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.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

When Gere was Keanu

After watching a few Richard Gere films from the seventies and eighties recently, it's very notable that many of them wouldn't have a plot if Gere's character just kept their dick in their goddamn pants.

Beyond that, what he does remind me of is Keanu Reeves, in that there are some roles where he is absolutely terrible, but in others he's the only possible choice, and it's impossible to imagine anybody else in that role. The combination of smugness, incredibly bland good looks and general swagger, you can see why the man was a born movie star, and why he would drive some viewers crazy.

Hell of a smirk, is what I'm saying. Just keep your dick in your pants, man.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Totally Wired: Too big a subject

Of course I had to read Paul Gorman's Totally Wired when my pal Nik offered to lend it to me, because a history of print music journalism in the last half of the 20th century is very much my thing.

Especially when so much of it was focused on the mags I read when music was my life.  I wasn't really a Rolling Stone kid - there was a smugness to the American writers that was deeply off-putting - but the Brit newspapers were dense and funny and cheap and mean, and that was two-thirds of my music education.

Totally Wired gets into the history of all of them, starting with the appalling racism of the Melody Maker in the 1930s, and charting a course through music journalism for the rest of the century.

Unsurprisingly, there is so much gossip in there, and it certainly reinforces long-held beliefs that a lot of the writers at the time might have been able to craft the prose of angels, but were absolutely rotten human beings who can not be trusted under any circumstances. The rich and famous flitter through the pages, and audiences hungry for the next big thing see circulations soar into the stratosphere, before inevitably crashing down to earth.

But it's all just a little unsatisfying, since the subject is just so big, and you get stuck in the shallow end of a vast pool of publications. Entire generations of writers and magazines that run for years get a cursory mention, and the general remit is just too wide.

It's similar to the way I can't read non-fiction books about comic books that are too generalized. Those types of books are vital for anybody trying to get into things and not knowing where to start, but have almost nothing new to offer anybody who has been in the culture trenches for years.

I can't read a book about the world's biggest superheroes and would rather read something about a particular artist. And you just can't condense the madness of 80 years of music journalism into one book, without losing the wonderful specifics.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Never going to be festival material

I love books. I love reading them and collecting them and hoarding them, using them as a bulwark against the brutality of the world. I love library books and bookstores to an emotionally unhealthy degree. I like the joy of trying out new authors, and the immeasurable comfort of reading something new from an old favourite. I read books every day, and spend just as much time thinking about them and the things they inspire, as I do reading the actual things.

But by God, I never want to go to a writers festival event for as long as I live.

Partly it's because the people who fill the crowd at the interviews and presentations at these things are just not my people. The smug is smothering, and even worse, sometimes it's horribly familiar - I feel very seen, very exposed, and very mediocre.

I don't know which particular Q+A broke me, every one of them is full of all the clichés - the dude who has a comment more than a question; the raging sycophants who just want to say 'I love you' without  adding anything of worth.

I love connecting with people over shared reads, but I always think of reading as a solitary thing, and every time I've been to a writer's festival, I've always felt out of place, even when discussing works that resonate on the atomic level. 

I can still cherish the opportunity that I got to tell Terry Pratchett how amazing he was, back in the mid-90s, but these celebrations of literature are never really my thing.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

George always did the best easter eggs

The best part of the Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect comic will always be this double page splash, where the last remnants of the world's greatest heroes and villains gathers dust. I feel like every time I look at it I see something new, like the Beast's skinned fur on the wall, or the Red Skull's noggin stuck up on a shelf. It's a trope that's been used dozens of times in modern superhero comics, but, unsurprisingly, nobody ever did it better than George Pérez.

My second favourite part of the comic is that in the collected edition I got in the mid 90s, they fucked up the order on some of the pages right at the end of the first half, and it took me years to realise, because I thought the creators were getting all non-linear and shit, but it turned out they just mixed the pages up.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

When the gore geeks got the blockbusters

It's been a long, long time since it was first announced that Peter Jackson would be directing the Lord of the Rings films. It really was a different time - the internet had only really made an impact as a cultural force in the past couple of years, and people actually gave a shit what Harry Knowles thought about things.

But that announcement was one of the first times I saw something blow up online. The message boards were full of a lot of talk about how appropriate it was for Jackson to do the movie - he'd only really brushed against the Hollywood way of making movies with Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners, and there was sheer incredulity that the guy behind the splatter puppet opus Meet The Feebles could pull it off.

But I had faith, and had been a huge fan of Jackson's stuff since the start, and knew that if he could pull off Bad Taste, he could pull off anything.

The scenes on the cliff in that film were enough. It's Jackson playing two characters at the same time, with one of them getting involved in a massive fight. It was shot on weekends, over years and years, and some shots were spliced together from footage shot months apart, and it somehow worked.

If creating Lord of the Rings was a giant jigsaw puzzle, Jackson had shown he knew how to pull things together and produce something with vitality and life, and put that puzzle together. All that other stuff that was needed to make the ultimate blockbuster could follow from that.

Around the same time, there was also a lot of talk about Sam Raimi getting mega-millions to make a Spider-Man film, and that also brought on the doubters. But I had even more faith, because big Sam had more than proven himself.

Obviously there was his Darkman, but the way Raimi and his pals innovated on the Evil Dead films - usually with the boundless help of the endlessly watchable Bruce Campbell - could only level up with more money. If he could pull off a full-on castle siege scene on a budget of five bucks with Army of Darkness, he was an obvious fit for Peter Parker, even if the two films were worlds apart.

The work of both directors has certainly dated over the years, but also have an energy to them that still seeps through. There is always the odd gratuitous zoom, or overly sweeping camera in the blockbusters that come through.

But it's the resourcefulness of the low budget that always convinced me they had what it takes to make the bigger efforts, and it's always nice to be proven right.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Music videos after midnight


It's always fun to bore the living shit out of my workmates who are more than half my age, going on about how entertainment options were so much more limited when I was a kid. They never get sick of it. I can tell by their bored expressions and glazed eyes how much they love it.

They just love hearing how if you missed that one episode of Doctor Who that was playing on one of the two TV channels available, well, tough shit, you're never going to see it again. Or the wonderful limits of the walkman, or the beauty of the Friday night mission to the video rental store, or the naked emotions of the mixtape.

And I never, ever get sick of telling them about how important music videos were to me, and how hard it was to find the good ones.

There is a time in your life, usually starting in your very early teens and lasting far into adulthood, when music is everything. It's saying things you can't say, making you feel a whole new way, getting you thinking about the world and your place in it.

It's a fucking magnificent time, and the moment you realise you've grown out of it is the moment you're truly becoming an old fart. Enjoy it while it lasts, kids! 

Music videos were a huge part of my musical upbringing, and they weren't available on YouTube with seconds of searching. We didn't have any dedicated music video channels - I wanted my MTV, but could never have it - we just had Ready to Roll on a Saturday night, where you would get five videos, and sometimes there was a TV show called Radio With Pictures, with an hour of weird music that I didn't understand and made me feel strange and wrong.

But also, for a while there when I'd just moved out of home, there were two channels that would play music videos after midnight, and I could stay up till dawn with some of my best mates, flicking between the two channels until the sun rose, because that's the sort of thing you can do when you're a young adult out on your own for the first time. 

I would watch an hour or two when I came home from the pub or a party, coming down in three minutes chunks of tune. I still have deep emotional connections to Bic Runga's Drive, or Faith No More's Evidence, and fell hard for Britpop the instant I first saw Design For Life and Disco 2000 on the same night. 

This kind of indulgance also cemented certain prejudices against some songs - Live's Lightning Crashes was on such high rotation that I still can't bear to listen to it (although I have got over some old hatreds - I heard Whitney's I Will Always Love You the other day and that song drove me crazy with its ubiquity in 1992, and now sounds slicker and more powerful than any other pop ballad I've heard in the past 30 years.) 

For the early nights in bed before midnight, there was always video tape, and I spent several years taping three random hours of music videos at night, and then copying the odd gem onto a master tape of great songs, and I was still doing them several years into the new century, before Spotify and Youtube and all the rest. 

I've still got those tapes now, and the quality ain't exactly hi-fi, but as a glimpse into the sort of thing that was rocking my world when that really meant something, they can't be beat.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

This is a house of Sienkiewicz: Gotham never looked so good

It is an absolute goddamn crime that almost all of Bill Sienkiewicz's covers over the past decade have been variant covers, only appearing on a comparative handful of published comics before thrown in the back of a trade paperback with 20 other pages of Batman looking grim on a gargoyle. These things of beauty should be made more available to all people everywhere.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

The silent liker

I do believe the only way to handle any kind of social media presence is an extremely proactive block policy, combined with a general desire to shut the fuck up about anything. 

I'm just happy being a silent liker, quietly approving of other peoples' content, without creating any of my own. You don't have to comment on everything, you can just like stuff and be happy. It's really easy, and even the dumb algorithms that keep feeding me Nazi shit should be able to figure that out.

If you have to say something, get yourself a self-sustaining monologue on a daily blog, that's what all the sane people do.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Pulp is joyous, even in Hardcore

Jarvis Cocker was going through some shit when Pulp recorded 'This Is Hardcore'. He and the rest of his mates in the band had spent long years trying to be popstars with actual artistic depth, and then they suddenly were, and what then?

What then?

Once you've done a transcendent Glastonbury show, and wriggled your arse in the direction of Michael Jackson (which still might be the most effectively political thing Cocker has ever done), where do you go from there?

You go to This Is Hardcore, the best album of late Britpop, a solid chunk of bloody genius. And Jarvis and crew have discovered that it's grim when you find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The whole album is dripping with it - the forced nature of partying hard, the sordid shit of the lead song, the sheer what's-it-all-about of The Fear, the inevitability of getting old and dying, and there's nothing you can do about it. 

And that's how it's been remembered ever since - Common People was the moment when all the good drugs really kicked in, and This Is Hardcore is the hangover. Great fucking songs, but also a bit of a downer.

That's not how I remember it, not when the album lifts to new levels with Glory Days and The Day After The Revolution - songs that are still full on anxiety, uncertainty and the rage of those who have been lied to, but also finding something worthwhile in this strange and beautiful life. Now that we decided not to die after all, you can grove on the thrilling and propulsive music taking you through the day.

Going out on a high.

Well, as long as you don't have the extended edition, which ends with the portentous orchestral version of This Is Hardcore. Might as well pack it in, if that's how it goes.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Goodbye, Readers Book Exchange

This shop was my favourite bookshop in the whole world, and it closed for good today. It had been around for nearly 60 years, opening when The Beatles were still a thing, outlasting the USSR and surviving well into the 21st century, but its day is done. The Reader's Book Exchange in Timaru, just down from the Majestic Theatre, is no more.

I thought it was going to shut down months ago, and got abnormally emotional about it in the back room, but I got to go there a couple more times in the past few weeks, buying a few of Mick Herron's books, a little bit of Snoopy, a collection of science fiction short stories by an author I'd never heard of before, and an old book about disasters which was far and away my favourite non-fiction book in my primary school library when I was 8. That all seemed pretty apt.

The book selection got thinner and thinner as the years went on, but every time I was in town for the past decade or two, I'd make some time to bound up the concrete steps and have a browse, at least walking out with a Michael Moorcock paperback or something. 

It was my place. It always was. My Nana Smith, who passed away 24 years ago, worked there on and off for many years, and encouraged my reading to a wonderful degree, largely forming the nerd I am today. If she hadn't worked there, I wouldn't be doing this blog, or read thousands and thousands of wonderful comic books over the years. 

This is where I got the Unknown Soldier comics that I used to learn to read, the best issue of the Uncanny X-Men ever (#138) and the 2000ad cover where you see who Old Ben from Harry 20 on the High Rock really was. I got the thoroughly excellent Robocop novelization from there, and regularly bought Exploits of Spider-Man mags in the 90s. I still have issues of Hulk and Unexpected and Legion of Super-Heroes that I bought decades ago.

It'll probably turn into a vape shop, but it'll always be the best second-hand bookshop there ever was to me.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Coming off your bike at the end of the world

I've never been a motorcycle reader, and it's not just because everyone I know who is a regular rider has come off it at some stage and done themselves a horrific injury.

It's because I will always remember the parts in The Stand where people come off motorbikes and really fucked themselves up. And the mundanity of those injuries, in a world where the ambulance is never going to come again, just made it all the worse.