Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Jack

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

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

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

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

The Artist
See You Next Year!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

May to September

The last three months have been a bit of a blur. And Gorillaz, some TV and film, modelling and RPGs. And podcasting, of course. And work. Lots and lots of work. Some of this will be covered over the next month as I undertake yet another wave of blog in-fill, So watch this space...

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Lead Time Lords: 'It's the End, but...'

It's been some time since I last opened my box of Dr Who minis, some of which have been fully painted, some not, and some of which need a touch up - either through chips and flaking after poor storage, or simply because they just don't look too good. Here are the guys to date:

There are some omissions, of course. A second Fourth, Third and First Doctor two of which are still in their black undercoats; and these guys need to be completed.

Here are Crooked Dice's likenesses for John Hurt's War Doctor and Paul McGann's Eighth from Night of the Doctor - and more on these in their own time; both are, literally broad brushstrokes, and Hurt's Time Lord needs a new base, because... damn.

Winter should be the season for painting, of course, but this has been an unusual year in other things needing to be done around the home and after work hours, so Spring, maybe Summer, might be the more likely time. Particularly once the daylight hours draw longer.

There's an inescapable sense of finality to this project now, particularly as avenues for 28mm (or thereabouts) figures dry up. Black Tree's sales get smaller and more deperate looking, Crooked Dice have cowed away, seemingly as a result of a C&D from the Powers What Be, and similarly Hasslefree and Heresy's lookalikes are harder to find. In their place are Warlord's new range - taller, more recent in focus, mainly, their Capaldi regal of hair but specced and guitared up like a walking Mid-Life Crisis. So this may be it: best not rush things!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Bat bricks

Junior and I made a Batcave.  He dictated, and I sourced the bricks and made sure things stayed together and worked.  Come with us for a tour!

The Batcave took six to eight weeks to build, as it filled a number of evenings and wet weekend days, with constant revision, experimentation and checking with the Foreman on whether this was what he had in mind (he slept, mainly.)  We were never going to be able to afford a modern - or even retro set, so we made our own, a combination of what we'd seen in other sets, and what we wanted to have in our own (the toilet was an early addition.)  It took ages, and drove me a little crazy sometimes, but having tried and failed on at least three occasions before, I persevered for the last big push. The breakthrough? When I realised that unlike all the other AMAZING Batcaves across the internet, ours didn't need to be all-black or all-grey,and could use the same '66 Batman hypercolour approach if we wanted. From then on, I realised we could colour code the set for different activity zones, and we were off!

The Batcave is now in repose, back in bits and pieces in the usual Lego boxes. More recently, Jet Jr has expressed his desire for a Lego TARDIS. Hmm... I wonder...

Every Batcave needs a power source, so here's Two Face next to the 66-inspired Atomic Pile

Bat-Toilet! No other Lego Batcave set has one. I checked.

The core of our Batcave is Junior's old Lego Juniors Batcave. One day: batpoles.

In the meantime, Wayne Manor's outside walls make for good climbing practice, old chum!

A Mighty Micros Batcopter pimped out '66-style, with turbos and wings. The helipad rotates, of course!

Batsuits, Batwings and Batarangs in '89 colour scheme. The rungs lead to the helipad

The garage. We made our own '66 Batmobile out of an old Lego Jr Spider-Man car. Take that, Marvel!

Alfred uses his Butler's entrance to the Bat Computer Lab to inform Master Wayne he has a visitor in the kitchen.

The Joker - that Nefarious Knave of Notoriety is loose in the Bat Laboratory!

Gassing Up.

'I've Got to Go to Work...'

...meanwhile, in Gotham City, Commissioner Gordon strikes up the Batsignal

basing some of the Cave on the Lego Batman '66 model, we made out own Manor floor with sliding bookcase.

Bricklite switch for the Bat Toilet!

The sloping roof is hinged for Batpole access.

One of Jr's favourite bits, the non-canonical Moosehead.

Villains' Rock! Another made-up bit on a shelf of stone.
In his study in Stately Wayne Manor Bruce Wayne looks out the window...

The full thing. Pretty moveable, in case you were wondering!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Legends of RPG Art: David C Sutherland III

Whenever the subject of old school D&D art is mentioned, certain names will inevitably pop up: such as Erol Otus, Dave Trampier, Jeff Dee, and Larry Elmore  - some of the greater and most celebrated early artists of the TSR stable. But among the greater number of artists, including those no less recognisable, but for whom the ages haven't preserved in as high regard, there are other names which are perhaps less celebrated. And today I'm thinking of the late, great Dave C Sutherland III, who died this day in 2005.

You've seen Sutherland's art if you've seen anything from the early days of RPGs, including Holmes Basic D&D and its companion 1st Edition AD&D - hell, Sutherland's art to me is 1st Edition AD&D, good and bad.

It's unfair that Sutherland's work suffers the lot it has, while those of his immediate peers have over time accrued comparatively greater glory; and yet maybe it's because Sutherlands work sits so readily alongside the likes of Dave Trampier's and Erol Otus, that comparison damns him. Sutherland's art has been called a lot of things;  naive, 'aspirational', amateurish, goofy, and just ugly. The website Something Awful in its one-time series WTFDnD? lumped his work in the Monster Manual alongside other, earlier D&D Holmes era art, "Outsider art" - a deeply unflattering term. Sutherland's art is what it is - varied and variable, but I would say that when on form he truly held his head high. Just as Trampier had the Players Manual cover with its demonic stone idol and adventurers, and Otus Deities and Demigods, Sutherland produced the Dungeon Master's Guide and, for his sins, the Monster Manual. Though the latter has aquired a sort of kitsch following with its busy, garish and literal layout, there's nothing wrong with the cover of the DMG; the efreet depicted on it looks appropriately saturnine and dramatic, and his interior full page piece 'A Paladin in Hell' is a recognisable classic. Sutherland's box art for Holmes edition Basic D&D presents a shortform imagining of a D&D game conclusion, featuring a Fighter, a Wizard, a Dragon and its hoard. Sutherland was a literalist, if nothing else.

But then DCS was a player as well, and what I like most about Sutherland's art is that it is player's art. He played the game, sculpted his figures, and he mapped his adventures. In fact, among Grognards of the early years Sutherland's creative reputation exceeds his graphic works  - not only was he a valued a cartographer for some very highly regarded modules, but he created the Wemic and was co-creator of Queen of the Demonweb Pits. He's one of a breed of early TSR employees for whom their work was also their play, one of those special few around whom the game evolved. So then Sutherland's art is a touchstone from a time when D&D had left its wargaming Chainmail incarnation behind - but in a highly organic evolution; hence his Fighters wear chivalric chain and helms, or have swords-and-sandals well-proportioned arms and kite shields; his Magic Users are bearded, pointy-hatted conjurors, and his demi-humans scatter about their feet like children.Often these chracters are caught mid-combat, or in the base of the Holmes set and AD&D rulebooks actually exploring caverns and ruins, drawn from the days when adventuring was likely fifty per cent traipsing down corridors with a ten-foot pole. I like that Sutherland's art speaks to the foundations of the game and the less sanitised, cookie cutter heroic art of the recent present. And yes, at times it resembles the distracted, slightly scribbled marginalia of a player's Character Sheet, but that's authentic, too.

Alongside the illuminated style of DAT, Sutherland's 'DCS' (the C often styled to reseble an 'I', hence DIS and DAT) work in tandem, two sides of the same coin. Sadly, Sutherland's future with TSR post-Wizards of the Coast buy-out was lessthan triumphant, and feeling rejected by the industry he'd loved, his income and health suffered, and it was only in his last year, through the attention and efforts of fandom that his work was recognised and given real value. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Little Shop... of Hours

I love a little shop!

Specifically, I love THIS little shop. J Grubb's General Store, located on the outskirts of the Gloucester village of Stockbridge; an unassuming hamlet which by quirk of the space-time continuum has hosted the odd alien incursion and dimensional breach since the 17th of October 1979.

As it happens, the Doctor likes this shop, too - or has at least enjoyed its services on at least one occasion. Over the years and since its debut in the first ever Doctor Who Weekly feature strip The Iron Legion, Grubb's Store has been an essential part of Stockbridge, whihc has now been a location in six comic stories, five Big Finish audio stories, and has been visited by no fewer than five incarnations of the Time Lord in question.

I love this shop so much I decided some time ago to make a model of it to scale with my metal figures. It's actually going to be the first model of a building I've ever made for that scale (it may be my first ever in any scale, come to that), and as usual, I'm making it with as few bought pieces as possible.

The shell is a workplace cast-off - an easy-assemble pencil holder made from sturdy card and rescued from a recycling bin during a clean-out, while its 'skin' of brick, slate and wood is also scrap card. I toyed with the idea of purchasing ready-moulded styrofoam brick walls, but wanted to see if I could make them myself. It took a while, and so far the project has been bested by the usual hurdles: bad measuring, planning on the fly, time. Here's the work so far...

Monday, May 15, 2017

Friday, May 5, 2017

Friday Night Local: Shihad - Pacifier

Hey, and welcome to another May, another NZ Music Month. You know the drill. There's gonna be a viidjio.

And look, it's not a very imaginative pick this week. Another Shihad video, another one from The General Electric and another single. But dammit, it's a great one from one of our best bands who are getting a lot of airplay at the Monkeyhouse this week. I want to play this live one day.

Here's Shihad's Pacifier, recorded in 1999 and apparently written for Jon Toogood's friend Aaron Tokona of Weta/Cairo Knife Fight.  A bit of a family favourite, and even quite playable on a ukulele:

It's also a cool video, even if this one really needs to be in high definition. Yes, it's a Clockwork Orange pastiche, a bit like the Blur one, or the Rob Zombie one, but different because it's ours.

That's all I have, really. See you next Friday with another video!


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dancing on a Friday Night

The Darkness with Push Push
The Hunter Lounge, VUW 20/4/2017

I have for a very long time wanted to see The Darkess live. I didn't really think it would ever happen of course - the band split up in the late Nineties, only visited NZ once for a Big Day Out, and even when the reunion happened and then the Going Down Under Tour was announced last year, I didn't ever envisage myself being anywhere close to seeing them perform. Two missed chances with Iron Maiden have been geat teachers; but despite all avenues being exhausted with fellow audience-goers (one even at the eleventh hour), I went, I saw, and I believed.

It wasn't without its misgivings - a University venue meant the the whole student experience of crushing crowds, sticky floors and shuffling with eyes darting on either side waiting for an errant elbow to the head, was the order of the day. Strange how you forget the weird pehenomenon that is the front four rows of a standing gig quietly and mysteriously getting taller as the main act approaches. I haven't been in that sort of crowd since my own varsity days, and I didn't miss it.

But I'm so very glad I also didn't miss this experience. After a loose, fun and nostalgic warm up by Push Push, the main act was not tardy in fronting up - and front up they most certainly did. The Darkness are seasoned, but not yet venerable. Justin Hawkins has the energy of Jagger and the quick cheeky wit (and some of the look) of Russel Brand, and the band overall was tight, punchy and focussed. Brother Dan Hawkins lived up to his reputation s the quiet one, both siblings sharing guitar leads while bassist Frankie Poullain looked like the coolest man in Wellington as he would have had to have been, dressed in a polo neck, waistcoat and lounge suit. They opened with a reliable blinder - Black Shuck - and had me in the palm of their hands for the rest of the evening. Almost all of debut album Permission to Land was played, with a sprinkiling of new tracks including, curiously, what sounded like Hot Legs' Prima Donna - a few surpises and very few quiet bits, all lapped up by a fuller crowd than I'd anticipated. I don't think I've thrown so many goats, bawled out so many bawdy lyrics or - dear lord - danced. Ever. That just was never a Dunedin thing, I swear.

Well, I called it dancing. It was more jumping up and down on the spot - less pogo and matched with a decorous attempt to keep my arms close to my body (above my head for most of the time, though - it was really that kind of a gig), and on more than one occasion I was quietly grateful nobody I knew was there to see me. The soles and heels of my feet paid me back the next day (and I regretted not picking up a tee shirt on the way out); it's a young man's game. But hey, I had a literal brush with greatness when Hawkins, zipped up in his purple faux-cheetah-lined jumpsuit soloed past me on the shoulders of a roadie during their lengthy encore of Love on the Rocks With No Ice and I left feeling very very happy.

"Tell your freinds and families... we'll be back!" Justin Hawkins called out as they left the stage somewhere close to midnight. I hope the next time won't be too far away, and was already envying Christchurch its show the next night.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Swede Emotion

I love winter. Winter and Autumn. I adore Sortumn and its changing light, but the other two are okay also. Winter, especially; it's when I was born, where I come from, and where I'm at. The cold seasons are license to warm one's self and seek comfort. A toasty house with an open fire (best shut the drapes or the heat will escape), the golden promise of houselight in the dark (seriously - the curtains. Close them!), and winter food.

We're spoiled for all year round produce. It seems wrong to be having avocadoes and tomatoes near mid-winter, but I don't think I could do without either. And then there's the mid-year fruit and vegetables whose sweetness is made by colder mornings. Sprouts, parsnips, and the swede:

Food carries memories of comfort. I'd go to war for my Gran's corned beef recipe, or her steamed ginger pudding with custard the consistency of thickened cream. Such things to brace one's self when our world is farthest from the sun. I've always loved parsnips, and when straying from discipline can render them ambrosiac in a nutmeggy garlic gratin. I hated brussels sprouts with the rest of my generation until I was turned onto them at dinner with my first serious girlfriend and her parents.

I'd never tasted feijoas until I moved to the North Island, and then had them baked in a crumble while staying with friends. Nectar. We now have a tree of our own, which after a few years of coaxing and transplanting is finally yielding its fragrant green baubles, which will soon be big enough to make a pudding or batch of muffins.
The swede I ran hot and cold on with usually bad experiences (at a local restaurant served as a side diced, undercooked, and ultimately vomited out during a very long day at Shantytown when I was nine), but we made our peace in my teens when I could eat at least half a swede uncooked and still have room  for tea. Staying with an older cousin in Dunedin at fourteen my two friends and I shared a whole one the size of a lawn bowl while stomping up the hill to his flat and out of the approaching dusk.

These are things to look forward to, and meals to remember with a good wine or even a mead. I hadn't bought a swede for myself for years, but saw one in a local supermarket a couple of years ago and instantly had to have it. It's now a winter staple. Over the past few years another friend and I have found a whole new subject to talk about, swapping recopies and talking about baking and cooking.

Some people aren't fans of the mid-year cold snaps, wind and damp, but I've always loved it, and the taste of it. Probably always will.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Pretty Ugly

So, this happened yesterday:

And of course this. And this is what happens when making sarcastic (and often very funny) trailer spoofs goes to your head. Plus, WTF The Independent?

 And so on.

Hair and Make Up is a technical category, so right off the bat a win in this category does not and should not have any relation to whether it's a good movie, or even a good movie gone bad. And, clearly, it's not a contest between this category and Best Actor, Best Picture or whatever. Jesus.

I remember watching the Lord of the Rings DVDs for the first time with commentary by Ngila Dickson's commentary, and being blown away by her insight as costume designer - the effect of lighting, weight, fabric dynamics, weathering, environment, wind, water, movement, the cut of cloth... so many elements that just weren't apparent to me watching the movies for however many times I'd seen them. 

There's a great and really informative article by the ever-reliable Andrew Dyce on ScreenRant which goes into the history of this still young Oscar category, what it actually means, and how a generally derided movie like Suicide Squad can earn not just a nomination but win the category. If the result frustrates, puzzles  or even interests you, you should check it out; there's defnitely more to this win than meets the eye, or merits the entitled whining.

As for me I'm happy for this pretty ugly little film and its band of well-designed misfits. Especially Killer Croc. Damn that's cool work. And congratulations to Squad's other Oscar winnerViola Davis too!

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Force With Us.

Last weekend some of my childhood arrived in the post, in particular, 90 per cent of my Star Wars action figures, and my cardboard Death Star playset. Here it is:

Obviously, there’s a bit of restoration work to be done on the Death Star, and there’s the question of my missing Stormtrooper (I wonder if I have it here in the house?) AND everyone’s missing firearms (will just have to make some new ones I guess), but hey – Star Wars figures back! And I hadn’t even missed them, really. Surprisingly though, their unearthing by my brother and their arrival did trigger a small frisson of excitement and nostalgia for me; and as Mrs Simian (and Jet Jr) insisted that we open the two large parcels as a family, I can attest that, yes, there was considerable interest and explanation of who was who, and a roll call taken.

The Junior Simian is intrigued, as he hasn’t really been exposed to Star Wars until now. Oh, sure, he has some Kinder Surprise bobble things from last year, and he’s seen the Lego game of the prequel series; but hard plastic blobs and pixel shapes do not a space saga make. I was seven when I saw Star Wars – I couldn’t possibly have been any younger and I still think it’s the perfect age to watch those movies, but times change and kids change. And so after careful parental deliberation, the verdict was read: Jet Jr could watch Star Wars with Dad while Mum had a lie down. But Dad was in control of the remote. Better he discover these stories at home than (shudder) from the playground…Do I care just a little too much? I hope not. We watched the Special Edition of the movie now insistently called A New Hope. As my copy of the ‘original’ print is the miserly letterbox version released with the Special Edition DVD a few years back, it was sadly no contest. Our TV screen is a good size, but it’s not THAT big to make a difference to the picture quality . It nearly killed me to do this, as outside of the SE of Empire I’m not a fan of those editions at all (the Jabba scene got sped through – goodbye, bad CGI and unnecessary dialogue repetition!), and Junior wandered out during the Greedo-shooting-first debacle, so no expended explanation was necessary for why Dad’s teeth were making a grinding sound for a few seconds there. Maybe I do care too much? 

Anyway, what did the Junior of the Simian house make of George Lucas’ debutante Star Wars movie? It was hard to say, really. There were bits he clearly enjoyed (Luke and Leia swinging over the Death Star chasm probably the highlight; got bored during the final X-Wing assault), and he wandered out of the room for a couple of key moments (no Obi Wan death scene for him – it traumatised me as a child, so no issues there), and some misunderstandings of the plot got quickly papered over (did you know that the film’s opening scene features a lot of guys sleeping in a space ship corridor? Well, now you do), but on the whole I think he enjoyed it, and certainly it’s been the topic of conversation for some of the week past. Hey, it’s made a nice change from requesting Bruno Mars videos on YouTube and announcing updates on which of the Beatles are still alive. And favourite character: R2-D2. Good choice. Pick the guy with the best lines. Doubtless in time the lad may want to see it again, or some other Star Wars stuff, and the movies will be doled out carefully. I’m not a crazy purist – we’ll likely do all of the prequels, whatever he wants to see, really, but all in his own time.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Bloody Hell

Hello Readers.

Sorry, I've been somewhat distracted from my blog of late, and am currently working away to remedy this; so for a while things might go a bit wee-woo on the chronological front as time flows backwards over these pages. There'll be a return to normality, ollowing a short series of dainty wee posts here and there to tide things over.  Just go with it - there's bound to be a good story somewhere in there.



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Back to School of Rock

I have over this holiday period been busy, and while I'm now but three days back at the zoo, I am of course a lot busier - but some activities haven't changed.

To what am I referring, you don't ask? Well, I have another work-related gig coming up. A musical one. To readers who know me probably also know that I had one of these last year, some fifteen years since I last played some form of live gig (my own wedding, in what would turn out to be the last ever time me and my old bandmates would ever be in a room together, let along playing impromptu.) The circumstances around this sudden return to treading pedals and dodging guitar leads are quite hum-drum; suffice it to say I was lured into a gathering of sales staff who shared a middle-aged musical itch and some degree of talent, and with a month or so's home practice and one kind of boozy actual rehearsal, once we were in the same town the day beforehand, we became the suprise entertainment for a company get-together in front of our working peers and managers. No pressure, then.

The exercise was as fruitful and inspiring as it was sphincter-tighteningly anxious. If I thought playing my own songs in front of friends and family with two drunk ex-bandmates might have been a challenge (and the wedding video offers little clue to the contrary), then a full set of varying covers and standards in front of colleagues was something else. Some return experiences in life can be wonderful - like stepping back into a comfy pair of slippers. This was (almost literally) like attempting to squeeze one's self into a pair of lycra pants from two decades before. I was not at my best on the night, and crucially aware that I stood among musicians much more talented and practiced than I - even in the simple art of looking like one knew what one was doing.

 But I won't lie; it was a very exciting experience, and it changed me for the better. I'm a better player fo the limited practice time (YouTube is a godsend!), I have (pauses to grind teeth) a new respect for cover musicians that I never had to this point, because playing and muffing one's own works is a pretty fault-free form of creative expression - if you suck, then your songs suck and that's that. But sucking a playing a song everybody knows, and that somebody out there is almost certainly bound to be able to better you on, is quite another thing. So the discipline is a new thing- as is the joy of geting it right. It's a gamble, but a calculated one. And in one week's time I'm about to do it all over again at a different zoo.