Sunday, June 23, 2013

WGTB Reviews Army of God: Joseph Kony's War in Central Africa

You may remember the #Kony2012 campaign that exploded onto social media in March 2012. Launched by an organization called Invisible Children, it centred around an online video by Jason Russell and told the story of Joseph Kony, a ruthless and quasi-religious warlord who has been a marauding through Africa for almost two decades. Since the #Kony2012 campaign galvanized political will around the world, Kony's forces have been reduced to a rump of a couple hundred in central Africa. But one must never discount or forget the massive damage he and his followers wrought on that continent, and Army of God: Joseph Kony's War in Central Africa by David Axe and Tim Hamilton is an excellent graphic-story introduction to the evil Kony perpetrated and the multitude of damage he has caused in the lives of thousands of Africans.

Army of God: Joseph Kony's War in Central Africa, David Axe (script) & Tim Hamilton (art),  PublicAffairs, 2013, pp. 111, $14.99
Born sometime in 1961 to a Roman Catholic father and Anglican mother, Joseph Kony is the founder of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan guerrilla group that when left on the losing side of the 1986 Ugandan civil war, became a murderous group of religiously motivated terrorists. When forming his group, Kony drew upon his own personal history, infusing the LRA with a bizarre pastiche of Christianity, and both recruited and enslaved young Ugandans and other Africans as he did. When encountered with resistance, the LRA would use a favourite tactic -- rape -- to keep Africans in-line and for much of the past twenty years moved from Uganda to Sudan to Congo, eventually settling in the Central African Republic where they have evaded capture (albeit in much reduced numbers) since the late 2000s. 

Army of God: Joseph Kony's War in Central Africa's art dipicts a stark and horror-filled life for many Africans. 
Army of God itself is divided into eight chapters (ten if you include the prologue and postscript), each being four to six pages long and dealing with a different aspect of the tragic story of Kony and his victims. Starting with mid 19th century colonialism and ending with recent political developments, each chapter is a manageable and pictorially described precis of the LRA's crimes in Africa, doing so by focusing on particular protagonists (or in the case of the chapter on Kony, the antagonist). The chapters are also comprehensive enough for sophisticated readers to get an understanding of a complicated subject, while at the same time would be a solid introduction for a teenaged reader wanting to start a project on the topic. This would not be a good book for children.

Sexually based crimes, so often a tactic used by the LRA, is depicted as the horror it is in Army of God: Joseph Kony's War in Central Africa
Ably written, the script is crisp and concise and the tragedy of Kony's victims is brought to life in a combination of first person narration and character word bubbles. The art is also very good and its black and white yet life-like quality shows the horror of this chapter in African history well by both capturing the humanity of the subject, while not forcing the reader to look away in disgust. That this could happen to our fellow human beings is an absolute monstrosity and the co-creators of this book have done us a service in bringing this story to graphic print. 

The political implications of Kony and his terror are also discussed with characters such as former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton making an appearance.
So if you need a break from mainstream comics; want to explain to someone that comics are so much more than Superman or Captain America; or are just looking to learn about what is happening in central Africa and the events around #Kony2012, I highly recommend you read this graphic book. It is a credit to our medium and something that will help western readers understand a terrible tragedy that has and will continue to occur in central Africa until Joseph Kony is brought to justice. 4.5/5 STARS

Sunday, June 16, 2013

WGTB Reviews TV on Strike: Why Holleywood Went to War over the Internet

Of the books I’ve read this past month, TV on Strike:  Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet by Cynthia Littleton has been my favourite and is a must read for anyone interested in the business of Hollywood television production, labour relations and what effect the Internet is having on our daily lives.  

TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet, Cynthia Littleton, University of Syracuse Press, 2013, pp. 296, $29.95 
Littleton, the deputy editor of the industry tabloid Variety (itself a recent example of how the Internet has drastically changed media – it halted production of its newsprint edition in March) is no stranger to the business of television and has a mastery of her subject matter, the likes of which requires the reader to have a tablet close to help with the deluge of biographical, business and geographical information found within. 

The story of the 2007/2008 Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike is a long and complex one, and Littleton is careful to provide a detailed history of labour relations between the talent unions prior to the conflict, and grounds the reader in how episodes happening decades prior to the strike – including the guild’s terrible result in a late 80s strike related to VCR residuals – related directly to their 2007 situation and thinking. From there, the WGA's pathological fear of not getting caught in bad deal became clear and we learnt how the principal characters of 2007-2008: the leaders WGA and the seven media conglomerates as represented by the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) went to battle in what was often a very personal and heated conflict between two groups that were normally close partners. 

And this is what is particularly fascinating about of this book. TV on Strike really gets down to the nitty-gritty of the labour negotiations and provides some fascinating insight into the essence of the strike itself: the important role the Internet and the delivery of new entertainment has played in drastically altering the entire entertainment industry. From here it becomes clear that the strikers did not see themselves as millionaires wanting more, but as workers at the vanguard of one of the most significant changes to the American economy since the industrial revolution. If you’re a user of Netflix or Hulu or ‘PVR’ your favourite programs to watch later, you are part of the changes in television viewership that were as issue in the strike and have had, in your own way, an effect on the writers and conglomerates. TV on Strike explains this and why the habits of skipping commercials and watching full seasons on DVD have drastically altered the TV business up to the highest levels. 

The writing, at times, is dense and in places it needs to be read a couple times to fully comprehend what is happening. And as mentioned above, if you’re not an industry insider the details will be aided severely (and ironically) with the Internet close for reference. This is especially the case in the portion that outlines the negotiations themselves in the latter chapters, and this part probably having been written with insiders (read: entertainment lawyers and journalists) in mind rather than the average reader. But that said, the book is accessible to someone with even a passing interest in the entertainment industry and would also be a good book for public relations practitioners as well. With so much at stake, often having the public onside is as important as having a good negotiator at the table and there was certainly that element to this strike as well. 4.5/5 STARS