Tag Archives: Tom Sneigoski

Progress and Decay, Ravens and Druids

The Throng, by Tom Brown, for The Raven’s Child.

We tell all kinds of stories about the shape of human history, but without a doubt its the progress and decay narratives that dominate. Back when I was working on Druidry and the Ancestors, I included a chapter about these kinds of stories, but at that point I was still seeing the progress and decay narratives as two distinct things. (The chapter still stands, this is a development, not a rethink)

My current working theory is that they are inter-related; aspects of the same underlying experiences. The more complex our civilization (progress) the more remote we feel from nature (decay) the more liberal we are (progress) the more decadent we are (decay) etc. Which story you see depends entirely on whether you see things as getting better or worse as a consequence. For many, technology is all about progress, for others, it’s the decay of the environment.

It’s an incredibly binary way of thinking, that doesn’t reveal itself as such if you’ve signed up for one side or the other.

Tom Sneignoski’s story of The Raven’s Child is an interesting depiction of the decay/progress dynamic. The monstrous Throng are a culture of great power, able to conquer new worlds and dazzle victims with biological and technological advances. Even within that culture there are voices of resentment, who see The Throng as having fallen into decadence and lost their direction. Those who believe in the decay narrative will work from within to change or even destroy what they have a problem with. Sometimes that can be right – I think it is around the Green movement. Sometimes it has you beheading academics who know that your God wasn’t the first one on the scene.

The Raven’s Child isn’t just about monstery progress and decay issues. The humans in the story are living in the ruins of their former civilization. They are degraded. They are what we fear happens when we fall from grace, fall from progress. To overcome their situation, they need a new kind of progress, on new terms. Because we see both sides of the progress and decay narrative in this story, we also get to see its limitations, and its binary nature. Both are going on at once, in a vast web of things that improve and things that get worse, with what goes where depending on how you view it.

When we obsess about making things better, we can start to get ideas that some things are expendable in the name of progress. Some lives, some landscapes, some species can be sacrificed for the great push forward, and this willingness to pay unreasonable prices for the idea of progress is, I think, what creates the decay scenarios as a side effect. It’s not progress that’s the problem, it’s progress at any cost. It’s progress that pays no heed to who it crushes or what it destroys. This set up in turn creates the impression that only the brutal destruction of the progress-civilization (as with the humans in Raven’s Child) can set things right again. Of course it doesn’t, it just kickstarts new cycles.

Better considerations of the real costs of our often imaginary progress, might be the better outcome.

Assisting the artist

This week, The Raven’s Child comes out. It’s a graphic novel written by New York Times best selling author Thomas Sneigoski, and illustrated by my other half, the adorable and very talented Tom Brown.

It’s proof that myspace wasn’t a total waste of time – thanks to the more famous Tom spotting the art of the arty Tom back in the days of myspace, this has happened.

I’ve included some art here from the development stage.

It’s about 200 pages of graphic novel, and those 200 pages were planned, drawn and toned last year, which meant that my Tom was working most days, and for long hours. I did what I could to take care of him.

One of the things I contributed, was shading. Large areas of straightforward black can be slow, dull things to put on paper, and ‘make that bit really dark’ is an instruction I can follow. On my more ambitious days, I shaded raven feathers and did the lines on the rattan armour.

What rattan armour is this, I hear you cry? Well, it’s in the book, and if you look for the slightly less good bits, those will be mine. I did A Level art a long time ago, barely scraping a pass. I’ve dabbled since. I have neither the skill nor the discipline to be a serious artist. It can be fun to dabble. What it isn’t fun to do is spending hours and hours shading things in very dark. (Watch out for the eye sockets in the skulls, I did the insides of those.) On the whole, Tom did far more of the less than entirely exciting shading bits than I did.

It’s an odd thing to look at a book and know it’s pretty much a year of someone’s life. The energy that goes into making a graphic novel is huge. The hours, the physical skill, the knowledge. We lived with these characters, with their world. We talked about them in bed. We talked about them when we went out to do the shopping. The number of pages left to go was the measure of our days, shaping every choice we made in the long months Tom was working on this. If a page was easy to draw, it might mean a few hours off, a rare chance to go out, or just curl up and rest.

I also did some modeling, getting into assorted poses so Tom could figure out what went where. I was the test reader (the resident idiot) on a lot of trickier panels. I’m not very visually literate, and some of the pages have to be pretty intense in terms of what happens. Whether I could make sense of what was on the page was often the measure.

It was a journey. It was the year of The Raven’s Child. Nothing will ever be quite like that again. Early reviews have suggested it’s the new Buffy, and this cheers us greatly. There are ideas in this story we’d really like to see out there, getting people thinking.

More here: http://www.sniegoski.com/ravenschild.html