Friday, December 26, 2014

"From out of the cell runs an Elf..."

On Boxing Day 1984 a quiet revolution took place.

I am fourteen, and my newest alter ego, an Elven princeling by the name of Aben Silverstone has just been rescued by a party of tredidatious, no-nonsense adventurers led by a Dwarf with the unlikely name of Thorin Oakenshield.

It's a big deal for me to be playing Dungeons and Dragons with my older brother's group. Although also in attendance is my best friend Derek, and we're on neutral ground (Derek and his older brother's family home), it's understood that my presence there has been achieved by no small amount of wheedling and pleading by myself (and possibly some parents interested in some time out from their growing kids), and is at times barely tolerated. I am enthusastic, and equipped with the nervous rashness and oafery of a new, young player. I'm on best behaviour, because I am still somewhat in aweof these older boys I'm playing alongside with their quick wit and occasional ruthlessness. Nevertheless, my Elf stays with his rescuers, and we make it to the end of the module in textbook-style, with only one casualty, as I recall - a thief by the equally-unlikely name of Edmund Blackadder.

I've played this particular module before, of course, as it's the only one we own, Douglas Nile's The Horror on the Hill with its pine forest Jim Rosolf cover and slightly goofy internal Jim Holloway artwork. But that last time I was a different character, in a different party, and we barely scratched the surface of the dungeon. This was the real baptism of fire, and over that summer I'd join in at least one other game over several nights (Palace of the Silver Princess, a logical follow-up) before I would be dismissed with the directive to find my own group to play with. So Derek and I did, and that became a large part of my adolescence for the next two years until different friends, different priorities, and the inevitable girlfriends broke up the band. By then Aben had dropped his earnest folksy nickname and become Habenath Celebrant, moody Elven badass, and another story, really.

 Nile's module is simple fun, with some pitfalls along the way. It's less of a meat grinder than its obvious inspiration, The Keep on the Borderlands, but it has elements I'd reuse in my own original games later on (warring goblin or hobgoblin tribes in the same dungeon, surprise berserker NPCs, a magic fountain which gives and takes in equal measure) not to mention a pretty hefty end-of-game adversary, of which still I'm skeptical of our besting to this day. More significant of course are the things that my friends and me brought into our self-made games in the following months - bits of our teenage world, in fact, form the music we listened to, the books and comics we read, and the movies we watched. A shared world can be a strange wild-growing creation, but hold it up to the light and perhaps it's not that different from many other adolescent activities in retrospect.

Thirty years on I'm surprised that it can still be brought back by the odd Proustian trigger - a reliable home-made ginger beer, the new tase of that summer in Barbeque Shapes (they were better back then), the smell of old pulp paperbacks, and the incongrous contemporary tune. Funny things, really, but all part of the mix. This, then, is my true gateway to adventure.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Peace on Earth, Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum...

It's nearly the end of 2014, and this video is now four years old. Dated, stilted, and more than a little awkward and weird - but enough of Bing and Bowie's original team-up, here's the heartfelt tribute. Merry Christmas, one and all from me and the Simian household, and oh yeah, peace on Earth and all that, too.

Link here because embedding disabled :(

Oh, and this is offically my 300th post. Jings!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Just a note to say...

A very merry, safe, and satisfying Christmas to you all, dear readers.

Pretty soon we'll be flushing this rotten old year down the bog of history, but before we do, let's pause and reflect, and share a few laughs with our loved ones.

In the next few days this blog will have a few scattered posts about scattered things - my Elves, the obligatory Christmas Day music video (ooh, what will it be this year?! said nobody) and maybe the beginning of a new miniseries of posts with the umbrella title of My gateway to Adventure. Make of that what you will.

Cheerio and cheers to one and all!

Jet Simian.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Spider-Man, Hackers and Haters

Yes, just because it's Christmas I'm going to talk about the Sony Studios hacking. Why? Well, anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that it's been on my mind for a while now.

Sony got hacked by 'someone', 'someone' with very specific interest in shutting down a movie that makes fun of another country and their leader. This is unprecedented, unless I missed something happening after the release of, say, King Ralph, and it's serious stuff. In short, it's deliberate corporate sabotage, and it well may cost a lot of 'little people' some formerly-secure jobs in the near future, beyond the other high-profile casualties in the upper echelon of Sony management. I just can't see this as a 'fun' story for anyone at all.

It's not been helped by so-called 'fan sites', who have gleefully piled on with their specific hobby horses, and used that as the pretext to spread the hacked email content and, in my opinion, made a bad situation much worse by giving it oxygen. As interested as I might be in the future of the Spider-Man movie franchise, or the James Bond franchise, or even those of other studios (also apparently discussed in those emails), I have no right to know them, and for me one of the least pleasant aspects of this whole thing is just how easily it is to read this stuff, mostly in the form of 'gossip' and speculation (and the MSM are by no means above all of this.) In short, Comic Book Movie have it horrendously wrong with their approach to the hacked emails, and Den of Geek have it right.

Of course, last week Sony capitulated, and have pulled the offending movie in question, The Interview for the time being. Have they set a dangerous precedent? I don't know. Should they abide by the rule of not doing deals with terrorists, given the seriousness with which they took 'someone's threat to endanger lives in theatres showing the movie? I don't think so - that's for governments to decide, and everything else done here I'd simply call corporate responsibility - something you don't see a lot of in this day and age.

And now this is where I turn hypocrite, because I'm going to also discuss the future of the Spider-Man franchise, having read a little of what's been revealed through the same sites above. To be frank, it looks like it's in a terrible way. Sony almost made nothing on the last movie, while Marvel (who still own the character and merchandising rights) made a ton just by not making any Spider-Man movies at all. If you think Spider-Man not being with Marvel is an egregious crime, don't think the blame lies entirely with Sony. The studio may have lost their leading man to studio politics, may be planning a soft reboot, and may still meet with Marvel to talk tie-ins and cameos to bolster what must be a really problematic property they have now (but - see point one again.) Were unlikely to see a stand-alone Spidey movie for a number of years now, even if the mouth-breathers get their way and Duh Rights Revurt to Maarvuul. The brand may be cursed for a while yet. Shame. But bad things happen to good properties all the time, sadly.

So my two cents? Stick to the script, Sony. This has nothing to do with The Interview, so don't blink. Keep Spider-Man, but move forward with a Spiderverse - either Sinister Six (using Black Cat as a potential spin-off option) or Morbius. Spidey can cameo, but DON'T REMOVE HIS MASK! Let the identity behind the NEXT Sony Spider-Man be the story inside the film and out.

Friday, December 19, 2014


Hey, this post is synched with Jamas' post over on his blog

Hi readers, today I'm going to write briefly about some DC comic heroes currently on the small screen. By rights I should be matching this post with a similar post about Marvel superheroes on TV, but that's not likely to happen any time soon, as I'm not currently a viewer of any of those, so if you're still here then settle in...

In 2014 there's not a lot of TV I watch. A combination of late evening starts, box sets, altered priorities and spousal/scheduling TV issues means that my fare has been a little wanting. Game of Thrones was a regular watch, and the local, silly but fun Covers Band, but other genre TV has just not been a go-er. Walking Dead? Forget about it. Breaking Bad? Maybe one day.

But I have been watching two series - Gotham and The Flash - both based in the DC universe of superheroes, but both quite different in takes. Gotham has been labelled a Batman prequel, but it's really more of a procedural in the middle of a gang war which happens to be happening at the same time as young detective and future Commissioner Jim Gordon arrives in Gotham. There, the recently orphaned Bruce Wayne- I'll stop, actually. If you don't know what Gotham is, there are plenty of places to find what you're after. Suffice it to say, I really like it. It's not Batman, but in the absence of, say, Boardwalk Empire or The Sopranos, and in the absence of a Batman TV series for grown-ups, it's quite engaging, and has now the best iteration of the Penguin I've encountered. But it's dark, and not a happy piece. So... contrast I watch The Flash, featuring of course DC's Scarlet Speedster, Barry Allen/The Flash - and a host of other superheroes and villains still emerging from the particle accelerator-infused brickwork of Central City. It, too, is something of an early days hero story - but it's lighter, simpler, and more heroic in a classic comic sense. If Gotham reflects the Batman comic of today with its nuanced characters and intricate plotting and broad back story, then this new series of The Flash is pure silver age, good-natured fun. A great remedy, and a pretty refreshing Thursday night appointment.

Over on his blog Jamas has marked the recent Flash/Arrow crossover, which this post was also supposed to do. I watched it, but like Jamas found it less of a cross-over and more of a blending of two episodes that each centred around their series' respective hero. [Green] Arrow arrives in Central City and becomes a more ruthless and predatory figure alongside Barry's sometimes haphazard heroics, while an hour later the Flash speeds into Oliver's Star City and is very much the ingenue against the Arrow team, his fitting in with their methods and values proving a challenge, even though he obviously wants to prove himself to his would-be mentor. I haven't followed Arrow, simply because it didn't immediately engage me, but I can see the appeal, and maybe one day I will. In the mean-time I'm glad these three shows are around, and have done will in a tough environment and somewhat superhero-saturated media marketplace.

Further thoughts on Flash versus Arrow after the jump...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Elf Denial

Kids, your dad let you down.

Whenever I approach a big paint job – say, my house, I tell Mrs Simian that the key to success is good preparation. Haste makes waste. Measure twice, cut once. And in the bits where the paint isn’t falling off, you can really see where the mission statement shines through (and not the undercoat). So why don’t I follow my own advice when painting miniatures?

Earlier this year I pimped my Mirkwood Elves, putting green stuff hoods, flairs (not FLARES, I’m not a monster for god’s sake) and sundry folds, knots and bobbins on little plastic dudes who had been painted a few years before, including each given a wash with Games Workshop acrylic washes. I was lazy. I was foolish. Because I ran out of Scorched Brown paint just recently and, unable to find some nice Vallejo replacement for it, resorted to replacing my out of range Scorched Brown with GW’s more recent, fangled Rhinox Hide. The name is half right, because the paint does indeed hide – into every crevice and crack, avoiding the already-glazed surface of the Elf cloaks. I had to strip them down – but what with?

Modellers swear by lots of products for safe stripping – Dettol is highly effective, but mixed with water turns into a horrid tar; brake fluid just sounds scary, as does acetone. In the end I opted for Simple Green, an al-purpose household cleanser that doesn’t dissolve plastic, leaves green stuff relatively unscathed (it softens it a little temporarily, and can loosen its stickability), and smells like Listerine. The lads are soaking in it right now, and early tests show that the paint is coming off as far as the black undercoat, which is good enough for me. If the green stuff survives long enough for a bath tonight, we’ll be back on track.

But ugh, why can’t I heed my own advice?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thirty Bangin' Years On...

Today is the 7th of December, and thirty years ago the Queen Street Riots happened.

I've blogged on this before, of course, and so I won't bore anyone with yet another gallop through my personal memoirs; although the Audioculture article above has been sgnificantly added to and fleshed out, wih anecdotes from such local luminaries as Russell Brown, Dylan Horrocks, Chris Bourke and Bryan Crump, and if nothing else thining back on it now has encouraged me to reconnect with a few of those friends via Facebook, who heard it all go down over the wireless.

So, what's left for me to add? Why, the music of course. Now, the music on the day was a live concert by the likes of Dave Dobbyn & DD Smash, The Herbs and The Mockers - classic Eighties Kiwi pop there, but quite accessible. My earlier post recalls the songs in my head at the time (less interesting., more individual and erratic), but the third 'soundtrack' to the event is worth another nod, as it's a rarity these days - Headbanga - a locally-made compilation of New Wave of British Heavy Metal (plus colonial additions) from a year previously. It got played a lot over that weekend by me and my friends, and a rendition of its rather fruity cover was faithfully reproduced on the inside of one of my school ringbinders in white-out and biro, such was its impact. Last time I blogged this I thought I'd seek out iTunes to build my own version, but one dead iPod later (pls of course at the time AC/DC weren't actually ON iTunes) that seemed a fruitless exercise. So what's left?

Various Artists - Headbanga
Why, my first YouTube playlist, with the album in full. You're most welcome. Let your own personal riot begin!

Photo copyright Bryan Staff

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Kilt in Action - Calhab Justice

Happy St Andrew's Day everybody! There - did it properly, this time.

To mark the Scottish Independence Referendum earlier this year, the Judge Dredd Megazine devoted its front page (illustrated by Glenn Fabry) and supplemental ‘floppy’ reprint magazine to all things judicial and Scottish – to whit: some of Jim Alexander's Calhab Justice, upon what I have already rit here.

This is only the second reprint of a CalHab strip, the first being the one-off Annual story ‘Hogmanay’ for another Meg floppy devoted to yuletide Dreddverse stories. It’s a lovely wee slice of life in GlasCal, and properly should fit in as the second story in this new collection, but doesn’t. A shame, as it would have been nice to have it with its mates for the first time.

The floppy itself is, therefore, incomplete, and takes in roughly the first third of the CalHab stories, introducing its Big Yin central character Judge Ed MacBrayne, and his sometime fellow judges Buchan, Schiehallion, and the ill-fated Murdo, not to mention their boss, the un-named C.I. Ridgeways’ art does the early chores, setting the look and feel of CalHab’s capital, and the quirky faces of its mob-like Whisky Clans. If I could make one early observation about CalHab Justice, it’s that it was eccentrically-served by artists, but the safety-first approach Ridgeway offers his illustrating in all his work actually helps CalHab by not scaring the horses too soon. The artists seems to have fun with the plukes and podge of Clan big-wig Abercromby, and his version of the C.I is the most recognisably human and world-weary. He’d have been fine, if not necessarily that exciting, kept in the artist’s saddle. But we move on…

After 'Hogmanay''s omission we're into the Lol stories, illustrated by the artist of that moniker, whose career with the seems to have been contained within the Meg and a one-off 2000AD gig. Lol's work seems heavily influenced by that of Simon Bisley - as were many artists at the time, although the black and white work he renders here references Bisley's turn on ABC Warriors, also monochrome. It is, as at least one reader said recently, 'of its time', and might have been better in colour, becuse in its dark-saturated monochrome the storytelling suffers. And that matters, because once Lol arrives on the scene, Alexander's B-plot takes up the A spot, with its trio of judges emroiled (or in the case of MacBrayne, virtually sidelined) by a story of psychics, civil war and a bloody greta big explosion at the end, courtesy of the srip's fourth artist, Kevin Cullen.

I'm still none the wiser, what with my patchy collection of Megs, but this floppy pesudo-trade has done a good job in putting the more consistent, MacBrayne-heavy strips together, even if it's not complete. I think that gathered they present a more coherent collection, and would welcome a second volume (although it could really go to three volumes.) The strip's relegation to reprint-limbo as a 'floppy' freebie and not a full trade paperback would suggest that my hopes have been dashed, and the Meg's floppies do contain more than one half-told series , so a first installemtn s no guarantee of a follow-up. I sense a crusade pproaching, to collect the disparate pieces and do the job myself. In th emena-time, this is a good start, and a reasonable template.

And finally, because the comments on a cosplay board likened the CalHab uniform to a real-life 'bampot' whose video below I saw too many years ago on either Radio With Pictures or Max Headroom, but could not thereafter be unseen (though I could never remember any other detail of it including the artist or the song), let's end with a cheery, mad slice of Eighties Caledonian pop-funk. You see? That's the problem with the kids these days - too much Jessie J and not enough Jesse Rae.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Friday Night Local: Minuit - 'Aotearoa' (2012)

Happy St Andrew's day, everyone!- whups, no, I'll do that tomorrow I think.

This is a quick post anyway, to get a few words in before the month expires and to allay the fears or at least one individual that I haven't fully slipped off the radar. I am in fact ankle-deep in plastic and tree bark, painting up my Mirkwood Elves, but more on that for another time, as they say. Let's do a belated Friday Night Local instead - and hopefully my worried reader won't think the song choice is something of a set-up...

Now, when Mrs Simian and I were new to Wellington we used to entertain our visiting guests from outside town by taking them to the national museum, Te Papa where they could feast their peepers on the tat and taonga of this young little country, the highlight usually being 'Golden Days', a sort of mini tableau history of New Zealand as a country set in a mock antiques shop cinema replete with animated curios choreographed with the action onscreen. We stopped taking friends to this some time ago, because the exhibit was never updated, and 'ends' in the now wide-eyed halcyon days of the late 1990s and, well, it's a bit tired and twee to the converted now.

"And if the past's a distant land
Maybe there is no rhyme or reason
And if we salvage what we can
You and me."

Minuit's video for Aotearoa, off their third album, the wonderfully-titled Find Me Before I Die a Lonely Death dot Com, could have repeated the mistakes of Te Papa's hoary old nostalgiafest, opening as it does with some familiar images to a local. There's a bit that's familiar in the song itself, I could add - the keyboard line in particular strongly recalls Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill, but the rumbling bass and the trip-hop drums carry it through well enough. The cleverness instead unfolds slowly.

Past a first full minute of largely black and white chronological images recalling the birth of a country and the usual suspects - Kate Sheppard, Earnest Rutherford, ANZACs on parade, Ed Hillary, Aunt Daisy, to a gradual splash of colour in tragedy and public outcry - the Wahine, Vietnam protests, Bastion Point and the land hikoi, the 1981 Springbok Tour, the Rainbow Warrior, the Tino Rangatiratanga flag and then Dame Whina Cooper weeping followed by... a child dressed as Batman?

"And yes it's true we're very young
And we have sticks and stones and bruises
Can we undo what has been done
Is this the way destiny chooses?"

Past the 1:30 mark history is quickly superceded and the present dominates the rest of the song, matching singer Ruth Carr's rallying call "It's you and I-I-I-I-I." Here's Aotearoa New Zealand as a fresh landscape, and its people represented by young, physical, happy, optimistic faces in a land of adventure and aroha. Minuit's fans submitted photos of themselves to create a montage of (allegedly) nearly a thousand faces, emblematic of a multicultural, self-aware country - stranded by geography, but one in which I am daily thankful I live. The stark contrast between the known and the famous of the past, and the suddenly anonymous present and future is a striking gesture, and though I swear it's not parochialism it gets me every time I watch this video. And I could swear that at 2:55 I can see Dr Morgue, though it's probably a doppelganger. Still, you know what they say about degrees of separation down here...

 Minuit performed their farewell gig and called it a day here in Wellington a mere few weeks ago, adding to the musical legacy of the little city of Nelson that already includes the likes of Sharon O'Neill and, er, Courtney Love. I've tried - a little - but I've not been a fan, but that's no criticism. Minuit were a nuggety little band who survived tours, illnesses and a fickle local industry to clock in a respectable number of albums, some overseas airplay and an enviable and frankly good-looking fanbase. So good on ya, Minuit, and all the best for future endeavours.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Back in the Room!

Hellooo... yes, it's me - talk to you from the Other Side!

Well, okay, the other side of my illustration project. I've now completed pretty much all (pending alterations and/r corrections and the final cover) of Mary's Christmas Gorilla, and almost on time. It's near time to return to the blog and some less-arduous pursuits.

Kid, I know how you feel...

Old promises and projects are slowly seeping back into a recently Gorilla/ Dr Who podcasting/ day-job-occupied brain, and all going well, I can return to some earlier projects (the Dreddorld judges, my Hobbit-themed figures including the half-done Mirky Dozen) and some new ones!

In short, I'm back in the room, and for the foreseeable will be blogging updates and back-filling my emptier months with posts that just wouldn't work so well right now. it'll make sense, believe me, but in the mean-time apologies in advance for whomever might be following me through RSS.

I'll also be doing some spring cleaning in the blog itself, updating some links, weeding out some inactive ones (sniff!) and adding some more recent interests. If you've stuck around for this long period of radio silence, cheers! And stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Intoning Verisimilitude to the Autocratic Hierarchy

No, I don't know what the point of Russell Brand is, a clever and charismatic man with a (largely) strong message and a (personally) irritating public image; but I do know a couple of things: firstly, that in order to truly make its mark speaking truth to power demands the register of the everyday citizen, and secondly, this is still very funny.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Day of the Dredd

Well here we are then - October already, and as it's the first it's also Day of Dredd, er, day.
What? Oh come on. Star Wars fans get their own day and they've had eight movies of their own so far, while Dredd fans have had a quarter of that number if I'm even being generous (and in the matter of Rob Schneider's career that's quite generous enough, thankyou). So, somewhat half-heartedly and with the sure sense that Mickey Mouse won't ever want to buy THIS franchise, I'm putting my drokkin' hand up for the Make a Dredd Sequel campaign. I joined the Facebook group two years ago, signed the petition, have bought the DVD (just not on the same day of action last year), and though I'd be happy to buy the Blu Ray, it' not really an option right at the moment.

Dredd - America
However, I still love Dredd,even the glum, somewhat introspective mood it put me in on the busride home from seeing it. One of my heroes is a brutal, methodical tool of the System. I always knew that about him, although in his comic strips that persona has changed over the years. Dredd has had doubts, found reasons to question the system, and even before meeting the man who created it and with whom he shares a genetic heritage, has confessed to its shortcomings and failures, his own misguided beliefs. Judge Joseph Dredd is a complicated, human character inside a rigid, fearful authoritarian shell, and the miracle of his parent strip is that this has all come about through his own creator, John Wagner, in a slow, near forty-year burn.

Click Image to Close
 The tragedy of Dredd's failure at the box office is that we as fans or casual viewers won't get to see that remarkable evolution of character. It's a damned shame. The Dredd we have is a cold thing of beauty, but it feels to me like the first chapter of a bigger story. And I'd very much like to see it continue, because from what I've seen and heard of Alex Garland's plan for the movies, the best was definitely yet to come.

And that's my 2014 Day of Dredd post right there.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Monkey's Pause

Hello, Reader

Now then. This blog has been quiet again, and there's a reason: I am busy.

My current illustration job, David Haywood's book Mary's Christmas Gorilla is, in the words of Ab Fab's Marshall "at a very exciting stage", which in short means I've not got a lot of time for much else besides work, domestic stuff and illustration. You want to see a picture? Here's one:

This is Mary's teacher - or was, at least, before it was decided mutually between author and illustrator that she was a little too scary even in the role of antagonist. Perhaps I shouldn't have based her on a few real people I know - I dunno. She looked even scarier with the eyepatch, believe you me.

So there was quite a bit of stuff I wanted to blog about recently. It's election day here in New Zealand, so a rare post on national politics and the mood of the nation has, mercifully, been vetoed on this day of all days, because, reasons. You were better off without that spiel from this Simian, trust me.

HOWEVER, I was also going to blog about Shihad's recent astonishing return to form, FVEY, produced by their old sparring partner Jaz Coleman and bringing back the lead of their first two albums Churn and Killjoy with a vein of angry energy throughout fed by Jon Toogood's personal/political angst. It's an absolute belter, their most focussed since The General Electric and most urgent since Love is the New Hate. Nine albums in, most bands struggle to find the old magic, but this is just bloody awesome.

I also meant to blog Manic Street Preacher's Futurology, which is about a month old or older now. It's an interesting work, and I'll return to it soon.

Which leaves.. what? Friday Night Local? I'm resting it for a few weeks, folks, although you nearly had a video from FVEY, and a tribute to the late, great Peter Gutteridge of Snapper, The Clean and The Great Unwashed, who we lost a week ago. They'd have filled a few gaps, but I don't want this blog to simply be a string of You Tube videos, so we'll see them later.

Yes, all of these will come in the fullness of time, along with more Eighties genre movies, more Dreddworld judges, and maybe even some hints at just how my Mirkwood Elves are coming along. That should set me up for a few posts once October has raised its late-Spring head and daylight saving has arrived.

In the mean-time, there's everything else. See you on the other side, folks!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Night Local: Skeptics - 'Agitator' (1987)

This post comes a little late tonight as ths evening the Simian family were down at the waterfront following Wellington's Light Trail, a rather fun collection of international light installations, some animated, some fluorescent, some interactive, and many doubled in the reflection of a black, glasslike harbour. Gorgeous - but never mind the crowds...

It's the last Friday of the southern winter-we're nearly into spring, folks! And to mark the cold season's passing, here's one of the starkest, discordant, contemplative and gorgeous songs Palmerston North ever created. It's not going to be for everyone, but I'd suggest sticking around to the end if you can. No other song comes close to evoking the three bleak months of an Antipodean winter, with the sun farthest from the soil and the southerly ripping straight up from the Antarctic.

There aren't too many Skeptics video out there, and besides this, probably their most well-known and most infamous is AFFCO, which surely ranks alongside The Smith's Meat is Murder for warts-and-all coverage of what goes on inside your friendly local abattoir.

Despite the sensationalism, and maybe the dated sound of the sampling and drums (not to mention the dancing of Skeptics' late, great David D'ath), Skeptics were an important Flying Nun band, influencing the likes of Headless Chickens, Bailter Space and even non-Nun acts like Lung and Shihad, who, as mentioned in an earlier post, consciously doff their hats to this song in one of their own. In the last years of my own band back in the day Skeptics informed the big sound of my friend Victor's band Age of Dog. And so this one's for Victor, Piers and Tane, wherever they may be.

And here's to spring!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Requiescat in Pace, Vermithrax Regina

Dragonslayer (1981)
Valerian: Are you afraid of dragons?
Ulrich: No. In fact, if it weren't for sorcerers, there wouldn't be any dragons. Once, the skies were dotted with them. Magnificent horned backs, leathern wings... soaring... and their hot-breathed wind. Oh, I know this creature of yours... Vermithrax Pejorative. Look at these scales, these ridges. When a dragon gets this old, it knows nothing but pain, constant pain. It grows decrepit... crippled... pitiful. Spiteful!
I came to this story almost entirely cold, knowing perhaps that it was about a young man charged with the duty of slaying a dragon, and that’s about it. Dragonslayer surprised me at a lot of turns, being unsentimental and daring to upset a lot of staid storytelling conventions – yes, the Old man Dies, but if you thought it was simply to enable his apprentice to step up and meet his destiny then you should think again. Clearly George R R Martin was taking notes when he watched this, using names from the story (the titular dragon is namechecked in an early Song of Fire and Ice book), and I must admit to comparing the rather unexpected ‘stuff happens’ mood of the tale to that of Martin’s Westeros. In the grand scheme of the story good triumphs of course, but  it’s an intriguingly sophisticated story that’s woven in nonetheless. And I rather like the fact that Valerian, once unmasked as a woman, doesn’t revert to an utterly opposite  feminine sense of dress and speech, but retains a lot of the toughness and huskiness her earlier guise displayed – she’s just not your typical wilting flower (and come to that, even the sacrificial Princess is a cut above your usual shackled screamers.)

Like a few early 80s movies from the House of the Mouse, this is not your typical Disney fare, with some gore, violence, onscreen deaths and even a little rear/lateral entity; but we should applaud it for taking these risks, as much as its stablemate Tron pushed the limits of computer technology, here is (prior to the inferior 90s Dragonheart) the most ambitious onscreen live action dragon to date, and prior to The Hobbit’s Smaug, certainly the best rendered. Vermithrax Perjorative is a splendid creation – admittedly heavy on the matte-lines and moving with the requisite stop-motion trembles, her presence is nevertheless awe-inspiring, and her fiery breath the more convincing for being (apparently) provided by a real flamethrower. Jackson’s Hobbit may have given us the description of “a furnace with wings”, but Dragonslayer’s worm is the real deal – you even find yourself sympathising with this ancient killer when she finds the corpses of the last clutch she’ll ever raise.

There’s a practicality to the story which I love – though the place names are imaginary, it works hard to evoke a Dark Ages setting; real low fantasy with grubby faces, brackish skies and spellbooks seemingly composed entirely in Latin, the scholar’s tongue. Ulric’s tower is simply the most convincing wizard’s tower I’ve seen on film, and I’ve half a mind to lift it in its entirely for a future Dungeons and Dragons game. There’s literal pragmatism, also – Galen’s weapon is forged by a blacksmith using magic, but is no great device of destiny and ultimately fails in the task; he’s better off with a shield made of dragon scale and having his wits about him instead. 

Yeah, Peter MacNicholl isn’t immediately convincing in his film debut (allegedly he leaves this movie off his CV now. But keeps Ghostbusters 2 on??), but who could compete against Sir Ralph Richardson, whose wizard Ulric is seriously jostling the shoulders of Gandalf and Dumbledore for Best Cinematic Wizard Ever?  John Hallam as Tyrion (another George RR Martin hat-tip) works a sinister pragmatism to his antihero role (Hallam is no stranger to playing the bad guy, but one of the few other roles I’ve seen him play is the fey but no less sinister Light in Doctor Who’s Ghost Light – a quite different performance), and overall there’s a pessimistic mood to the story. As Ulric’s remains shoot over the heavens and the appeaser-King is wheeled to the dragon’s corpse to deliver a post-mortem coup de grace heavy with cynical propaganda, you really get the sense that Valerian and Galen are wandering out of a dying, idealised age and into an uncertain future.
This may be the last early 80s fantasy movie I’ll watch for a while, so I’m glad it turned out to be this one, a surprising yarn that’s not quite family-ready, but ideal for the young adult with an interest in This Sort of Thing. I wish I’d seen it sooner!

PS: Hey, this is another synchronised review with Guanolad and Jamas. Check them out!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Night Local: Graham Brazier - 'Fight' (1986)

As I'm typing this I'm watching Queen City Rocker, known outside NZ as Tearaway. It's not a particularly flashy movie, and the song below, Graham Brazier's promotional video for the movie, isn't either. But at sixteen the video and the trailer for the movie were enough to convince me that I had to see it some day, and Reader, today is that day.

It's earnest in its intentions, including some assured and un-selfconscious portrayals of a mingled Maori, Pakeha and Samoan gang culture, but it's not aged well. 1980s Auckland is very much a different country, populated by younger versions of some of New Zealand's best TV actors including Roy Billing, Peter Bland, Michael Moriarty and the late Liddy Holloway, whose son Joel Tobeck has an uncredited role in the movie as well. Seemingly inspired by real events and produced not long after the Queen Street Riots, it references a very different time, and boy has it dated. Still, there's local music royalty all through this, from ex-Gurlz singer and future When The Cat's Away vocalist Kim Willoughby's female lead (I had such a crush...), Willoughby's future partner and former Dude Ian 'Tex Pistol' Morris in the soundtrack, a cameo by Brazier and the rest of Hello Sailor cameoing as in-movie band 'Nite Attack' (the much-missed Dave McCartney also provided the soundtrack), along with Ardijah, and there are snippets of NZ punk bands No Tag and electro-avant garde Flying Nun outfit Fetus Productions. And the riot scenes are pretty well done.

Somewhere out there is a cassette of my band's earliest jam sessions in our bassist's parents' garage (he had the soundtrack), and me in the mix gamely trying to replicate Harry Lyon's urgent stacatto guitar work from Fight. Ironically, a similar, slower riff appears in the National Party's campaign ad, launched just this week. Critics were quick to point out the similarity to Eminem's Lose Yourself - but maybe the ad's Australian music maestros sourced their inspiration from closer to home?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

As Pod is my witness...

These days I seem to produce little on this blog but quick notes, so in keeping, here's proof that my life has been a little bit busy and somewhat unexpected, as this week I appear to have accidentally become part of a podcast - to whit, Zeus Pod, the latest incarnation of what co-creator Jono Park has called 'The Zeus Plug Empire'. Yes, what started as a mild curiosity in a Vulcan Lane cafe in 2005 turned into an A6 pubzine in 2006 (the aforementioned Zeus Plug, alongside Phantasmodea's creator Al), and then a blog (Zeus Blog) towards the end of that year and now an actual downloadable audio thing.

Oh, and if you don't know the significance of the title, then Zeus Pod is a Doctor Who-themed podcast named after a fanzine (Zeus Plug) named after an obscure piece of TARDIS tech.

Here's the first podcast

And now back to the blog...

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Night Local: Th' Dudes, 'Be Mine Tonight' (1979)

Another quick post tonight: It was Mrs Simian's birthday last week, so this is for her:

Wow - Dave Dobbyn looks skinny here, there's no sign of Pete Urlich, and we really lost a great songwriter in Ian Morris a couple of years back (Morris co-wrote this one.) Be Mine Tonight was released as a double A-side with another great Dudes song and a personal favourite Walking in Light, a song that at the time I couldn't divorce from The Rolling Stones' contemporaneous Emotional Rescue and still sort of can't.

It was a close call deciding which video to put up this week - Walking in Light definitely has the better look (more wire-haired, wire-limbed guitar legend Dobbyn can't be a bad thing), but Be Mine Tonight has a nicer guitar line, more interesting verse to chorus progression, and I rather like the coda as well. No contest!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Quick reads: Irish Masters of Fantasy - Peter Tremayne (ed), 1979

Between Friday posts, here's a quick read-through of a medium-sized anthology. I picked this up on a whim at the Wellington Public Library, unsure of the content aside from a suspicion that I'd find nothing within that might nowadays be called 'fantasy' (i.e. no swrods and sorcery), and probably no or little actual Irish folklore. I was right on both counts, but it also proved that I know little of the genre - of the Irish writers I was aware of Stoker and LeFanu, but looked for Wilde and Yeats in vain – Peter Tremayne’s collection is instead a pretty sensible picking of a broad range of writers among whom largely two elements are common – forays in the fantastical, gothic or phantasmagorical, and at least a passing stint in the Emerald Isles. And so without further ado...

'Melmoth the Wanderer'(excerpt) -Charles R Maturin A man is stalked for years by a demonic figure. Both meandering and possibly the most action-packed chapter at that, of a long and turgid work. I was reminded of Varney the Vampire in its episodic, drifting style. Once the action heats up in a London asylum (described pretty starkly) the pace quickens, but it’s all pretty hysterical and ultimately, I was glad to reach the end of it. yes, that's not very charitable to a work regarded as one of the great progenitors of Gothic literature, but to me many of the hoarier aspects of the genre seemingly begin here, too - leaden and sonorous descriptive passages being one.  

'The Familiar' – Sheridan Le Fanu
A man is stalked for years for- hang on... Actually, this is a nicely paced work, just the right length. I’ve had a few brushes with Le Fanu’s Carmilla including as edited prose (a children’s version, if memory serves – good grief!), film adaptation (Hammer’s very loose Karstein trilogy) and audio adaptation (a rather fine reading by Miriam Margolis), but this was the first proper read I’ve had of his work. The Familiar is pretty good, with quite a neat ending - I was listening to a reading of Guy de Maupassant's The Horla at the time of reading and couldn't avoid comparisons.  

'The Wondersmith' - Fitzjames O'Brien Begins with a splendid descriptive opener reminiscent of Dicken’s Bleak House scene-setter (though this is set in a fictional New York), but soon mutates into an alternately ghoulish and sentimental story of gypsies, hunchbacks and outright villainy – and it gets rather silly towards the end. The story’s classed by some as the progenitor to the robot story with its murderous miniatures, but to me that’s a little too generous - like saying Pinocchio prefigures I, Robot. Sort of satisfying in the end, but a tad melodramatic. And the gypsy stereotypes are a worry.  

'The Burial of the Rats' – Bram Stoker Englishman runs for his life in a labyrinth of rubbish, pursued by desperate vagrants in post-Revolutionary Paris. Really really good. Skin-crawling and effectively tense. I loved it – it stayed with me for a few days afterwards.

 'Xelucha'- M.P. Shiel Man mistakes shady lady for ancient enchantress (or doesn't?) Hysterical. Complete bonkers from a decidedly shady writer and possible loon. Impenetrable text, verging on the wrong side of what we might nowadays call magical realism (maybe), but apart from the punchline ending, just stream of consciousness bobbins.

 'The Ghost of the Valley' / 'Autumn Cricket' - Lord Dunsany I shan't spoil these - both short, intimate and rather lovely pieces of supernatural pastoral fantasy. Alongside Stoker and Le Fanu's works both were enough to make me want to seek out more of Dunsany’s work.

 ...three to four out of six is pretty good, and I've a new writer to seek out. Not too bad!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday Night Local: Headless Chickens, 'Mr Moon' (1991)

A quick post tonight, and it's dedicated to two sterling chaps: firstly to my friend Dave, who I know likes this song a lot (a Happy Birthday for last week!), and secondly to Mr Moon himself, Jim Moon of Hypnogoria fame, who never fails to bring a smile in his wonderful podcast series...
Director: Jonathan Ogilvie
Film Archive
I had to hunt for this video, wanting the Fiona MacDonald piano fade-out of the music video version of the song and not the single or album mixes - inevitably, it's via MTV Australia rather than NZonScreen or YouTube, which is at least telling of the Chickens' Trans-Tasman success at their mid-life peak [link replaced, cheers even-bigger-HC-fan Jamas!] Have a good weekend, folks!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Strip to Screen: Ladies First!

It's a great time to be a comic book movie fan. Even if your world is as bilateral as MarvelDisney vs DCWarners (and if it is, hey - please accept my invitation to you to get a life!) the competition must be worth something more than bragging rights. And it is a competition, seemingly. First this, first that: first fast-running hero (Fox Win!), first aquatic antihero (DC Warners Win!), first non-nebulous galactic monomaniacal godlike tyrant baddie (MarvelDisney Win!) First superheroine- er...

It's complicated if you think this game has always been played. Is it Avengers' Black Widow? Well she's not the first ensemble heroine. Is it Captain America's Agent Penny Carter? Well, she's not a superhuman or imbued with superhero status [yet?] Is it X-Men's Storm? Rogue? Mystique?  Is it Catwoman? Elektra? Supergirl?

Well, I'm thinking those with a dog in the fight aren't looking that far back to the last generation of superhero movies, and ensemble superheroines are not as newsworthy in the sausagefest that is otherwise superhero movies these days, so let's say the counters are reset for the race to first female superhero in a title role. Marvel Studio's Kevin Feige says the time has to be right for a female superhero movie, and timing is everything. In the mean-time, no Black Widow solo outing. DCWarners have recently unveiled Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in 2016's Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice - it's great news, and about time, but stil two years away and DC's Amazonian hero won't be going solo until maybe 2018. There's no sign yet of a single X-Men hero going solo beyond Wolverine again (I'd suggest Storm again or Mystique for an easy pick, but no-one's listening!), and Fantastic Four's Sue Storm is probably unlikely to ever have her own solo movie. So who will be first...?

Apparently, it might be Sony's Black Cat, last hinted at in Amazing Spider-Man 2 (and nudged good and proper in pre-DVD promotions this week), slated for 2017 in a good-old reshuffling of the Sony Spider-Man deck this week. Interesting. And, look - the character probably isn't that distinguishable from Catwoman - similar name, similar look, similar raison d'etre - even an on/off thing with her superhero opposite; but she's also young, has none of the past casting baggage Catwoman has (Christopher Noaln pointedly doesn't use her title in The Dark Knight Rises) and as a younger woman with ties already to the likes of Oscorp, I think Sony could do worse than take the punt.

And for now, that's all I have to say about that!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Night Local: Look Blue Go Purple, 'Circumspect Penelope'

More women in rock! More Dunedin Sound! More Eighties! Yes, it's a trifecta.

Look Blue Go Purple deserved more press, and better press. That rare thing, an all-woman group in an industry - a scene, even, which was dominated by young white guys with guitars and baggy jerseys. While the likes of The Clean, the Stones, Doublehappys and Verlaines were hapy to fill a room with squally guitar sounds and loose, alternative power pop, LBGP came across as a little more studied, a little more psychedelic in influence (the literary aspect is evident here, as also in later songs - Virgil's Aeneid inspires Winged Rumour, and Hiawatha borrows its lyrics from Longfellow's epic poem). The difference is refreshing, as is their choice of instrumentation - debut EP Bewitched from which this single hails is notable not only for Norma O'Malley's keyboards, but also the odd jab of flute in As Does the Sun. And, of course, there are five strong personalities here in the writing and composition, and a shared creative spark that makes for an interesting looking video below as well as some allegedly wild gigs back in the day. Penelope seems to be Kath Webster's creation, but equally strong songs from Denise Roughan (I Don't Want You Anyway) and O'Malley (In Your Favour) rightly endure. And there's Cactus Cat, too - but everyone picks that one, so here's my favourite today, filmed once again on the ubiquitous Otago Peninsula (maybe through the car windows you can see a young Marty Phillipps filming the Pink Frost video? Nah, probably not)

I previously had ambitions on devotng a longer post to LBGP here, but apart from a few asides to future projects (Roughan went on to be a 3D, Kathy Bull a Cyclops, O'Malley a Chug and Webster now edits the NZ Automobile Association magazine) there's little mroe to say. LBGP had their three Flying Nun EPs (Bewitched, LBGPEP2, This Is This) compiled onto a CD in the early 90s, but there's at least an EP's worth of uncollected tracks to be found on You Tube, including a rather good cover of Buffy St Marie's Coedine, and if nothing else This Is This desperately needs remastering. Fingers crossed, maybe.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Luxor Judge

Yep, in the future of Judge Dredd's world Egypt's law enforcement looks like this. The Pan African Judge system was expanded somewhat in the early 90s through the Dredd strip Book of the Dead by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar.

 Mostly harmless, the strip was pretty standard far for its time - Dredd gets sent off to another Megacity to kick arse and show the locals how it's done, and being a Millar/Morrison strip inevitably someeone ends up fighting someone else on a conveyor belt (it happens). Dermot Power, who went on to provide some stunning concept visuals for the Star Wars prequels, did the art duties. Luxor's an interesting place - a tiered class system, high-tech society (the Judges buzz about on hovering scooters and wield some sort of energy-weapon baton), and an affectation towards the ancient Egyptian pantheon. Senior Judges (i.e. those who can afford it) are embalmed after death, and there is a genuine belief in an afterlife - and even some form of the gods, as Book of the Dead goes on to illustrate via the then-regulation Big Bad Dredd went up against in the last chapter.

So far, so good. But the god aspect interests me because, as the Dredd strip has loosely established over its near-forty-year run, the concept of 'God' in Dredd's world becomes interchangeable (albeit on a colloqial level) with the epithet 'Grud'; a tradition going back to the late 70s by my reckoning, and built upon in subsequent years by other alternative entities: namely, Jovus and his mother Mavis (no joke!) Of course, other religions exist, and there seems to be an acknowledgement that higher powers may intervene in the affairs of mortals (thus Mega City One's Exorcist Judges, one assumes.)

But what of the Luxor Judges and their gods? Well, Millar and Morrison returned to the strip a few years later with the generally-derided 'epic' Crusade, in which Judges from all over the world converge on a mining outpost in the Antarctic to chase down and claim a 'god'. Moron- sorry, more on that in a later installment, but suffice it to say the Luxor Judges get a look in, and from Book's counterpart Judge Ramses no less. In his time of destiny (possible atop a conveyor belt) which god did he appeal to in his terrors? One called "Yad".

Make of that what you will...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Night Local: Chris Knox, 'My Dumb Luck'

Now, there have been a few upsets to a rough schedule in this Friday Night Music column, and today's entry is yet another. I didnd't intend to return to Chris Knox's music so soon after posting the Tall Dwarfs video a fortnight ago, and yet I didn't intend to go all J-Pop lat week either. This week was to have been either another female or all-female act, or a non-Flying Nun band from yesteryear, but instead I'm putting up another favourite video from one of Invercargill's finest former inhabitants.

My Dumb Luck is from Knox's 1988 solo sophomore effort Seizure, and is a typical track from the record (albeit a favourite song as well). I love the animation - it's simple, witty and creative, which are three things I also admire about Knox's compositions, as well as video and song here sharing a cyclical pattern. To this day I'm torn between appreciating Knox as a solo artist and for his collaborations, particularly with Alec Bathgate as the 'Dwarfs. By 1988 Knox's style was working its way into something of a groove, with buzzing guitars and looped percussion that wasn't a million miles from some Dwarfs songs (say, Crush), while the Dwarfs tracks remained more eclectic, sometimes more inventive and less direct, sometimes less accessible. I still like them both, although at the time I recall swinging fro Knox quickly and back to the duo just as soon. Was it the emergence of Knox's most famous solo song Not Given Lightly - a rueful, slightly cynical pitch at mainstream success (which did come after some time)? Perhaps. I never bought another Knox album after Seizure, with the exception of a cassette of Polyphoto Duck-Shaped Pain and Gum (whose stand-out track Inside Story was nearly a candidate for inclusion here - it's just not as fun as Luck) and the tribute album Stroke, featuring Knox's past work solo, as half of Tall Dwarfs or as frontman for The Enemy and Toy Love interpreted by his friends, colleagues and devotees. It's an impressive set of songs, and a testament to a creative spark whose work in music, film, animation, writing and cartooning seems to have been all but curtailed by a series of strokes five years ago. And I'm only just now thinking about how much Knox has inspired me in nearly all of these areas since I discovered him in my teens.

I'm posting this because there is a crowdfunding campaign underway to collect Knox's visual works in book form, Grafix Knox, next year - it's a great idea and deserves a wider platform, and you can find out more here!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Krull Intentions

As a follow-on from my recent synched viewing of Hawk the Slayer with Jamas, I've recently also watched another early 80s fantasy film, 1983's Krull, which Jamas reviews here, and specially-synched fellow reviewer and Krull appreciater Guanolad reviews here!

So then, Krull. I have to confess that, coming as I have from the lands of Hawk to the mediaeval planet of Krull (for 'tis after this world the movie is titled), I was expecting my earlier enthusiasm to be dashed by a bigger, flashier and far more ambitious turn - and in part I was right. Krull IS bigger, it was very much flashier and more expensive (32 million pounds, which seems foolhardy even now) and operates on a far wider scope than its oft-ridiculed predecessor. There were definitely big ambitions behind this, a trans-Atlantic tipping at the recent Star Wars windmill... but despite its good intentions, Krull is regularly consigned to similar ground as Hawk; over-ambitious, under-realised middling sci-fi fantasy tosh.

...which is unfair, as Krull's not really that bad. For one thing, it looks fantastic in places - lots of location shooting, great mountains and deserts when it gets out of the studio, and the production design was one of the first thing that really hit me - very flash for the most part, with some highly imaginative set pieces. Trouble is, I suspect the set pieces are also what damns Krull, because they so obviously work along those lines. It's a frequent misinterpretation that Krull was intended to be a Dungeons and Dragons movie, and you can see why - it's a Quest made up of encounters, traps and obstacles, where each new character is introduced simply to provide directions to the next encounter.

The characters are themselves drawn pretty broadly: the young prince who is orphaned and must find his destiny through a mysterious and legendary weapon; his comely bride with really big hair; the wise old mentor who surely cannot survive to the end of the movie; the rough and shifty thief who finds his mettle in the heat of battle; the hapless conjuror who proves his own mettle protecting a vulnerable companion against insurmountable odds. The - er, tragic and doomed cyclops.  For a kid's movie this is fine and well, but there's some stuff in Krull (as there is in Flash Gordon if memory serves) which is just not for kids. Krull has on occasion a nightmarish, phantasmagoric vision - some of the best set pieces derive their power from the stark bleakness of their imagery - the Seer who is stalked by a jet-eyed doppleganger, the beautiful and deadly Widow of the Web sequence, and of course the interior of the movie's Dark Tower, the literal belly of the Beast. The later comes in a mix of Dali, Gaudi and Frazetta styles, and is arresting even on a small screen.

And yet, at just shy of two hours this is still a lot of light story stretched over a long screentime.  In the end I was thankful for the stunnig visuals, the impressive cast (Freddie Jones, Francesca Annis, Lysette Anthony - not to mention small but memorable turns from Bernard Archerd, Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane, Alun Armstrong and hey! Tucker from Grange Hill!) to get me through it. I confess, I tuned out a few times, the victim of a late night, a busy day, and some slow storytelling. A shame, but perhaps Krull is a magnificent folly, and maybe I'll go back and revisit it some time.

NB: Some images for this post were retrieved from the very insightful and m1uch more positive reading of Krull over on John Kenneth Muir's blog

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Night Local: Doprah, 'Strange People' (2014)

I don't normally do requests, but this was suggested by Jamas this week and, well, it's probably the least apalling thing covered in recent reportage - particularly today of all days.

Doprah's video for 'Strange People' is apparently controversial, as would have you believe or question or something. I dunno. Am I offended? Nope. Do I like the video? I like it the more I see it - and I quite like the music - a little bit Bjork, a little bit Fetus Productions, and that's not a bad thing. Perhaps Jamas will tune in here with his thoughts? (he has an alternative tune for the style depicted here, also a local act with a female singer, but the act's such a good pick I think I'll use something of theirs in a later post!)

Appropriating J Pop doesn't begin and end with this video, and if you're viewing this as appropriating another culture for kicks then I'd at least remind you of Gwen Stefani's Harajuku girls, who seemed to me to verge on novelty ornamentation for her videos. As for 'Strange People', it's eerie, it's discomforting, and it's perplexing - three things I could equally say about my reaction to kawaii - or J Pop. Seems like a pretty good match to me. Like!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Comic Strip Reachers?

It is perhaps not a truth universally acknowledged, but the meeting point between popular music and the comic strip form is at times a strong one: both in their current form arrived around the same time, both developed greatly as a tool of American youth culture, before being exported and adapted in most parts of the world. Both forms attract the young and creative - as a outlet for expression they occupy mass culture and multimedia, and in their own way are dominated by big names nd legions of fans; they are equally aspirational, they feed off each other and converse along mainstream media,  although arguably one does less heavy lifting in the stakes of amorous endeavour...

The aspirational aspect remains, however, and to see an example of this in recent history you need look no further than the story of Manic Street Preachers. The two main writers and creative nucleus Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards were both huge fans of 2000AD, each apparently vying to appear in the magazine's pages in some form. For the record, Richey won, his efforts being realised through some reader's art in the days when a three pound prize was realy something to brag about:

The rest is far from silence, however, as the slow rise of the band matched with the gradual entry of artists andw riters into the magazine's fold who were of the same age as the Manics bore witness. Now, pop music references were not a new phenomenon in the pages of 2000AD, and almost go back to the very first issues, but the entry of Blackwood's finest sons was almost prescient, with Grant Morrison nodding to the then rising name in his British superhero magnum opus Zenith:

The fellow above is the superhuman Domino, whom arist Steve Yeowell based visually on Nicky Wire, and made his (almost) wordless debut in Zenith Phase III some time before Generation Terrorists introduced the band fully to a UK audience. So, match-point Wire, and, one assumes, something of a coup for the band as a whole getting their name in the magazine in the same wildly popular strip, not long afterwards...

Portentous words, as Nicky's comic strip counterpart was, alas, not to survive the story the year, although the band's infamy had well and truly spread, with Richey achieving a sort of infamy in being parodied as 'Clarence' the (frankly more Brian Molko-like) frontman of Mega City One's Crazy Sked Moaners replaying his real-life 4REAL self-mutilation in Garth Ennis and Dermot Power's outrageous Dredd story Muzak Killer:

So much for the Manics in 2000AD, however. They never scaled those heights again, and indeed the Richey incident provedto be the defining moment for the band in comic stirp form s much as the music press of the day, as our final example proves, from Coln B morton and Chuck Death's giddy NME strip Great Pop Things. I recall I first read of Richey's razor blade antic in Melody Maker (RIP), but the point stands now, as it did then. This, in itself, was Making It...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Night Local: Tall Dwarfs, 'Nothing's Going to Happen'

What, more dwarfs?

No, not really. It's Friday - time for another New Zealand video! And this one goes out to my big brother, who introduced me to Tall Dwarfs, had a D&D character (guess what race - go on) named after one of their EPs, and who eventually accompanied me to see them play on an especially brilliant night at Sammy's Cabaret in Dunedin, long ago in a New Zealand winter.

The memory cheats, of course. My teenage mind would have had it that a Tall Dwarfs video could be viewed on local music magazine show radio With pictures most weeks, but it seems the Dwarfs did very few videos at all, probably because the stop-motion nature of many of them would have challenged even a Flying Nun release schedule. But what we did get is strong stuff indeed, even in a low-fi sense. Tall Dwarfs proved to be a big influence on me and my friends, each in our own way, and its been fun to reconnect with the band after too many years' absence. Its difficult to pick a favourite - the mouldy orange peel faces of euthanasia anthem The Slide? The rumbling cut-up montage that accompanies Turning Brown and Torn in Two's anti-sexism polemic?  Or what about the loopy too-many-f-stops-in-a-suburban-basement Frankenstein shenanigans of The Brain That Wouldn't Die? All too tempting. We'll just have to revisit the works of the great and much-missed Chris Knox and his stalwart fellow ex-Toy Love-r Alec Bathgate some other time. Instead, let's go back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to the classics:

Oh, and Stu - that Wall of Dwarfs version you told me about back in '85 can be found here.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Monkey on my back

As I seem to be in danger of blogging nothing but local music videos every Friday (and none of us wants that, I suspect), I thought I should provide an update on other stuff that I would normall blog on.

In the first instance, illustration is demanding a lot of time, so that has priority. I have a tight deadline. So here's a picture of a gorilla:
Drawn really quickly, and coloured digitally, it took less time than it does to do my roughly-rendered international Judges, which is I guess a sign that using those guys as target practice (which they are, to be honest), seems to be working in part. But oh, the hours...

A Lapse of Judgement
Which means I'm a couple of Judges behind - Egypt was supposed to be done last month, and it's on the way. Argentina (well done on the football, by the way) is next. Dare I leave it 'til next week? I might - not that I'm suggesting anything World Cup related, heavens no.

Forever Delayed
Also this month: a new Manics album! Released this week was Futurology, and while I've not seen it in shops here yet, I'm assured it's on its way and hey, I have a birthday coming up so perhaps I shouldn't rush out to buy it just yet. Besides, I have a couple of posts still to do on Manic Street Preachers, so maybe that'll come up soon.

and finally...

Elf Denial
Oh, my Mirky Dozen. The Mirkwood Elves conversion project has gone on the backburner, but as far as things were going it was ticking along nicely. But there's a lot to do yet.

That will possibly kick off in October - I want to have the figures done before The Battle of the Five Armies. In the mean-time, the Gorilla gets the biscuit, sorry!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Friday Night Local: Shihad, 'Sport and Religion'

Sometimes this blog writes itself (not literally, that would be TOO useful). Sometimes it's a bit trickier.

Last week Shihad launched their new single Think You're So Free - yay! I really like it. Today the NZ Herald got the exclusive rights to the official video, but I don't like the NZ Herald. My job requires me to scan it every day, and you know what they say about familiarity. Plus, y'know - crap journalism, but I digress.

 Let's show a video! A Shihad video. Not the new one - it'll make it onto YouTube sometime, it's okay. An old one. Now, Shihad have a lot of good videos to go with their songs, and in honour of the new single (did I mention I really like it?) here's one of my favourites from one of my favourite singles of theirs.

So is it Stations? It's twenty-one years old, man! Deb's Night Out? Did it already! Home Again? Jamas did it already! Comfort Me? Well it's no Run, and Run's not a single. All the Young Fascists? Love it! And the album, but no, not that one. Beautiful Machine? No, that's Jet Junior's favourite song, which he used to call "Having a Cuddle" and rightly so. Ignite? Yeah, it's okay, but thta's not it. No, this one is off probably their biggest and best album, 1999's definitive The General Electric. Some very cool videos from that - the Matrix-esque title track, Wait and See, the Clockwork Orange-esque Pacifier... it's none of those. It's Sport and Religion, shot live in Wellington Town Hall in early 2000 during the triumphant General Electric Tour. It's a great, addictive singalong song, has an exciting video, and I love it. Because I'm in it, somewhere...


Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Night Local: Strawpeople - Crying (1994), 'Taller than God' (1996)

I feel like hearing some smooth female vocals for a change, so it's a Strawpeople song tonight. Or is it?

Oh, Strawpeople. I didn't even know I was a fan - but it seems obvious now, I like at least one song from each of their albums, have enjoyed most of their singles from the early days with Merenia and Stephanie Tuavehi, the sultry Victoria Kelly and the precise Fiona McDonald. Vicarious is as much McDonald's album as it is Mark Tierney's and Paul Casserley's, and yet its predecessor, Broadcast's, Crying, is a ripper. Ladies - you're both pretty! Can't we stop this fighting?

So tonight, as it's ladies' night, here are two videos, one opener from each of the aforementioned albums. I coud have done other songs - like Jamas I rather enjoy Beautfiul Skin (Trick With a Knife is a personal fave, too), but maybe another night, eh?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hawk the Slayer (1980)

Hawk the Slayer is one of those movies I have heard a little about over the years, but have until now not seen. Now I have seen it – as has Jamas, but you’re here now, so listen up.
Hawk comes from 1980, and is an oft-maligned movie by purists of the fantasy movie form. It’s cheap, filmed in a non-movie ratio (at 4:3 it was apparently shot for TV and made it into cinemas instead) and is in some places cheesier than Cheddar county. And yet, it’s not as cheesy as you might think, and not as slaved to tropes as popular belief would have it. The story is basic – underwritten, arguably: two brothers, the older and wicked Voltan (Jack ‘what am I doing in this movie?’ Palance) and the younger, slightly less wicked titular Hawk (John ‘what’s my motivation?’ Terry) are caught in a blood feud after Voltan kills Hawk’s woman (previously Voltan’s), the brothers’ father, and in search of ill-gotten spoils and power, kidnaps the head of a fortress nunnery. Enlisting his allies Gort the Giant (Bernard Bresslaw!), Ranulph the Bowman (Morgan Shepherd!), Baldin the dwarf and Crow the Elf, and the occasional services of ‘Woman’ the Witch (Patricia Quinn!) Hawk seeks his revenge before Voltan gets his. And then Voltan gets his, if you see what I mean.

The world isn't under threat, there's no great evil rising over the horizon - Hawk's often likened to a Western, and I can dig that. It’s low fantasy and a lot of fun, partly in its execution, and partly in intent; it doesn’t take itself too seriously, although it’s not crafted quite well enough to be all that self-aware, and so for a discreet audience it’s become a somewhat guilty pleasure. The Darkness lifted some of its fruitier dialogue from the movie to open a recent single, Bill Bailey’s comic shop owner Bilbo was a fan in Spaced, and Hypnogoria's Jim Moon is, too, and I don’t think too many contortions have been pulled in their enjoyment – it is what it is. But what it is should be mentioned, too – or rather, what it has. An Elf and a Dwarf looking reasonably non-Tolkienesque, a Giant who isn’t really that tall (though he is the tallest of the gang), and some cracking quotable lines. Fan press and websites have had their fun over it for years – I recall an SFX back page article that launched into it for Bresslaw’s marginally greater height, Crow’s moccasin slippers and the dreaded bouncy balls and silly string magic cast remotely by Quinn’s sorceress. Palance isn’t so much chewing the scenery as crashing through it giving it a terrier-sized worrying.

 As I say, the story is light, and though there aren't plotholes per se, it does leave some questions unanswered, a world goes largely undetailed, and there's a definite attempt at teasing for a sequel at the end (there were plans for more - a trilogy or pentalogy, depending on whom you believe). For what's on show there's probably enough for an entertaining 90 minutes and some overenthusiastic fan fiction in there, and as I said before, though the protagonists tend towards tropes (the sneaky comic relief dwarf from the Iron Hills, the unearthly Elf - last of his kind, the noble Giant), they don't cleave explicitly to the styles or character types so worn down by years of RPGs, video games, fantasy trilogies and various knock-offs. In fact, as Jim Moon posits in his defence of Hawk for the 'Witless for the Defence' podcast, the movie manages to be contemporaneous with early Dungeons and Dragons style stories without being part of the tired, late 80s cash-in malaise. And so Bresslaw escapes his Carry On roots to give a mannered performance, and pairs well with his dimunitive partner; Crow is a different kind of Elf from the kind we've seen in Peter Jackson's movies - short-haired, a little bit feral and antisocial, and Quinn's 'Woman' is kinda sexy with her blindfold and hissing delivery.

Maybe we'll get lucky and someone will remake this with a better budget, crew and lead. In the mean-time there's this, a punchline to some, certainly not a patch on fantasy movies that followed it, but ahh, who cares. Hawk the Slayer? Lovable rubbish!