Friday, September 12, 2014

More laughs, more films, more comics, more everything

There's always more.

Just when you think you know everything, there is always something new to watch, or read, or listen to.  There is always something new to think about, and always a new way to feel. There is always more.

There’s always more laughs.

I'm hard-wired to love slightly subversive British TV comedy shows – raised on a steady diet of Monty Python, The Young Ones, Blackadder and Red Dwarf. I can't get enough of the shouty anarchy and unexpected seriousness and surreal madness and surprising emotion, and I never tire of seeing fine character actors behave like complete tits.

And there is always more comedy to get into – the alternative British comedy scene of the 1980s evolved into the darker, smarter comedy of Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci and chums, bringing the existential uncertainty of the modern media age into the living room with tactical use of profanity.

A large part of the appeal is that there are actually relatively few episodes of individual series, and shows like The Office and Fawlty Towers build their monumental reputations on a small number of episodes. This can be consistently melancholic, as beloved series are always ending, but it also means there are plenty of new things to find.

And I love hunting for the new, and finding out about series like the sublime 15 Stories High or the magnificent Nathan Barley or a dozen other little slices of stylish comedy. And there are so many talented comedians and actors, all creating new shows, and it can take years before I hear about them, or track down their work.

And sometimes, even the work of comedians I already know and love can slip by, and it can be a long, long time before I even notice. I’ve always enjoyed the work of Steve Coogan – and the more excruciating it gets, the better, especially when he plays himself – and followed it since The Day Today, and even though I deeply enjoy cheap nasty horror films,  I somehow totally missed the Doctor Terrible’s House of Horrible series, a biting piss-take of those cheap, nasty horror films from more than ten years ago.

I finally caught up with it this week, and it’s not great, but it is something that’s right up my alley, and I’m slightly baffled that it took me this long to get to it. Even in this relatively niche world of UK comedy, there are huge amounts of material to find, and experience. Some of it will be awful, some of it will be fine, and some of it will be great, but there is always more laughter.

There’s always more movies.

UK comedies are a big enough pool to jump into, but if you're into something as general as Movies That Make You Feel Something, there really is no bottom, because there is more than a hundred years of film, and more every day.

The Story Of Film, Mark Cousins' epic documentary about the history of movies all over the world, can take a while to get into - especially with Cousins' clipped, quiet accent - but is ultimately compelling, because it opens up a world of cinema in an easy, accessible style.

It covers the whole history of cinema, bouncing around the globe, and when it gets to the seventies, it is obliged to focus on America and the impact of the film school kids, and it suddenly got really boring.

The films that are discussed in this section certainly aren't boring, and the stories behind their production is fascinating, but it's one that's been covered a million times over, and there is little new to say.

American cinema between 1969 and 1980 is the most analysed period of movie history – all the stories have been told, and pass into legend. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls remains the definitive account of the times, but there are hundreds of other books that pick apart the movies from those days, and the well of new stories is almost dry.

But that's okay, because there are other similar small renaissances in cinema, all over the world, and while one hour of The Story Of Film had little new to say, the other nine opened up all sorts of new doors.

And it's not just the obvious and infinite worlds of Bollywood or East Asian cinema, there are fascinating stories to discover in the quietest and strangest places in the world, and there can be beauty in a 1930s film from Iran, or in the bleak masterpieces coming out of modern Eastern European cinema. Gloriously, it never ends.

There are always more comics.

I love great comedy, and I love great movies, but comics are still my main bag, and they still offer up the most unexpected pleasures and the best thrills.

I don't just read the things, I soak myself in reference books and historical accounts, finding out all the stories behind the stories, and all the different versions of the truth. Back Issue Magazine is one of only two regular magazines I get every month or so, and I go to other libraries around town to find biographies of Curt Swan or books about the art of Alex Toth.

That kind of immersion inevitably leads to repetition – due to an odd coincidence, I read about background behind Avengers #200's appalling treatment of Ms Marvel in four separate reference books, saw it discussed on three different blogs, and heard somebody talk about in in a podcast, all within a week or two.

They were the same old stories about vindictive creative and editorial moves that led to that comic, but by the fifth mention, I didn't really need to hear about it again, and it really can feel that there is nothing new to learn about the weird and wacky world of comics, if the same topics keep coming up again and again.

Which is, of course, total horseshit. I keep reading about the same events because I keep reading books about those characters, creators or company, and even after 35 years of reading comics, I'm still delightfully stunned by how much more there is out there.

Make no mistake - it's a wonderful sensation, finding out about some slice of the comic world that has so far passed me by. Just this week, I've finally fallen for the easy-going charms of Ramona Fradon's art, and actually made a shamefully-overdue effort to dig into some of Phoebe Gloeckner's comics.

And there are whole worlds of stuff that I still have barely touched – my knowledge of European comics or Manga barely stretches past the usual suspects, and I'm only restrained by time and expense, but they are worlds I would love to explore further.

And the flood of great comics never stops – every year old favourites produce stunning new work, and new faces create comics that feel like they've been doing them forever. Keeping up with the latest slices of genius is hard enough, without the whole long history of the form to consider.

This is the pleasure of it all – that there is always something new and meaty to get your teeth into. Whatever you’re into, whatever the medium, or the style, there is always something more, and there are always thrills in chasing it down.

I'm terrified of falling into a rut, of just reading or experiencing the same old shit, over and over again, and I'm always looking to try something new. Because there is always something new to try.


Tom Murphy said...

Hi Bob - I'm sure you're already aware of this series, but if you like British comedy with a parodic edge, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace might be up your street. I loved it, but for some reason it seems to have slipped out of the public consciousness over here.

Tom W said...

I am also called Tom and read comics and clicked to recommend Darkplace. But it would seem there's no point to my entire existence, because that other bugger did it first.

Bob Temuka said...

I love Garth Marenghi. The line 'I know writers who use subtext, and they're all cowards, okay?' is my favourite line in anything from the 21st century.

But I still missed the Dean Lerner Man-To-Man stuff, even though there was a whole episode with Garth, and only got caught up on that last month. There's ALWAYS more.

Bob Temuka said...

"What I was asking in that scene is: what if politicians continue to pay doctors peanuts, could they literally turn into monkeys? And no-one’s asked that before."

Gurvi Jain said...
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Mrinal Mech said...

True. There's such a lot and I'm glad for it.

I recently started getting into manga and there's this whole subculture of "alternative" manga which is sort of the contemporaries of Clowes, Hernandez Bros etc. So much to read, phew!

Shamitabh 2nd day collection said...
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