Ten - Sons of the Black Swan


     Now, the back story on this one takes a little telling.

     See, back in 1991, clarinetist Richard Stoltzman came out with an album called Brasil, his take on pieces written by various Brazilian composers. Several of them were by my all-time favorite, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and one of them, well, due to the strange swirling typography they used on the album, I read the name as "Sons of the Black Swan," a title that called to mind images of Errol Flynn, pirate ships, and grand, swashbuckling adventure. At least, those're the image it called to my mind.

     But when I played the tune on my radio program, it was fairly slow and lugubrious, not at all reminiscent of either swashes being buckled or buckles being swashed. It was quite disappointing.

     Still, that title called to me, and I decided then and there that I was gonna write some adventure story to fit it. At first, I planned to do something along the lines of Brian Jacques's Redwall books, specifically to critique the way Jacques makes his characters so reliant on their species: all rabbits behave in certain set patterns as do all rats, all badgers, all foxes, all mice, et cetera. Very few characters in his myriad books are ever allowed to stray outside the boundries of what's "normal" for their species--rats are all evil while mice are all good--and that to me is a very poor way to write.

     So I put together a storyline that would deal with this issue, but it never quite seized up into anything worthwhile. I would return to my notes now and again over the next 15 years, change some things, try to get it to work, but it just never did.

     Then, one year ago this week, I started Daily Grind, and I figured I could use parts of "Sons of the Black Swan" as the fifth storyline by turning it into a Howlett solo adventure. I tried and I tried, but I still couldn't quite get the dang thing into a shape I liked, so I turned to the ol' Citizen Kane model and did "-30-" as the fifth storyline instead. I was close on "Sons of the Black Swan," but not close enough.

     As it turns out, it was a fellow Daily Grind contestant who finally showed me what the story had needed all these years. Mike Stevens has been doing these comics featuring all the cartoonists in the Daily Grind contest as if we were members of some cult-like secret ninja art society, and Stevens himself is the guy whose job it is to kill us when we fail to uphold our pledge to keep the comics coming.

     So this one's for Mike and everyone else in the Grind. Maybe I'll end up stealing stuff from all of you...

     On a final note, a couple years ago, while researching the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos for a retrospective I was doing on the radio show, I discovered that the actual name of the tune is "Song of the Black Swan," a title much more fitting to the character of the music: it was just the strange lettering on the CD that made me read "Song" as "Sons." So everything here hinges on a misreading. Sometimes seems like my whole life's been like that...

     I did discover, though, that I'm not the only person to make this mistake. If you Google the phrase "Sons of the Black Swan," you'll find the pages I've talked about it--and a bunch of old listings for the Stoltzman album. So the moral of the story is: keep your fonts clean.