Sunday, 30 November 2008

[88] Sam Gilbey

One of the articles that jumped out at me as I flicked through the latest issue of 4Talent Magazine was a short profile of Mark Millar. The piece was written by the comics scribe himself, and, to be frank, it wasn't all that insightful or helpful. However, what really impressed me was the design work that went along with it. The piece was based around illustration work inspired by Millar's inspirations and creations, from seeing the Superman: The Movie, and working for 2000 AD, to current Millarworld projects, with the text being shown in text boxes throughout.




The artwork was done by an illustrator/designer called Sam Gilbey. I think his work on the piece gives it a great deal of character, and a lot of depth. He packs in a lot of disparate visual references (see how many you can spot!), and renders them well - keeping their distinct, recognisable features yet retaining a necessary consistency for the piece. He has written a very interesting blog post about the creative process here. It's worth a look; he seems to be a very talented guy, and is getting some recognition. He's contributed illustration work to the ITV2 series No Heroics, and has designed posters for Brit-Geek Edgar Wright. He also posts personal bits and pieces, which reflect his interests, such as a portrait of Old Snake from MGS3 and the best The Dark Knight-inspired Batman image I've seen.




http://www.sam-gilbey.com/

Saturday, 29 November 2008

[87] 4Talent Magazine, Issue 10

The new issue of 4Talent Magazine arrived this morning.


It's packed full of great articles and media-savvy advice (including bits on Mark Millar and Joss Whedon, which came as a surprise). There's also an in-depth section on the 4Talent Awards. I wrote a profile of the winner in the Best Presenting category, Ben Chancellor (who has a new talent profile at Karushi Management here). Sadly, I have no scanning equipment, and the lovely glossy pages just make taking snapshots even harder.


(Hence the dodgy crop)

The magazine should be available in Borders (at an out-of-my-price-range £5), and is being bundled in the goodie bags at various events and ceremonies over the coming weeks.


http://www.4talentmagazine.com/

Thursday, 27 November 2008

[86] Batman RIP, Shameless DVDs, CC2K stuff

The last issue of Grant Morrison's Batman RIP storyline came out today.


Great stuff. Still bonkers, and it leaves as many questions unanswered as it answers. It's been quite divisive, and a quick browse of any comics discussion forum will find a slew of for-and-againsts spewing out generalisations about Grant Morrison and Storytelling dos-and-don'ts. I quite like how he subverted the whole 'conclusion' thing. There are conclusions here, but the true implications and consequences will be explored in later books. After all, Batman RIP is not a graphic novel, or a limited series. It is part of a long line of issues, those written by Morrison already, and those to be written by Morrison and others in the weeks and months to come. Fanticipation (see what I did there) and buzz-hype made everyone expect an immediate, straightforward paradigm shift. But I suppose what we have is something more artful, or money-grabbing, depending on your viewpoint. I'm still hooked, though. Might give a more detailed thought-splurge later.

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I've received a couple of new review items from Den of Geek, which I'll be digesting and dissecting in the next day or two. This evening, I watched The Designated Victim (La Vittima Designata), a 1971 Italian 'Giallo' film, directed by Maurizio Lucidi.


The DVD was produced by a company called Shameless Screen Entertainment, who seem to deal in re-releasing out-of-print horror/thriller/exploitation curios from the 1970s and 1980s. They seem to really love the films they pick up, and it really shows in the presentation of the DVDs. I'd recommend checking out their site for some info, they have some good stuff on offer.

I'll link to the review once it's up.

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Finally...

This morning we've got news about X-men Origins: Wolverine, Stallone's next big all-star action flick, and Michael Cera's new film. Also, news and tidbits from all other corners of the pop-culture world. Diversify - it's the morning roundup!


Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

[85] Youtube Copyrighted Content Identification

I received an email yesterday from Youtube:

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Dear NevskyP,

Your video "Fragments from the Main Library" has been identified by YouTube's Content Identification programme as containing copyrighted content which Nine Inch Nails claims is theirs.

Your video "Fragments from the Main Library" is still available because Nine Inch Nails does not object to this content appearing on YouTube at this time. As long as Nine Inch Nails has a claim on your video, they will receive public statistics about your video, such as number of views. Viewers may also see advertising on your video's page.

Nine Inch Nails claimed this content as a part of the YouTube Content Identification programme. YouTube allows partners to review YouTube videos for content to which they own the rights. Partners may use our automated video/audio matching system to identify their content, or they may manually review videos.

If you believe that this claim was made in error, or that you are otherwise authorised to use the content at issue, you can dispute this claim with Nine Inch Nails and view other options in the Video-ID Matches section of your YouTube account. Please note that YouTube does not mediate copyright disputes between content owners. Learn more about video-identification disputes.

Sincerely,
The YouTube Content Identification Team

---------------

It seems that the noose is tightening regarding copyrighted content on Youtube. I suppose I was lucky in this case, as the tech-savvy copyright owner (Trent Reznor or one of his disciples) also happens to champion Creative Commons and not-for-profit infringement.

However, it could easily have been blocked. Although, the decision to place ads on the video's page does mean that the copyright owner makes some $£s out of any bored loser who watched my lowly vid. The tool has been around for over a year, and makes it easier for copyright holders to match their content with uploaded content on Youtube.

Read more about Youtube's copyright policy, and the identification tool here.

[84] The Fireman - Electric Arguments


Paul McCartney teams up with producer and ex-Killing Jokester Youth for another go around the block with Electric Arguments. Putting anonymity and fully-fledged electronica behind them, this release is getting a lot of attention for featuring songs (!). If you believe the pre-release coverage, this album has been positioned as a work of colonic irrigation - a flushing out all of the nonsense and predictability associated with McCartney's career.

It is unsurprising that this is a messy album. Each track was written and recorded in the space of a day. The assumption goes that this restriction would bring out the experimental, quirky genius that McCartney has mostly left untapped since his previous self-titled album in 1980. Opener 'Nothing Too Much Just Out Of Sight' is a statement of intent. McCartney wails and howls over a grinding blues-rock backing. The track shoots for a middle ground between towering Led Zeppelin and maniacal Captain Beefheart , but ends up raging itself into incoherence. Similar genre exercises pop up throughout the 13 songs, such as the dusty folk and gospel of 'Travelling Light' and 'Light From Your Lighthouse', or the uninspiring final lapse into trite electro -exotica ('Is This Love', 'Lifelong Passion', 'Don't Stop Running'). It is interesting to hear McCartney cast in different, and unfamiliar lights, although none are truly convincing.





The most revelatory aspect of the album, in terms of experimentation, is that of McCartney's voice. The vocals on Electric Arguments are McCartney's most energised and committed in recent memory. And while the melodies and lyrics may be improvised and under-developed, his adoption of a low register, dusty croon on the folkier numbers brings to mind gravitas-on-demand singers like Mark Lanegan , Bruce Springsteen, or even Tom Waits. The aforementioned 'Travelling Light' succeeds in not sounding at all like McCartney, and would be a classic if it weren't for an unfortunate multi-tracked vocal that recalls a Monty Python drag routine. Equally, ' One can't help but feel that the very thing that is letting McCartney experiment, the collaborative, no-strings-attached nature, is what is damaging the material on offer. For one, the production decisions presumably enacted by Youth often obscures the positive aspects.





While it is invigorating to hear a muscular, powerful sound behind McCartney, especially on the rockers ('Highway'), the wall-of-sound production only highlights the chaotic nature of the recording. Worse are the tracks, such as 'Dance 'till We're High' and 'Sing the Changes', which ape innovations that were made ubiquitous (and boring) by U2 20 years ago. The songwriter's natural gifts for melody and performance are masked by multitracks, and obfuscated by heavy-handed reverb. It is a shame that in this latest retcon of his career, 2005's Chaos and Creation in the Backyard may be forgotten. That album had intimacy, character and genius in spades. Unfortunately, Electric Arguments doesn't.





Falling short of giving new life to an "irrelevant" old musician, Electric Arguments nevertheless exhibits an unfettered enthusiasm that can hopefully be harnessed in a more mannered (or simply better produced) setting in the future. McCartney can come up with killer melodies in his sleep, and anyone who has listened to the latter two volumes in the Beatles Anthology series will know that he can write a song in seconds. This new batch of songs sounds like such studio amusements have been shrouded in overwrought and humourless production tricks. The result is a mixture of half-baked, yet convincingly-performed musical ideas and wall-of-sound bombast. It makes for an intriguing, frustrating, yet hardly essential listen.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

[83] 7thSun - The Cathedral of Light

An old friend of mine records music under the name 7th Sun, and has just released his second EP, titled The Cathedral of Light.





Check it out. It's in a darkly ambient mode, mixing electronics, acoustic guitar and piano. To my ears, it is stark, beautiful and haunting in the vein of Eno's Music For Airports, Mogwai's Happy Songs for Happy People and 'Berlin'-era David Bowie, amongst others.

It's available as a free download on his website here.


Monday, 24 November 2008

[82] Top 5 Beatles Collaborations [It Came From Youtube]

With the imminent release (out today, in fact) of Paul McCartney's third release in collaboration with Youth, as The Fireman, the usual hype machine has kick-started. Paul McCartney is in the process of trying to remind everyone that he was the first Beatle turned on to Stockhausen, that he was the primary tape-loop experimenter, that he should, by all rights, be the 'cool' Beatle. Trying to erase every mawkish, sentimental moment of the last 38 years at the same time. To prove his point, he even threatens to make a high-profile release of an 'off-piste' recording made in 1967, called 'Carnival of Light', that has been refused official release at least 2 times in the past (most recently as part of the Beatles Anthology series). Drawing such attention to what is essentially an off-cut is quite desperate; the only audience who will be interested in, or will take pleasure from the release of 'Carnival of Light' are the die-hards and the curious, not the music-buying public.

Anyway, this is a debate for another day. Nevertheless, this scrambling for a semblance of integrity got me thinking about career trajectories, and what constitutes a consistent, dignified reputation for older musicians. This is especially interesting in terms of The Beatles after the break-up. Of course, solo albums and public persona go a long way to cementing a certain 'character', and the binary between Lennon and McCartney is prime evidence of this. However, in the case of The Fireman's Electric Arguments (which is not all bad), the collaborative atmosphere has been stressed.

I believe that with The Beatles, especially in their solo careers, collaborations with other artists are integral. For example, Paul McCartney's embarrassing and infamous early 80s duets with Michael Jackson ('Say Say Say' and 'The Girl Is Mine', one of the tracks that prevent Thriller from being a true classic) and Stevie Wonder ('Ebony and Ivory') were some of his most popular moments in his long career, and have helped perpetuate the 'thumbs-up' caricature that no amount of Stockhausen-referencing will overturn.

The other Beatles were more intelligent, and a lot more artistically successful in their collaborations. I've decided to compile a list of my favourite five. Of course, my prejudices are entirely evident. I've added a couple of 'honourable mentions' to redress the balance.


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Cream - 'Badge', from Goodbye (George Harrison)





George Harrison may not have had the musical chops to rival the Lennon/McCartney dictatorship in the Beatles, but he has certainly made a mark for himself both as part of the band's output, and as a solo artist. One of his major moves was the decision to invite his musical buddies to contribute to late Beatles albums, such as Eric Clapton or Billy Preston (on Abbey Road and Let It Be). Clapton originally guested on lead guitar on The White Album's 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', and this started a long, rocky friendship between Harrison and the guitarist. Recorded for Cream's final album, Goodbye, and released as a single in 1969, 'Badge' was co-written by Harrison and Clapton. It is easily one of Cream's best songs, and despite its tightly-economical structure still exhibits Clapton, Bruce and Baker's strong musical identities. Harrison plays rhythm guitar on the track, which features a wonderful bridge section, built around an arpeggiated guitar figure similar to other Harrison songs at the time (such as 'Here Comes the Sun').


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Bob Dylan - 'If Not For You', from The Bootleg Series vols. 1-3 (George Harrison)




Around the same time, Harrison also collaborated with Bob Dylan. 'If Not For You' was originally written by Dylan, and recorded for his 1970 album New Morning (video). Harrison had played on an early demo of the song, adding in a characteristic slide guitar melody line. A month after Dylan's album was released, Harrison's solo triple-album All Things Must Pass came out, and featured a cover of the song (as well as 'I'd Have You Anytime', co-written with Dylan). Neither versions are ideal, Harrison's lacks Dylan's rough-edged vocals and dynamic harmonica, yet the New Morning version was too polished, and missed the lead guitar hook. Thankfully, in 1991, Dylan included the demo on the first release of The Bootleg Series.


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The Traveling Wilburys - 'Handle With Care' (George Harrison)





Originally intended to be a b-side, 'Handle With Care' is the song that spawned a supergroup. The legend goes that George Harrison had to write a b-side to his 1988 single 'This is Love', and arranged an informal jam with Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison. The best venue they could come up with was Bob Dylan's home studio, and on the way Harrison stopped off at Tom Petty's house to borrow a guitar, and invited him along in the process. The resulting song, written by the gathered musicians, is a pure slice of homespun pop. The communion of such distinctive voices makes 'Handle With Care', and the album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, essential listening. It also helps that it is one of the best songs by any of the artists involved. This era spawned many collaborations for Harrison, including guesting on Petty's solo album Full Moon Fever, providing backing vocals and acoustic guitar to the hit 'Won't Back Down'.


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David Bowie - 'Fame' (John Lennon)





Of course, John Lennon's most infamous and close collaborations were with his second wife Yoko Ono. However, he achieved some of his most popular successes in collaboration with other established musicians. 'Fame' was recorded with David Bowie in New York in 1975, during his dramatic shift towards soul and funk on the Young Americans album. Built around a killer groove laid down by Carlos Alomar, the song features a great vocal performance from Bowie with backing and extra guitar from Lennon. It was Bowie's first #1 hit in the United States, and Lennon's second. Ironically his first number one was 'Whatever Gets You Thru The Night', in collaboration with Elton John the previous year.


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Well (Baby Please Don't Go) - Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono






Allow me to geek out for the moment. In 1971, John and Yoko joined Zappa and the Mothers during a concert at the Fillmore East, and proceeded to jam through a couple of standards and so on, including a version of 'Well (Baby Please Don't Go)', originally written by Walter Ward. Admittedly, this isn't a collaboration in the sense that the others in this list are - Zappa and Lennon did not sit down and write together - but it is still quite a revelation nonetheless. It is great to hear Lennon's vocals in a blues context backed by a heavy, dirty, yet incredibly talented backing band (this is early 70s Zappa, after all, with Aynesley Dunbar and Ian Underwood). It is truly thrilling to hear the ex-Beatle shout 'Zappa!', before the lead guitarist bursts into a prime Hot Rats-era blistering solo. Sadly, the video I linked to gets cut off, but it is the best in terms of sound quality. The live jam was issued both on the vinyl version of Lennon and Ono's Some Time in New York City (deleted on the recent reissue) and Zappa's otherwise fans-only compilation Playground Psychotics.


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Honourable Mentions


Ok, I do realise I have done McCartney and Ringo Starr a disservice. However, I believe that I have good reason for this.

McCartney's collaborations, except those already mentioned, are mostly of the back-room variety. The earliest of which include the production of Beatles off-cut 'Come and Get It' for tragic power poppers (and Apple label band) Badfinger. It is a good song, and exhibits McCartney's love of repeating a melody to almost kamikaze levels, but his identity is not strictly present in the recording (and, well, his own demo of the song is just as good, if not better). Equally, his collaboration with Elvis Costello on the composition and recording of the excellent 1989 single 'Veronica' is evident only to those reading the track credits.

On the flip-side, almost all of Ringo Starr's solo work is collaborative. He was never a songwriter, so his albums are usually filled with covers, or songs written by friends. He also had to call in sessions musicians and other players (including Beatles members). This gives almost every Ringo song a different collaborative identity, and can present some interesting examples. One of my favourites is 'Have You Seen My Baby', originally written by Randy Newman, which was on the 1973 album Ringo. This version has Marc Bolan on guitar, who gives the track a very T-Rex glam rock flavour, and James Booker on piano. I'll let Ringo have the last word.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

[81] Comiket @ Comica, London 22/11/08

Yesterday I shuffled down to the ICA to check out the 'Comiket' (I only realised afterwards that it was a portmanteau of Comic and Market) put on as part of the Comics mini-festival.

It was packed to bursting with enthusiastic, earnest artists hustling their work. I was painfully aware of my lack of funds, so decided to take a lot of cards, flyers and online details in place of proper financial support. I'd given myself the budget of 'the change in my pocket' (~ £4), and was a little dismayed that it wouldn't take me too far.

Nevertheless, I managed to have a chat with some of the artists, and compiled a huge list of small press comics to check out in the future. I also met up with Dom from London Loves Comics, and we proceeded to talk about comic-y things in the bar. It was good to have a drink with a like-minded chap, and helped tone down the overwhelmingness of the situation.

In the end, I ferreted out some bargains, mostly old issues or modest collections, and left with 4 comics. Here's a (shoddy) photo of my haul (without the flyers, now I look at it):





I will probably write more on them in the next few days, but here's a quick run-down of what I bought.

- A Music Paper, by Alastair Maceachern ('AM'). A collection of strips based around music fanzines, indie subcultures and amateur journalism.
- I Was a Teenage Bookbinder #2, by Alicia Pang (blog). A short collection of observations about London.
- Morgenmuffel no.16, by Isy (website). A politically-charged zine that features cartoons and rants.
- Paper Tiger Comix #1 (website). A pretty huge collection of varied comics by various people.

Friday, 21 November 2008

[80] Flower, Sun and Rain DS Review

My review of Suda 51 / Grasshopper Manufacture's new DS release Flower, Sun and Rain is up over at Den of Geek.

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This DS reissue of a Japan-exclusive PS2 game is genius, absurd and nigh-on unplayable. Mike fills us in.



On one of their many company logos, Grasshopper Manufacture proudly declare themselves a 'Video Game Band'. Indeed, CEO and head creator, Goichi Suda (under the catchy moniker Suda51), has become one of the rock stars of video game design, with his brace of crazy, quirky games that defy convention. After the successes of Killer7 (multi-platform, 2005) and No More Heroes (Wii, 2008), Grasshopper have, like The Smiths or Nirvana, decided to pause and reflect. Flower, Sun and Rain DS is a tweaked reissue of a game originally released only in Japan for the PS2 in 2001. Like Hatful of Hollow or Incesticide, this release is consciously positioned to allow new, international fans the chance of experiencing the team's earliest steps into the gaming world.


Read the full article here.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

[79] Morning Roundup, Poetry in Peckham, Odd and the Frost Giants etc.

Last night I went down to Persepolis, Peckham's (London's? The country's?) top Persian emporium, for a night of poetry and performance, held as part of the Peckham Literary Festival.

The proceedings were overseen by "Jazzman" John Clarke (myspace), and those in attendance were treated to some impressive stuff. I had to leave during the break, but that's not to the detriment of the talent on offer. The first half had a great mix of music and spoken word. Poets included Isabel White, Graham Pollock and Bernadette Cremin (myspace). There was also a short set from a wonderful, soulful folkie called Sophie Knightley (definitely check her myspace).

Sadly, couldn't find much internet matter for the other performers, although it seems that Graham Pollock commented on one of Adrian Dennings' album reviews for The Fall. Nice one.

Lovely night, and hopefully a sign of things to come from Persepolis. A perfect, unique venue for such events, full of evocative and exotic aromas.

Tonight I'll be back there again for an evening with Glen Baxter. Check out the full listings for the Peckham Literary Festival here.

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In other literary news, I finally got around to reading Neil Gaiman's Odd and the Frost Giants yesterday. It was originally released earlier this year, as part of the World Book Day celebrations. I bought two copies, as presents, but I was given a free copy at the reading/signing Gaiman did at LSE (unfortunately, I didn't get it signed).



It's a nice little book, that, like most Gaiman work, really revels in the cultures and eras it is representing. It is refreshing to see an author fully immerse the reader in Norse mythology and culture, almost warts and all, as opposed to pinching and re-tooling (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter). Hopefully, it is as infectious and exciting for new readers to connect with a bygone culture as it is for me. It's certainly worth a look.

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And, to finish...


This morning we've got news about adaptations (X-men. Captain America), more adaptations (Where the Wild Things Are), remakes (Oldboy) and re-releases (Beauty and the Beast)! But don't worry, there are glimmers of originality in here somewhere. Have heart and take heed, it's the Morning Roundup!

Read the full article here.

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Tuesday, 18 November 2008

[78] Kingdom Come Special: Superman, by Alex Ross

Here is a longer review of another comic I bought this week. I also bought the first three issues of the latest arc in Criminal, called Bad Night, but I'll save discussion on that until later...

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Kingdom Come Special: Superman, by Alex Ross


Alex Ross is one of the most in-demand artists in comics. He has an instantly recognisable style; vividly realistic watercolours with reference to photographic source material. One of his most famous works, Kingdom Come, which he produced with Mark Waid in 1996, is often held up as one of the greatest graphic novels ever released. It's certainly one of my favourites, and its standing is secured by Ross' art, which renders classic characters in beautifully iconic ways.





In this one-shot, Alex Ross not only revisits the world he helped create in Kingdom Come, but he also writes the comic himself. It is supposed to be part of a mini-event currently going in in the Justice Society of America series, where the Kingdom Come Superman has strayed into the normal JSA universe. Over the coming months, there are more one-shots, where characters such as Magog, also from Kingdom Come, will appear. To be honest, I'm not at all interested in this continuity, and instead I was drawn in by the prospect of Alex Ross filling in elements of the Kingdom Come story. The result, as an extension of the original graphic novel's background, is quite a success in both narrative and artistic terms.

As suggested by the title, the issue focuses on the older, greying-at-the-temples Kingdom Come Superman, and his adjustment to being stranded in a different universe. Ross makes a wise choice in not attempting to craft a full-bodied, standalone story for the issue, or even creating a jigsaw-piece for the overall 'Gog Saga' puzzle. Instead, he creates a personal, evocative episode that touches on issues like memory, trauma, and confronting the past. KC Superman must face, and relate, his lowest point: the death of Lois Lane. An attack on the Daily Planet building is a little too close to home for KC Superman, who reacts with undue force. His overpowered response to the attack, and subsequent strike against JSA Superman, reveals an unstable, chaotic mourning, a darkness and depth that is rarely touched upon in Superman characterisations (apart from, well, Kingdom Come itself). The tragic act is initially related in snapshots, broken pieces of memory, as The Joker lays siege to the Daily Planet. Ross leaves these images as lingering, unsettling harbingers, until Superman narrates the story himself at the end of the issue. As a structured narrative, this special is first-rate, as the psychological depth is slowly, subtly revealed.





The art is astounding. Ross decided to experiment with more conventional approaches to comic book art in this issue, through the use of proper inking. The presence of these heavier lines, as opposed to his usual, painted style, gives the characters a more solid, textured look. It shows that even if he ditched his watercolours, Ross could make a handsome living as a 'normal' comic artist. Seeing his very realistic style rendered in this way is a revelation. The flashbacks are painted, by way of contrast; this works not only as a stylistic link with Kingdom Come, but as a psychological link with the memories depicted (as opposed to, say, memory represented in black and white, or photographs).





As an extra treat for readers, or as incentive for the $3.99 cover price, there is a section of 'Bonus Material', where Ross describes his working methods, and the process of writing his first comic. This is really interesting stuff, especially as it is the kind of material that is only saved for trade paperback collections.

People have taken issue with some elements of the comic, citing continuity problems (like this surprisingly pompous and nitpicking, but no less valid review from Comics Bulletin). I suppose they have a point, although I am one of those readers who got into comics from a trade paperback, or graphic novel background (I will elaborate on this, someday). Therefore, I assess this special in relation to Kingdom Come, its fish-out-of-water premise, and as an episode in the grand tradition of DC super hero stories. In that sense, and from the standpoint of graphic fiction, this Kingdom Come Special is a great single issue. It works as eye-candy, and as thematic stimulation. Great stuff, indeed.

Monday, 17 November 2008

[77] Batman: Cacophony #1, by Kevin Smith and Walter Flanagan

I bought a couple of comics this week, so I'll write a few rough comments on them. More to come later, but I'll start with this...

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Batman: Cacophony (1 of 3), by Kevin Smith and Walter Flanagan



This week, Kevin Smith had two new properties released in the UK. Zack and Miri Make a Porno seems to have been reviewed pretty badly, at least according to the few reviews I've read. Batman: Cacophony seems to have fared much better, so that's something to lean on. I've not read any of Smith's previous comics work (such as his run on Daredevil, or Green Arrow), so this is something new for me.





The most striking thing about this comic, I'm sad to say, is the cover. A moody, brooding depiction of the Batman, a poised predator atop the Arkham Asylum gateway, drenched in darkly evocative red and black colouring. It's a wonderful piece of art from Adam Kubert, and I'd like to say that it hints at the tone of the story inside, but I'd only be half-right.

Smith's writing does exhibit dark tendencies, but for the most part of this issue he relies on sharp dialogue and black humour. The basic story involves Deadshot breaking into Arkham Asylum to assassinate the Joker. However, he is thwarted by Onomatopoeia (a goofy creation of Smith's own, who only speaks in, you guessed it, sound effects like 'Fwoosh' or 'Fa-thud'), who is on a mission to break Joker *out* of Arkham. It is in these early scenes that the writing is at its wittiest, and, at times, silliest. The Joker is an intellectual-jester, closer to his cartoon-y depictions than most writers go for in the current climate. He reads Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, and calls it a 'knee-slapper'; he rants and raves that his Joker Venom has been diluted and become a trendy drug, exclaiming '[it's] supposed to be feared, not "rocked" at a "kegger"!'. Smith works overtime to put the 'joke' in a character who has become more menacing than amusing of late, and it mostly works. He also shoehorns in bits of toilet humour, with generous and liberal references to poo, anal sex, merkins and Joker wanting 'to one day murder Batman and defile his carcass sexually', which works less well (I suppose it depends if you enjoyed those Smith's diversions into gutter-humour in his films).

This hit-and-miss aspect in the writing is tipped in a more positive direction by the short scene involving the Batman hunting down and apprehending Mr Zsasz. Mostly told in a dual narration, from Zsasz and Batman's perspectives, it is dark and moving. Zsasz has killed his latest victims, and is about to move onto their children before Batman arrives. What is at its core a simple Batman-saves-the-day episode is given an emotional punch, as he projects his own trauma onto that of Zsasz's victims. It's nothing ground-breaking, but it shows a window of emotional and psychological depth that is missing from the rest of the comic.





I've barely mentioned the art, because Walter Flanagan (who has appeared in bit roles in various Smith films) does a good, but quite forgettable job. He uses a cartoon-y style that fits the more humorous diversions of the story, but there is good use of shadow and shade to create a moody atmosphere.

I suppose that sums up my response to this first issue. It's good, it's entertaining. It's not essential in the slightest. Of course, it's an opening issue, and there are two more to come, so maybe it will pick up.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

[76] Exaggeration on Old Kent Road...!




The most hyberbolic album marketing slogan (in the world) ever?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

[75] Paul Westerberg - 49:00... Of Your Time/Life




Paul Westerberg is not an experimental artist. Throughout his long career, from his days in alt-rock trailblazers The Replacements, to his solo albums in the 1990s and beyond, he has been a harbinger of down and dirty Rock stylings, with smatterings of acoustic folk-y balladry. However, his latest release, 49:00... Of Your Time/Life, is an uncompromising work in anybody's book. Released in July 2008, the album has only been distributed over the internet, initially over Amazon.com, and TuneCore, for 49 cents, before being withdrawn a few days later for no officially-disclosed reason. 49:00 is a single track, a sound collage. Lo-fi recordings collide, overlap, even play in unison. No tracklist was released (so all references to songs on here are tentatively named), and the download was only accompanied by a rough, hand-drawn cover and the following disclaimer:


WARNING: DO NOT LISTEN WHILE OPERATING A MOTOR VEHICLE

THIS PRODUCT IS NOT FAULTY - ALL SOUNDS ARE INTENTIONAL AND VALID AS A WORK OF ART


The sound of 49:00 was intended to emulate the cycling of a radio dial through various channels, or the passing through different broadcasts. It certainly feels like that, as, after a couple of fully-formed opening numbers, the recordings deviate and morph. The atmospheric ballad 'Goodnight Sweet Prince' is almost sabotaged by the encroachment, or interference, of various other songs throughout its runtime. The rough-edged, lo-fi approach is similar to that of Westerberg's solo albums since 2002's Stereo, which was recorded in his basement, with all warts and imperfections intact. It also helps that Westerberg's material this time out includes some of his best ('Something in My Life is Missing', 'You're My Girl'). And even the sub-par songs are elevated by his passionate, energetic delivery, or are easily overlooked because within seconds, something else kicks in. It has been said that his best albums, including The Replacements' Pleased to Meet Me and his solo debut 14 Songs, were tainted by their heavy-handed production flourishes or too-slick arrangements. Here, the recording aesthetic, and production approach is perfectly pitched.





Indeed, there are issues with such a format, and the album does peter out after the bizarre, unsatisfying collage of short popular song covers (The Beatles, Elton John, Alice Cooper, and more, in barely a minute), and the incoherent 'Oh Yeah'. And, of course, amateur recordings, or deconstructionist approaches to album sequencing is nothing new. Bands such as Sebadoh, or Guided By Voices made careers out of such innovations over a decade ago (and let's not get into album-length song suites). However, Westerberg's album is much more conceptual, and invites lofty interpretation, despite the erstwhile Alt-Rock at its core. Does issuing a 40-odd minute long song as an album relate a stubborn loyalty to the 'album' format, in this age of single tracks, downloads and iPod playlists? Does it show a willingness to experiment with the album form, taking the traditional approach of a mish-mash of tracks, mostly united by a similar moment or context of recording or inspiration, and creating a new 'experience'? Or is it a bitter comment on current musical audience's ADD approach, whose mind wanders after an albums first couple of tracks? Westerberg says he has a bit of ADD himself, so maybe he's just having a laugh.

It is fascinating that an older artist, who many believe has not recorded anything noteworthy in almost 20 years, can bring up these questions, and be infectiously entertaining at the same time. 49:00 may not be a classic on the level of late albums from The Replacements, or even some of the other Westerberg albums mentioned in this article (meaning, in a traditional sense). What it is, though, is different. It is unhinged and unfettered, and more than worth the 49 minutes of your life it takes to experience.

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[And what's more, in the time since releasing 49:00, Westerberg has put out 2 further singles, 'Bored of Edukation' and '5:05', and an EP 3oclockreep. These have all been self-released over the internet, highlighting the freedom afforded by digital distribution. I'll cover those in a future post.]

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Check out Man Without Ties for more info on 49:00, and other releases.
Check out Paul Westerberg.net for other Westerberg internet happenings.
Read more about 49:00, including speculated tracklistings, on Wikipedia.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

[74] CC2K morning update, London Comedy and so on...

Here's this week's Morning Roundup column from me (I really like the Savage Dragon / Obama cross-overs. Some of the most shameless stunts I've ever seen, yet with a knowing humour about them):


This morning we've got scoops about Ridley Scott's adaptation of the board-game Monopoly, some mutterings about the Magneto movie, news about the latest Simon Pegg creation, a Savage Dragon / Barack Obama team-up and, of course, lots more. Wake up, campers - it's the Morning Roundup!


Read the full article here.

-----------------------------

In other CC2K news, check out the latest episode of the Comics on Comics podcast, which features CC2K editor (and all round nice guy) Bob Peterson. Check out the discussion, which also has input from comics scribe Mark Sable, over here.




The discussion manages to straddle the humorous and the serious, and covers gender in comics and big-screen movie adaptations. There are some insightful tidbits in there, especially from Sable, so it's worth it despite the 49 minute runtime.

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I went to a stand-up gig last night at Dirty Dicks, a pub near Liverpool Street station, presented/promoted by Bob Slayer. I went ostensibly to support Ben Chancer / Ben Chancellor, after our chat a couple of weeks ago (which should be in print soon). Ben was good, especially in front of the rowdy crowd (I've never seen one rowdier).

Sadly, I wasn't too impressed by the other comics, apart from the headliner, Chris Martin. He had much more restraint, charisma and intelligence than most of what else was on offer. He's young, only 22, and might be someone to look out for. He's currently gigging a hell of a lot, so check out his myspace page to see if he's on near you. Here's a video:



Chris Martin live at SPANK! 9-8-08: Tales of the Night Bus

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

[73] Everyone Had a Hard Year [It Came From Youtube]


'Everyone Had a Hard Year' was a demo cut by John Lennon during The Beatles' sessions for The White Album. The acoustic demo, based around lyrics that took the form of a litany ('Everybody...'), was based around a finger-picking figure very similar to other Lennon songs of the period ('Dear Prudence', especially). However, the mantra-like structure of the song was obviously unfinished, and in the demo recording, the performance peters out at the end of the lyrics. Nevertheless, the song has a meditative, intimate quality, like a lot of Lennon's acoustic work of the period.





It was picked up again during the troubled Let it Be sessions, and was mixed together with other elements from Lennon and McCartney demos to create 'I've Got a Feeling'. The song retains a similar structure, but with a more fleshed out band performance, and a more conventional verse-chorus progression. Part of the original demo occurs as a Lennon middle eighth. Sadly, it is one of worst Beatles songs from their worst period. A meandering attempt at a dirty rock song, complete with McCartney howling with all his anemic might. The fragment of 'Everyone Had a Hard Year' is a gem in the rough of its context.





And now, years later, 'Everyone Had a Hard Year' has been reimagined and covered by the reformed members of Yellow Magic Orchestra (as HASYMO), who have performed it live. They take the repeating guitar figure, and the litany, tinker with them slightly, and craft a precious, lilting piece. The use of electronics, synths and horns flesh out the core of the song, and retain its repetitious momentum while providing a wonderful ebb-and-flow structure. Yukihiro Takahashi's vocals are also some of his best.





Check out 'I've Got a Feeling' at Wikipedia.

Read the lyrics to 'Everyone Had a Hard Year' here.

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Postscript 13/11/08:

An interesting addition. I recently came across another link in the chain. The HASYMO version did not occur in a vacuum, but was instead informed by a previous reworking of 'Everyone Had a Hard Year' by German IDM group März, from their 2002 album Love Streams, titled 'Everybody Had a Hard Year'. It seems that the general arrangement of the electronics and the guitar were taken from this version, although I cannot find a full stream for the track to be sure about other elements.



Read a review of the album (which does not acknowledge the source of the lyrics) here.
Listen to a (very short) extract of the song at Last.FM
here.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

[72] Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan

Here's a quick take for you! Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan is a mouth-wateringly deluxe hard-cover collection of Japanese Batman comics from the mid-late 1960s.





Editor, designer and all-round geek guru Chip Kidd, with the help of Saul Ferris and Geoff Spear, has unearthed and translated a bunch of Batman comics from the Land of the Rising Sun, and published them in the West for the first time. The comics were originally written by Jiro Kuwata, and were published in 1966-1967, to tie in with the Batman TV series' initial run in Japan.





I'm still trawling through this huge volume, getting to grips with the more sci-fi quirks of the Manga-fied Caped Crusader. The presentation is wonderful, complete with advertisements and photographs of memorabilia and toys from the period. The comics themselves, while a little deteriorated, are presented in detailed, blown up photographs, which show off their bold, expressive designs to the full. I particularly like the little inscriptions in the inside columns of the pages, which include Bat-trivia, science facts and snippets of feedback, e.g. 'Major League Trivia: In Japan, no one has hit more than 10 Grand Slams, but Lou Gehrig hit 23 Grand Slams between 1925 and 1938', and 'Batmobile: Nuclear-powered, runs on jet propulsion. It has radar, laser beams and a cordless phone'.





Kidd et al have crafted a really desirable coffee-table book for all those interested in comics, Batman and Japanese culture. It doesn't come cheap (and there may be more volumes to come), but the care and effort put into the edition justifies its price, and justifies a little luxury.





Check out Chip Kidd relating tidbits from the process of making Bat-Manga, plus a peek at 'The Man Who Quit Being Human' on Youtube (part one, part two).
Thanks to Sproutgrrl and Cory Doctorow @ Flickr for the scans.
Check out Bat-Manga at Boing Boing.
Check out Chip Kidd's personal website.

Monday, 10 November 2008

[71] Vimanarama, by Grant Morrison and Philip Bond [Great Comics]

Every time I come to write a comics piece on this blog, I feel like I should apologise. It won't take an observant person to see that pretty much all of my comics articles so far have been based around books written by Grant Morrison. Arkham Asylum, We3, Kill Your Boyfriend and, to a lesser extent, Final Crisis have all stirred me to write something. And that doesn't take into account his stuff I haven't written about, such as JLA or Batman RIP. In the last few months, Morrison has gone from an untested mystery, to one of my favourite writers in the medium. And here's one more to add to the list, Vimanarama.




Vimanarama was released in 2005, as a 3 part mini-series. It saw Morrison reunited with artist Philip Bond, who had previously worked on Kill Your Boyfriend and The Invisibles. The story centres around Ali, a teenage Muslim boy from Bradford. His life is sandwiched between dossing, helping out with his father's corner shop business, and worrying about love. However, one day his life takes on a different tone, as he is introduced to his arranged wife-to-be, the peppy, beautiful Sofia. What's more, while searching underneath the shop's damaged stock room, they find an ancient subterranean city, and accidentally unleash an evil, mythical force. Not to worry, though, as the Ultrahadeen, a bunch of superheroic Indian demigods, are not far behind to save the day.





Clashing is the order of the day. Be it cultural, with the India-meets-super-heroes concept, or simply narrative, in the mundane, human world's confrontation with myth and fable. As it is, Morrison and Bond handle this aspect ('real world vs fantasy') much better than more vocally ambitious comics like Marvel 1985. This is achieved by Morrison's script, which skilfully weaves the story of Ali, his family and Sofia with the more epic, action-packed battle narrative. The tone of the book is set early on, with a focus on comedy that is based around family relationships. Ali's family, from his ultra-devout brother Omar, to his forever-hounded father (who constantly clutches his chest in anticipation of a son-induced heart attack), roots the story in the humanistic, before whirling off into fantasy.





While not as deep, mind-bending or poetic as other Morrison novels, Vimanarama is a huge success on the level of representation. Judeo-Christian aspects of religion have been done to death in the comics world, so to take such detailed and direct inspiration from Islamic, Hindu and ancient Indian mythology makes this wonderfully unique. The representation of contemporary British society, a level-headed, rounded approach to British Muslims, is a bold step for Morrison, especially in the light of 9/11 and current tensions in the media. Here, Ali and his family are narrated and represented with grounded, intelligent skill, without a hint of exoticism or Orientalism. The exoticism of Vimanarama is displayed through the depiction of the Ultrahadeen. Ancient Indian mythology is one of the most colourful and interesting traditions the world has to offer, and it is a joy to see it on show here in a imaginative, larger-than-life, Jack Kirby-ish style.





I was a little underwhelmed by Philip Bond's work on Kill Your Boyfriend. However, his work on Vimanarama is ambitious, charming and impressive. He manages to portray the humanist levels of the story very well, but also comes into his own in the exaggerated fantastic style used for the Prince Ben Rama, Ull-Shattan and the other heroes. He copes well with the narrative's shift between low-key romantic comedy and epic sci-fi disaster movie. Importantly, the art communicates the light, humorous tones of the comic well, so the moments of violence and horror do not jar or break the mood.





Morrison has said in interviews that he wanted to challenge Bond with this comic, and it shows. There are plenty of splash pages, of the underground city, of London ravaged by the devils, where Bond's skill is really shown off. The bright colouring used by Brian Miller also goes a long way to defining the unique tone of this work, and the comic features typically brilliant lettering from Todd Klein, who always uses speech bubbles and text to dizzying effect in communicating character.





Vimanarama takes its inspiration from an untapped source, and repackages it with a currently out of fashion style of comics storytelling. It is a fun book to read, and it retains an unironic sense of wonder that makes it a real page-turner. Over the course of 100 pages, it manages to create a new tradition for the superhero genre, without losing sight of its main assets: its characters. Like with We3, Grant Morrison has helped spawn a ground-breaking, unconventional story from an initial, back-of-a-cigarette-pack idea.




Thanks to Dave's Long Box for some of the scans used.
Check out Vimanarama on Wikipedia.
Check out Vimanarama on Amazon.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

[70] P-brane

When I got back on Friday night, there was a parcel at my door.


P-Brane: The Green Man is an independent graphic novel from Canada, published by Graviton Publishing, written by Chris X Ring, and 'directed' by Jesse Heffring. Its artwork consists of digitally manipulated and enhanced photographs. It's sci-fi, and speaks of endtimes, identity crises, and genetically mutated 'green people'. I'm still reading through it; I'll say more when I'm finished.

Check out the official pbrane page here.
Check out Graviton Publishing here.

Check out Quietus Films here.


Saturday, 8 November 2008

[69] 07/11, photographs




Yesterday I went to the BFI Southbank cinema to see Terence Davies' Of Time and the City. It was certainly an interesting, thought-provoking film; more a subjective cinematic essay than a documentary. If I get the chance, I'll write something more long-form about it.




Two pictures, one from the south bank, one crossing Hungerford Bridge, just before it started to rain.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

[68] We3, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely [Great Comics]

We3 just might be the best comic starring super-powered animal mechas ever written. The limited series, which ran for 3 issues in 2004, was written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frank Quitely, and is one of those short, oddball gems that demand and most of all deserve attention.




The book is centered around a military project involving researchers looking into technological advancements that would render the job of the common soldier obsolete. One such development is the 'We3' project - a trio of highly trained, highly augmented household pets who are heavily armoured and remote-controlled. They work as a team: #1 (a dog) is strong and brutal, #2 (a cat) is light and stealthy and #3 (a rabbit) is a fast scout packing high explosives. The unit deals out bloody slaughter for their masters, performing dirty-work that usual practice would not acknowledge (such as assassinating unsavoury characters), until they are ordered to be decommissioned by a power-hungry senator. Set free by the lead researcher, Dr Roseanne Berry, We3 must try to understand the notion of 'home', all the while being pursued by the armed forces. It is part The Incredible Journey, part Robocop, but the creators infuse the storyline with such affecting thematics and effective style that such a simple, strange premise ends up working as a true masterpiece.





Morrison is at his best here. His basic choices regarding the genesis of We3 immediately evoke issues regarding animal rights and testing, but his decision to make Dr Berry's most innovative accomplishment that of granting the animals the ability to talk strengthens the book's punch. It recalls mid-to-late 20th century science fiction and its mulling over A.I. and robotics, and recalls similar, if slightly different questions. Of course, animals are already sentient and autonomous, but is there a lack of empathy represented by their lack of speech? Their dialogue is a crude hybrid of txt and L33T speak, but it goes a long way to deepening the reader's affections for the characters outside of the stock 'aw, cute' reactions.





In fact, Frank Quitely's superb art style for We3 is anything but cute. His pencils, coloured by Jamie Grant, are kinetic, brutal, horrific and experimental. It is fascinating that the comic is written by one of the biggest-hitting scribes in the comic business, yet there is still so much visual storytelling involved. Indeed, the issue #1's first 13 or so pages are rendered in pure silent-film mode. No dialogue is written, instead Quitely presents an action sequence of the We3 team infiltrating a shady mansion and taking out a team of no-gooders as pure physicality. The scene is shown through snapshots of surprise, bullets and gore and, in true horror genre tradition, the source of the violence is kept in the shadows, just out of frame. It is not until the mysterious mobile weapons are transported back to the research facility that their protective visors peel back to reveal the pets inside the suits.





Quitely approaches the comic with a real verve for experimentation. Throughout the three issues, Quitely bursts open the conventional approach to framing his art. An early example is the pet's escape from the facility, which is portrayed through pages of ordered images from the POVs of various CCTV cameras. Once more, the book succeeds with a powerful, bare-bones visual storytelling. The pictures shown are almost meaningless on their own - fingers on a keyboard, a man walking past a reception desk, a dog's teeth, a whirlwind of papers in the sky - but together work towards a raw, compelling narrative. This is carried over into the action sequences, where widescreen splashes are punctuated by small, ultra-violent close-up shots (an eye, a fingernail split by a razor-sharp projectile, a hail of bullets shattering a pair of spectacles). It is thrilling stuff, and gives action scenes a breathless pace in an economical amount of pages.





The art in We3 does a lot of the legwork. Indeed, for such a visual medium, that is saying a lot, but Morrison allows Quitely's illustrations to stretch out the narrative, deepen the thematics and tug at the reader's emotions. The transformation of the three protagonists, the slow degradation from the pristine cover image to the bedraggled, scarred, hounded victims towards the comic's conclusion, is an integral aspect of the characterisation and pathetic anchoring of the story. Equally, Quitely details the cruelty and violence towards the animals with as much care as with humans, certainly much more than is usually seen when animals stray into the pages of comics. This helps to make more clear Morrison's themes of the distancing, de-familiarising of animals as unfeeling or any less conscious than a human. The dog, cat and rabbit at the heart of this comic may not be as self-aware, psychologically-empowered or as capable as their human masters, but Quitely and Morrison imbue their journey with a great emotional depth without typical "Family Movie" humanisation.





We3, despite its barmy premise and hyper-violent execution, is actually a tearjerker. The final pages, including the protagonists facing a huge, imposing foe, and their fate, are littered with emotional pay-offs that do not surrender to sentimental cliche. It also achieves that impressive feat of, while being a tightly structured 3-part sprint, opening up the narrative beyond the immediate context on the page. This is foremost achieved through the issues' original covers. They are designed as unique, finely detailed 'Missing' posters for pets. The reader soon realises that these pets depicted on the cover are We3, and were abducted for the testing - a revelation that is not explicitly stated in the comic itself. These posters themselves unearth a great deal of opportunity for the reader. The writing of the note, the photographs, the original names of the pets - these create a peripheral narrative for the reader to create themselves.





For example, the rabbit's poster is scrawled in crayon and felt-tip by two children; it reads 'Lost Rabbit: can you help up find Pirate? He is white with a brown patch over his eye. He likes Lettuce and carrots. Thank you Johnny and Claire'. A postscript, in more adult handwriting, reads 'Pls phone Mrs Mortimer: 555 6783'. The attached photograph shows the rabbit, Pirate, with two out-of-shot hands petting him. Without referring to crass backstories , conventional flashbacks or convoluted reunions, the covers of We3 are works of genius in their relation to, and expansion of, the world contained within their pages. Rarely have comic book covers been used to this standard or, indeed, purpose.

We3 is an important book, because it is experimental, different, and wholly unique. It shows an artist and a writer at the very tops of their games. It is a thought-provoking, powerful work, which justifies its gory excesses with solid themes and effective presentation.