Sunday, July 29, 2012

Calogrenant, Week 3

"So ever the king had a custom that at the feast of Pentecost in especial, afore other feasts in the year, he would not go that day to meat until he had heard or seen of a great marvel. And for that custom all manner of strange adventures came before Arthur as at that feast before all other feasts..." 
Sir Thomas Malory - Le Morte d'Arthur Book 7

"Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government." 
Dennis the Peasant

From the time I first read Malory in high school, I wondered how Arthur ever got anything done. Sitting around waiting for a wonder isn't all that conducive to setting policy, keeping the roads clear between Londinium and Eboracum, or making sure the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes aren't prematurely importing their verbiage. (More about that on a subsequent post. Sufficeth to say that when Myrddyn says to speak in plain English, it's a bit of an anachronism. Of course anachronism is a major part of the Arthurian stories. More later, like I said.) It is, however, a convenient device for beginning a tale, not too distant from "Once upon a time.." Not all of the stories of Arthur's knights begin this way. The Arthurian romances are the descendants of Celtic tales, and many of them still have a distinct Celtic flavor. The hero pursues an animal (often a white one) into a world of enchantment and there finds adventure. Generally, in the Celtic stories, the hero isn't necessarily looking for adventure. Our knights are though - and Calogrenant certainly is.

Pentacost, by the way, is the fiftieth day after Easter, marking descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Twelve Apostles, as described in Acts 2:1–31.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Back to the Source

I don't think I've ever worked so single-mindedly on one project in my life. I've been drawing for hours every day for the past month and a half. I've certainly discovered my limitations as an artist, but I see this as a chance to learn as I go.

Why this story, though?  The Arthurian legend goes back quite far in my life. I remember when I was five years old, a local television station ran The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, a half-hour adventure show from the UK, right after The Mickey Mouse Club. I'm sure I had no idea what was going on in the show, other than the fact that there were knights. (A bit of confusion then: I also watched The Adventures of Robin Hood, and I couldn't seem to get around the fact that in Sir Lancelot the good guys wore armor and in Robin Hood the bad guys did.) What really connected me with the Arthurian stories, though, was when I played in a high school production of Camelot. That may seem rather mundane, but for me it was a watershed. It was my first experience with theatre, and it was my first real connection with the actual story of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. Obsessive that I am, I memorized the entire play and then read T.H. White's The Once and Future King, and then Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. Four decades and many other books later, this legend is the taproot of who I am. My love of literature, history, myth, comparative religion, fantasy, theatre, storytelling, and Monty Python all revert back to the cycle of stories which revolve around this figure, the very nature of whose existence is murky at best. As I get further into this project, I look forward to portraying characters whom I've known for most of my life. In that respect, it's not unlike attending a high school reunion. (Truth be told, being the socially awkward nerd that I was, I know these characters better and have kept better contact with them than I have with my actual classmates.)

I suppose it's no surprise, then, that the first character we meet is my oldest friend. I have always been beguiled by Merlin (or Merlyn, as T.H. White spelled it, or Myrddyn in the Welsh as his name appears in Calogrenant). I'm certainly not the only one who feels this way. Merlin seems to have been second only to Arthur in general interest almost from the beginning. The 12th century Welsh cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth, who in his Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of British Kings) wrote the first full history of Arthur, also made a star of Arthur's mystical advisor. Geoffrey imported Merlin from a couple of generations later, and incorporated at least two if not three Celtic bards/seers/madmen into the character. Merlin was such a hit with readers that Geoffrey composed The Life of Merlin as a follow-up, and the mage has been an integral character in the Arthurian cycle ever since.

In the medieval stories, Merlin was dark and mysterious - a figure of awe - not that he isn't still. But T.H. White created a different Merlyn than Geoffrey's or Malory's. There was, I believe, much of White himself in his seer: a stodgy, cluttered academic who lives backward in time. His Merlyn was a guide for us into the middle ages, someone with our knowledge who has gone back to that age and observes with our eyes and attempts to bring to a violent age a sense of civilizing order. There is sad irony here, since during the writing of the books which comprise his Arthuriad, White lived through and was horrified by the bestiality of the Second World War. His book ends with Merlyn long gone and Arthur's idealistic experiment in ruins, at war with his best friend. What, I wonder, would Merlyn (or White) think of our world today, in which ideologues, devoid of their idealism, do their damnedest to destroy each other without bothering to discover who, exactly each other are. But to come back from the tangent, Myrddyn in my comic owes much to T.H. White, but just as much to J.R.R. Tolkien, Dr. Who, three quarters of my professors from college, and just about every presenter of B.B.C. documentary series, from Kenneth Clarke to the present. He's becoming in my mind an amalgam of just about everyone I've ever really wanted to have lunch with.

Speaking of the B.B.C., here's a link to one of the best reasons for state-sponsored media I've ever come across. My discovery of In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg is one of the true perks of having the Internet. Once a week, he sits down with a few academics and discusses... whatever. This past week it was Hadrian's Wall. The week before that it was skepticism.  Forty-odd minutes a week of unashamed and glorious pedantry! So here's a discussion of Merlin from a few years ago. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Calogrenant Begins

Calogrenant begins with two pages, starting next week there will be only one page per week. Simply click on the images to enlarge.

A few notes:

First I would like to thank Dr. Helen Nicholson of Cardiff University, whose excerpt from the Arthurian romance Claris et Laris served as the inspiration for this web comic. I'm pleased to say that I have Dr. Nicholson's blessing for this endeavor, and I'm very happy to have made a friend. As long as I'm thanking people, I'd also like to thank Rob Seutter, aka True Thomas, who has frequently asked my services (on the promise of numerous steak dinners) for posters for the Society of Creative Anachronisms, thus inculcating in me the delusion that I can actually draw. And I'd further like to thank Henry Mayo for his inspiration and support and for creating the Free Art School group in Facebook and Michael Gross who has been inspiring and mentoring me (unbeknownst to him) since 1972 and who recently told me a very simple but powerful truth: "You've got to draw every day." In truth I could fill several pages with the names of people who have supported and inspired me, so I will simply say, "Thank you one and all."

I hope you enjoy this story it's been rattling inside my brain, demanding to be told, and now we've made a start.

By the way, if the elderly gentleman's name seems to have been misspelled, it has not. Calogrenant is using the Welsh variant of his name. More about that in a few weeks.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I'm back. And I've got an announcement. Starting Monday, July 16, Mythcongeniality will host a webcomic. It will be called "Calogrenant" and it's the story of one of King Arthur's knights who... No, I won't comment on it yet. Come back Monday and every Monday thereafter and follow Calogrenant's adventures. Being who I am, I'll also give a running commentary on each installment. I'm excited!!!