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  • Writer's pictureCraig Norris

World Building Utopias: Interview with Vekllei creator Hobart Phillips

Produced by Craig Norris

First Broadcast on Edge Radio 26 Nov 2020, 4pm

Also available on YouTube

 

Continuing our topic of the power of story structures, here's an episode from the Media Mothership vaults where Craig Norris talks with illustrator & world-builder ‘Hobart Phillips’ and the process of building the fictional country of Vekllei, his approach to world-building, utopianism and the encyclopaedic forensic fandom around his work. Visit the Hobart Phillips/Vekllei reddit forum and website for further information.

 

Transcript

This transcript was generated by Microsoft Word AI and may not be 100% accurate. If you have questions about any of the information found here, please reach out to us at: mediamothership993fm at gmail.com


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You're about to listen to a blast from the past, a rare gem dug up from the media mothership archive. This episode goes by the shows launch name media tackle, the original air date is in the show notes, but for now just sit back and enjoy this vintage treat.

CRAIG NORRIS

You're listening to Edge radio. This is a media tackle with Craig Norris, PhD and today's show we're. Going to be exploring. World of creating worlds, the world of building a world. And it's my great, great. Pleasure to have Hobart Phillips here. Who's illustrator of the exciting world of Nikolai?

HOBART PHILLIPS

Very good afternoon to you, Doctor. Craig Norris, pleased to be here.

CRAIG NORRIS

That's fine. That's fine. I might ask you to get a. Bit more on the. Mic. So I wonderful that sounds perfect.

HOBART PHILLIPS

This sound good, my loud and clear. Lovely.

CRAIG NORRIS

Yes, I should creak everything around. So yeah, one of the things that's really interesting to me that I want to explore in today's chat. You is is here you are in Tasmania and you've you've you've invested and created in this this this idea of a particular type of world. So when many people think of world building, I guess it's a bit difficult for them to to visualise and understand what the artefacts.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, it's very weird. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Quite niche. Quite a sort of nerdy interest. Yeah, quite often. Well, buildings.

CRAIG NORRIS

Of the Beckley world.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Quite, yeah, unusual in that it it's sort of distinct from traditional storytelling, where a lot of the stuff you might expect, like a linear narrative or like a, you know, a three act structure or whatever. It sort of disappears and it sort of ties into. Very traditionally kind of a nerdy instinct to sort of catalogue and document in this case, like sort of an entire country or a world or. Yeah, it it comes in many forms and it is weird that it's like in Tasmania at the end of the world here, but that's the great thing about.

CRAIG NORRIS

The Internet, I guess. Well, I think I've, I mean, I've been a huge fan. Of your work because of the. What I think. Is that the new model of making? Media that it suggests to me. That is, you know, when we think of of wanting to to tell a story, we can do that through writing a book. We could take photos, we could do a short movie. Yeah. The thing you've been working on and and and it really is difficult to pin it down in terms of simply saying, well, it's a, it's a story. Or it's a series of comics, or it's a series of illustrations because it it kind of spills out into all these new forms and mediums like like, I know you have a huge Reddit space, you have your own website where you house a lot of these illustrations and concepts. So I I I want to give the the listener a bit of an idea of, you know the the the type of world you're making is it's a kind of unified world in terms of there's a it's, it's, would you say it's an. Alternate world to us.

Speaker

Yeah. Yeah, so.

CRAIG NORRIS

Right. I mean. Tell us a bit about the history. Of this place.

HOBART PHILLIPS

It's great cause like he just jumped straight into just layers upon layers of jargon. You know it it's. It's what the people in the scene, the world building scene would call a a retro futuristic. History and what that means. That old history term is really you're looking backwards, but sort of towards the future. That's the retro, futuristic it's sort of a ghost past, a place that doesn't really exist. In my case, you mentioned it in the intro there. They're Kai. This country. It's it's sort of like it's set physically where Iceland is today. I've been to Iceland a couple of times and it left a big impression on me and in some ways it's got a lot of similarities to Tasmania in terms of the small, you know, population and the it's about the same size as well and obviously the latitude is quite extreme and so it it. Even though it's set in Iceland, it's not really Iceland. It's got sort of utopian dimensions to it, so it's more about escapism, about whimsy, it's about constructing a place where you feel good, and it really kind of almost a vessel for your your opinions about the your problems. And like the the way you in which you escape them, that's sort of the utopian. Instinct. And I think that. That's how it differentiates, perhaps from sort of a traditional kind of world building project where you want to tell this great story about, you know, continents and countries and empires rising and falling. This history, the utopian instinct, I think in a lot of ways, is simpler, but also in ways. It's kind of purer as well. It's a very simple looking around you identifying and looking at things and thinking about them. Sort of picking the best ones and assembling them in a way that sort of means some.

CRAIG NORRIS

So as you're saying this, you're really reminding me of those examples of world building that I've come across. I mean, I guess a lot of people, the one most people are familiar with, might be the Jr Tolkens, Lord of the Rings space. So the fact that he obviously wrote The Hobbit Lord of the Rings, but then he wrote the was it the simulacra, the one about the language of this world? So we have all these artefacts that he created where it's not simply The Hobbit, it's also the. This you know this this internal logic that he revealed.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Immersive. Yeah, it feels like almost like a a real place, you know, because it has all the functions of a real place. He sort of he, he explains it. And utopianism is tied up with world building. Way back to, you know, William Morris News from now. This is like the 19th century. It's a period of change, and that's what's cool about utopian fiction. To me, it's quite outdated today. Because it's cool to be so. Pessimist. You're probably familiar with its cool, like younger brother, dystopian stuff. You know, Hunger Games and that sort of thing. But the utopian stuff is always situated historically in it reflects the time period in which it's written, you know, and Lim and Sargeant, who is sort of the godfather of utopian studies, make doesn't really. Cool utopian things. He doesn't use utopianism the way you or I might wear. It's sort of a perfect world. Everything is kind of majestic and there's no problems in it. He sort of classifies as it as a form of social dreaming. It's a way of looking at the things going on around you and then figuring out. An alternate path, and so in that sense, you know, 1984 is classic dystopia, but it's informed by the time period it was written. You know, you see reflections of the rise of totalitarianism and what George Orwell was seeing, you know, in Europe at the time. And so in my sense, you know vichai and this kind of fictional Iceland, which incorporates all sorts of aspects. But ostensibly, it's at sort of a mid century, 1950s, nineteen 60s thing. It's all sort of part of a broader search for meaning that is linked inextricably to today. Right now, you know, the place in which my. And the time in which I live. And so utopianism isn't just interesting for the stories it tells, but the way you can look at those stories and then trace them back to where they were written and why they were written. There's sort of a.

CRAIG NORRIS

Meta aspect to it that makes sense and the thing I love about your description is the idea of of where the entry points are. To engage with these ideas, particularly utopianism. What I was suddenly arrested by was. And this is something I want to get around to talking about is. Is as you. Were talking about that period of time. Is this kind of pre war type environment right?

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah. Or like, yeah. Almost immediately post war kind of like the birth of a consumer society. Yeah, the middle class.

CRAIG NORRIS

Right. So that kind. Of cause suddenly I mean I it's something I think we've we've spoken about in in the past, this idea that you know for me one of the an example of world building can be when you're watching a film and maybe you'll read online a fan theory about something about that world or you'll hear a director. Talking about their inspiration as to why they chose certain components for a film and it just blows your. Mind in terms of wow. That's opened up a host of new questions that when I saw. Yeah. So one of the interesting and and I I know you're familiar with this one of the interesting things I came across that was talking about and we'll talk about this later the Studio Ghibli and near Sharky's work. But we might kind of hint towards what we'll talk about after the next song is this.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah. What going on here in the back? Yeah, yeah.

CRAIG NORRIS

Idea of well, building when it was explained to me how, when you look at a series of Jubilees, Murasaki's film. Oh my God, they found us. We're not speaking. You're dropping enough. But yeah, when you look at some gibly spill and thinking specifically here, what was it like?

HOBART PHILLIPS

I'd be tracked down, yeah.

CRAIG NORRIS

Laputa, Booker Rosso, Kiki's delivery service. These films that are set in this kind of 1920s world, and I don't know if Miyazaki was interviewed, but. Certainly one of the stories around that Weld. Years that this is a fictional 1920s, as if World War. One never happened so. So Europe that's portrayed there is an idealised Europe, yes.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, yeah. Kiki's delivery service is really interesting because it's all bundled up in sort of kind of Japanese cultural attitude towards like old Europe, this mythic, like old rolling countryside, very, like, heavy on the monarchy aspect of things. The pre World War One Europe. Yeah. And it never really existed in the way it's depicted. Yet through Kiki's delivery service for a moment it does. And that's the there. There's an appeal to that, not just as sort of a a person from Japan seeing seeing Kiki's delivery service in theatres, but sort of. The way that gets transplanted worldwide into Australia, suddenly we're resonating with these depictions of Porco Rosso and like 1930s. You know the the Adriatic it's it's. I mean, that's the magic of cinema.

CRAIG NORRIS

Isn't it? Well, you've teased a lot there. I really do want to give our listeners some time to digest that idea of how we can locate these bigger ideas. If you've seen some of Ghibli's world. But also I know you've done research on Miyazaki that I want to. Get around to talking. But we'll we'll return to this. So keep listening, guys. We'll go into a song. This is let you know by Hannah Lawless from Tassie. But stay listening as we talk more about utopianism world. Building Holbert Phillips's work on vechi and some of the inspiration that he's found in music. His work. Right. So you're listening to Edge radio. This is media tackle, I'm Craig Norris, PhD, doctor trying to, I guess the why do I say the PhD? I say the PhD to lend a certain sincerity. Ohh of. Of in the query of queries.

HOBART PHILLIPS

It intimidates me. I sit here as the interviewee and I'm shaking. I don't have a PhD.

CRAIG NORRIS

Maybe subconsciously, yes. I'm using it to. Flex some muscle.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, the power struggle going on in the studio.

CRAIG NORRIS

That's right. And I'm wrestling metaphorically. That's right. If you could see, I I'm visualising one of those things. Like jojo's? Bizarre adventure or something where there's these avatars that only we see above our heads that are these weird manifestations of.

HOBART PHILLIPS

One holding a doctorate, the other one doesn't have.

CRAIG NORRIS

A doctorate? But has this. Thing well that they've created. So yes, I'm talking here with Herbert Phillips, the wonderful illustrator and creator of decline, which is, yeah, an amazing world which is present on various online spaces before I forget about telling people where can they find this world?

HOBART PHILLIPS

Vec life. Yeah, so it it. Vehicles started on the forum site Reddit because a lot of other traditional social media places it doesn't have. Lot lot of writing a lot of pictures and Instagram or Twitter. You have to pick one. Well, the pictures really. And so I'm on Reddit still, I still post there regularly, but the best place to find me is probably at millmint.net. That's mill is in a flour mill and mint is in breath mint.net.

CRAIG NORRIS

Right, so MI double LMINT.

HOBART PHILLIPS

That's correct. Yeah. Yeah. So I post regularly through there. I've got a lot of different little side, lot of plates spinning at once.

CRAIG NORRIS

Cause you know I I've also visited some of the kind of social media. Spilling outness so on discord, you have this amazing community, so you've got a great big community on Reddit of people kind of interrogating, discussing in conversation with you about the work you're posting up. Then you've got the Discord channel, which is a more kind of synchronous discussion. Alright, so so live discussion.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Very different public face there too. Very different like approach to you know, the discussion and dialogue. Yeah, very different. Yeah, circumstance. And then I also publish A bulletin venues like sort of like a newsletter via email called The Atlantic Bulletin, which sort of has all the posts of that month and then. Usually an essay or two from a contributor, talking about utopianism or something about the project. And so that's also a very, very different like method of publication or outreach from, like social media, you know, so it's it's quite interesting that as we move further into sort of an Internet dominated by big centralised kind of social media platforms. I think a lot of artists have some interest in sort of escaping to the old well, like it used to be a little bit, you know, and to some extent forum software and. And an email bulletin kind of recapture, almost like a nostalgia for the early net if. That makes sense. Well, look as I.

CRAIG NORRIS

Said it's what I. Really and impressed about with this world you've built is how it's really taken advantage of and lives in these new media spaces as. Well, right. That again, it's not just having written. A A novel. It's it's utilising expressing parts of it on discord and then also inviting people to contribute into that space. The website you've got with the illustrations occur, but then also seeing those illustrations in in Reddit. But you know, within Reddit's own type of architect.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, it's very multidimensional. And you know at the end of the day, I guess for me the the sort of utopian instinct, a lot of people might characterise it as quite sort of an intellectual decision. It's sort of very heavy and kind of that big ideas, but for me, and I think a lot of the great sort of utopian texts of. The last 100 years, they tend to be very emotional. They come from a very personal, emotional place. And so for me, the utopian instinct comes from filtering in everything that's going on around me. And if I had the talent and time I would be, you know, they're making an animated series music, a soundtrack. You know, I'd, I'd want to be exploring. Many different, like mediums of of communication as possible, because that's that's the. That's the appeal of sort of a complete sort of pure kind of single project that encapsulates A worldview and encapsulates sort of a personhood.

CRAIG NORRIS

Yeah. So while it's a very. Huge and and I'd I'd refer to it as transmedia texts. Nevertheless, it does feel like there's a mothership here, right? That does feel like that at its core. It seems to have have maybe historically generated from those illustrations or those illustrations kind of continue in a way which for me at least. As a as a as a as a V. Were most literally illustrate what's going on in this world, right? So you and then there's a main character in this space. Yeah, right. Tell us a little. Bit about the the the main character and. The world actually.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Was, yeah, so it's a. It's a weird little set of characters, weird little world. The main character is called Sephora, which is an Eastern European Union. In fact, it's it's an Eastern European version of the Moses, his wife Moses. His wife? Yeah, it was also called sabora. It's it's. The characters also feel sort of a utopian role within cause. Utopia. It's depicted as like sort of cities and a landscape, and it's it's about physical place really. But I think Utopia can also encompass sort of a life experience and a a valuable or a perfect or an idealised life experience. And so the character sort of act that out and at present, what I call a post in a picture, you know, you get a picture and then there's a post underneath and it talks about what's going on in the picture. Or it uses the picture as a jumping off point to talk about some. Aspect of the world. The the characters sort of fulfil not just a vessel for the audience, but they also represent, you know, a a kind of instinct for like a a good life or not even a good life, like an aspect of life that, you know might be missing from your own. It's it's all sort of part of a broader search for meaning, I guess. And so yeah, we've got a few main characters. And they appear in most pictures are sort of almost like tour guides as you sort of progress through the world in different places and it's further enhanced just in a a physical sense by the fact that my backgrounds tend to be very. Painterly sort of watercolour inspired by animation, really, so these these very saturated background plates in sort of an analogue style, and the characters are are outlined in black, sort of like cells, animation cells, you know that sit on top of the background to physically sit on top. That's how they used to do it. They take a picture of it. And so there, there is a physical like an artistic style change between the background and the characters. They almost exist sort of somewhere between you and the the the world behind them. So yeah.

CRAIG NORRIS

And suddenly I mean I. I've had the real pleasure of travelling with you, so we we may I. I travelled with you. We spent some time in Japan and I had the pleasure of seeing you in action actually translating like we were on a train in Japan at one point. And you had your iPad.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, that's right.

CRAIG NORRIS

Out. And well, what is it? Sorry, what's your equipment? What is the equipment you're using as you're travelling to create this art?

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, well, as a Tasmanian patriot I've got to use an app called Procreate, which is developed by Savage Interactive here N Hobart, they're based and. It's incredible app like. World class paying quality and if you're on Twitter or a lot of online spaces, like if you're seeing art being produced, most likely it's on an iPad with an Apple Pencil, which is a really accessible, really powerful tool as well. And so when I was in Japan and really elsewhere everywhere I go, I'd like to catch a train. And I pick like a long line. And then I sit on the train and I draw and I just sort of soak in what's going on around me. That's the pillar. Travel for me is sort of immersing yourself in this space. And because like I said before, you got that utopian instant going all of the time. You're just sort of filtering in all the external stimuli going on around you, and so you see a train you. Like you see, a type of building or style of architecture you go wow, that's amazing. That should be in mind. I should have that I'm going to take that. And so you know, it's great. The nice thing about the iPad and the pencil is that you can take it anywhere with you. It's not a big Wacom tablet. I've got it set up back at home my. Home base, so it's quite portable, you know. So you have a a portable on-the-go device that you capture immediately.

CRAIG NORRIS

Kind of spontaneous improvised epiphany of of the world around you. In fact, in during the music break listeners, I was really amused that you'd mentioned that the very building where. Currently broadcasting out of the social science building and Sandy Bay in Hobart. You have incorporated into your world.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, that's right. Yeah, we got this beautiful sort of mid century kind of modernist style of building. It's made out of sort of grids, but it's quite it's it sort of cascades with the landscape across multiple levels and it's really there's something about that, the optimism of the post war period combined with the kind of austerity. Like the the kind of. The the poverty that all countries experience following the Second World War, that intersection of the, you know, big modernist narrative of like we're going to be Jetsons by 1980 combined with the kind of like the the suffering that had just happened, but also the kind of emergence of a middle class and consumer society. There's something about that that's deeply. Wistful for me. Yeah, it's strange because this is me, a child born in the 90s, a child of the 90s, you know, looking backwards towards a mid century period that perhaps to older generations doesn't make much sense. But then again. You have people from who grew up in the 50s and 60s looking back further to that to sort of. Not a deindustrialized society, but one in which perhaps consumer society hadn't taken hold the way it has today. You know, commodity saturation or whatever you want to call it. So it's interesting how I think it's not just about nostalgia for your Game Boy or whatever, you know, came before you in your childhood, your personal experience, but a sort of. Cross generational nostalgia looking backwards, you know at pasts that you never experienced, but perhaps resonate with to some extent you know something about them, something that you've lost just through the March of time and general progress standards of living. All that stuff going up. You know something looking back and reflecting on that and that, that's. That's a lot of VEC life for me, and that's why I'm really interested in going to countries where you can see aspects of that life sort of still carrying on to some extent and we're perhaps, you know, Australia. Well, we don't. You know, a lot of the manufacturing has been offshore. We're all about education and sort of like a post industrial economy these days, very globalised world, looking backwards to a very different society and a very different Australia even and Australia with a space programme, yeah.

CRAIG NORRIS

So that's So what we're so while this world. Geographically is based in was it Norway? Iceland, sorry. Nevertheless, do do you feel there's a local Australian or Tasmanian conversation going on in?

HOBART PHILLIPS

There. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I I mean, I I love Australia and I like being here. I'm very lucky to. Have been born here and last year I went up to Woomera, which is a closed government town on the way to. It it so it's in the desert in the middle of nowhere and it's. Surreal because it's just fine.

CRAIG NORRIS

Ohh yeah, that was a a rocket testing. What what's what's going on there?

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah. Rocket testing town, yeah. It's amazing. It's it's. Like, yeah, you know Indiana Jones and some complex in Nevada with these airstrips and secret government bases. And so this is. This is that but in Australia and it's like coded in an Australian suburb in the.

CRAIG NORRIS

Middle of nowhere, so it's still locked down space.

HOBART PHILLIPS

It's it's opened now, but it was a closed, completely closed to outsiders. Traditionally they still test rockets out. But there's all this really cool old tech they've got scattered around the place, and it's sort of reading more about warmer and getting caught up in sort of post war Australia and what an emerging Australia that was sort of more closely aligned to the US rather than than other country over in the UK looked like it's it's it's quite remarkable. It's hilarious. We had a we had a. State owned industry called Government Aircraft Factories, so that was the name of the company and it produced Australian planes. You know that's long gone now, but it's also a very different society, a very different. Way of life, I guess. And Woomera kind of represents the bones. So to some extent to. Me. Yeah, so.

CRAIG NORRIS

And and that's what interested you about going to where this was a location that was in conversation with that way or?

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, absolutely. Because it comes from that time period. It comes from a period of sort of general optimism. Quite like a lot of trust in sort of technological advancement, which is funny. Yeah. At the end of the day, I think a lot of people are built out of contradictions. Maybe. And for me the contradiction is that I've got a lot of, you know, I find a lot of difficulty with. Consumer society and the way we've commodified aspects of life, and I've got a lot of problems with, you know, kind of consumer culture, I guess, and and yet for me, my nostalgia is looking backwards to the time where those things were perhaps their most pronounced and emerged. You think in supermarkets and advertising and and you. Like Hoover vacuum cleaner and like all this stuff, it's like that's peak. That's that's the peak of that kind of idea of. Yeah. So it's it's strange. I can't quite articulate. Why other than the the the the contrast between optimism and the post war austerity speaks to me on some level strangely.

CRAIG NORRIS

Yeah, there are. Definitely paradoxes. I mean, I immediately had a vivid image of tetsuwan atom, right? So the Japanese Astro boy character being spawned in this 19. 50s world literally defining Atomic Energy as a young boy. Robots in a utopic kind of setting. This this kind of near future world where we have robots and flying cars. Us but Japan, of course, having suffered the nuclear Holocaust. Nevertheless, having Tezuka create a character from Atomic Energy. Yeah, which was articulating a kind of utopic science narrative of this can be harnessed for the betterment of humanity than Astro boy fights to help humans.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, absolutely. And I mean Japans.

CRAIG NORRIS

Right. So Boomer Boomer is very Astro. Boy, to me, you know.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, it is. It is, I mean. We launched the world's. 4th satellite from there. Apparently I didn't know we. Launched the satellite. It's it's inconceivable to think of that as sort of today, I guess, but yeah, no, it was it was. We were the testing ground for anything the UK. Scientists were coming up with including nuclear weapons.

CRAIG NORRIS

Well, that's really interesting.

HOBART PHILLIPS

You know, obviously.

CRAIG NORRIS

I mean it was.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, full out legacy of that.

CRAIG NORRIS

Yes, the the the British Atomic War testing which which happened here as well as the there was a lot of. Coverage recently about the. Dish the was. It in Canberra, the outskirts of Canberra, that tracked the Apollo landing and, of course was immortalised in that movie. Dish, but that was recently recognised again as this this immense nation building apparatus. Which was a a utopic science dream, yeah.

HOBART PHILLIPS

And it never really existed. Really, when I, you know when I'm talking about the kind of utopia the 50s and 60s, I'm not under any illusion that the 1950s or 60s were a utopia. Not at all. But I think in terms of like the this, I guess the cultural zeitgeist at the time comparing to 2020 and where we're at at the moment and the way a lot of people I think feel and. Kind of struggle, especially with coronavirus and versus something like, you know, the the 20th century, especially the latter half of the 20th post War 20. 5th century looking forward towards the future and what that meant and what that looked like, and obviously it was very off base. I don't remember seeing iPhones in General Electrics, home of the future, but there is something about. Yeah, that kind of misplaced optimism. Despite the injustices of the time, that kind of carries across. Generations to some extent, I think in different forms. Yeah. So warmer is like an interesting example because you don't really expect that of Australia, but you can find this worldwide in various, you know, forms.

CRAIG NORRIS

How do you look? I'm really curious as some. How do you get? To woomera. How old is? What was that doing like imagine buses?

HOBART PHILLIPS

On a rocket mate. Yeah, yeah. You gotta drive out. Yeah, it's it's along the sort of the central highway there that goes up and it's an incredible landscape. I I really yeah. Until you visit there, you just forget how big Australia is. You know, size of the United States, but with nothing in it, you know. In the middle, in. The middle there across the nullabor, but then north of that as well. It's just flat for as far as the eye can see. Yeah. And warmer this fifties, 60s, Australian suburb, very classically Australian suburb. Gum trees. Just.

CRAIG NORRIS

And then, sure.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Dropped by a spaceship in the middle of nowhere and living like a normal. It's got a cinema. It's got like all the conveniences of a.

CRAIG NORRIS

When did you take this? Trip last year, right? Yeah. So this. This world of travel is it is it? A tourist space did. You get there.

HOBART PHILLIPS

You can. Yeah, it's a it's a pit stop for.

CRAIG NORRIS

And and find that people.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Miners now on their way.

CRAIG NORRIS

Right.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Out. Yeah, commuting out to the the mines there in central Australia.

CRAIG NORRIS

So there wasn't really much interest in the cultural history that's there in terms of, you know, you know there there are locations like Port Arthur here which.

HOBART PHILLIPS

They've got a they've got a great display of old planes, a lot of really interesting British, like technology. Yeah, old rocket planes and these insane massive like, early guided missiles. That looks hilarious. Like ugly. As as sin. But they were, yeah, huge things designed for shooting down bombers or like sinking aircraft carriers. You know it really. It's weird seeing that as an Australian obviously because we don't manufacture as much as we used to, but it's weird seeing British stuff as well. You know, we're used to it coming from either somewhere in Azure or the US. So yeah, it's weird seeing. Like classic British technology, you know, war and military technologies out there, yeah.

CRAIG NORRIS

It's an interesting moment of history. I guess that moment where the Britain, the UK was in the shadow but still very much a leading power in terms of technology, I mean. Developed jet engines and so forth during the war at a point almost equivalent, while at a point superior to Germany, but then losing some of the headway towards the end of the war, but still being ahead of the US in terms of some of that science. Which is coming out of the island.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, I guess. What Woomera represents to me is a weird like version of Australia that was perhaps more still tied up in Commonwealth business rather than sort of a post war kind of American. Style of living and culture. Not that I think you know one is better than the other, but for me it's foreign. You know, it's an alien sort. Of world a little bit.

CRAIG NORRIS

Yeah, what an amazing field trip. Yeah. So so. You go to locations like Woomera or you've been through Japan and then local Tasmanian locations. And a lot of that material gets integrated and digested through the replay well.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah. And I guess that ties into what I was saying before about it being an emotional instinct. Rather than sort of an intellectual decision to tell a story, and I'm gonna tell it in this way. And I'm gonna say these things with it, it tends to be more. Built upon the material realities of everything that's going on around me all the time. You know it's it's it's, it's. A way of filtering and decompressing with everything that's going on around the good and bad, you know, and and I think you Utopia doesn't necessarily have to be a perfect place. It just has to be a place that to some extent is perfect by the imagination of whoever's producing. A classic utopia. It doesn't necessarily have to have no war and no violence. No, you know, very sanitised, peaceful reality. I think a lot of it tends to be just escapism, and it tends to be a reflection of the pressures the social and economic pressures of the time.

CRAIG NORRIS

Yeah, I'd. I'd like to explore some of those ideas. In a second, we might go to a quick song to allow everyone to digest those. Ideas. But I would. Like to get back to this idea. Of of the conversation you're setting up, and whether the last year of 2020 or this year of 2020, how you've. Integrated that into this space.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, absolutely. Sure.

CRAIG NORRIS

So keep listening. This is edge radio. This is a media tackle. I'm Craig Norris, PhD, and.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Doctor Craig Norris, pH.

CRAIG NORRIS

DI just throw as many titles as I can. OK, you're listening to edge radio. This is media tackle where we are talking everything in and around the world of media and today it's a real pleasure to have Hobart Phillips.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Pleasure to be here.

CRAIG NORRIS

Thank you. The creator of Vichai, A utopic fiction which is an enormous world, and as we were talking about in the last talk break. It's it's basically driven by posts and comments you were saying. So you post an illustration up and you write a comment. About it, you are thinking as you were saying in the break to flex some some writing muscle. What what's what's the? So this is kind of, I guess what what's what's happening next. So you're gearing up towards writing a short story or.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, so I've always subscribed to this because as I mentioned before, the music broke. Utopianism, most when most people hear Utopia, it's a place, right? It's Phil. Place somewhere you can't visit, but it exists. It's a world and I I think there are more dimensions to that in terms of like a genuine expression of sort of a a perfect life experience, whether that be a search for meaning by running off and enlisting in the army or what there's like, it's it's sort of encapsulates sort of a perfect human life. Experience as you imagine it for you. Itself, and that is a fundamentally kind of linear thing. If we're talking about text, and we're talking about writing a life experience as a beginning and an end, and it's got, it's got dates attached to it, it's got periods of time, whereas the clii as a place, the name of the country that Kai, it just sort of exists. And it it, it exists for as long as I. Need it to. It's sort of an immortal place. There's no coping with its death there or it's collapse. It's. Just it it exists by itself and so for me the idea behind sort of starting work on a comic was, well, I always had some interest in comics or it really is a graphic novel, but that that's that term is just kind of it's just a comic, you know what I mean? Graphic novel is like calling anime Japanese animation to try and make it more Plato. But it it the the appeal of the comic is to explore what life looks like from the ground in a place like that. Because, like I said, Utopia doesn't necessarily have to be perfect in safari. As you know, you're looking at society with no crime and everyone lives like. Things it has to be perfect by the metrics of the author. It represents A worldview. It represents sort. Of a perfect kind of place for the person creating it, linked to the time in which they write it. The time and place in which they write it, and so the idea behind a comic or a novel, or, but in my case a comic is that you get to experience that through the eyes of someone and it it's it's more immersive. You know that that's what I'm looking forward to is immersing myself in that as well. You know, I can picture that in abstract, but being able to actually sort of journey with these characters is the exciting bit for me.

CRAIG NORRIS

It would be really interesting to see how this very large amorphous Weld. Or decline in what gets articulated in a as you're seeing a more conventional, you know, beginning middle end, yeah, structure of of a of a. Comic and again, this will mainly inhabit an online blog space or what?

HOBART PHILLIPS

And I think like especially online these days, it's very common to like watch through a TV show or something or like get immersed in a world and then look it up afterwards, look up the characters in a show, and usually there's a wiki about them and you go through the wiki. Yeah. Yeah. Ohh OK. I didn't realise that because in an interview the author said this or there was a cut episode or something. You know, there's more information out there than just exit. Within the the context of the show, and so for me that's kind of my approach because that's how I've always sort of treated television and and it's not just like weird sci-fi projects either. I'm talking, you know, Seinfeld, going to Wikipedia, and you go read about the characters and learn something about the. Characters. It's sort of that, that. Instinct. I'm kind of trying to capture here, so I've I've got through the site, the establishment of sort of chapters and pages talking about. The economy and what it's like living in a country that doesn't use money and language and culture and religion and all this stuff. And then once you've read that or decided you don't want to read that, you'd rather sink your teeth into something more meaty. You've got the comic there to sort of act that out immersively you know.

CRAIG NORRIS

I've always enjoyed that. In my own research, those moments where popular culture creates what's called additive comprehension, so you know the classics like Pulp Fiction. What does the? Suitcase, which Marcel Saint Vincent and Marcel Wallace have what's in that suitcase? Is it? Is it the soul of their boss? Is it like so? Basically, it's an object where there's an irresolvable ality to it. There's a question there's a conundrum. It could be a Mcguffin in terms of it could be a device which is. Simply getting the plot. Long, but after you've watched the movie or or the TV series, you're left with this question. What? What the heck did that mean? What is the black book from? Prometheus. What? What is that substance? So you go online and then? Yeah. Then suddenly you have this forensic fandom. Around you that has interrogated and debated and discussed and hypothesised what these little additive comprehension icons might. Be yeah. And and.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Any immersive property, whether it be like a a TV show with a lot of episodes in it, or something as explicit as ghost in the shell. The manga I believe had footnotes in it. Explaining concepts of the world that appeals to people, people likes reading about, like the structures of the world and the way it's constructed and the way it it functions and acts out, especially in genres that are about alternate. And that visions of society.

CRAIG NORRIS

And look. But certainly one thing I've noticed with the world you've created that it's really gathered this, this encyclopaedic fandom around it. Like you were talking about the Reddit page. Yeah, Reddit community, you've set up, which is a real kind of encyclopaedic generator. And some of the like how many people you mentioned, the number of of of of people, yeah, how how many are we?

HOBART PHILLIPS

On the on the subreddit. Something like two 2800 people, I don't.

CRAIG NORRIS

2800 schnitz.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Know. Ohh Instagram. That's not like impressive metrics, but what makes like Reddit special is. That it it. The activity there and the the sort of dialogue you have between the Creator and the people consuming the content is often quite detail. You get you get sort of quite thoughtful long form comments in response to a post you're making. It tends to be a little more, a little more. Intimate in my.

CRAIG NORRIS

Experience. So what's the experience like of dealing with the forensic or fandom? That is insight that has aspects of encyclopaedic tendency or forensic tendency.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah. Well, I I come from sort of a a world building background which like I said is a very kind of nerdy tradition. And it's also quite. It comes from a sort of, yeah, a designer catalogue things and to explain things and to sort of make these into structures and constructs that you can explain in detail. And so sometimes because my approach is quite different in that just I sort of focus on what I'm interested in and I can dispense with or rewrite or just invalidate previously. Existing Canon because it's constantly evolving, it's part of the utopia is that if I certainly changed my opinion about something, the world changes it becomes different.

CRAIG NORRIS

Can you give me an example of anything that's?

HOBART PHILLIPS

Changed the whole country. Has evolved incredibly, you know, as I. Grow as a person and I change as a person and sort of my life experience changes as well. I start incorporating new and different things. You know, something like how policing works and what the police look like changes radically from like some Italian carabinieri, like old school monarchy. Oil guard type thing who carry swords and submachine guards. It it it? Evolves into something that is far more kind of blokey and personal and Australian and kind of casual down to Earth and so. You know, that sort of thing is changing all the time. It tends not to be big sweeps all the time, but it's constantly rewriting the old stuff. And so sometimes someone will come along and be like, well, can you explain exactly how this function of the language works and the world building instinct is to go? Sure. Let me just I've got. To Google that real quick and I've got to figure out how to pronounce that. In international phonetic pronunciation. But for me it's just been. No, I no you. I'm not going to tell. You, because I it's not. It's not currently a concern. It's not. It it. The point of the world isn't to be comprehensive about all things. It's a it the point of it is to be sort of a a comprehensive account for my. My worldview, which is quite selfish and inward facing, but it's also. So of course it no longer is mine when I put it out there someone reading that they might understand. It comes from my heart as an author, but it's no longer mine. It takes on a life of its own. And that's the magic of art. That's the magic of creativity. It's being able to share that. It's no longer me sitting here in a radio show telling you my opinions about women, right? It becomes its own. Thing it's in a different context, so.

CRAIG NORRIS

So in that case, have you had to negotiate people who have said, well, let me do that for you. Then let me write the language of this world. How do you how do you negotiate those? Because I I know it's obviously your your. You know, very focused and and it's it's a world that you're very personally. Involved in there. How do you deal?

HOBART PHILLIPS

With take on feedback. Yeah, it's hard. It feels personal cause it is personal and you know, I mean any artist will be able to tell you that struggle with negative feedback quite often. It's very useful in the case of language. Sometimes I'm just not interested in specifically like. Working up or making a functioning system rather than an interesting concept or an interesting from a conceptual standpoint, but then other cases I I made I drew this picture of this really cool large mono wing jet plane that people would use. It's not fast like a supersonic. Just like a Concorde, it's it's slow. It's sort of like an ocean liner. The sky almost moves quite slowly, but it's atomic powered and I've vastly underestimated how big a reactor would need to be on that in order to power an aircraft that size. The total amount of megawatts generated and someone came in. It's a very classic like world building thing. Actually, I'm a nuclear physicist and this is completely you're. You're completely off the mark here, mate. And it's like, oh, that's actually really useful. Cause I I mean, I'm not a nuclear physicist. I wouldn't know that. And so that sort of thing. And the fact that Reddit as a as a platform encourages that sort of participation and also attracts that kind of person as well. You know who was willing to give feedback and perhaps has some expertise on some subject that's very attractive.

CRAIG NORRIS

So did you change the design of the atomic powers? The mono engine? Yeah.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Yeah, it's it's got a bigger engine now. You know, at the end of the day, like there's a, it's been in traditional world building, there's a timeline and you're expected to sort. Of fill out. A A realistic alternate history because there's no way that Iceland becomes their clay. There's just not really a way without majorly changing the. Way the earth. Is to transform it into vector, so I've never been particularly concerned about that, but otherwise. I think you know, most people realise it's like, well, the the structure of the thing, the, the, the realism of or or or it's it's ability, the, the potential for it to exist doesn't matter so much as the immersive aspect of those things too, as even if you know it's kind of a very strange country in which this Australian culture. The uniforms and like iconography of like a show, a Japanese workplace or Maoist China or something like that, alongside said in Iceland, could couldn't possibly exist. But as it unfolds, it feels immersive. If you put aside the fact that ohh, this is if you put aside, you know, the the. Desire for realism or a consistent timeline there it. It it becomes the most and that's the. Most important part of. Communicated most important part of expression really.

CRAIG NORRIS

So as you mentioned it's it's changing has the the experience of 2020 COVID-19 the environment around you changed, yeah. Do they have their own pandemic at the?

HOBART PHILLIPS

Moment. I've been thinking about that. I've been thinking about, well, what would a because you can't help but think about it when you're walking down. The street to Macquarie Point, and they've got a COVID testing centre set up and obviously we've had a very good shake of it in Tasmania respectively compared. That other countries in the world have it much, you know, worse than we do at the moment. But even just the little, the the bits that you can see here of the COVID reality in Tasmania, you see that and of course it ends up, you know raising questions. It's like, well, what would that look like and you start designing around that, it's like, well, how could you respond to that better? How could you, how could you make that, what what would they look like, who would be involved with that and how would that affect? National sentiment. Spirit. How would you stop it feeling as bad as it does right now? And yeah, absolutely. You know, isolation is, is a hell of a thing for. Creativity and for for us sitting, yeah, it. In the House, most of the.

CRAIG NORRIS

Time, you know, like I I think as you say, you know, how can you turn that feeling which feels so bad into something else, right. I mean, yeah, those signs, which are very matter of fact. But still trigger a A. Reaction in terms of you. Know COVID test like those. Big. Yeah. You know what? It's not LED. They're using like almost light bulb technology with arrows. And anyway, we all know them. Those streets, those kind of portable St.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Signs walking down the street, they got big, you know, government issued posters in the windows. And this is permanently closed, et cetera, et cetera like all this. Stuff about, obviously, like health measures in place, you know, and it's like it is kind of a surreal existence, of course, in fact, kind of hyper real, almost like what's going on in the world at the moment. And so, you know, you start that ties into the escapism part of the thing. And of course, like your personal problems, the wonderful thing about your Topia the stuff that's going on in your life. And be transferred onto a character, but sort of. Reconfigured in a way that makes it graceful or makes it empowering, you know, rather than sort of disempowering and feeling, you know, stuck online all the time because everything's distance these days. So.

CRAIG NORRIS

Look and and clearly this is in conversation with a a wonderful public sphere, a community that's built up around it, that, that, that enjoys the direction it's going in. I hope so. I look forward to hearing where it's going. We're we're pretty much at time, so. How about Phillips? I I I can't thank you enough for. This small kind of parachuting.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Well, thank you, Doctor. Craig Norris. Yeah. Thanks for inviting me on the show. It's.

Speaker 2

Into the screen.

HOBART PHILLIPS

Been lovely talking to you.

CRAIG NORRIS

Thank you any. Any final thoughts or suggestions or or observations you'd like to leave the listeners?

HOBART PHILLIPS

With oh, you should continue listening to this radio show. It's very good. Very nice, man. He's got a PhD. Well educated, stay safe. You know, it's hard times so. Yeah, be good to each other.

CRAIG NORRIS

So thanks. Hobart Phillips. This has been a media tackle for another week. Next week we'll have Paul on who is a artist looking at integrating Minecraft into the world. He's replicated structures around Hobart into a Minecraft world, so we'll have him on to talk about the world that he's created in Minecraft. Keep listening to Edge radio, more exciting stuff around the corner.






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