Losing Harlan Ellison

I have a Harlan Ellison story. Lots and lots of people who’ve been in, or are fans of, comics, SF, fantasy or just fans of his writing have a story. I’ve told mine before but here it is again. In 1985 at a SF convention in Glasgow, Ellison was guest of honour and was having great fun pissing off and entertaining all the right people because even as a young lad somewhat awestruck at being even in the same city as one of his heroes, I could see that Ellison danced the line between genius and arsehole easily. One minute he’s be amiable and chatty, the next he’d be annoyed and angry but he’d never compromise himself. His comments about writers getting paid show this.

So back to the story. I was working a dealers table selling comics and Ellison came in to have a shufty at our stuff. He picked a few things up and much to everyone’s surprise knew more about British comics than I’d have suspected. I was wearing a Marvelman badge, and spinning off the conversation from Warrior, Ellison asked if we had any for sale which we didn’t. He then asked if he could have mine. I eventually gave him it because this was my hero and I didn’t want to disappoint.

Ellison later came over to me in the bar, offered to get a drink and we ended up chatting about how great Dreamscape was. Indeed, it still is.

Ellison then had to move on with his small entourage but I was a happy lad as he’d signed a copy of The Glass Teat which is one of the greatest books of criticism ever published.  That book is something that influenced why I started this blog, and in fact it wasn’t until Ellison’s death I realised how much he’d shaped me growing up.

See, that wee story I have is something I’ve pulled out often over the years because it is a great wee story. The part of the story I usually miss out is when Ellison talked about not compromising which is something I don’t think Ellison did once in his life which led him to do great things, not to mention some awful things.

But that idea that someone can’t compromise because once you do it then becomes a game as to how far you’ll go without fully compromising yourself. I can’t remember when I did start compromising and although my life was better in some ways, a wee part of me was dead.

I’ll miss Ellison not being around. I’ll miss not being able to see if there’s a new soundbite  that I can use to help me sum up current events, and with current events being horrible I think we’ve lost a guide at a bad time.We’ll still have his mountain of work but we’ve lost a voice who could be good or bad, arrogant and uncompromising but always had something worthwhile to say. There will never be another like him.

Goodbye and thanks for whatever small lessons you’ve given me. I’m going to watch Dreamscape later and wallow in the memories of 1985.

Advertisements

Frost and Clough

I love old TV celebrity interviews from the 1970’s and 1980’s mainly because they take their time and guests are not shilling their latest film/book/TV series/etc (most of the time) but are on chat shows to discuss their careers, or something massive that they’ve been involved in.

In 1974 Brian Clough had been sacked from Leeds United after 44 days, which later became the core of David Peace’s quite brilliant, but controversial book, The Damned United, later made into a splendid film with Michael Sheen who also played David Frost in the also splendid Frost/Nixon. In 74 the top interviewer was  David Frost, then still young, and still in touch with his journalistic roots who when given Clough as a subject to interview used all his skills to coax a remarkable half hour or so where both men are clearly the intellectual equal of each other but to watch them talk at a time when Clough was in theory at his lowest, is just stunning television.

After this both men hit their greatest achievements with Frost become a global television icon and Clough the best football manager in the world which makes this interview a joy to watch knowing what was just hanging over the horizon for them.

Enjoy…

What I thought of Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War in just a few days has made more money in it’s opening weekend than any other film ever. It hasn’t even opened in China yet and that’s the biggest market for films on the planet, so it’ll be a safe bet to say this is probably going to be the biggest film of all time and indeed, everything about this film is gargantuan. Just look at the cast and count the number of genuine A List stars who could open a film on their name alone. Do it, because the number is around the 20 mark plus (even including folk like Idris Elba who is in it for just a few minutes) you’ve got all the rapidly rising stars like Tom Holland, Karen Gillan and Chadwick Boseman so real the end figure is around 30 A List stars.

It could have been like a classic film like It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World with stars popping up to show their face before vanishing but the Russo brothers hold it all together to the extent where as a film it works as a narrative not to mention a massive cultural event so that even if you’ve not seen a Marvel film at the cinema, you’re aware of the characters through osmosis or having seen Iron Man or The Avengers on any of their multiple TV broadcasts.

So what about the film? I’ve done a few brief points but after the banner there be spoilers so you’ve been warned.

Infinity War is all about Thanos getting the infinity stones ASAP before anyone can mobilise against him. Once in possession of the stones he;ll then kill half the population of the universe in order to create a cosmic balance so there’s enough resources for the surviving population, who of course, will be in thrall to Thanos. In his wake the assembled heroes of the Marvel Universe try to stop him. There’s the plot. It isn’t complex and there’s a reason for that; the scale of the film is so huge that having anything more complex would break the back of the film so nice and simple.

This does not make Infinity War simplistic. Far from it, as at one point there’s so many plot threads (Thanos hunting down the gems, Iron Man, Dr Strange and Spider Man, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, Groot and Rocket Raccoon, Captain America’s Secret Avengers who draws in the rest of the US based Avengers and Wakanda where most of the characters converge for the film’s final battle)  that making things complicated isn’t needed. We get the sense of urgency in the first ten minutes where Thanos and his Black Order have massacred the Asgardians left over from the events of Thor: Ragnarok, and this includes Idris Elba’s Heimdall, and more shockingly Loki as played by Tom Hiddleston in a way more brutally vicious than I expected from a 12A. Add to this Thanos torturing Thor as well as beating the living shite out of the Hulk. The film does not fuck around so you’re quickly caught up in a sense of urgency as well as understanding just how powerful, not to mention evil, Thanos is.

From there we’re whisked to New York with quick introductions for Iron Man, Dr. Strange and Spider Man who with a Bruce Banner who can’t change to the Hulk because the Hulk is too scared to face Thanos, this group is thrown into space before ending up on Titan where they eventually meet with the Guardians of the Galaxy to fight Thanos. Meanwhile Thor and his group are off to find a weapon which will kill Thanos, and Cap’s group is in Edinburgh (where there’s a glorious visual gag which the audience I watched it with found hilarious. Then again, most of Scotland seems to appreciate it too) to rescue the Vision and Scarlet Witch, before scooping up even more characters to head to Wakanda where the final scenes take place.

Of course things suffer. The visual effects and CGI are astonishingly good bar one horrible bit of compositing at the end featuring Mark Ruffalo in the Hulkbuster suit that is simply dreadful. The Thor sub-plot drags on a bit, while Captain America and Black Widow does very little indeed as it seems their scenes where the ones trimmed to bring down the running time. I could have done with a bit more from them as was indeed teased in the trailers, but here’s the thing, the trailers have lied to you. The marketing for this film has been exceptional. Throughout all of it, there’s no suggestion that Thanos picks up all the stones, but as we know now, he does and as he cuts through our heroes collecting stones for the Infinity Gauntlet. By the time the third act kicks in and Thanos is punching the fuckity out of Iron Man leaving Tony Stark bleeding, and dying, it becomes clear that what the Russo brothers have done is make Thanos not just the protagonist, but an anti-hero of sorts on a quest. Essentially they subvert a summer blockbuster theme (hero on a quest) so that somewhere deep down you’re actually wanting Thanos to win to see if he does carry out his threat to commit genocide on a universal scale.

And as he rips the last Infinity Gem from the skull of the Vision to complete his quest, we think at the last minute Thor has saved the day, but nope, with a click of his fingers Thanos wins as half the universe is killed including Spider Man, Black Panther and most of the Guardians of the Galaxy.  The film ends with Thanos victorious and our heroes beaten.

The End.

Except that won’t last. The post-credits scene that teases Captain Marvel and the fact there’s a fourth Avengers film in May 2019 tells us that Thanos will lose, not to mention a large chunk of the deaths in Infinity War will be reversed. It’s an ending which shouldn’t work but it is really a testament to the Russo’s that they’ve given us a superhero film with a grim, depressing end that nobody expected that works wonderfully. It’s also an ending that will get more bums on seats through word of mouth. People will come to see this film to see if the stories are true, and they’ll come next May in droves to see how the Avengers and their allies beat Thanos. It terms of driving the sausage machine that are these films the entire strategy and level of planning has to be admired because at the core is a great superhero film.

Now I’ve said this draws from Crisis on Infinite Earths, as that was the first really big crossover event in the modern age of superhero comics as we know it. It worked so well because it managed to give all the characters in it a moment, and when it ripped everything down we knew it’d end with the heroes winning the day. As a template it’s the best out there which makes Ant Man and the Wasp, and Captain Marvel the films we need to see to complete the crossover. Of course the boost it’ll give two films that were going to do ok to well comes into it as well.

The fact is what Marvel/Disney have done is carve their characters into the modern culture of the planet in a decade and sure, things may well decline when Robert Downey Jnr (who has played Iron Man in a film virtually each year of the last decade) and some of the others leave and new heroes replace them. But this is here for the duration in some shape or form and with the Marvel characters Fox owns coming back into the fold there’s a real chance of me sitting here in a decade talking about how Marvel have ruled the pop culture landscape for 20 years.

Which brings me to the point. Infinity War is a massively entertaining film with a bleak ending that does things summer blockbusters aren’t supposed to, and it should make Jim Starlin (the creator of Thanos not to mention the main plotlines) a few swimming pools worth of money, but it’s also a cultural event of the type we only really see on this scale once or twice a decade. It is impossible to split the film off from the culture and vice versa as they feed off each other but this is only half the job.It was obvious all the original Avengers survived Infinity War (along with a new new heroes) for a reason which I’m assuming is to give them a send-off and to pass the torch onto the likes of Black Panther, Captain Marvel, etc. If Marvel can square the circle by delivering not just one, but two massive cinematic and cultural events in a year then their only problem is where do they go from there, and indeed, where do the fans go because how do you top it?

That’ll be answered in May 2019. Til then do go see Infinity War. It is huge in every scale and you’ll leave the cinema entertained even though you’ve watched a film where a genocidal maniac wins. Yes it is manipulative, even cynical but it is massively entertaining and a reminder that cinema can be about the biggest spectacle that can be squeezed on the screen.

Till then time to stick 25% on all my comics featuring Thanos…

 

Educating Geeks

I’ve been reading comics, following the industry and even working within the industry for five decades. Over these decades there’s been bubbles of not just unsustainable economics, but of popularity so there’s the post Star Wars boom, the 80’s boom brought on with works like Watchmen and Dark Knight, the 90’s speculator boom and the 2008 onwards boom we sit in today that started with Iron Man but didn’t hit a real head of steam til 2011 once the recession was clearing. So here we are in 2018 with comic conventions happening more often than EastEnders is broadcast and shops opening up everywhere.

Today’s conventions are a mass of multimedia and masses of casual punters who come because they may enjoy the Marvel films, or something else superhero comic related because let’s be blunt, this is the driver here.

The above picture is from an MCM convention in London. Right now in the UK the MCM conventions are the daddies of the industry, and conventions are very much an industry with people jumping on board to make large sums of money from them. Well, some make a decent living from them, many don’t as they see the pound signs and forget how to run a decent show. The cosplay model for conventions is now here to stay in some shape or form, but the issue I have is it reduces the medium of comics to reference material for costumes. Essentially comics are a sideline to all the other stuff you’ll see at a convention.

Now this isn’t all the fault of organisers. I know of some organisers desperate for comic dealers but in a vicious Catch 22, I know of dealers who won’t do these shows because there’s no money in them. At a time when comic related media is the dominant one in terms of output and in culture, there’s a disconnect between comics as a medium and the vast masses of folk coming into the scene who may like Iron Man but can’t stand, or can’t afford, the comics. Now there’s ways dealers can help. Selling comics priced at decent prices is a start. I’m tired of dealers moaning of a crap show when all their stock is at guide price, or overpriced. Then again con organisers need to push the comic side of things better as there’s some ”comic cons” that have absolutely nothing to do with comics.with the exception of the name. Turning up at these events it’s clear this is just late capitalism at it’s worst.

2018 is 50 years since the first ever British comic convention. It’d be nice if we took a moment to educate people and help them understand, get, and enjoy comics. As retailers we’ve got to make sure we don’t price the curious out. Let’s all play a part in educating people so we can ensure the industry, and the medium, continues onwards for another 50 years.

Superman Returns

Action Comics is due to hit its 1,000th issue in April. In it Superman finally ditches the armour he’s been wearing since The New 52 revamp and returns to his traditional outfit.

Superman after being away for so long is back, and Action #1000 also feature the wonderful José Luis García-López, an artist who I’ll be blogging about in more detail soon as one of the finest, but yet under-appreciated, artists of the last 40 years.

There’s a lot of people who hate Superman quoting anything from the character being boring or too good, or powerful, but yet this is the basis for the genre of super heroes and done right, Superman is a character than can show us the best of who we. He is also escapism and he can also be used to deal with issues of the day as he was 1,000 issues ago in Action Comics #1.

When Superman started it was dark times with an economic recession and the rise of the far right threatening us, and we’re in similar times so Superman can stand as a beacon of hope rather than the arsehole he was in The New 52, or the brooding killer of Zack Snyder’s imagination. Instead we’re hopefully back to having a heroic figure for people to aspire to which is what we need in a genre full of ‘edgy’ anti-heroes as sometimes you need to point to a moral standard to aspire to rather than just accept lazy cynicism passing for ‘cutting edge’.

We shall see but regardless, hitting 1,000 issues in an American comic (British comics use to pass that milestone regularly) is an achievement and if that includes the proper Superman returning then all the best for it.

Laughing at old films makes you an idiot

I was chatting with a friend the other day about Quatermass and the Pit; a film both of us shared as one of our favourite horror films and how I’ve never seen it on a big screen as I’ve never had the chance to. He mentioned he did have the chance to but after going to a cinema showing of Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue where the audience laughed throughout the film he couldn’t muster the energy to go sit in a cinema full of wankers sneering at an old film.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t laugh at old, bad films like an Ed Wood classic, or somesuch rubbish like Troll 2, but if you’ve paid money to go and see a classic film like Quatermass and the Pit, and all you do is sit there with your 21st century viewpoint (and fail to appreciate it as a film) just sneering because others are doing the same then it frankly makes you a bully and well as an idiot. There will be people there who want to see the film and watch it without your snarky commentary but your entitlement means you make people’s experience awful for a few seconds jolly.

There is an argument that some people, mainly Millennials, don’t see film as art but as a fashion so whatever film is trending and fits what is fashionable this week. I don’t quite buy that as the sole reason (though I think it plays a part) but this has something that’s been discussed for a few years now. This somewhat sad piece titled Stop Laughing At Old Movies, You $@%&ing Hipsters outlines the problem when during a viewing of Mario Bava’s Hercules in the Haunted World, this happens…

The guy behind me munching Sour Patch Kids and wearing an ironic Hawaiian shirt kept up the chuckles for 91 minutes, long after I began to beseech Zeus to throw a non-styrofoam boulder at him. His stubborn laughter was an advertisement for his own superiority, like it’s heroic to refuse to be “suckered” by a fake rock that’s obviously fake. But there’s nothing triumphant about being too cool to dream.

And this is the problem. People can’t suspend their disbelief as after all, that involves putting effort into it. If you’re used to seeing film as two hours where you’re spoon-fed what you want and when you see what films people have laughed at (including John Carpenter’s The Thing, which would have driven me to murder had I been there) you do wonder if it is a case where people really have lost the ability to imagine or understand nuance, or even put things in the context of the time.

Another article points out the reaction to a showing of From Russia With Love.

“It’s sad to think that there was once a time when Hollywood released dozens of movies like this each year, and millions of people went to see them, and enjoyed themselves, and laughed, and sang along, and got wrapped up in the story, and that if the same kind of movies were released right now, people would laugh at them and call them unsophisticated. That so many of you could sit there and snicker at ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ for being unsophisticated depresses me beyond words. This movie is not unsophisticated. You are.”

This is I think the problem. People are no longer sophisticated in the sense they can put themselves in a time and place, or understand film as an art. Who needs nuance when you’ve got <insert this months blockbuster here> to fill your needs and this is a pity because of ignorance and peer pressure people are losing the history of their culture. Also if people just put themselves into the moment they may find themselves enjoying something their peers may not, but fuck their peers think for yourselves & that’s something I hope people do more of.

My top 5 YouTube channels

YouTube has been around now since 2005 so a generation has grown up with the streaming service as a platform to publish videos, while those of us digital immigrants have adapted to this newish medium which has helped transform how we view what they used to call ‘motion pictures’ in the olden days. Of late YouTube has had a bad press thanks to wankers like Logan Paul, but there’s a number of really creative channels out there putting out the sort of work which is of such a high standard that it puts most film and television to shame. Here then is a top five in no special order of channels you should watch.

5/ hiimmarymary

Hi I’m Mary Mary is one of the tens of dozens, even hundreds of horror webseries out there but under the jump scare obsessed masses, this takes time to build up a very Silent Hill type of creepiness in a strange scenario before the scares (and the scares are earned) kick in.  The series is ongoing still but here’s the first one which sets the mood.

4/ Infochammel

There’s a touch of the Chris Morris about this fictional channel which is a pisstake of those horrendous shopping channels mixed with daytime telly. It is on the whole, genius and here’s a sample…

3/ Petscop

There’s loads of internet myths about ‘haunted video games’ but few manage to act as a story in its own right as well as acting as a nice satire of that genre of YouTube video where people play through games. In this case the set-up is that someone has found an old Playstation 1 game and is playing it for the first time with us as viewers. This also subverts a genre and the less said about what happens the better as it is a joy…

2/ Don’t hug me I’m Scared

This starts as a kids TV show and then goes places as it tells a story in six parts. It is by far the best thing you’ll see today.

1/Red Letter Media

There’s lots of review channels on YouTube. Most are shite, but this one run by Mike Stoklasa and Jay Bauman does that trick of managing to critique films, take the piss out of YouTube review videos and do something you can probably only do on YouTube. Stuff like this for example..

There’s loads of crap on YouTube but dig deep enough and you’ll get gems like the stuff listed here and more as we enter a new age where anyone can upload anything and the only thing separating them from the masses is talent, ideas and creativity. All of these channels display that in abundance…