Category Archives: comics

The- Most-Famous-Author-Noone-Has-Ever-Heard-Of

Late last year, we found out that one of our favourite authors, and possibly The-
Most-Famous-Author-Noone-Has-Ever-Heard-Of, Neil Gaiman, was coming to little old Wellington to do some readings. Not knowing what a reading even consists of, but knowing from his blog that they are very popular and almost always sell out, I snapped up some tickets.

On Saturday, we finally went to the reading, part of the International Arts Festival, at Wellington’s Town Hall. We were surprised by the diversity of the audience – I was expecting goths, emo-kids and lots of young women who own cats. Not sure why he appeals to cat-women, but they seem to like him (as do white Alsation fans and beekeepers). But there were people from all walks of life, young, old and many like us – slightly geeky but not obviously so (I hope)!

For future reference, Writer Readings consist of some important person from the arts festival/world interviewing said-Writer, then Writer reading a passage from their body of work (often something requested at their fiancee’s concert by a random fan the night before). So they might read something old, something new, something borrowed- wait no, that’s a different kind of event. In this case, Gaiman did read something old, followed by two new pieces. One for the first time, the other something about to be published. Both were good short stories, very typical of his Edwardian-tribute-style shorts. The audience was pleased.

So, it turns out that an author reading also seems to be a place where aspiring authors gather to interrogate their hero about how to write. Neil Gaiman’s answer, although seemingly obvious, was something many of them needed to hear: You just write.
The best, least pretentious, question from the audience though, came from a young lad who asked what Gaiman’s favourite mythological creature was. The Basilisk, it turns out.

Finally Gaiman, wrapped up with one of my favourite passages from American Gods, and a firm-fan-favourite (buy it here, printed on a tshirt). It does need an intro, but I’ll forfeit the intro, and suggest instead, you read the entire book.

The other readings were (from memory – the last two aren’t published so I can’t check titles):
1. Locks (from collection ‘Fragile Things’)
2. My Last Landlady (for a collection of ‘dark’ English seaside stories – recent)
3. Saint Oran & Saint Columba (not sure of actual title – it’s brand spanking new)

And here is, from American Gods, the ‘I Believe’ passage:

I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen–I believe that people are perfectible, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones who look like wrinkledy lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women. I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline of good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state. I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste. I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like the Martians in War of The Worlds. I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman. I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself. I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says that sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies too. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system. I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.

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Pixar vs Dreamworks

I’d love to know where this picture came from originally (please comment if you know), but I think it illustrates quite nicely what Mike and I thought of Kung Fu Panda!

(click to embiggen)

Mike’s Favourite Comics – 2000AD

Ah 2000AD…

It was my first love, my first introduction to “adult”comics and the first comic I ever collected seriously (before that I used to just read and bin them, sacrilegious I know).

They say you never forget your first love and it’s true.
When I was 8, I borrowed a copy of 2000AD from a friend, or my brother I can’t quite remember. What I do remember is being instantly hooked on this crazy, violent thing I held in my hands. Up until that point the only comics I had read were things like WHIZZER AND CHIPS. These were simple little comic strips, where the main characters were cheeky kids and their adventures usually involved them trying to wag school.
2000AD was a revelation. Here was a comic filled with ultra violence and sex and SWEARING!! Granted they swore with made up future words, but I could tell swear words when I saw them. From then on Whizzer and Chips was out the window and every Saturday, when I got my pocket money ($1, a kings ransom in 1985), I would run down to the shops to get the latest issue.
At first I thought I had to hide 2000AD. Surely if my parents knew what I was reading, they would confiscate it. As a result 2000AD was strictly read and destroy. Later, I would come to realise that my parents (and non-comics readers) could stare blankly at the pages and not register what was happening, so it was safe but at the time my 8 year old brain thought 2000AD was terribly naughty.
And what naughtiness! Most stories in 2000AD involve some kind of future or fantasy scenario and usually end with people being killed violently. It’s an anthology and has between 3-5 strips that usually run for about 8 pages each. 8 pages isn’t a lot of time to tell a story so each strip is super compressed and has as much action as possible.
From SLAINE the sadistic high king of mythical Ireland, to the mutant bounty hunters of STRONTIUM DOG, scouring a post apocalyptic England in search of evil doers to bring to justice. These were manly, testosterone fueled stories full of violence and mayhem and were my first introduction to anti heroes. And the biggest anti-hero of them all was JUDGE DREDD.
Introduced in issue (or Prog) 2 of 2000AD, Judge Dredd quickly rose in popularity to become 2000AD’s most iconic character and has appeared in the comic ever since. A “Lawman of the Future”, Dredd is part of a police force called Judges, that have the power to dispense instant justice, i.e. they can and do sentence lawbreakers on the spot. In essence they are cop, judge and executioner rolled into one. More than this the Judges are a fascist dictatorship and rule their future metropolis, MEGA-CITY ONE, with and iron fist.
Judge Dredd, the top Judge, is not a nice man. Although he does heroic things service of his city (see THE DAY THE LAW DIED, NECROPOLIS, INFERNO) he is also cold hearted, a bully and a thug capable of extreme cruelty (see AMERICA). This is the appeal of the character. Through him, his creator JOHN WAGNER is able to tell stories that comment on society. He can be the hero or the villian depending on the needs of the story.
Having a main character that is such an asshole is difficult. So Wagner and other writers have built up an extensive supporting cast over the years. Often Dredd is no more than a force of nature, with the other characters reacting to his presence. There is also a rich vein of black humour running through the stories, usually with the humourless Dredd playing the ultimate straight man.
His look is very tough and punk with lots of leather and chains (he was designed in the late 70’s after all) and fits the nature of his stories well. Although the size of his shoulder pads is a bit OTT in my opinion. He also rides the biggest, craziest looking motorbike ever, The LAWMASTER. This bike is insane looking and with it’s giant wheels, must have been the inspiration behind The Dark Knight’s BATPOD.
There have been some truly great Dredd stories over the years and he is by far my favorite character, so much so that I have a tattoo of his badge on my arm. 
Dredd’s popularity even reached a point where Hollywood came calling. The result was the disappointing film starring Sylvester Stallone. I remember being heartbroken by that film’s awfulness but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Judge Dredd is at heart a very British comic and in many ways, a parody of America. How was that ever going to translate into an American made action film?    
While Dredd is the most popular character appearing in 2000AD there have been many other great ones written by some of the top writers in comics. As the comic grew and changed many more mature stories began appearing, featuring more than just violence and death. There are too many to mention here but check them out here 
Many writers and artists got their start in 2000AD like the great ALAN MOORE (WATCHMEN, LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN), who wrote my favourite 2000AD story HALO JONES (who will be the subject of my next column). 
There were many other writers who started out in 2000AD, like GRANT MORRISON, (ALL STAR SUPERMAN, BATMAN) and MARK MILLAR (WANTED) and more artists than I can mention (see this list).
I read and collected 2000AD all through the 1990’s and only stopped collecting it in the early 2000’s when the price got beyond what I was willing to pay for a weekly book (I believe it was 50c when I started buying it and about $7.50 when I stopped).
That was the excuse I gave myself but the truth was, I think part of me had grown beyond  2000AD. We had grown apart and I’d moved on to other books. While I’ll still pick up the occasional issue and flip through it, I no longer have the connection to it that I used to.
But it’s still my first love. I grew up with 2000AD and it will always have a special place in my collection (I have an almost unbroken run of books from 1989-2001). I’ll still pull out the odd issue and reminisce. 2000AD gave me my love of comics and for that I’ll always be grateful.  
By the way I would like to take this opportunity to point out how lovely Hilleke is. Last Christmas she bought me an original copy of  2000AD Issue no 2. It’s the one with Judge Dredd’s first appearance and has to one of the neatest presents I’ve ever received. Here’s a photo of it.
Recommended reading:

THERE’S A NEW BATMAN IN TOWN.


Last year I read something that shocked me to the core. DC comics were planning on killing BATMAN. I was outraged! YOU CAN’T KILL BATMAN! I thought the editors at DC had lost their minds. The Dark Knight was still several months away and I couldn’t believe that Warner Brothers (the studio behind the Batman film franchise and coincidentally the owners of DC Comics) would let them kill their most popular character when a major film starring him was about to come out. 

But they did.

The man responsible was Scottish comic writer and crazy person, Grant Morrison. Morrison made his name in comics by taking the icons of the industry from the X-men to Superman and reinventing them in weird and wonderful ways. Taking them places no one had before or exploring sides of them that no one else had thought to. The best recent example of this was his amazing All Star Superman. This is a wonderful love letter to Superman that embraces all the wackiness that the character has been known for over the years. I can’t recommend it enough for anyone that has ever been a fan of Supes.

So when Morrison expressed an interest writing Batman he was given free reign. I can only imagine what the meeting must have been like when he explained that he wanted to kill Batman. It shows the faith that DC have in him that they said yes. 

Morrison’s run on Batman was weird to say the least. He decided to try and fit all 60 years of the character’s publication history into the life of one man. Including all the crazy concepts from the 1960’s when Batman was nothing more than a comedy book. In those days he spent most of his time fighting ghosts and aliens and had an entire Bat-Family including Bat-Woman, Bat-Girl and Ace the Bat-hound! Most writers won’t reference anything that happened more than 5 years ago let alone 50. He then tried to tie it all together with a big conspiracy involving a shadowy organisation called the Black Glove with a vendetta against Batman. 

Morrison’s run ended with Batman RIP which saw Batman being driven insane by the Black Glove. This released his back up personality (he’s Batman – he thinks of everything). He beat the baddies but vanished under an exploding helicopter never to be seen again. This left Dick Grayson (former Robin now the far cooler Nightwing) holding his cape and cowl. Grant would go on to reveal Batman’s final fate in his huge DC comics crossover Final Crisis. Batman sacrificed himself to defeat the big bad guy Darkseid and appeared to be killed.

However the final page of the comic revealed that Batman had not been killed just sent back in time to prehistoric times (don’t ask – even I didn’t understand that bit).

Grant’s run was controversial to say the least. Some people hated what he did to the character. Some people loved it. Most people didn’t quite understand all of it but thought it was interesting (like me). This is often the case with Grant Morrison books. He’ll get carried away by his own big ideas but ultimately lose something in the translation. 

Regardless of the controversy Grant Morrison’s Batman run re-invigorated a moribund franchise and made it a top selling comic once again.

Grant left the book after Batman RIP which some saw as either him abandoning the book or being fired for being too weird. It was neither, as he was merely taking a break before starting work on the next chapter of his Batman epic, giving DC a chance to write some interesting stories in his absence. The last 6 months of Batman comics have been about Gotham and the heroes left behind, trying to deal with Batman’s apparent death. I’ve covered some of these comics in the past. (read my review of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER). 

Morrison had left instructions about where he wanted the characters to be when he came back, i.e. who would be Batman, Robin, etc., but decided to let someone else write the book. The result was Battle For the Cowl. This 3 issue mini series saw the 3 former Robins (Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake) all vying for the cape and pointy ears. Battle for the Cowl was a straight up action adventure book, which after the weirdness of Grant’s run a welcome relief. The book ended with few surprises as there really was only one man who could take up the Mantle of the Bat, SPOILER ALERT…. 

…Dick Grayson. Battle for the Cowl ended with Dick finally embracing his destiny and becoming Batman.

Dick, for those that don’t know, was the first Robin and the third superhero ever created (after Superman and Batman). Over the years they let him grow from a circus acrobat in a brightly coloured costume and small pants into a hero in his own right with his own team (The Teen Titans). He eventually left the Batcave and went out on his own. He also left the Robin persona behind and became Nightwing. While he had a much cooler name and costume, writers struggled to give him a proper direction and as a character he floundered. He was eventually given his own comic but writers still struggled to find a purpose for him. He flitted from Gotham to New York, becoming a police officer, a mob enforcer and even a museum curator(?). Like a kid who leaves home with no goals, Dick struggled to make his way in life. DC almost put him out of his misery a few years ago but fan outrage and a petition convinced them that he was still a worthy character.

The problem was that Dick is Bruce’s heir. He was raised to replace Bruce as Batman and as long as Bruce was Batman, Dick could not fulfill his destiny. He seemed to be stuck waiting in the wings – the perpetual understudy. Even Nightwing was seen by many as nothing more than ‘Batman-Lite’. Other teen sidekicks have grown to replace the originals as DC likes the idea of legacy characters. The Flash is the biggest example of this as there have been 4 of them. Dick, though, looked like he’d never get his his chance. He’d been a fill-in Batman before but that had only been temporary. Batman was considered to be irreplaceable. Bruce is Batman and Batman is Bruce, so the idea of replacing him seemed impossible.

Re-enter Grant Morrison, who is all ready to explore this concept. As he’s said in interviews, he wants to delve into what it takes to be Batman. Can anyone, even Dick actually do it. Even Dick himself isn’t sure he can or even really wants to. 

Last week saw Morrison’s return and the release of the highly anticipated BATMAN AND ROBIN. While it’s too soon to judge Batman and Robin the series, it was a great first issue. It showcased Dick as Batman and his new Robin, Damian Wayne. Damian is Bruce’s son and was introduced at the beginning of Morrison’s run on Batman, BATMAN AND SON. Batman and Robin is much more of an action adventure comic and looks like it going to be a lot of fun. 

Dick makes for a very different Batman and it’s a welcome change. For starters he isn’t a psycho. Here’s a guy that lost his parents as a kid, same as Bruce. But instead of becoming obsessed with avenging their death, he enjoyed the fact that he got to go live with a billionaire and beat up bad guys every night. He lived the ultimate boys fantasy, hanging out with Batman. Dick’s Batman is a lot lighter, funny even. While that may sound bad on paper it actually works well. What’s the point of replacing Batman if his replacement is going to be exactly the same. 

While Batman has lightened up, Robin has gotten darker. Damian Wayne is the son of Bruce and Talia al Ghul and was raised by assassins. He’s dark and brooding and a trained killer (even though he’s only about 10). Whenever Dick expresses doubts about has ability to be Batman, Damian likes to point out that he could do a better job. 

The best Batman stories have always been the ones that take place at the beginning of his career (Batman Year One) or the end (The Dark Knight Returns). The problem with the current books has always been that they’re stuck in the perpetual middle act. Bruce isn’t the struggling hero because he’s been doing it for years and there is no end game because the comics never end. What Grant Morrison and DC comics have done in the last year though is give us the final act of Batman and a new first act. We got to see the end of Bruce’s Batman adventures (temporary though it may be) and now we’re getting to see the beginning of Dick’s. It’s not often you get to see both so close together. As weird as it may get (and lets face it, it’s Grant Morrison) I’m going to stick along for the ride.

So I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I’ve enjoyed the last 6 months of Batman stories so much, I hope Bruce stays dead for a while. His books are much more interesting without him.


Papyrus

I used to love papyrus and used it for everything (…until I discovered ‘chiller’. Now of course I use Helvetica, or preferable Myriad Pro). It pains me now everytime I see it used (chiefly on beauty salon or florist signs). I’d humour clients when they’d want an ‘elegant’ font by throwing in one papyrus sample to test their style. Clients don’t have style, who am I kidding?!?

People sure do feel passionately about it though. Love or hate it. It’s still just a font.

Half the fun of XKCD is the comments you get when you scroll over the comic:

“I secretly, deep in my guilty heart, like Papyrus and don’t care if it’s overused. (Cue hate-mail in beautifully kerned-Helvetica)”

Dave McKean interview

Favourite author of mine, Neil Gaiman, recently posted a link on his blog to favourite artist of mine, Dave McKean. Check out this self-portrait:

Is it a photo? Is it painted? Is it real? Where did those fish come from??? Who knows…
Of course, I know him best from Sandman covers and will always love these the most.

But all his work is splendidly fantastical and oh so scary & compelling!
The interview itself does appear to be quite long, but it’s worth scrolling through just for the amazing samples of artwork. I just love his stuff!
As well as talking about his new film, Luna, and lots of his other work, including his last film, Mirrormask… very pretty… check it out 🙂

Love it!

Neil Gaiman on The Colbert Report

Talking about The Graveyard Book, Tom Bombadil and illustrators…
* Contains semi-kinda spoilers *

Authors in a comic’s world

Something Positive is my latest daily comic find. Neil Gaiman linked to this one on his twitter…

Photoshopped

Someone made a comic about me!
check out the other amusing and hilarious strips here: http://xkcd.com/331/
“XKCD: A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.”