Monday, October 31, 2016

Seven Weird Facts About Pumpkins We Couldn't Believe Will Blow Your Mind

List posts. Gotta love 'em.

1. Pumpkins are fruit, notanically. They grow on a vine and develop from flowers.

2. Early European Jack O Lanterns weren't pumpkins, but were more likely carved turnips. Even in the US into the Twentieth Century your actual Halloween produce could be a squash, a turnip or swede, a cucumber or a potato. I wish we'd carved the weekend swede we had last Saturday because it was late season and inedible.

3a. I reckon kumara might be a go-er. A nice gold variety, obviously. (Sorry, a kumara fact crept in there)

3b. Back on topic: The first Dungeons & Dragons 'Bugbear' creature to appear in the game's 'white book' edition was a bear-like creature with a large pumpkin for a head, due to the artist taking Gary Gygax's description a litte too literally. Figurs have been made pf this vriant, and some still play Bugbears in this form. The creature was lifted out into Runequest as the 'Jack-o-Bear.' (note to self: must use these some time)

4. New Zealand's common variety pumpkins are usually more closely related to squash, which is why some American pumpkin reipes don't work quite so well with our varieties. But  thought my spicy pumpkin muffins kicked arse, thanks to Alison Holst's recipe.

5.  Pumpkins will climb if you let them. You can grow them perched in trees, on roofs, or even ladder 'em. That's what I plan to do.

6. I first developed an interest in drawing pumpkin-headed people during my band days when illustrating posters for my and other bands. An example was done of course this time a couple of years back Here's the first one I did, the spelling mistake was at the insistence of the band (I checked):

7.  And here's something I put out the front door this evening, our own Jack O lantern / Hinkypunk / Punkie / Spunkie what have you. It worked a treat and survived the ocasional maraduing tweens who turned up to graze over our sweet offerings, taking the larger bars, picking and choosing between the sweets... honestly, if they hadn't been the remainder of last year's bucket, the Chistmas pile, and sundry birthday party goody bags one could be offended!

In all, a pretty good Halloween, despite some less prominent decorations and the slightly under-par Jet Jr. Pop culture followers might wish to note that by and large vistors were in back as assorted zmbies, ghouls and ghosts, including one young lass in candy skull make up (bravo!, one Hawkeye (who drew his arrow at me and nearly copped a door in his face) and a Harley Quinn (who'd have been offered an extra pick from the candy bowl out of brand loyalty were it not for the fact that she'd already helped herself hugely.) Next year I might even dress up myself!

 Happy Halloween!

Hallowe'en in a Suburb

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Now, long-time readers and short-time archives browsers will recall from a year or so back that I am a long-time Halloween fan, and am quite happy to celebrate it, even out of season as we do in New Zealand. Tonight the Simian household will see in the Spookiest Night of the Year with a brace of in lawses and young cousins. Jet Jr is a bit poorly today, so it might be a stripped down affair, but the moment has been prepared for: the decorations have been dragged out from the garage, Mrs Simian has made some white chocolate cupcakes with chocolate spider toppings, and I've been busy with a pumpkin...

This is (I think) the first pumpkin I've carved in Wellington, and it's the best one I've done yet! The local pumpkin of this season is the crown pumpkin, a fine and fleshy variety which is not really ideal for carving. The flesh is a beautiful orange, and very thick as well as dense - excellent for soups and roasting, but in need of some prep for baking and the like. For the necessary deal of hollowing out the fruit, I hit on an absolute gift of a suggestion online: an ice cream scoop! This weekend Jet Jr and I selected an ideal pumpkin from a local market, and yesterday I got to work, reducing some five centimetres of flesh to about half that amount. The face design is courtesy of Jet Jr, who picked out his favourite sets of eyes, mouth, teeth and nose from sketches I'd prepared, and the knife work - well, it had to be me, was duly carried out. Too risky and hard otherwise.

 Elsewhere Halloween continues to insert itself into the local commercial calendar. All manner of tat can be bought for the day from your neighbourhood Warehouse or Two Dollar Shop, and the usual received wisdom is being reported and broadcast relating to the day's purported origins. Now, in my first Halloween posting I was still a wholesale subscriber to the belief that Halloween is a Celtic hangover and descendent of Samhain (this idea is still the majority view, appearing as recently on Radio NZ yesterday morning and presented by a professor of cultural stiudies from AUT) however over the past couple of years my opinion has changed, thanks to the reputable Jim Moon's research in his Hypnogoria podcast. We may never truly know whether Halloween is an Irish Celtic harvest festival marking the thin veil lying between the worlds of the living and the dead,  sustained in the US from potato famine refugees and exported back to us... but Jim doesn't believe it, and his case for the negative is an exhaustive and compelling one. I'm now led to believe that Halloween isn't especially Celtic, not particularly Irish, definitely not an American invention, and pretty much nothing to get all worked up over.

I've a mind to see if I can grown some more suitable, red-orange pumpkins to carve next May for a seasonal Halloween (when they'll also be in season.) As for today's pumpkin,he's going to be lit up tonight for the evening, and has already made a rather nice dozen spicy muffins to give out.

Boo-ya, indeed.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Steve Dillon

Just bloody gutted to read this this morning. 

Steve Dillon was one of my early art heroes. Coming into the world of Eagle's second generation return, and then into 2000AD meant that a banquet of inspirtional art was suddenly opened to me after childhood years of rote caricatures and established characters through Disney comics and UK kids' titles. I've not thought until now just how immediate the variety of styles and techniques hit me. There was no way any of these guys - the O'Neil's, Ezquerras, Kennedy's and especially McMahons would ever be mistaken for something from Key Comics. As I got older these stylistic and idiosyncratic outings became more and more intimidating as I vainly tried to copy them and develop my own confidence in drawing.

Cry of the Werewolf
Fortunately, among these artists was a younger name, only eight years older than me, whose style was more relateable. Assured, yes, but solid - really solid, well-defined and very 'readable'. Steve Dillon's  art was easy to aspire to, but reliably more complex than its his clean lines and nice black and white balancing suggested. That said, though, if there's a style that I took to most readily, it was Steve Dillon's. I mean this as no damped-down praise - Dillon was a master of ink, confident in every line, especially given his young age, and I've no doubt that I'm not the only young artist who ran to his deceptively-effortless work as a masterclass (paging Guanolad...)

City of the Damned
The rest, for Dillon at least, is history. Some early Doctor Who Magazine work, initially as a backup artists, but later to provide the work for Steve Parkhouse's last regular story The Moderator in which both Parkhouse and Dillon combine two then near-inconcievable Doctor actions - the Time Lord crying and shooting a gun, and turn the result into something very Doctorish indeed.   Lots of 2000AD, including three of the big hitters in the Eighties - Judge Dredd (the momentous death of series regular Judge Giant is pictured here, from Block Wars), Rogue Trooper and ABC Warriors plus some lovely covers for Zenith), and then, into the Nineties and more recent years, Transatlantic success, the most notable being Preacher, which he co-created with fellow 2000AD alumnus Garth Ennis. His line of stories for The Punisher has already been credited on several comic boards as being the reason some readers returned to the series, Dillon was that effective, that readable.

54 is no great age to depart this earth, though the very young age at which Dillon started his career (drawing Nick Fury and the Hulk at sixteen! And thanks to the keen foresight of Dez Skinn) means there are decades of his work to see, and a mighty field of followers who saw and were inspired by his instantly recognisable style, an who went on to draw for 2000AD, DWM, Marvel and DC. With the late Brett Ewins he co-created the influential breakaway pop-culture comic  Deadline and from that venture we have Peter Milligan, Jamie Hewlett and Tank Girl among others. The comics world has indeed lost a great storyteller.

As others have said already, completely unexpected. Thank God his prodigious start and global success means his talents and influence won't be forgotten.

The Moderator, Doctor Who Magazine

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


This week marks a bittersweet moment in the Simian household. Well, two, really. First and foremost is another year marked off by Jet Jr as he burns through his single-digit birthdays like a cheetah on Ritalin, but such things are unavoidable, and calls are for celebration. No, the second is the cruellest marker of time's passage, for this holiday weekend the labours of our local video rental shop cease, its dorrs to close forever.

For the past month Civic Video have been selling off their wares from top to bottom - DVDs, Blu Rays, TV series, movies, games, refreshments, shelves... like a distressing Dick Smith closure but cheaper and with longer queues. I defy any self-respecting staffmember to resist a sad and understandably rueful acknowledgement that this same throng could have saved the business on any other day, but over this short period it's been a quiet and certain bleeding out of a store that was a real life saver at times - particularly wet weekends and school holidays.

As a past librarian I've frequently had to make hard decisions about collection management. They're hard decisions because beyond the cold equations of linear metres, storage overheads, rental and futureproofing, there's an emotional attachment to a well-stocked collection. Like a lot of people my generation and older, I like to discover by browsing and through serendipity, and you can't do that much with what resources we have at home for domestic film viewing. We don't torrent movies (though I do admit I've been the grateful recipient of one or two in a bind), and we don't have Netflicks - though we suspect this will have to change at some stage. Sure, the hit rate for Civic was sometimes not our friend, and there would be a distressingly-large number of scratched discs that would have to be returned, swapped, and maybe returned again to be swapped for a different title for a crestfallen Jet Jr, but the store was a mainstay of our little suburb, and the staff were unceasingly friendly, courteous, and helpful. I'll miss them - I do already. I have been, I admit freely, in an extended period of mouring for the old place, even if I confess I haven't been using it as much as I should have, or would have done were I a younger ape with more time on my hands.

But as I say, it's been a real friend. When I broke my back nearly ten years ago I spent a lot of recuperating hours finally watching Outrageous Fortune. I binge-watched when it wasn't fashionable to! Thanks to the less-recent closure of a neighbouring Video-Ezy, Civic's collection was also pretty decent for arthouse fare, and their World and SF collections weren't bad, either.

Alas, no more. And two visits to the shop post-closure announcement have meant some sad purchases were made - I have Batman v Superman now, for my sins, plus My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (oh boy), The Spiderwick Chronicles, Snowpiercer, E.T, Galaxy Quest, a Count Duckula collection (which may be scratched beyond play but at $2.25 was worth the gamble) and The Bean Movie. The father and son before me in the queue second time around walked - or at least staggered off - with just over ninety titles ranging from Dog Day Afternoon to The Delinquents for a cool hundred bucks. On my first visit a small boy eyed my quartet of movies and quietly asked 'Do you have Hunt for the Wilderpeople?'. I didn't. No chance. How am I going to see it now?!  Whole collections of Tolkien, Rowling and Meyers I passed by, and I regret not picking up Frankenweenie when I saw it, but on the whole I felt somehow culpable in part to a good shop's demise.

So, off to Netflicks or Neon we Simians march and call it progress. I've known some great video shops in my time. Well, no I haven't. I've known maybe one or two - but Civic Video in Johnsonville along with Amalgamated Video in Kilbirnie were the best two Wellington shops I frequented. Aro Video deserves its dogged survival, and long may it continue, but to me it's never been as friendly, as homely, or as handily local.