Sunday, June 30, 2024

Moore's month

The general discourse about the comic book works of Alan Moore these days is so banal, and so predictable. The man gave us some of the most moving, exciting and thought-provoking comics in the history of the medium, and people still want to talk about fucking superhero movies with him, like he hasn't made his position abundantly clear for decades.

I just really like his comics, man. 

So to catch my breath on the endless pace of daily blogging, the next month of the Tearoom of Despair is low content, but will highlight my favourite parts from Alan Moore's comics. Not the novels or songs or films, or anything like that. Just the comics.

Moore changed everything in comics, and the mainstream industry still hasn't caught up with what he laid down. We should celebrate his works far more often that we do.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Standing around in the background of history

My favourite part about watching documentaries about London in the swinging sixties - and there are a lot of them - is when they show some happening scene at a warehouse party, with crazy dancing and art bombs, and there are always people at the edge or background of the picture, and they just look really bored and confused.

I hope they get excited when they see their young selves, hovering around the edge of a cultural explosion without ever really getting their feet wet, and hope they don't suffer despair when they see it, realising that this was the greatest moment in their lives, even if we can still all see how awkward they were.

Friday, June 28, 2024

The last CD at Disc Den

They say nobody buys CDs anymore, but I had to get This Is Not America, a CD compliation of Britpop bangers, when I saw it at Disc Den. Even though I remember it being too cheesy and obvious to bother with when it first appeared on shelves in the mid 90s.

During my recent free time in Dunedin, I passed by the perennial Disc Den record store, and had to check it out. I remember my mate Anthony buying the first Pearl Jam album on tape there, long before anybody else was into the Seattle scene of the day, and I heard it was closing down soon, so this was probably my last chance.

It's s strange store, full of ancient CDs and tapes, with one wall still covered in a baffling variety of cheap country and western cassettes. The joke is that the store's inventory hasn't changed in 30 years, but there is truth in the joke, because when I walked in, the window display was still proudly offering CDs of The Flintstones movie soundtrack.

The truth is, I never bought much from the store, even when I lived in the town back in the day, other than the odd poster. And the owner seemed a little surprised that I was actually buying something when I left.

But I had to, because I remember seeing that compact disc in that store back in that day, and I was still bombing around in a car with a CD player, and could use some tunes of my youth.

It's more than rampant nostalgia, although it's undoubtedly that, because A Design For Life still rips, even on old and forgotten CDs that nobody cares about anymore. 

Thursday, June 27, 2024

The deeply dorky thrill of my first calculator

As a tall, geeky white guy, I've often been mistaken for somebody who works in IT, or at least knows how it all functions. And I really, really don't - I did a computing course in 1994 and did a couple of years working with networks in the mid-90s, but it wasn't for me, and I drifted away from an undoubtedly lucrative career in technology.

Even today, working in digital media, people ask me how things work, and I honestly don't know. My crap analogy is that running a news website is like driving a car - I know how to drive a car, but I still need a mechanic to tell me how things actually work.

And when it comes to updating with the latest tech, I'm still decades behind the times. I play games that are at least 10 years old, and it takes me years to get the new phone or device. I can wait. To be honest, the only time I ever got excited about technology was when I got my first calculator.

I can still remember that it was a weekend when my Mum and sisters were away, and it was just me and my dad, and for some reason, he had a new digital calculator to give me

It wasn't one of the fancy small ones that could fit on a wrist, or the incredible ones that had a basic boxing game built in, it was just your standard 1984 calculator. 

And I thought it was amazing. Learning addition and multiplication was a big day for a schoolkid, and this was a magic way of checking my sums. You could also turn it upside down and write words like 'BOOBS'.

Technology has come a long, long way since that first calculator blew my mind, and while it's all been very impressive, nothing was as thrilling as that calculator and its easy maths. I must have been easy to please as a kid, because sometimes all it took was a simple calculation.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Dour is a compliment, honest

What's the word for that feeling when you write something on your stupid blog that talks in a positive way about a comic artist you have truly admired for years, and then you realise that the artist has seen it and you think you're the king of the fuckin' world, and then you realise they could be justifiably offended by a stray comment that you made? 

It's not shame, and it's not quite embarrassment, but it's something.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The true violence of the Tarantino

One of the many, many things I've always loved about the films of Quentin Tarantino - ever since me and my mates had our minds blown by Reservoir Dogs - is their treatment of violence. It can be used in darkly funny ways, or with devastating consequences. And it is usually very, very fast.

It was baked into his films right from the start - the final shoot-out in Dogs takes place in less than a second, to the point where there were years of debate about who killed Nice Guy Eddie. 

And it continued throughout his cinematic career - the violence in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown is sudden and shocking, usually coming out of nowhere and resolving itself in seconds.

There are exceptions - the fights in Kill Bill are gloriously epic (and even then, the final battle against Bill is over in a moment),  and the way Cliff and Rick deal with those dirty Manson freaks at the end of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is protracted to a horrible degree. 

But in general. it's hard and fast. Half the cast of Kill Bill meet their end in the basement of a French café, and the shootout is over before you know it, with the status of many of the victims still unclear for some time. 

One of the main characters and the main villain in Django Unchained are dead in the blink of an eye, and the various massacres in The Hateful Eight are extremely sudden (except when it all goes slow-mo in the westerns, which is occasionally called for).

And for all the heightened reality of Tarantino's films, this sudden carnage has the unmistakable taste of truth - violence is sudden and brutal when it happens in real life, and never pretty or exciting. It's just awful.

Which is why it always works so well in these films, violence and the pain it causes is not glamorised in them, it's just a part of the world. It's never pretty on planet Quentin, but it feels true.

Monday, June 24, 2024

A romance of Ōtepoti

The lovely wife and I have been together for 20 years now, but the romance ain't dead - the other day she let me loose to drive around the second hand bookshops of Dunedin for a couple of hours, and with two young children demanding all our attention and energy, that's the most romantic thing in the world anybody could do for me right now.

I'm somehow now living in a town with no second-hand bookshops at all, so it's a thrill to get to any, and the bookstores of Dunedin have been my favourites since I was a kid. In two hours I was able to check out the offerings at six different shops, and it was so, so good.

Just having the time for some super-fast browsing, hooning between stores in our family car, dropping ten or twenty bucks at each place on something interesting, having a quick yarn with the dude behind the counter and shooting off to the next one. I take my kicks where I can get 'em.

While my obsession with all things comics isn't anywhere near what it once was, I still got a tiny pile of treasures, including a couple of recent 2000ads and Dredd megazines; half a dozen black and white horror comics reprinting short shocks from DC, Charlton and Warren; and a Lion annual I had when I was eight and got rid of years ago, and now I remember all about the Carson's Cubs football team and the Phantom Viking (I never forgot the Spider or Robot Archie).

I also got a bunch of old 2000ad sci-fi and winter specials that I already own, but are significantly better condition than the ones I've been reading to death since the 1980s; a British Incredible Hulk annual from 1979 that has been driving me mad as I try to figure out who the artist is; and the World's Finest mini-series drawn by Steve Rude, that I've been dying to read since 1990.

I got the last Essential Tomb of Dracula book I've been after for years, (those black and white Essebtial books can be surprisingly hard to track down); a Doctor Who novel featuring the 12th Doctor and an entirely unexpected Bernice Summerfield; and one of Colin Wilson's book from the days where a treatise on consiousness and the human condition could be sold as a mass market paperback.

I used to go out and get this kind of booty every Saturday afternoon, but the world has moved on from those days, and so have I. It doesn't mean I can't still find the romance in the browsing, when I get the chance. 

(And for the record, the lovely wife thinks the most romantic thing she's ever seen is this scene from Deadwood, and I can not deny it..)

Saturday, June 22, 2024

This is my life now: Everybody gets some Spidey

I might not live in a town with a comic shop anymore, or any kind of shop that sells any kind of comic book other than the fucking Beano, but I can still go to the local big box store and find some Spider-Man for three-quarters of the family.

One of the kids got a Where's Wally type book full of hidden Spider-People, and the four-year-old got a little Ghost Spider action figure, because she is very obsessed with the latest Spidey cartoon, and thinks Gwen is the best because she's the smartest.

They also had this gorgeous big hardback book of art from the Spider-Man comics, which cost a ridiculously cheap $20, so everything came up Spidey for this family.

Friday, June 21, 2024

No bad guys in The Martian

Ridley Scott's films are always an easy re-watch - even if you've seen them a dozen times again, and even if the script isn't always up to scratch, they're always beautiful to look at, and always cinematically charming.

But of all of them, I always find The Martian the easiest to watch again. I caught the first five minutes of the bastard the other day on the TV, and ended up watching the whole damn thing. I couldn't help myself.

It's easy to get sucked in, because it looks fucking amazing, and has an incredibly strong cast. But the main reason I like to watch it again is that there are no dicks in it. No selfish cunts creating drama in the name of narcissism, putting obstructions in the way of our heroes.

A million screenwriting handbooks will tell you about the need for conflict, but people acting like obstructive dicks just because they are dicks are just the easiest way to get it, and that can just get really tiring.

But The Martian doesn't need any of that to create tension, it just has one simple problem, that a lot of people want to solve. And everybody involved just wants to help, in any way they can, and the eternal optimist inside me still thinks there are more people who want to help others than harm them in the world, all evidence on the nightly news notwithstanding.

I have found it weirdly hard to watch films with racists in it, even though their actions are in no way condoned, and they usually suffer some kind of consequence for it, but they're just fucking stupid morons, and I can't wait for them to get off the screen.

Sometimes you just need good people doing interesting things. Is that so much to ask?

Thursday, June 20, 2024

In the Herald again

The Timaru Herald was always my newspaper when I was growing up. Back before the internet, when there was still so much money in media advertising, the daily paper was still a vital source of local and world information and I read every edition from cover to cover for years.

So when I first trained as a journalist in 2004, one of the greatest thrills I would ever have in my reporting life was getting published in the Herald on a regular basis while training at Aoraki Polytech. The paper took full advantage of a class of young journos able to provide for free copy, and during the year of my diploma in print journalism course, I got multiple stories published in the Herald.

I still have them in a clippings book. Some of them were pretty good, a few made the front page of the paper. And I never got paid a cent for any of it (although the paper did use us for some advertising copywriting when the course was winding up, and after a year of student life, that felt very fucking lucrative).

I've been around a few places since them, and haven't worked for the company that publishes the Herald since the late 2000s. But now I work for the national public broadcaster, and we have a content sharing arrangement than means the country's other media companies can publish our shit on their websites and in their newspapers. And since they get to use our copy for free, sometimes you see entire pages of newspaper that have nothing but our stories on them.

So it really isn't a surprise to open the local paper in a local cafe, and see a quick spot news story that I wrote up the night before right there on the page, with the exact phrasing that I had been wrangling with in our front room the day before.

Huh. Still a thrill.

Needless to say, I still ain't getting paid, so after 20 years as a professional journalist, I'm still getting published in the Herald, and still not getting anything out of it. This has been a great, big and useless metaphor for the state of the modern news media.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Terrible people after the movies

I do get a weird kick out of seeing something stunning at the movies, and walking out of the theatre in a bit of a cinematic daze, and slamming back to reality when I overhear somebody else leaving the cinema talk about how it was terrible in extremely wrong ways.

I once followed a middle-aged woman out of Everything Everywhere All At once, and she was excitedly telling her poor family that Michelle Yeoh was too old to do this kung fu nonsense; and was fascinated by a zombie hipster who pontificated on the stairs of the Regent Theatre in Dunedin, explaining how there were just too many jokes in Shaun of the Dead.

They're always wrong, of course, and that's what makes it so funny. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Fifteen reasons why Batman v Hulk is the best crossover comic ever

1. The incredible art of José Luis García-López. 

2. The ridiculously good art of José Luis García-López.

3. The wonderful art of José Luis García-López.

4. Look, just about all the reasons why this is the best crossover comic of all time is because Garcia-López's art is so, so good. The artists on all the other Marvel/DC crossovers are obviously talented as hell, but this guy is the literal standard for all the late Bronze Age DC characters, and it's no wonder people are getting excited that they're republishing his style guide from the early 80s, because that stuff is still so tasty.

5. Just look at the way the Batman's cape drapes around the shoulders, an essential part of his physical presence, while always flowing with two-dimensional energy.

6. And on the other side, the Hulk has heft and mass, at his most bulkiest. When the two titans clash, it's obvious by looking at them that Batman doesn't stand a fucking chance, and only wins their initial confrontation by out-thinking the jade giant (and through some genuine luck).

7. And it's the ideal Joker, with the exact right length of chin really pumping up the malevolence of this homicidal maniac.

8. García-López even makes a bloated, clown Dark Knight stuck in goo look dynamic and exciting. Who else could ever do that?

9. And if you need some random classic monsters to creep out some kids in a cinema, let the man go wild.

10. A brief diversion on this artistic love fest: Len Wein's story is super streamlined, not overburdened with side characters, not drowning in heroes and villains like the team books always do. It gets right to the freaking point, and doesn't skimp on the fights and thrills and dumb jokes like the one above, which I thought was the funniest thing ever when I was 9.

11. It also has a dead-set classic 'Joker kills a henchman for saying something dumb'.

12. And the Shaper of Worlds - I love that guy! He can warp reality to do anything, but still can't conjure up some fucking legs.

13. The first time I saw Dali's melting clocks as a kid, I thought he was ripping off García-López.

14. The inside cover's breakdowns of how to put a comic cover together still informs how I think abut the process of creating a dynamic comic image. 

15. Fun fact: I have never actually read this comic in colour, until I looked for scans to go with this post. My copy was a black and white Australian reprint comic. And even then, in the cheapest of formats, on the cheapest of paper, without the hues of an American comic, it's still the best crossover comic ever.

Monday, June 17, 2024

How much money went into these comics?

While I don't have any deep regrets about it, I try not to think about the amount of money I've spent on comic books over the years. Because, according to my brief calculations, it was a fucking lot. 

As a kid, 90 percent of any pocket money went into mainlining any comic book I could get, and when I started getting my first paychecks, I went a little crazy on it. Back then, in the early 90s, regular American comic books were $3.95 in NZ money, and I was buying long runs of deeply mediocre Fantastic Four and Tj\hor comics. 

I dropped a couple of hundred dollars on the Red Dwarf Smegazine alone, and was buying half the comics Vertigo was publishing at one time. I've spent hundreds and hundreds of cheap dollar comics, and paid full price for the majority of 2000ad progs - all 2350 of them. That shit adds up.

Now I'm in my very late forties, and after nearly half a century of obsession with the funny books, the dollar amount must be in the tens of thousands now. Maybe more than $100k now, on goddamn comic books. 

I could have invested that money, I could have done something with that, put down a deposit on a house or something. I might have something more concrete than the vast piles of paper that have built up over the years.

But, on the other hand, fuck that shit. 

I always liked that line in Citizen Kane where dear old Bernstein says it's not that hard to make a lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money. If you are frugal, and never do anything with your cash, you can build up a serious pile, and nothing generates more money by having some in the first place. And if I worked my arse off, and saved and never went traveling, or bought any books, or did anything, my bank balance would certainly be a lot fatter now.

But is that what life is for? Is that what it's all about? The accumulation of wealth? I really don't think so.

It's possibly the oldest cliché in the history of mankind, but you really can't take it with you, and the only thing I can say with certainty on the matter is that I fucking loved all those comics, and the stories they put into my head, and the dreams they created.

It would be a grey life if I had never been exposed to the works of Alan Moore or Los Bros Hernandez or Kate Beaton or Jack Kirby or Grant Morrison or literally a thousand other comic creators. All that beautiful art, all those crazy stories, that's worth thousands of dollars, turning numbers into art, any time, any lifetime. Spend and be damned.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

All that cider still looks so good

While I only drink at funerals now - and really, really don't miss the hangovers - sometimes I still crave specific drinks.

Occasionally I feel like I could kill for a glass of red wine - a thick, gloopy, buttery red - and other times I have the burning urge to slam some tequila, salt and lemon. Most of all, I keep getting dragged towards the incredible variety of cider they have at the local supermarket. I miss the Scrumpy in  particular, and the sharp and fizzy tang that comes with opening a new bottle.

I'm not about to fall off the wagon now - these are only passing fancies. But if I did, those are the drinks I would get in me.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Too young for the soldier

My parents were young when they had me and my sisters, and largely let us watch what we wanted on television, (although I still remember my fury when my Dad didn't let me watch any more of Beverly Hills Cop after Axel's boss let loose with a tirade of f-bombs). 

Usually this meant I was watching a lot of the A-Team and the Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider, but I also remember watching some things that I really wasn't ready for.

And not just the obvious stuff, like the time Dad let me see House by the Cemetery, because he thought the incredible gore effects were laughably over the top, and maybe they were, but the dude made out of maggots gave me the shits for years. Or the early exposure to The Omen films, which made me be very, very careful around trucks covered in sheet glass. And thin ice on a frozen lake. And elevators.

For slightly odd reasons, I was recently reminded of another film - The Soldier, from 1982. Starring the always stoic Ken Wahl with some guest craziness from Klaus Kinski, it was just another dumb action movie from the early eighties, cheap thrills that lined the shelves of the first great wave of video stores.

But I was genuinely shook up by the violence, because the way the bad guys were blasted into oblivion went heavy on the squibs.

Looking at it now, it's nothing on a proper Peckinpah, but when people are shot in The Soldier, they are really blasted, usually in excruciating slow motion. In the first couple of minutes, a random soccer mom, a construction worker and a black attorney are all machine-gunned to death, and it's genuinely shocking. 

I think they were spies or assassins or something, so probably had it coming, but it still looked like a really fucking painful way to go.

I was probably 9-years-old when I saw this and that stupid low-budget nonsense seared its way into my soul, and left me convinced that a slow-motion squib in the right place can change the world.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Gotham Central and cliffhanger sexuality

Sometimes it takes a while to get to something, even with the best of intentions, but I was still surprised that it took me 20 years to read the Gotham Central comics. I always liked the creators involved, and always enjoy comics that look at the fucked-up world around Batman, but I only just read the series this year when I spotted the first three hardcovers at the local library.

It's aged fairly well - the art from Michael Lark is still rock solid, and while it's just a little too obvious that the writers were really, really into the works of David Simon at the time, it's generally a strong and occasionally complex read.

And yet, one thing that has aged weirdly is the storyline about Renee Montoya and her sexual preferences. She spends a large part of the series coming out to her family, and dealing with the fall-out from her orientation being exposed to her colleagues.

It's a 20-year-old comic that undoubtedly blazed some trails, and I'm sure was important for readers who really needed it at the time, but treating the coming out process with big, full page cliffhangers feels a bit crass now, when that kind of thing just isn't that kind of a big deal (or really, really shouldn't be).

Reading it now, you just want Renee to tell the homophobic fucks who treat her like crap for being her true self to fuck all the way off, because who cares what they think about anything?

Cops are absolute bigots in this comic, and obviously they largely still are now - the world ain't changed that much - but they might not be so openly brazen about it in 2024, without HR ripping them a new hole.

There is still a lot of absolute bigotry in the world - the shit my trans brothers and sisters and others have to put up with every day drives me to fucking despair - but it's just a little surprising how ham-fisted some stories could be over these kinds of subjects, even in a 21st century Batman book.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

I still don't know what Force Works means

After brief dalliances with the title - mainly Byrne-related - I somehow got invested in Avengers West Coast just before it ended, and followed it right into its next iteration as Force Works. 

But the new comic just wasn't for me, even with talented creators on board (and I hated how they tried to go for shock value by killing off Wonder Man in the first issue, because that was never going to last - Wonder Man is easily the easiest Avenger to bring back from the dead), and I bailed after the third issue.

But one thing I've never actually got my head around, and something I still don't understand to this day, is what the hell the name Force Works actually means.

Is it a pun? Is it some kind of play on words? Are they just saying that force is something that works in superhero battles? Is it some kind of twist on the Avengers name?

It bugged the shit out of me, and still does to a tiny degree. I always think I've got over my early nineties obsessions, but I don't always make it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The kid and Who

I desperately do not want to be one of the dorky dads that forces their own obsessions on their kids, I want them to find what they like for themselves. But I can still be absolutely delighted that I get to watch my favourite TV show of all time with the four-year-old, because she fucking loves it.

I came to Doctor Who at about the same age, and it's just wonderful to watch it with somebody who doesn't come loaded with four decades of expectation and experience with all things Who.

She doesn't care about the lore, or the canon, or anything like that. She just loves the fart jokes and the scary monsters and the hugely enormous charms of Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson.

Some of the episodes are a bit scary, she is literally behind the sofa for a lot of it, (which is a long established cliche of the series, and still actually true) but the first episode of this season also explained that kids need to be a bit of frightened of the bogeyman. And she knows that the good guys are always going to win.

And some of it goes right over her head - she didn't get a lot of Boom, and was bored to tears by 73 Yards, but that's to be expected. She still can't wrap her mind around the fact that it's Ruby who is the baby at the end of the Christmas special, and I haven't given Dot and Bubble a shot with her yet.

What she really, really likes is the songs. The Devil's Chord is her favourite episode in the world so far - she's already working on a mean twist - and the Goblin King songs have their own dance routine (usually accompanied by a dead serious 'do you like my moves, dad?').

I've become extremely jaded around the reaction to Dr Who, every fucker has got an opinion on everything about every new episode. But they must be doing something right to still get the kind of primal reaction I'm seeing in my house these days. It's an honour to share in it.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Smelling the stink of privilege, by walking in the footsteps of Jack the Ripper

One of the many things I took away from reading Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell was treating an urban centre as a magical place, loaded with meaning. Falling hard for psychometry on a geographic scale - I followed in Jack the Ripper's footsteps, (sometimes down the actual streets he did), and feel the potential within the locations I existed in, for one small slice of space and time.

I always liked to wander around at night, but after From Hell, I found myself walk around towns late at night with a thoroughly open mind, drinking it all in, seeing the importance in a gutter, or an old shop where I used to rent videos.

The funny thing is, walking around like I'm Jack the fucking Ripper (without, y'know, the murderings and shit) has helped open my eyes to my own privilege, and how I'm soaked in it.

Despite what some of my elderly relatives have awkwardly been telling me recently, reverse racism is fucking not a thing. Even the lowest white boy comes laden with innate privilege. I always thought because I came from a long line of working class scum, that nobody ever helped me with nothing, but it's not a question of a helping hand, it's a blithe reassurance that white guys can get away with anything.

I can't smell the privilege on me, but it's definitely fucking there. I'm drenched in it. Because when I walk around the dark streets, trying to see the world behind the world like I'm Sir William Gull, I don't get stopped by the police, while my Māori friends get questioned every fucking time they go out.

In the thousands of hours I've spent roaming around the streets like a fucking lunatic, I've only ever had a cop car pull over and ask me what I was up to, and it lasted about two minutes. I was clean and sober, and had nothing on me that would get me into trouble, and after a few brief questions I was on my way. 

I do feel guilty about all this - the classic liberal angst - but do what I can, which mainly consists of shutting the fuck up and letting other people talk about the issues that actually affect them.

But I am reminded of it every time I wander around at night, with a head full of Hawksmoor and shit, and the police car just rolls on by.