Sunday, December 31, 2017

It's been a bad year, please don't take a picture

There are only a few hours left in 2017, and it can fuck right off, as far as I'm concerned. It's been a shit year.

As well as dealing with the vast existential crisis that everybody in modern society is dealing with, I've had an awful family emergency over the past couple of weeks. It's a bit too personal and way too common to go into detail here, but it's been a shit end to a shit year.

It's the type of thing that means there has been lots and lots of anxious waiting, and I've been desperate for anything that could provide a distraction from reality, for a little while. In this, there has been a rich abundance, because there is always a lot of good entertainment at this time of the year.

There has been a new Doctor Who - and a new Doctor! - and a new Star Wars movie. There has been the latest issue of Love and Rockets and the 2000ad Christmas issue. There is the last album from Run The Jewels, whose music I have a sudden and inexplicable hunger for. There ain't no Wipe this year, but there is some Black Mirror. For just an hour, minute or a second, I can lose myself in something that isn't this harsh reality.

The books, comics, music, movies and TV don't make the bad things in life go away, but they can help.

Which is why I'm still genuinely baffled by the way a lot of other people seem to interact with their entertainments. Why would you engage with something that makes you so angry or annoyed? Why would you do that to yourself?

I've spent far too much of all this waiting time sitting on my bloody phone, scrolling through all the reactions to these various entertainments, and am left with the undeniable impression that there are a lot of people out there who get very angry about very unimportant things.

It's very, very rare that you stumble across a piece of entertainment that is absolutely perfect - there is always a duff scene, or a loose story thread. The Last Jedi isn't a great movie, with a couple of awful plot entanglements, but it's fine, and has several truly terrific moments as good as anything else in the Star Wars series, and I'll take those moments and treasure them. I can live with the imperfection, because life isn't fucking perfect.

It's just not worth focusing on the bullshit bits, because there is literally no fun in that. I'm not interested in getting bogged down in pointless pedantry and smirking snark - life is too short for that.

I understand the value of a good hate-watch/read/listen. It can be healthy. I just flicked through the latest issue of DC's DOOMSDAY COCK to get a taste of everything that is wrong with the modern comic book business, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it, or start a petition, or even tweet about its clumsiness. Comics just aren't that important - I've had tens of thousands of the fuckers, and travel to the other side of the world just to see what the comic shops are life, and even I know that. And there are so many of them, it's easy to ignore the things that don't connect with me, and happily seek out the things that do.

I can't do much about a sick family member, other than be there to support them and help them in any way I can, but I can stop myself from wasting time on crap like that.

We've all had enough of 2017. Let's take the good stuff with us, and try to leave behind the bad.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Love and Rockets: I would go anywhere with you

One of the great romances in the Hernandez brothers' Love and Rockets comics - and there have been a few - is the long and complicated relationship between Maggie and Hopey. Their love story has been at the heart of Jaime's magnificent Locas saga since the very start, even when the two were apart for long periods of time.

Like Judge Dredd, this is a story that has grown in real time over decades, and has only become richer and deeper over the years. In the 30-something years since Love and Rockets was first published, Maggie and Hopey have both grown as characters and matured as people - from a busy, energetic life as punk rock chicas to the slow comforts and unresolved histories of middle-aged existence.

But in all that time, and in all their adventures, readers have never really seen how this pair really hooked up in the first place. There have been plenty of hints and tantalizing flashbacks over the years, but they were a total couple of the very first page of their story, and there hasn't been a time in the comic where they weren't inextricably linked.
The latest issue of the current volume turns all that upside down, going right back to the start of their story, hanging around Del Chimney's drug den. The current wave of stories set in that time and place have offered huge new insights into the backstory of this tiny universe - Del has had more on-paper appearances in the past two issues than in the previous dozens of years - and offers up some small explanations to why these two will always be there for each other,

You get to see the exact moment each of them fall in love with the other, and it's heart-breakingly sweet. Without going into too much details - because everybody in the whole damn world should be reading this damn comic - somebody says something incredibly mean and terrible about Hopey, which is bad enough, but the little firebrand doesn't even get angry about it because she knows it's true, and she just takes it. It's just sad and humiliating, until Maggie speaks up for her, and shows Hopey that there is somebody in this stinking world who cares for her, and always will.

And then, when the pair are talking about leaving their shithole town, when Maggie is feeling alone and unwanted, Hopey tells her they can just go off together. They don't need anything else except each other, and maybe some frozen burritos for the road.

They are two beautifully sweet and true moments. It doesn't always work out the way they plan - when Hopey does later disappear into America, she leaves Maggie behind - but it's the forging of the bond that will never, ever be broken.

There is some irony that Jaime is tackling this part of the story at this stage in his career, with the skills he has built up as a master storyteller needed to properly sell the moment - as always, it's not the dialogue that sells the moment, it's the looks on their faces when they say it, and Hernandez has been doing the best facial expressions in the business since the 1980s..

Brother Beto is treading similar waters in his own contribution to L&R #4, heading back down below the border for a tale of Palomar, and looks back at one of the key incidents from the very start of that saga, finding new depths in old tales.

But this looking back at history is not driven by nostalgia, is more about how the events of youth impact on the rest of your life. (It's notable that the current-day versions of Maggie and Hopey are left trapped in the dodgy cliffhanger they were in at the end of the last issue, thank goodness we don't have to wait a year between issues anymore, so we can be left hanging for a couple of months.)

We leave our pasts behind, but they're always with us, and the people we share our pasts, presents and futures with are the ones who always matter, no matter how hectic life gets. Jaime Hernandez is getting on in life, but he's still that young punk at heart, and so are his characters.

Love and Rockets comics are still the best comics.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Judge Dredd: The final mission of the Apocalypse Squad

It's one of the great moments in the 40-year history of Judge Dredd. On a desperate mission to save his own city from annihilation during the Apocalypse War, Dredd launches a retaliatory strike against the Sov aggressors that totally wipes out East Meg-One. He slaughters half a billion people without hesitation, cutting off all pleas for mercy with a curt 'request denied!' before pushing the button.

It's a moment of high drama, shows that Dredd is a totally double-hard bastard, and a deeply satisfactory way to end the gigantic Block Mania/ Apocalypse War storyline. The Sovs picked a fight with the toughest judges on the planet, and inevitably paid the ultimate price. As always, Dredd is harsh, but fair, (but mainly harsh).

But one of the great things about a story that has been running continuously for decades is that big events like this aren't just endlessly rebooted, recycled and retold; instead they have repercussions and consequences that echo down the years, and only get stronger as they build upon each other over the decades.

Judge Dredd's decision to wipe out East Meg One has had plenty of those repercussions, which have taken years to play out. Sov survivors of the war have been on a constant quest for revenge for their destroyed city, cropping up again and again, just when you think they are finally done and dusted. It all ultimately culminated in the Day of Chaos, where the Sovs finally win, and may have finally crippled the great Mega City One.

And even now, after all these years, Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner has plenty to say about this particular aspect of Dredd's story. His recent War Buds storyline in 2000ad, with beautifully chunky artwork by Dan Cornwell, went back to see what happened to the men who joined Dredd on that fateful mission, and found they were still struggling with what they did in the name of Mega City justice.

Dredd always took responsibility for the destruction himself, and has always been strong enough to handle the burden. He has always been certain it was the only way to save his beloved Mega-City One, and has shrugged off any doubts with his usual habit of tight boots. He carried on, and endured, just as he always does.

But Dredd is too iconic to be an actual human being, and War Buds revealed the men who made up the numbers of his Apocalypse Squad had been paying the personal cost of this heinously murderous act for most of their lives. Aside from Dredd's main allies like Hershey and Anderson, who have been a constant presence in the strip over the years, none of them are judges anymore, and none of them have really learned to live with what they have done.

The medic who went on the mission suffered the most, with a total mental breakdown, and the War Buds story saw his former comrades trying to save him from an ignoble end through euthanasia. The ex-judges have some brief, tiny moments of pride and dignity left, but it doesn't go well for anybody, and ends in farce, blood and encubement. 

The moral authority behind Dredd's actions in the war have always been ambiguous - the question of who started the cycle of aggression and retaliation has been raised several times, and right from the start it's been notable that Dredd kills 500,000 people in East Meg One to save 400,000 from his own city. On pure logic and numbers, his actions are more monstrous, no matter how square his jaw is.

Nobody knows this better than the people who were in the room when Dredd pushed the button, and who then flew over the smouldering crater that was once a vibrant Sov city. The horror of nuclear destruction may have been their only path to victory in the Apocalypse War, but that doesn't make it any less horrific.

It made for a cool moment, back in the day, but the climax of the Apocalypse War is still destroying lives, all these years later.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A long time ago...

I like Star Wars. I like it a lot.

Always Star Wars
Originally posted May 4, 2014

When I was a kid in the mid-to-late eighties, my Dad would let me go down to the video shop and rent something out for the family. He knew I could be trusted to get something that everybody could watch, I knew I couldn't get anything too horrific or adult. A bit of exploitation cinema could sometimes have something for the whole family, but the safer, the better.

The only instruction he ever gave me was that I could get whatever I wanted, but I was not - under any circumstances – to get one of the Star Wars films.

He had to tell me every time. And he was right to do so, because if he didn't, I definitely would be coming back with some Star Wars and an excuse that there was nothing else. Even though I'd seen all of the films many times, I wanted to watch it over and over and over and over again, and I had to be restrained for my own good.

I was eight when Return Of The Jedi came out, so that was me: hooked for life. At that age, the Star Wars films weren't just movies – they were absolute phenomenon.

And it didn't feel like a weird little obsession, like some of the comics and TV I liked – everybody was into Star Wars. It seeped into the culture like nothing else before, and nothing since. Star Wars was a Big Deal, and everybody was into it.

The films weren't even on video when I first fell into a life-long Star Wars obsession, (and nobody I knew even had a video player until I was nine), but there was regular re-releasing of the films at the cinema, and all those wonderful toys and books and records and tee-shirts.

I hungered for Star Wars action figures with a fierce, narrow-eyed passion that I've never really matched since, and the cool ones like the Stormtrooper or Boba Fett never got down to my town, down on the arse end of the world, but I still snapped up every Hoth Soldier #2 and Captain Fabulous, the Big Gay Bespin Pilot I could find.

I still have some of them today, but most of them have had their arms and legs snapped off. The ones that are in the best condition are the Princess Leia figures, because I didn't play them to death like the cool C-3P0 and Darth Vader figures. They were girl's toys and I was a little boy, and little boys are sexist little shits who never want to play with girls' toys.

The Return of the Jedi bubblegum card set was the first major collection I ever put together and actually completed, and it taught me valuable life lessons about negotiation and compromise that all kids should learn. I read every issue of the Marvel Comics series I could find, and even though my critical facilities were still working themselves out, I knew the comic reached a peak with those Goodwin/Williamson issues that it would never match again.

I got the Star Wars calenders every year, and seared the storybook adaptations – the ones with the lavish photos - into my brain. I had an Empire Strikes Back cap that I wouldn't take off my head for two years, until it literally fell apart. I read every magazine article about future plans for the movies, and believed every word I read about the 18-part plan, and that Boba Fett was really Leia's mum.

And all my friends and schoolmates were as obsessed as I was. We were all Star Wars kids. Everyone was.

Because those movies – those first three films released between 1977 and 1983 – were sheer bloody perfection.

I eventually had all three films on lovely, lovely video tape, and I ended up taking them for granted for so many years. I just watched them this week for the first time in years, and they're still so beautiful.

There is a tactile reality to these films - the crazy creatures and impossible technology and awesome architecture were grounded in worlds of dust, ruffled hair, scuffed boots and hurt feelings.  The Star Wars films were based around some goofy concepts, but they were always taken dead seriously – a beguiling mix that has also proved successful for Marvel movies in the past decade.

They were all George Lucas' vision, but they were brought to life by a small army of extremely talented trades and craftspeople, with a large number of essential collaborators, including Ben Burtt and his marvellous sound team, John Williams and his ear for thrilling bombast, and Ralph Mcquarrie and the blazing alchemy he poured into his paintings.

They all created this world of pure excitement, and unmatched thrills. A universe of charming rogues and fast-paced action, with some of the sharpest action editing ever attempted in film, changing the whole grammar of the blockbuster film.

And they changed everything, and were so addictive, because they were so much fun. There were parts that were so incredibly exciting it was almost unbearable – the moment in the first film where Han Solo and Chewbacca fly in out of the sun to save Luke at the end of all things is still ridiculously powerful, the speeder bike chase in the Jedi is still too fast to quite follow, and there is some real energetic brutality in the final moments of the fight between Luke and Vader on Cloud City.

All that backstory was fascinating, and I had my own ideas about what the Clone Wars were all about, just like everybody else. And the characters were drawn in such broad strokes that it was impossible to resist falling into their trials and tribulations.

But Star Wars was infinitely re-watchable because of those great set-pieces – I could never get sick of the sphincter tightening flight through the asteroid field in Empire, the leap across the chasm in the first film is a fantastic bit of daredeviling and I'm never quite certain that Lando and the Falcon crew are getting out of that exploding Death Star in time.

So that was it – I never got over how much I loved those films. I might not need to watch them every day anymore, and I might have even gone a couple of years without watching them, but that fondness never died.

I still followed the saga into comics and novels, although I bailed out of the Expanded Universe after half a dozen books, and lost all interest in the comics once Cam Kennedy finished up. I saw all of the re-released movies at the cinema in the late nineties, and that was during my biggest drinking days, and I was drunk as fuck when I saw the horrible new effects, so I didn't mind their intrusion that much.

And then the prequels came along, and I enjoyed every single one of them, because there was always the odd set-piece or scene that still shined – the podrace in the Phantom Menace is a masterclass in editing, and the various lightsaber battles were terrifically thrilling.

But the stories were hampered by tedious plots and grating comedic relief, and were often over-busy and over-thought. I lost most of my faith in the Star Wars story sometime around the asteroid belt scene in Attack In The Clones, a replication of the Empire chase scene, with none of the thrills, just busy visuals and a grating score.

There is still the odd spark of genius in the past ten years of Star Wars, especially in Genndy Tartakovsky's fantastic Clone Wars shorts, and the new films are sparking some interest again, but the fondness shows no sign of blossoming into a proper obsession again.

Still, I'll always be a Wars Boy. I also like Star Trek, but it's a Beatles and the Stones thing – you can love both but if you really had to choose, there should only be one answer. Trek is sexy and optimistic, but Wars is always the first choice.

Star Wars has always been the first choice.

Monday, December 11, 2017

This marriage is getting dorkier by the day

The lovely wife and I celebrated our 11th marriage anniversary last week, which means we've been living together in a house or flat on our own for about 13 years. Frankly, I'm baffled that we get invited anywhere as a couple anymore, because our conversation is just full of in-jokes and dumb TV show quotes, and we're the only people who know what the fuck we're talking about.

We were at a family barbecue last night, and couldn't resist throwing out a couple of quotes from Archer, and trying to do Tom Hardy's 'I have a use for you' from Taboo, even though nobody else had seen those shows. We just did it to make ourselves happy.

And if we're not doing that, we're boorishly going on about some travel that we did together, casually dropping some reference to the toilet situation in Mongolia or the goofiness of the reindeer in Lapland, even though nobody else could have any idea what we're on about. We're just awful like that.

We have some very different tastes - she's a Say Yes To The Dress fan, I'm more Storage Wars; she has a fatal weakness for period romances, I like my horror to be as gory and intense as inhumanly possible. But we also like a lot of the same stuff, and share a very general sense of humour, so we end up watching a lot of things together. We both like watching - and quoting from - things like South Park, Family Guy and Robot Chicken, although I'm the only one feeling stupidly guilty about it. The Simpsons is still the best at providing a quote for all occasions.

She never used to be this dorky. She'd never seen an episode of Doctor Who until we got married, and I started her on the soft stuff like Buffy, before getting her hooked on some serious nerdy shit like the Venture Bros. Now, quotes from all these TV shows and movies we watch together get stuck in our conversation, and we'll end up wondering how the singer of Depeche Mode could be so straight, or why the Crash Test Dummies make the best funeral music.

And if that's not enough, we're constantly tossing Malcolm Tucker insults at each other, and share the wit and wisdom of Scott Adkins' Boyka (especially the 'this is not punishment, this is training' line from Undisputed 2). Several favourite lines from The Wire regularly crop up, but must sound awful out of context, so we tend to keep those ones to ourselves at home.

After all, this shit doesn't even count the ultra-nauseating language we use around each other when we're alone, which should under no circumstances be shared with anybody. Pet names, and whispered secrets. (I once accidentally sent one of these terms of affection to a co-worker in an email he'd accidentally been CCed on, and I still pray to God every day that he doesn't remember it.)

In more than a decade together, she's changed me for the better - I dress better, I eat better, I am better. In return, I've made her considerably nerdier - during a recent stopover at a comic shop in Oslo, she bought something, while I walked out empty handed, and that's the first time that's ever happened.

But the most obvious example of this dorkcafication is in this secret code of half-remembered quotes and shared experiences. It's only going to get worse over the coming years, but sharing my life with this gorgeous, smart and capable woman is the great joy of my existence, and she's always going to be the only one I can talk to in this way. Eleven years is just the beginning.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Twin Peaks - The Final Dossier: The Official Handbook Of The Twin Peaks Universe (Deluxe Edition)

David Lynch is largely seen as the primary creator behind Twin Peaks. This is partly because he directed so much of it; partly because everything on the original show turned to crap when he wasn't around; and partly because the recent return to TV didn't just feel like a Twin Peaks revival, it felt like a thematic and literal sequel to all of his movies, from Eraserhead to Inland Empire.

But Mark Frost's contribution as co-creator should never be ignored. Some of the weirdest stuff in the entire history of Twin Peaks - which is usually immediately credited to Lynch - has come straight from Frost's brain. Agent Dale Cooper is often seen as a straight-up version of Lynch in his youth, but his steely, zen determination to do the right thing is also a fair reflection of Frost.

An accomplished novelist, Frost also book-ended this year's third season of the show with two publications, one that looked at the weird pseudo-history behind the show, and one that revealed a tonne of information about its strange ultra-present.

Neither of them are absolute essential, but both of them are a lot of fun.

The Secret History book - already discussed here - tied the bizarre events of Twin Peaks and its gateways to other worlds into the esoteric and occult history of the United States, weaving in the most far-out Fortean history with real unsolved mysteries, and trying to explain this mad modern world through the medium of other-dimensional contact.

Despite some incredible revelations, (especially around the town's decrepit newspaper publisher), the book didn't really have much of an impact on the new series, serving as an prelude to all the recent events, few of which even mentioned this mad history.

But The Final Dossier - the second book by Frost that sets out to fill in the blanks - ties a lot more directly into the new show, giving a new perspective on the weirdest events, and answering questions the TV story was never interested in addressing.

And there are loads and loads of revelations - it fills in the fates of Donna and Annie and Leo that were never discussed on the new show, while also offering brief glimpses of the future past that astonishingly bleak ending and of a new, slightly unsure reality where Laura never went inside the railway carriage.

It's fascinating, and addictive reading, filling in so many gaps. It explains what actually happened to Major Briggs and sorts out the difference between a tulpa and a doppelganger. It sorts out its own contradictions, like how Norma's Mom can be both dead in the ground and in the town in 1990, slagging off the decor of the Double R. Even the most inconsequential chapters can be funny as hell, like the vision of Jerry Horne turning an entire mountainside into his personal stereo, and some of it is genuinely moving - reading about Big Ed and Norma is almost as heartwarming as their long-delayed reunion on TV.

But still, despite proclaiming itself as a novel on the cover, it feels more like a reference book than anything else. There is so much information, and so much data, and not much of a plot. It's a lot of fun, but it's so totally inessential. The omissions of information on the show were there for a reason, building that sense of paranoia and confusion that the filmed story thrived upon, and there really isn't any need to explain it all so thoroughly.

Mind you, it might not even be canon. Lynch has famously waved it away as "Mark's version". Only dickheads get too hung about about canon, and this new book definitely falls onto the 'who gives a fuck' side of the equation. It's canon if you want. Or not.

In the meantime, it's one last trip back to the weird and wonderful town of Twin Peaks, and I'm always up for a visit. It might be inconsequential, but the most best things in life usually are.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Prophet: Food of the future makes me sick

The recent Prophet comic series by Brandon Graham and friends was set thousands and thousands of years in the future, in a universe where mankind has become effectively extinct, replaced by strange descendants and hybrids, as immortal superheroes transcend their physical dimensions and endless clones remain stuck in time.

It's a story with so few modern frames of reference that it can be hard to even follow what the hell is going on, a lot of the time. This confusion can only be intentional, because it makes for an intriguing reading experience, and because the creators have obviously put a huge amount of effort into making this world as alien as possible.

The comic is saturated in unknowable thought processes, and bizarre new cultures. There are beings whose very concept can not be fully grasped by human minds, and there is food that looks fucking disgusting.

The few surviving natives of Earth have all evolved into new forms, and new realities, but there are still all sorts of people who have to live in the shit, even if they might have sixteen arms and a gaping hole where their face should be. Whoever they are, they gotta eat to survive, and the nutrition they take in is probably something a modern 21st-century human would never be able to gag down.

Food comes up a lot in science fiction, but it is usually some kind of paste that is meant to taste like roast chicken. That's getting a little weird, but it's not like the food in Prophet, which is awful to look at, let alone put in your mouth and swallow. It's truly alien, in a way few other sci-fi stories never even bother thinking about.

But when the main characters of this space-spanning saga take a break from their galaxy-wide marauding, they are eating food with nauseating tendrils and tentacles, or going past a stall selling meat that looks suspiciously humanoid. If you somehow become immortal, and somehow survive the next few hundred years, you best get used to eating things that would disgust you now.

Food is always changing - you can only imagine what any lady or gentlemen from a scant 200 years ago would make of a McDonalds burger if you slammed it down in frobt of them, and there is no reason that we're going to be eating food that looks anything like our current menus, in even a few short decades. After thousands of years, there will be centuries of new culinary delights, moving further and further away from the food now served up on our plates.

And after all this time when humans are just another lost echo in this vast cosmos, you can bet the new survivors are eating something that looks really damn gross.

The world of Prophet is full of mad little future-shock moments like that, where something as simple as eating can be twisted into something that is just a tiny bit disconcerting and disorientating. You're far in the future now, says that meal.

It all made Prophet one of the most satisfying and challenging science fiction comics of the past decade. It's a great story, if you can stomach it all.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

My Friend Dahmer: The absense at the heart of the story

A frequent complaint about movie adaptions of books and comics is that the cinematic versions don't really get into the heads of their characters, not like the printed versions of the story can. That you can't ever really know a character's real thoughts and motivations when everything is so superficial on film - all surface, no feeling.

But sometimes, you might not actually want to understand the person at the heart of a story, because they're just so horrible, and sometimes, there's not even a real person there anyway.

Derf Backderf's My Friend Dahmer comic is an outstanding work by an incredibly talented creator, who just happened to go to high school with one of the most notorious serial killers of the 20th century. Jeffrey Dahmer raped, murdered and mutilated 17 people between 1978 and 1991, but before all that, he was just the class weirdo, putting on a desperate act to get any sort of attention. Even monsters have to go to high school, and Backderf was there too.

The brilliance of Backderf's book is that he plays it totally straight - he tells it how he remembers, with just a taste of things outside his experience, supplemented with small parts from other sources. Hie comic shows the strange behaviour that would ultimately lead to such horrendous murder, but never really judges the dumb kid who will become a terrible monster.

It's an extremely accessible story - I'm pretty sure it's the only comic book my sister-in-law has read in her entire life - with a unique perspective and Backderf's hilariously stiff and elongated caricatures keep it all from descending into total darkness.

Unsurprisingly, a film version of this story came out this year, to a generally positive reaction, and is a fairly accurate adaption of Backderf's comic, hitting all the right beats.

But it also loses something, by making Dahmer the main character of the story, showing lots of moments where young Jeffrey is staring creepily off into the distance, or closeted away with his roadkill 'experiments', or hanging out in the woods, watching possible future victims jog past, unaware of any danger.

In the book there is really is no proper attempt to understand Dahmer, or offer up some lame explanation for why he did the horrible things he did, while the movie, as well-intentioned as it is, can't help but be a Portrait Of A Serial Killer As A Young Man.

In Backderf's purer version - even with the supplemented material - there is a giant absence around Jeffrey Dahmer, and it can be seen in the way nobody ever does anything about the fact that he's coming to school smashed on vodka, or pretending to throw a fit. Nobody cares, nobody does anything.

That lack of caring about Dahmer and everything he does is one of the most horrific and despairing things about the story, and awfully familiar to anybody who has grown up in modern society. We alll know somebody who could have turned out to be a Dahmer. There was always somebody. Hell, when Backderf hears the news about his former classmate, Dahmer isn't even the first person he thinks of.

Ultimately, fuck Jeffrey Dahmer, who had to slaughter innocent people for his own perverted pleasures, and no amount of low motion walking around to a period-appropriate and tasteful soundtrack is going to change that. He's the void at the heart of the story, and it's everything that happened around him that needs to change if we're going to stop more living nightmares before they get started.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Mr Mamoulian: Being Brian Bolland

British comics artist Brian Bolland has built up a huge audience of loyal fans with his clean, crisp and consistent line, but it's not always so apparent how completely fucking weird his work can get.

His superhero comic covers show a deep love for the Silver Age style, often relying on some goofy premise played absolutely straight, although sometimes they can still end up in some very strange territory. His covers for Vertigo books such as The Invisibles and Animal Man showed a little of the weirdness behind his sharpness, but for the full strangeness of Bolland, you only have to look at his Mr Mamoulian strips.

The strips aren't as immediately eye-catching as, say, his Camelot 3000 work, with that distinctive and detailed sharpness fuzzed up to hell, and far more of a looser style, with the main character scratched into existence on the page. Occasionally, that familiar style will shine through, particularly when one of the attractive female characters in the strip shows up, but it isn't always so obvious that this is the same artist behind the Killing Joke.

This is not a bad thing - the effect is like looking at the 24-hour comics that several creators have taken a crack at, and it's a more immediate, and far more personal, window inside Bolland's thought-processes and feelings. It's certainly more real than his joyful renditions of the Flash or Wonder Woman, (although these certainly have their place).

It's total stream of consciousness storytelling in the Mamoulian strips, following the title character as he sits on park benches, has a cup of tea, or lies awake in existential dread in the middle of the night. Published in a variety of places over the years, and occasionally collected together, it can all appear a bit random and bizarre, but you get to see right inside Bolland's head like nothing else he does.

And, god bless him, it's a strange place in there. There is Bolland's obsessions with beautiful naked women, and bone-deep concerns about how he is objectifying them. Sometimes it gets completely nihilistic, sometimes it features a sizable cast characters all baffled by the complexities of modern life, and sometimes it all gets a bit Francis Bacon.

There is a grim sense of humour beneath all this modern misery, just enough to bring some life to the proceedings, and it runs from sheer slapstick - a mannequin's leg is a frequent prop - to grim irony over how fucked up everything is getting.

His ultra-detailed versions of characters like Judge Death and the Joker set the absolute standard, and that's enough for most of us. But dig a little deeper into the world of Mr Mamoulian, if you want to see the horrified stare behind those frozen grins.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Scream and Scream again!

I'm busy reading the first new Scream comic in decades today, so here's some shamelessly reprinted blogging from 2014, explaining why that's a huge deal for me:

Scream was an incredibly short-lived British weekly comic that came out in 1984. It was a horror comic, in exactly the same way 2000ad was a science fiction comic, and featured many of the same creators, and much of the same dark sense of humour.

It lasted 15 issues.

It might have been killed so quickly because of low sales, but there also seemed to be a general perception that Scream was just a bit too distasteful, especially with its target audience of young boys. It was corrupting the young minds of those nine-year-olds with all that gore and those disgusting monsters and disrespect for authority and grim, death-soaked endings.

That may all be true, but all I know for sure is that I was one of those nine-year-old boys at that time, and I was absolutely gutted when that comic got cancelled. It might have been the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

Because Scream was my first real comic obsession, and the first obsession is always the best.

It was the first comic where I went rabid for every new issue, and couldn't miss a single one without some kind of adolescent meltdown. It was one of the very rare comics that was advertised on New Zealand television, (and may even be the only comic that ever aired on TV, as far as I know), and it was instantly something I could get behind.

I'd been reading 2000ad on and off for a couple of years, but that comic was already well into its 100s by the time I came on board, and there were always weird gaps. There still are. But then I saw the covers for the second and third issues on the telly and I knew here was something where I could get in on the ground floor, right from the start.

It also helped that Scream lived up to the hype, and turned out to be a comic that was full of deeply creepy stories, with some fantastic art.

With all due hindsight, the stories were obviously fairly average, even if some of their more obvious twists and turns still blew my tiny mind.

But Scream had a dark, grimy tone that was largely set by the dark, grimy art. For instance, plot-wise, something like The Dracula File was a standard version of the classic vampire, with Drac making another power play for England. But Eric Bradbury's art looked like it was covered in decaying filth, as the vampire's undead rot spread out into a modern world of bike gangs and MI5 agents. The late, great Jose Ortiz had his own sweaty detailing in the terrified faces of the unfortunate folk who ended up visiting the Thirteenth Floor, and Jesus Redondo's scratchy realism gave the fearsome Uncle Terry in Monster plenty of humanity.

But when it came to really gross and disturbing art, Jim Watson's work for the Tales of The Grave strip was the best. It was the usual Victorian supernatural vengeance kind of thing, but Watson's characters were always these haggard, desiccated soul, with the darkest eyes imaginable. It was another strip that was full of gross death and violent retribution, and it had a graveyard fog curling through its plots.

Watson's art was gloriously horrible, and sometimes it was properly terrifying as a dead man's face loomed out of the gloom, and I lapped it up every week.

There were some nice moments in the scriptwork for Scream's stories – the first episode of Monster was written by Alan Moore, and is an unsettling tale of a boy trapped in an isolated old house, with something in the attack. And a lot of the comics one-off stories had an efficient punch, even if there are a bunch of unfamiliar names in the credits (Which usually means they're more pseudonyms for John Wagner and Alan Grant.)

And while the scripts for most of the Scream stuff were sub-EC horror nonsense, I never actually got to things like Tales From The Crypt until I was a grown adult, and every 'BUT HE WAS THE MONSTER ALL ALONG!' twist was new to me.

 This comic came out thirty years ago now, and I can still remember which corner shops and small supermarkets I got them from, (many of which are still hanging in there). I remember that it was one of the few comics that my Mum liked to read, and it was no problem getting the 55 cents I needed out of her, because she would always read it straight after me. I remember having to properly hunt down number nine and finding it on a trip to Dunedin, and I remember really wondering what editor Ghastly McNasty actually looked like under his hood. (They revealed it after the comic was cancelled. It wasn't that Ghastly.)

And I remember the sinking dread I felt when #16 didn't show up.

 There had been no warning, some stories were in mid-stream, it was just over. It took me a few weeks to realise that Scream had been killed before it had even really got going, and I knew it was all over when a couple of Scream stories were added to the Eagle title that was running at the time.

Even the nine-year-old me knew that's what they always did with dead comics. It was even called Eagle And Scream for a few months, before it was just Eagle again, and even The Thirteenth Floor and Monster were eventually wrapped up.

 Scream did exist in some sort of shambling half-life for a few years, with Scream Holiday Specials coming out every UK summer, but the quality quickly went out the window, and the last one they put out wasn't even called Scream, and that was that.

But that fondness I had for the comic never died, and just last week I bought all 15 issues again, without hesitation. The original 15 comics I bought off the shelves in 1984 had been lost, stolen or just fallen to pieces through overuse, so there was no question about getting them all again.

And they're still clunky, and creepy, and occasionally beautiful. I still love Scream like vampires love blood, (and it is nice to find out I'm not the only one – some other little monster has put all 15 issues up on the web here). My inner nine-year-old is still gutted that there were only 15 issues, but that's still 15 issues of bloody perfection.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Punisher: Don't be like him

The Punisher is a fucking nightmare. A relentless killing machine who has slaughtered thousands of people, and a fanatical gun nut whose mad obsession with revenge goes against everything a decent civilization should aspire to. He's the American dream, gone sour.

Unsurprisingly, there have been a shit-tonne of terrible Punisher comics, ones that try to justify this twisted philosophy, or are too superficial to even consider the possibility. But there have also been some great Punisher comics, and they usually get there by taking one of two paths.

The first is to go over the top and full-on crazy, and embrace the absurdity of this crazy old bastard's unstoppability. Frank Castle works as a total cartoon because anyone who tried to emulate him in real life would last a day and a half before taking a bullet to the face, so turn the dial up to 11 and let him loose. The more outrageous the story gets, the better, and some of the great Punisher comics have been damned outrageous.

The other way to do it is to take it all dead straight, but ensure that the Punisher is totally self-aware, like a character in a Michael Mann film. Those characters often, at first glance, appear to be little more than superficial cliches, but they're all so self-aware of what they are and what they do, they come across as real people.

Sometimes - though not often - Frank Castle sees his reflection in the mirror and recognises himself for what he is. A man whose soul and compassion have been torn away, leaving only the will to continue. A husk of a human being, incapable of feeling or empathy because he has locked it all away. Sometimes, the Punisher sees the long, cold dark night he has made of his life.

He's still not going to change, he's never going to change, his rage burns eternal. But he's not going to lie about the reasons he does what he does, that kind of hypocrisy will only get in the way. He knows what he is and he's not going to stop now.

The latest TV iteration of the character has flirted with both of these aspects to the Punisher. It's gone for the spectacle, while also showing that this is a deeply broken man inside. But it hasn't really embraced any one philosophy, and this kind of ideological cowardice makes for bland storytelling. Shit or get off the pot, show some spine. Tell us who your Frank Castle is - there are extra points if you can come up with a third path to make him a tolerable character.

It's genuinely appalling to see people like law enforcement officers unironically use the Punisher's iconography on their vehicles and uniforms, because they seem to be learning all the wrong lessons from Castle's classroom. He's got so much else to say, if you can hear him over the gunfire.

Monday, November 20, 2017

This is what happens when the local comic shop starts selling by the kilo

My local comic shop had a kilo sale this past weekend, selling off the dregs of recently-bought collections by weight - $20 a kilo, which actually works out to be about $1.20 an issue. Bargain.

In this comic-starved country, I go a little crazy at these kinds of things. It was actually a little reassuring to see there was already a line waiting to go through the two-dozen comic boxes when I arrived five minutes after it started, because it's nice to know I'm not the only fucking dork around here that does this sort of thing.

There were huge runs of great stuff I've already got - vast amounts of the Ennis/McCrea Hitman, almost all of the late eighties Justice League and loads of old-school X-Men. There was also tonnes of trash - endless and pointless Ultimate comics. huge amounts of licensed character dreck with a tiny, fanatic fanbase.

Most of the things I buy now are small, dedicated comics. The slightly weird, the quirky shit and more than a few exercises in base nostalgia. These are the kind of things I get when I buy three kilograms worth of comics nowadays:

* All of Marvel's original Contest of Champions series and half of the trippy Havok/Wolverine Meltdown mini.

* A surprisingly large amount of Dylan Horrocks' Pickle comics, which apparently used to sell in chain bookstores around here.

* The first issue of Englehart and Rogers' Silver Surfer, and now I feel bad for passive-aggressively trashing them the other day, because this is cosmic as fuck, man.

* Every issue in the Three comic by Gillen, Kelly and Bellaire.

* Three-quarters of a Mark Millar comic, and some of Grant Morrison's Klaus.

* A couple of Kirby's Losers issues, and some Galactus reprint thing by the King.

* Some more of Bendis' fairly recent X-Men comics. I just really, really like the art teams they had on those stories.

* A lot of beat-up-to-shit bronze age comics from the 70s and 80s - a few Fantastic Fours, some of Starklin's Captain Marvel, a Strangest Sports Stories Ever Told, a War of the Worlds, one Haney/Aparo Brave and the Bold, half of Barry Windsor-Smith's Machine Man series and a Fantasy Masterpiece or two.

* A couple of issues of Alan Moore's Providence. I only get it cheap, because of that fucking art.

* Two early Spider-Man comics by Todd McFarlane.

* The very first Warlord comic by Mike Grell.

* Three issues of Rob Liefeld's New Mutants, which were terrible comics when I got rid of them the first time, and are still terrible comics now, but bloody hell, it's nice to feel like I'm 16 again.

* Three issues of Jamie Delano and John Higgins' gorgeous World Without End.

* Joe Sacco's Bumf comic.

Some of this stuff is fucking great, and some of it is merely interesting, and some of it is total rubbish. But that's the kind of thing I get when I get three kilos of comic these days.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Twin Peaks soundtracks: It's a whisper, it is always just a dream

Driving randomly around the outer suburbs after midnight, with the car speakers playing sweet little melodies, disconcertingly ominous droning and someone crying about sycamore trees. Going past all the dull, normal houses where a thousand secrets hide behind the closed curtains, every house closed up and dark for the night, but still alive with a thousand stories.

Or it's even later at night and there is more of it on the Walkman/MP3 player/phone, walking back from town to a snap-happy beat, some nightmare nightclub music, or a tune that gives me a real indication about a laugh coming on.

Either way, getting around town late at night is always a million times cooler when you've got some music from Twin Peaks with you.

For a quarter of a century, that has mainly meant a steady diet of Angelo Badalamenti, but there is so much more now. The recent return of Twin Peaks wasn't just the best television in a decade, it was also a terrific variety show, with heaps of achingly cool musical acts showing up to perform a tune.

Almost all of the songs played at the show's roadhouse have been collected into a soundtrack album - along with some of the background tunes -and right now that's all I want to listen to, mainly when it's really late at night, or really early in the morning.

It's a gorgeous soundtrack album, full of familiar old music and brand new artists. There is a short reprise of that eternal theme music, with his languid and lamenting bass line, and it closes out with the ethereal Julee Cruise, but there is a bunch more than just that.

There are several pop acts who are beautifully energetic and earnest, with all the synths turned up to 11. There are also some deeply unironic 50s love ballads, and a couple of tunes that are totally uncool - James' dopey song is in there, and there is even a ZZ Top tune, for crying out loud.

But it all works, with the kind of eclectic mixture that makes a truly great soundtrack album. It goes from Sharon Van Etten straight into the Nine Inch Nails at their most NIN, and finds room for the unmistakable groove of Green Onions before showcasing the Veils at their most un-Veil. And then it all climaxes with the transcendental wonder of a live Otis Redding track.

There are the usual sad omissions - there's another fucking awesome Au Revoir Simone song that doesn't make it onto the final set list, and it could have used a bit of Badalamenti's delicate piano from the scene were Cooper finally got his cherry pie - but a large part of the new Twin Peaks series was about how it wouldn't always give you what you wanted, so you've got to expect the same from the soundtrack.

The roadhouse in Twin Peaks is both part of the show's reality, and something beyond that as a place that exists only in dreams, and each song has some kind of symbolic reference in the episode it appears in, and there are all sorts of depths hiding behind the cheeriest of tunes.

I don't know what any of it means, and I'm not really interested in trying to nut it out for a while yet. All I really know is this - while it doesn't sound much like the other Twin Peaks soundtracks that I've bopping around to since the early 90s, there is no other music I want to hear more when I head back out into the dark.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!: Pat Mills sets the story straight

The personal memoir is a great way to settle scores and get even, and even though Pat Mills has been doing plenty of both in his long and brilliant comics career, his new self-published memoir about the "secret history" of 2000ad is Mills' best opportunity to really tell his side of the story.

It's no exaggeration to say Pat Mills changed the face of British comics. He created 2000ad and was a major developer in the character of Judge Dredd. He has written and commissioned some of the best stories ever published in the UK, and formed fruitful long-term alliances with artists like Kevin O'Neill. He co-created the wonderful Marshall Law, and detests super-heroes as total fascist bully-boys. He still writes great comics for 2000ad to this day - his Defoe, Greysuit, Flesh and Slaine comics are still a vital ingredient in the ever-changing make-up of the galaxy's greatest comic

All of this is fully covered in Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! - the title comes from the catchphrase of Torquemada, the biggest douchebag ever created in UK comics - with Mills going back over his long career, and revealing the stories behind the stories. There are dozens of fascinating anecdotes in the book about his long association with the comic industry, and he goes particularly deep on the earlier phase of his career, when he was first creating 2000ad.

As well as writing about who created what and revealing details of some of his many battles with management, Mills also makes some compelling arguments for the difference between the creator and the developer of a major character, recognising that both have an important part to play, but that there really is a distinct difference.

Mills - who has been fighting the good fight since before you were born - fills his stories with working class heroes, and usually has empathy-lacking toffs as the bad guys. In his new book, he reveals that he doesn't just talk the talk when it comes to sticking it to the man, as he spends a large amount of the book explaining the injustices of the current system, especially in his home country. The fury he feels when creators are routinely screwed over by faceless management who can only find beauty in the balance sheet is all right there, radiating off the page.

Mills' prose style can become something of a rant against the fuckers and fools who get in his way, but it doesn't overwhelm the text. It also helps that this isn't a dry, academic trawl through his bibliography - it is roughly chronological, but bounces back and forth in time as Mills often gets sidetracked into explaining a pet peeve or some ideological injustice, or follows his relationship with a character or a fellow creator all the way through.

After all his years in the industry, Mills has some definite and fixed ideas on what makes good comics and how creators should be treated, and has a few harsh words about editors who keep giving in to the demands of fanboy culture - Mills likes his fans on the individual level, but is appalled when they join a nerd hive-mind and decide on the direction of a comic, away from a mainstream audience who might save it.

Mills also has a go at the unfortunate treatment of former co-writer Tony Skinner, just because he was a full-on, balls-out witch; and frequently refers to the dark period of 2000ad (although this is still a debatable point - I personally think it started in the mid 90s, a lot earlier than Mills believes - but the beauty of reading a book by somebody with such strong opinions is that you're never going to agree with them on everything).

But still, even with all his fiery rhetoric, Mills is a bit of a softie at heart - laying down praise for fellow writers like Gerry Finley-Day, or talking up the efforts of current 2000ad editor Matt Smith. He's also surprisingly willing to bury the hatchet with someone if they apologise. One former editor with whom he had some very public clashes gets off lightly in the book, largely because he took the time to write an apology for the way he dealt with Mills during his tenure as Tharg.

Mills refusal to slag off somebody who has made amends means this book isn't as comprehensive as it could be, but again, that's part of the charm. Mills knows what makes a good story, and that's more than enough.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Silver Surfer: Blinded by the gleam of his heavenly arse

Kirby's Silver Surfer had the power, Buscema's Surfer had the passion and Moebius' Surfer had the grace, but none of them were ever as shiny as Ron Lim's Silver Surfer.

The start of the Surfer's longest-running solo title saw the big man soar away from Earth in the late eighties, straight into a full-on galactic war and immortal vengeance. But with all due respect to the late, great Marshall Rogers, it was all a bit pastel. Steve Englehart's scripts reached for the cosmic, but Rogers' art was always a bit thin, and a bit forced - the artist always looked a little more comfortable with the street-level grime of a Batman story or creepy mood of a DC horror comic.

After Rogers got the series rolling with the first dozen issues, it was Ron Lim - who would draw the character full-time for the next six years - who gave that classic Marvel character a new and thoroughly modern gleam.

Lim was a contemporary of the Image crew, but never quite grabbed same kind of fanboy adoration during that period. His work eschewed the scratchiness of artists like Lee or Liefeld, and was simple and clear, rather more than powerful and exciting. His figurework could be stiff, his design was rarely more than serviceable, and there was a general blankness to his faces that could be off-putting.

But he was perfect for the Silver Surfer in the late '80s and early '90s. While his art couldn't match the sheer balls-out power of previous Surfer artists, he swiftly found a way to make a bald naked bloke covered in skintight metal look visually interesting, and that was by buffing the shit out of the Surfer's body.

In Ron Lim's Silver Surfer comics, every part of the title character's body gleamed and shined, with light bouncing off every kink in his smooth muscles. Lim's Surfer was always a bright source of cosmic light, burning with an inner fire, while his glossy exterior reflected every light source around, bouncing back the cosmic grandeur of the universe back at itself.

When he was surrounded by fire, he would reflect back every lick of flame, looking like a badass humanoid hot-rod from hell, and the light of distant stars would sparkle across his arse as he sailed through the infinite void on his dopey board.

And for all those small limitations at portraying a truly human expression, Lim also did a surprisingly good exasperated or befuddled Surfer, given some emotion to a face without hair or pupils or anything. He was given plenty of chances to do this when Jim Starlin came onboard as writer. As well as resurrecting Thanos after a decade as a statue, Starlin brought a much-needed sense of the absurd to Norrin Radd's meandering through the cosmos, and frequently sent the Surfer to the very limits of weirdness and pointlessness.

But through it all, Ron Lim's Silver Surfer shined on, especially when Marvel started upgrading its paper and printing stock, and made Lim's work even brighter and clearer. It's also little surprise that one of the most successful foil covers of the time used Lim's art to give the Surfer another dimension of gleam on the cover of #50.

Lim's enthusiasm for the Surfer's chrome overhaul was eventually worn down by overwork, and by the end of the last Infinity Gauntlet sequels, Lim was spending too much time cramming a thousand characters into a panel. There wasn't the time to get the Surfer gleaming when he's just one tiny element on the page, and when Lim moved on to other projects, they never shined as hard.

There have been plenty of groovy Silver Surfer comics since then, right up to Mike Allred's wonderfully fluid art. But even with all the improvements in paper and effects, the Silver Surfer has never again gleamed that eternal, not like he did in Lim's hands.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Grandville - Force Majeure: Packed tighter than a badger's den

In the afterword for his fifth and final Grandville book, ace comic creator Bryan Talbot reveals that part of the reason he's packing it in is that it takes him so bloody long to do each book. With the benefit of digital art editing, it can take him up to 40 hours to do a single page, because he's a total perfectionist who can't resist tinkering with the image over and over again.

The results are right there on the page - Force Majeure shares with the other Grandville books a lush, vivid and exciting visual sense - but it's a tonne of work for the artist, and he's earned the right to do something different now.

After all, that 40 hours doesn't even include all the time he spends setting up the plot, and while each of the Grandville books has had a complex story, with a huge amount of detail and incident, Force Majure is particularly dense as hell, full of dodgy dinosaurs and dense deductive reasoning.

There are also doppelgangers and double-crosses and clandestine escapes and fake deaths and long-simmering conspiracies going right to the top of the bureaucratic pole. There are cracking headbutts and huge gunfights and old mentors lured out of retirement, for one last case. There are several different big mysteries going on at once in this volume, and still room for extended flashback sequences and miniature stories within stories - all perfectly balanced with the fine craft of a clockwork watch.

And, as always, there is loads of violence. The latest story in Talbot's anthropomorphic phantasmagoria of an alternate world is kicked off my a terrible act of violence at a restaurant - nobody quite captures the horror of a machine-gun massacre like Talbot - and ultimately leads to the familiar sight of Detective Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard strapping on his big fuck-off guns and unleashing some righteous vengeance on some nasty fools.

Despite a few 'all is lost' moments -and an astronomical body count - Force Majeure ends the Grandville series on a fairly optimistic note. Each book was getting progressively darker as the grim secrets of this alternate world and its complicated society were peeled away, ultimately leading to the decidedly grim previous volume, which revolved around a hidden and ancient genocide of the dough-faced human species, by other bipeds desperate to hide the fact that humans were the original Adam and Eve in the bible.

With the anticipated finality of this last book, there is definitely added peril when LeBrock admits that he is unlikely to come back from this climactic confrontation - there is a good chance this tough old badger really will fall this time. Anything could happen, and it looks increasingly likely that it's all going to go very bad.

You'll have to read the book for yourself to see if LeBrock digs himself out of this particular hole, but you can be reassured that it's a suitable and fitting ending for the Grandville story. You wouldn't expect anything less from a comic crafted by Bryan Talbot, who has been delivering the goods for decades, and the bitter taste of no more future Grandville books is made all the sweeter by any potential new stories from the artist.

After all, there aren't many of his contemporaries who can manage to make this kind of complex storytelling and dynamic art look so easy, even though he has been labouring over the finer details for bloody ages.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

There and back again with the bloody Moomins

I fucking love travel.

I love the strange city streets and familiar airport lounges. I love struggling with the local language and resorting to grunts and pointing. I love the subway systems of all the world's big cities, and how convenient and easy they are to figure out. I love the culture and the history and the people and the architecture and the food.

Oh my god, the food. In the past month, we ate steak in Argentina, tea in Versailles and ramen in central London. In Copenhagen, we scoffed the best cake I've ever eaten, some smorrebrod and snaps for lunch and an eight-course meal at a Michelin star outfit, all in one day. We ate Max Burger with extra cheese in Oslo, devoured lemon chicken in Hong Kong and I discovered that I'm more Swedish than I thought, because the traditional meal of mashed spuds and meatballs turned out to be the kind of brilliantly boring meal I grew up on. We also ate at three different Moomin cafes, because the lovely wife thinks they're adorable.

The museums and art galleries and sites of great history are all well and good, but I can still taste that smorrebrod and snaps.

I love it when things get a bit rough.

Getting lost in the rain in Finland and jumping on a tram illegally to get out of it, and then delayed flights and long hours trying to get the bloody airport wifi working. Under-estimating distance and and overconfidence in overcoming the jetlag leading to more grim death marches around the city streets.

It's all a pain, but it all becomes a great story when you get back home again. You forget all the bad shit, and it all just becomes another story.

I love being out of contact. We still have wi-fi in all the hotels, so it's easy to keep up with all the news. Still checking every morning to see if we had a government back in NZ, or to see if there is a new Closer Look video from , or to follow the massive shit-show that has followed the inevitable fall of the odious Harvey Weinstein, but it's just checking in, there isn't time to follow all the latest developments in everything.

There's too much to do in a day to sit around and read all the latest hot takes on international geo-politics, or the latest announcements from Marvel and DC. Instead, I catch up on everything when I get back - the day allocated for jetlag issues is spent binging on all the dorky news I can handle and it takes hours to get through it all, but by the end, it's all just a bit hard to find anything I really give a shit about.

I mean, I saw a bunch of websites telling me that the forthcoming crossover between the original Battlestar Galactica and the rebooted crew was something to get excited about, but it wasn't. It really wasn't. Nobody needs that.

And shit yeah, I love looking for comic shops on the far side of the world. There were always going to be some I looked up before we left home, but just the ones in England - travelling around Scandinavia, I only looked up the local stores when I arrived in town.

And I stumbled across a couple completely by accident, but after years of prtending to stumble across comic shops all over the world, the lovely wife never believes that any more. But it's true, I don't pretend not to know if there are new comic shops in the latest town we're passing through, because I know I'm never fooling her. But then I am instinctively drawn to the parts of town that do have comic shops, so we inevitably accidentally run into them. Our first night in Stockholm, we go to this sweet little restaurant in Old Town, and I'm scarfing down the lingonberries when I see a shop with a bucket of Vertigo comic back issues across the road. She's never going to believe that's the accident it really was. 

Still, I go to the wool and craft shops with her, and she puts up with my dumb comic shop obsession, and it all works out. Even though I regularly have that thing of walking out of shops disappointed by the way the medium has got away from me, I still seek them out.

And I find the stores in Norway and Denmark were clean and precise and had very, very few actual comic issues, relying instead of some primo collections, trade paperbacks and hardbacks. And it wasn't hard to find Finland has a humongous amount of translated material, dating back decades and decades, and I spent so much time convincing the wife she didn't need one of the innumerable Moomin comics, until I was forced to admit that I had already ordered her the ultimate Moomin book as a Christmas special.

But oh man, I went hard on the comics when I could, and found crucial back issues and weird comics all over the world.

In London, there were missing 2000ads and the issue of the comics journal with the Dylan Horrocks interview and gross old Judge Dredd Megazine yearbooks from the early nineties. I was hugely disappointed that I couldn't find Pat Mill's terrific 2000ad memoir in the main Forbidden Planet story on Shaftsbery Ave, although the shop at the Cartoon Museum came through, as always.

In Helsinki, I get completely fucking lost in an underground mall complex in the centre of town, looking for a comic/gaming store that proves to be another clean and dull outfit, but then I find this second hand store with a back room full of comic goodness, and I come away from there with a book about the brilliant Nick Cardy, the long, long desired You are Margaret Thatcher by Mills and Emerson, and an Excalibur comic from 1990 I'd never seen before.

And everywhere, there were Silver Surfer comics and Batman annuals from the early nineties, and loads of odd random bronze age stuff, from here and there.

It doesn't stop there. There is some surprisingly cheap Dan Clowes in Stockholm, which is always welcome, but all I take away from Oslo is the memory of that fucking park with the weird statues and a book about gritty horror novels from the seventies and eighties.

I can't even remember where I got the Jim Aparo Brave and the Bold  comics, but it was somewhere along the way. Same with the BPRD, Johnny Red, Stray Bullets and Lazarus comics that fill out irritatingly itch gaps, as well as the long-term projects like Peter Milligan's Shade The Changing Man and Hellblazer comics.

I only ever bought one issue of Shade brand new off the shelf ,and have been hunting down the rest of that series since the early nineties. I'm only nine issues away from getting 'em all, so that's probably a couple more overseas trips away.

They get fuckin' heavy, these things, but I never, ever complain about how hard it is to drag all these comics from airport to airport, from one side of the world. That's my choice and it's worth the shoulder ache.

The day we got back from a month overseas, I went straight to the last day of the local annual comic convention and loaded up on even more comics, desperately flipping through comic bins before the jetlag really kicked in. I dragged this heavy-ass shit around the world, I'm hardly going to stop now.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #31. I choose comics

We all go through that moment where we wonder if we're getting too old for this shit. Usually somewhere in the teens, we wonder if we should give up childhood pleasures, and focus more on the grown-up world. It's a real choice.

I'm at home in Temuka, somewhere in the very early nineties, and I'm really thinking that maybe I should give up these stupid comics and be more of an adult, but I just got the first issue of the New Warriors, and it's so slick and so fresh and so new...

I choose comics. I choose comics, and the physical shackles of having a mad, sprawling collection that I'm only just getting under control now. I choose comics, and a lifetime of seeking out and hording the bloody things, and I have never, for one second, regretted that choice.

I choose comics, or they choose me. No difference, same thing.

Monday, October 30, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #30: The night the Doctor came back

The night Doctor Who finally comes back on air after 15 years in the wilderness, I should be on the couch, ready and waiting for the return of the best TV programme ever, ready for another adventure in time and space.

Instead, I’m in the back of an ambulance, helping keep a car crash victim steady after a cop called out for help when I was covering the incident for the local newspaper, and the show can bloody well wait.

It’s the right thing to do. It’s the Doctor thing to do.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #29. Upgrading to CDs with Pulp

When we get home from the pub at three in the morning, the video for the new single from Pulp – Disco 2000 – is playing on the TV, and I realise I have to get a CD player.

This is a time when the year 2000 still sounded a long way off, but I was still well behind the ball on getting a CD machine. This is nothing new, I am terminally slow at catching up with the latest tech, and I was still happy with the massive pile of cassette tapes I’d been blasting for the past decade.

But that Pulp song sounded so new and so modern, I had to get the Different Class album on the slickest format. So the very next morning, still hungover as hell, I get a new stereo system on HP, and get the album, and also get a free tee-shirt that is down the bottom of the wardrobe. Result.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #28: Preachering in Monument Valley

When you’re growing up on the arse end of the world, Monument Valley - and its epic evocation of the American West - might as well have been on the moon. I never expected to actually get there one day, but I wasn’t surprised that the first thing I wanted to do when I stood in the shadow of those literally awesome monoliths was read that issue of Preacher that was set there.

Friday, October 27, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #27: Khan’s wrath made a great first date

I’m only 7 when the second star Trek film comes out. I hadn’t even seen the first one (although I still, to this day, have my little Spock and Kirk and Ilia action figures, which proved a lot more durable that their Star Wars counterparts).

But I’ve seen the ads on the telly, and am desperate to see the new film, and only slightly horrified when my Mum only lets me go if I go on a date with Katie, a girl from my neighbourhood. Despite my intense and entirely rational fear of cooties, I get over it for the Star Trek.

Me and Katie have a great time, and she’s into the film even more than I am, showing this dumb little boy that girls can like the nerdy stuff too. It's not a bloody competition. We can just enjoy it together.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #26: New roads open up at the airport

It’s all very sad, saying goodbye to my big sister, who is off to live in Australia for a few years, but after saying goodbye at the gate, I am heading straight for the airport bookstore, because holy shit, it’s a DC motherlode in there.

For some reason, the bookshop there has a tonne of DC comics from the past few years, all going super cheap, and it’s not just the junk, it’s all the great, weird late ‘80s/early 90s comics, and a large chunk of Armageddon 2001 annuals.

I’m all loaded up with asparagus-picking money and go a bit crazy and buy heaps of the slick new thrills. Most of these comics never come close to my little corner of the world, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen a lot of them.

That’s where I first read my first issue of Sandman, and my first Hellblazer, and the first Doom Patrol.  They’re only bite-sized chunks of these brilliant comic sagas, but it leaves a huge hunger for more that is still barely sated.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #25: Tom Baker’s grin

When I see Tom Baker’s big goofy grin staring up at me from pile of junk put out on the street for the local council’s latest round of inorganic collections, my first thought is that there is no way that it could be part of a pile of hundreds of Doctor Who Magazine back issues, impossible to find anywhere, just sitting on the road, ready for anybody to pick up and take away.

But that’s exactly what it bloody well is.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #24: Bonding for life over the Judge Child

So this kid Kyle, who I’ve just met after starting Miss Green’s class at Temuka Primary in early 1985, he reckons he’s into comics too, and says he’ll lend me the issue of the Judge Child Quest, if I want. He seems pretty cool.

Thirty-three years later, we’re still incredible geeks about things like Doctor Who and the X-Men. We’re a hell of a lot older now, but when it comes to this shit, we never really grew up.

The other week we went for an eight-hour drive just to go check out the comic book possibilities of Dunedin. He still seems pretty cool.

Monday, October 23, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #23: Birthday movies

My birthday is exactly one week after New Year's, so usually falls on the one weekend of the year nobody wants to party any more.

So from a very young age, instead of parties, I grab some mates and go to the movies. I see a Bill and Ted film for my 17th, waste one birthday at the godawful Batman Forever, and see at least three different Star Trek films.

The best was probably my 40th, when I see John Wick at some hipster cinema in Portland, Oregon, after a night of deep degustation and classic video games. Some people want to rock all night and party every day, but I'd rather sit in the dark with the wife and watch Keanu shoot gangster scum in the face.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #22: Break open your heart

The only right and proper place in all of this gleaming, shining space-time curve of the universe to read the Invisibles is on some beach in the mid-1990s, brain swirling with a cocktail of drugs and alcohol and dodgy existential ideas.

It always worked for me, anyway.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #21: One day of geek hell

Sometime in 2003, I visit my little sister in Sydney, and it's great to catch up, and the short holiday gets even better when I find a bunch of 2000ads going cheap at a second-hand place in the centre of town.

I'm in a peak 2000ad period, and especially obsessed with the latest deepening of the Judge Dredd and the balls-to-the-wall thrills of Nikolai Dante. So I'm trying to snap up all the issues I've missed over the past eight years, a task that is proving surprisingly difficult, and when I see ones that are only a couple of years old, going for an Aussie buck each, I grab a fucking shit-ton of them.

To be more accurate, I end up walking out of there with about seven of eight kilograms worth of comics, which isn't a big deal, until I remember that my sister's place is a good few kays away from the train station, and I gotta walk there in the early summer heat, because I've blown all my cash on comics.

There have been a couple of times when being a total fucking nerd has almost got me killed, and this was one of them. I sometimes think that if I die and go to hell, it will all go a bit Sisyphus, and it will be something like that endless fucking walk along baking Sydney streets, carrying a dead weight of printed paper and getting weaker and weaker, and getting to the end of the journey, only to discover they were a bunch of issues I already have.