Friday, 28 June 2013

Events: Barbican Comic Forum 2013/07


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


Written by Mark Millar
Art by Leinil Francis Yu

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

"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.

[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."

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


By Mark Kalesniko

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

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).

[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?).


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


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

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

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.

[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).

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.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Books: The One


The One
By Rick Veitch

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

I wish I could somehow make it so that you could read this entire post as if it was being read out in the slightly-stoned, slightly-spaced out, slightly-altogether-strange voice of Keanu Reeves. That voice that seems like it's best suited for a character that calls you up at 2am in the morning and lays you with a few carefully chosen semi-profundities: "Dude - did you realise that we're like: all made of stars?" Because it's that whole kind of view-point that seeps through the pages of this comic like the smell of illicit substances coming from the room next door: you want your cosmic enlightenments mixed with some hardcore superhero punching extravaganzas? Well: if the fact that the book opens with the legend "for the cosmic traveller" doesn't tip you off maybe the Alan Moore introduction will (quote: "a realistic, if satirical appraisal of our global psychosis next to an extravagent utopian fantasy that Timothy Leary and Max Yasgur [1] would have been proud of") [2].

But maybe I should cue you in with some history: as I'm hoping most of you guys already know the big two splashes of modern comic history occurred with the publication of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns in the second half of the eighties. I mean - yeah yeah: at this point it's a big fat cliché that they're the ones that gave birth to the idea that "comics weren't just for kids anymore" - but hey: I'd say this is one of those times that the reason it's a cliché is because it's true. But - just because Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were the first to the world that it was possible to be a little bit more serious with your sequential art storytelling that doesn't mean that there weren't those who managed to make inroads before it all got paved over by the three-headed juggernaut.

Not that I'm saying that The One is as good or as careful composed as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns because (- sorry Rick Veitch): it's not. But (for you film fans out there) it's kinda like the Easy Rider to the Jaws and Star Wars that came after: a bit of a trailblazer or something I guess (although in comic terms The One is a little bit more obscure than Easy Rider: but no matter [3]).

But yeah: first distributed by Epic Comics back in 1985–1986 (which technically I guess means that it wasn't really early to inspire Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns in any major way: but early enough for Rick Veitch [4] to say (I mean: if he ever wanted) that he got there first) The One (as you should be able to tell from that washing machine detergent style cover up there) has much more on it's mind that your typical superhero comic of the period [5].

(To give you some idea of what you may be getting yourself in for here's a whole bunch of dialogue that caught my eye: "The nuclear bomb is the ultimate information medium." "Mommy? Are they really going to blow up the world?" "His theory is that atomic weapons represent a new universal myth." "The conflict between the higher and lower natures in man. And evolving planetary consciousness and sixties stuff like that.")

But in fact - as weird and as twisted as it can get (and make no mistake: this is a comic that gets plenty weird and twisted) it actually takes the idea of superheroes with a lot more respect and consideration than most other stories of this type: namely in the way that - well: you know how it's always a bit strange how in long running superhero stories the appearance of a being with god-like powers (or if we're talking of the DC and Marvel universes: the appearance of several hundred beings with god-like powers) completely fails to change society in any significant way [6]? What's great about The One is the way that it (not at all subtly) links the notion of superheroes to nuclear weapons and then proclaims (in giant capital letters): what? you think that the advert of a higher power on Earth would somehow leave us physically and psychically un-scarred? HA!  

Of course all of this philosophising isn't as strictly high-brow as it is in modern comics (see in particular Warren Ellis' little unofficial superhero trilogy of Black Summer, No Hero and Supergod) as - well - all of this was all pretty untrodden ground at the point it was made: and so it never manages to feel quite as solid as one would hope and yet (on the other hand) that kind of adds to it's charm. I don't know if this is just me: but the whole book as this kind of rough and ready quality that makes it feel like it was made by a talented sixth former (which is the kind of thing I normally say as a criticism - but here I guess I just mean it more descriptively): there's a fascination with old style rock as the medium through which all our souls will be saved and the superhero fight dialogue (and man I love the way that Veitch draws trains raining from the sky) is peppered with lines like: "Marx tells us to quietly observe the technological advances your greed and avarice drive you to... then to pick out the few ideas that actually hold merit and apply them correctly!" which is (of course) brilliant but also - well - a little precocious. Let me put it this way: everytime I read it I can kinda smell that damp musty odour that you'd get in a bedsit in Brixton which isn't meant so much said to turn you off than to make sure that you should know that you need to be a particular type of person in order to have this turn you on: a little bit crusty, a little bit intellectual and a little bit lefty. And for me: well - that's one of my favourite type of people: but results will differ according to taste.

[1] Timothy Leary I already knew about (the type of person prone to making such remarks as: "I declare that The Beatles are mutants. Prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species, a young race of laughing freemen.") Max Yasgur on the other hand I had to google: turns out he was a simple dairy farmer who, in 1969, let his land be used for the Woodstock festival so the American version of Michael Eavis basically.

[2] Of course - maybe the fact that the book is called The One means that my brain is tuned to Matrix frequencies but yeah: still - whatever - Keanu Reeves.

[3] In fact - I'm not too sure that I ever would have heard of it without coming across it on the shelves on one of our branches. But then I'm not exactly a comic book historian or anything (I'd never heard of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright until - well: I came across it on the shelves on one of our branches: so yeah -so what do I know?).

[4] Who - funnily enough was working with Alan Moore on Swamp Thing at around the same time as he was doing The One: so maybe he was stealing his brainpowers or something.

[5] Or - hell: let's be honest: more on it's mind that the typical superhero comic now: but oh well.

[6] Of course for those of you who've read it (and I'm assuming that you've all read it): this is one of the many reasons why Watchmen - with it's zeppelins, electric powered cars and crooked President with the oh-so-distinctive nose [7] - feels so "realistic." A world with superheroes is a world that wouldn't look like ours.

[7] Fun fact: if you google "Nixon's nose" you get this IGN article (Watchmen: What Went Wrong): "That's another of the film's downfalls - it reduces a lot of the material into high camp. And what the f**k was going on with Nixon's nose? That should be a new meme, like jumping the shark or nuking the fridge. 'Oh s**t, it's gone Nixon's nose.'"


Further reading: The Programme, IrredeemableBlack Summer, No HeroSupergod, Supreme Power, The BoysSwamp ThingThe Adventures of Luther Arkwright, Ex MachinaNeil Gaiman's Midnight Days, Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Superman: Red Son.

All comments welcome.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2013/07


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 available this month will include (unless - of course - they are reserved by other people):  Quimby The Mouse / Marzi / Scalped / Logicomix / The Nao of Brown / Superior / Summer Blonde / Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book / Sláine: The Horned God / Goldfish / Cages / ABC Warriors: The Black Hole / The Fablous Furry Freak Brothers / Understanding Comics / Wilson / Batman: All Star Batman and Robin / The Dilbert Principle / Arrowsmith: So Smart In Their Fine Uniforms / Freeway / Superman: All Star Superman / Superman: Birthright / Superman: Red Son / Superman: Secret Identity / The One / American Splendor presents: Bob and Harv's Comics / The Manhattan Projects / Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 03 / Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 05 / Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 06 / Jar of Fools / Doom Patrol / Prophet / The Playwright / Gonzo: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson / The Hobbit / You Really Don't Look 50 Charlie Brown / Zomnibus / Stardust / Justice / Worlds Greatest Superheroes / The Living and the Dead / plus many, many, many (many!) more.

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: Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth Saga. 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 2nd 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.

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, 4 June 2013

Books: American Splendor presents: Bob and Harv's Comics


American Splendor presents: Bob and Harv's Comics
Written by Harvey Pekar
Art by Robert Crumb

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Growing up is - well - it's a strange thing: that's for sure and it changes you in ways that you don't expect.

I'm in no way a fresh-faced visitor to the world of Harvey Pekar and American Splendor: if you check those links below in the further readings section - you'll see that I'm previously written a few words about the American Splendor best of collection as well as  The Quitter (which is I guess would be best described as being like an extended American Splendor episode) and the book under consideration here: the charmingly (almost rustically) named "Bob and Harv's Comics" - well - I think that I must have tried reading it about three of four times over the past few years I've been working for Islington. It was on the shelf at the first ever library I worked at (that would be South Library for those keeping score at the back): and - hey: I liked comics - I knew that both Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb are (in their own off-beat and idiosyncratic ways) comic book heavy-weights that you know: are a big deal - the graphic novel versions of Kerouac and Picasso (or whoever).

And - man: that cover (have you seen the cover?). I mean: it's really really good. The way that the composition snaps you about: bouncing your eyes from the women's head on the upper left side: with her thought balloon ("Eat your hearts out, creeps!") popping out like a punch to the jaw and that sneer dripping off the side of her face leading you down to the sight of Robert Crumb - shivering like a leaf in a blizzard: racked with sexual inadequacy: and whose whole character is summed up completely by his pathetically avaricious eyes and his thought balloon: "I can never have her..." [1] and both of these figures (and - come on - it would have been a great cover with just them: I mean who needs more that really?) offset by louche [2] looking Harvey Pekar - purposelessly oblivious to the private hell unfolding in front of him: much more concerned with the idea of getting a comic out with both their names on ("You like money, don'tcha?").

And - well: yeah (short version) - I like the cover. I think it's good.

Of course - the problem is (at least for this reader) is that it sets the bar so high that when you step into the rest of the book: well - there's a real sense of deflation: for those expecting the same sort of knockabout humour and general sillyness  - well: you're going to need to re-calibrate your expectations.

Thankfully the introduction by Robert Crumb [3] is perfectly placed to help disabuse the hapless reader of any strange notions that they might have got into their head (like maybe this book is gonna be an Odd Couple / buddie-comedy: like Planes, Trains and Automobiles or Rush Hour or whatever [4]?): for those of us thinking they're about to ride a fun little rollercoaster - his is the voice that comes over the intercom saying: "Oops. Sorry. Actually - this is just going to be a pleasant little bimbling [5] ride in the countryside instead. You don't need any seatbelts and you wave your arms and legs in any which way you want - because it's not going to make any difference seeing how our top speed is only going to be about five miles per hour...." (Ha!) Or - as he puts it (in a bit more of a downbeat kinda way): "Mostly it's just people talking, or Harvey himself, panel after panel, haranging the hapless reader. There's not much in the way of heroic struggle, the triumph of good over evil, resolution of conflict, people overcoming great odds, stuff like that... It's kinda sorta more like real life... A population raised on mass media spoonfed a constant diet of sensational, formalized story-telling, they're gonna be impatient with Pekar's comics."

Now - I vaguely remember the first time I read that intro and the kinda thoughts that it made me have (mainly because they're pretty much the same sort of feelings that I still have today): the first thought is that Robert Crumb sounds a bit like a snob (I mean the stuff he says he's basically just: "Oh yeah - all that stuff that everyone else likes is rubbish and the only stuff that's good is this small subset of stuff that I like." - I mean: oh my god - what is he? A teenage boy?) and also - well - as a proud consumer of mass media I've got to say: I think it's pretty churlish to dismiss it all out of hand. I mean - yeah: ok the large majority of it is pretty rubbish but then - the large majority of everything is rubbish (I think I read something somewhere recently where someone called this the 90% rule? As in - it's only the 10% of stuff that's really worth your time: but whatever) - I mean - mass media sensational, formalized story-telling (when it's done right) can give us things like Jurassic Park, Toy Story and Star Wars which - hell - I'll take anyday over some mumbley black-and-white art-house kitchen sink drama about how poor poor people are [5].

Also - as an argument for why something is worth your time: I've always found it to be kinda limiting and unconvincing. I remember as I was growing up I could never quite understand the appeal of David Lynch films [6] and when I tried to find out the reasons why everyone else seemed to rate him so much all I got was a variation of the line: "Oh - you know: it's so much better than that usual Hollywood rubbish." Maybe there's a fancy Latin name for this sort of thing [7]: but all I know is that it's not much of a glowing recommendation to say what something's not ("Say - why did you like that carrot?" "Oh - you know: it's not a dog. Man - I hate dogs.") especially when in the case of Lynch versus Hollywood or Pekar verses mainstream comics: the aims are so vastly different and the methods so contrary - that really all you're doing is making yourself sound like an idiot (sorry - is that a little bit too harsh? Sorry) [8].

But let's put aside this (frankly) puritan notion that it's only the difficult, non-mainstreamy stuff that's actually any good (oh - if only life were that simple) and instead try and talk about (and hopefully capture) what it is that actually makes American Splendor worth reading... (yeah?) because - like I've said: when reading it before I could never quite get to the point where I could get my head around what everyone was raving about: but now - with the benefit of all my advancing years: I think I might just be starting to get the hang of it.

Of course - what this all boils down to is stories (bear with me).

There was a line that I could have sworn I saw written somewhere on MaryAnn Johanson's Flickfilosopher website [9] (but which I now can't find) which said something like this (I'm going to paraphrase it a lot to make it sound more like me - ok?): growing up I used to identify myself as a film fan and as someone who liked reading books and - well - since starting running the Islington Comic Forum: someone who likes a good comic too. But more and more I've come to realise that actually the thing that really interests me (and is at the  root of all three of these) is story. The way we tell them, how they work, (how they don't work), the way they can make us feel, the way they make us think, what they mean: stories are my obsession and (yeah) there are very few things that I enjoy more than a good story well told [10].

Now: one of the things that I've noticed recently is the many ways that stories end up serving / reinforcing ideologies (I mean - yeah: ok - no duh right? But whatever).

Of course this is something that we're all conditioned to notice when we're kids. I mean - oh my god: working in a children's library I see this in seemingly every single children's book out there: all of them geared to deliver an important life lesson like: Make Sure You Always Say Please (The Elephant and The Bad Baby). Don't Be Stinky and Gross (Dirty Bertie). If You Can Talk A Good Game Then People Will Respect and Fear You (The Gruffalo). Your Parents Are Not Paying Attention To You - Deal With It (Not Now, Bernard). Change Is Inevitable, Relationships Are All About Compromise and Sex Is Death (Tadpole's Promise) [11] And - yeah - it's one of the mainstays of when you've just finished reading a book to a child to ask them: "Now - what do you think the message was there then?"

For me - one of the many barriers to cross to get to adulthood was being able to read a book that didn't have a stupid moral tucked away at the end and instead was just about you know - having fun, laughing at crazy stuff and enjoying the ride. What I didn't realise (and what has taken me years to fully come to grips with) is that - even if a story doesn't present itself as being moralistic - that doesn't mean that it doesn't have loads of twisted little ideologies (yes - that word again) buried all the way on the inside.

You want some examples of what I mean? Ok then: the latest season of Doctor Who (and probably all the seasons before that maybe [12] - but this is the first time I've only really noticed it) seemed to be operating on the assumption that ugly monsters = bad people and cute girls = good people [13]: and yeah - I guess it's unfair to pick on Doctor Who especially when everything else everywhere also operates on the same assumption: but whatever - the fact that it's pretty much all prevailing (and unquestioned) means that - while you think you're just enjoying the exciting adventures of a crazy man and his magical blue box - what's seeping into your head is a bunch of fluff about how looks are morally important (which I would have thought is a message that kids get enough of anyway - but oh well).

Another one (that's still fresh in my mind [14]) would be the new Star Trek Into Darkness film which - although everyone says it's "about" 9/11 [15] would be much more accurately described as being about the idea that it's wrong to kill people without a trail (which is kinda strange / kinda cool - seeing how every other mainstream action movie ever seems to think that the best way for people to deal with bad guys is just to shoot them in the head: preferably just after you've said something really cool).

Is what I'm saying starting to make sense? (Maybe I'm just babbling like a loon here: I dunno: but what the hey - let me stick with it a little more and see how much further I can get...).

If I had a point here then I guess that point would be this: stories are attached to ideas and in the giant majority of cases - the type of story people tell will end up revealing an awful lot about how they see the world: their beliefs, their motivations - and etc etc etc. And - don't get me wrong: I don't mean that as a pejorative: in fact one of the reasons that I tend to love the genre of science-fiction so much is that it's one of the best genres for fixing a story to an idea and seeing how that plays out [16].

Which (oh my god finally) brings us all the way back round to American Splendor and what it is that makes it worthwhile reading: because - basically - if the all the other types of stories out there are bogged down and laden with all these signifies and whatnot then what's refreshing and special about the stories that Harvey Pekar tells is that mostly - they're free of these sort of concerns. And compared to the hustle and bustle of these sorts of interpretative - whatever - traffic jams with all the screaming and hollering and honking and noise blah blah blah: a Pekar joint is like a nice quiet walk through the countryside allowing this reader at least - the chance to enjoy the roses - that is: the small and delicate grace notes of stories untethered from their usual moorings.

I realise that - ok - that maybe sounds like a big heap of nonsense: so let me try and be a little bit more specific: first of all I guess I should say (for those of you who have never even heard of Harvey Pekar or Robert Crumb and have just been sitting patiently at the back hoping that I would get around to explaining) what exactly this comic book is.

Ok - yeah: it's called Bob and Harv's Comics and it's a collection of (mostly pretty small - like 3 or 4 page) strips written by professional curmudgeon [17] Harvey Pekar (who writes about the small daily events of his own life [18]) and illustrated by Robert Crumb (who is one of the best names to drop into a conversation if you want to sound like you're like sophisticated about what kind of comics you like "What do I like to read? Oh - you know: this and that: I read a lot of Robert Crumb - so yeah: you know.").

And in terms of what this book (and - well - pretty much everything Harvey Pekar wrote) is: or at least maybe the best way to think about it - and yes I realise that this might sound a little bit silly to say - but one of the reoccurring thoughts that struck me as I read this book for the third/fourth/whatever time is that - well - this is what people did before youtube. By which I mean: if you wanted to capture life as it was lived and freeze it in amber for future generations - then a mighty fine way of doing that was to get in down in story. And once I realised that - then Bob and Harv's Comics became less of a fruitless pursuit for all the typical story goodness that I normally look for (the thrills, spills and chills or whatever): and much more like listening to a record of old tape recordings and appreciating not the story structure (which is kinda all over the place: with some stories (I'm thinking particularly of Hustlin' Sides here - a tale about the perils of selling records at work) ending just at the point as they start to seem like they're going somewhere) or architecture (which is what normally holds my interest [19]) but rather: zooming into the detail and admiring the way that the individual rooms are furnished: the weave of the carpet, the smell of the wood, the way that the light streams in through the windows: that kind of thing - you know? Which - if you want to try and translate that means - the way that Pekar can capture a character in a few chosen words or squeeze the messiness of human life into the space of just a few pages: with all the awkward pauses and poorly chosen words that propel us forward: you know - that kind of thing [20].

Which I guess is what (spinning around back to where we sorta started) makes that Robert Crumb introduction kinda - well - wrong. As what (I would say) he doesn't quite understand (and so can't quite sell to those of us not already primed to buy) is what makes this book worth the effort. I mean - ok: it is true that "a population raised on mass media spoonfed a constant diet of sensational, formalized story-telling, they're gonna be impatient with Pekar's comics." but the reason isn't because Pekar is offering a better version of the same dish - it's that he's offering a different animal altogether (dogs and carrots again - which yes - is a pretty lousy metaphor I know - but what can you do?).  

So yeah: the first story in the book ("The Harvey Pekar Name Story") is just Pekar spoint blank staring straight at the reader: like the only suspect at a police line-up: or a comic without a microphone manages to cover a whole heap of ground in only a few pages - connection, loneilness, bullying, humour, death and idle philosophy all just floating above his seemingly random tossed off musings: but the joy of it really resides in the way that Pekar manages to affix his own self into the page so that by the end of - it doesn't feel like you've been taken on a ride in the way that most stories do (which is a good thing: because who doesn't like rides - right?) it's more like you've just had a brief snatch of conversation with a random passerby.

At one point describes his writing style (half-jokingly - I think) as "New neo-realist" but I'd prefer to think of it more as just a guy talking about his life and sharing selected moments with any readers who venture in. And yeah: there's not much real action or adventure or (at least not in this book - maybe elsewhere?) much in the way of romance even: but still - when you leave: you'll feel like you've got to know another life a little better: and even if it's a bit musty smelling in places - I guess (growing up) that's the kind of thing you start to appreciate as being important.

But - like I said: I'm obviously just getting old.

[1] And - damnit: I can perfectly hear the way he says that in my head: but can't quite place who is reminds me of: it's somewhere in the neighbourhood of Droopy Dog mixed with a small tinge of Glenn Quagmire: but somehow that's not quite the full mixture - dagnamit: I wish I could put my finger on it (oh well).

[2] Is that the right word? I dunno - it seems right: but maybe not?

[3] There's another introduction (at least in my copy) by Harvey Pekar - but we're gonna let that one slip by the wayside. Because - well - I don't want to be writing this thing forever and - hell - we'll be getting on to some other stuff Pekar says in a bit...

[4] I was incredibly temped to make this list go on forever - but decided that I would just write down the first two that popped into my head and just leave it at that: LUCKY FOR YOU.

[5] And just to clarify: my point here isn't that art house cinema is rubbish (I'll admit now that I can find myself partial to a cheeky little bit of something intellectual or whatever now and again) - it's just that mainstream stuff isn't bad just because it's mainstream and that obscure stuff isn't good just because it's obscure - both can be good and both can be bad: but it depends on the thing itself - right? And you shouldn't just write things off without giving them a chance or exploring further (I mean - when I put it like that it sounds so obvious that how can you even bring yourself to disagree I know...): I mean - maybe this isn't true - but the way he presents himself leads me to think that Robert Crumb is the kind of guy who'd refuse to watch E.T. because - "all mass produced stuff is rubbish" - which (for me) just kinda makes him a chump.

[6] Which - strangely - didn't stop me from watching most of them. But then I've always been slightly perverse like that... And (and I think this was around the time I watched Inland Empire whilst half asleep and/or reading a magazine profile he did about his paintings) I finally came round to understanding what it is that makes him worthwhile: and yeah - while I could go into detail about what I think that is - maybe that's something that I should leave for another time...

[7] One of these maybe? I dunno... (I was going to check - but (man) that list is long).

[8] And it's not just Robert Crumb who thinks this way. Whilst I was writing this I stumbled across this Comics Journal feature (Blood and Thunder: Harvey Pekar and R. Fiore) which reprints letters written by Pekar back in 1989-1990. (Normally I would recommend reading the whole thing: but - man - it's kinda long: so maybe not this time). Interesting highlights include: "...most comics critics and fans have low standards. They like escapist, pulp-derived stuff that will transport them from “mundane” reality into what they believe is a more exciting, glamorous world of the imagination. They crave adventure stories in which life is at risk, where great fame and fortune can be won." (omg - that's me!) "Many comic book fans don’t like to read about everyday experience; they say such writing is “bo-o-o-oring.” It may also be painful to them; they’d rather fantasize than contemplate their own world. When they become comics critics, too often even the most well-read among them praise and overrate flawed, escapist work." (Yes yes and yes: I totally love myself some good escapism) "Genre novels rely for their appeal on contrived, tricky plots, sensational adventures in which lives, power, and wealth are at stake, idealized protagonists, too-good-to-be-true heroines, and other stereotyped characters. Obviously, they’re very popular. People who don’t take art seriously, who just want superficial entertainment, enjoy genre literature, TV, and movies." (Ha! It's like my whole outlook summed up in a few choice sentences).

[9] Which is pretty good and you can read for yourself here.

[10] The only bit on the Flickfilosopher website I could find that relates to this was this bit: "There’s one thing I care about most when I approach a movie: the story. Is the story engaging? Is the story interesting? Is the story something that will keep me diverted or entertained or provoked for two hours? This means that a film that does not tell a story that appeals to me on some level has, in my reckoning, failed as a movie. I don’t care how gorgeous the cinematography is if I don’t like the story. I don’t care what a technical marvel the FX are if I don’t like the story. I don’t care what an amazing performance the marquee cast turned in if I don’t like the story. This is an analogy I like to use. There are two restaurants: One serves the best meal you have ever had in your life. The service is perfunctory. The ambiance is forgettable. But the food is the amazing. In the other restaurant, the service is impeccable and supremely attentive. The atmosphere is spectacular. But the food is shit. I would rather eat at the first restaurant. Every time. The second restaurant does not interest me in the slightest. Of course, ideally, I would choose, if I could, to eat in a restaurant where the food is to die for, the service is slavish, and the setting is magnificent. But this is not always what is on offer. Movies are the same way. I will take a great story that is not technically distinguished over a beautifully presented story that does not speak to me." (and - well yeah: what she said).

[11] Sorry - like I said - I work in a children's library and this is one of my rare opportunities to vent some of this stuff out.

[12] I mean - obviously yes: seeing how Doctor Who always has a monster-of-the-week it needs to have ugly evil beings doing bad stuff to people. But I could have sworn that one of the messages it used to deliver was that "it's not what you look like - it's what's inside that counts" which I would say is something that gets violated most notable in that Rings of Akhaten episode where The Doctor and Clara work out that the bad people are bad because they look bad and the good people are good because they look good.

[13] One of the few exceptions to that was the episode Hide - which most people seemed to think had a bit of a cop-out ending but (for me anyway) actually managed to reverse a lot of the "all ugly things are bad" propaganda that the rest of the season had been espousing. Of course the way it did this was to make everything as sappy as humanly possible - what the hell: it's a child's show which means that it gets away with making you feel a little bit gooey on the inside.

[14] Mainly - it must be said - due to the heated back-and-forth discussions me and my esteemed literary flatmate have had on this very subject.

[15] I'm looking at you Forrest Wickman (and also - yeah: every other film reviewer in the world all of whom have seemed almost contractually obliged to say something like: "oh yeah - this film is totally about 9/11") . And - ok yeah: while I can see why you would be confused seeing how - as he points out - seemingly everyone attached to the film has something along the lines of "oh  yeah - this film is totally about 9/11" and the fact that there is loads and loads of 9/11-style imagery scattered throughout the film (flying things crashing into buildings and people running around screaming etc) - but then (and I think this is an important distinction to make): there is a big difference between what a film (or any story really I guess) shows us (or tells us about whatever) and what it tells us. So the Star Trek Film is a story about people in space - it shows us lots of explosions and stuff (in a kind of 9/11 reminiscent way) but it's not really about 9/11 seeing how it doesn't really have anything to say about it (compare and contrast: George Orwell's 1984 says that Totalitarianism is bad for the human spirit, Catch 22 says that war is messed up and - what? - Star Trek Into Darkness says that - what? - 9/11? (What does that even mean?) It references the event - but doesn't have anything substantive to say about it - yeah?) - but anyway: this is all completely beside the point (although I'd like to make a final reference to some Slavoj Žižek (obviously) who provides one of the best examples between what a story shows us and what it tells us by demonstrating in this clip how and why The Sound of Music is racist). So... yeah. Enough of this.

[16] Or as Philip K Dick puts it (much better than I could): "I will define science fiction, first, by saying what science fiction is not. It cannot be defined as 'a story set in the future,' [nor does it require] untra-advanced technology. It must have a fictitious world, a society that does not in fact exist, but is predicated on our known society... that comes out of our world, the one we know: This world must be different from the given one in at least one way, and this one way must be sufficient to give rise to events that could not occur in our society… There must be a coherent idea involved in this dislocation…so that as a result a new society is generated in the author's mind, transferred to paper, and from paper it occurs as a convulsive shock in the reader's mind, the shock of dysrecognition. [In] good science fiction, the conceptual dislocation---the new idea, in other words---must be truly new and it must be intellectually stimulating to the reader…[so] it sets off a chain-reaction of ramification, ideas in the mind of the reader; it so-to-speak unlocks the reader's mind so that that mind, like the author's, begins to create…. The very best science fiction ultimately winds up being a collaboration between author and reader, in which both create---and enjoy doing it, [experiencing] the joy of discovery of newness."

[17] A word which - it feels like - was especially minted for him.

[18] "Anyway that was one of he most interesting incidents that's ever happened to me in a super-market."

[19] With - well - a particular fondness for ones that look like they were built by M.C. Escher (if that's not stretching the metaphor too far: but you know what I mean right? Twisty time-travel or whatever. Jake Gyllenhaal sitting in a cinema next to a guy in rabbit suit or whatevers.

[20] With a large smattering - and I guess this is another thing about growing up: the more you experience you more you can find yourself relating to - of "oh my god - yes: that's so true!" my favourite being: "But that's one nice thing about working for the government. The government has more tolerance for diversity "


Further reading: American Splendor: The Best of American Splendor, The QuitterBreakdowns, I Never Liked YouHicksville, David Boring, Black HoleJimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on EarthThe Beats: A Graphic History.

All comments welcome.