Tuesday, May 1, 2018

December to May

Well, why not. Rumours of my death et cetera.

Oh, there's a bit to add in the past four months. Stick around! I might add them!

In the mean-time, crikey, the spam-wolves have been busy...

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Jim Baikie

As mentioned elsewhere, my entry point into 2000AD prog-wise was the early 300s, and in those initial issues a short-lived strip was begining to wind down.

Skizz, by Alan Moore, was the story of an alien interpreter from Tau Ceti crashing to Earth and evading the Authorities with the help of a local kid. It was E.T, I knew, but I also recognised that Moore had other things to throw into the mix: this wasn't the autumnal suburban hills of California that Interpreter Zhcchz was dragged into, but central Birmingham amid the bleak early 80s winter of Thatcherism, record unemployment and bleak opportunity Its human protagonist is Roxy, a girl - still a newish thing for 2000AD and in retrospect predicting Moore's realisation of the same in Halo Jones.  In short, it's E.T meets Boys from the Blackstuff by way of a little bit of contemporary TV (Philip Sandifer nods towards the likes of Minder and Grange Hill, but therese are minor influences at best), and while the clash of realism and fantasy would recur in the years that followed in the comic, this was the first roll off the slipway, and one of the best-remembered.

Key to me is Moore's script alongside the art of Jim Baikie, whose time at 2000AD was just beginning, Baikie had come from a variety of UK illustration jobs, often working on various licensed products and titles (Monkees, Star Trek, Hammer House of Horror, Look In and Countdown, for which he provided some Doctor Who art) plus forays into TV spin-offs such as Charlie's Angels, The Fall Guy, and more recently, Terrahawks. Like Moore he had a previous association with Warrior magazine, and was imported into Tharg's team from there. Baikie has a pen-based apporach, with  nice heavy brush on shading anfd a flowing approach to his linework. I can see a lot of contemporaries in his work - Jim Burns and Steve Parkhouse in particular. He likely co-created the look of the kangaroo-like Skizz with Moore, but he could do fantasy well enough - although it's the realism in his work which sells Skizz and becomes a recognisable trait in his work. Baikie's humans arent the elongated strips of sinew that Mick McMahon rendered the likes of Dredd and Slaine, nor the beefcake slabs of muscle under Bisley's tenure, but realistic, unexaggerated forms. His Dredd looks harder for this, and importantly for Skizz, his Lol,Roxy, and tragic no-hoper Clarence Cardew look as though they've come off a Birmingham high street - their fates accrus a pathos because of their recognisability.

Outside of Skizz Baikie also turned his hand to Dredd, helping out with the mega epic Oz, and providing some memorable shot stories and one-shots - in particular the three-part Hitman with its loathsome, toad-like human assassin, and the classic In the Bath which features early 90s cranky Joe Dredd doing what he does best... well,that would be telling.

Baikie went beyond the parent comic to work on spin-off Crisis, where he collaborated with John Smith on the action-oriented New Statesman, as well as turning up Stateside for a brief run on Star Wars. The relaunched Eagle magazine saw him team up with fellow Scot John Wagner for their dinosaur romp Bloodfang, which I look forward to covering in a future instalment of Where Eagles Dare.

In the early Nineties he returned to Skizz for the second series as an artist-writer, giving the story a more satirical edge, but the first story remains the superior, and I'd say so because of its more worldly elements. 'Reliable' is an epithet I apply to a lot of artists who turn in just that sort of work - consistent, faithful, relatable, and it's no dismissal agaist the likes of innovative artists like those above. Blaikie's work remained no less recognisable and was always faithful to its subject. Those first few encounters with his work in Skizz made a big impression on me, and no doubt will remain for some time.

Rest in peace, sir.

Jim Baikie 28 February 1940 – 29 December 2017

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas 1987. Respect!

2017 is guttering its last light, and to many I'd imagine it's goodbye and good riddance. But before we leave it all behind and ride the shopping trolley into oblivion, let's enjoy this moment in which, at the Monkeyhouse at least, a real sense of Christmas cheer has genuinely descended.

Your writer, once a few days of non-work had passed, finaly shucked off a year's work worries and just learned to enjoy the brief time off. His wife of now sixteen years (for whom he is eternally grateful) found her groove in seasonal craft and no wooden clothespeg is safe. Meanwhile, Jet Jr has 'clicked' with Christmas, his days filled with revised wish lists and enquiries about the physics of Santa's chimney-related speliology.

It would be ill-fitting, therefore, to select a Christmas song which is anything but traditional, and so in 2017 I'm going back to the classics. Thirty years ago to 1987, in fact, where an SAW-revived Kim Wilde and a peak-powered, late lamented Mel Smith have joined forces to squeeze out a cheesy hit for Comic Relief. Here's the other Mel & Kim with a distinctly Eighties' take on the Brenda Lee yuletide belter:

Look at that. Look at it! So Eighties with the big hair, the obligatory Ray Bans, Curiosity Killed the Cat, random video effects and the quaint 50s nostaliga of it all - including the Mekon! I've just watched it with the sound down and it's still watchable for one key ingredient: Melvin Kenneth Smith, one of my favourite UK comedians and his marvellous ability to mug his way out of any situation, however ridiculous.

Sure, his erstwhile comedy partner Griff Rhys Jones is in the mix, but for me Mel was the greater talent, his presence a mark of quality on many projects outside their combined efforts Not the Nine O'Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones. One of the things I want to do in 2018 is reacquaint myself with his short-lived sitcom Colin's Sandwich, featuring Smith as the titular sandwich would-be horror writer and his take on British comedy's most enduring couple: the middle-aged man and his neuroses.

But I'm drifting. Outside it's a balmy 25 degrees, the hills are scorched and water restrictions loom for Wellington, but inside this house there's a little piece of northern hemisphere tat to mark the occasion and see us through. So Season's Greetings from Jetsam and the Simian family, and here's to a wonderful 2018.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

I, Monster Maker!

As mentioned earlier, I've been listening to and enjoying James Hollway's podcast Monster Man, a simple idea of one roleplaying fan's reading of the 1977 Monster Manual beastie by beastie. Recetly James set his listeners a challenge I simply couldn't overlook: create an old school D&D monster.

Specifically, create a monster based on a bargain-shop miniature or knick-knack; the way the very first proprietary creatures were made by the likes of Gary Gygax and Tim Kaske from the dime store bags of 'dinosaurs' (loosely referred to as Chinasaurs, although they really originated in Hong Kong), repurposed to become the Carrion Crawler, Rust Monster, Owl Bear and Bullette. James' challenge was as much to do this as make the monster, then to draw up the relevant entry for the Manual.

So I took up the challenge - initially looking around the local Two Dollar shops for inspiration, but I found little outside of some insects and marine animals, made from pretty cheap and nasty-smelling rubbery plastic. Out of desperation I went underground - specifically, under the house to my Bitz Box, and found some loose plastic toys collected from recent school fairs. From that I found this guy:

I've no idea who or what he is. Looks modern, lacked a tail, so I carved up an old Allosaurus and courtesy of the donor dino, the result was near indistinguishable:

 The question then became what to convert my new beastie into? The current paintjob is okay - certainly fine for tabletop play, if a little airbrushed and quite 90s in colour scheme. Was it from a video game or something? Anyway, when I got it I thought it could be an evil tree spirit or something. Cut to the Monster Man contest and I wasn't as drawn to that interpretation. Still stumped, I undercoated it old school style with white acrylic...

...and inspiration struck! One turquoise wash later, with some blenched bone highlights and he's a mountain menace, a white wailer, an Eisengeist... ehh, I'll come up with something.

The next candidate was even simpler and more organic in his creation. take a grasshopper head and a triceratops body (it helps if they're not to scale, obviously) and you get this guy:

Sorta resembles a Rust Monster! But my version, the Flambeau or spit lizard, is a more natural creature in intent. The Flambeau lives deep in damp places where it eats subterranean fungi and rotten or petrified vegetation. Due to intestinal fermentation it has a unique defensive manoeuvre: it spits a noxious substance to deter its attackers. Now, in the natural world this means a tarry, foul-smelling substance to gum up would-be aggressors and maybe provide some random protein for our chimaeric critter here. However, as a trap for the unfortunately adventuring party, the Flambeau's spit also turns out to be highly flammable.

Yeah, he's a natural, walking napalm cannon to anyone sporting a flaming torch, opened lantern, or foolish enough to go in fists blazing with a fireball. Heh heh heh.

Stats to come, though  I missed the Monster Man deadline due to other engagements :/ Oh well.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Of Monsters and Men

Lately I've been indulging in touching up my podcast listening posts. Due to natural attrition and the capricious whims of fate, some once-beloved podcasts fell off the perch over the past year, and I've discovered new podcasts to fill their place as time goes on. One I'll cover here today, and it's a fun podcast because first of all, it does what it says on the tin, and second of all, it doesn't appear to threaten to outstay its welcome - both good things in my book!

And so to the book itself, the podcast, for the book itself of the 1977 1st edition AD&D Monster Manual, and the podcast Monster Man, one man (and occasionally also his wife) rambling through the tome, cover to cover, so far in alphabetical order. At ten to twelve minutes an episode it's a fun whistle through the fabled, the revered, the weird and the gonzo of Old School D&D's classic bestiary.

Um, that's about it. It's pretty much what I'd want from a shortform podcast like this - descriptions of a monster, taking in historical, cutural and biological angles, plus reference to the artwork in the MM (which even casual browsers will know to be varying in styles and quality.) Host James Holloway comes to his subject fresh, with a classical perspective, but not so scholarly to be exclusive or inaccessible. I'm checkcing it out on a regular basis, and will be listening with keen ears on some upcoming entries!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Jack

Another Halloween has passed, and much like wearing an onion on one's belt, the Simian family seems to have adopted a fashion for our times - the carving of the crown.

The Crown! Most granity of pumpkin squashes. Leathery outside, amber within, and resolutely squat and green as a bad moon rising. This year's face came courtesy of Jet Jr who, instead of picking from a lineup of facial features, drew his own version, which I then transferred onto Happy Jack below and got to work. Pumpkin came courtesy of the in-laws' crop, which aren't great eating this year, but weren't too hard to carve out.

Plus, Mrs Simian approves of the smiling friendly face of Spring's waning, moreso than last year's wicked maw.

Poor Jack had a lonely vigil in the end, with only family visiting and none of those pesky kids (apparently Ngaio was the place to be this year), but he was still admired and even earned a photobomb from the neighbour's cat. If he's anything like his predecessor he'll hang around 'til Guy Fawkes Night and then take his leave for a new face next year.

The Artist
See You Next Year!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Auckland by night at street level

Auckland sits somewhere on my radar, sure. Since I've lived in Wellington the bigger city has been a feature and occcasional destination. All trips bar one have been for work and that's ok. I now have the working traveller's familiarity with its airport, taxis, hotel rooms, food courts, and inner CBD meeting spaces. As such the city has assumed itself alongside other regular drop-offs with a similar sort of 'familiar anonymity'. I like visiting the place, and am reasonably comforable being a stranger there, but I don't really know it outside those spots, and one visit I'd really like to see its beaches, volcanic cones islands and western ranges instead of simply flying over them. And this year I'll be flying over them a lot more frequently, thanks to work.

Like any big city inner Auckland city has its own face, which fits with it being our most Pacific city, and our most Asian. Among the modestly ambitious post-80s skyscrapers the usual big city caches apply- everyone's there for business of some sort, dressed to impress. I feel older, less gainly, shabbier, just walking down Queen Street at key hours of the day.  There's still a lot of life in the main drag after business hours; when the office blocks empty out and people rsh for carparks, bus stops, ferries or the central britomart Station terminus for home. After half an hour a different sort of city dweller emerges, and this year it seemed a lot of that life has taken residence in its doorways and parks, and on its benches. There's less of that in Wellington, although more than there used to be, and I wonder, with weeks to go before the general election, whether anyone notices any more. By morning, you get the impression that in some places there's the gesture of support and charity: baked goods left still in their packets on park benches down Fort Street for anyone to take and use - and it seems that this does happen as intended.

And then by night Auckland comes alive again, particularly at street level where its laneways and sidestreets open their doors, spilling light out onto the pavement.I don't often walk alone at night on any city streets, but Auckland's are so busy, so constantly in movement that I've never felt actually alone. And there's always so much light to walk by.