Thursday, June 30, 2016

Off to the land of the ice and snow

The Tearoom of Despair is in low content mode for the next month, with only some slight 2000ad-related shenanigans to guide us all through the dark.

The reason is travel. The lovely wife and I are off to New York and Frankfurt and Iceland and Winnipeg and Houston and New Orleans. If anybody can suggest any good comic shops in these places, please let me know. (I'm really after dirty, weird places filled with slightly soiled back issues).

It's what I do. Some people go see the pyramids and Stonehenge and Hawaiian beaches, and I do that too. But I also really, really like to look in the comic shops.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hellboy in Hell: A light for the damned

When Hellboy fell in his final battle against a Great Dragon, his story was far from over, and his path was still clear. He was heading to Hell, to face his final destiny, one way or the other.

There was a good chance he was going to seize control of the armies of Hell, and march them out onto the Earth, either to save it from greater threats, or to lay waste to it. Even though he was dead, it looked like his story was far from over.

But his creator knew better, and Hellboy really was dead, and while his story continued, it was heading towards a quiet of end, and an empty and silent Hell

Mike Mignola's Hellboy comics never went where you really expected them to go, and there were plenty of shocks and surprises over the past few decades. Combined with some of the modern comic books' finest art, this unpredictability made Hellboy something that was always something worth watching, (even if it took too damn long for some of us to come around).

Mignola's last surprise was the melancholic and haunting nature of his Hellboy in Hell story. It's a comic that is as beautiful as it ever was, taken to a whole new level as the ghost of the artist's favourite creation wanders around with the doomed and the damned.

The 10 issues of Hellboy in Hell were still goofy and absurd as Mignola indulged in his deepest, darkest whims, all held solid by the usual straight-talking and no-nonsense of Hellboy - no character in all of comics is more likely to point out how screwed-up a situation is getting, even as he is hip deep in it.

The great benefit for Mignola of setting the story in Hell is that he is free from the shackles of realism and little things like the laws of physics - the bane of all great fantasist artists. So he can let his imagination run free and populate the story with all new monsters instead of wasting time on real life things like power poles and cars, and can follow artistic whims all the way, no matter how weird it gets.

So there are still demonic monkey bartenders, and grotesque leviathans from the oceans of Hell, and hordes of  the forgetful dead, and shifting geographies, and buildings that are more metaphor than mortar.

There is still a story lurking beneath the brilliantly gloomy and wildly inventive art, and sometimes it's a ghost story, and sometimes it's a political drama, and sometimes it's a family saga. Sometimes it's a collection of weirdly specific literary allusions.

Sometimes it' s a murder mystery in the halls of Pandemonium, and it's one of those stories where the main character is the killer all along, and he doesn't know it. Sometimes it's just an action movie, with Hellboy laying the smack down on some fool.

And it's a story about the end of all things, as the streets of Hell empty out. Even with a shifting landscape, Hell is limited, and has an end, and there is nowhere to run.

It does all end with a giant Hellboy striding across Hell, after embracing the power that was always his destiny. And he uses it to extinguish the last flames and destroy the last great houses, and close the door on it all.

It's an ending of epic grandeur  that still manages to be fairly low-key and unsettling, because it all happens in silence, and because it's not told from the main character's perspective at all, but from one last, dying demon, who seeks the comfort of family at the end of all things.

It's a pretty damn dark way to end the series, and raises unsettling questions, like where do the dead go when they die? If the damned aren't welcome in Hell anymore, where do they end up?

It does get epic towards the end, but the overall tone of Hellboy in Hell has been that melancholic one. A tone of hopelessness and loss and despair, because life is over, and there is only this cold eternity.

But is still a light on in Hell in the final pages of this story, and stars shine above. Even there, at the end of everything, there is still a light in the darkness.

Mignola hasn't fully ruled out some further chapters in Hellboy's story, but if this is it, then it's a fine and fitting end for the big guy. Besides, there are decades of Hellboy's adventures on Earth still to tell - we're still in the early fifties there - and the effects of Hell's fall are already impacting on the ongoing BPRD title.

It's up to Mignola, and if he's off to paint for a year or two, then he's more than earned the break. Hellboy has always been the artist's purest vision, even with his company of talented collaborators, and it all depends on him. He's done well by following those whims, and it will be fascinating to see where they take him next..

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Dark Knight, with cheese

Maybe it's just the kind of people I end up hanging around with, but whenever anybody starts talking about the big fast food chains, I can always guarantee that somebody within airshot will loudly and proudly declare that they haven't had a Big Mac in years, and it's all such rubbish, and the packaging tastes so much better than the burger, don't you know?

So I get a cheap thrill out of telling them that I fucking love a good fast food burger, and can't go a month without getting some chicken from the Colonel. They're always so delightfully disgusted, but it's the truth. I like junk food. I'm thinking about pizza right now.

And I feel a bit the same way when I tell people that I quite like the new Dark Knight comic. Everyone knows Frank Miller comics are bad for you, but I still think they are fucking tasty.

The crazier Miller's comics are become, the more I like them. I fully understand how his scratchy, blocky art and thuddingly resolute plots turn off a lot of people, but that's the way I like 'em.

Even as he left a lot of faithful fans behind, I thought DK2 was bloody magnificent, and I can even find nice things to say about Holy Terror, which is generally regarded as appallingly racist and artistically lazy. And when it comes to his Spirit film, I'm with Mike.

In fact, while the name of Miller strikes terror into the heart of the hardcore comic nerd, I almost passed on the latest chapter of his Dark Knight series because I wasn't a huge fan of Azzarello or Kubert, and Miller's lesser involvement was a real detriment.

I bought the first issue, "just to see", and then I keep getting each subsequent one on the same dubious logic, so it must be doing something right.

Miller's comics come loaded with baggage, and opinions were formed and set in stone, months before his latest thing was even published. There was even a load of tut-tutting over the subtitle to the series - The Master Race - which looks fairly stupid in context, because it's a story that's named after the villains, and they're a bunch of fucking space Nazis, so it's actually fairly appropriate. (Lots of stories are named after the villains, it doesn't mean it condones them. Just because something is called The Empire Strikes Back doesn't mean you're meant to like the fucking Emperor.)

Still, for anybody who is turned off by Miller's brand of deadpan drama, Dark Knight III doesn't offer much new to change their minds, and they're better off staying away altogether.

It's not the easiest comic to defend, because it's certainly lesser Dark Knight, (on about the same level as Miller and McFarlane's Batman/Spawn comic). Kubert can almost match Miller in blasts of action when he really puts in the effort, but can never catch the moodiness or inventiveness of the older artist. And Azzarello's dialogue sometimes comes off as a stale imitation of the earlier comics, with oddly dated slang and the lack of mad glee that Miller slathers across his work.

And it's hard to defend because there isn't much to really say about it. The subtext is obvious, the plot is predictable, and you get almost exactly what you expect. While certainly competent, it's never surprising, and never really sparks with genius.

In the end, the collaborative process dilutes Miller's mad, bad and crazy style, blunting the edges of his sharpest barbs. While Miller has got real rewards from working with other talented artists like Sienkiewicz, Gibbons and Darrow, this latest example of storytelling by committee inevitably leads to blandness, and when you're dealing with such a distinctive voice like Miller's, there really doesn't need to be any more voices in the room.

And yet, it still rocks along and isn't painfully boorish, like so many other superhero comic books out there. It's also been DC's biggest book every month it comes out, which suggests that there are more readers than just those who want to see an artistic train-wreck.

There is still interest in this world, and it's still really nice to have a comic that doesn't cross over into nine other titles, or gets high-jacked by the latest line-wide DC mega-crisis. (The recent one-shot which revealed the fate of Robin was the extent of the spread, and could be easily ignored.)

And even though Miller gets the blame for gritting up everybody's favourite super-heroes, his vision for them in later years has been drastically optimistic - these guys always work their way out of a problem. Ray Palmer's Atom is a pretty gullible goofus, but can still think his way out of a ultra-scientific trap, and there are a host of old and familiar faces ready to put on the tights, capes and boots and stand up to the bad guys, one last time.

And the mini-comics embedded in easy issue come with short bursts of art from other A-grade talent such as John Romita Jr and Eduardo Risso, and that's always welcome. Miller's own small efforts, doing the kind of short, sharp shocks that he started out on in the 1970s, are still an acquired taste, but they look fine to me, and a lot more rounded and solid than expected.

But there isn't that much more to say about the comic, just like there isn't much to say about the burger I had for lunch.

The lovely wife and I have booked  a table at a restaurant in Brooklyn with three Michelin stars next month, which should be killer, but I still think the sauces in MacDonalds burgers are exceptional, and I want to see what KFC in Iceland tastes like, and I always enjoy the efficiency of any good fast food operation.

I can dig the most abstract art comics, but I also love thrilling super stories, and they're both tasty in their own unique ways. It's all part of a balanced diet, right?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Aama: What is this future?

Comic creators who set their stories in the far, far future are given free reign to get imaginative and inventive, but always face the problem of keeping things identifiable.

Comics like Brandon Graham's excellent Prophet series just manage to keep things audience friendly, even in a universe where the only human face is the same cloned John, and the landscapes, food, transport, clothes and cultures are all entirely alien.

The world of Frederik Peeters' fantastic  Aama comics is somewhere in the deep future, but still features a world that is still recognisable as something that has evolved from our own. Something to hold onto.

This does not last.

Aama is a four-book graphic novel about a shattered loser sent off on a strange expedition across a great alien landscape, published by Self Made Hero over the past few years. It's the Swiss artist's biggest work, and manages the always welcome trick of being a rollicking adventure tale that tackles some big philosophical questions.

It also has weird robots that look like gorillas that have suspiciously human legs; and grossly alien landscapes full of things that shift and don't make sense; and hyper-sonic armored insects that mindlessly rip flesh to pieces; and a technological evolution that goes beyond organic, into something pulsing, strange and alive.

The artist has a very open and inviting style, with a smooth and flowing line, even in jagged action. The story is also told in bright, blocky colours, which helps the reader get into this mysterious new world. Things get very fucking strange, very quickly, and it's all easy enough to follow, even when reality itself breaks down.

Once the main character really gets into his quest, it swiftly all goes mental, and gets a bit philosophical, as matter breaks down on a sub-atomic level and the borders between reality and dreams all merge into one.

Human beings are killed with horrific indifference by a new life form, which doesn't look like anything we could ever understand, even as it proves able to get inside our heads and twist our thoughts.The reality of the story takes on a queasy dream logic, where anything goes and anything is possible, before being shat out the other end of something disturbingly blobby.

It's all a bit of a mind trip, but it is highly readable, with a good mystery plot going on - the main character has lost his memory, and he has to reread his own story, while a young girl that looks exactly like his daughter shows up on the other side of the universe.

And there is plenty of mortal peril and adventuring, and action scenes that fizz with energy. By the end of things,it somehow turns into a superhero saga, as a new and evolved man is able to twist reality to his whims, and falls back into a world of fragile humans, only to battle another mega-powered creature

And it's all about a Dad who loves his kid, and is piss-poor at showing it, so he has to go to the far side of creation to prove something to himself.

It's a whole new world by the final pages, and while it's not clear what that actually means, it is an optimistic conclusion, full of possibility. There is so much blood and fears to get there, but it's a path worth taking.

Any new world is going to be incomprehensible to those who live before it. Some things are eternal, but the world changes, all the same.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Drunk in charge of cinema

For an absurdly long period in my life as a young adult, there was nothing that I enjoyed more than getting really fucking drunk and going to the movies.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

The single best/worst experience I ever had while drunk in a cinema was during a midnight screening of Dark City. Slipping in and out of consciousness is always good for a bit of confusion as it is, but when certain characters change completely from reel to reel, it starts to feel like you're actually lost all ability to follow a story, something that can't really be blamed on the booze.

One second William Hurt is a cop, then he's a doctor or something, and then he's floating out into space? What the fuck?

One New Year's Eve I played the Withnail and I drinking game, and then tried to go into town. I got a free ambulance ride home that night!

Somewhere in the nineties, me and my mate Brian sneak a record-breaking 24 bottles of beer into a screening of the Big Lebowski. We really should have been kicked out on our arses when Bri dropped a bottle onto the growing pile of empties between us during the quietest part of the entire film and caused a calamitous cacophony, right during one of the film's quietest moments.

But nobody said anything, so we carried on.

I still don't think I ever missed anything by fading in and out of John Travolta's mugging performance in Phenomena in a state of alcoholic catatonia, but then I go out the wrong door when it's finished and get lost in the weird staircases between the cinema and the parking building, and it all becomes a farcical adventure.

It takes me literally hours to get out of there, (although I do give up and have a snooze for a bit), and finally, in desperation, I try to use Travolta's mindpowers to call for help, and I swear a security guard showed up 10 minutes later, and after laughing at me, he opens a gate and lets me go home. Which was amazing, but then again, I was very, very drunk.

I do wish I hadn't passed out two minutes into a retro screening of Full Metal Jacket and miss the entire boot camp sequence.What a fucking tool!

The last time I got into difficulty during a screening was more than a decade ago, when I only just managed to stay conscious during an afternoon screening of the Day After Tomorrow. While I managed to keep going, I spent so much time and effort focusing on that, I completely forgot everything that happened on screen.

Fortunately, by the time the film was finished and I made an unscheduled stop in the bathroom, I was more than up for the Dawn of the Dead remake which started later that afternoon. Drinking in the morning. It's never as good an idea as it first seems.

The funniest thing I ever saw happening to a drunk in a cinema wasn't me. It was some dude who was sitting in front of me and a screening of From Dusk Till Dawn. He was slumped in his seat and barely conscious, but when they all turned into vampires, he jumped up on the front and screeched 'What the fuck?'

Nobody had told him about the vampires, and he obviously thought it was just another crime drama, like all the other Tarantino knock-offs at the time. Until it wasn't.

The only time my mate Kyle ever got drunk on red wine, we went to see Return of the Jedi, and I have never seen anybody so hungover the next day. I genuinely wondered if we should go to A + E, get some glucose or some shit into him.

The thought of Ewoks still makes him queasy.

It was always easy enough to sneak booze in, but swigging straight from the bottle was always a bad look. The best way is to buy a small coke or something, knock that back, and then fill the container with wine or cider or brandy and suck it up through the straw.

It all looked perfectly innocent, but was devastatingly effective, and was guaranteed to leave you totally shit-faced by the end credits.

The enormous Civic Theatre in Dunedin only shows movies during the annual film festival, and one year, I stashed a quarter of a bottle of Scrumpy cider behind seat 23 in the very back row, way up the top, after a screening of the excellent Message To Love music documentary. I did it for reasons that made perfect sense at the time.

It was still there for a screening of Strange Days a year later, and was still there when I went and saw Fargo the year after. By the time I went to Crash the next year, it had turned black.

I haven't been back in nearly 20 years, so for all I know, it's still there.

I stopped doing it, mainly because I'm not 22 anymore, and because after a while, I just felt like a sad piece of shit.

I was enormously relieved to read Julia Wertz's comics, and see that she did the same thing, and felt the same feelings of blase shame about it. And I still see all the young punks sneaking their 16% vodka into the late screening of the new Fast and Furious film.

We all think we're drinking alone in the movies, but maybe it's not as lonely as it looks.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Happy to be the token boy

Even though I haven't worked at the New Zealand Herald for nearly a year now – ( 4eva) – I'm still trying to be King Nerd there, and contribute to a weekly round-table discussion of the latest Game of Thrones.

It's just for fun, and it's good to share the burden. You can blather on about one particular sword fight while others dig away at other themes, scenes and characters. We're all mildly obsessed with the show, but don't always agree on everything – one writer might claim it was the best episode ever, while others are stifling a yawn.

But it's always good to listen to some different voices, and after doing one of the round-ups a couple of weeks ago, I was absolutely delighted to discover that I was only one of two male nerds to be writing about that episode. We were totally outnumbered by the female writers.

It's about time.

Science fiction and fantasy were all boys games when I was a kid – you'd get the odd girl who was into GI Joe comics, or Roswell, or Doctor Who, but all they were always the exception to the rule. I still have female friends who know more about Blake's 7 or Battlestar Galactica than I ever will, but even they were gently discouraged from playing with the boys' toys when we were kids.

Which always felt pretty unfair, and awfully limiting, and inevitably leads to never-ending bland bullshit. Fortunately, geek culture has grown up a little since then, and while it's got a long, long way to go now, it's getting there.

There is still an intolerable amount of nastiness, sexism, homophobia, bullying and meanness out there, and you should always stand up to it when you see it, but there is a growing diversity, and it absolutely must be encouraged.

In the comic book shop, there still a lot of people who look just like me, but there are always a lot more girls and women than there ever used to be. There are the girls who like the Avengers way more than you do, and women who only come in to get their Saga fix.

I saw it at the last Doctor Who convention I went to, and it was 50 percent female, and fans from a huge range of backgrounds and cultures, and I can only hope they were all welcomed.

A lot of them might have come into it because the actors who have played The Doctor in his past few incarnations have all, in their own way, been smoking hot (including Capaldi), but that's just as valid a reason for getting into it as any other. The unending allure of the Doctor's companions was certainly a factor for me.

And it's awesome to see them there, because they ask the questions I wouldn't ever think of asking, and they get the room buzzing with their unfiltered and unashamed enthusiasm, and we could all use a bit more of that.

(Needless to say, I'm all for a female Doctor, and truly hope to see that happen in the next few years. Doctor Who is the best TV show ever because it is constantly reinventing and renewing and regenerating itself, and getting somebody like Olivia Colman or Tilda Swinton or Marianne Jean-Baptiste to take on the role could only be welcomed. Tradition can go get fucked, think of the possibilities!.

I say, go even further, and give the Doctor an Indian or Korean or Nigerian face. Create a whole new status quo, and create whole new story avenues, while also opening up to a new audience, who might never have seen their own kind of faces in such a prominent position. It does no harm, and does great good, and anybody who argues against that kind of logic is a goddamn moron.)

Unfortunately, there are a truckload of goddamn morons in the world, and the appalling  reaction to Ghostbusters, purely because of the female cast, has shown that they are still out there, and savagely unrepentant about it.

(I do have to admit that I haven't actually seen this toxic reaction, only the reaction to the reaction, because of the inherent bias in the people I read and follow online. It's actually amazingly easy to avoid bullshit, because I just don't follow the type of dipshit who would say dipshit things like that, I just see good people calling them dipshits.)

These mouth-breathing motherfuckers who moan that their poor man-feelings are being hurt by all these vaginas don't just give geeks a bad name, they give people a bad name. They need to get their priorities straight in life, and deserve any ridicule or scorn that can help them out with that.

Besides, it all comes from an argument that just isn't true – that mediocre remakes sully the classic original. This never actually happens.

The original Get Carter is still Get Carter. The original Robocop is still Robocop. Offensively bland remakes are always weirdly dated and quickly forgotten, when the classic holds up for decades.

The worst case scenario is that the new Ghostbusters is smarter, funnier, and more human than the original, and if that happened, we all fucking win, because that first movie is an absolute cracker. You can't blame a new generation for taking a shot at that kind of brilliance. The fact that there are less penises on the set  has nothing to do with it.

It's just fear, but there is nothing to be afraid of. New voices create new perspectives that create new worlds. More people, more ideas, from different genders, different races and different cultures. It should all be welcomed and shared.

That's how little things like art and culture and our whole world work, and it's the only way we grow and evolve. If we just see the same old faces over and over again, we'll never get anywhere.

It even makes business sense. Companies only grow through diversification, not by chasing after the same small demographic.

Heed the lesson of Peter Campbell in Mad Men! Pete was an odious piece of shit, but he was also unintentionally progressive, because he never understood why they couldn't target to African Americans or other lower-class groups, because there was money to be made there. Why wouldn't you take that money?

So when I opened up the Thoughts On Thrones a few weeks back, I realised I was the only guy, and I was absolutely overjoyed, (and a little bit mortified, because they had still put my bit up first, which looked like The Man was still stamping them down).

But I was delighted to share a byline with five other talented writers, who could give a perspective that I don't always have. I want to hear what nerdy guys like myself have to say, but I also want to know what everybody else thinks, especially when they don't agree with me.

I'll never learn anything otherwise.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Timeline: A life of comic books

This blog is what happens when you spend an entire life reading and obsessing over comic books.  This is a timeline of that life.

I don't remember the years by what jobs I had, or what houses I was staying with, or what people I lived with. They all blur and merge over the years. But I never forget the comics.

1975: Born in Timaru, on the arse end of the planet. Despite showing a total and unforgivable disinterest in comic books for the next three years, I appear in the world at roughly the same time that Giant Sized X-Men #1 is published, which is a fairly awesome portent of things to come.

1979: First comics, (that I can remember). One is them is an issue of Ms Marvel where she beats the crap out of Deathbird, another is some really dark horror comic (literally dark, as I still remember the heavy and cheap ink staining my fingers) featuring an evil blonde vampire, and a third is Captain bloody Sunshine. But what do I know? At this age, I still think Superman and Batman exist in the real world.

1981: By now, my Nana is working at a second hand bookshop with an amazingly large amount of comic books on offer, and I'm allowed to go in every Tuesday and swap a paper grocery bag full of comics for a new bunch, and that's how I learn to read. I don't need Jack and Jill, I've got Batman and Sgt Rock and the Dark Phoenix saga to learn from. The joy at realising I could understand every word in an Unknown Soldier comics is so huge, I can still feel it today.

1983: Still a kid, and the best thing in the world is the British weekly gag comics, things like Buster, the sadly short-lived School Fun and Whizzer & Chips. (But definitely not the Beano or the Dandy. They were gross.) I was always a staunch Whiz-Kid, until somebody pointed out to me recently that we were probably all Whiz-Kids, because they had the prime colour cover section, which makes sense, now that I think about it. Plus all the Chips strips were shit.

1984: The first great 2000ad obsession. I'd read the odd issue here ad there – the first one I can ever remember is the one with the first appearance of the Fiends of The Eastern Front, and I delight in showing my mates at school the cover of #302, where old Ben is a robot! - but it doesn't become a full blown obsession until here. It's some golden age 2000ad: Judge Dredd and Mean Machine Angel team up, drawn by the great Ron Smith; Johnny Alpha has been unfairly branded an outlaw in Strontium Dog, and Halo Jones in getting out. Thirty-two years later, I'm still getting the comic every week off the shelves of my local shop, and it's still an absolute pleasure.

1987: While Watchmen and Dark Knight and Maus are blowing the world apart, I never even see them, because I'm still on the arse end of the planet. I'm also 12, so I'm far more interested in the X-Men titles, which are coming up to Peak Claremont, and cursing the fact that I don't still have those Dark Phoenix issues. I find my first ever comic shop, near the Dunedin railway station, and it's brilliant and scary and I'm looking for GI Joe more than anything else. At least I get my first taste of sophisticated suspense, when my mate Glen gives me Swamp Thing Annual #2 by Moore and Bisette, and it's the most amazing comic I've ever read.

1990: This is the age of peak nerd, going through weird little obsessions that last about as long as my ever-changing hormones. First it's Excalibur, then the Infinity Gauntlet or post-Crisis Superman, then it's the New Bloody Warriors or the Legion of fucking Super-Heroes, or Excalibur again. I'm still getting up to the usual teenage bullshit – parties and drinking and girls and cars and all that, but there is still always a place for some four-coloured nonsense. I briefly think that I might be getting too old for these things about now, but I only ever think that once.

1993: By now, I'm a big, moody 18-year-old, which makes me just the right age for the birth of Vertigo comics, with a craving for something deeper, more stylish and more pretentious. The X-obsession fades away, and never really comes back, with years of X-rubbish to come. I also discover the glory of Love and Rockets, and spend one of the best summers of my life, sitting in the sun and trying to figure out how Ray and Maggie's relationship worked.

1995: I've quit getting most Marvel comics, although some of the slicker DC superhero comics, like Mark Waid's Flash work, are still addictive. More troubling, I've also given up 2000ad properly for the first time in more than a decade, because it's rubbish, although this will somehow become one of the great regrets. I don't care, for most of the nineties, I'm all about getting drunk and reading the Invisibles.

1997: After spending several years doing nothing more complex than spending a long evening downloading the trailer for the first Stargate movie down at the local University, I really get on the internet, and find people who are even bigger comic geeks than me, and the world is a slightly less cold and forbidding place. Things reach a peak when Morrison's new JLA team is revealed, and it all gets a bit fan-fiction for a while, but I'm still here.

1999: For the first time in my adult life, I'm not getting any regular new comics, because I've moved back to a town with no comic shops. It's awful, and a terrible scramble to get the last issues of Preacher, and even my beloved Invisibles.

2003: Still getting the odd comic, usually through mail order, and have followed favourite creators onto things like the Punisher and The Filth, but I'm missing a lot. Takes me years to catch up on things like Planetary or the Ultimates or Frank Miller's DKR sequel (finally read it in 2005, divorced from all hype, and love it). There is also a sudden and unexpected return to 2000ad, driven largely by the brilliance of Nikolai Dante, and the strengthening of Judge Dredd under John Wagner's steady hand. Hunting out the issues I missed over the past decade is all consuming for a while, and I've still got holes in the collection.

2007: After my first travel to see comic stores on the other side of the world, I'm back in a town with comic shops, and go a bit crazy catching up on the last seven or eight years. There is a lot to catch up on, but I'm struggling to find anything new to obsess over in monthly comics, other than Morrison's ongoing DC superhero comics. Same as it ever was.

2009: Start the Tearoom Of Despair, in some futile theory that if I got all this shit cluttering up my head out and onto the page, it might free up some room. Things get awfully and shamefully personal in the next seven years, but it's still an enjoyable little ritual. I still get a particular kick out of writing about B-comics, books that are beautiful and entertaining, but nobody really talks about. Comics like The Boys, Jack of Fables and BPRD, which I all enjoy more than I really think I should, and love to talk about.

2012: Growing up, getting old. After years of a writer-focused mentality, things flip around and I go crazy for the artists, and find new rewards in the old stuff that I'd always ignored because of clumsy scripts. It's taken a shamefully long time to finally care about Kirby, but I get there in the end. This new attitude means I also finally get into things like Hellboy, almost entirely on the strength of the art. Conversely, it means I won't put up with mediocre art, no matter how big and clever the script it. No Providence, for example.

2016: Here, now. Still get 2000ad every week, and the usual mix of other regular comics like Stray Bullets, the odd superhero book, Garth Ennis war comics, or anything that Brubaker and Phillips is doing. I think the new Dark Knight series is all right. I still firmly believe that 2000ad and Love and Rockets are the best comics ever. I'm 41, and I'm never getting out of this mess.