Sunday, June 30, 2019
Fuck Monopoly and Scrabble and Operation and all that, the only board game I wanted to play as a kid was I Vant To Bite Your Finger. It took about five minutes and was dependent on random luck, but you got to stick your finger in a vampire's mouth and hope he didn't bite down. If he did, it would leave a red mark on your finger.
When I say it out loud like that, it sounds dumb, but it could get damn stressful. Nobody wanted a bloody finger.
Saturday, June 29, 2019
When I'm 14 and watching UHF, I laughed so hard at Weird Al's Rambo pisstake, especially the bit where the bad guy is shooting at him while he slowly gets his bow and arrow out, and then it pulls back to show they're centimetres apart. I laughed so hard I think I died, and everything that has happened since is just a dying dream of a 14-year-old boy who's seen the funniest thing he will ever see. Everything since is the delusions of an adolescent mind in one last burst of fake reality.
Sorry about the mess.
Friday, June 28, 2019
My Grandad died 35 years ago, but I still have three pieces of chunky wood that he crafted into something for me. One of them is a big, blue toy car that I always thought of as a gangster's car, another is a lockable two-litre silver box that has always been home to my action figures.
And the third is a brown wooden box that has a faded patch on the front where there used to be a sticker that came free with the British Crisis comic book (it said 'STICK IT'). It also used to have a lid, but that vanished over the years too.
It's also the perfect size for two piles of American comic books. It's about 10cm deep, so I can get about 100 in there, and I've always put my very favourite comics in there.
For the past two decades, that's mainly been a lot of Grant Morrison comics, especially The Invisibles. I need to keep them safe, because I spent too much time reading them on the beach, drunk as fuck, and they're beaten to hell by saltwater and sentimentality. They've lived in Grandad's box since the 90s.
I still love the Morrison, like all good people, but maybe it's time for some re-evaluation as to what my favourite comics are, and which deserve a place in that box of awesome. Flex Mentallo is probably staying in there, but I haven't cracked open those Invisibles for a while. Maybe it's time to work out what's really important.
All of Grandad's boxes and toys are still sturdy and in excellent shape. They could use a bit of paint, but they're solid as hell. I hope that he would like that I still put my favourite things inside them.
Thursday, June 27, 2019
The other day, I was in one of the last places in town to sell DVDs, and sitting there on the shelf, like it wasn't no thing, in between copies of Salem's Lot and San Andreas, was Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, the Pier Paolo Pasolini masterpiece based on the funtime writings of the Marquis de Sade.
It was genuinely a bit shocking to see it there, because it was straight-up banned from screening in New Zealand for more than 20 years - I went to the first screening after the ban lifting ages ago, and that showing still feels like a nightmare, in all the best ways. And there it was, in the local mall shop.
I thought about grabbing the copy and taking it home for myself, but knew I'd never be watching it again. It really is a powerful, breath-taking movie, especially that detached finale, but I don't think I ever need to see it again, to be honest.
Besides, I do like the idea of somebody finding it in the shop and giving it a go without knowing anything about it - it only cost $5, what's the harm? Watching Salo without knowing what you're in for. That would be an experience I couldn't deny anybody.
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Somewhere out there in the grim and optimistic post-War age, notorious gossip hound Kenneth Anger is taking a break from the satanism and puts some snappy pop music on the soundtrack over his underground art movie, and it works like gangbusters, influencing Scorsese in his use of music, who goes on to influence nearly every other filmmaker in the world. Anger's films are full of half-naked motorcyclists and full-frontal magickal rituals and aren't for everybody, but his ear for a good tune takes over the world.
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
I used to dream I could fly, like Superman or Zenith, and could soar over the clouds. Sometimes I had real trouble just hovering a few feet off the ground, and sometimes I'd take high to the sky.
I don't really dream of that anymore, but I do often have dreams where I'm Speedball, falling down to earth, and then bouncing off the ground like a hyper-rubber ball, leaping off tall shit and rebounding around city streets, ricocheting through the urban landscape.
I don't know what my brain is trying to tell me here - Freud thought flying was a metaphor for sex, but he thought everything was a metaphor for sex, so bouncing probably means I need to masturbate more often or something.
It's fucking fun, whatever it means. Speedball had the best power.
Monday, June 24, 2019
I made a few hundred bucks by offloading some generally average comic books at a market day over the weekend, and then totally undid all my good work by buying a bloody big box of Groo comics.
They were stunningly cheap, and included issues going back to the earliest Pacific days. but the lovely wife rightfully pointed out that I'd completely missed the point of going to this thing to get rid of some comics. I had to activate the Sergio Clause - of course I was going there to thin out the collection and make some room in our rapidly shrinking house-space, and of course I wasn't going to add to the pile, unless there were a bunch of Sergio Aragones comics, because everyone needs more Sergio Aragones comics in their life.
Luckily, my pal Nik was there and was able to confirm that the Sergio Clause is a real thing, so I think I got away with it this time.
Sunday, June 23, 2019
Saturday, June 22, 2019
Friday, June 21, 2019
I used to think Shayne Carter was the coolest motherfucker alive when I saw him around in Dunedin in the mid-90s, scowling into a southerly wind on George Street, blasting his guitar in solo gigs at the Empire, or bitching with Roy at Records Records. I had just left home and never had the guts to go up and tell him how much I loved the Straitjacket Fits, but he looked like he had it going on.
I've been reading his new biography about his relationship with music, the people it has brought him into contact with and the places he's traveled to for performances, and it's fucking excellent. Carter's sly wit is everywhere, and it's constantly laugh-out-loud funny, from his recollections of getting into drunken feuds with other musicians to the brilliant revelation of what his favourite record was when he was 10.
But he has also shown that so much of that cool aloofness was a defensive front, and he was just as much a mess as any of us, especially after the tragic death of his best mate in a dumb train accident. Even as he's out there trying to conquer the world with his shredding guitar licks, he's miserable and worried that everything he does is not worth the effort.
I can't speak for how he feels about his work, but Carter has created some incandescently great music with the Fits and the Doublehappys and Dimmer, and he's left behind a legacy in NZ music that is unmatched. To find out that he's just as screwed up as anybody else doesn't tarnish that at all, it makes his riffs soar even higher, to know he's finding his own way out of that misery.
I just wish I had bothered to tell him how much his work meant to me all those years ago. He might just have sneered at me, but the coolest of us could still always use a kind word or two.
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Mainstream superheroes are trapped in never-ending cycles of reboot and rebirth, so there is always something appealing about an actual ending, when somebody tries to put their last word on a character, especially if they've been working on them for a while. The desire for a full stop - the last, definitive story, an epilogue to all that has come before - is strong, even as the next issue of Batman comes out next month.
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have created a butt-tonne of Batman comics in the past few years, and have said just about all they have to say with the character, but they're getting in one last shot with the current Last Knight On Earth story.
And after one issue, they've already nailed one of the best things about this type of story, and are throwing everything into the mix. There are goofy puns, super-science and existential dread. The story starts on the mean streets of Gotham, gets in some classic Batman-in-the-asylum stuff, has Alfred making one last plea and a Joker in a bowl, before Bats even gets his suit on and heads out into a dark, dusty future.
It's not really doing anything new, but is happily divorced from the main continuity, which has become so polluted. And it's as gorgeous as anything else Capullo has done with the character, which sparkles beneath the neon colors that have worked so well on his Bat-comics ,giving life to the end of the world.
And, best of all, it has nothing to lose, and anything could happen from here. There have been dozens of 'proper endings' to the Batman saga, but there is always room for one more.
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
When I'm drifting off to sleep at night, I always think about the stories I would like to tell one day, and the way I'd tell them, and how I'd always be trying to capture something honest and exciting.
And the image that always, always pops up in my head, for no goddamn reason I can ever figure, is Big Arnold grabbing Jamie Lee Curtis' hand as the limo she's in goes off the bridge at high speed in True Lies.
It's like that's all I ever want to see, ever.
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
There were 24 minutes of advertisements before a movie at my local cinema recently. The film was close to three hours long, and adding nearly half an hour was a bit fucking much.
It's particularly galling when it costs so damn much to go the movies in the first place - it's becoming a real luxury - and you're such a captive audience that you can't get away. You can skip past the endless Grammerly ads on Youtube, or go and make a cup of tea while broadcast TV tries to sell you shit, but in the cinema, you're stuck in your seat and just have to put up with it.
At the very least, they could have cut out the two ads telling me to buy really fast cars, and then they wouldn't have had to have the two road safety ads telling me to slow down. They all cancelled each other out, so what's the fucking point?
Monday, June 17, 2019
As uncool as it always sounds, Vertigo comics really did change everything for me. I was 17 when they launched and absolute primed for stylish, pretentious and fucking weird comics, and Vertigo certainly provided all of that, and more.
I was getting at least one Vertigo comic every month for the first 10 years of the imprint, although I've only bought the odd one-shot for years now. They've still been putting out a lot of quality comics, but few of them really appeal that much to me, probably because I haven't been 17 in a long, long time now.
There have been many attempts to give the line a push, and I always hoped more of their comics would catch on, although they never really did. The entire imprint never really got over its Sandman fetish, and while it had plenty of big hits like Preacher and 100 Bullets and Fables and Y The Last Man to keep things ticking over, Sandman always hung over it and there have been countless attempts to recapture that magic, including one in the past year.
Now there is a lot of chatter that Vertigo may soon be shut down by its corporate overlords, who only see the bottom line, and can't understand why they don't own so many of the properties they publish. It would be sad to see it go, not just because of my own personal history down Vertigo way, but for all those other stylish, pretentious and fucking weird 17-year-olds, who might need stories that make them feel less alone in this cold, cruel world. It always worked for me.
Sunday, June 16, 2019
Most comic readers have favourite writers and artists, and follow them from title to title, because they know seeing a certain creator involved is a guarantee of certain quality.
Most people don't follow inkers as much. There has always some fine embellishers in the industry - including Wally Wood, who brought polish; Terry Austin, who bought shine; and Kyle Baker, who made everybody look like Kyle Baker (which a very good thing).
But in the 1990s there was another inker whose name was always worth following, and that was the great Dick Giordano. It wasn't because of his actual artwork, which was always super solid and reliable, but because the man had definite taste, and if he thought a comic was worth inking, it was worth reading.
Dick G was a company man to the end, and an editor who had a profound impact on mainstream comics. But he always kept one hand on his brush, and he would frequently pop up as the inker on various Batman projects, or on James Robin's Starman book, or inking up Steve Yeowell's work on The Invisibles.
None of these assignments had much in common, other than they were published by DC, but seeing Giornado's name meant it was usually worthwhile, because he thought it was worthwhile. He passed away in 2010, but I'll always trust his taste.
Saturday, June 15, 2019
There's a terrific bit in last year's Friedkin Uncut documentary, where the legendary director is talking about a scene he shot in The French Connection, and how somebody pointed out that the camera crew had accidentally been caught in the reflection of a car window, and that he was told they might have to shoot it again in some way that would avoid that reflection, and Billy Friedkin - who knows a thing or two about movies - said there was no need to redo it, because anybody who got hung up on how the faintest of reflections shattered their suspension of disbelief were not fully engaging with his movie, so who gives a shit about that?
If he tried to pull that today, Billy would undoubtedly be slammed as "lazy" and "incompetent", but he's still 100% right. If your enjoyment of the French Connection - including one of the objectively greatest car chases ever - is destroyed by a reflection, you're not really watching his movie, and he doesn't need to cater to you.
Friday, June 14, 2019
Thursday, June 13, 2019
Henry was always so square and decent, even when he played the most dastardly of villains, Peter looked like the kind of hippy that got into investment banking in the 1980s and now spends all day talking about how bad a capital gains tax is, and Jane never really focused all that wild energy.
Bridget was the best of them. She was genuinely luminous on screen, and drifted through movies like it was the easiest thing in the world. She had all the best attributes of the rest of her famous clan, but was sleeker, with a sharper edge - when she burned somebody with a harsh word, you could feel the heat.
She ruled the 90s, and hasn't made a film since 2002. You gotta respect that.
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
The wife and I had the incredible good fortune to see Sharon Van Etten play with her full band last week, and she was fucking transcendent. Most of the songs were from her most recent album, which added acres of synth to her gloriously sparse sound, and that was fine by us, especially when she would lift them to new heights with a committed vocal performance on stage.
She also had most excellent trousers.
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
There is something in us that craves closure, in both our lives and fictions. We know we never really get it, that it's a lie we tell ourselves so that we can start over again, and that real life is far too complex for that kind of triviality. We are all informed and shaped by our past, and putting nice big full stops on it isn't fooling anybody.
The Deadwood television series famously lacked any sense of closure, no matter how apt it was that the series ended with Al on his knees, cleaning up the blood of an innocent, and sneering at the idea of telling someone 'something pretty'. There was unfinished business, especially with the most public of promises that further movies were coming. Nobody thought it would take 13 years, but they got there in the end.
The new movie leaves plenty of plot threads dangling - it's unlikely the Leviathan Hearst will take the latest indignities without some form of murderous rebuke, and his kind ultimately win, with the capitalistic giants of the 20th century following in his footsteps. Deadwood was always the most optimistic series about the American Dream, showing how a bunch of freaks and malcontents create a civilization out of the mud and blood, but the tyrants who will rob them blind are also being born in their midst.
But there is some sense of closure, with old scores settled and grievances aired, and positions of love and loyalty made clear.
Hearst is rejected by the community he always felt above, stamped into the road by a mob led by Jane and the eternal Garret Dillahunt. (It is always an absolute pleasure to see that many, many people looked like Dillahunt in the old west, and they all had their own tragic backstories and destines). Seth is tempted to return to old ways, but stands with his family, as is right and proper, and Sol and Trixie get their own happy ending, and new starts. Even Jane and Joanie prop up each other enough for final declarations of support, and General Samuel Fields meets his maker with dignity and wisdom. And Al Swearengen, in a majestic and epic performance by McShane, gets in a last line that is even more graceful and cutting than the last time.
It was overwhelming to watch Deadwood again after all these years, to drop into that world. And while total closure can be an impossible dream, it is more than enough to visit with old friends again, and see how they are faring.The years have not been kind for some, and others are holding up surprisingly well. That's more than we can ever hope for.
Monday, June 10, 2019
It's very hard to ever really recommend James Ellroy books to anybody - they're full of the most reprehensible characters, doing the most awful things imaginable. Mass murder, racist killings, blackmail and general nastiness on an industrial scale, performed by people who never sleep and get by on massive amounts of Benzedrine and self-loathing.
This Storm, his new book, is no exception, and while that weird after-taste of Blood's A Rover crazy last act still lingers, this is vintage Ellroy. A few pages in and Doctor Hideo Ashida - a Japanese-American in LA around the days of Pearl Harbour, surviving on a delicate balance of extreme competence, good connections and absolute intensity - is performing field autopsies on more than a dozen of his countrymen on the beach where they were recently murdered and dumped, shutting up the local cracker cops when he splits open skulls to dig out the bullets without hesitation or fear.
And Dr Ashida's journey is just one of many in this sprawling text, bashing up against an amazing, charming and unobtainable redhead who starts the book by accidentally killing two kids, and the devil himself, Sergeant Dudley Smith, part of a huge cast of characters that range from low-lifes to real scumbags.
I still can't recommend this to anybody I know - the style and substance of Ellroy's books is always going to rub most people the wrong way - but this intensity of vision and execution can be addictive. I certainly always get my fix.
Sunday, June 9, 2019
I was at an independent comic artist convention last weekend, and it was fucking amazing - I walked around like a slack-jawed idiot, awed by the quality of the artwork being produced in this country. There were dozens of artists and the standard was sky high, there were so many beautiful mini-comics and prints and posters and clothing and figurines. And most of it was of absolutely no interest to me, with way too many pastel unicorns and wide-eyed elves on magical quests.
Which is bloody fantastic, as far as I'm concerned. As a forty-something year old white dude, there is too much art that feels like it is being made just for me, and all that stuff I'm not interested in brings some real diversity and colour to the comics medium and industry, which is badly needed and greatly appreciated. Bring it all on, and the stuff the kids like absolutely should be completely baffling to me, because it's theirs, not mine.
That's how I feel with modern Spider-Man comics. I haven't bought a regular issue of Spider-Man since the 20th century, and while I still roughly follow his adventures through the collections at the local library, and watch the movies, we swung our separate way a long time ago.
That's okay. The best Spider-Man is the Spider-Man who existed when you are 9-years-old, and that's a long time ago for me. While a character like Batman is eternal, I got off the tired wheel of Spidey's endless 'power and responsibility' trip a long time ago, and leave him for the kids who still adore his wisecracks and the way he hurtles through the New York sky.
Spider-Man was there for me when I needed him, but he there is for somebody else now. I just got to get out of the way and let everybody else have their fun.
Saturday, June 8, 2019
The last Spider-Man comic I ever regularly bought wasn't even a real American one. It was a British reprint comic in the mid-90s, and it was enormously satisfying and value for money.
The Spidey adventures had been split between several different titles for years, and it was impossible to keep track of them all when I never lived anywhere near a comic shop. I'd spent years getting a third of storylines, and making do with that.
But The Exploits of Spider-Man reprinted recent Amazing, Spectacular and Web comics, while also fitting in some more Ditko, Spider-Man 2099 and... well... Motormouth. Not every one can be a winner.
Each issue was dense with Spidey action, with the art splashed across a larger magazine size, while keeping the colouring that so many other similar reprints lacked. Each issue offered up dozens and dozens of pages of spider-action, and I could actually follow storylines as they were intended to be read, instead of piecemeal over years. And there was a free poster in every issue, at one stage featuring classic Marvel covers that hung on my walls for years after I stopped getting the comic.
Spider-Man is always better in huge chunks of comics. Even with the Motormouth.
Friday, June 7, 2019
There was a moment there, just before Todd McFarlane came in and took things in wriggly new directions, when the Spider-Man comics got a bit weird and creepy and smelly.
With DC getting a lot of mileage by piling complexity onto Batman, Marvel made a few stabs at the idea in the late 1980s, with a couple of moody graphic novels, and storylines in the main comic book that were a radical departure from the straightforward superheroics of the past decade.
It wasn't just the Kraven's Last Hunt storyline, which was dripping in dank atmosphere and existential tension, it was things like the slow drugged nightmare of Ann Nocenti's Life In The Mad Dog Ward, with ethereal art by Cindy Martin.
These comics ran in the regular Amazing Spider-Man, and were probably a bit too upsetting for the traditional Spidey fan. McFarlane's art was just a couple of months away, and would be more to the kids' liking.
You can still do just about any kind of story with Spider-Man, and many have over the years. There have been comics like Tangled Webs, which gave creators such as Rucka, Risso, Cooke, Bone, McKeever and Mahfood free reign. Kaare Andrews made good ol' Pete Parker a sour cancer-machine in one comic, while Bagge took Peter all the way down Objectivism Street.
But these are always special projects now, usually outside the main continuity. For a while there, the future of the character was really looking at how fucking creepy a man with spider powers could be, but he always goes back to swinging in the light.
Thursday, June 6, 2019
Years and years after Bendis slotted him into the Avengers, I still don't buy Spider-Man as a member of the team. He's always there to help out - he was the one who cracked the the soul gem and released Adam Warlock to sentence Thanos to his first un-life during one of the great Avengers battles - but he's a solo guy through and through.
Spider-Man should always be doing his own thing, and not getting tied down into team dynamics, he's too fucking busy just trying to pay the rent to deal with that stuff. And while he skirts around the edges of many teams over the years - ever since he tried to get in on the FF action in Amazing Spider-Man #1 - he's got his own neighbourhood to take of.
There is nothing wrong with being a solo artist instead of a band. Some acts just work better this way. Spider-Man is always down for the team-up, but let him do his own thing.
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
I used to own hundreds and hundreds of Spider-Man comics and now I have about 30. The ones that are left are, unsurprisingly, the ones that came out when I was a little kid.
I remember how groovy Spider-Man was, when he had wide-ranging adventures in glorious primary colours, and those are the only Spider-Man comics I still want. There have been many fine Spidey comics since, but none that I've ever felt I had to hold onto, not like the 70s version.
Poor Gwen dies so the Green Goblin has to go too, Denny O’Neill and Frank Miller do a Spider-Man/Dr Strange team-up that is still creepy and awfully funny, the regular comics have some Captain Britain, Man Thing, Fantastic Four and Punisher action with terrific Byrne and Andru art, and the classic Saturday Night Live cast being really, really silly.
I'm in the middle of another purge, and the Spider-Man comics from this era that I still have aren't going anywhere. I could never give these away. They're all I ever want in Spider-Man.
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
It's been homaged and ripped off more than a dozen times and it never gets old: Spider-Man is trapped beneath a huge piece of machinery, while waters pours down, and he just needs to get the hell up.
It keeps coming back over and over again because it is so incredibly effective. It's the periodical moment where Spidey gives in to weakness for just a split second, before rallying to lift the world off his shoulders, and go and punch the fuckin' Vulture or somebody. It happens reasonably often, as the always-observant Douglas Wolk has noted.
But nothing beats the original Ditko version. Not just because it's so superbly paced, and not just because it's a rare buff-as-heck Spider-Man from the artist. It's the water.
The waterisn't just dripping down on Peter Parker's head, it's flowing with weight and volume, pooling on his head and cascading over his arms. Ditko's water looks just as heavy as that machinery, and is a vital ingredient of the scene. Ditko could draw anything, from weird surreal hell dimensions to the best fingers in comics, but nobody can make water as heavy as Steve.
Monday, June 3, 2019
The creation myth behind Spider-Man is elusive and contradictory, and always will be, because the main people involved all had a different idea of what 'created by' meant, and they're all dead now, so it's never going to get settled.
Stan Lee was always happy to give Steve Ditko his dues as co-creator, but held firm to his half of that credit, sticking to his claim that he'd had the original idea of a man with the powers of a spider, and that had to count for something.
Ditko, who always liked to see in black and white, was equally clear - he'd come up with everything you'd really associate with Spider-Man, and while Stan might have provided some small part ofthe inspiration, he could hardly be called a co-creator.
(And somewhere in a comic heaven, Kirby is putting down his cigar and pencils and getting his dukes in, making sure everybody knows he had some say in the design.)
They could never agree on who was the creator, because they had a different definition of what a creator was, and they were completely incompatible. They were both utterly right, and both utterly wrong. It's a heck of a contradiction to hang on the real life origin of Spider-Man, but everybody knows that old Webhead has proven amazingly resilient.
Sunday, June 2, 2019
Saturday, June 1, 2019
The new Doctor Who might be lacking a bit of ambition, but there's 50+ years of other stuff to enjoy. I've been doing a rewatch of the whole series for the past couple of years, going through every episode, right from the start. It's been an enormous amount of fun.
I got all the way to the Colin Baker era but got stuck on the Rani story, and haven't been able to get to the second part of that story, not when there are documentaries about the Wu-Tang Clan and the dark side of professional wrestling to watch instead.
I know I will power through it soon, finish off the Baker and shoot through the McCoy. I got through the Savages, I can get through this.
I tried, but I didn't get very far into the Big Finish audios, which seems to be the primary form of new Doctor Who stories these days, with dozens of plays and dramas produced every year.
I bought a bunch a few years ago, when they had a special deal, and after getting through the ones that were universally seen as the best, I still haven't listened to them all, and the few I did have never really stuck in the mind, despite all that praise.
Audio adventures are just not my thing.
No, I was always a New Adventures kid, and got a little bit too emotionally attached to them in the 1990s for a while. They're still the biggest and most obvious influence on the direction of the TV show since 2005, and I still like them a lot.
I only came in halfway through, so it took me years and years to get all the books, and now that I have them all, I've started reading the series in order since the beginning. It's taken me almost a year to get seven books down, but I'm still steadily getting through them. Having two books of Ace roaming a surreal landscape in search of a missing Doctor was a mistake, even with two extremely talented writers involved, but there is enough variety to keep things going.
They're very, very 90s, with writers a bit too enamored with cyberpunk, and full of earnest attempts to Mean Something, but at the stage I'm at, they're starting to do things with the Doctor Who concept that had never been done before, giving the concept and characters new depths unmatched by any other version of the Doctor. That's what really keeps me going.