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...