Cakes and Money

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
 
Good Fortune

A quote on the nature of the fantastic in cinema from the Onion interview with Terry Gilliam:

Onion: Do you think fantasy in cinema has changed significantly since you started making films?

Terry Gilliam: Not really, except that it seems so much of it is... I think Star Wars kind of set the level of it, and that's just good comic-book romping. It's not the kind of fantasy that's awe-inspiring or terrifying, and that's where I'm interested in fantasy. Fantasy isn't just a jolly escape: It's an escape, but into something far more extreme than reality, or normality. It's where things are more beautiful and more wondrous and more terrifying. You move into a world of conflicting extremes. So much of the fantasy I see is just a sort of cartoon romp, a kind of wish-fulfillment. I remember, years ago, talking to George Lucas about evil. He thought Darth Vader was evil. And I said, "No, he's not evil. He's just the bad guy. You can see him coming a mile away�he wears black. Evil is Mike Palin in Brazil, your best friend, the father of three, a good man, who just does what he does." [Palin's Brazil character was a nervous, mild-mannered government torturer. �ed.] That's the difference. The big jolly escape... Filmmaking has become amazingly baroque now. The camera can go anywhere. We can do anything, and it's just "Wow!" And yet I find that most of the films I see are just rides, E-rides at Disneyland. They're nothing that tends to stay with me. They don't touch any core that is either worrisome or inspiring. They're good fun, but usually when you walk out of the cinema, they're gone. They don't leave bits of shrapnel in you.


Not that there's anything wrong with "comic-book romping" as such (hell - I like it a lot of the time), but I can't help but feel that Gilliam has a good point here. I might write more on this later, but I've got to think it through a bit more before I get started. Given that I'm going out in about five minutes, I think it's safe to say that it'll have to wait for now.



Tuesday, August 26, 2003
 
Back to the Drawing Board

A brief excerpt from the excellent article in issue #250 of the Comics Journal, in which cartoonist Daniel Clowes talks at length about his craft:

�In trying to capture a mood and show how a character fits into the world around them, I try not to let it get overloaded with details. I don�t find it fun to look at stuff where it�s over-researched, with photographic background detail. You see that in a lot of European comics, where every cobblestone is there and it�s supposed to be specific corner in Paris. I prefer Charles Schulz � he�d sketch in a little brick wall and you�d imagine this entire suburban town. I have a much clearer image of the world of the Peanuts characters than I do of any of those fancy French detective stories.�

This popped into my head yesterday while I was reading Alan David Doane�s list of comic book Masters and Masterworks. At one point Doane makes the following statement about Clowes:

�He has created whole universes with his uncanny sense of what to leave in and more importantly what to leave out, and there's always the sense in any Clowes story that if you could look around a different corner in any given panel, it's all there, Clowes is just showing you the part of that world that he wants to. This is a vital characteristic of much good art -- the probably-correct impression that the artist has thought much more about the world he is showing you than merely what he is allowing you to see.

As Clowes has matured as a writer and artist he has chosen to explore humanity, in all its depth and ugliness. He has a brilliantly sharp ability to make you see the world as he sees it, but at the same time he only shows you selected elements. Ultimately the joy of Dan Clowes and his work is just how much of the story is constructed within your own mind. It's this off-kilter approach that so delights even as it makes the story totally, utterly yours, because Clowes makes you earn it.�


And there�s something important lurking between these two quotes, I think, something to do with how Clowes is able to convey so much with so little, and how this is crucial to so much of his work. Partly, I think that this comes down to his sheer formal talent�I recently called Eightball #22 ��the most formally accomplished comic book that I have ever read�, and I�ll stand by that, but his formal brilliance isn�t limited to that one comic. It�s evident in most of his later Eightball work, from David Boring to Ghost World and beyond, but it's just that Eightball #22 is so obviously intricate in its design without feeling the slightest bit cluttered or busy (either visually or in terms of narrative) that it stands out as an obvious example of Clowes' talents.

Ghost World, on the other hand, seems to stand out because of its great simplicity. While it�s only 80 pages long, the eight small snippets of life contained within come together to create one of the most evocative and complete reading experiences I�ve ever had. There are very few storytelling tricks on display here, just a wonderfully paced story, masterful in its use of body language and facial expression to convey, or rather hint at, the inner worlds of its characters. And because of this I think that it�s here that the other big component of Clowes� economy comes across clearest: the great eye he has for creating heavily nuanced characters with very little obvious strain. He strings together this series of short, fairly minimal fragments in such a way as to give the reader an intimate look into the lives of these characters that feels at once both universal, and deeply personal. I didn�t feel cheated by this comic, partly because its characters are sympathetic but not overly romanticised, and partly because while I know that this is something that a lot of people relate to, it feels like there�s enough space in the narrative to allow you to create your own very personal connections to it. Which isn't to say that there's not much to these characters and the situations they find themselves in�on the contrary, there�s a rediculous amount there, but Clowes doesn't beat you over the head with it. It�s up to you to give it life, to read between the panels, as it were, and I think that this is a big part of what makes the experience of reading Clowes' comics so satisfying and personal for me.


 
Ninja!

Because this is quite possibly my favourite photograph ever:



On the left: Kenny, complete with oddly relaxed facial expression.

On the right: Scott, who is kitted out in the latest in DIY Ninja fashion--the folded over t-shirt.

Behind the camera: me, feeling smuggly invisible for the time being.


 
Irresistible

I picked up the first issue of the Human Target ongoing series last week, having enjoyed the first mini-series and being curious as to how this would play out as a monthly title.

And I liked it�I�m slightly disappointed that I know pretty much how the Final Cut graphic novel ends after reading this, because I was looking forward to buying that now that it�s available in a more affordable soft cover edition, but despite the fact that this issue spends a lot of time cleaning up the fallout from that graphic novel, I didn't feel all that lost while I was reading it. This lack of confusion probably comes down to the fact that the whole point of this book is that you can�t quite be sure of who is who all the time: the book's main character, Christopher Chance, can both physically and mentally become almost anyone through a series of cosmetic, surgical and psychological processes, meaning that a large part of any Human Target story is going to focus on confusion as to who Chance is at any given time. Because of this, any disorientation I felt as a reader worked with the flow of the story, rather than against it, which was a big plus for me (though why I didn't simply shell out for the paperback edition of Final Cut before buying this I'm not sure).

This might sound like a corny basis for a story, and it kind of is, but Milligan makes it work, ensuring that things are both entertaining and even have a bit of depth to them. It�s a set-up that enables Milligan to have a lot of fun playing around with the nature of identity as a theme while also ensuring that there�s an interesting character based action story going on, which makes for a pretty fun comic book all round.

So yeah, I liked this a lot, but I�m still unsure as to how well this is going to work as an ongoing title. Something about the basic set-up feels like it could get a bit boring and repetitive after a while.

Then again, from the mini-interview with him that appears in this issue, Milligan sounds like he's got a lot of ideas for where this is going to go next, and I guess the fact that Chance can be anyone and get involved with anything gives this series as much scope for interesting stories as anything else going so I'm probably just being a moany/pessimistic git here.

Anyway, Javier Pulido is the perfect artist for this title. His work is very stylish and engaging and yet utterly uncluttered, and I found the relaxed simplicity of the storytelling to be a big bonus in a series like this where there's so much (deliberate) narrative trickiness going on. There really is no extraneous detail in his work, which isn�t to say that it looks bare, but rather that there is just enough there.

Something about his storytelling style brings to mind Paul Grist�s work on Jack Staff. Though stylistically Pulido�s work is far sleeker than Grist's, there's something about the angles and perspectives they use that is similar, I think, though I�d really need to give Jack Staff another read to see if I�m talking crap or not.


 
Comic Book Covers

From the ridiculous:



To the sublime:



I think I�m going to write something about comic book covers soon. What makes a comic book cover stand out? To be honest with you, it�s something that I�ve not thought about very much in the past. I mean, I know what ones I like, and I know I see very few interesting covers on my average trip to a comic store, but I�ve not thought too heavily about exactly what I like to see on the stands�

Dunno if this will turn out to be interesting or not, but I�m definitely gonna give it a go.

Anyways, back to the covers I posted above.

The former comes from the upcoming Cable/Deadpool ongoing series, and is drawn by Rob Liefeld, which explains its grotesque early nineties preposterousness, I think. Liefeld won't be working on the issues themselves, but still... that cover: talk about an ugly blast from the past. The fact that the title is going to be written by Fabian Nicieza only adds to the sense of time warping wrongness going on here, and I�m actually still convinced that this is a joke on some level, even though I�m pretty sure it�s not. Weirdness.

On the other end of the superhero spectrum, that second cover is from the penultimate part of the upcoming 'Planet X' story arc in Grant Morrison�s New X-Men, and has apparently been lovingly painted by Phil Jimenez (who will also be doing the interior pencilling in this arc). Now that�s a nice, striking image there�a creepy take on the ever-lovable Xorn that is sure to provoke some nice speculation as to his role in the aforementioned story arc. I don�t think he�s gonna be the big bad guy (sinister as the above image may make him, and much as there is a darker side to him, he just doesn't strike me as being evil enough to be the main threat), but I reckon his role in upcoming events is gonna be complex and/or important at the very least.


 
Creature Combat Club

I�m watching Samurai Jack at the moment, and am I wrong or is it perfect mindless entertainment? It�s just so stylish and bizarre�as I type this, Jack has just been transformed into a chicken, and is about to be made to fight some kind of deformed alien bug creature. It looks great, of course, and I love the fact that there are long stretches of dialogue-free action� it feels so much smoother that way, without crap quips bouncing around everywhere. Ok, the quips are there sometimes, but on the whole the makers of the show seem confident in the entertainment factor inherent in their uber-stylish visuals, which is fair enough if you ask me.


 
1000 Years of ROCK!

As you may or may not know, my Dad has MS, and therefore has a lot of difficulty getting around these days. Quite obviously, this necessitates that when he ventures outside, he does so via the use of a wheelchair, gets to use the disabled parking spaces at shopping centres etc, and recently, he�s been getting kind of narky with people who use the disabled spaces without displaying the appropriate badge in their car window. It�s an old complaint, I know, but it�s one he�s only really begun to feel the sting of recently. This morning when I switched on the computer, I couldn�t help but notice a big bundle of stickers sitting in the printer tray. On first glance, I wasn�t quite sure what to make of these things�I could see that they had the disabled logo on them quite prominently, but what did the text say?

I pick the top sheet up for further inspection, and here�s I�m greeted with: �If you are disabled, I�m sorry but you should display a �blue� badge. If not then you�re just another ignorant BASTARD who one day will feel the need for a space like this. Have a nice day.�

Heh � I ask my mum if he intends to actually use these.

�What do you think?� she says. Yeah. It was a stupid question--he's always been a bit of a nutter, my Dad. Kinda glad to see he still is.


Saturday, August 23, 2003
 
Oops!

It would appear that everyone but me and Kenny has seen the whole Big Arn/Running Man joke being made somewhere this week. Either we've been lucky, or our exposure to newspapers has been a bit low of late, I'm not sure.

It also appears that I've lied about not posting again until Monday--I'm writing this on my lunch break, and have decided that I'm too knackered to go out tonight, so the chances are that I'll post something here later on in the day.


 
The Shooting Script

I probably won�t have time to post here again until Monday so take care ya�ll and have a nice weekend!

I�m starting to get quite excited at the moment, because I�ve got a lot of concerts and other fun stuff coming up now that I�m going back to working part time. I'm not gonna lie to you--my job is pretty cool, but I really need some time to recharge before I go back to Uni.

I�ve got a weekend in London with my friend Gemma coming up next week, and I�m looking forward to that immensely. The number of people who have started speculating over whether or not Gemma and I are having an affair is quite ludicrous, by the way. I�ve actually started to find it quite amusing; it's just so silly that I can't help but laugh.

That�s just not the way it is, guys�we�ve known each other for four years, and are both 100% certain that we wouldn�t want to be with each other in any capacity other than as friends (can you feel the cliche?). Also�if I was having an affair with her (and man is it fun to use the word �affair� a lot�it�s so overdramatic), do you not think we could be a bit more tactful about it? Anyone suggesting that this is an elaborate form of cover will have to stay behind after school and write me a 2000 word essay on fly fishing. For real.

But, erm, anyways�life is good, and I�m hoping to get a lot of writing done during the next couple of weeks. There are quite a few fiction things that have been building promisingly in my head for quite some time now, and I�m generally in the right mood to try and do a lot of creative stuff at the moment, so this could be great fun.

Heh � Kenny wants to know if anyone has seen a newspaper article that has used the term �the Running Man� to describe prospective governor Arnold Schwarzzenger? It�s a rotten joke, for sure, but I am kinda surprised that I�ve not been bashed over the head with it this month.

Random Factoid: as Kenny and I discovered on Thursday night, the Electric Version by the New Pornographers is really great to write comedy dialogue to. At least, we think it is�

Erm... rock?


Friday, August 22, 2003
 
Happy Together

Favourite scenes from recent movies part #1: The scene in Adaptation where screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, blocked while writing the screenplay for the movie that will become Adaptation, attends one of Robert McKee's screenwriting seminars (which his twin brother Donald had been going on about earlier in the movie, much to Charlie's distaste).

I've re-watched Adaptation a couple of times recently, and the following speech looses none of its potency with repeated viewings. It's so bombastic and striking, and so fundamentally important to the overall shape of the film, that I always find myself hanging on every word of it.

"Charlie Kaufman: Sir, what if a writer is attempting to create a story where nothing much happens? Where people don't change, they don't have any epiphanies. They struggle and are frustrated, and nothing is resolved. More a reflection of the real world.

Robert McKee: The real world?

Charlie Kaufman: Yes, sir.

Robert McKee: The real fucking world. First of all, you write a screenplay without conflict or crises, you'll bore your audience to tears.

Secondly, nothing happens in the world? Are you out of your fucking mind? People are murdered every day. There's genocide, war, corruption. Every fucking day somewhere in the world, somebody sacrifices his life to save somebody else. Every fucking day someone somewhere makes a conscious decision to destroy someone else! People find love! People loose it! For Christ's sake, a child watches a mother beaten to death on the steps of a church! Somebody goes hungry! Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman! If you can't find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don't know crap about life! And why the fuck are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie? I don't have any use for it! I don't have any bloody use for it!"


There's just so much going on here - Brain Cox's performance is just right. There's a lot of pomp and bluster in there, but he also has a point and boy does he make sure you know it...

This little speech obviously shakes Charlie to the bone, for reasons that I think a lot of people will find understandable. Nothing Brian Cox's character says here should be at all surprising, but yet... I dunno, there are certain types of people who will have probably said something along the lines of what Charlie Kaufman says here at some point in their life. I have, even though I am a great fan of artifice and structure, and a believer in the idea that real life can frequently prove to be more fantastic than fiction. It's the kind of thing that epitomises perfectly the character of Charlie Kaufman... everything about it just resonates with the insular, questioning, unsure worldview of the character, a worldview that the audience has been saturated in from the very beginning of the beginning of the movie. And here it just gets decimated, as easily as that. As Kaufman himself notes when talking to McKee later on, this speech refers at least as much to his life as to his screenwriting. And for me, at least, this is where the film's last act - wherein all of the clearly signposted Hollywood cliches that Charlie has been railing against for the duration of the movie (and many of which are embraced by Donald) take over - derives its strength. It's the point at which the movie really begins to open up and start exploring alternative possibilities*. It's worth noting that both Kaufman brothers are highly sympathetic throughout the movie - despite the fact that his goofiness is slightly overplayed in the script**, Donald is obviously a very sweet person for the most part. I'd also argue that there are elements of Charlie's personality that are hammed up for comic effect on occasion, thus ensuring that we care about both brothers (something that could have easily been destabalised by the fact that we spend so much time with Charlie and his thoughts).

Similarly, the third act is both tongue in cheek and serious - it may be a joke at the expense of cheap Hollywood cliches, but it's also a fucking brilliant way for the movie to express and crystallize many of its key themes, to develop (yes, develop!) its central character arc, to adapt, to mutate, to celebrate this whole fucked up process. The drama that McKee claims is present in real life has already been flowing through Adaptation all along, in various forms - for all its twisty, post-modern tricks, this is a movie that is driven by human conflict and longing. In this way the movie achieves a perfect kind of democratic feel - it doesn't choose to be for or against anything, exploring instead the differences and similarities between these approaches and characters, seeing the humour and value inherent in them, while also acknowledging the potential of hybrids. You can take it however you like (and this post certainly shows me taking it in a couple of very specific ways that I wouldn't say were necessarily "right"), and I like that.

*And it also sets up the point at which the fact that the movie's screenplay is credited to both Charlie and Donald (despite the fact that only one of them exists) begins to make sense; again, it's all about that third act and the styles and themes explored therein.

**I'm also deeply in love with that scene where Donald reads the unfinished Adpatation script and comments on how the script makes fun of him. That just got to me, because it's true, but yet the movie is also better than that; he's not, after all, just a joke character***.

***The fact that his repsonse to his role in the script is to say "It's ok--it's funny" is extra huggable too.


 
Circumference

Sean Collins has written a massive post in which he explains his position re: Manga packaging and why it�s the future of comics. I�m still thinking about it, to be honest, so I can�t tell you quite how much I agree with him yet, but the fact is that Sean has written a very intelligent and expansive post in which he pulls together a lot of good ideas into one hell of a fascinating argument.

Go read it, and don�t be daunted by its size as it's easy to read and well worth whatever effort it requires.


 
Medicinal Value

Comic book writer Warren Ellis has started serialising a novel�Listener�on his Livejournal. It�s something that I�ve seen a couple of people doing recently, and it�s certainly an interesting way to serialise a novel in the modern age, so consider me curious as to how this is going to turn out.

I�m only two chapters in, so I�m still working out what I think of it, but I do like the format. The comments and meta-commentary are� different. Ellis talks about writing as performance in the introduction, and yeah, there�s something like that going on here, in an odd way.

(link via this Barbelith thread)


Tuesday, August 19, 2003
 
Because You Demanded It!

Soon to be added to my sidebar: the excellent Antipopper. Anyone who can draw some kind of connection between the Buffy/Fray mythos and Prince is Ok by me!


 
Full Apps

I�m currently feeling more than a little bit bemused by the fact that the good folk I work with seem to have decided that I�m a computer expert because I passed one year�s worth of Computing Science at Glasgow Uni. Sure, I�m ok with computers, but what no one seems to realise is that my skills (such as they are) lie almost entirely on the software side of things. I�m barely even competent when it comes to hardware. I mostly just sit and glower at everything in the hope that it somehow magically connects itself together and starts working, which makes it quite alarming to me that I�ve been put in charge of sorting out our shop�s imminent Internet upgrade.

Ach, it�s not that bad actually�there�s nothing complicated involved, and I am, at the very least, less afraid of breaking our computers than many of my fellow staff members, so I suppose it does make a fair amount of sense in the end.

I guess I�m just amused that everyone thinks I�m much better at this stuff than I am. It�s a weird feeling, for sure, but there�s nothing to worry about here, unless I do this well and they decide to try and get me to do something actually important and complex.


 
Classical

Everyone�s linking to it, but it�s a good piece so I think I�ll go for it too: Paul O�Brien writes a neat little article about the fact that the comic book community has been getting all hot and bothered by some of Marvel�s recent (and fairly innocent) photo-covers when Marvel have been slapping Greg Horn�s soft-core shite on the front of their books for quite some time now to little comment.

Sure, I�m a bit sceptical as to whether or not Marvel�s nervous steps into the world of teen comics will be successful (mostly because Trouble was, to be blunt, pretty tame stuff which featured a pointless link to Spider-Man that can only be interpreted as a desperate attempt to drum up some fanboy interest), but as O�Brien and others before him have pointed out, the covers do make sense within the context of young adult books. *

Greg Horn�s covers, on the other hand, are just plain embarrassing. I hear that the Emma Frost series is alright, and nowhere near as sleazy as its covers would indicate, and it just boggles my mind that somebody thought that these covers were a good way of presenting and generating interest in these books.

Anyways, that�s enough ranting for now. O�Brien�s article is much more considered and fully formed than this little screed�go read it.

*I do think that the mainstream publishers should try different things, by the way. Can�t see anything wrong with that at all. Hell, I think it�d be a fine thing if they really went for it. I�m just waiting for the results to be a bit better/bolder is all.

[Edit: Heh - come to think of it, I've never met anyone--either online or in the real world--who likes Greg Horn's covers, but the point remains that the photo-covers are really pretty tame when compared to this kind of stuff]


Monday, August 18, 2003
 
Father of the Year

After enjoying a couple of MP3�s which Flux had offered up a while ago, I decided to check out the Electric Version by the New Pornographers, and yes, it is brilliant. It's the pop-rock album of the year by a mile, I think, and I'm very glad to have picked it up when I did, cos it really suits the sunny summer weather we've been having around here lately.

It�s one of those albums that I feel really funny writing about, because I instinctively start to write about the bands easy grip on dynamics; how the songs shift around constantly and effortlessly from one brilliantly catchy section to another. I start to write about the fact that Neko Case has a gloriously sweet voice; how it works brilliantly when it interacts with the other vocals and instruments and even better when it�s given space to break through and shine on its own. Given time, I�ll probably even start to blather on about how great a sense of space the New Pornographers have; how the various vocal and instrumental parts come in and out at exactly the right time in every song. I�ll probably even have a wee rant about how much I love all the keyboard parts that weave through these songs if you let me. But this all feels so academic and beside the point, because when it comes down to it, this is an album that makes me dance around like a fool. More than any other album I�ve heard this year, this one makes me dance around my bedroom in the morning. It gets in my head, and stays there, piling hook upon brilliant hook into my brain. What can I say�right now, I listen to this on the way to work every morning. It gets me going, y�know, and sometimes that�s exactly what I need.

Current favourite tracks: �The Electric Version� (the bouncy rhythm of which makes me think of Midnight Vultures era Beck, which is really weird because it sounds absolutely nothing like Beck at all); �The Laws Have Changed� (an obvious choice, perhaps, but when the instrumentation crashes out and Neko Case sings the �All hail..� bit, I melt every time, and the whole tune is such a neat encapsulation of everything that�s achingly right with this album); �Divine Right� (those �come true� backing vocals are genius, and the guitar wig-out at the end is oddly fitting).


 
Best Served

Know how I was talking about that gorgeous--but very expensive--ACME Novelty Datebook that I managed to avoid buying? Well Alan David Doane has written a persuasive little post about it over on his weblog that only reinforces my urge to buy it, god-dammit!

Says he:

"The book's design asthetics are mind-boggingly gorgeous; Library Retro Chic is about as close to a description as I can get at the moment, but the book-as-object truly needs to be seen to be believed, and once seen is irresistible.

It's not a graphic novel, there's no obvious story here -- there are plenty of comic strips, though, and the discerning reader will indeed find themselves picking up on a subtle tale being woven through the seemingly-random series of sketchbook pages. The story is the art and life of Chris Ware, one of the best cartoonists in the history of comic art. It's a story you owe it to yourself to fully explore."


Heh - Library Retro Chic. I like that.


 
"Top O' The World, Ma!"

Here's a link to a promising Comics Journal thread about Eightball #22.

The TCJ posters who have contributed to that thread so far seem to be wrestling with what I see as being the real big trick that Clowes pulled off with this issue: the way that all of these stories wrestle with their own artificiality while still being genuinely affecting. Nick Mullins, in particular, has a good go at analysing the various characters in the book and how they relate to their own narratives.

His observation regarding the way that certain characters may escape their narratives, while others seem to be getting ready to start the cycle again, strikes me as being particularly sharp, and the whole thread is well worth a read for anyone who looking for a bit of smart writing on this particular comic (a comic which I've been trying to get the guts to write about for some time now).

It's such a complex book. Only 37 pages long, but still -- I think it's probably the most formally accomplished comic book that I've ever read. I'll write a bit about it now, but I don't think I'll even scratch the surface of what's going on in there -- it really is that good.

It's almost like a combination of the best elements from all of Clowes' previous work; a culmination of all the skills he's acquired throughout the years. Eightball #22 has some of the energy, humour and variety of his earlier rant/joke strips, mixed in with the narrative trickiness of David Boring, and the complex, sympathetic character writing that was showcased in Ghost World and Caricature. And that's the key to all of this -- for all the self-conscious artifice of these characters and their stories, and for all that some of them have some deeply unpleasant characteristics (mostly I'm thinking of Random Wilder here, who is unlikeable on so many levels), Clowes manages to engender a lot of sympathy for them.

A good example of this comes in the story on Page 25 ('Mosquito'), which is one of the strips about Charles, a small kid who talks and thinks in an exaggeratedly over-analytic way (a riff on Peanuts and other such comics). When Charles says something like "If only you could understand, George -- but how could you? How could anyone know the depth of my frustration, my longing, my guilt?", it's funny, because this would be ridiculously overblown if an adult said it never mind a child, but still -- there is something sad about his situation. Something that is hightened by his overly articulate awareness of his place in the world as he sees it. Things like this cut both ways, being funny and giving the reader a distanced laugh while also involving them in the fate of the characters. Like I said -- it's one hell of a complex comic book.

Also, on a purely technical level, it's a wonderful thing--all the different narrative and artistic styles, the interplay between words and the pictures, the structure (which is somehow very obvious and well constructed without feeling the slightest bit forced), the multiple plot-threads that flow through the 29 short stories, the snappy pacing with which this is all executed, the cute little Chris Ware-esque moments where speech balloons get shunted out of the panel, or at least partially obscured--it's probably the best comic Clowes has created so far, and it definitely stands as one of my favourite comics of all time.


 
Aches and Pains

Heh � I seem to have gained some small amount of self-restraint at last.

I made the terrible mistake of visiting a couple of my local comic book stores at the weekend, which led to me seeing a hell of a lot of comic which I wanted to buy. Chris Ware�s ACME Novelty Datebook and Quimby the Mouse collections were sitting there, tempting me to shell out large amounts of money, and there were several other comics lying around (Blankets, It�s a Good Life If You Don�t Weaken, the first Zenith trade�which I�ve been looking for quite some time*) which I�ll probably end up buying eventually, but which I managed to avoid buying on the spot for a change.

This may not sound like a big deal, but given how much I wanted to buy some of that stuff (particularly the very expensive ACME Novelty Datebook, which I flicked through and which looked AMAZING�is that Chris Ware a dangerously talented bastard or what?), and how often I seem to waste all my money in a rather carefree style, this is a fairly important thing for me to be able to do.

I�ve got to learn to pace myself financially� I can be quite indulgent at times, which is fair enough, and I should note that I can normally support my spending sprees financially, but I think it�s time to pair things down and be a bit more practical.

So it's a start, basically. Not a big deal in itself, but a promising indication that I might manage to be a bit less impulsive in the future.

*I�ve got almost all of the second, third and fourth Phases of Zenith, but have very little of the first one, much to my frustration.


 
And Furthermore...

AARRRRR!

It's a Pirates... life for me: seen it twice, I have, and like a fine wine it gets better the more of it ye stuff down yer gob!

AHARRRR!!


Saturday, August 16, 2003
 
�I Hates The Sea, And Everything In It!�

Pirates of the Caribbean then: how much fun was that? Really wonderfully silly stuff, and surprisingly funny too. Some folks have complained that it went on a bit too long, and have pointed out that the fact that the undead pirates (UNDEAD PIRATES!) couldn�t be killed made the longer fight scenes seem a tad tedious, but I have to admit that none of this occurred to me when I was watching the film.

I won�t pretend that I have much to say about the film in a critical way, but I will say that it�s great fun and that, yes, Johnny Depp�s performance is masterful in its oddness.

It�s almost entirely wrong--a weird, drunken rock star swagger accompanied by a disturbingly random accent (What is that--Cockney? Irish? Australian?). It shouldn�t hold together in any way, but somehow Depp makes it work, and it is endlessly entertaining in the scope of its ridiculousness. At some points Depp appears to be playing Johnny Depp playing Hunter S. Thompson in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, at others he resembles some kind of hyper-animated, childlike amalgam of Keith Richards and Ozzie Osborne. Hell, there�s even one moment where he seemed to become Dylan Moran in Black Books (�But why is the rum gone?�). And it�s Depp�s character--the standard roguishly charming dodgy bloke blown apart into a thousand equally preposterous pieces--that sums up what works best about this movie and acts as its centre. Everyone else does their bit as well though, being pretty, ugly or uptight as the movie demands, and the mix of pirates, parrots, monkeys and Aztec curses just� well, it does it for me. The best silly, throwaway movie I�ve seen this summer, then, and more than likely the best one I�ll see all year.

[EDIT: Reading this hyperbolic little post of mine sort of made me want to ressurect Roland Barthes so that I could get him to write me something about the way that Depp's perfromance plays with the link between the signifier and the signified, squeezing mannerisms from strange contexts into the stock "vaguely redeemable Pirate" mold and, erm... ARRRRR!!!]


 
From Blown Speakers

Jesus, has it been a week since my last post?

Weird.

I�ve been busy at work and with friends, and have thus been short on computer time, but still� I really hadn�t noticed quite how long it had been since I wrote anything here until I started to write this entry.

So� erm� comics, anyone?

Bill Sherman wrote a review of the recently released Jimmy Olsen trade paperback a while ago that sums up pretty much everything I would have said about it.

�I love these tales for their goofiness and robustness. (Haven�t even mentioned the two-parter that ends this volume, co-starring Don Rickles and a costumed doppleganger named Goody Rickels. It�s packed with more non-sequitars than a Dadaist Manifesto � the real-life Rickles was reportedly not amused � and a thoroughly nonsensical plot originally designed to put Rickles in the same room as the Man of Steel so he could insult him . . . but it never happens.) Like I say, this is definitely not the stuff you want to pull out if you�re trying to convince a would-be girl or boyfriend you�re not a hopeless case for reading comic books. These pages are pure (to use cartoonist Scott Shaw!�s exceedingly valuable label) Oddball. And boyishly entertaining for it.�

That Jimmy Olsen stuff is great fun. Not, as Sherman rightly notes, material that�s gonna convince anyone of the literary capabilities of the comic book medium, but great, barmy stuff nonetheless. I think I'll always have a lot of time for Kirby�s energetic artwork and overactive imagination, and the photo-collages alone made this collection worthwhile for me (I love how those pages are really silly and cosmic and yet strangely beautiful at the same time�there�s a genuine sense of spectacle and wonder in there alongside all the goofy mega-cloning madness).

Sherman also wrote a really good piece about Harvey Pekar recently. I don�t know if I�ve mentioned it, but I�m starting to get quite excited about the upcoming American Splendor movie�the advanced word on this one seems to be almost entirely positive, and the whole project sounds like it could work really well for me. Anyways, Sherman�s piece gives a good bit of context as to Pekar�s place in the world of comics as well as an appreciation of his recent �My Movie Year� strip (which could be found in the pages of Entertainment Weekly).

Go check it out.


Saturday, August 09, 2003
 
Here We Go

Thanks to Scott and Graeme I was able to read New X-Men #144 despite the fact that I haven�t had time to pick up any comics during the last couple of weeks.

And it was alright� not amazing, but not a �bad� read on the whole. The third part of the Assault on Weapon Plus story arc, it continues in much the same vain as the last issue, which I said was �Not the best issue of this title in terms of writing, but a good laugh nonetheless.� While my feelings about #144 are more or less the same as they were about the last issue, I have to admit that this issue got on my nerves a bit more than #143 did.

This issue is chock-full of bizarre images and concepts in a way that recalls the Jack Kirby meets Steve Aylett madness of Morrison�s Marvel Boy mini series. It�s all about cyclopean super-soldiers, government controlled micro-realities, Car-Cops (�They�re what happens when you put a whale�s brain under the hood of a truck�), fast paced action scenes, and all the silly fast-firing quippage that go along with that sort of thing (�Fantomex? Say something that isn�t �urk���). All of which is fairly enjoyable unto itself, but� well, it�s not anything that Morrison hasn�t done before, and as I mentioned when I was talking about #143, I found myself missing the soapy character stuff that is (in my opinion) the real attraction of this series.

I do enjoy Morrison when he�s working in OTT bombast mode (I really liked Marvel Boy and a good chunk of his JLA run), and there are enough things about this story to make it interesting for me (little bits of character stuff coming in around the edges, twists on familiar Morrison concepts) but to be honest with you this reads like an issue of the Filth that�s low on the character of Greg Feely, which is to say that it feels a little groundless...

That it�s all flash and high concept doesn�t bother me in itself; as I said, I enjoyed Marvel Boy, but while Marvel Boy featured slick, clear artwork from J.G. Jones which helped to generate a sense of excitement during the multiple fight scenes, this story arc is illustrated by Chris Bachalo, whose current design heavy style does not make for engagingly kinetic reading (there�s something just a little too cluttered about his page design for this kind of work). Additionally, I�m probably feeling a little less kind towards this story because, as I�ve already mentioned, Grant Morrison is capable of writing in so many other styles, and so it seems a bit of a shame for him not to stretch his wings a bit more*.

I�m sure he likes writing all this stuff, and that�s cool, but� it�s like Chris Morris' recent work. I love Chris Morris; On the Hour, The Day Today, Brass Eye and Blue Jam are some of my favourite TV and Radio shows ever, and have been a big part of my life for quite some time now. But for the last few years Morris has mostly just reworked his Blue Jam radio material into a TV show, a stage show and a short movie (My Wrongs). And while I do enjoy those projects and the variations between them, I just wish he�d move onto something else� he�s got so much more range than that.

And so does Morrison, so while I can enjoy the middle aged depression and black humour at the heart of the Filth, and the spandex thrills and neat plays on the Marvel Universe in Marvel Boy, I can�t help but look forward to seeing Morrison try out a couple of different things soon. I just sometimes feel like he�s in danger of painting himself into a corner marked �mad idea generator� with issues like this (much in the same way that I occasionally feel that Chris Morris is trying to live up to his �dark comedian� rep a bit much).

Heh � it�s kinda funny, because I feel like I�m criticising the last couple of issues of this title for breaking from the standard style of the book, which isn�t the case at all. I really like the way this book can integrate a murder mystery story line, or a space empire into its sci-fi soap opera set up. There�s a certain irreverence to this approach that is sadly lacking in many modern superhero titles, but on this occasion it hasn�t really worked for me. Ach well�this title�s had its ups and downs before, so I�m sure I�ll be loving it again soon.

And hey�Morrison's got some promising sounding DC work lined up, including a �Bollywood sci-fi romance comic� illustrated by the wonderful Philip Bond, so I�ve got a lot to look forward to!

By the way, there are some good points about this issue to be found in this Barbelith thread, including the very neat observation that Weapon XV�s internal monologue and general design echo Xorn�s on some levels (not a point that I think will have much meaning within the greater context of the series, but one which I liked nontheless).

*This seems to have become a personal bugbear of mine recently... not sure why, but it has.


 
I�m All About the Excuses

A couple of comic links for ya:

--Alan David Doane talks to Mark Millar about his upcoming creator owned work and commitments to Marvel, including Ultimate Fantastic Four, which he�ll be co-writing with Brian Michael Bendis.
(link via ADD)

--Grant Morrison is interviewed by Hector Lima over on Comic Book Resources.

My favourite part of the above interview has to be this bit:

"LIMA: Do you think the title can hold the appeal to teens? The image of the adult comicstore-goer seems stronger today.

MORRISON: If the readers I meet at conventions and stores are anything to go by, the audience is still in its teens and 20s and those are precisely the people who need the X-Men. Idealism is at its most ferocious peak when you're that age, no matter how well disguised behind fashionable cynicism, and I feel it's my job to provide the kind of no-bullshit, inspirational stories which kind adults in previous generations provided for me when I needed it most.

I recently read something online, which said my "New X-Men" stories read as if "written by a bratty, highly imaginative 14 year old..." which actually describes my ideal male or female reader perfectly. I think it was meant to be an insult but I took it to be the highest compliment and proof positive that the angry little inner teen machine which drives my superhero writing is still alive and well and spitting.
"


Thursday, August 07, 2003
 
Steve Albini Had a Terrible Diet

Comic book writer Mark Millar has released previews of some of his upcoming creator owned work up which can be viewed here.

As I�ve mentioned before, I�ve been waiting quite a while for Mark Millar to really blow me away. There�s a bit of promise in some of his best work that keeps me on the look out for his upcoming projects, but thus far he�s only managed to write a couple of comics which I find enjoyable, but not amazing (I wrote a post about this a short while ago if you�re interested).

This stuff� well, it looks like it could go either way. But I will say this: Wanted is going to look lovely (it is, after all, being drawn by Marvel Boy artist J.G. Jones) and there�s a chance that I�m going to love the Unfunnies. Something about it sounds like it might appeal to me, even though I often find Millar�s attempts at edgy humour a bit dull.

(thanks to Sean Collins for the link)


 
100%

Oh my god�how cool does this sound?:

�Based on the Bram Stoker Award nominee short story by acclaimed author Joe R. Lansdale, Bubba Ho-tep tells the �true� story of what really did become of Elvis. We find the King (Bruce Campbell) as an elderly resident in an East Texas rest home, who switched identities with an Elvis impersonator years before his �death�, then missed his chance to switch back. Elvis teams up with Jack (Ossie Davis), a fellow nursing home resident who thinks that he is actually President John F. Kennedy, and the two valiant old codgers sally forth to battle an evil Egyptian entity who has chosen their long-term care facility
as his happy hunting grounds��


(link via this Barbelith thread)

Ok, ok�so I�m a big old geek with a Bruce Campbell thang. But still, this sounds appealingly insane. There's potential in the idea (I think) and I'm genuinely always up for seeing people find new and interesting uses for Bruce Campbell, which this certainly looks like it's going to do.

�What�s the appeal of Bruce Campbell?� you ask. Good question. He's kind of became a cult icon, hasn't he?

Well, when I try and rationalise my geek-lust, two things come to mind:

(1) His increasingly cartoony turn in the Evil Dead movies is something that has a special place in my trash loving heart. What I like about his performance in those movies is that while he�s pretty ridiculous and goofy in them (particularly in the third movie where he essentially becomes a sillier variation on yer standard action hero) he doesn�t feel out of context. This is at least partly due to the fact that the Evil Dead movies grow in goofiness with each outing, matching Bruce�s energy as they do so, but it�s also because he somehow stops just short of Jim Carrey-esque mega gurning. He�s on the line�at times his long suffering character of Ash does feel like he exists in some sort of looney tune world�but never quite crosses it (well, maybe a little in Army of Darkness, but that whole film is nuts, so it hardly matters).

(2) If Chins Could Kill (Confessions of a B-Movie Actor), his autobiography, is one of the few slices of all American wholesomeness that I�ve ever been able to stomach. There�s a certain charm to that book� something to do with the fact that Campbell doesn�t seem to have too many pretensions about what he does, but seems to love it and feel lucky for the fact that he can do it at all. Now don�t get me wrong, there�s a lot to be said for having pretensions about such things, but there�s something really reassuring about Campbell�s take on his movie career and life�a certain relaxed attitude as to his place in it all that I am deeply drawn to. He seems quite chilled with it all wihtout seeming stupid in the least, and I think there's a lot to be said for that.

Do either of those reaons make any sense? I think so, particularly the second one (goofy as it may seem). Ach well: sensible or not, a geek-crush is a geek-crush, and this whole "Campbell as the King" thing tickles me in an odd, but deeply pleasant, way.


Wednesday, August 06, 2003
 
Extremely Flammable

Heh � I�d intended to write so much stuff this week, but some very sudden changes to my work schedule have thrown me off a bit, and as a result I�ll be a bit too knackered and busy to write anything particularly substantial for the next couple of days. Hopefully I�ll find enough time to bash out another couple of Fluxblog posts during the guest week, but for tonight I�m gonna keep it brief.

More soon.


Monday, August 04, 2003
 
Do The Columbo

Just one last thing�

Sorry to get all practical and business minded on all of you, bit I�d like to congratulate some of my friends for a variety of reasons.

Scott, Chris, Zoe, Craig--my hat goes off to all of you for ditching the life of the fulltime postman, getting the interview, leaving the job, and having the smartest damned idea for a business in East Kilbride that I�ve ever heard, respectively.

Also, on a totally unrelated note, I�d like to thank Kenny for writing �Left Hanging� with me. I�ve never written a play before, and I�m really looking forward to pulling all of this together, so thank you--it's been a blast.


 
�If Ya�ll Really Want to Hear Some Funky Beats��

I wrote my first Fluxblog post a few minutes ago�it�s about the song �Gareth Brown Says� by Mclusky, and it�s one of many posts that have went up today as a part of the weeklong guest-fest on Fluxblog.

I know I said I wasn�t gonna do any music posts here this week, but since it would feel a bit indulgent to do two Mclusky posts in a row on Fluxblog, I�m gonna post this one here.

Cool?

Right��To Hell With Good Intentions� is one of my favourite Mclusky tunes. I mention it over on that Fluxblog post, and it�s probably the biggest example of that whole playground taunt vibe that I was talking about over there. Lyrically it�s basically just a series of preposterous boasts shouted on top of a ridiculously bombastic rock song that sort of sounds like the Pixies would have if they were an 80's hair metal band (how�s that for bit of crap journo phrasing?). You�ve really got to download this one, because just seeing it written down doesn�t do it justice (something that�s true about a lot of good lyrics, admittedly).

Check this bit out:

�My dad is bigger than your dad/ He's got eight cars and a house in Ireland (sing it!)

My love is bigger than your love (sing it!)
My love is bigger than your love (sing it!)

When we gonna torch the restaurant? (sing it!)
When we gonna paint the guide dog? (sing it!)

My love is bigger than your love (sing it!)
My love is bigger than your love (sing it!)�


Sure, that all sounds kinda fun, but it totally lacks the gleeful madness of the record. The bug-eyed intensity with which Andy Falkous sings that "My love is bigger than your love" part again and again is rediculosuly fucking exciting.

Ah, sod it: I might as well shut up and go to listen to them. Writing about them so much tonight has got me in just the right mood for that sort of thing�


Sunday, August 03, 2003
 
Completion Pending

I've been meaning to post this for ages now, but it has somehow completely slipped my mind every time I've sat down in front of my computer:

"The heart is a muscle," Bigend corrects. "You 'know' in your limbic brain. The seat of instinct. The mammalian brain. Deeper, wider, beyond logic. That is where advertising works, not in the upstart cortex. What we think of as 'mind' is only a sort of jumped-up gland piggybacking on the reptilian brainstem and the older, mammalian mind, but our culture tricks us into recognizing it as all of consciousness. The mammalian spreads continent-wide beneath it, mute and musculer, attending its ancient agenda. And makes us buy things."

(from William Gibson's most recent novel, the excellent Pattern Recognition)


Friday, August 01, 2003
 
House Party

From the most recent post over on Fluxblog:

"I'm going to be going away for a week, and in the meantime, about two dozen guest hosts will be filling in and keeping this blog up and running. It's going to be a bit of a free-for-all, but in a good way. I'd like for it to be something like when in bad movies and sitcoms, the parents go away and the kids throw a crazy house party. I hope you all have a fun time with it."

Sound good to you?

I'm going to be guest posting there next week, and while I have no idea how much I'm going to write there (bearing in mind how busy I've been of late) this whole thing is such a great idea, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how nutty it gets over there with all those different people doing their thing in the grand Fluxblog style.

Because of this I definitely won't be posting anything about music here for the next week or so. All posts on Fluxblog will be written in the standard format of that weblog (a format which I'm definitely a big fan of, although I won't be able to provide MP3s like Flux does*), and will be specifically about music, so I'm basically going to say anything I have to say about music over there, and talk about everything else here as always.

*I don't know how many of the other guest posters have some place to host music files, though, so I have no idea how much good music you'll be able to sample there next week.


 
Make With the Patterns

�I love stories. I�m a storyteller. I�m like a trickster, a joker. I�m not even a filmmaker. I�m like Al Jolson or someone: I paint myself black and play the banjo! I�m an entertainer, I�m a showman. I pull the wool over people�s eyes, but what I know about movies are specific scenes and characters. It�s like life, where all I remember are scenes and characters.

Gummo is what I call a mistakist art form: things just fall from the sky, or it�s like a science project with explosions and things. I know it�s a very simplistic way to talk about a movie, but it�s almost like the idea of looking at a photo book, where there�s a picture of your grandmother standing in front of a pyramid, or your grandfather sitting on a toilet, or you on a kibbutz picking dates. Somehow a narrative comes, just by sheer association.

It�s like when you make a mix tape and give it to your friend, and somehow the music becomes your own music and not the band�s any more. SO I felt that no matter what I did, it would somehow make sense, makes sense of chaos.�

(Harmony Korine, director of Gummo & Julien Donkey-Boy)

I�m still not sure what I make of Korine�s movies (some bits of his films are fascinating, but on the whole I tend to find his work a bit too dull and shapeless), but something about the above quote clicks with me. I know it�s a kind of nutty quote, but there�s something to it, especially in the stuff about the photo album/mix tape effect. I�d say that there are maybe some people who can pull this off better than Korine (though as I say, there is something fascinating going on in his movies, at least part of the time)�there�s something like this going on in David Lynch�s more out there movies (though his work is drenched in a hyper reality that contrasts starkly with the attempt at naturalism in Korine's movies) and there's a little of this approach in some of those autobiographical comics I�ve been talking about recently, although they tend to have a bit more overriding focus than Korine's movies, a bit more 'art', if you will. I guess that while I think that patterns can form on their own, there needs to be a little bit more effort to pull it all together than there is in Gummo. Something about a slightly more stylised approach seems to make this kind of appraoch come together for me a bit more, perhaps because it enhances the actual enjoyment I can derive from watching or reading the work in question. Julien Donkey-Boy tries to bring a tighter focus into the equation, but I�d really need to see it again to say how successful it was. I dunno... I think that on some levles the quote just stuck with me due to my fascination with photo albums and mix tapes, two things which I love to make (for reasons that I'm still trying to articulate), and two thing which I can see something of in Gummo.

Just thinking out loud here. Going to bed now. Goodnight.