Friday, March 15, 2013

Simple pleasures for simple folk

It doesn’t take much. Not really…

I like driving around empty cities late at night, listening to the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me soundtrack on cassette tape, like it's 1994 or some shit....

I enjoy looking for comics in foreign countries. All I could find during our recent trip to Sweden was the usual Spider-Man reprints and translated editions of The Phantom, in the magazine rack at a very convenient service station in Lapland.

There was a third comic in that rack that seemed to be full of crime and mystery comics (including translations of Ian Edginton and I N J Culbard’s excellent Sherlock Holmes adaptions,) which I now wish I had bought back home with me, back from the land of ice and snow. Even if I can't understand a bloody word.

I still regret not buying an issue of Diabolik the one time I went to Italy six years ago, and I think this might also haunt me forever.

There were also some other comic books at the airport, in English, and they sure had a fine selection of Robert Kirkman and Mark Millar comics. And not much else.

I can’t get enough of arguments over whether Judge Dredd is a fascist.

(My usual answer is “Well…. yeah.”)

I watched – and really enjoyed - The Killer on a crappy old VHS tape the other day. I don't think I've ever seen it on anything but crappy old VHS tape, and it would be weird to see it in a more pristine condition. (I did try to find it and Hard Boiled on DVD when I was recently struck by the urge to see them again for the first time in years, but they proved surprisingly unavailable in my corner of the world. Plenty of Better Tomorrows, but not a single Killer).

The colours were bleeding as much as the bad guys, the music was pitched at levels that could cause permanent ear damage, the dubbing was atrocious and hilariously out-of-sync, and sometimes the tracking on my 20-year-old video player couldn't catch up with damage to the tape and it would be a haze of static.

But The Killer is still a great fucking film, and all the technical horrors can't kill its style and energy. In terms of film coolness, it's unparalleled, and the action is always fast, violent and graceful.

I'm slow to get on board the HD bandwagon, long after it's become default, but that just means I can still watch a video tape every now and then, without getting too bothered about the quality of the presentation, and losing sight of the actual story.

I still adore the hunt for comic books I’ve missed. Recent comic shop shenanigans has left me without a set monthly list for the first time in a decade, and I’ve missed several key issues of series I’ve been following. I missed #3 of Hellboy in Hell, and issue #8 of Batman Incorporated (where somebody apparently dies?) is proving hard to track down, and I’m fairly sure I’ve missed an Action Comics somewhere (although that might just be the storytelling).

I don’t mind. It gives me something to search for. I still love tracking down elusive back issues in weird comic shops, and can put up with the odd delay and non-linear reading experience. (Hellboy in Hell #4 was still bloody brilliant, even with the missed issue.) It gives me a reason to find new comic shops, and something to dig out.

I know I could get them all online in half an hour, but you kids know that’s NO FUN.

I like finding a new favourite band, even though it can take a lot of work. But I'm scared of growing old and getting stuck in tastes that are defined by what was cool when I was 19, so I keep trying new stuff, and I'm overjoyed when it pays off.

There is so much music to try out and sample, before committing to an opinion, so a gatekeeper is always welcome. And my favourite gatekeepers remain British music magazines. I still get hold of every issue of Uncut and Mojo magazines, and I always give the free CDs that come stuck to the covers a whirl.

It can actually be a bit of a chore, getting through it all every month, and there is always guaranteed to be some tunes on those CDs which are actively irritating, and there is always going to be many which are totally bland and same-old-shit. But there are also hidden gems, by people I've never heard of before, who get their songs stuck in my head, and I have to find out more about them.

Sometimes it's just one song from that band that I really like, but that's enough Sometimes there's no accounting for taste, but that's life. And sometimes it's just a total ear worm, but that's the enjoyable price of something new.

I love drunk film and TV commentaries. Like, ones where the writer or director or star gets completely shitfaced and just talks rubbish for the whole thing.

I really like the performances of Paul McGann and Colin Baker in the Doctor Who audio plays, but I don’t rate Sylvester McCoy's Doctor that highly.

Which is weird, because McCoy is always my third favourite Doctor overall. This love is what comes of being raised on a diet of Fenrics, remembrances and ghost lights, and then getting drunk with New Adventures fun in the nineties. I like the way McCoy hams it up in almost every scene, and the way that gives his quieter moments more power. And no other Doctor ever did more with a squint.

But in the audio, McCoy's malleable face isn't there to soak up the overactivity, and it's just a bit much.

I also think I rate McGann and Baker's performances so highly because both actors are still working like they've got something to prove. Both of their interpretations were cut painfully short, and both have provided some extraordinary work in the Big Finish series of new Who adventures. McGann has given his Doctor a more earthy tone, and is evolving in a good old sourpuss of a character, while Baker's Doctor is still full of the histrionic shouting, which is marvellously theatrical, but has also learned to grow with age, and mellow out a bit more.

Both actors also do a good job of dealing with a problem that plagues this medium – the part where an actor has to make a pointed note about something, and has to mumble something to themselves to keep the story rolling. Baker and McGann handle these moments a lot better than McCoy.

You can hear McCoy squint into the microphone when he makes the pointed comments, while the others are a bit more natural.

Weirdly, I haven't heard a single one of Peter Davison's performances, and sometimes he's my second favourite of them all, when I get all gooey and nostalgic.

My favourite Doctor of all time is, was and always will be the current one. But the second spot is always regenerating.

I've only skimmed the surface of the latest issue of The Comics Journal, which means I've read a 62-page article about R Crumb's lawyer, the Trondheim & Sacco comics and Tim Kreider's clear-eyed analysis of Chester Brown's true romance comix, and there are still hundreds of pages to go. I haven't even touched the Sendak and Tardi interviews, and it's gonna take months to get through this issue. Which is not a bad thing.

But the first thing I read was the Mort Weisinger Talking At Parties essay by Tom Crippen, because I can never get enough of that kind of speculative history about comic editorial departments, especially when you've got a right monster like Weisinger in charge for decades.

But I always feel a bit sad when I read about comic creators feeling shame at their profession, and pretending to be in advertising or magazine work when they were asked their profession, back in the good ol' days. If I had a time machine, I'd go back and tell them that people would still be fascinated by their work, well into the 21st century. I'd tell them that people would still be writing thoughtful and articulate essays and reviews and analysis of their work for decades after they were gone, and that they introduced pop culture ideas that would never die.

They can't all have been miserable sods – some creators have been rightly proud of their work over the decades, but I'd tell the miserable ones that they have a real legacy, and proper people with proper jobs who sneered at them are forgotten, while their work is eternal.

They probably wouldn't believe me, but I'd like to tell 'em anyway.

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