think that when you come to Greece you can see a lot of wonderful things. We can start with the history, the sea, food... the amazing places, hospitable people all of that... but if you want to take something back home it must be a Greek souvenir, something that you can keep in your house and feel all that positive energy from this historic place. Acropolis Gallery is all about that - you can discover the world of ancient Greek art with wonderful handmade ceramics.

Above, familiar Greek pottery motifs.

3) What are some of the challenges that you face when you are making replicas?
Greek pottery is one of the most fascinating and probably the oldest of the Greek minor arts. The first step is to make the same material from clay. I mean, to make one vessel is easy, but to create the same dimensions as those used in antiquity is hard! So we always have the details from museums to work with. Because fired clay pottery is highly durable we need to buy only good quality clay and it's so hard to find. Believe it or not, only a few potters in Athens have that high quality clay in their pieces. It costs a lot of time to create one piece, sometimes many days and you must be so careful with it... the final result is always something that can bring tears. I love it so much, that's why I continue to make it... I always think of that history of the faces I am painting. That makes me work with more passion to finish it to a high standard however hard it is.

Above, Acropolis Gallery's take on the familiar scene of Achilles and Ajax gaming - made famous by Exekias, imitated by a host of other pottery painters ancient and modern, and animated in Panoply's 'Clash of the Dicers' animation.

4) How do you navigate the balance between authenticity and innovation?
Sometimes I start to make an amphora design, for example, from nothing. I might change the faces a little, or the colours. I'm a free artist but I keep some authentic feeling and features and "connect" them with new colours or new techniques to make something that is the same yet different; ancient yet new.


5) Which do you feel are your most successful designs?
The one I find most lovely is a Corinthian style piece on which you can see lions, panthers, boars, goats, sirens and swans. I love the feeling of painting more "freely" on these pieces...you can see nature in it all around. I also like Minoan period style which is inspired by the Aegean Sea and adorned with colourful dolphins (the symbol of Harmony), octopus, coral and fish. They make me feel good and having spoken to people about them I know that people enjoy having these designs around them in their homes. Maybe some of them made a beautiful Greek gift to a loved one. I'm happy with that...I enjoy it!

Above, an amphora in the Corinthian style.

6) Who's your favourite ancient Greek? I can say that is Athena. The goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilisation, law and justice, strategic warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill. What more can I say?!! Back in history she helped all the people around, she gave the olive tree to them. I can tell you a short story about it... Athena, became Athens' patron goddess after a contest with Poseidon. The two gods competed for who would get the honour of becoming the patron god, and they offered gifts to the Athenians. Poseidon hit the ground with his trident and created a spring, showing that he would offer significant naval power. Athena, on the other hand, offered the olive tree, a symbol of prosperity and peace. The Athenians, led by King Cecrops, decided to take Athena's gift, making her their patron goddess. Here where I live, where everything started...

Thank-you for the chance to talk with you and all your fans. We invite you to visit Athens - that wonderful and historic place! For your fans we offer you a gift, a 20% off coupon to use in our store on ETSY (enter the code: PANOPLY20)https://www.etsy.com/shop/AcropolisGallery. Now you can decorate your house with lovely vases and feel the Greek culture around your place.

Above, some Athena appreciation from The Acropolis Gallery.

A massive thank-you to Anna and Patrick for talking to us about their wonderful work. In other news, Panoply's very own Dr Sonya Nevin will be talking about vase animations and the 'Our Mythical Childhood' project at the University of Reading from 4pm on Thursday 8th May in the Edith Morley building – be there if you can!

Monday, 11 March 2019

The Art of New Ancient Vases.

Like a sonnet, a haiku, or a humble stamp, ancient Greek vases were created within certain constraints of form. Those constraints of shape and colour make the Greek vase a recognisable type which in turn lends itself well to being imitated – in ceramic or illustration. Frequent readers of this blog will know that at Panoply we're big fans of creating new vase scenes on card or clay as part of thinking and learning about antiquity. We've even looked in the past at how the conventions of vase painting have been adapted within Star Wars fan art to create Greek vases from a galaxy far far away. In this post we'll look at a few more examples of modern 'ancient' vases and how people have worked within the constraints of the genre to make their point.

Naturally the way that the red and the black scream 'Greece' makes ancient pottery a great format for illustrators who are addressing Greek themes. This made vase themed cartoons a popular choice when the Greek financial crisis hit the headlines.

Above, 'Grexit Vase' by Sunnerberg Constantin has heroically nude warriors in the classical style fighting back against an onslaught of be-suited modern day bureaucrats. https://www.cartoonmovement.com/p/6347

Above, Sergei Tunin's 'The Greek Divide' uses a similar contrast of classically nude figures resisting the clothed representatives of the modern world – in this case riot police rather than money-men. The crack through the vase acts as an instantly recognisable metaphor for division within society. https://www.cartoonmovement.com/cartoon/638

Above, police force also seems to have been on the mind of Hajo of Studiohajo in creating his 'Greek vase'. Without the presence of antagonists, the focus falls more exclusively on the police, whose heavy protective gear adds to the sense of them as a modern iteration of the ancient soldier. All is not well, however. The gun is smoking and the vase is cracking, the cracks once again expressing stress on our social fabric.

Above, Dave Granlund seems to have a more optimistic approach to the same subject with his work, 'Vase repair job'. The Greek economy vase is damaged, but EU glue is piecing it back together and not a rifle in sight. http://www.davegranlund.com/cartoons/

The format can work for topics beyond Greece of course...
Above, Cleon Peterson, takes a far from optimistic view of the modern world. This is his 2017 work 'Trump', featuring a fiercely tiered and none too harmonious society. Peterson has a penchant for dystopian scenes realised in the stark reds and blacks of vase art (the original of 'Trump' was black and red too). The limited palate, constrained space, and bold figures all add to the power of the image. You can see more of his reimagined Greek vases here: http://www.artnet.com/artists/cleon-peterson/.

This post has been a brief look at some political pots. More new ancient pots in the next post, but this time a promise of some funny ones.

Fancy drawing your own scene? Get stuck in on your own or come and see us at the Iris Project Festival of Natural History, Classics and More, Oxfordshire, 27th March 2019.
Free – and no booking required unless you fancy bringing a school group. http://www.irisproject.org.uk/index.php/resources/14-resources/215-iris-festival-of-natural-history-classics-and-more-27-march-2019

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Happy New Year, vase fans!


2019 promises to be an enjoyable year for vase animation fans. September will see the release of our Mythical Childhood animations in coordination with the opening of the new antiquities galleries at the National Museum in Warsaw, where they are due to take a dramatic role amongst the pots. We'll be showing some of them at some events and schools before then, so come and see us if you fancy a sneak peak. And before then, have a quick look here.

Heracles, who you can see above, will be hunting a mythical beast in his adventure. Meanwhile, Dionysus will be looking to kick off some good times:

Here he is looking for some likely helpers...

...and here is a likely looking candidate. We're big fans of this little fawn. (made from Nat. Museum Warsaw 142355 MNW)

You can also look forward to a simply extraordinary animation featuring Sappho and her daydreams about Troy. Big shout-out to Prof Armand D'Angour of the University of Oxford for creating the score for this animation, which recreates the melody of Sappho's own poetry. Pretty rad.

Above, Sappho conjures up tales of long ago.

We'll be bringing you something a bit different with a supercool Iris animation. Get ready to feel a little wonder. And you'll get a glimpse of the gods at home in what will be the final OMC animation to take shape. Watch this space for updates – and more – throughout the year.

Above, storm-footed Iris, bringer of rainbows.

You may recall that we have also been dipping out toes in Roman waters courtesy of involvement in the Locus Ludi project. A fresco from the House of Deer in Herculaneum is the first of our Locus Ludi subjects. Below here you can meet one of the chubby fellows who will be bringing Roman games into the 21st century.

Above, the House of the Deer erotes bring you season's greetings for the New Year.

A big thank-you to all the people and parties who are behind these projects: Prof Katarzyna Marciniak, the University of Warsaw, the National Museum in Warsaw, the University of Roehampton, Prof Veronique Dasen, the University of Fribourg, and the European Research Council. In new news, Steve and I have just been made associates of The Past for the Present research & education programme, and we would like to thank the University of Warsaw again for that honour (cue little bow). Further thank-yous to everyone who came to our workshops and talks last year, everyone who wrote us nice letters, and to all of you for watching.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2019, from Steve & Sonya at the Panoply Vase Animation Project.


Here's to a year of further adventures with ancient pottery!

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Adventures in Switzerland and London: Games and Comic Books

Games and Comics – this post celebrates the fun stuff! Time to fill you in on some recent Panoply adventures. We are not long back from a visit to Switzerland where vase lovers and other scholars had gathered for Good or Bad Games a conference on play that's part of the wider project Locus Ludi: Play and Games in the Cultural Fabric of Classical Antiquity an ERC-backed project exploring the world of games in the classical antiquity (on Twitter at @Locus_Ludi). Locus Ludi is run by Professor Veronique Dasen, a scholar well-known in vase-loving circles and one who has featured on this bog before via her fascinating interview on magic . At the Panoply Vase Animation Project we're busy working on some animations of gaming scenes for Locus Ludi (as well as continuing our work on Our Mythical Childhood ) so it was a great pleasure to explore the project in greater detail and to show off a little of what we've been doing.

Games were played throughout antiquity, by children and adults, for education and recreation, with good outcomes and bad. Good or Bad Games brought together scholars from a range of disciplines to think about play and games – what roles they had in antiquity and now.

Above, Hanna Ammar gets to grips with scenes of play on pottery.

Hanna Ammar (Fribourg) examined images of children playing found on ancient Greek vases. These pots present a variety of play, including young children with rattles, rollers, balls, and animals, and older children playing knucklebone games and piggy-back games. Silvana Dayan (Fribourg) spoke about images of mythical childhood, drawing on her doctoral project on the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren in classical antiquity. She discussed the idea that future mythical heroes are rarely depicted doing normal childhood things (like playing), as they are already being represented with regard to their adult persona. An unusual exception to this trend (which can just about be seen in the photo below) is a sensitive image of Perseus as a child, holding out a ball as he is shut into a box by his grandfather (not a recommended form of grandparent-grandchild interaction!).

Above, Silvana Dayan on a rare scene featuring the young Perseus with a ball, from an Athenian calix-krater, St. Petersburg Hermitage Museum, 637.

There was also talk of applied gaming in the modern world. Francesca Berti (Tuebingen) advocated the use of traditional toys and games in schools to boost development and to bridge cross-generational/cross-cultural boundaries. Traditional toys, such as spinning tops, blocks, cup-and-ball, skittles have a haptic quality that is perfect for people who are learning to understand the physical world; encouraging children to ask adults they trust, "did you ever make a toy?" is a great route into shared play and conversation. The touchable, haptic elements of play were also stressed in Thierry Collaud's (Fribourg) presentation on play therapy for those with Alzheimer's disease. While computer games (including VR) have growing use and benefits in the care and entertainment of the elderly, those living with Alzheimer's benefit rather from play based on touch – such as building blocks, pick-up-sticks, and percussion instruments. This form of play helps them with the challenge of maintaining a sense of the difference between what is in their heads and what is happening in the physical world beyond. Play is good for all of us, but some forms suit some situations better than others.
Above, Francesca Berti makes a case for the particular strengths of traditional toys.

Our contribution to Locus Ludi is to create animations of ancient scenes depicting play. They will be informed by Professor Dasen's research into play and games, with the animations demonstrating how games were played and drawing out some of their wider social significances. The first piece we're creating is an exciting departure from our normal adventures with vases – we are animating a Roman fresco! The fresco comes from the House of the Deer in Herculaneum. It depicts three erotes (winged children) playing a hide-and-seek style game. The animation will show them playing the different forms of this game described by Roman author Pollux: Myinda, a sort of Blind Man's Buff; Apodiraskinda, a game with many names in English (such as PomPom 40, FortyForty, and 1,2,3, In!) in which players hide and then return to a base; and Chalke Muia, a chasing game where players pursue the odd one out with strips of papyrus. You'll be able to watch all three of these games being played as the fresco moves and decide which one you think fits best. The other animations that we'll make for Locus Ludi will be made from Greek vases, and naturally the presentation also included discussion of the creative activities that can be done with vases and vase animations. You can see videos of many of the Good or Bad Games talks on Locus Ludi's YouTube channel . We'll keep you posted on our progress on the project and, until then, a big Thank-You to Professor Dasen and her team at the University of Fribourg for a warm welcome and an interesting time.


Above, Sonya in Fribourg talking about the fresco Panoply are animating, and the creative things you can do with artefacts.

I would also like to give a big shout out to the organisers of Drawing on the Past. The Pre-Modern World in Comics (Drs Leen van Broeck ( @leenvanbroek), Zena Kamash, and Katy Soar). This two-day conference in London looked at the many and varied ways in which the pre-modern world is represented in comics and graphic novels. There was fascinating stuff on the Silver Surfer and the Odyssey from Christopher Bishop, Glynnis Fawkes discussed her work adapting the The Homeric Hymns into graphic novels, and my personal favourite was David Anderson's “The Aliens from 2,000 B.C.!” – Or, How Comic Books Have Paved the Way for Pseudoarchaeology". There was a fantastic practical workshop element to the conference too. Zofia Guertin, Kristin Donner and Laura K. Harrison, Karen Pierce, and John Swogger described their work interpreting archaeological excavations in comic form, with Drs Pierce and Swogger helping us to get creative and give drawing a go. My presentation introduced the Our Mythical Childhood survey database, which is an excellent resource for exploring the way antiquity is represented in comics, graphic novels, and illustrated works. I even made this lovely poster as an example – it's based on my database entry for the graphic novel Marathon. Short videos of the talks are available on the conference website: https://drawingonthepast.wordpress.com/digital-archive/ and highly recommended.

Above, Sonya's Drawing on the Past poster, based on her entry in the Our Mythical Childhood database of antiquity in children's culture (which you can read here: http://www.omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/myth-survey/item/335 ).

Above, Minimus considers the Battle of Marathon! Minimus author Helen Forte was at Drawing on the Past and created unique Minimus pics of each talk - you can see all of them through the link to the conference videos above.

Above, Sonya weighs up some happy book choices from Caroline Lawrence, supercool author of fiction set in antiquity, who joined in at the conference.

What's your favourite comic featuring antiquity?

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Antiquity-Camera-Action! An Interview with Teen Animator of Myth, Gabi Bania

(left) Sonya Nevin of Panoply, (right) with Gabi Bania.

Earlier this year, Steve and I at Panoply had the pleasure of acting as jurors on the Our Mythical Childhood-led schools competition, Antiquity-Camera-Action! This was a national competition held across Poland in which teens (15-18) were challenged to create a video (4 mins or less) about classical myth. At the Panoply Vase Animation Project we appreciate animation, so we're delighted to bring you an exclusive interview with finalist, Gabi Bania, of Liceum Filmowe (Movie High School), whose impressive animation, Arachne. Not a Spider Story won 2nd place in the competition. Check out this beautiful mythical animation here. A new round of the competition has just opened – you'll find details at the end of the interview.


Above, 'Arachne. Not a Spider Story' by Gabi Bania

1) What did you want to communicate through this animation?
Firstly I wanted to show that Greek mythology consists of such brilliant stories that, even now, after thousands of years, we can find fresh valuable messages and revealing lessons in them. I hope that my movie will encourage other people to rediscover these well-known myths and see them as something more than cruel and unreal stories as they are often perceived.
Secondly I choose the Arachne myth because I consider this story to be unique and very different from others. And besides, the myth of Arachne is little known in Poland; the name 'Arachne' is mainly associated with arachnophobia or with pop culture, where this character functions as a simple, Halloween symbol of fear or disgust. However, the story of Arachne conveys deep values that can help young people to perceive the world in a different way. It's a great story which can be adapted to draw our attention to some of the most common and serious problems of today’s world, like hate and over-competitiveness.

Above, Athena, from Gabi's 'Arachne. Not a Spider Story'.

2) Tell us a bit about how you made it.
When I got to know about the contest and chose the Arachne myth I started to think about the style of my movie. In the beginning I was considering stop motion animation, which I've worked with before, but then I decided to take up a challenge and create a 2D computer animation. I have always dreamt about making movies with this technique but had never done it before and actually the contest “Antiquity-Camera-Action!” motivated me to start this new adventure. Greek mythology, which is my passion, was also a great motivator towards creating the movie.
To create a movie in 2D computer animation for a beginner means spending hundreds of hours in front of the computer. Learning new programmes, drawing (all by my computer mouse), voice acting, music creating, editing and so on took me more than two months of devotion towards it – all in addition to my normal school work.
The thing that kept me on going was my deep love of Greek mythology and my desire to take a step in fulfilling my life's ambition to become a director of animated movies.

3) What do you like to read or watch to get your ancient world fix?
Over the years I've read many books on Greek and other mythologies, beginning with simple stories for children and going into more professional, more detailed texts about ancient life and beliefs. The one I like best is The Greek Myths by Robert Graves. He described everything in great detail.

4) Do you study any aspect of the ancient world at school?
Yes, I do. We study ancient culture and history during our school subjects such as: History of Art, Knowledge of Culture, and World History. We read many ancient texts during Polish language lessons too. As a student of a “Movie High School” I also had a basic course on writing plays and scripts according to ancient authors. Moreover I learn Latin language and rhetoric.

Above, the Athena prize presented at the University of Warsaw.

5) What do you think young people gain from finding out about classical antiquity?
Classical antiquity is one of the pillars of the Western culture and without it we wouldn’t be able to understand the time that we live in. In ancient stories we find not only the truth about ourselves but we also learn from other people’s experience on how to live.
Reading ancient texts enables us to notice connections between many aspects of culture, such as literature, art, music, theatre, cinema, etc. It helps us to see a bigger picture and to know the way to a source of constant inspiration.

6) Who's your favourite ancient Greek?
My favourite mythological character is the goddess Hekate, one of the most mysterious figures in the Greek mythology. She was considered to be the goddess of many things but especially of darkness, witches and magic. In ancient times, she was sometimes perceived to be a good and helpful character but as a creature of the Underworld she was also associated with evil powers, demons, and monsters.
She does not have her own myth, but she plays a positive role in a story of Demeter’s lost daughter. What is important about Hekate is that, unlike many other goddesses, she seems to be always just and wise.
Although Hekate is not a well-described character, everything that we know about her makes her really unique. I find this character very inspiring and I always look forward to finding her in other works of culture. For example we can meet her in William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” (see esp. Act III. Scene 5).
Because her person is not defined in detail, we can wonder about her and make her an interesting character of a book or film. I am thinking of making Hekate a main character of one of my works one day.


Many thanks to Gabi to talking to us! And congratulations to her again on a great achievement in the competition. In breaking news, Gabi's latest film, "The Mystery of the Moonflower" has been nominated at the international festival, "Screen & Sound Fest 2018. Let's see the music!" in the Animation category. It features an original story with influences from Slavic mythology and Polish legends. You can see it (and vote for it!) here:
https://www.screenandsound.pl/voting/action/show/id/61

You may also enjoy other prize-winning entries to
Antiquity-Camera-Action! 2018. Even if your Polish isn’t up to much, you can still follow what's going on:


Above, Tantalos .

Above, Pygmalion and Galataea.

If you or anyone you know is aged 15-19 in Poland, you'll be pleased to hear that entries for Antiquity-Camera-Action! 2019 are now open. Go to https://antykkameraakcja.wordpress.com/regulamin/ for details.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The Past Meets the Present: Further Adventures in Warsaw


Kabooom! Good news, ancient world lovers! Your hosts at Panoply, Steve Simons and Dr Sonya Nevin, are recently returned from Warsaw where we witnessed the launch of the Our Mythical Childhood Survey database. This database will prove a big deal for anybody interested in classical reception, and/or children's literature and culture. The OMC Survey is a goldmine (or should I say toy-shop?) of items of young people's culture which feature classical antiquity. There is a lot on children's literature, but also games, toys, oral traditions and more. Each entry features the publication or creation details of the item, a summary, and an analysis of the item's use and representation of the ancient world. So search 'Odysseus', for example, to bring up all the books or young people's TV programmes featuring Odysseus, or search 'Ariadne', to explore all the many ways that heroine has been represented in material for young people. Some entries are for obviously classical items, such as the one I wrote for Tom Kindley's Heroes of the Night Sky. The Greek Myths Behind the Constellations, while others are for items with more subtle classical components, such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Each entry is written by someone with specialist knowledge and then double peer-reviewed, meaning they've been well-checked to keep the standard high. The database is free to use and more entries are being added all the time. Try exploring it yourself:

http://www.omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/myth-survey


The database was launched at a meeting of the Our Mythical Childhood project at the University of Warsaw. Frequent readers of this blog will know that at Panoply we're busy making five new vase animations for Mythical Childhood. We gave a sneak peek presentation on the progress of three of the animations: Sappho 44. Hector and Andromache. A Wedding at Troy; Heracles and the Erymanthian Boar; and Iris – Rainbow Goddess. You'll be pleased to hear that they went down very well and we're really looking forward to showing you them in due course. We also made a visit to the National Museum of Poland in Warsaw, home of the vases we're animating. The renovation of the antiquities galleries is coming along well and will be well worth a trip to see come the grand reopening in Sept 2019.
Above, Panoply's animator, Steve, heading cheerily into the National Museum in Warsaw.


Above, Scenes from Sonya's presentation at the National Museum in Warsaw.

Another great delight of the trip was the awards ceremony for Antiquity-Camera-Action, a young people's antiquity-themed film competition held across Poland. Steve and I were proud to have been jurors on this competition and honoured to meet the talented young people who created some really impressive material. More on that in our next post.

Above, as well as winning a stack of books, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in Antiquity-Camera-Action won laurel wreaths and Athena-Oscars!

The Mythical Childhood meeting also featured a wealth of presentations and workshops. I'll say more about it when I have a few more pictures. Suffice to say, thank-you to everyone who took part in the Panoply pottery and vase drawing workshop – great work all round. A shout out also to Roehampton's Helen Slaney and Susan Deacy for tremendous workshops on ancient dance and autism respectively. It was also a great pleasure to hear from University of Yaounde 1's Eleanor Dasi on myth and female cults in Cameroon, and Kunnej Takaahaj's presentation on Chyskhaan – the Lord of extreme cold who is experiencing a mythical renaissance in Siberia. Doctoral candidates and post-docs from the Faculty of Artes Liberales at the University of Warsaw presented aspects of their research, including Anna Mik who shared her fascinating work on animals and other beasties in children's literature.


Above, some delightful material from the vase workshop; and Eleanor Dasi explaining female cults.... and lastly, since this is a vase appreciation site, a couple of shots of some top house decoration in Warsaw's Old Town...

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Greek Myth Comix! A Panoply Interview with Laura Jenkinson.

Earlier this year, Panoply were delighted to participate in the Iris Project's Festival of Imagined Worlds. While we were there, spreading the joys of vase animation, we were very pleased to meet L.E Jenkinson (aka Laura Jenkinson, aka Jenks), author and illustrator of the wonderful Greek Myth Comix (http://greekmythcomix.com/) and an experienced teacher of Classics at Churcher’s College in Hampshire (UK). Now we're pleased to share an interview with Jenks giving the low-down on her comics revolution...

1) The Greek Myth Comix stick-figure style is a real pleasure to look at. How did the style develop?
Thank you! Well I’ve always enjoyed stick-men and would draw huge stick-figure battles as a kid. I really like the simplicity of stick men. You can get a lot of physical expression out of a simple assortment of lines. They’re also really quick to draw. I thought about trying to add faces, but it’s been done, and I hate it when someone puts a face to a character; we all already have our own imagined versions.

Since children love details, especially when they can recognise something or an image references something they know, I compromise: I fill my comics with details that call back to Greek black or red-figure pot artwork or traditional costume, or even cheeky references to modern pop culture. I keep the bodies simple and leave faces blank, save for an occasional eyebrow or other indicator of emotion, so the reader’s imagination still has an important role. I’ve started going back over older comics recently and noticing how my style has actually developed quite a bit and become a bit more…complicated. For my next project, continuing the life of Heracles, I’m going to go back to that much more simplistic and symbolic style.

Above: The original angry baby – from the Greek Myth Comix Heracles.

2) What drew you to classical antiquity?
I'm honestly not sure. I’ve been interested in the period since I was small. I grew up in London and my parents took me to museums repeatedly. I remember always wanting to get mythology books out of the library. I have at least one photo of me dressed as a Roman! My state school was able to offer Latin as an extra-curricular subject, and then I discovered that Classical Civilisation was an A-Level option. I kept following that road through to University, where I was able to take some classical literature modules, and then on to my first teaching job. I’ve always viewed it as more of a hobby than a job because I enjoy it so much!

3) What challenges do you face in selecting, representing, or adapting particular myths or stories?
It’s more a case of what to leave out of the myths – I do a lot of research and there are often several versions of each myth, the most popular version and then alternatives. It’s difficult to leave details out, but I’d probably end up making each comic about three times longer to accommodate all the possible versions of every story.

Above: Name that scene.... a scene from Greek Myth Comix mixing visualisation and a useful study point.

4) Your figures and scenes often have a relationship with ancient vase scenes. Could you tell us a little about how that works?
In my original comics I started using vases and pottery as image references, sneaking them in so my classes might recognise them and make connections, as well as using them as models for furniture, clothing, and weaponry. For the Odyssey comics, some of the most famous episodes of the poem are illustrated on pottery (most of which can be seen at the British Museum, my favourite), so of course I had to take inspiration from those. Most recently, in an effort to educate my class on types of pottery, I made a colouring book featuring one piece of pottery for each of the Olympian gods, which I copied freehand. It was difficult to choose just one piece for each! Vases are excellent learning tools: the limited colours and techniques used make it easier to focus on just what is being portrayed, and the figures, details painted on with just a few well-chosen sweeps of a brush, are practically comic art themselves.

Above: The vase-tastic Greek Myth Comix colouring book.

5) Do you have any top tips for how to include the comics in teaching?
Each different type of comic can be used quite simply in class as handouts, such as the ones on the literary features of Epic poetry and tragedy, which students can then keep as an aid to memory. The longer myth posters are rather fun for decorating the classroom and then referring to when the characters involved come up in lessons. And, of course, the Odyssey comics are intended as a revision guide: I go through each book with my class, asking them to remember the next event before looking at the comic to help them, and then they read the comic and make notes in bullet-point form that they can go back and compare to their notes in their textbooks. It gets them to actually re-read the text several times and they can visually recall important details from the comics that they might miss out when just reading the text.

I really like hearing from teachers on Twitter about how they’ve used different comics! Lots have used the pages from the Olympians colouring book as sheets to introduce each god, and a ‘build your own Gladiator’ sheet to, well, make their own Gladiators! Some teachers put the finished student work through an animation programme where the students could add their own voices and details of the characters they were animating. My real favourite is when the students draw their own comics. Using stick figures reduces the pressure that some of them feel to draw ‘well’ as anyone can do them and they’re immensely satisfying!

Above: An excerpt from the Greek Myth Comix Odyssey.

6) How did you get into teaching? What advice do you have for people thinking of going down that route?
I was actually initially resolute that I’d never become a teacher because I kept being told by friends and teachers that I’d be really good at it, and that somehow put me off. I worked as a bookseller in Oxford for several years before I gave in and did a PGCE. I’m actually trained as an English teacher, however, I got really lucky and found a job teaching English with Latin and Classics which has been absolutely life-changing. I mostly have Classical Literature experience rather than Ancient History, so I’m partially self-taught which has been incredible fun! My best advice to prospective teachers is always to go off and do something else first. You can’t expect to educate others if you haven’t lived a little first. If you can even get work within the subject area you’d like to teach then that’s even better, but just get out there and do something. It will also make you more certain that teaching’s where you want to be, and you don’t want to be mistaken about that.

Above: Theseus – "total jerk" – from an activity sheet produced via collaboration between Greek Myth Comix and the Cambridge School Classics Project .

7) Who's your favourite ancient Greek?
Cripes, this is so difficult! I’m a literature geek, so I immediately go for fictional characters. It’s almost easier to say who I don’t like – for example, Theseus is a total jerk, and Paris is a truly dreadful person. I have a lot of sympathy for Achilles. He’s so emotionally complex. He’s locked into a culture of shame during an epic war, with all eyes on him and his reputation, and cursed with the knowledge that this is all he can expect from his short life. He really makes a mess of things. He’s one of the first tragic heroes. And, there’s never been a film interpretation that fully does him justice, despite his story and reputation having lasted for 3000-odd years. From history, my favourite Greeks are probably the Berlin Painter and Exekias , pottery painters who have inspired me so much. They are the unsung heroes of Classical Civilisation.

Thanks very much to Laura for some wonderful insights into the world of the Greek Myth Comix. If you'd like to see more, check out the website at: http://greekmythcomix.com/ - there's a huge amount of open-access (free) and purchasable material – including the comics, posters, and the colouring book. You can also follow on Twitter at: @GreekMythComix. Stick figures are great for storyboarding with vases too – enjoy getting creative!