Thursday, October 28, 2010

Oh my God, I am such a geek.

* I was walking to work yesterday, and it was such a beautiful day that I took my shoes off as I walked through a park, and it was all lovely until I realised I was dressed exactly like Jack Hawksmoor.

* I recognised Sylvester McCoy’s laugh from more than 30 metres away across a crowded con floor.

* I was sending an email to a mate, and promised to bring him some hot Iron Fist action when I saw him later that day and it was only after I sent it that I realised it sounded like I was bringing around some bad porn.

* I bought Fantastic Four #43 for five bucks and my heart literally skipped a beat and I thought I was having a bloody heart attack. What a brilliant way to die!

* I am actually angry about the fact that I forgot the latest episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures had the Doctor in it.

* I honestly think a recent Judge Dredd story was the best comic I’ve read all year. Bar none.

* I can still recite every fucking word of the last episode of The Prisoner.

* I found a new Big Book this year!

* Every time that I see or hear something about a heatwave in the USA, and they talk about the temperature topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit, I always, always think of a panel from a 1982 Batman comic where the Caped Crusader is sweating like a hog under his cowl, while a radio says it’s going to reach 110. The Dark Knight never looked so uncomfortable

* I borrowed this beautiful book about Brain Bolland from Spatula Nik and I don’t ever want to give it back.

* Two moments of Paul McGann goodness in less than 18 hours – hearing the big man give a Q&A after a screening of Withnail & I, and then seeing him model part of a new costume and sonic screwdriver for the Eighth Doctor the next morning. I would go gay for Fassbender and Statham and Mark Millar, and now I would go gay for McGann too.

* A couple of weeks ago, I spent half an hour telling somebody how rubbish Y: The Last Man was. In retrospect, this may have been a bit much.

* I have created a list of all the comic books I want to buy, because I get easily confused, and I've put that list down on two business card-sized peiecs of cardboard. All the 2000ad and Cerebus and Bacchus and Shade The Changing Man and Lobo: Unamerican Gladiators I need. And it's so pretty I keep sneaking peeks at it. It's the best looking list I've ever made.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Con haul - Armageddon that!

I try to get all cynical and jaded about going to a comic convention, but I just can’t do it.

I’ve been to less than half a dozen conventions ever, and my first was only a couple of years ago, so there is plenty of time for things to get sour. Armageddon in Auckland is the biggest geek convention, and it’s on this weekend. It’s the usual mix of weird inter-geek rivalries and a craven desire to cater to every part of the nerd spectrum, but I’m there for the comics.

I can cope with the bottlenecks and the smug heat and ducking those fucking imitation swords that dickheads put on their back, if it means I can get to all those good, cheap comics.

There was a tremendous amount of thought that went into my latest con experience this weekend. I wanted something new and something old and something slick and something rough and a little bit of everything.

And this is what I ended up with:

After taking that picture, I really wanted to roll around on top of this old, musty paper. Who wouldn't? Look at it! It's beautiful! But I thought the comics might fall apart.


* There is a shameless lack of non-Marvel and DC comics in there, (although I finally managed to get the first issue of Berlin) and it’s all my own fault. But it’s actually a lot, lot easier to get hold of copies of something by Dan Clowes in a dozen local bookshops, than it is to get $2 issues of Namor The Sub-Mariner at the convention. I can go into half a dozen stores and buy David Boring tomorrow, but I’d rather have some vintage Imperius Rex!

Make no mistake, this slow creep of wildly alternative comics into the most mainstream of bookstores is a great thing – it’s brilliant to see things like Tales Designed To Thrizzle in a Borders outlet.

But I go to these conventions with great eagerness to get something I can’t get elsewhere. I’m in love with old, beaten up comics from the fifties, sixties and seventies. While it’s not a very healthy relationship, it is fun. I don’t want pristine Marvel Pop Art Productions, I want comics that have been loved just a bit too much.

And Armageddon provides – Jimmy Olsen issues from before Kirby made the comic kool, 100-page issues of Adventure Comics, beaten-up issues of Two-Fisted Tales with brilliant John Severin art, all for a couple of bucks.

* I bought four issues of the Fantastic Four from the months when Kirby dumped the title for the price of a new issue of New Avengers. That’s just not right.

* The best $2 buy is a toss-up between Batman #194 from August 1967 with the terrific cover featuring Blockbuster beating the bejeezus out of a stone Batman logo, or the Justice League comic that was published in the same month JFK was shot and Doctor Who started.

* I’m not stuck completely in the ancient past. There were also some Ennis that I’d missed over the years, some early Justice League Europe, some NextWave, cheap Punisher and Iron Fist trades. Filling those holes, one day at a time.

* And there is always room for something new – picking up random series like a couple of issues of Wolfman/Colan’s slightly creepy Night Force or Aaron/Stewart’s The Other Side. Bits and pieces of here and there.

* I always like to get something by the local artists, so I got another Jared Lane comic, because his Phillip Bond-isms are not quite distracting enough. And I got some really nice mini-mini comics by the Sheehan brothers, which were sparse and disturbing.

* I also got the chance to pick up the reprint of Matt Wagner's earliest Grendel comics dirt cheap, which was a pleasent surprise, but not as surprising as finding Timothy Callahan's 'Grant Morrison: The Early Years' for two dollars. After glancing at it, the book is a bit too much into analysis and misses a lot of the emotional heart Morrison always stitches into his work, but I can't complain for two bucks.

* Speaking off Morrison: Got ya, you bastard!

* Outside of the comics, the nicest thing about going to a convention was getting to tell Lloyd Kaufman how much I loved Troma films when I was a teenager, or hearing the Seventh Doctor talk about getting a costume fitting for The Hobbit. That was nice.

* I’m totally going back tomorrow, and I’m getting more of those Jimmy Olsens.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nothing but crumbs

The lack of super-punching in Superman Returns was a fatal flaw, but the scene in which he stops a plane plummeting from the edge of space was a wonderful slice of cinema. It has power and speed and momentum, in a movie that was often lacking all three.

But considering how often superheroes stop planes falling out of the sky, runaway construction equipment from crushing people and workers plummeting from high rises, you really have to wonder about the health and safety practices of the DC universe.

Is it just written into safety legislation? When Lex Luthor builds another skyscraper in Metropolis, does he save money on safety harnesses and ropes by just assuming that Superman will be passing by at any given time?

Furthermore, a scientific study of plane crashes in the DC universe shows that aircraft lose their hydraulics or have an engine flame out on them roughly seventeen times a month, which would really make the average DC commuter a little concerned for their wellbeing when travelling around the country. All things considered, they're probably better off taking a bath in radioactive toxic sludge and hope that gives them the ability to fly.

The image of a superhero wrestling one of mankind’s grandest technological achievements out of the sky and down safely to Earth is undeniably a strong one, but it’s also become a tired one. The heavy influence of realism in modern comics has got some more mileage out of the idea, but after Garth Ennis showed how hard it was to stop a plane in full flight in that magnificently horrible issue of The Boys that dealt with 9/11, there isn’t much further you can go.

Maybe, just maybe, we don't ever need to see Superman catch a jumbo jet ever again, and the writers could come up with another way for the character

Maybe that’s where the real danger lies.

* * *

A while back, I was listening to a nice little news/culture radio station on my mp3 player as I walked home in the rain from work.

Unfortunately, the station was transmitting a panel discussion on the merits of personal music players and the panellists didn't have a fucking clue what they were talking about. Smug media hacks on the wrong side of 60, who have done the “hard yards” in the business and now shit out ridiculously biased columns for newspapers, while also spewing out their words of wisdom on live radio.

One of these wits showed off his mad knowledge skills by pointing out that the word 'idiot' derived from some old Greek word that meant you were rejecting society and cutting yourself off. Therefore, everybody who wears headphones that cut off the sounds of the world was an idiot in the deepest sense of the word. And there was much chortling and hums of agreement.

Oh yeah?

Well, if there was any other fucking way to interact with fucking society while walking home on Symonds fucking Street at 6.15 pm on a fucking Thursday fucking night, I would fucking like to fucking know it.

The thing is, I wouldn't be listening to this vapid pontificating if I agreed with their point of view. According to these wise men, I should be taking these headphones off and soak up the sounds of speeding traffic and more speeding traffic. Since I choose to walk to work and leave the car at home, the hour I spend walking the streets is made much more bearable by a variety of news, information and entertainment on the mp3 player. It helps make the mundane business of getting to work five times a week a lot more bearable.

But no. I'm an idiot. And I must have been, because I was listening to these fools.

On the other hand, I do like to zone out to some of my favourite songs. Always have, ever since I got my first portable radio and headphones as an eight-year-old. I adore walking to the sounds of me favourite tunes, letting the mind wander with the rhythms of the world, giving the dull ache of modern life a personal soundtrack.

Technology has bloomed since I first used up the batteries of that AM radio in half an hour. For years a Walkman and a huge stash of cassette tapes was enough to wander the world with, but now it takes an ultra-light mp3 player to provide the 1000 songs I need to get through the working week.

Just to get it on, to get out the door and head on down the street to the groove. Now I've got those thousand finely selected songs on the player that blasts out the music loud enough to disrupt Klaw. The best songs I’ve ever heard, all available at the touch of a sensitive little button.

I could walk forever on this endless trail when I got some music. I’ve had some of the most profound and puzzling moments of my life on these walks, the little epiphanies of life and the big mysteries of the universe coursing through my head. Sometimes, when some form of inebriation is involved, it ends in filth and vomit, rubbing out the smell in the dirt, wondering how it all got to this. But for a moment there, it was starting to make perfect sense.

Driving is also good for thinking, but you can tune out the whole world with a walk. In a car, there is always that 10% of the brain watching the road, shooting up to 100% when something needs to happen. Walking a familiar route means the process becomes automatic, and it just rolls and rolls.

* * *

My wife is a fine, fine woman, and I’m not just saying that because she’s a journalist who wanders around the house in her underwear, just like Vicki Vale did back in the best batman comic of the past decade. She’s smart and funny and sexy as fuck, but by God, I couldn’t get her to read a comic book for anything.

She understands my passion and loves the way I can’t help doing a little happy dance whenever I get my hands on new comic books, but she won’t ever read one for herself. Her reasons are her own and have something to do with the fact that she thinks they don’t let the reader rely on their own imagination, but no matter how much I debate this point with her, she won’t cave in.

A lot of it does have to do with the still widely-held perception that comics = super heroes and that is all there is to it, (even though I have tried with many, many, non-genre efforts). Fact is, the idea that an adult could pick up a super hero comic cold and find it fascinating is more than a little weird. Get ‘em when they’re young with that sort of thing. It’s the only way.

But I’ve given up forcing my favourite books on non-comic readers. They might feign interest, but they never really care. If somebody comes to me asking for recommendations, I’ve always got a few too many to share, but I just don’t initiate the conversation.

As somebody who literally learned to read by studying Unknown Soldier comics when I was three years old and has never stopped loving the medium, it took me a long time to realize that a lot of people just don’t care about comics. It took me even longer to realize that there was nothing wrong with this – that people didn’t have to like the same things I did, even if those things were obviously business.

There has been an element of Team Comics in the comic world – of spreading the word and building up interest from unusual quarters. And there has also always been a section of comic readers who have been proud of their insular medium, and view any new entrants into their precious arena as something to be feared and loathed (This can be seen in something like the backlash from horror fans against the Twilight franchise – anything that so many young girls like CAN’T be any good.)

Me, I’m somewhere in the middle – always happy to share the medium I love more than any other, with enough restraint to avoid scaring everybody else. People who don’t like comics are just plain wrong, but that doesn’t mean I have to be a dick about it.

Monday, October 18, 2010


They’re publishing a Doctor Who novel by Michael Moorcock. That sentence makes me happy in so many ways.

* * *

One of the nice benefits of reading every comic Grant Morrison writes is that sometimes you’ll get a slice of esoteric weirdness and some simple, straightforward superheroics on the same day.

Back in the nineties, when Morrison was writing both JLA and Invisibles, it was possible to read one trippy JLA action comic that ended with an explosion in San Francisco, and pick up a perfectly rudimentary issue of the Invisibles that started with an explosion in San Francisco. What was the difference between Mason and Batman anyway?

A few years later, and Morrison was focused on rebuilding the X-Men from the ground up, (only to see his efforts undermined the month after he left the title), while The Filth was going off in strange and pungent new places.

It’s still happening, and I still get a kick out of reading a Morrison Batman, and then moving on to Joe The Barbarian. The funny thing is, I’m always keener to read the superhero stuff first, but it’s the more challenging work that is almost always more rewarding.

I don’t know what that means, but getting two very different comics from the very same creator on the same day is always a fine thing.

* * *

What a pleasure it is to live in a world with Ennio Morricone!

Movie soundtracks can be massively frustrating when listened to out of context, with chords swelling, choirs soaring and percussion booming at intervals that can be incredibly jarring when separated from the visuals they support.

But Morricone's work is Art with a capital A. It stands the test of time better than many of the movies it was designed for. His shameless sentimentality never got in the way of his relentless experimentation, producing melodies, tones and sounds that are more emotionally affecting than any other film composer.

He has created music out of nothing, and the start of Once Upon A Time In The West shows this better than anything, turning the creek of an old windmill and the buzz of a fly into an opera.

It’s so easy to take somebody like Morricone for granted, but as one of the greatest film composers who ever lived, he is always worth listening to.

* * *

Even after ditching 90% of my DC superhero comics, I could never get rid of my full run of Mark Waid’s Flash. I keep forgetting how good it was, especially when compared to DC’s regular output in the 90s, until it becomes time for another purge, and then I’m hooked again.

* * *

Torrenting is AWESOME, because while reading Legion of Super Heroes v4 annual #1 earlier today, I was struck by the sudden urge to read that issue where Ultra Boy is accused of killing his old girlfriend. I had it when I was a little kid, but I’ve never seen it anywhere ever since. After sixty seconds on the internet, I had downloaded that entire issue,

BAM! Look at fucking Colossal Boy here! He’s fucking colossal!

Or the bit where Ultra Boy escapes from a hotel room by k-chunking his way through a bunch of floors, and then fucking flooring it through the sewer! That shit is HARDCORE!

Why yes, I have had a couple of beers. Why do you ask?

I think I need to go lie down….

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sacco and the hole truth

Getting the facts down in comics is a lot more complicated than it looks.

A couple of weeks ago, cartoonist Dylan Horrocks teamed up with novelist Emily Perkins to present their collaborative mini-comic - ‘All Hail Ellie, Devourer of Worlds’ – before a live audience. It was a charming and thoughtful way to unveil their charming and thoughtful collaboration, especially since the comic itself was all about the process of crafting stories and creating fiction and how hard it actually is.

(The comic can be bought from Horrocks directly here and there is a fine interview with Perkins on comics here.)

While answering questions from the crowd afterwards, the subject of capturing truth popped up, and Horrocks conceded that any attempt to capture reality on the comic page was always going to have a bit of the fictional around it – artists choose the amount of detail that goes into their pages, exaggerate for dramatic or comical effect and can even be unintentionally misled by their own subject matter.

Horrocks did tie things up nicely by pointing out that while he couldn’t always capture the absolute truth in non-fiction comics, he could always try to strive for honesty as much as possible, which is about all anybody could ask for.

The same night that Horrocks and Perkins presented their piece, I went home and cracked open Joe Sacco’s latest book for the first time. Unsurprisingly, this question of reality versus fiction comes up several times in Footnotes in Gaza, as Sacco bypasses decades of injustice, brutality and hatred in Palestine to focus on one particular day more than five decades ago.

In the very earliest stages of the book, Sacco discovered that the horrible things that took place at Khan Yunis and Rafah in 1956 had been virtually airbrushed from history, and many who did know of them disputed their very existence, or regarded the entire case as a minor footnote in a long history of blood and dust.

Even those with the best of intentions, including the publishers of Sacco’s work, couldn’t see the importance of 1956. Not now, not after so long.

But Sacco met and talked to people who were there on those terrifying days, people who hid under the bodies of their neighbours, people who avoided sudden death thanks to pure chance. It was an incident that sparked off new hatreds that still fester, a show of power that relit old fires of conflict for a new generation and Sacco was there to listen.

But finding the facts behind what happened is difficult. Many of those involved have died, and those that were there on that fateful day are often unsure about the details. Geography and actions are fluid in the memory, and even though the storytellers are absolutely convinced of their facts, it sometimes fails to stack up with reality.

Sacco also runs into trouble when many who are currently suffering are actually offended that he is ignoring the current predicament to focus on long-ago. The artist tries to point out that the events of 1956 are still important, as they were one of several sparks that led to decades of fire between the people of the area, but that still is hard to do.

It’s not easy to convince people who just saw their grandmother buried in rubble of the importance of the past, but that’s the whole point of history. While it’s hard to look past current pain and find the causes in the past, it’s also necessary if we’re ever going to learn. We all make mistakes, but if we don’t learn from them, we’ll never get anywhere.

Maybe I’ve just being watching too many Adam Curtis films lately, but I really do believe that one of the big issues facing humanity as a race is the desperate need to learn from our historical mistakes, or we’re not going to get anywhere as a species. Stirring up history can also stir up dark, powerful and uncontrollable forces, but it’s necessary. We need to get past this present arrogance, the selfishness of the now.

In the end, Sacco can only capture what he can, but his little slice of history contains important lessons. His style remains, as ever, perfectly suited to the material – not only is he is able to draw the pain and anguish on victims’ faces, but he can also recreate geography that disappeared decades ago and compare it to the current reality.

He also has an easygoing and empathetic interviewing style that sometimes produces marvels. And his unwavering eye can sometimes produce moving results from the most mundane events.
Because it’s all about the people. And Joe Sacco drinks tea and watches television and walks around with people in the heart of an impossible situation, and they’re just like everybody else. This is the other great lesson that can be taken away from Footnotes in Gaza – “Hey, they’re just like me. Why do we have to hate them again?”. It’s one that is always worth spreading.

Maybe he doesn’t get all the exact facts, maybe the memory has distorted and truth is an impossibility. But Sacco’s work is as honest as ever.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

This is information

Last week, I talked a bit about the state of comics journalism, from the perspective of somebody who makes a living in the daily world of mainstream media. One of the points I tried to get across was that the standard and caliber of comics journalism was actually a whole lot better than generally accepted, if one was willing to step back and look at the overall picture, generated by dozens of different sources.

After more thought over the past week, I’ve only become more convinced that this is the case. The amount of information and analysis that we all have access to every day is still astonishing, and the efforts of a wide variety of people have created a level of journalism that the comics industry has never, ever seen before. And that’s something to be thankful for.

This is what I see:

* An hour after I first read that DC – and Marvel, to a certain degree – were dropping prices on many of their comics from $3.99 to $2.99, I’d digested the press release, got all the information I could ever want, read a number of thoughtful initial reaction, and informed my local comic shop of the news.

This was the one piece of news that directly affected me – I’ll now be buying Batman Inc and a couple of other titles, after earlier deciding that the higher price point was too much to handle – but it wasn’t the only interesting thing to catch my eye this week

* The current corporate shake-up for DC remains fascinating reading, and the amount of detail coming out of that is fairly impressive. Most companies aren’t as sexy as entertainment businesses, so executive reshuffles and personnel changes aren’t usually subject to the amount of attention DC has seen. Almost every redundancy or shift is noted, and there is plenty of coverage over what it all means.

Still, at this stage, there is only the bare information, and that’s to be expected. A list of names who have been let go from DC is pure data – the analysis of that data is still to come. There are doubtless fascinating things happening behind the scenes at DC, but you can’t expect them to all suddenly become public knowledge.

That kind of stuff takes years to leak out, but it does eventually. Over time, feuds are forgotten, gagging clauses lapse and people at the end of their careers don’t care so much about annoying the wrong people. There is still interesting information coming from the time Carmine Infantino was publisher of DC, and I have no doubt Jim Lee will be giving similar interviews in 2030.

* Also on the hard data side was some of the information coming out of the New York Comic Con, including some interesting sales figures: down 12% overall, with manga and graphic novels taking the biggest hit. Hardly surprising in the current retail climate, but publishers will need to be clever to get those figures back up.

But somehow, even though it’s not hard to find plenty of people predicting that the entire comics industry was going to fall over soon over the past decade, the comics industry keeps trucking along.

* For more than just breaking news, there was also plenty to choose from. But there was simply no contest for the best interview of the week, with Tucker Stone’s terrific talk with Darwyn Cooke taking that prize.

An interview that rambled amicably around the subject of Cooke’s latest Parker book, it delved into the nuts and bolts of adaptation, while also getting into other sources of inspiration and the different ways strong material can be packaged.

It’s a fantastic interview, if only because it’s interesting to hear Cooke’s take on things without an interviewer relying on stock standard questions. It’s easy to disagree with some of the conclusions reached during the discussion, (Cooke is wrong about Michael Mann’s Heat – it’s long, but it’s never flabby), but it’s a real pleasure to hear a man’s honest opinions.

It should also be noted that in an interview that ran for thousands and thousands of words, I only spotted one typo, which is a marvellous journalistic achievement. Good spelling and good grammar are an essential part of journalism – it’s impossible to communicate ideas without the common ground of established language – but producing this amount of text with only one missed word is something worth praising.

* There is also lots of interesting amateur analysis of the tiniest things, with more ongoing debate over that single interview Alan Moore did with Bleeding Cool weeks ago that never fails to entertain, as brief asides made by the writer are picked apart until they’re completely unrecognisable. The point sometimes get lost in the wave of opinion, but at least there is some thought going into it.

* And then there was the usual load of good, thoughtful writing on a bewildering variety of comics. In just the past few days, these included Alan David Doane's boredom with recent Spider-Man books, Jog's typically meaty take on Moore/Burrow’s Neonomicon, several brilliant takes on Love and Rockets by Sean T Collins, and another nifty reappraisal of Wednesday Comics.

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg. There have also been innumerable previews, reviews, sales figures, statistics, teasers and new series announcements, all in the past week.

There really is more information, more analysis, more journalism in the comics business than ever before. It’s almost impossible to keep track of it all, but it’s fun to try. It’s all out there, right now.

Who could ask for more?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Tearoom of Despair

A while back I realized it was much, much harder to write about something you really love than it was to write about something you really hated.

That’s why I write this blog.

* * *

If there is one thing I can say with absolute certainty, it’s that I fucking love comic books.

I love everything about them. I love reading them and collecting them and getting rid of them. I still love novels and movies and music, but comics are my medium of choice. There is just something about the way the words and pictures combine that always thrills, always entertains, always satisfies, more than anything else in entertainment.

And while the medium is oddly tied up with superheroes to a degree that is often alarming, there is still such a wide variety of comics. There is always something new and interesting. I favour big, mental superheroes and stories with a distinct metaphysical edge, but I’ll read anything.

I love Bacchus and Nemesis The Warlock and Marc Silvestri’s X-Men and Luba and Global Frequency and John Severin’s jagged little line and Bob Fingerman and Jason’s impeccable comic timing and Mark Millar and John Wagner’s Judge Dredd and Cerebus the Aardvark #112/113 and the way Peter Bagge’s characters sometime spazz the fuck out and Evan Dorkin’s plan to be King of the Monkeys & Dwarves and Ian Gibson’s female figure and Brubaker/Phillip’s Criminal and the fact that Franklin Richards will never be 10 and big old black & white Australian reprints of Mike Grell Legion of Super Heroes and the way The Invisibles made me feel at 4am and The Big Book Of Conspiracies and the Super-Sons and Smax The Barbarian and Grendel Prime and pre-Crisis Batman and post-Crisis Batman and Ted Rall and the last lines in the Doll’s House story in Sandman and old Cor!!! annuals and Terry & The Gunrunners and Garth Ennis Punisher and Art Adams and Lewis Trondheim’s little nothings and Adrian Tomine before he got too far stuck up his own arse and Brendan McCarthy and Brian Bolland and Carlos Ezquerra and John Ridgeway’s Doctor Who and Bryan Talbot’s eternal optimism and Ray D and Frank Miller’s balls and The Cowboy Wally show and Joe Kubert’s war comic covers and those last few apocalyptic New Universe comics and the New Adventures of Hitler and Adam Hughes and Dracula Lives! and Curt Swan’s rigid backbone and Hicksville and it just goes on and on and on.

Sometimes it feels like all this love sometimes get lost in worthless snark, and you need to remind yourself of the good things in the medium. Nobody reads comic books because they hate reading comic books, those people are off reading mass-market novels and cereal packets.

We read them because we love them. No matter how much we sneer at the stupid and foolish, there is always something good out there to discover and devour. We should talk about this stuff more often.

* * *

While snark has no currency and is avoided as much as possible on this blog, it’s not all sweetness and light – there are still plenty of things about modern comic books that bug that hell out of me.

But it all comes from love for the medium and the artform. We are constantly shown exactly what comics are capable of, with brilliant comics showing up on the shelves every week. To see the biggest comic companies cruise along on nasty mediocrity is painful, and can not be ignored. There are always artistic and commercial mis-steps that should be noted, because something that doesn’t work shouldn’t be mistakenly praised.

I will always try my best to avoid the kind of vague generalizations that often accompany negative reviews, and try to drill down into the disappointment as much as possible. I’ll always try to explain that dissatisfaction, rather than just offer up a lame, uninteresting and dull “this sucks!”. Shouldn’t we all?

So when I have some scathing things to say about Mark Millar’s latest Ultimates efforts in a few days time, it’s coming from somebody who genuinely loved his collaboration with Bryan Hitch, and who has tried to nail down the exact reasons behind my disappointment in the current series.

* * *

One of the best bits in the latest series of Doctor Who – and there were a lot – was the moment where Vincent Van Gogh hears somebody from the future tell him that he might just have been the greatest painter who ever lived.

It should be an extraordinary cheesy moment. After all, it was written by the guy who did Love Actually and is a big old hoary sci-fi cliché. But it works, thanks to a magnificent little turn by master thespian Mr Bill Nighy, and because - goddamn it – it’s somebody talking with absolute passion about something they love more than anything.

I try so hard to reach moments like that, where I can talk with passion and eloquence about something I truly love, something that has made the world just a little bit brighter. I’m trying every week, and I hope I’m getting there.

* * *

I quite like large portions of Love Actually. Much of that is again due to the sterling efforts of that man Nighy, but 3/5ths of that film is stunning.

* * *

Because I’m really all about the love.

The name of this blog is supposed to be ironic. There might be plenty of despair in the current comics scene, but there is no reason to dwell on it. There is so much good stuff out there, comics that thrill and entertain and provoke and enlighten. There is so much good art, so many different styles and methods, a wide mix of idiosyncratic brilliance and absolute professionalism.

They might be more expensive than ever before, and the brilliant stuff does often get buried beneath that mountain of mediocrity, but the good stuff is good. Comics have never been better and here about the Tearoom of Despair, we’re all about sitting about and talking about this brilliant fact.

Have a scone.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Trailer Park life

There are a shitload of good television comedies out there at the moment. Larry David continues to embarrass and amaze, the Thick of It’s cast take profanity to transcendent new levels while still plumbing the depths of powerful despair and I don’t give a damn what anybody else says – The Simpsons is still fucking funny.

But if I had to pick an absolute favourite comedy of the past few years, it would probably be Trailer Park Boys, because I never, ever get sick of watching that show.

It’s just so greasy and so, so real. There are universal truths in this Canadian trailer park, along with some of the dumbest people on the planet. We’ve all known cats and dogs that are smarter than Corey and Trevor, but few that were as funny as these boys.

It’s dirty and messy, but it’s not just high definition piss jugs and rocket appliances, it’s also a never-ending drama revolving around Ricky’s efforts to win Lucy, Julian’s ability to have a drink in his hands (no matter what the circumstances) and Bubbles’ sheer good nature.

Outside of the main characters, there is a brilliant range of minor faces, all fabulously entertaining and horribly familiar. There is Cyrus' continued failure to prove he's a tough guy, Jim Lahey’s endless falling off the wagon and Phil Collins & Randy’s dirty burger bellies. There are people so greasy they have to be hosed down and leave marks on chairs they have been sitting in, and there are entire sub-cultures in the trailer park, like J-Rock’s dirty movies and white-trash raps.

There is also something really clever and really, really funny about the fact that everyone in the park thinks Bubbles is the smartest man they know, mainly because it’s true. He might live in a shed, drive around in a go-kart and have glasses that are bigger than the moon, but he also sees all the angles and knows when a bad shitblizzard is going to hit the park. Unless he is under the spell of an evil puppet, Bubbles is also a genuinely decent guy who never wants to hurt anybody – when his friends inevitably get into gunfights, he’s got their back, but always fires into the air so he can be sure nobody gets hurt.

There is also something really funny when people who have been drinking all day experience some sort of triumph, and storm off yelling “I’m going to get fucking drunk tonight!”, or when a dirty liquor and cheeseburger party gets out of control, or when characters figure that the only way to get their life back together is by growing dope through denial and error, and man, I never get sick of all that dodgy stuff.

It’s not only funny when they completely fail to be criminals, it’s also a laugh when they actually get away with it, because they’ll just lose their big score all over again.

In seven years of television shows and a couple of movies, there has been an extraordinary amount of good material featuring these people who drift through life, getting stoned, having a few drinks. It’s no big deal, just as long as they’ve got the good fish sticks, not the cheap ones. The money from their dodgy deals comes and goes, and it doesn’t matter.

Despite this endless cycle of repetition, along with the fact that nobody ever learns anything, the series never felt tired, even after a decade of running around in circles. Part of this was due to the creators’ willingness to make things as ridiculous as possible, while still holding a tight grip on reality, and part of it was due to the genuine affection displayed for the characters. They live in dumps, aren’t too bright and never really got the idea of concepts like the law, but they’re still loyal to each other, still try to do the right thing.

Even when it descends into gunplay or pantsless fights, there is no real harm done here. It’s just the way life in a Canadian trailer park goes down.

And for something that delights in the depths human stupidity can plummet to, it’s also a deceptively smart show. It relies on a surprisingly convoluted continuity, while also ensuring that any season can be watched in any order, and it will still make sense. The show drips with all kinds of irony and can sometimes go off in weird and unexpected directions, all done on a minuscule budget.

The last time the world got to see inside the Sunnyvale Trailer Park, the eternal war between our heroes and Jim Leahy had been won by the supervisor, who was off in paradise, getting drunk and sunburnt and passing out in the swimming pool. Its unlikely to be the end of the road for the Trailer Park Boys, and they’ve even apparently put on a live show since the movie, so it’s bound to come back, sooner or later.

I’ll be waiting. I’ve never lived in a trailer park, (although I have relatives who did), but you don’t have to live this greasy lifestyle to make a connection. Trailer park people are just people, with all the same fears and desires as the rest of us. They might not be able to pronounce jalapeño properly, or might spend a bit too much time at the Gentlemen’s Club, but it’s still a rich and rewarding experience to follow lives on the Sunnyvale side.