Read a wonderful criticism of Hannah Gadsby

The above article has to be read. Not only is it a stunning bit of criticism about an exhibition curated by the comic Hannah Gadsby, but it’s a takedown of the entire dumbed down rhetoric in regards art, its history and its criticism from people like Gadsby who has always struck me as a dumb person’s idea of a smart person. She had one huge Netflix special and has used that to trade on for her career afterwards while using American identity politics to maintain a fanbase. Outwith of that there’s not a lot there as this NYT review states so wonderfully.

So read and enjoy what is a rare piece of criticism in the age of the idiot.

Steve Ditko erased as Spider-Man’s co-creator by the Guardian

Over the last 20 years or so it has become part of mainstream ‘knowledge’ that Stan Lee created everything at Marvel. Artists were hired hands who did what Stan said. The End.

Except that’s bullshit. Stan’s burst of creative output between 1962 & 1969 was the result of working with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood, Jim Steranko and others Spider-Man was the result of input from a number of people before publication but Ditko seems to have been the man who shaped much of what we know today as Spider-Man. He didn’t just design the costume but you can see Ditko based Peter Parker visually on a younger version of himself, so it isn’t a push to say that he also made his character close to what he was like. Early Spider-Man features a Peter Parker who frankly, is a bit of a prick at times like most of us were as teenagers, but he’s also loyal and heroic proving one can raise themselves above their failings. That’s pure Ditko.

We’re over a decade since Jonathan Ross’s excellent documentary on Steve Ditko which should have been the final word on all of this.

Except in today’s review in The Guardian of Across the Spiderverse, we have this nonsense.

Peter Bradshaw is the reviewer and is known not just for dropping enormous spoilers in his reviews but putting in zero research & here we have it in all its tedious glory. There’s also another huge bollock in that paragraph which mentions Peter Parker’s parents; something that didn’t feature in the comics at the start.

So bollocks to this nonsense basically.

A quick word about the new Frank Miller covers from Marvel

The comics world went crazy recently when this variant cover was released from Marvel by Frank Miller. Miller has been doing a series of variant covers for various titles for a few months now making it his first work for Marvel in nearly 30 years.

Putting aside the fact his Mick McMahon influences are becoming even more pronounced, this is a great bit of brutalist cartooning. As is this.

The best one though is the Moon Knight cover.

The fan reaction to the Wolverine cover has been extraordinarily hostile. Cries of Miller to quit have been deafening as fans used to certain types of modern superhero art see something they don’t recognise and react aggressively against it.

A generation now have been raised on Jim Lee-a-likes, endless Manga influenced art, or art with zero storytelling ability but looks nice as a set of pinups, or indeed a mix of all of the above. There are a number of good, solid superhero artists right now and some are very good indeed, however, Miller’s hard, cartoony aesthetic doesn’t fit in the Marvel/DC world of today.

There’s also still a reaction to Holy Terror, the still shocking bit of Islamophobia Miller did post 911 when he was clearly suffering trauma from that amongst some other rumoured issues. It’s a work he’s not disowned, but it is one he has seriously distanced himself from in recent years as he’s seemingly over the worst of those issues. In the political landscape of 2023 there is no room for mistakes or learning and only eternal damnation from the self-proclaimed purity brigade so Miller will never shake this off.

But it’s an interesting insight to how people perceive ‘ugly’ art. How these people would have reacted to Alex Toth or Jack Kirby who in their latter years became more abstract and cartoony is beyond me.

However, they are right on the Blade cover. How on earth is he holding those swords?

Amy Winehouse was a comics reader

Amy Winehouse’s book collection went to auction. Many of the books are in a state you wouldn’t pay 50p for them in a charity shop, but it is fascinating to see how she was formed by what she read. Some of it isn’t a huge surprise. Some of it reveals a lot.

There’s a copy of Watchmen in there. Not a huge surprise as many people have one & she lived not far from one of London’s best comic shops, Mega City.

It is however the appearance of Love & Rockets in her collection that provides a massive revelation as to what must have partly inspired her look during her height of popularity.

It never fails to amaze me how the comics of the 1980s especially so helped influence artists of the 80s onwards, and I’m quite chuffed that someone as talented as Winehouse took some inspiration from our medium.

A short history of newsagents and how you bought your American comics from them.

Today most British newsagents have a limited range of magazines with at best, a handful of comics so 2000AD, the DC Thompson titles & a few others but compared to what it was like 25 years ago the range is limited. For decades til the late 90s, one could walk into your local corner shop pick up Marvel, DC, Charlton, Archie or most major US publishers of comics easily. You’ll miss many an issue due to low distribution and it not even being distributed in the UK at all, but it was possible to become a comics reader/fan from your local shop.

Strap in for another tale of comics history & a mention of possibly the most important person in British comics of the 70s-90s that virtually nobody has heard of.

Newsagents now are in decline. Corner shops might stock the daily papers & some of the better selling mags, plus whatever distributors throw in their stock (hence why you see puzzle & gossip mags dominating) so comics are at best, a niche interest now. In the past they weren’t. Corner shops were part of the lifeblood of local communities. Some still are but the rise of things like Tesco Metro has seen corner shops pushed out & with that, the choice of magazines go with it.

You now have to go to bigger shops so places like Smiths will have everything including what remains of the mainstream UK comics industry. It never used to be like that. From the 50s to the 90s it was easy to pick up US comics from newsagents. Initially they were brought over partly as ballast then sold to local distributors or bigger ones would ship some over, so it’s pretty common to see Golden to Bronze Age books in the UK with a UK stamp on them if they were Cents copies. Thorpe & Porter were the first to get DC to start shipping over UK priced issues, so I think it was an issue of Superboy which popped up with a Shilling price on it in the late 50s.

T&P are hugely important in British comics history but almost forgotten now in modern histories of UK comics. They were also a publisher so you’ll see UK versions of things like Classics Illustrated they published. They also had other companies which published things like Batman & Superman annuals during the 60s. This company was an absolute powerhouse which supplied nearly every newsagent in the UK. They had an incredible range. John Byrne getting a Superman annual as a kid is thanks to T&P. Alan Moore picking up early DC/Marvel titles. Dave Gibbons picking up Green Lantern. Kev O’Neill, etc all got into comics partly due to seeing and buying US comics in newsagents. Of course we had our own comics which is why our turn on superheroes used to be distinct to what the US did. T&P didn’t just distribute DC but Charlton, Archie, Harvey, even Marvel for a while before they were taken over by another big distributor Comag

T&P were bought out in the 70s & indeed, over the years had several new owners but the business was still based in Leicester & still distributed a huge amount of magazines/papers in the UK. For much of the 70s to 90s the man in charge of comics was a chap called Pete Stevenson & if you’re a certain age if you read a US DC title it is thanks to this man. He was one of the very rare people in the industry who liked comics!

Pete negotiated it so DC had all their titles distributed in the UK from around 87/8 to the late 90s when Pete retired. When DC bought Comico, Pete got those titles into UK newsagents til a complaint about an issue of Grendel arrived & those titles were pulled. Newsagents would get a pack of DC titles each month so you were as likely to get the latest issue of Warlord as you were the first issue of New Teen Titans. It was first come, first served. Any unsold copies would be sent back to the central warehouse in Leicester. It was here these issues were either sold in bulk to a very select few dealers (of which a mate was one) who’d buy by the pallet. The warehouse is massive. Imagine the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark & you get an idea of the size. I once spent a day there climbing up these shelving units about 12 metres high digging out comics like Sandman #1, Swamp Thing #21, New Teen Titans #2, & on and on as these shelves had stuff going back to the 70s. Sometimes Pete would get this back stock packaged into packs to be sent to newsagents, so if you popped into your corner shop in the late 80s & picked up 70s DC titles you can thank Pete.

The owners of the Sunday Sport bought the distribution part of the company in the 90s as they’d been having distribution issues so they just bought a distributor. From then you’d have to walk past women chatting about last night’s Corrie while stuffing porn mags into bags. They left Pete to do his thing though. The comics were doing well, especially as by 91/2 the full range of DC titles were in newsagents. Picked up a Vertigo title in your corner shop? Thank Pete.

In 1996 (I think) Pete retired. I was living in Leicester at the time so would pop to his warehouse to get comics pretty regularly. He did introduce us to his replacement who from the start, was clearly a Massive Wanker. Massive Wanker hated comics. He didn’t like having to deal with DC. At this point, DC was also getting hassle from shops annoyed that the range newsagents were getting was ‘stealing’ sales from them. There was a dealers meeting at one UKCAC where Bob Wayne had to take questions about newsagent distribution. The writing was on the wall for US comics being distributed in shops in the UK as at the same time Comag were trying to phase out distributing Marvel titles.

If you picked up a US Marvel at this time with a huge fuck-off UK price sticker on it, blame Comag’s own Massive Wanker. Marvel though was also dealing with the collapse of Marvel UK & the comics crash of the 1990s.DC titles though were still selling in newsagents. There was still a customer base as outwith your big cities/towns most places didn’t have a comics shop. Especially as the 90s crash wiped smaller shops out in many of these places.

So Pete retired, his replacement helped phase DC titles out as at the same time DC were getting pressure from the UK direct market. Many of the shops complaining didn’t think that people discovering comics in newsagents in many cases would become their customers. The UK comics market declined sharply. The DC license to repackage US titles got passed around several times since & it became harder & harder to pick up US comics reprints everywhere. Now you’ll be lucky to find even DC Thompson’s titles in local shops.

But for decades Pete Stevenson ensured US titles were in nearly every newsagent in the UK. If you got into comics because you picked up a US DC title from the 70s to 90s then it’s down to someone missing from comics histories. The only place you used to find any serious mention of Pete was over on Dez Skinn’s site before he took most of it down for his book.

But thanks to Pete’s retirement, the UK direct market, DC themselves & the start of your local newsagents being closed or replaced by a more homogenous megacorp muscling in on the local shop market we saw a way to get into comics removed forever. The damage done can’t be overblown. It was a whole vandalism enacted upon fans & people who may have picked up say, an issue of Sandman or the latest Superman & decided to get into comics seriously that affected subsequent generations of comics fans as well as the medium in the UK. It’s only in the last few years with self-publishing and crowdfunding that things have improved be there lies a sense of loss that we’re unlikely to get the same cross-pollination of UK and US comics inspiring young new creators today.

What I thought of The Borderlands

The Borderlands is a 2014 British Found Footage film that for one reason or another I’ve not seen for nearly a decade. I missed the very limited cinema release, then when it was on BBC late one night I missed it, and by the time I remembered to check iPlayer it’d gone from there and on and on.

Last night I eventually found it streaming for £1.99 on Ratukun TV, a channel not previously used on my smart TV. It is the best £1.99 I’ve spent in a long time as the film is one of the best British horror films of not just this century, but of all time. It is an extraordinary film.

The set-up is fairly simple. A team from the Vatican is sent to a small village in Devon to investigate a supposed miracle in a newly reopened church that happened during the first christening to take place there. There are only really four main characters in the film. Grey (Robin Hill) is the tech expert who isn’t religious but ends up being more interesting than just a cynical atheist. Deacon (Gordon Kennedy of Absolutely fame) who is sent by the Vatican to investigate a supposed miracle in a small village in the South West of England. All the investigators wear headcams so it can be recorded for the Vatican should any evidence be found.

That’s the set-up. Simple enough for a Found Footage film, but in this case a hugely effective one as you’ve got a variety of viewpoints, a possibly paranormal case & a small cast of characters thrown into an increasingly hostile environment in every sense of the phrase.

The Borderlands is massively effective in building up the characters of Grey & Deacon so we become invested in them in what becomes something neither were expecting. Grey especially acts as the character we most identify with as he’s not part of the Church, he’s just a bloke who took a well-paying job in a trade magazine. When all the weird stuff starts happening to them they aren’t just disposable teens in a horror film but fleshed out characters which is rare in this type of film.

What makes this film what it is lies in the last 15 minutes which are deeply unsettling to the point it stayed in my head all night long. Like the very best films in this genre, the journey to the end pays off spectacularly in a way I’m not going to spoil as it needs to be experienced so it hopefully affects you as it did me. I will say it isn’t an easy film to track down but it is out there to stream on some of the lesser known platforms so it’s worth the hunt as this is a British horror film of the highest quality.

What I thought of Star Trek: Picard season 3

Ever since this era of Star Trek started in 2009 the overall quality of what we’ve had since then has been patchy at best. Yes, the 2009 J.J Abrams film was great fun but the sequels were poor and as for the new batch of TV shows it has been overall pretty dreadful. Star Trek: Discovery is a bonfire with badly written scripts, terrible characters and a premise which has seen a desperate redirection after season 2. Lower Decks is like watching and listen to a living migraine and while Strange New Worlds isn’t awful, it isn’t great either. It, like the rest of Nu Trek, suffers from poor characters acting like children walking through dumbed down, overly sentimental scripts written by people who know Star Trek it seems thanks to reading Wikipedia.One thing that unites all these things is Alex Kurtzman and his fear of making things too intellectual.

Then there’s Picard. I loved Star Trek: The Next Generation. It had a dodgy first season but from the second it turned into a fantastic series which had many an episode which was some of the best SF we’ve seen on television. Sure, the films turned the crew into action heroes but that’s what happened with the original crew and they produced some excellent films.

Picard essentially was a vanity project for Patrick Stewart. From the off, he demanded it never turned into a TNG reunion and instead focused on moving the character of Jean Luc Picard on which is a fine idea. I was enormously excited about Season 1 so when it was first broadcast the sense of letdown was huge. There were good moments; the episode where Picard meets up with Riker and Troi was overall very good while bits here and there were fine but overall it was a mess. Badly written characters acting like children spouting terrible dialogue while Patrick Stewart would reel off monologues which were supposed to be deep and meaningful but had the depth and sincerity of a Christmas cracker joke.

As for the ending where hundreds of ships are just blasting each other it was clear that Picard was not meant for old school TNG fans but for people who put emotionless spectacle above everything. Season 2 was less awful but it was still a complete mess with plot points having holes so large you could fly a starship through them. By the end of Season 2 expectations for Season 3 were pitifully low but like the masochistic Trek fan we all are, I said I’d watch it just to see how bad it could get.

Season 3 came and after the first episode it was clear things were a wee bit different. Picard felt more like the TNG version rather than a sum of Patrick Stewart’s big acting wishlists, and the promise of a TNG reunion was exciting but surely at some point we’d be horribly let down?

But I wasn’t. Week after week the series got better and better, not to mention all the characters who were written out of character in the first two seasons suddenly sounded and felt more familiar as well as sounding like older versions of what we knew. Starfleet personnel acted like adults, and even Patrick Stewart looked invigorated at times having become increasingly frail during the last few years. By episode 4 I was hooked. The new showrunner Terry Matalas had a better idea of these characters, old and new than Kurtzman did, plus it was clear he loved Trek as a fan and wanted the TNG crew to have a proper final adventure. Ok, it wasn’t particularly deep SF, but it was exciting with well-defined and well-written characters up against great villains with sensible motivations.

And of course, there was that scene at the end of episode 9…

There’s not a Star Trek fan in the world who wouldn’t have been thrilled by those four minutes or so. Sure there were big space battles in the final episode but it felt earned and made more sense than millions of ships aimlessly blasting each other.

Were there problems with Season 3? Yes, some big ones regarding plot and at times the budget restrictions made things creak a wee bit so things like the same corridor being used all the time was something though you could ignore as overall it hit the heights it should have with Season 1. The other thing Season 3 did was to repair much of the damage caused to Star Trek by the first two seasons, with wee digs scattered throughout Season 3 at what happened in those seasons.

Then there was the fact we were back to Star Trek saying something about the world today beyond ‘XXXXX thing is bad’, so the season dealt with the issues one faces when getting old, how an older generation passes down both problems and inspiration and how a younger generation can be open to falling into a groupthink. There was a surprising amount of subtext going on for a show that never went further than a Twitter hashtag in previous seasons.

Picard Season 3 was a glorious success but now we wait to see if Matalas gets to carry on the journey with his new Enterprise crew in his proposed Star Trek: Legacy. In the meantime we’ve seen a Section 31 film being announced (take Michelle Yeoh out the picture here and does anyone give a toss about it?) and a Starfleet Academy series which has been proposed since the 1970s and dropped because it’ll probably be awful, yet here we are still waiting for news on continuing the most successful and popular bit of Star Trek since the 2009 film.

I hope we get to see the stories of Captain Seven and her crew but if we don’t then Picard season 3 will be a fitting end to an era of Star Trek and a reminder that in 2023 it is completely possible to do good Star Trek.

Kris Guidio RIP

The news that Kris Guidio has passed away means the UK has lost probably its last great transgressive comic artist/cartoonist. There’s nobody out there right now I can think of doing what he did and being so defiantly uncommercial in order to stick to his vision while challenging both the reader and the subjects in power he frequently attacked in his work.

For those not in the know, Savoy Books are a small publisher with a history of publishing titles that can be seen as controversial, but they’ve also tried to keep works in print that otherwise would vanished out of existence. In 1989 they published Lord Horror and Meng and Ecker, a pair of titles drawn by Guidio and written by David Britton which over the years has suffered from censorship and attacks, most notably from former police chief James Anderton.

My wee Savoy Books/Guidio story is from 1989 when I was working for Neptune Distribution when a small group came down to Leicester from Manchester to discuss us distributing their comics. At this time they were having issues & we offered a chance to get their work out as well as possibly getting a toehold in the American market, assuming we could get their work past customs of course.

So we struck a deal to put Savoy titles in our catalogue & if memory serves me we got some reasonable orders. Nothing one could retire on but enough to keep the lights on for a week or two. Of course it wasn’t long before we got a knock on the door from police throwing around obscenity charges, with the pages attacking Margaret Thatcher and James Anderton especially being singled out. Now, I can’t put the pages up on this blog as it’d likely result in getting the blog reported but even 30 odd years later they still have a power. We sadly had to remove Savoy’s work from our order forms as we didn’t want to be caught up in that battle at that time but in retrospect I wish we had as we’d have won any case brought. Hindsight is a wonderful super power.

Do search out Guidio’s work. It is very good but you can’t say you’ve been warned.

The history of the Ultraverse

Back in the 90s everyone and anyone seemed to be vomiting out lines of superhero comics of varying quality and varying sales. Most are pretty much forgotten today and most lurk today in bargain bins of many a dealer, especially those who were around during the early 90s.

One such line was the Ultraverse. Here’s a splendid potted history from the channel, Strange Brain Parts.

At the time I was in retail in a shop in Bristol and I can say there was actually some excitement over the Ultraverse at the time as you had big name creators like Norm Breyfogle or Dave Gibbons being involved with a superhero universe which looked good, even if the publisher Malibu often published some complete crap.

It sold well initially with Barry Smith’s Rune, and Breyfogle’s Prime being the two big sellers with us but as said in the video, once Marvel got their hands on it, things fell apart quickly leaving dealers with piles of unsold issues. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see the characters return or even a collection of work such as Rune which would sell today due to Barry Smith’s name which is a shame as there’s some good stuff hiding in there.

You can however pick up back issues for peanuts. That is, if dealers are bothered to bring them to shows, or if they can dig into old boxes in the back of the shop.