Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Dicks in the New Adventures

Terrence Dicks was the first book author I knew to search for, because I knew he did a lot of the Doctor Who novelisations. But when I first got into the New Adventures books in the 90s, Dicks felt like old hat, and since I only had a limited amount of time to spend on Doctor Who at the time, I was more inclined to read the other books by the young, hip and experimental, like Cornell, Orman, Parkin, Miles and the rest.

So I've only just read Blood Harvest - Dick's second effort in the range - 30 years after it came out, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was bloody brilliant.

It's got vampires straight out of a Hammer film in the same story where the Doctor and Ace are rubbing bootlegging shoulder with Al Capone., before the TARDIS crew are suddenly dealing with a full-on Five Doctors sequel.

And it reminded me that Dicks was still a master storyteller in the 90s, long after I first read the great Dalek Invasion of Earth. Blood Harvest just hums along and gets to the point with extreme efficiency, and has terrific cliffhangers, each chapter ending with a new twist or dilemma that demands more reading time.

Hell, it even gives old Borusa a happy ending, and I did not see that coming, and makes a joke about Dick's own clich├ęs, which I kinda did.

I'm more than two dozen books into a re-read of the New Adventures book, and after endless cyberpunk bullshit, the straightforwardness of a Dicks beats all that post-modern nonsense with professional ease. The old guard were always the best guard.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Living the beat life

It's fun to think that On The Road is the greatest book in the world when you're 20. It would be weird if you didn't, and I know I went through the same kind of beatnik phase so many other teenagers do.

Of course we all contain multitudes, and you can be several things at once - a geek and a jock at the same time. And while they will bury me a punk, I definitely went through a deep and passionate love affair with the poetry and prose of all the beat generation crowd at the same point in my life.  

I don't know how much he gets lumped in with the rest of them because he came a little afterwards, but I was always a bit of a Emmett Grogan fan, even though I believed less than 10 percent of his stories. Ringolevio felt like a blueprint for some kind of life, but was too extraordinary to take as a practical guide. 

On The Road offered more, and while the endless roads of America might as well have been on the fucking moon for how accessible they were to me, Kerouac's book was full of tiny little truths, and the freedom of hitching a ride in the back of a truck, and watching the cold stars above, is still immensely attractive. And the story about the endless roll of paper going through the typewriter is still one of the most genuinely romantic images in literary history. 

I was turned on to all the great writers by smart girls and nerdy co-workers and was soon haunting the bookstores, looking for the most obscure authors (and finding a surprising number of them, New Zealand used to be one of the most literary countries in the world, with amazing proportions of readers, and you could find the most extraordinary books in small town second hand bookstores).

And you follow those threads and get stuck into the spiritual side of thing, and there are all sorts of revelations to be found in the Eastern philosophies that were never mentioned in school.

And while that all gets very zen, following the beat generation means you inevitably read more about the actual writers who put together these extraordinary words, and they mostly turn out to be the worst fucking people, melting down into hopeless drunks, or beating women with absolute gross impunity.

Bill Burroughs could break your brain with his literary mash-ups, but was also a whiny old shit who shot his wife in the face - and then was embarrassingly snide about the horrific incident in later years.

At least we'll always have Ginsburg, who seemed like a decent dude, especially compared to his contemporaries. It's little surprise how majestic Howl still is, and can still be absorbed with few caveats.

By the time I grew out of my beats streak, I was more about Hunter S Thompson, and his truth bombs in amongst the hedonism. He could still be a shit, but was more open about those short-comings, rarely just blaming it on the drugs when he so easily could have. 

That infatuation lasted a lot longer, largely because it was just way more fun. But again, if you're in your forties, and still think Hunter's stoned ramblings are all you need to know about the American experience, you've got some way to go yet. Don't we all?

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Spinal Tap: The saddest of all keys

I hear there is some new Spinal Tap coming out soon, and if they can capture a tenth of the perfection of the Lick My Love Pump scene from the original film, I'm there on opening day, man.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Die Hard: We're gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess


Even though it's pushing 40 years old, my belief that Die Hard is the greatest action film of all time remains rock solid. It has a sublime cast, incredible pacing, real emotional connection, sparkling dialogue and the best group of henchmen in the history of cinema.

That belief is only getting more petrified in age, as things that used to annoy me suddenly seem to have a clear purpose. Such as the buffoon police chief Dwayne T Robinson, as played by the late, great Paul Gleason.

Gleason's skills as an actor were always obvious - in this and The Breakfast Club he plays the hard-assed authoritarian figure who you actually kinda like - but I always used to cringe at his one-liners that he dropped after the most breath-taking parts of the film.

Whether it's deadpan of 'we're gonna need some more FBI guys' after the big fucking explosion, or the 'I hope that's not a hostage', delivered while Hans Gruber is plummeting to his death, it always seems a bit much.

But after years and years of ham-fisted action films and far worse quips than anything Dwayne ever managed,  the way he gives punchlines to the biggest moments of the films now feels like a strong punctuation to the explosion, letting the audience catch their breath after al the action.

It's truly skillful film-making, no matter how bad the jokes are. They just don't make' em like that anymore. They try, but they don't.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Kraokoa's happy endings (while they lasted)

The Krakoan era of the X-Men is coming to a rapid end soon, to be replaced with an all-new, all-different direction that looks incredibly familiar. 

Looking back on it with the wonderful benefit of hindsight, it's obvious that a lot of it didn't work - the Arakko stuff never vibed for me; the constant deaths and rebirths were never really tackled to their full existential extent; and all the stories in fairy worlds were full of sound and fury and not much else - but there were also plenty of interesting aspects to the new mutant civilization

One of the most fascinating quirks of this new mutant world was the clean slate it offered. Krakoa was open to all mutants, no matter how diabolical they had been in the past, and for a while there, it all didn't matter. The members of the Mutant Liberation Front and various evil Brotherhoods were hanging out in the bar, and given the odd shot of redemption.

It was nice enough to see the original Hellions turn up now and again - well, apart from Empath, who was always a colossal waste of space - because the way they were originally slaughtered was always amazingly callous after their fun and games with the New Mutants, but they were also characters that I had painfully deep emotional connections to, like Rusty and Skids.

For a brief moment in the late eighties, the two looked like they could be a big part of the x-future, but were brainwashed, villainized and generally fucked over in the years that followed, to the point they were almost useless as characters.

And then, suddenly, all of that convoluted backstory didn't matter, and they could just be their best selves in a mutant utopia. All of that backstory didn't matter anymore, and Skids could have fun adventures with Gwenpool or whoever.

But all eras come to an end, and they're all back onto the same endless cycle of protecting a world that hates them, and I'm sure Skids and Rusty will be back as cannon fodder. I still hope they make the most of that clean slate, all the same. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Oh my God, it's Timothy Carey!

It is always an absolute delight to be watching some old film like, say, The Wild One for the first time, and seeing Timothy Carey show up. He's such a weird and strange guy, like nobody else in the history of cinema.

I always knew him from the early Kubrick films, and from his devastating roles in John Cassavetes movies, and he's always instantly notable, even when he shows up in the middle of a crowd of 1950s thugs. His line readings were always unique, his body language was gawky as hell, and every movie ever made would be just a little bit better with added Carey.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Miracleman and OK Computer: The tedium of the blue sky

There are many, many pieces of Alan Moore comics that have stuck with me through the years, and one that still clings the hardest to my soul are the final pages of his Miracleman comics, drawn by the mighty John Totleben.

It's the part where the big man muses on the new society he has created with his chums, and wonders at the miracles that have been created with this brave new world, and wonders how it could have been built from the literal ashes of a super-powered rampage, and just wonders.

But as the former Michael Moran looks over the world from his Olympic perch, he also acknowledges that it isn't quite perfect, and that this is okay, because nobody really wants a diamond without a characteristic flaw, or a poem with a misplaced word. Nobody actually wants perfection. 

But this doesn't stop am unending blast of maddening demands for this perfection in our entertainment, when it's much better for everybody concerned if you just accept that you can't always get what you want.

This has been on my mind again because I've been on a Radiohead binge lately, and OK Computer is on high rotation. I was 23 when it came out, and I'd always thought Radiohead just a bit wimpy, even with the crunch of Creep, but OK Computer really did sound like music from the future, and that's exactly what we all needed at the end of the century.

It still sounds like the future, but it's also not perfect, because even after all these years, Electioneering still sticks out like a sore thumb. A jangly piece of delicious pop, it doesn't fit with the vibe of the album, like something the band outgrew somewhere between the first two records.

Weirdly, the very end of the song, and the way it suddenly stutters to a stop, is the part that does fit with the rest of the album, and the sharpness of it may be intentional, closing off that era of the band and moving into more ambient sonic waters

I don't skip past the song. It still jars to my ears, but it's part of the album, imperfect and all. That's how go forwards, not backwards.

Monday, April 22, 2024

A half century is not enough to read all my books

I turn 50 next year, which makes me officially an old fart. While I've never felt physically better, things are starting to slowly break down and it's increasingly impossible to pretend that I'm not closer to death than the other end.

So of course I'm wrestling with the usual existential nightmares about the obliteration of the self in the dead of the night. Aren't we all?

I always expected that dread to intensify with age, but I am disappointed to discover that wisdom is a lot harder to build up. I always thought that one day I'd wake up and be a wise old bastard, but I feel just as confused and foolish as I ever did.

Sadly, if there is one area where I do feel I've accumulated some kind of wisdom, it's with bullshit like movies and comic books. While I do have a few inane and illogical prejudices about certain slices of entertainment, I do think I've become wiser in my tastes, just by sampling more and more different wares over all these decades.

While I do feel like the dorky little shit I was when I was 18 on the inside, I've also built up enough experience to find the good stuff fairly easily.

None of this wisdom is of use to anybody else, of course. I'm the only one who gets any benefit out of it. And the wisdom that seems obvious to me might sound like madness to anybody else.

But the great part is that there is only more to come. This passion for new entertainments, new art, new styles, it's just as fierce as ever. There is just still so much more to watch and read, so much more to inhale. 

I might have been here for half a goddamn century, but I still have some way to go, and hope to get wiser still.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Monday, April 15, 2024

Mad Max by Rian Hughes

It's another low-content week at the Tearoom, I'm afraid, as me and the family head over to the wild and wonderful West Coast for the week. But to keep the daily content ticking over, I'm highlighting my favourite pieces of art from the Mad Max: Inspired Artists book that DC released when Fury Road was coming out. 

It's probably out of print right now, but it can be worth tracking down if you like A) Mad Max and B) comic artists like Jim Lee, Paul Pope, Javier Pulido, Marguerite Sauvage, Cliff Chiang, Peter Kuper, Gibert Hernandez, Nicola Scott and many, many others doing lots of pin-ups of scenes from that apocalyptic white line nightmare. The art can get a little monotonous, but there is glory in those pages. 

See ya next week, friends and neighbours!

Saturday, April 13, 2024

How much more Hate do we need? All the Hate!

While the universe seems to take a great delight in shitting on all your hopes and dreams, sometimes it can give you exactly what you want, and literally the day after I finished re-reading Peter Bagge's Hate Annuals and wondering how old Buddy Bradley was doing these days, there was the announcement of some new Hate.

While I do have genuine concerns that Buddy might have gone full MAGA - all the signs were there in his earlier deeds and misadventures - I've known Buddy since he was a teenager and we haven't seen him in more than a decade. I'd like to know how he's doing.

Friday, April 12, 2024

For me, a grudge is no more than a place to pork your cor!

I haven't listen to any of the Twelfth Man albums in many, many years - the big man himself passed away a while ago, so it's not like there is any new stuff to catch up on - but I'm sure I would find a lot of painfully casual racism, sexism and homophobia if I go back on them. We've come a long way in that regard, baby, even if there is a lot further to go yet.  

Also, many of the people it made fun of in the Australian sporting scene, including Richie and his wonderful commentary team, are no longer with us, which adds some melancholy to any time I hear 'two for twenty two' in some modern commentary.

But I cannot stress how fucking funny it was to hear these albums when I was a teenager. I didn't get half the jokes because I wasn't balls deep in the Australian sports media scene, but that didn't make the outrageous accents and wordplay any less funny.

They must have made an impression, because there are still phrases that have stuck with me for life, and still get whipped out at opportune moments - whether it's telling somebody that we need to work like a team, and do it my way; or they can blow it out their arse. Or how it's a great day for the world and that's it's not canary yellow, it's Australian gold my friend, and don't you fucking forget it. 

Super bits of writing, that. Top stuff, expertly delivered. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Admiring the dream of Dallas

Even for a soap opera, it was a ballsy move - to bring back a major character who had been killed off, the producers of Dallas decided to write off 31 episodes as a dream, with Bobby Ewing popping out of the shower like nothing had happened.

In the past 38 years, it's become a shorthand for creator laziness. Rather than coming up with a reasonable explanation for the return of the actor - an evil twin, a fake death, anything - they just started over again, as if nothing had happened. 

But I've always had a weird, sneaky admiration for the move and the sheer ballsiness of it. You can do anything with fiction - it's all made up, after all - so why not just wipe the most recent slate clean and start over?

Of course it doesn't make any sense, nobody dreams of 31 hours of events during one night's sleep. But it's the endless complaints that they broke all the rules of storytelling that really grinds my gears.

Because despite what all the 'Write real good' self-help guidebooks will tell you, and no matter how many times you quote Robert fuckin' McKee, you really do anything with fiction. There are no rules, not really. 

Some things work better than others when it comes to plotting or character development, but the appeal of creating your own stories is that you can do what you want with them, and if you want to make it all a dream, fucking go for it. 

After all, we all still remember Bobby's shower, four decades after it happened, so it must have had some kind of a impact. Just fucking go for it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

This is still Lima Mike Golf

For all the talk on Monday, bemoaning the lack of blogging that has faded away like a fart in the wind, it occurred to me that there is still one site that has been doing the business with regular updates that I've been following for more than 20 years now.

I started following linkmachinego in the early 2000s, mainly because its name was an Invisibles reference, but then never stopped because it kept updating with all sorts of weird and wonderful ephemera from around the internet. It remains a most delicious curation of delights, and I usually find something worth reading from it every week.

Everything quickly fades in a digital world, but some things endure, and nothing lasts like good recommendations.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

This is my life again: Falling back into Love and Rockets

All my favourite bookstores in my home town only exist in memory now, but the exact spot where I fell for Love and Rockets forever is still there, by the pool. 

It's a patch of grass, right next to the outdoor swimming pool overlooking Caroline Bay, and I walked over it again the other day and genuinely felt the love. The whole complex has been redone and expanded (and it's bloody brilliant, the kids love that lazy river thing), but the original pool is still sitting outside, and the L&R memories are still strong there.

I first read the work of Los Bros Hernandez in a British reprint edition that took a bunch of Jaime's House of Raging Women stories and presented them in a way that made no linear sense, like they were Archie strips that could just go in any order. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but the art was gorgeous, the characters were intriguing and trying to figure out what was happening in a comic where I only had a few issues was always one of the most fun parts of the hobby.

So there I was in the hot summer of '93, hanging out by the pool and re-reading that one collection over and over again. I soon got a few actual issues of the Love and Rockets magazine from Comics Compulsion up in Christchurch (another beloved shop that slowly faded away), and read them on the same spot of poolside grass.

And slowly I started to put the story together - the Tear It Up, Terry Downe short story was crucial for this - and while it took several years before I actually got my hands on all of the original run of the comic, it will always be tied to that tiny piece of geography.

Love and Rockets will always be one of my two favourite comics, along with the immortal 2000ad, and that one spot is such a big part of my initial enjoyment of it, that when I saw it the other day, it was all the impetus I needed to get back into the comic.

So I've been catching up with the past decade or so of Hernandez brilliance, started with the undisputed majesty of The Love Bunglers, and that's already got me digging into the older stuff again, seeing new connections and themes in the old work.

I know I'll never recapture all the sheer joy of that first experience, in the sun of 1993, by that swimming pool. But when the comics are this good, I can still catch some of it.

Monday, April 8, 2024

The state of comic blogging

The Tearoom of Despair started 15 years ago now, and writing for it is something I still hugely enjoy, so it's not going anywhere anytime soon, (apart from next week, where I use the excuse of a holiday to go a bit Mad Max on everything).. I still do a lot of writing in my day job, but that's all hard news, and this remains an outlet for all the bullshit that I don't do there. I can use as many adjectives as I like here.

I began the blog just at the right time - just as the first wave of wonderful bloggers about comics started to wind down. For most of the 2000s, I had marvelled at the regular delights the comic blogging community served up on both new and old comics, easily finding regular writers to follow.

Very few of these writers are still doing anything like this - I still always think of Mike Sterling as the godfather of comics blogging and he's still out there in the trenches, and J Caleb Mozzocco still updates his Every Day Is Like Wednesday blog with some sharp insights at least once a month. But many of the writers got paying gigs which supplanted the need to share their thoughts for free, while many just moved into social media spaces before slowly fading away.

I miss Johnny Bacardi and Dorian Wright and Jog and Patrick Meaney and the Savage Critics and all the others and I know they pop up in random places like The Comics Journal, but it ain't the same. 

Some are coming back - I met my good pal Nik through his Spatula Forum (he met his lovely wife in the Cerebus The Aardvark letters column, which makes meeting through a blog seem relatively sane), and never miss an edition of his current My Impression Now - while others like the mighty Tegan O'Neill are making a good go of it with daily video reviews, but I could always do with more. The world could always do with more.

Luckily, there are writers like Tom Ewing, who has been doing an absolutely fascinating series of posts on Cerebus The Aardvark, in all its problematic glory. It's so nice to see someone engage with the work like Tom has, and really dig into it. He doesn't shy away from how Dave Sim lost his goddamn mind even faster than he lost his audience, but that doesn't mean there are interesting things to say about his work. 

I do have hopes that with social media shitting itself to death, and a general lack of authenticity that AI-generated content is causing, that the blog format will come back, and that trusted voices will take precedence over rambling brands. The world has moved on, but comics blogging ain't dead yet.