Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Single Page: I never told you those things!

Written and drawn by the great Trina Robbins
Originally published in Cerebus Bi-weekly #21

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Single Page: Hedgehog with a mohawk

By Dan McMurphy
Originally published in Cerebus Bi-Weekly, November 24 1989

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Single Page: Small change

By Roberto Corona
Originally published in Cerebus: Church and State #27

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Single Page: Horseshit luck!

Art and story by Dan Day
Originally published in Cerebus Bi-Weekly #13

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Single Page: Threatening to devour

Script: John Milton Pencils: Douglas
Originally published in Cerebus Bi-Weekly #19

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Single Page: I Still Think Of You, Jim Henson



Back when people actually cared about what happened in Cerebus The Aardvark, just before Dave Sim nuked most of his audience from orbit with a view of life and the universe that was breathtakingly sexist and offensive, Sim offered comic creators a tiny platform in the back of his comics, giving artists exposure to an audience eager for new alternative comics.

This would evolve into multi-pages previews of comics from other self-publishers, but at one point he offered up a single page, with no rules about what could go on that page. Anything goes.

And for a while, the Single Pages were some of the best value comics available, with one page offering up a wide variety of styles and techniques from some established pros like Evan Dorkin and eddie Campbell, and lots of enthusiastic amateurs who nobody ever heard of again.

There were a few dozen of these Single Pages, and instead of providing some actual goddamn content, I'm going to share some of them over the next few days. (There would be more, but I recently traded up up bunch of Cerebus bi-weekly comics, which had the addition, for the earlier original copies, which didn't, and oh fuck I'm boring myself to death...)

They vary greatly in actual quality, but this Jim Henson tribute from Jim Aubry, published in Cerebus #162, is always my favourite, and the saddest bloody single page story I've ever seen. That look on Ernie's face as he fades away...

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The secret origin of the Tearoom of Despair

It was exactly 10 years ago, and we were somewhere near the monastery on the pillars of Meteora, when I realised what my name was.

The lovely wife and I had just got married, and we celebrated by heading off around the world for six months. At this point, we were 30 days into a 46-day tour around Europe, and disaster had struck: I'd run out of things to read. The scenery around Europe was mindblowing, but a lot of the travel was along anonymous highways, with just grey walls and straight lines of trees to see out the window. We were on a tight schedule to get around the continent, so there were hours and hours on those dull roads, with nothing to do but sleep, drink or read. (Or all three.)

This was before the ubiquity of e-books, so almost everybody else on the tour had their own dogged paperbacks, and they'd all get handed around. I'd already burned through Robert Fisk's 1200-page History of Civilization in less than a week, and got through my Carl Hiaasen omnibus in two days, so was desperate to read anything, and there were no Enlish-language bookshops about. So I read the only Harry Potter book I've ever read, and even choked down a James Patterson novel. I got five books into Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen saga, and never actually finished the series, which isn't much of a problem, because I can't remember a single thing about any of those books.

What I do remember is this - staring out the window because there was nothing else to do, and deciding at some point that I needed to get a lot of the bullshit about comics and movies and other debris of pop culture out of my skull and into some sort of online journal, right about the time blogging became terminally uncool.

It was always going to be called the Tearoom of Despair, but I couldn't use my real name, because I couldn't bear the endless jokes about The Cure. I needed a fake name, and as we were traveling through the Greek countryside, and I saw these giant pieces of rock stabbing into the sky. And while I felt so fucking far from home, I knew that wherever I went, or whatever I did, I was always going to be Bob from Temuka.

It took another 18 months before I actually started publishing in the Tearoom, but that was where it really started, and I haven't stopped since.

This is the 1000th post at the Tearoom of Despair.

A thousand posts of ill-thought comments, and ridiculous opinions about the dumbest shit. A thousand posts of trying to convince the world that Love and Rockets is as good as it ever was, that Doctor Who really is the best TV show ever, and that Frank Miller still has something worthwhile to say. A thousand posts of bullshit, and half-arsed opinions, and desperate pleas for attention.

I've spent countless hours writing this out, and have posted every single thing with a 'fuck it, that'll do'. I still lie awake at night wondering about the next post, and have now racked up nearly 700,000 words on the dumbest subjects.

It's been going a lot longer than I thought it would last, but I'm hardly going to stop now. I feel like I'm still just getting started.

Still, real life is a right arse sometimes, and the Tearoom is in a semi-low content mode at the moment, and that will continue for a couple more weeks, with the help of The Single Page.

It doesn't mean I don't care. I still love you all. Here's to the next 1000 posts.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The speed of Dillon

Artist Steve Dillon broke into the comic industry as a teenager, largely for two reasons - 1) because he was bloody brilliant, with a sharpness to his line that was immediately appealing, and 2) because he was fast as hell.

For a perfect example of both of these attributes, you don't need to look any further than the lost episode of City of the Damned, a Judge Dredd story from the early 1980s where Judges Dredd and Anderson travel a decade into their future to see the results of a predicted apocalypse.

It's a classic Dredd tale, as our heroes overcome the deep horror that their beloved city has become, and save the day by ensuring this apocalyptic nightmare will never come to pass. Like all the great golden age Dredds, it was written by John Wagner and Alan Grant, and featured work from a variety of the comic's best art droids.

These included Dillon, who was a perfect fit for this gritty, hopeless future, and it was all going swimmingly, until the actual climax of the thing, when most of Dillon's art for a crucial episode vanished from the 2000ad offices.  

The colour centre-spread was still there, which was just as well, as it was a massively pivotal scene where Dredd gets a bunch of his undead former colleagues to step aside, purely with the use of his own imposing authority. But the rest had disappeared, and under a supreme deadline crunch, Dillon stepped back up and redrew the required four pages in record time.

A couple of years later, the missing art turned up again, and 2000ad readers were able to see and compare the two versions, and it was absolutely bloody fascinating:

It is an invaluable insight into the young artist's methods, just by looking at the slight alterations made to the story. You can study the difference between the two, (the published version on the left above, and the 'lost artwork' on the right), and try to see if the pressure of the deadline forced Dillon to make any shortcuts, or just take note of the way characters switch sides, or move differently (body language was one of Dillon's great under-rated skills).

Other artists frequently sketch out their layouts beforehand, but it's so unusual to see two pieces of complete and finished art like this. Dillon had already had a rehearsal run on the pages, and even though the replacement pencils were churned out at an incredibly fast rate, they're arguably better, with a slightly tighter focus on some of the figurework, and even more detail - see how the panel where Anderson's face is in shadow on page four on the original, but more fully revealing in the redo, or how the sizes of the actual panel are tighter, or more open.

When we lost Steve Dillon recently, we lost one of the modern greats. His worth is evident in the hundreds and hundreds of pages of comic artwork he did, but you can see it best here in these four pages, quickly whipped up to save the day.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Romero's devil was always in the details

George Romero never really liked being pigeon-holed as a horror director, but he was asking for it, because he was just so very good at scaring the shit out of us. All modern horror films - and a large amount of crime, thriller and comedy movies - owe a debt to Romero.

He brought horror out of the gothic castles and into rural and urban America, using his movies as broad and biting allegories on the state of the world, and he didn't flinch from showing just how brutal things could be. Many of his films were pleasantly ambiguous about this world of ours, and some of them were bluntly pessimistic.

While the broad strokes of his metaphors were obvious, Romero really made an impact on viewers with the deft use of tiny details and little moments that made his stories sing with terror, and give his movies life.

There was the soft slipping of the sheet covering Roger as he comes back in Dawn of the Dead, and the nasty villain telling the ghouls to choke on his intestines at the end of the Day. The sheep in the field in The Crazies, running past a tiny massacre; Martin's inept clumsiness as his romantic delusions crash into real life; Ed Harris' smile as he rides on out of this world in Knightriders. A zombie on a horse in Survival of the Dead, the unsettling cleanliness of Creepshow and the Amish dude's chalkboard in Diary of the Dead. The meathook at the end of the Night, the belly button ring in the Land, and the detail that went into that fucking eye in The Dark Half.

One that always stuck in my mind as desperately horrific in its banal finality was a tiny bit at the end of the original Dawn of the Dead - a zombie crashes into a display cabinet in the cosmetics section of an overrun department store, and then an undead foot steps on it, splattering goo over the floor.

There is something in that extraordinarily small moment that enforces the reality that this really is the apocalypse, really is the end of the world. The inhabitants of the mall have kept it remarkably clean and tidy as they used it as their own giant bunker, but when the dead reclaim it, they trod over everything, and make a hell of a mess, and nobody is ever going to clean it up. That paste, splattered across the floor, will lie there for a thousand years, and nobody will ever wipe it away. This is the new world, where all that materialistic bullshit means nothing. Nothing at all.

As wide as his allusions to society got, Romero was an incredibly subtle filmmaker, and he managed to raise big questions about race relations, just through casting decisions, that didn't need him to spell anything out. And it was in the tiny moments that made Romero a genuinely great filmmaker.

I hope he wins all the posthumous accolades he can, and that everybody makes dumb jokes about his career living on past his death. He would always grit his teeth beneath those enormous glasses whenever people made jokes about that in front of him, but you could always tell George was digging it.