Between the Gorillaz’s studio albums Demon Days and Plastic Beach, Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn created Monkey: Journey to the West with Chinese opera director Chen Shi-zheng, which premiered in 2007. Their collaboration was somewhat written in the stars: Chen had been trying to get a version in production for a few years; the Gorillaz had been engaged to create something for the first Manchester International Festival; and Albarn and Hewlett had a certain nostalgia for Wu Cheng’en’s Ming dynasty-era epic due to their childhood exposure to the camp classic TV version we were exposed to in the U.K. by the BBC.
The opera has had a few productions around the world now, always well-reviewed, and is now returning stateside, running July 6–28 at the David H. Koch Theater of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. Hewlett has returned to the world of Monkey for this production, adding several new character designs. A couple of these designs have now arrived online: Vulture debuted the River Demon, while MTV Buzzworthy was the first to see Pig Monster.
I’ve never managed to catch a production of this myself, but have been sorely wanting to since seeing the documentary Damon and Jamie’s Excellent Adventure around the time of the original premiere. It seemed pretty much like being dropped into a universe designed by Hewlett for a couple of hours, and what could be more blissful than that?
The Portland Opera is currently putting on performances of Turandot, and for a dress rehearsal on Jan. 31 they invited several local comic artists to watch the performance and “draw whatever struck our fancy,” according to artist Mike Russell.
Russell not only drew some artwork you can find on the Portland Opera’s website, but also created a “live comic adaptation” you can find on his site. Other artists who participated include Barry Deutsch, Aaron McConnell, Ron Randall and Joëlle Jones, among others.
You can check out all the images on the Portland Opera’s website.
I recently caught up with seasoned industry veteran Shannon Wheeler for an email interview. This interview took place before Wheeler’s recent announcement that he was contemplating a project at ACT-I-VATE–I mention this only as an explanation as to why I ask no questions in that regard. As noted in this recent post, his work has frequently been picked up by The New Yorker as of late, while he continues his work on How to Be Happy. And, of course, we get in some discussion about his overall Too Much Coffee Man work. My thanks to Wheeler for his time.
Tim O’Shea: You are a creator with a long, proven track record, who covers a great many concepts in your work (judging by this tag cloud). This page offers me a wealth of topics to ask you about, but I’ll focus on one. In a down economy like this current one, does it make it easier (or even too easy) to tackle consumerism in the strip?
Shannon Wheeler: It makes it easier to criticize capitalism/materialism/consumerism when the economy is South in that you have specific things (like unemployment and poverty) to point at. Some of the humor becomes more poignant because the reality is more harsh. But that’s very external. To me it feels like the humor has stayed the same.
A lot of the cartoons are about my personal struggles. Consumerism is something I wrestle with. I love buying DVDs, collectibles, art. At the same time I think owning things, wanting things, is ridiculous.