Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Archie And The B52s.


Oh Happy day, heres a wee treat to chase away the Storm Dennis Blues. This comic was released this week and can be found in stores of quality and distinction the world over. The lovely Archie and company meet the even lovelier B52s. Just look at this cheeky cover, a cool reprise of the first album cover.
            Go on, Cheer yourself up and treat yourself. You are going to encounter some bright new friends, reconnect with some older ones you may not have seen for a while and have a few laughs along the way.
            Not a blast of nostalgia but a trove of new fun memories.
            Heres my pic fromm an old sketchbook of the legendary Ricky Wilson, who left the stage far too early but will never be forgotten by anyone who loves great guitar playing and unforgettable songs. For years I have heard the B52s described as one of the worlds greatest party bands and there is absolutely no denying the truth of that but I have always felt they were just one of the greatest bands. Whatever the alchemy is that makes a great band these men and women had it and in all likelihood still do.


One Shot Hero.

After one spends a lifetime, quite literally, reading comic books, thousands of them over the decades, one occasionally loses track of where one first read a story. Yet details persist,a stirring heroism, striking visuals that lift one way beyond the medium that birthed them. i often find myself wondering where I first came across a great yarn, did I read something first time around or catch it in a reprint or an anthology or graphic novel collection. Some of those stories imprint vividly and it is hard to distinguish whether I have read or possibly dreamed of the details.
            Here is an example. I remembered reading a Legion Of Superheroes story. Way, way back in the day. Seventies Belfast to be exact. It was a story that involved some one attempting to join the legion and going through an audition process. I remembered a masked figure attempting to impress a gallery of Legionnaires that he had what it takes to become one of their team, that he had what it took to be a hero. I even remembered he had very tight red form fitting  trunks that alone would have guaranteed him a seat at the table if he had been asking me to join my gang. His bum had been tangoed.
            Yet he did not get in, could not meet the exacting criteria for becoming a member of the Legion. The Legion puts great stead in singularity. Having a set of abilities or powers that bring uniqueness to the table. Each member possessed of a set of skills that serves to also identify them them, ie; Element Lad, Karate Kid, Lightning Lad,Shadow Lass, cosmic boy, etc. his special power, though considerable, could not be demonstrated and then put away again for later use. I remember thinking "Would not want to be judged by them, I have nothing special going for me." Its a common enough thing among boys of the age I was then.
             Anyway, by the end of the story he had proved them wrong. Not only demonstrated he had heroic qualities in spades but also  demonstrated a most singular power. Tragically singular in the most important respect. I remembered reading this story but not where. I knew it was a back up story, or at the very least was inside another title. For the longest time I thought it was most likely in one of the legendary 100 pagers of that period. So many archival DC stories I would not have otherwise read had it not been for them and a bunch of them remain high up on my long list of best read comics ever.
             The comic recently came my way again and I thought "Ah, there you are! The Superboy story was entitled The Rock N' Roll Riddle. How did I forget that? I thought to myself. A good enough yarn in its own right but it was the back up Legion Of Superheroes story with its themes of heroic self-sacrifice that really echoed through the corridors of my memory house...
             And off course the mighty buns of steel our hero displayed in the title panel of the story.
             "The One-Shot Hero."

           

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Gareth Roberts; A Season Of Musts.




..just a follow up on the previous post. Some rambly thoughts with regard to Gareth Roberts and his fantastic contribution to a much loved period of Doctor Who history. That second season for Romanna when she regenerated from the lovely Mary Tamm into the just as lovely Lalla ward. Gareth Roberts wrote three novels for classic Doctor Who BBC books which were in time adapted into three hugely entertaining Big Finish audio adventures. Absolutely Doctor Who at its very best, written with charm, wit, imagination and high adventure, proper High Church and respect to him as a writer. It has always felt so much like a continuation of that season and truly felt like what might have gone on between Horns Of The Nimon and The Leisure Hive. I always felt that the Doctor, Romanna and K9 had got up to so much between when we saw them in the last story of that season, even more than the un-transmitted story Shada, which we had learnt so much about thanks to Doctor Who magazine, the invaluable resource in pre-internet days. Later restored with a Who-like regenration into a partially animated story finding its place in the existing continuity...if a little later than intended.
             The three novels are just so beautifully written. With vast ideas playing out with the charm of P G Wodehouse combined with the unrestrained imagination of Douglas Adams. Exciting, funny and insightful. Written so skillfully I did indeed sigh at his ability to translate into novel story form everything I liked about a television series I loved. I read and reread a few times over the years until the incidents in the books became so familiar to me they felt as though they were playing out in my mind theater. Then Big Finish stepped up bringing all their considerable resources to bear on that same material translating the stories into the best Doctor Who tales never transmitted.
            The restored Shada sits comfortably on a shelf close to them and thanks to Gareth Roberts we have been gifted an idea which became a book which became an audio adventure which combined became a joy.
             The Well Mannered War ends with what for me was one of the most breathless and exciting moments ever to flow from the Big Finish canon. The past catches up with The Doctor, Romanna and K9 and almost breaking the fourth wall in a stunning moment of theatricality our heroes take a leap into the impossible and the improbable to show the spirit of The doctor is indomitable...
              GENRONIMO!

Shada Novel.



Every now and again I have done the odd, probably very odd, sketch based on a scene from the Doctor Who story Shada. Gareth Roberts did a lovely adaption of the original Douglas Adams script and I have been gradually turning my copy of his book into an illustrated edition, not unlike the original run of Target novelizations from back in the day.
           Some people would probably think this is damaging a perfectly fine copy of a perfectly formed book but its just a bit of fun. And anyway, I own my books they do not own me.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Joan Hickson's Ms Marple.

While looking for a cover shot for Open Casket online I came across this lovely art-deco rendering of Joan Hickson as Ms Jane Marple.Just loved this piece of art and did so want others to see and appreciate it. Joan Hickson was probably my favorite onscreen interpretation of the character. Her hawk like vision, the tiny movements of her head as she listened or observed all that went on about her. Not so much a wise old owl as a bird of prey perched to swoop.She brought an edge to the character that most likely is not to be found anywhere in Agatha Christie's writing. She always looked to me as though she truly understood the complexities and contradictions of human nature. observing with a scientific precision, not always judging but certainly understanding.
              Whatever, just wished to share a vision that perhaps might come in under everyone's radar.
              The kind of thing she was attuned to.

Brave New World.

"How beauteous is mankind! O brave new world, that has such people in it!" so said Miranda, daughter of the sorcerer Prospero, in William Shakespeare's final play The Tempest. Miranda's splendid observation is said in awe and innocence. Having been raised in a form of splendid isolation herself she views that which is new and original to her as beauteous, unaffected by a worldly pessimism or distrust of the unfamiliar, she rushes towards things which are new to her. Which makes me wonder the context Aldous Huxley uses the title, is there a degree of sarcasm at play? It is Miranda's lack of worldliness that leads her to speak her feelings out loud. I do not believe for  a second that Aldous Huxley viewed the world of then and the possible now as a beauteous thing. And while I have no doubt that Aldous Huxley did see things in a prescient fashion, I cannot fathom what in that vision he would herald as a thing of beauty.
            I have gone a lifetime without reading Brave New World but have always been familiar with the details of the book, how much of it was viewed as cultural prescience and how the author was celebrated and even championed as a visionary. Between Huxley and Orwell it is difficult to say who was credited as the most visionary. Well, not exactly true, Orwell has always been referenced through out my life and the wider culture than few other writers. Not really a joyous thing really given how dystopian both men's visions were.yet, that is the rich vein that runs through the undergallery, the deep core, of speculative writing. It is a rich vein of world building but who would want to live there? And I have no doubt that many would believe we are already there...
             Originally published in 1932, this must have seemed beyond the heights of decadence to most readers of the era. Some of the ideas still have the power to unsettle. Not even the ideas which are perhaps bullet pointed with that very intention, though it is difficult for me to interpret which of the concepts contained within were intended as such. Some of the peripheral events in it, so casually dropped into the narrative, a chiaroscuro morality at play, cringe inducing for the reader, as though the monstrous propositions are not too upsetting as the details are scathing. But they are there, lurking on the fringes of the central narrative. Its a sort of retro science shaowplay, using light and distance to obscure horrors, imbedding them as the normal state of play in this future dystopia, but again I stress, they are there. No amount of Soma, the wonder drug of the novel which enables the general population to float lazily in their pathetically grateful somnambulate existence would be enough to blind me to the daily horrors of this Brave New World.
              I would like to believe so, would like to hope so.
              It should perhaps be noted here Prospero's response to his daughters statement.
              "Tis New To Thee..."



Closed Casket.

Sophie Hannah's second novel starring Hercule Poirot, following the hugely successful Monogram Murders she wrote five or six years ago.Read that first book and thoroughly enjoyed it so i did not hesitate when I came across Closed Casket on a recent book haunt. Such a nice looking book too, with a suitably tasteful jacket design, very art-deco in a nicely understated way.
            Sophie Hannah is a very successful writer in the field of psychological thrillers and has also comfortably adapted to the Agatha Christie narrative sleight of hand, and her use of tropes to cloak the mystery paths she leads us, the reader, down. Agatha Christie elevated this form of character red herring to an art form, perhaps even adapting it as her literary modus operandi, certainly her tools of the trade.
             In this novel Poirot is reunited with Inspector Edward Catchpole of Scotland Yard whom we met in that first book. This time their meeting takes place at a luxurious mansion in the country , at the home of a very rich children's mystery writer, who is most reminiscent of another real world writer; Enid Blyton. One of the only other British writers who could equal Agatha Christie in terms of quantity of books sold. Sounds a bit more meta than it comes across in the novel. The stage is set; an isolated  group of smarmy swarthy suspicious wealthy people are gathered for a celebration that ends with a corpse. It is how the hoi poloi used to spend all their evenings in the country, with food, drink and a brutal murder. And this is a pretty brutal murder with a head so badly beaten only the lower jaw is recognisable as being that of one of the guests. And so the game is afoot...
             Like the first book I would suggest to the reader; listen properly. Which is to say give those little grey cells a bit of exercise. There are a few interesting twists and turns despite it being something of a fast read. I found myself looking forward to the moments Edward Cathpole and Hercule Poirot got together to share insights and notes. Only two books in and I have really warmed to Edward Catchpole. He is written as a good detective who has the potential to become a great detective.
            Catchpole of Scotland Yard.
            Works for me.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Night Music; Nocturnes 2.

"Ah, the music of the night.." and I am not talking Loyd Webber here. I am talking about the second volume of short stories by Irish author John Connolly, a follow up to his previous collection; Nocturnes. One of the very best short story collections I have ever had the pleasure to read, sitting comfortably with any Mr James or Robert Aickamn collection  or..well, you get the picture. I am not comparing writers here or suggesting there is a list of best to worst (the very idea of a list like that is groan inducing to me.) That first collection of stories was so good, by any standard, it was going to be a tough volume to follow up. And yet John Connolly has, knocking the ball right out of the park, to use a baseball metaphor, a sport I know nothing about. Actually, I know nothing about any sports. My brain, what there is off it, is a sport free zone.
              I had read one of the pieces contained within this book before; The Wanderer In Unknown Realms.John Connolly actually gave me a copy of this story himself, in a lovely wee ltd edition which is quite a treasure for me. I was lucky enough to spend some time in his company, with an old friend John Mc Mahon and John's other chum the writer Jeffrey Deaver. Actually very pleasant company despite the dark territory our conversations wandered through. There sometimes exists an inverse ratio between the talent of an artist and his social ease but in John Connolly one such talent mirrors the other. Affable, gregarious and as good a listener as a talker. Equally at home in a fancy resturant or in front of a camp fire, its an Irish storyteller tradition, I suppose. Talking for ones supper.
             The story is expanded upon, part of a longer narrative.; The Fractured Atlas-Five Fragments. The terrible history of a terrible book. Anyone who comes into contact with this evil book finds themselves on the receiving end of a gruesome fate. Innocence is no buffer for the horrors that follow, with truly bad things happening to good people.
              There are thirteen tales in all here. There are stories exploring arcane realms, pushing aside the thin veil that seperates us from them. The dark wilds are always closer than we could ever be comfortable with.
The Caxton Private Lending Library And Book Depository is a stand out tale for me, and the sequel, also contained in this volume.  It felt to me as though MR James and Robert Aickman had collaborated on a modern tale for a Pan or a Fontana anthology , wanting to give something back to the genres that sustained them. Also the personal notes on his inspirations and creative insights  which come at the tali end of the book; I Live Here. I found it pretty gripping stuff, almost conversational but hugely informative.
               This is a wonderful anthology. Go on, make room for it on a book shelf near you.

Who Heaven.

                                                          To be sure, a very heaven.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

The Unbearable Shiteness Of Being Bored.




Revisited two old friends in Phantasmagoria magazine this month. Two characters from a series I wrote for Fantagraphics many years ago. It works as a stand  alone and does not rely on any familiarity with that series( is not as though anyone remembers them anyway, I was and remain a pretty obscure read.) It is really just a bit of fun regarding two old chums passing time doing something they enjoy.
            PJ Holden who illustrated two of the issues continues with this wee daft yarn.
            He did a lovely job of the story within the story and I do enjoy the playful homeiness he brings to the page. Its not a superhero yarn and no one gets punched in the face, although some one does get swatted.

Werner Herzog' s Nosferatu.

By The Hoary Hosts Of Hoggoth! Werner Herzog is in the new Star wars television series The Mandolorian playing a smooth talking space slime ball. You could have knocked me over with the wonky arm of a gondark. He is such a talented man, a true Renaissance man, you never know where he might pop up or what he may be doing. Anyway, there he was, a voice I had not heard for some time(Since his amazing movie; Cave Of Forgotten Dreams probably, actually no. More recently I saw Grizzly Man, an uncomfortable vision if you know how it ends.) and I went looking for a copy of his version of the film Nosferatu, and found two versions of it.
             There is so much to like in this film. Its a nightmare to be sure, a pleasing terror in truth. Like a terrible dream you feel trapped in, awaiting exhausted and sweaty from that dream to fall deeper into another. The opening sequence in the boneyard proves itself a dream sequence and the soaring melancholy of the soundtrack draws you into a world where i was sure Geppetto sat behind a passing gable walk chiseling a son from wood, praying for the touch of the blue Fairy. Some of the haunting qualities of that soundtrack will stay with you long after you have seen the film, possibly even married to the singular vision of its director.
               Bram stokers estate would not give permission to film his novel so FW Murnau, a German film maker, not wishing to abandon the project, was forced to adapt the original text as best he could, introducing Max Schrek as the Count , producing a silent expressionist nightmare that has dazzled and inspired generations. This is a vision from an other century that transcends the ages which over the years has risen above the muddled creative beginnings to become something of a defining artistic triumph in its own right. That Werner Herzog wanted to remain faithful to that original vision is not surprising to me, yet he introduces a few tweaks of his own and makes much of his freedom to wrap it in as haunting a sound-scape as the original possessed such visual flair but had to remain silent.
                Its sad, haunting and timeless. A testament to all involved, in death as much as in life.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Bowie; Stardust,Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams.

..just picked this up, hot off the cosmic presses, the long awaited biographical fantastical story of David Bowie by Michael Allred, the equally cosmic comic soul who was born to do this. Cannot wait to...

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Ghost Of a Flea.

.                                                          .speaking Of William Blake..

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Peter And The Wolf.

             Heres a little bit of Bowie and a whole lot of Prokofiev. I used to drive my mates mad humming the main theme from this orchestral piece. They never suspected they had it good, off course, you ought to hear my strangulated version of Holidays in The Sun by The Sex Pistols. Then again, maybe not..
           "Are you bloody singing Christmas songs in the middle of July?" one of them once asked me. It is because Prokofiev' music touches people on that level, well I believe so anyway. Something other, something magical, something better. I was a big Bowie enthusiast growing up and it took me forver to find this album. I found it hanging on a peg on a stall in a hilltop market in Armagh, which was basically a table covered in illegal bootleg movies (Dreadful, they all looked like they were recorded on cellotape by a cameraman experiencing the horrors of drink.) and batteries. I was astonished to see it swaying gently in the hilltop breeze. Staring at it I felt like William Blake seeing angels dancing in the branches of summer tree leaves.
           I still treasure it.
           Much like the occasional Blakean vision.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Fireside Gothic.

Read this very nice portmanteau collect by Andrew Talor which very nicely delivers what it promises on the cover. The book contains three stories, three borderline novellas; Broken Voices, The Leper House and The Scratch. It was hard for me to resist this book given its title and very lovely suggestive sleeve art on the cover. not that my imagination would put up much resistance. Especially after reading the synopsis of the collections first story of two lonely school boys left behind in an empty school over the Christmas holidays and the ghosts who taunt and haunt them, pure MR James territory. Although the great man would not have laid claim to any particular region of un-mapped literature. The pre-First World War setting of that empty private school with its echoing corridors and looming cathedral conceals a touching narrative of loneliness, social bullying and lost childhoods. Perfect dark month reading. Like one of those seventies Christmas ghost stories the BBC were formerly so adept at making.
           The Leper House is one of those tales charting the journey of a mourner and his ghostly encounters on a lonely road, a man lost in time as much as in space, as he accepts aid from some very odd ladies causing him to become unmoored in so many ways, when he and we learn that just to feel something does not make it real..
            And finally there is The Scratch. This story deals with the attempts made by a young soldier returning from war who tries to find solace in solitude and the impact this has on those about him who try to aid his recovery. I was reminded of Sherlock Holmes warning about the broad swathes of green and pleasant land and the secrets it hides.sad and haunting and yet quite modern in tone, The Scratch finds its mar.
            Fireside Gothic hints at the best place to experience such tales but any location would be suitable for three such spooky tales and it does not require a definite seat to indulge. Comfy chair tales would have been just as appropriate, or even empty sofa in a coffee house. Its all about what is on the page and between the covers than the location of ones backside.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

New Phantasmagorias.

Nice start to the New year with two issues of the wonderful Phantasmagoria magazine, the regular one and a special dedicated to the legendary R Chetwyn Hayes. I have a contribution in each, a comic strip, with fantastic, or should that be Phantastique, art by P J Holden and the other an appreciation of the great writer. Its a joy to see the breadth of content in this magazine so cleverly and passionately edited by Trevor Kennedy. And a real pleasure to read the articles by people who really care about the subjects that cause them to put pen to paper.
           ...to be found at any distributor of the outre..

Nocturnes.

What a great choice this John Connolly collection of short stories turned out to be, for my Christmas holiday read. Felt in the mood for some scares, some more fireside scares,the particular ones you only get before an actual crackling fire, which is to be found in the house I was staying in over the Christmas holidays. I have had this book sitting on a shelf filled with John Connolly books, mostly his Charlie Parker books,waiting for the moment to really get my teeth into it, so to speak, then the stars aligned and I got a chance to sample this feast of pleasing terrors. It really looked the part, how a collection of possibly antiquarian stories, would look, sitting on a post-Edwardian book shelf.a lovely understated little volume containing fourteen short stories and a really gripping Charlie parker novella. One that contained something of a seismic event in the troubled life of Charlie Parker. It is no play on words to describe this collection as a haunting anthology and John Connolly wears his influences lightly, sprinkling the various texts with the most lovely little nods and winks. He homages but never mimics, his own voice being such a strong one. it always feels modern but boy can he deliver when it comes to telling tales in the grand old school way of an MR James or an Edgar Allen Poe. He commits to the short form as intensely as he weaves dark epics in the long form, although this distinction blurs as the reader comes towards the end of this collection and the charlie Parker novella that patiently sits at the back of the bus, awaiting disembarkation; The Reflecting Eye.
           Charlie parker is surely America's smartest and wittiest private investigator, although the events which shaped his character are truly horrific. For me, Charlie parker embodies the spirit of a fictional Anrew Vachs, a real life champion of lost children. Another who sees every child born as another chance to get things right.
The tragic events that drive, and haunt, Charlie Parker are pretty harrowing and his creator does not shy from articulating in almost poetic prose those horrors. Not perhaps for the faint hearted but beautifully rewarding.

A Christmas Carol.

It is that time of year. it always is,really. When Ipick up Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol and reread it. I do believe that one of its most enduring qualities is the rightly appealing notion that no human being is beyond redemption. Over the years since the first appearance of the story, it has possessed the ability to soften even the hardest hearts, suggesting that we are all capable of change, no matter how committed to a certain path we may appear. Ebenezer Scrooge is not even the worst of men, not even the worst character Mr Dickens ever created. And for all his faults there is a wicked humour at play in the pre-redemptive old curmudgeon. For instance when he faux mourns the passing of the various Victorian institutions set up to punish the poor for being poor, thinking the world a lesser place without the presence of a character building treadmill.
             It is a familiar tale off course; Over the course of one night Scrooge is visited by four ghosts. The ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and Christmas yet to come. Scrooge gets to revisit the early points of his life where he chose to take a different path from the one that would have best enriched his heart and soul, the two unquantifiable repositories of of the better angels of our natures. He also gets a glimpse of the here and now, of the world that lies just one step away from the closed cold circle he inhabits. Most scary though is the view of his path to a lonely gaping grave the unspeaking ghost of what may be gives him. All in all, it proves sufficient to make a man change his ways and Scrooge achieves the near impossible for him; Happiness.

The Company I keep.