Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Captain Alatriste novel coming soon






Really pleased to note there's a new Captain Altriste novel from Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte coming next month, The Man in the Yellow Doublet. I'm quite addicted to this series (also very much enjoyed his Fencing Master and Dumas Panel novels too) - he's a highly respect Spanish author but the Alatriste novels have the air of delightful romp around them, but a romp written by a top notch writer who gives us swashbuckling historical adventure and intrigue - like Dumas but for a modern reader rather easier to enjoy - but laces this pulp adventure with well researched gems from history, literature and the arts, especially Spain's history and artistic culture. Wonderful stuff, I've devoured the whole series thus far. Still disappointed that the film (starring Viggo Mortensen) never seems to have had a UK release, although it is available as an import (but a bit pricey for me), have wondered how the film version compares to the novels.



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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My best of the year selection:graphic novels, books and movies

Well we come to our last Best of the Year for the 2009 releases and before we embark on my own selection of graphic novels, books and movies from the previous year I'd like to thank all of the many guest bloggers who took part in our annual tradition; I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did and that the diversity of contributors meant there was an interesting variety of choices on offer. I certainly saw some I hadn't had time to read yet but now want to track down (simply click on the Best of the Year 2009 tag or category to see them all). My own selectionsare, I'm afraid, less than concise and more rambling in nature (which is not unusual for me), but they were works that really stood out for me in 2009 from beautiful animations to dark and disturbing horror and comics work from glowing retro science fiction settings to real world reportage. I think again in terms of comics and in terms of SF&F publishing I was again utterly spoiled for choice; these works I've picked out here are only the tip of the iceberg, there were many more I thoroughly enjoyed this year, but there's only so many you can squeeze into an article and I think I've squeezed in about as many as I dare, so here we go:

Graphic novels

Footnotes in Gaza


Joe Sacco Footnotes in Gaza - the strip

I've already flagged this up on the blog while I was in the process of reading it; with it only being published in December I think Footnotes has missed a lot of people's Best of the Year selections, which is understandable but a shame, because it is a brilliant work. Not just because of its 'worthy' content which is a subject matter of recent and living history which demands further attention, not just because Sacco is so good at putting the intimate, personal face onto historical events, giving us real people we can relate to and empathise with and a voice to people who all too often are just background in a news report to most of us, but because as well as his well documented comics reportage (and I hugely admire him for going and living among the people he is covering, despite the not inconsiderable dangers to get those reports), he is also, quite simply, a bloody good cartoonist.

From small, almost cosy scenes inside small rooms to larger landscapes of the city and refugee camps, replete with fine details to draw the eye in, to good cutting, from the same location right after a massacre to the present day where it is a market, both on facing pages, one large panel each, simple, powerful. It’s a terrific comics achievement and, I think, the form makes the subject more accessible to many readers than any number of in depth prose pieces from well-meaning broadsheet reporters. It will make you angry at injustices and cruelties (on both sides), it will make you sad for the losses that seem to go on endlessly, but it will draw you in.

Cash: I See a Darkness, Reinhard Kleist


Kleist-Cash-I-See-a-Darkness-cotton-farming

This graphic biography of one of the most iconic musicians of the 20th century is one I had been eager to read for a couple of years, since we first blogged about Reinhard Kleist publishing it in Germany. When one English language edition seemed to evaporate into thin air I thought I wasn't going to see it, until SelfMadeHero stepped in with what I think was their first translated work from a modern creator. It was worth the wait – Kleist uses a mixture of biographical scenes with comics renditions of some of Cash's songs to give not a cradle to grave exhaustive biography but to give the flavour and essence of a fascinating figure and a passionate, troubled artist. Read it while listening to a playlist of your favourite Man in Black tracks. Simply brilliant. (see the full review for more)

Grandville, Bryan Talbot

Grandville Bryan Talbot steam carriage chase

Another work I had been eagerly anticipating – I remember seeing some art from Grandville the year before last at the Edinburgh Book Festival where Bryan was speaking. The lovely clothbound hardback is a lovely looking book and the work itself is a delightful Steampunk science fiction piece, set in an alternate history with anthropomorphic characters (our lead hero, a Scotland Yard detective, is a badger) entangled in an international conspiracy with echoes of our own troubled present. All of this is depicted in Bryan's fabulous art, with wonderful characters, some truly gorgeous depictions of an alternative Belle Époque Paris – the eponymous Grandville. Add in a good murder-conspiracy tale and a ton of references of all sorts, from nods to famous performers of the period to Tintin to Rupert the Bear, you'll find yourself going back over it again and finding more details and references you didn't get before.

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 3: Century #1 – 1910, Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill

League Extraordinary Gentlemen Century BritanniaAlan Moore Kevin ONeill

I was quite surprised not to see this being mentioned more in people's favourites of the year, perhaps because of its brevity or perhaps because it was way back in April and there's been a lot of comics since then and its easy to forget just what you read this year among so many (I know I had to think about some, did I read that this year or the end of last? Oh yes...). Its a little annoying that its so open-ended, but then again its part of a triple whammy of new LOEG work, so that's not really a criticism. Kev's artwork is, as always, brilliant and full of little sneaky details that demand going back over it with a magnifying glass while Alan, of course, delivers an intriguing story layered in more references than I can take in, even after he discussed many of them with Pádraig here on the blog.

Burma Chronicles, Guy Delisle

Layout 1

I missed reading this when D&Q first did it in North America but picked it up when Cape published the UK edition in 2009. Travel Literature is a very popular genre in prose books and its surprising that relatively few comics creators work in that area because the visual element adds a lot in describing other lands and cultures. With Delisle spending a good, long time in Burma (his wife is working for Médecins Sans Frontières there and he and their baby go along). Travel Lit, for me anyway, has always worked best when the writer is immersed into a country and culture most of us won’t get to know, which is harder and harder to do in our modern era of easy global travel. Burma, however, with its dreadful repressive regime of ‘the Generals’ remains inaccessible and secretive, so as with his previous works on China and North Korea Delisle is, like the best Travel Lit writers, exploring a place largely hidden to most of us and its fascinating.

Deslisle’s artwork is fairly simple but effective and enjoyably easy on the eye, whether he is describing Buddhist monks, the friends he makes locally or the rich heritage of that troubled country. Its often laced with humour, from Delisle preparing for foreign travel by checking the language options on his Star Trek DVDs to cultural misunderstandings and the way he depicts the tyrannical Generals (small, self important uniformed dwarves) pokes fun at people who deserve to be ridiculed – a small act which would cause dreadful consequences for a Burmese citizen though. As he settles into life in Burma there are constant reminders that he can’t take for granted those freedoms we have in Western countries; giving an interview to a Western magazine he finds out later he may inadvertently cause problems for friends he is teaching art and animation to as the repressive authorities will associate his comments with them. Trips into the countryside afford Delisle the chance to draw both simple village life scenes and glorious temples at holy sites.

Throughout it all the invisible shadow of Aung San Suu Kyi looms, referred to by locals simply as ‘The Lady’, never seen in her home imprisonment but a constant presence. Its funny, its charming, its moving in places and it explores a culture most of us will never get to experience directly. Absolutely wonderful stuff and a book I’ve been recommending to non comics readers to show how diverse and accessible the medium is.

Robo-Hunter: the Droid Files Volume 1, Wagner, Grant, Gibson et al

Robo-Hunter Sam Slade Ian Gibson 2000ad

The name's Slade, Sam Slade. That's S-L-A-Y-E-D to you, tin head! Ah, Sam Slade, one of my earliest and happiest of 2000 AD memories. An old detective who hunts down errant robots, he is dispatched to a world built and 'manned' by robots in anticipation of human colonists – all of whom vanish never to be heard of again after landing. So Sam is sent by unscrupulous colony bosses, his lightspeed shields sabotaged so he arrives at Verdus some decades younger (his young pilot is regressed to a foul mouthed infant) and has to face down an entire planet of comically insane robots.

Wagner and Grant deliver a great science fiction gumshoe character with piles of often sarcastic humour (a 2000 AD trademark, SF and smartarse humour) while Ian Gibson comes up with some of the weirdest, whackiest and simply brilliant robot designs (a cast of thousands!) I've ever seen. Now collected into a huge, great value omnibus like the Judge Dredd Case Files series. Sure, some of this comes from it being a nostalgia trip for many of us, but nostalgia aside its still a bloody brilliant bit of Brit comics writing and art.

Morris, the Mankiest Monster, Giles Andrea and Sarah McIntyre

Morris the Mankiest Monster Giles Andrae Sarah McIntyre

Okay, technically this is a children's picture book rather than comic, but the two forms have a lot of overlap and one of our favourite comics creators, Sarah McIntyre, produced the art for Morris, a delightfully gross, disgusting monster that will make boring old adults feel sick while children (and big kids at heart, of course) will laugh and love it. Simply wonderful – and disgusting! - fun.

Years of the Elephant, Willy Linthout

Years-of-the-Elepehant-Willy-Linthout-page

Like Kleist's Cash book this is another work from Europe that I was waiting and hoping someone would translate into English and thankfully Fanfare/Ponent Mon stepped up. Its not the easiest read – the whole comic is Linthout, a hugely successful comics creator in Belgium, essentially trying to work through the turmoil of emotions caused by the suicide of his son. Losing a loved one is immensely hard, losing them suddenly harder still, but to lose a child and to suicide? How do you continue as a parent after your pride and joy has ripped themselves from your life by their own hand? Linthout's art here is a deliberately rough and unfinished style, sharing some of the artist's own sense of being bereft and rudderless, filled with conflicting emotions of deep sadness and anger.

His mental breakdown and increasing sense of unreality sometimes throws up scenes which seem almost humorous – a feeling emphasised by his art style, which has a humorous comic look to it – except of course, given the theme it isn't funny at all, its sad, its disturbing. Throughout the rough artwork his son is a constant presence, but when seen its only ever as the chalk outline left by the police around his body after he leapt to his death, giving him a cartoony, almost Gumby-esque look which again, under other circumstances, would be humorous; the conflict between that humorous look of many images with the sadness of the events and feelings the portray is quite unsettling, as indeed it should be, and I’d assume that was part of Linthout’s intention, sharing a tiny fraction of the confusion and turmoil his mind is suffering as it tries to understand and process what has happened to his boy. I found it quite difficult to read to be honest; too upsetting sometimes, so I had to read it in little bursts, but I'm glad I did, its a remarkable, personal work from a European creator most of the Anglophone world (including me) won't be familiar with, trying to come to terms with what must be every parent’s worst fear, losing their child.

Honourable mentions also go to Jamilti and Other Stories by Rutu Modan (UK edition again), which may not be up there her Exit Wounds but which still had some fine short gems in the collection of early work and a couple of nice little tricks on the reader too (not least those locked lips on the cover and what they actually denote when you read that story). I didn't pick up Jeff Lemire's Complete Essex County as I already had the original three volumes, but if you haven't got those then I've also got to recommend the complete edition which came out in 2009 as a book you really should have.

Crumb’s The Book of Genesis also has to get a mention – its certainly not my favourite, but where I found some sections irritating that’s not Crumb’s fault, its his co-author who he is adapting (presumably Almighty God) and my own dislike of organised religion which made it difficult for me. And endless ‘this person begat this person who begat that person who lived 460 years and 460 years were his days’ is a bit wearisome (it may be the word of God if you are a believer, but man, that deity needed an editor badly). But that aside it’s a major work by one of our major, influential cartoonists and while the original stories he is drawing from (literally) may be, in my view, badly written and the religious beliefs of the characters want me to loose Richard Dawkins on the nearest Bible Class, the artwork is superb and a reminder of what a bloody good artist Crumb is. Yes, it is Crumb so there are a lot of very large bottomed women wandering the Holy Land, but still his art is a joy and the heavy black and white suits the Old Testament work very well. And he also gets props not just for the scope of the work but for a graphic novel which achieved widespread coverage well outside the comics sphere, hopefully getting some more non comics folk to dip their toes in the medium

Books

The Hobgoblin Wars, Leo Baxendale

Hobgoblin wars dispathces from the front Leo Baxendale

This was a lovely surprise, a present from Leo and his wife Peggy and, I have to say, one of the most enjoyable books I read all year. I’ve been lucky enough to read Leo’s previous autobiographical works and I was delighted when he told me he was working on this new volume, which mostly covers more recent years. Leo opens with a short discourse on Comedy and his old friend, The Absurd, as if giving a cosmology lecture but instead of matter and anti-matter in the creation of the universe he discusses Comedy and the forces of Anti-Comedy and that oppressive Almighty Power, to which one should always make a certain two-fingered gesture.

This opening had me laughing out loud, rather disconcerting other passengers on the train I was on at the time, but I didn’t care. Leo makes a serious point about the events and the grim-faced, usually humourless people who can and do make life for everyone more miserable and how it is Comedy’s role to fight those forces (an assertion I completely agree with). Its not a flippant point, its serious, but delivered in a wonderfully humorous way. I could imagine the spirits of Buster Keaton, Spike Milligan and Bill Hicks nodding their agreement with him. There’s a lot of travel in this volume as Leo and Peggy are involved in various exhibitions and conventions at home and abroad. Its interesting to learn about the ways Leo has experimented with various folks over the years to achieve the best possible quality prints of some of his original work, which is too fragile and too susceptible to the ravages of age and environment (aren’t we all?) to travel for exhibitions; contemporary artists will almost certainly pick up some ideas for exhibiting their own work from his experiences.

Often these exhibitions involve more of the great and the good in the Brit comics community and it’s rather wonderful to read about some very famous names who all pitch in with suggestions and help for exhibitions. Leo also discusses his work for the Guardian and the approaches of the BBC for the Comics Britannia series, for which his presence was pretty much essential, and his own wariness over contracts with the media but how it all worked out. Its funny, it’s a nice insight into the life of one of our most esteemed comics creators, but mostly its simply a delightful read, mixing anecdotes and art, serious points and humour. It left me with a big smile on my face. The book itself is lovely – actually hand-bound, a rarity in this day and age, making it all the more special (and urging me to enjoy the tactile sense of it, running fingers along the spine, sniffing the paper). Of course this also means it is produced in a fairly small number and is quite pricey and, while its well worth it (as well as being a great read, it’s a highly collectable tome any bibliophile would love to have on their shelves) obviously not everyone who would love to read it could afford it, but don’t despair, because Leo has generously had the text placed onto his site for everyone to enjoy and you should take advantage of that.

The Naming of the Beasts, Mike Carey

Naming of the Beasts felix castor novel mike carey

Since Mike’s previous Felix Castor novels have all featured on my earlier Best of the Year picks it won’t be a surprise to regular readers that his latest one is again one of my faves. I admit it, I’m quite addicted to this series, although not for the first time I wonder where on earth Mike gets the time to pen multiple comics series and prose novels. Through the previous novels featuring our down-at-heels freelance exorcist Mike has provided not only a gripping story but built up the background around Castor and the other characters, a world almost like ours except the supernatural is real, the dead sometimes walk and there are other, more dangerous things out there.

Like a powerful demon welded to the soul of Castor’s best friend, kept safely caged for years and now loose and cutting a swathe through London. Driven by circumstances Castor is forced to return to his old employer, a ruthless scientist who experiments on the undead, werekind and ghosts with a total lack of morality. With more blood and guilt on his hands Mike seriously pushes Castor into events and actions which are totally gripping. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, its one of the best series going right now.

My Dead Body, Charlie Huston

My Dead Body Joe Pitt vampire novel Charlie Huston

Another real world meets supernatural series that I’ve been addicted to and another book from a scribe also noted for his comics work, Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt series of novels, which have taken the often cliché-ridden vampire genre and given them a real Mean Streets edge to them, more Scorcese meets Chandler than Anne Rice or Stephanie Meyer. Sadly this is the final book in the series and although I’ve been addicted to the series since the beginning I have to admit I think Charlie is right to contain it within a set limit and not simply keep going endlessly. It certainly piles on the dramatic tension – with the end coming, Pitt down and out (and indeed living in the sewers at the start), the various Manhattan vampire groups at war, the love of his life now vampirised and living in a vamp community now run by someone he despises, its all to play for and in the unflinchingly brutal world of street violence Charlie depicts you know that you can’t take the survival of any of the characters for granted, not even Pitt himself.

Its all rapidly going pear shaped in the Manhattan vampire world, with Pitt pulled every which way in his attempt to get to where he wants, making deals and double deals and all the time trying to work his own angle, his one aim to get back to his girl, knowing fine well that there’s every chance that even if he makes it to her against the odds she may well tell him to crawl right back down that sewer pipe. Add in a Romeo and Juliet romance with star-crossed mortal and vampire (Huston gleefully riffing on Twilight, perhaps, in his own inimitable style?) and you’ve got a vamp tale told in hardboiled Noir style. Many characters are going to be changed, maimed or even dead before the end of this and its hugely compelling.

Orbus, Neal Asher

Orbus Neal Asher

Neal is one of the consistently best from the impressive roster of top class SF writers we're lucky enough to have right now in the UK, one of my go-to writers for solid, inventive SF that also delivers a ton of action, not to mention some quite devious nastiness. Especially when Prador are involved. This follows on from events in The Voyage of the Sable Keech, with the Old Captain Orbus trying to overcome the last few centuries of his mis-spent past and personality changes brought about by the Spatterjay virus and the Prador Vrell now infected by the virus and mutating rapidly. Their paths will cross, drawing in the Prador Kingdom and the Polity, uncovering secrets, risking a new war and awakening something ancient which should be left well alone. Its fast paced, gripping, often downright brutal (although like Richard Morgan the violence rarely feels gratuitous, there's a moral dimension and consequence to violent actions and pasts), solid right down the line.

Bar None

Bar None Tim Lebbon Nightshade Books

The end of human civilisation has come, almost every single person wiped out in a short space of town. Towns and cities are deteriorating without maintenance and a few shattered survivors find a quite space in a country house, unsure why they were spared or what to do next, whiling away the time and their trauma swapping stories over some good beers at night. Ale is central to this apocalypse; it’s the social glue that helps the disparate survivors bond together and it’s the trigger for flashbacks to the better times before the end of the world. The aroma of a particular beer, its colour, its taste and how its bound in to memories of happier times, drinking a pint of this or that real ale on a warm, summer day in a pub’s beer garden, idly passing a day with the woman you love, talking, drinking, kissing…

But that world’s gone, isn’t it? And our survivors know their supplies are running low, but are loathe to face the reality of their situation or to go foraging for more because in the distance over the city there are shapes that aren’t birds… When a mysterious rider arrives and takes shelter for a few days with them he seems to know all about each of them and what they lost as the world of mankind crumbled. When he leaves they are all given the strong urge to set out on a quest – a very British quest. The world has ended and they are going to seek out the last pub in existence which their mystery guest told them about. Where there is endless food and beer and its safe. The world ended and the last great haven – if it actually exists – is a pub!

It sounds light-hearted, a bit Shaun of the Dead perhaps, but while there is humour it soon becomes dark and very nasty. Tim Lebbon is, after all, noted not only for his good tastes in fine beers but for writing some very dark fantasy works, full of horror elements and those are present here on the journey to the fabled last pub, braving the world that has passed and gone wild – and worse than just wild, there are things that simply shouldn’t be, but are… It’s a very British end of the world tale – even the chapter headings are drawn from the names of real ales – with real, creeping horror mixed with the mundane but lightened by the glow of warm memories of days now gone. Unusual and brilliant. But it will make you very thirsty.

We Never Talk About My Brother, Peter S Beagle

We Never Talk about My Brother
(buy from Amazon)

We Never Talk About My Brother, Peter S Beagle

This collection of short stories by Peter Beagle is a treasure chest of wonder; the award winning writer is probably still best known for The Last Unicorn and it is a pleasure to see Tachyon publishing more of his work. A peaceful king thinks about war as a way to be remembered, an old Jewish uncle paints an angel who comes to model for him, a middle aged American changes into the last, true Frenchman, a brother's thoughts change the world to the dismay of his family, a criminal fleeing on a snowswept moor takes shelter by the fire of an old minister who tells him of being spirited away to Faerie... I really can't do Peter's writing justice; he's not really a writer, he's one of those rare breed of scribes who I think the old Scots term makkar suits, what Borges once referred to as a maker of words. Elegantly crafted glimpses into a variety of worlds; here is an author who gets praise from the likes of Ursula Le Guin – that should tell you all you need to know.

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, Jesse Bullington

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart Jesse Bullington Orbit

Jesse's debut novel arrives with a recommendation from the quite excellent Jeff VanderMeer. Now that would be enough to pique my interest anyway, but when I picked it up I didn't know that, but I had an instant feeling about it, I just knew this was a book I wanted to read. Taking old fashioned fairy tales long before they were cleaned up for children's book Jesse spins a medieval, down and dirty, violent, often vulgar tale of the Brothers Grossbart, part of a line of grave-robbers, fighting, killing and stealing their way from the Germanic lands southward to 'Gyptland' to ransack the legendary tombs. Creatures in the dark woods threaten, demons can gobble souls, a moonlit monastery is deserted save for the dead, a witch resides in her cottage, a man monk raves in such a manner the Brothers assume he follows their own perverted form of worship... The action is brutal, the supernatural elements dealt with fairly matter of factly, the humour often vulgar, the language often very coarse – its not for the easily offended, but I loved it. Fantasy all too often can drown in clichés; Jesse takes the genre by the seat of its leather britches and kicks it solidly in the backside. An author to watch.

Interzone Adam Tredowski

As I've noted a number of times over recent years we're pretty much spoiled for some excellent science fiction and fantasy at the moment and space simply doesn't allow me to list all of the other books which I really enjoyed this year, so quick honourable mentions also go to God of Clocks by Alan Campbell (a satisfying if slightly rushed end to his debut trilogy which was inventive and often disturbing), Charlie Stross's Wireless, an enjoyable smorgasbord of his shorter fiction and Mike Cobley who moved from his fantasy roots to science fiction with the first part of a great new series, Seeds of the Earth. And throughout the year as usual that stalwart of the British science fiction publishing scene, Interzone magazine (and its darker sister Black Static), delivered some quite brilliant short SF, some from established names, some from authors totally new to me who I will be watching for in the future; still the place to check out fresh, new SF writing.

Film

On the screen front its hard to ignore Cameron's visually impressive Avatar; the story and characters are totally predictable, you can pretty much figure out early on how it will all work out, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you are dazzling the audience with astonishingly rich visuals that immerse them into another world. And JJ Abrams' reboot of Star Trek overcame my old Trek fan cynicism at the thought of seeing other actors in those iconic roles to deliver a real shot in the arm to a tired franchise and successfully reboot it. Terry Gilliam's Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was not his best work, but even a flawed Gilliam movie is still more interesting than many other directors at their best and, as always, was a delight in terms of imagery and rampant imagination.

Star Trek XI DVD & Blu Ray

Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus DVD & Blue Ray







Moon [DVD] [2009]

Moon [Blu-ray] [2009]

But to be honest those weren’t my favourites – actually no less than three of my favourites of the year I saw at the Edinburgh Film Festival and, sadly, two of them have still to gain general releases in the UK, while the other has gone on to great acclaim. Duncan Jones low budget British SF flick Moon was terrific; yes, I guessed the twist in advance, but it didn’t matter, it was well played and put together. I even appreciated the fact they had gone back to the old ways of physical effects even for the Lunar exteriors, giving an almost Gerry Anderson, Space 1999 feel to those scenes. Jones and his crew talked to the audience after the Festival debut and their enthusiasm for it was very clear and that carried over into the screen. (full review here)





The other two which I loved were both animated works, both quite different in style and target audience. Brendan and the Secret of Kells, a gorgeous, traditionally animated (no 3D CGI here) all-ages feature from Ireland centred around one of the glories of Western literature, The Book of Kells and like that remarkable work showcased some beautiful artwork (see the full review here). Also at the Festival I caught another traditional form of animation, this time stop motion, with the low budget Australian film, unusually an animation aimed squarely at an adult audience, Mary and Max. What could be a dodgy area – a growing long distance friendship between a lonely young girl in 70s Australia and a single, middle-aged man with mental health problems in New York, is actually a lovely, bittersweet tale and its infuriating to me that its done so well on the international festival circuit and yet is still to get a proper release in the UK -- it got a fairly limited release in some US cities, I think (a full review can be found here); Kells did get a release in Europe (it was a combined Franco-Irish funded work) and its native Ireland but still, months later, hasn’t had a general release in the UK. Perhaps distributors are convinced that if it isn’t CGI and 3D then no-one will come to see it, which is short-sighted and means a lot of people are missing out on some wonderful films.

Mary & Max [Blu-ray] [2009] [US Import]




This first appeared on the Forbidden Planet International blog as the final part of the annual Best of the Year feature

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Happy birthday, Mr Poe

It's the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, a favourite author of mine since I was about ten and thumbing through a collection of his work. One of the real ale pubs I regularly drink in has a poem extolling ale written by Poe, enscribed up on the wall, which always makes me smile. I wonder if the Poe Toaster made their customary, secretive appearance today? For half a century someone has left cognac and roses on Poe's grave, a rather lovely little tradition, I think; they have become known as the Poe Toaster. I will raise a glass if single malt in his honour myself later on (any excuse).



Last summer the Edinburgh Film Festival had a retrospective of Roger Corman and the great Vincent Price's Edgar Allan Poe films from the 60s in their wonderfully lurid colour and with Vincent's velvet voice. In fact I usually tell people who don't get Poe to read his short fiction and to do so slowly, imagining in their head the voice of Vincent Price narrating it to them. If they still don't get it then they are beyond help.



Poe has influenced and inspired many later writers, not just in the phantasmagorical, horror and fantasy realms but in establishing one of the great literary successes of the last century and a bit, the detective tale, setting out many of the rules and procedures of a proper, modern detective for fiction; without it probably no Sherlock Holmes, no Maigret, no Rebus...



He's been directly referenced by generations of authors and other artists, including some of the finest, such as the immortal Ray Bradbury, who explored one of his favourite, lifelong themes - the battle against ignorance and censorship - in the short story Usher II, where there is a world where all fantastical tales, from outright horror to children's fairy tales, are banned, only the logical and rational is allowed. One rich eccentric builds a replica of the House of Usher and staffs it with robotic versions of Poe characters, inviting the great and good from this new rational society to a party.



They are all shocked by his lawbreaking but take it as a delightful piece of bad taste for one night. What they don't know is the robot characters are murdering them all, one by one, in the style of Poe deaths - a robot ape stuffs a screaming victim up the chimney and the rest of the guests applaud assuming it all artifice. The final victim only realises the trap they have come into as he is walled up, buried alive, at the end. His host explains that if he had read the books instead of burning them, he would have known what was happening and saved himself. Ignorance and embracing censorship has killed them all. He exits and the walls of Usher II rip asunder and fall into the mere...



Anyway, for Poe's birthday, enjoy The Raven, here interpreted in a fine manner by Omnia:



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Friday, January 15, 2010

The decline of a once fine bookseller

I see from this whole raft of articles in the papers that my former employer, Waterstone's, is not only doing badly but being publicly chastised for poor decisions which took the business in unwise directions, effectively taking it from being a highly respected booksellers with good stock range and knowledgeable staff to being a bloody book supermarket with poor range apart from the same endlessly promoted few bestsellers (which are sold at a huge discount so gouging the company's profits badly). Which is something I said years back and now I see a former head honcho of the company is saying similar things.

I think the rot really set in after the HMV merger, that's when it became clear it was going to be run by people who had no knowledge of, or passion for, books and reading and who failed utterly to understand that while a bookshop may be a retail operation, its a very peculiar form of retail and trying to run it like a music store or supermarket simply doesn't work, you end up with poor range that you give away large discounts on to entice in a type of customer who doesn't read a lot and has no loyalty to you and will be just as happy buying the same bestseller from Tesco if its cheaper. Meantime due to centralised system and range cuts your best customers, those who are heavy readers, the ones who want a good range of books in all subjects and expert booksellers they can talk to about them, get fed up and stop using you. I recall one former colleague telling me about a visit to head office where at a meeting these non bookselling people deciding promotions were talking about units they could shift and product placement and it took them a while to realise they were talking about selecting books for the front of store. That was how they saw them, like selling tins of beans.

Depressing; when I first started there it was a nice place to work, the staff put up with crap wages because we loved books and we were trusted to run our sections and innovative in them, so the stores were all a little different, local content was included, small press folks got a look in, customers were happier and so were staff - sales were good and so was the company's reputation. Of course changes in commerce - losing the Net Book Agreement, opening the floodgates to mass discounting and supermarkert muscling in, cherry picking only the top few dozen bestsellers, the growth in online ordering and Waterstone's muddled policy in that field - inevitably meant it was all going to change, but allowing the changes to be made by idiots who knew nothing about bookselling and disregarding expert knowledge of loyal staff (leading to many leaving, or in my case being pushed out) meant they made a total arse of it. A shame.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Fog in Channel

Quite a while back I was asked by Tom and Simon Sykes if I'd like to contribute to a book they were putting together on British attitudes to Europe; its taken some time to get to print but its now finally been released (I just received my complimentary copy). It was quite nice to be asked (they had come across the Woolamaloo after the infamous 'Bastardstone's' incident and liked my writing style) and it was unusual for me to be asked to write on something other than my regular subjects of books, comics or films (much as I do enjoy writing and talking about those). I'm also rather chuffed to think I'm in there with company such as Bill Deedes, Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell and Tony Benn (my late uncle, a solid socialist to the day he died, would have been delighted to see his nephew in a book alongside Benn). The guys wanted to have a spread of people and so a variety of thoughts and opinion and not just the 'usual suspects', hence why I was also approached; I drew on my own experience of an earlier Union to describe my feeling towards European Union, looking at the notion of being Scottish and British against the idea of being British but also European. Fog in Channel (the title inspired by the old weather report on the radio) is published now by Shoehorn Publishing.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Books alfresco

I was looking at my ever-growing Woolamaloo Flickr site today and was a bit puzzled as to why a fairly simple B&W photo of some books in the garden which I posted months ago had suddenly had 60 odd viewings in one day:



Books alfresco




Don't get me wrong, its an okay pic but not one of the best ones on there and its been up for months, so why the sudden flurry of interest in it? Turns out that the Book Bench blog of the New Yorker had spotted it, liked it and re-posted it. How very cool to get a mention by fellow book folks involved with such a cool journal! In case you are wondering, the book on the table is Guy Delisle's excellent piece of travel literature in comics form, the Burma Chronicles (published Drawn & Quarterly in North America, Jonathan Cape in the UK) and on the chair is Kurt Vonnegut's fascinating take on human evolution, Galapagos, which I was reading for my Book Group that month. One of the nice things about posting so many pics on Flickr is you can never tell when someone will come along, see them and enjoy one in particular. Which is part of the reason I do it and part of why I've always liked the web for so many years. (click the pic for the larger version on Flickr)

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Hello, I'm Johnny Cash..."

Cash: I See a Darkness

Reinhard Kleist

Self Made Hero

Cash I See a Darkness Reinhard Kleist

"If you wanna save your soul from hell, cowboy, then change your ways today. Or you'll ride with us through these endless skies, forever on the hunt for the Devil's herd..." Ghost Riders in the Sky

To say award-winning German comics creator Reinhard Kleist's graphic biography of the late, great Johnny Cash arrived with a fair weight of expectation - mixed with anticipation - on my part is an understatement. Those of you who've been reading the blog for a good while may recall that we first talked about this work nearly two years ago when the original made a big splash in Germany. In fact it sold out its original print run from Carlsen and among the awards it picked up was the prestigious Max und Moritz, before going on to be picked up and translated into other languages by publishers like Dargaud in France and an English language version was apparently on the cards from Dark Horse. Since many of us were eager to read it in English we were pretty happy at this, but then it went quiet and seemed to vanish off the radar until Blighty's Self Made Hero stepped forward. Home of the Manga Shakespeare and some fine literary adaptations we've been very much enjoying this seemed like quite a departure for them. Was it worth the wait? Was it worth the effort? Oh yeah. It was.

Kleist Cash I See a Darkness cotton farming

(The Cash family, including young Johnny, singing in the cotton fields)

Anyone who's listened to Cash's music over the years knows his songs came out of his life; the darkness and the light were both there, he lived through them, he pretty much lived his songs. And that's part of the point Kleist makes here, how so many people (including people like me who'd normally run a mile from anything remotely labelled C&W) bought into Cash because his singing is honest; you feel the raw emotion in his voice, in the early work and even in the final years (his cover of Hurt is immensely raw and powerful, for example, it could have been made for him to sing at that age in his life).

But since Cash's songs often deal with loss and the struggles against the forces that can all too easily grind us all down in everyday life, living those songs means he himself never had an easy life and Kleist selects segments of Johnny's life, from the childhood days on their New Deal sponsored cotton farm, struggling to fight their way out of the Depression, singing to keep up their spirits during back-breaking labour, marrying too young, his self destructive, amphetamine and booze fuelled behaviour touring on the road as his success grew, the love between Johnny and June Carter, the famous music gig at Folsom Prison.

Johnny Cash Folsom Prison

(Folsom Prison; no fancy sets or theatre, just Johnny, June and the boys in the band in front of hundreds of hardened prison inmates; a gig that's passed into musical legend)

Its a long work as comics go, over 200 pages, but even so there is no way it can pack in as much in depth detail as a prose biography and Kleist wisely avoids the temptation to simply jam in as much of Johnny's life as he can. Instead he opts for a roughly chronological approach which takes in elements of the life that shaped Cash and his music, interspersed with comics interpretations of of some of his songs. In fact the book itself opens with one of these songs being acted out - almost the equivalent of the dream sequence in a movie, where the protagonist drives a car with number plates reading 'HELL' through the streets of a gambling city where he "shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die." While some of the song sequences have a slightly different style about them Kleist keeps the differences in style mostly small so on a first reading it isn't always obvious you're in a song/dream segment and not an actual 'proper' biographical chapter, until the penny drops and you realise this is based on one of Cash's songs.

At first I thought this was a bit of a failing on the artist's part, not more clearly differentiating between biographical and song-based chapters. But as I was drawn further and further into the book I changed my mind and decided that this was actually a good decision on Kleist's part; as I said earlier you can't really separate the man and his music; he sang life as he saw it and lived it, they were part of him and he's in each of them, so although the song chapters are a sort of fantasy they are also, in their own fashion, biographical.

The art through most of the book, both the biographical and the interpretations of the songs, is mostly in a suitably moody black and white with some gray tones for effect, although occasionally for the songs Kleist uses a more cartoony style (such as he uses for 'A Boy Name Sue'). There are a couple of distinctive exceptions to this, however, a section where June and his mother try to help Johnny kick his dependence on drugs that's leading him down a dark highway, executed in negative: white lines on a black background, an eerie sight of a human nervous system arced in pain, a glowing ball emerging from within, darkness and light, black and white, drugs dependency and love all warring within his body in a couple of wordless but very powerful pages. A song segment for The Ballad of Ira Hayes is again in a totally different style, much more symbolic and cartoony but equally powerful and, given the contrast they make with the principally more regular style through the rest of the book their impact is much stronger.

Johnny Cash Ballad Ira Hayes

"Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won't answer anymore
Not the whiskey drinkin' Indian
Nor the Marine that went to war

There they battled up Iwo Jima's hill,
Two hundred and fifty men
But only twenty-seven lived to walk back down again

And when the fight was over
And when Old Glory raised
Among the men who held it high
Was the Indian, Ira Hayes
" (the Ballad of Ira Hayes)

The music itself is normally presented in long, winding strips, reminiscent of the stretched out, long, narrow proto-speech bubble you see on say, 19th century cartoons, before the more common, modern speech bubble developed. Here Kleist uses speech bubbles for, well, speech, the long, thin ribbons for the songs. Its simple but very effective, giving the reader something of the feel of music, the way it doesn't always seem to come from one source but moves through the air, reflecting, echoing, drifting, carried on the wind, almost an elemental force. It also allows Kleist to visually display something of the power of music; for me he achieves this most powerfully in the chapter on Folsom Prison, as the music drifts out seemingly on the wind, across the echoing, depressing halls, through the bars, the razor wire and out into the trees beyond. Its hard not to think of the opera scene in The Shawshank Redemption and like that remarkable scene of modern film this too has a simple, elegant power to it about the ability of art to touch lives and reach through barriers.

Johnny Cash Bob Dylan

(Cash and Dylan jamming in a studio; how much would you love to have been in that room??)

Its a wonderful read; in fact I found after I'd finish I had to go back and re-read it more slowly and enjoyed it even more on the second reading and I know its going to be one of those special books that I go back to every so often and read once more. Its a story of a 20th century icon, a man who bestrode pretty much all normal boundaries of genre to appeal to a far wider audience and a remarkable life. Its a story where the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan are just supporting characters (let me say that again: Lewis, Elvis, Dylan - I mean come on! Great flawed gods of music). But mostly its about a man, the darkness he sees around him that almost swallows him and the lights that lead him back out the edge of the darkness (although he'd never be completely free of it), the love of his mother, his lost brother, June. This will be going on my books of the year list.


Reinhard Kleist will be one of the guests at the excellent Comica festival in London this year; He will be in conversation with (appropriately enough) someone well known to Brit comics and music fans, Charles Shaar Murray on November 22nd; details here.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Mark Millar at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Over the holiday weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival once again, this time to see top Scottish comics scribe Mark Millar on what I think was his first appearance at this venerable literary bash. I bumped into Mark outside the Writer’s Yurt just before the event was about to start and he seemed pretty happy to be there, smiling and clearly enjoying the idea of being there. This enthusiasm was also evident during the actual event where Mark delighted the packed audience, discussing his comics and film work with much (and often self-effacing) humour before Scotland on Sunday’s books editor Stuart Kelly, who was chairing the event, opened proceedings up for the audience to ask some questions (including, as it turned out, an old friend of Mark’s from Glasgow’s well-loved AKA Comics).

Stuart introduced Mark, inviting him to discuss his earlier work and how he got into comics, with that well-proven path into comicdom for many a British writer, 2000 AD, which Mark was quite honest and candid about, talking about how he was obviously pleased when Tharg’s minions gave him his chance but saying that looking back he thinks he simply wasn’t quite ready at that stage and his writing wasn’t up to par, so there was an element of learning on the job. Naturally the subject of the notorious Big Dave strip for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic reared its beer-swilling head, the series he co-created with Grant Morrison and Steve Parkhouse and which still divides 2000 AD readers. Mark also paid tribute to Warren Ellis and getting noticed in the US comics market when he was given the writing gig for The Authority following Warren’s run.

Mark Millar at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2 small

(Mark and supporting wine glasses signing for fans after the event at the Book Festival, click for the bigger pic on Flickr)

Stuart, who is a self-confessed comics lover, clearly knew his stuff and asked Mark about a variety of his work, taking us from 2000 AD and the Authority to childhood dream come true of working on some of the biggest comics characters around like the Superman and the Avengers and, of course, re-interpreting and reworking classic Marvel characters to such acclaim with the Ultimates and discussing Mark’s penchant for happily subverting established rules and clichés of the medium (which is, of course, one of the reasons we love him) and then on to creator-owned works such as American Jesus and Kick-Ass.

Graphic novels are, as we all know, now pretty damned big business in Hollywood and its no surprised that one of the medium’s best-known writers would be involved in this comics-celluloid crossover. However, as with much of his comics work Mark’s achieved this in his own style and he was refreshingly straightforward with the audience - it seems unlikely that the glamour of Tinsel Town or huge box office success is going to swell the head of the boy from Coatbridge. In fact it seemed quite the contrary - he was obviously delighted with the success he was enjoying in Hollywood, but he made it quite clear that at the end of the day his main occupation is a comics writer, although as he admitted laughingly, he had always wanted to write a superhero film since he was a kid after seeing the 70s Superman movie and deciding as a boy that he should be the one to write a sequel! Which prompted Stuart to ask him about the Superman movie he was almost involved in more recently, asking what his version would have been like. Laughter erupted as Mark explained he couldn’t tell us about that script idea unless we wrote him a very large cheque. Would he still like to write a Superman film? Oh yes!

Kick-Ass Mark Millar John Romita Jr

(a page from Mark Millar and John Romita Jr's Kick-Ass, published Marvel Icon)

Obviously Wanted came up - a serious box office success although it was considerably different from Mark’s original comics. When Stuart asked him how he felt about the differences he explained he didn’t mind, in fact he said he quite enjoyed the film version; the version he wrote worked perfectly as a comic, eh thought, but not necessarily as a film, so he had no big problem with changing concepts to suit a different medium and besides, he laughed, he loved some additions in the film version, like the loom (super-assassins knitting, what a great idea he commented).

Naturally the film version of Kick-Ass was discussed and the way studios were interested in the property but only if they could change elements they were worried about. Mark had nothing but praise for director Matthew Vaughan (Stardust, Layer Cake and the film version of American Jesus) who agreed with him that they wanted to go with the story from the comics, not some watered-down-by-studio-committee version (which would doubtless excise many of the controversial elements that are central to the concept) and set about talking to contacts to raise their own finance to do the film their way (an approach recently vindicated by the excited studios bidding for distribution rights to the completed film after footage screened at San Diego Comic Con to much excitement), as well as complimenting Jane Goldman’s script-writing ability. He also promises us that what we'll see on screen is taken directly from the comic original.

All in all it was a cracking event, with a packed and very happy looking audience (including Ian Rankin and his son who is a big comics fan) clearly enjoying the evening discussing Mark’s comics and film work (not to mention briefly mentioning an idea he has been floating to Scottish Television for a possible show set in Scotland, which I’m sure we will hear more about further down the line) and it seemed to me that Mark was seriously enjoying himself talking to a home-country audience about comics at the Festival, carrying on his talk on a more individual level with a line of fans who waited patiently to speak to him while getting their books signed afterwards. As this year’s Book Festival draws to a close in Edinburgh I have to say that evening rounded it off very nicely for the comics fans.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Alice in Wonderland trailer

There's a very brief - but good quality - trailer for Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland now on YouTube. Sadly you'll have to follow the link as embedding has been disabled for it, which always annoys the hell out of me - if you are going to share a video publicly via YouTube then you obviously want people to see it; you do that best in the virtual world of the web by encouraging others to share it, the digital version of word of mouth and being able to embed makes sense for multimeda like trailers, blocking the function while still having it up publicly shows a PR firm who haven't quite grasped the digital world and how to use it to share and include their client's works with their audience. Still, the video looks amazing, as you might expect, Burton and Lewis Carroll being rather obvious bedfellows to my mind, although it may be slightly over-egged in the pudding department.

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Alan Moore speaks

I was kept very busy this week finishing editing and setting up my mate Pádraig's incredibly Massive Mega Moore Marathon - its a new (15, 000 words or so, phew!) interview with Britain's Wizard in Extraordinary, Mr Alan Moore. In fact its so big I had to break it into three sections across three days on the Forbidden Planet blog - part one is mostly concerned with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, especially the new third volume Century, the first volume of which comes out this month (Century 1910), the second next year (Century 1969) and a final part which is set in the present day after that.

It will surprise no-one who knows Alan's work to learn that the subjects and themes and references covered are diverse, from the Threepenny Opera to Jack the Ripper and Monty Python. Part two is where Alan talks about future projects and other works (including doing some work for a local youth culture mag which included Alan telling the kids the truth about drugs! Brilliant), taking in magic and James Joyce along the way, with the third and final part, which I posted up yesterday, is where Alan graciously agreed to take some selected questions sent in by readers of the FP blog. Its enormous but fascinating reading - many thanks again to Alan and for it.

On a related note, earlier this week we found out that media analysts Cision had posted a list of the top fifty blogs in the UK. As you might expect its dominated by politics blogs and blogs from established traditional media like the BBC and the Guardian. And in there at number 31 a solitary entry from the worlds of comics and science fiction - the Forbidden Planet blog. Needless to say I am surprised and delighted - I started that blog just over four years ago, now we have several contributors and its grown a lot (so much so that its a real juggling act for me to balance keeping the blog fires stoked and working on the main webstore; usually that means I end up doing a lot in my own time to keepit going, as do some of the contributors). And its nice that its grown so much since I started it and that a lot of folks in comics and SF communities check it out, but to see that its in the top 50 of all UK blogs? That its up there with Guardian blogs? Wow. Just goes to show that if its done correctly (and honestly) a good blog presence can be more effective (and cheaper and more enjoyable for you and your readers) than huge amounts of advertising. That's the sort of thing that can happen when you embrace blogging culture as a company instead of screaming hysterically at it.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Dr Jelyll Mr Hyde Klimowski Schejbal Self Made Hero.jpg

Adapted and illustrated by Andrzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal,
From the original tale by Robert Louis Stevenson

Published: Self Made Hero

For years men have hired assassins to carry out their crimes - I was the first that ever did so for pleasure.

Jekyll and Hyde, one of a handful of stories which has become so embedded into our culture that more than a century after it was penned, more than a century since its gifted young author died on a Pacific island far from his Edinburgh home we still, to this day, use the phrase ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ personality as shorthand to describe a person who’s personality can vary between goodness and acts of vicious anger rapidly, as if two different people inhabited the one body. Its no coincidence that Stevenson’s original short tale was born in the same era that, among many other scientific advances, saw the beginnings of modern studies of the human nature and the intricacies of the most complex creation we know of: the human mind.

In fact this supposed familiarity with the concept is, I think, often a handicap to a real understanding of Stevenson’s magnificent work; it has been around for generations and has been endlessly adapted to each changing age since it (or should that be them?) was born in 1886 (a decade before Stoker would birth another enduring dark reflection of humanity’s desires and fears with Dracula). Within a year of publication stage adaptations were appearing; by the very early 20th century it was already being adapted to a new scientific wonder of the age, the moving pictures. It would be endlessly re-interpreted through the next century and on in more films, plays, books, games, music and, of course, comics. And this has given many people who haven’t read the original the idea that they don’t need to, that they know it already. In fact I recall some members of my own book group objecting to the book one month because they all knew it. Had they read it? No. Well, I’ll tell you what I told them - if you haven’t read it, you don’t know it. Most books, TV productions, plays and others rarely capture the essence; the story here isn’t just a simple tale of duality and good and evil, it never was. It’s about the eternal conflicting impulses each of us has and the complexities of human behaviour, not simple ‘saintly’ doctor and brutal hedonist; Hyde is Jekyll and those vulgar appetites for drink and warm flesh are Jekyll’s own and oh how he wants to indulge. And - at first anyway - how good it feels when he does indulge (we all know this feeling at some level, from simply breaking a diet to eat cake to something more involved). Klimowski and Schejbal understand this.

Jekyll Hyde Klimowski.jpg

(the almost irresistible allure of indulgence, of playing the bad boy, but you must always remember these impulses don’t come from some mysterious creations, they come from Jekyll; its all drawn from Jekyll, however much he might protest or detest the idea)

This comics adaptation is quite lovely, right from the haunting cover (which hints at those early, silent film adaptations such at the 20s Barrymore version as well as reminding me of Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera’s dreadful visage with a hint of Munch’s Scream) to the interior art, which Klimowski and Schejbal have split between them, the former taking the first part of the story (told mostly by Jekyll’s lawyer friend Utterson) and Schejbal the second part, mostly Jekyll’s description of his vices, his desires and the fateful potion he concocts which allows him to indulge those more vulgar passions safely, in a different persona, with no risk to the reputation of the respectable doctor. In fact - and I realise this may sound odd - but while reading this I often had the feeling less of reading a traditional comic but of reading an illustrated book; by that I mean that the panels, most only two or perhaps three per page, felt more like they depicted an individual scene rather than a flowing sequence, little tableaux, illuminating key moments. I don’t mean that as a criticism, quite the reverse actually, I think it’s a style which works beautifully for this story.

Jekyll Hyde Klimowski cityscape.jpg

(the cityscape is elegantly depicted, an ordered world of fine architecture and well designed streets, but Stevenson knew from first hand experience that even in his refined, native Edinburgh the beautiful city showed one face but had another in the shadows and alleys and hidden places…)

The monochromatic art helps to evoke the feeling of the period (hints of old photographs, those first, flickering cinematic camera); even the use of black and white and the mix of greys is highly appropriate to the subject, while the art depicts a suitable mix of elegance (gracious Georgian and Victorian architecture, emblematic of the new, clean, ordered cities of progress) and the more horrific (the misshapen Hyde brutally beating a small girl for sheer animal delight). While both halves deal with the same story from different perspectives, the split between the artists also seems to create a literal contrast, with Schejbal’s latter half (again appropriately) appearing darker as Jekyll himself tells of his nocturnal inclinations and his shame at giving into such urges, his discovery of his formula, of Hyde and the descent into a hell of his own making, passing through a glass darkly.

Jekyll Hyde Klimowski beating.jpg

(Hyde’s brutal murder of an elderly MP, the crime which pushes him beyond the pale and leaves him a man marked for the gallows)

RLS’s story, as you can probably gather, is one of my personal favourites; its one of the classics of Western literature and a cornerstone of the horror genre (in his look at the genre Stephen King calls it the archetypal werewolf tale). And as I said, if you haven’t read the original tale, you really don’t know the story in its complex, fascinating beauty. Klimowski and Schejbal’s adaptation knows this and unlike some much more simplistic versions it eschews the good versus evil approach for the more satisfying entanglements of the original, while also revelling in the mystery - and you must remember that to most of us today, we know in advance Hyde and Jekyll are the same person, but the original audience didn’t - of who Hyde is and what his relationship is to the respectable Jekyll, events spiralling in a mix of violence, vice, indulgence, regret and half whispered secrets.

Jekyll Hyde Klimowski Schejbel.jpg

(the hypocrisy of the fine Victorian gentlemen, suitably attired for the evening as befits a respectable member of society, upstanding, moral, but happy to indulge in vices and pleasures in darkened rooms while always worried about the ruin of reputation should the secret pleasures be revealed to the world)

It’s the best (and one of the most visually attractive) comics version of the story I’ve read since the Mattotti version years ago from NBM (which was more of an interpretation rather than adaptation as here, but very true to the feel of the story) and if you’ve read the tale you should enjoy it while if you haven’t then it should serve as a good introduction to the real story, after which you should then pick up the original text (after which I suggest Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, one of RLS’ literary inspirations). Moody, atmospheric, brooding, wading into the murky depths of the human psyche, it’s a tale that simply doesn’t ever lose its relevance; every time you read of a disgraced politician or religious figure its easy to think of Jekyll and Hyde. And uncomfortably easy to think how we all have parts of ourselves we wouldn’t necessarily want to be made public. Now if you will excuse me, I feel the urge to walk the misty streets and perhaps have a drink in Deacon Brodie’s, named for one of the real life inspirations for the story. Now where did I put my walking cane…


(first published on the Forbidden Planet International blog)

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Watchmen - the Keene Act

Readers of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons seminal Watchmen graphic novel will already be aware of the Keene Act, legislation passed in the alternative America of the Watchmen to outlaw the superheroes as vigilantes. New Frontiersman (named for one of the magazines which crops up throughout the graphic novel) is a marketing site which has been slowly releasing bits and pieces of pics, info and viral videos ahead of the film version of the Watchmen coming out in March, including this latest one, done in the style of a really bad 70s public information film (incidentally, there's a possibility I may be back on the BBC radio again to talk about the movie next month too, more if and when its settled):



(link via the FPI blog)

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