[Hooping.org columnist Lara Eastburn gets the story on our favorite graphic novel.]
Have you seen the “Super Teenage Hooper Heroes” comic book? While I’m not ordinarily a reader of graphic novels, when I finally got around to getting mine in the mail last week, I just couldn’t put it down. And as soon as I was finished, I knew I had to know more about how this all came together. First released in October 2009 as part of a multimedia package accompanying American singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens‘ epic 2007 live music performance project, The BQE, longtime Hooping.org readers may remember our 2007 article about Stefan Pildes‘ experience performing in the one-time only event commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music. We also told you that the 40-page “Hooper Heroes” comic book would be forthcoming along with the formal BQE release on disc and DVD, and it was! Reading this powerful, hoop-centric graphic novel I found myself wondering just how hula-hooping came to be centrally involved in Stevens’ “symphonic and cinematic exploration of New York City’s infamous Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.” So I called up Stefan Pildes to get the skinny on how it all went down.
Stefan fondly recalled the day a hoopstress friend brought Sufjan Stevens to check out his hooping class. Already working on the project at the time, Stevens was immediately taken with the juxtaposition of geometry and spirituality of the hoop and he decided to bring five New York area hoopers in to participate in the live show, complete with LED hooping. But perhaps Stevens’ himself best explains what he was thinking when he paired hula-hooping with a musical commentary on one of America’s most crowded freeways:
“Much like the automobile, the hoop relies on the basic laws of physics administrated by the simple machine of the wheel, the greatest of human inventions. Notably, there are no macroscopic wheels to be found in animals or plants. It is a purely human construction. And yet the wheel has come to symbolize spiritual transcendence, reincarnation, yin and yang, Chakra, the wheel of life, the calendar, the seasons, astrology, and divinity. We are contained by the rotations of the planets and moons around the sun; we are all cosmically connected by vast circular motions in the solar system. Is it no wonder, then, that this geometric phenomenon has been appropriated both for the modern convenience of the automobile and for the amusement proffered by a plastic toy?”
Chew on those philosophical nuggets for a minute while I fill you in on more of the story of how the “Hooper Heroes” came to be. The way Stefan remembers it, Stevens was surrounded by a “creative circle” of all kinds of artists. He credits The BQE’s costume designer, Caroline McAlister, with the ingenious idea for the ‘superhero’ costumes for the performing hoopers. And then, says Pildes, Stevens’ illustrator friend Stephan Halker saw the potential for the comic. It seems to have been a collaborative effort, all told, the product of creative minds working and playing together within the same idea.
In the comic itself all five hoopers that performed in the live BQE show are represented. Elaine Tian is “Quantus,” whose hoop isolations possess “rare telepathic powers of prophecy and extrasensory perception.” Anastasia-Dyan Pridlides is “Botanica” whose gift is “photosynthesis – the ability to incite nature at will.” Lindsay Brickel is “Electress,” whose power is “the ability to return all materials of construction to their elemental forms.” The women Hooper Heroes are backed up by “The Hoop Boys” – presumably Stefan Pildes and Matt Kruger – but in the comic known as “circus orphans Barnum and Bailey, one gifted with daring acrobatic talents. The other outfitted with hi-tech gadgets and trick hula hoops.” Their nemesis? Captain Moses, “modern inventor and The Messiah of Civic Projects” who aspires to forever meld man and machine.
Though the comic delights in following a structure that classic comic book-lovers will find familiar, the story line is heady stuff. The prose, Stevens’ own, is thick, but carried by a blissful, musical cadence. As a hooper and a writer, I found myself in awe of how the “powers” of the hooping wonder women were described. This passage, for example, proved to be my favorite: “Wherever two or more are gathered in the name of the circle, theirs will be the swiftest of motion. The cinching of time and space, the metaphysical powers of the isolation tunnel, teleporting its inhabitants to the desires of their hearts.” I mean, whoa.
I can’t recommend this unusual, haunting, and thought-provoking modern hooping artifact enough. It’s simply surreal. You can get your own copy of the comic from Asthmatic Kitty (Sufjan Stevens’ record label) for just $5. And hard-core fans will find a killer poster for $9 and $8 retro comic-style tees to go with it. So spread the word, hoopers. “Super Teenage Hooper Heroes” is truly a graphic novel after our own hoopy hearts!
Lara Eastburn has been dancing in meadows and singing with the moon while spinning in circles for eons at Superhooper.org. Beyond commenting here, you can also discuss this and other topics related to the Hooposophy for living in Hooping.org’s Hooposophy Group and Forum. Lara is also the planting and gardening force behind discovering our hooping community roots at The Hooping Family Tree Project.