Cakes and Money

Tuesday, April 29, 2003
 
I Was Looking Handsome/She Was Looking Like an Erotic Vulture

Had fun going out for Graeme�s 21st on Monday night. It�s been a good couple of months since I graced anywhere with my ungainly gyrations (or dancing, as I call it when I�m feeling generous towards my own meagre relationship to rhythm and coordination), so it was good to goof around and have fun like that. I think Graeme enjoyed himself, despite being made a spectacle of earlier on in the night when we were out for dinner (the poor lamb), which is a big plus as this was surely the point of the evening (him enjoying himself that is).

My mood is all over the place at the moment, but that�s cool� I can live with it.

It looks like my younger Sister may be coming to visit us for the first time since she ran away a year and a half ago. It�s a long story, and I�ll tell you all about it sometime, but at the moment I don't have the energy to get into it. Suffice it to say that if she does finally pay us a visit, it will be very good for my mother. This is, of course, a bloody good thing.

My mum started her driving lessons tonight, and they seeemd to go well for her, which was nice. According to both my Dad and her driving instructor, she drives well, but lacks confidence. I�m sure she�ll be fine though, as she�s a very together lady, and is generally very capable on all fronts.

This is also good as it solves the transport problem that has developed in my household due to my Dad�s multiple sclerosis. I feel really selfish on some levels, as I think that it was vaguely expected/hoped that I would learn to drive. Due to a couple of rather self-involved reasons (mostly that it doesn�t seem necessary for the life I intend to live) I don�t really ever want to own a car, and have thus resisted this idea at every turn. I can be a right self-interested bastard sometimes. I�m not proud of it, but it�s true.

Another character trait I�m bothered by: the fact that sometimes I can be a really nasty bastard who talks down to people for comic effect. This one I�m going to make a big effort to change, as I really don�t like it. It implies that I think I�m better than some people, whereas in reality I am entirely sure that I am average in every way. I was called supercilious once� sure, the person who called me it was one to talk, but still� it kinda stuck with me.

Goodnight everybody. Sleep well.


 
Looking into the Sun

Right: as I�ve mentioned a couple of times recently, I�ve developed a bit of a fascination with a couple of autobiographical comics, and I�m curious as to why I get so much out of this kind of stuff. Certainly the idea has some off-putting connotations attached to it: it sounds lazy, self-indulgent and, primarily, a bit dull. And sure, there are probably about as many terrible autobiographical comics out there as there are dreadful superhero comics*, but there are a couple of things that I think are amazing, and achieve something very different from most actual full-on fiction.

I think that I�ll mostly be talking about James Kochalka�s Sketchbook Diaries, Eddie Campbell�s Alec stuff and Jeffrey Brown�s Clumsy here, as these are the comics that stay with me the most from within this sphere (which isn�t to say that there isn�t more great stuff like this out there, but rather that this is what I have the most to say about at the present time).

�Since October 1998 I have kept a daily diary in comic strip form. I wanted to explore the rhythm of daily life, to become more conscious of what it really means to live, Sleeping, eating, thinking, talking, day in & day out. My body & its actions, my surroundings, my mind and its thoughts, and the people I love� life is not structured like a typical narrative. Stories have beginnings, middles and ends. Life has ins & outs and ups & downs and backs & forths of endless repetition and endless distractions. The story of my life is not a story at all. But I think you�ll find the reality of one human�s life compelling enough. I am me.�

So writes James Kochalka at the beginning of the first collected edition of his Sketchbook Diaries. It should be noted that the above representation of this introduction is somewhat strange and lacking when compared to the version printed in the book, due to the fact that (surprise!) they were part of a comic strip that both fleshes out the sentiment (via the mix of words and pictures) and gives the whole thing an entirely different rhythm. This is quite a tangential point, but it feels important to highlight it as I�ll be talking about this kind of text driven comic book narrative when I�m talking about Eddie Campbell�s work later on.

All that aside, what the introduction does is set up the intended parameters of Kochalka�s diary sketches (which can be viewed online here, by the way, though you have to subscribe to see the whole archive). Kochalka sets up the (not entirely uncommon) view that life does not share the structure, rhyme and reason that makes up the formal basis of most fiction, and presents the his daily diary strips as an alternative to this; as something that charts the gaps between such fictional compositions.

This is an interesting aim, and one which brings to mind that bit in Adaptation where Robert McKee shouts down Charlie Kaufman for claiming that he wants to make a movie that represents real life, without all the tacky fictional bobbins that make for traditional Hollywood fare. McKee�s claim that all the big, dramatic stuff that makes up traditional dramatic structure can be found in life strikes a cord with me because, yeah, that kind of thing does happen all the time. Life is crazy, really� y�know the clich� about truth being less believable than fiction? It�s often true; don�t you think? But still� there is a lot of life that is left out of most fiction for the sake of neatness and economy. This in itself is fair enough; after all, a lot of the writing process is about editing down the hugely complicates world of human action and emotions into something a tad more comprehensible. And I think there�s a lot to be said for someone who has the skills to pick out little snapshots of everyday existence in an interesting way, which is what I think James Kochalka does so well with these daily diary cartoons.

And so we get little four panel strips about shovelling snow (which, of course, talks to Kochalka as he shovels it); his cat hunting a rubber band; on the subject of how happiness is a naked wife etc. The key to it all is Kochalka�s soft, rounded drawing style: he draws himself as an elf called �Magic Boy�, and represents the various other people in his life similarly. Something amuses me about the fact that he still draws his cat as a cat while he draws some of his friends as dogs etc. It�s deeply endearing, in an odd way. Perhaps this is a case of me over-analysing this, but to me the slightly fantastic bent of these diary strips seems to indicate an odd sort of faith in how magical and amazing all the minor details of life are. I know that in a lot of ways Kochalka just draws like this because that�s his style, but� hell: a lot of his other work contains elements of autobiography, and it�s all totally crazy stuff, full of robots and elves and such. This is his style, and I think that it says a lot about his intent and worldview.

Does it reveal anything about the rhythm of daily life, as mentioned in the introduction? I dunno� Kochalka himself talks about this in a later strip (the short version: �sigh�). I don�t that I learned anything new, but it was nice to appreciate this kind of thing, and while (out of all the comics that I�m gonna be talking about today) these are the least amazing (they�re more amusing that utterly engaging), there�s still a certain quiet pleasure that can be derived from reading a lot of them in a row.

Jeffrey Brown�s Clumsy has a similar style to it, but is much more focussed in terms of its subject matter. Clusmy is all about a long-distance relationship that the author had that lasted for about a year. It is unflinchingly honest, providing the reader with a veritable smorgasbord of little vignettes (normally only one or two pages in length) that cover all the modest details of this relationship in a fragmented, but deeply affecting, form. For the most part, it�s full of funny little incidents and memories, but Brown doesn�t shy away from the parts that were more difficult either. There�s a lot of sex in here, but for once it�s portrayed as what it is: as an everyday part of their relationship. There�s nothing voyeuristic about this�it�s just a fascinating, loving portrait of two people trying to work it out. Brown�s perspective is obviously in the foreground, but that�s only to be expected. Apparently he began this book as a sort of tribute to their relationship, and while it gains a sense of inevitable collapse due to the dedication that prefaces the comic itself (�For everyone who has ever loved and lost�) there�s so much genuine affection in this graphic novel that I found myself hoping that� well� I guess, in my own way, I wanted it all to work out. Which sounds kind of sad, but there you go. I read a review of Clumsy somewhere (I can�t remember where at this moment in time) that said that it was obvious that the two of them could never work out, as he was too needy for a long-distance relationship to work out. I thought they were dead wrong on that one� sure; they had their problems, but who doesn�t? People are all very complex and unstable, and I think that one of the greatest skills that human beings posses is the ability to forge meaningful relationships, despite the difficulties inherent in sharing yourself with someone else.

But� erm� yeah. Clumsy is full of sweet moments and uneasy moments. It is a deeply perceptive and loving portrait of a relationship that gives us, in short non-linear bursts, all the stuff you normally don�t see in fiction (which isn�t to say that you never see them). I�m particularly impressed by the sections that show us the phone calls and conversations that just go wrong for no reason� this stuff is very tricky and emotional, but Brown gets it all down on paper very well. Brown shares Kochalka�s skill for selecting brief snippets from life and making them seem meaningful, and the more specific focus of these strips makes the maximum use of this talent. The order of the last few chapters is very interesting, I think. There are two strips positioned after �The End�, which deals with the disintegration of their relationship. Both of these strips have a somewhat more positive tone to them (dealing with their first time and an odd little phone call about marriage) which seems to me to indicate that after going over all of this, maybe it�s best to remember the good stuff as well as the bad. To take what you can out of it, and to try and move on in a positive frame of mind.

As I�ve said, it�s quite brilliant.

The artwork may initially be off-putting to some folk (Brown�s illustration is very crude and simple� there�s not much more than a couple of stick figures here), and while you may have to squint at the lettering every now & then, let me assure you that it�s worth it, because the rough, uneasy art is absolutely essential to how human, how expressive this comic is. That may sound like crap, but it�s true.

Another thing about Clumsy that I like: it feels both universal and totally unique. It�s a hard balance to strike, but Brown pulls it off with his debut graphic novel, which is quite an impressive feat, I think.

The autographical comics of Eddie Campbell share this mixture. Take, for example, his Alec- how to be an artist graphic novel, which (by Campbell�s own admission) begins as an attempt to collect some of Eddie Campbell�s experiences as an aspiring artists and mould them into something that would serve as a sort of archetypal account of the struggles of anyone who is trying to make a living off of their art.

Like Jeffrey Brown, Campbell draws a lot of anecdotes and fragmented stories together into a focussed whole (well, fairly focussed� we�ll come back to this shortly). Unlike either Kochalka or Brown, Campbell uses a lot of narration in these comics. In fact, the actual narrative is often driven by the text itself, which is a good thing in this instance, as Campbell�s writing is witty, smart and (when it needs to be) roughly poetic. This is not to say that Campbell doesn�t make good use of the comic book medium. Remember when I mentioned the way that the intro to the first collected edition of James Kochalka�s Sketchbook Diaries was constructed? Well Campbell�s comics work similarly, with Campbell mixing straight panel-to-panel action with narration and (in �how to be an artist) snippets from other comics and such. It always works as a unified whole, not an illustrated text piece. The assorted bits & bobs which Campbell ties together have a great deal of richness to them, with even the most random strips adding to the overall feel of the work. The bit in �how to be an artist which tells the story of how Campbell and Annie (his wife) used to wrestle each other in an attempt to expose each others arses to the people on the top deck of passing busses (who could see straight into their living room) is a lovely detail that adds a lot of humanity to the comic, for example, and the way Campbell weaves so many disparate elements into a look at what I guess you�d call his midlife crisis in After the Snooter is simply amazing.

Oh� yeah: and he goes off on one sometimes. Alec- how to be an artist, in particular, shows his love of expressing knowledge, of telling stories, spinning out as it does into a history of the rise and fall of the graphic novel. It has become a clich� to say that reading one of Campbell�s autobiographical comics is like talking to a really interesting friend. I�ve said this myself on occasion, because I genuinely believe there�s some truth in it. He�s a great storyteller, plain and simple, and there�s a genuine love for sharing this kind of experience that just shines through in his work.

So� have I learned anything about why I like this kind of stuff? I dunno� I�ve written what looks like about 2000 words on this, and I guess what it all boils down to is that I think these comics are brilliant celebrations of life� the ins & outs of it, as Kochalka might say. The degree to which they tie all these little snapshots of existence together into recognisable story patterns varies, but in all of the works I have mentioned there is a wealth of the fascinating randomness of life captured, and I like that. Comic books are obviously very good at depicting the fantastic, but I think that there�s also a lot of (often overlooked) scope for capturing some of the raw charm of life in this form, and I think these comics display this marvellously.


*There may, in an odd way, be a strange kind of similarity between both kinds of comics� I�m thinking something about how the worst examples of both can seem to be born from a lack of interaction with other people and the world in general. That�s a very broad generalisation to make, but I think there may be something to it. I don�t have the time or mental prowess to think this through tonight, but I may give it a go at a later date.


Sunday, April 27, 2003
 
(In Heaven)

Sometimes I feel like the Pixies are multi-purpose cure-all for life: a fully-fledged industrial strength re-energising machine, with a touch of catharsis thrown in for good measure. This is almost certainly an overstatement of the facts (they certainly don�t �cure� anything as far as I�m aware), but when you hear them, just for a moment, it�s possible to loose yourself in their crazy world of noisy pop and UFO�s. For me, their music brings out a reaction somewhere between escapism and release�you can dissapear quite happily into their bizarre little world, but there�s a lot to be said for Frank Black/Black Francis� demented screaming, which I find entirely conducive to clearing out all my emotional-slash-mental garbage.

I�m currently listening to their what was their final album, Trompe Le Monde, which I�ve been told that a few people dislike, though everyone I know loves it. Post-Doolittle, the band�s sound became a little more� well, I�d hate to call anything by the Pixies straight, but it�s probably the best word for it. There�s a slightly more traditional edge to the band�s guitar sound, I think, that gives the impression of smoothness to this most jagged and eccentric of rock groups. Trompe Le Monde is their �heavy metal� album. Which isn�t to say that it�s all about dull, lumpen posturing and cheesy solos: quite the opposite in fact. But it does mean that it�s a very in your face album, despite all the quirky surf-pop action on display. Ugh�did I just call them quirky? God help me� I make them sound like some kind of shitty novelty act. They�re not. They�re much better than that� much more interesting and intelligent and in possession of a genuinely startling energy that can�t help but be contagious.

I love the daft guitar histrionics of �Letter to Memphis�, the silly-sleazy rattle of �Subbacultcha�, the hysterical dynamics of �Distance Equals Rate Times Time�, the glorious surf-metal stomp of the title track, the brilliant cover of 'Head On' by the Jesus and Mary Chain� all of it, basically.

Erm... rock on?

"Pioneer of aerodynamics/ (little eiffel, little eiffel)/ They thought he was a real smart alec/ (little eiffel, little eiffel)/ He thought big and they called it a phallic/ (little eiffel, little eiffel)/ They didn't realise he was panoramic/ (little eiffel, little eiffel)/ Little eiffel stands in the archway/ (little eiffel, little eiffel)/ Keeping low doesn't make no sense/ Sometimes people can be oh so dense/ They didn't want it but he built it anyway/ (little eiffel, little eiffel)/ Little eiffel stands in the archway/ (little eiffel, little eiffel)/ Keeping low doesn't make sense/ Keeping low doesn't make no-sense!/ (little eiffel, little eiffel)/ little eiffel stands in the archway/ Oh alexander I see you beneath/ The archway of aerodynamics"



Friday, April 25, 2003
 
Dedication

I�ve been meaning to write about Pi all week, but have largely failed to do this because while I really enjoyed the movie, I�m not entirely convinced that I have much at all to say about it.

Primarily, I thought it was great as an intense, almost physical, viewing experience. The grainy high-contrast black and white film and inventively visceral camera-work combine to give the film a very potent and intense quality that meshes interestingly with the movie�s unusual core concept. Pi is, as far as I am aware, the first film to make mathematics an exhausting, almost physical, experience. Writer/director Darren Aronofsky doesn�t really do too much with the concepts central to the film (is there an overriding pattern to creation, and if so what would that mean), but the concept itself feels fresh and interesting here, adding to the stylishly caustic rush of the viewing experience. I was amused by (what felt to me to be the) the traditional thriller quality that was added to the movie by the inclusion of the two different groups of people who wanted Max to use his talents to help them. It added structure to the film's central descent into madness, and heightened the sense of deliberate isolation that was already present here. With the exception of his visits to see his old tutor, Max always seems to treat contact with others as something that is being forced on him, something invasive, and the actions of those who are trying to manipulate him just build up the atmosphere of the movie incredibly.

I think that the front on which Pi succeeds the most is in the way in which it makes the obsessive mindset of Max Cohen almost tangible to the viewer. Like it�s main character, Pi is an ambitious, driven beast, and the sense of tunnel vision is palpable here. By the end of it you can�t help feel a little bit brutalised, which is surely the intent in a movie that puts you smack bang in the middle of someone�s obsessive attempt to find patterns in the chaos of life... to find some sort of higher reasoning behind everything.

Rewind

So I�m back at University again, which is oddly comforting at the moment as it gives me some sort of nominal pattern to fall into, even though my laziness will surely overcome this soon enough. I need to have something to keep me on the move at the moment. Plus it also helps in terms of making sure I don�t get all introverted and reclusive. I�ve been trying to make sure that I go out a lot and, y�know, interact with people and stuff, as I think there�s a slight possibility that I�ve been getting a bit caught up in my own rather dull internal monologue of late.

It is currently Shakespeare term for me, which is both good and bad. It's good because he wrote a load of great stuff in his time, and it's nice to finally be given an excuse to explore all the good stuff in great detail. It's bad because he also wrote a fair amount of dross and in all honesty I'd rather embark upon a more varied course of reading. Not that there's not much variety in his work or anything... it's just... I'd rather read other people's work as well (which I will be doing when I'm reading for fun, I guess).

I�ve spent the most part of this week struggling with my own lack of motivation re:my University course itself. Mostly, this is because it has been very sunny, but partly it�s just because I can�t get that fussed over the education system these days. Good weather precipitates lounging, and I like lounging a hell of a lot more than I like lectures.

Today, however, the good weather decided to disappear, which has kind of scuppered my lounging plans!

Ach well�looks like it's back to work for me�


Wednesday, April 23, 2003
 
Hope Is Important

Some fragmented thoughts for ya�

Right here, right now I want nothing more than to be in some kind of trashy psychedelic rock band so that I can sing daft lyrics like �I�m an interstellar explosion of sadness and lust/I hate to say this baby, but if I must I must� while a shitload of guitars squall beautifully and a small, but dedicated, army of drummers attempt to raise the dead by bashing out a nasty, primordial beat in perfect unison.

This may sound silly, but it is also true.

There are a couple of visual ideas for a comic that I just can�t get out of my head. It�s getting to the stage where I may have to interrupt writing one thing just to get this shit out of my noggin. I pretty much know who the characters are and what they're doing, but at the moment it�s the visual ideas that are refusing to exit my brain-space. Arg! Perhaps I�ll write this first, and then get back to the other stuff�

It�s my good friend Graeme�s 21st Birthday on Monday, which is cool. I�ve known Graeme since primary school, which is kind of sweet when you think about it.

*Big (pre-emptive) Birthday hugs*

We�ll be going out on Monday night to celebrate, so that should be cool too, except that I�ve just realised that we�re all getting terribly old all of a sudden� weird.

Scott has started the build up to his biggest and most ludicrous story yet in Wake Up Screaming this week. From the little glimpses of the upcoming story that I�ve seen, I can honestly say that Scott is going to outdo himself in terms of production quality and sheer shiny madness over the course of the next few weeks.

I watched Dr Strangelove again on Tuesday with Scott and Kenny. Such a great movie� and so perfect for my mood at the moment. The sheer childishness of the whole movie (�I�ve never seen such disgraceful behaviour in the War Room!�) is perfect, and I can�t help but feel that this is just one of those movies that suits my worldview perfectly. In the face of the rediculous destructive powers that mankind has bestowed upon itself, laughter really does seem like the only sane response, doesn�t it? I think it kinda appeals to the same part of me that loves Beckett�s drama. There�s the same spirit of the absurd in both, and I guess that the ability to find humour in the worst elements of humanity (and indeed of existence itself) is pretty much one of the greatest talents the human mind possesses in my opinion.


 
Appreciate Karate Snoopy Or Die!

I�m just back in after spending a nice night watching Guillermo del Toro�s Cronos with Chris. It�s a classy little vampire movie that we both enjoyed greatly, and I think I�ll be writing more about it sometime in the future. But lets get back in the present for a second: I�m currently a bit afraid to walk the dog because I don�t want to suffer the embarrassment of walking past the �love boat� again. The �love boat� is this little red car that seems to end up in my car park these days. It is always inhabited by a fairly young couple that, as far as I can tell, don�t live anywhere around here. What this couple end up doing in the car, well� I don�t think that needs any explaining� it�s painfully obvious, really (though for a while I harboured the exquisite delusion that perhaps they spent their time there energetically comparing their stamp collections� which actually sounds like some kind of stupid euphemism now that I think about it). Why do we (or rather, me, if I�m being honest) call it the �love boat�? Because I am a deeply foolish man and it amuses me to do so. Now don�t get me wrong, I have no problem with what they�re doing in there. Hell, I hope they�re having a great time out there right now! The only problem is that, well, that car park was kind of where Chris and me used to have all of our best conversations. Don�t ask me why, but we seem to spend a hell of a lot of time sitting chatting in that car park late at night. When that car is there though, and it�s blatantly obvious what the passengers are up to (and believe me, they aren�t exactly quiet about it), we just end up feeling creepy� like we�re there to perv them up or something. Which kinda sucks when you think about it! We were there first dammit! Can�t they find another car park to shag in?

Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Tonight was especially silly in this regard: due to how crowded the car park was, we ended up having to park right beside them while they were getting particularly vigorous. Needless to say, Chris and me said our goodbyes quickly as to avoid feeling like total creeps.

Hopefully they�ll be finished by now, so I�ll be able to walk the dog without feeling like a hardcore dodgy bloke.

[walks dog]

Phew! Looks like they�ve cleared off now. I know this really isn�t a big deal at all, but it amuses me, so there you go�

In other, less worrying, news, Scott and I had an amusing experience on Monday afternoon during one of our semi-regular visits to the Wimpy on Ingram Street. We tend to eat there quite a bit when we�re grabbing food in town, as I don�t feel ill after eating their burgers (which may not sound like a big deal, but believe me it is) and because their whole aesthetic is slightly wonky and sweet�they give you your meal on a plate, for goodness sake!

During a previous visit a couple of months ago, we were informed that we were the most polite customers they had and that it was really cute (cue much blushing on our part). This was a really lovely�if somewhat unexpected�thing to be told, but I�d mostly forgotten about it until recently.

On Monday it became obvious that we are such frequent customers that they know exactly what Scott orders (he�s normally pretty consistent, while I tend to be a little more random). It was kind of amusing for us to realise that we�re such regulars that they could do that� not a bad feeling at all, but kind of unexpected in a way. The staff in there all seem to be really lovely, which is always nice and... it was a nice little occurrence that made me smile. What can I say, I like this kind of random, minor stuff. It seems like the point of it all half the time...


Tuesday, April 22, 2003
 
Days Will Be Like This

Just a brief post before I go to bed.

Having just read all of Jeffrey Brown's Clumsy on the bus home tonight I have to say that it's pretty amazing. It's one of those comics that just reminds me why I love this bloody medium despite all of the crap that's out there. Much more than that, it's probably one of the best looks at a relationship that I've ever seen. I mean, obviously its subject matter (a long distance relationship that ended a couple of years ago) is something that I can relate to quite heavily at the moment (and yeah, there are a few strangely familiar events in there), but even if this wasn't true I think that I'd still be utterly blown away by every page of this comic. Everything is in there... it's silly, funny, difficult, sweet, loving, awkward and much, much more all at once, and I am utterly in love with it. The rough, but endearing, artwork is just right for this book, matching the simple power of these little fragmented slices of life perfectly.

I'd go on, but I don't think there's much more I could say about it tonight... I'll say more when I talk about autobiographical comics sometime later this week.


Monday, April 21, 2003
 
Moral Hygiene

Big thanks go out to Scott for buying a copy of New X-Men #139 on Thursday and bringing it round to my place. It was very much appreciated.

[I�ll be *SPOILING* the end of this issue shortly]

The issue in question is brilliant, which is a relief, as the rather stiff cover and story title��Murder at the Mansion��weren�t really sitting nicely in my head for some reason. Regardless of that, this was another top quality issue, with the Jean/Scott/Emma love triangle that has been building up since the very early days of Grant Morrison�s run on the title finally coming to a head, with typically dramatic results.

If the purpose of soap opera is to make the viewer/reader feel comfortable and at home in a world that is compressed down to a series of emotional highs and lows which are familiar and �safe� to the observer (following a predictable series of patterns and rules) while allowing for enough genuine uncertainty that the audience feels that they have to check out the next instalment to find out what happens next, then I�d say that New X-Men at its best is fantastically tight and efficient soap opera. The crucial factor on which the aforementioned mechanics rely is in the likeability of the characters, or at least how interesting the characters are, and this issue provides a very neat example of how good Grant Morrison can be at this sort of thing. Lets get this straight right from the start: almost everyone loves Morrison�s take on the character of Emma Frost�she�s amusing, bitchy and always gets all the best lines. Basically, she�s great, despite her preposterous costume. With this issue, however, Morrison does something ever so slightly unexpected; he makes the character seem more vulnerable and human. The psychic beating Jean Grey dishes out to her (a result of the fact that she caught Emma sharing naughty thoughts with Scott�a fantastic little concept that treads the line between moral ambiguity and just-plain-cheating rather nicely) provides us with a roadmap of her life and gives us an insight into what makes the character tick, and what she has been hiding from herself. In hindsight, there is so much to foreshadow everything in this issue (which also draws liberally, but not jarringly, with lots of pre-Morrison continuity to interesting results) that nothing comes as a surprise, even while you find yourself slightly thrown by the direction the story has taken. There were quite a few moments in the last part of the previous �Riot at Xaviers� in which her character seemed oddly vulnerable, and this issue just takes that to its logical.

One of the strongest elements of Morrison�s run on this book has been his handling of telepathy, and this issue was another nice showpiece for Morrison�s simple, but effective, depiction of the inner functions of his characters. I really liked the cheeky line �I promise I won�t throw big lightning bolts of psychic electricity at you this time�, such a nice little pot shot at the traditional handling of telepathy in comic books.

I was kind of amused by the fact that I actively disliked the character of Jean in this issue, given that her husband was (kinda) cheating on her. In a lot of ways, I think the defining line of the issue was Emma�s �Your pacifist posturing hides a playground bully, Jean Grey!� There seems to be a lot of the old �with great power, comes great responsibility� stuff going on in this title at the moment, which I don�t think is a bad thing in any way. I suppose it�s a factor in most superhero stories, but it feels very effective here, with a lot of the different characters (I�m thinking about Xavier, Jean, Xorn and Quentin in particular here) using their quite considerable powers in ways that are quite morally questionable.

That aside, I think there�s a lot of good stuff in here about repressed emotion. Scott is obviously a big bundle of repression: a grown man with the expressive skills of an awkward sixteen-year-old. Emma�s not much better, what with the way she goes out of her way to maintain her public fa�ade and avoid confronting her own emotions. I�m not convinced, however, that the way that Jean Grey (or the Phoenix force or whatever) �burns through lies� is in any way a good thing. Helping people to confront their emotions is one thing, but savagely caving someone�s head in with their own repressed feeling and memories is quite out of order, and you end up feeling much more sympathy for Scott and Emma here as a result. Repression is, after all, a fairly essential part of most people�s lives in some ways. I�m not saying it�s flat out a good thing, but it�s certainly a very human way of dealing with things, and that�s what you latch on to here. That�s the fascinating thing about telepathy as a superpower�it cuts right to the core of all the stuff that characters are really feeling, and is thus ripe ground indeed for character based storytelling. On a related note, it�s nice to see a Grant Morrison comic where all the cosmic stuff is part of the background, rather than the focus. It�s oddly refreshing, in a way, after his work on JLA and The Invisibles (both of which I love, by the way).

Phil Jimenez does a good job on the art chores with this issue. I think Quitely still puts him to shame in terms of body language and character design, but Jimenez�s storytelling skills are clear and he has the skill to pull off the character based stuff as well as the flashier visuals (page six for example, looks every bit as gorgeous as it should). The shot of Cyclops on the dirt bike was a bit stupid looking though�very cheesy and 80�s somehow, and not in a good way. But on the whole, it�s a good looking issue that makes me feel at ease with the fact that he�s going to be drawing a lot of upcoming issues of this title.

Oh, and did I mention that Emma Frost is dead? How come this plot seems so surprising when it�s really kind of obvious? I don�t know, but I like it. I�ve got no idea where this is all going to go really, but I look forward to finding out. I have a feeling that Xorn and Jean are going to have a show down at some point. I could be wrong, but something about the scale on which the two of them operate seems to point to an inevitable confrontation somewhere down the road.

Uncertain Closure

Much to my surprise my local Forbidden Planet actually had a copy of Jeffrey Brown�s Clumsy in stock, so it looks like I�ll be writing something about autobiographical comics sometime sooner than I had imagined. I�d thought that I �d probably have to buy a copy on the Internet to be entirely honest with you, as none of the local comic places are particularly brilliant when it comes to stocking independent comics. Don�t get me wrong, most of them have a fair amount of stuff that doesn�t come from Marvel/DC/Image etc, but I can�t always get what I want there, so it comes as a nice surprise when they do get this kinda stuff in.


Saturday, April 19, 2003
 
But is it the Plumbing?

So I was listening to �Do You Realise� by the Flaming Lips this morning, and trying to work out quite what it was about that song (and the whole Yoshimi� album in general) that made me love it so much. It�s not just the music (which is fantastic) but the whole sentiment behind the song, I think� there�s this sense of sadness, of realisation here (Duh--it�s in the title! Am I insightful or what?). It�s kinda like one of those moments where you feel terrified about how small and insignificant you are in the world and how little time you actually have (I don�t know about anyone else, but this is certainly something that bother me frequently) mixed in with this kind of big, romantic sentiment, which would be pretty standard were it not for the sheer unabashed scope and gleeful earnestness of the lyrics. It�s huge, simple stuff that should just sound silly, but yet doesn�t. It�s this brilliant, daft affirmation in the face of it all. This concept is mirrored in the music itself, with Wayne Coyne�s fragile voice struggling to keep up with the lush, soaring pop rock around it. It�s hugely endearing stuff and� I dunno, maybe it�s just me, but it seems like this is all you can do in this life�to understand your place in the scale of things, but to keep going anyway, and enjoy it, cos it�s all you�ve got, and in a funny way, there�s more there for you than you could ever need. To try and connect with someone�hell, to try and connect with as many people as you can�because it�s worth it. And it is worth it, despite what the more pessimistic among us will tell you. Not everything works out alright in the end, and this is not a fair world by any decent standard (just ask some of the people that were blown to fuck recently in the war), but still� you�ve got to give it a go, and it can be marvellous.

That�s why I love Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: there�s a weird mix of comprehension and confusion going on at its core, but there�s also a lot of ridiculous, joyous fun. It�s real straightforward stuff, but in the best (and, oddly, most complicated) way.

Maybe this is just me reading a few to many of those nights I went through when I was a teenager who was desperately struggling with his own atheism and mortality (in that perfectly angsty, teenage way) into this stuff, I�m not sure. But it feels right.

I know this probably sounds a tad overstated or whatever, but the truth is that this is my genuine reaction to this music, so I�m going to go with it. I think I�ve spent enough of my life feeling a little bit too scared about overexposing myself (note: this does not mean that I intend to take up streaking any time soon).

�Could that Bassoon Have Come in any Later?�

We had a �Pirate Party� in the bookstore today, which basically meant that half of the staff were kitted out in stripy t-shirts and silly hats, and that the shop was full of enthusiastic little kids who ran around like mentalists in between getting their faces painted (comedy beards all round!) and going on treasure hunts. Needless to say, this was a bit exhausting for all involved, but it was also kinda cool. Besides, it was the only point in the day where anyone in the shop had anything to do, so for that we can all be thankful.

I had a nice micro-picnic with Val from work on Thursday, which was very relaxing, and I�ve spent the last couple of nights running around like a fool with a variety of friends (Kenny, Zoe, Scott, Chris, Gillian Reid, and others: I salute you!). I�ve been keeping stupid hours again, which has been catching up with me due to the fact that I�ve actually had to get up for work every morning, but I still feel pretty damn fine.

I picked up a couple of random things to watch/read today:

Pi: I�ve never seen this, but I�ve been curious to check it out for quite some time now, as it sounds very interesting. Plus, it was going cheap in HMV, which is always a plus.

The Straight Story: Another movie I�ve never seen (see a pattern emerging yet?), and again it�s something that I�ve been meaning to watch for a while now. I like quite a bit of David Lynch�s output (some movies more than others), and I find myself fascinated by the sound of this movie, which is apparently stripped of many of Lynch�s standard stylistic ticks.

Pattern Recognition: the new William Gibson novel. I�ve never read any of his previous work (not even Neuromancer, which seems to be required reading in some circles), but I�ve heard quite a few good things about this one, and the premise sounded interesting so I figured what the hell.

And the final blind purchase of the day was the first volume of the Lone Wolf and Cub comic, which looks gorgeous, but which I have been told is not entirely representative of the quality of the series as a whole. I'm still looking forward to reading it though, cos the art alone looks well worth it.

I�ll probably write some more about each of these things as I go on, which should be fun.


Wednesday, April 16, 2003
 
The Last Two Went Down With the Concrete

I read all of Ed Brubaker and Warren Pleece�s short lived comic book series Deadenders for the first time recently, and while I greatly enjoyed the series, I have to say that I was more than a little let down by the ending, which was obviously very rushed due to the cancellation of the series.

There�s nothing particularly original about the series, with its modish kid rebels and post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting, but it achieves a satisfyingly stylish synthesis of its component parts that it build upon nicely as the series continues. Besides, not enough people manage to do this kind of backdrop well these days, so I'm always up for a well done take on this particular kind of story.

The main character is a bratty youth called Beezer, who has strange visions that are somehow related to �the cataclysm� (the event which is responsible for the terrible conditions that much of the world seems to be in). As the series goes on we learn more about what�s going on with his visions, and why some shady officials are very interested in him as well as familiarising ourselves with his friends and the world they live in. This all builds up at just the right pace until we get to the final story arc, which rushes through various resolutions to almost every plot element at a rediculous speed. It�s a bloody shame I tell you! I wanted to see how the relationship between Anna and Beezer played out in greater detail; I wanted to see what happened to all of the backing cast unfold at a more measured pace; I wanted to find out what was really going on over the course of time, so that it could all feel slightly more substantial than this. This might sound like petty bitching, and I know that it isn�t really the fault of the creative team who were simply trying to wrap up their story in the time they had left, but still� it seems a bit of a shame to me, as I think that this could have built up quite nicely had it been given the time to do so.

Ach well�that�s the comic book market for you. Any old shit with an X on the cover will do just fine, but even a fairly mainstream, straightforward book like this�ll sink unless it�s lucky.

The art strikes an interesting balance that perfectly mimics the tone that of the story. Warren Pleece�s style shares a certain simple, pop-art style with the work of the series cover artist Phillip Bond (Kill Your Boyfriend, the Invisibles), but is given a sickly tone by the colouring, with its slightly unhealthy palette of greens and oranges. To me this seems to be just about perfect for the mix of scooters, cute girls and murky sci-fi that makes up the content of the series. Pleece�s storytelling and figure drawing is occasionally a little bit stiff for my liking, but on the whole his style works pretty dammed well here.

--this post edited to read slightly less like the half thought-out ramblings of a drunken rhino--


 
Recommended For Expert Users==Timeless!==Unique!

A brief excerpt from a very interesting Freaky Trigger article on the Smiths and Morrissey (which I found via Restate My Assumptions):

�Some weekly music writer had a line on Morrissey which went like this: listening to Moz is a kind of Faustian pact. He can offer you an escape route from the torture of adolescence, but the price of that escape route is that you delay learning a lot of the hard, valuable lessons puberty teaches you, leaving you with a gap in your life where teenage experience should be: Morrissey legitimises, even valorises arrested development. I'd go along with that: when I first heard The Smiths I had never even attempted to chat anyone up, say, and what my limited 'reading' of their records gave me was a justification for never trying from then on, too. "When you want to live, how d'you start, where d'you go, who d'you need to know?" - you can hear those lines as a howl from someone desperate to know the answers, or you can hear them as an admission that even attempting 'living' is going to be too much hassle, and you can hold that admission to you like a security blanket.�

There�s a lot more to it than the above passage indicates, with the writer (Tom Ewing) talking about the important impact that the music of Morrissey and the Smiths had on his life. It�s a great wee piece, and although I can�t directly relate to the writer�s public school experience, I can certainly appreciate music (or for that matter, any other form of art-slash-entertainment) having such a big affect on your life, and it�s fascinating to see him go through the details of how and why this music came to be so important to him.

One day, when I�ve got a clear head and an active mind, I think I�ll write about Grant Morrison and why some of his work is so important to me and had such a big impact on my life. I think that to write something like that I�ll have to be very mindful of some of Morrison�s faults, not to mention some of my own, and as I�m not really feeling that critical tonight I reckon I�ll leave it for a while�

Hmmm� I�m trying to think of some other stuff that has had a big impact on me. There�s probably quite a lot of it (mostly people and experiences, but also quite a bit of pop culture and the like). It�s an interesting area of your thought processes to investigate. Not in a complacent, list making way, but rather in a way that attempts to locate some of the assumptions you�ve made about who and why you are that way as well as how you think you�ve changed over the course of time. This is definitely something I�ll be writing about in some form sometime soon.

By the way, there�s a really great little post about Oasis on Restate My Assumptions here. It�s short and to the point, and it kind of makes me want to smile and punch my fist in the air.

I watched the episode of the Sopranos that was on channel four last night. Great stuff��Am I a toxic person?� I�d seen this one when it was on E4, but still, there�s something amazingly simple and yet complex about all of the characters in this show. I want to save most of my thoughts about the show for a big post, so I�m gonna wait till I�ve watched a bit more of this series before I start putting that together. There�s something utterly perfect about the cracks that are starting to show up in Tony�s perception of himself� I don�t mean that in a cruel way, but rather in that seems to me that it had to happen the way it has happened.

I�ve been listening to Think Tank, the new Blur album, quite a bit tonight, and I can�t say I�m entirely sold on at the moment� there are a couple of songs which I really, really like (�Out of Time�, �Sweet Song�, and a few others, which sound whimsically beautiful and open but yet somehow deeply reclusive to me), but on the whole I�m not sure how well Think Tank holds together. Certainly there are a lot of tracks that grow on you, but on the first couple of listens it just seems to lack a little bit of the song-craft which has characterised previous Blur records. I know 13 was quite a loose album, but there was more often not a kind of framework holding it all up (even if it was a slightly weird framework at times). I dunno� this one just seems a little bit too scrappy when taken as a whole. Maybe I�ll change my mind after a couple more listens, I�m not sure. I think that maybe you need to be in a very specific mood to get the most out of this album, but I�m not sure quite what that mood is�

New X-Men #139 by Grant Morrison and Phil Jiminez comes out today, and I�m very excited to see how this issue plays out. This title has been on top form recently, with the sci-fi soap opera action getting more and more interesting (for both the older characters and some of the newer, Grant Morrison created one�s), and I�m hoping that this issue will keep the quality up. Phil Jiminez is a pretty good superhero artist, so I�m hoping he keeps everything looking as sharp as it should here.

As I�m working quite a few extra shifts at the moment (and will be busy during the next couple of days seeing my friends and generally enjoying the good weather while it lasts) I�m not sure how frequently I�ll be updating this place till the start of next week (when I�ll be going back to University for another term). I�ll definitely try to get some more posts up� there�s one about Brubaker/Pleece�s Deadenders series and another about the BPRD trade which will both probably be finished sometime soon, and I�ll hopefully manage to get some more thoughts down shortly.

Take care everybody!


Tuesday, April 15, 2003
 
Would It Help Matters At All�

I�ve had a fantastically lazy day today� lounging around never felt so good. My mind is a bit all over the place at the moment, so here are a couple of links and thoughts for ya�ll�

Scott is building up to some crazy, crazy stuff in this weeks Wake Up Screaming. I�ve seen a couple of advanced previews of the upcoming strips, and believe me when I say it�s about to get much crazier. This week�s strip has one helluva nice sunset in it too.

There�s a great interview with Guillermo del Toro here in which he talks about the upcoming Hellboy movie as well as monster movies and horror in general. He seems to have a really good handle on the character, and on the horror genre in general, and this interview has only added to my surprisingly cheery and positive expectations for this film. I could be wrong, of course, but I�m choosing to be optimistic at the moment.

As you may have been able to tell, I�ve been a little bit obsessed with Hellboy recently. I�ve got the B.P.R.D. trade to read tonight, which I�m looking forward to, and� erm� yay Hellboy, basically!

�Damn Fine Hostile Takeover (part.1)�, a brand new Jenny Everywhere story, is online now.

It�s very cool and funny, and it looks absolutely gorgeous too. The art is really slinky and dark, but in a playful way. You should check it out.

If you were wondering what the deal with this Jenny Everywhere character is, then you can find all the info you need to know, alongside links to all the previous Jenny Everywhere stories that are no available online, can be found here.

There�s an interesting Ninth Art article which looks at a couple of possible reason�s why comics criticism is so writer-centric most of the time. It�s certainly an odd phenomenon in such a visual medium, and I have to admit that it�s something I sometimes end up doing, despite my best efforts to always keep the art in mind when writing about/thinking about comics.

�If I Said That You Knew Me?

You know, I�d somehow managed to completely forget about Elastica for a while there, which is a shame, as they really did write a helluva lot of great spiky pop tunes in their time. In some ways I feel like I�ve slipped into some bizarre mid-nineties British music time warp over the last couple of days, as I�ve been listening to a hell of a lot of Pulp, Blur and Elastica alongside selected snippets from the new Radiohead album.

�Stutter�, in particular, has been getting heavy rotation around these parts. It�s a really simple song in a lot of ways�trashy pop punk at its finest�but there�s something quite odd going on in there, something a bit weird in the details. For starters, there are the cool, cutting lyrics that come on like a sharp kicks to the groin (any song that starts with the line �No need to whine boy/Like a wind up toy you stutter at my feet� is of to a pretty good start in my book). And then there�s the odd, detached voice of Justine Frischmann, which gives adds a slightly aloof quality to the song while also making it sound strangely grounded (there�s a sort of mundane detachment here, if that makes any sense). So far, this all sounds pretty compatible�nothing that I�ve described so far seems incongruous to me in any way�but none of it explains quite why I this song to me to be so euphoric, so charged full of life. In part this is probably explainable in terms of how energetic and catchy the song is, but I think there�s something more to it than that. There�s something about the chorus� it has this kind of buzz to it� maybe it�s something to do with the spirit that informs lines like �Is it just that I�m too much for you?� There�s a kind of confidence and power in the vocals that has an odd vitality to it to match the tune itself. It makes me want to jump around like a madman more than almost any other song I can think of at the moment. It makes me feel fucking brilliant� ecstatic even, which is very odd given the tone of those lyrics�

�Is there something you lack
When I�m flat on my back
Is there something that I can do for you?
It�s always something you ate
Or it�s something you hate
Tell me is it the way that I touch you?
Have you found a new mate
And is she really great
Is it Just that I�m much too much for you?�



Monday, April 14, 2003
 
the Pun

Films and TV programs I�ve watched recently:

Jam--They�re repeating Chris Morris� Jam TV show and then releasing it on DVD you say? Interesting. Last time Jam was on TV I was just finishing high school, and I�ve been struggling of late to remember exactly what I thought of it. Things may have changed a lot in the time between now and then, but I think my general analysis of the program seems to be more or less the same. Basically, I think that for the most part Jam lacks the atmosphere and sense of wrongness that made the Blue Jam radio shows work. Indeed, the effect generated by the show is different to the extent that the two may not seem directly comparable. Jam is a more grotesque, slapstick affair, for all of the weird effects which are used to prop up the sketches. In some ways, I think this kind of material is far more effective when suggested rather than shown. These differences aside (it would be unfair to evaluate the show purely by comparison), I just don�t think that it�s entirely successful as a TV show. It�s too silly to be as unnerving as it could be, and too distorted and bad-tempered to be amusing fluff. Hmmm� if anything, I think I�m being a bit harsher on Jam now than I was a few years ago. It�s not entirely unsuccessful�the skit involving the man who jumped from the first floor forty times rather than once form a higher floor (in case he changed his mind) carried a sense of twisted logic�and some bits convey a sort of deranged damage quite well.

I may post more about this later�

Rules of Attraction--I don�t know if anyone could ever genuinely love this movie. It�s just not that kind of film (and not just because I had a hard time liking any of the characters�I disagreed with my friend Graeme about this; he said the characters were all soulless, whereas I thought they were mostly just bad at being people, and occasionally unlucky in their attempts to do so). It�s a big tumbling ball of joyless hedonism wherein no one can really seem to forge any decent human connections. This is, of course, the point of the movie, and it�s a point that is hammered home (sometimes effectively, and sometimes really clumsily) by the stylistic tricks that get turned out over the course of the movie. The sections of the film that go �backwards-forwards-backwards-forwards-backwards etc�� grated on me a little. I know what effect the filmmakers were going for and all, but it got tired real quickly in my opinion. I did however think that the hyper-compressed trip round Europe was very effective in conveying a sense of deadened self-indulgence, and the suicide scene was successfully unpleasant. I felt slightly numb by the end of the movie, which was possibly part of the intent. One question that did come to mind was �why does everyone wanna be with Sean Bateman?�, but I guess that�s just one of life�s little mysteries.

As I said, I'm not sure if anyone could truly love Rules of attraction but it definitely has it's effectively visceral moments.

Intacto--There�s something about this film that tickles me in a small, but satisfying, way; Intacto may not be a particularly great movie, but there is a certain appeal to it. Existing somewhere between a standard Hollywood thriller and a Borges story (think about it in terms of how it spins out a fun little idea in such a vague but yet fantastically concise way), Intacto has a fairly mad premise at its core, and it goes for it wholeheartedly and with a straight face. I like that in a movie. All of Intacto�s main characters are super lucky people who can steal luck from normal folk like you or I, and pit their gift against each other for a variety of reasons. As the various bloody minded characters advanced towards their inevitable fate in the final game, I found myself admiring the fact that the filmmakers were content to just state the rules of their little world without worrying too much about explaining it all. Each character gets a satisfying enough back-story, and it all wraps up quite neatly in the end. While there�s nothing particularly unpredictable about the plot or its inhabitants, the details of the story are revealed at an agreeable pace and in a fairly stylish manner. I know I�m hardly giving the movie the hard sell here, but that�s because, as I said, I don�t think it�s particularly great. I think that the movie strikes just the right tone for me� you can play this kind of stuff seriously to disastrous results, but Intacto pulls it off. Plus�and I know this is going to sound kind of silly, but I seriously mean it�all of the actors in this film just have such amazingly interesting faces� I was really drawn to them, in my own peculiar way. Does anyone else have a clue what I mean by this, or am I just being a little bit weird? I don�t mean that the actors and actresses were beautiful or anything, but I just thought that many of them had faces with a lot of character to them.


Sunday, April 13, 2003
 
The Amoeba Exchange

From a Yahoo! Messanger conversation between me and Scott...

bigsunnyd: I am a simple creature
Scott McAllister: like an amoeba?
bigsunnyd: Simpler
bigsunnyd: Amoeba laugh at me for my simplicity
bigsunnyd: "we may be simple" they say
bigsunnyd: "but at least we're not dumb!"
bigsunnyd: Too true, too true

Perhaps you had to be there... or perhaps you had to be me... I dunno...


 
Iron Constitution

I really need to get into the groove of watching the Sopranos on TV at the moment. As I�m not really much of a regular TV watcher, it can sometimes be quite difficult for me to get into a regular viewing routine, even when I know fine well that there are some fantastic things on TV (the Sopranos being probably my favourite TV show these days). What I�ve seen of season four has absolutely blown me away, so I�m beginning to get a bit annoyed with myself when I miss it. Maybe I should tape it or something�

Thanks to Kevin for having me round at his place last night. I�ll try and actually make you those CDs this week Kevin� honest!

There�s an interesting little post over on Bigmouth Types Again (comic book funny man Evan Dorkin�s blog) that develops into a mini-rant about nostalgic condemnation of modern superhero comics. (link via Neilalien)

Pepsi come up with a game-show idea so utterly brilliant in its stupidity that it defies all belief and description. Truly, there is genius at work here.
(link via Plasticbag)


Friday, April 11, 2003
 
Tribute to the Itch

I�ve been thoroughly enjoying A Widow for One Year by John Irving so far. I�m only about a hundred pages in, and thus have a long way to go, but it�s nice easy reading, full of interesting characters and rich little details. It�s been a while since I read a good yarn in prose form, and so this has been quite a refreshing book for me to dip into.

My current micro-obsession seems to be with �why?� we read fiction, with what itch it scratches. I know this is a totally huge question and while I�m trying to think about it on those big, general terms, I�m also thinking in more of a grounded way about why I read/watch the fiction that I do. In particular, I�ve been thinking about all the autobiographical comics that I like, and what I get out of them.

I�ll be trying to get my hands on a copy of Jeffrey Brown�s Clumsy when my loan comes in, as I�ve been hearing a lot of good things about it recently, and I�d very much like to check it out before writing something about autobiographical comics and my reaction to them.

Keep Your Dreams

I�m resting up today after spending the last 48 hours or so running around like a madman. I had an angsty (if now somewhat blurry) catharsis session with Scott at about 4:30 on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, and as a result I�m now feeling a little more focussed and together than I have been of late.

There are about three or four comic book ideas that are starting to come together very nicely for me. I hope to finalise all of the plotting for what was previously called �my vaguely B.P.R.D.-esque thingy� today, and will then start to move on to actually scripting the damned thing. There are quite a few scenes that I�ve got worked out already, and I know who all the characters are, and what it�s all building up too (something very big and fun), so the basic plan for today is to come up with loads of cool little stories that build up the characters to the point I need them to be for the finale, while also doing lots of fun stuff with monsters and ghosts and the like. It�s not actually similar to any of the Hellboy or B.P.R.D. comics, by the way. That was just the easiest way I could think of describing it before I�d actually got my thoughts together as to what I was actually writing about.

It�s kinda funny, as I only realised this morning that there are loads of bits from a horror comic I started writing about six months ago, but never finished, that�ll be able to cannibalise for this project. Life is sweet.

While we�re talking about Hellboy, you might want to check out the official movie site, or �Hellsite� as they�re calling it (rather marvellously, I think). There are a couple of design sketches up on the site, each of which is accompanied some commentary by creator/cartoonist Mike Mignola and director Guillermo del Toro, alongside a couple of other goodies. It�s all good stuff, really, and I�ve still got an oddly positive gut feeling about the way this movie is going to turn out.

Erm� back to my ramblings: I�ve started trying to draw and paint again. I�m not terribly good at either (practise makes competent, I guess), but I�d forgotten how much fun this all was. I�m trying to get a handle on basic anatomy, which is probably not my strong suite at the moment (and believe me, all of my drawing suites are pretty damned flimsy), and the results of this have been very amusing for me.


Tuesday, April 08, 2003
 
Random Fixture

Benjamin Birdie finished the prologue to Genre City: Plan B last week, and I figure that now is as good a time as any to post a wee write-up of my impressions of this first instalment as it stands in its entirety.

The first thing that hit me about the prologue upon re-reading it as a whole, was that we�ve been given quite a lot of information in these first thirty-one pages in a way that doesn�t feel cluttered or rushed. The four sections introduce a variety of characters while giving us pretty good feel for the world they live in. As such, there�s not that much that can be said about the plot or the characters yet. That�s not to say that we don�t get a good feel for the people and their situation. Benjamin seems to be going for an interesting mix of grounded characterisation and flat out wacky situation here, particularly in the middle two sections, which feature characters in jobs that are both grounded and touched with oddness (the record shop employee Insomnia Man is a particular favourite of mine in terms of character and overall concept). The two sections which bookend the prologue have a certain amount of urgency, which frames the relaxed pace of the middle section nicely. The key here is that we have been given enough of all of the situations to make us curious. I have no idea where the four sections are going, but I�m intrigued to find out more (particularly about the last segment, which left me eagerly awaiting more).

A similar effect is achieved in the way Genre City itself is presented in this prologue. The first page functions well as an introduction to the city, with several district names and their accompanying concepts getting casually thrown at the reader. It�s a neat page which tells the reader what kind of place Genre City is right from the word go; a place where there are super-people, giant robots, and�as we quickly find out�men in black. There are several other little visuals and snippets of dialogue which have a similar effect. I�m particularly fond of page eight in this respect, possibly because of the nice little touches of throwaway humour that it contains (�Only left leg gained super powers��, in particular, brought a smile to my face).

As a prologue it�s very effective; giving you a taste of the characters and situation and setting you up nicely for whatever the hell is gonna come next.

The artwork gets consistently better as the prologue goes on. Its greatest strength is in its loose expressiveness, with the character�s faces and body language giving a lot of character to the scenes themselves.

Page seven was the first page to really knock me out in terms of storytelling. The �camera� stays fixed on the characters head, but yet these twelve decompressed panels suggest a lot of body language and movement beyond the panels, which is quite a neat trick to be able to pull off, really.

The later sections feature a greater degree of visual experimentation, particularly pages twenty-one and twenty-eight, but my favourite page is still probably page twenty-four, which conveys a sense of space and movement really nicely, bringing the crowd to life in style. This page feels more 3-D than any other, and Benjamin manages to put quite a bit of detail in there without breaking the flow of the page, which is always a plus.

Go check it out�it updates every Tuesday and Friday, and I find it best to check out each page as it comes out, and then to re-read sections when they�re completed, so as to keep up with the bigger picture.

Bacon is my Aesthetic

My shower is working again and thus life is sweet! A simple pleasure, perhaps, but it's made my day!

In unrelated news, it has been revealed to me that AC-DC are the proto t.A.T.u.

That is all.


Monday, April 07, 2003
 
Regular Conversations

I�ve been fooling around with the sidebar a bit recently, and while I�m still not entirely chuffed with the way it looks, I�ve at least managed to stick a few more links in there.

I�m considering changing my template again. I really love this blog�s current set-up, but I�ve started to wonder if it isn�t about time for another image change round these parts. Something a little tighter that allows me to fit more information onto the page. I dunno� maybe I�ll just stick with this set-up for a while longer, or maybe I�ll see if I can cook up something for myself. Time will tell, I guess�

Techno-babble aside, I�ve had a couple of nice, if largely uneventful, days with one oddity thrown in for good measure. I had fun with my friends in Glasgow on Saturday, in a fairly chilled out way, before getting rather odd and nasty shock in a car park at about two in the morning when some kind of crazy explosion went off somewhere not far enough away from Scott�s car for my liking. You can read about this in more detail over on Scott�s journal, if you like.

Had a fairly nondescript day at work followed by dinner with Graeme and Gemma, which was nice.

I�ve been feeling cautiously determined to do� something, recently. I�ve got a lot of drive right now, and while I'm not quite sure where to direct it, I feel like getting my shit together in some way.

I�m currently reading the Best of Myles a collection of newspaper columns that author Flann O�Brien (real name Brian O�Nolan) wrote under the name Myles na Gopaleen. It�s great stuff- an absurdly exaggerated mix of different voices bouncing off one another, each more ridiculous than the last. There�s the Plain People of Ireland, the preposterous build-ups and terrible puns of Keats and Chapman, a service that�ll thumb through your books adding notes in the margins to make it look like you�re well read without you having to do any reading, and many other madcap delights within these columns, and it makes for entertainingly mad reading is condensed bursts.

Truth be told, I actually prefer this to the one Flann O�Brien novel that I�ve read (At Swim-Two-Birds), which was excellent, but occasionally a bit too much (it is, after all, a book with multiple beginnings and endings that is chock full of stories within stories�all good fun, but a little bit tiring at points).

I�ve got a John Irving novel�A Widow For One Year�to get started with. It�ll be the first Irving novel I've ever read, and I think it constitutes a minor attempt on my part to get outside my own little self-created box in some ways. I know it�s a pretty meagre effort (reading a novel by an author you�ve never read before-WOW!), and I�m not claiming to be going through some kind of major transformation, but I think I�m gonna try and reshape a couple of things in my life over the next couple of months, and this is, to me at least, a very tiny part of that.

I�m kind of amused, because the friend I�ve borrowed the Irving novel off of has been reading a bit of Borges and Burroughs recently�essentially reading some very �me� books. It�s kinda like we�ve accidentally embarked upon some kind of minor fiction-swapping campaign.

Finally got round to listening to the new Radiohead and White Stripes records. Good stuff. I think I�m enjoying both bands more at the moment because they�re less smothered in hype than they both were last time they did the rounds. If there�s anything that dulls my connection to music it�s walls of hyperbolic press (good or bad). That sentence sounded far less stupid in my head� honest!

I�ll probably talk about some of the tracks from Hail to the Thief and Elephant when I�ve had more time to process them, but at the moment I�m liking both albums a great deal. On first listen, the Radiohead album sounds to me to be pretty much as good as its predecessors and not as �rock� as I�d been lead to believe by some quarters. I�m particularly liking �We Suck Young Blood�� not sure why, but I am. Elephant sounds, to my ears, to be significantly better than any of the White Stripes previous output, which I occasionally loved, but mostly found to be just ok.


Saturday, April 05, 2003
 
Art.-No.850612.4,8g

In Friday�s post I said the following in reference to some of Chris Ware�s ACME Novelty Library strips:

�I�ve often thought that some of Beckett�s work feels like a string of gags with no punch line, and there�s definitely a similar feel to these strips. I don�t know if it�s intended, but I guess I interpret these strips the same way I read some of Beckett; as fiction that says life is essentially meaningless, but that that�s ok and we should learn to see the absurdity inherent in this set up, and perhaps even laugh at it. That may not sound particularly comforting, but it is in a way� the inherent absurdity of life and all that��

On further consideration, it feels like I forgot to take into account that the Ware strips I was talking about are also about loneliness in a lot of ways. It is notable that almost all of Ware�s work is dominated by an overwhelming sense of solitude, and the strips I mentioned are no exception on this count. I still think there�s absurdist humour behind the sadness of the �Tales of Tomorrow� and �Quimby the Mouse� strips in ACME Novelty Library #15 that makes them somewhat different to the Jimmy Corrigan stories.

In some ways I think the appeal of Ware�s work holds for me lies not only in his design sense and fascinating storytelling techniques but also in that I am genuinely terrified of ending up like one of his characters. I know some people feel the characters in his strips wallow in their uselessness too much, and sometimes I agree. But still� I think there�s a part of me that is utterly petrified that one day I�ll become a lonely, socially inept comic book geek, and that part of me finds some of Ware�s work strangely compelling.


Friday, April 04, 2003
 
Counting to None

I can�t seem to escape the Undertones� Teenage Kicks at the moment. It�s playing in adverts, on TV programs, in coffee shops and music stores. Everywhere I go, that song follows me.

Now, I�m not complaining. I like the song�its cuddly, joyous enthusiasm is utterly infectious, and you can�t help but love its unspeakably fun guitar line (so simple, yet so deeply satisfying). It just seems odd that this particular song should absolutely dominate my life at the moment� it�s kinda random, dontcha think?

Jesus, there�s been a fair bit of comic talk on this blog during the last couple of days� not a bad thing in itself, or even an unusual thing for this blog, but it�s true.


 
Homework

Ugh- my shower isn�t working at the moment, and as such I�ve been in a slightly grumpy mood all day. There�s no bath in my house, and all of the sinks are so small that washing anything other than your hands in them is a difficult task.

On the plus side, it�s another gloriously sunny day around here, which always cheers me up. My dog Butch (a demented old Yorkshire terrier whose glaringly inappropriate name seems sillier every day; we didn�t name him--he came this way!) has taken to sunbathing in the back garden all day, and I�m more than a little tempted to join him.

There are lots of different story and characters ideas bubbling around in my head at the moment. Hopefully, I�ll manage to get started on some of these ideas soon. Wish me luck. I�ve been perilously unproductive for almost a year now, and I think its neigh on time that I stopped going on about it and actually wrote something. Actually, scratch that. It�s time I actually finished writing something. There are plenty of fragments and scraps of stories on my hard drive, and precious little complete work.

One of the high points of my life still remains the reaction I got from people who read this script that me and Scott worked on last year. The overall reaction was pretty good and people picked up on loads of little bits of characterisation that I wasn�t sure would come across, which was a great feeling. Feeling like I�d written something that people got anything out of was just brilliant.

Speaking of Scott, he�s started his own journal-type-thing here. The content�s been good so far, and the page design is excellent. I�m oddly envious of his sidebars, which are stylishly crammed full of links to things he�s interested in at the moment. While I love and value my permanent set of links, I sometimes crave a wee space to dump a few lists into. Maybe I should get my ass in gear and learn how to use html properly�

So Many People

There�s a brilliant post about Blur�s Parklife album on Restate My Assumptions at the moment. It�s great stuff that cuts right to the core of what Parklife is about in fairly short order, and is perhaps best read in accompaniment to this earlier post which talks about Modern Life is Rubbish and the Great Escape in more detail.


 
Beware the Reign

Some random thoughts about the comics I�ve been reading recently (complete with tangential ramblings):

D.R. & Quinch/Watchmen--it was odd for me to read this collection of some of Alan Moore�s early 2000AD work after having read so much of his output. While I�m fully aware that Moore�s back catalogue doesn�t entirely consist of grim, serious work (his ABC work shows Moore playing around with the adventure comic template with varying degree�s of success), it was still an odd experience to read through these (relatively throwaway) humour stories.

D.R. & Quinch is about two alien college students with an appetite for destruction (clich� ahoy!), and is pretty entertaining stuff all round. The stories in this collection follow the two troublemakers as they go to Hollywood, get drafted into the space-marines, get their revenge on a judge, have girl troubles etc, forever leaving chaos in their wake. The humour here is simple, repetitive and solidly amusing�the gags may all grow from the casual carnage the two characters create in their various situations, but they tend to be pretty well done within that style.

One joke that did grate on me, however, was the over-use of the word �man� in D.R.�s narration. I know this was joke, and part of the character, but it still got on my nerves at various points. Enough is enough already!

Alan Davis' art is clean and fluid, and gives the strips just the right amount of goofy character. His bizarre array of aliens never fails to amuse and he makes sure that the destruction caused by our carefree protagonists is depicted in a suitably madcap style.

While we�re talking about Alan Moore, I�ve been amused by how many people seem to be criticising Moore�s acclaimed Watchmen series recently. Aside from the usual complaints (that the ending isn�t entirely satisfying or that it feels a bit dated and 80�s now), which tend to be pretty fair, a few people seem to be making the criticism that it doesn�t really �say� much about the human condition. This interests me, as I�d never really considered this to be the intent of the story, and thus had never even thought that this would be a �flaw� in the comic. For me, the pleasure of reading Watchmen comes from the intricate, clockwork mechanics of the story�the symmetrical story arrangements, the multiple perspectives which we are presented the flashback scenes, the prose sections that flesh out the world of the characters. At points Moore may try too hard to make the story clever (the sections in which the narrative from the �Black Freight� comic that one of the characters is reading weave though the narrative of Watchmen itself always came across as a bit dull and overcooked to me), the overall results are brilliant in their formality. I�ve always been adamant that Dave Gibbons never gets enough credit for his work on this graphic novel�he has to cram a lot of detail into these pages, and he does so admirably, carrying off all of the stylistic trickery that Moore�s story calls for without ever overloading the reader or over-rendering the pages within.

As to whether Watchmen has much to �say� about humanity, well� I�m not sure. Obviously, the story is primarily a deconstruction of the superhero genre, and as such it depicts characters that resonate with several familiar comic book archetypes as being broken, damaged people. On some levels this may seem obvious��Oh, I get it, superheroes would totally all be perverted Nazi�s and stuff� like, big revelation man��but the parts of the story that focus on Rorschach (a vigilante whose obsession with his role as a crime fighter has overrun the rest of his life) and the godlike Dr Manhattan are brilliant demolitions of some of the 20th centuries most enduring fantasies. These two figures encompass so much of the history of superhero comics that I can�t help but feel that there�s something fascinating about the way that these power fantasies are violently stripped of their glamour and left bruised, battered and faintly human on the sidewalk. I�m not claiming that it�s an astoundingly deep work, but there is a certain primal power to it to go alongside the mechanical drive of the story.

It�s still a bit overrated though, in my opinion at least. It�s not my favourite superhero comic by quite some distance. Give me the inventive, freewheeling madness and underlying emotional confusion of stuff like Flex Mentallo, the Enigma or the Morrison/Case Doom Patrol over Watchmen any day. Nonetheless, it�s an interesting work that deserves at least a good amount of the praise it�s received, and it remains one of the best examples of 80's super-hero comic bookery (oh-yes! �comic bookery�).

Ronin--as strange as this may sound, it genuinely took me a while to �get� Frank Miller�s work. Partly, I think this is because people recommended his work to me at the same time as they recommended the comics of Alan Moore. This created false expectations about his work, and I think I went in looking for something that was more stylistically similar to Moore�s work. On the other hand, I think that some of this initial difficulty may simply have been caused by the fact that some of his work is just too hard boiled for me to be able to get into (especially Sin City which looks lovely but bores me to tears).

I have, however, managed to get past all this to discover that there is a sizable body of Miller�s work that I can enjoy. The key to his work is the energy, the overdriven intensity of the stories, which is why Ronin feels odd in some ways; its dystopian futuristic setting is very Frank Miller in it�s bleakness, and the story centres on the familiar �noble warrior� figure that is central to much of Miller�s output, but yet the artwork seems to strive for an effect that is somewhat more organic than the hard-edged story would lead you to expect. Miller�s linework is loose and soft, and the colouring is similarly unusual (the greens and reds that fill the pages adding to the malleable look of the pages). It�s a god look for the story; adding a bit of unexpected texture to the action.

Similarly, Ronin�s cyberpunk setting benefits greatly from the infusion of the samurai elements, which add a bit of individuality to what could otherwise have been an all too familiar background. The basics of the story are entertainingly visceral, and the twists in the plot that blur the distinction between fantasy and reality make for what to my mind was a satisfying pay-off to what had initially seemed to be a simpler tale.

ACME Novelty Library--I�ve often heard people refer to the plays of Samuel Beckett in reference to Chris Ware�s comic work, and I have to admit that I initially found the comparison a little odd. My first encounter with his work came in the form of the Jimmy Corrigan collection, which I found fascinating as the document of Ware�s struggle with the comic book medium. It�s fascinating to watch Ware find way�s to express the paralysing loneliness of Jimmy�s world in comic book form�the little tricks he plays around with in the pacing and composition of the panels are all brilliant in their attempt to express subtle emotions in the comic book form. By the end of that graphic novel, Ware is clearly at the top of his game, but while there are some slight resemblances to Beckett�s work in the comic, I wasn�t really sold on the comparison.

I was re-reading ACME Novelty Library #15 recently, and it occurred to me that some of the strips in this book have more formal similarity to some of Beckett�s work. In particular I�m thinking about the �Tales of Tomorrow� and �Quimby the Mouse� strips, in which life seems to be boiled down to a series of monotonous routines with no point. I�ve often thought that some of Beckett�s work feels like a string of gags with no punch line, and there�s definitely a similar feel to these strips. I don�t know if it�s intended, but I guess I interpret these strips the same way I read some of Beckett; as fiction that says life is essentially meaningless, but that that�s ok and we should learn to see the absurdity inherent in this set up, and perhaps even laugh at it. That may not sound particularly comforting, but it is in a way� the inherent absurdity of life and all that�

I�m still waiting for the next instalment of ACME Novelty Library with an uneasy enthusiasm. They�ll apparently be focussing on the character of Rusty Brown, and from what Ware�s done with this character so far I think that the expansion of his history could leave me feeling a bit queasy. I dunno� comics that feature looser geeks/collectors aren�t exactly uncommon, but those �Rusty Brown� strips were kinda creepy at points in their depiction of the lonely, disconnected main character. In some ways he seems very similar to the Jimmy Corrigan character, but I think there's something nastier to Rusty Brown that it'll be interesting to see developed.


Thursday, April 03, 2003
 
Lets Get Back to Cudgels

I was glad to see Grant Morrison and Philip Bond�s Kill Your Boyfriend comic getting some lovin� over on this Barbelith thread.

It�s certainly one of my favourite comics and I think that a lot of the posts in that thread really nail what makes it such a brilliant read.

Morrison and Bond strike an odd tonal balance throughout Kill Your Boyfriend: it�s clearly a comedy that doesn�t always take itself very seriously, but yet there�s something to it that carries genuine emotional resonance.

[Warning: the following account of Kill Your Boyfriend may be a bit vague as I don�t have it with me right now�it�s on loan to Scott�and will thus be drawing this purely from my ever shaky memory]

It�s the story of a fairly normal girl, and how her life goes seven shades mental when she meets �the boy�: a dangerous delinquent with a taste for vandalism, sex and alcohol. The early scenes, featuring the girl at home and on the bus home from school, carry with them a genuine sense of boredom that is, I think, something that almost everyone can relate to. The need to escape� to feel like your actually doing something� to know that you�re actually living, for the lack of a better term. It�s certainly a feeling I had when I was in high school. Hell, it�s definitely a feeling I can relate to right now. It�s a universal feeling, I think, or it�s at least as close to universal as you can realistically get. There� also a genuine sense of sweaty, overblown joy to the mad rampage she and �the boy� embark on. Philip Bond�s simple, robust artwork ensures that everything is stylish and, most importantly, fun to look at. The visual economy of his style makes for a quick, energised read, and everything looks so good that there is an inherent romance to the story.

However, the story�s irreverent humour is not only targeted at normal society but also at people who want to believe that they are superior to everyone else. This, when combined with the fact that, to be frank, the reality of �the boy� is somewhat terrifying, makes for a fascinating story.

I think that Flyboy put this better back on the aforementioned Barbelith thread when he said:

�Worth noting: the Boyfriend of the title is someone who thinks he's smarter than the average - he reads fantasy novels, and offers half-assed justifications ("she's a strong female role-model - she has a big sword!"); he enjoys arguing with the Christian Union, whom he sees as stupid and herd-like... In many ways, he's a caricature of a large number of Grant Morrison fans and also, I'd argue, a scathing projection of some of the attributes of the author himself.

On the opposite end of the spectrum you have the Boy. He's an amoral, pitiless killer, he's into vandalism, theft, drugs-as-hedonism... He's sexy and cool as fuck, but in an entirely terrifying way. Sounds really appealing as a fiction, but you'd hate to meet him in real life, just like his mythic inspiration, Dionysus.

Somewhere in the middle, you have the people on the Bus. And somewhere between them and the Boy, you have the Girl.�


It�s great stuff, and I think the real reason that it stands for me as one of Morrison�s finest works is its brevity. Don�t get me wrong, I love a lot of his work, and there are normally a lot of interesting ideas to be found in even his weaker output, but the fact is that he can be a bit unfocussed at times.


Tuesday, April 01, 2003
 
�That Crazy Foo!�

So� it�s April Fools Day, innit?

The problem with April 1st is that no one ever does anything really funny for it, or at least not that I�m ever aware of.

Today�s Wake Up Screaming provides a nice exception to that rule. It�s totally brilliant, and I have to give Scott due credit for coming up such a nutty wee slice of fun.

I hope I�m not talking it up too much�

Ach- it�s good fun. Go see it.

Date with the Night

There�s a whole lotta Alan Moore in the air at the moment.

Rich Johnston�s Lying In the Gutters has quite a bit of space dedicated to Moore this week. Apparently, Moore is going to be closing down his America�s Best Comics line and quitting mainstream comics on his fiftieth birthday:

�Alan Moore is to close the ABC line, at least his involvement in it. Before it ends, he's going to have some kind of mass denouement. Some promised projects will now not appear, such as "Top Ten Season Two" or "Pearl Of The Deep." Continued adventures of "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen" may continue from another publisher. But a number of so far unannounced projects will soon be revealed, including the big bang ending. Before he goes, he's going to have a mad year writing it all.�

As Johnston points out, this isn�t the first time Moore�s quit mainstream comics, but apparently he�s feeling more permanent this time.

This is all totally fair of course�I look forward to hearing more of his fascinating performance pieces and seeing whatever other new projects he comes up with�but I�m still a little gutted that there wont be more Top Ten, as that series (with it�s cop show-come-superhero set-up) was probably the best thing to come out of the ABC line alongside The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

There�s also some info about the Alan Moore tribute book that�s being released in May. It looks and sounds interesting, and I think I�ll be buying it when it comes out.

There�s the first part of a two-part interview with Moore himself up on Ninth Art right now. It focuses on Moore�s magical beliefs etc quite a bit, which is always interesting (well, to me at least).

Warren Ellis wrote a really good review of �The Anatomy Lesson� (one of Moore�s early Swamp Thing stories) for BRAINPOWERED this week.

It is kinda funny to see Ellis try to make it sound less goofy than it is by avoiding using the character names, but the review is still dead on. That story is one of the most influential comics of the last twenty years or so, methinks; it�s a big influence on many fresh interpretations of old characters that have been done since (as is all of Moore�s Swamp Thing run in general).

In addition to all that there�s a radio interview with Moore available here, in which Moore talks a bit about comics and his perception of the movie adqaptations of his work. I�m kinda amused by the fact that he views the movie versions as being things which have �coincidental similarities� to his own work� it�s probably a healthy attitude for the guy to have in a lot of ways.

Mildly Pre-Emptive

The final page of the Genre City prologue was put up today, so now is a perfect opportunity for everyone to read the whole thing in one block. It�s good stuff, with Benjamin�s art getting better and better with every page.

Go start at the start and see what you think�. I�ll be writing more about this later in the week.