Posts from 21st January 2005

Jan 05

Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 544 views

Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez

My favourite Christmas present from last month was this collection of all of Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar stories from the original run of Love & Rockets, a hardback volume with over 500 pages of comics. Like most other comic fans, I’d read them at the time, and regarded them extremely highly, but it had been a while since I’d gone back to them. I wondered if they might not read so well now, if maybe they would seem of their time, or perhaps they seemed very impressive in the wider context of the artform than they should – I mean, most comics set the bar pretty fucking low when it comes to literary values, which is where most of the praise for this was based.

It’s even better than I remembered, and a lot of the standard praise still makes sense. I’ve read a great deal more magic realist fiction since this started, about twenty years back, but the comparisons with Garcia Marquez in particular are still apt – this is very much like One Hundred Years Of Solitude, a lengthy story spanning decades in the life of an isolated small town in Mexico, complete with various strange and magical touches on the fringes: there are monumental stone idols on the edge of town, which talk at times; and ghosts occasionally appear beneath one tree. But mostly it’s realism, soapy tales of loves and children and violence and hatred and rivalries, with some of the best female characters comics have ever seen – again, it is true that the bar is set pretty low there, but the key characters here, Luba, Chelo, Carmen, Tonantzin and others, are exceptionally rich and strong creations. This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t great male characters as well, but it’s women at the centre of this, as in most soap operas.

Probably because he’s such a wonderful writer, and also the gorgeousness of his brother’s drawing, his art gets neglected, but he’s a magnificent cartoonist, his work like a rougher-edged version of someone like Dan DeCarlo (Archie’s greatest artist), expressive and potent, which fits well with the moving stories. He knows when to draw with care and when to cartoon broadly, and he makes them work. He’s also a tremendous designer, of pages and panels. His art tends towards the quiet, but it shouldn’t be undervalued – this comic wouldn’t carry anything like the huge emotional charge it does without art of the highest calibre.

I’m uneasy about mentioning one other factor: that this is as good an example as any of a comic you can give to pretty much any intelligent, literate adult without fear of their treating you like a retard for liking it. I think we comic fans sometimes get too evangelical about the form, and I have stopped caring whether others like comics or not, and it worries me that we sometimes overpraise things that aren’t like comics as stereotypically perceived, as if that automatically makes them better than the spandex and funny animal books, and it doesn’t. Having said all that, comics that you can genuinely set beside the greatest work of a Nobel Laureate are few and far between. This isn’t a cheap book, but in comics terms, pence per page, it’s really rather good value, and you won’t find much in the history of comics to better it for quality.

(I’ll be getting to the equivalent volume by Gilbert’s brother Jaime soon, and I expect I’ll write about that here too.)

Council Estate Of Mind

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 298 views

Council Estate Of Mind – Skinnyman

A bit late, in that it came out last year, but I’ve only just got it, and really want to give it a bit of a push. I think it’s the best straight hip hop album produced in the UK last year (that is, I am excluding The Streets and Dizzee) and one of the best five produced anywhere.

It couldn’t be mistaken for American: it’s about living in London, on rough council estates. Its one fault may be overdoing the samples – there are large chunks of Tim Roth from the great TV play Made In Britain all over this album. They’re very apt, but there is an awful lot of it. It’s justified by the close relationship between that tremendous play and what he’s talking about here – that’s the life he is describing, and I believe and feel pretty much every word of what he’s saying. I don’t disbelieve the Wu or West Coast gangsta rappers when they talk about the US equivalent, but I don’t know that life, it doesn’t resonate with me the way this does.

But even aside from that plus point for UK listeners (well, at least those with some familiarity with the underbelly of life here), this is a terrific album. He’s an intelligent writer who has developed good flow, his own very distinct rhythms and delivery which fit his subjects and themes perfectly. I wouldn’t claim he has one of the great flows by any means, but he makes it work superbly. That’s one key part of making great hip hop, and the other, where the UK has also been weak a lot of the time, is the production. I guess the money isn’t here for the big slick production of a lot of US hip hop, but that is far from what is needed for this. It needs to sound tough and real, and it does, but there are also some stronger tunes on here than we are accustomed to in the UK. I don’t know whether many Americans would take to this, not that that is any kind of criterion anyway, and I don’t imagine he’ll be storming the UK charts either with what is pretty unhappy and tense material, but I think this is the best real hip hop album this country has so far produced, and deserves rather more attention.


Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 1,024 views

TAB {no, not that kind} UPDATE

It had been settled, an investigation concluded yesterday.
As it was LUNCHTIME, I stayed for two pints and a catfish po-boy (blackened, with tasty remoulade and the most remarkable side of tangy crisps).

The payment system still confused, again with credit card, but just different to what one is used to, is all.

The free jukebox allowed me to confirm my favourite version of ‘Summertime’ is the Sarah Vaughan, so something good has emerged from the whole sorry episode (and not forgetting the po-boy, almost N’awlins-like in quality).

Day 9: The Sound Of The Underground AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 LOUSY TUNES

I Hate MusicPost a comment • 487 views

Day 9: The Sound Of The Underground

I crept back into the container to sleep, not trusting the strange sounds of this island. Hunger did over-take me the night before though and I trapped, killed and skinned one of those strange rodents which had been over-friendly. I suppose my actions were not friendly back but needs must. The creature tasted almost, if not completely, unlike chicken.

After breakfasting on some berries which looked if not tasted like juniper, I decided to head into the interior for signs of life. The jungle was think by the beach, and an hour of struggling I probably only made it half a mile. However I did soon come across a clearing, where there were copious signs of life. And what some might call signs of death. Blood splattered copies of the Complete Works Of Shakespeare were strewn all around the clearing. Bones were also apparent, as was one badly mauled rotting corpse. I must admit I was somewhat overcome by these signs. What could cause such carnage, and why so much Shakespeare.

It was then I noticed to the south of the clearing was the mouth of a large, dark cave. I made a makeshift torch out of a leg-bone and some rags and peered inside. Tracks of some inhumanly large creature were apparent, apparently dragging something. That was frightening enough, but what was worse was the sounds. Strange guttural belching, swooping yelps and primal, primitive drumming all mixed in and out of one another. It sounded a bit like the Band Of The Royal Marines playing Jerusalem. Whatever it was, it girded my loins. Was my task on this trip around the world to destroy music wherever I discovered it. This might not be music, this noise from underground, but that would qualify well over fifty percent of the UK Charts at any one point in time. Hatred can double up for bravery, and so I head for the source of these noises from Hades, these hellish Sounds Of The Underground.

GIRLS ALOUD: The Sound Of The Underground

The strange rag-bag of sounds I heard from underground were apposite when you consider Girls Aloud career. A kind of all girl Frankensteins monster of a pop band, taking choice cuts of The Stray Cats, Dick Dale and Mink De Ville. I can imagine these girls, dressed in their Top Shop glamoflage, mugging old rockers just to steal their ideas.

The mugging I have no trouble with. But why piece it together to make sub-Spice Girls tat? Why not just leave the fogey lying in the gutter and join me down the pub? Take the Sound Of The Underground. Its My Sharona for people who have not got anyone called Sharona. I have heard tube trains and they do not sound like this. Indeed the sound of tube trains is so thoroughly unmusical that if it weren’t for Down In A Tube Station At Midnight, I could happily live down there. Well, and the buskers.

My brother and I went to

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 327 views

My brother and I went to this event at the Royal Society last night, because we had both read Diamond’s previous book Guns, Germs and Steel, and enjoyed it (although neither of us finished it, but hey). The lecture was introduced by the President of Royal Society, who seemed a nice chap, but one hell-bent on relieving himself of his entire store of Diamond-related anecdotes, most of which involved bird-watching. Then Diamond himself got up, and was revealed to be the aging Amish whom I had previously thought had been brought along as an exhibit. He had a strange voice which swooped around in the lower registers. As visiting Americans often do at these events, he heaped praise upon Europe and Britain for a time until we all felt suitably smug, and then launched into the main subject of the talk.

The evening made me cross. The (potentially enormously interesting) subject of societies failing or succeeding was almost entirely approached in environmental terms. The admittedly heartbreaking tale of the Easter Islanders deforesting their entire island before descending into cannibalism should have been one example, not cause for a diatribe on social responsibility. We were told about the lack of health-care in the States, arch remarks were made about Bush and Kyoto – non sequiturs abounded. I am not by any means sure that rich people living in gated communities is going to cause the collapse of society. In between there were interesting things about the Norse communities in Greenland and the Mayans, but these were never linked into an overarching theme that I could detect.

I wanted to ask during the question session how he accounted for the socially irresponsible Roman Empire lasting 1000 years, but my tentative hand was ignored. The questions were hilarious, though. Everyone had brought along an axe to grind on the Diamond. This reached a marvellous zenith when he was asked what he thought about Third World Debt. There was also a fellow who stood up and made a speech about epistemology and eventually had to be shut up by the President.

I will not be buying Jared Diamond’s new book.

h.potter rural industry salvation shockah

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 1,027 views

h.potter rural industry salvation shockah:

“Unexpected factors come into play, such as the buoyant country house market, the rise of ‘green’ consumerism, the influence of TV gardening personalities – even a welcome boost to besom broom-making from the Harry Potter books.”


Proven By SciencePost a comment • 243 views

SUBMISSION FOR PBS SIDEBAR LINK STATUS? is vouched for by dunedin’s leading dino-portraitist, plus also as well has LOTS OF INFORMATION ABOUT DINOSAURS (and the words “jollyroger” in its subsidiary URLs!)

Light by M. John Harrison

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 338 views

Light by M. John Harrison

It’s hard to avoid wordplay in talking about this: it’s a dazzling, brilliant novel. It’s the most successful fiction I’ve ever seen at embedding quantum physics, on every level – it’s deeply there in the subject matter, themes, motifs, plot and most impressively the structure. The story has three strands: a present day scientist who is avoiding a monster from which he stole some incomprehensible dice; a few centuries in the future, a junkie is hustling to keep out of debt trouble on a planet near the greatest anomaly in the universe, a black hole with no event horizon; and contemporaneously a woman plumbed into a spaceship as its pilot has gone rogue and is looking for strange and alien technology. He ties these strands together in all sorts of strange and rich ways, embodying all sorts of quantum ideas about action at a distance and much, much more.

This sort of cleverness is all very well, but not very satisfying on its own. Fortunately there is much more. There are a bunch of fresh, original SF ideas (I particularly like the fact that whatever physical model of the universe each alien race has developed works, even though they contradict each other). There is a richly realised world that is explicitly reminiscent of a Tom Waits song, hundreds of years on, with street hustlers and carnies and gamblers – Harrison is very clearly the biggest influence on the most exciting new British novelist of recent years, China Mieville. There are a bunch of extremely strong, memorable and surprising characters. And best of all, there is Harrison’s prose. I’m not sure Britain has ever produced any novelist who writes better prose than Harrison – it’s an absolute joy to read sentence to sentence, even without all the other virtues. It’s not completely without weaknesses – it pulls things together at the end, but it all feels rather contingent and incomplete, which may fit the quantum model, but isn’t so pleasing – but overall this is a triumphant and thrilling novel on almost every level.

I have an admission to make.

Do You SeePost a comment • 230 views

I have an admission to make. My relationship with Wong Kar-Wai films is not one of slavish devotion. Both In The Mood For Love and now 2046 were slow starters for me. I love them both, but in both cases I was half asleep for the first hour. I am suggesting though that far for this being a bad thing, this may well be the best way to view these films. Pressure cookers of emotion, it is difficult to keep up the required concentration on these melodramas for their full running time. Rather I have a vague impressionistic idea of what happened in the Zhang Ziyi segment to suddenly have my attention completely arrested by the second half.

I am increasingly finding Christopher Doyle’s photography insipidly perfect. I am not saying that his compositions alone put me to sleep, because Wong himself contributes with his slow story and lush orchestrations. The all-of-a-sudden seeming self reflexive tedium crystallising into something so fascinating is remarkable (Lynn Ramsey’s Ratcatcher had much the same effect on me). The first hour is something about jilted Tony Leung’s odd relationship with small time prostitute Zhang Ziyi. For a meditation on mood, love and loss, perhaps this loose collection of impressions between the odd nod off is appropriate: as the film itself shifts between its core emotions.

The sci-fi bits are bobbins though.

Cartoonist ‘jailed’ over Jesus comic

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 548 views

Cartoonist ‘jailed’ over Jesus comic: Comics in the US are often picked as easy targets for testing offence and blasphemy laws – disappointing to find that the same may be true in the EU. Of course, based on the news story’s summary this comic is completely, embarrassingly awful in a way that will be cringingly familiar to anyone who’s read an ‘alternative comic’ but that’s hardly the point.