Tag: things i like

blacksad

If you like noir and aren’t averse to some sequential art, I encourage you to check out Blacksad.

John Blacksad is a trenchcoat-wearing private detective. He drinks, likes a good-looking dame and knows how to throw a punch. He’s also a panther, but that’s not surprising; the hired goons he faces are weasels and snakes, his police contact a German Shepherd.

A year or two ago, an English-language hardcover collected three tales; Somewhere In The Shadows, Arctic Nation and Red Soul. It is well worth checking out; the hard-edged script, gorgeous painted artwork and keen attention to the nuances of noir make it well worth the price of admission.

Here’s the first page of Somewhere in the Shadows;

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favourite things: too busy thinking about my comics

Too Busy Thinking About Comics is what it says right there on the box, kids. Since discovering it a month or so, it’s quickly become one of my favourite blogs. The author, Colin Smith, provides reviews – no, scratch that, that’s far too small a word… dare I say, philosophic musings? yes, I do dare – on concepts of storytelling, psychology, morality and narrative, all through the prism of comic books.

Perhaps some of my favourite entries from the unfailingly polite Mr Smith are those concerning this gent;

Smith’s take on the Bat-Man – a distinct creation indeed from what we now know at Batman – is enlightening, thought-provoking and thoroughly funny.

It starts here and continues on here. Check it out.

daytripper

And the word for today is RELIEF, gigantic, enervating, soul-lightening relief. But that’s a story for another day.

Instead, I’m here to talk about Daytripper.

It’s a graphic novel from 2010, by Brazilian twins Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba (I apologise the lack of diacretics but they’re a little beyond me).

Ba is probably the more well known of the two, being the artist behind the ludicrously over-the-top Umbrella Academy – written by Gerard Way, of My Chemical Romance fame. UA looks a little more like this;

What Moon & Ba do on Daytripper is something special. It’s a quiet, moving story, a tale of the little moments that make up a life. More specifically, it’s the story of Bras de Oliva Domingos, obituary writer and struggling author. Although it took me a couple of chapters to get going, once I grew familiar with the text’s peculiar rhythm it became thoroughly entrancing, simultaneously melancholic and uplifting. It’s the sort of book thyou give someone who thought they’d never enjoy comics – it’s certainly it’s a world away from spandex-clad lads shooting laser-beams at each other. The story’s easy, gentle flow makes its telling deceptively simple; it takes real skill to allow the mundane to resonate in such a way, to make the quiet moments, the silences and subtle expressions, spark and glow. Undoubtedly, the fact that it’s a collaboration between siblings lifts the storytelling to another level; after all, the story can be read as a paean to family, to belonging, to shared experience.

A monologue from the last chapter really got to me, and I’ll repeat it here. If you are interested in reading Daytripper, stop now as this next bit may spoil the book a little. If not, keep reading and it might encourage you to pick it up after all. I’ll also say it’s not the same without the accompanying images, which are beautiful. … still with me? Okay – the context is this is a letter written thirty-odd years ago by Bras’ father, on the night that the father died and the Bras’ son was born. The letter has been discovered after all these years, hidden away in plain sight.

Dear Son,
You’re holding this letter now because this is the most important day of your life. You’re about to have your first child. This means that the life you’ve built with such effort, that you’ve conquered, that you’ve earned, has finally reached the point where it no longer belongs to you. This baby is the new master of your life. He is the sole reason for your existence. You’ll surrender your life to him, give him your heart and soul because you want him to be strong, to be brave enough to make all his decisions without you. So when he finally grows older, he won’t need you. That’s because one day you know you won’t be there for him anymore. Only when you accept that you’ll die can you let go and make the best out of life. And that’s the big secret, that’s the miracle. Your life is out of your hands now, just like mine has been since the day you were born. I’m writing this letter to congratulate you and admit that you don’t need me anymore.

Wow.

Favourite things: Leif Jones

Leif Jones is one of my favourite character artists. I was first introduced to his fluid – and occasionally rubbery and distorted – style many years ago via White Wolf’s series of roleplaying games. He also did work for some card games, and the occasional work in comic books (most notably, working with David Mack, I believe, on an issue of SE7EN a couple of years ago). I don’t think Jones is particularly active at the moment – his website doesn’t appear to have been updated for a while – but I’d love to see an original graphic novel drawn by him one day.

the mozz

When it comes to authors that have had an influence on me, Grant Morrison has got to be near the top of the list. Morrison’s work is many things – subversive, alternative, complex – but it also holds a tremendously deep joy, almost a reverence, for the characters and tropes that he plays with.

I won’t go into too much of Morrison’s writing history – lord knows, there are interviews, biographies and now documentaries aplenty dedicated to his work – but in short he’s best known for his comic books.

Morrison’s stories with the established properties of the Big Two (DC and Marvel Comics) are iconic. His run on Superman is the distillation of seventy-plus years of crazy stories and concepts, packed into twelve issues. His multi-year work on X-Men redefined characters that had been written by countless authors and artists before him. His current Batman stories are deeper and wilder than anything seen for years.

His creator-owned stories (as opposed to licensed properties like those above) are vastly different from one another, but share a love of the unreal. The Invisibles is a chaotic ride into hyper-cool magical terrorism, We3 melds the pathos of Watership Down with the action of an action blockbuster, Vinamarama is teen angst meets crazy mythology, Seaguy is sweet and kooky, Kill Your Boyfriend is a charming rampage across the English countryside. There is something for everyone.

Morrison’s more recent works can feel overloaded with concepts; there is more plot and characterization on a single page than most writers would have in an entire year’s worth of output. It can become a bit much, on occasion; works like Final Crisis become almost frenzied in their storytelling. There is a degree of overlap with William Gibson, who I wrote about recently. In both cases, you can feel like you’ve come in halfway through a conversation. With Gibson, you can study the words and let the points of information accrete into a whole. With Morrison, you can just shrug and let it wash over you; sure, you may miss half of what’s going on the first read through, but next time you pick it up you’ll notice more, join dots between previously (seemingly-)unrelated comments or plot threads.

Comics is a visual medium, but it’s also driven by dialogue. In Morrison’s case, characters have a voice that you just can’t find anywhere else. Take Mister Quimper, a crippled, dwarf-like alien from The Invisibles. Quimper is most certainly A Bad Guy, but he’s not a cartoonish villain. He has a twisted, almost perverted, hatred toward existence. Physically, he shields himself from the world through thick clothes, gloves and a near-featureless mask. His dialogue demonstrates his reasoning, his beliefs, his hubris;

Things are simple: you forgot you were parts of a machine. Because of your forgetfulness, the machine is inefficient. We can correct your functioning. We must correct it.

You, in your chaotic state, may experience our efforts in value-laden terms; feelings of degradation, shame and humiliation are common. Those states are simply the reaction of a damaged subjective unit during its return to the objective reality of the machine. ‘Individuality’ is the name you give your sickness, your deviation from correct functioning.

Understand this: we have come to free you from chaos and uncertainty and ‘individuality’.

There are no monsters here. There are no dreams. Your search for value is part of your pathology. Your questions are meaningless. There are no questions here. What is, is. Nothing is open to interpretation. Your search for God is over. God is in the machine.

Not everything that Morrison writes is so over the top; Quimper’s style works in The Invisibles, but is distinct and isn’t replicated elsewhere. For comparison, take Morrison’s speech in his final issue of Animal Man. The image here is of Morrison himself, wandering the streets of Glasgow at night, talking directly to his (mostly American) audience.

When I was young, I had an imaginary friend called Foxy. He lived in a vast underground kingdom. A utopia ruled over by peaceful and intelligent foxes. I used to signal to him.

My parents bought me a torch so that I could signal to him. Not a flashlight. We call them torches over here.

I used to stand at the top of Angus Oval and shine my torch out toward the hills. Foxy always signaled back. That was more than twenty years ago.

And here I am again. Don’t ask me why. Here I am at the end of the century, toiling up a hill in the bitter wind. I’ve come to send a signal out into the dark. In the end, it seemed like the only thing worth doing.

Are you there?
Can you see me?
Foxy, I came back.
I didn’t forget.
I came back.

The line of the hill stays dark. There is no answering light. No light at all.

Clouds pile up in the darkness, weighted with snow. Curtains are drawn, windows blink and go dark. Wind whines in the power lines.

Stars go out.
Streets are empty.
Goodbye.

What an odd, intimate way to finish up his work on a book that he’d written for years. It’s a wonderfully personal tale, and like nothing seen before – or indeed, since.

I think another reason I love Morrison’s work is that, at its heart, it’s filled with wonder, love, horror, laughter, mystery and passion. All the stuff that makes a great read is packed into the same book. Plus, he’s a genuinely nice guy, and was pleasant enough to nod and smile when I waved hello to him while dressed as a character from Star Wars.

William Gibson

Been a little quiet lately, I know. My writing continues apace, and I’ve got some good bits down lately. Finding the voice of some of the minor characters has been a little tough; knowing that I want to get a particular plot point out of a conversation can be tricky. Try too hard and it becomes leaden and unnatural, try too little and what you’re doing becomes bloody obvious. Characters should never be ciphers, after all. Anyhow, some days coming off over the Easter / Anzac Day break should help me catch up for lost time. At this point, I’m aiming to double my current output over next week.

So, onto other things. First, time to put some of my influences and inspiration out there in the open. I figured it may be useful to touch on my favourite authors and how they inspire me. First on the list, which is in no particular order, William Gibson.

I came to Gibson’s work when I was, what, mid- to late-teens? His sparse, stripped back style shows, to me, phenomenal control over language, pace and mood. I’ve heard that (at least in the early days) he’d spend weeks honing his prose, stripping back sentences, word by word, until only the sparsest conjuring remained. That’s powerful stuff, for me; such an ability – to strip back a paragraph, a line of dialogue, to its essence – is something I strive for. (It’s not something that comes easily to Gibson, though, from what I’ve heard; interviews seem to indicate that he doesn’t derive a great deal of pleasure from the act of writing.)

I think that it’s particularly daring as so many of Gibson’s works are set in the near-future, which means we, as a reader, have so much more to learn about the worlds he creates. The characters never bother to explain the setting – why would they? – so instead the reader builds up a view of this altered reality through incredibly narrow, evocative slices.

Gibson isn’t always easy to read. With so much detail never revealed or only hinted at, it’s often like coming into a conversation halfway through – not everyone has the patience to hang around and work out what the hell people are talking about. (That’s not bagging people who don’t appreciate his style – it’s not for everybody.) Typically, you have to hang around for several chapters before characters and conversations subtly accrete themselves into plot or any sort of forward momentum. This is complicated by Gibson’s tendency, in all bar a couple of novels, to have multiple protagonists, each inching their way toward a cleverly balanced finale. If the multiple protagonists scare you off, I’d recommend Pattern Recognition or his first novel, Neuromancer. The latter stands up surprisingly well for its age, although it is very raw in comparison to his later works.

Apropos of nothing, I can thank a write-up of Neuromancer in a 1984 issue of Dragon Magazine for getting me interested in Gibson, although many years would pass before I actually read it. I can’t remember exactly what they said, but I do recall the reviewer seemed a little baffled by the book, although there was an unmistakeable touch of awe to his write-up. ‘Cyberpunk’ wasn’t a term in common use at the time, from what I know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘dystopian’ made its way into the review.

So, what do I recommend, and which are my faves?

Burning Chrome is a collection of Gibson’s short stories from the late 70s and early 80s, and I think they do a fantastic job of setting the scene for his later work. A few of these stories are rather more eccentric in nature than what Gibson aims for in his novels, so it’s interesting to see these other styles, other themes, in play. Overall, it’s simply a solid selection of stories from a then- crackling fresh star to the sci-fi scene.

Count Zero is one I have a soft spot for, perhaps because of the ingenious manner it looped voodoo structures into a high-tech world. That pairing of mythology/religion/complex real-world belief systems with a well-constructed alternate world is something that always gives me a buzz, and is something that I also admire in Neal Stephenson (more on him in a later entry).

Virtual Light and Idoru are probably the best two of Gibson’s six futuristic novels. If you get through them, try out All Tomorrow’s Parties, which closes off the pseudo-trilogy.

Of his three most recent releases, Pattern Recognition is, for my money, the most affecting of the three. The follow-up, Spook Country is good but never quite resonated in the same way. Similarly, the third volume, Zero History is great but never popped with the same ‘wow’ factor that I got from PR.

And, what about The Difference Engine? Fans seem split down the middle on Gibson’s collaboration with Bruce Sterling (again, more on him later). I’m in the ‘don’t really like it / not quite sure if I get it’ category. It’s not a bad book by any means, but it doesn’t hold together in the same way as a typical Gibson book, and the strengths of Gibson’s style that I love so much are muted by Sterling’s influence. For me, much of the self-styled steampunk genre begins and ends here, and this is possibly where some of my discomfort with that genre comes from. For me, Gibson (and Sterling) did it first and better than most, but even then it felt like a consolation prize, the poor cousin to something else. So many other steampunk things seem like affectations, since.

Okay, that went on for a bit longer than anticipated. Back to work.

Thank you, Neal Stephenson

“Your younger nerd takes offense quickly when someone near him begins to utter declarative sentences, because he reads into it an assertion that he, the nerd, does not already know the information being imparted. But your older nerd has more self-confidence, and besides, understands that frequently people need to think out loud. And highly advanced nerds will furthermore understand that uttering declarative sentences whose contents are already known to all present is part of the social process of making conversation and therefore should not be construed as aggression under any circumstances.”