Look at the pretty flowers-a depreciation of Valentine’s Day

carol-flowers

This weekend sees the crawling horror that is Valentine’s Day. This means men all up and down the country desperately buy flowers from service stations at the last minute as they wake up in a cold sweat realising that if they don’t, then there’s no shagging for them for weeks, or even months!

I’ve never been a fan of the day. It’s contrived bullshit designed to sell cards, flowers and crap just before Mother’s Day Easter or indeed, any other day or holiday designed to sell shite.

Luckily I’ve managed to have girlfriends and partners that have mainly shared my opinion that it’s an enormous waste and anyhow, if you’re telling your significant other one day a year you love them then what the fuck are you doing the rest of the time? If you’re not telling them what you feel then that’s probably why you’re outside a Shell garage at 8.30pm on Valentines Day looking at the scraggy flowers sitting by the charcoal thinking ‘that’ll do” and buying a reduced box of Milk Tray.

Happy Valentines Day people….

A few words about Alan Moore, Geek Culture and comics……

It’s not a secret to anybody reading this blog that I’m a bit of a fan of the writer Alan Moore, so upon seeing an interview with him on Bleeding Cool about his forthcoming anthology comic for Avatar, Cinema Purgatorio, I had to point out a couple of things he said as it may have been missed in what is a pretty entertainingly informative interview.It’s seriously worth reading all of the interview but there’s lots of things for me that stood out.

The anthology title is of tremendous value, simply because it will contain a number of strips that vary in length from a half-page to perhaps six or eight pages. The importance of this necessary limitation, to fledgling comic writers and to the writing standards of the field as a whole, cannot be overestimated. For one thing, anthology titles were once the near-universal proving ground for new writers entering the industry, based on the sound commercial logic that if you give somebody a trial shot at writing a four page story and the results are less than riveting then it will be no great disaster and no great loss.

I grew up reading what used to be called ”boy’s adventure comics”, so that’s stuff like Lion, Tiger, then later, Action, Battle and then 2000AD, Warrior & Heavy Metal/Metal Hurlant. All my formative, and often, best comic reading experiences were of anthology titles which wasn’t restricted to just British comics but American comics like Adventure Comics, and DC Comics 100 Page Giants managed to introduce me to new characters I’d not really seen or reprint older stories from the 1960’s back to the 1930’s that I’d never have considered reading.

In short in taught me to vary my reading habits and not settle on one genre in particular even though I preferred reading SF/action/superhero, I would also enjoy war, or even sport comics as well. I was being trained as it were as a reader. The problem now is that you see a lack of good anthology titles because creators have maybe one or two good ideas and rather than using 4-6 page stories to refine their craft before exploring those ideas they’ll leap in and spin them out for issues and issues of 20-24 pages comic books that never get to the point because they can’t close.

That clip is from the brilliant Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s also relevant in that if you can’t close a 4-6 page comic then you’ll never close that 70 issue blockbuster you’ve got planned in your head. Look back at all the classic writers of comics in the UK and US: they all learned their trade in pulp fiction so had to get to the point. If you’re not closing a story then you don’t give the reader an satisfying ending be that sad, happy, cheerful, uplifting, etc. You just end up drifting.

They’re Not Like Us was a comic I initially enjoyed, but this suffers from what I’m talking about. It’s brilliantly drawn and the writing is good, but it’s meandering on and on and on and on never getting to a point so it’s constantly establishing the groundwork for the series so I bailed from reading it around #9. I gave it a chance because I loved the art not to mention the references to British music but as Moore says:

For a lot of comic book writers it seems like the idea of resolving a storyline ever is an anathema, let alone resolving it within eight pages or less.

The other thing Moore mentioned that set me off was part of his comments upon being asked about the risk involved with the creation of something new, or as it means nowadays unrelated to an existing property.

Seriously, if the struggle for the new is over, then I wish someone would tell the forces of history, which seem to be

propelling our world towards an anxious and uncertain future at an ever-accelerating pace. I’m sure that some of you might have noticed that this isn’t the same planet as it was last year, or even last week. The truth of our situation is that we are being washed away by a tsunami of the new, and by the very nature of its unprecedented novelty we don’t have a clue how to handle it. Thus we stand, gaping, pretending it isn’t happening, engrossed in the exploits of a character we remember from when we were twelve, humming a tune that was popular in the mid to late Seventies. Traditionally, this is what art and culture are meant to instruct us in, and if they have a purpose it is to help us assimilate and deal with our changing worlds, both external and internal.

In the search for a middle ground in comics, publishers play it safe. DC Comics has settled into a rut of dismal identikit titles which have of late showed some attempt at diversity haven’t done anything new or exciting in years. Marvel Comics have been better trying to cater to a more varied market and should be applauded for having more female centred comics or titles with non-white characters as their main character, it’s still not creating the new that reflects the art of our age in the way Moore is talking about.

For every Wicked and the Divine, there’s a dozen Batman/X-Men/Avengers titles that sell boatloads doing the same stuff they did last month. Now as someone that was involved in the day-to-day running of comics shops for a long, long time I appreciate these are what pays the bills, but this retardation of culture (Geek/Nerd Culture) and the commodification of that culture isn’t driving it forward. It’s pushing it sideways.

Also if the new or radical isn’t attempted or supported the medium stagnates which is what’s been happening in American comics for too long. to illustrate what I mean, here’s a Wings Over Scotland article about politics, in particular the idea of a ‘political centre’. The point is the ‘centre’ is something that’s flexible. It can change depending upon the politics of the day, and this applies to comics in the same way. What is ‘risky’ now can be the new norm if it’s supported and if it’s of a good quality so I’ll be talking about the Wicked and the Divine in decades to come but I won’t be doing that with Generic Avengers Title #146.

Right now there’s a massive amount of people reading comics for in some cases, for the first time, so push the new, the risky and the different. That may well be the norm one day.This isn’t to say nostalgia isn’t fun or useful. I enjoy that myself and write about it but that’s not the only part of my diet, because it’s like just eating McDonald’s. Eventually you’ll turn your liver into fois gras but if you try something new once in a while you’ll not get bloated or old before your time.

And this for me is Moore’s point. As a culture the mainstream comics culture is stagnant. It needs the shock of the new to propel it onto the next stage while inspiring a new generation of creators who may read a 4-6 story in Cinema Purgatorio and think ‘hang on, I can do this’. Then they learn their craft, do something new and gloriously magnificent and we’ve moved on. That for me is the hope: that with all the access to new methods of developing the medium in digital, or anthology titles like Moore’s that the medium of comics moves on in ways I can’t imagine, and that the culture around it isn’t about selling crap to people.

And on that bright, happy, cheery note, I recommend chucking a few quid to Alan Moore’s Kickstarter campaign to help things on their wee way a bit…

What I thought of James Bond #4

Thoughts about #1#2 and #3.

jamesbond-4

James Bond is in Berlin and enhanced superhumans are stalking him trying to kill him or anyone near to him, and all Bond has is his gun and his wits in the fourth issue of Warren Ellis’s superb Bond story.

There’s no fat or padding in this story at all. Everything is there for a reason, so once Bond reveals to the person planning to horribly kill him that he knows his plan there follows an excellently told fight scene executed with great wee touches from artist James Masters.

jamesbond10

The fight here is brutal, hard and ends up unsurprisingly with Bond winning, but this isn’t the film Bond. This is a cold bastard of a killer that ensures he gets what he wants which is to find the mastermind behind everything.

jamesbond11

Kurjak’s scheme is simple but horrendous. He plans to turn Britain into a giant concentration camp as an experiment in controlling populations. To do this he’s launched a strain of drug into the UK that’s killing dozens of people and increasing because he’s a bad guy that James Bond is eventually going to kill but the fun here is seeing how the story unfolds as Warren Ellis is clearly having huge fun writing Bond.

Vargr is a fantastic Bond story, and probably the best James Bond comic I’ve read since Mike Grell did a story for the now defunct Eclipse Comics back in the late 1980’s. It’s reaching a climax so I’d recommend getting on board now because this is how Bond should be for the 21st century.

It’s the end of the world-The Apocalypse is coming!

I recently wrote a jolly two part piece on the website That’s Not Current about how nuclear war and it’s aftermath were portrayed in four films, The Day After, Threads, Testament and When the Wind Blows. Part one is here, and part two is here.

During the course of researching the article I came across a load of stuff that I couldn’t fit into the narrative of the piece I was doing but I felt interesting enough to highlight one their own without making a highly political point, or suggesting Donald Trump could be the real life Greg Stillson that’ll doom us all!

 

i spent a lot of time researching Threads in particular. In doing so I discovered that the QED documentary directed by Mick Jackson that inspired the film is online and it’s utterly terrifying.

Also online is The 8th Day, another grim BBC documentary.

Most interestingly the complete Newsnight debate shown after Threads is on YouTube, and it’s truly astonishing how much the debate mirrors that of today, especially from the Tory arsehole on the programme. This really is an amazing bit of archive footage that also features the late Robin Cook showing why he’s such a missed figure.

The real nugget here is the episode of Panorama called If the Bomb Drops, presented by a ridiculously young Jeremy Paxman. this really is an amazing bit of lost archive that’s the wellspring for Threads and indeed, much of the early 1980’s nuclear war paranoia if you were like me young enough to see this and be scared shitless by it.

Moving onto dramas, I tried hard to stick these next two films into the article for That’s Not Current but I couldn’t find the space to fit them in.First up is the BBC play, Z for Zachariah, an SF drama about the survivor of a nuclear war.

I also tried to fit in the American dram, Countdown to Looking Glass, but that’s going to end up in another slightly related apocalypse related piece…

Lastly a couple of oddities from North America. Atomic Attack is a 1950s American TV drama starring Phylis Thaxter and Walter Mattau that’s oddly effective, if hugely outdated. As a bit of television history it’s another nugget….

Finally, The Last Broadcast is something I discovered while looking for something else. This is a Canadian radio drama that dramatises a full scale nuclear war. This starts as stilted cheese but turns into an effective bit of drama in the style of Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds.

So there you go. Don’t have nightmares now…….

These last few days I’m afraid I might drift away

It’s the day after the night before and my birthday passes into the past for another year. Thoughts now turn to the next stage in life and that’s a return to Glasgow, well, once the hangover has cleared and I can think straight for more than five minutes!

Next week I should (touch wood) finalise my finances for the return which means I’ll be aiming to head up for a recce at the end of this month, with a proposed return once the snow decides not to fall for this winter.

So the next couple of days is a post-birthday chill, and then its on! That gives me an excuse to wallow in Scottishness and post this classic from Dougie McClean…

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to……

It’s another year til my impending resurrection as a flesh eating zombie as today I celebrate my birthday and today’s main even is myself turning into a plastic rugby fan as Scotland play England in the Six Nations.

This means being a wee bit tipsy later, so here’s me thanking everyone for support over the last fun-packed year (that’s satire BTW) and the exciting prospects for the next few months. Til then though I’m off to have a wee party that may grow in a large one if Scotland actually win….

“La Joie De Vivre” (1934) is a masterpiece of a cartoon

I have to thank the artist Steve Bissette for pointing this out on his Facebook page as I’d never seen, or heard of it til he mentioned it. La Joie De Vivre is a French cartoon from 1934 produced by the team of Hector Hoppin and Anthony Gross, more of whom can be discussed at this informative page here.

The cartoon itself is a surreal Art Deco joy that’s influenced work that’s come after it going down the decades but most of us weren’t aware of. Here’s it is for you to discover and enjoy.