10 August 2008

"a different animal"

Thursday, July 3, 2008 (SF Chronicle)
'The Concrete Jungle Book': A different animal
Trevor Hunnicutt

Artists have used mixed media with great success to push the boundaries of art. Picasso's use of collage, for instance, helped develop methods of expression in Cubism.

In an effort to push book publishing into the 21st century, a writer, a schoolteacher and a graphic artist have joined forces in a mixed-media project: a retelling of Rudyard Kipling's classic "The Jungle Book" that combines scrapbooking, graphic art, prose storytelling and pages based on the collaboration of readers online.

Doug Millison, an author of "The Concrete Jungle Book," an unpublished graphic novel, says the use of mixed media helps tell the story through the eyes of the book's protagonists: Little Mo, an autistic boy living in the concrete jungle of Dallas, who is forced to contend with his parents' murder at the hands of a vicious gangster; the gangster; and the heroes who help Little Mo.

In the model of Kipling, those characters become anthropomorphized animals in Little Mo's mind. One is called Akela the Wolf, who helps Little Mo craft his revenge, and Shere Khan the Tiger, who attempts to kill him. "There is a realm of experience that's closed off to us because we don't want to consider it," said Millison. By using multiple media, the book can show readers how animals and an autistic youth think about the world. Animals, Millison said, consider themselves in a state of warfare with most people in competition for environmental resources.

Millison, an El Cerrito writer, and Steve Porter, a former middle school teacher in Texas, say they were inspired in part by a high-performing but developmentally disabled student in Porter's class who demonstrated a mastery of the class material despite concentrating more on drawing pictures in his notebook. They believed a novel showing the world from his perspective would be more vivid and accurate in mixed media, and a novel showing the perspective of animals would make more sense visually than textually. Srayla Tip designed the art in the book.

The project's use of new media and the Internet comes into play with TheConcreteJungleBook.com, where readers can add words and art to the book and share them over the Web using blogs, social-networking sites and other technologies. When the book is published, the best contributions will be added to it. Millison hopes that the use of online contributions will improve the project and inspire reader engagement.

"The Web itself is a creative tool, and we hope to exploit the native ability of the Web that lets the readers become co-creators of the book," he said.

For more, go to www.theconcretejunglebook.com.

The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:

- Trevor Hunnicutt, thunnicutt@sfchronicle.com
Copyright 2008 SF Chronicle

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