I have seen them write in fire on the darkness…and heard the drums beaten with flaming brands.
Where do they come from?
They come out of the night…
Where do they go to?
Back to the night they return…
They dance in the dark to pipe and drum and fiddle
They dance in the dark with fire and brandished flame…
No-one knows who they are…
But why do they dance?
What is the story behind this magical spectacle?
There are rumours, legends…
Don and Wen set out to investigate.
In a darkened corner of the Waggon and Horses, Langsett, a hooded and enigmatic figure whispers secrets…
- Book Title: Mister Fox: The Legend
- Authors: Sue Vincent & Stuart France
- Genre: Graphic Novel
- Length: 46 pages
Release Date: 26 February 2015 (Silent Eye Press)
Purchase Links: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon France | Amazon Canada | Amazon Australia
Why do we love the Trickster?
I once accompanied my daughter’s fifth-grade class on an overnight field trip to an old farm north of Seattle for what was supposed to be a chance to experience the lives of early settlers to the region. After teachers confiscated every scrap of their electronic gear, the stunned kids milked soggy cows, hauled wet wood, cooked over smoky stoves, and weeded muddy ‘gardens’. As they ate their (sodden) meals, one summed it up. “The olden days sucked.”
Luckily, their teacher deployed her three secret weapons—giant pile of guaranteed-to-burn presto fire-logs, industrial-sized box of instant hot chocolate packets (mini-marshmallows!), and native American storyteller Mary—to transport cold, wet, digitally-deprived children to a magic place. Instead of TV, X-Box, or cellphones, the kids cupped hands around hot chocolate and watched the flames shoot into the sky. In the flickering firelight, Mary explained that she was from one of the local tribes, and had come to tell her family’s stories of people who had lived in these hills long before the settlers in their muddy farms.
She held up a giant slug, and told how native people covered their skin with the slime as protection against the frigid waters as they fished. Then she told the story of how Raven stole Crow’s Potlatch (feast), followed by several others in which a clever animal—usually a bird—outsmarted larger, stronger animals. The ten-year-olds couldn’t get enough.
Since that night, I’ve noticed how much we’re like those kids. We love the mystery and magic of fireside tales that explain who we are by telling who we were, and we especially love the Trickster who breaks the rules, shakes things up, and tweaks the masks of everyday life.
My guest today, writer/photographer/artist Sue Vincent, and her co-author Stuart France have added a new page to the Trickster legacy with Mister Fox: The Legend. Storyteller Mary and those kids from years ago would have loved this stunning graphic tale of the mysterious fire dance that incorporates every one of these elements. I think you will too. Please join me in welcoming Sue as she talks about her art and her life.
What was your first car? The first car I had all for my very own was a Mini… one of the older ones in that tomato soup red. The general idea was that it was the only car small enough for me to reach everything and, of course, it was cheap. Largely because it only fired on three cylinders. Which is how I learned a bit about being my own mechanic. Not a lot, I have to say, but enough. The engine had to be stripped down, neatly labelled, refurbished and put back together again with the aid of a knowledgeable driving instructor and a Haynes manual. My friend, however, was horrified by the oven cleaner on the engine block… as a degreaser it worked very well. Though he thought that was bad, he was traumatized by the valves stuck in the end of the electric drill to grind them… Nonetheless, we finally had her up and running, installed the false floor so I could actually reach the pedals… then sold her as the wheelchair would not fit in the boot!
If you were going to spend the next three years on a desert island (well, deserted except for the manicurist and a really excellent Thai restaurant…), what three books would you take along? A manicurist? Really? Oooh…never had a manicure! My first reaction to the question was something unprintable. Only three??? Then suddenly it was easy. The Complete works of Tolkien… or if that hasn’t been published yet as a single, handy volume, I’ll have Lord of the Rings. I don’t get bored no matter how often I read it and the characters are so familiar now that I wouldn’t get lonely either. I’d have to have the Bible, though not for devotional purposes. It is the ultimate puzzle book, which is why it features so largely in so many of the books written with Stuart France. It has poetry, adventure, romance and just about every other aspect of human life within its pages. And I would need at least three years to get through it with enough thought to even begin to unpack the symbolism! The third is the easiest of all… the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, a Persian mathematician, scientist and philosopher. My grandfather took his copy of the poems to Burma during WWII; he later gave it to my mother, who passed it to me. Until recently it lived in my handbag. Nowadays it is so fragile the books stays at home, but I have it with me on the Kindle app on my phone.
Worst movie ever? I’m not sure I can think of one…the really awful ones are generally hilarious anyway! One that stayed with me though was the 1961 William Castle film, ‘Homicidal’. I may have been way too young to watch it when I did, but the severed head bouncing down the stairs has remained an image of terror ever since! [Note: Maybe Sue should have taken William Castle up on his “fright break”!]
Who would you most like to sit next to on an airplane? The pilot! I like to see where I’m going. I haven’t flown for about thirty years now, though I always dreamed of traveling the world. The past two years, have shown me that there is still so very much I want to see in Britain that I may never fly again. We fell into an adventure, Stuart and I, one misty morning on Dragon Hill, looking up at the White Horse of Uffington. It was a magical day and began a journey of discovery that has been sheer delight as we have explored the ancient and sacred places of Albion. These are the stories we share in the series’ that begins with The Initiate.
Best guilty pleasure ever? The second best guilty pleasure… that has to be curd tarts. The real, Yorkshire curd tarts that you can only buy in the north of England. They are, I suppose, a poor man’s baked cheesecake, flavoured with currants and nutmeg, and I love them. I hadn’t had one for years during my ‘exile’ in the south. You can imagine my delight when a friend sent a brace down from Yorkshire to help me recover from pneumonia a few years ago. They worked too!
Who would play you in the movie? It would have to be either Elijah Wood, as my sons call me their hobbit, being vertically challenged… or Dobbie, the house-elf from the Harry Potter films. I await my sock.
What is the one thing you can’t live without? An internet connection! I live hundreds of miles from Stuart, my friends and the work of the School. Other than that I can manage without most things, as long as I have my little old car, plenty of coffee and the small dog!
As a child (or now!), what did you want to be when you grew up—and were any of them photographer/artist/poet/novelist? I was always going to be a dancer. Should have been too, except for a series of unfortunate breakages that kept me in plaster long enough to discover boys and normal teenagerhood. The ankle became too weak for the vocation. The second choice, as fashion designer, was hampered just a tad by the fact that I can’t actually sew. My grandmother always said I ‘sewed with burnt thread’, which gives some indication of the scale of the problem! I ended up being a Mum instead. I started painting when my late partner was going through his final illness… it was a way of escaping the house without leaving it. That began as a simple pastime but unexpectedly led to some major commissions. The writing happened almost by accident too… my mother was the writer in our family! The photography just seemed to wander along for the ride. Which just goes to show, you can never tell how the future will unfold. If I could turn back the clock now and follow my original dream of becoming a dancer… I wouldn’t change a thing. I am happier with what I am doing now than I have ever been in my life.
Why did you decide to tell the story of Mister Fox as a graphic novel? Ah, thereby hangs a tale… or tail, depending how you see it. A story shrouded in smoke and mystery… We were approached last year by the shadowy figure of one known only as Charles James Fox, the leader of the Langsett Fox Dance. We were asked to write their legend…and were admitted to the secret location where the dancers gather unmasked. This is a signal honour as none know their identities outside of the Fox’s Earth. They themselves tell their legend in dance and movement, stark figures against the flame. Their song is the drum and pipe, their words no more than gestures… yet they speak to something primal within each of us. We had to tell their story visually… how else could we hope to be worthy of their dance?
How did you approach creating the artwork? We always make the cover first. Somehow that sets the tone for us and makes the book ‘real’. There was only ever one image for the front cover. We have seen their dance several times and being me, there was always the camera, so we had plenty of images to work from. We just didn’t have a clue where to start to make a graphic novel. After experimenting with the basic programmes it was obvious we needed something more and so began a rather steep learning curve with a variety of computer programmes until we achieved the look we were seeking.
Why do you think it’s important to tell—and see—this story? There are too many traditions falling victim to the digital age. The Fire dance of Mister Fox brings together so many ancient threads of legend and storytelling in a way that can trace its history right back, perhaps, as far as Man himself. The simplicity of the drumbeat, the flickering flames, the dark silhouettes… they are not so different from what we might have seen round the hearthfires of old. These are things that speak to us on a very deep level… and they are being lost. The Langsett Foxes seek to preserve a fragment of our heritage and with Mister Fox: The Legend, we have sought to capture a little of that magic and share their story.
What was the most difficult part of creating Mister Fox? Each page needs to be balanced visually, each image needs to replace the words of a standard book. While we wanted to make a book that could simply be read and enjoyed, we also wanted to retain the air of mystery, so many of the pictures which may seem a little oddball can be solved, almost like a visual riddle, by following the trail of symbolism.
But mostly, we wanted to do justice to the spectacle of the Fox dancers who capture a moment and weave it into magic.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?
‘Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that – but you are the only you.’ —Neil Gaiman.
Write from your heart. If you want to write… do it. One word after another. Fear of failure… of not being ‘good enough’ silences too many voices. Or you start by trying to be someone else… inspired by or aspiring to a voice you admire. You are yourself. You have your own voice, your own story. If you want to write, just do it. And when you do… you are a writer.
Contact Sue Vincent
In almost every culture from the very earliest records we have, there are stories of the tricksters who use brains to triumph over larger, stronger, richer foes, frequently to aid people around them. Tricksters from ancient Prometheus—who tricked Zeus, stole fire, and gave it to mortals—to Loki, Anansi, Kokopelli, Lugh, Coyote, Crow, and so many more worked their clever, funny, and often helpful schemes.
Sue Vincent and Stuart France have added a page to that legend. But instead of simply retelling, they’ve pulled together the mystery and the dance, combined it with firelight and magic, and graphically presented an experience rather than a story. “I have seen them write in fire on the darkness…and heard the drums beaten with flaming brands.”
I can’t review this like a regular book, because my normal benchmarks—plot, pace, character development—are irrelevant. Oh, sure there are words—a new Trickster legend for Crow, and a tale-within-a-tale legend told appropriately by Punch, that most British of Tricksters. There are even inside jokes like the one in which the ancient Fox manuscript is lost when the original Sir Rufus Foxx has to flee the country after “disaster is visited on the family” by younger brother Guido Foxx (Guy Fawkes?).
But ultimately, all I can tell you is that this little book is more than the sum of its parts. The glowing artwork, with its puzzles and hints at so much more, is a much a part of the voice and the magic as the spare words. You can’t read this book as much as experience it. But if you do, you’ll know how art and fire and dance can combine to make magic. And just maybe a sky-full of stars too.