Only Animal artistic director Kendra Fanconi found something extremely moving in the story of Superman creator Joseph Shuster, who became embroiled in decades of legal battles concerning the ownership of the character.
â€œHere was an artist who created one of the best-known superheroes in history winding up at odds with his closest friends, with his career stalling, and eventually going blind,â€? Fanconi said.
â€œBut in the end, he got the credit he was due and reconciled with his life and past.â€?
As an artist known for staging works everywhere from the deck at Granville Island to an ice theatre in Whistler, it was certain that Fanconiâ€™s Superman story Nothing But Sky would be an interesting technical event.
The play, based on Shuster, Superman writer Jerry Siegel and muse Joanne Kovacs, takes place inside a comic.
â€œHaving spent five years outdoors and in the cold, I felt that it was time to try something really different,â€? Fanconi said.
â€œWhat if … we could do some really interesting things with projectors and illustrations to tell a story of Joe, his best friend and writer Jerry and Joanne, the woman who was the original model for Lois Lane and a mutual love interest?â€?
Fanconi noted that for creative people in the North American Jewish diaspora, creating a character like Superman, who could stand up and change the world against enemies, was a way of fighting back against the nauseating Nazis.
There was also the story of how friends saw fame tear them apart and, ultimately, Shuster losing his sight and finding strength to carry on.
All good stuff, complete with 3-D projection mapping from an animation team including Oscar winner Paul Dutton (Triplets of Belleville) and video designer Keith Murray.
â€œWe wanted to tell the story through a living comic book and brought in Calgary-based artist Keith Murray, who we think is amazing, who brought in Paul Dutton to design our Shuster Superman, who is quite different from any of the others out there,â€? Fanconi said.
â€œThere is also a local animation team convened by Keith. The presentation follows the various stages of creating a comic book â€” pencil drawings, then filling in and erasing, then colouring and so on. We tell the story along a similar arc using video projections to create sets, movement and even costumes.â€?
Nothing But Sky is video from start to finish. Fanconi said this meant that most stages of the story design needed a lawyerâ€™s scrutiny to be sure of trademark issues.
Surprisingly, in a fashion similar to a Saturday Night Live sketch, you can have many real or familiar characters on stage without being in any legal issue.
A comic book brought to life sounds incredibly cool. But the content of the play is â€œdefinitively not for children.â€? It comes with an odd warning for a theatrical production: contains cartoon bondage.
This mirrors Shusterâ€™s life, where he went from Superman to illustrating some of the first fetish comics during tougher times.
Nothing But Sky
Where: Scotiabank Dance Studio, 677 Davie St.
When: Friday to March 2, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25 at eventbrite.ca