Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My nephew the hero

My nephew Mitchell Griffin has just won the Tasmanian karting championship for his age group. He's an superb racer, who despite his small stature for his age, has an incredible mental attitude towards racing that makes him a winner all the way to my mind, whether he comes first or last. Happily he comes first more often than last. Lewis Hamilton came up from the same route apparently, so who knows how far he could go with this.

And don't you just love his victory salute.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I have made a foolish commitment

In a moment of madness I allowed my darling wife, who knows what buttons to push, to talk me in to beginning an open degree with the Open University. I have begun with something fairly stimulating but straight forward as my first module, "Start writing essays".

My fir, st task is to analyse this question in no more than 350 wordsCompare and contrast the representation of women in two mid-Victorian texts.

I came up with this

The essay question above has three key words, compare, contrast and representation. The most important of these has to be representation. Use of the word representation highlights the understanding that no text is factually definitive, it merely “represents” the author's “view” of the role of women in Victorian times. Each text can only focus on the segment of the female population relevant to it's subject matter and provide a contextual overview of the life of someone within that level of the social strata. Further it must be appreciated that the texts include fiction and poetry, both of which have literary demands, beyond the reportage of fact. These story based requirements can result in details being exaggerated for dramatic effect. It should also be considered that writers of journalistic works and socially aware and philanthropically motivated essayists would likely be writing to emphasise a particular side of a moral debate, reflecting, perhaps the growing Victorian interest in scientific explanations of the the world around us and the workings of society in particular.

This does mean that any effort to compare and contrast is fraught with danger. It was possible then, perhaps even more so than now, to find two very disparate Englands. The birth of the Industrial Age gave some men great wealth and the ability to indulge their philanthropic interests, at the same time as leaving many to live in abject poverty in slums. There is a dichotomy between hard scientific or religious belief on one hand, as demonstrated in the “change or die” nature of social Darwinism, and the almost Socialist philanthropic beliefs of people like William Hesketh Lever, founder of Port Sunlight and “Christian duty” urge to philanthropy among Anglicans, Methodists and non-conformists. Due to this care must be taken not to place to great a reliance on any one text as no writer has any greater veracity than another. Any comparisons drawn,or contrasts made, must be done with due consideration given not only to the work but also to the writer and his social, philanthropic and scientific views, as best they may be known.

Which basically means "each writer has an agenda, either social or literary which has to be taken into account when looking at what they each have to say about the role of women in Mid-Victorian society."

Or to put it another way, after years of training myself to write with direction, purpose and clarity, I now have to learn to waffle.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Superstition



I wanted to avoid the usual suspects for a Illustration Friday entry on superstition so I googled around and found a superstition I liked. Apparently for every falling leaf you catch you get one month's good luck. Hence the picture.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Reading level

Just been reading my favourite blog, Eddie Campbell's Fate of the Artist, and came across this (alleged) test of the reading level needed to understand the content of a blog. Campbells blog only came in at High School level, which I must admit suprised me.

cash advance

Cash Advance Loans



What suprised me more was that mine came in as College Undergrad. I'm really not sure what that says about my writing.

Now must get back to my Illustration Friday entry.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Harold Gray

Harold Gray is one of those artists I've only come to appreciate as I've got older and been able to recognise the craft behind his superficially awkward figure work and scarey blank eyed characters. I'm not sure how to describe Gray's politics because everything I've read on him seems to have a different view on where he stood politically, but idealogically he was very conservative, seemed to see things very much in black and white and comes across as a staunch traditionalist and indivdualist. I imagine he had little time for the hippies who were so prominent in the USA when he died in 1968 which is what made the picture below such a curiousity.


Published by Lund Humphries, A Century of Posters puts this image as circa 1970. To my eye it could have been drawn by Harold Gray, although I am sure there are scholars out there who could say for sure, but the image of a fingerclicking Daddy Warbucks in pinstriped and flared Levis, doing a can can on his armchair, must be one that would have Gray turning in his grave.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Photoshop

This past 2 weeks have all been about experimentation with Photoshop. I've never had training or a real opportunity to do more than very basic photo editing on it. The past 2 weeks though I've been reading on line tutorials and trying out new things, repeating them over and over until I understand how to do them. It's all fairly simple stuff to anyone who uses it frequently but this is virgin territory to me so I'm quite pleased with the results, like this,

Turning a selected element in a colour picture into black and white,

and this



Turning an image into the kind of thing you often see on pc wallpapers and 60@s posters, subject matter withstanding.

or removing a background like this



As I say, simple stuff but all new to me.

Illustration Friday - Scale



The idea came easy. The picture itself came relatively easy. And then I decided to colour it in Photoshop. First real time doing that. Desk surrounded by clumps of hair pulled out. Applied only one filter, ignoring the urge to use more. And all the while Jimi Hendrix plays "all Along The Watchtower.

The final image was loosely influenced by Picasso's poster work which was in a book I'm currently reading. I'm no Picasso but I loved the very loose, almost wobbly line of the poster images.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Insert foot

sometimes, in support of the people I care about, I have a habit of opening my mouth without thinking things through. This is not new failing on my part, when I was 12 or so years old my dad gave me a card that said "engage brain before opening mouth" so that's at least 30 years.

My wife, Karen, has many good points, her unfaltering faith in the innate goodness of people and her willingness to help anyone being two of the most prominent. She is a Christian by faith and a pretty good example of one by and large in her dealings with the people around her. This unfortunately makes me all the more protective when someone takes advantage of her good nature, screws her over or otherwise upsets her.

My personal experience with the members of Karen's Church has been that they are good people who are fortunate enough to have something to believe in above and beyond the corporeal. Unfortunately there are always a few who wear their belief like a badge of superiority and, to be frank, have their head so far up their own arse that they do for Christianity what Osama Bin Laden has done for the Muslim Faith.

One such person, waving his godliness like a big stick with which to chastise others, has recently caused a great deal of upset within her church before leaving in high dudgeon. He caused Karen a great deal of sadness and took advantage of her good nature, although she doesn't see it that way. He got Karen teaching his son to play drums, which she was happy to do, and borrowed a library book from her which had drumming exercises in it. He then promptly misplaced the library book and ignored several requests for it's return, leaving Karen to deal with the embarrassment of telling the library she no longer had the book and was unable to return it and to deal with the financial implications of paying any fine to replace the book. I would have been happy to write this off as sheer thoughtlessness and stupidity on his part but for the fact the man has a website and a blog where he rants on and on about God's ideals and living in God and how blessed he is by God and the complete perfidy of this sanctimonious buffoon is impossible to stomach.

So this afternoon I left a comment on his blog pointing out that I was pleased he had such a good relationship with his God and what a shame he couldn't bring the same ideals into his dealings with the people around him. This action did not sit well with Karen however. Fortunately he has his blog set so he gets to approve every comment before it's published so I doubt it will be seen on his blog. Hopefully the comment will prick his conscience although, judging by his behaviour to date, he will more likely throw his toys out of the pram once more, striking out at those around him.

I should have thought of that before commenting but it would seem I'm still impulsive in defense of friends and family.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Grow, Illustration Friday


My latest piece for Illustration Friday. Four days in production, eventually I had to stop or miss the deadline. It lacks a little in execution but I'm happy with the idea.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

life gets in the way

There are times when life just gets too hectic and something has to give. This has been one of those weeks and so Illustration Friday had to give. I'm disappointed because having a reason to draw and a deadline has been a very good thing for me. This week work has been absolutely hectic, my lovely Karen hit 32 years of age, we had to sort out Molly's upcoming birthday party, there've been a couple of minor family crises and Karen's not been feeling to grand which has meant looking out for both the ladies in my life.

I've missed drawing for I.F. but I'll be making an early start this week on whatever the new topic turns out to be.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Indio Poster art

One of my favourite forms of art is advertising poster art. I'm a big fan of the classic poster art of the 30's and 40's for air and sea travel, the London Underground posters and the European car manufacturers posters of that time as well. The combination of a clear message and a striking graphic has always struck me as an impressive skill that is somewhat lacking in many of todays artists and illustrators working in the field. There are great poster artists out there but many seem to work in niches now, photography has pushed them out of the "mainstream".

Now this bit seems to go off on a tangent a bit but bear with me. I have a site counter on Inclined to Ramble that gives me info and statistics on visitors and one visitor who's been back a time or two comes from, according to their ip address, Indio, California. Now the novelty of knowing thast someone half a world away is even glimpsing at my ramblings is quite a novelty so I googled Indio, California and it seems to be a pretty art loving town. It has some stunning wall murals and what appears to be a massive annual arts festival and each year the festival has a poster. See you knew I'd get back to the point eventually.

The posters are uniformlly stunning and featured below is my personal favourite.



If your taste lies towards such posters I heartily recommend you check out the rest through Southwest Arts Festival Posters

And if you're in Indio and reading this, thanks very much for dropping by.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blogger action day


Apparently today some 7000+ bloggers have agreed to include an environmental issue on their blog. When it comes to environmental issues I am trying, like many people, to balance practicalities and ideals.

I was born in a country village which meant chasing escaped pigs down the road when they escaped from the slaughterman's van, necking chickens, skinning rabbits, collecting chestnuts, hazelnuts and blackberries. It meant you treated the environment with respect because it it helped in part to feed you and if you didn't respect it then it would turn around and bite you on the arse. Such as when a friend and I decided to frighten some cows. Not a wise decision as, for such big eyed and docile looking creatures, they can be bloody terrifying when twenty of them come stampeding towards you mooing insanely, a lesson learned and an act not repeated.

The problem today comes because the respect is not there as evidenced by something that happened to my Brother in Law.

My brother in law, Steve often walks with his wife, daughter and Springer Spaniel at the Royal Victoria Country Park, which fronts onto the Southampton Water and is home to a large number of seabirds. Walking there one day they came across a bunch of teenagers stoning a seagull. My brother in Law is a fireman with a shaved head and can look incredibly ferocious and scarey, particularly when faced with this sort of loutish behaviour and my sister, Wendy, although very feminine can be equally scarey when necessary. They saw off the group of kids with little worry or any backchat and Steve then stripped to his boxers and plunged into the chilly water to rescue the bird. I believe, though stunned by the stones, the seagull was okay in the end. He reported the teenagers to the police and carried on with his life. Steve, to me, is something of an environmental hero (on a small scale). He's not afraid to get involved, he has an allotment where he and Wendy grow a fair amount of their own veg, he cycles to work and he supports small local businesses and farmers markets where ever he can.

Steve and Wendy are an example of how to make a difference, if everybody followed their exampla and looked after the bit of the world around them as well as they do the world would be a better place.

PostSecret

I'm not a fan of reality shows, talk shows and fly on the wall documentaries as a whole but PostSecret is very different. PostSecret is like looking into the windows you pass while driving or riding on a train and briefly glimpsing an intimate moment of a stranger. It's anonymous and a little voyeuristic but carries an immense amount of emotion in every card. It's as if every life has the dramatic and emotional highs and lows of a classic 40's movie, there are hints of the last moments of Casablanca, Mrs Minerva and The Ghost and Mrs Muir. There are sad secrets and happy secrets and secrets that are like barbed wire around your heart.

PostSecret is one of those things the word "poignant" was created for

Look at the ad for the book

PostSecrets video

Look at the website

PostSecret blog

or buy the book

PostSecret book

Which ever you do have the tissues to hand.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

illustration Friday (part 2)

I also came up with this

which was a sketch for a western comic I'm working on at the moment.

Now I'm torn between the two.

Update; on a snap decision the door won out but I stuffed up posting the thumbnail on IF so it probably willbe seen by very few people.

Illustration Friday part 1

initially I came up with this, I've tried not to be too clever and just work on straight forward interpretations.


But then....

Monday, October 08, 2007

DIY (Sketchpads that is)

One of the bug bears for the more reserved artist, like myself, is how to sketch in public without drawing attention to yourself, (pun intended). The moleskine is the smallest quality sketchpad I've so far managed to find but even that can be a bit obvious when you're out and about working in it. Then I found this website, thanks Stumble Upon, and I have sketch pads for all occasions in all sizes for a fraction of the cost a Moleskine.

Make your own sketchpad





These are pictures of my first book, I found 3 or more signatures works better as it's easier to sew them tightly.

The instructions are clear and easy to follow and using off-cuts from a printer at work and odds and sods lying around the house I have a hand sewn 32 page hardback sketchpad that fits perfectly in my pocket, total cost £1.10 and an hour of my time.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The downside to Illustration Friday

Actually the title's a joke. From what I can see there is no downside. In the first 3 days after I posted my entry I had over 120 visits to inclined to ramble from people following the link for a better look, I got 3 very complimentary comments from other artists, who when following links back turned out to be very fine artists themselves, and praise from peers is always much appreciated. Finally I've got the enthusiasm to keep going.

So now I'm back to the sketch pad to think about "open".

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

my daughter the sports hero




My daughter, bless her, is proving to be most unlike her dear old pa in someways, particularly her appreciation of football. Molly is the only girl out of 20 kids in an after school football group. Each week a small trophy is awarded to the best player or the person who tried hardest and this week, the fourth week, she brought it home with her. She was so excited with a grin so big I thought she'd swallow her ears. The trophy has pride of place on our mantelpiece now I've managed topry it from her fingers.

blues, illustration friday

Blues was a good one to start with. The image is nothing groundbreaking but it's a start. As confidence grows so will the quality of the work, hopefully.


Naturally I stuffed things up so the thumbnail appears twice. Still it's out there so that's something. Next time better drawing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Alan Watts on Faith

Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float. And the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging to belief, of holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe, becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.

Which speaks to more than than just faith in God, it also speaks to faith in ourselves and our abilities. Last night a friend asked me to make her a model slug, a bizarre request on the surface and not one where the reasons need going into. Suffice to say it was important and I agreed to do it. She had faith in me that I could come up with the goods and that gave me faith in myself. This morning I gave her the slug and she did what she had to do with it. What usually holds me back in creative situations is clinging to the belief thatI am a particular type of creative person and strangling my abilities. Instead I need faith that I can do what I want to do and just do it. There is an intuitive, zenlike quality to creativity, a moment of touching god, where things work out the way they should,problems come from over thinking what is essentially an emotional response. I think that is true of all creativity, be it art or writing or cartooning.

Monday, September 24, 2007

post 100

This is my 100th post. Something of a landmark for me as I'm not reknowned for sticking at things. Over the past 99 posts I've talked about things that inspire me, things that influence me, things that hold me back and things I think are just out and out great. The posts have been largely unfocussed however and have not really fulfilled their purpose. The purpose of the blog was/is to focus me on producing something on a regular basis, maybe not daily but aiming for several times a week. Blog entries were produced fairly regularly but now it's time to step things up.

I need to back myself into a corner so first off, I will check out Illustration Friday and enter something for it each week.

If that goes alright then second, in a few weeks, I will post a page of a comic each week.

I will be creative even if it makes me miserable.

Alan Watts meets South Park

Sometmes you just stumble across something that puts things into perspective. Trey Parker of South Park fame apparently had a Buddhist for a father and this seems to have lead to him arranging these animations of the work of Alan Watts. Watts is a British philosopher and writer on comparative religions and was a very entertaining speaker. Check out life ands music

Alan Watts Animated

Sunday, September 23, 2007

nightmares and privacy issues.

Work this week has been an absolute nightmare. My boss has been off for the week and the entire and I and my two colleagues have spent it sorting out things she's either forgotten or neglected to do or things she's stuffed up. We're also working on a tight deadline for a major project that has been blown out of the water by cleaning up after her. This has played havoc with everything from team relationships, hit rock bottom, to the rest of the company's view of our team, also plummeting.

I work in a largely male dominated business and my boss is a young woman in her first management role. My colleagues are very unforgiving of failure and have been putting the knife in with management and the board at every opportunity. I've been following round trying to remain supportive and pointing out that she's trying to do the job she was hired for, with very little quality support, rather than doing the job everyone, apart from the director who hired her (who has now left), wants and expects her to do. Something I'm struggling with because of the number of headaches she's causing me. Between that and her relative inexperience, and the problems that come with her youth and inexperience, she's got very little chance of surviving in her post unless she gets some decent guidance from her management.

Coming home and having a chance to watch both the second part of Comics Britannia and Jonathan Ross's documentary "In Search of Steve Ditko" brightened my weekend immeasurably. Comics Britannia looked at British adventure comics from The Eagle to Battle and Action in the seventies and was, once again, excellent. Listening to Pat Mills talk about Charlies War was definitely the highlight. The clever intercutting of images from the comic and documentary footage from the first world war showed how sublimely perfect the comic was. Hearing MIlls describe the story as something more from a girls comic of the period was a real eye opener. I'd realised on a subconscious level I think that the book was very underplayed and more concerned with the personal relationships of the teen protagonist and his friends than the heroics that were standard fare in boys comics, but it never really entered my conscious brain. In many ways it was very much a forerunner for Alan Moore's Halo Jones.

In search of Steve Ditko didn't really tell me anything new but it's always interesting to hear others talk about genius. The history of his work in the medium, even with the focus on Spider-Man and Dr Strange, was entertaining and the ending, where Ross, in the company of Neil Gaiman, playing Etta Candy to Ross's Wonder Woman, finally met Ditko, and chatted to him for 25 minutes, sans camera, were priceless. How many people could have made a documentary about a semi reclusive artist and actually respected his wish for privacy, not speaking of the details of their meeting? Very few I imagine. The style of the documentary was similar to those of Michael Moore or Louis Theroux but I doubt either of those gents would have put Ditko's right to privacy above their film or programme. Good work Mr Ross.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lunch and bed

I'm pissed off and I'm going home to bed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Comics Britannia

Finally saw the first part of comics Britannia last night and I have to say I was mightily impressed. The comics panel framing of interviewees worked suprisingly well and the background on DC Thompson, Beano and Dandy and the wonderful artists who worked there, Dudley Watkins and Leo Baxendale particularly, was in depth enough to avoid the "pow zap" approach of many comics related documentaries and newspaper articles. My appreciation for the penmanship of some of these British Cartoonists has grown considerably over the past few years as I've come to appreciate how much harder it is to create non-photographic style artwork that is clear and consistent.

The show was well put together and nicely covered the politics involved in the publishing world as Watkins was exempted from military service because he was more valuable drawing for DC Thompson, and how Baxendale was stiched up by various publishers as he tried to get some sort of reasonable control over and recompense for his work.

Dudley Watkins penwork leaves me in awe.

Amazed or horrified

Just found this via Warren Ellis.com and I'm not sure if I should be amazed or horrified. The superb photos speak for themselves and the idea of aiming a supertanker at the beach and rammiing it full speed sounds like the ultimate thrill ride, but 200,000 Bangladeshi shipbreaking in these atriocious conditions is horrifying. Yet any international outcry against the work and conditions would probably cost half these people their livelyhood.

Go look and see. You can even click on the link now I found out how to make it work.

amazing photos

Saturday, September 15, 2007

43 and a week

usually, for me, birthdays have been a miserable time of reflection on missed opportunities and lack of productivity. My lovely wife Karen has spent much of our married life trying to make me enjoy my birthdays with varying degrees of success. This year she succeeded beyond anybody's expectations and I had a fun, relaxed birthday spent largely drunk in the company of friends and family. It was the sort of birthday I always told myself I would hate and I loved it. I smiled, laughed, chatted and was generally sociable in the extreme. I gave no thought to the passing of another year or to things I had or had not achieved. It was birthday Nirvana.

destruction as stress relief

Work at the moment is a nightmare. My new boss is very young and doing a job that was mis-sold to her. She wqas hired as a marketing manager by a director who came into the very insular and hide bound ( I think that's the term) public transport industry from outside on a fasttrack to somewhere else. The marketing post has not previously involved an awful lot of marketing, it was mostly ensuring that internal and external communications needs were met. The public had timetables and the press were dealt with. The progressive director who thought we should be doing marketing and wanted a marketing manager left and now my boss is at the mercy of colleagues and management who feel she isn't doing her job properly, because she's doing the job she was hired for rather than the one the post needed. This has lead her to make quite a few errors and errors in other peoples view. This is leading to a great deal of backstabbing, bitching, moaning and general bad feeling. If I had an office to myself that would be bad enough but, unfortunately, I'm stuck in an open plan office that is also a through fare for a lot of folks looking to share an opinion.

So over the last week I've noticed I'm drinking more. Not to excess, 2 or three bottles of beer a night, but I felt I was going a bit crazy if I drank 2 or 3 bottles a week previously and a several hundred percent increase is not a good thing. Anyway, today I'm home alone, the girls are out having a girly shopping afternoon. I was aware our front garden was overgrown and verging on a jungle, so I went out and hacked a whole load of vegitation to the ground. There are now three big piles of garden detritus in a much tidier front garden awaiting disposal, I can hardly see from the sweat dripping in my eyes and I feel so much better for the exhertion. The urge to scream is gone, as is the urge for a beer, although I may have one tonight, and my mind feels much clearer.

The question of course is, was it the destruction or the activity that made me feel better. I'm hoping the destruction because if it was the activity then there's a point to excercise after all.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Life on Mars


I finally watched the last three episodes of Life on Mars (series 2) which definitely got a BBM1 rating. The series as a whole was absolutely superb and the lack of a really clear explanation at the end was probably the only way to go. Karen and I spent some time discussing what we thought happened. I plumped for John Carter of Mars style psychic time travel in the end. I think the coma freed Sam's psyche to travel back to 1973 where it took on a corporeal form, connected to and interacting with his "real" self in 2006. For me this explains how the hospital was abl to affect him in 1973 and means he is still alive and free in 1973, his anchor to our present now gone. But I am something of a romantic so I couldn't look at his return to 1973 as the last delusions of a dying man.

The show was a nostalgic, though not rose coloured, view back at the 70's with strong overtones of "The Sweeney" and "Get Carter". A show set in the past never captures the true reality of the period, only a nostalgic reflection of it seen through a slightly tarnished mirror. That said the setting of the show definitely hit a chord with me as someone who grew up during the 70's and it captured the brown and tan tones the decade had in my memories and anything British set outside London is a bonus still.

Life on Marswasagreat show that will bear up well under repeated viewings.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Music

Most men of my acquaintance are fixated on music or football. The football thing escapes me but the music obsession fascinates me There seem to be three basic types of male music obsessive. Those obsessed with a music style from before they were born, this can be anything from Mississippi Delta blues to the work of Lonnie Donnegan, those fixated on music from the best period of their life, punk, dance, electronica etc, and those who need to be always on the cutting edge, out with the old in with the new. (Warren Ellis is probably a fine example of this type). Men whose obsession lies elsewhere tend to have no specific leaning towards a genre of music.

The third type seems to me to be mainly a way of fighting off the encroachment of old age by being, or at least appearing, hip. Being only a day away from my 43rd birthday I can understand the feeling behind that. The other two groups seem peculiarly self limiting. They focus on one corner of a vast artistic arena to the exxclusion of everything else. Admittedly this behaviour isn't restricted to music, people do the same thing with books, tv, comics films and theatre and in many other areas as well.

I cannot imagine going through life watching only medical dramas, or Sci Fi movies or only reading murder mysteries or reading Archie comics or going to musicals. It would seem as stiffling as only eating cornflakes for breakfast everyday and kippers for tea and only drinking water. The mind craves variety.

When confronted by this closed attitude to other areas I am reminded of my late Grandma who refused to eat brocolli as it was "foreign muck". This sort of closed mindedness verges on intentional stupidity and I find I need to challenge it wherever I meet it. Don't let the human race get any stupider introduce someone you know to a new eperience today.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Big Blue

The wife has a rating system for movies based on "The Big Blue". we disagreed on whether the ending was happy or depressing. I felt it was a positive ending but Karen thought it was pretty darned depressing and started to rate movies on that basis, hence Solaris was a Big Blue Movie(BBM) and last night Danny Boyle's Sunshine was a BBM. Maybe it's a male/female thing but any movie where the leads defeat a psychotic villain, reignite the sun and save the Earth, that's a positive ending. Admittedly they all died, some pretty horribly, but they achieved a greater good. For Karen, however, everyone dying makes for a sad ending.

So the rating system goes like this

BBM +3 A film where everyone starts off dead and it goes down hill from there
BBM +2 A film where everyone dies at the end
BBM +1 A film where it would be better if everyone had died
BBM The Big Blue. A movie where one or more main character dies
BBM -1 A film where the main character ends up very depressed
BBM -2 A film where everyone survives but with some change. A Hollywood blockbuster
BBM -3 A Hollywood Rom-com

It needs some refining but thisis what we're currently working from.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Holiday

Started our week holiday today with a visit to the Alice themed Adventure Wonderland near Bournemouth Airport. Took our daughter Molly and her best mate Aedan who had the finest time. Tomorrow we're off to London for a few days to take in the Natural History and Science Museum. Full report to follow on Friday.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A railway Station of my own

Apparently there's a railway station bearing my name in Copenhagen.

Holy shit it's the Human Fly



Look! It's the Human Fly. Thanks Warren Ellis. I'd forgotten there was a "real" Fly until I saw this,

The Human Fly was a 70's Marvel comic with very cool art by Frank Robbins, Lee Elias and Bob Lubbers about a "real" escape artist and stunt man. Art aside it had very little to recommend it but Robbins, Elias and Lubbers were enough for me. The book was written by Bill Mantlo in a sort of A Team style that was entertaining but essentially very throw away.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Stephen Fry don't read this.

Scandinavian film, literature and legends often seem to have a melancholic air about them that reflects something in the nature of the land or the people. From the doom that hangs over the Norse myths to the Little Mermaid to the films of Ingmar Bergman. For me however few things illustrate this melancholia as well as Tove Jansson's Moomin books.

I've just started reading Moominvalley in November, coincidentally BBC 4 have just started advertising "The Secret life of the manic depressive" with Stephen Fry. This is not a book for a manic depressive and I heartily recommend Stephen Fry doesn't read it. If the book was a painting it would be all in shades of blue and grey, it's an early Autumn day when you know the world is about to get colder and darker, if it were a song it would be the plaintive sound of Edith Piaf, it's the lone cry of a solitary dog in the night.

I read the first three chapters sat on a crowded bus and can rarely recall feeling so alone.

Yet for all it's sadness it has a beauty to the prose that is compelling, all the characters so far are longing for something more.

I'll update this when I've read more.

Friday, August 17, 2007

you can go home again

Today I picked up a dip pen for the first time in maybe 6 years and I feel like an amputee who's limb has grown back. The dip pen was probably the first thing I drew with beforetrying out brushes and a variety of more portable and less messy fibre pens and penbrushes,every one of which was so uncomfortable I soon moved on to the next thing to try. Recently I'd been reading a lot about artists work tools and was suprised to see so many people still advocating the dip pen. Now I'm no luddite or technophobe but I've never been able to get to grips with drawing on my wacom tablet and technical pens, with their one width line, still seem a little soulless to me. Alternately I have a great deal of respect for people who can make a brush dance to their tune producing art of such fluid lines it's like watching waves come in on a seashore. But it's not me, it's not my style. Pencils and pens and a piece of paper in front of me, that's the way I need to work. I can manipulate the artwork in photoshop or whatever afterwards but the main work needs to be done with a dip pen and bristol board.

For this revelatiopn I'd like to thank Richard Outcault, Rudolph Dirks, Bud Fisher, Frank King, Billy Debeck and Harold Gray whose varied pen styles reminded me that the brush isn't the only tool.

new toy

Yesterday we bought a new toy, a laptop, with my back dated pay rise. It's very nice, 15.4" wide screen, great for DVD's, and it has a dvd burner, which is another upgrade for us. It's almost a necessity in a house with three computer users and only one computer. Between my wife and my daughter I usually have to use the internet at work these days if I want to look at anything or update on here. Now at least there'll always be a computer available in the evening.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Shadow over Baker Street

I'm not a great fan of Sherlock Holmes, I've read many of the short stories and been pleasantly suprised by them and I'll watch Basil Rathbone happily, although Nigel Bruce's Watson was always far to bumbling and blustering. For Crime I'd rather check out the Americans, be it Chandler or Moseley in writing or Bogart and Robinson and Cagney on screen. Nor am I a fan of H P Lovecraft. There are few books I've given up on in my near 40 years of reading but Lovecraft I couldn't even finish one of his short stories, the writing was turgid and I couldn't see the magic fans seem to be able to see. So I suprised myself when I picked up the short story collection, Shadows over Baker Street and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The collection was based around the conceit of the ultimate rationalist, Holmes, encountering the "irrational" world of the Cthulu mythos and in general the stories work very well. Some vere towards pastiche and some, like the Mystery of the Hanged Man invoke the voices of the cinema Holmes better than the literary Holmes, The adventure of the Voorish Sign felt more like a Hammer horror and left visions of Peter Cushing burning down buildings made of coal. Most of the writers remained true to the spirit of Conan Doyle without aping his style and probably only Neil Gaiman let his personal style over-power the source material.

Strangely, all the writers, although showing an obvious affection for the Lovecraft material, chose not to write in a style like Lovecraft thus placing Cthulu in Holmes world rather then Holmes in Lovecraft's. Caitlin Keirnan and Simon Clark wrote the standout stories for me and both are writers whose work I shall check out in the future.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Scooby Doo

The nice thing about children, for someone like me with a popular media fixation, is how they introduce you to new things. Molly has introduced me to the newest version of Scooby Doo. I never liked Scooby Doo in it's varied incarnations since it began in 1969 or whenever. It was one of those things where the idea was superior to the end product. Finally, however, someone has produced a version of Scooby Doo that actually works for me. "Shaggy and Scooby Doo get a clue", produced by Ruby Spears under the auspices of WB Animation, updates and redesigns the characters for the current decade. Both Shaggy and Scooby have been given real personalities that reach beyond the usual hungry coward scenarios. These two have finally been brought to the fore, recognising that the rest of the gang were really only supporting characters, given a fortune and a high tech mansion to operate out of and, while still scared of the villains they face they now stand up to them.

The rest of the gang are occasional guest stars in the series with very agreeable updated designs. The colour and design are both flatter, more cartoonlike, rather than the very modelled and airbrushed look of previous series. The stories are also less cliched, the monster isn't old Mr McGinty, the caretaker and no one says, "I'd have got away with it if it wasn't for you meddling kids". The monster of the week is replaced with a regular recurring villain, Dr Phibes, who again is given more personality than any old time baddy. My daughter loves the show and it's something we can share rather than Fifi and the Flowertops or My Little Pony. The show is worth looking out for and if you don't have access to the Boomerang channel check out Youtube which has video of the excellent theme tune and part of the first episode.

Checking around the internet I found numerous posts decrying this new version of Scooby Doo. Strangely they all seemed to be from adults, who obviously aren't the intended audience, upset about someone playing with their childhood toys. My daughter and her friends on the otherhand love the show, and the older versions as well.

God bless Mr Weiringo


Mike Weiringo died a couple of days ago. I'm getting kind of used to losing the old guys but Weiringo was, I think, only 44, 2 years my senior. Kind of scarey. I don't think I ever read anything he drew, never read Tellos, Flash, Fantastic Four or Spiderman when he was drawing them. I did check out his blog on a very regular basis to see all the wonderful line art he put on there. The one thing that always struck me about his work was the sheer joy of his work. His characters always looked like heroes rather than protagonists, in the Alex Toth mold rather than the Frank Miller mold.

My prayers go out to Weiringo's family and friends.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The coolest

Is this just the coolest news or what, Mike Kunkel (Herobear) on Shazam. For kids, Finally something I can show my daughter.



And Art Balthazar of Patrick the Wolf Boy fame on Tiny Titans. Molly's gonna love that. I just hope she understands the one month wait where she's used to english weeklies.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Misanthropic, that's more like it

You Are 76% Misanthropic

Here's the truth: Most people suck. You are just lucky enough to know it.
You're not ready to go live alone in a cave - but you're getting there.

Sociopath, what's that?

You Are 40% Sociopath

From time to time, you may be a bit troubled and a bit too charming for your own good.
It's likely that you're not a sociopath... just quite smart and a bit out of the mainstream!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Curses



This is another fine book. Kevin Huizenga was someone I knew by reputation only prior to this splendid hardback volume and this was an expensive impulse purchase that really paid off. Huizenga's art style lies somewhere between that of Herge and L Z Segar but his writing is what makes the book more than anything. Working through a literary alter ego, Glenn Ganges, Huizenga takes elements of autobiography and weaves them together with the spiritual and the mythological yet remains fully grounded in a way the same material would not do in the hands a more fanastic writer. Huizenga retells Le Fanu's "Green Tea" within the context of events his lead character is living through, the appearance of a ghost dog and tells the tale of a golfing buddy and theological professor who is concerned for his spiritual welfare and rethinks his idea of hell based on his meetings with Glenn Ganges. The best tribute to the strength of Huizenga's storytelling is that the book bears up well on subsequent readings and will probably become one of a small number I read each year.

Kevin Huizenga has a handful of strips on line at his USS Catastrophe site

Pan's Labyrinth



I first saw Del Toro's movie on a tiny screen on a flight to Sydney and watched it twice in a row, stunned by the overpowering atmosphere the film generated. I then rented the DVD on my return home and watched it a further 3 times. I am hard pressed to think of another movie that has made open woodlands seem so oppressive and closed in as this one did when the soldiers, mounted on their horses, chase down the "Communist" rebels in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Even the dark and gloomy interiors seemed less threatening. Ofelia, the young girl lead played by Ivana Baquero, is superb, constantly understated in her performance, and is totally believable as a child mourning her father and hating her step father. Her wandering into the Labyrinth and her acceptance of all that follows reflects her desperation to find something to cling to in the face of her mother's new relationship. Sergi Lopez, who plays the central villain Captain Vidal, is incredible, a Mexican comedic actor who gives the sort of performance only comedians can give in this sort of dark role. Vidal is a tragic figure, destroyed by his father and his father's reputation as a soldier he has become a twisted and totally evil character. At the same time you are able to understand why and so he doesn't become a charicature. The make up and creature designs are equally unusual. The Faun looks like a C Scott Morse design, with it's strangely wide head and curling horns, and the faeries look like stick insects with leaf wings.

The whole film is closer in style to old folk tales with their somewhat bloody stylings then the more bloodless versions that came from the likes of Charles Perrault on down to Disney. And all the more watchable for it.

Watch it, or better yet buy it and watch it over and over again.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Alice in Sunderland


A new book from Brian Talbot is always a a treat, something to be pored over, and Alice in Sunderland is a true confection. The book is a history of Britain, the North and particularly Sunderland, seen through the lense of Lewis Carrol and his most famous book. Along the way it considers public art, the public's treatment of war heroes, the conspiratorial nature of literary criticism, the almost supernatural interconnection of lives, parental relationships, propriatory behaviour towards literary icons and the geographical mirroring of Sunderland and Wonderland with a passing mention of Hartlepools claim to fame (monkey or frenchman?). All of this is done in a smorgasbord of styles including la ligne clair, collage, heavy brush work and fumetti style photo comics.

The book is fascinating as a whole, but this is primarily down to the author. The material could have easily been dull and boring in another writers hands. Talbot's style is that of a popular history of the sort that makes best sellers lists and can be bought off the shelf in Tesco's, something that could be a channel 4 series perhaps and as such it may not appeal to the more seriously minded students of literary, social and geographical history. For someone looking for a broad and popular history of Sunderland tied to a literary icon you'd be hard pressed to find better.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

eight weeks

Eight weeks ago I had a hernia op and have been laid up at home, mostly, until this week. Coinciding with that AOL screwed up our connection again and we still aren't back on line. (I'm blogging from work)

Never believe that surgeons are warm, altruistic people who care deeply about their patients. If my recent experience is anything to go by, I've known butchers who take more care of the meat on their table.

I went in for day surgery for an inguinal hernia, very low down in the groin area. On the advice of nurses I pre-shaved myself, I'm a fairly hairy guy and apparently they dry shave youwhen your sedated. When I woke up they'd shaved even more of my abdomen, including a large square patch on my thigh, and beaten my body around so much that my left testicle was swollen to four times it's normal size, the muscle inside my left inner thigh was so battered I could barely stand and I had a six inch bright purple scar from open surgery instead of the tiny keyhole opening I was lead to expect.

Although I weas allowed to drive after the first week I couldn't with any comfort because getting out of the car left me in scrotal agony. The itching from the hair regrowth was maddening and my groin was either extremely painful where their was feeling and horribly numb, like an everlasting dental injection, everywhere else.

On top of that it wasn't until week seven that it occurred to any member of the medical profession to inform me I should be massaging the scar with baby oil to break down the scar tissue that was continuing to cause me great discomfort.

On the other hand I read a hell of a lot of books and many movies. More on that later.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Australia the fair

Australia's Gold Coast is a bizarre place, a strange hybrid of Florida style landscapes, buildings and gated communities with genuine aussie charm and less fat people. Holidaying with my wife, two sisters, parents and assorted friends meant a fair amount of time was spent shopping and it was interesting to compare the U.S. service focussed style with the more genuine Aussie version. Shopping in Florida, the "Have a nice day" routine sounded frequently forced, spoken by rote from a learned script. Australians by comparison sounded far more genuine, less emphatic (like they were hoping you'd have a good day rather than ordering you to have one) and generally far more human. This seemed to be an extension of the national spirit and was visible in the the people you'd pass in the street, interact with in restaurants and taverns, talk to in parks and theme parks.

Although it was far too hot for my liking I'll take Australia over the USA any day.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Australia

Just back from a few weeks in Australia. more to come.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

realms of experience

One of the things I value most about reading is the ability of a well written book to put you into a world outside of your realm of experience. With much of my fiction reading those worlds are outside everyone's realm of experience, I don't know anyone whose lived through "the Princess Bride" or Pullmans "His dark materials" books. They are fantasy and are given meaning through the skill of the writer in creating "real" characters and situations within the fantasy that have greater resonance with the world outside. Then there's Walter Mosely's "Little Scarlet" set in the aftermath of the Watts riots in LA at the tale end of the 60's. I have no idea what it would be like to ride a segregated bus, to be threatened by police or attacked by strangers because of the colour of my skin but reading Mosely's Easy Rawlins books I can get a small insight. Mosely captures the sense of fear and anger that comes from living in such a world so well that it becomes tangible and it's made all the more real when you read of gangs attacking a mna simply for being Polish or black teenagers being shot in London.

We live in a country where racism is still institutionalised to too great an extent and a chance to walk in another man's shoes gives you a chance to see your part in this evil and see what it's like on the other side.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

viral enteritis and vampires

two weeks of viral gastro enteritis, so I've done little more than read over the last fortnight. No work, rarely out of the house but my mind has been busy getting out and about into fictional worlds.

Just finished Joann Sfarr's "Vampire Loves". Never read Sfarr before although I knew of him and after this I will give anything with his name on it a close look. Despite the vampire and monster theme prevailant among the characters I can think of few books that seemed more autobiographical. The book is a collection of four french albums telling, primarily, of the romantic misadventures of Ferdinand, the vampire, and his circle of friends and aquaintances. The mixture of romantically confused characters carrying torches for loves unrequited and failing to find love in other places has the potential of turning into crass soap opera but never makes it thanks to the believably awkward dialogue that characterises each coupling and encounter. Ferdinand is suprised, and I think a little horrified, when the woman he moons after rejects him but the women he treats with disdain seem to love him all the more. An experience that has to be almost universal.

Another plus for the book is the scratchy, shakey, heavily rendered artwork. European comics seem to have an interesting dichotomy in art styles. The European split seems to be between the "ligne claire" of Herge and his ilk and the blotchy and scratchy pen work of Sfarr and people like Tardi. Although each school runs a gamut of styles from realistic to cartoony there are few artists I can look at and not put into one camp or another. Sfarr is slightly reminiscient of people like Glen Dakin in the organic fluidity of his art style and the surreal nature of his stories. Like Dakin, Sfarr is much more concerned with the relationships between his characters and uses his art to emphasise the nature of each of them. Ferdinand, the Vampire, insecure and dreamy, is drawn spindly and angular, staring at his shoes as he flies. The treeman is solid and reliable in appearance and this is how he is perceived by the other characters although the changability of his appearance demonstrates his inner conflicts.

Despite connections to Sfarrs "Little Vampire" this isn't a kids book like his "Sardine" volumes. There is little action or excitement in the conventional sense but once they've felt the pangs of a first unrequited love this book will speak volumes to the reader.

Oliver Jeffers

Lost and Found, How to catch a star, Oliver Jeffers is a wonderful creator of kids picture books with a captivating, ethereal style that is actually enjoyable to read to a child several days in a row. His website is somewhat slow loading but a treasure trove of wonders. , visit if you've time on your hands.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Just took the "Which Science Fiction Writer are you?" quiz and I'm happy with the results, Ursula Le Guin is pretty good.

I am:
Ursula K. LeGuin
Perhaps the most admired writing talent in the science fiction field.


Which science fiction writer are you?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Just plain wrong

There's something very wrong with a bakers that buys it's bread in from the supermarket down the road.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Nothing happening

So work's very busy, Battlestar Galactica is back on tv and I've got a dozen or more books backed up to read.

Buy Fantagraphics new Popeye book.