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Friday, 24 February 2012

Trailer park trash

Now I've never been a massive fan of Youtube. There's something about it that I find a little strange. I'm the first to enjoy nostalgic clips or bits from films that I find funny, and only a dullard wouldn't enjoy the 'Annoying Orange Kitchen Massacre"...'knife!' But there's so much crap on there, what with people posting unfunny home made videos.

So it was with a healthy slice of hypocrite pie that I embarked upon posting a home -made video to promote the book. Yes, that's correct... a home -made video. I'd been advised by the Company that it's a really great thing to do and, let's face it, it can't do any harm (unless it ends up on those shows near Xmas about 'world's crappest videos').

So the first thing I thought about was the cost. That was a no-brainer... nowt (For my US readers, that's 'nothing' or 'nadda'). So that meant images generated by me. I thought transiently about asking the missus to wear chain-mail, but as it's not worked for the last decade of our marriage I suspected that that was doomed to failure. So I put my imagination to use....

[Cue Barney singing "Just imagine...just imagine..."]

So the first image was simple.. the book cover. At least the knight on it. It's supposed to represent the Knights of Ebony heart from the book, although, for those that've read the book, it's not entirely accurate. The Knights have face plates designed to look like leering demons, which are soldered to their faces. Their armour is also almost chitinous in nature, although being as strong as metal (we find out why in Book 3). But I liked the image so I've gone with it (it was a Gimped version of a knight from a joust at Lulworth Castle, if you're curious).

The dark mage image represents the Ghasts, the main villians of the trilogy. There are seven in the series, although we only meet three in the first two books- Xirik, Garin and Vildor. The latter is the Lord of the Ghasts, the Darkmaster, and I suppose the image is of him. It is actually me in my son's Halloween gear (it was rather tight, hence my odd expresssion). I then Gimped it...

The demon image is one of the Humours. they are demons from the Pale (the version of Hell in Nurolia) who are summoned by Vildor using the Elixir of Thrall and the bodies of allied Dark-mages. The one in Dreams is Black Bile and, unsuprisingly, the other three crop up in the later books. I'd visualised their heads as plague masks, which were designed in Nurolia during the Dust Plague in Azagunta brought about by the Mage Wars. The photo was from Stratford-on-Avon's Tudor House.

The forest scene from Scotland (near Aviemore) melts into the altered image of Warwick Castle, which hasn't really got an equivalent in the book. The two key castles in the novel are The Keep, which features heavily in the first part where Emelia is discovering the Wild-magic within her, and Blackstone Castle, where Aldred lives with his father, the Baron and where our heroes end up.

The music I found on a great site, which is credited at the end of the video. It was difficult to find the right track, most were too upbeat. I'd thought about something slow and hardcore, like Fugazi (who did an instrumental only soundtrack in their latter days) but that would be copyright doom!

So either watch the vid below or click on the link and post a comment and we'll make it go viral. Failing that let me know what you think! If it doesn't have 100 views by March then...then..I'll post a video of the kids acting out a scene from the book. Honest. I will.


 Dreams of Darkness Rising promo video

Sunday, 19 February 2012

I shall call him...Mini-me...

I took the lad (Charlie, my 9 year old) to Leeds yesterday. The main purpose of the visit was to go to a book signing by Will MacMillan Jones, who's an author I've met through (initially) Authonomy. His book The Banned Underground- The Amulet of Kings is a comedy fantasy that I thought my son would enjoy (although I was never a massive Pratchett fan myself).

After seeing Will I asked Charlie, as we furthered third world exploitation by trothing a MacDonalds, where else would he like to visit before we went home. His reply- Games Workshop and Forbidden Planet. Going into Games Workshop was fantastic- the dude in there played a quick Warhammer battle with him and his eyes were like saucers throughout. Ever since he's been fixated on Warhammer, mentioning it every third sentence and giving my wife palpitations as she realises how expensive the hobby can be.

It was a similar experience in the comic shop, although mainly it was me getting giddy given that I order almost totally off Amazon now and forgot you can actually look at comics before buying them still.

It struck me as we sat on the train home and he played his PSP Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 that Charlie is becoming a mini-me. It's strange in the sense that he looks like the missus, rather than my ghoulish countenance, and has hair down to his shoulders (not an option when I was 9...) but his passions are duplicating my own.

Now this, I suppose, is fairly obvious. Being feet firmly in the 'nurture' (vs. nature) camp I accept that you are very much a product of your up-bringing. This isn't strictly a bad thing, at least with regards our version of it. Charlie, and Evelyn (daughter, virtually 8) love reading, fantasy (books and film), Dr Who, DnD, comics, video games and indie music. With regards the latter, the daughter has branched out into listening to shite, whereas Charlie has remained resolutely dedicated to decent tunes. He's big into Green Day and is learning guitar... I may as well buy the hair dye and guy-liner now for the inevitable EMO phase. But what about more typical boy-stuff? Well he plays football on a Sunday but has homeopathic levels of interest in it, much like his father. He does swimming and it's 'alright.' Cubs is a winner but I think that's because his burgeoning OCD likes collecting badges and a few of the other kids are into Pokemon there.

Why am I bothered? Well firstly I fret about not giving him an open choice about what he'll get into. My folks had minimal influence on all my tastes, from music to Dr Who, to fantasy and DnD to comics. Sure they supported them--Dad took us to the 20th Dr Who exhibition at Longleat in the early Eighties, and to comic fairs. But they weren't shared interests. Dad liked football, cricket, rugby and I had less then zero interest in them. I never really had anything (until I could drink beer) to share with him. Charlie has the opposite--all his interests are shared with me and I worry that's stifling in some way...too controlling.

The second worry is that I know that liking my nerdish hobbies is going to cause grief in High School. For my daughter I'm less bothered as (i) she'll move onto other interests (ii) her self-confidence is like Plate Mail +5. But for Charlie, whose dyspraxic quirkiness already makes him not fit in to 9year old identikit boy, it's a genuine concern. But I'd be being dishonest to guide him towards cool interests that aren't interesting (to either of us) and I'd also be giving him the wrong message... that you should change your passions, what you like, to suit others. But it's easy being an indvidual and standing up for your beliefs at 40--it's rather more challenging at 11 in a new school.

So it's a conundrum and I think that, as tough as it is, the right thing is to carry on. Because sharing interests, especially ones that encourage imagination, literacy, creativity can only be a good thing in the long run. And anything which promotes time together whilst your kids still want to spend it with you is also worth maintaining. And in the interim we work on the self-belief that will bolster him when, inevitably, the bullies turn their attention towards him.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Luther Arkwright- my first journey into Steampunk?

When I was a wee lad 'punk' was a term designed to generate raised eyebrows in my grandma as she cooly flicked past images of Mohawks and bogey chains in the Daily Mail. Then I learnt it could be used to describe any perp not fitting in with (a) Dirty Harry's concept of lawful conduct or (b) grubby muggers in superhero comics.

I can't remember when precisely I heard the term Steampunk. I assume it was around the time I heard of Cyberpunk, so probably a few years back. As a term it's really exploded and is seeping through the media into the mainstream now.

For those not au fait with it, it is essentially like retro-sci-fi, namely sci-fi stories set in the age of steam/clockwork. Generally this means Victorian, although I suppose it could apply to late Georgian and Edwardian periods too. In some cases it is a historical setting, in some it is an alternate world setting- perhaps where technology developed along steam/clockwork lines. It's replete with automatons, brass, cogs, airships and so forth.

The actual term was coined by Jeter in reference to his books Infernal Devices and Morlock Nights and, I think, about Anubis Gates by Tim Powers (an awesome book). But there were books that would fit into the genre description well before Jeter and when I first heard the term the first one I thought about was Bryan Talbot's The Adventures of Luther Arkwright.

I recall my first encounter with Arkwright (this sounds like a Yorkshire sit-com already). The RPG magazine Imagine ran an issue on him, with a Traveller adventure in it. We tried it two or three times and never got past some mutant dogs, but that didn't matter. The concept of alternate worlds hooked me and soon after Talbot began work for 2000AD and got the credibility he deserved.

Luther Arkwright started life in some small press mag in the UK and I read it later when they were collected then added to in the first Titan books volume. My mate Nik bought it and I followed suit. It was probably my first mature comic, except maybe for Sandman.

It tells a complex story of alternate worlds all put in danger by the existence of a doomsday device that is procured by a race called the disruptors. To flush the disruptors out, Wotan (the central advanced alternate) send Luther Arkwright, an agent, to an alternate wherein the English civil war has been perpetuated for centuries. The idea is for Luther to cause a hubbub and draw 'em out.

Luther is unique in his ability to cross alternates. Naturally this is due to a higher purpose which comes in later. The story is told in a very complex style of flashback, jammed with iconic imagery, stream of consciousness prose, symbolism etc. The art varies in quality, but still has sections that are breathtaking in their design.

The violence in it shocked me when I first read it, and even now packs a punch. The characters are great, especially Fairfax and Cromwell, and even the sexual content is well done (although Talbot was never great at drawing women).

The graphic novel is often brought up in discussions around Steampunk. So is it? Well it has some relation to the genre- it is sci-fi in an alternate world setting that is largely historical. Technology is mainly diesel-based (air-ships, motorbikes) but the feel, certainly of the European scenes, is very Imperial- with a Prussian Empire and appropriate attire. In the UK part everything is puritanical - monotone, austere, miserable. The book begins in a Victoriana alternate, which seems to be Arkwright's preferred home. So there are traces of Steampunk in there. Talbot credits Moorcock with a big influence - a tiny bit of Jerry Cornelius, a bit of Oswald Bastable (from Nomad of the Air series)- and the Bastable books were probably one of the pioneers of the genre.

In the end it is academic, and borne from a strange OCD desire of mine to categorise everything (too much reading the NME as a teen). Whether it's steam- diesel- alternate-headexploding punk or just bloody great, Luther Arkwright is one of the best examples of UK sci-fi of the Eighties and a great demonstration of what a graphic novel can achieve. Talbot went on to write comics on child abuse, Lewis Carroll and animals doing film-noir, all of which are amazing. He remains probably the most talented 'all-rounder' in the UK comic scene.

Time to put some Damned on the I-pod and have some

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Quaequam Blag! How 2000AD shaped my life...

I'm still into comics, although not to the degree I was as a lad, rooting around the Merrion Centre market looking for the missing issues of Jon Byrne's Fantastic Four. I did the collector thing for a while, buying first editions before Marvel cottoned onto it and brought out fifty covers of the same issue. In fact Sandman number 1 is probably the only valuable comic I still have (other than an early Lee-Kirby FF with the best letters page ever).

Tastes have matured over the years. My first 'mature' comic was probably Bryan Talbot's Luther Arkwright books, possibly Watchmen (collected) or maybe even V for Vendetta or Sandman, I'm not sure. I still buy a mix now- I enjoy the regular Marvel titles like New Avengers/ Secret Avengers/ FF/ Captain America as much as the 'mature' ones like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Boys, The Filth, Neonomicon etc.

Now some of that has been enhanced by son #1 getting into comics. I started him off on the Essential series (reprinting all those issues we used to get in Pocketbooks) then moved to the latest Marvel titles. Seemed good. They have a rating system now- the 'A' rating is kind of the same as PG and the 'T+' like a 12-ish. Thought, well he watches 12 at the cinema, so same applies- off you go.

Then we had a bit of a run of violent scenes in one or two comics that got me fretting. The Secret Invasion; New Avengers had a bit of skrull heads exploding off (green, but still obviously heads exploding) and then Sentry ripped Ares in half, viscera and all in Seige, and I thought... shit, this might be a bit full-on.

So I hit that parent quandary. It's the angst about what and when to let them see stuff, or do stuff, and you start to reference your own upbringing and your own dislike of censorship. Its a nightmare being a softy liberal type. As a teen I'd gravitate to records that said 'fuck' in them, now I synchronise my turning the care stereo down to them. I'd listened to all sorts of stuff as I grew up and Parent Advisory Records didn't make me go shoot up MacDonalds.

Am I fretting needlessly? The staple of lads comics when I was son#1's age were war comics (like Battle). The violence in those was in your face, mixed with a healthy dose of anti-German insults (Fritz, Adolf, Krauty etc).

But the pinnacle of violent comics of my childhood has to be 2000AD. I came into the comic when it merged with Starlord, which I read at primary school (and starred Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters). Me and my brother read it ad-hoc for most of the early progs, with faves being ABC Warriors, Flesh, Invasion, Inferno and of course Judge Dredd. It was really taking off in the early 200s and I think around then we started getting it weekly and stayed with it way past prog 400. Those were seminal years in the comic- Alan Moore and Grant Morrison both wrote stuff, as well as Mills, Wagner and Grant. I loved Slaine, Strontium Dog, Rogue Trooper, Dredd, DR & Quinch, Nemesis the Warlock, Robo-Hunter... the list is endless. The future shocks and the time twisters stick surprisingly in the mind. There was no doubt the sheer quality of the writing and pace of the material had a massive impact on me and my writing, and also in my playing Role Playing Games (the Judge Dredd RPG was superb).

And the violence? Well I got hold of some of the reprint editions that Rebellion published (The Case Files). Bloody Hell- no messing! Head shots, knives, perps minced up, incinerated, chopped- you name it. And that was without reading Flesh (which I bought my brother Dan, and he's hidden from the kids). It's unapologetically violent, ridiculously funny (especially Ro-Busters and Strontium Dog... Mek-Quake's 'Big Jobs?' anyone?) and politically incorrect (I still chuckle about the League of Fatties and their belly-wheels). Did the violence screw me up for life? Ha, not yet. I wonder now what ratings some of the 2000AD stuff form the early 80s would pull in? I suppose now its all in shiny red technicolour so it seems more visceral.

So I felt reassured and did the only responsible thing. I let son#1 read the Dredd comics. He loved them. Who wouldn't? Dredd is the ultimate security figure for a child (in the early days at least). He is the personification of boundary setting, what every child secretly seeks for reassurance. Dredd is hard but fair, and the early comics very noble and heroic (he hasn't got to the later more facistic ones, where he nukes the Sov-block with a Carlos Ezquerra 'Request denied!' shot). I think when I buy them he'll love the Strontium Dog even more (The Styx Brothers...sigh...genius...'Heart shot, I loose, but so does Alpha...' and Middenface McNulty....great stuff, lost on kids!!!).

I hold many of the US comics I read when i was younger in high esteem and with great nostalgic affection. But they pale when I think of the buzz of reading 2000AD weekly--original, funny, violent and a massive prompt for creativity in me.

"Splundig Vur Thrigg," as Tharg would say before eating a polystyrene cup and battling the thrill-suckers.