Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The end.

This is the 151st entry on Inclined to Ramble. I'm not famous for my sticking power at anything creative and this is something of a record for me. However life changes and somethings have had their season.

16 October saw the birth of my son, Harry James Samuel Bangs. It was a very different affair to my daughter Molly's birth. She came one week early by emergency ceasarean which was probably the scariest thing that has ever happened to me. When it reaches the point where an emergency operation is necessary, as the father you drop to the bottom of the list of priorities. I was left standing in a waiting room outside an operating theatre for 20 minutes but it seemed like hours. Two minutes to get into a gown and cap and 18 minutes to let my imagination rn wild on all the awful things that could be happening. Until that point I'd viewed my imagination as my best friend, writing and drawing were almost as essential to me as breathing and eating. After that point creative acts became increasingly difficult, I started little and finished even less.

Harry's birth was a very different thing, I was there from the start, helping and supporting through the entire labour in it's glorious technicolour. Thanks to a wonderful midwife I was able to help my son into this world rather than stand by helplessly and it feels like something has changed because of that. My imagination again feels like a friend, ideas are running sure and fast and for the first time in a long time I feel the need to "do" rather than just think about "doing".

Seven years with my daughter Molly has been a wonderful experience and I look forward with anticipation to all the years ahead. Looking back from this point I can see I focused my creativity into building an entertaining and imaginative world for her to live in. I think I was scared to aim it anywhere else.

Harry is nearly two weeks old now and he is a thoroughly entertaining young man. He's poo'd on me, pee'd on me and deprived me of many hours of sleep and I love him for it. He pulls an endless variety of silly faces and makes many daft noises that keep me laughing all the time. He's also made me realise it's time for a change and change is good.

Part of the reason for this blog was to look at my creativity and understand what was happening to it. In the course of the last 150 posts I've looked at things that inspire me, looked at family as a source for inspiration and an excuse for inactivity and posted some of the things I've managed to do.

Now it's time to move forward. I have committed to Karen to complete a kids book by her next birthday. Karen is scarier than any editor ever and so I have to do it. I wants somewhere to document this. I've had a lot of fun sketching outdoors and want somewhere to show these off. I've enjoyed writing reviews of comics and books I've enjoyed so I want to continue that somewhere. So with all that in mind it's goodbye blogger and hello my own website. The sensible thing would be to set up the website first and then link to it from here. I'm not strong on sensible though so here's a picture of Harry instead

and look out for one last post in the next week.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Paster for the day

My wife Karen is somewhat excited at the moment. Tomorrow she is paster for the day at her church. Her Pasters, Julia and Paul Franklin, flew to Florida last week to attend a revival going on there at the moment and in their absence asked Karen to lead the meeting and give what I guess most of us would know as the sermon. Karen is a woman of amazing faith and, to my mind, was the best person they could ask. She's been working on what to say all week and is, hopefully, putting the finishing touches to it now. Tomorrow I shall be there with Molly, our daughter, to support her along side a lovng and supportive congregation.

Olivia Alice Sawyer

Yesterday morning at 7.15am my sister Wendy gave birth to a daughter, Olivia Alice. She was 7lb 4 and 1/2oz and arrived safely after putting her mother through 31 hours of agony. Yesterday was also my dear old mother's 65th birthday which we planned to celebrate today, 7th June.

As it happened my mothers birthday celebrations were nicely combined with, but not overwhelmed by, Olivia's introduction to the world and family at large. I got a nice long cuddle, winded her and got her off to sleep so that was good practice for November when littlenose arrives.

Had a few beers so slightly blurry as I type this.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Indiana Jones

There are no two ways about it Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a damn fine movie. It's not Raiders but in some respects it comes closer than the other two movies. Raiders felt like a combination of period pulp and real world concerns. Temple of Doom was pure pulp and despite its secondary story of parental relationships The Last Crusade rarely rose above its pulp beginnings. Kingdom was again born out of the pulp fiction of the day, this time the science fiction of the 50's rather than the slightly occult adventure fiction so popular in the 30's. In addition though it touched on the generational problems that came up in Last Crusade, the problems that come with aging, McCarthyite red baiting, the difficulties in managing a relationship. It may not have gone into them in great depth but they grounded it in the real world and it was a better film for it. As an old time Indy fan who's no longer the callow youth he was at the time of Raiders I appreciated the recognition of the fact Indy had aged some in the last 20 years and everything was still possible but much harder.

It was a well written movie, sensibly keeping George Lucas away from the scripting, with some excellent stunt work, a very funny snake scene and some funny and touching scenes with Marion Ravenwood, who still looked pretty hot. The scenes with Mutt worked well apart from the Marlon Brando impersonation that made up his first appearance. If you recognised Brando's Wild One persona it set up your expectations of what Mutt would be like and Shia LaBeouf isn't actor enough to pull it off. Fortunately LaBeouf's Wild One act is soon shown to be just that and the character becomes more likable for it. There is a worry that Indy is going to hand over the mantle to Mutt which the movie really plays up to at the end before putting your mind at rest.

There were occasional complaints in reviews that Harrison Ford was to old to play Indy at 65 but my only reply to that is "What a load of bollocks". At 70 my old man was capable of doing most of the things we saw Indy do so no way he was too old.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

parenthood

I've been fairly quiet on the impending arrival of Child Bangs # 2, because, frankly, there's been too much going on that's kept me away from Rambling. Littlenose, as the baby is being called until we find out the sex, is approximately 16 weeks old now and doing fine. We had a scan a couple of weeks ago and discovered only that the baby has my nose (large) and is perfectly in proportion for it's age. Karen, however, has had a lousy time with sickness throughout the 1st trimester and has carried this over into the second, not helped by a virus that did the rounds of the whole family and a very unpleasant cold she's still hanging on too. At least the sickness is now improving. This has meant that I've had to pick up the slack on everything from school runs to washing, housework and looking after Karen. Not a complaint by the way as she's picked up my slack on many an occasion. Then this weekend just past I've had some stupid virus that completely wiped me out. There's more to say on our impending parenthood but there's not been either the time or energy to say it. More will follow though.

What's going on

For the second time in the history of my marriage I'm watching football. Previously watched a world cup match with Molly as she wanted to watch a game. This time I'm watching The FA Cup final on my own. Portsmouth are a local team, supported by a number of my workmates, and one part of the Saints/Pompey local "rivalry". As you can imagine from 2 matches in 9 years, I'm not a big football fan but the optimism and excitment of the people I work with must be contagious, as here I am at half time.

To my untutored eye there seems to be more skill and less primadonna over acting im this then I saw in the World Cup match and I'm hoping Portsmouth win although partof me would like to see underdogs Cardiff win.

Don't expect to see a big review of the game, I wouldn't know what I was talking about.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Spirit, more disappointment



So the trailer's out. It's Miller's Daredevil right down to the voice over. It will look good if the trailer's anything to go by and has the potential to be a good movie, but it ain't the Spirit, it's Daredevil with the names changed.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Why kids don't read the Beano

A Random Beano cover

Apparently there was a survey published a few weeks back that said kids no longer read the Beano. Initially I was surprised. I don't know what the sales figures are on the Beano but Steve Holland offers up a figure of 74,000 a week based on figures released by the publishers. for 2007. Apparently that's down some 15,000 on the same period in 2006. Still, 74,000 is a figure most US comics would kill for and this is weekly. I think it's probably fair to say The Beano's readership is slowly shrinking but it's a long way from being written off yet.

I decided then to have a look at a recent issue,3427, to see what sort of state it's in and I wasn't impressed. Thematically The Beano appears to have stood still since it's inception some 70 years ago. Artistically it's still a fine comic, true there's no one to replace the likes of Dudley Watkins or Leo Baxendale but there's a 4 pages strip by Hunt Emerson,Mini the Minx by Ken Patterson and Nigel Parkinson's slightly amateurish but kinetic artwork on Bea. The best art is superb, unfortunately there's work like Tom Paterson's on The Numbskulls which looks like a second rate version of the dull art that fills a lot of "how to" books and is a terrible disappointment.

There's a mixture of New and old characters. Dennis the Menace (the real one) is still there as is Mini the Minx and Billy Whizz and The Bash Street Kids which mostly fair well. Newer characters fare less well artistically. Ball Boy (around since 1975) suffers from stiff drawing and uninspired and outdated character designs. The teacher looks like he stepped out of an early 1970's Play for Today, the lead and his best mate are identical with different hair and the supporting cast look like rip offs of the Bash Street Kids and "Pirates of the Caribeano" has a strange, Hanna Barbera style art. Laura Howell's Johnny Bean from Happy Green is the finest addition is the best new strip as far as art goes, and looking at her website she is obviously holding back and drawing in a Beano style. The artists all remain close to a house style but show a degree of individual style.

The writing however is largely by the numbers and so the writing is the problem for the Beano, plots have not moved on much since 1938, there's the occasional bit of vomiting and farting but really it's still 1938. In theory that shouldn't be a problem, with good writers and a regular turn over of readers stories of naughty kids should be still as fresh as ever and for a long time it was. Unfortunately the writing is the problem. Mini the Minx and the last Dennis the Menace story are fresh takes on traditional stories and the fathers in each story get past the ineffectual authoritarian slipper wielder and gain a further dimension. Fred's Bed is genuinely funny, working for both kids and adults and Emerson's Beanowatch is a charming and gently funny riff on Bill Oddie's Springwatch. Ball Boy has an excellent punchline with Stonehenge being used as a goal. Roger the Dodger, Ivy the Terrible and The Numbskulls are , sadly, terrible. They're hackneyed reworkings of stories that were stale 40 years ago.

74,000 sales a week is not to be sniffed at but loosen up on the house style in art and writing, recognise that the world has moved on and look for some inventive writers and Beano could be doing 100,000 plus a week again.

Sunday, April 13, 2008




This saddens me. If this is anything to go by, Frank Miller's Spirit will be an extension of his Sin City crap. What I've seen so far suggests he's missed the humour, the humanity and the basic love of life that the spirit embodies

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Things I learnt from my father.

I took the time today to stop and take stock of the things my father gave me. It surprised me just how much there was. Taking things in near chronological order we start with comics. I don't really know my dad's history with comics, I know he read the Gem, the Magnet and the Hotspur as a kid in the 30's and the Eagle when I was a kid. I remember searching for his eagle each week in my pre school days and getting comics like Pippin and Tog each week. The love of comics as a form of story telling has stayed with me all my life so far. Sequential story telling is my football or my train spotting. It's stayed with me and, happily, the material available has grown
with me.

Next and closely connected there's reading. My father taught me to read before I started school. By the time I was eight I'd read every set book and when "reading time" came around I was sent off to the school library to work my way through the books there. This meant, for me, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Roald Dahl and Joan Aiken among others. A couple of years after that I was reading my grandparent's western novels, classic pulp novels and then a world's worth of mythology. These days I've rarely got less than two books on the go at once and I'm busy handing that appreciation of books and reading on to Molly, my daughter.

Then there's drawing. Up to the age of seven my drawing consisted of stick men with stick guns shooting each other all over every sheet of paper. My dad could draw, he was never going to achieve greatness but he was competent and to me, at the time, he was Michelangelo and De Vinci rolled into one. I would get him to draw me pictures of soldiers, not realising he was probably drawing from memory, until one day he was to busy and told me to do something myself. I still remember sitting down with a Marvel comic and drawing a cowboy from an advert for Lone Ranger toys on the back cover. I was so impressed with my work I've been drawing ever since.

Then there was the love of the countryside and old places. My dad instilled a powerful love of all things uniquely British. There's something about British architecture and British countryside that is unique to this country, a 17th century English Farmhouse, bares little resemblance to a French or German or Italian one, despite often using the same materials, and so it goes with churches and townhouses and castles and on and on.

So I guess what I'm saying is "Thanks Dad".

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pogle hunters

When I was a wee boy one of the first TV programmes to make any lasting impression on me was "The Pogles". This everyday tale of woodland folk can best be described as the Brothers Grimm through a Terry Gilliam lense. To call it wierd is to understate things.

This episode was apparently judged too scarey for children and not shown originally.



One of my most abiding memories of my childhood is walking through woodlands with my parents and my baby sister with my father calling out "Here Pogle, Pogle" as we walked. At four or five this seemed the most normal thing in the world to me, and probably was partly responsible for the strength of my imagination.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

strange days

My wife and I are pregnant. 7 weeks. Due around 9th November.

Still dazed.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Danny Boy

Apparently, with St Patrick's Day less than a couple of weeks away, the owner of an Irish bar in New York has banned the song Danny Boy from being sung in his pub. He has good grounds, it is a depressing and maudlin song and worse, was written by an Englishman who'd never even visited Ireland. Personally I'd like to see the ban extended world wide and only lifted for the end of Irish funerals when everyone is drunk enough to do it justice.

My own family have a history with the song, despite not being even a little bit Irish. My parents have always enjoyed throwing a party, I have memories of them going back into the seventies, and the parties would inevitably involve copious amounts of beer and wine and continue until 3am and later. The closing ceremony usually involved my father and a few of his eldest and closest friends sat around a blazing brazier singing the old songs and the capper to this would usually be Danny Boy. By this point my dad almost always had his harmonica out and be playing along as a half dozen or so very drunk men enjoyed themselves murdering this awful song. These days I find it strangely nostalgic to hear the song but back in the day I can honestly say it was the stuff of nightmares. My parents and their friends were probably the last generation to enjoy the group sing-song as a form of social entertainment, they were also probably the last generation to a common legacy of song to draw on. Popular music today is so diverse and so fractured that it's not an experience we're likely to regain.

So, for my father, I proudly present the finest rendition of Danny Boy known to man. I give you, The Leprechaun Brothers.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Yet more rambling

This weekend past I discovered the BBC Iplayer giving me instant access to much of the best and worst of the BBC's output. So far it's enabled me to do three things, catch up on Torchwood, watch the first part of "World of Fantasy" and finally see "Armstrong and Miller".

Torchwood first. I enjoyed the first series of Torchwood, except the finale, in the sameway I enjoy watching, The Persuaders or UFO or Tom Baker's Dr Who. The first series of Torchwood was hokum, pure hokum. The characters were underdeveloped, fences were sat on in certain issues, the story often revolved around monster of the week cliches which weren't original back in the seventies when I first encountered most of them. But the stories were told with a lot of energy and they weren't set in London so I enjoyed them as escapist fantasy.

This second series has been infinitely grimmer but the stories have grown more out of the characters and so have far more depth. The focus has been on Owen's death and resurrection, his reactions and the reactions of Tosh and Captain Jack. The story has been incidental except in so far as it realises the growth of the characters. Owen is no longer a one dimensional shag monster, being dead is moving him rapidly towards being three dimensional and he's actually becomng likable. His chats with the suicidal woman and the bed ridden Richard Briers showed more nuances to the character than the whole of the previous series. When they killed Owen I was glad at the idea of seeing the back of him, but now he's dead I hope he sticks around. Jack too has changed, primarily because the writers and producers seem to feel viewers are okay with him being gay so they seem to be veering more towards that and away from making him bisexual. As they've done that John Barrowman seems to have become more comfortable with the character. The scene between him and Owen in the Police cell, when he gets quite slushy and then slaps Owen's head to re-assert his manhood is the most touching thing I've seen in the programme since it started. They've also cut back on him standing on roof posing heroically which has got to be a bonus. Finally Tosh, who was the most under developed character in the last series, even more neglected than Gwen's boyfriend, is finally a character rather than a cypher. Her awkward relationship with Owen is so realistic and so easy to relate to, we've all been there at some point, that she's become human over night.

The world of Fantasy was the first part of a three part series looking at, well, the worlds of fantasy. It's started with the child hero, growing out of the current Harry Potter phenomenon but paying, thankfully, little time to it. It followed the evolution of the child hero, from Charles Kingsley's Waterbabies through to Potter with a brief look back at fairy tales through readings from everything from Alice In Wonderland to Alan Garner's books and on to Phillip Pullman. The accompanying imagery was also well thought out. Alongside a few clips from films and BBC TV series there was much original film that wasn't so much an adaptation of the work in question as a distillation of the essence of each book and maintained an almost dreamlike quality that served to unify the source material. The series did do something that is becoming a tradition for this sort of programme which is trot out a succession of opinions from comedians, actors and writers. Happily this time they were from folk who had some bearing and something worthwhile to say. Even Phill Jupiter, who seems to appear on every media and culture related series like this was restrained and intelligent. Worth checking out the remaining two episodes.

Finally, Armstrong and Webb. All I can say about this is it made me laugh. The characters in the sketches didn't rely on freak potential unlike things like Little Britain or the Catherine Tate Show. The show had wit, memorable characters and lines you know are going to appear in conversations soon.

Men and manias

Working in the Bus industry you learn a lot about the obsessive nature of men. I once had an hour long conversation with my first manager, who like me had come in from outside the industry, about that very subject. She had a great deal of, understandable, disdain for what she referred to as "Bus Nuts" and I tried to explain to her that most men had obsessions. With most it's sport, usually football, or music and because of the prevalence these are considered acceptable, if often boring or annoying if to extreme. Then there are the others, those who hold a relatively obscure obsession. For some it's Hornby model trains, or the Napoleonic War, or comics, or skateboarding or James Bond or Star Wars or one of a million other things that are harmless and come with some sort of less than flattering stereotype. Happily most, on closer inspection, include a broader scope of people and put a lie to the stereotype, but not, so far as I can see, the bus nut.

One of my colleagues, who works in the engineering department and has to deal with a lot of enquiries about the fleet from "enthusiasts", has described their mania as bordering on autism.



For pictorial interest only, This is a bus



From Wikipedia (admittedly not the best source but the easiest to access and understand) comes this definition "
Autism is a brain development disorder that impairs social interaction and communication, and causes restricted and repetitive behavior". Add to that an obsession with numbers, lists and order and you have a fair description of the average bus enthusiast. It's almost scary how some enthusiasts can give you an entire history for a particular vehicle based solely on it's fleet number. They'll tell you where it's been in service, what make of vehicle it is and it's age, what livery it's painted in and a whole host of other facts that sail far over my head. But even then there's a split between those who have personal hygiene problems and live with their mothers still and those who can pass as normal. Last week two of my colleagues, who seem like normal people most of the time, had a twenty minute conversation, with impersonations, about the noise various types of bus made when you first turned the engines over. It's one thing to hear fat, sweaty men with coke bottle glasses, body odour and an inability to dress themselves have a conversation like that and quite another when it's two people you like and respect.

My comics obsession has never really plumbed that sort of depth but easily could. Though I no longer follow superhero comics and rarely read them now except in the occasional collection borrowed from the library, it's all still there, bubbling under the surface. It wouldn't take much to get me going on "who's the best Green Lantern" or "who's strongest, The Hulk or The Thing". I guess when you're as closed to being branded with a stereotype as I am it makes you a little more aware about writing someone off as a "nut".

What's happening today

Hopefully today, my sister comes home after spinal surgery. She went in a week ago and is expected to be sent home today after a successful operation. It has kind of thrown a lot of other things into a lesser light, particularly because my sister, Lindsey, lives in Australia so our understanding of what's gone on is second, third or even fourth hand by the time we get information. The time difference makes communication difficult but I have managed to speak to Lindsey a couple of times and to her husband Paul as well and word seems to be generally positive.

I've got this week off work and hope to split it fairly evenly between drawing and house related jobs. I'd have liked to spend the entire week drawing to be honest but with Karen at home for a couple of those days I've graciously accepted that's not going to happen and I'm going to have to show a little familial responsibility. Still, today's been pretty good on that front and I've been pretty productive. I recently got Illustrator and have done the linework of two pictures on there today. They were my first go with Illustrator and I'm finding vectors to be a strange beast indeed compared to drawing in Photoshop or Painter. They'll have colour added before I even consider showing them in public. On top of that I've inked a page and a half of my Western cartoon strip and hope to have at least the first three pages finished by the end of the week. Finally, after dropping Molly at school, I ventured into Riverside Park and froze my fingers to the bone doing a couple of quick sketches. If I can maintain this level of productivity for the rest of the week it should be a good week.

Also I watched my first ever episodes of Armstrong and Webb on the BBC Iplayer and was mightily amused. The show is more "Fast Show" than "Little Britain" which is good by me as "The Fast Show" was the last sketch to make me laugh out loud.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Coraline trailer



It's possibly something to do with my age but as much as I love all story based media, I find it impossible to keep up with allthe things that could be of interest to me. Which is why I was unaware that the wonderful Mr Henry Selick was making a stop motion movie of Neil Gaiman's "Coraline". This Youtube teaser trailer looks absolutely wonderful and, if nothing else, guarantees I'll buy the film on DVD when it's available. Selick worked on two of my three favourite stop motion movies of the last 25 years, the wonderful but underrated "James and the Giant Peach" and the equally wonderful but slightly over rated "Nightmare before Christmas". ( my third favourite is the recent and absolutely stunning version of "Peter and The Wolf"). Before computers took over, stop motion was the best way to create special effects monsters and the like and masters of stop motion like Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien are still rightfully considered genius's in the Realm of special effects. In the world of feature films Selick is probably the only heir to these two men.

If you only check out one of Selick's films I'd recommend James and the Giant Peach, because his
rendition of Roald Dahl's world is very true, darker, more sinister and yet more positive than Tim Burton's very American Halloween/Christmas tale.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fanfic

Fanfic is about wish fulfillment for folks who become very submerged in a fictional world, Buffy and Star Trek being, apparently, the foremost example. A lot of fanfic appears to have grown out of sexual fantasies about characters, fans wanted to imagine sexual or romantic scenes between, for instance, Kirk and Spock. There is nothing inherently wrong in the concept of fan fiction except that there is often a dichotomy between the fantasies of fans and professional writing where characters remain true to themselves. With fan fiction the characters often behave out of character.
By now you're probably wondering what this is about. Well I was thinking about the amount of "professional" fanfic writers now working in my favourite medium, comics. Up until the end of the 60's comics were written by writers. Good or bad, they were writers first and many in fact despised the medium. At the end of the 60's, with the arrival of people like Roy Thomas, you had the arrival of fans turning professional and a mammoth change in the nature of Marvel and DC comics. As a fan you often wonder, who's stronger Hulk or the Thing?, what would happen if Robin left Batman and so on. The first generation of fans turned pro were still firstly writers but with succesive generations these ideas have become primary over writing professionally until you're faced with Mark Millar, the confused Superman reboot (more of the stuff that was written out is written back in again) and Spider-man; one last day. Each of these, as placed within the Marvel and DC universes, is about fan wish fulfillment. Millar will happily twist a character's nature to serve a plot point, Superman was last coherently dealt with in the John Byrne reboot, which like it or not, stayed true to the character even as it played fast and loose with the story dressing and One Last Day is the ultimate wish fulfillment of one particular fan and sadly there is one major cause. The age of the toys everyone is playing with. Millar, the writers who've worked on Superman and Joe Quesada have all created interesting, well written and well told stories that are true to their characters, away from the Marvel and DC sandbox. Yet Superman, Batman, Spiderman, the Avengers and more have been central to the childhood or youth of many of these writers and they feel they have a right to warp and twist them to their hearts content. There is nothing wrong with rewriting the cluttered history of a character, over 40 to 60 years a character collects an awful lot of dross, but the best work remains true to the character and accepts that, after a period of time, the character takes on a life of it's own. I read "One Last Day" and it was a travesty, an abortion, but I also read "Brand New Day" and despite incorporating things I hated, it was a fine Spiderman comic, true to the core of the character.
I love this medium but I find it harder and harder to read the characters of my childhood because the writers writing them are trying to answer all the questions the fascinated me as a fan but I knew should never be answered. I still dip a toe occassionally but in truth I haven't bought an extended run of a Marvel or DC comic for over 10 years apart from the odd event comic. The money I would have spent on these companies is still spent on comics but on much younger characters or independent comics, graphic novels and collections from Image and Dark Horse and Fantagraphics, Top Shelf and others. I'm lucky in that something that was such an integral part of my childhood has grown with me.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My blog is like a cyberman

Upgraded that is. I love Firefox and the scribefire add on that makes blogging so easy. No need to log in to Dashboard,i just click on an icon on the bottom of my browser. Now in the right hand column I've added a soundtrack courtesy of Finetune. Pick 45 tracks and embed them in your blog with a simple piece of code. The music is all jazz so if you don't like jazz, don't click on it. The other nice thing about the player is the autoplay code is optional. I hate visiting a site and being met with music I dislike and having to disable the player before I can continue to browse. I like choice. A playlist on a site can enhance your understanding of the site or it's contributors but if the music isn't as much to your taste as their written postings you may not want to listen. It's about choice.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Playing with fire

just installed firefox as default browser on my laptop and it comes with a lot of very neat plug ins and add-ons including one called scribefire. Scribefire gives you an easy link to publish to your blog or edit recent posts. Some working out to do but looks promising.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Indy's Back




and millions of men in their 30's and 40's are wondering, "Is George Lucas about to piss over their childhoods again"?

Hopefully the answer is no. Lucas wrote the story but not the screenplay so the dialogue shouldn't make me cringe. David Koepp, who did write the screenplay has a good deal of experience having written Zathura, Carlito's Way, Spider-Man, the under appreciated War of the Worlds, which was very true to the source material, and my personal favourite, the first Mission Impossible movie so there's a lot of promise there. Ford looks wonderful and it's great to see a real grown up heading an action movie. I know Shea LeBeouf is in it but from the trailer at least it promises to be an Indy movie with added brat value rather than yet another heroic teen movie.

I've got my fingers crossed and my place booked in the queue to see it as soon as it's released.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Goodbye Steve

Steve Gerber is dead.


First time I've cried over a person I only knew through their work.


Steve Gerber was a mere 60 years old. Waiting for a lung transplant. He was writing more comics and now he's gone. Sometimes life stinks.


God rest Steve.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Gus Ariola

Yet another great cartoonist, that far too few people know, is dead. I Discovered Gus Arriola through an article by R C Harvey in the Comics Journal and immediately fell in love with his clean artwork and funny jokes. Funny jokes are still a rarity among newspaper cartoon strips and the handful of Arriola's cartoons I saw always raised a chuckle at the very least. Gus Arriola was a man with a mission, he wanted his primarily white audience to learn about his home country of Mexico and, building on 40's racial stereotypes of the fat and lazy Mexican, Ariola exceeded all expectations and, once established, proceeded to tell tales that involved all aspects of Mexican culture and history.

Arriola was a classic cartoonist in the style, I suppose, of a Disney storyboard man, he could have compared favourably with any of Disneys nine old men. He wasn't afraid to experiment though and when he did so he was in a rare class indeed, approaching the work of Cliff Sterret and Frank King in design.



Take the time to seek out examples of Arriola's work, it's going to be worth your while.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Swimming

I can't swim but each week, along with a number of other mostly non-swimming parents, I take my for her swimming lesson. Molly's an interesting mix of fearless and timid when it comes to anything physical. One moment she's braver than any of her boy mates and the next she's choking back tears rather than do something seemingly simple. Swimming though has been a real eye opener. She takes lessons in a small, 5 meter, private pool with no more than 3 other kids. Julia, the teacher, is an absolute bloody marvel and really makes all the difference. Like all great teachers she has an inate knack for knowing how far she can push a child, when to encourage, when to be tough and when to back off. This week Molly was the only child there for the session and Julia decided she was going to tech her to swim underwater and pick things up off the bottom of the pool.

Molly looked a little nervous, mostly because one of her friends was due to come and check the lesson out, but followed Julia's instructions and, on her first dive, picked a large plastic starfish up off the bottom of the pool. Great form on her first go but the next couple were a bit wobbly. Then Aedan turns up, whole family in tow, and Molly moves into overdrive. She keeps giving me the starfish and getting me to throw it for her then diving and bringing it back. On the fourth or fifth go I dropit too close to the edge of the pool. My daughter walks away through the pool to the laddder and climbs out. I figure I've put her off by making it too difficult and am busy kicking myself inwardly. She stops in front of me facing the pool, points her hands downwards and dives head first into the water, surfacing moments later with the starfish and a very triumphant smile. Julia's jaw drops and hits the water, mine hits the poolside then we both start cheering and high fiving. Molly calmly flips the starfish over her shoulder, duckdives and does an unexpected forward roll in the water. Again she comes up smiling and this time Julia's on it. "Wow, you did a forward roll under the water. That's amazing. Do you think you could do two?"

Molly looks at her nervously and shakes her head, holding on to Julia's arm, and then lets go and proceeds to do a double forward roll under the water. By this time both Julia and I are calling her a show-off jokingly. Molly thinks it's great and spends the rest of the day telling everyone she's a show off.

There's something incredible about seeing your child do something for the first time, but when it's something you can't do yourself the feeling of pride is so strong you feel you could bust.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Marvel Zombies


Comics fans are a funny bunch, they scream and howl and threaten boycotts but never stop buying their Marvel fix. The latest "outrage" to upset Marvel fans has been the resetting of Marvel continuity to remove the "Spider-Man marriage". The man in charge at Marvel, one Joe Quesada, has whipped the fans into a frenzy of polarised hate it love it ecstasy. As with everything that's happened in Marvel comics since Stan Lee hired fans as writers everything is tied to this obsession with continuity. Spider-Man never got married and some 20 years worth of story are no longer canon and as such no one knows for sure what continuity is anymore.

I've always been more of a story fan than a continuity fan. I like a good story where the character behaves true to himself. Having Spider-Man start using a gun would not be true to the character, having Spider-Man make a deal with the Devil would not be true to the character. As I understand it Spider-Man didn't make the deal, Mary Jane did out of her love for Peter Parker and his Aunt. It may have been a crappy story but it was true to character in both cases. Mary Jane's story has mostly been about what she's willing to sacrifice for Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

More importantly perhaps, the stories still exist. If you choose to reread a certain set of stories then Pete and Mary Jane are still married and in that sense always will be.

Most importantly, "Brand New Day" was a good Spider-Man story. Dan Slott wrote a good story with many classic Spider-Man moments. I haven't really read Spider-Man for some twenty years or more but I read "Brand New Day" and I enjoyed it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The wife's first boyfriend

Karen's been going through her and Molly's keepsakes. Karen's included love letters from her first boyfriend. Curiousity gets the better of me in these situations so we just had to Google him. Currently the slushly what not is playing professional Basketball for the Teesside Mohawks. Steven Butler, the boy in question, has been playing professional basketball for more than ten years and as a teenager wrote the soppiest letters ever written. His teasm mates would love them.

OU

I've just sent off my essay and reflection for my OU course so I've the opportunity to breath for a moment. Word counts are a killer, trying to "compare and contrast the portrayal of women in mid-Victorian times using two texts" in 1000 words was absolute murder. I had texts by John Ruskin, well known Pre-Raphaelite fanboy, and Henry Mayhew, less well known writer and journalist. Mayhew wrote extensively about the Victorian London poor in a vaguely responsible version of tabloid journalism.

My initial draft of the essay ran to 1500 words and contained a great deal of what I thought was interesting supplimentary material that gave greater background to the essay. Cutting much of this in the editing phase was quite disheartening but the final essay reads well. Ruskins divorce put his writing in such perfect context and Mayhew's friendships with other writers and his visits to the Court of Bankruptcy made his writing about prostitution among needlewomen all the more sympathetic.

I can't say I'm looking forward to the next module.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

in defence of Don Heck

I was reading the rather excellent website comics comics about the nature of craft and how it's tied to the influences peculiar to the time and place that an artist grew up in. The idea posited was that no modern artist can be , for example, Alex Toth, no matter how hard they try to emulate his style, because they didn't grow up subject to the same environmental influences. They can build on the techniques he used influenced by their own environmental influences. It's an interesting idea, and one with a great deal of validity but not what really got my attention. No what got my attention was this "Don Heck, long reviled as one of the worst hacks in the Marvel Bullpen, was a solid storyteller." The writer, Frank Santoro never commented on the "worst hack" label but offered up Heck as an example of a solid story teller who knew how to structure a page. Most comics fans my age(43) and younger mostly know Heck from his work on books like Wonder Woman back in the mid seventies. To be perfectly frank these books are not his best work and are not helped by the stories he was illustrating. It would probably be fair to say that by the seventies Heck was being sidelined as fill in artist and a man past his prime. A fate that befell many of his colleagues from the fifties and sixties much more quickly and was unfair to Heck as he was only in his 40's at the time. Heck was a strong, fluid artist who had not only a great grasp of storytelling but could produce a powerful cover image as well.
Avengers 36 cover

I had the good fortune to see much of Don Heck's Marvel work in reprint during the seventies thanks to Marvel UK reprint books and his Avengers was probably my first favourite book. His renditions of the Avengers gave a constant sense of the power of them. His Captain America was large and dominating, his Quicksilver all sleek lines and his Scarlet Witch could have bewitched my 9 year old self quite happily.

Heck's misfortune was to be a solid craftsman and storyteller in an age when fans were entering the business as professionals and readers were demanding whistles and bells over quality. It's suprising looking back at the seventies how many of the artists who entered comics then, Brunner, Wrightson, Kaluta, Windsor Smith and Ploog, to name but a few were better known for their illustration work or illustrational style. And if you look at what has reprinted from that time, it's interesting to note how much of it is the solid storytelling work of men like Heck, Kirby, Colan, Swan, Kubert and men of their generation. 30 Years from now will the big companies, if they still exist in the same form they do now, be reprinting people like MacFarlane in the same way?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

comics reviews

I've got a second site, called "Blues in the Dark", where I'm now reviewing items from my weekly comics purchases. There are three reviews there already so do check it out.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

New Year

Well like many people I started the year by taking stock and reviewing various parts of my life and considering resolutions. Last year was not a bad year all in all. It had it's low points, some of which were very low, but artistically particularly it was a pretty good year.

Sensibly this year I kept my resolutions simple. Last year I drew more than I have in probably the last five, this year I intend to draw more. I'm not setting myself goals such as drawing daily as they seem to suck the pleasure out of drawing. My other resolution is a little more difficult. It's to follow a creative idea through to the end, not give up. Somewhere along the line I forgot that for most of us who have the creative desire it's 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration and while it's fun it's also requires work to create something.

I have aims for the year though, ideas I want to follow through,

There's a western, "2000 miles", which is currently a story outline waiting to happen. Probably in comic form and 16 pages."A horde of winter gods" is a supernatural love story, there's an idea for a kids book that I've been batting around in my head for several years now and finally there are a couple of pictures (paintings) living in my head at the moment that need to come out. There may be a story to go with them, I'm not entirely sure.

Of course I hit a first bump within days of the new year starting. Climbing into the loft to put the Christmas Decorations away I managed to slice open the little finger on my drawing hand almost down to the first joint. So everytime I try to do something I'm more worried about banging my finger and the accompanying pain and when I forget to worry I inevitably hit it and end up with my eyes watering from the pain. It's still hard to believe something so stupid could hurt so much.