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A Review of the Third Issue of Suffrajitsu: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

I truly enjoyed the third issue of Suffrajitsu: Mrs Pankhurst’s Amazons, written by Tony Wolf, illustrated by Joao Vieira, coloured by Josan Gonzales, and published by Jet City Comics. The storyline was exciting, the art was glorious, and the colours were vivid and striking. However, I did find the completion of the various storylines too rushed for my liking, after the build-up of the first two issues. The third issue might have been better expanded into two issues.

Mysterium (5)

Airships and organ pipes: a scene to warm the cockles of any Steampunk enthusiast’s heart.

As always, the plot is full of actual historical details given a Steampunk ‘spin’, be that spin via the aesthetic of the visual images or twists in the plot text. The historical details in no way slow the action in this issue. There was plenty of action; indeed, I would have liked to have seen a greater balance between the action scenes and the storytelling.

None of action and violence was gratuitous as it all moved the plot along. This meant the plot was somewhat ‘breathless’ with the speed at which events were occurring. There were at least two times in the plot I would have like to have seen greater plot development: in discoveries in the castle laboratory and at the Mysterium event in the Swiss forest. The restrictions of length probably explain why these scenes are too abrupt – which is another reason why I think this issue might have been better served broken into two issues.

So, you wanted a little more action?

So, you wanted a little more action?

I found the ending unsatisfactory, but only because I want very much to learn more about these characters and their adventures. I’m not handing out any spoilers when I tell you that the British suffragettes disbanded for the advent of WWI, so as to throw their support behind the war effort. Suffragettes were patriots first and foremost. But it isn’t hard to guess that Persi and the  Amazons would return to the Suffragette Movement after the war was won.

I would recommend the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy to Steampunk enthusiasts, people interested in the Suffragette movement, and people who just enjoy a good graphic novel. These issues are a superior narrative with extraordinary good artwork. I wouldn’t be surprised if they turned out to be considered cult classics in a few years.

Kindle Worlds  has four prose stories expanding the world of the Suffrajitsu Amazons: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=suffrajitsu+book&rh=n%3A133140011%2Ck%3Asuffrajitsu+book
There’s also an open offer for other writers who’d like to create their own stories set in that world:  http://suffrajitsu.com/your-chance-to-write-suffrajitsu-stories/

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Filed under Review, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes

Carried Away by Ray Dean: a review

CarriedAwayCoverKWimg (4)

Carried Away’ is a novella – or short story, depending on who is making the definition – set in the alternative universe of the Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons graphic novel. This gives you more background into the suffragette movement and how it was affected by the class structures in place at the time, and gives you an opportunity to see more of Persephone Wright and her Amazons. Most of the action is seen through the eyes of a young domestic maid, Tressa Boniface.

Tressa is our ‘every girl’ protagonist, and is caught up in political turmoil of the era. After one unfortunate incident at a suffragette rally – which she chose to attend – Tressa takes charge of her own fate. She isn’t a helpless demoiselle pulled along by forces beyond her control. Instead, she takes Bartitsu classes and trains to become one of the Amazons. She works towards increasing her own power and confidence, which is keeping with the suffragette discourse.

This story also shows how the suffragettes worked together to support one another, and how other women supported the cause, some openly, some secretly. It shows how some wives could support the cause without risking their marriages, by quietly working to subvert opposition to the suffragette movement. The majority of the women in the narrative are portrayed as supporting the cause in some way.

There are male characters in this story that are allies to the suffragettes and there are adversaries to the suffragette cause. The only nit-pick I would have with the characterizations was the lack of women characters opposing the movement. Such women existed in large numbers, as many people fear change to the status quo. But the narrative is restricted by its word length, and so there wasn’t really the space to explore everything relating to these sorts of characters.

I would recommend this novella to anyone who has enjoyed the graphic novel, as it fills in the background details of the Suffrajitsu universe and revisits the characters. If you haven’t read the graphic novel, it is still an enjoyable read as a standalone story about the suffragette movement. Ray Dean is an engaging writer with crisp prose, and a good feel for the zeitgeist of the historical era. A perfect read over a cup of tea and some biscuits.

Ray Dean is at: www.raydean.net

You can obtain a copy of the novella at:

http://www.amazon.com/Foreworld-Saga-Carried-Novella-Suffrajitsu-ebook/dp/B00UB7VQNM/

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The Glorious Gadgets of Edward William Barton-Wright: a Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective

The glorious gadgets of Edward Barton-Wright

The glorious gadgets of Edward Barton-Wright as illustrated in ‘Suffrajitsu’.

I recently wrote a review for two issues of a graphic novel: Suffrajitsu – Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons. One of the panels illustrated a room full of therapy machines, housed in a gym where Bartitsu is being taught. I found this detail most delightful because Edward Barton-Wright did actually invent and build several different types of therapy machines, built clinics, and was a physical therapist for the latter half of his career.

Edmund Barton-Wright demonstrates his blue light ray machine, circa 1905.

Edmund Barton-Wright demonstrates his blue light ray machine, circa 1905.

The illustration has several cabinets and electrical paraphernalia that resembles the images of a couple of Edmund Barton-Wright’s therapy machines. Sadly, as EBW wasn’t really recognized as a historically important person until late in the Twentieth century, there are few surviving photographs of these machines. He was using heat therapy, light therapy, radiation therapy, vibration therapy, and electrotherapy when all at the highest popularity, but his machines were of his own devising.

Light and electrical energy therapy machine designed by Edmund Barton-Wright.

Light and electrical energy therapy machine designed by Edmund Barton-Wright.

Other gadgets in the illustration remind me strongly of other therapy machines available around the same time. You wouldn’t see gadgets like this today, but these types of therapy are still used. Hydrotherapy was still popular in the Victorian & Edwardian eras, and has been since Roman times, and it is still popular today. Light therapy is still very important, particular for infants born with jaundice. Electrotherapy has lost some of it appeal; electric shock therapy is still in use but other forms of therapy and medication have mostly replaced it.

Below are some pictures of other gadgets used around the same time as Edmund Barton-Wright has his clinics. If you are interested in reading Suffrajitsu – Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons, you can find out more at suffrajitsu.com

Latest Physical Therapy Equipment Machine for Light Treatment  from a steel engraving from a German Reference book dated 1906.

Latest Physical Therapy Equipment Machine for Light Treatment from a steel engraving from a German Reference book dated 1906.

Doctor River and his Electro-therapy equipment in Paris.

Doctor River and his Electrotherapy equipment in Paris.

Electro-therapy treatment for arthritis in the 1900s.

Electrotherapy treatment for arthritis in the 1900s.

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Filed under Gadgets, Historical Personage, History, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist

Suffrajitsu: Mrs Pankhurst’s Amazons – Issue 2; a book review of the graphic novel

The glorious gadgets of Edward Barton-Wright

The glorious gadgets of Edward Barton-Wright

The second issue of Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons, written by Tony Wolf, illustrated by Joao Vieira, coloured by Josan Gonzales, and published by Jet City Comics, is even more Steampunk than the first. For starters, there is Uncle Edward’s instruments he designed to increase health by the use of electricity and lights. I will have to write a complementary post about Edward William Barton-Wright CE and M.J.S. later this week, detailing what each of those lovely gadgets are actually for. And we get a tantalizing glimpse of another laboratory that might be even more interesting.

Mrs. Pankhurst's Amazons - issue 2 - airship

This issue is just as exciting as the first episode, and there is certainly an excellent build-up to who the real villains are and what they are hoping to achieve. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I can hint that the main conflict in the story is created by the misuse of Darwin’s theories. The villains takes misogyny and ramp it up to create a truly horrific situation; one that will leave readers eager to obtain the third issue to see the resolution of the situation in which our heroines find themselves.

It is commonly thought that the second part of a trilogy is the weakest in storytelling and action. I can guarantee that this is certainly not the case with this issue. There is plenty of action, for starters. The art is still outstanding, with the use of line and colour to perform small miracles on each page. As with the first issue, it is the careful use of detail that really makes the artwork special.  I particularly like the panels where our protagonist is away with the fairies; this is a perfect example of liveliness and gentle humour the illustrator puts into his work.

The humour can subtle, in both the illustrations and the text. The use of green, violet and white crops up in unexpected places in the artwork. Only a historian would get some of the references, visual and textual. You don’t have to know the era to get all of the humour, but it helps. I certainly felt clever when I made some connections to the historical details I’ve used in my own Steampunk narratives.

Away with the fairies

Away with the fairies

I think the only weakness here is that the characterizations of the villains relies too much on stereotypes. The villains are rather two dimensional and unrelievedly evil. I would have preferred to see more depth given to the bad guys and their motivations, but I concede that there is probably not enough room to cover everything in the restricted space of the graphic novel. However, their mission is rather interesting and unique, and makes perfect sense within the era that this narrative is set.

My anticipation grows as the release date for the third issue approaches. This graphic novel has hit all the marks, with great writing, brilliant art, and the use of historical people and settings to add resonance and interest to the details of both. As a feminist, I appreciate the use of Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons as the protagonists, but the audience for this book shouldn’t be limited to Steampunk Enthusiasts or Feminists. I believe that anyone who enjoys a good yarn, well told, will be entertained by this graphic novel.

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Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons, Issue One – a book review

Suffrajitsu review

The cover of the first issue, and an actual illustration from the era. Someone has really done their homework!

As anyone who has read this blog will know, I am a huge fan of the suffragette movement of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I have been looking forward with anticipation to the graphic novel, Suffrajitsu, written by Tony Wolf (originally from New Zealand, go the Antipodes) and illustrated by João Viera. It is with great delight I can write a review about Issue One of the trilogy, as published by Jet City Comics.

Before we go any further, let’s address the elephant in the room … yes, a man has written a graphic novel about the suffragettes. I write about male historical characters. It is what writers do, and I personally think Tony Wolf has one an amazing job in recreating the pressures and problems the suffragettes faced historically, while still writing an alternative history adventure. This just isn’t a historical retelling of the suffragette movement … it is an alternative history, a might have been.

This is a Steampunk narrative because it had several the major genre markers. The Steampunk literary genre embraces the use of alternative histories, and often uses historical people as characters … but the characters in the fiction are only inspired by these real people. The Steampunk genre includes anachronistic technology, such as the train the Amazons use to travel to Glasgow; this train is a “suspension railway” monorail.  The technology for that type of transportation did exist in 1914, but there were no actual cross-country suspension railway lines at that time.

The suffragettes are using innovative techniques to defend themselves, breaking the stereotype of the frail, helpless and hysterical Victorian female, and replacing her with intelligent and determined women who know how to handle the physical assault of an assailant. This type of woman did show up from time to time, but she was an exception rather than the rule in most Victorian and Edwardian media.

Image from the Illustrated Police News.

The illustrator, Viera, has made each character quite distinct. He uses a rich pallet of colours, which is an excellent choice. Popular culture tends to believe that the Victorian era was dull thanks to the B&W photos of the era. The bright colours are much more realistic, as the Victorian actually were quite lavish in their use of colour. Viera adds historically authentic details to his artwork, such as the violet, green and white ribbons and sashes used by the suffragettes. The action scenes are realistic. I’ve read a lot of graphic novels, and getting the artwork to match the writing seamlessly is a hard slog. The text and the illustrations are working together and not pulling in different directions, with the writer and illustrator well matched.

Main character is Persephone Wright: her uncle is Edward W. Barton-Wright, and she is a master of Bartitsu, the martial art that he developed and taught. She is a staunch supporter of Mrs Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel. Her characterisation is complex, as she is also a bit of a ‘wild child’, enjoying tobacco and cocaine – in an era when both were freely available. She reminds me slightly of Doctor Grace from Murdoch Mysteries, intelligent, determined, and not afraid to try new things.

The secondary characters haven’t been left as two dimensional personalities and have their own distinct styles. I like that Flossie is from New Zealand, as New Zealand and Australia certainly had their own contingent of suffragettes. These real life touches give the whole story its verisimilitude. The forced feeding of suffragettes is mentioned. The suffragette movement is forced to use ‘amazons’ to protect the speakers at rallies. The ‘amazons’ are highly trained, but they don’t rely on brute force alone.

In this first issue, we get few hints as to the identities of the true villains of this narrative. But – rest assured – there is plenty of conflict and action provided by the clashes between the suffragettes and constabulary, and between the suffragettes and the establishment. I recommend this graphic novel to fellow Steampunk enthusiasts, feminists, and anyone who enjoys a finely made story.

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Filed under Book Review, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes

Suffrajitsu: A Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective

Tossing a policeman

No more the meek and mild subservients we!
We’re fighting for our rights, militantly!
Never you fear!

‘Sister Suffragette’ is sung by Mrs Banks from Disney’s Mary Poppins

In this modern era of Third Wave Feminism, it is often hard to realise how much the suffragettes battled against the oppression of women. It wasn’t just a battle of debates and political lobbying, there was several aspects of the struggle that were life threatening. The Cat-and-Mouse Act of 1913 was brought into subjugate the women prisoners who took to hunger strikes, and was a cruel policy to negate the death of these women in custody. Hunger strikes are a non-violent method of protest. Some suffragettes were more militant.

The Women’s Social and Political Union was formed in 1903, and ran until the Great War, where it turned its might to supporting the British war effort. It was only one of the suffragette organisations formed during Victorian and Edwardian times,but it was possibly the most militant. It had it own band of trained ‘soldiers’ who would protect and defend suffragettes, nicknamed by journalists as the Bodyguard, the Amazons and the Jiujitsuffragettes. Edith Garrud – the first female martial arts trainer in England – was one of their trainers, teaching the women Jujutsu, which the media renamed Suffrajitsu. I think this was rather cool, and levelled the playing field when these women went up against lines of policemen intent on subduing these nonconforming women.

Portrait Badge of Emmeline Pankhurst - circa 1909 - Museum of London

Portrait Badge of Emmeline Pankhurst – circa 1909 – Museum of London

In Britain, the pillar that supported the Suffragette Movement was Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, and later on, her daughters. The Women’s Social and Political Union was set up by her, one of a series of suffragette organisations she was to run during her lifetime. It was her tightly wound spring that powered the mechanism of the British suffragettes.  On a side note, as an Australian, I was interested to discover her daughter, Adela, moved to Australia and became a political force for communism; this caused a rift between her and her mother (the irony is that  – later in life – Adela became an anti-communist). Mrs Pankhurst died just two weeks before the act of parliament that saw every British woman over the age of 21 receiving the right to vote. As a writer, I can’t help wondering if her fighting spirit was what kept her going, and once she won, she had nothing else to live for…

In a Steampunk-genre writer, I can use all this lovely information to add interest to my characters and my plot. I have a love/hate relationship with Mrs Banks from Disney’s Mary Poppins, because she is often the only suffragette that people have seen represented in the cinema (though the Canadian television show Murdoch’s Mysteries is changing that.) In my work-in-progress, I am using the suffragette movement as a contrast to the misogyny of the Royal Society and the British academic scene in general. As with Mary Somerville, Mrs Pankhurst had the support of her husband, Richard Pankhurst, who also believed in the cause and the women’s right to vote. I enjoy seeing these husbands that didn’t just ‘allow’ their women to follow their interests, but actively encouraged them; unlike poor Mrs Banks, whose husband is quite the prig for most of the movie. Not all suffragettes were pacifists, and not all Victorian husbands dominated their wives. Break the stereotypes!

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Filed under Analogy, Historical Personage, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Stereotypes, Suffragettes