A right royal funeral

As everyone knows by now the Queen is dead, the UK is locked in a period of mourning which makes the maudlin period after Diana’s death look like a republican rally.

It is a time of history but the reaction is completely over the top. The TV has become a Chris Morrisesque parody of itself, while the Queue to see the Queen’s coffin lying in state has an average 12-hour wait so you can spend less than a minute passing her coffin. Ordinary people have turned into Union Jack clad clowns weeping for a woman a month ago that many of them had no real feeling one way or another about, but the UK does this type of mass hysteria well as everything from the new Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared to Pontins holidays are canceled or postponed in case someone, somewhere might be offended.

As someone who loves history but is a republican these are odd times, especially as it was said the Queen held the Union together and I can’t see Charles having the same influence his mother did, especially as we enter the worst financial crisis in peacetime.

But we enter the last few days. The funeral is tomorrow, which is a bank holiday though nowhere is open so it’s a bit shite really. After that thought it’s done, til the coronation of course but that’ll be a whole new level of Hell.

Martin Barker RIP

I’ve said often on this blog that in the world of British comics there’s a load of unsung heroes who really won’t get their due til they die. This is sadly the case with Martin Barker who died this week. Martin’s main roles were in teaching media studies and cultural studies at a variety of institutions in the UK, but for a large number of people, it’s his work on censorship in regards to comics not to mention his role in fighting the Video Nasties era of state censorship.

I first noticed his name when his excellent book about what happened in the 1950s onwards in relation to horror comics came out. A Haunt of Fears is a highly recommended book, which you can still get at Amazon.

He didn’t just delve in the world of comics. When Graham Bright of the Tories pushed his ‘Video Nasties’ bill in the 1980s, Martin was one of the few on the left to speak out against it as they either looked the other way, or in The Guardian’s case, come out supporting it even though this was state censorship dragging the country back to a darker time.

Here he is on a BBC panel discussion about the Video Nasty bill where he takes on MAry Whitehouse and is one of the few voices of sanity.

For those wanting more on the subject, Martin plays a large part in Jake West’s excellent documentaries on the subject.

But it’s comics for me he’s mainly known for. I first saw him speak about comics at a showing of Comic Book Confidential at the Phoenix, and he was utterly fascinating speaking about the history of the medium in relation to how its been censored and seen (or not seen) as an art form. When I moved to Bristol he was teaching there and he used to come into the shop I worked in to pick up comics, including any old EC Comics we might have. I got to know him a bit but lost touch when that shop ended but I still looked out for anything he did even if most of the time it was academic books. He’d also pop up at UK comic conventions in the 90s to do presentations and again, it was completely wonderful to see, especially when I got him to sign my copy of his book about Action.

He’s a huge loss to his friends and family, and to academia of course. He’ll be missed.

What i thought of The Rings of Power

This is the most expensive TV production in history and you can see every penny of Jeff Bezos’s money on the screen, however, as much as I loved the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films, I have not much patience for the whole fantasy genre. And frankly, I don’t have much patience for this.

It’s all a bit, well, this.

So nope, I’m out. Life’s too short to invest time with this.

What I thought of The Sandman on Netflix

The Sandman is one of DC’s most critically acclaimed titles, which is saying an awful lot considering what it’s published over the decades. Over 75 issues and a special (which is drawn by Bryan Talbot and is one of my favourite issues) it told the story of Dream (or Morpheus), one of the Endless; a group of god-like beings that represented aspects like Death, Destiny, Desire, etc. Written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by a number of the industry’s best artists and with covers by Dave McKean, the comic broke out the superhero genre and carved itself a following which for 35 years has been waiting for a TV or film adaptation and now in 2022 we have an 11 part series from Netflix.

And it’s generally ok but with caveats. It has problems.

The Netflix series takes roughly an issue of the comic and translates it to screen. Some issues haven’t come across such as #5, the issue featuring the Justice League of the time that digs deep into the DC superhero universe of 1988/9. That’s fair enough as it’d be too confusing for casual viewers, even if that issue is one of the best issues of the first arc.

Other issues are combined with others so although an issue-by-issue adaptation isn’t happening it’s as close to that as we’ll get which means some of the best stuff is coming over but also some of the problems of the comics come with it. The series takes some time to set itself up which means the first few episodes can be a bit of a chore to the extent where it feels like you’re watching the visual equivalent of sixth-form poetry at times. Which was a problem with the comic as well. With good reason, DC decided back in the day when trade collections were new to go with The Doll’s House to test Sandman out in bookshops rather than the first arc as the first arc is poor. You’ve got a writer learning how to write monthly books mixed with a book finding its feet.

As a whole, the Netflix adaptation more or less works. Dream is well cast with Tom Sturridge doing a good job, the scripts generally are fine, and the production values are generally fine so why does it leave me completely cold at times? The truth is the comic did for me as well. Wasn’t really til The Dream Country series of stories the title clicked for me as I think the ongoing plot was just like wading through Glastonbury mud at times.The one-off stories kept Gaiman on the straight and narrow so a tale had to be told in a set number of pages that may, or may not have any relevance to the ongoing plot.

Then there’s the casting, the most controversial being Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death. Race swapping is always an issue regardless of what producers say so needs to be done with good reason, yet I never saw the Endless as white or black or any colour. In the comics, to me they were neutral so one minute we’d have a Goth walking around as Dream or a blazing giant green skull representing him. Bringing in 21st-century identity politics is potentially something that may well date it in decades to come or make it looks visionary. The problem that I have in Howell-Baptiste to me, just isn’t Death. Sure, she’s a good actress and does a great job but it feels hollow. 35 years of Gaiman and assorted artists building up a vision of a character that isn’t what they’ve built up will do that. Some of the other casting works well, Vivienne Acheampong does a good job as Lucien, while David Thewlis reminds us all just how bloody good he is as John Dee (Doctor Destiny, an old JLA villain) but the one huge issue for me is casting Despair as a frumpy middle-aged woman as opposed to some dismal ethereal creature which depending where one’s politics lies, shouldn’t be a good look.

There’s also the problem with such a CGI heavy production in that you’ve got these awesome sets built in a computer yet all the actors are carefully positioned in one place so you get the same issues with actors awkwardly standing around not taking in their surroundings that you get in say, your average Marvel film or anything that uses as little in terms of practical sets as possible. That though is probably more of a criticism of the industry as a whole now than just one show.

Assuming a second season happens I’d hope things tighten up scriptwise as we’ll be hitting the best run of the comics. I’m not saying the first season is poor, just a bit cold so a bit more warmth would be nice as it feels at time as if the show (as the comic did at times) is interested more in showing off how clever it is at your expense than telling a story. As much as I think Gaiman’s an excellent writer out of all the British writers which made a name at DC in the 80s I put him below the likes of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis as those had a spark which Gaiman doesn’t have. I still like and enjoy his work but I don’t return to it as much as those others.

This all said I hope a second season comes as it does show the viability of literally lifting the comic and putting it on page, though arguably Sin City did that over a decade ago, thanks to the reach of Netflix more people are seeing this in the comfort of their own homes. So if you’ve not seen it give it a watch if purely for the excellent episode 6 as well as 11.

What’s Reading Festival like these days?

It’s been 18 years since I last did a full weekend at Reading which had a very interesting lineup that year. It was also the year of the floods so I think I became partly amphibious over that weekend.

At this point the Reading crowd that I’d grown used to during the 90’s were breaking up with some going to Download or some of the other smaller, less corporate festivals which started springing up. Others of course went off to get married, have kids and live a ‘normal’ lifestyle. Pah to that!

Of course over the years Reading (and Leeds of course) has transformed into a more chart-friendly model with pop acts, not to mention this generation’s Landfill Indie bands, taking up pride of place on the main stage. I do miss Reading now and then, but seeing as it’s become another thing to tick off for kids before they go to university it’s lost much of that rebelliousness. And indeed, if you have kids of both sexes working out what outfits to wear then it really has moved on from the years we’d turn up in whatever we had to have one last fuck-off blow-out at the end of summer, though thanks to climate change summer now stretches well into September.

So I wondered what those actually going to the festival now think as opposed to me just pontificating about it. Back in the day, the Fat Reg website was a major resource but I found it a bit sketchy to get a good picture of today’s festival goer as it’s a minefield of ‘influencers’ (arseholes) or people outlining how to ‘glow up’ for the festival. There are a few reasonable videos out there but mainly they seem forced but then I found TPD TV’s site and hit a wee goldmine.

Centering round a bunch of lads from Leeds who go to festivals and get fucked up. Basically what I did during my 20’s minus the coming from Leeds part. Anyhow this is an interesting 2-part video where they go through past festival lineups and decide whether they’d go. Amazingly some don’t but lads, if you were able to then you’d be going to some of the best festivals to have happened on these islands with some of the best acts playing the best sets.

Thanks to the wonder of YouTube, one can swim through past festival sets going back to the days of triple denim and Lindisfarne, but it’s only natural to get excited at what you know or are familiar with but a wee more curiosity helps uncover where the likes of Biffy Clyo are pulling their schtick from.

And Gay Dad are still to me the last great Britpop band.

There’s other videos out there as said but none worth really paying attention to but it seems this generation have shaped Reading/Leeds into their own image which is either a good or sad thing depending on one’s point of view. As said, Reading isn’t for me now. Last time I went was for a day to see Rage Against the Machine in 2008, and especially now in my disabled state it isn’t something to do. Also the lineup now is, mainly, pish.

That’s how it should be with some festivals. You grow out of them and into others but I’ll not change the years I went there for anything as they were brilliant.

About that Netflix Woodstock 99 documentary…

Trainwreck:Woodstock 99 has caused a massive kerfuffle among people shocked by what happened there, or at least, how the documentary paints the picture of what happened. It is a shocking documentary, especially the last two episodes which are hard to take but as a festival where it collapsed is the hubris of the organisers, especially Michael Lang and John Scher who had this festival been held in the UK, would have faced multiple health and safety prosecutions but bizarrely in the overly litigious U.S walked away with no threats of legal or even, criminal action hanging over their heads.

Indeed if there are any true villains of the peace it is Scher and Lang. Both come over as dismissive of any problems raised, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of punters who paid good money to attend. They failed to provide basic infrastructure like free water and toilets thanks to a mix of incompetence and penny-pinching, and both directly contributed to punters feeling of being ripped off. $4 for a bottle of water in 1999 is taking the piss to say the least.

Yet for all that, Woodstock 99 provided us with some storming sets. That Korn (and I’m not a great fan of them) set is extraordinary, and indeed, watching many of the sets from the festival (most are online) I see a number of bands knocking it out the park in terms of performance.

Plus a quick search online finds person after person tell us that yeah, the festival was terribly organised and the violence was out of line but for them, they still had the time of their lives. There’s a lot of very middle-class pontificating that Woodstock 99 did everything from create the Trump movement to this is where incels started. Total bollocks of course but this sort of nonsense is being lapped up instead of trying to understand why in the US, at that time, organising massive festivals was an issue but the same size festival organised in Europe (this was pre-2000 when crushes at Glastonbury and Roskilde happened, or the rapes which were reported at Reading Festival) went relatively well.

Sticking a load of young American lads not used to drinking and taking drugs in an environment where everything costs a fortune, basic infrastructure is shite and any security there is, fails to do its job is a prime environment for those who might take advantage to do just that. There’s also a world of difference between people abusing women and others to people just having a good time. Here’s a video of raw footage showing a different angle on what you may expect. Until the fires and burnt out cars of course.

Of course, a documentary these days often goes in with a particular point of view, but as awful as aspects of Woodstock were, it was more complex than that. It didn’t create Trumpism. It never created incels as they’ve been with us for much longer than that. What it did was show that festival organisers should put paying punters needs first, hire decent security and ensure a festival site has good infrastructure. Would it have stopped the rapes or the other examples of violence? I don’t know but it might have helped if punters felt like they weren’t fust being fleeced for cash. After this festival organisers in the US do seem to have learned lessons but I’d still stick to European festivals purely and simply as the likes of Glastonbury and Roskilde know what they’re doing.

Jerry Sadowitz has been cancelled.

In an extraordinary move, Jerry Sadowitz has been canceled after his gig at the Edinburgh Fringe last night received complaints from punters and members of staff. In this age of new puritanism hiding behind faux progressive politics, one shouldn’t be surprised that Sadowitz has been caught by them, especially as he’s been winding those sort of people up for nearly 40 years.

Also, he was pretty clear in the ad for the show that you’re likely to be offended.

And if that isn’t enough you can get it from the name of the show.

What sort of complete and utter arsehole buys a ticket for a Sadowitz gig and then complains about being offended, and what sort of venue allows staff to decide who does and doesn’t play? Why is the venue not telling these people to fuck off and why have they completely capitulated like this?

I’ve seen Sadowitz a number of times. Each time was entirely different. First time I saw him he was just as good as the last time I saw him in a wee club in London where he tore into people, especially the sort of person who gets offended by him. I saw him in the early 90s at Leicester Poly when they were running an anti-racism week which sparked the predicted protests in the run-up to the gig. At the gig itself, he’d barely started when someone started at him in the front. What followed was 15 minutes of Sadowitz tearing this poor girl apart by explaining free speech to her in the most offensive way possible. She walked with a group of other protestors and the rest of us carried on enjoying the show.

If I were to throw out a guess. I’d say some people went there to be offended and then launch an attempt to get him canceled because we live now in an age where free speech is fucked as a concept with a large number of people. One only needs to look at what’s happened to Salmon Rushdie to see what happens when people have such a weak belief system they get offended by words.

I’ll defend the right to free speech and defend the right for people to criticise it, but the minute it turns into cancellations and moralising from people so convinced of their own right and purity, then we’ve crossed a line. Now Sadowitz will ride this out but the venue comes out this looking like cowards and the Fringe organisers look spineless, if not complicit in this. Sadowitz himself is confused and seems at this point still to be waiting for venue and Festival officials to clarify things.

They’ll always be wankers but this is ridiculous now. I hope Sadowitz at least gets material out of this. Not to mention a huge fuck-off apology from the venue, the festival and I’d say, the staff who complained.

About that C2E2 Ultimate Fallout bootleg

Last weekend at C2E2in the US a couple of controversies landed in the world of comics. One was people getting needlessly offended by Chris Claremont not bending the knee to current X Men titles and telling people exactly what he thinks and taking the piss. That’s a tale which shows that people have lost the ability to deal with opposite opinions, and of course, piss takers. Perhaps some people have lost some basic social skills during lockdown or perhaps they’re just arseholes. Anyhow, that’s not the major controversy.

A company called Black Flag sold a bootleg copy of Ultimate Fallout #4, the first appearance of Miles Morales. What they’ve done is take the facsimile Marvel printed a while back, stick an acetate cover over it, charge silly money and then sell it. Now that’s bad enough. Bootlegs are notorious in the industry for catching collectors out, and basically it’s a massive con but there’s thousands of them out there and have been since the 70s.

Two ‘influencers’ turned up at the show, jumped the queue for this comic and bought a massive, but unconfirmed, amount. Then they flipped them on their Instagram accounts for massive mark-ups while collectors were left with nothing unless they wanted to pay hundreds of dollars over the odds. To make the matter even shadier copies are coming back from CGC but remember, Marvel have no idea what’s going on here and have made it clear they’re not happy with this at all.

This video explains it in a wee bit more detail.

The problem is that we live in a time of speculators that is very like the 90s. A small number of people have huge influence over the market across not just America, but the world. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that the speculator market, propelled by a relatively small number of people, are pushing prices beyond what’s realistic or fair for most collectors. For example around 20 years ago I could have bought a decent copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 for less than £100k. Now you’re looking near a million for a good quality copy. Anything adapted to TV or film instantly adds insane premiums to comics previously worth pennies, and the speculators will buy up copies in the hope they can flip them when the series/film comes out. Moon Knight is an excellent recent example of a series that pushed back issues to ridiculous levels.

We’re living in a time when so many people are coming on board to collect comics and so many people are fed up of being priced out of issues that in some cases are days old. Now as someone still making some sort of living from selling back issues I should be happy with this but I lived through the crash in the 90s and it was fucking horrible. The industry won’t see publishers survive the next one. It certainly will see shops and con organisers go bust when the bubble does burst, and it’ll burst soon withing the next 3-5 years. Superhero fatigue is creeping in now thanks to Marvel/Disney oversaturating the market.

If however there’s a single moment that sees the myth of the ‘comics fam’ and the power of the influencer decline then we’re in that moment. Sure they’ll carry on but people are fucked off with being ripped off, especially during tough times.

And that will be good news if we never hear of some of these people, and some of these companies, ever again.

Listen to the wonderful Black Metal version of Wet Leg’s ‘Chaise Longe’

I love Wet Leg. They’ve been a complete breath of fresh air in an increasingly moribund industry where all guitar bands sound like 5th generation Oasis or Coldplay covers band. Their album is full of complete gems, and the glory of some of the songs is that they sound like their could be made at any point in the last 40 years but still sound up to date. Angelica is a prime example of this. I’ve been watching them on TV at various festivals this summer (next year hopefully back to Glastonbury!) seeing their confidence playing live increase more and more.

So not they’ve hit a level of fame the parodies are coming yet this one acts both as a parody and a thing on its own terms. With that in mind have a look at Moist Limb’s Trone Noir. It is a work of total genius.

Watch Clive Barker outwit an audience in 1987

Back in the 1980s when Clive Barker was just breaking as a talent, the UK at that time was going through the tail-end of the first wave of the video nasties moral panic. When the Books of Blood came out there was a minor outrage at the violence in the books, but it was when Hellraiser came out in 1987 that a wave of media outrage hit.

Enter BBC Scotland’s Open To Question; a format where politicians and celebrities of the day would be interviewed by a variety of young people culled probably from all of Glasgow and Edinburgh’s universities. Hosted by John Nicholson (who is now an SNP MP), Barker is relentlessly questioned by people who have mainly never read his work or seen his films, but they ask variations of the same question (‘do you think your work makes people violent’) which at the time (this was just after the Hungerford shootings) was a massive question in the country.

Of course the reason the Hungerford massacre happened was nothing to do with Barker, but that didn’t stop these kids pushing hard on Barker, but Barker to his eternal credit answered every single question with a clever, intelligent answer that at times the questioner didn’t deserve.

It’s a masterclass how to defend & promote your work during a time of moral crisis. Have a look to see for yourself.