Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Moved On / Forwarding Address

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Hi there. 

If you've come here looking for a tasty slice of (ever-so-slightly) deranged comics ramblings then you should know I've moved on to something called the London Graphic Novel Network which you can find here: http://londongraphicnovelnetwork.blogspot.co.uk/

For real life interactions: there's the monthly Barbican Comic Forum which takes place on the third Thursday of the month at the Barbican Library more details here: http://londongraphicnovelnetwork.blogspot.co.uk/p/barbican-comic-forum_12.html

Peace out. xxx





Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2013/11

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Hi. How's it going?

So yeah - this morning I've handed in my notice in at Islington which means that come the end of November I'm out of here which means that (obviously much more importantly) that Tuesday November the 5th is my last Islington Comic Forum.

At this point I don't know if they're going to try and find another member of staff to take over running it - or if (like the other "more serious" book groups in Islington) they get you guys to run it yourselves - or if they just close it down and scatter it's ashes to the wind but whatever. (Bright sides): there's still the Barbican Comic Forum (if you fancy making the trip into the city) and I'm finally moving up the world: seeing how my new job is going to be the guy who hands out the soap in club toilets (exciting!).

But hey - for me the thing to focus on is making November's Comic Forum the best ever. So I've basically just got all of my favourite comics and gathered them in a pile so you can expect: Scott Pilgrim / The Filth / Asterios Polyp / The Boys / The Perry Bible Fellowship / Solanin / The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For / Mezolith / Saga / The Manhattan Projects / Logicomix / Superman: All Star Superman / Complete Future Shocks / Crossed / Stray Toasters / The Twelve / Locke & Key / The Ultimates / D.R. and Quinch / Promethea / Batman: Year 100 / The Bulletproof Coffin / The Umbrella Academy / Prophet / Marvel Zombies / and I whole bunch more that I haven't decided on yet (and some of the ones I wanted to get are out on loan - stupid libraries!): plus yeah a whole bunch of new titles too: and a few donations from Drew and Tam (thanks guys!)

So yeah: Tuesday November the 5th. 6:00pm - 7:30pm upstairs @ North Library.
There is (as always) a facebook thingie (so show your love).
And of course - the book of the month is: Joe The Barbarian (so if you get a chance please read it blah blah blah).

But yeah (uh oh the emotional bit): I'l probably say this in person when I see you all: but damnit I've had a really good time doing the Comic Forum with all of you. I will admit that at the start I was worried that it would just be people talking about who would win in a fight between Superman and Spider-Man (and Will knows what I'm talking about): but it's been a total blast and better than I ever could have hoped: good chats, good times, good readings etc and it's been my absolute pleasure to be the guy that talks too much about how awesome Scott Pilgrim is (and: oh my god - have you read Scott Pilgrim yet? Because you really really really should). So yeah: thank you thank you thank you.

And as for the rest: well - I leave it entirely in your hands.
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Friday, 11 October 2013

Events: Battle of Ideas 2013: Graphic novels: Literature for the 21st Century?

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So.Yes. I've been lucky enough to be asked to participate in the 2013 Battle of Ideas ("Two days of high-level, thought-provoking, public debate organised by the Institute of Ideas at the Barbican."). I'm sitting on a panel that will be grappling with the question: "Graphic novels: literature for the 21st century?" (oh boy) which will be happening in the Hammerson Room on Saturday 19 October. It starts at 5.30pm and goes all the way on to 6:45pm (at which point we'll probably have everything all wrapped up in a neat little bow). You can get a full run down of everything here (although gotta say: they do lose points for calling comics a "genre" - but what can you do?): also please try not to laugh at my moody little black and white photo (my girlfriend says it makes me look like an Eastern European hitman: which I have decided to take as a compliment). Tickets are available from here. I'm going to try my best to be both thought-provoking and entertaining but it's very possible that I'll only end up making a tit of myself - obviously the only way to find out is to come along. And yes - needless to say: any support you'd care to give would be graciously received: but if you heckle me then you're off my Christmas card list forever. See you down the front.

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Books: Daredevil (2012 - 2013)

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Daredevil
Vol 1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Paolo M Rivera and Marcos Martin
2012


Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Daredevil
Vol 2
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Paolo M Rivera and Marcos Martin
2013



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Daredevil
Vol 3
Written by Mark Waid
Art by , Marco Checchetto, Chris Samnee and Khoi Pham
2013



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


From Mark Waid - who (to me) is best known as the guy who wrote the (excellent) Astro City [1] - but (going from the members of the Comic Forum at least) is better known now for all the evil and nasty things he got up to with Irredeemable comes a fresh take [2] on everyone's favourite blind superhero with devil horns and a red leather one-piece: who's also a lawyer and who consistently has the type of relationship problems that even Jeremy Kyle would balk at.

But yes - you know that already from all the glowing reviews and stuff: blah blah blah. What you want is for me to tell you what exactly all the fuss is about with this new-minted-freshly-pressed version of Daredevil (no previous experience necessary - so you can just pick it up and get straight into it)? Well - ok: just take a looks at that cover to Vol 1 - I mean maybe it's a little bit too small on your computer screen (no?) so I'd do a favour and just describe it for you: it's Mr Daredevil all decked out in his fancy red leather jumping around: only what looks like far away like a blank magnolia/vanilla backdrop is actually a cityscape where the building and birds aren't filled in with lines and colours and blah (like a normal thing) but rather they're written in with sounds: so the birds wings all say "flapflapflap" and their heads say "coocoocoo" [3]: all this being the big clue that unlike most of the other Daredevil books that I've encountered on my travels so far [4] is that it's the first Daredevil series to really dig deep into this whole blindness thing [5] and try and represent it on the comic page. 

Of course (and I can't be the only one to ever think this right?) - but it's damn peculiar to have a superhero who seems to have been created as an aspirational figure for the blind seeing how (no duh) comic books are so very much a visual medium [6]. I mean - if you compare it with another differently-abled person [7] anything else would make a lot more sense: like someone whose wheelchair was actually a high powered inspector gadget machine (or whatever), someone whose hyperactivity gave them the ability to walk through walls [8] or (and this is my favourite and someone should make this come true because it so obviously make a really cool comic seeing how it plays to it's strengths): a deaf guy whose has super-developed sense of sight (call him Dareangel or something). Point being if someone is in a wheelchair, or has ADD or is deaf - then they can read and enjoy the comic and (hopefully) feel a bit more empowered. While anyone who's blind it's like: "Oh dude - there's this thing about a blind superhero that you'd really like only - damn - because it's a comic book: you can't - oh well." 

So. Erm. Yeah. Wait. What was I saying?      

Well yeah - so: even tho (for the reasons above) I've got this unshakeable feeling that it's like totally unfair to the blind people out there - it is kind of cool that there's these Daredevil books that take the concept of sightlessness seriously. Previously (from the Daredevil's I read - which I'll be first to admit probably isn't much in the grand scheme of things: but is still probably a dozen more than your general layperson - so) most writers would pay lip-service to the whole blind thing by going in for some detailed description of the sights and sounds of the city (and oh boy - if I had the time I would totally cut and paste all of the grandiose descriptions that have been set down over the years: but come on - you know what I mean right? "I can smell the yellowish chemical tinge of the mustard in their hot dogs from five blocks away." etc): but Waid and his co-conspirators go in for a much more bold "purple vision" which you kinda have to see to really understand: but kind looks like a cool effect from an 80s action movie [9].    

Compared to the crash and bang of all other superhero comics out there: which (as much as I do end up loving some of them) are a little bit electric guitars and crashing drums (especially the previous versions of Daredevil which have always have a particular tendency to pile on the strings in a doom-laden way) this brand new sprightly version of Daredevil comes across more like a piano sonata - light and breezy and almost delicate in the way it plays upon (and subtly upends) it's well-worn clichés. I mean yeah: you've heard the story of good versus evil a bazillion times: but hey - just because I've eaten cake before that doesn't mean that I'm not going to enjoy a few cheeky slices especially if someone knows how to bake all the right ingredients just right: mixing them all up in a concoction that I'm just going to go ahead and describe as simply devilish (ha!). 

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[1] Which I really really really should write a post for: but man - oh well: whatever: maybe in a bit.

[2] Can I get away with saying "fresh take"? Kinda makes me sound like a voice-over for a cheesy mid 90s film trailer: but maybe that's just a problem that exists only in my head?

[3] Which always reminds me of that Bill Hicks joke. But yes. 

[4] Most of which I must say are really damn pretty good and is really (have I said this elsewhere on here?) the only real competition Batman's got in terms of mainstream superhero character comic books that people who don't normally read mainstream superhero character comic books can also enjoy and appreciate: only (for whatever social reasons) - Batman is afforded waaaaaaay more respect by the general public than the blind guy with the white cubs all dressed up in a red leather one-piece (which I guess we can probably blame (as with so many things) on Ben "Smugface" Affeck). But yeah (whatever) my point being: if you're looking for a good time: go read a Daredevil comic (especially if it's one written by Mr Frank Miller or Mr Brian Michael Bendis).  

[5] Of course - I'm sure that this is wrong. And hey - if anyone out there wants to do an "well - actually I'll think you'll find…." then go ahead - knock yourself out. 

[6] I mean - writing has braille right - but (as far as I know - and maybe this is like a whole other: "well - actually I'll think you'll find….") there's not a way that you can make comics for the blind - is there? 

[7] That's the proper - not-offending-anyone way to put it - right? 

[8] Ok - so that one is a bit weak and is basically just The Flash - but whatever: leave me alone.

[9] In fact: it really reminds me of this bit of trivia from John Carpenter's Escape From New York: "The wire-frame computer graphics on the display screens in the glider were not actually computer-generated, as computers capable of 3D wire-frame imaging were too expensive when the film was made. To generate the "wire-frame" images, special effects designers built a model of the city, painted it black, attached bright white tape to the model buildings in an orderly grid, and moved a camera through the model city." But I dunno - maybe that's just me?  

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Links: Comics Alliance Article: Why You Should Be Reading ‘Daredevil’Comic Book Resources Article: PIPELINE: Why "Mark Waid's 'Daredevil'"?, Comics Should Be Good Article: Would Mark Waid’s Daredevil Just be an Average Superhero Comic Book Back in the Old Days?, PopMatters Article: Mark Waid’s Narrative Multitasking in "Daredevil", Sequart Article: I Once Was Blind: Waid’s Daredevil & How Expectations Can Ruin Even the Best of Things….

Further reading: Daredevil (2001 - 2006), Irredeemable, Astro City, Hawkeye, Richard Stark's Parker,

All comments welcome.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2013/10

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Ok. So you know what? It's kinda hard to describe properly what a typical meeting of the Islington Comic Forum consists of (relax: - I'm not going to use that hoary old cliché about there's not really any such thing as a typical meeting of the Islington Comic Forum because - we're better than that - right?) - I mean: in the strict physical sense - it's a big table full of comic books (at a rough guesstimate I'd say there's usually around - what? - 150 books available for people to take home at each session) and a bunch of people (typically we get about a dozen or so people turn up) all from various walks of life and all with different backgrounds (yeah - I know you're thinking that's it probably all nerdy white guys - but seriously - we're as multicultural and diverse as a corporate video - with an age span from 6 to 90) all sitting around and discussing / arguing / sharing their thoughts and ideas about one of the most exciting and diverse mediums on the planet (nowadays if you're talking about something that's just "all about superheroes" my first guess is you're talking about films - but whatever). It's a little bit more chaotic than a book club but with the same sort of relaxed and open friendly atmosphere: all presided over by an excitable librarian (that would be me - hi!) who has pretty much read every comic book out there (even the terrible ones) and is willing to tell you where you're going wrong with whatever you're reading (and is most happy when people disagree with him). If you're curious as to what sort of books we discuss - then take a look around this blog - every book here has been included at one point or another. And if you want to know what sort of things we talk about: - well - it's never really that properly thought out but we touch upon everything from the best way to construct a story, to how far genre limits can go all the way to if Frank Miller was right about who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman.

There's also a book of the month (so that at least we can all talk about something we've all read). This month it's Ghost World by Daniel Clowes. If you get a chance please read it. You can reserve yourself a copy here. (For those of you that don't get the chance - don't worry - you can still come and join in with the discussions).

The next one is: Tuesday the 8th of October / 6:00pm to 7:30pm in the Upstairs Hall at North Library Manor Gardens N7 6JX. Here is a map. Come and join us. It's free. All welcome.

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For more information (or if you have any questions and/or would like to be added to our email list: we send out a reminder a week before with a list of the books that are going to be available) you can email us here.

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Books: A Wrinkle in Time

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A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel 
By Madeleine L'Engle and Hope Larson
2012





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


So: the question is - when you're writing a review (or whatever it is you wanna call these - a "post" or blah) about a children's book: should you try and adopt the perspective of a child (which - I dunno - means kinda stunting your brain a little I guess) or - should you approach it the same way that you look at everything else?

I'd never heard of A Wrinkle in Time until I saw it sitting on the shelf in our Children's Library: but seeing how the back cover has a quote from big-shot James Patterson [1] on the back cover: I figured it must be kind of a big deal. And well - I mean: just the way it kinda announces itself on the cover "A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel" (like that's supposed to mean something important) I got the feeling that maybe this was a like an American thing that had failed to make it's way across the pond [2].

Speaking to a couple of American friends over the weekend it turns out that - oops: yep: that's exactly what it is. Described as "required reading for bookish teenage girls" it turns out that A Wrinkle in Time is merely the first installment in the "Time Quartet" (which also includes (and I've gotta say - these are some great titles): A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet and Many Waters): so I guess these are like proto-Harry Potter books: mixed with some A Series of Unfortunate Events, a pinch of Enid Blyton and a daub of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: you know - bookish kids have a series of adventures and in doing so come to learn a bit more about themselves and their place in the world: what could be simpler (and more fun) - right?

Well: yeah. Only for me it turns out things weren't that simple.

I mean: it's a pretty common cliché at this point that England is the 51st State of America. And speaking as a (relatively) normal citizen of the UK [3] my whole life has been absolutely saturated with every possible form of American media: I mean - I could write you a list of all the books, films and TV shows I've obsessively consumed over the years but we'd probably be here for quite a long time... (and I'm sure we've both got better things to do - yeah?). Point being: it's a little bit weird to come across something like this book (or - well: - and I should keep reminding myself of this - the graphic novel adaptation of a book) that has completely escaped my detection: it's a bit like - I dunno - finding a whole new type of chocolate bar or something you know? I mean: it's not that I want to be eating all the chocolate in the shop: but at the very least I thought I knew what the names of all of them were. But whatever - nevermind.

So - there's this book - what's it like?

Most of the famous English children's books are about discovering a secret door to somewhere: Alice and the hole in the ground, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy looking inside their clothing receptacle, Harry messing around in Kings Cross etc [4]: I'm having trouble trying to sum up the right words to explain the feeling - but there's something kind of quaint about the way that the adventures start: small, humble beginnings that aren't really about much more than tottering about the countryside and maybe having a nice picnic somewhere [5]. Walking into the pages of A Wrinkle in Time with no clue as to what awaited me inside I just kind of assumed that it would be about conjuring the same feeling: doing things on a small scale without too much fuss and bother: but if your traditional "English" children's book is a small scone with a small dollop of jam and cream on the side then A Wrinkle in Time is a mountain of ice cream and cake all mixed together and served in an extra large "big gulp" serving: and (for once) I don't mean that in a good way. Nah: it's more to say that instead of treating the world as this big mysterious thing that even if you lived to be 100 years old you'd only be able to really know one really really small part of it [6]: A Wrinkle in Time flips things the other way and ends up - over the course of it's story - making the universe feel small and the main characters feel very very big. I mean - not that's a bad thing in and of itself: but it kind of added up with a lot of other things that left me feeling pretty distasteful with the whole thing by the time I finished it - like a fly had flown into my mouth and I had to scrub my tongue to wash the flavour away (you get what I mean?).

I mean (well): as this blog has gone on and on - the more I've been interested in stories and what they mean and how the work - and all that kind of stuff goes double (triple!) for stories intended for children. After all - when you're new and fresh-faced your brain is all mushy and easily absorbent - which means that the lessons and ideas that get manage to get purchase at that point will be very much wedged in their for the rest of your life... (I could very much belabor this point and write several mini-articles: but let's keep moving on yeah?).

Because - yeah: with that kind of stuff in mind - there's a lot in A Wrinkle in Time that is - well: troubling. I mean I don't want to spoil it all for you - but the fact that there's a moment where a character is trying to think of something in order to keep herself from being brainwashed and ends up relying upon reciting the Declaration of Independence is - well - I'd say it's a little bit messed up - no? And further from that (and this is where I'm going to get a little bit liberal and tree-huggy - so you know: apologies): it's damn strange to have the one of the main antagonists be a great massive blob of evil ("The Black Thing"). I mean yeah: it makes things a lot simpler for a story just to have an evil blah and then use that to drive the story forward: but I can't shake the feeling that a way more - well - human - story would show that people aren't just bad because they're born or made that way [7] - but that rather: everyone has their reasons and "evil" is mostly just used as a stick to beat someone into silence when they don't want to take the time to understand them [8]. And then the whole thing ends (and this is very much a spoiler so erm yeah: maybe turn away now): on the idea that love is a finite resource and you shouldn't waste it on people that aren't your family: like - yeah: I think I know understand a little more about why America seems like it's so messed up [10].

But hey: even if it's morally wrong (or however you want to phrase it) - I will admit that (for that very reason) it makes pretty interesting reading. And it's whole strange science-fiction fantasy mishmash (so it's not really clear where one ends and the other begins) - not to mention the crazy seeming free-associative leaps in logic - (and - what the hell? - it's called A Wrinkle in Time (and is sold as a time-travel adventure): but there's no damn time-travelling) gives the whole thing a feeling like you're inside someone's head watching them dream. I mean - if (for whatever reason) I'd been reading the book then I would have felt been pretty irate that I'd allowed it to trespass in my mind: but hey - seeing how it's just a comic book (so: in and out in about a hour) there's no proper sense of invasion (a proper book is like a home: a comic is more like a fun place to visit - no?).

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[1] You haven't heard of James Patterson? Well - according to most surveys he's the most borrowed authors in English libraries (and probably most other countries too I'd imagine): and every library I've worked  in has always had about three or four shelves (at the very least) dedicated to his oeuvre. What bread and milk is to corner shops: James Patterson is to libraries: you know - he's one of the essentials.

[2] Man: I must say - I love using that expression. There's something so powerful about referring to the Atlantic Ocean (the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions with a total area of about 106,400,000 square kilometres (41,100,000 square miles) it covers approximately 20 percent of the Earth's surface and about 29 percent of its water surface area) as a "pond." (ha).

[3] Yes. I know that the United Kingdom and England are two different things - but I wanted to avoid the boring repetition of "England, England, England" - ok? And "UK" sounded good - and whatever.

[4] Although I guess I should admit that my only experience of Harry Potter comes from half-watching the first two movies. But yeah - whatever. You're not going to hold it against me are you?

[5] Actually - well: I guess with my three examples I was hoping to set a kinda precedent of typically English children's stories - but now I consider it a little bit more I realise that it's only really Alice that fits the template that I was hoping to make: just an average nobody who accidentally falls down into a strange magical world - does some stuff - and then leaves. As opposed to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe where the kids (sure) are nobodies are the start (well to do nobodies - but still nobodies) but then they end of being best buddies with Jesus (which is a bit much I must say): which is a touch too grand and ostentatious - which then leads to Harry Potter - where it turns out (and this is right - right?) that the main character was Jesus from the start and was just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up - right? (Right): which to me seems like small scale Englishness (as I imagine it) and more like - well - something that stems more from an American way of seeing the world ("I am so smart! I am so smart!" etc). I guess the things I was thinking of was more: Peter Pan, Wind in the Willows, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin - that kind of stuff. But yeah - whatever. Maybe none of this makes sense (oh well).

[6] Which reminds me of this cool mini-article here: "I think the famous opening shot, seen above, contains the answer. Star Wars was big. As big as I could imagine things being. Maybe to imagine a bigger thing was in fact impossible. Maybe this introduced and thus defined the very concept of bigness in my imaginative life."

[7] And if you want to say that type of thing isn't possible in a children's story - then I would respond by recommending that you watch pretty much any Studio Ghibli film.

[8] I mean - I know it's probably not very cool to quote Russell Brand - but he wrote a thing in the Guardian recently that basically sums up my current attitude (talking about the Daily Mail columnist [9] Melanie Philips) : "When the audience – who, incidentally, make all the best points – boo her, I think it a shame. The wall of condemnation is an audible confirmation that the world is a fearful and unloving place. Like most of us, Melanie just needs a cuddle."

[9] Daily Mail columnist being the nearest thing that the world has to being employed as an actual hate-spewing demon. Obviously (but you knew that already - right?).

[10] Ok yeah: so the actual book was written all the way back between 1959 and 1960: but that ain't no excuse.

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Further reading: MercuryThe War At Ellsmere, Stardust, The HobbitCoralineAnya's Ghost, The UnwrittenPrometheaArrowsmith: So Smart In Their Fine Uniforms.

All comments welcome.

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2013/09

























Ok. So you know what? It's kinda hard to describe properly what a typical meeting of the Islington Comic Forum consists of (relax: - I'm not going to use that hoary old cliché about there's not really any such thing as a typical meeting of the Islington Comic Forum because - we're better than that - right?) - I mean: in the strict physical sense - it's a big table full of comic books (at a rough guesstimate I'd say there's usually around - what? - 150 books available for people to take home at each session) and a bunch of people (typically we get about a dozen or so people turn up) all from various walks of life and all with different backgrounds (yeah - I know you're thinking that's it probably all nerdy white guys - but seriously - we're as multicultural and diverse as a corporate video - with an age span from 6 to 90) all sitting around and discussing / arguing / sharing their thoughts and ideas about one of the most exciting and diverse mediums on the planet (nowadays if you're talking about something that's just "all about superheroes" my first guess is you're talking about films - but whatever). It's a little bit more chaotic than a book club but with the same sort of relaxed and open friendly atmosphere: all presided over by an excitable librarian (that would be me - hi!) who has pretty much read every comic book out there (even the terrible ones) and is willing to tell you where you're going wrong with whatever you're reading (and is most happy when people disagree with him). If you're curious as to what sort of books we discuss - then take a look around this blog - every book here has been included at one point or another. And if you want to know what sort of things we talk about: - well - it's never really that properly thought out but we touch upon everything from the best way to construct a story, to how far genre limits can go all the way to if Frank Miller was right about who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman.

There's also a book of the month (so that at least we can all talk about something we've all read). This month it's: Wolverine: The Best There Is Vol 1: Contagion. If you get a chance please read it. You can reserve yourself a copy here. (For those of you that don't get the chance - don't worry - you can still come and join in with the discussions).

The next one is: Tuesday the 3rd of September / 6:00pm to 7:30pm in the Upstairs Hall at North Library Manor Gardens N7 6JX. Here is a map. Come and join us. It's free. All welcome.

.....................................................................................................................................
For more information (or if you have any questions and/or would like to be added to our email list: we send out a reminder a week before with a list of the books that are going to be available) you can email us here.

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Books: Batman: Batman Incorporated

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Batman Incorporated
Written by Grant Morrison 
Art by Yanick Paquette, Chris Burnham, Michel Lacombe, Scott Clark, Cameron Stewart and Dave Beatty
2013



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


Out of all the "outsider artists" Henry Joseph Darger, Jr. is probably the most well known (he's the only one I've ever heard of anyway). Like it says on the good old Wikipedia: "He has become famous for his posthumously-discovered 15,145-page, single-spaced fantasy manuscript called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the story."

If have you no idea what I'm talking about then - well - "outsider art" is art made by (and I realise that this isn't the most sensitive way to put it - but what the hell): crazy people. That is (and this would be the more delicate way to put it) - people who haven't come up through the proper art school channels but instead exist on the fringes of society: you know - insane-asylum inmates and/or children: that type of thing.

But yeah - just the thought of Henry Darger's 15,145-page [1] The Story of the Vivian Girls [2] epic is enough to give me spine the shivers. Just the thought / the concept of something that - well - gargantuan (?) monstrous (?) Brobdingnagian [3] (?) - whatever - it's like something knocking up against inside my brain's funny bone: I like my human endeavour to be human-sized: and once we start going past the 1,000 page mark then I think I start getting a little queasy: does that make sense?

Me and my flatmate where recently talking about this sort of stuff and he mentioned that Milan Kundera (one of his favourite authors) said something about how you should be able to hold a novel in your head [4]: that you know - it shouldn't be too sprawling and crazy or whatever: but rather the whole thing should be neat and tidy with every piece connected in a proper way with every other piece: all of it forming a satisfying compact whole. I think - in my more sober state I would tend to agree with this kind of thinking: everything in it's right place and all that: but (then again) maybe there's more fun to be had in not been so buttoned up all the time.

But I'm zig-zagging here - as I always tend to when it comes to trying to encapsulate my thoughts about Grant Morrison and especially when it comes to his epic Batman saga. I mean: I guess I shouldn't be such a hypocrite seeing how some of my favourite comics are big, long-running series that take ten or so books to tell the whole story (I would write down some examples: but what the hey - they're scattered all around this blog (and I'd feel bad for praising certain series over others - so will leave it to you to find for yourselves....) but they're always (mostly) a lot calmer and tamer in how they come across.... You know what? Fine: I'll give you an example: Neil Gaiman's Sandman series was years in the telling and stretched out (depending on which books you count) into over a dozen books - each filling out a whole Universe of Universes: with hundreds of characters and very different states of being but (you know what?) reading those books never had me reaching for the Henry Darger parallels: so I guess the question is: why is that?

Well: the first thing is the way that Morrison's Batman comes across: (no duh) Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego isn't exactly a smaller-than-life character - nah dude: and so really - the only way to properly capture the right Bat-spirit is to go big and always over-the-top: which means there's not much room for calmness and contemplative: not when there's windows to smash and people like Lord Death Man to fight [5].

Connected to that is the way that he decides to tell the story: still using The Sandman as our base-line: well - even tho that was using all sorts of strange craziness and myths and legends and demons and monsters all mashed together [6]: you can still always make sense of the stuff that's going on - you know? It's clear like a fresh-water lake. Which isn't the way that Grant Morrison plays his Batman (no sir). In fact the feeling I got with reading Batman Incorporated is that it's almost like he's decided to see just how much information he can get into a single unit of space. I mean - one way of thinking about stories that they're all about the careful unloading of information (so: think about how much less The Empire Strikes Back would be if it told you who Luke Skywalker's Dad was in the opening crawl): and while most writer's try their best to unload all small bits at a time: Morrison it seems is on a mission to pack in as much as possible: firing it all in short sharp sweet concentrated laser bursts into the reader's brain so that at time it's like your Marty Mcfly in Back To The Future Part II: watching six TV screens all playing at the same time and yet (somehow) still being able to make sense of them all.

One of the side effects of that is that (for this hapless reader) the first time you read it a whole lot of stuff is going to be whooshing over your head [7]. Luckily for me (and I would suggest this to everyone who wants to attempt to make sense of this book [8]) the fine people at The Mindless Ones website have written some very helpful / charming / funny / interesting annotations that (for me at least) where a huge heap of help - with excellent piece of advice number one going to: "From now on no one is allowed to utter the words ‘hard to follow’, ‘confusing’, ‘unrelated plots’ or the like without having read the comic three times." [9]

So far I've only read  Batman Incorporated twice [10]: but I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up reading a few other dozen times in the future - and yeah: I will say it was much more fun the second time (with lots of cool little details that only pop out once you've been through already: check the poster in front of Catwoman when she's asking "What's the appeal?").

Not to say that the first time round was a drag: in fact - for the first few dozen pages it comes across as the most exhilarating and (hell yes) fun Batcomic Morrison has written so far: I mean - if you wanted to know what all the fuss was about then I would recommend maybe you start with the first half of this book and then (once you get the taste for it) go back to the beginning (that would be Batman and Son) and work your way from there: for me - it's kinda of like the bright sunshine superhero stuff Morrison was doing when he was running The New X-Men or Marvel Boy: so you know: inventive and wild - but still fun and breezy: like a TV show with a pop song soundtrack and a budget as big as the moon .

In addition: well yeah ok - I can't be the only one who always found Batman's provincialism a little bit strange - right? [11] The way he restricted himself to Gotham city at the seeming expense of everywhere else. I mean - what gives? So he's chasing the Joker down a street and all of a sudden they're past the city limits (a big sign saying "You're Now Leaving Gotham City") and the fearsome Dark Knight is like: "oh - sorry. That's as far as go. I'll catch you some other time?" [12] So - if for nothing else: thank heavens then for Grant Morrison for confronting my minor niggle by stepping up to the plate and getting that all nice and fixed.

What else? Well - strangely for a Grant Morrison Batphic Novel that doesn't feature Frank Quitely: the artwork on display here is actually pretty nifty and not at all disappointing and flat: so hooray for that [14] and man - like I said about the compacted information being fired from all directions: there's so much stuff here - Batman does Scalped, Invisible-style fun with secret badges, references to both Borges and Thatcher (amongst others), Invisible robots, motorbikes to the face, carefully manufactured internet conspiracies [15] and a loving attention to detail (I realise that maybe this is old news and something that's probably been the case for years and years: but for me it's the first time I've ever realised that Bruce Wayne's eyebrows are in the shape of a bat: which I've gotta say is such a perfect little touch). And: even tho Batman is always always thinks ahead (Rule one = "Proper Planning and Preparation." after all) so too do the villains (and there's lots of new shiny villains waiting!): which means that when it comes to the crunch it's all very sweaty palms and palpitations.

The book itself puts it best when it has one character exclaim: "Everything is hyper-mega! Everybody have fun!" - and the joy that seeps through the book is so infectious that even Batman seems to be having a better battime ("Hh"): even the henchmen make an effort (which is always nice to see): and man - the dialogue is as succulent and juicy as a freshly picked peach ("He had a skull for a head and clammy fingers!").

So: what you waiting for? Even if there's a chance that you might drown - you should jump in anyway: once you get let the water envelop you and allow yourself to be pulled by it's strange currents then - well: a whole new wild wide world awaits you....

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[1] Ha. Take THAT Infinite Jest.

[2] A name sadly since co-opted by a middling no-mark indie band (oh well).

[3] Thank you online thesaurus: best word ever. Am going to be trying to work it into every sentence I can for the rest of the week ("I want my cup of tea Brobdingnagian please.")

[4] I did do a quick google to see if I could find the exact quote - but nothing came up. Oh well: whatever - maybe my flatmate just made it up trying to sound smart [16].

[5] Also (I was going to try and put this later but maybe it goes best here): and yeah I realise that this might be a bit unfair coming from someone who runs a blog about comics (but still): isn't Batman a little... I dunno - silly? (Oh dear now I've said it huh?): I mean - on the one hand it does make sense - if you're going to write a Batman book then - well - it should be about Batman (obviously): but god - Morrison goes in so deep and unpicks everything with such scalpel-like precision - I mean: it's like reading a Phd on who Batman is and what he can do and what he represents: and ok yeah - on one hand it's very cool and interesting (and man: if you think the Nolan Dark Knight films captured what Batman was about then - please please - read some of these Morrison Batbooks so that you realise just how boring and puddle-deep Christian Bale's interpretation is): but on the other - I mean - all this effort and energy and intelligence expended on something so (well - I'll use the same word again seeing how it fits so well): silly. You know: reading Batman Incorporated will give you lots to think about concerning Batman: but not really that much in terms of human beings or anything like that. Which I guess is why (before I step into the books) I get the feeling that they're just a bit - well: outsider arty: a mental cul-de-sac that leads only to itself - a batlabyrinth that's only aim is to draw you ever further in (It is so very telling that when a character says: "If he didn't exist, well... I guess we'd just have to invent him." he isn't talking about God - he's talking about Batman). Which - yeah: is either something to be feared and to run away from or something to cheer and embrace - and I guess my only preference is constantly flipping between the two.

[6] And - holy moly - if that doesn't pique your interest then let me just come out and say it simply: if you (somehow) haven't read The Sandman in it's entirely already - then you really really really should.

[7] In fact - I would even go so far as to say: as much as I love reading collected editions of stuff: the ideal way to read Morrison's Batrun is probably a single issue at a time: if only in order to allow the time to properly digest things. I mean: even reading it in book form like this it's pretty obvious that each issue has it's own theme and pace and feel - and trying to take them in all together is a bit like trying to eat a week's worth of meals all in the same setting.

[8] And - ok yeah: most of the other Morrison Batbooks too.

[9] Which is taken from here: but - hell - just check all the links below (where it says links). Special mention also going to: ""The image of Bruce pushing at the white of the comic page – the ultimate ground upon which the original four colour process echoed in the doors (check them – magenta, cyan, yellow and black), and therefore all comics, rests – represents our hero travelling beyond the confines of the 2D and scattering across the comic Faculty X style. The higgledypiggeldification of Batman." (from here): and also (very much also): "I like to imagine that in reality the Alzheimer’s riddled, amnesiac Dedalus converses in non-sequiteurs which Batman’s powerful mind, resistant to the last, organises into something resembling sense. But it’s a permeable sense. We’re all at sea here. Dedalus completely inhabits his condition, he owns it, and he balances things out by forcing his enemies onto his very un-level playing field. The psychedelic wall effect captures this completely – the way it’s running in two directions at once, uncertain of where it is." (Which - oh boy: was very helpful in helping me understand what exactly was going on: so thanks for that dudes!).

[10] And just so we have everything nice and clear (in case you want to try and cross-reference with other stuff on the internet or whatever): Islington's version of Batman Incorporated collects Collects Batman Incorporated #1 - 8 and Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! So you know like.

[11] Yeah yeah yeah: I know - a story about a multimillionaire playboy who dresses up like a giant bat and runs around at night beating up criminals is (like I said above) it's all bit silly (we know we know) - and I'm picking on this relatively minor point and going: "hey - isn't almost insignificant detail like really weird and stuff?" Which is comparable to pointing to a particular spot in the middle of the Pacific and going: "hey - isn't that bit - like - really wet?" But whatever.

[12] Like (just me?) - isn't it a bit strange in The Dark Knight film when he makes that brief excursion to Hong Kong. I mean - on the one hand it was cool to see him leave the confines of Chicago Gotham for a change: but then (when I started to think about it [13]) it's like: but why is he just making an exception for that one guy? You know: I guess the reason they decided to have that scene in the film was to show that there's no escape from the Caped Crusader - but by bringing it up it just made it seem more weird you know? Like someone saying "well i take care of my kids": or (putting it another way / making another point) - if the only reason Bats made an exception for the Hong Kong dude was because he did stuff that affected Gotham - then does that mean that if - say - the Penguin set up shop in Las Vegas and keep all his dealings in Nevada then he'd be safe from the Batman? I dunno.... (Maybe I should stop having a go at the Chris Nolan Batfilms: but I just can't help myself!)

[13] That's probably the best point for you to say: "I think maybe you're over-thinking this stuff." And for me to say: shut your damn face.

[14] Although it's gotta be said that Chris Burnham: does the best Frank Quitely impression I've ever seen: (Kathy Kane isn't the only one biting someone else's style - ha!)

[15] Ok - I know I said I'd stop being mean about the Nolan Batflicks - but godamn - I wish he has managed to be as smart as Morrison in balancing the Bruce Wayne / Batman identity stakes instead of - well: instead of doing this (which I've gotta say is probably one of my favourite youtube things of the year: thanks to Sam for sending me the link!)

[16] (To which he has replied (by email): "I was NOT trying to sound smart! (well, maybe a little...). the full quote is: "In order to make the novel into a polyhistorical illumination of existence, you need to master the technique of ellipsis, the art of condensation. Otherwise, you fall into the trap of endless length. Musil’s The Man Without Qualities is one of the two or three novels that I love most. But don’t ask me to admire its gigantic unfinished expanse! Imagine a castle so huge that the eye cannot take it all in at a glance. Imagine a string quartet that lasts nine hours. There are anthropological limits—human proportions—that should not be breached, such as the limits of memory. When you have finished reading, you should still be able to remember the beginning. If not, the novel loses its shape, its “architectonic clarity” becomes murky". (taken from here) Which I think was basically a parahphrase of where he talks about it in more length in his book 'The Art of the Novel'")

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Links: Mindless Ones Article Batman the Return + Batman Inc = Alpha Adapter, Comics Alliance Article: ‘Batman, Inc.’ #1: Mr. Unknown Is Dead [annotations] / Comics Alliance Article: Batman, Inc. #2 Annotations: Resurrector! / Comics Alliance Article: Batman Incorporated #3: “Scorpion Tango” [annotations]Mindless Ones Article: Batman Incorporated #3: Annocomments (pp1-3) / Mindless Ones Article: Batman Incorporated #4 Annocommentations / Mindless Ones Mindless Batchat (and Batman Inc #6 Annocommentations) / Mindless Ones Article: Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! Annocommentations Part 1 / Mindless Ones Article: Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! Annocommentations Part 2Mindless Ones Chris Burnham Cheeky Interview.

Preceded by: Batman: Batman and Son, Batman: The Black Glove, Batman: R.I.P., Final Crisis, Batman: Batman and Robin, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, Batman: Time and the Batman.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2013/08

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Ok. So you know what? It's kinda hard to describe properly what a typical meeting of the Islington Comic Forum consists of (relax: - I'm not going to use that hoary old cliché about there's not really any such thing as a typical meeting of the Islington Comic Forum because - we're better than that - right?) - I mean: in the strict physical sense - it's a big table full of comic books (at a rough guesstimate I'd say there's usually around - what? - 150 books available for people to take home at each session) and a bunch of people (typically we get about a dozen or so people turn up) all from various walks of life and all with different backgrounds (yeah - I know you're thinking that's it probably all nerdy white guys - but seriously - we're as multicultural and diverse as a corporate video - with an age span from 6 to 90) all sitting around and discussing / arguing / sharing their thoughts and ideas about one of the most exciting and diverse mediums on the planet (nowadays if you're talking about something that's just "all about superheroes" my first guess is you're talking about films - but whatever). It's a little bit more chaotic than a book club but with the same sort of relaxed and open friendly atmosphere: all presided over by an excitable librarian (that would be me - hi!) who has pretty much read every comic book out there (even the terrible ones) and is willing to tell you where you're going wrong with whatever you're reading (and is most happy when people disagree with him). If you're curious as to what sort of books we discuss - then take a look around this blog - every book here has been included at one point or another. And if you want to know what sort of things we talk about: - well - it's never really that properly thought out but we touch upon everything from the best way to construct a story, to how far genre limits can go all the way to if Frank Miller was right about who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman.

Books we got for you will include: The Twelve / Signal to Noise / Crécy / Punisher: Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher / The Road to Perdition / Batman: Batman and Robin / The Shadow / The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For / Prophet / #$@&!: The Official Lloyd Llewellyn Collection / Marvel 1602 / Daredevil (2001 - 2006) / Mazeworld / Sleeper / Batman: Batman: R.I.P. / Red / Marvel Zombies / Batman: Batman and Son / The Exterminators / Elektra: Assassin / A Distant Neighbourhood / Final Crisis / From Hell / Habibi / Chicken with Plums / The Ultimates etc etc etc

There's also a book of the month (so that at least we can all talk about something we've all read). This month it's: Superman: Red Son written by Mark Millar art by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett. If you get a chance please read it. You can reserve yourself a copy here. (For those of you that don't get the chance - don't worry - you can still come and join in with the discussions).

The next one is: Tuesday the 30th of July / 6:00pm to 7:30pm in the Upstairs Hall at North Library Manor Gardens N7 6JX. Here is a map. Come and join us. It's free. All welcome.

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For more information (or if you have any questions and/or would like to be added to our email list: we send out a reminder a week before with a list of the books that are going to be available) you can email us here.

All comments welcome.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Events: Barbican Comic Forum 2013/07

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18th of July / 6:00pm - 7:00pm
Barbican Children's Library, Silk St, EC2Y 8DS

From the creators of the Islington Comic Forum: a fun, informal and invigorating book group dedicated to the understanding and enjoyment of the multifaceted medium of comic books and graphic novels. Come and join the conversations: make friends, get recommendations on cool and stimulating titles and choose from a selection of hand-picked books. From novices to experts: open to all. JOIN US ON FACEBOOK.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Books: Superior

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Superior
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Leinil Francis Yu
2013




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


"I always liked the fact that Superior doesn't kill people. Being a nice guy is what makes him different to Wolverine and all that stuff."

So: yeah. I'll admit it - ever since I saw Man of Steel last week I haven't been able to stop thinking about it - if you're one of the unfortunate few who follow the Islington Comic Forum on facebook then you can probably tell from all the links and stuff I've posted up there (sorry guys) that it's kinda wormed itself into my mind like one of those worms-things from The Wrath of Khan [1] (only - you know: not in a good way).

I don't wanna be mean and end up spoiling it for those of you who haven't had a chance to watch it yet (although - come on! - it's been out for like two weeks already: and what? You telling me that you're life is so fulfilled that you don't have the time to watch a mindlessly violent blockbuster superhero film? HA! I don't believe you...): but I guess if you had to narrow it down to like a single sentence then that sentence would be: Superman isn't supposed to act like that. And another sentence (what the hey) would be: he's supposed to be better (that's what makes him Super silly).

(And - god I know yes - it is incredibly boring to hear a comic book geek bitch and moan in a nasally voice about how "that's not what happened in the comics. That's not what happened in the comics." But there's a difference between making whatever changes to the story and adding blah and taking away the things etc and: well - let me put it this way: how would you feel if you went to see film called Traffic Safety Man and it was all just him running red lights and driving with a mobile phone in one hand and a beer in the other? It's like: damn - if that's what they wanted to do: then why bother making it about Traffic Safety Man? As the end product is pretty much completely antithetical to what the character is supposed to be all about).

Of course - I hashed out a lot of these feelings in the thing that I wrote for Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu's [2] Superman: Birthright (link below): although looking back now - the stuff I wrote is pretty much all over the place like a seasick donkey and never really pulls itself together enough to make a cogent point and (man) I am very much temped to go back over and re-write the whole thing [3]: but part of the whole structure of this here blog (which I'm pretty much completely committed to at this point) is that I can't really write follow-ups to stuff I've written before [4]: everything has to be on a book-by-book basis you know?

Except - well - we got a big batch of new comics that came into today and sitting on top of the pile was this book: Superior. And - well - it's like someone pecked inside my brain and decided to make a comic book version of the Man of Steel that gets it all exactly right.

Now. The thing that's so amazing (to me) isn't the fact that someone could make a superhero comic that perfectly managed to distill all the the qualities that make Superman so gross-darn super (I mean - come on: how hard can that be?) but that such a book would come from (like it says on the cover): "From the Writer of Kick Ass" - that is to say: Mark Millar.

For those of you that don't know: Mark Millar is (at this point) the comic book world's version of the Anti-Christ: dirty, depraved and responsible for some of the most heinous comics of the 21st Century so far. I mean - yeah: we all know that comic books are supposed to be slightly seedy and disreputable (that's all part of the allure right?) - but Mr Millar (for the past decade or so) has been pushing those limits further into the ground than anyone has really dared [5]. I mean - read Kick-Ass 2 if you're curious to see how squalid a mainstream comic book can get [6].

Picking up to read Superior was only really to satisfy my curiosity as to just what level of bad Mr Millar was currently operating on: which I guess explains how it managed to sneak in behind me and grab me by the heart.

Make no mistake: I spent the entirety of my first read through of Superior constantly expecting the utter-most worst. Any second now (I told myself) someone is going to say "bring out the gimp" and this whole book is going to descend into some-sort of messed-up torture porn vibe with ball gags and things being shoved into uncomfortable orifices: so I just kind of sat there bracing myself for a massive car-crash of awfulness and so sort of "dude - that is so messed up" that has become Mr Millar's stock-in-trade. But - hey - if you take away anything from all this stuff that I'm writing down - then take this: I don't know how it happened but this book might just be the most palatable book that Mr Millar has gifted the world since his Superman: Red Son all those many years ago [7].

I mean - seeing how Superior first appeared in Mr Millar's "Clint" magazine I guess I just assumed that it  going to do for Superman what Nemesis did to Batman (i.e. make him all messed up and awful and mean): but instead - well: it's almost as if with all the other books he's produced lately - he's managed to flush out his venom and ever-constant-need to show the world that he's no softie [8] and instead crafted a hymn to the power of goodness: truth, justice and all the rest.

Which basically means: that even if you've hated everything Mark Millar has done in the past whatever years - I'd still say you should give this book a shot: and if you want a glimpse into the mind of someone who knows exactly how and why the legend of an all powerful man who can fly has managed to endure across multiple cultures for 75 years - then same thing: pick up and read Superior: it's the best refutation of the Man of Steel I've read all week.

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[1] Looking it up - they're called Ceti-eels "Ceti eels incubate their larvae within the plates of their jointed carapace. Upon emergence, the eel larvae can enter the ear of a larger animal, where it wraps itself around the cerebral cortex. This causes the host extreme pain and renders them extremely susceptible to outside suggestion. Over time, as the larva matures, the subject suffers from madness and eventual death." So know you know.

[2] Who - (yes) check it out - is the exact same Leinil Francis Yu who did the art on Superior. 

[3] And - D'oh - maybe put in something about how The Man of Steel actually borrowed quite a few little plot points and lines of dialogue from Birthright (which is the whole reason why I decided to write about them both together): but - no matter, no matter. Publish and be damned or whatever.

[4] If I did go back and write more stuff then the first thing I'd include would be this article from Comic Alliance (Choice And The Moral Universe Of 'Man Of Steel' [Opinion]) which 1. If you've seen Man of Steel you should totally read and 2. Includes this: "I noticed that every choice Clark Kent made was one a hero like Wolverine might make. Wolverine is the guy who gets to be misanthropic and petty and grim and make it all look cool. But Wolverine is not messianic. Wolverine is not a paragon. Jesus Christ would never wear a "What Would Wolverine Do?" bracelet." Which - well - check the first line of this post and gasp in awe at how I'm making this all join up.

[5] With the only notable exception being Frank Miller (no relation) who (with his book Holy Terror) managed to pip Mark Millar past the post to take home the prize of "Most Morally Repugnant Comic" of - like - the past ten years. Bully for him.

[6] On second thought: urg - don't read Kick-Ass 2. It's rubbish.

[7] And if you don't really know what that means: well - maybe click the link below and read the stuff I wrote about Superman: Red Son or (even better) track down a copy and read it yourself.

[8] I always think of this AV Club Interview when I read any Mark Millar mainly because of this: "I remember a friend of mine saying to me, “Oh, I wonder if you’ll, now that you’ve had a baby, you’ll go all Ian McEwan.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with Ian McEwan—his work used to be very, very harsh, and then he had a baby, and he went quite gentle. “So I wonder if that will happen to you, if you’ll lose your edge.” I was, “Oh my God, no.” So I think I purposefully went the other way, because the next thing I did was The Authority, which turned out to be my breakout project, but also the harshest thing I’ve ever written. I think since then, maybe subconsciously, I’ve always been aware of, “Don’t go soft.” I probably push it a little too much sometimes, so that I don’t seem as if I’ve gone soft."

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Links: Alternative Magazine Review.

Further reading: Superman: Birthright, Kick-Ass, Kiss-Ass 2, Superman: Red SonNemesisUltimate Comics: AvengersUltimate Comics: Avengers vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-ManIrredeemable.

Profiles: Mark Millar.

All comments welcome.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Books: Freeway

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Freeway
By Mark Kalesniko
2011





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


There's this theory (I don't know if you know it) that says that the reason that films based on comic books are so very much popular - or at the very least why there are so many of them - is because (to the untrained eye at least) a comic book and a storyboard look exactly the same: you know - pictures of things one happening after the other: you could swap them over and no one would even notice - right? Except - oops: no - wrong. Mainly because of the old chestnut (and I never get bored of saying this) that film is about management of time while comics are about the management of space (so true).

Which is why reading Mark Kalesniko's Freeway is such a strange experience: here it seems is a comic that seems to wish that it had been born as an animated movie instead. Like: you know how most comics bounce around from different point of view shots from panel to panel and leisurely let the minutes pass by as a scene unfolds - mainly honing in only on the moments of most interest? Well - Freeway isn't really like that: here the gaps between panels seems to be measured in milliseconds- with the same perspective held for successive panels: so much so that if you wanted [1] you could cut out the pages and make a pretty effective little flip-book [2].

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I mean - I think when I started I was a little bit undecided (and I guess I still am now really). Like: it is a bit weird when you have a story that's about one medium that you tell in another? Like: making a film about the benefits of opera; a song about how great literature is; a dance about your favourite building [3]: like - the thought that kinda just always sits at the back of my head when I encounter that type of thing is: hell - if you like that medium so much - then why aren't you using it? (To use an awful analogy: it'd be like using fruit to explain why you like meat or something). But then again: maybe that's part of the challenge you know? Like how in Ratatouille [4] there's those moments when they try and encapsulate the sensation of taste and flavor only using sound and images: so - well yeah - I'm torn [5].

But whatever - probably I'm over-thinking things - right? And maybe (you know) we should just talk about the story or whatever instead - right?

Well: for those of you who like their graphic entertainment a little bit middle-brow (you know: you prefer calling them "graphic novels" rather than "comic books"): then Freeway is going to be right up your street [7]. Yeah - it does star an anthropomorphic dog (whose facial expression is set (seemingly permanently) to "exasperated") but - hey: seeing how it's about animation and all that - that's like appropriate - right? (I can imagine someone saying at a dinner party: "I mean - it's like the story we're reading could be one of the films they're making." And someone else shaking their head going: "Wow man - that's so deep.") But I've got to say that even tho it's well crafted [8] and very good at capturing the minute changes from panel to panel that I mentioned above (so much so that there are bits - particularly when it's just the car speeding down the Freeway - that it's almost as if the images are moving) ultimately the sensation of reading was like watching a glossy ITV feature-length drama that so very badly wants to be taken seriously - I mean: the ambition is there but the actual "oh my god that was totally amazing" artistry just felt (I dunno) somewhat lacking (sorry Mark Kalesniko): as if it's main goal was just respect and nothing else and - well - for me: I'd prefer having a comic that can do more than just acting prestigious (but I realise that maybe it's just me).

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[1] Note: please don't obviously.

[2] You all know what a flip-book is right? You know: the type of thing that you used to draw at the bottom hand corner of your exercise book in school? Mainly of stuff exploding, cars crashing into each other and stuff like that... (Fun fact: the German word for flip book is "Daumenkino" which translates as  "thumb cinema" - which I'd say is a pretty cool name for it: "Hey - check out my thumb cinema!").

[3] Yes: intentional reference.

[4] And - hell yes: if I'm mentioning Ratatouille then I've just got to link to this (you're welcome). And - as we're talking about animation then I've just got to include a link to this and this.

[5] And if I'm being totally honest: I guess also that it just makes me feel (suspect) that maybe Mark Kalesniko's has his heart set more on animation than he does on comics - like he tried to break into Disney and couldn't get in and so this is his second choice or something - which (as a comic book reader) just kinda makes me (I dunno) unappreciated on something: like this is just second best an well - ok: will this do? kinda thing (but I'm guessing that's just all in my sick twisted mind - so whatever I guess) [6].

[6] Actually - oops: it turns out that he's a former animator (with his credits included The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Mulan, and Atlantis) so yeah: what do I know? (Answer: not much).

[7] Is that a car pun? I'm not sure...

[8] Well - mostly: it starts out very strong but then - as it goes on - and maybe this is natural for any massive book (it is 416 pages long!) - the quality of the artwork does start to dip ever-so-(almost)-imperceptibility: so that it just kind of feels a little rushed (am I being too harsh?).

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Further reading: Are You My Mother?The Nao of BrownAsterios PolypI'm Never Coming Back, Black Hole, David BoringIt's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, Jar of Fools.

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Books: Superman: Birthright

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Superman: Birthright
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Leinil Francis Yu
2005




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


So yeah: last night I went to the IMAX and saw Man of Steel on the biggest of big screens and then today I read this book: Superman: Birthright which is (for those of us who know) one of the very few actually pretty good Superman comics out there: you know - one of the ones you can read without feeling like it's sapping a IQ point for every page you read - or at least (oh dear): that's how I liked to remember it...

I mean: everyone knows that the only good Superman comics out there [1] are: Superman: Red Son, Superman: Secret Identity and Superman: All Star Superman - right? Those are the three that you can comfortably hand to any one and not feel like you have to make some kind of excuse as you do it "Or yeah - maybe just ignore the cheesy dialogue" or "I realise that the story doesn't quite hang together" or whatever.

And for me the very telling detail here is that the first two books aren't really "proper" Superman stories - (in that - technically speaking you know: they're not really about the Superman that everyone knows) Superman: Red Son telling the story of what would have happened if Superman's baby rocket ship thingie had crash-landed in the Ukraine instead of Kansas and Superman: Secret Identity telling the story of a whole different Clark Kent (it's kinda complicated to spell it all out and I don't want to spoil it any - so you know: just go read it). And the third on the list - Superman: All Star Superman - whilst being the closet thing to the Superman everyone knows - kinda exists in it's own (beautifully constructed) unique little space. Or - to put it another way - it's not really Grant Morrison telling a Superman story - it's more Superman being used to tell a Grant Morrison one (I don't know if that's the best way to put it - but it's hard to go into detail without falling into talking about pocket universes and parallel worlds and stuff: so maybe I should just leave it).

But yeah - point being: if you're looking for some pure unadulterated Superman comic fun there's not really that many places to turn to [2] and so (or so you would think) thank heavens for the delights of Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu and this little book called Superman: Birthright [5].

Except - well.

Well: let me digress (just a little)....

So I realise that this might be a little bit contentious (and yeah - maybe I should do a little bit more research before I occidentally put my foot in anything - but what the hey: this ain't a scholarly text or something like that - it's is a blog right? Which I'd say puts it only one one step above someone chatting nonsense in a pub: so just pretend you're sipping on a pint sitting across from me and roll with me a little here...) but the notion of a god of light isn't exactly a new one: you know - there's Horus, Sol Invictus and - yeah - Jesus - sent from above, powered by the sun, pretty much invincible and all very big on the notions of forgiveness etc.

Now I'm saying this in order to score any cheap shots - (although god knows I sure do love scoring a good cheap shot now and again) - but more to say that if you care to look at things in a certain way [6] there's loads of stuff embedded in the Superman myth that's centuries old and that just to go with a "hey - isn't Superman a lot like Jesus?" thing which Man of Steel traffics in an awful awful lot [7] is kind of setting your sights a little bit too low: like you're only referring to Oasis when you could be referring to The Beatles or something.

Because yeah Superman is old. I mean - this is the month that he celebrates his (goddamn it) 75th anniversary (and my brain is struggling to come up something else that's been around for that long and coming up with nothing so yeah) and - yet - the go to idea with both Birthright and Man of Steel (I'm going to try and bring both of them together a little bit in order to make sure that I can somehow finish writing about this today with it all fresh in my head) is how do we re-invent Superman for a modern audience? How do we make him fresh and dynamic and sexy and new? And I guess that my feeling (having ingested both the film and the comic in the same 24 hour period) is that you can't. I mean - you don't dress up other 75 year olds in revealing-skin-tight outfits because let's face it (sorry 75 year olds) that kind of thing just ain't right. And it's the same thing with stories. You know: when they're done right it's because they're products of their environment and social blah and whatever and trying to retell the same story with a fresh spin when the original people who told it are long since dead seems a little - I dunno - dumb.

I mean - I'm not saying it can't be done: but like I said at the start - all the best Superman stories comics has (at the moment at least) are the ones that approach the issue sideways and don't just keep retreading the basics [8]. I mean - one thought which crossed my mind as a watched Man of Steel was - wouldn't it be easier (and maybe more interesting?) to make a Superman story that was set in 1938? Or would that be a step too far? I mean - at least it would (maybe?) make us feel like we're seeing something that we hadn't already seen before?

Which I guess is what would have made Birthright and Man of Steel feel a little bit - I dunno - significant. So instead of having the legend bend to our circumstances - we should bend to its. And instead of thinking in terms of Jesus (which yeah - I realise for a lot of people is the be all and end all of everything) - it set it's sights more towards the epicness of - yeah: human's worship of the sun (or something) [9]. I don't know.

And I guess what this misses is that - hell - Man of Steel (albeit unintentionally) ends up saying quite a bit about our present head-space as like a global society - namely (I mean - if you want to go there) that life is over-rated and - hey - if someone needs to die in order to make a point about something then: oh well. I guess that's the way it has to be [10]: which (damn) isn't exactly the hopeful message I was expecting to be left with when I left the warm comfort of the IMAX [11].

But - then again: maybe the real problem isn't that enough is being made to properly ground the story (or whatever it is I'm trying to say) and more that - well yeah: it's 2013 and we're all still sitting around and watching multi-million dollar films based on the same story that our grandparents used to read? I mean - I'm not saying that everything needs to be new, new, new all of the time: but yeah - Man of Steel in lots of ways is pretty much the perfect superhero film: it does just about everything that you could want: there's lots of fightings and explosions and large-scale destructions and blah - but to what end? I mean: I felt like this was a film that got to grips with who Superman is much more than the Nolan Batman films - but God: does any of that really matter? I mean: the way that all of us fans react to these blockbuster superhero films is: well - how faithful did it manage to stay to to what has happened before in the comics and the canon and the blah blah blah - when instead it feels like maybe we should be asking: well - did this film do anything to me as a human being? Did it make me appreciate the world in a new way? Did it make me see or feel things in a way that I hadn't before? I mean yeah - ok - I can believe that a man can fly [12] but so what? Why should I care? You know....?

Instead it feels like that the attitude of the people telling these Superman stories is that we're already invested in things and really we're just supposed to admire the small little personal touches that they can to the overall legend - like The Aristocrats [13] but with less swear words and a cape or something. And - man (another totally obvious point yeah): but it's just a bit depressing to realise how much of a male fantasy Superman is. Because we know that every guy harbors the twin feelings of being an outcast and a freak and an alien at the exact same time that they think that (given the right chance) the could be superheroic and all powerful and better and kinder and more good than everyone else around - but (come on) could they not at least try and give things a bit more of a feminine touch so that it doesn't feel like a total sausage fest? (Or - let me put it like this: everyone knows who Jor-El is - but what's Superman's Kryptonian mum called?).

Because - yeah: even tho (having read Birthright a few years back) I remembered it as being a hot and delicious slice of Superman pie - rereading it in the cold light of day (having placed it in my head as "oh yeah - that really cool Superman story that makes it all feel fun and brand-new") I was dis-hearted to realise that it was all just a little bit stale and tasteless.

I mean - maybe part of the reason is that I do get Mark Waid confused (for some reason?) with Kurt Busiek (I have no idea why [14]) so I was thinking that I was going to get something a little bit more canny: I mean - yeah - Mark Waid did write Kingdom Come and the (at times brilliant) Irredeemable - but I guess one of the points I've been circling around is that: if you want to write a Superman story that actually sings (instead of just grunting in a semi-tuneful fashion) - you need someone who's willing to mess around with things a little and - well - Mark Waid doesn't really seem to be that type of writer.

And Leinil Francis Yu (who some of you will recognise from his work on the Ultimate Avengers books) has a very snappy art style with loads of foreshortening happening everywhere at once (so everyone's limbs looks like they're  pointing away in triangles) - but - well: it feels like something that's maybe best for short sharp bursts rather than something made to be sustainable over time (and man - I don't know what it is: but there's something about the way he draws that makes me feel like I'm not getting my full recommended daily dose of iron or something. It's like having something at McDonalds: half an hour later and I'm still hungry).

So - well: yeah - after all that - what have we got? I mean - I'm pleased that I saw Man of Steel because it meant I could entertain myself with some interesting internet reading afterwards [15] and yeah: it's actually pretty impressive how superhero films have finally got to the point where they can wreck some serious devastation and make the end of the world seem like a real possibility (I mean - as much as I love the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films - in terms of action - they felt more like expensive television rather than an epic wide-screen no holds bared film: but maybe that's just me?) and - as an aficionado of what I'd like to call the "cinema of transcendentalism" [16] I did get a kick by the climax that basically got just a little bit abstract with all the white light and all: because - yeah: that's something that I feel film does really well (and that I never really get to see enough of).

But at the end of the day: I guess what I'm trying to say is that - it's the 21st Century and we need some new myths and we're not going to get anywhere if we keep going back to wells that are already long since dry.

And saying that: when the sequel comes out I'm probably going to be first in line at the IMAX again because I'm a stupid idiot.

Oh well.

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[1] I mean - (well yeah) - some people out there might try and argue that Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Superman for All Seasons is not a colossal waste of time: but those people would be wrong.

[2] I should admit that actually All Star Superman is probably the best place to turn to for a really good Superman story and that I've kinda stacked the deck a little by saying it's not really a "proper" or whatever and saying that it doesn't really count. But I guess thinking about it - it's more that it's too refined or something maybe? It's like a burger, chips and a milkshake [3] as prepared by a gourmet chef - I mean: yeah - it's refined and tasty and delicious and I've never had a milkshake so finely blended or chips so crisp and a burger so juicy and succulent- but it's cooked so well that it's almost too much you know? Like: sometimes you want a burger, chips and milkshake that's just a little bit cheap and nasty: and that's part of the fun of it? So yeah: All Star Superman is where you should go if you want something upper class and distinctive and something to hold up as one of the pinnacles of what comics can achieve as actual - (oh fine let's just say it) art while -  Superman: Birthright is what you want if you just want something that's going to show you a good time and leave you with a smile on your face: or what we tend to call - just plain old entertainment [4]. Yeah?

[3] My go-to metaphor for superhero comics / films for all the obvious reasons.

[4] Although I wrote that when I was only still a few pages in: and - well yeah: by the time I'd waded all the way in up to my waist I kinda realised that maybe "entertainment" is maybe stretching it just a little bit.... But yeah: let me try and sum up my feeling somewhere up above instead of down in a footnote.

[5] Or - if you're looking for it on the Islington library catalogue "Superman: Birth Right." which makes it sound a little more dogmatic or something somehow.

[6] Reading this Wikipedia page (Jesus Christ in comparative mythology: "For over a century, various authors have drawn a number of parallels between the Christian views of Jesus and other religious or mythical domains. These include Greco-Roman mysteries, ancient Egyptian myths, and more general analogies involving cross-cultural patterns of dying and rising gods in the context of Jesus myth theory.") I discovered the marvellous word "Parallelomania" which basically translates as: "Just coz you see - doesn't mean it's there."

[7] As pretty much everyone else on the internet has already pointed out (there's a reason that this Grantland article is called Jesus Christ Superman) - there's a moment when he steps out of a spaceship and seemingly for no other reason than to be like "oh - hey - check me out I'm just like Jesus" he turns around and does an arms-outstretched Christ pose because - erm - because (?) - because of the wonderful things he does? I don't know. Personally I preferred things when they were a little bit more subtle and referred the whole being tested by the devil in the wilderness thing and having his standing on a Terminator-style desert of skulls. But what can you do?

[8] Although - yeah - credit where it's due: Man of Steel does manage to dole out the basics in a pretty nice way (even if it does end up making itself feel just a little bit like a particularly glossy episode of Lost).

[9] Or in other words Superman that's less Passion of The Christ and more Sunshine crossed with 2001: A Space Odyssey. That's the Superman film that I would like to see.

[10] And oops - Mark Waid is not a fan: "Seriously, back in Metropolis, entire skyscrapers are toppling in slo-mo and the city is a smoking, gray ruin for miles in every direction, it’s Hiroshima, and Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich are somewhere muttering “Too far, man, too far”…"

[11] Also (am I reading too much into this?) - but did they set Superman up as - like - the standard bearer of the forces of Creationism? Check it out: at one point one of the bad guys says "And if there's one thing that History teaches us it's that Evolution always wins." which (seeing how it's a bad guy who says it) kinda lines up Evolution as being boo-worthy and - if that's the case - then: hell yeah - let's hear if for Intelligent Design! (Or in other words:  I would not have been at all surprised if Superman had responded with a punch to the face and a quip like: "Evolution that.")

[12] Although I've got to ask: how exactly does that work exactly? Like is it a physical thing or a mental thing that propels him through the air or what?

[13] ""The Aristocrats" (also known as "The Debonaires" or "The Sophisticates" in some tellings) is an exceptionally transgressive (taboo-defying) dirty joke that has been told by numerous stand-up comedians since the vaudeville era. Over time it has evolved from a clichéd staple of vaudevillian humor into a postmodern anti-joke. Steven Wright has likened it to a secret handshake among comedians, and it is seen as something of a game in which those who tell it try to top each other in terms of shock value. It is thought of as a badge of honor among expert comedians and is notoriously hard to perform successfully. It is rarely told the same way twice, often improvised."

[14] And gosh - looking through who's written what - it's pretty clear that Kurt Busiek (Marvels, Arrowsmith, Astro City and - oh yeah - Superman: Secret Identity) is much more the more talented one: but I guess that doesn't answer why I get them mixed up: maybe it's because they're both kinda B-list when it comes to comic book writing or something? Like - you know: the directors whose names no one ever really remembers (like Andrew Niccol or Peter Weir). 

[15] And if you're the same as me then I would recommend you read this, this and this.

[16] Which - yes - is a term I have just made up now: but basically means - films which stop trying to portray physical reality and instead try to portray mental states (as in: this and this and - yeah ok - this).

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Links: Grovel Review, The Place Where Things You Love Die Review, Comic Book Resources Article: Super-stars (part 1): Mark Waid's "birthright," The Official Origin.

Further reading: Superman: All Star SupermanSuperman: Secret Identity, Superman: Red Son, SuperiorIrredeemable, Kingdom Come, Ultimate Comics: AvengersDC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore.

All comments welcome.