Cakes and Money
Monday, December 30, 2002
A Less-Than-Subtle Deception
Did I say that there would be more about Quentin Quire and New X-Men posted on this blog yesterday?
Oops! I guess I�m a big old liar. Trust me folks, there will be more on this subject posted soon, but just not today. My mind isn�t really on comics at the moment, but I�ve no doubt that it will return to that topic shortly. When it does, you can expect some stuff about New X-Men, Eddie Campbell�s Alec- how to be an artist, Milligan and McCarthy�s Paradax and the big bundle of comics that have came out recently, but which I�ve been too busy/skint to purchase as of yet.
Hmmm� talking of me being a lying bastard, does anyone else think that I could be sued for the fact that I described December 22�s sizable ramble about New X-Men #135 as being a �quick comic review�?
Over the Rainbow
I�m reading a lot of very interesting books at the moment, all of which have been firing up my brain in terms of my ambitions to be a writer. I�ve been sitting on my ass too much recently, partly because I�ve been ill and partly because I�ve just been lazy. As a result of this, most of the (very few) projects that I�ve started recently have rapidly dissolved into nothingness. I�ve got quite a few good ideas at the moment, and I�m looking forward to trying to shape them into something interesting.
My marvellous girlfriend Gillian gave me Francis Wheen�s Who Was Dr Charlotte Bach? for Christmas, and it was a great read. There�s a review and summary of the book here.
As the title suggests, it�s the biography of the bizarre Dr Charlotte Bach, a former lecturer at the University of Budapest who had a new theory about the relation between sexual deviancy and evolution. Except that Dr Charlotte Bach never taught at the University of Budapest. Charlotte didn�t really have a doctorate. Charlotte wasn�t a biological woman, but rather a transvestite with a fascinatingly confusing past.
Of course, all this only came out after she died. The man who would become Charlotte Bach had been many things in his/her time, and went by many names. She had been a conman, a hypnotist, an aspiring novelist, a fake aristocrat and more.
While there is a compelling train-wreck quality to this tale, as well as a deep sense of confused sadness, there�s more to it than that, I think. There is something profoundly interesting about the search for identity and self that Charlotte that ties into a lot of questions that I�m interested in exploring. For me, it brings to mind a lot of the things that Philip Hine and Grant Morrison are always talking about. Floating personalities and such.
For all that a quick look at some of the photos of Charlotte provided in the book may show that she was a deeply manly character, it appears undeniable that the Charlotte personality was the most convincing and successful one which this colourful character adopted, and one which it must have taken no small amount of effort to affect and maintain.
As the above review may indicate, Charlotte�s story may be larger than life and full of gibberish, but I think that it�s relatable on a very general level. The struggle for identity and respect. For a personae that you can be comfortable in. It�s the stuff that life (and more than a few nervous breakdowns) is made of.
�The rigid, straight line is fundamentally alien to humanity, life and the whole of creation.�
So said Hundertwasser, architect, painter, manifesto writer and subject of the book Hundertwasser: the Painter King With the Five Skins, which I�ve also been reading recently.
My initial interest in Hundertwasser came about through my ambition to write a �fall from Eden� comic book story. I was looking around for some suitably interesting and organic design ideas. Gillian had this book lying around, and I have to say that his architectural design sense fitted right in to what I was trying to create. And isn�t there something brilliant about the idea of creating a fictional world based on naturalist line work and then enclosing it in the format of a comic book grid. Additionally, his philosophy about the five skins each person has (Epidermis, Clothes, House, Identity and Global Identity) created a natural structure for the story I want to write.
More on this later, when I get all this stuff sorted out a bit more.
Oh yeah, and I�m also reading el hombre invisible, a fun wee biography of William Burroughs. Not much to say about this- he was a damned fine writer, and this book is a very interesting look at both his work and his life.
Old Bill & Doctor Garble- love at first site?
A new Wake Up Screaming has been up for a wee while now. It�s very funny, and also based on what really happened to Wake Up Screaming creator Scott McAllister on Christmas day, the poor lamb.
While you�re checking out web-comics, take a look at Saturday�s Mac Hall, which is also good for a laugh.
Saturday, December 28, 2002
Professional Analysis Required
Anyways, I�m still sorting out my thoughts on ye olde Eddie Campbell graphic novel Alec, how to be an artist so expect a review of that sometime in the near future.
In the meantime, here�s a link to a short interview with comic book artist Frank Quitely (New X-Men, Flex Mentallo). Quitely is one of the best pencillers around at the moment, but his slow work rate has pissed off a lot of fans recently and brought a lot of artistic inconsistency to Grant Morrison�s New X-Men run. It�s a shame he can�t draw more on a monthly basis, but as he�s doing a whole New X-Men story arc at the moment I�m feeling rather kind towards him for the time being.
The interview is definitely worth looking at as it features un-dialogued panels from the next issue of New X-Men, and I have to say they look fucking great. Anyone who doubts Quitely�s skills as a storyteller should really take a look at how well these pages flow without dialogue. He�s a master of both panel composition and body language,
I�m really glad that I was right about the U-Men coming back! The concept of humans attempting to keep up with evolution by harvesting mutant parts and attempting to integrate them with themselves is one which needs a bit more exploration than it got first time round, and from the look of those issues there, their appearance is going to add even more excitement to the already highly promising Riot at Xavier�s story.
Oh, and here�s a little quote from the interview which really made me smile.
�THE PULSE: After this project what else are you working on?
QUITELY: Two creator-owned projects, both with Grant, and a couple of other little things.�
More Morrison/Quitely collaboration post New X-Men you say? Tremendous stuff! I�ll post some more on New X-Men and the character of Quentin Quire tommorow, I think, so look out for that if yer interested in that sort of thing.
Assume the Pose
And we�re back!
I hope everyone had a merry (or at least adequate) Christmas!
I can�t complain about mine� my lovely girlfriend Gillian bought me a pancake maker for Christ�s sake- how could things possibly be better!
Up late tonight. Just back from seeing Graeme and Chris- two of my oldest friends. As I type this spellchecker is trying to tell me that Graeme�s name does not exist. Message to spellchecker: �FUCK OFF!�
Had a nice nigh all round. I saw Gillian (YAY!) then played X-Men Monopoly with ma buddies! Is that cool, or just sad? Who really knows in the wacky world of X-Men Monopoly?
It�s been nice to see some of my friends from high school recently. Most of them go to University in other parts of the country, so it�s not often I get to see them. Ugh. I just had the deeply weird sensation of being nostalgic for high school. I hated that place. Spent every minute desperately wanting to be elsewhere; but now I�m looking at it through rose-tinted glasses, and it doesn�t look half bad.
The last half of sixth year was fun though. Made a lot of new friends-met Gillian-went to a lot of gigs. That stuff was all good, but as for the rest of my high school years� I wouldn�t go back there if you paid me.
I feel old now.
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Train In Vain
So: Joe Strummer is dead then.
He was an immensely talented and charismatic man, who wrote a lot of amazing songs and gave punk a good half of its essential ingredients. He stood up for a lot of causes he believed in, right up until the end, and there are few musicians out there like him.
With the Clash he made two classic pop albums- The Clash and London Calling. The former is a tight, supercharged burst of energy and inspiration. Shouty vocals and tinny, rattling guitars working in perfect unison. The later is a sprawling, ramshackle album, which sees the band mixing and matching styles with an uncanny ease and utter conviction.
He shall be missed.
Dr Bernhard-the oestrogen specialist-stopped by my house the other week, bearing a bouquet of flowers, a needle, and a gun.
�Hey Bill� he said.
�Hey Sam� said I.
�Nice weather we�ve been having�
That was twelve days ago. Today, there is precious little oestrogen left in my flower vase. I have a bullet-hole in my arm and there are needle-marks all over my TV.
I am all alone.
�Speaking of Blogs, get yer arse in gear, I wanna know what you thought of the Two Towers.� �so sayeth Scott McAllister, creator of the amusingly deranged web-comic Wake Up Screaming , in a recent e-mail.
All right then, here we go�
So: The Lord Of The Rings- The Two Towers� what to say, what to say�
You all know the story, right?
A group of midgets have a magic (but deeply unsavoury) ring, which they have to destroy in order to prevent a big, vaginal eye in the sky from gaining supreme power and being, like, really evil and stuff.
Oh yeah, and they meet loads of elves and orcs and magicians and trolls and stuff along the way.
[*minor spoilers, I think*]
To be honest with you, the reason this review wasn�t put up sooner was because I had a wee bit of difficulty thinking of much to say about the film.
I certainly enjoyed it. In terms of sheer bombastic action, it pisses all over, say, Attack of the Clones from an impossible height. Why? Because Peter Jackson is, quite frankly, a much better filmmaker than George Lucas. Lucas is a special-effects fiend who has somehow managed to carve himself out a position of authority. He is not, nor has he ever been, an exciting writer or director.
The battle scenes, be they Helms Deep or the fantastic scene towards the end of the movie where the Ents (ANGRY TREES!) storming Isengard, are just far more dynamic and exciting than anything Lucas has so far pulled of. It�s much more inventive and interesting to look at: Legolas� horse trick early on in the movie= rock!
Basically- it�s one of the most impressive spectacles I�ve seen in the cinema. It�s big, loud and chock-full of epic bollocks. It is clearly one louder than Star Wars and I enjoyed it muchly because of this.
Also interesting was the films treatment of Gollum. He wasn�t an element of the story that I imagined would work well in a film, but the mad bastards have actually gone and pulled it off. It helps that the special effects used to represent him are brilliant. Again, it pisses on Attack of the Clones in this respect. Gollum interacts with the world around him much more convincingly than any other SFX character, partly I suspect because he was modelled on a real actor, and partly because the SFX are really good. I also found the character to be both surprisingly sad and constantly funny at once. The amount of screen time he gets made up for the fact that Gandalf (the only character I could really get into in the last movie) is absent from the bulk of this film, which was another thing I�d been dreading.
On the down side, I still can�t really feel much for most of the characters. Sure, there�s loads of drama and character development, but the characters themselves are too� twee(?) for me to get that involved with. It�s not really the fault of the cast� it�s just that the source material is something that I can�t relate too. All those Kings and Elves and Hobbits and stuff� they�re just not my thing really.
Also- the female characters are all a bit crap, aren�t they? They just seem to exist to make googly-eyes at Aragorn and then bugger off. S�fair enough considering that this is probably down to the source material (agin)� it�s a boys own adventure, innit? As I said, this is fair enough as it goes, but it does still feel a little shite to me.
Structurally, I�d say this one was better than the first film. It cut�s between the books story arcs to good affect, and ends at a slightly better place than the first one did. There's almost a decent sense of episodic closure! Still- you can�t escape the feeling that it�s meant to be watched as one, obscenely long bastard of a film. God help me, I'm probably gonna actually watch the whole thing in one go at some point in my life- scared now!
Overall, I liked the film a lot.
It was a good, ripping yarn, and it was just the sort of thing I was in the mood to see at the time.
As I don�t think that I have much to say about this film beyond this, I�ll give ya�ll a link to a nice little Barbelith thread where people who are more into this whole thing are discussing the good and bad of the movie.
Have a wee look here if you�re interested.
Sunday, December 22, 2002
Busy, busy, busy with last minute Christmas shopping at the mo. It�s a lot of fun (buying presents for other people=ROCK), but it�s a bit disorientating due to the mad masses of frantic shoppers out there at this time of year.
I�m going out tonight� meeting up with some old friends who I haven�t seen in a while. Should be nice.
Over the next couple of days I�ll be putting up reviews of both the new Lord of the Rings film, and of Eddie Campbell�s amazing Alec- how to be an artist graphic novel.
Hopefully, that'll all be a lot of fun. In the meantime, here�s a quick comic review for ya.
New X-Men #135
by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
I�ve been looking forward to this issue for a while now, what with it being both the first part of the Riot at Xavier�s story arc, and the beginning of a consecutive four issue run by this series original artist, the extremely talented (but painfully slow) Frank Quitely.
In all honesty, the story hasn�t quite progressed the way I expected it to; I hadn�t thought that Morrison was going to make the rebellious teens at Xavier�s school quite as villainous as he has (they do, after all, assault a group of humans, killing one of them in the process). I would be disappointed with how they are obviously being set up as traditional bad guys were it not for the fact that this has been a very, very good story so far, and one that promises even better things in the next couple of issues.
Morrison has always written disaffected teenagers well (see St Swithen�s Day, Kill Your Boyfriend and The Invisibles for proof), and this issue is no exception. The character of Quentin Quire, introduced last issue, is a wonderfully angry and confused intellect, and while he and his Omega Gang may well be being set up as the new brotherhood of evil (right down to Quire�s brilliant �Magneto Was Right� T-shirt), they are still easily some of the most interesting villains to grace the pages of a monthly superhero comic, and they make perfect sense in this context- if you�re going to set yourself up as a revolutionary for the new age, then somewhere down the line, someone is going to take what you�re preaching and spin it off in the wrong direction, particularly if you�re teaching kids all this stuff. The implications that the existence of the Omega Gang has in terms of the whole concept of Xavier�s school and the X-Men are very interesting, and I can�t wait to see where this whole plot is going. How are the teachers going to deal with them, and how�s it going to affect this open day they�re supposed to be having?
Next month can�t come soon enough.
The use of the drug �Kick� as an element of the rebels motivation would seem a bit unnecessary to me, where it not for the fact that it�s potential effects on the young mutants are so fascinating. What are it�s long-term consequences going to be? Is it going to become a big thing, or not? Again, I really want to know.
In a way, it�s kinda amusing to read this comic, having been so into a lot of Morrison�s older stuff. It�s almost like he�s trying to be more school-masterly here; making the psycho teens the bad guys instead of the good guys for once.
The remainder of this issue was very impressive in terms of how economic it was. The rest of this second year�s worth of New X-Men has been a bit unevenly paced, but this story has been perfect so far in terms of keeping everything tight and interesting. There�s a sense of structure again, and it really helps to pull the whole comic together.
The subplot involving the ever-bizarre Xorn taking the �special class� out on a field trip looks very promising, even if the direction this plot element is heading in seems uncertain. I love the fact that these guys represent a body of disaffected students who aren�t nearly as extreme as Quire and co� they balance the tone of the book out considerably, I think. Plus it�s always good to see more Xorn: he�s such a big, lovably earnest guy, and his interaction with the snarky students is great fun.
Who is watching them, though? I have this odd feeling that the U-Men are going to reappear here� I dunno why. I guess I just think there�s a lot that could still be done with that concept; the idea of humans trying to evolve themselves is a good�un, and one that didn�t get as much play as it should have in the first year.
The one scene with all of the X-Men that we get here is brilliant- Morrison manages to get a lot across about all of the characters in such a small space, and he actually manages to make Wolverine seem like something more than a marketing tool for once!
�I�m only talking about life� trust me, people don�t change much from one generation to the next. I don�t need telepathy or a psychology degree. I watch people. I stalk em� They got habits, same as every other beast ever lived. The kid�s feeling raw and vulnerable�he doesn�t know who he is anymore, so he�s re-creating himself, complete with some half-baked manifesto.�
Sounds like something a preposterously old hard-ass would probably say, yes?
As I�ve said- this is all very promising, and I love the big, soap-opera vibe the whole thing has to it. There aren�t enough superhero comics our there that give me the buzz they should, but when this book is on form, it�s one of them. And I think it�s very much on form at the moment.
So, Frank Quitely�s back then- hopefully for four issues in a row (more than he�s managed so far with this title). He�s good. Really good. His sense of design and panel composition are brilliant- observe how much cooler the re-designed X-Uniforms look when he draws them, or how he manages to make the Omega Gang look cool, goofy and menacing all at once.
While we�re talking about �menacing� stuff- dontcha think the Omega Gang look like Dennis the Menace? Quite apt, considering the nutty school rebellion that�s going down in these here pages, methinks.
Quitely is a brilliant, and effortless storyteller, and while some folk may bitch about how �ugly� his faces are they can get to fuck. He has a very distinct style of drawing that is a million miles away from traditional superhero aesthetics, but his work here isn�t intrusively crinkly like some of his Authority work was (I blame the inker on that series� well, partly).
It�s great stuff, all told- a promising start to what will hopefully be a great pop yarn.
Friday, December 20, 2002
Animal Man- Redux
Thank you to everyone who has told me that they enjoyed Thursday's rather lengthy Animal Man ramble.
One thing I forgot to mention in that little review was that I think the last issue will be slightly less powerful when they finally stick it in a trade-paperback.
Because the original, single-issue version of issue #26 contains a short preview for the next story, writer Peter Milligan?s debut, straight after Morrison?s powerful conclusion. While Milligan?s story wasn?t that exciting, the fact that a preview for it was there really hammered home the points made in Morrison?s run about the nature of identity and existence in the DC universe.
It?s a silly little point, but it?s true. It really did add a strange layer of melancholy and inevitability to that issue that I think will be missing in the collected edition.
D00D?- TH4T R4WkZ!!!
I just heard the first Audioslave single, and it?s every bit as terrible as I?d expected it to be. For those of you who don?t know, Audioslave (crap name, by ra way) are Soundgarden?s histrionic, Led Zeppelin obsessed singer Chris Cornel as backed by the bombastic, Led Zeppelin obsessed band members of Rage Against the Machine, minus their previous singer Zack De La Rocha.
Now, to be honest with you, I had time for bits and bobs of both bands work, but the problem is this; I only really liked either when they reigned in their Led Zeppelin wannabe excesses. A quick listen to Cochise shows that reigning anything in really wasn?t on their agenda.
Cochise, my friends, is one long, drawn out masturbatory grind that pounds and pounds and pounds and pounds in search of some kind of cock-rocking climax which it never reaches. It is a classic case of everyone involved trying way too hard. Look at the video for Christ?s sake- a constant stream of fireworks go off while the boys all bash away on their geetars-one bad Jimmy Page riff loops over and over and over-Chris Cornel gurns and screams as if he?s trying to force his vocal cords to leap out of his throat and attack his fellow band members-the prose turns very, very purple.
It?s painfully bad RAWK of the worst kind, ladies and gents; avoid it like you would the very plague.
Back Once Again
The latest Wake Up Screaming strip is up, and it?s a good?un. It?s an essay hand-in joke, which is always nice, and Wake Up Screaming creator Scott McAllister has managed to come up with a suitably absurd punch line that I?m sure you?ll all like a lot.
Also- I have to say that I really like the way Scott drew that tongue in panel #2. Quite random, I know, but it?s true.
Lack Of Transportation
There? a particularly brutal review of the latest Captain America series on Paul O?Brien?s X-Axis, which I think is well worth a read, even if you have little interest in Captain America.
I flicked through the first couple of issues because they were drawn by the immensely talented John Cassaday, but didn?t pick them up due to the fact that the content appeared more than a little bit cringe worthy. Shiny and well drawn, yes, but still cringe-worthy.
O?Brien, having read the first 6 issues, seems to have agreed with me and then some. The first half of the review is fairly standard stuff, but the second half, where he gets into the political message the book is attempting to make is brilliantly vicious stuff, with O?Brien really getting ripped into the presentation of America and Terrorism within this comic.
Here?s a sample excerpt
?Al-Tariq is presented, quite openly, as representing terrorism. But the comparison is completely invalid. Terrorist movements have positive goals. Even al-Qaeda has a positive agenda - they want the world to live according to a strict interpretation of Islamic law. They may well hate the USA, but this is ultimately incidental to their primary agenda. They attack the USA not because they hate it but because it is an obstacle to their core purpose. Whether you agree with their agenda or not is immaterial - the key to understanding terrorists is that their attitude is "The end justifies the means." They believe, rightly or wrongly, that no better option is available to pursue their agenda and that the moral power of their position is such as to justify the loss of life involved in terrorism.?
Good stuff, no?
I think it?s well worth a read for anyone who?s interested in the writing or presentation of these issues and ideas in any medium.
The Californian Syntax Game
Issues #5 to #16 of Alan Moore�s Marvelman run are currently available online at this address.
I�ve not got round to reading them yet, but you can bet your ass that I will soon. I�m glad that they�re up there and readable in some form, as legal battles have plagued this title and prevented it from being reprinted for far too long for my liking.
That�s one of the bad things about the comic book biz- a lot of great stuff slips through the cracks of the industry and into the (in many cases painfully expensive) back issue bins.
Thursday, December 19, 2002
This Just In
Filmmaker and journalist Michael Moore confused staff-members at OTTAKAR'S bookstore Edinburgh recently, when he dropped in unannounced and started an impromptu book-signing. When questioned as to why he was there, Moore told staff that he�d been in London, and heard that the train ride to Edinburgh was nice.
As of the time of publishing, we here at A Life Of Possibilities were unable to confirm whether or not Mr Moore had enjoyed the train ride from London to Edinburgh, but we certainly hope it was worth his while.
I?ve just finished re-reading Grant Morrison?s Animal Man run, and I?ve got a few thoughts on the series that I?m gonna try and articulate here.
[Warning- there?ll probably be *SPOILERS* in this post, so If you don?t wanna know how this series ends then don?t read what I?m about to write]
First things first then? Animal Man- isn?t that just a great name for a comic book character. It?s one of those names that, like Hellboy, Zenith or the Flash, just seems to encapsulate something about the character in a wonderfully trashy way. It?s pure pop genius: he?s both ?the man with animal powers? and the superhero that cares about animal rights? just like it says on the tin!
It might seem a bit quaint, but it?s certainly effective. There?s a kind of archetypal power to the title, despite (and because of) its goofiness. I think that this is the essence of what makes Morrison?s Animal Man a great and enduring comic book- it?s kinda cute and silly, but there?s something very poignant and human about the whole thing.
I remember seeing a review of Animal Man in the List magazine recently which claimed it was surprisingly dull and un-ambitious by Morrison?s standards. Bollocks to that- It?s not as fast and flashy as most of Morrison?s other work, but it?s equally compelling in its own way.
Animal Man, like many other titles of it?s time, clearly owes a lot to Alan Moore?s groundbreaking eco-horror-romance comic Swamp Thing. Like comics such as Jamie Delano?s Hellblazer (a dark, urban look at Thatcher?s Britian) and Peter Milligan?s Shade, the Changing Man (a psychedelic trip through the madness of America) Morrison?s Animal Man is a mixture of traditional comic book adventure and more socially and intellectually challenging ideas. This is the kind of stuff upon which DC?s Vertigo imprint was built, and while you?d think that the combination wouldn?t work, it was often brilliant, and frequently compelling.
I recently unearthed this little Peter Milligan quote, which I think is very interesting and relevant to the discussion of this kind of comic book.
?As in any art that takes itself seriously, there?s a continuous struggle to achieve aims and I think that those aims are actually there to be attempted rather than actually reached. I think looking back, Vertigo?s been fairly successful in at least attempting to, in a mainstream context, deal with certain subjects which hitherto hadn?t been dealt with.?
Animal Man certainly saw Morrison trying to do a lot of very different things at once: It?s at an attempt to comment on animal rights issues, an examination of the nature of ?reality? in the DC universe, a reaction to the wave of grim and gritty ?adult? superhero comics that popped up in the late 80?s/early 90?s and a meta-fictional story which examines the relationship between writing, reading and the real world
I?d even go so far as to say that it also succeeds on all of these levels, and I think I know why: Morrison?s stories and characterisation here are amongst the simplest and most effective he?s ever done. Sure, there are a couple of issues that are a bit pedestrian, but on the whole these are great superhero stories, with a lot of heart and a quiet imagination. There?s not many like it? I?ll tell ya that for nothing.
The area of the story that could most easily have ended up seeming trite was obviously the political side of things. At various points the story has a go at Foxhunts, animal testing, and African politics, and as such it could of all ended up feeling stupid within the context of a superhero story. Somehow, Morrison pulls it off? possibly because the incongruity between these stories and their context makes them feel more ?real? and shocking, I think. Animal Man's initial efforts are well intentioned, if na?ve acts, and as he goes on he learns something about the possible consequences of his actions (in issue #17, the aptly titled ?Consequences?). The scene at the end of that issue that features him trying to defend himself and his actions on a TV show, emphasising the fact that he?s flawed, human and doesn?t want to be seen as a role-model are perfect; like a (more relevant?) revamping of the motto of another old comic book ?With great power, comes great responsibility?. This is so perfect within the context of this story as it loops back round into the key theme of the animal rights and environmental issue themselves. Does Animal Man have the right to get involved in these political issues simply because his powers allow him to? As Morrison himself says during his famous appearance in the last issue
GRANT MORRISON: ?IN THE END IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO THREE WORDS.
GRANT MORRISON: ?MIGHT MAKES RIGHT.?
GRANT MORRISON: MAN IS ABLE TO ABUSE AND SLAUGHTER AND EXPERIMENT ON ANIMALS SIMPLY BECAUSE HE?S STRONGER THAN THEY ARE. OTHER THAN THAT, THERE?S NO MORAL GROUND ON WHICH TO JUSTIFY ANY ANIMAL EXPLOITATION.
Whether you agree with the man or not, you?ve got to admire the way that the story rotates around this idea on several levels. ?With great power, comes great responsibility.? We?ll come back to that later.
The issues that deal with Animal Man?s home life as Buddy Baker are similarly brilliant. Buddy is such a simple, relatable everyman character and because of the grounded nature of his relationship with his family, his struggles with his superpowers and political ideals never feel outlandish, despite the craziness of the world he lives in.
It?s also remarkable just how much variety Morrison can draw from playing with Buddy?s family life. Issue #9 of the series, ?Home Improvements?, was a charming little story where Buddy?s son Cliff gets some help with his bullying problems from the Martian Manhunter. It?s a silly, sweet little story with a big heart and as such it could of came straight out of the silver age. Then, in stark contrast there is issue #14, ?Spooks?, in which Buddy?s family is disturbed by a shadowy presence. It?s daft, yes- but it?s also very creepy. ?Spooks? is one hell of an issue in terms of foreshadowing, and this stuff alongside the other plot this issue set up the majority of what was to come in a genuinely unsettling way. You can tell that something bad is coming up soon, and when Buddy?s family are murdered later on you really feel for both them and Buddy himself; as I?ve mentioned before, it?s a daft wee superhero story, but it draws you in and makes you care about the characters in a way that few books in the genre ever do.
The humanity in this book isn?t just reserved for the portrayal of Buddy?s family life though; Morrison also embellishes the superhero side of things with a great deal of pathos and sadness. Look at issue #7 and issue #16 for example, both of which see Morrison taking a campy old villain (the Red Mask, and the Time Commander respectively) and constructing a genuinely melancholic little story around them. It should be stupid- men in tights moping around like teenage Smiths fans- but it just works.
Issue #16 is particularly important in this respect, as it?s also one of the key points in Buddy?s development as a hero.
TIME COMMANDER: SO.
TIME COMMANDER: DO YOU WANT TO FIGHT ME TOO?
TIME COMMANDER: DO YOU WANT TO TRY AND HIT ME?
ANIMAL MAN: NO. NOT REALLY. JUST BECAUSE I WEAR A COSTUME DOESN?T MEAN I ENJOY FIGHTING.
ANIMAL MAN: I?M JUST A LITTLE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT YOU?RE DOING HERE. MAYBE YOU SHOULD THINK ABOUT IT.
Here, it becomes even clearer than ever that Morrison is writing a comic book character that is a million miles away from the Wolverines and the Punishers of the comic world. There?s an inherent niceness to the character and the title itself that harks back to an earlier age of superhero comics while remaining grounded in the modern world. I think the key to what Morrison is trying to do here comes from the same conversation that I quoted above.
TIME COMMANDER: PEOPLE LIKE ME MAKE THE WORLD MORE INTERESTING? GIANT SUNDIALS, DINOSAURS AND HOURGLASSES MADE OF LIGHT?
TIME COMMANDER: I?M NOT DOING ANYTHING WRONG, AM I?
On one level, Animal Man can be read as an attempt to re-capture some of the sense of fun and wilful surrealism that had been abandoned by many comic book writers in the wake of the ?realistic? comic book of the time. It feels as though Morrison is trying to imbue the world of the DC universe with some kindness here, which is why it feels so brutal when Buddy gets put through the wringer in the last third of Morrison?s run on the book. The death of his family and his discovery of the nature of the DC universe (a world where continuity replaces history and you live again every time someone reads your stories) may be fascinating to us, but it also feels brutal in comparison to the books general good-nature and humanity.
Everything in this comic ties into the meta-fiction. It?s something that threads through the whole series from issue #5 on-wards. All of the themes and ideas that I?ve so far discussed come to a head in that brilliant, audacious final issue.
Issue #26 ?Deus Ex Machina? sees Buddy entering a simulation of the real world and meeting his writer, Grant Morrison. It?s an idea that?s been done before, but it?s still a great idea, and one that works particularly well here. A lot of big questions get asked, and I think this is the key to Animal Man?s brilliance.
Are fictional characters any less real than we are? What right do we have to read/write about their pain and suffering (power and responsibility again)? Why are we excited by this kind of stuff? Why should fiction have structure when real life doesn?t? Are violent superheroes somehow more ?adult? than normal ones, and if so what does that say about adults? What is the nature of reality? What right do we have to exert our power over the other animals on our planet? Why do we solve our differences by beating the crap out of each other?
All this and more is addressed during the course of Grant and Buddy?s conversation, and while not everything gets answered, it?s the fact that the questions asked are good one?s that counts.
Here?s a Grant Morrison quote on this issue, which I think sums up a lot of my own feelings on Animal Man, and life in general
?My ambition knows no bounds but I don?t think I?m actually going to offer any answers. I?m more interested in posing better questions. Final answers do nothing but close off all lines of inquiry, whereas questions tend to open things out and stimulate creative thought.?
The issue ends with Morrison deciding to go for the ?cop-out? that he had dismissed earlier in the issue; he gives Buddy back his family and life as it was before Morrison started breaking it apart. ?Maybe for once we could try to be kind? he concludes.
I think that maybe, just maybe, he?s right.
Power and responsibility. Kindness and cruelty. Despite the fact that Animal Man is held up as one of the best examples of an ?adult? superhero comic book, I can?t help but think that it?s the superhero book I would most like kids to be reading these days. I think that all the political and metaphysical ideas raised in this series would be a brilliant thing to expose a 14 year-old kid to. How dirty does that sound ?I want to expose you to Animal Man little boy!?
But still- I think it would really give them a lot to think about? ah, if only kids read comics these days...
Tuesday, December 17, 2002
Laying it on Thick/Butter Me Some Bread
I�ve got a confession to make- despite all my recent pissing and moaning I think I�m finally starting to feel better. My essays have been trying to stop me from finding this out, but my essays are almost finished now, and I feel� a bit more awake than I have recently. I�m still not 100%- my breathing goes to shit the minute I do any exercise, I�m gunked up to hell, and I suspect that I couldn�t kick the crap out of a 65 year old widower, but still� I feel noticeably better and livelier than I have for some time now.
Hopefully, this�ll mean that I can get my shit together and start writing again. I�ve been totally derailed by illness, and I�m anxious, hungry even, to write something, anything.
Wish me luck?
Aside from all that, I hope that the fact that I�ll be done with my coursework will give me some time to juice this blog up a bit more� give it some more bite, as it were.
I think I�ve pretty much worked out what the point of this whole thing is, in a vague way. It�s kinda supposed to be about recording and re-ordering of all the mad shit I come into contact with during my everyday life. It�s about what I�m listening to, reading, watching, and thinking about at any given time. S�about what I�m feeling� what I�m living like.
This means it can be self-indulgent at times. Hell that�s ok� I like self-indulgence, particularly my own! It also shows just how shallow I am, in a lot of ways, since I think my pop-culture obsession is quite evident and also fairly representative of what actually keeps me interested� I love �real� stuff, but if I�m being honest with myself I also spend a helluva lot of time with my head in the clouds. Again, nothing wrong with that� just making some observations.
The one thing I do wanna do with this though, is to get my levels of focus and analysis back up to a decent standard. I�ve been very pleased with some bits of this blog, but I�m hoping to get it up to a slightly better standard in the near future.
Anyone got any ideas?
What would you like to see more/less of on this blog? Anything else you�d recommend me to do/change/avoid like the bloody plague?
If so, then mail me at the address provided in the sidebar!
Thanks a lot for reading this blog� you guys are great, and I am very grateful to anyone who gives this damned thing the time of day!
Rising From The Deep�50 Stories High�PIMPZILLA!!!
Anyone who hasn�t already done so should go check out the latest Wake Up Screaming strip. Trust me, you�ll like it.
It�s good stuff- madness on a pseudo-epic scale. Goes down smooth, with the slightest aftertaste of bugfuckery.
Wake Up Screaming creator Scott McAllister is a fully trained ninja and potential threat to the new world order. His key design features include his infinitely indexed memory banks and his ability to reconfigure the fabric of space-time simply by sneezing in its general direction. He is a master storyteller, and we here at A Life Of Possibilities bow before his sheer skill with the spoken word.
Sorry folks- ignore this post. I'm just getting rid of some odd stuff that blogger decided to stick here... s'all going MAD MENTAL CRAZY on my ass!
Beyond the Sound of the Empty Musket
Essay hand in tomorrow. Today, my work has been progressing at an unexpectedly swift rate. Everything will be done in just the right amount of time. All is well.
As my good friend Graeme indicates on his most recent blog entry there's a smell of fear about the university campus at the moment. That�s why I�m sitting at home as I type this- I can�t handle the university when it�s like this. The collective sense of stress is just a bit much for me. It�s like this big wall of screaming white noise that envelops the whole bloody area and blocks out all other thought in your head. It reduces you to a gibbering mess of a person who can only chant the words �extension please� over and over again.
It�s the student mantra at this time of year. Shhhhh. Listen: you can hear it, off in the distance.
TURN IT OFF!
Saturday, December 14, 2002
What If the Hokey-Pokey Really Was What It�s All About?
I stumbled onto this Brendan McCarthy website earlier tonight, and I like it a lot.
There�s a lot of information and artwork up there, and it�s well worth a look whether you�re familiar with McCarthy�s unique artistry or not.
For those of you who don�t know, McCarthy was the artist on such comics as Rogan Gosh and Paradax (both with Peter Milligan), and he�s a very unique and insanely talented artist who we really don�t see enough of in comics.
His design aesthetic is very strange- his stuff all looks like the results of some kind of demented psychedelic art-punk experiment, and it would be fair to say that I�m a major fan of his style.
As such, it was slightly disappointing to realise that he�d did design work on movies as crap as Highlander 2, but hey. Everyone�s got bills to pay, after all.
And he was responsible for the classic design of Grant Morrison�s Zenith , so for that alone he qualifies as a tiny god In my books!
Oh- and almost on the same topic, if not quite, I managed to find some information on the much discussed, but as yet un-written collaboration between Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan- Bizarre Boys. Sounds more than a little bit crazy, yes?
Friday Night Cowboy Racket
Well, today�s been interesting, in that really inexplicable way. I�ve been trying to write an essay all day, but as you can imagine my mind has been a million miles from the job in hand. Thankfully, I�ve managed to write a detailed essay plan that is absolutely to die for, and when I�m done typing this up I�m gonna get a good five hundred words written before I go to bed.
I�ll have finished the essay by Sunday Night, and will then write another one on Monday/Tuesday.
Big thanks go out to my lovely girlfriend Gillian, who was very good at calming me down this morning. Considering the fact that I was a gibbering incoherent wreck at the time, this was no mean feat at all!
Also- a big thank you to Christopher Lawson and Gillian Reid for helping us to do our shopping post-accident. You're stars the both of you, and my whole family are very greatfull to you for your time and help!
Thursday, December 12, 2002
Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
I'm pretty shaken up at the moment, as my Dad had a bit of an accident today. He has a Multiple Sclerosis, which makes getting about more than a little bit difficult at the best of times. Today, he fell into the door while going to the toilet, breaking his left arm and smashing his head through a panel of glass in the process. The poor bugger fell over at 2:00 in the afternoon (when no one else was in the house) and after shouting for help for a while he managed to pull himself along the floor (using his broken arm as the other one has been crippled by the MS), eventually getting himself to the phone half an hour later.
Lets repeat that for the hard of hearing- he managed to pull himself from one end of the living room to the other using his broken arm!!!
My dad is harder than Bruce Willis, and Bruce Willis knows this. Bruce Willis is scared of this. Bruce Willis knows that he lacks my father�s resolve.
Bruce Willis: your time is up. Prepare to be replaced.
S'fucked up, man... I'm not sure how to deal with it, but hey!
He�s okay though, and that�s the important thing. His arm will be out of commission for six weeks, which is gonna make everyday life even harder for him than normal, but hopefully we�ll be okay with this.
Answers Scored on Broken Glass
By this time week I�ll have finished off all of my work for this term, and to be honest with you, I can�t wait! I�ve only got two more essays to write, and I�m pretty much sorted in terms of what I�m doing for both of them, so I don�t think it�s gonna be too much bother.
This is good- I can�t wait to rest up and chill out over Christmas, though when I think about it I really need to start doing my Christmas Shopping soon!
I�ve been listening to a lot of noisy pop recently. The Ramones, The Pixies, The Jesus and Mary Chain etc. It�s all good stuff, but I�m in the mood for something else at the moment. Something that I�ve not listened the hell out of already.
Time to hit the Internet, and see what kinda stuff I can download methinks� anyone got any suggestions?
You know how I was talking about how mainstream comics need a burst of fresh creativity the other day? Well, I stand by that comment, but I�m also interested in exploring the possibilities of comics outside of the mainstream.
As much as I love writers like Grant Morrison or Peter Milligan (and believe me- I can�t get enough of their work), I am aware that their brilliance lies in the fact the way that they twist and bend the standard adventure comic format into fresh new shapes (a notable exception would be Alan Moore�s From Hell, which is unlike pretty much anything else in comics). There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but I�m also very into exploring comics that are either derived from a variety of other areas.
In particular, I�ve become quite attached to the possibilities inherent in the idea of journalistic comics. There�s something about the easy, involving nature of comics, and the fact that large blocks of textual information can so smoothly be blended with direct narrative flow, which I think lends itself very well to journalism.
I�ve heard good things about the work of Joe Sacco . There�s a really interesting interview with him here where he comes out with the following quote
�I think, when I first thought about doing a comic about the Palestinian situation, I bought a book that sort of detailed a lot of human rights abuses, like case studies of human rights abuses, and they were really interesting, but they were done in a very legalistic way. And you read these things, and they're very good if you're going to present this evidence in a court, it's like an affidavit, basically, very matter of fact, but it would be difficult -- in a way -- well, I thought, I could illustrate this thing, and get permission to illustrate it, but, I wanted some -- I guess in the end I wanted to have more -- I wanted to get even closer to the source, and, you know, have some more of the emotion in it.�
Sounds like a laugh, yeah? I think I�ll probably check out some of his work next year, probably Palestine, which sounds bloody interesting to me!
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
Forever Changed by the Scope
As you can see, I�ve been fiddling around with the site template again, and I�ve finally got my ass in gear and put the links block back up. I like the links block� it makes the whole page look a bit more fleshed out, I think.
I�m also in the final stages of adding a contact address to the sidebar, which is something this blog has never had in the past. If any of you have any comments, queries or complaints then feel free to send them to my Yahoo! Mail account.
I�ve been sick for half a year now. Between the chickenpox and the glandular fever, I�ve been more or less constantly ill since early June. This is may not be a cheery thought, but it�s not that bad either. After all, the glandular fever seems to be slowly, but surely, going away, and it�s not as though I haven�t had fun in the last five or six months.
Over the course of the summer I�ve visited and accompanied friends in wee jaunts to Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh, I�ve been down to Cambridge a few times, went to see a production of Brecht�s Mother Courage, had some wonderful times with my girlfriend Gillian, went to a few gigs, hung out with all my brilliant friends and much, much more.
Come to think of it, I don�t think that I�ve coped that badly, all considered. The same goes for Gillian too, who I was kind enough to share my glandular fever with, and who has had the added pressure of the strict weekly essay regime at Cambridge University to deal with.
We are both as hard as nails, and twice as cool. Fact!
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
We Got Layers
OK, bear with me now: Here�s something that comic book writer Warren Ellis said in his most recent Bad Signal e-mail
"Here's a thing. Tony Millionaire's blurb for Frank Miller and Lynn
Varley's much-maligned comedy retro-superhero book THE DARK
KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN: "Miller has done for comics what The
Ramones et al did for music. This book looks like it was done by
a guy with a pen and his girlfriend with an iMac."
And you know? He's not totally crazy. I may come back to this."
The fact that I�m writing about Ellis writing about Tony Millionaire writing about Frank Miller aside, this is an interesting thought, no?
Like many people, I didn�t pick up The Dark Knight Strikes Again because it looked a bit too primitive for my liking. While I�m not entirely convinced that DKSA is a punk-rock masterpiece, the idea did give me a couple of things to think about, as well as peaking my interest to the extent that I�ll probably have a flick through the book when it comes out in soft-cover.
The main question that this raised for me was: is the idea of punk-comics a good one, or would it simply lead to a slew of unreadable trash? The whole thing could go a bit too Image for me, and I don�t think that comics need that phase again!
Still� the idea resonates somehow. I love the whole idea of punk. The attitudes, the spirit, and I don�t think that rough� n �ready, DIY comics need to be badly drawn. Mainstream Comics need some kind of a shot in the arm, that�s for sure.
Lets face it: most of the best writers in the mainstream (Alan Moore, Grant Morrison etc�) aren�t exactly fresh talent are they? They�re all past the point of being new and interesting, and they�ve all completed what could be considered their big masterpieces. Works like From Hell, Preacher or The Invisibles aren�t the kind of things which writers can churn out endlessly, and I think the industry needs a new jolt of ambitious, interesting stuff to keep it going.
This is not to say that such writers are incapable of writing anything but crap now. On the contrary, I love The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen and The Filth, and when New X-Men is on form, it�s great, but still�
There�s a lot of room for something new in mainstream comics� I dunno if it�ll be �punk-comics� or what, but I hope something comes along, in some shape or form. And soon.
Maybe some nice non-superhero genre work would be good instead... I mean, I know quite a bit of this stuf exists, but it'd be nice if it got more of a push... I dunno... I rambling here. Ignore me.
Sunday, December 08, 2002
In case anyone�s missed it, here�s a link to literary bad sex 2002.
There are a couple of really hilarious excerpts up there, and to be quite honest with you there are a few bits that utterly melted my mind� I just don�t know what to make of them, or the people who actually churned out this brilliantly shitty writing. Just check out this slice of wrongheaded madness:
�Weirdly, he was clad in pin-stripes at the same time as being naked. Pin-stripes were erotic, the uniform of fathers, two-dimensional fathers. Even Mr Hughes's penis had a seductive pin-striped foreskin. Enticingly rough yet soft inside her. The jargon he'd used at the consultation had become bewitching love-talk�
What the fuck is that all about! Answers on a post-card to the usual address please
I�ve heard very little about Adaptation, the new movie by Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze (the team behind the excellent Being John Malkovich) but I�m already dying to see it. If it�s anywhere near as good as it sounds then I think I�m gonna be in heaven.
DEscriptions of the movie here and here have got me very, very excited about this. Yay!
Friday, December 06, 2002
Here it is folks- the conclusion to yesterdays interview with my good friend Scott McAllister. In this half of the interview, we discuss his online comic-strip, Wake Up Screaming. I hope you like it!
bigsunnyd: Right, lets talk about your online comic-strip Wake Up Screaming. What made you come up with it, and why did you choose to put it online?
Scott McAllister: Hmm. Jumping back a few years to the original version... It was borne out of me fiddling with a paint program on the computer one night...it was either that or watch the X-Files... This would be about the start of 2000, I think. I made two characters who were caricatures of real people, and then, for a laugh made it into a short strip.
bigsunnyd: To what degree is it autobiographical? The entire cast are based on friends of yours, yes? How much do you think they resemble their real life counterparts?
Scott McAllister: I showed it to one of my friends because I wanted him to put it onto his web page. The idea was to show one of the people who the caricatures were of, since that particular person read shit-loads of web-comics. "Hey, check out this new one, I think you'll like it"
Scott McAllister: Well, after faffing with the original version for ages, I had some vague notions about bringing in some real elements from our lives. It became a way to work out some bitterness at my college years.
Scott McAllister: Then it started to grow on it's own. Version 2, which started over a year ago had characters based on real people, at the way they were at the time, from there the characters took on lives of their own.
Scott McAllister: Rebus was based on a friend of mine who'd left university and had no luck finding a job for about 10 months or so I think, so the comic one has never found one, and developed this hair-trigger temper, totally unlike his counterpart. Although, his constant complaining is true... hehe
Scott McAllister: Brody is based on a guy who's life was gaming and drinking, and that worked fine, whereas I always felt sorry for Ferris, based on a guy who did have a job, was doing quite well. He was just another computer programmer at a large firm, and I was fearful of having him turn into Dilbert.
Scott McAllister: I just had nowhere to take him plot-wise.
bigsunnyd: you mention the fact that it became a way of venting your frustrations, and I think that this is what I like most about WUS. It has a lot of anger towards the outside world, but it also seems be full of paranoia and doubt and I was wondering, does it feel like catharsis to you or is it more like healing? To phrase it another way, does it feel good to share it, or does it feel good to get it all out?
Scott McAllister: I don't think I'll be free of the feelings that form the basis of the strip until I'm free of the education system. I suppose it feels good to share it, in a kind of "misery loves company" kind of way. There are occasions when if does approach catharsis, which is nice. It's all about pointing the blame for my mistakes away from me, and onto THEM!
Scott McAllister: By THEM I mean my various educators
bigsunnyd: Of course, but who is number one?
Scott McAllister: You are, Number...what was yours again?
bigsunnyd: Erm... 7. No, 8. Jumping back a bit, what do all your meat-space friends think of their 2D counterparts?
Scott McAllister: I think they were amused at first, but I think they lost interest ages ago. Sometime they'd talk about the characters as them, which I now find odd, as to me the characters have taken on lives of their own. If the inspirations find out that the character they inspired are being made fun of, they have a sort of mock indignation. They don't realise I no longer think of them as them, so to speak...
Scott McAllister: So in that respect I suppose I stopped caring about what they think... cruel I suppose
bigsunnyd: Or merely practical, depending on how you look at it.
Scott McAllister: True.
Scott McAllister: Besides limit the number of hammer bashing jokes?
Scott McAllister: Get back to my original idea, which was about two guys at college and hating it. I don't intend to abandon the slapstick 'though, it's just got some time off. I guess it all goes to that silly quote "the Young Ones for the Daria generation" - except it's been more Young Ones than Daria...
bigsunnyd: Do you have any idea as to whether you'll be continuing this style or what?
Scott McAllister: It's actually lasted about 3 weeks longer than I expected so far. I think it might be here for a while, it's just than now I have to re-make stuff from scratch which was available to me on the old version (backgrounds, minor characters etc). I'm still finding my feet with it.
Scott McAllister: So there's always a temptation to dig up the old stuff.
bigsunnyd: Would you like to see WUS develop off of the web and onto the page, or would you rather it just existed as it does?
Scott McAllister: I think I'd like to see it mutate in any way it can. Especially if I can sit back and just write it. There's a temptation to write a much more autobiographical version and ditch the slapstick.
Scott McAllister: Then I realise how boring it would be. Bring on the demonic lecturers!
bigsunnyd: Exactly. You know more about Demonic lecturers than anyone else I know- fact!
How do you feel about the education system now? It's clearly something you're not happy with...
Scott McAllister: Hmm, I really thought it was more of a clash of personalities...
bigsunnyd: in what way?
Scott McAllister: I've always felt unmotivated to learn, as if study like that was intruding on my life, so I resent giving them time I could waste in more fun ways.
Scott McAllister: Slacker ethos
bigsunnyd: Anyway, it's late and I'm tired, so what do you say we call it a night?
Scott McAllister: Yeah, I think it's about that time...
bigsunnyd: thanks for a great interview, you've been very interesting
Scott McAllister: Thanks for making me into a celebrity...sorta
bigsunnyd: any time
bigsunnyd: any last words?
Scott McAllister: Sleep is useful and fun.... howzat?
bigsunnyd: good stuff
Thursday, December 05, 2002
Right. As you all know, Scott is a friend of mine who gets a hell of a lot of mentioning on this blog. This is partly because he does a fun little web comic called Wake Up Screaming of which I am very fond (it updates at midnight tonight by ra way!), but it�s also partly just through sheer randomness. I don�t really know why, but he just seems to pop up a lot more than anyone else, even my girlfriend Gillian (possibly because she goes to University at the other end of the country, but oh well�).
With all that stuff out the way- the following interview was conducted spontaneously on Yahoo! Messenger a couple of weeks ago. In the first part (which is posted below) I ask him a bit about his aspirations as a writer, and about Science-fiction in general, and in the second half (which will be posted tomorrow) we talk a bit about Wake Up Screaming itself. Scott�s an interesting and very lovely guy, and I hope that this is a fun wee interview that you�ll all enjoy a lot.
bigsunnyd: OK: Lets start with some general questions.
Scott McAllister: ok
bigsunnyd: How long have you wanted to be a writer? Was there any particular experience that made you want to write?
Scott McAllister: It would be hard to say. I think when I started reading comics I naturally developed the desire to write for them, but that was when I was about 12 ish. I don't think I really wanted to be a writer 'till I was about 16. Reading JMS and his friend Harlan Ellison talking about the craft of writing made me realise that I really did want to tell people stories....
Scott McAllister: It was in my head for a while, but I was never quite convinced I had what it took to be a "proper" writer, but when I rediscovered comics when I was about 18 it was like a revelation.
Scott McAllister: Since then I've been (by and large) possessed.
bigsunnyd: A lot of young comics readers go through the phase of wanting to write/draw their favourite comics don't they? Would you say that you're return to comics when you were 18 marked a shift to a serious consideration of this as a profession?
Scott McAllister: To be honest, I think most of the guys I knew wanted to do their own super-heroes. I blame Image since they had just bust onto the scene (laughs). At 18 I realised that the funny-books had a broad range of writers, and that they did that as a profession, just as, say, a novelist, whereas before I thought of it more like "yeah, I'd like to be a writer...hmm, maybe it would be fun to do comics on the side someday".
Scott McAllister: So, I realised that I wanted my work to be primarily in the medium of comics, because frankly, they seemed much cooler than anything else.
bigsunnyd: Right, so at the moment, comics are pretty much your primary focus in terms of writing?
Scott McAllister: Yes. I don't think I have many ideas that I think couldn't work as a comic as well as a book, I just prefer the former.
bigsunnyd: Interesting stuff. How accessible do you feel the comic industry is for an aspiring writer like yourself?
Scott McAllister: About the same as any other medium I'd imagine. It always seems to be about proving your talent and ability (or commercial ability as the case may be)...you just have to realise that there will not be any overnight miracles, and that you have to do a bit more than bug the big two for a job.
Scott McAllister: I'm in this for the long haul, however long it takes, except try explaining that to a working class Glasgow family who think a University Degree is the key to everything...
bigsunnyd: Yeah(laughs). You mention the big two, so I'm interested to ask: what kind of work would you most like to find yourself doing in the future, creator owned, work for hire or a mixture of the two?
Scott McAllister: Definitely a mix I would hope. I'm one of those poor cases with the big two in the blood, so I'd want a chance to play in their sandbox, but naturally, I wouldn't want to do that forever, because there's things I want to do that don't require their backdrop, or is just unsuitable... Besides, don't I have to go through the vaguely autobiographical comic book bit at some point? I thought it was a law...
bigsunnyd: I believe it is (laughs) but that kinda ties into to your online comic, Wake Up Screaming, which we'll talk about later. Right now, I was gonna ask what particular creators or works (from any medium) you are most influenced/inspired by, and in what way?
bigsunnyd: (a clich�d question, but one I feel the need to ask nonetheless)
Scott McAllister: Hmm...let me think...
bigsunnyd: no probs
Scott McAllister: Well, first of, J M Straczynski turned me on and made me aware to the idea of writing as a career, and I really admire the guy's tenacity to keep at it as long as he did. 7 years to sell B5, 5 years keeping it on air. "We're on a mission from God" - yeah!
Scott McAllister: Um. The movies of Terry Gilliam strike a chord I'd say, but I love the fact that he himself has pointed out the fact that in something like Brazil, they haven't actually made any real attempts to explain what a person should do, only that they are really unhappy inside sometimes...
bigsunnyd: yeah... it's somehow always satisfying when a film which deals with issues as big as those in Brazil doesn't pretend to have any solution
Scott McAllister: Well, it relates to a slight paranoia of mine - guys like Steven King and JMS are always on about keeping at "it" and making "it", talking about huge leaps of faith and coming up they way you want, which is nice. Then you read about some poor bastard who wrote his arse off, everyone loves him now, but in his day he was a nobody... Then you start to think about the ones that never make it at all...
Scott McAllister: Now that's scary. Cue Sam Lowry singing, run titles...
Scott McAllister: Also, mustn't forget John Wyndham, after all, with his help I got the highest mark in my English class (laughs). There I was in my early teens and it was all Star Wars and Dune... Planet hopping and teenage boys ruling the universe was the way to go, until my school librarian threw Wyndham at me. No super-powered young boys changing the know universe with super-abilities (I suppose he came damn close with the Chryssalids and the Midwitch Cuckoos), instead the characters had to think their way out! Suddenly, post apocalyptic worlds didn't need another hero, they just needed someone who could fix the plumbing, and maybe settle the argument about the place of women in the new world...
bigsunnyd: As someone who is clearly a big fan of a lot of science fiction and superhero stories, how do you feel about how the world at large views these genres and their fans? How do you view them?
Scott McAllister: I think the public pictures the Comic Book Guy from the Simpson�s when they think of your average comic book/SF fan. Certainly they don't see anything else on the mass media other than Star Wars fans and Star Trek fans dressing up and picking fights with each other in cinema quest... But the "normal" public have their own obsessions - look at the fact that a plot form Coronation Street raised questions in Parliament (if I recall correctly). The difference to me seems to be the exploitation of the fans.
Scott McAllister: If Corrie or Brookie had tie in novels they'd sell by the tanker load. Also, look at the fact that people model their looks based on what they see in the media - how is wearing an outfit from a Sci-Fi TV series any different than choosing you clothes based on what you see on TV? It happens all the time. Is it any different from the way that people dress themselves to fit into a particular social group like, say, neds or goths or skaters... Mind you, neds laugh at goths, goths laugh at neds, but they'll all join together to laugh at trekkies...What the world needs is a rush of celebrity trekkies, then let the lines blur. You can see the photos in the Daily Record or the Sun - "EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS - Sophie Ellis Bextor attends party in Starfleet uniform, Robbie Williams seen drinking in a pub dressed as a Klingon...". With luck, there'd be some kind of shockwave and before you know it, all the trendy people look like trekkies...mind you, what would the trekkies do?...
Scott McAllister: I just think the public feels unable to relate to the genre because they lack the imagination to squint and see the universe sideways at such a weird angle. Hence why shows like Buffy, couched in relatively normal settings trounce shows like space operas
Scott McAllister: But if you break it up into something simple they can swallow it just as easily.
Scott McAllister: Hence Star Wars success - it's all about things being hit and smashed, whereas Trek has technological stuff going on - words they don't want to think about because they hated science at school...
Scott McAllister: Minority Report and the Matrix take broad reaching ideas and make it all sort of "cops and robbers", ignoring the implications of the ideas
bigsunnyd: What kind of sci-fi (modern or otherwise) would you say is challenging or undiluted?
Scott McAllister: I personally think that the best kind of stuff is the kind that can plant something in your head that can keep you awake at night. Getting back to why the Matrix was a bit naff - if it had made more regular people question reality and their existence, then fair enough, but I'd be willing to bet that that stuff slid right most people's brains as they slobbered over the gun-fu. The kind of people watching it and thinking about that kind of stuff were probably already thinking about it before. Leave them with questions, or room for interpretation, that's what I think. Give people a chance to see it from all angles, rather than the basic "him good, him bad" type stuff. In Brazil, is Michael Palin's character of Jack Lint evil?
Look at something like Ghost In The Shell (the original manga, I've never seen the animated movie). It has the whole cops and robbers (or cowboys and indians if you prefer) stuff, like say Minority Report or the Matrix, but the backdrop for the series is full of threads that you can pick up and think about.
In other words, if you're asking me to name specifics, forget it, I don't feel well read enough. Please accept these generalities and our apologies.
bigsunnyd: You mentioned the exploitation of fans earlier, and I just wanted to ask how you feel about that? To what degree do you think the appeal of a lot of the big sci-fi and fantasy cults like Lord Of The Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek or whatever is based upon the creation of a big, comfy universe they can feel at home in, and how similar do you think that is to the layers of plot and character convolution that soap-opera fans thrive on?
Scott McAllister: I think the success of any franchise is down to either having a set of characters that people like, or a universe that appeals. People have to feel that they can relate to the events depicted (and if that starts to wane go for shock value!). Again, the difference in fans is all about pre-conditioning.
bigsunnyd: yeah, people have been deeply undersold to the point that I'm not sure if even they realise what they can process/handle
Scott McAllister: Yeah - look at the bullshit that surrounded the Matrix - "it'll take you two viewings - once to enjoy it, the second to understand it"
bigsunnyd: Exactly. Something as simple as the Matrix can be held up within the context of modern pop-culture as something that is difficult and challenging, and it's really a bit of a shame, cos I'm sure that most people could deal with stuff that's a lot tougher and chewier than that
Scott McAllister: Time invoke the spirit of Bill Hicks - "evolution didn't end with us growing thumbs" sic
End Of Part One...
Tuesday, December 03, 2002
Condensed unto Existence
Warning- this is a bit of a moan!
I�ve been really tired at the moment, what with glandular fever and all, so unfortunately my blog output will be somewhat slower this week. I�m working on a couple of presentations, and I�ve got two more essays on the horizon, so it�s all a bit frantic round my way.
Still- later this week, the interview with my friend Scott should be making its way on-line, which should be fun. Scott may get an obscene amount of mentioning on this blog, but still� it�s a nice wee interview, which was done for laughs, and which I hope ya�ll like.
�I LOVE HIM PAW!�
There�s a brilliant new Grant Morrison interview up here .
It was conducted by Barbelith member Yawn, and is a massive, highly amusing slice of madness which is full of nutty, and very interesting, commentary on everything from golf with Alice Cooper to I�m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.
Oh, and there�s some stuff about his comics work like New X-Men, Marvel Boy and The Filth too, but then you already knew that. It�s a good laugh, but be warned- it�s raw and unedited and is thus somewhat dense and freewheeling read.
Monday, December 02, 2002
Johnny Metropolis and the Pin-Up Kid
OK� I admit it! I�ve become addicted to on-line tests/quizzes!
Behold: two of the silliest (and yet, most ingenious) quizzes known to man!
What Kind of Coffee are You? by Medox
What Classic Pin-up Are You? by Medox
Good stuff all round, I think.
Sunday, December 01, 2002
Drums for One/Animal Flute Noise
I�ve only just discovered the writing of Kurt Vonnegut, but I�m becoming quite convinced that he is gonna become one of my favourite authors. I�m half way through Breakfast Of Champions, and I�m loving it. There�s just something hilariously effective about the blunt simplicity of the language and the charmingly low-fi pictorial accompaniment is brilliant too.
Kilgore Trout is, it has to be said, a fantastic fictional creation. You�re normally supposed to be wary of writers who�re writing about writers, but here, it works brilliantly. There�s something perfect about the way Vonnegut mixes the fairly innocent narrative voice with the weary disappointment and confusion of the characters within and the whole thing just strikes a cord with me� it�s got a pulse, a bit of wit and a lot of imagination, and I think I�ve been needing to read something a bit more contemporary after ploughing my way through all that Renaissance and Augustan literature recently.
Methinks I�ll be checking out a lot more of Kurt Vonnegut�s stuff when I�ve got the time� here�s hoping the rest of it�s as good as this!
Went to a comic mart on Saturday. It was pretty crappy, as you would expect, but I did manage to get my hands on a few bits of Shade, the Changing Man and Zenith that I was previously lacking, so at least some good came out of it!
Both comics are tow of my all time favourites, and with both I�ve had that odd, but satisfying, experience of reading them all out of sequence. It might sound annoying to have read this kind of stuff in a fragmented order, but it�s the way I�ve read some of my favourite comics, and it adds a certain mystique and sense of possibility to the whole thing. You have to try and piece it all together in your head, which I find gets you a lot more play out of the storylines than you would otherwise. Of course, this only works if the story is good enough to get you hooked without the proper context, but that�s besides the point.
The last couple of days have passed by in a very odd blur of events and conversations, and I�m feeling more than a little bit disorientated by the whole thing.
S�been a good laugh though, so that�s the important thing. I think I�ll be having an early night tonight though� all that four in the morning talk about pop videos has mushed my wee brain, and I think I need some time to recover!
Still, things are looking good for me over the next couple of weeks. I finish my Renaissance/Augustan course on the 20th, and to be honest I can�t wait! These were the two subjects that I really didn�t have any passion for (a few writers aside), and I�ll be glad to move on to something else after Christmas.
Plus my girlfriend Gillian comes back up from university next week, which is obviously a very big �YAY� point for me!
D00D�! Sh� Sk8Z R��L G00D!!!
Here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the answer to the question you�ve all been asking.
Which Avril Lavigne Song Are You?
Hmmm� that�s either a very good description of me, or a very bad one, depending on who you talk to. Funny how that works, isn�t it?