Sunday, November 8, 2020

Monthly Matinee November: Fiction Relationship Analysis: Disney's Cinderella

Fiction Relationship Analysis: Disney's Cinderella

by: Melissa Koons

All images are copyright to Disney and their property

"Cinderella" is a classic fairy tale. Nearly every culture across time and the globe has a version of the story as modified for their own culture. The original story emerged in China, 850 B.C.E. This explains why feet are so prominent, as foot-binding was a common practice amongst women during this time in Chinese culture. The smaller a woman's feet were, the more attractive she was. Part of this is because a woman with small feet were often wealthier; the act of foot-binding was so painful and destructive that they were unable to do many physical activities which showed their elevated status and ability to afford servants who would do the work for them.
While feet are a key aspect of the "Cinderella" fairy tale, there are more vital commonalities that transcend culture and are prevalent in EVERY version and retelling regardless of culture or era. The most prevalent commonalities are the notions that kindness and valor will prevail over deceit and hardships and that those who possess and express these qualities will be rewarded.
The Disney retelling of "Cinderella" is no exception. Cinderella is a kind, young woman who endures the mistreatment and downright abuse of her stepmother and stepsisters with unwavering patience and hope. This is where many misinterpretations are applied. While it is important to apply a modern and progressive lens to art and its representation of society, it's also important to compare it to the initial value and message that is being taught. There are better ways to make a point, of course, but there is a reason "Cinderella" is a story that has traveled so far and across time and culture.

Misinterpretation 1: "Cinderella" is promoting taking a passive approach to abuse

While this claim can be made, when you look at the story I argue that this is a misinterpretation and only a surface judgment. Specifically focusing on Disney's animated film (disregarding "Ever After" and the live-action for the purposes of conciseness,) Cinderella wasn't passive at all. She did her chores and tried to have a positive outlook on a bleak situation, but did never acknowledged that her treatment was "okay" or "normal."
She noticed that her stepsisters were favored and that she was treated poorly, she never defended how they treated her. She never made excuses for them and their behavior. She knew it was wrong, but she was a kinder, stronger person and chose not to retaliate with the same mistreatment and negativity. It would solve nothing and she knew it was wrong to do so. So, she did what she had to do given her situation: endure. She was not in a position where she could reasonably escape her abusers, but that should not be confused with being passive. Bear in mind, it was made very clear that she had no other family and no other prospects. A young woman on her own in the time era that this story is told had few opportunities to support and provide for herself. Fleeing her step-family and being on her own would not have been an upgrade to her situation. It actually would have been a lot worse so she made do with the lesser of bad options.

While she endured, she also defended herself and spoke up when it was important. When her stepsisters accused her of a prank by putting Gus in one of their tea cups, she tried to defend herself to her stepmother but wouldn't be heard. She attempted multiple explanations, only to be cut off each time. She didn't admit to something she didn't do, but she also didn't continue to fight a futile battle.

When it came time for the ball, she requested to go. It was important to her and she made it happen, circumventing the obstacles her family put in place to deny her the opportunity. Her hope and work ethic got her through it. She didn't resort to petty arguments that would get her nothing, instead she relied on her skills, integrity, and friends to accomplish what seemed impossible. If she were passive, she never would have requested to go let alone rose to the impossible challenge her stepmother issued her so that she could prove her worth and dignity. When her sisters destroyed her gown, she wasn't passive and didn't just stand there and let it happen. She tried to get away but they blocked her on both sides and she couldn't. She also was visibly upset with her stepmother, understanding it was she who manipulated her stepsisters to attack. Cinderella, again, didn't excuse the behavior nor was she "okay" with it. She fled to her safe place and wept.,h_300,al_c,q_5/file.gif

When her stepmother locked her in her room, she tried to get out. She banged on the door, she begged, she tried to pry it open. She didn't just sit there and allow herself to be locked away. When the duke and prince arrived with the shoe, Cinderella worked with the mice to get herself out of that room. Did she just allow her stepmother to make excuses and tell the duke there was no one else in the house? No! She ran down those stairs and made a point of letting them know she was there, she existed, and darn it she was getting out. Here was her opportunity, at long last, to escape her abuse and she took it! Even when her stepmother broke the glass slipper, she pulled out the second one. Boom! She wasn't about to let a little broken glass get in the way of getting out of that house. Nope. She was defiant of her stepmother when it mattered most and would result in her escape from her step-family's abusive household.

Boom, bitch.
Cinderella constantly fought her situation, but she picked her battles wisely and didn't fight with aggression or anger. Her kindness, patience, and good-natured behavior may appear like a passive approach to her abuse, but it is far from it. Instead, her actions and reactions only support that she is kind and honorable with integrity and a strong moral and ethical code which are all the traits that every version of the story told anywhere highlights.

Misinterpretation 2: "Cinderella" promotes the damsel in distress stereotype (and that you can meet a man, dance with him, barely talk, and then marry the guy.)

Yes, many fairy tales promote the idea that you don't need to get to know someone before marrying them but this notion is also a very modern concept. For most of history, marriages were arranged based on building connections and aligning with families who would give you the most benefits in supplies, wealth, and fortitude. "Getting to know" your spouse didn't become a thing until really the 20th century.
That aside, the modern perception of romantic love gets in the way of the actual message. The prince didn't "save" Cinderella—technically, the mice and birds did—he was her reward. It wasn't that she was the damsel in distress, I didn't see the prince run upstairs and free her from her locked room, did you? No. She got herself out of the situation by making friends and connections whom she could rely on. On top of that, she saved herself by providing the other slipper and proving she was the woman he was seeking. In your face step-family! (Again, another example of her not being passive.)

Just stand there and look pretty, Princey

The whole moral of the story is that kindness and valor will be rewarded. Marrying a prince, moving into a castle where she will want for nothing, and never have to endure the abuse or hardships of strenuous labor again are her rewards for sticking it out and overcoming her situation without compromising those qualities. Really, the prince is an object. That's part of the reason why he doesn't have a name. It doesn’t matter; he as a person is inconsequential, what he represents is what is more important to the story and he represents positive affection and security.

Misinterpretation 3: Outer beauty is what matters

Obviously, Disney has done a lot over the recent decades to try and create female characters who are more than their appearance and whose physical beauty is rarely even acknowledged let alone a factor in their story (Mulan, Moana, Brave, etc.) However, Cinderella was created in the 1950's and the feminist movements of the 70's, 90's, and 2010's hadn't happened yet. Due to the culture and time period it was created in, yes, there is a bit more focus on her beauty and poise being what attracts the prince. This was later rectified in films with longer run times such as "Ever After" and Disney's live-action version.
That said, even in the animated film that was never really the point. In the original fairy tale it was a consistent theme that she was beautiful and her evil stepsisters would make her sleep in the fireplace, getting covered with cinder ash, to minimize her beauty. Once she was freed of their grasp, and with her fairy godmother's help, her true beauty could shine through and she no longer had to hide who she was because of her abusers. Looking at it through this context, her outer beauty is a mere reflection of her inner beauty and it is that which attracts the prince because—remember?—he's her reward for being a kind, good-natured person.,h_300,al_c,q_5/file.gif
Everyone knows a little glitter fixes years of abuse and neglect

When working with a visual, animated format in the 1950's it was difficult to translate "he's attracted to her inner beauty because she's such a wonderful person" with a glance and a 74 minute run-time. As mentioned earlier, Disney figured out how to fix that issue with the live-action version where they allowed the prince and Cinderella to have a few on-screen conversations to get to know each other. It's important to mention that the culture of the 1950's was much less "in your face" about these interactions and messages as our culture is today. In the 50's, courtship and romance was meant to be discrete and portrayed as a subtle smile, a dance, a lingering gaze—not as we expect to see it now through witty banter, conversation, and some passionate shouting. But, considering the prince is simply an object of her reward, it doesn't really matter if he gets to know her in the animated version since that was never the point of his character or presence.

Damn girl, your inner beauty
 and kind demeanor is so attractive
that no one else at the ball can compare
to your kind soul

A lot of Disney's earlier animated princess movies get heavy criticism now that our culture has changed our expectations and demands for female characters and representation (which is super awesome and I love the new direction Disney is going with their princess films and how they are adding more substance to their earlier ones in the live-action remakes to address some of the earlier issues with characterization and plot) but not all of it is deserving. When you consider the source material and the lesson that was meant to be gained from the fairy tale, Disney actually stuck to it pretty well. The issue is when the audience loses sight of the actual message and lesson and begins to only identify the differences between their expectations now vs what was acceptable in the 1950's.
The point of Cinderella is to be a kind person and to not allow external hardships compromise your inner integrity. When the viewer remembers this, Cinderella is actually an excellent role model for everyone. She knows she is being mistreated but she endures it the best she can while she has to, not allowing it to make her angry or bitter or hurtful toward others, and the moment she gets her chance to better her life and situation she takes it. She fights within her means and is eventually rewarded for her good nature, kindness, and endurance.,h_300,al_c,q_5/file.png
If Cinderella were to get a modern update, how do you think her rewards would differ based on modern society's values? Maybe a dashing prince and a palace where she would never have to work again aren't the rewards we seek any more, but the message of the tale still stands and has intrinsic value: be kind, be strong, and don't compromise your integrity because of a negative situation.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Backstage Pass October: Bree Paulson

Psst! Here's Your Backstage Pass. Here, I'll Lift The Curtain 

Come Meet

Bree Paulsen

So Bree, what are your main projects?

Patrik the Vampire &

The money from Patreon helps pay for the drawing.

Other Favorite Hobbies And Obsessions? 

Knitting/crochet, collecting kitschy vampire/Halloween knick knacks, drinking tea.

So, tell me about your early experience. How did you fall in love with telling stories in pictures? 

I’ve always loved visual storytelling, even before I knew it was called visual storytelling. The idea of creating a webcomic excited me a lot after high school, had so many ideas, but nothing held my attention long enough until Patrik came along in college.

I love and want to see more domestic/mundane comedic stories about monsters. Also, I just got fed up with the same-ness of most modern vampire stories.

What media and programs do you work in to produce your project?

I draw and paint everything in Photoshop.

Can you tell me about your typical day or strip-creation session? How does your work process flow from idea to finished page?

I pull up my script, grab the dialogue I need and paste it into the comic page file. I then start roughly sketching/thumbnailing the panels and compositions before refining, inking, and coloring.

The whole process takes 6-12 hours, depending on the complexity of the page.

What’s the most difficult part of your work?

I struggle with anxiety and depression so sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation to work, especially when I am struggling with a page. I usually just have to take a break from it and come back later. The fact that a lot of my readers a patient helps relieve the stress of getting a page done on time. I really appreciate them for that.

Can you tell me about your storytelling process? Do you prefer to script your stories, fly by the seat of your pants, or somewhere in between?

I have 2 big outlines: one is everything from Patrik’s birth to his life in modern day in chronological order, the other is the order of all the chapters/event in the comic. They are both pretty loose with key plot points locked down including the end of the comic. I then write scripts for each individual chapter.

You've done some wonderful research to get your details right in this work. Can you tell us about that? 

I try to be as accurate as I can be. It’s usually specific things I research like what houses and looked like in 13th century Transylvania. What did people wear in that region during that time? How does embalming work? I often have to double check if a word or idiom existed in the late 1920s- early 30s.
If I can manage to finish a page the day before it’s posted, it’s a good day. Usually I’m finishing pages and immediately posting them.

If you could send a note back to yourself when you began working on your skillset, what would you say?

Don’t worry too much, you’re going to make mistakes and want to redo pages but you just gotta learn and move on so that you can keep going and improving.

What message do you hope readers take away from your work?

Life is tough but you’re not alone. Learn to enjoy the simple things like the company of your friends and loved ones. And it’s okay if you mess up, just learn from your mistakes and strive to do better.

What keeps you devoted to telling the story you’re telling?

The readers, the fans, my love for the characters, and…. I really want to get to the end of this story and make everyone cry XD

Thanks for being spooky and awesome, Bree! We love your stuff! 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Monthly Matinee September: Animatics

Good People Of The Crowd, Take Your Seats! Today On The Stage We Have the Prolific Zoe Sugg, With Her Work On The Proper Use of Animaniacs! 

Friends, I’ve fallen deep, DEEP into the wormhole that is the Hamilton fandom.

I’m also aware that I’m four years late to the party.

I’ve always been interested in seeing the musical, but I hadn’t checked out the soundtrack until, on a week-long hiking trip to Havasupai, one of my friends kept referencing the play and eventually sang “Aaron Burr, Sir,” and I was hooked.

No no, wait come back! This isn’t just an excuse for me be Hamiltrash for 500 words, I swear! This is about the Hamilton animatics, and how suddenly I understand things about facial expressions and contrasting-to-direct-attention that I just never managed to absorb before.

Different from Keyframes… But Not Really

If you’ve read any cartooning books or tips online, you’ve no doubt encountered material that talks about “Keyframes,” the drawings that mark the end and beginning of a smooth transition in a piece of animation. In order to break down complex movements, it’s often recommended that cartoonists look at a motion and break it down to its core elements (keyframes) and draw those.

The trouble with this is that, for most cartoonists who’ve been at it a while, comics are ALL keyframes. So, we end up recycling motions. There’s ways to change up camera angle and whatnot to make your image more unique, but it’s sort of hard to select the “best” keyframe to get your idea across, right? Like, take a punch: You have the wind-up, the swing, and the connection. There’s three motions here. Which one(s) do you choose to show? How much time do you spend on each panel, is it short and broken down into lots of small panels, is it two large ones?* Comics are all made of stagnant images, so it’s relatively easy to get the idea of an action to come across… but what about the drama? Animatics helped me figure this out!


Animatics are the bridge between a storyboard and a full animation: it’s a series of still images set to a track. It’s designed to get the idea of a scene across, without having to fully render the animation. This means an animatic video can be comprised of hundreds of still images, and your brain doesn’t always have a lot of time to absorb them (we’re talking <1 second sometimes).

Because of this, artists have to choose what movements they’re able to spend time showing the viewer. Also – it’s not always up to the artist. A lot of that actually depends on how the audio track plays out.

For example, let’s look at the animatic for “Farmer Refuted.” Krystaliaaa chooses to color certain parts of the animatic (often when Thayne Jasperson is sustaining a note) in areas where our eye is resting on the image for a time. But for the 0:43 mark that requires an overhead crowd shot and lasts for about a second? We’re getting a sketch for that.

In “The Room Where it Happens” by Don lluzzell, we see a really nice variation in the pacing of each of these frames: there’s a lot of extra drama added at 0:54 when the characters suddenly black out into silhouettes, showing the contrast in their motivations. At 1:45 there’s a cool little set of frames where the animator erases their layer- they have the time to do this since Jefferson is in the middle of a monologue. At 2:57 we get a LOT of motion suddenly and the lack of detail lends itself to the fast-paced idea of Burr falling through the floor. But finally, as the song reaches its climax at 3:24, we get the most detailed image of Hamilton in the entire animatic. The animator is able to do this because the “camera” spends a lot of time on this image, and it’s appropriate because this is a confrontation between Ham and Burr, so Ham is taking up all of Burr/the viewer’s attentions.

The decisions in both of these animations are of course made by the creators, but they’re necessarily shaped by the narrative and pacing of the song.


Again, the artists making these don’t have a ton of time to spend on each frame – and they’re not about to waste time fully coloring or rendering a background if your eye is just going to skip over the whole thing in a second.

This is where contrast comes in. Check out the animatic below for “Your Obedient Servant.” A lot of the “coloring” here is a single, somewhat blobby, concentration of shade in one area (usually the foreground/character), with an extra layer over the face and eyes. The background has some forms in it, but as they’re not shaded they get read as unimportant (and therefore justifiably less detailed) parts of a room.

The “contrast” in these animatics is super interesting for me because it’s actually not a LOT of stark black-and-white: it’s more like, the presence of any shading on this blank white background immediately grabs your attention just because there’s anything there. The dark tone/background is only prominent in this animatic from about 0:20-0:33. The cool part about this one, for me, is how much drama Violet – Madness manages to create with such a little amount of detail.

These concepts aren’t new for most cartoonists- but it’s amazing how looking at something through a different lens will sometimes get a technique to “click.” Inspiration can be found anywhere. Lafayette is in favor of animatics.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Monthly Matinee August: Fiction Relationship Analysis: Hunchback of Notre Dame

Fiction Relationship Analysis: What Our Favorite Stories Are Really Telling Us
This Month: Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame
Image result for the hunchback of notre dame

by: Melissa Koons

Copyright all imagery used in this post belongs exclusively to Disney and their animated film.

Popular culture has a huge impact on our social and psychological development. We shape many of our beliefs and perspectives about ourselves based on popular culture and our reaction to it. This can have both positive and negative effects on our development and personal identity. Sometimes, we become stronger because we were inspired by our favorite superhero to stand up for what is right and be allies for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Sometimes, we feel weakened because our lives aren’t falling into the normal storytelling arc and we wonder what is wrong with us. (Hint: life doesn’t have a formula like a good story. It’s not you, it’s your conditioning.)
While popular culture can shape many and all aspects of our perception— from our body image, to our character, to our passions, to our choice for a career— one of the most significant (and problematic) aspects it shapes is our perception of relationships.
Within literature, film, video games, graphic novels, and all other manners of storytelling, we are exposed to thousands of very toxic relationships. Toxic workplace dynamics, toxic friendships, toxic family relations, and toxic romances. While not all stories romanticize these toxic relationships, our perception and interpretation can. When we see these characters get a resolution (happily ever after or otherwise) we can use that to reason or excuse similar toxic behavior in our own lives. Instead of recognizing the resolution for what it is and what it is meant to be, we make it into more or are disappointed when it isn’t.
This month’s Fiction Relationship Analysis is going to focus on Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. This story has a lot of conflicted feelings about it and some people love it, hate it, or have very mixed feelings about how all the characters are left at the end of the story.

Warning: there be spoilers ahead!

Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame is a loving adaptation of the Victor Hugo classic. The ending was greatly changed from Hugo’s original novel, and I think we are all better for it. While French Gothic Literature has a special place in history and there is a certain literary genius to it, it is super depressing. Yes, the original ending is beautiful in its tragedy, but Disney’s is beautiful in its re-imagining and actually has a better message about relationships.

Quick Summary

Set in Paris, France 1482, Frollo is a self-righteous judge who is focused on cleansing the city of gypsies and other ethnic minorities. The movie starts with Judge Claude Frollo setting a trap for a group of gypsies trying to escape the city. As their ship is stopped by law enforcement and the occupants are dragged out and shackled to be imprisoned, one woman escapes with a bundle which the audience knows to be her infant child. Frollo and his men pursue under the belief that she is fleeing with stolen goods (which emphasizes Frollo’s racism and prejudice against this group of people that he doesn’t even consider for a moment that she may be holding her own belongings or child.)

The woman runs to the steps of Notre Dame—one of the largest cathedrals in the center of Paris—and begs for sanctuary. Before the priest can let her in and grant her safety (per the rules of the church and pope. All within its walls are protected by God and cannot be persecuted provided they offer penance. This plays a big role in the movie,) Frollo grabs her baby from her and kicks her down the steps, killing her. When he discovers the bundle is a baby, who suffers from a deformity, he goes to drown the child but the priest stops him. In a moment of guilt, the priest convinces Frollo to spare the child and care for him. Frollo agrees, provided the child can live, locked away, in the bell tower. He names the child Quasimodo, and that is the hunchback’s tragic origin story.

After about 18 years of being trapped in the bell tower ringing the bells for mass, Quasimodo gets an itch to go out into the city and live his life. Frollo doesn’t allow it, so he chooses to escape without Frollo’s permission to attend the Festival of Fools. Everyone is dressed in crazy clothes and masks, so he blends right in.
While Quasimodo is plotting his escape, we are introduced to Phoebus, Frollo’s new captain. Phoebus walks through the streets and we witness the discrimination Frollo shows gypsies in Paris when Phoebus sees Frollo’s militia chase the gypsy Esmeralda and try to confiscate the money she earned as a street performer under the assumption that she stole it (seeing a pattern? Sounds like the same prejudice that got Quasimodo’s mother killed. That’s not by accident.) She escapes, but loses some of her hard earned money. Phoebus, in an act that shows his disagreement for Frollo’s method and racism, returns the money to her.

Phoebus is eventually brought to Judge Claude Frollo, where he learns of the evil judge’s plan to wipe the gypsies out with an act of genocide (let’s not sugar coat it, that’s totally what he’s doing. Disney went there.) Phoebus disagrees, but as a man of honor and military training, he also knows he has to follow orders lest he be dishonorably discharged and hanged for treason. (Frollo’s threat of torture doesn’t help.) Phoebus isn’t looking at very great options right now. Be party to genocide, or be hanged for doing the right thing. Quite the moral dilemma, but I digress.

Seriously, look how creepy Frollo is when threatening his new Captain with torture. Phoebus is understandably apprehensive, Frollo is seriously disturbed.
Quasimodo makes it down to the street festival and he’s having a grand ol’ time. He’s very self-conscious, but no one seems to notice because they believe he is wearing a mask like they are. This is where he meets Esmeralda and is shown the first kindness and compassion from another person he’s ever received in his life (except the priest.) It is important to note, that his brief conversation with Esmeralda before the street show starts is probably his first interaction with a woman, ever. After some good fun and a quirky musical number, he is discovered as the bell ringer and Frollo enacts a public punishment for Quasimodo disobeying him by turning the crowd against him and allowing them to humiliate him. Esmeralda is the only one to step up and stop the bullying, untying him and making a public statement about how her people are treated similarly inhuman by Frollo and his militia.,h_300,al_c,q_5/file.png

Phoebus stands at Frollo’s left hand. He suggests calling the cruelty of the crowd off before Esmeralda steps up, but is denied by Frollo and he has to follow his orders. This, again, shows his compassion and disagreement for Frollo’s methods. After Esmeralda rescues Quasimodo, Phoebus is given the command to arrest her. Phoebus chases her to Notre Dame and they have a squabble.
Esmeralda is defensive, but Phoebus proves that he is really on her side although he is limited in what he can do for her. When the rest of the militia and Frollo catch up, Phoebus lies and tells them that Esmeralda claimed sanctuary so they cannot touch her for she is under the protection of the church (see, I told you it was important.) He saved her life to the best of his ability because he knew she was innocent. Frollo and his men are forced to leave, but they stand post outside the cathedral so that, should she leave, they can arrest her once she no longer is protected by the church.
Quasimodo finds Esmeralda in the church (she is kind of stuck there,) and they have a nice chat—the first human chat he’s ever had with another person. She shows him kindness, acceptance, and compassion—all things he’s never gotten from Frollo. Smitten, Quasimodo helps her escape and avoid capture.

Meanwhile, Frollo is wrestling with his own inner demons. He, too, is smitten with Esmeralda. He is drawn to her beauty and it is horrifying for him. Not only because he took a vow of celibacy, but because he is a racist jerk who thinks that her ethnic group is sub-human. He is struggling with his own emotions because he’s dealing with sexual attraction and that attraction is toward a person of color whom he has every intention of wiping out with that whole genocide plan. His solution? He will give her the option to become his mistress or he will burn her. Sex slave or death; not a great ultimatum to be faced with.,h_300,al_c,q_5/file.png
Dude is seriously not handling his obsession well.

Frollo discovers that Quasimodo helped Esmeralda escape and is furious. He commands his men to scour the city looking for her and arrest all people he considers to be gypsies or sympathizers. Phoebus follows orders, to a point. Frollo is having his men burn the city down (literally) in his search, but when he traps an innocent family with children inside their burning house because he believes they are withholding information, Phoebus loses it and breaks rank. He saves the people and is marked a traitor for it. Frollo orders his death but Phoebus manages to escape and is saved by Esmeralda. She brings him to Quasimodo for help and safe keeping. Quasimodo is heartbroken because he sees Esmeralda and Phoebus kiss, solidifying that his love is unrequited. After she leaves, Quasimodo is angry with Phoebus but they still form an alliance to help save Esmeralda and her people from Frollo’s genocidal ways.

Frollo tracks Quasimodo and uses him to locate the gypsies’ hideout and arrest all of them. He gives his awful ultimatum to Esmeralda and she chooses the pyre. Quasimodo is chained in the bell tower, and Phoebus is going to be killed with the other gypsy prisoners, leaving them all divided and rather helpless. Through motivation (no longer driven purely by the prospect that Esmeralda may love him in return but now that she is someone he cares about and he can’t let his friends and all these good, innocent people die,) Quasimodo breaks free and saves her from the fire. He also frees everyone else and there’s an epic battle. Frollo perishes, Esmeralda lives, it’s all great.
The very end shows Esmeralda and Phoebus brought together with Quasimodo’s blessing, and the two of them bring him out of the bell tower where he finally finds acceptance among his community. (The victor Hugo ending had Esmeralda die from smoke inhalation and Quasimodo starve himself to death beside her body. Pretty sure Frollo and the captain character both died, too. It’s French Gothic Literature, so it’s safe to assume everyone died.)

Okay, so that wasn’t such a quick summary but I have reasons for why I focused on all these plot points. Some of the disagreement and mixed feelings with the ending are based on our perception of how these relationships were wrapped up. I don’t think anyone disagrees with Frollo falling to his death into a pit of fire and lava. That was one of the most cathartic villain deaths in a Disney movie. It paralleled his intense faith that he twisted and perverted into the belief that he was superior to others and that certain races and people were sub-human in comparison by literally having him fall from heaven (the bell tower of Notre Dame, one of the most exquisite cathedrals and monuments of the Catholic faith) into the pit of hell (the very fire he had started with his own cruelty and genocide.) An ironic and poetic end for one of the most evil Disney villains. No, what people tend to have a problem with is what happened after Frollo met his demise.
Phoebus is often considered a “bland” character and not whom many viewers wanted Esmeralda to end up with. Some people view that their relationship was forced, or that she should have ended up with Quasimodo. While these perceptions are valid, I’m going to tell you why Disney’s ending was actually the best way to wrap up these relationships.

Esmeralda is unarguably the connective tissue of this entire story. It is her relationships with the three main men that ties them together and moves the plot forward. Through these relationships, we see very different approaches and perceptions of what a romantic relationships are.

Frollo = Toxic

 Frollo’s attachment to Esmeralda is obviously toxic. He is racist and prejudiced against her and her ethnicity, but finds her sexually appealing despite his horrible perception. He objectifies her, mainly because he doesn’t believe her to be human to begin with. To appease his own inner struggle and (horribly misguided) moral dilemma, he reaches the solution that he can still go about his “cleansing” and feel righteous about it provided she chooses to be his mistress. “Be mine and mine alone,” he sings. To him, she is a possession and exists purely for his own satisfaction and desire. She is something to be owned and kept, not a human person with feelings and a life of her own.,h_300,al_c,q_5/file.png
Esmeralda's expressions of disgust in this movie are on point.

He is obsessed with her sexuality and he reasons with himself that it will not be sinful if he makes her “his” because then he will be committing a selfless act of mercy by sparing her and her evilness and making her “good” by affiliating himself with her. It’s all very twisted and toxic. Yikes.


Quasimodo = Toxic

To fill out the dichotomy of the toxic scale, there is Quasimodo’s toxic attachment to Esmeralda. Similar to Frollo, he is obsessed with her. He’s not obsessed with her body or sexuality like Frollo is, instead he is obsessed with her compassion and kindness. She is the first person to treat him humanly, and the first woman. She fills the void of the mother Frollo killed, and gives him the acceptance and compassion Quasimodo has always sought from the world. He loves how she makes him feel, not who she really is as a person. He loves what she gives him, and he takes it greedily making their relationship incredibly imbalanced. He needs her validation and affection, but he isn’t able to return it in a healthy way. He cannot support her emotionally because he relies on her to heal him and fix his wounds. This is incredibly toxic because Esmeralda will forever be in the position of giving and her needs will never be met. More than that, Quasimodo idolizes her. Since she is the first person (and woman) in his life to fill that void, he put her on a pedestal where he worships her. She can do no wrong in his eyes, and that dehumanizes her by making her divine. She is no longer a person with thoughts, feelings, and mistakes.,h_300,al_c,q_5/file.png
To his credit: while it hurts him, Quasimodo does accept her choice to be with Phoebus and gives his blessing on the relationship as a friend. He doesn’t hold it against her or hate her because she didn’t choose him (which we often see in the toxic “nice guy” perception.) He befriends Phoebus and learns that he is a good, honorable man and Quasimodo chooses to help him and Esmeralda despite being rejected. He’s also not waiting for her to change her mind. His character develops and he understands that to love someone means loving them and their freedom to make their own choices. So, bright side is that while their relationship started off toxic, it concluded with a healthy balance. Quasimodo accepts her as a friend and from this position he can get his needs met without preventing Esmeralda from getting the same.,h_300,al_c,q_5/file.png

Phoebus = Healthy

 For starters, Phoebus isn’t a bland character. He is an honorable, intelligent man who shows compassion towards others—especially toward those who are different than him. He is an ally for all people who face discrimination and he tries his best to use his position of power to help them, but he is limited by his own station and orders. He does not agree with Frollo’s plan to commit genocide, and starts to vocalize it but is shown by Frollo what will happen to him should he step out of bounds (the former captain was tortured for being inefficient and a sympathizer.) Still, facing the threat of death for being marked a traitor, he does what he can to help Esmeralda and others.
While he appreciates Esmeralda's physical beauty, he admires her passion, fire, and strength to stand up to a corrupt system. He loves her for who she is and he doesn’t try to imprison her by objectifying her and making her “his,” nor does he put her on a pedestal where she is forced to constantly be the giver. Instead, he approaches her as an equal. He wants to work with her, not for her or above her. He wants to support her, and in return she offers him support. It is a mutually beneficial relationship where both parties are on the same level and there is no power imbalance. Because of this, both parties can give and receive equally, ensuring that their needs are met.

Phoebus is the only character who perceives Esmeralda as human and treats her thusly. She is not sub-human because of her ethnicity, nor is she divine because of her compassion. He respects her, loves her, and admires her exactly as she is.
Phoebus was the best option for Esmeralda to end up with, and their mutual interests and respect for each other is what gives their relationship a strong foundation. Their relationship was never forced, it just wasn’t dramatic. They started off on opposite sides, but only because of their stations. They always agreed with each other and once they could get past the cultural divide, they were able to fulfill their relationship potential. Their relationship was organic, and had to overcome many obstacles—their love and attraction for each other just wasn’t one of them.,h_300,al_c,q_5/file.pngPop culture has influenced us to believe that a good relationship has to overcome all kinds of dramatic emotional obstacles or differences to work. That’s not true. As evidenced by Phoebus and Esmeralda, the emotional part should come naturally. Yes, they still had obstacles to overcome—both internally and externally—but that didn’t pull them a part. In fact, it brought them closer together because they chose to overcome them together. They had to overcome the distrust that their own experiences have put on them (Esmeralda and law enforcement,) societal and legal expectations (Phoebus following orders,) and cultural/societal discrimination and racism. This was plenty for them to tackle and it didn’t mean that they had to hate each other or need to fight constantly with a whole will they/won’t they tug-of-war.

One of the worst expectations pop culture has given romantic relationships is that every hurdle is ongoing. Many stories circle back to the same conflict again and again in a relationship. The characters can’t let something go, or can’t trust their partner, or whatever else that keeps the same strain on the relationship. This isn’t healthy, and it isn’t good storytelling either. You can actually overcome an obstacle and have it be in the past. And left in the past. Esmeralda overcame her distrust of Phoebus because he proved to her that he respected her and actually agreed with her fight for equality (it wasn’t something he was lying about to get into her pants.)  That distrust was never revisited in the story because it was done. They overcame it together and now they had that foundational trust that strengthened their relationship.
Phoebus overcame the societal expectations he had to endure by standing up for what he believed in and confronting an action he knew was wrong. Once he was able to do this, it was never a conflict or struggle they had to overcome again. There was no need. He had support on the other side and didn’t have to tackle this obstacle on his own anymore.
Phoebus and Esmeralda's relationship might seem bland, but that’s because a mutually beneficial, balanced, supportive relationship is. (And I mean that in the best possible way.) They are strong together and they find strength from each other to take on whatever life throws at them. Their relationship doesn’t need to be tumultuous because the world and life is hard enough already. Instead, their relationship is the steady force that keeps them going. WHICH IS WHAT A RELATIONSHIP IS SUPPOSED TO BE.

A relationship isn’t about belonging to someone and finding validation in the fact that they are with you (Frollo.) It isn’t about fixing someone or having someone complete you and fill the void that has been left by your experiences (Quasimodo.) A relationship is about finding someone who respects you and empowers you to be the best version of yourself and gives you the strength and support you need to meet your own goals (Phoebus.)
What the story is NOT telling you: that it's okay to set your needs aside to help someone heal and/or to fill their emotional void nor that it's okay to be objectified by your significant other.
What the story IS telling you: the best partner will be one that sees you as an equal and wants to join you on your life path because you have mutual goals and aspirations. Trust is the foundation in a relationship, as is an equal balance of emotional and physical support.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Backstage Pass July: Paul Duffield

Come One, Come All! Slip Behind The Curtain And Meet

Paul Duffield

So Paul, tell us about yourself? 

I trained in illustration and animation at uni, and I’ve been a professional creative in a variety of fields for about 12 years! I’ve worked as a comics artist and writer, an illustrator and designer for books and magazines, a storyboard artist for film, and as an animator.

Main Projects:

My main project at the moment is The Firelight Isle, a tale of coming of age and cultural discovery in a civilization watched over by mysterious masked priests. The main characters are Anlil and Sen, who are childhood friends about to be parted as Sen takes the trail to join the priesthood, and Anlil weaves a sacred offering.
Patreon helps pay for it all. 

Other Hobbies, Guilty Pleasures and Obsessions

Many! I play a lot of video games and watch a lot of TV, including tons of anime. I play a variety of stringed instruments for fun, and also do a lot of board gaming (currently making my way through Gloomhaven with a friend). My most consuming hobby is probably LARPing, which I love designing and making outfits for, and writing music for when I can too.

So, tell us about your early experience. How did you fall in love with telling stories in pictures?

I’ve been obsessed with drawing from a very young age, but in terms of telling stories with pictures, it was really the beginning of online comics that did it for me. When I was in college I was introduced to the idea of producing your own comics and posting them online, so I started a webcomic, and hunted down a lot of comics by other amateur creators (there were no centralised webcomics sites back then). That really sparked my love for making comics.

What media and programs do you work in to produce your project?

Typically just Photoshop, although I also use InDesign for publishing books, and when I’m working on animation, I use Premier Pro and After Effects, too. I also sometime used 3D programs like Sketchup and 3DSMax to create reference models.

Can you tell me about your typical day or strip-creation session? How does your work process flow from idea to finished page?

If I took a snapshot of a single day of creation, it would normally just focus on one stage, like doing linework all day, or doing colouring all day, since I try to break the process into stages and do it in batches. On the production side of things I think I’ve managed to streamline my process quite well, and I work heavily with another amazing creator, Kate Brown, who can take on most of the process for me if time is tight.

On the ideas and writing side of things, it’s much messier! I use a hacked-together combo of written notes and scripts, along with thumbnails and sketches of various levels of detail. I’ve done a LOT of re-writing on The Firelight Isle, so there’s very little of the script that hasn’t been completely changed since I first started writing it.

You use a lot of religious overtones in your work. What attracts you to this theme?

I don’t follow a particular religion, but I find religion and the study of religion absolutely fascinating, and I’m always drawn to accounts of spiritual experience, possibly because I’ve never had any myself! Seeing the supernatural and sublime in the things around us seems to be a deeply rooted part of human nature, and I think it would actually be very hard to write about people without writing about religion in some way. Even if people aren’t explicitly religious, they often approach reality and community in religious ways.

You've used a lot of information about weaving and dyeing. I'd love to hear about how you do research for your project.

Research is one of my favourite parts of a project! Apart from a general interest in clothing and sewing, for The Firelight Isle, I watched a lot of instructional videos on weaving and dyeing textiles, along with visiting museums with exhibits about weaving, and looking into weaving techniques from a variety of cultures and times. I also got a couple of huge books which catalogue contume and clothing patterns from peoples around the work. It’s amazing how deep a subject it is! Despite looking into it for a long time, I think I mostly just discovered how much I could never know without hands-on experience.

What’s the most difficult part of your work?

I think the most difficult part is the totality. All the individual processes - the writing, the art, the design, the research and fun and challenging by themselves, but drawing them all together and making them into a working story is the hardest part. There’s always so much to consider in every panel, and my mind can only hold so many concepts and thoughts at a time.

Can you tell me about your storytelling process? Do you prefer to script your stories, fly by the seat of your pants, or somewhere in between?

A combination! I like to know where my stories are heading in a lot of detail, so I’ll plot them out beforehand, and in the case of The Firelight Isle, I’ve written a full script. But in terms of the pages themselves, I’ll often be changing layout and dialogue right before publication, and the parts of the script that I haven’t started drawing yet are constantly in a state of flux. It’s like taking a bunch of loose strings and knotting them together - the loose ends flop about and get tangled as I go, so I stop to untangle them from time to time.

How much of a buffer do you like to keep?

I’d love to keep a huge buffer, but I’m not able to do this full-time, so I don’t have any at all! Episodes take a LONG time, so my only choice is to post as I complete them, and even that’s not regular enough to build and maintain an audience reliably.

What’s a question you’d like to answer once and for all about your art and/or that question you’re sick of getting asked?

Haha! This is a great question. With The Firelight Isle, I guess the question I get asked most often was “is it inspired by Avatar: The Last Airbender?”, to which the answer is no. I watched Avatar for the first time last year and absolutely loved it, so the comparisons are flattering, but the story and visual style of The Firelight Isle is something I developed before I’d even heard of Avatar.

If you could send a note back to yourself when you began working on your skillset, what would you say?

Hmmm, tricky one! I think I’d encourage myself to try and find a mentor. Someone who had all the skills I wanted and could help guide me in learning. I had to do a lot of self-discovery as I went through education - my tutors were all very skilled, but none had that experience in stylized figure drawing, comics and naturalistic animation that I had to struggle to gain.

What message do you hope readers take away from your work?

I think that unless your work is highly instructional or didactic, hoping for your readers to extract a specific message is a somewhat doomed enterprise, and once your story is out there, you lose all control over how it’s interpreted.

So, in the absence of having explicit lessons or messages that the characters spell out, I try to work with concepts and themes that run throughout the story. The Firelight Isle is about a few things - searching for your identity, finding your place in your culture, where you draw the line between your duty to yourself and your community, and how you feel excitement or fear about the boundaries of your world.

I try not to reach specific conclusions about these things though, because they’re questions with so many answers that explaining them away reduces their power and complexity as elements of a story.

What keeps you devoted to telling the story you’re telling?

Some sort of madness I think... I’ve been doing this for nearly seven years now, and  unless something surprising happens, it will probably take another three to complete! Seriously though, there are a number of things driving me on. One is the simple desire to finish, to sit back and look at a completed thing and feel that sense of accomplishment. Another is sheer stubbornness and the sunk cost fallacy. Another is my belief in my original vision for the project, which if I’m honest has wavered a lot. My understanding of the themes and material I’m working with has changed drastically over seven years, but to a certain extent I’m stuck with the ideas and attitudes I had back then. Even so, at the heart of it, I think The Firelight Isle is a story worth telling, and I hope readers feel the same way. I also feel a deep sense of gratitude and commitment to the many people who have supported me along the way, not least my Patreon supporters who make it possible to continue.

Thanks for a great chat, Paul. And a hundred thanks for the wonderful work!