The things I’m loving right now … and the things I’m not

14 04 2011

I’ll be the first to admit that I have pretty selective tastes. I’m a self described geek who loves sports. I’m a gamer who loves to read. And I’m obsessed with television. So I present to you the things I’m loving right now … and the the things I’m not.

The things I’m loving right now:

Northlanders – For as long as I can remember I’ve loved vikings. I love the mythology, I love the imagery, I even love their names. When I was a kid I used to draw norse longboats in the margins of my school notebooks. I even (sadly) went and saw the monstrosity that is Erik the Viking (shudder). And of course I love comics and Brian Wood comics in particular. So Brian Wood’s Northlanders is the perfect product for me. Northlanders consists of short stories set within the breadth of viking history. Sure there are multi part stories but for the most part they are unconnected to one another. This style of writing suits Brian Wood. While I feel that DMZ has lost its way a bit over the course of its 60 odd issues (though I still love it), Northlanders gives us succinct tales that have a real bite.  The latest arc is about a horde of vikings beseiging Paris and comes across as a short form graphic version of Joe Abercrombie. That’s a good thing. My favourite story would be the 8 issues of the Plague Widow arc. Good (if bleak) stuff.

Mad Men – Kirsty and I have always loved Mad Men. There’s just so much to love – the writing is brilliant, the characters are deliciously flawed, the setting is a stylish nirvana for design geeks and it’s set in an ad agency. In a word it’s awesome. Season 4 has featured Don falling apart in an alcoholic fugue, stumbling from one alcohol fueled disaster to the next. He might be a creative genius but that doesn’t mean he’s smart. He has become awfully uncomfortable to watch but that’s okay as the surrounding characters have become the true stars. Peggy and Pete Campbell have become my favourites. Peggy’s recent scene where she was stuck with an art director for days who could not come up with ideas reminded me (sadly) of my own experiences. But the true scene stealer is Don’s new aged secretary Mrs Blankenship – she’s LOL every time she’s on screen, just punishment for Don for sleeping with his last secretary.

A Song of Ice and Fire – I’ve been rereading George RR Martin’s epic masterpiece, partly in preparation for the HBO series, a Game of Thrones (see below), partly because there is finally an official publication date for a Dance with Dragons (yay) and partly just because it is so fucking awesome. I honestly think that this is my favourite series of novels. In the Game of Thrones you can definitely tell that Martin was a television writer. There is an economy in his writing that comes from scriptwriting 101 – he gets in to scenes as late as possible, and leaves at just the right moment. In the early books at least there is a brevity and breathless energy in his writing and while by A Feast For Crows the story does feel somewhat bloated, there is always a sense that Martin knows exactly where this story is going. I’m part way through A Clash of Kings and I’m loving every page, every character and every story.

The things I’m not loving right now:

No Adventures of Merlin, No Game of Thrones and No Walking Dead – Living in NZ sometimes feels like living in a television ghetto. We hear of these great shows and sometimes we even get to see a season (in the case of Adventures of Merlin), or we read endless previews and begin to salivate, longing for the moment that we’ll get a chance to enjoy them as well. Then, in a decision that surprises no one, the powers-that-be decide “nah, no one will watch that” and we don’t get it. Or worse, they simply forget to put the next season on. The three shows that have me worked up at the moment: The Adventures of Merlin, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. We know that tvnz have The Walking Dead but when are they going to screen it? It has been months and months since it screened overseas, but here? Nada. They’ll have screened the 2nd season in the US before we get this. At least we have had the first season of Adventures of Merlin but that was a couple of years ago, there have been two more seasons since. I suspect Prime have forgotten they have this. Idiots. And then that brings me to Game of Thrones. Which no network has bought to screen in NZ 😦 Sigh. I guess that’s what the internet is for.

Warriors Injuries – okay, injuries are a big part of the game but this is ridiculous. Our best player Manu Vatuvei out for half the season, our best attacking centre Jerome Ropati out for the season and now Glen Fisiiahi, the most exciting Warrior since Vatuvei, out for 6 weeks? That’s just shocking. You need ALL your players to compete week in week out, take out your attacking talent and how are we supposed to survive? Injuries, please stop, now.

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comics i like right now

20 03 2009

I haven’t really written about comics for a while so in short here’s a quick rundown of what I like at the moment and one disappointment:

Firstly the “must reads” as soon as I get them:

thewalkingdeadWalking Dead

Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse tale is still brilliant 55+ issues into the series. Kirkman isn’t afraid to write gut wrenching scenes and almost every issue contains an emotional kick, whether it’s a regular being killed or someone realising that the person he is talking to on the phone is actually his dead wife. Kirkman’s also not averse to throwing in the trick cliff hanger ending where you believe one thing, only to have it be revealed in the opening pages of the next issue to be something else. He gets away with it every time because he has killed off other characters in shocking ways. You honestly don’t know whether his “main” characters are going to survive issue to issue and not many other comics can claim that. Plus Tony Moore’s art is starkly stunning, enhancing the emotional punch of Kirkman’s writing.

bprdhellboyBPRD/Hellboy

The world of Hellboy has been around long enough now that the Hellboy Companion published last year is nearly a must have when reading both Hellboy and its spin-off BPRD. Its definitely not essential, at its core both comics read as rollicking pulp adventures, but it definitely adds depth to the reading experience when you can refer back to nuggets of information about certain characters without having to trawl through boxes of back issues. BPRD might be a smidgeon ahead in my affections, mainly because Guy Davis’ art is so brilliant (can anyone draw monsters as well as him?) but Hellboy isn’t far behind.

northlandersNorthlanders

The idea of a Viking comic series written by Brian Wood was intriguing when I first heard about it. The actuality has been excellent. So far Wood has eschewed the linear, specific character approach of DMZ (and to a lesser extent Local) and had stand alone arcs. The current arc, “The Cross and the Hammer” is a CSI style one set in conquered Ireland as a local man fights back against his Viking overlords in a guerrilla fashion. Northlanders has also featured revolving artists and they have all been excellent: Davide Gianfelice, Dean Ormston (an old favourite of mine) and Ryan Kelly. It might just be the Viking setting but I devour each new issue.

i-am-legionI am Legion

A few years back I bought the first issue of I am Legion from the Humanoids line that DC published and loved it. It was brilliant. It was dark, foreboding, possibly featured vampires and had Nazis as the villains. I eagerly waited for the next issue. And waited. And waited. It never came. DC canned the Humanoids line. When I was in France in 2007 I tried to hunt down a copy of the original French comic (if only to gaze on the wonder of John Cassaday’s art) but no joy. Until recently when DDP started publishing it again. I am Legion is wonderful – atmospheric and brooding. Fabien Nury’s story is gripping and Cassaday has long been a master. The only problem is that the pacing of the DDP edition is out of whack – the original DC version was 48 pages per issue, DDP is 24 pages. I just hope I get to see the end this time!

edenEden

Eden by Hiroki Endo is the closest thing I have read to Akira in my 15 years of serious comics reading. Like Akira it is the set in the near future and like Akira it is a manga masterpiece. It is sci fi of the hardest sort whether it is dealing with sentient crystal formations which are gradually taking over the world or the extreme violence of cyborg killing machines. At other times it is touchingly sweet. Plus our main Elijah Ballard is treading the path from youth to adulthood, and rather than annoy us, he achieves the rare feat of making us care for him. In many ways Eden is like a manga Battlestar Galactica, and I mean that as the highest compliment.

And finally, one comic I liked earlier which is fading in my estimation is:

madame-xanaduMadame Xanadu

I wrote about it earlier and liked it but unfortunately since then it has sadly deteriorated. It’s still a very beautiful looking comic and the idea of a person living through time and different eras is appealing (look how long Highlander was on the air) but there’s just something that feels … misguided in the way they are telling the story. It doesn’t surprise me when I read it and as a result it is boring. Recent arcs have featured the French Revolution and Jack the Ripper but rather than exciting they are predictable, we know our heroine is going to survive and so far we have seen little to make her appeal to us. I’m hoping it’ll turn around, Matt Wagner is an excellent writer and Amy Reeder Hadley produces some stunning panels. It just isn’t clicking at the moment.





Watchmen Review

28 11 2008

watchmen(Just a warning for those of you who haven’t read Watchmen, this post will contain spoilers)

A few weeks back I finished reading Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I’m ashamed to say I’ve owned a copy of Watchmen for over a decade but it took me that long to read it. I don’t act that way with any of Alan Moore’s other books. I devoured V for Vendetta, From Hell and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as soon as I got them but with Watchmen, I let it sit, like some mammoth cthulhu-like creature waiting in the darkness. I guess in some ways I was intimidated by it, after all, it is regarded as the greatest ever graphic novel. So it was with a mix of trepidation and anticipation that I finally sat down to read Watchmen.

It didn’t let me down. While I wouldn’t say it is my favourite graphic novel of all time, some of the volumes of the Sandman, Akira, Planetary and even V for Vendetta are up there with it, it is definitely one of the best things I’ve ever read. As ever Alan Moore displays his monstrous skill and intellect, creating a narrative that is so far beyond what anyone else can even come close to replicating (well, maybe Grant Morrison could). Dave Gibbons artwork is solidly British and displays the same subtlety that David Lloyd displayed in V for Vendetta. The art is deceptively simple but packed full of character. It made me realise how much I prefer this style of art to the showboating tricks that characterise most modern mainstream comics.

For me Watchmen captured the mood of an era exceptionally well. This felt like the 80s, an era where our mutually assured destruction is simply a few button presses away. It made me realise how close we were (and still are) to our doom.

I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the film adaptation though I’m wondering how they can possibly do it justice. One thing that does worry me is the news [link] that they will be changing the ending from the giant squid monster that destroys New York to what seems to be nuclear devastation. I can understand their reasons for changing it – it seems a bit silly for a modern audience but then we had Cloverfield just recently so I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch.  There are other elements which I am interested to see how they develop – most notably the Black Ship comic within a comic stuff. Will it be interweaved within the film?

Anyway, Watchmen is a piece of genius. Highly recommended.

9/10





work is … ack

3 11 2008

Ack … I hate working in the weekend. I had to work twelve hours on Friday as we had a Halloween storytime at one of the libraries. It was fun and good though it’s always hard performing when there are people you know in the crowd. Actually, scratch that, I don’t mind performing in front of people I know as long as I have invited them. On Friday night there was my neighbour and her kids and a girl who was kinda my first girlfriend (we had a couple of study dates). I didn’t mind the neighbours, they know I’m a children’s librarian, but the kinda ex girlfriend was a wee bit weird, especially as she had her twins there.

Then on Saturday I had to work at another library as this group called Starfish did a show. It was fun to watch but I was mainly there as a liaison with the performers. Still at least I get some flexitime to use later.

This week is going to be a hell week, work wise. Every day is completely booked up including Wednesday where I will be presenting at a conference. A bit daunting.  

And finally on my last work related note: the Make a Manga winners from the competition I run are FINALLY up on our website. You can view them here. My favourite is KAJA and a couple other ones that didn’t even win. Some of these kids have talent!





some bummer comics news

27 08 2008

I got kinda bummed out by two pieces of comics related news today.

It looks like HBO have decided not to make a Preacher series. Apparently it’s too violent, too dark and too controversial. Makes you wonder if they bothered reading the original comics. They just had to look at the character list and see one Mr Arseface listed. Preacher was one of my must reads when it was originally published so I was quite excited that they were doing a series. It even featured in my Should Be Shows list.

And James Jean is leaving Fables. Noooooooooo… I’m a huge fan of James Jean, the header at the top of this page is from a piece of James Jean art and his art has set the visual tone of Fables. It won’t be the same without his brilliance. Anyway here are a few of my favourite James Jean covers.





Madame Xanadu

25 08 2008

Matt Wagner has always been one of my favourite writers. When I was first getting into comics his Grendel was one of the titles that really hooked me. Grendel War Child was the first one that I read and as a young man it blew my freaking mind. I tried to track down all the past issues (a near impossible task as the company that had published them had gone belly up) and voraciously read all the new issues. Grendel was a comic that wasn’t afraid to shake the whole world. It started out as the story of Hunter Rose, the debonair criminal mastermind who was both the greatest novelist alive, and Grendel, the world’s deadliest assassin. By Grendel War Child, set 100s of years in the future, the world was dominated by the Grendel’s. The Grendel was a warrior cult and the population lived by the Grendel code. It was a million miles from where the series had started and the utter antithesis of the mainstream crap of the time. I read Mage, Wagner’s reinterpretation of the Arthurian legend but it never really gripped me like Grendel did. I followed that up with Sandman Mystery Theatre and loved it. Wagner writes stunning stuff, he is a writer of dazzling ability and I eagerly followed almost everything he did.

(that Wagner is also a stunning artist shouldn’t be forgotten – in that regard he is like Mike Mignola, a brilliant artist who is only eclipsed by his writing)

So when I heard he was going to be the writer on the new Vertigo series Madame Xanadu I was more than a little excited. Wagner doing a Vertigo series again? Awesome. So two issues in does Madame Xanadu live up to my expectations?

Yep.

I came to Madame Xanadu knowing that the heroine has a history in the DC Universe and is tied to the Phantom Stranger but not much more. And to be honest you don’t need to know more to enjoy Madame Xanadu. The story tells of Madame Xanadu’s beginnings and presumably as the series progresses her passage through time.

Wagner’s hand on the story is deft, with nice touches that undercut our expectations. For instance the moment we discover that Nimue (as Madame Xanadu is known at this point) is sleeping with Merlin comes as a slight shock, in my eyes at least I was seeing her as this innocent albeit fey creature.

But oddly Wagner isn’t the star here. That honour belongs to Amy Hadley and her stunning, manga-ish art. Her panels are filled with delightful touches. The detail on her depiction of Nimue’s celtic garb is awesome. Like Charles Vess, Hadley seems to have been born to draw faeries and the magical world.

So far it reminds me a touch of the Books of Magic, the much lamented (by me) series that spun off a Neil Gaiman mini series. The Phantom Stranger appeared in that series too, as the guide who showed Tim Hunter the DC Universe’s magic past. I loved the Books of Magic in its John Ney Rieber phase so I’m taking that as a positive sign for this (I’m reaching, I know).

While the series has had a good beginning I’m a bit worried about its legs. I know by issue 5 Madame Xanadu encounters Marie Antoinette so there is a danger they are going to churn through too much story. But that’s a minor worry and I don’t know why I am worrying about it. Wagner has proved himself in the past and undoubtedly he’ll continue to do so here.

Madame Xanadu has had a good beginning. Long may it continue!

8/10





Yaoi?

20 08 2008

I had an interesting question at a launch event today for my Make a Manga competition. A girl, no older than 14, asked me if she could make a Yaio manga for it. For those of you who aren’t aware of Yaio I’ll let wikipedia define it:

Yaoi  is a popular term for fictional media that focuses on homosexual male relationships, yet is generally created by and for females.

Now I have no problem with Yaoi, I’m hardly in the target market but I was kind of surprised that a 14 year old girl knew of it and was thinking of doing a Yaoi manga for a public competition. Then I did some checking and found that our collection at Waitakere Libraries has a whole lot of Yaoi. My first thought was cool then I wondered if the general library staff realised what it was. Knowing some of the staff I’m guessing no.

What’s more surprising, to me at least, is that a teen girl wants to enter one for our competition. Speaking as a male I know that if I was 14 years old the last thing I would want to do would be to create something with a gay focus. At best I would have been mercilessly teased and more likely I would have got the bash. Ah the joys and happy memories of high school.

But maybe that was my day. Who knows what it’s like now on the mean concrete courtyards of West Auckland high schools? I’m actually hoping that she goes through with it – as long as she follows the rules of the competition she’s free to submit what she wants. She showed me some of her art and it was pretty good – we’ll see what happens.