Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Three links and I'm out

1. So, do you feel like your life would be better if you were wearing a replica of Judge Dredd's helmet? Or had a Genetic Infantry biochip firmly lodged in your brain, in the hopes that cloning becomes available soon on the NHS? So do these good people.

2. Like me, are you looking forward to a summer of sitting on your ass, drinking too much beer, and filling in football results on a wallchart placed in a (female-baitingly) prominent position in your living room? Yes? Then this might be your new favourite blog, too.

3. You don't get a finely toned physique like mine without liking sweets. You, too, can now have a body like this by doing all of your grocery shopping here. Featuring decent Leo Baxendale-influenced cartooning by Colin Whittock.

Okay, so that was actually five links. So sue me.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Stuff I've been listening to recently

Primal Scream's new single has a gorgeous cover of crazy ol' Townes Van Zandt's typically lovely Southern Gothic ballad To Live Is To Fly as its B-Side. Worth the money on its own, even if A-Side Country Girl hadn't been a hilariously joyous tear-up itself. As per usual with The Spinal Cream, a quick game of "spot the influence" quickly leads to Led Zeppelin's Boogie With Stu, from PHYSICAL GRAFFITI. Only with slightly less daft lyrics. In the words of Alan Hansen: h'unbelievable.

The Raconteurs's album BROKEN BOY SOLDIERS is a likeable slice of power pop, except when the alchemic cross-pollenation of Jack White and Brendan Benson conspires to make them sound like Rush. The Who - oh yes. Fleetwood Mac - sure. The Small Faces - why not? Squeeze - hmmm. But Rush? Nein Danke.

When I was a kid I disliked Bruce Springsteen intensely. I thought him synonymous with a boring, lumbering form of AOR that was the definition of tedium. I thought he had one good track, that was much better when covered by The Stupids for comic effect as "Born To Skate". Even worse, my dad liked him. This dislike mellowed with age, never to the point of actually buying one of his records, though.
Imagine my surprise when I came home from the pub a couple of weeks ago and caught some of a live show on BBC4, playing tracks from his new album WE SHALL OVERCOME: THE SEEGER SESSIONS. I was quite unprepared for how much I'd like it: the band were absolutely kick-ass, lurching from bluegrass to zydeco to New Orleansy jazz with ease, often within the confines of the same song. Given that Pete Seeger was such a regular interpreter of the works of his friend Woody Guthrie, Springsteen cleverly inverts that influence, sounding like Guthrie playing the songs associated with Seeger. Something in this album's water reminds me of two projects I've loved in recent years, Steve Earle's album THE MOUNTAIN with The Del McCoury Band; and Billy Bragg and Wilco's two MERMAID AVENUE long players.
If you liked either of these, or even Bobby Dylan's THE BASEMENT TAPES, chances are you'll dig this. Even if you did hate Bruce Springsteen before.

R.I.P. Alex Toth

Another day, another obit: this time for one of the most influential artists the medium ever saw, a guy for whom I can scarcely open any comic without seeing a trick or technique he innovated. An artist so stylish he even affected the way other artists sign their name. The man of whom Howard Chaykin said "if Alex is a church, then I'm a disciple". I think nearly every artist whose work I love would name Toth as a major influence - such as his peer Joe Kubert, Frank Miller, Eduardo Risso, Darwyn Cooke, Jose Munoz, Jordi Bernet, Duncan Fegredo and any God's amount of others : every artist who's tried to pare their work down to the simplest, cleanest arrangement of black and white design possible to tell a story (though ironically not Mike Mignola, who told an incredulous Jon B. Cooke in 2002 that "I don't even know if I own a Toth comic now"but has clearly, independantly, came to many of the same conclusions in his own storytelling). That said, many artists who share few superficial similarities with his style also have praised his work, such as Brian Bolland, who has tried to use his influence at DC to prompt them to publish a themed collection of his work for the company. This would make sense, seeing as his work there was scattered throughout various long forgotten anthologies over four decades, though many may be unreprintable due to myriad licensing mysteries (his classic HOT WHEELS issues, for instance). My personal favourite being Anachronism, a haunting time-travel short in WEIRD WESTERN TALES #14. Typically bravura and ahead of his time, Toth drew the piece in widescreen, running the panels along the length, rather than width of his pages.

As well as being a overtly influential figure in the development of comic-book storytelling, he was an overt influence in the development of television animation, too: his work on Hanna-Barbera's action and superhero cartoons (SPACE GHOST, BIRDMAN, SEALAB etc, DYNOMUTT, SUPERFRIENDS, FANTASTIC FOUR) from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies came to define the look of all action-orientated animation of the period, from companies like Filmation and Ruby-Spears. The nostalgic appeal of his designs continue to inspire animators: Cartoon Network's Adult Swim shows such as SPACE GHOST COAST TO COAST, HARVEY BIRDMAN ATTORNEY AT LAW, and SEALAB 2020 all remix and remodel his iconic work.

Alexander Toth was a contradictory character of strong opinions, whose career prospects since the mid-eighties were hampered by one-sided feuds of his own making and self-imposed exile (his career in television must have proven lucrative to avoid meaningful work for so long), interrupted by glimmers of work and correspondence coaxed out of him by editors and publishers who were, to a one, huge fans. No saint, but a man whose work longed for an era of clean-cut heroes whose morals were as black and white and clearly defined as the pages he drew. The man somehow always struck me as a rather Fitzgeraldian figure, an impression only strengthened by the manner of his death: he died working at his drawing table. The artistic equivalent of a gunfighter dying with his boots on, I'll think of him everytime I see a dogfight in a comic, or a drag-race, or a cowboy high in the saddle.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

CLERKS II debuts at Cannes...

...and Kevin Smith seems pleased with the response.

Plus, it looks like X-MEN III's box-office success may have been helped by a quick cooling-off for THE DA VINCI CODE, caused by poor word-of-mouth. Fair enough. If the financial success of the third X-flick means that Fox catch themselves on, hire decent writers and a more competent director, and re-cast certain key characters, then good. More likely, they'll see the success as validating their lacksidaisical approach, and re-hire all involved to reprise their involvement. Bugger. Really, who makes a movie of The Phoenix Saga then sidelines Cyclops and Phoenix in order to emphasise Wolverine and Storm, presumably because Jackman and Berry are the bigger stars with the pushier agents? What the f*ck is that all about?.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The perils of too much garlic bread

Peter Kay is...

The Absorbaloff!

Oh dear, it's one part Jabba The Hut to one part Fungus The Bogeyman.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Jamie Hewlett: designer of the year

Jamie Hewlett is officially designer of the year: he's won a shed load of money for it an' all. Wouldn't mind getting along to the exhibition of his work at The Design Museum, either.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Kevin Smith's SUPERMAN LIVES script

Here. And I dare you to read the scene with Lois and Jimmy in Clark's apartment and not tear up a bit. Especially if you've got some sort of residual hangover-depression thing going on. And the great Wikipedia entry on the script's protracted genesis here.

Peter Jackson's SUPERMAN

Elsewhere, I've been ruminating on how Singer's SUPERMAN RETURNS flick seems to share its basic plot with Donner's original: Superman versus Luthor, and his maniacal plan for financial advancement through mass destruction. I stated how, in the current age of CGI, couldn't a Superman movie have a set-piece action sequence worthy of the character, against an enemy with the visual clout of Gil Kane's Brainiac redesign, or even the giant, Kryptonite-powered chimp Titano (somewhat inspired by Ethan Van Sciver's recently leaked preview pages from SUPERMAN/BATMAN #28). Then it hit: the man who should have got the job, a guy who understands how to keep a computer-generated action sequence as dynamic as a home movie shot in a riot - Peter freakin' Jackson. And I'm not just saying that because I want to see SUPERMAN VERSUS KING KONG. Though that would be officially awesome, too.

Ali Jackson reckons this song has the worst guitar solo ever

Nah, I've heard worse.

Breaking Norn Iron Comic News!

Gossip suggesting PREACHER may be made into a television series by HBO. That'd certainly make more sense than trying to make it into a film.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Brendan McCarthy writes:

"Hi there Mark. Here's a 'press release' I just made up:

The cover contains allusions to images and characters on display in SOLO #12, the final issue. As you can see I'm going through my "GirlyMan" period. Must be living in California under the preposterous machismo of 'The Governator' that's doing it. The guy on the front is 'DUKE' HUSSY. He's a neo-shopper and he's just bought the new 'holed' edition of THE LORD OF NOTHING.

Fasten your stocking suspenders, hold onto your lace hankies, because this issue features the debut of new art sensation DITRANKO, a new glam-punk take on THE FLASH and the first viewing of a 'lost' BATMAN tale from the 60's.

DC recommend you order your copy now, as it sure to sell out instantly.

Just like SWIMINI PURPOSE, this comic will provoke another astonishing worldwide bout of "McCarthymania" in August 2006.

45 pages of pure, uncut Brendan McCarthy... Nuff seen."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I Bryan Talbot... and Nic Roeg

I remember going (a helluva long time ago... 1987, I think) to a comic book signing (in Banbridge of all places) by British comic book legend Bryan Talbot. He was promoting the Valkyrie Press edition of his finally completed, long-in-the-making THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT. And a fine comic it is (I think it's still in print from Dark Horse - at least it should be, it's a landmark classic). Anyhoo, partly to deflect from the usual comparisons of the work to Mike Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius cycle, Talbot engaged his fanboy audience (and there was a hell of a lot of us rammed into the converted roof space of a small book shop) in a little talk about how movie maker Nic Roeg influenced the work.
I stood my turn with the first couple of issues to be autographed behind some pushy plonker who'd seemingly brought a complete run of 2000ADs to be signed (okay, maybe just the ones with Nemesis Book III in them - but a helluva stack all the same). Anyhow, I remember having a little chat about Roeg with the great man. Being a pretentious, arty, 16-year old with self-consciously classicist tastes in cinema and music at the time, I was already a fan of The Rolling Stones and David Bowie, and so was familiar with PERFORMANCE and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH. Plus, being sixteen, and with raging hormones misfiring left, right and centre, I admired works like DON'T LOOK NOW, WALKABOUT and BAD TIMING for their admirable dedication to gratuitous nudity. I could withstand any amount of tricksy storytelling techniques for a few minutes of Julie Christie, Jenny Agutter or Theresa Russell in the raw. Anyway, Bryan and me bonded briefly on this common ground.
Thinking about this the other night, I was amazed at just how many of Roeg's innovations have trickled down into the mainstream of cinematic and televisual storytelling. Hell, as I write this, I'm watching the season finale of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, and they've just shown a sequence of Balthar banging his robot lover, intercut with him swearing in as president, that was pure Roeg. Hmm, synchronicity. Hey, this rambling anecdote starts in 1987, jumps forward to tonight, and is about to jump back a couple of weeks, then forward again one week. This just gets more and more Nic Roeg.

Cut to Friday the fifth of May, 2006. I've just gone on a little errand to the off-license to pick up some booze for my co-workers and me (hey, it's nearly five on a friday, your mind starts to wander towards a weekend of drunkeness, you make a couple of comments along those lines to your colleagues, and before long you're walking up Church Street with two carrier bags full of clinking wine bottles). I turn the corner into Market Square, and badda-bing, my path is hindered by some guy pointing a film camera up the hill. Probably just a TV news guy, getting some stock footage of the town for some piece or another. Think I'll just stand behind him. Don't want to be on tonight's news carrying two bags full of booze in the direction of my workplace. Might bring us into disrepute. I get bored waiting, and risk getting into the edge of shot in order to go to the ATM at the Abbey National and get a few quid out to bide me over the weekend. It's not like a TV camera would have a particularly wide-angled lens on it, so I should be okay.
I get back to work, where I hear that actually, they're shooting a movie in some disused sections of the South Tyrone Hospital. It wasn't some unidentified BBC or UTV bod - it must have been a guy from the film crew guerilla-shooting some coverage of the town centre. Knackers - I might have made the edges of a widescreen, panoramic shot after all. Ah well, it's probably some unnamed b-movie no-one'll ever see. Should be safe.

Cut to Friday the twelfth of May, 2006. I open the front cover of The Tyrone Times and turn to page two. Bugger. Turns out I'm in Nic Roeg's new movie, PUFFBALL. Possibly.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Oh, and can I get a "Hell, Yeah"!

"SOLO #12 Written by Brendan McCarthy, Tom O'Connor, Jono Howard and Robbie Morrison Art and cover by McCarthy. It's the final issue of Solo, and we're going out with a bang! Artist/writer Brendan McCarthy (Judge Dredd, Rogan Gosh, Skin) lends his unique style to some of DC's biggest icons: Batman. Superman, the Flash, and even JSA villain Johnny Sorrow! His take on the "World's Finest" is guaranteed to be like nothing you've seen before. And you won't believe what else is spawned from McCarthy's fevered imagination! On sale August 30. 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US"

Seeing is believing, baby.

More groovy tat from DC Direct.

I love Batman. I love Paul Pope. I love this statue of Paul Pope's Batman.

Embittered British comic scenester annoys PJ Holden

It has been said that, eventually, everyone in comics will fall out at least once with Dez Skinn. In fact, it must take a really special kind of asshole to fall out with easy-going Norn Iron comics leg end PJ Holden. But he did, and it's broke the internet clean in half. A bit.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Jonathan Ross interviewed Dame Ian McKellen on BBC 1 tonight...

...and both conspired to give away a few spoilers on the upcoming third X-MEN movie. Ross had seen the finished movie, and McKellen had not, so Widow Twanky asked Ross if Ratner had indeed added the epilogue with Magneto again playing chess, which Ross confirmed to his guest's clear delight (leaving things open for future sequels, I presume). Ross also played a clip of the movie featuring the already infamous sequence of a CGI de-aged Patrick Stewart and Gandalf interviewing a young Jean Grey. McKellen obviously loved it, but to me it looked a bit half-arsed, kinda unfinished. Yet again, I see little to fill me with any real confidence about this movie, and I just hope it isn't such a dog that it kills this franchise stone dead, a la BATMAN & ROBIN. Click here to see an extended trailer that, like the first teaser, actually seems visually pretty strong, though overly-hampered with cheesy dialogue.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY arrives belatedly 'round these parts

Well, I've just read Marvel's FREE X-MEN/RUNAWAYS & Oni Press' FREE SCOTT PILGRIM. The X-Men/Runaways team-up was pretty dire stuff, a blemish on the glory that is Vaughn's lasting contribution to the Marvel universe. I presume it was intended to be a hastily assembled crash course in the flippant stylings of the Runaways to the potentially huge X-Men readership. A couple of killer lines of dialogue aside, it's the standard "superhero teams meet, superhero teams fight, superhero teams bond" dynamic that Marvel have been churning out for forty-three years. Such a tired old formula is a most unfitting introduction to a team of characters I'd happily recommend to any young reader getting into comics (and, hey - recommending books is what I do for a living). Similarly, I'd also happily recommend the Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O'Malley to any young reader just getting into comics. Hell, I'd even recommend it to any eternal adolescent who loves the holy trinity of girls, guitars and computer games. This is the zeitgeist-defining book of its generation, just as, say, DEADLINE was for mine. Yes, it's that flippin' good, and this'll serve to tide me over until the next installment proper in Scott's saga.

These two titles are the nearest the American comic book tradition has came to successfully assimilating the ethos of shojo and shonen manga, rather than just a patronising, superficial adaption of its visual style. As such, they'd readily appeal to the core markets for manga (teens, girls, those who want to try comics but are uninitiated with the insuperable complexity of the Big Two's established continuity). Marvel have been criticised in the past for just reprinting old material for FCBD, or for using it as a promotional tool for their latest movie releases (unfair: if anything, FCBD was created to allow comic shops to piggyback on the success of Marvel's movies). This time, ironically, they might have been better just creating a flipbook of a couple of key issues of RUNAWAYS and YOUNG AVENGERS.

And the moral of this story is: nip over to Amazon and buy those three Scott Pilgrim books.

Millar versus Levitz, round eleven

I'm a cynical, paranoid guy. Either that, or I see conspiracies where there generally isn't one, because I'm a smart, creative guy who inserts my own narratives into chains of random, unconnected events. But it's probably the first one.

So, when I see embittered ex-DC employed freelancer-turned-current Marvel employee Mark Millar flying in the face face of current received wisdom and talking up the next X-Men movie, and casting doubts about the upcoming Superman flick, to his little Jim Jones-style internet community... well, let's just say I think he's probably got a few share options in Marvel stashed away somewhere, never mind his ongoing legendary feud with a couple of head honchos at DC.

And that, my friends, was a very long sentence. William Faulkner long.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

DOCTOR WHO big winners at tonight's TV BAFTAs

Yeah, baby! In yer face, ITV! Yer shit and you know it! Oh - and mini-review for last night's DOCTOR WHO ("Girl In The Fireplace") - fuc*ing brilliant - they should get Steven Moffatt in as writer as often as possible.

Eric Wight's blog

I always love it when I discover another great artist's blog: tonight it was Eric Wight. Best known as Seth Cohen's art double during the whole "Atomic County" plotline from the second series of THE O.C., Wight has also in his time been art director of the stalled/failed BUFFTY THE DRAGON SLAYER animated series, and an occasional (but always spectacular) comic book artist.

The inevitable SIMPSONS/BATTLESTAR GALACTICA crossover...

...begins here.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

STUFF in the post

Duncan Fegredo's sketchbook arrived this morning, about 10 days after ordering it from CafePress. That's pretty good for a transatlantic sale, and it arrived in a sturdy rigibag easily the equal of the type used by those other U.S. masters of the bomb-proof packing, Mile High Comics and Bud Plant. It's a hell of a lot better value for money than your average artist's sketchbook - normally, they're a thin volume with a few poster-style images of some fan favourite corporate trademarks. I've shelled out for a few by some of my favourite artists, and usually they're disappointing. In this case, however, for a similar price, you get a hell of a lot more bang for your buck. And it's a hell of an insight into the workings of the artist: a peek over his shoulder as he experiments with various materials, his line and his technique. A little game of spot-the-preparatory sketch can be played at times (a little GIRL here, a little BOOKS OF MAGIC there, a couple of little rapidographed Dredds); and there's some very telling portraits of fellow professionals, including frequent collaborators Sean Phillips and Pete Milligan, plus Grant Morrison (with a pre-King Mob full head of hair).

Enough yakkin' - time to go over to Fegredo's CafePress shop and just bloomin' buy it! And then, head over to Sean Phillips' newly updated website, where you can see such smashing images as this 'un, taken from the forthcoming Image book INTERSECTIONS, featuring a compendium of groovy art by both the scamps.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Here. I've semi-recanted on this issue: it looks like it'll be a good-looking movie at the very least. Brandon Routh seems to be channelling the spirit of Chris Reeve as both Kent and Superman. Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane looks a hell of a lot more like the comic book character than the comparitively hard-faced Margot Kidder (hair, make-up, wardrobe - she looks like she's just walked off an Al Plastino page). As long as the script holds up (and they've done a hell of a job in keeping the meat of the plot under wraps) it might be just about bearable.


New issue of THE COMIC FOUNDRY available here. Includes a Gene Colan interview. 

My favourite article? This, The 25 most important events (in Comicbooks, natch) in the last 25 years. Sure, lists are lazy journalism, but they're great at stimulating debate. For example, Kevin Smith at #16. I reckon Kev's influence on comics lies not in the work he's done for DC or Marvel (really, how many of you have actually read it? Okay, read it and liked it?), but in dragging his army of fans along into comic stores to buy his CLERKS or CHASING DOGMA books, 'cus widening the customer-base for the (then, maybe less-so now) lame-duck entity that is the Direct Market (#2 in the list) is always a good thing, but especially when he was doing it at the end of the nineties, just a couple of years after the market had crashed. Smith remains as important a patron to the comic book world as he does a creator, such as everytime another stoner kid sees MALLRATS or JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK and hurries down to a comic-shop for the first time to see for himself this wacky world his favourite moviemaker keeps referencing. Or everytime a lapsed comicbook reader finds a link to a new book by an old favourite at Newsarama, the news site Smith bankrolls, and goes and buys it from Amazon (#1 in the list, The Internet, and #3, Bookstores). So yeah, I occasionally take the piss out of Kevin Smith, but the guy has been a hell of a catalyst for the returning upsurge of interest in the medium these last few years.