Monday, 28 June 2010

Find of the week: Heavy Metal Ulysses

Whilst visiting my parents recently I stumbled across this little beauty in Forbidden Planet Nottingham for a tenner. Illustrated by G.Prichard and adapted by Lob from Homer's epic poem The Odyssey this is a translated masterpiece of Eurotrash put out by french sci-fi comics magazine Metal Hurlant. This short but sweet hardback mixes elements of the Greek mythology with sleazy sci-fi ala Barbarella and 60's pop art and Art Nouveau, with nod towards the details of Grecian urns in some of the character design. In this version however we have Zeus and the rest of the gods flying around in a giant space aged fortress, the cyclops emitting a deadly ray from a metal helmet, and Circe luring Ulysses into her den of psychedelic drug paraphernalia and technological S+M gadgets. Being Heavy Metal there is no shortage of exposed females to please the repressed adolescent in all of us, and you also get the added postmodern bonus of seeing Homer join Ulysses on his quest conducting the poem as he goes, eager for adventure, but mostly for thirsty for women and drugs! If I was to pin the influence of this style of work on to any contemporary comic artist it might be Lauren Weinstein with her Goddess of War book which also mixes old age mythology with sci-fi technology and has a similar colour scheme in places. This book is available (but copies are limited) on Amazon, and I would recommend it as pure escapist fun that also looks astounding!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

A bibliophile's guide to Bristol (and beyond)

The Bristol area is pretty ripe for anyone interested in second hand books and the like, so here's a list of my favourite places to browse:

The Book Barn

Located in Hallatrow just outside of Bristol is the UK's biggest second hand bookstore, a massive warehouse, with another warehouse purely for storage! You could literally get lost amongst the shelves as it houses books on almost every subject imaginable, some great rare and vintage finds, a small humour section, and a whole host of orange penguins. At the moment they are having a sale in which EVERYTHING in the warehouse is going for a pound. I'm already salivating. Check out the website here.


Up at the top of Christmas Steps is this cosy little bookshop which barely has enough room in it to swing a cat but the shelves are packed to the rafters full of great second hand books and a pretty extensive section of Penguin Specials, Penguin Crime, plays, and poetry.

The Mighty Miniature

What used to be a regular feature of the more artsy market on Wine Street/Corn Street on a Friday and a Saturday is now confined to the market in the Woolworths Market on Whiteladies Road, Clifton most days of the week. Two ex English Literature students who've built up a mass of second hand books and also specialise in some pretty fantastic collectibles and first editions. I myself have picked up a lot of my orange penguins amongst other things. Highlights of my continuous visits to this stall include The Silent World by ( ), The London Nobody Knows by, and three volume Brothers Grimm collection amongst other things. Friendly and informative and well worth a visit.

Books for Amnesty

At the top of Glouster Road is this fantastic charity shop which has just started selling some comic books and graphic novels as well as housing a massive fiction section and a reasonable section of philosphy/feminism from which I've found a couple of interesting sociologial studies on abortion and girls education and attitudes in the seventies. Very friendly staff and nice quiet atmosphere.

Visit their website here.

The Here Gallery

On the corner opposite The Croft in Stokes Croft is a shop that specialises mainly in illustration, zines, comics and graphic novels, and literary journals like McSweeny's. Also sells handmade
plush toys, expensive wallpaper, cards, and other twee novelties. It houses a gallery in the basement which showcases local and national talent and the shop has been known to stock reprints and originals of such great comic magazines as Weirdo and Arcade.

Visit the website here.

(Warning: Can be a tad pricey!)

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Review: Ralph Steadman's 'The Big I Am'

Having tackled some pretty infamous figures in his time (Leonardo De Vinci, Hunter S Thompson, Freud, Alice in Wonderland) in this 1988 publication Ralph Steadman tunes his ink to perhaps the most infamous figure of all...God. Steadman's take on the creation tale, and the subsequent mess both God and then we(*1) made of the world is in true Steadman style unforgiving and coarse. You always get the best of Steadman when you see his work on a decent scale (see The Curse of Lono his enormous collaboration about the Hawaain marathon with Hunter S Thompson) and this book doesn't disappoint, being bound in a big landscape hardcover book giving us plenty of room to take in Steadman's lush detail in. We are treated to the collection of the dead during plague time, the pomposity of the Pope's procession, and a neo-futuristic of flying contraptions and flying buildings.(*2) The inclusion of little snippets of the bare bones of Steadman's artistic style in the form of simpler line sketches and splashes of colour with anthropomorphic suggestions help to round off the package slightly. In terms of the narrative, we see the story of the creation through the eyes of a cumbersome and hapless God who created the world by accident and prefers the nothingness that came before. The most God has to say is about the absurdity of it all, he doesn't particularly like the attribution of religious explanations for almost everything (the discovery of fire and wheel for example) nor does he like shamans and con men giving their various interpretations on his word. He even pities the humans for their grovelling request to bury the dead they believe him to have killed with his plague. The language used is a metaphysical, at times over dramatic, rambling monologue that doesn't tend to grip me as much as the illustrations themselves*. But you'll have to take my word for it as the book is too big to fit under the scanner to show you the bits I'll like the most, but you can always search for it on Amazon or try and buy it second hand like I did.

(*1) In the name of God of course.
(*2) This double spread reminds me of the proto steampunk illustration of Albert Robida
(*3) From what I've read of it, his writing style in his book on Freud is much better and the book is generally pretty well informed (it filters Freud's ideas and life mainly through the use of jokes, a subject Freud himself would constantly return to).

Monday, 21 June 2010

Rude Britannia (BBC FOUR)

In a very similar format to the Comics Britannia programme (probably made by the same people) is this three part series looking at the history of British satire, and out and out rudeness. Part 1 focuses on early rudeness from Hogarth, James Gilroy, Jonathan Swift, and James Stern. Part 2 focuses on Victorian music hall, pornographic pictures, peep shows, crime comics, penny dreadfuls, radio comedy, and crude seaside postcards. Finally part 3 takes in everything from political cartoonists Gerald Scarfe, Martin Rowsen, and Steve Bell, to Spitting Image and alternative comedy, the obscenity trial of Oz magazine, and the PC backlash of publications such as Viz (in fact this is the only point in the programme that overlaps with the Comics Britannia programme, as I swear they just rehash bits of the interview with Viz's creator). This is up on BBC iplayer now (click here) and is a very interesting and informative programme and is well worth checking out. There is currently taking place an exhibition of the same name at Tate Britain in London which is showing much of the same stuff as has been talked about on the programme, and I will be visiting this exhibition when I go to London on Thursday.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Nova Doba Festival

All the way in Belgrave Serbia there took place an amazing looking comics festival at the beginning of June which not only showcased some fantastic lesser known Serbian talent (click here for an earlier blog entry I did on one particular Serbian artist) but a whole host of interesting talent from Eastern European and Nordic countries such as Croatia, Norway, Sweden, Slovania etc. By the looks of some of the photos posted up on Facebook the festival looked like an intimate and thriving affair with workshops, screenings, music, and much more. It also played host to some forminable comic collectives, anthologies, and publishers as Komikaze, Stripburger, Turbo Comix, and Le Dernier Cri and boasted some well designed posters and decoration to boost.

Oh well, maybe next year...
(Check out the translated webpage here.)

Also check out Crack a great looking festival that has just passed in Rome.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Review: Solipsistic Pop volumes 1 & 2

The title of this UK small press anthology is taken from the philosophy of solipsism, which is the idea that only one's own mind is sure to exist, and that any knowledge of anything or anyone outside of your own mind is unjustified, we cannot know the outside world and other minds and therefore they might not exist. Perhaps this mixed with the word pop gives these anthologies their stand alone, us-against-the world feel, as although comics are a form of popular culture they can be much maligned. What this anthology attempts to do however (according to the highly vitriolic manifesto on the first page) is give comics back to the world. It doesn't want to be confined to specialist shops and specialist shelves, it wants comics to be passed to people on their way home from work, it wants our children to learn to read with comics. Whether or not these anthologies achieve this is something I will come back to later.
Edited by Tom Humberstone the man behind the hilarious Art School Scum(*1) and inspired by more artistically inclined publications such as Raw and Kramors Ergot both volumes of this anthology are a joy to hold, well designed, and printed on high quality paper, each with their own Sunday supplement style newspaper inserts. Highlights from volume one include Julia Scheele's tale of undercover atheism in a central American faith school which although doesn't stand out visually is a great example of excellent pacing, placing of panels, subtlety, and effortless storytelling.
Visually Stephen Collins and Daniel Locke are the most unique artists in this collection. Collins is clever with his images, at times coming across like the British Chris Ware in terms of his panel composition. In the newspaper pullout he provides us with an excellent send up of the London Underground map entitled 'Commuter trains of thought' in which the thoughts of various different commuters intersect at well timed points for comic effect. His more in depth piece in the anthology 'Exit music' is pure eye candy bringing new meaning to the words 'splash panel' (see below)
The beauty of this strip is twofold: firstly a subtle dark surreal humour that does well to veer away from being too Mighty Boosh/Flight of the Concords influenced, and secondly, the smooth reading experience despite the less than conventional page layout.
Anna Saunders breaks up the anthology nicely with her playful and elegant existentialist doodles 'The Daily Grind' and 'Insomnia', which act as an effective example of the 'less is more' school of cartooning. The weakest strip in the collection in my opinion is 'Spiderwings' by Rachael Reichert which scores painful on the twee scale by mimicking the art style of a four year old child. Humberstone himself rounds off the collection nicely with a sepia toned tale of a friendship drifting a part which captures minute changes in facial expressions brilliantly and in my opinion Humberstone's work in limited colours is superior to his full colour work as it posses more atmosphere, depth, and even a sense of warmth that you might not expect from duller tones.

For the second anthology Humberstone has taken a back bench in terms of his own contribution (he appears briefly in the Sunday supplement pullout) and instead has pulled out all the punches design wise. As well as a beautifully conceives gatefold cover by Luke Pearson, a lovely little tote bag, and yet another glorious foldout newspaper section, it seems that this volume has a colour theme to bind all the strips together (a variety of blues, turquoise, black, and grey).
The strength of the strips in this volume don't quite hold up to the first, often meandering into nowhere and the stripped down approach of Lizz Lunney's animal soap opera 'Sour Rabbit and Crispy Duck'(*2), Becky Barnicoat's 'Gnomes', and Matilda Tristam's 'Mud' all fail to hit the mark for me. However there are some notable entries to make up for this. Daniel Locke is once again on form working brilliantly within the anthologies colour scheme and capturing some great moments frozen in time within his panels and Octovia Raitt gives us a brilliant strip about senile dementia in which the shapeless blobs that represent the nursing staff of the care home sum up perfectly the confusion inside the protagonists head. A pleasant surprise is Adam Cadwell who when given more room to breath outside of his usual short webcomic format certainly makes the most of it. He gives the story of a brief but sentimental encounter with an elderly man in a wheelchair which is bookended perfectly with segments of silent panels at the beginning and a return full circle plot wise at the end. You also get much more of a sense of the extent of his artistic talent in this format as well, due to his well rendered backgrounds and lovely clear lines.
Another revaluation I am forced to take is of Marc Elleby's work who usually falls too far into the 'emo/indie' category of comic book artist for my liking(*3) Finally Mark Oliver's nonsensical comic/poster in the Sunday supplement has obviously been heavily influenced by the comics discipline of Ou Ba Po and reminds me a lot of an early experiment by Killoffer only more surreal and slightly grotesque, visually it's great although the words that go with it don't really do much for me.

So have these anthologies broken down barriers? Probably not, as far as I know these anthologies are only being stocked in specialist comic book shops (although getting it stocked in The Beguiling in Toronto is a pretty big achievement) and due to the content of the strips I can hardly see them being use as reading aids for the young, but the question is does this matter? With comics there's always a risk of preaching to the converted but Humberstone's belief is what carries these anthologies, as well as a desire to turn out a well designed well edited product. The fact is I haven't seen something that looks this good in the UK Small Press scene. There are real possibilities on the horizon for Humberstone and co and I can imagine things can only get better!

(buy it here)

(*1) If you haven't read this yet-have you been living under a rock? It's a great observational guide to the kind of delusional idiots you find at art school and is far superior (due to it's distinctly dry British feel) to Clowes's Art School Confidential.
(*2) For a better example of clever and charming anthropomorphic comics check out My Cardboard Life by Philipa Rice (whom I'm pleased to say will be in the next volume of this anthology)
(*3) Similar to Bryan O'Leary of Scott Pilgrim versus the World fame