What kind of company uses the memory of WWI to sell products?

If you’re not from the UK, Sainsbury’s is a leading chain of supermarkets. It has received a fair bit of criticism for releasing a Christmas advert that focuses on the events of the 1914 ‘Christmas Truce’.

The criticism largely rests on the fact that a supermarket chain is exploiting an emotially-charged piece of history in order to promote its commercial offering.

However, there are also some flaws in the history as well. The Christmas Truce is a legend that keeps growing.

But there is also a positive side to all this. When the rival firms are exploiting the emotionally-charged first brushes with romance, it is refreshing that a company has decided to focus on a historic event. It is a particularly bold step to take when that event happened in the middle of a war, and your primary range of goods is groceries. I think Sainsbury’s should be rewarded for its boldness by more publicity, like this.

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A Quiet Word With: Web Comic @happletea Creator Scott Maynard

If you haven’t heard of it, Happle Tea is one of the best web comics around. It is the work of artist Scott Maynard, and I thought it was high time we had a word with him. Here it is for your viewing pleasure:

Muses

History Mine: Why does history particularly appeal to you as a subject? Is it something that lends itself to web comics?

Scott Maynard: I think it can lend itself very well to web comics. History and, particularly, mythology, may not be the best way to attract notice on the internet but they are pretty timeless topics. Where topics like pop culture and video games may be more exciting or seem more relevant in the moment, history is at the heart of everything we do today. Writers and artists draw a ton of inspiration from the past and it’s said that there are no truly new stories. Being familiar with history and mythology opens your eyes to a secret world of amazing content that is both entertaining and enlightening and I think for those reasons, these topics can make for excellent comics.

Thoth

HM: How do you research each strip?

SM: I utilize a ton of reference materials! I have books on a lot of different mythological topics, I’ve read through a lot of the major works on the subject, and I’m always reading more! It can be a little bit difficult to recall everything I’ve read, seeing as I read very widely but somewhat shallowly on particular regions, but it’s easy to grab a book and refresh my memory. My favorite reference book is The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. It doesn’t work so great as a primary source when writing the blog post articles, but it’s great for quickly refreshing my memory or browsing through for comic topics!

HM: I notice that a few particular eras (Vikings, Ancient Egypt) tend to crop up quite a lot. What attracts you to these periods?

SM: Norse, Egyptian, Greek, and Biblical mythologies are definitely the big four for me, the main draw being that they’re very accessible to a lot of people, especially in the “Western World”. Though folks may not have read the source materials, they usually at least have some passing knowledge of the topics through school, pop culture, friends/family, and church. Norse, Greek, and Egyptian mythologies are particularly great because (like I mentioned above) they are the source for a lot of our stories today and thus they still have a lot of relevance. It’s surprising to think that we could have so much in common with people from so long ago, but that’s what makes these topics so intriguing.

Viking Court

HM: Where do you take inspiration from?

SM: The Muses, obviously! haha But seriously, I’m inspired by all sorts of things. My inspiration for sharing mythology is to show where so much of culture today springs from, to make the historical relevant again by trying to show, clearly, the connections between the people of the past and ourselves today. By understanding the past, we can better know the present. Making comics has always been about relating to people, sharing ideas, and trying to entertain and brighten peoples’ days while also hopefully educating them a bit as well. It’s also been a process of education for myself, both artistically and on the subject of mythology. I think that life is about growth and making comics and writing blog posts is also about growing with my readers.

HM: In what ways is history relevant in the modern age?

SM: There are oh so many ways! History, in general, defines the present, thus understanding where things were helps us to clarify where they are today. This can be examined in a geographical, political, or cultural context. For instance, without some knowledge of the history of the Middle East, the conflicts and struggles of modern day Israel would seem absolutely bizarre to us today. Though most of ancient mythology may not be of particular importance to modern political issues, it does give us some insight into the cultural history of world and give us a little bit of understanding of our fellow inhabitants of the earth.

New Testament

HM: You include a detailed explanation with every strip. How did this come about? Are you worried that it’s too much of an in-joke?

SM: Initially, the blog post started as a simple way to interact with readers, but it ended up growing into a major facet of operating the site. I often make comics about the popular view of particular mythological topics, not necessarily about the way the topic is presented in source materials. Having the blog post allows me to clarify what source materials might say VS what people today might believe. It also allows me to expand on topics covered in strips when I do use source materials for a joke. I try not to make comics on subjects that are too arcane, so I don’t usually feel like people need to read the blog post in order to get the comic’s joke. In general, it’s a tool I try to use to inform people about the strip’s topic and expand on it.

The Talk

HM: Do you have favourite historical characters?

SM: I absolutely love Zeus, I think that’s become pretty apparent to my readers. He’s such a widely known figure and, in particular, his sexual appetite has been a major source of humor. I could do strips about Zeus every day! Aside from him, I love Thor, Buddha, Jesus, Sun Wukong, and Seth.

HM: Why the humungous zips?

SM: Haha! I started doing that as a way to push the character design of Lil K a bit more. I thought it would be funny and a defining feature if he had a gigantic zipper, but all it ended up doing was hampering the character acting! Unfortunately, the zipper has not made an appearance in some time. It was sent to a farm upstate where it could roam free in the fields.

Lil K

If you haven’t checked it out yet, now is definitely the time to go and have a read of Happle Tea. The comic also has a linked Patreon account, so if you’ve really enjoyed it, why not say so with warm, incorporeal cash? Finally, don’t forget to check out some of the interviews we’ve conducted with other insanely creative people.

Four fantasies that owe something to history

A few weeks ago I gave a nod to the History Behind Game of Thrones blog in my article about counterfactual histories. In that article I reiterated a point made by the blog itself, which is that it is possible to see the whole series as George RR Martin’s experimental tinkering with history. If history’s rumours really happened, how would that’ve played out?

And this is a theme that definitely bears thinking about. Because, while fantasy might be utterly absurd and largely drawn from imaginations, it is also grounded in the real history of our own world. So here we go:

#1: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is all the weirdness of our anthropological past

Like many other great fantasy authors, Pratchett is a student of history. In The Science of Discworld, it is explained that the Discworld works in a similar way to our own except that, instead of the fundamental laws of science, the Discworld has fundamental laws of magic. Therefore, if people once believed something existed in our world, it probably does exist in the Discworld, and is minding its own business thankyou very much.

#2 Tolkien’s Middle Earth is all the complexity of our linguistic past

JRR Tolkien was fascinated by language and linguistics, and spoke (and, more importantly as far we’re concerned, wrote in) a number of different languages, to varying levels of fluency. Languages were his bag. One of his many Elvish languages was based on Latin, by way of Finnish, Welsh, English, and Greek. And that’s not even abnormal. It’s just par for the course, baby!

The Elvish inscription from JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings

#3 The Warhammer world is all the madness of our aggressive past

As a younger man, I was a massive fan of Warhammer. There is a vast mythology to the games which goes beyond any other series I’ve come across. The ultimate focus of it is on the aggressive jostling of different races of creatures and peoples. Warhammer is about fighting, and each race has its own style. The Empire, for example, is based on C14th German Landknecht culture. The colourful Lizardmen, by contrast, inhabit a continent that looks suspiciously like South America, and behave a lot like Mesoamerican civilisations.

Warhammer world looks like historical maps of Earth

#4 Robert E Howard’s Conan is all the brutality of our lawless past

While the other series on this list capture the broader sweep of history, Conan is all about one guy. Moreover, it is about the struggles between the powerful and the powerless. Conan, despite his heroic stature, is a powerless man. He is forever having people he cares about torn away from him. There is no higher power for him to appeal to. In many ways, he embodies ‘barbaric’ tribal prehistory, where an individual could either trust to primal gods, or take fate into their own hands. Conan doesn’t love battle, it is his last resort.

Conan the Reluctant Hero

There  are other fantasy series, but these are the cream of the crop, and all of them owe something to real world history.