Sunday, 30 September 2007

Different Versions

Batman #669, by Grant Morrison, J.H. Williams and various (warning: this post contains mild *SPOILERS*)

Reading this comic is like looking into a hall of mirrors – every page is a collage of difference, with what Batman is blurring into what Batman isn’t. Is he a wounded child, an unhinged fame-seeker or a bored millionaire playboy? Nah, forget that: he’s a detective, an inspiration to others and a kick-ass crime fighter. Like, duh!

Jog has already broken down the 'Club of Heroes' arc in terms of good adults, bad adults, bad creators and bad readers, so all I really want to say is that I love JH Williams’ art, and wish that he was sticking with the book for more than three issues.

It strikes me that when Williams illustrates one of Morrison’s scripts, the art very much is the story, in much the same way that the conceptual framework of a Dennis Potter play becomes its substance.

In, say, Blue Remembered Hills, the fact that the children are played by adults might seem like a gimmick, but the effect that it generates is inseparable from the overall impact of the play. In that play, the confusion of adult interaction with childlike behaviour becomes as central to the story as any of the games or betrayals that drive the narrative. Similarly, Williams’ belief in design as story is every bit as important to the success of the 'Club of Heroes' arc as the actual mystery plot.

Many of my fellow bloggers have already linked to Williams' discussion of the sense of history that he was trying to suggest in his mix of various character designs and drawing styles. What's received slightly less praise is the way that Williams makes the layout of the page itself part of the story. My favourite example in this issue comes when Williams encases the Knight's head in his family crest, making an iconic helmet out of the panel borders in order to suggest the lasting damage his father's breakdown has caused him. Or am I reading too much into this? Is this icon just something that the Knight and Squire wear on their costumes? This is what's brilliant about Williams' work, both here and elsewhere: like little Borges fragments, his pages allude to bodies of knowledge that may not actually exist.

Y'know how I just said that this element of Williams work had been undervalued? Well I'm just about to shoot the shit out of that point by quoting what Jog said on the matter. Here it goes:

I was struck by the elegance and depth of Williams' glove-shaped panels - it's not only an awesome way to convey the paranoiac presence of a killer, but it shapes the very comic itself against Batman and the Club of Heroes, evidencing an untouchably god-like presence.
And damn is that ever a fine point! Like the good folk on the Barbelith board have said, even if the Black Glove doesn't turn up on-page, they still have presence to spare!

Since both Jog and a handful of Barbeloids have noted that they found issue #669 a little hard to parse at points, I think it's worthwhile to look at something Williams said on his blog:

The overall effect of this arc needed to have this building up to a crescendo feeling and I think it does that pretty well. The 3 issues have a real sense of progression to them with the first being medium on a scale and the final being at the highest. Hopefully most of you will agree when you see it. That this story has this feeling of slowly burning and ramping up.

I reckon that the crescendo effect comes through in the way this arc develops, but there's a chance that by the end of this issue the volume of information is too high, that the last few pages are simply too loud to be read clearly.

Me, I enjoyed the frantic, pulpy feel of the finale. Watching those Batmen jet off like that I felt like I was watching them blow up the hall of mirrors and blasting off to fresh adventures.

From 'Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror', by John Ashberry (Commonplacebook)

I feel the carousel starting slowly
And going faster and faster: desk, papers, books,
Photographs of friends, the window and the trees
Merging in one neutral band that surrounds
Me on all sides, everywhere I look.
And I cannot explain the action of leveling,
Why it should all boil down to one
Uniform substance, a magma of interiors.
My guide in these matters is your self,
Firm, oblique, accepting everything with the same
Wraith of a smile, and as time speeds up so that it is soon
Much later, I can know only the straight way out,
The distance between us. Long ago
The strewn evidence meant something,
The small accidents and pleasures
Of the day as it moved gracelessly on,
A housewife doing chores. Impossible now
To restore those properties in the silver blur that is
The record of what you accomplished by sitting down
"With great art to copy all that you saw in the glass"
So as to perfect and rule out the extraneous
Forever. In the circle of your intentions certain spars
Remain that perpetuate the enchantment of self with self:
Eyebeams, muslin, coral. It doesn't matter
Because these are things as they are today
Before one's shadow ever grew
Out of the field into thoughts of tomorrow.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

No Part is Saved

'Crash, roar, smash, plunge. The artist's journey finishes with him washed ashore on the desert island of his own mental isolation. He wanders around in a state of despair, talking to the fauna. There is an odd plant with a distinctive smell that reminds him of a very old book he once owned.' (Eddie Campbell -- The Fate of the Artist)

There's a sense of thwarted purpose that runs through all of Eddie Campbell's autobiographical works, a repeated suggestion that Campbell wants to stop playing Sal Paradise and start playing Dean Moriarty; that he'd rather be O.Henry the family man than O.Henry the writer.
This comes through most clearly in The Fate of the Artist. Indeed, it's one of the many factors that cause Campbell to write himself out of that story. Not convinced? Then check out the fact that Campbell closes the book with an adaptation of O.Henry's Confessions of a Humorist. But anyway, it was there at the beginning too, this conflicted feeling; don't mistake the boozy enthusiasm of The King Canute Crowd for a lack of worry. This strange doubt manifests itself in the young Eddie Campbell's concern that everyone else is better using 'the amenities' of life than he is; it's in the constant riffs on 'Campbell the observer' that recur throughout his work; it's even there in the first chapter of The King Canute Crowd, however obliquely:
'Alec MacGarry [Campbell] never forgets things said... Danny Grey forgets most things.'
Which is to say: Campbell remembers enough to write stories about Danny Grey; Danny Grey is too caught up in life's great adventure to ever return the favour. This line is also a neat summary of the respective strengths of the two friends, of course, but the feeling that Campbell would like to change places with Grey is evident throughout the book. For example, later on in The King Canute Crowd the author writes the following line in praise of Danny:
'He lives his life to the full. No part is saved like a slice of birthday cake going stale.'
Campbell accompanies this comment with an empty panel, a square of whiteness blocked in on all sides by black lines. Had Campbell merely presented us with blank space, this would have been an effective little gesture. With the box enclosing blankness the effect is emphasised: Danny Gray holds nothing back for later FULL STOP!
That Campbell (or at least, his comic book stand in) would aspire to such a state of living makes sense. After all, if Campbell's autobiographical work is fueled by his obvious love of living, doesn't it follow that he'd eventually grow frustrated of his self-imposed role of chronicler? There's an amusing scene in How to be an Artist where some wanky wee man bothers Campbell by asking what happens when he runs out of life to draw. Of course, Campbell decides to walk away, because he certainly doesn't want his life story to finish during that irritating conversation. But what does happen when life catches up with the autobiographical artist? Various permutations of this question pop up in Campbell's I Have Lost My Sense of Humour strip (drawn for the Autobiographix anthology), and the theme is explored to its conclusion in The Fate of the Artist. So (to reverse engineer Campbell's work, and blur fiction back into fact) does this mean that Eddie is going to turn his back on autobiography, that one of the great practitioners of the form is simply going to walk away from it?

Probably not. Both Campbell's most recent book (The Black Diamond Detective Agency) and his next one (The Amazing Remarkable Mr. Leotard) may be period pieces, but if this interview is anything to go by there's little chance that Campbell will stay away from the autobio genre forever:
'Ideally, I’d love to do another book like The Fate of the Artist—I think that’s the kind of book I’m most happy doing—or After the Snooter. Those kind of books are the ones I enjoy the most, where I can ruminate at length on the little things of everyday life as it is here and now.'
As someone who feels compelled to constantly write about the things that bring me pleasure, I understand that it can be frustrating to find yourself reflecting on life more than you're living it. That said, I'm also aware that this behaviour is driven by an odd sort of love, and I can only hope that Campbell follows up The Fate of the Artist sooner rather than later. After all, who else creates panels as beautifully far-fetched as the one at the top of this post, and all in the name of exploring the problems and glories of day-to-day existence?
And... now I'm late for my bus. Gotta go!

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Amerie -- 'Gotta Work'

A great pop single this, another clever twist on a still emergent song-type. Its genius lies in the way Amerie takes the now familiar mix of tumbling drums and jerky soul vamps and uses it to blow your standard self-help rhetoric wide open. 'Gotta Work' has no time for doubt except as a catalyst for future success -- 'When you're feeling low/And you can't get no lower/That's when you know you're close/Sometimes you gotta work hard for it'. Paired with Amerie's orgasmic delivery, these lyrics invoke a pliable paradise, one in which everyone has a dream and the means to make it real. All you've got to do is want it enough, to show the audacity to believe.
Like '1 Thing' or 'Crazy in Love' before it, 'Gotta Work' builds up so that by about halfway through the song the beat, vocals and horn sample sound like they're chasing each other round in frantic circles. While the relentless energy of those older songs was romantic/sexual in nature, 'Gotta Work' is less of a call out to a lover than a motivational speech gone somehow right. The inescapable impression that the song leaves is that it's possible to sing, shake and pose yourself into a new life. Every dream you've ever had can come true if you're willing to sing with the beat, to ride its stuttering flourishes all the way to pop-transcendence.
It's a stupid, beautiful fantasy, and it's yours for the taking every time you hear this song.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Wallace Stevens -- The Snow Man (Commonplacebook)

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Flowers in a Foreground

While we're on the topic of appreciating what's there (as opposed to the really super-duper deep stuff underneath), let's talk about Eddie Campbell. Campbell has long been my favourite autobiographical cartoonist because he always seems ridiculously interested in the world outside of his own head. Campbell wrote himself out of his most solipsistic work, 2006's The Fate of the Artist -- it's hard to imagine any of his peers even attempting such a gloriously cheeky conceit, let alone making it work.

Anyway, the interest that I've mentioned manifests itself most obviously in Campbell's subject matter (the adventures of his friends, family members and fellow artists), which in turn demand the impressionistic richness of his art style. Essentially Campbell has had to create his own personal vocabulary of the comic book page (and isn't that true of every great author-cartoonist?), one equally suited to exploring the finer points of double dates gone wrong and musing on the philosophy of art.

Normally, I take in Campbell's artistic grammar on a page-by-page basis. His autobiographical works have the timing of a good newspaper comic, so I normally find myself too caught up in the procession of pratfalls, punchlines and moments of everyday glory to fully appreciate the content of his individual panels. There are exceptions of course -- there's a one-page drawing of a dreary street in Alec: How to be an Artist that catches my breath every time, but that image has a narrative context that necessitates this effect, so my broader point stands.

This has been changed by a series of recent posts on Campbell's weblog in which the artist has discussed his use of zipatone and tipex to achieve what he calls a 'painterly' effect. These posts make for great reading (didn't I tell you I was hot for process?), all the more so because Campbell provides plenty of images to back up his musings. The image at the top of this post is a great example -- looking at this single panel up close, I couldn't help but think of the differences between the way Campbell depicts the elements and the way Frank Miller does the same. This Sin City image is case in point:

It shares with the Campbell panel a sense of centralised composition -- in both images the human subjects are located in the middle of the frame, assaulted on all sides by a storm of pure white blotches. Beyond this similarity, however, the content of the images is as different as Miller's subject matter is to Campbell's. In contrast to the inky, melodramatic blackness that defines Miller's Sin City work, Campbell's panel contains a glorious abundance of different objects and textures -- bins, buses, buildings and bits of stray signage are all present, depicted in a series of overlapping tones where Miller would show only darkness. This isn't an attack on Miller, by the way. Whatever you think of Sin City, you'd have a hard time arguing that Miller's brutish cartooning and stark colour choices don't suit his OTT crime romances. The point is that the same mundane clutter that has no function in Miller's stories is central to Campbell's, and that Campbell's work succeeds partly because he's so good at suggesting the nuances of a 'simple', undramatic street scene.

'Normal comicbook drawing has always looked dead on the page to my eyes. I needed a style that could suggest light and air.'
So Campbell says in one of the aforementioned posts. Looking at another blown up image from Alex: The King Canute Crowd (below), I'm amazed at the way that Campbell makes all of this stylisation look so effortless:

From this perspective the mix of ink and tipex and zipatone has an abstract beauty that nevertheless meshes into a larger, more recognisable picture. And isn't that what Campbell's work is all about, in part at least? Life is full of detail that is every bit as arresting as the strangest flights of the imagination; let's hear it for artists like Campbell who are capable of making us see this with fresh eyes time and time again.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Geoff Klock/Casanova: A Visible Core

While I’m a fiend for subtext (as my writing on this blog no doubt shows), I’m also a great fan of critics and artists who’re good at detailing the complexities of the surface. Sometimes I feel that I skip over the obvious stuff too much, to the extent that I start to feel like one of the poet-villains in Kenneth Koch’s ‘Fresh Air’ -- you know, the ones who can’t smile at anything unless they can see some sort of deep metaphor for human suffering in it.

Geoff Klock’s weblog is a pretty great remedy for that particular problem. Klock is good at telling you exactly why he thinks a comic or TV show works or doesn't work in a manner that is both witty and well considered. He can certainly do subtext when he wants to, but aesthetics seems to be his primary concern, and I appreciate that.

It’s funny that I should praise Klock here, given that I found his book How to Read Superhero Comics and Why disappointing precisely because he didn’t get deep enough into what all of that interconnectivity meant. I guess I was hoping that Klock’s appreciation of Harold Bloom’s poetic theories would extend to an approximation of Bloom’s fierceness, of his investment in poetry as a matter of existential urgency. Instead, Klock’s book offers a smart, excited account of the content of and connections between various comic books, which wasn’t what I was looking for at the time.

Klock’s blog improves upon the good qualities of his book – even when I don’t agree with him, I still find him entertaining, and his appreciation of comic such as Casanova and Grant Morrison’s Justice League Classified makes me enjoy the comics in question just that little bit more.

Sometimes I want deconstruction or grand emotional resonance; sometimes I just want a better idea of why I find myself thrilled by art and, by extension, the world.

Related: since I’ve just mentioned Klock’s favourite comic Casanova, I’d like to note how much I like the backmatter that appends each issue. Not only does it provide space for a variety of behind the scenes sketches and doodles, but it also allows writer Matt Fraction to talk about the production of the book, and thus make visible the framework of each issue. Alongside other commentary-heavy publications like Fell, Criminal, Pulp Hope and Phonogram, Casanova is responsible for re-engaging me with mainstream comic books not written by Grant Morrison or Peter Milligan. What can I say: while I’m not going to bow down to a writer's authority, I’m as hot for process as Harold Bloom is for poetry! Blame Jeff Noon and Grant Morrison (him again!) for filling my formative years with metafictional adventure stories that made writing seem sexy, dangerous, and even urgent.

Roland Furious -- The Fifth Cant, by John Stewart of Baldynneis (Commonplacebook)

As painfull pilgrim pressing to fulfill
His irksum journay, passing to and fro
In dririe nycht--so I, agains my will,
Dois stot and stummer in my mateir low.
I haif no way quhairbe derect to go,
But (as the wycht, quho wanders wilsum blind)
This work of myn behuifs me schers ir so,
Quhyls heir, quhyls thair, quhyls fordwart and behind.
The historie all interlest I find
With syndrie sayings of so great delyt,
That singlie, most I from the rest out spind,
As the unskilful prentes imperfyt,
Quho fyns the gould frie from the laton quyt.
No wonder thocht my wittis waver will,
In flowing field of sic profound indyt
My minschit meitir may bot mank and spill.
Yit, as the painter stairing stedfast still,
With trembling hand, his dracht perfyt to draw,
So indevoir I with my sklender skill
For to do better than my breath may blaw.
Accept guid will, for I guid will sall schaw
To fram so furth as I haif done intend.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

More Shrigley

Because it's a sunny afternoon and Shrigley's scribbles continue to make me laugh.

Because I like having pictures up on my new blog.

Because in its deliberately clumsy way this piece actually does suggest something interesting to me (is it about relationships or teh self??), a fact that is in itself a testament to my ability to find meaning in total gibberish.

Because 'SHUT UP! That's why,' is still a great reason.

Girls Aloud – ‘Sexy! No No No…’

The fact that Girls Aloud wore PVC catsuits in the video for this song pretty much guaranteed a leering reaction from tabloids and lad's mags. What interests me is the fact that the video itself seems almost designed to thwart such a response.

Sure, the Girls rock the black fetish gear in this video, but it’s all very abstract. Indeed, compared with the hypersexualised movement of Beyonce’s ostensibly similar ‘Green Light’ video, the motion in ‘Sexy! No No No...’ is oddly conceptual, with the Girls mostly just posing awkwardly or else jerking out of the way of giant sewing pins (!).

Furthermore, at least half of the running is taken up with images of the Girls in bizarre, inflatable red dresses (still fetishy, but in a more unusual way), a fact that adds to the slightly clumsy artiness of the piece (the parallels with the video for Christina Aguilera’s ‘Fighter’ are obvious, both in terms of look and quality).

This stylisation sits nicely with the theme of the song, which is all about not submitting to the allure of the hot sexy sex: ‘But you’re knock-knock-knocking again boy/ Whoa-oh, good ain’t good enough, gonna keep you waiting.’

This video, then, presents fetish gear as armour, as a way of sealing yourself off from physicality, of becoming something strangely distant and protected. (Somewhere in the background I can hear a Guardian writer querying why such allegedly empowering fashion trends necessitate ‘immobilising stilettos and rib-breaking dresses’ -- which is an interesting point, if one that is made somewhat stiffly and with little or no concept of masochism). Again, all of this is a perfect fit with Girls Aloud’s style: they’re really good at making icy detachment sound like the most fun ever, and if the cyborg pop-stomp of ‘Sexy! No No No’ isn’t one of their best songs then it’s still one of the most invigorating singles of 2007.

And the other bits of the video? Well they’re pretty and striking, and they also dramatise the idea of the Girls working to evade something (sex?). You can read as much as you want into the fact that they’re dodging phallic objects (the sewing pins), or indeed into the fact that these needles not only have traditionally feminine connotations but are also used to manufacture clothing. The fact that these pins become ropes in which the Girls are entangled towards the end of the video seems to resonate with such readings almost too well. For now, I’m going to listen to the song another dozen times and then take some time to appreciate the fact that Nicola has really awesome eye makeup in this video:

(Related: Popjustice break the song down into its component parts and discover that it is guilty of total aceness!)

(Also: I didn’t mean to use Girls Aloud as a chain to beat Beyonce with. ‘Green Light’ is a great song, it’s just that its video was much more like what I expected the video for ‘Sexy! No No No…’ to be like from the press it had generated. Interesting that the 'Green Light' video didn't receive anywhere near as much hype, in the UK at least.)

Friday, 21 September 2007

Passive Linkage

  • 'They were being taken advantage of, in a way.' This story, about a teacher who gave his class Dan Clowes' Eightball #22 to read over the summer, and who has resigned amidst a storm of WON'T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN controversy, is a minefield of stupid quotes. My favourite bit comes in the second link, where a worried mother talks about how she became concerned when she found out that the teacher had asked her daughter 'how the book made her feel'. Because he must have been a paedophile, of course -- he couldn't possibly have been trying to engage her as a student or anything. Argh! Jebus, please don't let me become such an asshole if I ever have children. I understand that I'll worry more about these sort of questions if I'm ever a father, but... don't let me shut off my brain entirely. (Links via Eddie Campbell, who seems to have retained his sanity despite fathering three children.)

  • Of course, I do feel sorry for the girl who's being bullied because the students see her as being responsible for this whole fandango. But I also feel sorry for the teacher, who, from this uninformed distance, seems to be guilty of nothing more than trying to give the kids something a bit more adult to read. Worth noting here: books don't come with age ratings, and while few booksellers are likely to provide a five-year-old with a sex guide, kids can still buy tons of relatively racy books without difficulty. Hell, some of these racy books may even be of genuine merritt (just like that Eightball issue!).

  • Go check out this Fluxblog post if you want to hear some more Scout Niblett. Matthew's also got some interesting thoughts on the differences between Scout Niblett and Cat Power, a topic that I touched on in this post.

  • Also: Fluxblog's Matthew writes about Future of the Left and provides a free mp3 of their song 'Adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood' on his Hit Refresh column. Future of the Left's debut album Curses is great, caustic fun, by the way. It contains fourteen tracks of top quality bruise-pop that will please fans of Mclusky, the welsh punk outfit that previously provided an outlet for two thirds of the band.

[Edit: in the name of fairness, here's the mother mentioned in the above news story defending her actions and providing some context. Now: the teacher seems to have acted rather foolishly here, if he did give make the rather clumsy move of giving comic in question to the girl rather than to the class. That said, I still object to the way this situation has played out. Eightball #22 has a couple of crude moments, sure, but they're part of a highly sophisticated and discussion-worthy narrative. I can't help but think that the medium is important here -- visual depictions of sex or nudity leap off the page more obviously than textual ones, or at least more immediately than similar scenes in literary works of roughly the same genre as Eightball #22. On balance, I think my capability for empathy was initially overpowered by the more stupid quotes in those early news stories, which isn't something I feel too proud of. As such I'm glad to have read the mother's take on the situation, but from my obscure vantage point I still think that the parents' reaction was ill-considered and OTT. Which isn't to say that various commentators (myself included) aren't guilty of the same crime, but I've not put anyone out of a job by talking about this. Well, at least not so far. New linkage via David Welsh.]

Homework (A Follow-Up Post)

For extra credit: compare Morrison/Quitely's treatment of Superman as a character with Brendan McCarthy's inclusion of him as an icon in this piece. Pay special attention to the ways in which the All Star Superman team explore the character from within his fictional universe while McCarthy evokes him as a two dimensional figure from the past, thus positioning himself as a 'pop'-artist outside the superhero genre (for that page at least).

'He's Got The Whole World In His Hands', Spandex Remix

I love the cover for All Star Godman Jesusman Superman #10 (above), it's like the cover for issue #1 with the volume turned up. It could be such a cheesy or sinister image, but I think Frank Quitely's mastery of body language gives the picture a level of benevolence that is almost undeniable. Something about the slope of those shoulders gives that OTT muscleman body a friendly grace it probably shouldn't have, y'know?
This cover also brings to mind something that Brendan McCarthy said in this Dogmatika interview:
The problem with a character like Superman is that he could impose world peace in a day if he wanted to. So why doesn't he do it? That's why the (very beautiful) All Star Superman comic by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely is essentially nostalgic.
Isn't this 'problem' neatly encapsulated in this one image? Superman is bigger than the world; he's protecting it, but his power would be frightening were it not for the fact that he exists in such a strangely nostalgic, childlike idiom. And in a way, isn't that what All Star Superman is about? Morrison and Quitely seem to be looking for a way show Superman growing up that doesn't involve Authority style ultra-violence or doomed interventionism a la Squadron Supreme. The closest predecessor to their approach would probably be Alan Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, but Moore brought the day-glo funfair to an end in that story, forcing all of those silly story lines to resolve so that Superman could slip out of his life and re-invent himself as an adult.
Somehow I don't see Morrison and Quitely taking that route. They're making Superman confront his own mortality, true. But the threat of death seems to exist in this story in order to force Superman to change, to become something else, a new/better/more developed version of himself (still alive, still in technicolour). It's all about transformation again (and oh my god will I be coming back to that amazing Jog article sometime soon!), a theme that is very close to my heart at the moment.
Of course transformation for its own sake isn't worth a damned thing, and hey -- death is a pretty extreme form of metamorphosis, right? But Morrison's an optimist at heart, and he almost always builds towards a happy ending, so I can't wait to see where all of this is going.
My one complaint about this series so far is that Lois Lane has been unfairly sidelined, especially in issue #3. With any luck, the next issue (number #9) will see Lois get a bit more to do. When Morrison puts words in her mouth, I love his take on the character, so hopefully the cover is indicative of her actually getting involved in the story a bit more. After all, if Superman is going to grow up, surely one of the key things that need work is his slightly unhinged romantic life. The beginnings of this are already present in Morrison's run: let's hope that this particular thematic butterfly gets a chance to spread its wings.
Also: issue #9's cover? That's Frank Quitely at his comedy best -- it's total slapstick, from Superman's bashed nose to the disdainful sneer in the yellow-clad woman's eyes. Classic.
And... we're done. There'll be more on Morrison and co next week, plus, y'know, comics commentary that isn't so Morrison-centric.
(Cover image found on this Barbelith thread, which is full of all sorts of entertainingly OTT commentary and speculation.)

A Vibrational Mismatch?

I found this image while I was looking into David Shrigley's work (writing this post made me curious to learn more about the strange world of this Scottish artist).

It both made me laugh and seemed oddly fitting given the title of this blog, so up it goes.

Shrigley's website is well worth checking out, particularly the sculpture section, which shows that the artist has more than just the scribbly cartoon thing going for him.

Dennis Potter on Looking Back (Commonplacebook)

We should always look back on our own past with a sort of tender contempt. As long as the tenderness is there, but please let some of the contempt be there, because we know what we are like, we know how we hustle and bustle and shove and push and sometimes use grand words to cloak it; one does. I'm not looking at you specifically, so don't squirm!

(Dennis Potter, as interviewed by Melvyn Bragg shortly before his death.)

I'm struggling to think of better advice regarding the act of self-evaluation and looking back. If anyone has some wisdom they'd like to share then I'm more than up for hearing it!

Pretty Vacant

Good news everyone! My most-excellent friend Scott McAllister has started updating his web-comic again. The strip is called Wake Up Screaming, and it's a mix of random gibberish and post-adolescent geek-boy angst. Also: it's great!

Scott's art might seem a little unpolished at first, but persevere and you'll see that he's got great sense of comic timing. Plus, if you look back through the WUS archives you'll find ample evidence of Scott's interest in playing around with the massive page space web-comics provide; when he's not doing talking heads he's been known to have a shot at doing full-on monster-movie action, which can only be a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

What else can I say? Scott is better at providing his everyday worries with a punchline than anyone I know, and if you like Wake Up Screaming you might also want to check out Uncertainty Principle. UP is written by Scott and drawn by an American chap called Darrell M Stark. It shares a certain sense of stressed-out humour with WUS, but it's also a sci-fi comedy in the vein of Futurama so it also has a little something different going on.

Thanks for your attention -- I'm hoping to get a few reasonably-sized posts up here over the course of the next couple of days, so please stick around if you're interested in Girls Aloud, Grant Morrison, Dennis Potter etc.

In the meantime take care, and remember to check out my friend's comics!

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Scout Niblett -- 'Dinosaur Egg'

So is Scout Niblett the Happy Shopper Cat Power then? Cool. Weird how I can't bring myself to care when she sings songs as fun as this one. And there's magic here, too: it's in the way she lets David Shrigley's wonderfully silly lyrics hang in the air as though they're the most painful thing she's ever had to sing, and in the way she barely plays the song's few simple notes on her guitar. Shit. Maybe this song does have something in common with Cat Power's music after all (it's all in the ultra-hushed delivery, isn't it?).

Cat Power would never sing lyrics like 'Dinosaur egg... oh dinosaur egg/When are you going to hatch/Cause I've got a million people coming round on Friday/And they want to see a dinosaur not an egg' though, would she? Frankly, I can't hear it. When Cat Power sings a song like 'Werewolf' she uses the fantastical creature as an angsty metaphor, which isn't something you could accuse Scout or Shrigley of here. There's a bizarre story going on in 'Dinosaur Egg', but there's no sensible reason for Scout to sound so anguished when she's singing about how she hopes the 'Tortured spirit' will be awake to help her 'scare the shit' out of her party guests. Is there?

Of course, if you're not a fan of ultra-minimal indie or David Shrigley style lo-fi silliness then this will probably sound like 'Smelly Cat' for unkempt hipsters, but if that's your take on it then fair enough.

Ultimately, I guess it's a question of how you want to hear this song, or rather this performance (and ain't that always the case, one way or another? The listener always brings themselves to the song, no matter how hard they try not to). Let's check out a couple of the options, shall we?

Take the negative approach, which leads to you hearing someone wailing twee nonsense over a barely competent guitar line, and you'll almost certainly wish you hadn't bothered with the track. After all, this is the musical version of bad conceptual art, and who the fuck has time for that?

Rewind: listen to the song again. From the start. Try to hear the beauty involved in making words so silly sound so tragic. Why is Scout worried about whether or not her 'Robot slave' is going to be active for her party? Well, if she really does have a million guests coming then I guess she might need some sort of help to serve them drinks! Submitting yourself to the song's warped logic is fun, isn't it? It stretches a certain childlike part of your imagination.

(Uhm... is now the time to admit that I don't know much about David Shrigley? I like his scribbly little art books: they seem to be more considered than they look, in a very Scottish, piss-taking sort of way.)

Listen to the song a third time. What do you hear in it? You see, I'm interested in what makes us appreciate the sort of art we like. Why do some people love flawed, ramshackle work while others seek out only the smoothest of the smooth? Sure, a lot of this probably comes down to social/cultural environment, but it sure as hell isn't the whole story, not by a long way.

'Every line means something' -- or so Marnie Stern sang in the song of the same name. It's not always true in the world of music, but sometimes it's fun to act like it is. Even the silliest linguistic conceit can open up fresh possibilities, fresh perspectives, making old forms/feelings/styles seem fresh. Like I said, there's magic in this song. Let's hear it for the magicians.

Steam: it's what I'm running out of. Quickly. And since hot air is my stock in trade that probably means I should shut up. One last thing before I go: Scout rules!


Avast Ye Scabless Dogs!

Ahoy there!

Take note, me hearties, for today be international talk like a pirate day!


Let the ham-acting begin, ye great, grand horde o' landlubbing swine ye!

(Uh... I'm not very good at this am I?)

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

sulcso in MAdA/maDa IN SULCSO

Goddammit. There was a sizable post about Scout Niblett here, but blogger seems to have eaten it.


Gimmie a while and I'll try to piece it together again.

From Brendan McCarthy's Solo #12 (Commonplacebook)

Make with the clicky to see the image at a gud size on McCarthy's website.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Genre Ain't No Four Letter Word

For a while there, my two favourite authors were Grant Morrison and Ursula K. Le Guin. I've moved on for now but both authors still dominate a fair amount of my headpsace. They write comic books and science fiction/fantasy stories respectively, and like all good genre storytellers they use these popular forms for their own peculiar creative ends. I like this set up: genre forms have the same immediate appeal as pop music, an immediacy that comes from tradition as much as from the disruption of the same; when they are used by a good writer, these forms can be deployed and reconfigured to wonderful effect. Both Morrison and Le Guin have actually compared the process of writing genre stories to that of playing music; somewhat tellingly, Morrison used pop songwriting as his model (when interviewed for this book), while Le Guin talked about how fantastic fiction offered "a wonderful box of fixed metaphors you can play with endlessly, like a musician with a sonata."

Morrison is a pop showman. His best work is an almighty eruption of weird ideas, themes, characters and emotions. At his worst, he can be sloppy and indulgent, but I'll forgive that fault so long as the majority of his work continues to dazzle me and (hopefully) leave me feeling hyped up and frazzled at the end.

Le Guin, conversely, is a master craftswoman, building complicated worlds with bewildering ease, and asking the big questions within the context of genuinely compelling stories. At her worst, she can be a little dry, but as with Morrison, this is a small criticism in light of the personal and intellectual stimulation that her best work provokes.

I don't have time to get into this too deeply today, but the appeal these two authors hold for me is pretty key to a lot of my thinking on pop, art and life. More specifically, I think both Morrison and Le Guin represent a neat example of how it is possible to do good, exciting, even innovative work within pre-existing boundaries. Sometimes, it's good to rupture the firmament, yes. But sometimes, being able to make something amazing out of stuff that already exists is an even more important skill.

[This post is a little vague, but the outline it presents will re-emerge a few posts down the line so I thought I'd put it up here for future reference.]

Building Steam With a Grain of Salt

For the sake of clarity I should probably point out that while I'm currently re-posting a lot of old material, I am re-editing it as I go on, tidying it up so that it suits my current purposes more and makes me cringe slightly less.

I realise that it's highly unlikely that anyone is going to cry foul over this, as I'm hardly re-writing important history or anything, but I thought I should mention it all the same. Just so we're all on the level, like.

The title of this post comes from a DJ Shadow song I like. I've posted a Youtube clip of DJ SHadow performing the track below -- visually, it's basically just a camera shaking around in the dark, but the song is still illustrative of my purpose in the way it ties together fragments into something compellingly whole. I wish the clip didn't cut out quite so quickly, but hey, it still sounds good.

At the very least this abrupt ending gives you cause to ask yourself 'What/you/gonna/do/now?' -- after all, the sample kept asking you and you wouldn't want to completely dismiss such a question, would you ?

Me? I'm probably going to listen to the song again and then see where the day takes me.

From Personism: A Manifesto, by Frank O'Hara (Commonplace Book)

If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, "Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep."

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Towards a Semiotics of Fizzy Drink Advertising

So: Coke is aspirational, Pepsi is the alternative, and Irn Bru is purely for Scottish piss takers. Sprite, meanwhile, is a bad pun on something else, and Dr Pepper is a contained disaster just waiting to happen. And don't even get me started on Tango -- that stuff's just got to be fear of the ASBO boogeyman made liquid, what with all the random assaults and shouting and whatnot.

But what else has fizzy drink advertising taught us?


A Footnote -- From the Archives

How invigorating is Sleater-Kinney's music? Everything about their sound is just so fucking immediate and punchy, and their albums never fail to get me going - to give me a little bit of a boost when I'm feeling flat. There's more to them than this surface rush, though, fun though that is. There's the way they sometimes let their wittier, more playful side interact with their emotional and political concerns to great effect (particularly on the fantastic All Hands On the Bad One album), and the fact that their arrangements are often really twisty and complex despite their seemingly straight-ahead riot grrrl energy, and... oh fuck it, they're just really good, okay?

I love 'Burn, Don't Freeze' from The Hot Rock so much right now. It's weird, because it always sounds to me like two different songs intertwining with each other, but yet the construction of the song is immaculate... it makes personal discord sound graceful. It feels like Tucker and Brownstein are doubling up on you, cornering you, like you're a third party who can't help but get caught up in an argument that is cryptic in its details but all too clear in its overall tone ('Arson is no way/To make a love burn brighter'). There are two vocal melodies, two perspectives, and each of them is accompanied by half a guitar part. Without each other these guitar lines would be nothing, but together they form an uneven descent on the verses, and rise together into the rage of the chorus. Even whole there's damage in those clean guitar parts and interlocking vocals, but somehow Janet Weiss's drumming holds it all together, tying it all into one beat, one beautifully awkward song.

Romantic drama never sounded so good.

[This piece was written before The Woods came out, i.e. when Sleater-Kinney were still an ongoing concern. Some of the phrasing is a little clumsy, but I still stand by the majority of the sentiments contained in the post, especially with regards to 'Burn, Don't Freeze', a song I still can't get over today. And since the above post got a bit angsty, I've posted a Youtube for one of Sleater-Kinney's most glitter-covered pop songs below.]

Open Roads (Punk Rock Version)

American punk rock offered me a way out: 'Our band could be your life'. This was a new route, now that I had abandoned all hope of finding a door to another world. (Elidor would have been nice: it's good to feel like you're important, and that your life is being well scripted.) But this was different, this punk music. 'You could be my open road/You could be the reason why.' It was all about a search for reason, a search for a life that I could live without bogging myself down in the arbitrary.

(Received opinion interjection: Kafka was the soul of the 20th century because his work not only pre-empted the full-on horror of Nazism, but also the muted, bewildering nonsense that makes everyday life so damned excruciating.)

When Fugazi sang 'You can't be who you were/So you better start living the life/That you've been talking about,' I should have listened harder. After all, the clues were already there in Waiting Room, when Ian MacKaye sang 'I've gotta fight/For who I wanna be.'

And that was what punk meant to me, during high school and early University. It wasn't about that horrible hardcore nonsense, or even about the social conflict of early Brit-punk (though I do love that version too). I loved punk because it said you didn't have to settle, that you could make your own little world, and on your own terms. That you could succeed without being a 'success'. I loved punk because it loved freaks, women, gay people, black people, and because more than that it seemed to be a haven for these people, a cultural space in which they could make music and mess about. If you didn't like the way the big record labels operated, you set up your own labels. If you didn't like to see violence breaking out in the audience, you interrupted the gig to confront the offending parties. Punk said that you didn't have to be a mega-star, that it was in fact desirable to be just part of the scene. Punk promised me a lot of things, and (realistically) promised me nothing at all. They were only records, after all; some great, some just kind of okay. Too bad I couldn't get my head round that back when I was a callow seventeen-year-old.

About halfway through University, I couldn't ignore the cracks any more. The window had been almost entirely smashed, and I could feel the wind blowing through just a little bit too vividly, y'know? I could see that earnestness was no guarantee of greatness, that self-expression for its own sake was onanistic and vein. I could see also the ways in which punk limited itself, cut itself off from the outside world, and was actually kinda snobby about people. Musically, too, I could see how it often walled itself in, and excluded all of that black/gay/feminine stuff I'd read into it. I felt a little betrayed, which was my own fault, really. Like I said, these were records, just records, and I kept on listening to them, the good ones at least. Sleater-Kinney, Sonic Youth, Fugazi... all the obvious ones, plus little bits of other bands like At the Drive-In and The Dismemberment Plan.

I looked around and found a whole world of colour out there; a world of pop records, big-assed novels, comic books, hip-hop songs; pop culture commentary, burlesque shows and sub-dadaist art pranks. You know, the usual. Good times ensued, engaged times, times where it felt more important to shake your ass and have a laugh than to worry about whether or not the various artists you were into formed a cohesive personal aesthetic.

Lately, however, I've gone back to the Fugazi and the Sleater-Kinney, and it's ringing true again. For all that I can still see the same problems there, I can also see why I liked this stuff so much in the first place, both sonically and thematically (and aren't those two things the same here?). I need to take a little bit more control of my life, to fight just a little bit harder for who I want to be, to make some new space for myself. It's good to keep yourself open to the world, but you just can't keep on smiling through the shitstorm. Or at least, that's not the only way to do it.

Yeah, it's still just music, but sometimes that's more than enough. Too bad I couldn't get my head around that back when I was a callow twenty-two-year-old.

Grant Morrison's Animal Man -- From the Archives

With Great Power

I've just finished re-reading Grant Morrison's Animal Man run, and I've got a few thoughts on the series that I want to try and articulate here.

[Warning- there'll probably be *SPOILERS* in this post, so If you don't wanna know how this series ends then don't read what I'm about to write]

First things first then: Animal Man! Isn't that just a great name for a comic book character? It's one of those names that, like Hellboy, or Zenith or the Flash, just seems to encapsulate something about the character in a wonderfully trashy way: he's both 'the man with animal powers' and the superhero that cares about animal rights, just like it says on the tin! There's a goofiness to this double meaning that is central to what makes Morrison's Animal Man a great and enduring comic book: it's kinda cute and silly (as these things tend to be), but it's still very well conceived all the same. The only element of the comic that the title doesn't hint at is the strange pathos that Morrison and his collaborators will wring from this odd set-up. But more about that later. First, how about a little context?

Animal Man, like many other titles of its time, owes a lot to Alan Moore's cliché-rupturing Swamp Thing run, during which the bearded English eccentric transformed a traditional monster comic into an eco-centric horror title. A whole sub-genre of DC comics was brought into being, inspired by Moore's muck monster; with books like Jamie Delano's Thatcher-baiting Hellblazer directly spinning off from Swamp Thing while titles such as Peter Milligan's Shade the Changing Man applied the same techniques to other old comic book characters. Grant Morrison's Animal Man is an experiment the later mold, and like all of the aforementioned titles, it re-imagines the traditional comic book as a battleground for various modern literary/political conceits. This is the kind of work upon which DC's adult-oriented Vertigo imprint was built, and while you'd think that the combination of high and low brow materials wouldn't come-off, it was often brilliant, and was (in its initial stages at least) rarely less than compelling.

I recently unearthed this little Peter Milligan quote, which I think is very relevant to any discussion this era of comics:

'As in any art that takes itself seriously, there's a continuous struggle to achieve aims and I think that those aims are actually there to be attempted rather than actually reached. I think looking back, Vertigo's been fairly successful in at least attempting to, in a mainstream context, deal with certain subjects which hitherto hadn't been dealt with.'
Animal Man certainly saw Morrison trying to do a lot of different things at once: It's at an attempt to comment on animal rights issues, an examination of the nature of 'reality' in the DC universe, a reaction to the wave of grim and gritty 'adult' superhero comics that popped up in the late 80's/early 90's, and a meta-fictional story which examines the relationship between writing, reading and the real world. I'd even go so far as to say that it succeeds on all of these levels, and I think I know why: Morrison's stories and characterisation here are amongst the simplest and most effective of his career. Sure, there are a couple of issues that are a bit pedestrian, but on the whole these are great superhero stories, with a lot of heart and a quiet imagination. There's not many like it, I'll tell ya that for nothing.

The element of Animal Man that could most easily have ended up seeming trite was obviously the story's political, animal rights-centric component. Morrison's wandering narrative takes in foxhunting, animal testing, and African politics; all valid issues, all of which might have seemed cheap in the context of a day-glo superhero story. Somehow, however, Morrison pulls it off—possibly because the incongruity between these stories and their context makes them feel more 'real' and shocking than they would have in a more naturalised set-up. This is one of the weird effects fantastic fiction can achieve: its overtly artificial nature can make the true fucked-up-ness of real events seem even more pronounced by way of comparison. Animal Man's initial efforts on this front are well-intentioned, if naive acts, and as he goes on he learns something about the possible consequences of his actions (in issue #17, the oh-so-subtly titled 'Consequences'). There's a scene at the end of this issue that shows him trying to defend his actions on a TV show, emphasising the fact that he's flawed, human and doesn't want to be seen as a role model, despite his status as a superhero. It's almost like a (more relevant?) revamping of the motto of another old comic book, 'With great power, comes great responsibility'. This is so perfect within the context of this particular story as it loops back round into the key theme of the animal and environmental rights. Does Animal Man have the right to get involved in these political issues simply because his powers allow him to? As Morrison himself says during his famous appearance in the last issue:

'In the end it all boils down to three words. Might makes right. Man is able to abuse and slaughter and experiment on animals simply because he's stronger than they are. Other than that, there's no moral ground on which to justify any animal exploitation.'
Whether you agree with the man or not, you've got to admire the way that the story rotates around this idea on several levels, tying the meta-fictional in with the personal, and the personal in with the political.

'With great power, comes great responsibility.' Hmmm… we'll come back to that later.

The episodes that deal with Animal Man's home life as Buddy Baker are every bit as brilliant as the political/adventure stuff. Buddy is such a simple, relatable everyman character: a slightly un-hip, well intentioned family man, who wants to go on big adventures, to make a difference, and to live right. Some of my favourite scenes involve mundane things, like Buddy discovering that his son cliff has been eating meat despite Buddy's wishes that his family becomes vegetarian. Since we're talking about the unity of theme at work here, how well does Buddy's dilemma about forcing vegetarianism upon his children fit in with our whole power/responsibility riff? Now that's good writing! Anyway, because of the grounded nature of Buddy's relationship with his family, his struggles with his superpowers and political ideals never feel outlandish, despite the craziness of the world he lives in.

It's also remarkable just how much variety Morrison can draw from Buddy's family life. Issue #9 of the series, 'Home Improvements' is a low-key story in which Cliff receives some help scaring off bullies from the Martian Manhunter. It's a sweet episode with a big heart, and as such it could of came straight out of the silver age. In stark contrast to this there are episodes like issue #14, 'Spooks', in which Buddy's family is haunted by a shadowy presence while Buddy himself is away. It's daft, yes—but it's also very creepy, with a genuine sense of unease coming from the multiple breaks that are inflicted on the comfort of the Baker family home. 'Spooks' is also one hell of an issue in terms of foreshadowing, with this one episode setting up the majority of what is to come in a genuinely unsettling way. You can tell that these events are the start of the end for the comfy family element of the book, and when Buddy's family are murdered later on, you genuinely feel for both them and Buddy himself because of this sense of meaningless inevitability. As I've mentioned before, Animal Man is a daft wee superhero story, but it draws you in and makes you care about the characters in a way that few books in the genre ever do.

The humanity in this book isn't just reserved for the portrayal of Buddy's family life though; Morrison also embellishes the superhero side of things with a great deal of pathos and sadness too. Look at issue #7 and issue #16 for example, both of which see Morrison taking a campy old villain (the Red Mask and the Time Commander respectively) and constructing a genuinely melancholic little story around them. It should be stupid—men in tights moping around like teenage Smiths fans—but it just works.
Time Commander: 'So. Do you want to fight me too? Do you want
to try and hit me?'

Animal Man: 'No. Not really. Just because I wear a costume doesn't mean I enjoy fighting. I'm just a little concerned about what you're doing here. Maybe you should think about it.
Here, it becomes even clearer than ever that Morrison is writing a comic book character that is a million miles away from the Wolverines and the Punishers of the comic world. There's an inherent niceness to the character that harks back to an earlier age of superhero comics, while remaining grounded in the modern world. I think the key to what Morrison is trying to do here comes from the same conversation that I quoted above, where the Time Commander says sadly 'People like me make the world more interesting.' And you sympathise with this gaudy character, or I do anyway. You want more fun… more randomness… more useless, costless nonsense. But can you stand by while someone imposes their version of a better world on someone else? That's one hell of a question, y'know? But there are always other forces at work, both in real life and in Animal Man; there's always some other agenda to suffer, some other
solution or reconciliation to embrace.
Time Commander: Giant sundials, dinosaurs and hourglasses made out of light… I'm not doing anything wrong, am I?
Going back to the idea of strangeness as a good thing, Animal Man can partly be read as an attempt to recapture some of the fun and wilful oddness that had been abandoned by many of that era's superhero creators. Short, received opinion overview: in the wake of the 'realistic' books such as Alan Moore's Watchmen, there was a general feeling that street-level violence was as good as veracity in superhero fiction, and thus became the dominant mode. This totally ignored Moore's literary sense of pattern making, as well as his generally colossal ambition, but isn't that always the way with imitations?

Animal Man feels like Morrison's attempt to fight against this fad, to re-imbue the DC universe with some kindness, which is why it feels so brutal when Buddy gets put through the wringer in the last third of Morrison's run on the book. The death of his family, his brief transformation into a Punisher-lite revenge-monster, and his discovery as to the nature of the DC universe (a world where continuity replaces history, and you live again every time someone reads your stories) may be fascinating to us, but also feel brutal in comparison to the book's previous good-natured humanity.

Everything in this comic ties into the metafiction. It's something that threads through the whole series from issue #5 onwards. All of the themes and ideas that I've so far discussed come to a head in that brilliant, audacious final issue. Issue #26 'Deus Ex Machina' sees Buddy entering a simulation of the real world and meeting his writer, Grant Morrison. It's an idea that's been done before, but it's still a valid idea, and one that works particularly well here. A lot of big questions get asked, and I think this is the key to Animal Man's brilliance. Are fictional characters any less real than we are? What right do we have to read/write about their pain and suffering (power and responsibility again)? Why are we excited by this kind of stuff? Why should fiction have structure when real life doesn't? Are violent superheroes somehow more 'adult' than normal ones, and if so what does that say about adults? What is the nature of reality? What right do we have to exert our power over the other animals on our planet? Why do we solve our differences by beating the crap out of each other?

All this and more is addressed during the course of Grant and Buddy's conversation, and while not everything gets answered, it's the fact that the questions asked are good one's that counts. Here's a Grant Morrison quote on this topic, which I think sums up a lot of my own feelings on Animal Man, and life in general:
'My ambition knows no bounds but I don't think I'm actually going to offer any answers. I'm more interested in posing better questions. Final answers do nothing but close off all lines of inquiry, whereas questions tend to open things out and stimulate creative thought.'
The issue ends with Morrison deciding to go for the 'cop-out' that he had dismissed earlier in the issue; he gives Buddy back his family and life as it was before Morrison started breaking it apart. 'Maybe for once we could try to be kind' he concludes. I think that maybe, just maybe, he's right.

Power and responsibility… kindness and cruelty… what can it all mean? Despite the fact that Animal Man is sometimes held up as a good early example of 'adult' superheroics, I can't help but think of how great a children's/young adult's story it is. All the political and metaphysical ideas raised in this series would be a brilliant thing to expose a 14 year-old kid to, and hell, a little bit of fantastic adventure never went down wrong with that age group. Just ask Philip Pullman!

(How dirty is this starting to sound, by the way? 'Hello little boy... do you want to see my Animal Man?!' Filthy stuff!)

But still—I think Animal Man would really give a bright kid a lot to think about. Ah, if only kids still read comics these days... (Grumble grumble old-man cakes).

[Missing from the above: an analysis of my romantic/po-mo enjoyment of unanswered questions; any mention of the (admittedly stiff and unremarkable) art whatsoever; and a balanced consideration of the value of fiction for children or young adults. Also, I fall into the trap of uncritically referring to superhero comics of the sixties/seventies as though they were all wonderful. Still, despite all such concerns, I still like this piece. Oh well, so much for self-criticism. What was it that Dennis Potter said about looking back on your past self? I think it was that you should always do so with a sort of 'tender contempt', which sounds about right to me. Let's acknowledge our own faults, but let's do so with at least a smidgen of affection.]

Short and to the Pointless

Nelly Furtado -- 'Maneater'

Did you know that there are different sizes of infinity, i.e. that some infinities are actually BIGGER than others? Because it might sound like the twisted brain-wrong of a one-off man mental, but it's true. The same theory can be applied to the concept of the 'best song ever'. What if there are many different varieties of best song, some of which are more 'best' than others? 'Maneater' is Figure A in this argument. When you're drunk and you hear it in a club, it might well sound like the greatest song you've ever danced to. It's got this huge synth riff that goes DE-NE-NE-NE-NE-NeNe—NUH—NUH and it's amazing! You'll totally want to grind up close to someone who wants to grind right back against you. Or, if that's not an option, you'll want to spin around in circles shouting 'Everybody look at me, me!' till you feel ill. But sit back down and you'll realise that 'Maneater' is maybe not as 'best' as a bedroom favourite like 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', or a true pop monster like 'Crazy In Love'. Does this diminish the value of those few minutes where it seems like Furtado is going to devour the whole world? Hell no! We're still dealing with infinities here; the shifts in perspective are so far off the chart that most of us mere mortals can't tell the difference…

Life in the Special Orders Department

He woke up with a head full of boxes, and knew that the day wasn't going to go well.

In his dream, he'd been unable to unpack all of the boxes that were being sent to him at the bookstore, so he'd started to take some of them home with him. His plan had been to unpack the boxes in his bedroom, and deliver the books to the customers in the middle of the night. His dream-self had experienced vivid fantasies of this sort -- multi-layered illusions that involved him slinking through the night like some sort of weird cross between a fox and a postman. Unfortunately, he hadn't managed to unpack the boxes at home either, so they'd just started to pile up there. This was the cold reality his dream-self faced -- a reality in which he'd literally brought his work home with him, and used it to block himself out of his own bedroom. He remembered hoping that the boxes would sleep well at night, all cosy in his bed. Needless to say, he woke up with a bitter taste in his mouth.

Twelve cups of coffee and half a tub of toothpaste later, he was on the train and on his way to work. He felt like a volunteer for the inferno, but then he'd felt that way since he'd left high school aged sixteen. Self-awareness is a gift as barbed and useful as a microscope made out of nettles.

When he arrived at his work, he began to wish he was back in his nightmare again. The boxes were waiting for him, and they seemed to have been breeding during the night, like bacteria in a petri dish. It was a real Russian dolls situation -- his office contained boxes, which contained books, which would cause problems, which would cause stress, which would push him just that little bit closer to nervous collapse.

Smiling like a fashion-store mannequin, he walked through to the break room and began to make his thirteenth coffee of the day.

Come closing time, the boxes seemed to be leering at him, their numbers diminished but still strong. 'Sod it,' he thought. 'I might as well get this done.' Six hours later, the boxes were all unpacked, and a strange chill came over him. He felt like he'd been stripped of all of his protective layers -- like he had nothing left to clench but his teeth. He walked over to the fax machine, dialed his home fax number, and then hesitated for a second. After a breathless pause, realisation clouded his face, and he picked up a biro and wrote 'FAO -- ANYONE WHO CARES' on his forehead. This vital task completed, he climbed into the fax machine and faxed himself home.

[I wrote this on a lunch break when I was still working in a big, corporate bookstore. It's not the greatest thing I've ever written, but it seems to make people laugh, so I'm putting it up here as an indication of where my head has been at for the last couple of years.]

Mission Statement

Hi. My name is David Allison, and I used to have a severe blogging problem.

I was part of the early comics blogging community via my three older blogs; during that period, blogging was one of the most important things in my life, sad as that might sound. Of course my energy dissipated eventually -- I moved out, to a flat with no Internet connection, got a new job, then another one, and found that I was struggling to spend enough time with my girlfriend, my friends and my family. Further to such practical concerns, the blogging circles I was a part of seemed to have broken apart and reformed, and I found myself unsure as to what I had to contribute to the discourse.

Right now I still don't know what I've got to contribute, but I feel the need to reach out, to reach in, to hold a mirror up, to test my perceptions, and most of all to try and establish new connections.

I've taken my blog title from a Marnie Stern song, the lyrics of which are transcribed in my previous post. The words themselves get at something of what I'm feeling right now; when you hear them as part of the music the similarity between the abstract picture Stern creates and the one I'm trying to suggest might become clearer.

This blog will be home to a series of interlocking fragments, overreaching shards of fiction and criticism and random bollocks in which a pattern may occasionally be found. At first I'm going to repost various bits of older writing in order to set the scene. When that job is done, I hope to start adding fresh elements to the collage.

Thanks for reading this, whoever you are.

Stick around -- it can only get better from here on in.

And So We Return And Begin Again...

I am a vibrational Match
In the water/ we line up
Off a beach
I am before a mirror
I am reaching in, reaching in
It's all flying through you

What is this darkness? We carry over?
Trust your perceptions. They arch.
Matter, Light, and Energy
Speed, Gold, and Spirit
I'm near it
I'm near it, (x2)

It's me/ Through you.
Each task/ Is Clear
Thumping / Tight bones
Come here/ No fear
In me/ Through You

What is true to you is real
And what is this jive you ask?
No judgments
We line up
We are connected

What is this darkness you speak of?
I am a Vibrational Match
Non-physical/ to physical
Here we go

What is this darkness? We carry over?
Trust your perceptions. They arch.
Matter, Light, and Energy
Speed, Gold, and Spirit
I'm near it
I'm near it, (Repeats)

Marnie Stern -- 'Vibrational Match' (lyrics by Marnie Stern and Bella Foster).

Commentary on the song by Dan at Said the Gramophone (includes mp3).

Blog Archive