Friday, October 26, 2018

Cleaning out some more space from the closet of secret shame

I'm a constant fucking embarrassment to myself, endlessly saying the wrong thing in front of other human beings and thinking dumb shit that is even worse. And despite my best efforts, I can never forget the stupid crap I say and do. I have trouble remembering my Mum's birthday, but can still recall the awful shirts I wore as a teenager with the utmost clarity.

The only way I can clear my head of all this embarrassment is to shovel it right down the back of the skull, back, back, back into the closet of secret shame. It can all go in there, and it can fucking stay there, for the most part.

But sometimes, it gets just a bit too crowded in there for all this crap, and I need to have a proper clean-out. And it's a lot easier to unload this stuff when it's just a bunch of trivial pop culture bullshit that doesn't really matter, instead of telling everybody what I used to wank over. Nobody needs that.

As a kid I thought they were patronising as hell, and as an adult thought they were dumb as shit - I was just never down with The Goonies. I don't think I've ever even seen the whole movie, just bits and pieces, but the only thing I ever liked was the big huge dude with the face. If it was just abut him, I would be down for that, because I never gave a shit about the kids who were supposed to be the heroes of the thing.

This also applied to gangs of plucky young heroes and their fat comic relief in every other movie from the 1980s - including The Monster Squad - and especially goes for all the rip-offs years down the line. I haven't watched one minute of Stranger Things and the only JJ Abrams-directed film I've never seen in his Super 8. I don't have time for these little shits.

Nothing against them personally, I just always want to watch movies about old people losing their goddamn minds instead.

Helter Skelter has the most bitchin' guitar, A Day In The Life is the sound of the 20th century and Twist and Shout always makes me want to boogie, but my favourite Beatles song of them all is The Long and Winding Road.

But only the version with the cloying string section saturating the whole thing in open mawkishness and naked sentimentality, not the stripped-back and pure version that you're supposed to like. The cheesiness is the point.

On the same day me and some of my best mates had our minds blown by Reservoir Dogs, I  accidentally stranded them in a city hundreds of kilometres from home very late at night, just because I really, really wanted to see Robocop 3.

While they are often spoken of as great films by smart people whose opinions I truly trust, I never met a Pixar film I truly loved.

I like most of them when I get around to seeing them - usually on a long-haul flight on airplane where I always get a bit emotional - and I can certainly understand why they strike a chord with so many people. But I'm never looking forward to the new one.

It's not just the simplistic moralising, it's all those smooth, perfectly formed pastel computer blobs. The CGI animation seen in Pixar films and all their imitators is technically impressive and artistically bland. I'll probably still bawl like a baby when I watch the next one on a flight, but I can wait.

If the house was burning down, and I could only save a handful comics, I have a terrible feeling that the only I'd grab would my complete collection of The Nth Man series.

Many people might argue that The Dark Knight represents the pinnacle of the superhero movie genre, and that the last movie in Nolan's Batman series in a step back in quality. But I think they get better as they go along, and that the third movie is far superior.

While there is no denying that Heath Ledger's Joker is fucking brilliant, especially with all the tiny quirks and jerks he brings to the role, I'm all about the Bane. The physicality of Tom Hardy's performance is mesmerizing - the way he walks and stands and punches speaks huge volumes, and there is glory in the way he barks out Bane's nonsense polemics in that garbled, inflected accent.

And I'm fascinated by the weird politics of the whole thing - Bane weaponises the rhetoric and imagery of the Occupy movement to give his takeover of the city an ideological leg to stand on, but he doesn't actually believe any of it, he's just using it as an excuse to fuck some people up, and isn't above using a weapon of mass destruction to atomize the poor and needy once he didn't need them anymore, which I'm pretty sure was not something that happened in any real-world protests.

Besides, everybody knows the best Batman films end with somebody finding out that some days, you just can't get rid of a bomb.

Dan Clowes' early work has a vitality and unexpectedness that has become increasingly muted over the years, and I just can't read them because I truly hate the lettering in his earliest work.

It's all that serif. It just makes me feel a bit ill.

I still think Back of the Y is the funniest television New Zealand has ever produced.

Whenever I'm making small talk with anybody ,and there is a lull in the conversation, the first question that always, always pops into my head is: 'Did you watch Doctor Who last night?'

I never actually say it out loud, unless it is the rare day there actually was an episode of doctor Who the night before, and if I'm talking to a bona fide dork, but that dumbarse question is always there, waiting to spill out and get Doctor Who gushing over everybody.

Even when the show was off the air for 15 long years, that was what I always wanted to ask people. It's hard-wired into my brain, and I don't think it will stop being there, right on the tip of the tongue, until I shove it back into the closet where it belongs.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Armageddon it: I still need more comic in my diet

I've been going through a hard purge of my comic books lately, refining and sharpening the collection to bare essentials - if it's not a total work of utter genius, or if I don't have some deeply embarrassing sentimental attachment to it, it's out.

So even though when I went to the big Armageddon geek convention in town this past weekend, you would think I wouldn't be too tempted to load up on more of this stuff, not when I'm clearing so much of it out.

But you'd be wrong, professor. Dead wrong!

Somewhere deep into the $3 bin of comics that Harley Yee was selling, I realised that my life had been incomplete without the Patchwork Man issue of House of Secrets and that I definitely needed some more Jonah Hex and Blackhawk comics in my diet.

It's been a rough fucking year and I need some bright and colourful optimism, so I found myself craving the comfort food of old Legion of Super Heroes, Bob Haney's Brave & Bold and as much of Curt Swan's Superman as I can eat. I want to chow down on old Flash and Batman comics with bonus back-ups, and I did always want to read the issue of Detective Comics where Black Canary ditched the fishnets.

I'm hungering for the dopiest DC shit from the seventies - comics starring Metamorpho and the goddamn Green Team - and, sadly, I have an unending, Galactus-level appetite for dumb Marvel comics from the early 90s - Thor annuals and extra-sized Quasar and Ron Lim's Silver Surfer, which is still the shiniest.

I got some vegetables in my diet, with some insanely pretty small press stuff from the local kids - the standard of the art in these things just blows my mind - but the most excited I got at the whole convention was finding a Johnny Nemo comic by Milligan and Ewins, and a couple of 2000ad annuals from the 1980s, because they are never, ever on the menu.

And for desert, I always have room for the stupidest superhero satire from years ago, full of references and in-jokes that are dusty as hell. I'm one issue closer to a complete collection of Not Brand Echh, and my one big regret of the weekend is that I didn't get the giant-sized Plop that was there.

I also had to get the issue of Green Lantern where a cute little kid explodes in the vacuum of space, because holy shit, he fucking explodes in space.

I always got a bit mad around cheap comics, and once I come down from that dorky high, there is always a bit of  regret and some tiny shame that I'm still so addicted to this stuff.

A lot of it - especially that 90s Marvel - will probably fall victim to the purge. I have a table at a small comic mart last week, and it's likely these will be on those tables, selling for the same price I bought them for.

But for now, I get to gorge on these things, and I'm still hungry. I'm always hungry.

Friday, October 19, 2018

You come in alone, but you don't need to leave that way

Reading comics is a singularly individual activity. You can share them with your mates and talk about them and laugh about the best bits, but when it comes to actually sitting down and reading the bloody things, you're on your own.

So it's not that surprising that most of my friends aren't into comics at all. They don't hate them or go out of their way to avoid them, but it's not their thing. And that's fine, we can bond over other activities like rugby or movies or getting wasted together.

Most of my friends don't care about comics. But some of them do. And they care a lot.

I have this half-arsed theory that comic people in places like New Zealand and Australia are just a bit more obsessive about these things than their American or British counterparts, even though we all speak the same language. We live on the arse end of the world, and it has historically taken fuckin' ages for comics to get here, and even when the exchange rate is good, they are always fuckin' expensive.

I mean, you're just not going to get the same amount of obsessive collectors when you're paying nearly $10 for an average issue, but those that remain and happily spend that much for their latest Captain America fix are pretty hardcore. There aren't many of us, but the other thing about living in such a small country is that we often end up finding each other, all the same.

It's much easier to make friends who dig comics when you're a kid, and they don't have that weird social stigma that so many fairweather fans of the form get worried about. Almost all of the kids I grew up with read some sort of comics - some were into Archie, some only read weekly British gag comics, and others would only read things like Weird War Tales. But even with that kind of influence on everybody, there were still only a few kids who were really passionately crazy about the medium, and we usually found each other.

Me and my best mate first bonded over the Judge Child Quest sometime in early 1985, when we both ended up in the same class in primary school. We both loved Doctor Who and 2000ad, (although he was always more of a Battle boy), and spent many long, hot summer days wondering what Johnny Alpha was going to do to Max Bubba when he caught up with him (he shot him, a lot), or wondering what the hell was in Kano's black box (it was his brain).

I'm responsible for getting him hooked on the X-titles, mainly through the Simonson/Simonson X-Factor book, and he lasted a whole lot longer on the x-books than I ever did

Thirty years later, and nothing really has changed. He still gets the core X-Men titles, and now has a full collection of all the post-Giant Size X-Men issues that would have blown our 10-year-old minds. We still gossip about the new Judge Dredd comics, and when we get drunk we talk about how awesome the Apocalypse War was.

Every now and then, he'll come up the length of the country to visit, and we'll hang out, eat junk food, talk shit about the X-Men and wonder what will happen in the new Doctor Who. Same as it ever was.

My other mate who shared a childhood obsession with comics lasted a while, although we haven't really seen each other properly in 10 years, and I think I lost him to Dungeons and Dragons bullshit.

But he was still getting comics as late as Alan Moore's ABC titles, and I was gladly reading his copies during a particularly dodgy couch-surfing part of my life when I couldn't afford comics, and had nowhere to keep them anyway. The great thing about this mate was that he had quite good taste in comics – apart from a regrettable Liefeld period – which was just slightly different from mine.

So while I was getting into Matt Wagner's Grendel, he was getting into Tim Truman's Scout, and while I got Ennis' Preacher every month, he got Ennis' Hitman, and we got to read both, for half the cost.

We took advantage of each other, and sometimes we blatantly pilfered comics from each other, and I still feel weirdly guilty about that. I found a cover-less copy of a Marv Wolfman/Gil Kane Action Comics issue the other day, that I remembered nicking from him sometime in the mid-to-late eighties. Sorry, mate. You can have it back if you want.

But these guys were, by far, the exception, rather than the rule. I might swap a 2000ad for a Tiger with Chris, or be given my very first proper Alan Moore by Glenn, but those guys had other interests, and soon grew right out of comics altogether.

And now, a lot of my very best friends don't care about comics at all, even though they will read the odd one. Some of them get hooked on very particular things – broad and bawdy humour like the Ennis/McCrea Dicks comics and Morrison, Millar and Parkhouse's Big Dave both found favour with some  – but they never felt the urge to go any further into the medium.

And as awful and corny as it sounds, my lovely wife really is my best friend now, and she don't give a fuck.

That's okay – shared interests are only a tiny reason of why you like somebody. Some of the good friends I've made over the past few years have zero interest in geek pursuits; one of them still makes fun of the 'Daylek' I have on my work desk, and one who really surprised me the other day by saying how she wanted to check out the new Star wars film, as her first night out at the cinema since having a second boy.

But there are other new friends that I've made, some even generated by this blog, who are just as into comics as I'm am. And while comics are a totally individual pursuit, it's still good to catch up with good mates and talk shit about Alan Moore's new Providence comics, over a beer and a laugh. You can't be on your own all the time.

Monday, October 15, 2018

In Barry Linton's Auckland, everything was hot, heavy and horny

I always had a very primal, very raw reaction to Barry Linton's comics. They were the first proper grown-up comics I ever saw, with some Strips comics courtesy of some cool uncle, and the first place I ever saw cartoon breasts. I wasn't even five yet.

I lost track of Barry's work for 20 years after that, but rediscovered it as a young adult, and fell in love with that thick, flowing line and rhythmic nonsensical dialogue all over again. I couldn't follow the stories completely, but these comics were pure and punk and everything I wanted in art, and an intoxicatingly nostalgic connection to that first young exposure.

He was still doing his own idiosyncratic comics, right up to the end. His comics would pop up in national magazines and newspapers, and his art was always welcome. He could spin endless yarns about a mythical Polynesian civilisation, or about hot and humid nights in the city, sitting around and getting hellishly stoned before a dirty old rock and roll show

Barry Linton died the other day, around about the time Judge Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra also passed away. The Kiwi artist's audience was only a fraction of his Spanish counterpart's, but anybody who was exposed to it could easily see his brilliance, an addictive perspective that could only come from Aotearoa.

Dylan Horrocks did a great strip about Barry a few years ago, and it was just reprinted online here, and there is a lovely tribute from his mate Martin here and they give a tiny taste of the love that is out there for the artist's work.

I only wrote about Barry a couple of times here on this blog, and I somehow recently ended up with some of his original art that was so day-glo wonderful that I just had to share with everybody.

To my eternal shame and regret, I didn't get around to returning that art to him. I was going to ask somebody for his contact details at a comic convention this weekend, but now I'll just have to ask for ideas for what to do with it. It's not mine, and it deserves to be returned.

They'll find a home somewhere. Barry's comics always found their way home again, no matter how wasted they got on a hot Friday night.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

We're not savages here, you know

One of the absolutely dorkiest things about growing up in New Zealand is that you always get a little bit excited every time you see the country mentioned in a movie or novel or comic book produced somewhere else in the world. We're such a tiny and insignificant nation, right down here at the arse of the globe, and we're actually quite touched when it feels like anybody is noticing us.

That excitement is there when Tom Cruise mentions getting married at Lake Wanaka in one of the Mission Impossibles, when the islands get wiped out by the moon's explosion in the Legion of Super-Heroes, and when the Ultimate X-Men fought the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants on top of Auckland's Sky Tower. It's there when it's used as an impossible escape hatch for master criminals in films like Point Break and Heat (which is probably 90 percent of the reason why tech-bros keep talking about coming here to sit out the apocalypse).

This tiny excitement doesn't just apply to total fucking nerds like me. When the tiny town of Greymouth on the West Coast was featured as a bit of global set dressing in a recent issue of an Avengers comic, they did an item about it on the national news. Locals were quite excited, it turned out.

Most of these representations – even the one from Mark Millar – are surprisingly accurate, but sometimes you get a reference that is so off-target, you can only assume that the creators have learned everything they know about the country they're depicting from watching the Lord of the Rings movies, because that doesn't look like any part of New Zealand anybody has ever seen.

Like the example seen in these pages from a recent issue of Wildstorm: Michael Cray:

I don't know if it's writer Bryan Hill or one of the artists involved (the credits are a bit vague about who actually drew this part of the story), but somebody thinks this is an accurate depiction of a boring first world nation in the year 2018

The Michael Cray comic  is part of the latest attempt to reboot the Wildstorm universe of characters, and takes place in a shiny modern world. It's a world of jet packs and sinister superhumans and nano technology and interdimensional teleportation and orbital space stations.

Well, it's like that, except in this world's version of New Zealand, where crowds of ragged villagers with flaming torches are still sacrificing virgins to a sea monster before returning to their thatched huts beneath an ancient gothic castle.
This depiction of a modern country as something so medieval goes on like that for an issue or so, and it's extremely jarring for anybody who knows more about New Zealand than they read on its Wikipedia page.

Because New Zealand is the suburbs of the global city, nice and very boring. There are no thatched huts, and definitely no old foreboding castles (the closest thing to a castle in the whole country is Larnach Castle in Dunedin, which is just a very big and quite nice house).

There are some parts of NZ that do get a bit inbred – hello Waimate! - but nothing like this set-up. Even in the remote Chatham Islands, you couldn't get away with feeding your children to the sea without the Ministry of Social Development coming along to have a word about your parenting skills.

It's especially puzzling since the locals claim to have been there since the 1500s, which means they've actually been living in this country for hundreds of years before the first white man even spotted it, but somehow they still don't seem to have the internet hooked up yet.

A bit of artistic license is all good and it is nice to be noticed, but this is so weird it's just laughable, which isn't a great thing for a comic that is taking itself very, very seriously.