Friday, 31 October 2008

A Special Halloween Treat!

A Ghost Notes Zombie Notes sneak preview, as conceived by myself and executed by the mighty Lynne:

Happy Halloween everybody -- whatever you do, have a good one.

And don't let the Peel man getcha! He remembers Sounds of the Suburbs, maybe not as well as you do, but well enough to want a taste of revenge!

Happy Halloween Everyone!

(Photo by Justin)

Hello everybody! We've had a bit of zombie trouble here in sunny Glasgow tonight, and I think there were a couple of ghouls and vampires kicking about as well. Thankfully I've managed to secure the perimeter for now, with a bit of help from my good friend Lynne (pictured).

Unfortunately we seem to have taken a couple of bites during the struggle, but never fear -- we've managed to finish working on a special Halloween treat for you. I'll post it for you shortly, once I've managed to clean the blood off my hands.

Chin up -- like Annie said, tomorrow's only a day away!

World Of Gluttony #1

Pizza Hut's Hot Cookie Dough Desert

As the good lady Karen said – fail!

The main problem is that this is less like cookie dough and more like a Millie’s cookie that’s been left on a radiator and then smothered in cheap chocolate sauce. This sauce, by the way, also tastes as though it has been melted to burning point – yeuch! You do get a thoroughly okay-ish scoop of vanilla ice cream for your £4.49, but when this comes into contact with the main dish it turns it into a thoroughly unappealing brown gruel:

Mmmmm… Shitty biscuits!

Not recommended for the discerning glutton.

A Note On The Current Pizza Hut Experience:

As someone with six years' worth of retail experience, I can only wince in sympathy when I see minimum wage employees being made to jump through hoops. Right now the Pizza hut staff are clearly being made to foist their pastas and salad dishes on their customers, which is hardly the worst fate, but it's still a little uncomfortable. And hell, Glasgow's a pretty tough city for this sort of cheap shtick -- can I interest you in a customer loyalty card? How about or monthly email newsletter? What's that? You'd rather spit in my face and then wipe it dry with your arse? And a very good day to you sir!

Ladies and gentlemen: seriously, annoying as some of this stuff is, don't take it out on the mopes on the front line. I can guarantee you that some stores and restaurants will be firing or disciplining people who don't offer you whatever crap the bosses are trying to sell, so even if their offers seem risible, please try not to be a dick about it. Thank you.

With that in mind, I'd like to note that the whole "let's pretend we're changing out name to Pasta Hut" thing really gets my blood up. I have a weird problem with unhealthy food pretending that it's healthy. Why not just admit that you sell fatty, delicious lumps of pizza and be happy with that? Cos I know that when I'm looking for something with a little nutritional value, I don't go asking for a supersized McDonald's meal with a Pizza Hut on top.

Plus Pizza Hut's pasta has always been gloopy and hideous, so I don't hold out too much hope for their expanded menu. I know, I know -- fast food is a competitive business, and it pays to look like you're trying to be healthy at the moment. Plus, also, it must suck to have Morgan Spurlok riffling through your underwear drawer and complaining about how many pubes he finds, and I'd do anything to avoid Jamie Oliver too, so... I guess I'm just having a naive little strop here. But hey: stropping is fun!

Unhealthy food is a big and oh-so-fucking satisfying part of my life, and it just sort of pisses me off that companies keep making their junk "healthier". Because what this leads to is shit like the new, reduced salt Pot Noodle which is neither mildly tasty nor even remotely worth eating as part of a balanced diet, and who the hell needs that?

Note: since I've posted this I'm sure I'll go eat some "Pasta Hut" gear and love the hell out of it, but I'll let my knee-jerk here tonight since I so rarely do.

Oh, and Plok -- I'm working on the whole goofy/pretentious thing. Coming right attcha sir! Coming right attcha with some yappity fast food reviews!

Kids Will Be Skeletons

(Photo by Liam K)

Important information I neglected to mention in my Mogwai live review: the whole shindig was a celebration of the man Liam K's birthday. I said it at the time, and I'll say it again a week-and-a-half later: Happy Birthday Liam, you weird Robin Williams loving maniac you!

Let's see what else has been happening on the Internet:

*Plok's piece on Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele captures some of the frantic, "this could fall apart at any moment" vibe of that album, and draws a few neat parallels with the Iron Man movie in the process. And as if that's not fun enough, Sean Witzke pops up in the comments to hammer home the Tony Starks/Tony Stark crossover in fine style:
Ghost IS Tony Stark. The Cary Grant swagger and the neverending guilt. The wanting to be a man of peace in a life that’s pretty much just violence, some of which he’s to blame for (for crack dealing rather than arms dealing). The non-sequiter logic jumps, the I’m the smartest man in the room attitude, the impulsive nature, the relationship with women. The fact that they’re both pretty drastic alcoholics with a serious medical condition. Which they ignore.
Word to that. Sean's also posted part 10 of his essay series, and it's another belter. This time it's all about the action, man.

*If you haven't read Sean Collins' art comix remix of LCD Soundsytem's 'Losing My Edge', please do so right now. It'll make you shit a leg off, if you're geek enough to dig the references.

*Marnie Stern's cover of Journey's 'Don't Stop Believing' is up on her myspace right now. It's not as flat out awesome as her original recordings, but that's no diss, cos it's still pretty freakin' awesome! Stern's widdly-widdly vamp on the intro is particularly spacy and awesome, but can I take this opportunity to ask: why am I hearing this song in clubs and bars at the moment? Not the Marnie Stern version, though that would be awesome, but the original. It's not quite got the faux-ironic club favorite vibe of, say, 'Living On A Prayer' yet, but it's not far off. Is this some sort of delayed early 80s flashback, or is it in an advert at the moment? Could it be a Scrubs thing?

*Those ever-thoughtful Mindless Ones have been on fire lately, focusing on individual panels from V for Vendetta, Judge Dredd and Zenith and waxing poetic on their higher structural significance. And have I mentioned that Teminus, the Mindless Ones' weekly comic, is really fucking weird and poetic? Well it is, and this week's number is a creepy wee masterpiece.

More later tonight, unless the zombie uprising spreads to fair Cathcart.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

We're No Here

Mogwai -- Live @ Edinburgh Corn Exchange (with support from Errors and Fuck Buttons), Tuesday 21st October 2008

Main Set: The Precipice/ Friend of the Night/ Stanley Kubrick/ I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead/ Christmas Steps/ Scotland's Shame/ Hunted by a Freak/ I Love You, I'm Going To Blow Up Your School/ Thank You Space Expert/ Like Herod/ Batcat

New Paths to Helicon part. 1/ We're No Here

It's not a good start -- we turn up half an hour after the doors were supposed to open to find that the power is down in the venue, and that the gig might be canceled. No real chance of an acoustic Mogwai set, we suppose, though the idea is intriguing.

Zombie hordes of Mogwai fans stumble out to local pubs and sports clubs. It's an odd scene, to say the least:

(Photo by Liam K)

Skip forward half-an-hour and a generator has arrived and Errors are on the stage. They sound like a Mogwai rip-off band for all of thirty seconds before the beats and bleeps kick in and the whole crowd starts to twitch. By the time they've wound themselves up to unleash 'Toes', their noodly guitar parts have attained concise, rhythmic drive that matches Battles at their best, and we love them for it.

Fuck Buttons, not so much. There are moments of beauty, moments where the noise finds a groove or else just hits you so hard that you find yourself awed, but their fragmentary aesthetic leaves us looking for a bit more commitment. Liam K finds it awkward that no one is dancing to dancy bits; I just wish they'd let the noise linger a little.

And on that topic, here come the headliners!

(Photo by Liam K, again)

"Celtic got pumped 3-0 by Man Utd" says a sad-faced Stuart Braithwaite. Ah, you can take the boys out of Glasgow, but you can't take the Glasgow out of the boys...

Anyway: enough of the home town chatter. Watching Mogwai live I feel like I'm listening to genuine masters at work. It's like being in the presence of a great singer or instrumentalist, an artist who has a genuinely unique voice and who knows how to get the most out of it. The same build and release structure that can sound limiting on record is reliably cathartic live, but what's truly remarkable is the multitude of different ways Mogwai find to fill out this template, the different shades of noise they cast out at the audience during their minimal, instrumental workouts.

Set-opener 'The Precipice' is best described as inevitable: its interlocking guitar lines cannot help but push towards a heroic, almost heavy metal climax. This pattern now thoroughly established, Mogwai run through a trio of songs that show how subtle their use of noise can be. The shimmering guitar line that rises through 'Friend of the Night' is a joyous counterpart to that song's rising piano lines; when it fades to faint buzz during 'Stanley Kubrick', the same tone somehow sounds grim and defiant. By the time the noise emerges again to swallow the mid-section of 'I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead' it has become totally desolate, an ear-drum ravaging cry of despair.
Some songs seem to toy with the audience, teasing them with delicate guitar patterns before finally exploding into a violent rage. This is the classic Mogwai live trick, but tonight I'm more impressed by the songs which calmly explore their own sonic identity. The vocoder-driven 'Hunted By A Freak' is a perfect mix of the alien and the anthemic, and the crowd greet it like a number one hit from an alternate reality, which it probably is. 'Scotland's Shame', meanwhile, keeps its anger just below the surface, with John Cumming's guitar part scraping against the wall of sound without ever really damaging it. Of all these melancholy wonders, it's 'Thank You Space Expert' that impresses the most. Cold and austere on record, live the band counterpoint its stark melodies with the sort of glorious guitar fuzz that just begs to be called warm. It's a simple contrast, but one that makes the song every bit as dynamic as the loud-quiet-loud numbers.
Speaking of which: 'Like Herod' both obliterates the Mogwai formula and serves as its in-set climax. Remarkable as the song is, what's most impressive about this rendition is the way that it's final white-noise meltdown lurches into the brutal squalls of 'Batcat', complete with its own bizarro animation:

(Photo by, yes, that's right -- Liam K!)

From this point on Mogwai are playing within the noise, finding ways to make it peak and crest without abandoning it altogether. It's the final, bloody release of the main set, and as such it verges on the apocalyptic.

When they come back to play an encore, Mogwai don't dial it down, but they do show even more range. As always, 'New Paths to Helicon part 1' is open and dreamlike, romantic where 'Batcat' was vicious. It's a beautiful song -- the sort of thing that demands videos full of couples snogging in slow motion, but in a good way. By the time 'We're No Here' lurches into being, I can only just make out the changes, but that "only just" is the important thing. Unlike the rest of the set this final song doesn't so much call up emotion as lay waste to the crowd. It's an almost purely physical experience, and when the group leave the stage it becomes clearer and ever who the real star of the evening has been: the noise, which blares on their absence, beautiful and triumphant.

(Drawing by Jenny Soep)

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Holding Back Will Be Forgotten

Like Matthew Perpetua says in the introduction to his Marnie Stern interview, despite the baroque nature of Stern's guitar-work and composition 'the appeal of her music is rather simple: She writes awesome rock songs about making yourself even more awesome.'

More than any other musician out there at the moment, Stern has given me a huge jolt in my creative life. Her songs are constantly set to overload, with ever single track being full of odd sounds and lyrics, and the sense of intense work paying off is just ridiculously contagious.

Deep in the middle of that interview, Stern discusses her status as a relatively late bloomer, and she comes out with the following statement:
The only things I like to listen to are things where risks are being taken. I think that's the only thing that pushes you to the next place, when you do things that are out of your comfort zone. When you're like, "This is not cool, I don't think I should be doing this!" But you do it anyway, and sometimes it's the most embarrassing stuff, your ego sensor goes up immediately, like, "No no no no no, I'm not doing that," and then you do it. And that ends up being the best stuff.
Which... a big part of the reason I started writing on this blog was to get over myself and actually write something that might actually embarrass me. Sometimes I've hedged my never-more-cliched bets, but I'm really happy with the longer pieces I've put up here, and I think I'm going to focus on them a bit more in future. This probably means that my posts are going to stay sporadic, but... I'd rather post two good essays a month than thirty short, pointless ones. Which isn't to say that I won't post the occasional link or video, but my eyes and ears aren't as wide open as, say, Sean Witzke's so that's never going to be my main thing. I'm also going to work on finishing off some of my long-running creative endeavors, because... well, I'm sick of quadruple-guessing myself and shitting out on perfectly decent projects and ideas.

If this all sounds pretentious or goofy then that's fine, cos it sort of is, but those of you who enjoy my writing on this blog -- please stick with me, cos I'm going to keep posting here, albeit at a slightly wonky pace.

Thanks to everyone who reads this, and thanks to Marnie Stern for inspiring me to make a complete tit out of myself in public again.

Related: Stern has posted the lyrics to her new album, This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is it and He is it and She Is It and It Is it and That Is That on her myspace. They're definitely worth looking at, if you're a fan, as the density of Stern's work makes it easy to mishear even her more straightforward turns of phrase.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Chris Morris' Four Lions

Many people have asked us exactly what the Four Lions project is. Clearly we can’t launch the film before its been shot, but I’ve pulled together a few paragraphs from the paperwork that’s been flying around.It’s shameless hype but its accurate – unlike almost everything you will have read in the press. No one who has read the script could disagree with a word here.

In three years of research, Chris Morris has spoken to terrorism experts, imams, police, secret services and hundreds of Muslims. Even those who have trained and fought jihad report the frequency of farce. At training camps young jihadis argue about honey, cry for their mums, shoot each other’s feet off, chase snakes and get thrown out for smoking. A minute into his martyrdom video, a would-be bomber looks puzzled and says "what was the question again?" On millennium eve, five jihadis set out to ram a US warship. They slipped their boat into the water and carefully stacked it with explosives. It sank.

Terrorist cells have the same group dynamics as stag parties and five a side football teams. There is conflict, friendship, misunderstanding and rivalry. Terrorism is about ideology, but it’s also about berks. Four Lions is a funny, thrilling fictional story that illuminates modern British jihad with an insight beyond anything else in our culture. It plunges us beyond seeing these young men as unfathomably alien. It undermines the folly of just wishing them away or alienating the entire culture from which they emerge. It understands how terrorism relates to testosterone. It understands jihadis as human beings. And it understands human beings as innately ridiculous. As Spinal Tap understood heavy metal and Dr Strangelove the Cold War, Four Lions understands modern British jihadis.

(Via Scott McAllister.)

Very much looking forward to this, if it ever gets made -- apparently funding is an issue.

Twisted Brainwrongs, an Addendum

As you might have noticed from my piece on issue #5 of The Filth, we've finally got the scanner working again round my place. Since I was planning to scan several images from the book, I switched from my well-worn collected edition of the series to my old single issues, figuring that the floppy format would be easier to work with.

And so it proved to be, except... wasn't there a scene in which Tex Porneau ranted on about existentialism and the abyss? And didn't David Fiore once write something about it once? I'd intended to make this scene central to my essay on this issue, but maybe I'd been wrong and the scene had taken place in issue #6. A quick re-read of issue #6 yielded nothing of the sort, so I came up with a new way to bring the essay to climax (!) and started writing.

Which is fine, except that when I finished the essay I was still pissed off. I was sure that scene was in there, and a wee bit of looking about turned up the passage in question in the collection.

Here's the scene in its bookstore edition:

And here's how it looked in the original serialized publication:

I wonder if Tex's diatribe was supposed to be printed in the monthly comic or if it was written for the collected edition? When I've got time I'm going to have a wee look through the collection to see if there are any other major changes.

This is probably a good time to point out that the shiny paper stock on which the original run of The Filth was printed really added to the sense that the series was glossy, if still perverse, entertainment. That said, this particular speech adds a lot to this scene for me, so here it is in all its sleazy glory:
The existentialists faltered on the brink of the gaping void.
"Nausea"... that's what those limp-dick intellectuals felt. They were afraid of the big black pit. Scared of losing their weeny-weeny dicklets in the asshole of being.

Not me! By God, not Tex! I'm gonna fuck the abyss raw! I'm gonna make it holler like Lolita!
Charming, I know, but the point I was going to make was this: faced with the abyss the abyss, Greg Feely worries about his cat and loses his sense of what's real, Ted Porneau wages a pornographic war on reality, and Chris Morris makes none-more-black comedy programs. What does Grant Morrison do? He tries to write his way through all his sick thought, in the hope of finding some healthier ones later on. We'll get there eventually, but 'Pornomancer' represents the point where the sickness is at its most debilitating, and I'm glad to be finished writing about it.

Also: turns out I couldn't find the David Fiore quote I thought I'd read on this topic. Maybe he removed it from the collected edition of his posts or something, I don't know.

Anyway, I definitely recommend that you check out Fiore's writing on The Filth -- he's got two essays on the topic up on Blogcritics and they're both worth reading. I'll be coming back to some of Dave's thoughts on pornography and "the ink" when I finally write about Gilbert Hernandez's Birdland, which at my current pace will probably be sometime in 2099!

Twisted Brainwrongs and One-Off Man-Mentals

The Filth issue #5

Written by Grant Morrison; Pencilled by Chris Weston; Inked by Gary Erskine; Coloured by Hi-Fi; Lettered by Clem Robins; Cover by Segura Inc.

If The Filth is a desperate fantasy, then this is the point where the dream takes on a life of its own; if it's all 'real', then this is where we get a glimpse of the bigger, grubbier picture. As such, I should probably note that some of the images and videos in this post are not safe for work.

Our protagonist, Mr Gregory Feely, appears in a mere handful of panels in issue #5, when he and his colleagues in The Hand fly in to make things less ugly. Quite how they're going to do that with their toxic toupees and viciously toothy bin lorries will have to wait 'til issue #6, because 'Pornomancer' is more concerned with the victims and perpetrators than with the clean-up crew. I mean, a Hand officer called Genesis Jones is on the scene throughout the issue, but she doesn't fare too well. It's no coincidence that this widened focus brings with it a sense that the book is bottoming out -- the adventures of Greg Feely have been hopelessly absurd and full of ugly close-ups and this story hits even harder, because it pulls right back out so you can see how horrible the full-frontal truth is.

Hardcore pornography is Morrison's primary target and means of expression here, and it's a good fit, given Greg's predilection for the odd bit of one-handed entertainment (as showcased in issues #1 and #3). Of course, with The Filth being the kind of book it is there's no room for a more balanced critique of the porn industry here. [1] So instead we have Tex Porneau, a Max Hardcore send-up with a penchant for brutality and nature's first digitally obscured genitalia. His moto: 'FUCK OR BE FUCKED'. His grand plan: to grow a swarm of gigantic hunter-killer sperm with which to terrorize the women of Los Angeles.

To do this he has tricked a porn star called Anders Klimakks into contributing his jet-black semen, but... we'll come back to Mr Klimakks later.

Oh, and there are also a couple of frazzled detectives wandering around the edges of the story, questioning Klimakks and paying Mr Porneau a house visit. One of them spends most of his time smoking crack and reminiscing about his dad's 'creepy old buddies' (i.e. old-school policemen who knew about the existence of The Hand), and neither of them seem particularly up to the job.

What we have here is a portrait of sex and entertainment stripped of any function or context and turned into a force of hateful misogynistic violence. [2] This serves both to underline the connection between Greg's taste for crude pornography and the actions of the various "anti-people" he's met during the previous four issues, and to intensify the sense of grotesque biological scale-shifting that's characterised the run to date. Of course, none of this thematic resonance would be worth a damn if it didn't also resonate on an emotional level. As Sean Witzke has made clear, it's relatively easy to make a story mean something, and a lot more important (and difficult!) to make it connect meaningfully.

Thankfully, Morrison and co are more than up to this task, with Chris Weston providing some of his most impressive imagery for this story. Like I said during my piece on issue #2, Weston's art can be stiff at times, but that's not always the case. Indeed, there are many, many moments throughout this series where his framing and depiction of body language is just right. Check out this panel, for example:

Are the detectives (who have been captured, gimp-masked and leashed up by Porneau and his goons, natch) willingly going along with their humiliation now? They don't seem to be struggling, but is that just a slip-of-the-art or have the detectives got caught up in the a bit of porno? This logic takes hold again towards the end of the issue, where a plumber delivery boy comes to Porneau's house, only to be drawn into the demeaning violence of Porneau's world, which (alongside a brief comment from issue #6) makes me think that this bit of character acting is intentional. [3] If so, then Weston's depiction of the detectives squatting submissively at the centre of this image is just right, and it lends the scene an eerie ambiguity as to how compulsive Tex's logic is.

That big ball of trash and sex in the background? That's the background to the whole series compacted into one inexplicable image that is.

Elsewhere in this issue, Weston really cuts loose, providing a vivid sequence of gurning facial expressions and odd-textures as he introduced the reader to Anders Kilmakks. Here's the first page of this issue:

Anders is an amnesiac porn star: all he knows is what he does. We're talking about a man who has been reduced to one crude function, which makes him another neat reflection on the debased nature of he modern erotic entertainment/living, though Anders' naive enthusiasm is almost charming in the context of this story:

Hey, say what you will, but at least Mr Klimakks seems to be enjoying himself! Plus he doesn't seem like he's out to harm anyone, not that he could ever live a consequence-free life in this comic!

More than anything, what Weston's art and Morrison's dialogue here remind me of is Chris Morris' Blue Jam derived works, particularly this Jam sketch:

Notice the mention of black semen, the use of grainy video footage, and the deliberately crass approximation of Euro-trash speech patterns -- the fact that Morrison and Weston are riffing on Morris' work is hardly a secret, but re-watching this sketch I'm amazed at how closely this issue of The Filth resembles it.

The connection makes a lot of sense. Blue Jam and its many subsequent adaptations represent Morris' attempts to move beyond the satire with which he had made his name and into more morally ambiguous territory. The best of these works come off like polite sketch shows, except that all the details are wrong. Cast against a backdrop of subdued musical violence, the sketches' subject matter and dialogue both glory in a sort of blank depravity, absolute horror and despair presented as just another commonplace lark. My favorite example is the following sketch, which takes this detached attitude to the worst things in life as its topic:

It's to Weston's credit that he manages to take this kind of nonchalant debasement and adapt it to fit a comic book adventure story. Instead of Aphex Twin, you've got background ambiance of cocks and fucks; instead of Morris hamming it you've got Weston providing some wonderfully crinkle-faced characters and Morrison giving them suitably warped dialogue. It's over the top, but in a funny way. It's entertainment -- just like Nightwing, but with less sex and violence. [4] Because that's what issue #5 is all about -- horrible lumps of flesh doing horrible things to each other for your amusement and their economic gain. [5] In the context of this issue, even a cheerful chap like Anders Klimakks can't help but get involved in the production of widescreen bio-weapons, so what chance do you have? [6]

Like Jam, this would all be too unpleasant if it wasn't also so funny. Then again, it's also possible that the humour is the most disturbing thing about 'Pornomancer'. One of the many things that The Filth is "about" is how we cope with the gibbering madness of our day-to-day lives. Black humour is a big part of that, and while 'Pornomancer' doesn't have any big points to make about this (Morrison saves those for issue #6, 'In the World of Anders Klimakks'!) it's definitely a full-on example of it. For this issue, Morrison and his collaborators are content to just show you the madness, make a couple of crude jokes, and leave you to sort out how you feel about the whole thing. Like I said at the start of this essay, this is either a bad dream run wild or a look at the world outside of Greg Feely's head, but whichever way you take it you'd be forgiven for puking till you laugh, laughing till you puke and then starting all over again.

So... did I miss anything? Ah, that's right: Genesis Jones, the Hand agent I mentioned way back at the start of this piece? As a woman in a comic book about hardcore pornography that's bustling with potential viewpoint characters, she was always in danger of being reduced to a victim (a process that this post is now complicit in). As the issue progresses, Jones tries to interrogate Anders Klimakks but gets seduced by his "maxi-pheromones" (i.e. by more porn logic); unfortunately, this logic also extends to her gruesome death on the final page of the issue:

So is this a critique of sexist entertainment or an example of it? Maybe it's both. Maybe that's why it feels so fucking harsh and dirty when you read through it and on to the next episode.

Cumming soon, 'In The World of Anders Klimakks'.

[1] For a good outsiders-eye-view I'd recommend both David Foster Wallace's 'Big Red Son' (reprinted in Consider The Lobster) or Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends documentary on the topic. Of course, if you're allergic to either Wallace of Theroux (or both!), then these recommendations are no good to you, but I'm simply not well read enough on the subject to provide you with any other references. Perhaps some, ah... further research is required?

[2] Well, violence and commerce, I guess. One of Tex's minions is shown videotaping the carnage at the end of issue #5 (while being violated by the man himself no less!), and he keeps talking about 'These new kids... with their sleazecore heroin vomit porn'. To compete with them, Tex is going going to raise the stakes or the city or both. Which is, of course, another part of the equation between violence and enjoyment that this issue is attempting to solve. Or, as Porneau would have it: 'SEX = DEATH = BIG BUCKS'.

[3] I'm referring to the scene in which one of the detectives wonders: 'How do I tell my grandchildren that I like it up the ass Thai-ladyboy style?', another bit of quality tabloid realism from Morrison. For more evidence, check the speech Tex gives to the aforementioned delivery boy:

Don't give me this unprofessional bullshit, honey.

I get a thousand girls through here who manage to do what they do without
bleating like losers.

See, in Porneau's world, everyone's just an extra just waiting for their chance to take part in his productions -- it's gonzo pornography as an all encompassing worldview.

[4] To quote Tucker Stone on Nightwing #149:

Goddamnit, there's a good portion of comic readers, non comic readers, male and female alike, who dig on some low-cut gowns and some cleavage--but what, exactly, does it add to this particular story? The fight scene? It doesn't add to sales, because it's not like Nightwing has enough in the T & A department on a regular basis that anybody is going to add it to the wank file next to a stack of whatever Aspen Entertainment is offering. It's not even there for enough of the comic for it to get a good session finished, which means you have to go find that "Blackout" Superman cross-over where he married an island girl and she kept taking off her clothes. It's just Poison Ivy pulling a rumpshaker for a couple of panels, and it's Don Kramer drawing it (and brother, Don Kramer ain't no Adam Hughes.) Oh well. At least it ends with an innocent women getting shot in the stomach, and then dying in pain, so that there can be a turgid little scene where Nightwing is crying in a torrential downpour, played completely seriously.
[5] See [2] above. Of course, this has been one of Morrison's key themes since at least as far back as Animal Man. David Fiore is still probably the most enthusiastic (and best) untangler of the knotted meta fictional ethics of that series, and I can't recommend his writings on the work highly enough.

Also recommended, on a similar theme, is Kimberly Bohman-Kalajah's Reading Games: An Aesthetics of Play in Flann O'Brien, Samuel Beckett and Georges Perec. The first section is a little heavy on games theory, but once Bohman-Kalajah gets into the specific texts she's definitely worth reading. Her book traces a line of ethical enquiry through the overtly playful metafiction of O'Brien co, and there are points where I think her theories and Dave's meet up. That said, those with a low-tolerence for academic lit-talk should bodyswerve this one, because while it's far from the worst example of the form it's definitely in genre, if you know what I mean.

[6] There's actually a twist on Klimakks' role in all of this, but again that's something I'll discuss when I get around to writing about issue #6.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Eye Strain to the Power of What?

While we’re on the subject of David Foster Wallace, did anyone else get to the end of Infinite Jest and think: oh there is no way in hell he’s going to end it like this, except he kinda has to, but hey! Wasn’t the first chapter set a year ahead of the book’s main action? What if some of its more obscure moments were actually hints at how the book’s story resolved or is going to resolve? Oh damn, there’s a huge clue right there! And what about this bit? And does this make sense?

Here’s where the novel’s real cruel beauty is: the start of the book is designed to follow on from the end, just like in The Invisibles ("And so we return and begin again!"). Except where that Grant Morrison comic sought to broaden your sense of the world’s connections and possibilities with each reading, Infinite Jest is designed to hook you over and over again without ever quite paying off. It’s a giant book full of sadness and dissatisfaction, a real literary downward spiral, and you can read it over and over again into perpetuity…

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Commonplacebook -- Charlie Brooker on TV Editing

Nothing surprising here, but sometimes it's good to think about how much scope there is for subtle manipulation in the way reality TV is edited.

And hey -- Charlie Brooker! For all that his delivery can be a big hammy sometimes, he's got a few turns of phrase to rival Chris Morris and he's very good when he gets into the specifics of process.

Remembering The Men of Tomorrow

1. Getting Ready For the Floor

I'm really sorry. If I could think of another way to do this I would, but I can't, so here we go. What can I say -- I'm damaged in a lot of fairly common ways. If I wasn't, none of this would matter to me. If I wasn't, I wouldn't even be writing here at all.

2. Getting Tired of the Chase

So the final issue of Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant's All Star Superman is out now, and it's another beauty.

The best thing about it? The fact that it manages to be so genuinely aspirational. Sure, it has to go through some of the usual genre machinations in order to avoid charges of soft-core fascism, but the final issue makes it absurdly clear that there's something worth rooting for here.

The fact that this is made clear by, of all characters, a superpowered Lex Luthor is just gravy here. Early on in the final issue, Lois Lane tries to stop Lex by appealing to the sense of sympathy she knows Superman's powers generate. Of course, Luthor just spits vitriol right back at her, but as the issue advances and the blows keep on landing on Lex's head he starts to see things differently, starts to put things together.

Hell, he almost figures out Superman's secret identity, and in the weirdest of circumstances:


Spoilers follow.

The conclusion? Well, Lex doesn't quite get there, but as the fact that Superman has him beat becomes inescapable, he starts to understand how his nemesis sees the world:
Sorry... sorry, these new senses... I can actually see the machinery and wire connecting and separating everything since it all began... This is how he sees all the time, every day. Like it's all just us in here, together. And we're all we've got.
The day-glo optimism of this sentiment is both jarring and wonderful, but like amy poodle has been so careful to explain, sometimes it's good to just open yourself up to the ASS love. Some readers have pointed out that this plot point echoes a similar dramatic turn in Mark Millar's Authority, in which a supervillain gained access to immense cosmic power only to find his malice neutralised by his widened perspective. The fact that Frank Quitely drew both scenes certainly underlines their similarity, but I think that All Star Superman is actually best seen as the culmination of a theme Morrison has been working since at least JLA. Somewhere in the middle of the frantic finale to that series, the human race becomes the superhuman race, and they're urged into saving the day using the following rhetoric:
Don't be afraid... what we're feeling are new structures opening up in our brains... it's like a preview of evolution.

All this amazing stuff you're seeing and feeling is what Superman feels like all the time... It's why he wants to save us... hah!
Of course, All Star Superman makes this point far more effectively since this childlike, playful way of seeing is conveyed in every panel of Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant's artwork.

As amy poodle put it:
Quitely’s art is like a window into a gorgeous homunculus mini-universe, a la Qwerq, where on the surface of things - at a glance - everything seems simpler and less dense, but then one’s eye gets drawn in, closer, by subtle nuances of gesture and facial expression, and closer still by the freeze framed trajectory of tiny dented bullets as they bounce off steel hard super-skin, and still deeper, into and across the suburbs, satellite towns, far away villages and mountain ranges of shrunken Kandor, and out… until we’re lost in the burning, lonely pink wastes and skeletal mining farms of doomed Krypton. Imagine the Kenner plastic Hoth set of your childhood sprouting the kind of fractal complexity necessary to transform it into a fully functional world - a real war zone, where the Force is a living thing and goodies and baddies really duke it out for the future of the universe and the heart of an alien princess. Imagine the functions your imagination performed every day as a child. That’s what Quitely, Grant and Morrison conjure here. That’s what this work reminds us of.
I can't say it better than that, so I'm not even going to try! It occurs to me that with Frank Quitely, Morrison's work is as effortlessly bizarre and out there as Jack Kirby's, contrary to what I said at the end of my post on The Eternals. Quitely makes Morrison's constant quest to give fresh life to old fantasies seem graceful, elegant even.

Hell, as a team they can make even the hoariest, most cliched of moments seem absolutely essential. See this page, from issue #10 of the series, for a perfect example of this "no ma, I did not just tear up while reading my comics!" effect:

All Star Superman ends on an intriguing note, with superscientist Leo Quintum (a Willy Wonka lookalike and the anti Lex Luthor, as Jog pointed out) unveiling a wonderful piece of graphic design:

I'm pretty tired of mainstream superhero comics at this point, pretty damn tired of the constant chase for no damn payoff, of the overwhelming feeling that I'm reading corporate fan-fiction (thanks to Noah Berlatsky for making an obvious point with style! [1]). But this series, right down to this final image, made all of this seem fun again. That modified Superman logo, with its obvious intimations of a sequel that may never be, should be just another sign that his shit will never stop. Instead, it ends up looking less like a number and more like a question mark -- what is Quintum going to do with the Superman/Lois DNA? Will Super-vision (aka Quitely-vision!) become universal? I don't know, but for once, I'm actually eager to find out, eager to rejoin the chase. [2]

And if that's not a magic trick, then I don't know what is. [3]

3. Getting Closer To The Sun

Ok, so I'm way late in saying this, but David Foster Wallace RIP.

I don't really have the capacity to say what I want to say about Wallace and his work right now, so I'll keep this relatively brief. It strikes me that one of the big things that DFW was trying to do with his writing was to see more deeply, and in more dimensions, and to help (force?) the reader to do the same. Several of the writerly ticks that seem like postmodern gimmickry at first -- the footnotes, the abundance of jargon and abbreviations, the Pyncheon-esque absurdities -- are in fact attempts to convey in almost crushing detail what it's like to live in our perpetually ironised, information heavy world. This is something that comes through most winningly in the essays, particularly those in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, but the fiction is what's hitting me hardest at the moment.

Now, DFW's fiction can sometimes be hard to get into, but it's worth persevering with, because some of his most intimidating works are also his best.

Take Infinite Jest, for example. Sure, it's 1,000 plus pages of dense text plus end notes, and its ending is a motherfucker, but you know what? It's one of those novels that actually is what it's about: instead of just writing about the desperate, insatiable need we have for fulfillment, DFW stimulates these very feelings. Once you get into it, Infinite Jest is hideously entertaining, and it's so good for so long that when it ends you can't help but feel angry that the needs it promised to satisfy are still raw and un-sated.

Or, like, with Mister Squishy -- that story is a slog, with its constant garbled ad-speak and seeming indifference to reader interaction, but about 2/3rds of the way through you realise that you've started to genuinely feel for these blank, unsympathetic characters in their blankly crowded world. Talk about magic tricks -- how did he do that?

Of course I don't mean to say that David Foster Wallace was a real life Superman or anything stupid like that. [4] What I will say is that part of his project seems to me to to have been to create a working, adult version of the childlike perception that All Star Superman generates. This comes across most obviously in his Kenyon College commencement address, where he says lots of things like this:
...the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing. [5]

So does reading David Foster Wallace make you a better adjusted, smarter and more microscopically perceptive human being? Almost certainly not, but nevertheless his work does seem to present away to use the abundance of ironical and interlinked resources we have at our disposal to say or see things more fully, and sometimes that gives me hope. Because we might not be able to recapture that level of childish imagination where even inanimate objects have a life of their own, but we might at least aspire to take into account the inner worlds of other people.

I didn't know David Foster Wallace personally, of course, so I have no insight into his suicide and I won't pretend otherwise. As such I can only offer my distant condolences to those who did know him, and pay my respects to what I do know: the writing. David Foster Wallace as his best was as white hot and dazzling as the sun. Like the sun, there's way more to DFW's work than I can even begin to understand, but I'm willing to keep on staring into the light until the truth blurs into view.

Oh, and did I mention that he was funny? Because he really, really was. [6]

More soon, in the next episode.

[1] While I disagree with Noah's opinion of All Star Superman (as laid out in that very same post), I've got to admit that the man knows how to make a negative criticism stick! I mean, Noah's dead wrong when he says Morrison has no interest in the character, but some of the rhetoric in his post is pretty cutting all the same.

[2] Of course, all this talk of aspiration and reinvigoration would be nothing if All Star Superman wasn't also full of sadness and worry. Like Sean Witzke says, sci-fi "always seems to fail when it putting forth a positive and perfect future", and that's not what Morrison and co have done here. This series is driven by anxiety about age, mortality and romantic misunderstanding, and it has an antagonist full of great vanity and jealous rage (hey Luthor!), so... it's a fairy tale, but like the best fairy tales it's always mindful of what it's about, and how. Take, for example, that ending -- there's a lot of positivity there, sure, but there's still a bittersweet component. After all, the Superman/Clark Kent/Lois Lane romance plot is essentially left half-completed, with Lois waiting for a happy ending that may or may not come, still caught up in the neverending chase. And can't we all relate to that, both as people and as comic book addicts [a]--?
[a] And yes, these two states of being are inherently separate.

[3] Well, okay, I do, but The Dark Knight doesn't really fit into this post in any meaningful way. So... yay footnotes, I guess.

[4] Much as I was hamming it up when I wrote that faux-dramatic introduction, I am slightly embarrassed by the fact that the only way I could write about David Foster Wallace's suicide was through a bloody superhero comic. Talk about being immature and unable to escape your own (overworked!) frames of reference!!

[5] This statement might come across as a somewhat banal, certainly compared to a world of time travel and jet apes, but as DFW also said during that speech:

...the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.
[6] Well, he makes me laugh anyway. Here's one of his short stories, A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life, in its entirety:

When they were introduced, he made a witticism, hoping to be liked. She laughed extremely hard, hoping to be liked. Then each drove home alone, staring straight ahead, with the very same twist to their faces.

The man who'd introduced them didn't much like either of them, though he acted as if he did, anxious as he was to preserve good relations at all times. One never knew, after all, now did one now did one now did one.

Are You Ready To Feel Alive?

I'm back, and I've come to share with you this entertainingly goofy video for Marnie Stern's 'Transformer':

Like Matthew Perpetua said, Marnie is a hero.