Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tom Waits gets his Mojo on

Brits make the best music magazines and Mojo is one of the best of the best.

Now, to celebrate their 200th issue they've given big chunks of the magazine to Tom Waits to edit with articles about Harry Belafonte and Ray Charles and an interview by Tom Waits of Hank Williams III and they let him pick the soundtrack of the issue's free CD.

Why are you still sitting there reading this instead of running to your nearest magazine dealer?

Monday, July 5, 2010


Roger Ebert recently expressed the view that video games were not - and never could be - 'art'.

He started wishing he'd never brought the subject up in the first place almost immediately.  Endless people pointed out to him that devotees of literature and live theater said the exact same thing when film came along and endless people sent him suggestions of games to try that would prove to him games could be art.

Ebert was learning the central lesson of life online:  Don't feed the trolls because their hunger is savage and unending.  His climbdown came quickly and came down to an admission that he had no right to challenge the artistic legitimacy of video games if he had no intention of playing any. 

The problem comes down to a misunderstanding about the word 'art.'  It isn't a value judgment word, its a category word.  Saying that something is 'art' doesn't mean its good art or high art, just that it falls into the category of creative endeavour.

Of all the definitions and deconstructions of the concept of art that I've seen, Scott McCloud's from his magnum opus Understanding Comics resonates with me the most.

Art is simply any human activity not concerned specifically with survival or reproduction.  Anything we do that is extraneous to these pursuits is art.  

Of course it can be related to those urges, but it's impulse comes from somewhere else altogether.

There's no doubt in my mind that games like Bioshock are art.  With a mix of compelling story-telling, trenchant social commentary and beautiful design, any single component of the game could be considered art on its own - why once it became an interactive experience would it stop being art?

Oh Noes!


Flipping through the channels, ah, Law and Order SVU, always good for a human degradation fix.  Olivia is being all soft spoken and empathic with a grieving widow.  "Can you think of any reason why your husband would have been sodomized with a banana?"

"He was allergic."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"The Deadliest Night of my Life"

Daredevil #208, 1984.   
Written by Harlan Ellison and Drawn by David Mazzucchelli.  

Two years later Mazzucchelli partnered with Frank Miller on the highly acclaimed Daredevil: Born Again story-line and then on the Batman: Year One epic with a style at once more impressionistic and more realistic, but he was already producing iconic imagery on the book before then.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

You are my Asylum - Alan Moore knows the score

Alan Moore performs at the launch party of his absurdly wonderful magazine project Dodgem Logic.

Every issue is a stuffed to the margins collection of music, culture and humor.  It made the fan headlines recently, when Moore publicly resigned from the New Gorillaz Rock Opera project pointing out that as the band couldn't get their act together to produce a promised 3 page story for his magazine, Moore felt little inclination to make the time to contribute the script and design work for their project. Moore is clearly having more fun with this retro underground newspaper/magazine then he's had in years.  It's a loving evocation of a particular era of rebel press in British counter-culture.  One almost expects to find a double page spread of unspeakable things being done to Andy Pandy.

Moore is one of those rare and wonderful chimera, a lifelong idol and artistic north star who never disappointed or  disillusioned.  With a bibliography full of the greatest texts in the medium Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to name just a few. Fiercely, unbendingly ethical and uncompromisable, he refused movie money, refused to be punked by corporate tools and refused to be bullied artistically.  My Alan Moore shelf sags under the weight of his output, comics that dragged the artform years forward, reinterpretations of heroes and monsters, elegant pornography, rigorous science fiction, social satire and critical analysis.

He's also a practicing ceremonial magician of an idiosyncratic Golden Dawn style but with an eclectic syncreticism of his own devising.  His ultimate exegesis on the subject, The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic is at the top of my wish list of anxiously awaited future projects.

Every issue Of Dodgem Logic includes extras, a CD in issue one featuring the song at the top of this post among other local alternative musicians in Moore's orbit, issue two had an 'insert' comic Astounding Weird Penises, both written and with a rare art job by Alan Moore himself.  The latest, issue three has an old fashioned classic iron on transfer of a plump pin up beauty by Moore's collaborator and lady love Melinda Gebbie.

Moore is able to put this out, in a model perhaps inspired by his early experience with the creative collective the Art Lab, while also producing multimedia extravaganzas and putting on magically transformative spoken word performances in the tunnels under London.

He also knows the score about the ducks.  Little bastards.

Comics Review - July 3

The Death of Dracula
Marvel One Shot

This one-shot is the preview of the big cross-over event of the coming year in the Marvel Universe. Dracula looks completely different from his previously extremely consistent classic model sheet. Evening wear, widows peak and opera cape have been replaced with an albino pony-tale and cheesy fantasy armor.

It's not an improvement, but he isn't in the picture for long. As others have said, its basically a Mafia story. The Godfather gets assassinated and the five families descend into plotting, jockeying for power and open inter vampire clan warfare.

We've never seen this gathering of different clans of vampires before, but its explained it happens once a century, and now that Dracula has been murdered the assembled hosts of the undead have turned their sights on the rest of the Marvel universe. If you were a vampire in a world of unimaginably powerful superheroes, wouldn't you turn them into undead thralls?

The Tomb of Dracula
TPB collecting issues 1-12 of the 70's classic

Doubtless timed to cash in on the big Marvel vampire crossover in the works, a new color reprint delivers the first 12 issues of the Marvel horror classic. It's been reprinted multiple times in the last few years from black and white phone book sized economy editions to deluxe hard cover collections. This is an affordable but attractive middle ground color paperback collection.

Gene Colan has the art duties from the first issue, while the writer changed multiple times until Marv Wolfman stepped in on issue seven beginning a partnership with Colan on the book that lasted seven years. It was the longest running series starring a villain in comics history and deserved it.

The book featured a motley crew of vampire fighters including Frank Drake, one of Dracula's descendants determined to defeat the family curse, Abraham Van Helsing's grand-daughter and in issue ten, a day walking half man half vampire named Blade.

Blade, of course, went on to make Marvel beau-coup movie bucks. Wolfman went to court to try to get a taste of the movie money for creating the character but lost and was largely blackballed in the industry afterward.

It is to be hoped he at least got a share from this latest collected edition of his work.

Captain Swing #2

The long awaited second issue of Warren Ellis' Victorian steam punk electric pirate series is out and reveals that Ellis has created an inter-connected world of his Avatar books. Captain Swing is the ancestor of Doktor Sleepless, while his bold policeman prisoner and possible ally is apparently the great-great grandfather of combat magician William Gravel.

He seems to be treating his Avatar cosmology more like a darker echo of Alan Moore's genre mash up the League of Extraordinary Gentleman than the tedious merger of soap opera and pro wrestling that established superhero universes evoke.

The story itself, is about a crazed but charismatic super-genius turning to elaborate science piracy to try to stop those who would keep magic and scientific miracles in the hands of the elites and follows the themes of his other genre fusion series Planetary. Recommended.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"A smile before you go..."

"A smile before you go..."


“Lucille, you must see how it is. It can’t be a surprise to you that somebody finally got upset.” Corporal Jeffery Mackinnon of the RCMP shifted uncomfortably, the plastic covering on the hard chair crackled along with his movements.

Lucille Nystrom collected colorful little figurines. They covered every flat surface of the neat sitting room. Mackinnon, a big broad shouldered man going just slightly to pot, felt huge and clumsy. He feared that the smallest movement would slaughter porcelain multitudes.

Perhaps Lucille could sense his nervousness. She casually picked up and moved aside a tiny Shetland pony from next to his elbow as she refilled his cup.

“I honestly don’t understand all the fuss. Peter Carr was a remarkably jovial man, always a smile on his face, and that belly laugh! You could hear it across the room.” Lucille sat down lightly, knees together, back straight and fixed Mackinnon with a piercing stare. “Sending him to his reward with a scowl on his face would have been a shame and a sin.”

“Come on Lucille, you didn’t have to put a scowl on his face, but a big toothy grin wasn’t the way to go either.” Mackinnon sipped his tea, controlling a wince. He was a coffee man and to his palate the tea tasted bitter and metallic.

Lucille leaned forward and moved a tiny Collie with a red ball between its paws back from Mackinnon’s end of the coffee table. He felt more self-conscious than ever. Was his awkwardness over the chore that had brought him here so obvious as to make Lucille fear a figurine massacre?

“Corporal, I took over the Nystrom funeral home, this funeral home, when Gary passed away last April. Susan Carr has been the only one to complain about my work since then.” Lucille’s lips were primly pursed but still held the faint half smile that never entirely left them. The trim pretty fifty-eight year old widow was popular in the township. Undertakers were usually shunned, at least a little. Nothing overt but there just the same. Gary Nystrom now, had been a somber, even dour figure. He’d probably have been avoided no matter what his occupation.

But nobody could shun Lucille; that fiercely friendly personality was simply too forceful to resist.

Mackinnon sighed and slurped up more bitter tea. Like everyone else, (Well, maybe excepting Susan Car and a few other offended bereaved these days.) Mackinnon liked Lucille enormously, and he bitterly resented the position he was being forced into.

“Nobody questions how hard you’ve worked since Gary died, but it’s been a hard year and all those smiles… well Susan Carr isn’t the only one who’s been bothered by them, she’s just the first to complain officially.”

It had been a bad year. One of those statistical spikes that looks so innocuous on paper, but in real life means accidents and heart attacks and plain old deaths from old age have chosen to cluster together perversely.

Latham was a small northern town made up of farmers, oilmen and a few townies who ran the stores and worked for the schools and the hospital. The tiny population had done more than its share of mourning. Mackinnon had headed up the three man Mountie detachment for ten years. Every death was like losing family.

Lucille turned that 100-watt smile on him and Mackinnon blinked. “Corporal, death isn’t something to be feared any more than life is. ‘Going to your reward’ isn’t just an expression. It’s the simple joyous truth.” Lucille reached over with the teapot and topped up Mackinnon’s cup. He eyed it mournfully and took a dutiful sip.

Lucille bustled off to the kitchen with the kettle, but not before picking up a tiny china shepherdess from the mantle piece next to Mackinnon’s head and moving it to a bookshelf across the room. Mackinnon felt a drop of sweat slide out from under his hairline and quickly wiped it away.

Thirteen deaths. Thirteen people ‘sent to their rewards’ in the past year, and starting with Gary Nystrom, thirteen people lovingly laid to rest by Lucille Nystrom with wide happy smiles on frozen white faces.

And the nasty, unspoken fact of this little visit was that Mackinnon was going to have to do something about it. If Lucille couldn’t be convinced to stop molding stiff dead flesh into beaming grins then… well she was going to have to stop, that was all there was to it.

Mackinnon had already made a note of the phone number of the Provincial Mortuary Regulatory Board. He really didn’t want to have to call that number.

But he would if he had to. It might be time for Lucille to retire, whether she agreed or not.

Mackinnon could feel the beginnings of a nasty case of heartburn developing behind his sternum. The tea and his own nervousness was making acid bubble and rise.

“Lucille, if you could just make them look peaceful it would make my job a lot easier.”

Lucille came back in from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a tea cloth. “This world doesn’t have enough smiles Jeffery. I’m just trying to bring people a little happiness.”

Mackinnon opened his mouth and a sudden wave of agony rippled through his chest and down his left arm. He gasped and hunched forward around the pain. A sickening spike of nausea uncoiled from his stomach and after three tries Mackinnon managed to swallow down bitter bile through the sudden vice grip that was constricting his chest.

“I am sorry that it hurts Jeffery.” Lucille’s voice was distant and tinny over the throbbing, frantic rush of blood in Mackinnon’s ears. “The Digitalis is the best method I’ve found so far, but there is some pain.”

Mackinnon tried to stand but his legs were made of rubber. “Digi…Digitalis?”

“Just a little something I found on the Internet dear. I grow the Foxglove in my greenhouse for my little projects. Such a pretty cone of little tube flowers! Did you know that when it’s refined it looks exactly like a heart attack and it won’t show up in an autopsy unless the coroner is looking for it? It’s a wonder anyone ever dies of natural causes at all.”

Lucille gently pushed Mackinnon back in the easy chair and briskly lifted each of his eyelids with her thumb. The pupil of the left was noticeably larger than the right. “It won’t be long now, dear.”

Mackinnon was completely numb. Lucille’s smiling face was little more than a pale oval at the end of a dark tunnel. “Wh…wh…why?

Lucille softly stroked Mackinnon’s cheek, smiling that same constant, gentle smile. “I already told you Jeffery. Twenty years with that sullen, miserable man I married taught me one very important lesson.”

“Lucille’s fingers gently traced Mackinnon’s cold, numb lips. Lightly lifting them at the corners.

“There just aren’t enough smiles in the world.”


copyright (c) Cliff Almas

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