As you may or may not know, Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's big porno comic Lost Girls will not be available in the UK until January 2008, despite being published in the US this summer, due to Great Ormond Street Hospital's complaint of copyright infringement. (In brief, it features a character who quite probably is Wendy from Peter Pan getting up to all sorts of shenanigans. GOSH own the copyright to Peter Pan and kicked up a fuss but that copyright expires next year anyway.) This is, of course, mildly annoying for those of us in the UK who want to read the damn thing, especially if, like me, you've had the first few chapters serialized in the anthology Taboo sitting on your shelf for over a decade. Enough, already. Give me the comic.

Thankfully we live in the future and can order things from other countries with our computers. Here's the Amazon.com listing which, at time of typing, has it in stock. I ordered mine on October 23rd and it arrived today, 10 days later. The price, including shipping, was $56.23 which, thanks to George Bush's consistently entertaining economic policy, cost me £31.89. Given that the UK retail price of the thing was going to be fifty quid that's a pretty good deal and probably close to what Amazon.co.uk will be selling it for when they're allowed to.

The book itself is huge. I knew it would be big but not this big. And it's gorgeous, beautifully printed and bound with lovely colours. As for the story itself I'm only a third of the way through and suspect it's going to take a few readings before I can form a decent judgement. After all, this is a major work from Alan Moore and those don't come along every day. Or every year come to think of it.

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Thursday, November 2 2006 | Comments (4) ?subject=[Weblog] 021106: Ordering Lost Girls" title="email me about this specific post">Email

I can always tell when I'm getting over some kind of illness or funk. I start changing my environment. It's not so much tidying as radically moving everything around. In the last 36 hours or so I've piled all the small press comics and graphic novels in the alcove of my attic garrett with the intention of eventually thinning them right down. Meanwhile the space that used to have shelves now has a new desk. Currently it's piled up with non comics stuff that used to be on shelves and now has no home but we'll deal with that later. This new desk is for photography - building new contraptions, sorting out (and eventually selling) prints, that kind of thing. You'll have picked up a subtext here.

I never did write my Farewell to Comics essay. It would probably have been very long, somewhat tortured and rather dull to most people so it's probably for the best. Farewell comics. You did good by me and I hope in my small way I did good by you.

That's not to say I've quit reading comics. If anything I'm reading and enjoying them more. Brendan McCarthy's Solo was terrific and Scott McCloud's Making Comics came through from Amazon this week. On first read it's very good and rather dense with a lot of interesting ideas which can be applied to artforms outside of comics, not so much pushing you to new adventures but codifying and crystallizing things you already knew but were having trouble putting into words. Naturally I apply to them photography since that's my big thing right now.

The big one for me was his notion of four tribes of comics culture. Briefly these are:

Classicists: "Excellence, hard word, mastery of craft, the quest for enduring beauty."
Animists: "Putting content first, creating life through art, trusting one's intuition."
Formalists: "Understanding of, experimentation with and loyalty to the comics form."
Iconoclasts: "Honesty, vitality, authenticity and unpretentiousness. Putting life first."
where the most common combinations are Classicist/Animist and Formalist/Iconoclast.

What this told me was I don't need to worry about my recent move away from "perfect" photography (classicist) towards more fucked up experiments like Through The Viewfinder (iconoclast), partly because they're both equally valid forms of expression but also because, goddammit, the comics I was into were rarely if ever in the classicist camp. Give me Tom Hart over Hal Foster any day. So it makes sense that as I get more comfortable with that art of taking photos and start pushing my own envelopes I'm going to be drawn to the stylistic equivalent of the scratchy free-form cartoonists I love.

One possible reason for my confusion is that I don't really know much about photography. Everything I know now has only been learned in the last year or so and my awareness of the masters of the artform is negligible at best. Until recently photography was about recording and replicating reality. There's an interesting thing - I shall make a record of that thing as accurately as possible. Now it's something else and I don't really have the vocabulary yet to express what it is without sounding like a tosser. I suspect it's Art and I've never really considered myself to be an Artist. Maybe it's time I did.

-- -- --

Illness update: Really bad fever on Tuesday, kinda weak on Wednesday for the blood test but didn't go green which was odd, much better Thursday (hence the room rearrangement) and a clear head for the first time in ages on Friday but still planning to take it easy over the weekend. Will get results from doctor middle of next week. Could be, after all this, that all I needed was a bit of down time physically and mentally. Or not.

Movie update: A History Of Violence, watched this evening, is a terrific film. No big surprise given it's Cronenberg at the helm but worth saying all the same. I think I need to go on a Cronenberg binge again. I taped most of his back catalogue from the Alex Cox Moviedrome days but they're lost now and it's been a long time since I saw Shivers, Rabid, Scanners, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, et al.

Weather update: First couple of rather chilly evenings have injected themselves into our balmy September. Here it comes...

Permalink | Posted in Comics, Photography on Saturday, September 30 2006 | Comments (1) ?subject=[Weblog] 300906: New medium, same tribe" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Had a nice long chat with Andy Konky Kru on the phone last night. After our talk I checked my feeds and was delighted to see his Evolution of Speechballoons (he insists it's one word but that's probably because he's German) visual essay had been picked up by Waxy who, thanks to the tradition of via, got it from Kempa. This'll be interesting, I thought to myself. Sure enough the link later popped up on Drawn and then, today, on Boing Boing. It's currently on del.icio.us/popular thanks to 155 262 people and Technorati has 41 links.

The irony, if that's the right word (I never know these days), of this is Andy's currently in Germany nursing an infected toenail with no internet access so he's got no idea this is going on. I might call him tomorrow.

Still, considering his site has been active for a good 5 years now (I forget exactly when we gave him the bugpowder.com/andy directory) it's about bloody time.

For context, see this post I wrote about the monster than is Konky Kru last year.

(Jez, can we get stats for that page or what?)

Permalink | Posted in Comics, Friends on Thursday, August 24 2006 | Comments (1) ?subject=[Weblog] 240806: Konky Goes Meme" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Sunday, July 16 2006 | Comments (1) ?subject=[Weblog] 160706: RIP Tom Frame" title="email me about this specific post">Email

As mooted in this post I'm attempting to complete my collection of 2000AD up to around issue 700, ostensibly as a gift for my niece and nephew when they're old enough but also because they're pretty cool in a subversive way. Thanks to the mighty and generous Dave Shelton I'm nearly there but there are a few gaps early on along with a number of somewhat scrappy copies thanks to his and his brother's youthful enthusiasm. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled about the place but I figured it wouldn't hurt to keep the wants list here (should I find myself in a flea market with an internet connection) and harness the power of Google.

It's probably worth mentioning that I'm not desperate to buy these and I'm not really prepared to pay top dollar. I figure I've got about 10 years to find these so there's no great rush. If, however, you have a stack including some of these issues that you just want rid of I'll be prepared to pay postage for the lot even if there are doubles.

Issues in bold are missing from the run.
Issues not in bold have the covers missing.

2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20
21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30
32, 33, 34, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40
41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50
51, 52, 53,
63
72, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80
81, 82, 83, 89
91, 94, 96, 97
103, 104, 106, 108, 110
123
134, 136, 140
141, 142, 143, 144, 146, 148
161, 164

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Monday, May 1 2006 | Comments (3) ?subject=[Weblog] 010506: 2000AD Issues I Need" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Those who know me, especially those within comics, will probably be aware that the BugPowder website has been something of an albatross around my neck for the last couple of years. BugPowder is, amongst other things, a weblog for the UK small press comics community, of which I have been a relatively major player at various points over the last 15 years. Originally BugPowder was a mail order service running from 1996 to 2000 and the site was intended to be an online shop along these lines but that never transpired and then Blogger came along. Since then my involvement with the scene has waxed and waned. Sometimes I'm incredibly enthusiastic, other times I really couldn't care, but BugPowder was always sitting there, regardless of my levels of interest, demanding to be updated. Since 2001 I've gotten other people involved but, understandably, they often had their own projects on the go which required their attention. And seeing as when I'd started BugPowder it was as my own thing rather than joining up with someone more established at the time, this made sense. Recently I started thinking about grooming people to take over but the one guy who looked like he was a good candidate went off to become a Wikipedia Admin before I twigged, which was bloody typical.

So here I am with a site I feel obliged to look after but really don't have a huge amount of interest in doing so. I recently put out a call for new contributors and when it appeared that one of them a) was posting a lot of stuff, b) was relatively new to the scene, c) appeared to be likely to stick around for a while, d) didn't appear to have any other major projects on the go and e) wasn't stupid (not that anyone else posting is stupid, but it's an important criteria) I consulted with my man Jez and made the offer.

From this day on Matthew Badham owns BugPowder.

Which is a kinda weird statement because technically Jez owns the site because he pays for it and I own the name in the sense that most small pressers of a certain age think of me as "BugPowder Pete" and will no doubt continue to do so.

But Matthew's running the site now. It's his responsibility. Not mine.

An analogy I used when talking to Matthew was how old fanzines in the 70s and 80s, such as Fantasy Advertiser, would change hands but retain a list in the masthead of "Editors Emeritus" - those who used to run the zine but have now moved on. I'm now the Webmaster Emeritus of BugPowder, available for sage advice and the occasional contribution but with no real say in how it develops. And from Matthew's point of view he has a site with a good pedigree which he can keep running as it is and/or can develop into whatever he wants, with whoever he wants. And that's the essential, exciting part of all this. I've always been aware that BugPowder has an enormous potential to grow and develop into a really useful resource if only I gave enough of a shit about it to do so.

The way we're going to run this is Matthew will become the public face of BugPowder (once I get around to editing the About sections of the site) and any queries will go to him. Initially he won't know what to do with them so he'll come to me and I'll explain it but eventually he'll be able to run everything on his own with no hand-holding, probably around the time of the Caption convention in August, and we'll do the final hand-over.

Interestingly I don't know much about Matthew. He wrote a long article about small press comics in the Judge Dredd Megazine recently which showed he knew his stuff, and I think he's connected with the Engine Comics guys on some level, which is good as Barry Renshaw is, from my perspective, one of the key movers on the scene these days. But he's not part of my extended "gang", and that's a good thing. New blood and all that.

As for me, I'm free!

Permalink | Posted in Blogging, Comics on Wednesday, March 15 2006 | Comments (9) ?subject=[Weblog] 150306: BugPete No More" title="email me about this specific post">Email

The second season of Battlestar Galactica ended in Americaland on Friday and my torrent finally came through last night. Quite, quite wonderful. This program has gone way beyond the "it should be shit but it's not" line and into genius territory. Yet whenever I preach this to non-geeks they look at me all funny. But I was the same. Battlestar Galactica? Must be shit. It's not. Trust me on this.

Big stack of 2000ADsI really should start cataloguing all the things I rescued from my mother's house last week as there's some curious stuff suddenly in my possession. Part of it is the suitcase full of British comics that had been in her attic since I moved out of home in 1991. These are mainly copies of 2000AD and early issues of Deadline along with a selection of zines and other A4 sized comics from the 88-91 era.

The 2000ADs are the real diamonds here. I'd started buying the comic in 1987 and got severely hooked, so when I discovered such things as comic marts and mail order services where back issues were available I started completing my collection backwards in time to around 1984 (issue 363). These are now sitting by my bed in a large stack which I'm slowly working through each night, and what's struck me is how well they hold up. Yes, they're a little corny at times and the quality is not consistent across the board, but there's some really top-flight stuff in there (Halo Jones has just started). I was toying with selling them for a nice lump of cash (although I doubt I'd get much) but instead these are going to be saved for Isobel and Spike when they're old enough to appreciate them.

The other comics are somewhat embarrassing, coming as they do from that era when comics "grew up". In hindsight they just reached puberty and got a bit shouty but there are a few gems amongst the shit. Philip Bond's Wired World, for example, shines like a beacon and really should be collected for future generations. Tank Girl, on the other hand, is bollocks.

[Update: Just having a cursory glance on eBay and it seems the bottom has plummeted on the 2000AD back issue market. I was paying £1-3 an issue back in the day and now it's just pennies and postage... Maybe it's time to complete the run? Or is that crazy talk?]

Permalink | Posted in Comics, Film and TV on Monday, March 13 2006 | Comments (13) ?subject=[Weblog] 130306: Geek News" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Is that too much to ask?

From Kevin's Genius Covers Sunday.

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Tuesday, March 7 2006 | Comments (1) ?subject=[Weblog] 070306: I want this on a t-shirt" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Ok, the Mohammed cartoons. As Tom Spurgeon of The Comics Reporter puts it, "probably the biggest international news story with cartoons at its center in the history of the medium" which makes the relative silence on the issue from comics nerds, who have over the last couple of decades been rabbiting on about the power of cartooning and the effectiveness of the medium in communicating ideas, somewhat ironic methinks. Here we are with half the world in uproar over a bunch of gag cartoons and everyone's gone silent.

(At least I haven't noticed anything, but granted I'm not exactly in the middle of the comics community at the moment, so maybe I missed Team Comix getting all vocal on this issue. Feel free to point me in that direction if I'm wrong.)

But still, this is the comics/cartooning medium, of which I'm on record as "caring a bit about", and the world of religion, of which I'm on record as "thinking a bit stupid", so it should be pretty clear cut where I stand on this.

Except it's all a bit complicated. Unfortunately the cartoons (which if you haven't seen them already are on this page about 2/3 down) are kinda shit. Not only that but they were published in what I understand to be a right-wing newspaper on a par with the Express in a country which doesn't have a particularly good track record on dealing with its darker-skinned immigrant population. Parallels can be drawn with pre-war caricatures of Jews in Germany along with the depictions of orientals in 1940s American comics. There's no place for this kind of thing and it deserves to be shouted down.

(Although it must be said that the "Stop! We've run out of virgins!" one is kinda funny.)

On the other hand, the argument that these cartoons shouldn't have been printed soley because they depict Mohammed and for no other reason is... well...

Religion, eh?

I mean, you've got some seriously meaty issues here. Racism, tolerance, imperialism, terrorism, war, economics... But the thing that gets people out there setting fire to embassies (and let's not forget the importance of an embassy in political terms - you might as well invade the country itself) is the visual representation of a man who some people believe to be a prophet.

I'd like to think these cartoons were just the spark that set off a powder keg that has been ignored for far too long. A handy scapegoat for both sides that avoids the bigger more complicated issues, rather like chat rooms being blamed for paedophilia and heavy metal for teenage suicide. I'd like to think that, but unfortunately I think this is a case of stupid bigotry meeting stupid religion and we're just going to have to reap what has been sown.

Here's a simplified example. If Muslims (or more accurately people living in the Middle East in countries that are predominantly populated by persons of the Muslim faith) were to object to these cartoons on the basis that they're racist, inflammatory nonsense then they'd have to put their own house in order and stop printing the same about Israel but objecting on the graven images of Mohammed basis means they can avoid that. On the other hand the Europeans avoid the cancer of racism in their countries by citing freedom of expression, neglecting to remember that with freedom comes a shitload of responsibility and doesn't include shouting fire in a crowded theatre.

Idiots, the lot of them...

[Update: Wikipedia on the controversy including the cartoons themselves. | The Comics Journal message board where comics luminaries swerve around the point a bit, only occasionally hitting it.]

Permalink | Posted in Best, Comics, Politics, Religion on Monday, February 6 2006 | Comments (13) ?subject=[Weblog] 060206: Graven" title="email me about this specific post">Email

MomeFinally got my copy of Mome #1 through in the post via a long and tortuous process I won't bore you with, but suffice to say it was worth it.

I've always had a soft spot for comics anthologies of the literary bent as they can give a really good snapshot of how seemingly disparate creators can be connected. I'd been intrigued by Mome for a while now, partly because of the names attached to it (Jordan Crane mainly, for his previous work publishing the best anthology of the late 90s, Non) but also by Fantagraphics publishing a showcase anthology of upcoming cartoonists.

Fantagraphics have always seemed, to me at least, a few steps behind when it came to the current crop of cutting edge creators, leaving such sifting of the minicomics scene to the likes of Drawn and Quarterly and Top Shelf. Maybe this was to do with their long and important association with the previous generation of underground and alternative creators, maybe they were just biding their time to see what came through, I can't really say, but with Mome, they're throwing themselves headfirst with a roster of pretty much unknown talent, and that alone is noteworthy. Beyond Crane's design involvement this doesn't feel like a Fantagraphics book and as such marks an interesting development for the company.

What's immediately apparent is that it was worth the wait. With most anthologies you can rely on a good third, often more, not working for you but there are only two strips in here I'm not liking. And even then it's not so much the strips themselves that are inferior, more that I just didn't get on with them, so I won't identify them here. The rest of the book is great, so much so I don't want to pull out any one specific artist above the rest. Which is making for a really dull review, I know. Ah well.

What's interesting about Mome is that the core roster of artists will stay the same throughout the series so we'll get to see these talents evolving over the years. Another nice thing is that while it all hangs together really well there's no specifically identifiable traits shared by the cartoonists. If they are bouncing off each other it's not in a superficial surface way.

Fantagraphics currently have the best company blog in the comics industry (it tells you about what they're publishing and is interesting - how revolutionary!) showing they actually understand the internet and now have an anthology that is both forward looking and a really good read. Mome sets them up well for the future, I feel.

Interview with co-editor Eric Reynolds.

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Thursday, February 2 2006 | Comments (5) ?subject=[Weblog] 020206: Mome" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Bit of a kerfuffle going on in the UK Small Press Comics world at the moment. Matt Smith, the editor of 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, is pondering opening up six pages in the latter to small press creators. They can do pretty much anything they want (subject to approval obviously) and retain copyright on their work but, and here's the rub, they won't get paid. Here's the full message:

"We're considering opening up 6 pages in the Judge Dredd Megazine for new writers and artists. It can be anything they like, within reason, and doesn't have to be 2000 AD-based. It will unfortunately be unpaid, but they will get a springboard by being published in a mainstream professional title. It should be a self-contained story, and should be supplied fully lettered. The published art size for the Meg is: Panel Area: 189x256mm, Trim Size: 210x276mm, Bleed Size: 216x282mm." And if you're interested, contact Matt.Smith [at] rebellion.co.uk

The reaction from many creators who do get paid to appear in nationally distributed, professional publications was if it's good enough to appear in the magazine then it's good enough for some kind of financial compensation. And the reaction from many other creators, some of whom aren't trying to earn a living from their work, was I don't do this for the money anyway and this will allow me to reach an audience of thousands for free. You can read the comments on the BugPowder mailing list (starts here) and the Pencil Monkey forum.

Given that I'm slowly drifting away from the comics scene generally I don't really have a strong opinion one way or the other, but I think a lot of the confusion comes from the perception of what small press comics are for to begin with. Of course the only accurate answer is they're for whatever the creator in question wants them to be for, just like any self published zine or, for that matter, weblog, but that doesn't help us at all in this situation.

I was reminded of a conversation I had ages ago with one of them there key figures on the small press scene about a debate he'd had with one of the luminaries of the UK comics industry (such as it is). The latter saw the small press as a breeding ground from which the next Alan Moore would emerge but the former thought drawing this kind of simple line from small press through British newsstand comics to American superhero comics and on to greatness was not only out of date but pretty insulting to many small press creators who had no desire whatsoever to work for DC Comics. Who's right? Well, both of them, naturally. There are, and always have been, a significant number of people who publish their own work in the hopes that one day they'll get to write/draw Judge Dredd or Batman. And there a significant number for whom the short-run photocopied pamphlet is the be and and end all of their ambition. And of course there are countless sitting at various points inbetween, with another countless not even on that matrix. Which is kinda the point.

The question, therefore, is what sort of small press creators is Matt Smith looking for? If he's after the sort of people who eventually want to be working for 2000AD then, yes, I think this is a little bit smelly. But if he's looking to publish the sort of people who wouldn't normally be suitable for his magazines then I think this could be a very interesting venture indeed. Let me explain with a bit of personal history.

I pretty much owe my many years involved in comics to 2000AD. Back in the mid 80s when I was an early teen who hadn't read a comic in years I spotted a dodgy reprint of Judge Dredd in the WH Smiths of West Wickham. For some reason I bought it, liked it, and started buying 2000AD regularly. I then discovered the local branch of booksellers Sherrat and Hughes stocked the Titan reprint volumes of 2000AD strips and I wasted many Saturday afternoons sitting in the shop reading them from cover to cover (which is why, when I was a bookseller, I could never justifiably complain about "customers" who sat in the shop reading for hours on end without buying anything...). This branch also stocked the monthly trade magazine Speakeasy who listed the forthcoming strips in 2000AD, so I started buying that, which introduced me to the concept of speciality comic shops which stocked 2000AD back issues. These shops also stocked American comics by old 2000AD creators, so I started buying those, erring towards the proto-Vertigo titles such as Sandman. Reading an interview with Sandman writer Neil Gaiman put me onto Cerebus, which in turn introduced me to the world of black and white alternative comics. In short, the fact that I've spent the last week or two re-working my way through the collected Love and Rockets can be directly traced to that dodgy Judge Dredd reprint.

(My route into small press comics starts in the same place and goes in different directions, but I won't bore you with that. It's probably buried somewhere in the archives of this blog anyway.)

So my point is that those people reading 2000AD and the Dredd Megazine aren't necessarily closed to the notion of comics that don't really belong there. In fact 2000AD has a long history of using artists who don't fit the mould. I have no idea if this is still the case having not seen a copy in years, but the precedent is there. I think that while many of the readers will look at these small press pages and think they're shit a significant number will like them and suddenly be made aware that the comics medium has a much wider potential that they'd ever imagined. That's assuming they go with the full spectrum of stuff out there.

Of course it'd be nice if they paid a page rate too...

Permalink | Posted in Autobio, Comics on Friday, January 27 2006 | Comments (1) ?subject=[Weblog] 270106: Big rambling entry about what small press comics are in relation to the Megazine offer" title="email me about this specific post">Email

M'good friend Sacha Mardou is marrying Ted May on Feb 22nd, which is great news anyway but has the added icing that they're both cartoonists! That sort of thing makes me very happy!

Permalink | Posted in Comics, Friends on Friday, January 27 2006 | Comments (2) ?subject=[Weblog] 270106: From our Society desk..." title="email me about this specific post">Email

Steve says: "I may need the gi-normous Little Nemo book to put Calvin & Hobbes in their place, but as it costs a ton" which reminds me of the Little Nemo collection I picked up a few years back for a tenner or so which, which not complete, is pretty hefty and well worth getting hold of so I check the ISBN on Amazon to see if it's still available and by fuck it's selling for £200 second hand. Which is really odd as, while a nice enough book, there's nothing particularly special about it - just your usual Taschen reprint of out-of-copyright work. Which I picked up for a tenner or so.

I think eBay might be calling...

Note: this is the 1905-14 comic by Winsor McCay we're talking about here, not the fish...

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Saturday, January 7 2006 | Comments (8) ?subject=[Weblog] 070106: Pricey Nemo" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Andy Luke has been a chum of mine for a number of years now. His comics were once described by Ralph Kidson as "like something a deranged serial killer would draw in his death row cell" which was aesthetically accurate even though Andy isn't a deranged serial killer. Well, he's not a serial killer anyway.

Anyway, he's recently posted a few single panels on his Flickr account and I was most taken by the one above. This one's also pretty keen.

This kind of art, most famously practiced by one David Shrigley, is very hard to describe because by most criteria it's not "good art", just little doodles done by someone who can't draw "properly" which if you're after clean, anatomically correct art that looks pretty is fine. But I find myself drawn to this sort of thing again and again and I can't really describe why. In fact if I could describe why it'd probably ruin it - the mystery is what makes it work, or something.

So I think Andy Luke's single panels should be printed in a big fat art book and sold for chunks of cash. And they should be blown up to poster size and displayed in galleries. That would be a good thing.

Permalink | Posted in Art, Comics, Friends on Sunday, October 30 2005 | Comments (1) ?subject=[Weblog] 301005: Sleeping a Sleep" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Those of you who watch broadcast television and live your lives as slaves to the schedules should make space for a five minute slot on Channel 4 at 7.55pm on Thursday, just after the news, for the network premier of m'good friend Matt Abbiss' short film Invasion, as part of their Mesh season.

Those of you who can't be bothered with such nonsense should download the movie and watch it now.

It's very good. Something of the sinister east European children's book aesthetic about it. Well done Matt.

Permalink | Posted in Comics, Film and TV, Friends on Tuesday, October 4 2005 | Comments (7) ?subject=[Weblog] 041005: Invasion" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Pictures and Words

Pictures and Words - New Comic Art and Narrative Illustration by Roanne Bell and Mark Sinclair is a big book with many pictures, the sort of thing you'd find in the art department of a nice bookshop and is published by arts publisher Laurence King (Yale in the US). While some of the artists featured will be familiar to comics aficionados they tend to come from the art comix end of the spectrum. You'll have noticed the repeated use of the word "art". We're in Art-land here.

Art-land is a treacherous place for the comics fan. If you're not careful you can get dazzled by the respectability of it all, of seeing the medium you love discussed in such rarefied and intellectual terms. And then when you see it for what it is comes feelings of treachery and disappointment and a sense that these art folks are missing the point, picking what fits their narrow paradigms and not fully comprehending the medium before moving onto the next trendy thing.

Pictures and Words 2While a lot of this is just a clash of cultures and perspectives there's something fundamental behind it. Art, as in art-in-galleries capital-A Art, doesn't tend to be narrative, or at least not sequentially narrative and, unless I'm mistaken, there aren't that many critical tools for dealing with such crazy concepts as "story". That's for the literature guys and opens up a whole 'nother area I won't go into right now. Suffice to say your Art critic is can cope with comics as illustration but tends to lose it as you move towards comics as comics.

Which is why Pictures and Words is an interesting book because it attempts to tackle the thorny issue of narrative head on yet still come at things from at Art perspective. To this end the focus is on emerging and cutting edge cartoonists with a smattering of non-comics artists whose work could be considered to be if not comics then narrative. The authors also give a good third of the book over to single-panel illustration, in other words gallery-friendly comics, which rather that be a cop out is actually quite revolutionary for this kind of criticism as they look at narrative flow within the illustration or across physically disconnected pieces.

Pictures and Words 1Since this is a review I'd better say a little about the book itself. It's laid out rather like an anthology with each artist given between one and four pages with their art with filling the page or reduced to show two pages side by side. Short commentaries (rather like gallery cards) unobtrusively accompany the art putting it into the context of the chapter often using quotes from the creators.

There are three chapters, "Silent" covering wordless comics, "Single Panel" as mentioned above and "Text and Image" featuring what could be called normal comics. Thirty three artists are featured from around the world with a slight emphasis on the UK: Anna Bhushan, Barry Blitt, Fredrik von Blixen, My Clement, Jordan Crane, Paul Davis, Mantin tom Dieck, John Dunning, Marcel Dzama, Jeff Fisher, Scott Garrett, Tom Gauld, Jochen Gerner, Sammy Harkham, Igort, Benoit Jacques, James Jarvis, Jason, Andrez Klimowski, Simone Lia, Lorenzo Mattotti, Roderick Mills, Ethan Persoff, David Rees, Barnaby Richards, Jenni Rope, Joe Sacco, Marjane Satrapi, David Shrigley, Nikhil Singh, Katja Tukianen, Andrew Wightman and Jim Woodring. Of those I recognise twelve as being comics creators in the traditional sense. The rest come from another school, usually fine art or illustration.

Pictures and Words 4This concentration on the bleeding edge of experimental comics and the emphasis on creators who have followed a different path than the norm is interesting and quite valid. It reinforces one of the themes of the book - that the mechanical essence of comics, how they work in themselves, has in recent years influenced non-comics art as never before. It's always been the view of this aficionado that comics are everywhere, that almost everything can be viewed as a comic in some form of other. The landscape that surrounds us, man made or natural, is a tapestry of comic art and can be read sequentially as a narrative, from a countryside panorama to a collage of photographs on a teenager's wall. Everything is interconnected, discrete objects that when considered in connection to their neighbours taken on a deeper, richer meaning, a narrative told by the mind of the viewer as the gaps are filled by the imagination and we experience the world as poetry.

And yes, I accept I'm an extremist in this respect, but I think it's a valid point of view, that an understanding of how comics work can give a fresh and useful perspective on other forms of art. With Pictures and Words, Bell and Sinclair appear to be doing just this. It would be easy to show how comics work using "normal" comics (as Scott McCloud did over a decade ago in Understanding Comics) but to apply this understanding not just to emerging cartoonists but to the work of art school graduates is actually quite daring. (Even if the cartoonists piss all over the "artists", but that's by the by...)

Pictures and Words 3I was also struck by how little art-wank there was in the book. At no point are cultural influences brought to bear or tedious references to popular culture. While in no way dry this is quite a technical book, looking at how the art works more than what it means, or rather, showing that how it works is intrinsic to what it means, or something. This is a toolbox for artists looking to explore something new.

So, as an indicator of where comics are at in the non-comics consciousness this is quite a landmark and while the topics covered might not be new to someone who knows their comics, the application of them should be of interest.

And finally it gloriously betrays its roots by having a kick ass cover featuring a giant robot. What more do you want?

Published in the UK by Lawrence King, ISBN 1856694143, £19.95
Published in the US by Yale, ISBN 0300111460, $26.95

Permalink | Posted in Books, Comics on Wednesday, September 28 2005 | Comments (3) ?subject=[Weblog] 280905: Pictures and Words - A Book Review" title="email me about this specific post">Email

ACME Novelty Library coverI've been lucky recently to have been presented with a number of books for free, sometimes as no-obligation gifts, sometimes with the not-so-subtle implication of an online mention or review as payment in kind. And as long as I like the book I'm cool with that. The problem is I'm really awful at getting around to writing the review and that makes me feel guilty, so I'm going to try and rectify that from now on.

The ACME Novelty Library is a collection of material from Chris Ware's ACME Novelty Library comic, bringing together everything that isn't already collected in Jimmy Corrigan or Quimby the Mouse, along with strips that ran in The New Yorker and other periodicals. Stretching over about a decade this includes the Big Tex, Tales of Tomorrow and Rocket Sam strips along with the preliminary strips for Rusty Brown, his next graphic novel, and the naked Super-Man. Also included is all the text pieces, mock-essays, spoof adverts and a selection of papercraft models from the comic. These have all be resized and re-laid-out over 114 oversized (15" x 8.5") pages

ACME Novelty Library

It's somewhat intense. In fact it's incredibly intense. Having read most of these strips in small chunks over the years, seeing them all condensed in one volume is almost too much, so much so I'd say you can't read this in one sitting. It needs to be dipped into, preferably not before bedtime.

ACME Novelty LibraryThis being somewhere between a sketch-book and a complete work it's a bit of a ragbag assortment of single page strips with the general themes being tragedy, pointlessness, hopelessness, despair, quiet horror, nostalgia, self-loathing and obsession with a healthy dose of self-depreciation throughout. It's rather like being smashed in the stomach with a wide variety of beautiful sledgehammers, so lovely that even as the wind is crushed from you and internal bleeding becomes critical you can't help but notice the delicate craftsmanship of the handle and the perfect symmetry of the hammer head.

I like this comic a lot.

Of note to Ware aficionados are the Chalky White strips which originally ran in the New Yorker and which readers of ACME might not have seen before. I recognised them from somewhere but they were still fairly new. Following on from the disintegration of Rusty Brown, his "friend" Chalky gets married to a similarly doughy lady and has a child, Brittany. These last strips, contrasting the gentle naivety of Chalky with his rebellious teenage daughter are almost too painful to read, packing an incredible punch for a mere seven pages of material.

This book comes highly recommended to people who enjoyed Jimmy Corrigan or who are curious about innovative, yet depressing, comics. You should be able to find is most decent bookshops as it's published by Jonathan Cape with the ISBN 0224077023 at £16.99. Or, of course, discounted at Amazon.

Permalink | Posted in Best, Comics on Saturday, September 24 2005 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 240905: ACME Novelty Library - Book Review" title="email me about this specific post">Email

So, then... Doonesbury...

The thing is, I don't really have a problem with The Guardian dropping Doonesbury. Change is change, newspapers are newspapers, it happens all the time. Sure, it's a bit of a shock, losing one of the few newspaper strips in the English speaking world that actually has some intellectual and political bite, but it's their prerogative. But being something of an aficionado in these areas I was curious as to why. What had prompted them to drop it? What processes does a newspaper editor go through when considering the removal of a comic strip?

When it was revealed the strip was dropped for space reasons, well, I found myself bordering on the apoplectic. Which is, y'know, so unlike me. At least I think it is.

Fact is, for me this isn't really about Doonesbury. It's about how the comics, and for that matter editorial cartoons, are treated by newspapers. Generally they are looked down on as filler, not having the weight of words or the artistry of photography. If space is an issue then the first thing to go is the funnies, and sadly this is often understandable because the vast majority of newspaper strips, especially in the US, are utter shite. But that's another issue.

The Guardian, however, has a long standing reputation as a publication that understands the value of its cartoons. Not just in the way it values its recipes and crosswords as valuable hooks for regular readers, but as an art form. Steve Bell, Posy Simmonds, Steven Appleby, Kate Charlesworth and many others have or had long stints in the paper and many British cartoonists such as Jonathan Edwards and Tom Gauld get regular work there. Their coverage of comics and graphic novels has of late been pretty good not just giving lip service but running long excerpts by the likes of Joe Sacco. And of course there was Chris Ware winning that First Book award a few years back. When it comes to the national media The Guardian is a friend of comics.

But what really galls about this decision is that having spent so much time and care crafting what is, in my opinion, a wonderfully designed newspaper, the comic strip they've been running for something like 25 years has been dropped with such myopia because the design wasn't quite thought through to the final pages.

In their defense, the feedback department has been very rapid, addressing the issue by 1.30pm and getting that admission of dumbassitude by three. At this moment a good eighty people have sought out this post and registered their opinion. So, as they say, all is not lost.

But the fact that this happened in the first place, the fact that The Guardian of all papers felt it was fine to casually shit on a comic strip, that pisses me off.

Related: Over in US Land, Tom Spurgeon picks up on the shitstorm.

In other news, I'm really impressed with that front cover. So it's not all gripes and moans.

Update: G2 editor just posted a comment to that massive thread. Doonesbury will return next week with a catch-up page on Friday. I'll post his admission of defeat in the comments. By the gods things move fast in this internet age!

Permalink | Posted in Best, Comics on Monday, September 12 2005 | Comments (7) ?subject=[Weblog] 120905: Bigger than Doonesbury" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Gaiman TapeBack in 1989 I'd never published a fanzine before but I kinda knew what they were about and intended to do one. Why, I have no idea, and probably had no idea back then either, but do one I would. Without that fanzine I probably wouldn't be where I am today, and whether that's a good or a bad thing I'm never quite sure. The fanzine was called PDS, named after a mate's side-side-side-project band because I liked the sound of it, a name that would crop up a few more times in my zine publishing career. It was shite, but it had to be. That was the point.

I was living in Croydon at the time and my local comic shop was called Phantom Zone where I would spend most of my time and money. Neil Gaiman was doing a signing tour and me and my mate Phil asked them if we could ask Neil for an interview. Neil said yes. And so with my sheet of questions and Phil for moral support, the three of us sat around a tape recorder in the back room of Phantom Zone and talked for 45 minutes. Or rather Neil talked and we kinda got in the way. I remember when transcribing the interview I had to re-write my questions so they fitted his answers which was not a problem as his answers were more interesting that my questions.

The interview was published in my shitty little zine. I sent a copy to Neil and heard nothing back, which was not too surprising as it really was the only decent thing in the publication. The tape was stuck in with the rest of my tapes and while I never dreamed of throwing it away it was never listened too again.

The other day Andy G and I were going through our respective pre-CD music collections and he stumbled across the Gaiman tape. I told him the story and he asked if he could borrow it. Yes, I said, but you mustn't listen to it while I'm in the room. You should digitize it and stick it online, he said, and I scoffed, but only slightly. It lurked on the kitchen table for a while and one afternoon I snatched it up and popped it in the tape deck. My main concern was about myself coming over like a spoddy little teenager who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about but it didn't seem so bad. I guess I'm far enough away from that version of me now.

I emailed Neil through his site asking if he'd mind this going public and he got back to me in about 10 minutes, which was impressive but also meant he hadn't actually downloaded and listened to the thing. Since he's now somewhat incredibly popular in internet land with his journal and all (11,215 reading via LiveJournal alone) I doubted my bandwidth could deal with hosting it so it was OurMedia to the rescue.

And so here it is. My first, and last, comics-related interview. This is the OurMedia page, and here's the direct mp3 link. It's 17.6mb, 38 minutes long and only a little bit fuzzy. Enjoy!

Permalink | Posted in Autobio, Comics on Tuesday, August 23 2005 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 230805: The Lost Neil Gaiman Interview" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Well, the great Myspace experiment is over. I really can't be bothered with the thing. To be honest, the main problem is the interface. It doesn't just suck, it really fucking sucks big hairy balls. Maybe I've been spoiled by web services that take their user interface seriously but there's no way I can be arsed to get involved with the Myspace world. My profile as been stripped down and I'm outa there.

So why's it so astoundingly popular? To be honest, I don't really know. There's no doubt an element of critical mass, where once enough of your friends are involved you have to get involved yourself no matter how much hard work it is, but I do wonder if it's just that people don't know any better. That's not to say they're stupid. They just think services like Myspace are the normal way to do things on the web. I'm reminded of the gasps of amazement of people when I show them Google Maps and edit the details of my photos in Flickr directly on the page, or when I demonstrate to them how to open pages in tabs in Firefox or how this RSS feeds thingy actually works. Okay, maybe gasps is pushing it a bit, but remember most people out there are using Internet Explorer to access their Hotmail accounts. For them stuff like Myspace is perfectly fine and dandy because it gets the job done.

But for me, nah. No offence but I have better things to do.

And one of them is to finally get involved with Wikipedia! You'll hopefully have noticed I tend to link to this wonder of our internet age a fair bit, usually when I want to have something explained or defined. In brief, it's a web-based encyclopedia which anyone, and I mean anyone, can edit. If this sounds like a terrible idea that's bound to go wrong, all revisions are stored so that if someone does something stupid it can be rolled back. Amazingly it works really really well with Wikipedians carefully crafting entries and adding to or editing what others have created. The best way to really understand how Wikipedia works is to watch Heavy Metal Umlaut: The Movie.

I'd been putting off getting involved because it seemed like quite a big deal to write stuff there. I rely on Wikipedia (with caution of course) for a lot of things so the idea that my ill-founded knowledge might be relied on by others seemed a bit of a dangerous thing. Plus once you start writing something you really have to be certain about your facts. That requires research and citation, which seems like a lot of hard work.

However, while surfing around some British comics pages for a BugPowder post on Wikipedia I noticed that my BugPowder posting colleague Steve Block had a profile there and had been active for a few months. Now I didn't think "Hell, if Steve can do this then it can't be that hard", perish the thought - it was more that I'd never knowingly known anyone involved in Wikipedia before, and now here was a buddy.

So with some trepidation, and after reading all the guidelines and help pages, I started putting together my first page. I think it's probably quite typical of people's first forays in that it's just a big list of Comics Journal Interviews. I have a pretty large, but by no means complete, collection of The Comics Journal and its interviews are always essential reading. However, there doesn't really exist a decent index for it anywhere. Now I have one, not just for myself but for anyone else to use and, hopefully, add to. A useful resource, certainly, and the interview subjects are all linked to their respective Wiki pages, but not it's really "encyclopedic" is it.

Looking through the pages Steve had created I noticed he'd started one for Escape Magazine, one of the more important comics anthologies from the 1980s of which I know a fair bit and have most of the issues. Here's what it looked like before I got to it and here's what it looked like when I'd added to it. (It'll no doubt change in the future so here's what it looks like right this second).

I know about this stuff. I've spent the last 15 years involved with it in various degrees and have a wealth of resources to back me up (those Comics Journals for a start). Ever since Caption where I chaired a panel on the history of the UK small press, I've been wanting to get this stuff down. It's not only interesting, it's actually quite important. Or I think it's important and I know a lot of other people think so too. And now here's somewhere to do it.

What's interesting is that having created a page that has some weight to it (and I haven't finished it yet, there's a lot more to come) I've given weight to the subjects that spin off it. For example, there's now a need for pages for all the artists that were connected with Escape to exist because they have a context. Steve started me off by writing "stubs" for articles he thought should be there and in turn I'll start other people off. It's all quite wonderful really.

And, above all, Wikipedia is a standards-compliant site with a superb user interface that encourages you to interact with it. It even has a vibrant community. Myspace? What's that then?

Permalink | Posted in Comics, Interwebnet, Myspace on Wednesday, August 10 2005 | Comments (10) ?subject=[Weblog] 100805: Goodbye Myspace, Hello Wikipedia!" title="email me about this specific post">Email

I've just relaunched the BugPowder Weblog with a spangly new design. BugPowder, if you didn't know, is the group blog I've been running with Jez since 2000 for the British small press and self-published comics community. I used to be a pretty active figure on that scene back in the 90s, reviewing things, publishing zines and running a mail order distro, but in recent years I've taken something of a back seat, retiring to the comfy chairs with my pipe and slippers while the next generation took over, and that's how it's supposed to be.

However, BugPowder (which evolved out of my distro) refused to join me in the old scenesters home and despite my best efforts kept jumping around me demanding attention like a caffeinated puppy. I tried to give it away but hit a major problem - anyone who is involved and enthused enough to run something like this will already have their own thing going on that takes up all their energies. Back in the day when I started growing my little empire I had no interest in taking over someone else's setup - I wanted to develop my own.

The obvious answer is to just mothball the whole thing and let it die, but as far as I can tell there isn't really anything like BugPowder out there, at least in weblog form. And most frustratingly whenever I go to some small press comics event at least one person will gush to me about how BugPowder introduced them to the scene and how essential the site is for them. So if I can't kill it then it might as well live a good life.

Since I don't have the time or inclination to run BugPowder as a full-on comics resource (like, for example, Tom Spurgeon's excellent Comics Reporter), and since there's plenty of activity going on scattered around the web (as opposed to when BugPowder started in 2000 and hardly anyone had their own site), the best solution I can see is to rejig BugPowder as more of a linklog with quick and, most importantly, easy to post pointers to what's going on. An aggregator of activity, if you like. We'll see if it works.

And, of course, since it's now a lot more streamlined it's much easier for those involved in the community to post to it without detracting from their personal projects. Get in touch if you'd like to join or collar me at Caption this weekend.

I hope you think it looks nice That background image will be replaced soon by something that actually looks like piles of comics rather than an indistinct red smudge and do let me know if you think the hover-for-legibility sidebar is a really bad idea (doesn't work in IE). If you're interested in the more techy design aspects, the permalink structure now goes to Daily archives with Monthly as a secondary option while the RSS feed comes in daily chunks. Do let me know if anything is broken.

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Monday, July 25 2005 | Comments (15) ?subject=[Weblog] 250705: New BugPowder" title="email me about this specific post">Email

My chum Matt Broersma has a new comic out.

Insomnia

This is the Italian edition, so I'm just looking at the pictures. It's being simultaneously published in Italy, France and the US (by Fantagraphics!) and when I get hold of the English version I'll be able to confirm its brilliance.

Available soon in comic shops of distinction (so unless you're really lucky, go mail order).

Go Matt!

Permalink | Posted in Comics, Friends on Thursday, July 21 2005 | Comments (1) ?subject=[Weblog] 210705: Insomnia" title="email me about this specific post">Email

My chum Mark Stafford has a new comic out.

Botulism Banquet

Order it from Hocus Baloney or if you see Mark he's usually got copies in his bag for three quid. Probably in Gosh in London too, though I hear it sells out pretty fast.

It's very good, collecting his strips from various anthologies over the years. About bloody time, too.

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Saturday, July 2 2005 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 020705: Botulism Banquet" title="email me about this specific post">Email

It's been an odd few days, to say the least. The great thing about the internet is information can be communicated immediately, but the flipside to that is that information can be communicated immediately. Within hours of Andy R's accident I, and many other people, knew about it. And then we waited to hear more. And waited. To her immense credit Jenni did a courageous job of keeping us informed but there was only so much she could do. I went to bed that night dreading the morning, half wanting to jump up and keep checking online and half wanting to just hide from the unthinkable, except it was all I could think about.

In the past you'd hear news like this after the event. Now you live it in real time from a great distance. The combination of being involved yet utterly powerless is horrible. Other than reporting the news in the areas where people who know Andy might see it, I couldn't articulate what I was feeling. It was all so glib, my reaction so inconsequential, and worst of all, there was no firm basis on which to react. Writing this now feels so selfish and utterly pointless, but I need to do it, so it is selfish.

Andy is currently in limbo. He's unconscious and will probably never wake up. If he ever does he will be a shadow of the man he was. His daughter Sophie wrote "He's, in effect, dead." Which is true - he'll never be the man he was and that is just fucking awful - but he's still breathing. Do we write the obituaries now? Do we mourn him? Should we mourn him while he's still technically alive? What tense do we use for him now?

Am I beating myself up over these specifics because I just don't know how to deal with this?

Despite it being one of the most gut-wrenching things I've ever read (I was flinching all the way) I'm grateful to Sophie for writing what she did. She did an important thing by drawing that line.

My favourite recent memory of Andy was at the Ladyfest Birmingham festival last year. He'd come up with a couple of friends and was crashing at mine, so I popped down to catch the end of the show. The gig turned into a cheezy indie disco and I watched this 40 year-old man in his trademark skinny-fit t-shirt bopping away in the midst of a predominantly female studenty crowd, thinking he really shouldn't be able to get away with this, but he fits in perfectly. He combined the boundless enthusiasm of a teenager with the wisdom of a sage.

Last night I went to a party. It wasn't a big party, more a gathering really, but it was at a student house and had a bonfire. We sat around the fire from 9pm to 4am drinking beer and then tea and talking about all sorts of stuff, some of it deep, some quite inconsequential. I didn't talk about Andy but he was there. I think it was the sort of small but important thing he would have approved of. Just sitting and talking and coming away with, as he once put it, batteries recharged.

It might seem odd to some, but I think the best tribute to Andy is to just keep carrying on. To create, discuss, play, be alive and love life for all it's oddness and essentialness. It seems to be a normal reaction to this sort of loss to feel the need to do something but Andy was someone who endlessly did something, who delighted in people doing something.

There are a couple of biggish examples of doing something in the pipeline. Andy and Sophie were planning a "music etc." festival in Dalston for October which looks like it'll go ahead, while something will be happening at the Caption small press comics convention next month which Andy had been involved with since its inception. For the latter I'd like to suggest dedicating the exhibition to him with work like Jeremy's Get Well Soon strip, effectively having a place to remember him that doesn't overshadow the event, since the enthusiasm Caption tends to generate is a tribute in itself.

And that's how I'm going to try and deal with this. Just keep on going, feeding off the enthusiasm of others and giving it back many-fold, like Andy did.

Permalink | Posted in Best, Comics, Friends on Thursday, June 16 2005 | Comments (7) ?subject=[Weblog] 160605: Enthusiasm" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Somewhat amazingly I'd never read any of Frank Miller's Sin City comics. Well, maybe one issue many years ago but I certainly wasn't familiar with them. Kinda odd really since he's one of the main figures in American comics that pushed the envelope at a high profile during the 80s and 90s. But no, other than his Batman books (which are probably the only Batman books worth reading because they're both not really about Batman and all about Batman) and the (under-appreciated) Ronin I haven't read much of him.

But of course I know all about Frank Miller and what he's done. I know how he took the flagging Daredevil comic (he's a superhero but he's blind!) and introduced influences from Japanese warrior manga like Lone Wolf and Cub bringing a dramatic dynamism to the somewhat staid 80's superhero genre. I know how he tried to reduce everything down to it's essence stripping away unnecessary details to emphasis the point of whatever he was doing, something every cartoonist should be doing. He's someone who pushes the boundaries artistically, but also politically and socially, and who really understands where comics have come from and what they're capable of. There was a joke around the late 80s that he was the only person in mainstream American comics doing anything interesting who wasn't British, he was that good.

So not having read the source material yet being fully aware of where it was coming from I went to see Sin City today. An hour or so in I glanced across the packed cinema and the audience seemed to be stunned as if they were irresistibly drawn in to something they could not comprehend. What the hell was this thing?

I tell you what it wasn't. It wasn't a comic book movie in the generally accepted sense. Miller was channeling noir fiction with Sin City, from the high end Chandler and Hammett to the low-end schlocky pulps. The symbolism and archetypes he's playing with are not what you'll usually find in comics, which is why he makes interesting comics.

It's worth bearing in mind that the most exciting thing about the comic book medium is that you can bring pretty much anything into it. The underlying grammar, while complex in execution, is simple and flexible enough for the artist to fly off in some utterly unique direction while still staying comprehendible. Of course most creators don't bother with such hard work in the same way that most novelists don't bother to write innovative literature, but when they do it's really quite exciting because it happens on so many levels.

So what people watching Sin City are seeing is a film directly adapted from a comic that was unlike any other comic around at the time which sucked in noir fiction and cinema stripped down to it's pure essence. Since noir is a relatively unexperienced genre these days, especially in such a pure form, it's no wonder they're baffled. But a straw poll of those who've seen it says they like it. A lot.

There's another aspect to all this that I think might be relevant. Comics can be quite subversive and powerful when done properly. This might explain why so many mainstream comics are shite - if they weren't then someone might notice again. A good comic book gets into your brain in a manner quite different to a novel or movie. It's a very personal experience that involves a fair amount of work on the reader's part making connections between those panels. The best example outside of comics is how a murder taking place off stage or out of shot is so much more chilling than one explicitly depicted. Comics use this technique on every page in a myriad of different directions not only between panels but within the artwork itself. The creator gives you a bunch of pictures and some words laid out in a way to guide you through but you fill in the gaps. Comics is all about the gaps. Look at Peanuts - it's just perfectly constructed gaps.

A lot of this made it into Sin City, which might seem odd because it's a very in your face movie, but that's part of the power. I'm still not sure how they did it but that movie sucks you in, not through the flashy effects (which I stopped noticing about 10 minutes in) or the acting (admittedly not all the cast could carry the dialogue but those that did were mesmerising) or the plot. In fact all the obvious aspects of the film are pretty irrelevant, which really pisses off the critics because that's all they can grasp hold of. It's the gaps, those subtle tricks you don't notice that burrow into your brain and make you part of the movie, not by dragging you violently by the lapels but by subconsciously involving you.

Given that Sin City is a film with no morally redeeming features it's quite a trick to bring your audience in like that and like I say I'm really not sure how they did it, but I'm pretty sure it came from having Frank Miller on board. Give someone who really understands the subversive power of comics the tools and guidance to make a top quality movie and you know you're going to be in trouble of the best kind.

Permalink | Posted in Best, Comics, Film and TV on Sunday, June 5 2005 | Comments (2) ?subject=[Weblog] 050605: Sin City" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Every so often you stumble upon something on the web and wonder "what mad fool is this?" as you gasp at the enormity of time and effort they've put into some massive archive of stuff. It so happens that I know one such mad fool. He's a very good friend of mine. Annoyingly his name is Andy, like so many of my friends, and doubly annoyingly he refused use his real surname, or any surname at all. When in the mid 90s he appeared on the small press comics scene, which already had more than its quota of Andys, he was given the name Andy Konky Kru after the title of his comic. Since having a rather odd pseudonym is not that weird amongst cartoonists the name stuck and no-one thought any more of it. But Andy didn't just do cool little comics, he was also something of an academic, holding forth in debates about the origins and minutiae of comic strip art and backing them up with a somewhat encyclopedic knowledge base.

When Andy discovered the internet he did what a lot of people did and started cataloguing it. But being Andy he was incredibly focussed, concentrating on cartoonists he thought were good (he can be very specific about this) and looking for examples of early comics, early for Andy being pre-20th century, an era when most people don't think comics really existed. Of course the internet is a cruel mistress and despite his blinkers the tunnel of information was infinite and ever changing. The huge lists of links Andy would painstakingly produce and send to mailing lists would quickly go out of date as link rot set in, but Andy would go back and update them again and again. And these lists were huge things. Andy would present them to you and you'd feel obliged to visit every site, which of course you didn't so you felt a little guilty. But when you needed a reference to some cartoonist or publisher the lists pretty much always gave you a quality pointer.

Link rot was starting to bug Andy so, since I'd given him a directory on BugPowder to host the lists, he started posting the images he'd found directly on there so they couldn't disappear. Alongside this he started scanning and uploading samples from his early comics archive running from prehistory to 1900 which began to dominate the site, plus some samples of his own (excellent) comic art. Jez and myself just left him to it and were somewhat astonished one day to discover he'd used up over 100mb of space, back when 100mb on a website was a hell of a lot. Bear in mind these are generally not huge files. He was very conscientious, compressing the jpegs as much as possible and only uploading the essentials, but even so we quickly checked BugPowder's capacity, concluding that we were okay but that Andy had to slow the fuck down, which he did, but even Andy slowed down is still a force to be reckoned with.

While I appreciated what he was doing I must confess I never really got it, putting it down to Andy's somewhat obsessive nature. The site got some good plaudits but they tended to be from other obsessive comics historians. At the end of the day we could accommodate his work and it was obviously good work. People I respected raved about the site and that was good for BugPowder if nothing else. I finally fully got what Andy had achieved at Caption 2004, the annual convention for us small press and art comics types. With an laptop powered OHP display and a large piece of pipe (photo) Andy talked us through his history of comics and I, along with everyone else in the audience, was rapt. Beyond any embarrassment I felt for not noticing this earlier I was immensely proud of what Andy had achieved here. He, of course just shrugged it off but I was struck by the realisation that he hadn't just collected a bunch of images and stuck them online - he'd created a huge narrative that meant something and taught something new the rest of us high-brow comics nerds who thought we pretty much knew it all.

That's not to say he's not an obsessive loon. One look at his directory with it's thousands of carefully named files but no subdirectories confirmed that. Each of the hundreds of HTML files was carefully hand coded and cross referenced with no database backing it up. I toyed with the notion of automating it for him but it was so huge and complex I quickly abandoned that idea. The methodology behind its creation lay in Andy's brain alone. Us mere mortals could not comprehend it.

However, Andy's page had become something of a ball and chain for BugPowder. Currently the site lives on a server that is very cheap with lots of space but not overly reliable. Or rather it's reliable if you're prepared to keep up with updates and changes. If you just leave it be it'll occasionally b0rk big time, as happened the other week. We could move to somewhere less techy / more reliable but the issue of hosting Andy's increasingly massive subsite always put such notions on hold. Andy had mentioned that his uncle had a mass of storage available to him but he didn't want to change the URLs from BugPowder and since we were happy enough staying with the current host for now nothing more was thought of it.

That said, when BugPowder went down the other week a lot of people noticed, and the majority of them were looking for Andy's stuff. So to cut a (very) long story short Andy now has his own site at AndyBleck.com (No, this isn't his real name. I'm one of only two people in comics who knows his real name and I've toyed with killing Mardou to reclaim my exclusivity in that regard.) All the images have been moved to his uncle's site while the HTML pages are mirrored, pretty much, on his new site and on BugPowder. Nothing major has changed on the surface but we're now pretty much free to move BugPowder should be want to.

The whole process of uploading everything allowed me to accurately quantify exactly what Andy has built here. There are 5,369 images weighing in at 396mb. 3,185 (240mb) of them are history related sitting on 645 pages. These took 12 hours to upload. In his defense this has been built up over many years but even so!

Do have a look at Andy's site. It's a marvel to behold even if you're not interested in comics. Start off with the Early Comics Archive where each thumbnail takes you to a readable page of comics. If you fancy something a little more academic, check out the Speechbaloons in Comics and Evolution of Speechbaloons pages (the former being comic-specific, the latter looking at art generally). There also Andy's big find, Lenardo and Blandine, a comic from 1783 which blew the "first ever comic" stakes back a good 75 years. Andy's old linklists still survive in a slightly reduced but still comprehensive form here along with his selection of 90 Comics Without Words featuring mostly contemporary cartoonists. The first two issues of his tiny A7 anthology Flickermouse are online along with his own minicomics Konky Kru, Mumpitz, Unspanned and some of his more abstract works. Then there's the main focus of his creative output these days, the Realistic Drawings (for want of a better term). These really need to be seen in their full size glory and there are so many of them but this is a personal favourite. Finally there's his photography, the "best of" selection is here though there are many more, along with some sculpture and related abstract pencil drawings.

Phew!

Permalink | Posted in Art, Best, Comics, Friends, Photography on Tuesday, May 17 2005 | Comments (4) ?subject=[Weblog] 170505: Konky" title="email me about this specific post">Email

As has been pointed out to me in a number of emails, and thanks to everyone who wrote, BugPowder.com, the small press comics news site I ostensibly look after, is down at the moment. It will probaby take about a week to sort out for reasons I won't go in to right now. Apologies.

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Tuesday, May 3 2005 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 030505: BugPowder Is Unwell" title="email me about this specific post">Email

[Update: Since bandwidth hasn't been blown I'm sticking all five parts up. Do your worst.]

Let A Man Come In And Do The PopcornA few years ago we had this neat little feature on BugPowder where comic artists would send me 10 or so tracks which I'd stick up as a RealAudio stream. It was called Car-Toon-Ists' Choice after Nick Abadzis' first one and was fairly popular. One day in the pub Woodrow Phoenix (when are you going to get a proper site, Woods?) handed me a CD for the project complete with sleeve art (see pic), only it had 80 mp3s on it. He'd gotten a bit carried away. Back then 250mb was a bit too much to be dealing with (we were all still on dialup) so I put it to one side and, to my eternal regret, never actually got around to doing anything with it.

Since I now have more space than I know what to do with, it seems right and proper that I finally share this with you all. I'm not going to say what's on it partly to stop the leachers but also because the surprise will be worth it. Even if you think you know Woodrow's mindset.

[Files gone now - sorry]

Permalink | Posted in Comics, Music on Wednesday, March 9 2005 | Comments (3) ?subject=[Weblog] 090305: Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn" title="email me about this specific post">Email

According to Jeremy it's Gay History Month which I inadvertently celebrated last week with a binge of gay history related media consumption. First up was another re-reading of Howard Cruse's Stuck Rubber Baby, his coming-out story set in the deep south at the height of the civil rights movement and one of the best graphic novels ever produced ever. The introduction is by Tony Kushner, writer of the play Angels in America which was adapted, by Kushner, into a 6 hour HBO TV movie a couple of years back with an all star cast and quality director. I spotted the DVD on Sam's shelf and, having a long night ahead of me, decided to check it out. It's also very good, set in the mid eighties with Reagan at his apex and AIDS ravaging the gay community. For a very very long film about death, angst, lies, betrayal, regret and more death it's a quite funny movie with wonderfully surreal moments. I highly recommend it.

While perusing the DVD box, however, something struck me. There is no mention whatsoever of the content of the film. If you picked this up in ignorance you would not know it's a gay film by an acclaimed gay writer about AIDS. That's a bit odd, I thought. Then inside the box is one of those leaflets advertising various HBO DVDs. Angels in America is described as exploring "the politics, morality and search for hope in the story of six interconnected characters and an Angel in the complex and turbulent world of New York in the late 1980's. Spanning the extremes of tragedy, love and betrayal, and life and death, Angels in America in a journey through the landscape of despair and hope that defines America at the end of the 20th Century." Can you say "don't mention the gayness"? In the same leaflet the Tony Soprano is identified as a mob boss with a mid-life crisis, the Six Feet Under folk are undertakers and Band Of Brothers is is clearly about soldiers in World War Two. Yet Angels in America doesn't seem to have anything to do with homosexuals. The web site is the same.

From a media ownership point of view, HBO is part of Ted Turner's media group which was bought by Time Warner. Maybe there's some right-wing political stuff going on. Except Time Warner also publish Stuck Rubber Baby. And HBO, while popular and successful, is not mainstream. It's audience is every so slightly more high-brow than standard US TV and quite used to controversial themes. In other words, they can deal with the gayness and probably expect it.

Maybe it's a trick on the part of the producers to get what they consider an important work into the hands of people who might, consciously or not, reject a movie about fags. But, according to Wikipedia, this was the most watched made-for-cable movie of its year, won a Golden Globe and an Emmy and was internationally acclaimed. Anyone who hears about Angels in American from a source other than HBO will know what it's about. So why are HBO so reticent to go with the gayness? Is homophobia and the ghettoisation of queer culture really still so rife in our modern, enlightened age?

Of course it bloody is.

Permalink | Posted in Comics, Film and TV, Politics on Monday, January 24 2005 | Comments (1) ?subject=[Weblog] 240105: Nope, no gayness here" title="email me about this specific post">Email

I've been involved in a fair few projects, firstly in the wacky world of small press comics and zines and for the last few years online. Some have been great, some have rapidly drifted into obscurity and some have taken on a life of their own. One thing that nearly always happened, though, is that they tend to fade. Usually this is not a problem. A good rule to work by is if no-one's interested any more then it's not worth continuing and it was fun while it lasted. (The problem occurs when you lose interested in something you've set up and everyone else still wants it to continue, but that's another story...)

The issue seems to be one of a low barrier to entry. When you have an idea and it's not hard to implement it, it seems seems silly not to at least try. The music, zine and web revolutions were revolutionary because suddenly pretty much anyone could put out stuff in ways that used to be controlled by market forces, which made everyone a little giddy. If you'd written a song you could record it in your bedroom, make up some cassettes, send them to a trading club and people would listen to it. If you'd written a story you could type it up, photocopy it as a zine, send it to a review zine and people would read it. And the internet is just self explanatory. What this meant for people like me was we saw all this anarchy and got even more giddy, thinking up ways of facilitating all this underground creative activity with reviews, mail order distros, conventions and the like. And again the internet has taken this to a previously unimaginable level.

However, as many if not most of the music, zines, comix and websites that were produced were ill-conceived and a bit crap, so were most of the ideas from people like me. Some of them were brilliant, of course, and without that low barrier to entry a lot of the more creative and interesting ones wouldn't have come about, and that's an important thing to remember about this lark. Most weblogs are not much cop, but without them you wouldn't have that gem you stumbled upon last week.

So today's question, in relation to the projects that people like me do, and with specific concentration on the web, is what to do with the failures. In the old days if a zine wasn't working you'd just stop publishing it. The back issues would be there, floating around in people's collections, but it wouldn't be part of the current scene. With the web, you have a crazy idea, get others all enthusiastic about it, implement it in a couple of days and within a month it's just sitting there because it wasn't actually all that great or useful and people, including you, have moved on to the next crazy idea. But the project is still there, still functional and working but out of date and mildly embarrassing, given the high expectations you had of it. To get rid of it would require actively doing so, and people will get upset about that, especially if they've contributed their time and energies to it. Turing it into an archive is a possibility but that would require a fair bit of work, and you're just not interested in it enough to be bothered. So it just sits there.

I'm not in any way suggesting these things aren't worth it. Like I said before, in order to get the really interesting stuff to stick you have to throw a lot of shit on the walls. I'm just wondering if there's a way to effectively build retirement plans into new projects, so when they slow down to a crawl it's not hard to mothball them without killing everything or leaving a faintly sad relic gathering cyber-dust.

Permalink | Posted in Blogging, Comics, Interwebnet on Sunday, January 23 2005 | Comments (6) ?subject=[Weblog] 230105: Failed Projects" title="email me about this specific post">Email

One of the notable things about the comics scene, at least in the US/UK realm, is that so many key figures in the development of the medium are dying. You can argue and debate the origins of the form but one of the milestones in its development occurred in New York in the 30s and 40s by predominately young, predominantly Jewish men (as wonderfully recreated in Michael Chabon's novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay which I recommend to one and all) and now, 60 years later, they're all very old.

To be honest, it's been getting to the stage where you open a comics magazine that's not written by idiots and have to wade through pages of obituaries to these guys every month and it's easy to get a little blase about it, especially if, like me, you're not really a big fan of golden age superhero stuff. But a lot of these folk did do important work, usually for little financial reward or respect, defining or redefining what could be done with panels on a page. Their work may often look crude to modern eyes but without it we wouldn't have the depth and range of comics we have today.

Will Eisner, who died yesterday aged 87, was one of these men, but he was also a giant amongst them. His artistic contribution alone is phenomenal (check out this random page and consider it was done in 1947) but his intelligence took him to a legendary status, from his analysis of how the medium worked to his revolutionary notion that comic could be longer than the usual 20-odd pages, and much more besides. Pretty much every positive development in the last 60 years of comics can be traced back to Eisner, whether you're a fan of mainstream superhero comics or scratchy experimental comics or anything inbetween or outside. He was the man.

[Eisner biography]

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Tuesday, January 4 2005 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 040105: Will Eisner" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Present Day panelI've been working on a review of Chris Reyonold's comic The Dial for far too long now and seem to have gotten a real block on it. Thankfully my friend and fellow BugPowder contributor John sent through a wee comic strip he did inspired by it. I asked him if I could stick it up here and he agreed. So, I present for your enjoyment, ladies and gentlemen, Present Day by Mr John Robbins of Ireland.

I will try and get my review done soon. I promise.

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Monday, November 15 2004 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 151104: Present Day" title="email me about this specific post">Email

There's a sci-fi trope (is that the right word?) about another planet on the same orbit as Earth only it's directly behind the Sun so we're unaware of it. Often the planet is a similar to our own and explorers who visit it learn important lessons about stuff and things.

A bunch of us comics-related nerds meet at a certain pub in Birmingham on the last Saturday of each month and have done for about 9 years. The other day Dan and Phil, two of our gang, happened to be in said pub and noticed something very similar. Turns out another bunch of comics-related nerds are meeting in the same pub at the same table on the second Saturday of every month and both bunches were completely oblivious to the existence of the other.

Contact has been established. A tentative program of cultural exchange has been mooted. We shall see what we shall learn.

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Monday, October 11 2004 | Comments (1) ?subject=[Weblog] 111004: Dopplegangers" title="email me about this specific post">Email

...it kinda stops the spontaneous blurtings. That may be a good thing of course.

Finally caught up with the BugPowder blog backlog - I'm sure I've missed stuff so feel free to tell me again. I've still not done my Caption report - maybe I'll just list all the other Caption reports but that's what I did last year... Oh, and there's an article I'm supposed to be writing for Baz at Engine Comics' Rough Guide to Self Publishing about BugPowder which is due in, ooh, two days. Maybe by outing my failure to get this done in public I'll actually do it.

Also on a comics note, I did Phil Hall a favour and sorted out the RSS feed for his new Movers and Shakers gossip blog as well as tidying up a few rogue template issues. He was reluctant to mess with the guts himself and having seen them I understand why. It's easy to knock Blogger but this kinda has me worried. When I started out using Blogger in 2000 the template system was simple and as such I taught myself a lot about templates and what I later learned were modular content management systems. I owe Blogger a lot - without the service I wouldn't be the blogging guru/help-desk I am now. However, if I was starting out today I probably wouldn't get further than selecting pre-designed templates and leaving it at that. The learning curve has gotten steep again and that's no good thing.

(If anyone who knows me wants help on this kind of thing don't hesitate to ask. It's probably just a five minute job and if it isn't I can always just say no.)

On a more positive note, have you noticed how most of the blogs that really break out into the mainstream consciousness tend to be hosted on blogspot with standard layouts? Dear Raed, Bell De Jour, etc. Not only does this mean when they get millions of visitors they don't run up bandwidth bills but it also says a lot about content over style. Something we should all perhaps think about more often maybe...

Right, now I have to be off to the pub. Sorry Baz!

Permalink | Posted in Blogging, Comics on Saturday, August 28 2004 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 280804: Sometimes I regret having a Title field on this blog..." title="email me about this specific post">Email

With housemate Sam due back any day it's time to stop procrastinating and start sorting all the small press comics on the living room floor, so I've spent this morning putting them into alphabetical piles, not order, piles. Actual anal levels of sorting can follow later. Interesting observation, other than that there are more letters in the alphabet than my back can stand and that I don't own any SP comics beginning with the letter Q: the more "professional" the format, the less inspiring. The pile of US comic format comics were, with some exceptions, pretty ordinary while the A6 and A7 minis were like sifting through gold for more gold. Smaller is better, limitations are possibilities, obscurity is inspirational, etc...

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Saturday, August 21 2004 | Comments (7) ?subject=[Weblog] 210804: The History on my Living Room Floor is Partially Sorted" title="email me about this specific post">Email

My brain is full to bursting. Caption 2004 was probably the closest UK comics has ever gotten to an academic conference, and it was brilliant. A full report will follow, but here's some photos


l-r Jay Eales, Steve Green, Phil Greenaway, Heather Honeypears, John Welding and Paul Rainey at the autobiography panel.

Post continues

Permalink | Posted in Comics, Photography on Sunday, August 15 2004 | Comments (5) ?subject=[Weblog] 150804: Caption 2004 has occurred" title="email me about this specific post">Email

A few weeks back I finally collected the many boxes of books and comics I'd put in storage last April. The books and graphic novels (comics with spines) were unpacked fairly quickly as they could be piled up against the wall until such time as I bought some shelves. The comics-without-spines have their own specialist geek boxes and there's only two of them these days so they weren't a problem. The six huge boxes of small press comics and zines however were another issue altogether.

You have to bear in mind that for a few years in the mid-to-late 90s I was a "key figure" on the UK small press comics scene, first producing the regular reviews flyer, TRS, and then running the big mail order distro, BugPowder. (TRS is now TRS2 run by Jez, while BugPowder is, well, it's BugPowder.) So not only have I spent the last 15 years buying small press comics I've also been sent hundreds of the things for review or on spec for sale from all over the world. Six boxes might not seem that many but consider that most of them are 24-48 pages long in A5 format. If they were novels they'd fill a house easily. And each one is unique, usually with a print run of under 100, created by enough people to fill a town. I think. Because I've never actually sat down at catalogued them.

And so now that I've taken something of back seat, like an old man sitting in his smoking jacket smiling benevolently at the younger generation as they go about being all enthusiastic and offering advice to any bemused ear that will take it (while occasionally coming up with crazy notions of getting back on the wagon but never quite getting around to it), I look at this huge collection and I think, what shall I do with it? Last March I announced it has been donated to the community at large, and I still stand by that, but before anything can happen it needs to be quantified. And even now, there being so much stuff it's useless without being sorted into some kind of order, but figuring out what order to put it in when these things don't always give themselves well to "title/artist" categorising, as well as the size of the job, the sorting let alone any actual cataloging.

Every time I'd open a box and started digging in I'd get scared by the enormity of it all. So I'd sealed it up and put it away.

Next weekend I'm chairing a panel at Caption on the History of the Small Press and as part of that I want to have a range of distro catalogues and review zines on hand so people can see what came before. Of course this stuff is all mixed up with the actual comics themselves along with a range of non-comics zines and other strange items of xerography. So I didn't have an excuse any more. The boxes had to be opened.

The living room floor is now covered in small press comics. Sam is away on her annual pilgrimage to the States and won't be back for a fortnight so the mess can remain until then. So far I've separated the non-comics zines into their own (surprisingly small) pile, removed any comics-related zines into their own (surprisingly large) pile while the rest is sorted by size, which is how it's always been sorted. A4, US-comic-size, A5 and minis. Oh, and a small pile of random ephemera, letters, postcards, interesting envelopes, flyers, that kind of stuff. That was the easy part. The question is, what the fuck do I do next?

(Catalogue, catalogue, catalogue, I know. I'm just procrastinating now the easy bit has been done...)

(And I haven't even started on the four boxes of leftover stock from the BugPowder distro days...)

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Saturday, August 7 2004 | Comments (3) ?subject=[Weblog] 070804: A History on my Living Room Floor" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Another day, another great comic arives on the doormat. Truely this is a golden age for my letterbox.

The Dial (published by Kingly Books) reprints Chris Reynold's comic from 1989 along with other short strips from his Mauretania series. I've always loved his work for it's eerie dreamlike quality and The Dial has that in spades. Hopefully this is the start of a complete collection of Reynold's work.

It's not officially released yet but sending £7.50 to Kingly will no doubt secure you a copy.

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Saturday, July 31 2004 | Comments (2) ?subject=[Weblog] 310704: The Dial" title="email me about this specific post">Email

It's always nice to wake up to a comic on the doorstep, especially when it comes in an envelope with a slightly rude drawing on it. This sort of thing doesn't happen to me as much as it used to, so I settled down with a cup of tea and my copy of Whores of Mensa, a new comic divided equally between Jeremy Dennis, Mardou and Lucy Sweet. Top stuff throughout and quite simply one of the best comics I've read all year.

for ordering details (or pick it up at Caption).

[Update: Or send £3 cash/cheque to Jeremy Dennis, 18 Hawkins Street, Oxford, OX4 1YD]

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Thursday, July 29 2004 | Comments (1) ?subject=[Weblog] 290704: Whores of Mensa" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Ooh, I did a lot this weekend, and I'm going to tell you all about it, brain-fart style.

Post continues

Permalink | Posted in A Life of Pete, Comics, London on Monday, June 14 2004 | Comments (4) ?subject=[Weblog] 140604: The First Big Weekend Of The Summer" title="email me about this specific post">Email

It's funny how context affects behaviour, as rapidly apparent at last weekend's big comics convention/festival/gathering/whatever in Birstol. I've been going to these things in their various incarnations regularly since 1989 and it's got to the stage where there are things I do and ways I behave that only ever occur in this environment, specifically the consumption of alcohol.

Post continues

Permalink | Posted in A Life of Pete, Blogging, Comics on Wednesday, June 2 2004 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 020604: Comics and Beer and Nothing Else Shall Matter" title="email me about this specific post">Email


(Cecil the Nice Wasp, a comic by Gary Northfield)

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Sunday, May 30 2004 | Comments (3) ?subject=[Weblog] 300504: Back from Bristol" title="email me about this specific post">Email

This Saturday I went to the UK Web and Mini Comix Thing event in London. It was a new event run by Patrick Findlay who had never done anything like this before. While there was a reasonable chance that it could have been a flop it most certainly wasn't and everyone I spoke to came away impressed. It certainly got me invigorated about comics again, which was my main reason for going, and sparked off a lot of thoughts and ideas I hope to develop over the next few months.

On the long journey home I jotted down some reflections on the day. Here they are in no particular order:

Post continues

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Sunday, March 21 2004 | Comments (7) ?subject=[Weblog] 210304: Reflections on the UK Web and Mini Comics Thing" title="email me about this specific post">Email

My writing muse has vanished leaving quite a few half-written blog posts sitting on my hard drive, so here goes in point form:

Had a lovely evening at Matt and Anna's in Moseley on Saturday, which was needed as I was getting a little stir crazy. Matt has a mad collection of undergroundy French comics (or Bandes-Dessines) and it was something of a Hicksville moment being surrounded by loads of comics I'd never seen before. Was quite taken by the publisher Freon along with Flblb who published two of Matt's books. Strange that a Texan cartoonist living in England has only been published in French. But there you go.

Last week I was back at the NEC for a second job. I think I might be spending a lot of time there over the next few months. However, tomorrow I'm working for Birmingham City Council Environmental Services which means I'm on the bins! Well, I'm probably street cleaning but that's just as cool! Hopefully I'll be driving around in one of those little invalid carriages with big brushes ploughing through obstinate commoners as they wait for their bus. But as ever I will have no idea exactly what I'm doing until I'm doing it.

Finally got in touch, in a roundabout way, with an old Uni mate on Friday - told him to Google me for my email so if you're reading this James...

And that's about it.

Permalink | Posted in A Life of Pete, Agency Worker, Comics, Friends on Sunday, February 15 2004 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 150204: This week" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Well, whoopy-do! My chum Gary Northfield has his debut in the highly prestigeous British comic book The Beano with his new character Derek the Sheep

Be sure and pick up a copy or ten this week (issue 3214, dated February 21st) and write to the editor telling him how much you really like Derek. Draw a picture if you feel like it. In crayon. Purple crayon.

Permalink | Posted in Comics, Friends on Sunday, February 15 2004 | Comments (5) ?subject=[Weblog] 150204: Beanomonster" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Just completed the annual redesign of the BugPowder weblog. Well, annual in as much as I last did it a year ago. Back then it was my first real attempt to get to grips with CSS and over the months I've become more and more embarrassed by it, especially compared with my own site here which I've been constantly tweaking. The problem was I'd coded it with my HTML head on so it was utterly inflexible meaning any redesign (other than changing the colours) would involve a total overhaul. Which is what I've now done.

In essence it's just a copy of this site with some little tweaks (the sidebar is on the right). I initially rejected doing this as it seemed a bit of a cop out but then I figured since this site works and since I'd spent so much time on it I might as well exploit that. At the end of the day it's just another weblog layout, there to serve the content rather than to be the end in itself, and it's now a lot more flexible should I or anyone else want to tweak it a bit. In all it probably took me four or five hours to do, and most of that was spent figuring out the colours (not my strength), re-jigging the external content feeds (such as the TRS2 reviews) and figuring out what order the sidebar contents should be in.

And now I can look at BugPowder and not cringe, which is all for the good.

Permalink | Posted in Blogging, Comics, Site News on Monday, January 12 2004 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 120104: New BugPowder" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Back in the old days, like before the web was all that, you know, 1997 or thereabouts, BugPowder was not a website but a mail order service for small press and mini comics from all over the world. One of the non-UK cartoonists I was really pleased to be selling was Canadian (I think, or was he a Yank?) Robin Bougie who along with a select gang of tooners published their comics under the banner "Minds Eye Comics Presents". What made them special was the range. One comic I remember was called Vincent starring a toy panda and other random soft toys Bougie and his girlfriend had picked up at thrift stores - all very cute and nice. Then on the other hand he'd do some of the most explicit depraved sex-stuff while keeping a definite sense of humour going.

Whatever, I was delighted to stumble across his name at the top of the hundred worst porn movie titles page (I said delighted, not surprised) and while that link didn't I went a googling. And there he was, still drawing and, it seems, still publishing zines.

Oh happy day...

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Sunday, September 28 2003 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 280903: Hey, I know that sick fuck. I used to sell his comics." title="email me about this specific post">Email

I don't normally talk comics on this blog but I've just written a huge email to Patrick Findlay about the UK Web and Mini Comix Thing 2004 event he's organising in London next March offering my full support and so forth especially in the department of spreading-the-word. So if you're in any way part of the UK small press comics scene consider me now taking you into the corner and strongly suggesting that you seriously consider getting involved in what ever way you can.

The idea is still only a week old (first mooted here) but seems to be gathering momentum. Most encouragingly for me this is yet another seemingly ambitious but eminently do-able idea on the UK comix scene. So please give Patrick all the support you can, especially if you're London based and/or have any experience in this kind of thing.

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Monday, September 22 2003 | Comments (2) ?subject=[Weblog] 220903: Comix Thing 04 - a call to arms" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Meg picked up on our most illustrious and often downright worrying tabloid discovering weblogs and I mosied on over to have a giggle. Imagine my surprise when I see they've ripped off parts of the Samizdata Blog Glossary including StripBlog, which I coined, ooh, very nearly a year ago. So that makes it official then. Anyone not using Stripblog to describe an online comic strip published as a weblog is wrong. I win.

Permalink | Posted in Blogging, Comics on Wednesday, September 10 2003 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 100903: By a circular and tenuous route I'm published in The Sun" title="email me about this specific post">Email

No posts tonight, not even on the organic link farm, because I've spent the evening putting the finishing touches on Matt Abbiss' new stripblog. Actually it's the same as his old one only it's now on Movable Type rather than Blogger. While it slightly pains me to say so Blogger realy doesn't seem worth it for serious blog stuff any more. Maybe I've moved on and am looking back with more experienced eyes, or maybe the fact that the archives had vanished and the option to "republish" don't exist any more had something to do with it. Anyway, had some fun playing with the layout (nice and simple is always deceptive) and talking Matt through the joys of MT. All in all it was very painless. I might be on to something here...

Permalink | Posted in Blogging, Comics, Tech on Wednesday, August 20 2003 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 200803: Another client satisfied" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Oh joyous day! Gary Northfield has resurrected his Stupidmonsters stripblog with regular if not daily comic strip goodness.

Permalink | Posted in Blogging, Comics on Thursday, July 17 2003 | Comments (5) ?subject=[Weblog] 170703: Return of the Stupidmonster" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Oh, Frazer, what are we to do with you...

British comic artist forced to leave Croatia Residency visa denied due to bad translation

Zagreb (pte, Apr 4, 2003 12:05) - A top British comic artist has been booted out of Croatia after officials translated "freelance" as "unemployed".

The artist Frazer Irving who earns 50,000 pounds a year and has already had at least one major exhibition of his work in the Croatian capital Zagreb said he was stunned by the news.


(more of this kind of thing...)

Permalink | Posted in Comics, Friends on Friday, April 11 2003 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 110403: You think my life is getting weird..." title="email me about this specific post">Email
If you told me when I started BugPowder that when I took a sabbatical from it The Comics Journal's weblog would print the following, I'd have laughed you out of town. Looks like I won't be giving up on all this any time soon.
Pete Ashton, who founded the British indy comics portal Bugpowder, has announced that he will be taking a sabbatical on a farm on the Isle of Wight for at least several months. Ashton is no longer the only person contributing to the website, and expects it to carry on in his absence. Here's wishing him a safe journey, and that his eventual return finds him rested and ready to again pick up the yoke.
Thanks, Dirk! What I wrote on BugPowder follows:
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Permalink | Posted in Comics on Sunday, March 23 2003 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 230303: Um, what have I created?" title="email me about this specific post">Email

This week has been spent mainly sorting out my stuff. When I packed it up to move last month there were boxes marked "books" and "comics" but it wasn't particularly strict. Since it's going into storage I want to be able to tell exactly what's in which box should I need to look for stuff in the future, so no mixing and decent labelling is in order. And also a bit of thinning out, chucking away bits of stationary and odds and sods that I wouldn't mind hanging onto but don't need. By now this isn't such a major thing as I've been thinning out my stuff a lot over the last three or four moves, but there's still a surprising amount of crap in there.

The main objective has been to separate my small press comics and zine collection away from the rest of my stuff. After ten+ years in this lark it's amounted to a quite impressive range from all over the world, though mainly the UK. I've often wondered what to do with it all, especially as over half of it isn't of any real interest to me. I know I'm keeping it all because it's of archival importance (a lot of it only had print runs of 50 or 100) but it just sits there, waiting for that importance to come to fruition.

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Permalink | Posted in Comics on Friday, March 7 2003 | Comments (6) ?subject=[Weblog] 070303: The BugPowder Archive" title="email me about this specific post">Email
Good ol' Hammers wrote a nice little article in today's Guardian Online section about the WikiPedia and the general joy of all things Wiki. A nice place to start if you're wondering what I'm on about with the BugWiki project.
Permalink | Posted in Comics, Interwebnet, Tech on Friday, January 31 2003 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 310103: WikiWikiPressWikki" title="email me about this specific post">Email

Sentence is a new comics anthology I was involved in the conception of and will be involved in the promotion and selling of. It arrived from the printers last week. My copy came through the post today. It's going on sale in a couple of weeks. It seriously kicks ass!

You will definitely hear more about this soon.

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Tuesday, January 21 2003 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 210103: First sighting of Sentence!" title="email me about this specific post">Email
Going through the referrers I come across this page from the LiveJournal RSS group. It seems someone (I suspect Jo...) has described me thus: "Pete is the maintainer of BugPowder and a grandee of the UK small press comics community." A grandee? Moi?
Permalink | Posted in Comics on Sunday, January 19 2003 | Comments (2) ?subject=[Weblog] 190103: Be still my beating ego..." title="email me about this specific post">Email
When you put things on ebay you generally have a vague idea what kind of price they're going to sell for. And then sometimes you're completely wrong. I mean, would you pay £41 (at time of writing - still 6 hours to go) for 11 Freak Brothers comics? Is there a rare one in that set or something? I'll have to pop online tomorrow before work just to see how mad this goes!
Permalink | Posted in Comics on Monday, January 13 2003 | Comments (3) ?subject=[Weblog] 130103: ebay shock" title="email me about this specific post">Email
Sometimes you just go with the fates and something keeps hitting you in the face over and over. Musician/cartoonist Jeffrey Lewis is the current one. I heard him live in session on the radio months ago and just got around to ordering his CD The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane. And very good it is too. Just before that came through I bought a copy of Sturgeon White Moss which has a great one pager by him. Then, in the CD, it says he's on mp3.com, so go there and download his songs. I particularly recommend this track to start with. While that's downloading, check out this comic on the Rough Trade site. Now, if I can just find a source for ordering his actual comics themselves...
Permalink | Posted in Comics, Music on Tuesday, January 7 2003 | Comments (2) ?subject=[Weblog] 070103: Jeffrey Lewis" title="email me about this specific post">Email
This is probably the main reason I hang on the edges of the comics scene. I mean, I don't have a problem with what Eric is saying here and in fact I agree with him, but "They need to kill the four column layout" just reeks of some kind of rotten superiority with a hint of paranoia. I don't think I necessarily deserve more, nor do I seek praise from my peers and/or superiors. For all I know Eric is a really nice guy and if he's passionate enough about good comics to post to this message board he must be. So why the negativity? Unfortunately it seems to be the standard in comics today. No wonder it's all going down the shit heap.

Let's push things forwards kids.

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Saturday, January 4 2003 | Comments (3) ?subject=[Weblog] 040103: Oh... thanks..." title="email me about this specific post">Email
Pre-empting the forthcoming move in February, I've started selling a load of comics on eBay in an attempt to get my pamphlet collection down to one box.
Permalink | Posted in Comics on Saturday, January 4 2003 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 040103: eBayagogo" title="email me about this specific post">Email
You wouldn't think I'd spent the whole night from 2.00am on the computer judging by this blog, but I have. My brain is slow, my eyes are sore, my back hurts and BugPowder has re-launched. I just hope everyone likes it...

And so, to bed...

Permalink | Posted in A Life of Pete, Blogging, Comics, Interwebnet, Site News, Tech on Thursday, January 2 2003 | Comments (3) ?subject=[Weblog] 020103: BugPowder relaunch!" title="email me about this specific post">Email
I'm posting this here rather than on BugPowder because, to be frank, it's not BP material and because I think the non-comics people amongst you might find it entertaining. As I said in a previous post, every week on New Comics Day, the New Comics come into the stores around the world. They come from a company called Diamond who issue a list of what to expect. Got all that? Good.

This guy, going by the name A.K., writes Title Bout where he dissects this list in a most irreverant manner exposing, if you like the duality of the modern comics fan. On the one hand he has the dedication to his hobby to write this thing and the knowledge to pull it off, but on the other he knows how stupid and ridiculous the whole thing is.

I should point out that when I talk about the sphere of comics I inhabit I am not refering to this one. It's all rampant positivity in my camp!

Tip of the hat to Dirk for the link. Nice one.

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Saturday, December 28 2002 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 281202: Step into the world I try to avoid..." title="email me about this specific post">Email
As those on the mailing list will know the BugPowder site has been down. It's just a payment processing thing and, all things being equal, it'll be back up Monday night. Sorry about that!
Permalink | Posted in Comics on Sunday, November 24 2002 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 241102: BugPowder down" title="email me about this specific post">Email
Stripblog, a term I devised a while back to describe stuff like this, has made it onto the Samizdata.net Blog Glossary
Stripblog

noun. A cartoon/comic related weblog, either pertaining to cartoons/comics or featuring graphics of that nature.

I feel rather proud in a strange way, although I'm not sure about the "pertaining to" part - the idea was it would just be blogs with comic strips on them that act as posts rather than posts about comics. BugPowder is a comics blog, not a stripblog, for example. Funny how you can get pedantically semantic about these things...
Permalink | Posted in Blogging, Comics on Thursday, October 24 2002 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 241002: Building a language" title="email me about this specific post">Email

My good friend Gary has just started a stripblog (that's a term I just made up for a weblog for comic strips - think photoblog - use it well). So, Go Stupidmonsters!!

Permalink | Posted in Comics on Friday, September 27 2002 | Comments (0) ?subject=[Weblog] 270902: Stupidmonsters" title="email me about this specific post">Email
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