Cakes and Money

Monday, September 29, 2003

Great stuff about Andre 3000, Prince and race from Eppy. Go check it out, and be sure to read the comments, which are every bit as interesting as the post itself.

�There Goes An Eargasm�

I�ve only listened to both sides of the new Outkast double album Speakerboxx/the Love Below once all they way through so far (with certain tracks getting a couple of repeat plays), but on the whole I like it a lot.

At the risk of sounding like I�m towing the party line: Speakerboxxx (Big Boi�s album) � WOW! The Love Below (Andre 3000�s album) � Hmmm�

As many others before me have pointed out, this double album really does reflect well on Big Boi. I guess it was always kind of easy to think of Andre 3000 as the weird one, but Speakerboxxx is as textured and FUNKY a hip-hop record as you could ask for. It�s testament to this albums sonic scope that I know it�s gonna take me a while to pin-point everything I love about the majority of these songs.

A couple of things I do know for sure even now:

(1) �Ghettomusick� is always going to be one of my favourite Outkast tunes. At this stage, it�s my favourite song on the whole album, but that�s possibly because I�ve been listening to it for a couple of weeks now and am thus thoroughly familiar with its charms. It�s like the most frantic nineties dance tune in the world (speed-rapping and squelching synths=pure bliss) with lots of preposterously smoooooth funk bits mixed in for good measure. It�s FAST. And then it�s slow. And then it�s FAST again and� you get the drift. Wonderful dynamics � surely a cue for some schizophrenic dance floor action? Yeah, I need to hear this in a club sometime soon. My favourite thing about this song? The way that the staccato mix of electronics and rapping on the pre-hook (you know, the bit with the �G-H-E-T-T-O-M-U-S-I-C-K� and �O-U-T-K-A-S-T� chants) serve as a brilliant build-up to the breathlessness of the hook/chorus itself. Again, it�s just so dynamically perfect!

(2) There are very few songs I don�t like here. I could skip most of the interludes, and �Tomb of the Boom� didn�t really do it for me first time round (its amusing title aside) but that still makes this a very lean, consistent album, with a really high level of overall quality.

(3) �Bowtie� could very easily become my favourite song on this album. It�s just so damned sexxxy! The horns alone on this track make me want to strut around like I own the place!

(4) The hook from �Knowing� just won�t get out of my head right now. Something about the way that the distorted �from this point on it only gets rougher� parts rub up against the more soulful vocals is just so right that it hurts! There�s a wonderful sense of sonic contrast here and the balance is just right, particularly with the more extended smooth lines (�Preachers at the streets knowing, we still get by�) mixed in there. I�m not sure exactly why, but the tiny bit of extra space that those lines provide is just essential.

So Speakerboxxx gets the thumbs up then, but what about The Love Below?

Well, I like it, and I think that with time I might like it a lot. But it is far more predictable and more indulgent than Big Boi�s album. Heh � it�s kinda funny that I can describe something as idiosyncratic and, y�know, crazy sounding as The Love Below as being predictable, but I can. Because, as I�ve said already, Andre�s the weird one in the group � remember?

The intro track (�The Love Below�) is interesting � sort of like Disney musical done Outkast style - and then we have �Love Hater�, which is oddly excellent in its use of jazzy piano, and sees Andre singing �Everybody needs someone to rub their shoulders, scratch their dandruff/ And everybody needs to quit actin� hard and shit/ Before you get your ass whooped (I�ll slap the fuck out ya!)/ Everybody needs somebody to love before its too late� it�s too late�, setting up the key concern of The Love Below - the search to find love/get laid and all the trickiness that comes with it.

After a brief interlude (an amusing address to God accompanied by acoustic guitar, would you believe) we get the stomping beat, handclaps and scratchy guitar of �Happy Valentine�s Day�, which sets the tone for the majority of what is to follow.

Over on the Barbelith music forum (which is�like the rest of Barbelith�shut off to non-members at the moment due to unfortunate circumstances) Flyboy wrote:

�'Happy Valentine's Day' probably sums up the weaknesses and strengths of Andre as a solo artist - it's a lot of fun, a LOT of fun - especially the start - "My name is Cupid Valentino, the modern day Cupid" - and when the piano comes in during his rap. But it's soooo reminiscent of Prince, sounds so much like a homage, that it's impossible to enjoy without thinking of the resemblance (it is to Prince as Interpol's 'PDA' is to Joy Division or The Darkness' 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love is to Queen, I guess, in that I still like it but think "tsk, tsk"). In fact I'm sure it sounds exactly like a specific Prince song with the handclap beat and those guitar licks.

He�s right and in a wider sense this applies to the whole album�it�s fun, but at points it can begin to grate on you. There are experiments that don�t come off (the instrumental cover of �These Are a Few of My Favourite Things� for example, bombs horribly), and a lot of Prince style psychedelic love-pop. Sometimes this works (I do love �Happy Valentine�s Day� for example, and �Roses� is great), but I did loose interest in the album at various points, and I think it�s genuinely more indulgent and less ambitious than Speakerboxxx. Although the Speakerboxx tracks are all built on a fairly solid hip-hop base there�s still a lot of weird stuff going on in, say, �Church� or �Flip-Flop Rock�; it�s just less screamingly obvious is all. For all that The Love Below sees Andre 3000 sidestep traditional hip-hop for the most part, there are very few surprises contained within the album, once you get past the first couple of tracks.

Not surprisingly then, my two favourite songs on the album are the one�s where Andre does something I genuinely didn�t expect. �Hey Ya� has been covered already � 'A Day In the Life Of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete)', now that�s an interesting track!

It�s really minimal, with Andre spinning a narrative about his life so far over a fairly sparse rhythm track. The clicking rhythm meshes in with some odd droning noises in a way that gives this weird intensity to the smooth flow of Andre�s voice � it almost feels relentless at some points, like something from Aphex Twin's I Care Because You Do, but, y'know, much better!

All in all then, an excellent collection of songs, but one with more than a touch of filler. Speakerboxxx/the Love Below is going to provide me with tons of listening time and excitement for the next couple of months as I wrestle with all the genre mashing goodness within. It also makes me want to re-listen to the Outkast back catalogue so that I can attempt to re-evaluate the dynamic between these guys and� hell, who am I kidding; on some level I�m just filled with this gigantic childlike thrill here - no-one quite gives me the widescreen rush these guys do when they�re on form, and I love them for it.

As I said earlier � wheeeeee!

Listen Up Lad � It�ll Be Good For Ye!

Sean Collins kicks the arse right off of Jeff Loeb and Jim Lee�s Batman �Hush� storyline in a thoroughly hilarious fashion. There are spoilers galore in his post � spoilers for not only the aforementioned Batman story arc, but also for New X-Men, Daredevil and that Wolverine Origin series that I�d completely forgotten about - but if that doesn't bother you (or if you've read the damned things) then you should definitely check it out.

Basically, Sean beats the living hell out of Loeb for writing a poor-ass mystery story, taking shots at Jim Lee�s art and the similarly useless big twist in Origin while he�s at it. There�s other stuff there about how the creative types currently behind both New X-Men and Daredevil have executed similar stories a lot better recently, and yeah, this post is a good 'un. It�s funny, but it�s also a dead on analysis of what does (and indeed, doesn�t) make for a good bit of plotting -- I highly recommend it.

Feeling Listless?

I�ve always wanted to do a really throwaway post in which I just list my mood, what I�ve been reading/listening to/watching in a Livejournal style. So here it is:

Mood: I�m feeling better today, thank you very much. At the moment I�m cheerful and relatively focussed, which is nice.

Listening To: Outkast � Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Just picked this up this morning � listening to �Ghettomusick� right now � Wheee!).

Reading: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar (an American Splendor collection, by Harvey Pekar and others); Tennyson�s �In Memoriam� (can you tell that term starts tomorrow?).

Watching: The Fly (the David Cronenberg remake).

More later�

Friday, September 26, 2003
What Are You Looking At?

More pictures from the Hellboy movie can be found here. This one is my favourite--it just gives me the giggles, plain & simple.

I think I'm going to write a post this week about how great the Hellboy comics are, how you couldn't make a movie out of them, and why I actually think that the Hellboy movie is going to be a lot of fun.

(linkage via the Comics Journal message board)

Hitchhiking for Dummies

I�m normally a bit miffed when people complain about horror movies because the characters in such films always pick up the hitchhiker, go into the haunted cabin, open the creepy looking door etc. When people moan about how unrealistic all of this is, you kind of have to wonder if they get the point of these movies�the characters have to do all of this stuff precisely because you wouldn�t! Theoretically at least, this is where the horror lies�you want to see what�s behind the door because you would never open it yourself. Simple, no?

But after sitting through a slew of terrible horror movie trailers last night (is that Halloween I see on the horizon?) I almost found myself shouting �Oh for god�s sake, not another hitchhiking evil cabin of death movie! Couldn�t they just NOT go looking around the creepy old building for once?� House of a 1000 Corpses, Cabin Fever, the remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre� now, I know that trailers can be misleading, but these all looked pretty rancid and tired and blargh, basically. This formula can be used for both good and evil, but on the evidence of these trailers not a one of these films looks particularly enticing.

But hey�enough unqualified criticism: Halloween is coming up soon! I love Halloween. I�ve got to the age where I�m currently wondering why I spent the later part of my adolescence despising this particular annual event. Ok, that�s not entirely true�I do know why I didn�t embrace it at that point in my life (I would have got a kicking/been laughed at, basically) but the point is that I currently adore it�it�s an excuse to dress up like a fool, and how could you not love that?

Last year I was feeling rather sick/lazy so I cobbled together a dissapointingly crappy looking pirate costume for mysef. My costume was rather half-hearted, but I had fun at Kenny and Zoe�s party anyway, so who really cares? This year� well, I have a damned good idea. It�s a classic, in the truest sense of the world. Maybe I�ll talk about it later, when I�ve actually bought the damned thing, but for now I'm keeping quiet.

Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention that this years Halloween party is also an Engagement party! Big congratulations to both Kenny and Zoe are in order, I think!

More later�

It Really Helps When�

There's a new Grant Morrison interview at Comic Book Resources (link via this Barbelith thread). There�s a lot of stuff there about his run on New X-Men with just a little bit about the work he�s going to be doing for DC comics thrown in at the end.

Here are some of the highlights:

Morrison on continuity errors in comics--"My advice is just to white out the offending dialogue in your comics with correcting fluid and then, using a fine-nibbed lettering pen, write in your own, more pleasing and continuity-appropriate version of the character's words. It will make your comic collection more individual, more continuity-conscious and much more creative and it will also allow you to edit and collaborate with your favorite writers."

On his New X-Men run--"Each of the stories has a different feel which keeps it all fresh for me. 'Riot at Xavier's' was every school story I could think of mashed into one 'comicsclash' in the '2 many DJs' style. 'Murder At The Mansion' was a kind of mutant Columbo murder mystery. 'Assault On Weapon Plus' was a boy's action story with Wolverine and Scott running around blowing things up and being funny. 'Planet X' is my dissolution of the classic X-Men dialectic, and the final arc is a big, biblical future apocalypse epic. Each of these arcs should work like a different drug, each targeting different pats of the brain. I'm hoping readers will go back and read the whole thing at once to see how all the little clues and nuances fit together. I'm very proud of my X-Men graphic mega-novel."

On his upcoming creator owned work--"I have three new 'creator' projects already underway and due for release early 2004 - 'creator' meaning that the artist and writer own the damn thing and it's a totally new story, not some old superhero reheat of what your dad was reading while the thought of you boiled in his testes - 'Vimanarama!' with Philip Bond. 'We3' with Frank Quitely and 'Seaguy' with Cameron Stewart will all be out next year. These books all written and I'm already prepping loads more new stuff for next year.�

Hey�he just confirmed that Cameron Stewart is the artist on Seaguy! Ok, everyone had pretty much figured that out already, but it�s nice to hear it confirmed nonetheless. Bond, Quitely, Stewart� it�s good to know that Morrison has a load great artists to collaborate with on his upcoming projects. These guys have all worked well with him in the past, so I�m starting to get very excited by this line up.

My reaction to Underworld (part #2)

Flapping coats; constant rain; a colour palette mercilessly paired down to a murky mix of black, blue and grey; soft-core gun-porn; black clothes and pale skin; strained scenes of vague vampiric decadence in the background; bloodlines; bloodfeuds; imortals; brooding gothic architecture; sub-Matrix fight scenes; ultraviolet bullets: this is Underworld.

It�s an anatomy lesson, basically--didn't that shot come straight out of the Matrix? Isn't that bit kinda like Blade? That�s mostly what I got out of it. The acting and dialogue were crap, i.e. most of the dialogue and performances were notably clunky--I'm not slagging it off for failing to be high art here, I just wanted a couple of cool quips and one or two charismatic performances. Just to be clear: my main problem with the movie wasn�t the familiarity of its goth-bait aesthetic, but rather that the execution was lacking on so many levels. The basic set-up--Romeo & Juliet vaguely mushed into a horror story--could have been good campy fun (if you�re not too allergic to stories about vampires and werewolves that is), but the movie just doesn�t deliver the goods�it never really generates any atmosphere or energy as it trundles along bombastically and there aren't even that many interesting action sequences in there.

So what you�re left with, basically, is a movie that makes you feel like you�ve just watched a rubber/leather fetish special the Fashion Channel where the models are wearing cast offs from a load of other movies. Ok, so there�s something entertaining about that, and on this level Underworld succeeds admirably, but that still makes it a very odd viewing experience indeed. Sort of like the goth Charlie�s Angels, but not half as fun.

My response to Underworld (part #1)

All through the movie I couldn't get this Pixies song out of my head. Silly as it may seen, the preposterous goth-fashion overdose that is Underworld just brought this tune to mind (it's much better than the movie though--more on that later).


This is a song about something there
there is something about this song

We did the clubs
What ass
I was hoping to have her in the sack
I was looking handsome
She was looking like an erotic vulture
I was all dressed in black
She was all dressed up in black
Every thing was fine down here
What you call it here
Call it what you will here
Way down down down in this subbacultcha

Her warm white belly in the life i'd lived had seen nothing finer
She shakes and she moves me or something
She's like jellyroll like sculpture
I was wearing eyeliner
She was wearing eyeliner
It was so good down here
Saving for my scrapbook here
Way down down down in this subbacultcha

Now we live on the sea and relax and ride the tack
Drug running on this panamanian schooner
She walks the deck in a black dress
And me i dress up in black
And we listen to the sea and look at the sky in a poetic kind of way
What you call it
When you look at the sky in a poetic kind of way
You know when you grope for luna

Thursday, September 25, 2003
Unless They�ve Got a Television

Like many others in the comics community I�m sad to hear that Alan David Doane will be discontinuing his Comic Book Galaxy website. Alan is a damned good writer and weblogger with a genuine passion for the medium and a dedication to promoting good material. He�s a true gent and I wish him the best of luck in whatever he does next.

Government Health Warning

I promised I’d write a post about the covers that graced Grant Morrison and Chris Weston?’s recently completed maxiseries the Filth, didn’t I?

Heh - I almost forgot about this post, which is odd because Carlos Segura’s distinctive covers were definitely one of my favourite things about this series. I think that this memory gap might have been caused by the fact that a lot of what I want to say about these covers has been filed away in my head as part of the long promised (and still in development) post about comic book covers in general. While Segura’s work here is excellent and stands up fantastically on its own merits, it’s also a good jump off point for discussing the state of comic book covers across the board.

This Ninth Art article does a damned good job of explaining exactly why these covers put most comic book covers to shame just by being that little bit different and more imaginative. Anthony Johnston points out that the use of typography and iconography in these covers makes them stand on the shelves, and while he's at it he makes a damned good point about how few comic book make use of anything but comic book art on their covers. There’s a stunning lack of adventurousness implied by this that would be amazing if it weren't so damned depressing. But these are thoughts that I’ll develop more fully when I’m working on that more general post about comic book covers. For now, I’m just going to post the first six covers from the series before having a brief ramble about why I loved them so much, if that’s ok with you?

Here we go then:

Gorgeous, aren't they? These covers gave the Filth a perfectly unified aesthetic that really played up the medical metaphor at the heart of the series. They’re very clinical looking, calling to mind, among other things, the album cover for Spiritualised?’s Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Now Floating in Space, which was of course supposed to be heavily redolant of pharmaceutical packaging. The simplicity of the design work here is striking, with each cover comprising of blocks of solid colour and neat little symbols put together in a way that was both mysterious and boldly eye catching at the same time. Each issue’s cover looked like a health warning from another universe, and I can’t think of anything more fitting for a series like the Filth.

Technical Difficulties

Sorry about the lack of blog activity this week. Like Dirk Deppey I�ve been feeling a bit under the weather lately. What started out with me feeling a bit off on Sunday has developed into something a bit more nasty over the last couple of days, and to make matters worse I�ve not really had any time to rest because I was working on Tuesday and enrolling for my University classes on Wednesday.

I am feeling a bit better today, so hopefully I'll get a bit of blogging done later on today� I�m just fishing for sympathy here in the meantime!


Sunday, September 21, 2003
Walking the Plank

What do you mean Friday was international talk like a Pirate day and I only found out at, like, 11:30 in the evening, when the day was all but done? Man� there�s nothing I like more than talking like a pirate. I can�t believe I missed such a wonderful excuse to really overdo it.


I guess some people are just born with tragedy in their lives�

[Edit: no, I don't know why I didn't moan about this yesterday either...]


Johnny Bacardi chips in with his take on the Filth and also makes a lot of very interesting and intelligent comments about other Grant Morrison comics such as the Invisibles and Flex Mentallo:

��as with his Invisibles, I think that he has ultimately failed to get his ideas across because he has deliberately chosen to cloak and obscure them with overwhelming visual and verbal clutter, which would seem to be at cross purposes with the enlightenment he seems to hope to bring to his reader. But he apparently doesn't know how to do it any other way...I don't think he could write a linear story if he wanted to. These convoluted "unreality vs. reality" and "common man striving to find that small spark of the divine within while dealing with the mundanity of the world in which he lives" notions were the heart of Invisibles, (especially) Flex, and the Filth, and only on Flex was he able to state his case clearly. Whenever I've finished something like this, I'm always reminded of Robert Christgau's review of John Lennon & Yoko Ono's Some Time in New York City, in which he states:

...But if agitprop is one thing and wrong-headed agitprop another, agitprop that doesn't reach its intended audience is hardly a thing at all.

And isn't agitprop of another sort what Morrison's trying to do, this time on a mental level rather than a social level like John & Yoko were trying to do in 1972?�

Certainly, it is interesting that when Morrison comes to try and write this kind of story (the type of story that Johnny identifies in Flex Mentallo and the Invisibles as well as in the Filth) he always adopts this kind of weird story rhythm�it�s not like he�s entirely incapable of writing any other way. Check out the simple, over the top pop-drama of St Swithen�s Day or Kill your Boyfriend, for example, or his straight-up superhero work like Zenith, New X-Men or the JLA; while admittedly the latter parts of his JLA run saw the narrative disintegrate as it went along, for the most part this is pretty straightforward, entertaining stuff.

I can think of a couple of for this: the first is that these are Morrison�s pet projects, so he likes to work as much of his favourite stuff into them as he can. I think that his shorter creator owned pieces are notable for the fact that they are less indulgent in this way � he shows more self-discipline on Flex Mentallo than on something like the Invisibles, for example, and I think that�s why it is a much clearer piece. I�ll move on to the other reasons shortly, once I�ve frantically manoeuvred myself into place.

While I agree with Johnny Bacardi that both the Invisibles and the Filth are at times too swamped in insanely convoluted sci-fi madness to convey all of the ideas they contain clearly, I�d disagree slightly about them being primarily agitprop pieces (though there's definitely an element of this present in both series).

In the Invisibles I think there�s something similar to (but not exactly like) the effect described in that David Lynch quote about abstract art that I posted last week: with the narrative folding back and deconstructing itself as it goes on, it becomes possible to read the story from a multitude of angles simultaneously. A lot of the time this comes off really well, with multiple re-readings proving very rewarding to the reader, and in this way I feel that the series actually makes something of its own confusing nature. This strikes me as being a deliberate move; here, I have to pick through things and put them together for myself, and I like that. Of course, this working at all rests on me being interested enough in the series to want to actually invest myself in it like this, but the wit, energy and imagination of the book ensured that I was hooked.

Of course, there�s also a fair amount of stuff that goes nowhere or is obscured by noise here; it all comes back to the levels of messiness and indulgence mentioned above. So yeah, I�d consider the Invisibles to be successful half the time and unsuccessful the other half, but like Johnny B I applaud the scope of Morrison's ambition.

Like everyone else, I�ll really need to read the Filth in its entirety before making final comments, but on first reading it strikes as being quite a throwaway piece on some levels; it�s clearly meant to be an insane, amusing, tongue in cheek comic full of black humour and ridiculous images, which is quite indulgent in a lot of ways, but nonetheless I�m not sure how much this is supposed to communicate and how much it�s just supposed to be absurd, slightly unsettling fun. Almost contradictorily, I�d say that the other reason that I wouldn�t consider the Filth�s main purpose to not be conveying ideas is that it seemed to me to be more about the emotional state of the series main character, Greg Feely, and I�d say that for all the narrative confusion, it communicated this very well most of the time. You could make the argument that the fractured narrative is an attempt to make this more effective by creating a sense of disorientation in the reader that mimics Feely�s mental state, but how successful this is and whether or not it�s worth the lack of clarity it gives to the conceptual side of the series is definitely up for argument. At the moment� I�m not sure. Maybe I�ll write some more about it in a month or so� we�ll see.

Heh � actually, given this is the third post about the Filth that I�ve written in as many days, and as I�m just about to do a brief post about the series distinctive covers, I think I might take a break from commenting on this comic book for a wee while, unless anything really interesting comes to mind anytime soon.

Everything Is New

I picked up the new Frank Black album Show Me Your Tears today. I�ve only listened to it once through so far, but my first impression is definitely a good one. Like the last couple of albums that Black and his backing band (the Catholics) have put out, Show Me Your tears feels strangely traditional for an album by the one time main songwriter of noise-pop gurus the Pixies. I don�t mean that as an insult though, as to be honest with you this is my favourite Frank Black album in what must almost be a decade. I'm not sure why, but this definitely feels like the best record that Black and co have done in this style. I'm a big fan of Dog In the Sand, but this just seems that little bit more vital to me.

Show Me Your tears is a big old country-tinged beast of an album, and it�s all the better for it. I�ll need to listen to it another couple more times before I can be more specific, but on first listen all of these songs are at the very least good, and the majority of them are excellent. �Massif Central�, with it's thudding bassline and chugging guitars, is an instant favourite, as are the big, warm slabs of sound that are �When Will Happiness Find Me Again� and �Manitoba�. Oh, and the big bag of downers that is �Horrible Day� (�It�s a beautiful day/ No. It�s a horrible day/ But for the first time in my life I just don�t care�) is brilliant as well.

I love how much texture Black and his band work into these robust, old-fashioned songs without getting as overtly choppy and noisy as they are capable of being, and Black�s distinctive crack of a voice really brings out the weirdness, humour and (yes) emotional resonance inherent in these narratives about blue skies, fallen trees and girls named Nadine. Great stuff, all told, and definitely highly recommended. It's not in any way a departure from the sound of the last couple of albums, but as I've already said, this one clicks with me a bit more than the others have, for whatever reason.

Once I heard a wailing sound
The sky had turned to red
So I got up from my bed
And I wandered far from town

I have seen the face of God
And I was not afraid
I have seen the face of God
And dearly I have paid

(from �Manitoba�)


Urgh � I feel like crap tonight but I�m going to churn out a couple of posts anyway, because my head won�t stay quiet and I want to write that comic strip for Scott so I really need to have a (relatively) clear mind.

More soon.

Saturday, September 20, 2003
The Strangest Dream

Chris Weston had one hell of a job to do when illustrating the Filth. Lets face it, it�s one thing for Grant Morrison to write a story that�s stuffed full of meta-fictional superhero teams, monstrous zombie-sperm and communist chimpanzee assassins, but it�s quite another thing for Weston to actually draw the damned thing!

I�ve never been the hugest fan of Weston�s artwork. While his work is always detailed, unique and interesting, his character drawing often seems quite weak to me: he just isn�t very good with body language and facial expressions, really.

The Filth sees Weston improve only moderately on this front (there's a lot of grimacing in this series, and that's something that Weston does wonderfully), but in every other area this seems to me to be the work of an artist coming into his own.

His ability to draw whole worlds in a great detail is essential here: just think about the way he brings the world of �the Crack� to life in all its icky glory, or the way he shows no strain when in issue #7 he had to draw not only a gorgeous European city-scape, but also a giant utopian super-cruiser, and does so without showing any strain (in fact it�s one of his strongest issues). He handles the surrealist sci-fi stuff and the more grounded moments with equal panache, making sure that everything is ludicrous enough to be amusing and yet still slightly unnerving in its wrongness. Again, the trick to this is in the high levels of detail with which Weston renders every page--if you draw this kind of stuff with just enough of a concession to realism, it can easily look both stupid and creepy at the same time.

Favourite visual moments?

The weird pop art sequence in issue #9 where Feely meets Man Green/Man Yellow. I loved that bit � disjointed and, well, weird enough to be disconcerting while still clear enough to read*.

Oh, and also: the scene in issue #11 where Greg pulls the screen off of his TV to reveal a grotesque living surveillance device�all tentacles, eyeballs and teeth�is a classic. It�s perhaps the best example of what I was talking about above�the mix of silliness and strange horror that is key to this series, and which Weston conveys brilliantly throughout.

There are a couple of issues that look a little more rushed than others, but on the whole, Weston put in some very consistent work here without really falling that far behind schedule (the series finished, what, one month later than it was originally supposed to: that�s not bad, really, given the detailed nature of Weston�s artwork).

So yeah�whatever the ups and downs of this series were, I think it was a big step up for Weston as an artist and a good indicator of what he could do in the future. I look forward to his future projects with interest�

*It�s a Gilbert and George riff as well, yeah? That�s cool. I�ve got nothing interesting to say about that really� I was just train spotting.

Friday, September 19, 2003
Like a Broken Record

Kenny and I finished writing our play, Left Hanging, last night. This play has been near completion for quite some time now, so it was very satisfying to finally finish it off. There's still a bit of re-drafting to be done, but it's all there on paper now, and I couldn't be happier.

It's been great to collaborate with someone on a writing project -- it really suits me creatively , I think, as it keeps me in check and forces me to be a bit more focused and dedicated than I otherwise would be.

Next up is a really silly little project for Scott to illustrate. "Gelatinous Super-Donkeys of the World Unite" it's called. Should be a laugh.


Big thanks to both Kenny and Scott for putting up with my half-baked ramblings! It's much appreciated, really, it is.


I managed to write a post about the Filth without once mentioning Chris Morris�s Blue Jam radio show! Not that the comparison is invalid or anything�it still fits rather nicely�but I think I may have overplayed this similarity on this here blog, and so it felt good to write a post about the Filth that was 100% free of references to Morris�s work.


Since the final issue of Grant Morrison and Chris Weston�s Vertigo series the Filth finally came out this week, I figured I�d do a brief blog post in which I try and sort out what I feel about this most ludicrous of series.

The Filth, for those who came in late, is the story of Greg Feely, a balding, grubby bachelor who is in denial about his porn habit and whose only close companion seems to be his beloved pet cat Tony. In the first issue of the series Greg�s life is turned upside down as he is �re-activated� as Ned Slade, an agent for a bizarre agency that call themselves the Hand.

What followed was� interesting. A mix of garish day-glo adventure (the Hand were designed to look like an absurd iteration of the kind of special organisations that existed in Gerry Anderson�s TV shows) and grim, lonely angst, the Filth is an absurd black comedy that sees Grant Morrison revisit several of his favourite themes and ideas in a slightly different context. .

Bill Sherman has already contributed his thoughts about the series over on his ever-excellent weblog.

Says he:

�Sure, the alternate reality gobbledegook got confusing, but no more so than actually trying to make sense of the "science" in an average issue of Legion, say. Morrison's basic theme � the struggle to maintain sanity in a world filled with jiz, blood and shit ("filth," in other words) � is presented with the kind of Cronenberg-ian intensity that other Vertigo creators wish they could achieve.�

And, yeah, I�d agree with him. For all that the narrative sometimes becomes feverish and disjointed*, the general feeling of the series is always right. At times I felt frustrated by how much Morrison was playing with his old toys (meta-fcitonal superheroes, getting behind the scenes of reality, all that jazz), but on the whole the mood of the series was unique enough to win me over. The reference made to David Cronenberg in Sherman�s post is a smart one � there�s a similar interest in the horror of the physical here, and in an odd way the story feels to me like Brazil would probably be like if it had spawned from Cronenberg�s mind rather than Terry Gilliam�s.

Here�s something I said about issue #11 way back in June:

�The best issues of this series, in my opinion, are always the ones where we get more of Greg Feely; he�s the heart of this story, and I�ve always thought that Morrison is at his best when he draws you into the madness and makes you feel it; it�s what makes something like Kill Your Boyfriend far more compelling than the Mystery Play, for example.�

And it is Greg feely that kept me comming back to this book (alongside the fact that I had no idea where it was going) � while we didn�t get much about most of the backing cast, Feely�s desperation and confusion was more than enough for me.

Fittingly for a series that recycled so many familiar Morrison-isms, the final issue definitely echoes several other Morrison endings very heavily. There are traces of the final issues of the Invisibles, Doom Patrol and Flex Mentallo here, but there is a crucial difference in the tone this time. While those series ended in transcendence, this series finishes of on a more grounded note (well, it�s grounded by the standards of a Grant Morrison comic, which means that it�s still pretty out there, but you know what I mean). The previous issue saw the sci-fi plot elements crash and implode at an alarming pace, and ended with a hint that perhaps this was all in his head after all, and this issue, well� it�s slightly less bleak than that. I�m going to re-read it all some time soon, and until then I can�t say for sure how it all adds up, but when the last few pages are full of flowers growing everywhere (especially out of the rubbish) the general feeling seems fairly clear.

So , the Filth then: one man�s struggle to find flowers in the shit. Sounds fair enough to me, and besides: it was funny!

Hopefully I'll have a post about Chris Weston's artwork for the series written by tomorrow, and I'm hoping to do a post about those ridiculously lovely and distinctive covers sometime soon as well.

*Something that is almost certainly deliberate, but which was sometimes a tad frustrating. The feverish rhythm this creates is apt though� perhaps I�ll say some more about this once I�ve re-read the series from start to finish.

Cardiac Arrhythmia

I saw Human Nature for the first time recently, and I have to say that the film left me slightly unsatisfied all round. The really annoying thing about this is that I can�t quite put my finger on why it didn�t work for me. It�s certainly not a bad movie; on the contrary, I enjoyed it a lot. It�s absurd, funny and pushes in a lot of interesting directions.

The story of a middle aged virgin scientist, a man who was raised as an ape by a man thought he was an ape, and a nature writer who has spent her adult life outside of society due to the body-covering hair she developed in her early teens, Human Nature is obviously as mad as a sack full of rabid bees. And I�ve not even mentioned the midget, the faux-French assistant or the weird Beckett-esque purgatory sequences yet. As any attempt to actually describe the plot will inevitably end up sounding like the deranged ramblings of someone who has watched George of the Jungle one time too many, let us suffice it to say that the movie does a fair job of poking fun at both the conventions of society (teaching table manners to mice = an inspired touch) while also undercutting the notion that nature is some kind of utopian state to which we should all aspire. All of which sounds great to me, but yet� I dunno, it never quite comes off quite as well as it should.

Tim Robbins, Rhys Ifans and Patricia Arquette are all fine in their roles, there�s nothing wrong with Michael Gondry�s direction, and Charlie Kaufman�s script is witty enough, but I think that the problem is that nothing here shines like it could. True, it doesn�t dissolve to mush like it so easily could have given how insane the plot and characters are, but there's also nothing exceptional about the way that these extraordinary events are brought to life, so the results aren�t even half as amazing as they could have been. There's an amazing movie in there somewhere, it's just a shame that it isn't this one...

Thursday, September 18, 2003
No Really � Peter Bagge Is Doing a Hulk Comic

Don't believe me? Go read this micro interview with Bagge, and while you're at it, take a look at that weird looking cover image. The very idea of this still cracks me up, so I'll definitely be buying it when it comes out. I can't wait to see where the hell Bagge is going to go with this one! (link via Neilalien)

Tuesday, September 16, 2003
What Will Be Revealed

Wonderful quote from this David Lynch interview (link found via the Pork Store):

�I have always said that there are abstractions in life and every single day we experience these things and we have a beautiful facility called intuition to make sense of these things. And cinema and all kinds of things kick it in to one degree or another. But anybody who is intentionally vague is a troublemaker. You get ideas and you stay true to those, and ideas that I happen to love hold abstractions. Every emotion is an abstraction. Every piece of music is an abstraction. Each viewer is different. I always say, everyone who goes up and stands in front of an abstract painting is getting a different thing. And it makes a circle -- the painting into the mind back to the painting, and a thing starts happening. But it's different for each viewer. The painting stays the same.�

Tonight�s The Night

My brain is overloaded with things that I want to write about at the moment, but I can�t quite seem to express any of it coherently right now. In the absence of anything interesting from me, here are a couple of neat posts by other people:

Eppy has written an amazing post about Andre 3000�s �Hey Ya� that really gets to the heart of what makes the song so musically brilliant. I wrote a short post about this tune recently, but my gibbering enthusiasm wasn�t half as coherent and interesting as this is.

I meant to link to this post (also written by Eppy) a while ago, but somehow I never got round to it. It�s a very smart piece about the lingering influence of Lester Bangs on music criticism with which I find myself agreeing strongly.

I�ve been reading and re-reading a lot of Peter Bagge�s Hate! recently, and I have to say that my appreciation of this comic just keeps growing and growing. Initially it draws you in as a sharp satire of the early nineties Seattle/slacker scene. As I think I�ve mentioned before, Bagge writes the most savage sitcomics around, and his noodle-like depiction of the human body is always masterful in its comedic exaggeration, but the more and more of the series I read, the more I appreciate what Bagge has done in terms of character here. I really do think that Hate! features some of the best, most fully devloped and--despite (or rather because of) the many flaws of its central characters--most sympathetically human character writing around.

I�ve been struggling with how best to articulate this for a while now, but this post, in which Forager 23 calls Bagge�s Buddy Bradley stories �the greatest bildungsroman in comics�, hits on a lot of the points I wanted to make very nicely. There�s a lot of good stuff there about how the series merits outweigh its reputation - go check it out.

It�s part of a series that Forager is doing in which he talks about his twenty-five favourite comics. Hmmm--interesting. I might start doing a similar series, providing I can sort out any sort of list of such comics, because I think it could be fun to write about some of the comics that really stick with me in greater detail.

Which�in a rather roundabout way�reminds me: Scott -- we so have to gear up to write something about comic book covers soon.

Monday, September 15, 2003

I was just looking at some of the music journalism I wrote for the high school newspaper, and boy does it make for amusing reading. The shouty writing persona that I had adopted seems really funny to me now as I know that at the time that most of this stuff was written I was still a pretty shy, restrained person (publicly, at least).

Still, as laughably ham fisted as much of it is, there�s a certain confidence to it that is sometimes lacking from my current writing. Don�t get me wrong�I don�t want to start ranting about everything in a hyperbolic, teenage way again; I like the fact that I�m pretty open and balanced when I write about things, but I think I�m still slightly scared to write about what something means to me or make anything remotely approaching a big point sometimes, and I�d like to expunge that habit some time soon.

I�m also going to start paying more attention to my actual writing soon, so we�ll see how that goes. This blog is almost a year old now, and while I�ve definitely improved a lot during this time, I still feel like there's a lot of work that could be done to make this a much more interesting place to visit.

Heh � of course, it�s easy for me to say that now. We�ll see how determined I am to work on my blogging skills when I�m studying for my final exams this year!

Should be amusing, if nothing else.

Sunday, September 14, 2003
Lust For Life

I can't believe that life's so complex
When I just want to sit here and watch you undress
I can't believe that life's so complex
When I just want to sit here and watch you undress

This is love, this is love
That I'm feeling
This is love, this is love
That I'm feeling
This is love
That I'm feeling

Does it have to be a life full of dread
I wanna chase you round the table, I wanna touch your head
Does it have to be a life full of dread
I wanna chase you round the table, I wanna touch your head

This is love, this is love
That I'm feeling
This is love, this is love
That I'm feeling
This is love
That I'm feeling

I can't believe that the axis turns on suffering
When you taste so good
I can't believe that the axis turns on suffering
When my head burns

Love, love, love
That I'm feeling
This is love, this is love
That I'm feeling
This is love, love, love
That I'm feeling

Even in the summer
Even in the spring
You can never get too much of
A wonderful thing

You're the only story that I never told
You're my dirty little secret, wanna keep you so
You're the only story that�s never been told
You're my dirty little secret, wanna keep you so

Come on out, come on over, help me forget
Keep the walls from falling as they're tumbling in
Come on out, come on over, help me forget
Keep the walls from falling on me, tumbling in
Keep the walls from falling as they're tumbling in

This is love, this is love
That I'm feeling
This is love, this is love
That I'm feeling
This is love, this is love
That I'm feeling
This is love, love, love
That I'm feeling

(PJ Harvey -- "This Is Love")

A brief ramble:

Musically �This Is Love� is almost ridiculously direct. The chundering, distorted guitar part (a couple of chords strung together with ridiculous swagger and panache) and thumping drums combine with Polly Jean�s booming vocals in a way that�to my ears at least�recalls some of lggy Pop�s earlier material. But it is only �almost� ridiculously direct because (as with a lot of those old Iggy tunes) there�s more going on than immediately meets the eye, or ear, as the case may be. Witness the piano part and second guitar line that weave through the song as it goes on, adding sonic texture without getting in the way of the brute kick of the main guitar and vocal parts.

The lyrics function in a similar way, being joyously charged and conveying an absolutely dead-on sense of being lost in a rush of lust and emotions while simultaneously acknowledging the fact that this always seem hard to reconcile with the complexity of life in general (it�s all in the first line I guess!). There�s a sense of something that�s not that far away from desperation around the edges of the song, but the key to 'This is Love' is that there�s still a sense of utter invigoration here. Just check out the line � Come on out, come on over, help me forget/ Keep the walls from falling as they're tumbling in�; that�s a pretty anxious line, but it�s blown away by that last chorus where the second guitar circles around the rest of the tune and everything just sounds really huge and amazing. These kind of moments, experiences, and relationships can be utterly transcendent�they won�t make everything go away, but they can put some fucking spring in your step*. Harvey has written many more complicated lyrics, but it doesn�t matter because this song nails something that is both simultaneously obvious and nuanced in its own punchy way. It feels genuinely triumphant, and I love it for that.

*And I�m not just talking about being in love or having great sex here. Don�t get me wrong: this is a great big sexy bastard of a tune and sex and love are obviously what the lyrics are about, but there�s more to joy than that, and I think the way the exultant thrill of the song wins out over the more difficult elements is applicable all over the shop.

Pretty Pictures

Ever wanted to wear a Quentin Quire style "Magneto Was Right" T-shirt?

Here's your chance.

While I'm on a geeky New X-Men kick, here's Paul O'Brien's rather glowing review of New X-Men #146 (note: this review discusses the big twist, so don't look at it if you haven't read the issue in question yet).

Saturday, September 13, 2003

I paid a brief--but fairly hellish*--visit to East Kilbride shopping centre today, and I couldn't help but notice that a lot of teenage girls in East Kilbride seem to be dying their hair in the most bizarre fashion. I saw quite a few of them sporting a fifty/fifty mixture of dark black and bleached white that was split right down the middle parting. It's an odd look--somewhere between 80's pop star and evil sci-fi villainess--and one that I'm going to watch out for next time I'm in Glasgow, as I'm interested to see whether this is a current trend or something slightly more localised.

*I hate East Kilbride shopping centre. At the weekend it's just so cramped and warm that I rarely visit it when I don't have to (i.e. when I'm not working there).

Eating Your Hat in Two Easy Lessons!

Looks like its humble pie time here at Mad World/80�s Revival, folks!

A few months ago, when the rumour of a Pixies reunion was flying around the internet, I said: �I wouldn�t hold my breath personally, but the idea of the Pixies playing together again really amuses me on some levels. Dunno what I�d make of it if it actually happened, to be honest with you, but as there's nothing in the above link beyond Black talking about how he still hangs out with the other Pixies and sometimes thinks about what it would be like to reform, I'm almost entirely sure that this isn't going to happen.�

And I was. But, as it happens, I was wrong. Ho hum!

So, yeah�the Pixies are going to tour again. As the second half of the post that I just quoted indicates, there�s definitely a big part of me that is very excited by this idea, so, YES!, basically.

The second bit of hat eating I have to do comes in relation to Grant Morrison�s New X-Men, and I�d like to make sure that anyone who has any interest in reading this series, but who has not (for whatever reason) yet read the latest issue (#146), does not read the following section of this post. That�s right, we�re talking about major *SPOILERS* here. The really big kind of *SPOILERS* that I�d just hate to dump on anyone who hasn�t read this issue yet.


Are we good to go now?


Quite recently, in response to an upcoming New X-Men cover (a mighty sinister looking painting of the character of Xorn), I said: �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 [Planet X] 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.�

And boy was I wrong (about the Xorn not being the bad guy thing, at least), as the first part of the Planet X arc proved by dropping the most bonkers plot twist of all on our collective laps.

That�s right kids�everything you thought you knew about New X-Men was a lie!

Well, not quite, but still: Xorn is Magneto�that�s one hell of an unexpected twist!

X-Axis reviewer Paul O�Brien has taken a look at how this revelation works in the context of what we have already seen, and while I don�t always agree with some of the theories he has as to how this will connect up, he�s certainly done a good job in terms of looking at the practical implications of this twist.

A brief look at Grant Morrison�s manifesto for this series (re-printed in the �E is for Extinction� trade as well as in the hardcover collection of the first year of the title) indicates that this may in fact be the �Ultimate Magneto Story� referred to therein. In this Barbelith thread, Ethan Van Sciver (who drew some of the earlier parts of Morrison�s run) responded to questions as to whether this twist had been planned all along by saying: �Grant isn't cheating. Everything you are reading was planned when he wrote his manifesto two years ago. I was told almost everything when I signed up, including stuff about Xorn. I was told the answer, but not the how and when.�

There was a lot of censored stuff in the version of Morrison�s manifesto that was made available in the collected editions of New X-Men, wasn�t there?

So yeah, it�s a big goofball twist that�s bound to wet the underwear of all the hardcore X-fans, but you know what? I�m feeling sold on it. In the later half of that Barbelith thread I just linked to, posters such as Flux, Flyboy, and Benjamin Birdie all make good points as to how this affects the series as a whole, and I�d agree with them. It�s quite brutal in a lot of ways�really twisting the events of the past year into new shapes and making some moments (Quentin�s death and the�obviously unreliable�Xorn issue in particular) seem much weirder and more complicated in retrospect. Of course, I�m gutted to find that my favourite new character doesn�t actually exist, but that�s kind of fitting, given that this is going to be a big issue in the rest of this story arc. The characters, like the reader, liked Xorn because he seemed so quirky and lovably benign, only to have this pulled on them. So� I guess what I�m saying is that I have faith that this is all going to come together nicely and that I�m sure that the ramifications for the characters are going to be interesting.

For what it�s worth I�ve very much enjoyed the last two issues of New X-Men (released as they were in alarmingly quick succession). They�ve been good fun�lots of bonkers high adventure and the feeling that everything�s going to come together soon. Also interesting to note how Morrison�s dialogue is modified to suit the artist he�s working with (something he�s talked about in interviews during the course of his New X-Men run)�witness the shift to old-fashioned cheese that accompanies Phil Jimenez�s retro-flavoured pencils.

Thursday, September 11, 2003
Martin Amis Read My Name Out

There�s a lot of interesting comic related stuff bouncing around the Internet at the moment; here�s some of the stuff that�s caught my eye.

Sean Collins responded to my post about right-to-left manga , commenting that the occasional difficulties he has experienced while reading such comics has actually enhanced his appreciation of the layout of the pages in question, and I can see where he�s coming from. Much as I was slightly bewildered at times, I definitely found myself taking more notes than I normally do on a first read through.

Thanks to both Pop Culture Gadabout�s Bill Sherman and "commenter extrodinaire" Shawn Fumo for posting in response to my manga post, by the way; for some reason it felt really important that I got some feedback on that one (probably because I was scared that I was just being stupid or something, even though I got used to it pretty fast, really).

Getting back to Sean Collins for a moment, he also responded to this post by Eve Tushnet, in which she wrote great, concise reviews of a whole pile of comic books, including Alan Moore and David Lloyd�s seminal dystopian sci-fi thriller V for Vendetta.

Eve Tushnet comments on the slight naivety of the book's fascistic future setting, while Collins raises some interesting points about the somewhat questionable nature of the main character�s actions.

In response to the former point, I�d agree that this is an inherent problem with writing about dystopian futures, and in relation to the second point I�d say that I didn�t think that you were supposed to be entirely behind V, but I�ll admit that there�s certainly something problematic there. And yeah, both of these factors do probably have a lot to do with the fact that this is one of Moore�s earlier works.

I�ve always been interested in the presentation of powerful people who believe they�re doing something very important for a higher cause in Alan Moore�s more serious output; I�m thinking about V, Ozymandias, and William Gull here. Don�t you think that as time has went on Moore has become more and more careful in his presentation of these characters? It�s always seemed to me that their causes are successively more dubious and less sympathetic, and this has always struck me as being an interesting side effect of Moore�s maturation as a writer through the V for Vendetta--Watchmen--From Hell axis.

All that aside though, V for Vendetta remains one of my favourite Moore�s: it�s just so damn compelling and atmospheric (David Lloyd does such a good job on this one--it's so moody and murky and yet still very dramatic and exciting throughout).

There are some good criticisms of Peter Bagge�s Sweatshop series deep inside this Ninth Art feature. I recently wrote a fairly glowing review of the series that I still stand behind, but the points made here a valid. The character of Mel Bowling isn�t as despicable as he would be if this were Bagge on top form, but I think that this is perfectly suited to this title. Something like Hate is meant to be a far bigger, more nuanced type of comic with characters that can be downright dislikeable and yet interesting enough to care about. Sweatshop is lighter, less involved stuff�that�s not a criticism, just a fact�and the more generally pleasant nature of the Mel Bowling character is just right for the tone of this book, which is generally good natured and silly for all that it pokes fun at comics and fandom in general.

The other criticism made�the allegation that the books comic book humour limits the books potential audience�is a fair one. As is pointed out, focusing more on popular comic strips could possibly have made this more accessible to your average reader. I�ve questioned the accessibility of this title to an audience outside the comic book mainstream before, but I guess this is all fairly irrelevant now that the book has been cancelled (heh - not that I'm bitter about this or anything).

That Ninth Art piece also features some interesting thoughts about American Slendor, Tansmetropolitan and various other comics--it's well worth reading in its entirity if you�ve got the time.

Dirk Deppey of the Comics Journal�s Journalista weblog has been on top form this week, writing great posts about the inherent problems with the idea of �Team Comix� and the uselessness of the current comic book distribution/retail system when it comes to selling comics to anyone but hardcore fanboys amongst other things. Journalista is always one of the best comics blogs out there, but I reckon it�s been even better than usual for the last couple of days in terms of commentary and sheer link-power.

My favourite bit: �Telling most retailers that stocking and marketing other kinds of comics might draw in a wider variety of clientele seems to do little if any good. Even when some retailers do stock other kinds of material, they never seem to go so far as to actually tell anyone; how precisely is the passerby on the sidewalk outside supposed to know that you stock manga, or anime, or James Kochalka and R. Crumb comics, when every sign and poster on the shop window features Batman and Wolverine? And so the network continues to cannibalize itself, until even the companies which earn their bread-and-butter catering to just these tastes start looking to other markets...�

He�s right you know�

[Thanks to Jeremy for the title of this post. Oddly enough, Martin Amis really did read his name out on the radio recently.]

Tuesday, September 09, 2003
�I Am Your Neighbour!�

I finally got round to listening to some of the new Outkast material today, and Oh my God! how good is �Hey Ya�?

Obviously I was expecting something pretty weird from these guys, but I�ll happily admit that �Hey Ya� is much, much odder than anything I could have imagined. At the start it kinda sound like Yoshimi� era Flaming Lips; there�s a similar mixture of squelching electronics and jaunty acoustic guitar going on here, albeit with an epic slice of the funk thrown in for good measure. And it just gets funkier and funkier as it goes on, doesn�t it? By the time it hits the breakdown section, with its brilliant �shake it� chant, I find myself hoping that someone invents some kind of nutty dance routine to accompany this song. Ideally this dance routine would resemble something from the best 80�s teen movie never made, but I�m not quite sure what I mean by that, so I�m gonna shut up now except to say that yes, the ��like a Polaroid picture� line that wraps up the �shake it� section is destined to become a personal favourite of mine.

Mirror Image

Since the comics blogosphere has been quite talkative on the subject of manga recently, I decided to give the Battle Royale manga a try. I've read a wee bit of manga before, but this was the first time that I've ever read manga which hadn't been flipped so that it reads like a Western comic (i.e. from left to right as opposed to from right to left).

Initially, I found this frustrating; it was like trying to read English backwards or something, which is to say that while I could read it, it put an unusual strain on me as a reader. If anything this strain was increased by the fact that the translated text is in English, and thus reads from left to right. This, while obviously a practical necessity, caused my eye quite a bit of trouble to begin with, as I was having to read panels from right to left while simultaneously reading the words on the page from left to right--argh!

I did get used to this effect pretty quickly, by the way--I'm halfway through the book now, and I'm having no bother reading the pages anymore. But my initial struggle with the book was really fascinating to me: I hadn't ever really considered how ingrained my comic reading eye was, and to be honest with you it came as a bit of a surprise to me when I had such difficulty reading the pages of this comic.

So... has anyone else had this problem, or am I just comedically inept at adapting my reading habits?

[Edit: all backwards English removed because no one likes a smart arse. Well, that's not true; I'm very fond of smart arses in general, but nontheless...]

Sunday, September 07, 2003

So I was going to write a proper review of Planetary #16, but since Max Leibman has written as comprehensive and eloquent a review of the issue in question as you could ask for, I think I�ll just make a few points about it in a slightly less formal style. (Leibman review via Journalista!)

While I was slightly more disappointed in this issue than Leibman, he singles out two of the main problems I had with this issue: (1) the somewhat unrealistic expectations that have been heaped upon this issue due to the massive (almost two year long) gap between this issues and the last, and (2) the fact that the decompressed pacing that writer Warren Ellis employs here (and in many other projects) can sometimes leave you feeling a tad short changed. Quite obviously, these two points feed into each other�the speed with which this issue passes by isn�t that different from any other issue of this title, but the two year build-up accentuates the brevity of the piece itself, heightening the sense of anticlimax.

None of this means that this is a bad issue as such, but it is clearly a set-up issue wherein Ellis brings a couple of long running plot threads together in order to pave the way for the last segment of the series. As Leibman notes, things are starting to join up in such a way as to re-contextualise some of the seemingly one off stories in earlier issues, making them more of a part of the overarching plot, and I like that, but it doesn�t exactly make for the grandest of comebacks.

Again, this is fair enough when you think about it; it most certainly won�t be a problem when this story is read as a part of the next trade paperback collection, and since this issue was apparently written ages ago it obviously wasn�t conceived as a come back issue, so perhaps thinking about it in terms of the overarching story is the thing to do here.

However, there was one element of this issue annoyed me more than it did Leibman, and that was the martial arts fight at the beginning.

Now, before I start on this, I�d like to make it clear that I love John Cassaday�s art, and that I think that he is exactly the right artist for this series; few can do uncluttered grandeur like he can, and the �widescreen� style in which this book is written works wonderfully top his strengths. There�s also a softness to his line in places that is rare in superhero comics, and this really helps to accentuate Laura Martin�s brilliant colouring job, which is rich and striking in its depth, and adds a great deal of mood to both the initial fight scene and to the conversation between Hark and Snow that takes up the latter half of the issue.

But the martial arts fight at the beginning of the issue�while very aesthetically pleasing�doesn�t really draw me in as a reader. It�s an obvious riff on anime and martial arts conventions, which is cool, but the big, open panelled, style in which this has been written and drawn lacks either the constant motion and fluidity of a live action fight or the build up and release motion/stillness contrast of an anime battle. You could argue that this is an inherent problem with the medium, what with comics being static by nature and all, but� there are lots of ways to make action seem energetic in comics: just look at Cameron Stewart�s art on Catwoman, or the dynamic fight scenes in Lone Wolf & Cub, for examples of this. But this fight scene� there�s not enough variation to it. Your eye doesn�t bounce around the page very much; it just kinda sits there taking in the pretty pictures*. In this way it reminds me of the fight scenes in the Matrix movies, some of which loose all sense of energy or excitement by overusing the patented Matrix �bullet time� effect (sometime the Matrix guys get it right, building tension and anticipation through stillness, but that�s another post entirely). This isn�t a massive complaint, by the way�the action is still all very pretty looking and easy to read. But I guess it bothered me because I felt like there wasn�t enough to this issue, and given that the fight scene took up, what, ten of this issue�s twenty two pages, I needed it to engage me more than it did.

Hmmm� mentioning the Matrix reminds me of the fact that in issue� #9, I think, of this same title, Cassaday pulled off a couple of an excellent Matrix style action sequence with great panache. What was the difference there? I�m not sure� it was a slightly different kind of action, I guess, and was more about showing off cool snippets of action and little tricks than creating a sense of fluid action, (or rather the alternation between stillness and motion). And in that fight, the stillness was part of the time freezing gimmick, so� yeah, that looked great!

But anyways, that�s enough grouching from me. While I did have my complaints about this issue, I will happily admit that the latter half of Planetary #16 is very well orchestrated indeed. Ellis and Cassaday get a lot of the ins and outs of the conversation across with just enough changes in facial expression and a generally well-handled sense of rhythm and timing (the stuff with Snow freezing the flower is an especially nice touch). And as I�ve already said, it will probably read better as a part of the trade paperback collection.

So when�s the next issue scheduled to come out then?

*There are some half-formed thoughts running through my head about the importance of certain very �comic book� visual tricks that books like motion lines/manga style speed lines, angled panels etc, in the creation of the illusion of action, but I can�t quite articulate them in any meaningful way at the moment, so I�m just gonna leave it at this rather muddled footnote.


I finally caught up with issues #4 and #5 of Peter Bagge�s Sweatshop this week, and man am I ever going to miss this series when it�s gone (which will be alarmingly soon due to its cancellation).

The characters here were never going to develop the way the characters in Bagge�s Hate did, but I�ve grown quite attached to washed up old gag cartoonist Mel and his neurotic group of helpers.

The focus on the romantic lives of these characters in the last two issues has been great fun, leading to some fairly obvious (but still very funny) double dating antics in #4, and to the grand, messy lust-fest that is the comic book convention in #5. I�m particularly fond of the way that issue #5 plays around with whole comic geek fantasy of meeting some costumed fantasy woman at the convention�the cast do meet such a character, but the way Bagge handles her here is pretty twisty and smart, playing her off of the majority of the cast in a succession of amusing ways. And that�s the key to the character based humour here�it�s fairly standard stuff, but handled with wit, energy and a great deal of likeability. I find myself liking most of the characters here, despite the fact that they are constantly being undercut by the humour, and that�s certainly a neat trick to pull off.

Peter Bagge and the other artists pull off the cramped visual style of the book with great skill; the twisty contortions that the cast undergo on practically every page would be tricky enough to pull off if they were using quite an open, decompressed style, but given that pages here frequently feature nine or ten panels� its amazing that it reads as well as it does, especially when you take into account Bagge�s habit of cramming in a ridiculous amount of speech and thought bubbles onto every page. Hmmm, come to think of it, this compression is probably at least partly responsible for how fun this comic is�there�s always a lot of visual and textual jokes zipping around the page, so it�s a constantly amusing read that doesn�t ever seem to lag at all.

And the comic book based humour has hit a fairly blissful level of rightness recently; taking the piss out of Neil Gaiman may be easy, but it�s also still funny as all hell! Much as I like quite a bit of the man�s work, there�s still a lot about his image, his fan myth, if you will, that needs a good puncturing, and that�s exactly what Bagge does here (though I�d also say he does a fair bit of deflation of the kind of comic fans that moan too much about Gaiman as well, but there you go).

And the whole second half of issue #4, where Mel tries to find out what the �kids� are into in a desperately ill advised attempt to make his tired old gag comic Freddy the Ferret �hip�, is just hilarious. It�s interesting that Bagge plays Mel�s grumpiness off against not only modern comics, but also other stuff like �emo� music. To me, this underscores the fact that this tuff isn�t just funny because it�s a piss take of comic book stuff (though that�s a big part of it�seeing that crappy �spam� joke drawn in a Frank Miller style was geeky referential humour at its best), but also because the comic related humour melds with the character humour a lot of the time. I also like the fact that all of the characters get the piss taken out of them all the time. It keeps the field level, I think, and I appreciate that.

Ach well� at least it�s been fun while it�s lasted, and I suppose there�s always the bizarre prospect of a Bagge Hulk comic to look forward to in the near future... I still can't quite get my head around that one.

Billy the Sink and the Lapham Kid

So Bill Sienkiewicz and Stray Bullets creator David Lapham are going to do a brief run on Batman, then? I have to admit, I didn�t see this coming, but I�m definitely curious to see how this is going to work out. There is a big part of me that wishes they were collaborating on something of their own, but hey...

In other slightly unexpected comic book news, Sean Collins rates the new Rob Liefeld/Mark Millar collaboration. I�m getting scared now, because Sean�s not the only person whose taste I respect who has said that this comic might actually be, y�know, good trashy fun. I might actually�God help me�buy the damned thing if it ever shows up in my neck of the woods.

Friday, September 05, 2003
Pretty Good Year

I almost fainted in the shower this morning. I have no idea why, but it was pretty frightening, and it's left me feeling a bit off all day.

Thankfully, I managed to avoid fainting by slumping to the ground and opening the shower door. I sat there for a minute or so, hoping that at least if I did faint I wouldn�t cause myself any harm in doing so (I still have a small scar above my left eye from first time I fainted back in 6th year at high school*). Thankfully, the draft that was coming through the shower door seemed to clear my head a little, so like I said I didn�t actually faint. I hate waking up after you�ve fainted: there�s something uniquely horrible about the way you regain consciousness� something really disorientating and frantic that I�d rather not go through again.

Anyways, as I said�I�m fine. But I am having a hard time concentrating on anything today, and as a result my writing has been a tad sluggish. I should be putting up a brief post about the most recent issue of Planetary sometime tomorrow, and possibly something about Peter Bagge�s Sweatshop as well.

Take care�

*Here�s a rather disgusting random factoid for ya: when I fainted in my 6th year Geography class, I did so in a rather dramatic way that involved me smashing my head off of the wall on my way to the ground (hence the scar). After falling, I lay on the floor bleeding for four or five minutes before I was helped to my feet, and as you can imagine I made on hell of a mess of the classroom floor in the process. But that�s not the disgusting part of this story. I discovered the slightly more nauseating side of this chain of events a week later, when I was back in that class. I quite randomly happened to end up sitting exactly where I had been when I fainted, and when I glanced down at the ground, I saw that there was still a fairly substantial amount of my dried up blood on the floor. Don�t get me wrong; they�d cleaned up a great deal of it, but even so�THERE WAS STILL BLOOD THERE A WEEK LATER!

[EDIT: Saturday's propossed blogging postponed due to the fact that blogger was fucked all afternoon.]

Thursday, September 04, 2003
Come To Butthead

Right in the middle of an epic recounting of his experiences at the Reading Festival, Kieron Gillen makes a brilliant point about Electric Six�s cover of Queen�s 'Radio Gaga'. The rest of the post is great, but the stuff about Electric Six is just so right that it hurts. (thanks to Dan for reminding me about this)

Artist of the People

Here�s a link to a neat article about the Barbelith spawned public domain character Jenny Everywhere.

It does a pretty nice job of summing up the character�s genesis and also contains a couple of really great interview snippets from such Jenny Everywhere cntributors as Flat Earth�s Steven Wintle and up and coming artist Nelson Evergreen. I�m particularly amused by the following brief excerpt: �Wintle once compared her to a Tintin who listened to Le Tigre and had joined the Fantastic Four.�

I love the public domain nature of the character, and have enjoyed all the Jenny Everywhere comics that have been put together so far, my favourites being the two Macare/Evergreen collaborations (Name�s Not Down and Damn Fine Hostile Takeover [part 1]) as well as My Bloody Valentine, by Sax and MC Lentil, all of which are very witty and entertaining. Go check them out.

(Exclaim article via Antipopper and Flyboy)

You Killed My Father�Prepare to Die

Wise words from Flyboy about the video for Beyonce�s 'Crazy in Love':

��while it's valid and even necessary to apply feminist (and other radical) critiques to pop, it's vital to avoid either failing to recognise that a pop song's primary purpose is often to represent an emotional state (so in this case, 'Crazy In Love' means exactly that - falling so hard for someone that it doesn't occur to you to worry about how this looks politically), or setting oneself up as the judge (particularly the male one) of how a female artist should dress and perform.�

Tuesday, September 02, 2003
I'm On Fire

I meant to write this sometime last week, but between spending the weekend in London and generally being a lazy git, I never got round to it.

Still, better late than never, eh: lets talk about PJ Harvey.

Weekend before last I attended Glasgow's Big Day Out @ the Green, and it was alright bascially. I wasn�t particularly interested in most of the bands who were playing, and the crowd were a bit listless for the most part (possibly because of the crippling heat), but I had a pretty good time anyway.

The weirdest part of the day for me came during PJ Harvey�s performance, which took place in the middle of the afternoon, when the Sun was at its most unforgiving (indeed thanks to my lack of foresight and dedication to seeing PJ Harvey, I ended up with some pretty severe sunburn�sunscreen really would have been a good idea, but what can I say? I�m an idiot).

Now of all the acts that were playing that day (the Distillers, Electric Six, Queens of the Stone Age, the Foo Fighters, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers made up the numbers), PJ Harvey was the only one that I really cared about. I�m a pretty huge fan, basically, and there are a lot of PJ Harvey songs that have a very important place in my heart, so yeah, I was pretty psyched about all of this. But it was immediately clear that I was in the minority on this one. The first song was �To Bring You My Love�, a gorgeous slow-building blues number that was�in my opinion�utterly perfect for the time and place. About thirty seconds into the song some guy in front of me shouts �More tits�less guitar!�, a cry that he would repeat with alarming frequency throughout the set. A couple of other guys followed suit, shouting for Harvey to show us her arse, and there was a lot of loudly expressed boredom and anger around me right through to the last song.

Now don�t get me wrong�I don�t care whether everyone likes PJ Harvey or not (what with taste being subjective and all that), but still, there�s no reason to act like a twat all through the gig. If they weren�t enjoying themselves, they could have simply went and bought a few drinks or a burger or whatever instead of standing around moaning about it and shouting brainless sexist shite at the stage. For fucks sake, the only time the crowd really makes any noise is when the screen at the side of the stage shows a close up of her arse during �Rid of Me�; how sad is that?

I'm not being entirely fair here, I think, because the crowd wasn�t entirely bad. There seemed to be a fair few folk who were well into it, most of my friends quite like some of her stuff, and there was even a bit of singing along during �The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore�, but for the most part it was a deeply alienating experience for me. It was sort of like an inversion of what I enjoy at a good concert, with that sense of galvanised enjoyment being replaced by the feeling that I was very much on my own/the odd one out on this occasion.

Does this sound moany or overdramatic or what? I�m not sure, but Harvey was�to my mind�the most talented, engaging and interesting person on stage that day, and the fact that I was enjoying it so much just made me feel weird about the general hostility that this music seemed to be generating in those around me.

The most surprising thing about the set was that a good half of it came from the Rid Of Me album. This isn�t in any way a bad thing (it�s one of my favourite PJ Harvey albums), but it did surprise me a little, given that this material is, like, a decade old now.

It was still brilliant stuff though. The notoriously raw production job that graced Rid of Me* ensures that these songs work really well live with a three-piece band. Musically it�s very direct, rhythmic stuff, with Harvey�s voice providing all the emotional ins and outs that this material requires amidst the noise, and when it's played live it can threaten to take your face off at times. And so we got 'Snake�, �Me Jane�, '50ft Queenie', 'Man-Size', and a suitably intense rendition of the title track--all of which were absolutely wonderfull.

There was also a fair bit of material from other albums, including a fucking joyous romp through the streamlined guitar pop of �Good Fortune� and a gorgeously sexy/angsty version of �The Dancer� which utterly blew me away. It was forty minutes of dramatic, sharp, swaggering, fragile bliss, basically, and I love every second of it.

Disappointments? No �This Is Love� (which is my tune of the moment, as it happens), the crap crowd and� that�s about it really.

So what about the rest of the bands then--what were they like?

The Distillers: I�d never heard this lot before, but in all honesty their shouty three chord rock left no impression on me whatsoever, and my friends and I left after a couple of songs. The only detail that really sticks in my head is the fact that at one point their female vocalist declared that the Scottish were far prettier than the Irish. This is almost certainly not true, but a complement�s a complement, so I�ll take it.

Electric Six: Now this was more like it. Cheesy novelty rock of the highest order. Not, I think, music that is supposed to be taken ironically, but rather music that is to be enjoyed for what it is. It�s a lot of daft fun, basically, and there�s nothing wrong with that.

True, few of their songs match the instant high camp genius of �Danger High Voltage� and �Gay Bar�, but it�s good spirited stuff, and I was in the right mood for it at the time, so yeah�RAWK!

It�s clear that everyone is here for the hits, but the band milk it, pacing their set around them.

�We are going to play it, you know. They don�t fly us all the way over from America because we�re stupid� quips the singer in response to the between song chants of �GAY BAR�GAY BAR�GAY BAR!� from the crowd, and the place goes oddly wild.

Top points for the bizarro Queen cover, and for the nutty money counting that accompanied �Danger High Voltage�, by the way--both gimmicky as all hell, but fittingly so (natch).

Queens of the Stone Age: The Queens were� alright, really. I liked about half of the songs they played (some of it was a bit too bullish and grey sounding for my liking), but the crowd seemed a bit less enthusiastic than they should have been, given that the majority of them clearly love the band. Still, there were enough psychedelic man-rock highlights to keep me happy, even if they didn�t play �Another Love Song�. �You Think I Ain�t Worth a Dollar But I Feel Like a Millionaire� and 'No One Knows' bookended the set, and are both pretty wonderful examples of what these guys do best.

That said, seeing sometimes QOTSA vocalist Mark Lanegan (who is an ex-Screaming Tree and solo artist in his own right) in the sunshine seemed inherently wrong on some level. His monumental rumble of a voice and crinkly, stick-figure looks give him the inexplicable air of someone who should only be able to survive in the darkness. He almost looks like he should melt away to nothing when exposed direct sunlight, which is kinda gothtastic, really.

The Foo Fighters: I doubt I�ll ever listen to the Foo Fighters much, but they feel like they�ve been genetically engineered to play events like this (in a good way). None of their songs particularly grab me, but as a band they are energetic, have a lot of big choruses and are perfectly designed for playing rock music to huge crowds without making it seem too embarrassingly cock-rocking.

Besides, they got the masses of 14-year-olds in the crowd to jump up and down with joy, which kinda took me back to my early teens when I quite liked some of their stuff and would have loved this.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers: I�ll be honest with you�I don't care for these guys, now or ever. Nothing they do interests me, except when it actually gets on my nerves. The rockier songs really get on my tits (see �cock-rocking�, above), and the ballads just strike me as being dull beyond all belief. But then what do I know; the crowd loved them. While they were on the stage, Chris and I retreated to the periphery, to eat candyfloss and generally talk as much crap as we could between the mouthfulls of tooth rot. It was such a gorgeous night, and it felt good to chill out for a while, but, erm, yeah�the Chili Peppers: they jumped around a lot and played with alarming technical precision, but I couldn't really get into it at all. Plus, when they started to play �Give it Away� I�d have gouged my own eyes out to have it replaced by �Gay Bar� or �50-ft Queenie�. Man do I hate �Give it Away�; it's bland, pompous, penis-waving funk rock at its worst, basically, which makes it everything I hate about the band neatly compressed into one useless little bundle.

*The album has a sonic range that goes from quiet chugging to really fucking loud chugging, basically, which I think really gives it a sonic edge that fits the material. Others have disagreed, claiming that it makes the album barely listenable at best, but there you go.