Friday, May 31, 2019

I'm trashing my comics

I ripped the shit out of the cover of a favourite Legion of Super Heroes comic the other day. I was careless as I was hauling boxes around, and the comic suffered for it.

It's my own fault. I liberated them all from their plastic bags last year, so they're just sitting in cardboard boxes, and I'm always going through them to refine the collection and find more stuff to read or sell. I throw them into jagged piles and roll them up and leave them lying on the floor like a fucking slob.

It breaks the collector's heart in me, but the soft sentimentalist below that level likes comics all the more, the more damage they get. It gives them a bit of character, a bit of life. I still like to see a pristine object, and comics do look sexy as hell in mylar or slabbed containers, but I'm not interested in owning those kind of comics.

Let somebody else be a proper archivist, I'll just ruin it for everybody.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Life isn't fair, but sequels should be

I hate it hate it hate it when a sequel opens with the main characters from the previous films getting unceremoniously killed off, wiping out everything they did in the previous movie for cheap shock thrills, (Or because they couldn't get the lead actor back for another film.).

I hated it when they did it in Maniac Cop 2, and I hated it when they did it in Alien 3. I  hate it when they did it in Friday the 13th Part Two, and I really, really hated it when they did it in the bloody ewoks movies.

I don't care about the sequels after that pointy, because they've already lost.  And everything they did in the original was for nothing, tarnishing the original with unwarranted pessimism. That's just playing dirty.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

'You're here with friends'

Sometimes we all feel a bit like Reverend Smith - unsure of our place in the Lord's mighty cosmos, lost and alone, and unable to tell whether we are with friends or not.

Sometimes we need those friends to remind us that we are not alone.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

What was the deal with Teen Tony anyway?

I somehow never figured out what happened to the whole teenaged Tony Stark storyline from the 1990s. I have a weird feeling it was explained in an annual somewhere, but I missed it entirely.

It might be the first time I genuinely didn't give a damn about the fate of an important comic character. It's where I realised the Marvel Universe - which I had been roughly able to follow for years - was too big and wide to ever really follow anymore. If I didn't care about Iron Man, I didn't care about anything anymore.

Maybe Teen Tony is just sulking alone in his room, forever and ever.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Why doesn't everybody read Dork?

Evan Dorkin is always unflinchingly honest about how rough it can be to be a comic creator in this fucked-up industry, and I'm completely baffled why he has to scrape together projects to pay his fucking bills, instead of getting all the money in the world. His comics are so funny and so full of life, it's inconceivable to me that publishers have lost money on recent collected editions. What is wrong with everyone?

Dorkin's comics are consistently excellent - mainstream things like World's Finest, Bill & Ted and Beasts of Burden are remorselessly entertaining, and his Milk and Cheese, Eltingville Club and various Dork comics have an absolute free-wheeling and razor-sharp nature that ensures his cartoons are seething with vitality. Some of them are so deeply personal it hurts to read them, and they all offer substantial rewards, in their own ways.

This should be enough to make Dorkin a comic legend, but he's still somewhere on the margins of the culture. He might be happiest there, but it would be nice if his massive body of great comics paid a living wage.

Maybe he never got the hardcore nerds on board because so much of the funny cuts so close to the bone, you can see the marow. Nerds hate themselves as much as anyone, but they don't need a smartarse to rub their faces in it.

Maybe it's just because people are fucking stupid.

I have a pathological aversion to owning comic books in multiple forms, if I upsize to a trade or hardback or other collection, I get rid of the individual issues I had first. But I have multiple versions of Dork and Milk and Cheese, and I gladly snapped up recent hardbacks. You should too. Everybody should.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Doof doof!

Sometimes, just sometimes, all I want to listen to is big, fat, cheesy and ridiculous beats from the 1990s. And even though he's nobody's favourite musician, after all this time, Fatboy Slim still delivers.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

'That's all for now, DIY fans!'

I always have the feeling I was watching a TV programme that was just a bit too old for me when I saw the Kenny Everett Video Show in the mid-1980s, but all that blood when poor old Reg Prescott cuts off his fingers with manic cheeriness was necessary. It just made everything so much funnier.

Friday, May 24, 2019

What's Stan got to do with it?

The first time I ever really noticed how weird it was to have 'Stan Lee Presents' above the title of every single Marvel comic was when it was up there on the title page of Uncanny X-Men #233. It's the second part of a Brood storyline which is notable for being extremely bloody - people are constantly getting gutted and broken, with the X-Men team using the final sanction to stop an alien infiltration.

It just seemed weird to have Stan's name up there, when it's such not a Stan story. There is no simple moralising with pleasant fisticuffs - this is dark as hell, with innocent people impregnated with alien eggs that take over their soul.

I was only 12 years old when this came out, but that was old enough to finally figure out Stan was just a figurehead. He still zapped out the odd Soapbox screed, but he probably hadn't even read the comics that came out under his name, and the man behind the curtain had fucked off to Hollywood to sell his vision on the big screen.

Stan got the last laugh, those movie dreams improbably paid off into a multi-billion dollar franchise, and becoming a household name with those endless cameos. His most successful creation was always 'Stan Lee', and he probably didn't even know who the Brood were.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Drokk this!

Jeff and Graeme's Wait, What? podcast has been essential listening for years, but their new Drokk! podcast - which is taking a long, long look at the ongoing and growing genius of the Judge Dredd comic strip - is already the best podcast they've ever done, as far as I'm concerned.

Go, listen. They're only a few episodes in, but they've already cranked through the original clumsy stories, the world-building of the Cursed Earth, the day the Law Died and the crucial year three stories that established Mega City One as the main character of the story.  They've got so far to go, but this podcast captures the thrill of going through this strange, weird and intense epic with your best friends, who have plenty of good shit to say on the subject.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The gap betwen Nirvana

There's a nine-year age gap between myself and the lovely wife, and it's not that bad most of the time. We generally like the same movies and TV shows and music, which makes life so much easier. But sometimes, the gap feels like forever, and never more so when we're talking about Nirvana.

Me and my mates were all in our late teens when Nirvana exploded everywhere, so we were primed for those screeching guitars, primal screams and achingly delicate melodies that the band bought with them. They made all the hair metal bands and pop wannabes look like a joke, and were infinitely accessible to anyone who felt like an outcast (i.e. every young person in the world).

I wish I could claim that I was the first of my friends to get into it, but it was Anthony who heard them first, with Smells like Teen Spirit cranking out late at night on a rock radio station we could only just pick up from Christchurch. He was raving about them for weeks before any of us got a copy of their tape, and then we all pretended we had heard of them first.

Everybody lied about being into them since the Bleach days, everybody hated Pat Smear's smug grin on the Unplugged set, and everybody was fucking shattered when Kurt died. It was a universal.

The wife doesn't get that. She likes Nirvana in the same way she likes Led Zeppelin, or the Ramones, or The Beatles - as a band that was before her time. She doesn't understand, and quite right, too. Every musical generation is about nine years long, and she has her own thing. My generation will still be here, thrashing Nirvana till we die.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Old men gotta be old

There is a particular kind of queasiness for when you're reading a book written by a favourite film director, talking about their life and their deep and thoughtful relationship with cinema, and you're only three pages in and they're already moaning about how political correctness is ruining everything. 

I'm sure the Germans have an exact word for that feeling.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Family Guy: There's more than one kind of comedy

Nobody ever seems to admit to watching Family Guy, because it's crude and tasteless and fucking stupid, and sometimes sends a baffling political message, but somehow the show stumbles on.

There is a lot to criticise about it, and the easiest one is that sometimes it's just pretty fucking lame, but one of the most boring slams of the show is that it's bad comedy anyway, because the cutaways and jokes are so random and don't add anything to the story, according to some very clever people who read an interview with the South Park guys once

I almost just want to watch every episode just to piss off these arsehole comedy snobs. As if there is only one way of making people laugh, and that slapstick and non sequitur gags aren't as worthy as story-based laffs, and that surreal gags that have no connection to reality or the sacred plot of a story are just not funny.

That condemns a fuck-ton of great comedy over the decades, so screw that shit. There's all sorts of funny, and anyone who gets judgemental on somebody's else dumbarse humour is no fun at all.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Vivat Grendel: Black and White and Red all over

After the future faded away, Matt Wagner inevitably went back to Hunter Rose. The original Grendel was dead before the dawn of the saga, but there were still plenty of stories to tell about the murderous rascal, mostly in stark black, white and red.

Rose featured in dozens of little vignettes, and even took on a Shadow or two. The Grendel story all came full circle in the Behold The Devil, where Hunter Rose has a vision of the future he will inspire, and the massive, sprawling and twisted legacy he leaves behind.

Hilariously, he rejects it all, because it makes him less unique, but Hunter shouldn't have been too bothered, he'll always been one of a kind, no matter how many legions who follow in his wake.

There hasn't been much Grendel since then - Wagner has been busy on licensed properties and Mage in the years since. But he's finished up his other long-running story in recent months, with Kevin Matchstick finally figuring out what's really important in life, and it could be time to take another walk on the dark side.

After all, the devil never goes out of style.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Vivat Grendel: Batman has something you don't

The second face-off between Grendel and Batman isn't as intricate or detailed as the first, swapping plot complexity for thudding, propulsive action. Batman is still engaged in an ideological battle with a cold, implacable foe, but there's a lot more guns and motorcycle chases in the sequel.

And it's a physical battle Batman just can't win - he has just as much iron will and grim determination as any devil, but the Grendel Prime is an unstoppable solar-powered cyborg from the far future who can't be stopped, even if you get his brain into a jar.

But Batman has something no Grendel ever had: a sense of hope for the future, and it's that bright beacon that undoes Prime at the end, with ultimate sidekick Robin making the crucial shot at the crucial time. Something Grendel could never calculate on is the unwavering aim of innocent righteousness, and he is undone.

There is a limit to unstoppable will, if there's nothing human at the heart of it.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Vivat Grendel: Everybody has got a story

Once the Grendel cycle reached its natural conclusion, it left behind a strange and dangerous world, full of war and horror and honour and laser swords. It seemed a shame to waste it, and the Grendel Tales series filled out that world with greater depth and style.

The Grendel Tales series featured stories that could be complex, pretty and slightly dull - Rob Walton's 'Devil's Hammer', 'The Devil My Care' by Terry LaBan and Peter Doherty and 'The Devil In Our Midst' by Steve Seagle and Paul Grist - and they could a pure pulp thrill ride like Pat McEown's Warchild semi-sequel  'Homecoming', or 'Four Devils, One Hell' by James Robinson and Teddy Kristiansen.

Sometimes, they could even be absolutely bloody brilliant, with two fantastic stories by Darko Macan and Edvin Biukovic that featured future wars in the Balkans that ignite out of hatreds and blood feuds that are older than the devil itself, and are well worth seeking out.

It all faded away after Jeffrey Lang and Steve Lieber's 'The Devils's Apprentice' in 1997, and we haven't been back to that future again. A world of Grendels is a dark and nasty place, but it was nice to visit for a while.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Vivat Grendel: No happy ever after here

The Grendel story is one of much death and tragedy, but the closest it ever comes to an outright happy ending is at the end of War Child, as the true Grendel heir Jupiter Niklos Assante takes his birthright, and ushers in a new age of power and respect.

But the devil hates happy ever after, and in a timeline published very soon after War Child wrapped up, it reveals the new emperor's reign only lasts 15 years before he his assassinated, and his entire empire crumbles in a century, in the hands of lesser descendants..

In Grendel's world, you have to appreciate the moments of triumph as they happen, because they never last long, before everything burns down again.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Vivat Grendel: Future Shock!

The Grendel spirit had sprung from Rose's corpse into Spar, and then had a short affair with Li Sung, but where can you go with there? Where can you go with a devil like that?

Wagner had an answer - inspired by Bernie Mireault's idea of the Grendel persona taking over a crowd, rather than an individual - you take over the world, and take the storytelling into strange new places.

The issues of the monthly Grendel comic where months, years and centuries slip by are some of the best of the series - hard to follow at first, but the reward is worth the effort. Dialogue and plot all get heavy mid-80s experimental, telling the story with emojis and other symbols, with circular patterns of sound and fury echoing down the ages.

There are still crooks and liars and thieves and lovers, and banana-powered vampires that live forever, but in the future, everything becomes Grendel.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Vivat Grendel: Art you can cut your eyes on

After the death of Hunter Rose, Matt Wagner could have let the Grendel concept lie down and rest, but then it came back as a thoroughly modern affair, with a kickass female pulling on the mask, and the sharpest art in contemporary comics.

Wagner gave up the artistic duties after his first round and has only occasionally returned to fully illustrate his own Grendel stories over the years, and his first real collaborators on the title were Arnold and Jacob Pander,who made sure the comic didn't look like anything else on the stands. Their art is as well-honed as Christine Spar's haircut, all tight angles and jagged panels, with goofy wide eyes only making things more sharp. The colors in the original comics - unfortunately recoloured for other editions - are gorgeously garish and are none more 80s.

The Pander Brothers were there for a year, but pointed the way to a sharp future, with similar jagged edges in the work of follow-up artists Bernie Mireault and John K. Snyder III, and even Wagner's own Grendel art had a similar sharpness (although this might have been due to the heavy Kurtzman influence he was on the time.)

That's how Grendel grew, with individual creators all adding something to Wagner's mix, and influencing the overall taste. And the Pander Brothers' work tastes like razor blades.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Vivat Grendel: Dead from the dawn

Hunter Rose was always the purest embodiment of Matt Wagner's Grendel concept - a creature of crisp style and cold calculation, a man who can strip you apart with his tongue as easily as his electrified fork, and a monster of formidable and indomitable will.

Rose was a gorgeous flower with the sharpest of thorns, and his story was over before the Grendel comic book saga ever really got going. After a brief and permanently unfinished adventure in his own black and white comic in the early eighties, Rose's story was next told in the Devil By The Deed story, a flowery biography of the character's life by an in-story author who would soon take the mask for herself, and ends with the ultimate and original Grendel lying dead on a New York rooftop.

Wagner's story would go to some weird and wonderful places over the next few years, into harsh experimentation with the comic form and forward into a sci-fi future of uncommonly grim detail, but Rose was gone before it really began.

But his shadow and legacy hovers over all, and the spirit of the mad fencer with the devil eyes would end up influencing the entire world, to dramatic and willful effect. Rose's ghost is there as Grendel Prime tries to carve it out of the earth, his skull echoes with his spiteful laughter, and his memory is never dying throughout the world.

And even after taking the concept to the far future, Wagner keeps coming back to Hunter Rose and always has more stories to tell about him. Because while Rose's story was always cut painfully short, the real devil is in the details.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Barry knows how fiction works

'Star Wars didn't happen and that's a rad movie!'

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The ABC Warriors were spreading the word first

The very first proper comic book collection I ever saw for sale in a shop was one of the Titan reprints of the ABC Warriors from 2000ad. I saw it in the gaming section of a department store in Dunedin that hasn't existed in 30 years, sandwiched between a surprising amount of first and second generation Dungeons and Dragons modules.

There had always been collections of things like the Asterix and Tintin comics and there were a lot of cheap and cheerful local reprints of all sorts of horror and superhero comics. But almost every regular comic I read was in the single issue format, with just a few pages beneath a flimsy cover.

But this was a bound collection of classic 2000ad by Mills, McMahon and Ezquerra with an eye-wateringly gorgeous McMahon cover, and it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen (especially because it would take years to fill out the 2000ad collection and actually read these stories).

I didn't buy it, because I was 11, and it cost $30 in mid-1980s money, so I might as well have been asking for the moon, and it was gone the next time I visited the city again. I still went back to that department store several times before it closed down, hoping for another hit like that, but it was just all D&D again.

I have so many collected editions now - and a fair few of the Titan reprints - but I never got that ABC Warriors book. It's a prefect ideal of what comic books could (and would) be, and back in 1986, it was the sexiest thing I'd ever seen.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Game of Thrones: Oh, just shut the hell up

"Of course, the massive sense of entitlement and inability to manage expectations means most of the criticism around the new Thrones has been utter garbage, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's all fucking Mystery Science Theater 3000's fault, which had some proper laughs, but inspired a legion of arseholes to approach all their art in terms of pure snark, leading to the widespread success of shit like CinemaSins, with snide asides and obsessive nit-picking at the forefront, and no mention of theme, or tone, or anything beyond the obsessive need to be the smartarse in the room. And that leaves all the discussion around any art left buried in pissy bullshit."

- I can't stop saying shit like this to people, and I think I'm going to stab myself in the fucking face.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Game of Thrones: Everybody's a general now

"Yeah, I know, I see where you're coming from, but all I want is some analysis of the way the last half hour of this huge climactic battle had literally five lines of dialogue, and summed up a sprawling and complex and intense saga with almost no talking, relying on mute characterisation, a thrilling score and outrageous spectacle in a way I've literally never seen on screen before, and all I can find instead is endless 'they put the trench behind the troops! LOL!' takes."

- Another thing I said to a real person abut Games of Thrones today, and I still can't fucking believed my face remains un-stabbed.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Game of Thrones: At Zenith point

'Look, all I'm saying is that a story where things get progressively worse and worse, and all hope is finally snuffed out, and it's all getting horrifically awful by the minute or page, and then, when things are at their very darkest, everything turns out okay, and everybody gets to go home again, those are my kind of stories.'

- Something I said to a real person about Game of Thrones today, and for some reason, she didn't stab me in the face for it.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

'The Hitch-Hikers Guide to The Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book'

Glunklegrumph, slurplurg, snuggle flitch, grungefuthock, oomfslup, flimphlesnook, aargh glumf, eeklphlurge and poofle shnuk.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

They still got the Outlander poster up at the Majestic

When I went back home recently, I had to check to see if the glass display case at the movie theatre which turned into a video store which turned into nothing was still showing posters from the classic viking/alien movie Outlander and Steve Soderburgh's Che, because if they were, it's the longest any movie posters has ever been on display in the city of Timaru, and I fucking love the fact that it's Outlander and Che.

Oh yeah, they're still there. That's brilliant.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

God bless you, Ms Kondo

I don't subscribe to the minimalism aesthetic espoused by people like Marie Kondo - I'm here to build my own library, and it's one that is fucking full of joy - but I'm so grateful for what she's doing.

Secondhand bookstores are my favourite kind of stores, and have been slowly dying for decades. A large part of the readership have gone fully digital, while using internet auction sites and charity stores to get rid of their books, bypassing the humble shop completely. Cities that used to have dozens of stores now have just a handful, and the world is a worse place because of this.

And then along came Kondo, and the few stores that remain are suddenly getting these amazing collections of books, as everybody goes through their stuff and gets rid of everything that doesn't mean anything to them. The few shops in town are suddenly full of brilliant books that have been unlocked for the public.

The best bookstore in my town, which narrowly avoided extinction recently by moving into a church building, is heaving with great stuff - I head in there every week and always find something new and fascinating. The shelves housing its comics and graphic novels section is heaving with a huge variety of printed beauty, from mid-80s Marvel fun to some ultra low-press offerings from all over the world.

I still get rid of a lot of my books and comics, just like anybody else, but I still have thousands and thousands of the fuckers because I always judge people by their bookcases, and expect the same in return. And I always come out of Hard To Find Books every week with something, whether it's another weird benefit comic I'd never heard of, or that Archie v Punisher comic I'd always wanted to read, or a bunch of Hellboy that I needed to plug the gaps.

Because you might not want these things cluttering up your precious living space, but they sure as shit give me some joy.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Scans from an Armageddon

It was only 20 years ago - in the late 90s! - that the idea of a comic convention was so unusual in New Zealand, that they published a tie-in comic with work by Dylan Horrocks, Ant Sang and the immortal Barry Linton:

And for added goodness, the Armageddon 1998 Megazine also featured this short essay by writer Devin Grayson, talking about how shit it is to be constantly pigeon-holed as a female creator (which is just as bloody relevant in 2019 as it was back then):

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Love at first Hobbit

At the Highfield Primary School library, they put the new books up on a special shelf, but sometimes you had to wait a couple of weeks before you could actually check them out, so all the other kids could see what was going to be available.

Waiting for The Hobbit to be moved from the red section to the green when I was 7 years old was the longest two weeks of my life.

There had been books beforehand, including a huge infatuation with the Hardy Boys and an obsession with Terrence Dicks' Doctor Who stories that never, ever died. But this thick and chunky novel, with a golden dragon on the cover, was the sexiest thing I'd ever seen in my short life, and I was desperate to get my grubby hands on it.

It didn't disappoint either, and I ripped through it in three days, even though it was the longest thing I'd ever attempted. I pity the poor teachers who were suddenly inundated with Hobbit fan fiction or art whenever we had to create something in class. I had no idea what Gollum looked like, and drew him as a lizard man with a tail, before subsequent re-reads gave me a better idea of how he appeared.

And I did read it over and over again, and loved it every time. I'd move onto a new obsession with Stephen King's The Stand in just a few years, but for a while there, the Hobbit was the greatest story I'd ever read.

I didn't get to the Lord of the Rings for another decade, weirdly put off by the humongous appendices at the end. The Hobbit was this perfect book, a weird and rambling story that didn't need a next-level sequel. It was all I wanted in my fiction, and worth that eternal two-week wait.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Frank Quitely Drawings and Sketches: The smaller, the better

Most hardback books that focus on the art of a particular comic artist come in an oversized format, showing off all the fine detail that goes into a piece of classic comic art.

Frank Quitely Drawings and Sketches - published by BHP Comics last year - is not a big book, but it's not a slight book either. Barely larger than the average paperback and just 100 pages long, it's still packed with gorgeous art from Quitely, showcasing his most appealing pencils and sketches and finished pages from just a couple of the projects he has worked on in the past decade or so, with notes from the artist and script excerpts.

Quitely is objectively brilliant comic artist, design work, instantly recognisable and always a delight to read. There is such an incredible inventiveness and humour in his layouts and figurework, with caricatures that somehow look more realistic than real life.

And the size of the thing really helps sell his work as well, because Quietly's art looks even neater when it is shrunk down. His line can look wavering up close, but locks in when reproduced at a smaller size, creating the ultimate detail work.

There is some risk of eye strain looking at this stuff - one reproduced double page spread from Multiversity with 32 panels goes right to the limit of readability - but in this neat little format, Quitely's work still stands out, and is worth a little strain on the optic nerve.