Monday, November 20, 2017

This is what happens when the local comic shop starts selling by the kilo



My local comic shop had a kilo sale this past weekend, selling off the dregs of recently-bought collections by weight - $20 a kilo, which actually works out to be about $1.20 an issue. Bargain.

In this comic-starved country, I go a little crazy at these kinds of things. It was actually a little reassuring to see there was already a line waiting to go through the two-dozen comic boxes when I arrived five minutes after it started, because it's nice to know I'm not the only fucking dork around here that does this sort of thing.

There were huge runs of great stuff I've already got - vast amounts of the Ennis/McCrea Hitman, almost all of the late eighties Justice League and loads of old-school X-Men. There was also tonnes of trash - endless and pointless Ultimate comics. huge amounts of licensed character dreck with a tiny, fanatic fanbase.

Most of the things I buy now are small, dedicated comics. The slightly weird, the quirky shit and more than a few exercises in base nostalgia. These are the kind of things I get when I buy three kilograms worth of comics nowadays:

* All of Marvel's original Contest of Champions series and half of the trippy Havok/Wolverine Meltdown mini.

* A surprisingly large amount of Dylan Horrocks' Pickle comics, which apparently used to sell in chain bookstores around here.

* The first issue of Englehart and Rogers' Silver Surfer, and now I feel bad for passive-aggressively trashing them the other day, because this is cosmic as fuck, man.

* Every issue in the Three comic by Gillen, Kelly and Bellaire.

* Three-quarters of a Mark Millar comic, and some of Grant Morrison's Klaus.

* A couple of Kirby's Losers issues, and some Galactus reprint thing by the King.

* Some more of Bendis' fairly recent X-Men comics. I just really, really like the art teams they had on those stories.

* A lot of beat-up-to-shit bronze age comics from the 70s and 80s - a few Fantastic Fours, some of Starklin's Captain Marvel, a Strangest Sports Stories Ever Told, a War of the Worlds, one Haney/Aparo Brave and the Bold, half of Barry Windsor-Smith's Machine Man series and a Fantasy Masterpiece or two.

* A couple of issues of Alan Moore's Providence. I only get it cheap, because of that fucking art.

* Two early Spider-Man comics by Todd McFarlane.

* The very first Warlord comic by Mike Grell.

* Three issues of Rob Liefeld's New Mutants, which were terrible comics when I got rid of them the first time, and are still terrible comics now, but bloody hell, it's nice to feel like I'm 16 again.

* Three issues of Jamie Delano and John Higgins' gorgeous World Without End.

* Joe Sacco's Bumf comic.

Some of this stuff is fucking great, and some of it is merely interesting, and some of it is total rubbish. But that's the kind of thing I get when I get three kilos of comic these days.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Twin Peaks soundtracks: It's a whisper, it is always just a dream



Driving randomly around the outer suburbs after midnight, with the car speakers playing sweet little melodies, disconcertingly ominous droning and someone crying about sycamore trees. Going past all the dull, normal houses where a thousand secrets hide behind the closed curtains, every house closed up and dark for the night, but still alive with a thousand stories.

Or it's even later at night and there is more of it on the Walkman/MP3 player/phone, walking back from town to a snap-happy beat, some nightmare nightclub music, or a tune that gives me a real indication about a laugh coming on.

Either way, getting around town late at night is always a million times cooler when you've got some music from Twin Peaks with you.

For a quarter of a century, that has mainly meant a steady diet of Angelo Badalamenti, but there is so much more now. The recent return of Twin Peaks wasn't just the best television in a decade, it was also a terrific variety show, with heaps of achingly cool musical acts showing up to perform a tune.

Almost all of the songs played at the show's roadhouse have been collected into a soundtrack album - along with some of the background tunes -and right now that's all I want to listen to, mainly when it's really late at night, or really early in the morning.

It's a gorgeous soundtrack album, full of familiar old music and brand new artists. There is a short reprise of that eternal theme music, with his languid and lamenting bass line, and it closes out with the ethereal Julee Cruise, but there is a bunch more than just that.

There are several pop acts who are beautifully energetic and earnest, with all the synths turned up to 11. There are also some deeply unironic 50s love ballads, and a couple of tunes that are totally uncool - James' dopey song is in there, and there is even a ZZ Top tune, for crying out loud.

But it all works, with the kind of eclectic mixture that makes a truly great soundtrack album. It goes from Sharon Van Etten straight into the Nine Inch Nails at their most NIN, and finds room for the unmistakable groove of Green Onions before showcasing the Veils at their most un-Veil. And then it all climaxes with the transcendental wonder of a live Otis Redding track.

There are the usual sad omissions - there's another fucking awesome Au Revoir Simone song that doesn't make it onto the final set list, and it could have used a bit of Badalamenti's delicate piano from the scene were Cooper finally got his cherry pie - but a large part of the new Twin Peaks series was about how it wouldn't always give you what you wanted, so you've got to expect the same from the soundtrack.

The roadhouse in Twin Peaks is both part of the show's reality, and something beyond that as a place that exists only in dreams, and each song has some kind of symbolic reference in the episode it appears in, and there are all sorts of depths hiding behind the cheeriest of tunes.

I don't know what any of it means, and I'm not really interested in trying to nut it out for a while yet. All I really know is this - while it doesn't sound much like the other Twin Peaks soundtracks that I've bopping around to since the early 90s, there is no other music I want to hear more when I head back out into the dark.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!: Pat Mills sets the story straight



The personal memoir is a great way to settle scores and get even, and even though Pat Mills has been doing plenty of both in his long and brilliant comics career, his new self-published memoir about the "secret history" of 2000ad is Mills' best opportunity to really tell his side of the story.

It's no exaggeration to say Pat Mills changed the face of British comics. He created 2000ad and was a major developer in the character of Judge Dredd. He has written and commissioned some of the best stories ever published in the UK, and formed fruitful long-term alliances with artists like Kevin O'Neill. He co-created the wonderful Marshall Law, and detests super-heroes as total fascist bully-boys. He still writes great comics for 2000ad to this day - his Defoe, Greysuit, Flesh and Slaine comics are still a vital ingredient in the ever-changing make-up of the galaxy's greatest comic

All of this is fully covered in Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! - the title comes from the catchphrase of Torquemada, the biggest douchebag ever created in UK comics - with Mills going back over his long career, and revealing the stories behind the stories. There are dozens of fascinating anecdotes in the book about his long association with the comic industry, and he goes particularly deep on the earlier phase of his career, when he was first creating 2000ad.

As well as writing about who created what and revealing details of some of his many battles with management, Mills also makes some compelling arguments for the difference between the creator and the developer of a major character, recognising that both have an important part to play, but that there really is a distinct difference.

Mills - who has been fighting the good fight since before you were born - fills his stories with working class heroes, and usually has empathy-lacking toffs as the bad guys. In his new book, he reveals that he doesn't just talk the talk when it comes to sticking it to the man, as he spends a large amount of the book explaining the injustices of the current system, especially in his home country. The fury he feels when creators are routinely screwed over by faceless management who can only find beauty in the balance sheet is all right there, radiating off the page.

Mills' prose style can become something of a rant against the fuckers and fools who get in his way, but it doesn't overwhelm the text. It also helps that this isn't a dry, academic trawl through his bibliography - it is roughly chronological, but bounces back and forth in time as Mills often gets sidetracked into explaining a pet peeve or some ideological injustice, or follows his relationship with a character or a fellow creator all the way through.

After all his years in the industry, Mills has some definite and fixed ideas on what makes good comics and how creators should be treated, and has a few harsh words about editors who keep giving in to the demands of fanboy culture - Mills likes his fans on the individual level, but is appalled when they join a nerd hive-mind and decide on the direction of a comic, away from a mainstream audience who might save it.

Mills also has a go at the unfortunate treatment of former co-writer Tony Skinner, just because he was a full-on, balls-out witch; and frequently refers to the dark period of 2000ad (although this is still a debatable point - I personally think it started in the mid 90s, a lot earlier than Mills believes - but the beauty of reading a book by somebody with such strong opinions is that you're never going to agree with them on everything).

But still, even with all his fiery rhetoric, Mills is a bit of a softie at heart - laying down praise for fellow writers like Gerry Finley-Day, or talking up the efforts of current 2000ad editor Matt Smith. He's also surprisingly willing to bury the hatchet with someone if they apologise. One former editor with whom he had some very public clashes gets off lightly in the book, largely because he took the time to write an apology for the way he dealt with Mills during his tenure as Tharg.

Mills refusal to slag off somebody who has made amends means this book isn't as comprehensive as it could be, but again, that's part of the charm. Mills knows what makes a good story, and that's more than enough.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Silver Surfer: Blinded by the gleam of his heavenly arse



Kirby's Silver Surfer had the power, Buscema's Surfer had the passion and Moebius' Surfer had the grace, but none of them were ever as shiny as Ron Lim's Silver Surfer.

The start of the Surfer's longest-running solo title saw the big man soar away from Earth in the late eighties, straight into a full-on galactic war and immortal vengeance. But with all due respect to the late, great Marshall Rogers, it was all a bit pastel. Steve Englehart's scripts reached for the cosmic, but Rogers' art was always a bit thin, and a bit forced - the artist always looked a little more comfortable with the street-level grime of a Batman story or creepy mood of a DC horror comic.

After Rogers got the series rolling with the first dozen issues, it was Ron Lim - who would draw the character full-time for the next six years - who gave that classic Marvel character a new and thoroughly modern gleam.

Lim was a contemporary of the Image crew, but never quite grabbed same kind of fanboy adoration during that period. His work eschewed the scratchiness of artists like Lee or Liefeld, and was simple and clear, rather more than powerful and exciting. His figurework could be stiff, his design was rarely more than serviceable, and there was a general blankness to his faces that could be off-putting.

But he was perfect for the Silver Surfer in the late '80s and early '90s. While his art couldn't match the sheer balls-out power of previous Surfer artists, he swiftly found a way to make a bald naked bloke covered in skintight metal look visually interesting, and that was by buffing the shit out of the Surfer's body.

In Ron Lim's Silver Surfer comics, every part of the title character's body gleamed and shined, with light bouncing off every kink in his smooth muscles. Lim's Surfer was always a bright source of cosmic light, burning with an inner fire, while his glossy exterior reflected every light source around, bouncing back the cosmic grandeur of the universe back at itself.

When he was surrounded by fire, he would reflect back every lick of flame, looking like a badass humanoid hot-rod from hell, and the light of distant stars would sparkle across his arse as he sailed through the infinite void on his dopey board.

And for all those small limitations at portraying a truly human expression, Lim also did a surprisingly good exasperated or befuddled Surfer, given some emotion to a face without hair or pupils or anything. He was given plenty of chances to do this when Jim Starlin came onboard as writer. As well as resurrecting Thanos after a decade as a statue, Starlin brought a much-needed sense of the absurd to Norrin Radd's meandering through the cosmos, and frequently sent the Surfer to the very limits of weirdness and pointlessness.

But through it all, Ron Lim's Silver Surfer shined on, especially when Marvel started upgrading its paper and printing stock, and made Lim's work even brighter and clearer. It's also little surprise that one of the most successful foil covers of the time used Lim's art to give the Surfer another dimension of gleam on the cover of #50.

Lim's enthusiasm for the Surfer's chrome overhaul was eventually worn down by overwork, and by the end of the last Infinity Gauntlet sequels, Lim was spending too much time cramming a thousand characters into a panel. There wasn't the time to get the Surfer gleaming when he's just one tiny element on the page, and when Lim moved on to other projects, they never shined as hard.

There have been plenty of groovy Silver Surfer comics since then, right up to Mike Allred's wonderfully fluid art. But even with all the improvements in paper and effects, the Silver Surfer has never again gleamed that eternal, not like he did in Lim's hands.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Grandville - Force Majeure: Packed tighter than a badger's den



In the afterword for his fifth and final Grandville book, ace comic creator Bryan Talbot reveals that part of the reason he's packing it in is that it takes him so bloody long to do each book. With the benefit of digital art editing, it can take him up to 40 hours to do a single page, because he's a total perfectionist who can't resist tinkering with the image over and over again.

The results are right there on the page - Force Majeure shares with the other Grandville books a lush, vivid and exciting visual sense - but it's a tonne of work for the artist, and he's earned the right to do something different now.

After all, that 40 hours doesn't even include all the time he spends setting up the plot, and while each of the Grandville books has had a complex story, with a huge amount of detail and incident, Force Majure is particularly dense as hell, full of dodgy dinosaurs and dense deductive reasoning.

There are also doppelgangers and double-crosses and clandestine escapes and fake deaths and long-simmering conspiracies going right to the top of the bureaucratic pole. There are cracking headbutts and huge gunfights and old mentors lured out of retirement, for one last case. There are several different big mysteries going on at once in this volume, and still room for extended flashback sequences and miniature stories within stories - all perfectly balanced with the fine craft of a clockwork watch.

And, as always, there is loads of violence. The latest story in Talbot's anthropomorphic phantasmagoria of an alternate world is kicked off my a terrible act of violence at a restaurant - nobody quite captures the horror of a machine-gun massacre like Talbot - and ultimately leads to the familiar sight of Detective Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard strapping on his big fuck-off guns and unleashing some righteous vengeance on some nasty fools.

Despite a few 'all is lost' moments -and an astronomical body count - Force Majeure ends the Grandville series on a fairly optimistic note. Each book was getting progressively darker as the grim secrets of this alternate world and its complicated society were peeled away, ultimately leading to the decidedly grim previous volume, which revolved around a hidden and ancient genocide of the dough-faced human species, by other bipeds desperate to hide the fact that humans were the original Adam and Eve in the bible.

With the anticipated finality of this last book, there is definitely added peril when LeBrock admits that he is unlikely to come back from this climactic confrontation - there is a good chance this tough old badger really will fall this time. Anything could happen, and it looks increasingly likely that it's all going to go very bad.

You'll have to read the book for yourself to see if LeBrock digs himself out of this particular hole, but you can be reassured that it's a suitable and fitting ending for the Grandville story. You wouldn't expect anything less from a comic crafted by Bryan Talbot, who has been delivering the goods for decades, and the bitter taste of no more future Grandville books is made all the sweeter by any potential new stories from the artist.

After all, there aren't many of his contemporaries who can manage to make this kind of complex storytelling and dynamic art look so easy, even though he has been labouring over the finer details for bloody ages.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

There and back again with the bloody Moomins


I fucking love travel.

I love the strange city streets and familiar airport lounges. I love struggling with the local language and resorting to grunts and pointing. I love the subway systems of all the world's big cities, and how convenient and easy they are to figure out. I love the culture and the history and the people and the architecture and the food.

Oh my god, the food. In the past month, we ate steak in Argentina, tea in Versailles and ramen in central London. In Copenhagen, we scoffed the best cake I've ever eaten, some smorrebrod and snaps for lunch and an eight-course meal at a Michelin star outfit, all in one day. We ate Max Burger with extra cheese in Oslo, devoured lemon chicken in Hong Kong and I discovered that I'm more Swedish than I thought, because the traditional meal of mashed spuds and meatballs turned out to be the kind of brilliantly boring meal I grew up on. We also ate at three different Moomin cafes, because the lovely wife thinks they're adorable.

The museums and art galleries and sites of great history are all well and good, but I can still taste that smorrebrod and snaps.


I love it when things get a bit rough.

Getting lost in the rain in Finland and jumping on a tram illegally to get out of it, and then delayed flights and long hours trying to get the bloody airport wifi working. Under-estimating distance and and overconfidence in overcoming the jetlag leading to more grim death marches around the city streets.

It's all a pain, but it all becomes a great story when you get back home again. You forget all the bad shit, and it all just becomes another story.


I love being out of contact. We still have wi-fi in all the hotels, so it's easy to keep up with all the news. Still checking every morning to see if we had a government back in NZ, or to see if there is a new Closer Look video from , or to follow the massive shit-show that has followed the inevitable fall of the odious Harvey Weinstein, but it's just checking in, there isn't time to follow all the latest developments in everything.

There's too much to do in a day to sit around and read all the latest hot takes on international geo-politics, or the latest announcements from Marvel and DC. Instead, I catch up on everything when I get back - the day allocated for jetlag issues is spent binging on all the dorky news I can handle and it takes hours to get through it all, but by the end, it's all just a bit hard to find anything I really give a shit about.

I mean, I saw a bunch of websites telling me that the forthcoming crossover between the original Battlestar Galactica and the rebooted crew was something to get excited about, but it wasn't. It really wasn't. Nobody needs that.


And shit yeah, I love looking for comic shops on the far side of the world. There were always going to be some I looked up before we left home, but just the ones in England - travelling around Scandinavia, I only looked up the local stores when I arrived in town.

And I stumbled across a couple completely by accident, but after years of prtending to stumble across comic shops all over the world, the lovely wife never believes that any more. But it's true, I don't pretend not to know if there are new comic shops in the latest town we're passing through, because I know I'm never fooling her. But then I am instinctively drawn to the parts of town that do have comic shops, so we inevitably accidentally run into them. Our first night in Stockholm, we go to this sweet little restaurant in Old Town, and I'm scarfing down the lingonberries when I see a shop with a bucket of Vertigo comic back issues across the road. She's never going to believe that's the accident it really was. 

Still, I go to the wool and craft shops with her, and she puts up with my dumb comic shop obsession, and it all works out. Even though I regularly have that thing of walking out of shops disappointed by the way the medium has got away from me, I still seek them out.

And I find the stores in Norway and Denmark were clean and precise and had very, very few actual comic issues, relying instead of some primo collections, trade paperbacks and hardbacks. And it wasn't hard to find Finland has a humongous amount of translated material, dating back decades and decades, and I spent so much time convincing the wife she didn't need one of the innumerable Moomin comics, until I was forced to admit that I had already ordered her the ultimate Moomin book as a Christmas special.


But oh man, I went hard on the comics when I could, and found crucial back issues and weird comics all over the world.

In London, there were missing 2000ads and the issue of the comics journal with the Dylan Horrocks interview and gross old Judge Dredd Megazine yearbooks from the early nineties. I was hugely disappointed that I couldn't find Pat Mill's terrific 2000ad memoir in the main Forbidden Planet story on Shaftsbery Ave, although the shop at the Cartoon Museum came through, as always.

In Helsinki, I get completely fucking lost in an underground mall complex in the centre of town, looking for a comic/gaming store that proves to be another clean and dull outfit, but then I find this second hand store with a back room full of comic goodness, and I come away from there with a book about the brilliant Nick Cardy, the long, long desired You are Margaret Thatcher by Mills and Emerson, and an Excalibur comic from 1990 I'd never seen before.

And everywhere, there were Silver Surfer comics and Batman annuals from the early nineties, and loads of odd random bronze age stuff, from here and there.


It doesn't stop there. There is some surprisingly cheap Dan Clowes in Stockholm, which is always welcome, but all I take away from Oslo is the memory of that fucking park with the weird statues and a book about gritty horror novels from the seventies and eighties.

I can't even remember where I got the Jim Aparo Brave and the Bold  comics, but it was somewhere along the way. Same with the BPRD, Johnny Red, Stray Bullets and Lazarus comics that fill out irritatingly itch gaps, as well as the long-term projects like Peter Milligan's Shade The Changing Man and Hellblazer comics.

I only ever bought one issue of Shade brand new off the shelf ,and have been hunting down the rest of that series since the early nineties. I'm only nine issues away from getting 'em all, so that's probably a couple more overseas trips away.


They get fuckin' heavy, these things, but I never, ever complain about how hard it is to drag all these comics from airport to airport, from one side of the world. That's my choice and it's worth the shoulder ache.

The day we got back from a month overseas, I went straight to the last day of the local annual comic convention and loaded up on even more comics, desperately flipping through comic bins before the jetlag really kicked in. I dragged this heavy-ass shit around the world, I'm hardly going to stop now.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #31. I choose comics



We all go through that moment where we wonder if we're getting too old for this shit. Usually somewhere in the teens, we wonder if we should give up childhood pleasures, and focus more on the grown-up world. It's a real choice.

I'm at home in Temuka, somewhere in the very early nineties, and I'm really thinking that maybe I should give up these stupid comics and be more of an adult, but I just got the first issue of the New Warriors, and it's so slick and so fresh and so new...

I choose comics. I choose comics, and the physical shackles of having a mad, sprawling collection that I'm only just getting under control now. I choose comics, and a lifetime of seeking out and hording the bloody things, and I have never, for one second, regretted that choice.

I choose comics, or they choose me. No difference, same thing.

Monday, October 30, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #30: The night the Doctor came back



The night Doctor Who finally comes back on air after 15 years in the wilderness, I should be on the couch, ready and waiting for the return of the best TV programme ever, ready for another adventure in time and space.

Instead, I’m in the back of an ambulance, helping keep a car crash victim steady after a cop called out for help when I was covering the incident for the local newspaper, and the show can bloody well wait.

It’s the right thing to do. It’s the Doctor thing to do.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #29. Upgrading to CDs with Pulp



When we get home from the pub at three in the morning, the video for the new single from Pulp – Disco 2000 – is playing on the TV, and I realise I have to get a CD player.

This is a time when the year 2000 still sounded a long way off, but I was still well behind the ball on getting a CD machine. This is nothing new, I am terminally slow at catching up with the latest tech, and I was still happy with the massive pile of cassette tapes I’d been blasting for the past decade.

But that Pulp song sounded so new and so modern, I had to get the Different Class album on the slickest format. So the very next morning, still hungover as hell, I get a new stereo system on HP, and get the album, and also get a free tee-shirt that is down the bottom of the wardrobe. Result.