Monday, June 30, 2003

The Rainbow Orchid

(Comic strip)



NEILL says:

The Rainbow Orchid is a comic strip which is currently being serialised in the UK indy anthology, 'BAM!'. It tells the tale of a foolish wager between bumbling aristocrats which is the catalyst for an epic expedition to Asia in search of the mysterious legendary 'Rainbow Orchid'.

It's early days yet, the characters have yet to even make it out of the country, but already the story is a thoroughly charming slice of nostalgia-tinged British adventurism. The dialogue sparkles, a mix of equal parts boys-own romp, literary and mythological allusion and surprisingly well-researched botany. The characters are vibrant and thoroughly likeable. The art, and indeed the whole shape of the enterprise, is clearly influenced to a large degree by Herge (he of the Adventures of Tintin, for our less literate readers). And Garen Ewing does well by the comparison - his art is a fluid blend of intricately observed detail and perfect, pared-down cartooning.

My only gripe with 'The Rainbow Orchid' is that it is clearly conceived of and written as a whole, with an eye on some future collected edition. This makes its current format, split into small installments with a long wait in between, less than ideal. It can be a little hard at the start of each episode to remember what is happening or indeed which of the multifold characters is which, exactly. Nonetheless, it's well worth seeking out. And whenever the inevitable collection does arrive, my word but it will be a beautiful thing.

9/10

Friday, June 27, 2003

Canberra

(City)



JAMES says:

Nice country, shame about the capital. For those of you who don’t know about the politics of Australian Federalisation (and why should you), when neither Sydney nor Melbourne could decide who should be the newly formed country’s capital, they just invented a new city roughly half way between them. And like all good compromises this one has left everyone disappointed, including me. My Canberra experience consisted mainly of trudging along busy motorways, through identikit modern office blocks, before arriving at frankly underwhelming ‘attractions’. The town is centred around Parliament House, basically a building in a hill with a big flag at the top. Inside it’s as soulless as a politician, but there is brief amusement in the portraits of all Australia’s Prime Ministers, shifty looking galahs, to a man. Other features were a big water spout, a national gallery that was less impressive than the art gallery in Ballarat, and a newly installed Australian museum, dedicated entirely to saying how great Australians are, especially Aboriginals (a view sadly not shared by most of the population). The town itself was similarly underwhelming, possessing nothing identifiable as a nightlife. It doesn’t even have a McDonalds, for Howard’s Sake! I may be being a bit hard on the place, as the crippling bushfires raging at the time meant the sweeping vistas that seemed to be the basis of the town planning were reduced to hazy shimmers. However, Australia is a country hardly lacking in magnificent views naturally, so building your own, which are never really going to compete, seems a bit redundant. My advice? Just pretend Sydney and/or Melbourne are the capital, and repeat after me ‘There’s no such place as Canberra, there’s no such place as Canberra.’

3/10


NEILL says:

...not much, having personally decided to pass on the delights of Canberra. Merely wanted to mention that my brother's comments above should not be taken as in any way intended to slight the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, which in fact has a commendably varied, distinguished and well-tended collection. Which is all the more impressive for being located in a bone-dry one-horse mentalist shitkicker town in the arse end of Victoria.

Ballarat Fine Art Gallery: 8/10

www.richardherring.com

(Website)



JAMES says:

The webpage of one half of TV’s Lee and Herring, and writer of ‘Time Gentlemen, Please’, this site, like the man himself, is very funny. Consistently guilty of making me betray my lack of work by chortling away to myself, Herring’s self depreciation and taking things far beyond their logical extremes is just funny. The best part of the site, for my money, is the web diary ‘Warming Up’, a day to day account of observations and events from a guy who used to be on the telly. While I’m not terribly interested in Herring’s life, he is just funny. As I said before. Weren’t you listening? Also included is a host of DVD-style extras, only more like other bits of a homepage, if I’m being totally honest, including scripts to most of Herring’s plays and the rules to Consecutive Number Plate Spotting (you don’t want to know). Sites like these really are the saviours of those of us with no work to do and access to the internet. Recommended to anyone who thinks ‘Die, die, you Whorish Eggs’ is one of the funniest punch-lines ever.

9/10

Julie Burchill

(Opinionated Media Canker)



NEILL says:

The Saturday Guardian is a wonderful thing, offering not only TV listings and soap gossip but a wide selection of impressive-looking broadsheet supplements to leave lying around the house and intend to read well into the next week. There is, however, one singularly rancid turd in this punchbowl of weekend morning newspapery magnificence, and that turd's name is Julie Burchill. The continued publication of her weekly column with its absurdly well-worn formula of calculated outrage and devastatingly 'ironic' provocation, is one of the great mysteries of modern life. She's been peddling the exact same 'irritate the wimpy liberals' crap in column after column for years now, and the only reason she's able to get away with it is that the Guardian is, clearly, run by a bunch of self-loathing wimpy liberals. She is dull, self-obsessed to a terrifying degree and almost comically predictable. She is also very fat, and quite likely smells. There are only two things to be said in Ms. Burchill's defense. Firstly, she was once named the 'worst mother in Britain' by the Daily Mail, and as such clearly must have something going for her. And secondly, if you ever see her talk, she has a bizarre squeaky cartoon-mouse voice that's actually really funny. These are scant rewards, clearly. Make the break. Change your life. Spare yourself the pain. Stop reading Julie Burchill.

3/10

Hail to The Thief

by Radiohead
(Album)



JAMES says:

Yeah! Radiohead Rock Man! Like beer that makes you wittier and more erudite the more you drink (no, wait, that is beer), this album manages to combine killer tunes with a sophisticated world view that permeates all tracks. A critique of the modern world of corporate greed and exploited innocence, Thom Yorke fashions a mood of impotence in the face of the world. However, this leads not to angry ‘I’ll get you Bush!’-style fist shaking at the naughty world, but to a kind of mellow resignation, as witnessed by the relaxed vibe of songs such as ‘There There’ and ‘Sail to the Moon’. Radiohead manage to skilfully produce an album that is more than just a collection of songs but a unified whole, without coming out with a concept album. Apart from ‘Drunken Punch Up at a Wedding’ which really does seem to be about just a drunken punch-up at a wedding. Maybe I’m just naive. Combine this with catchy tunes that are beautiful without being clich├ęd and you have one hell of an album. Sounds great on headphones, and you’ll still be noticing new stuff on the hundredth listen.

8.8/10

NEILL says:

Personally, I've never understood any of Radiohead's lyrics. I am, after all, the guy who thought that 'No Surprises' contained the classic line "Such a pretty ass, such a pretty garden". (It didn't). Anyway, the point is that I was delighted by 'Drunken Punch Up at a Wedding', which did seem to be quite straightforwardly and categorically about a Drunken Punch Up at a Wedding. Very good!

8.2/10

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About

by Mil Millington
(Light comic fiction)

JAMES says:

The debut novel from the writer of the ‘Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About’ column in the Guardian and creator of www.thingsmygirlfriendandihavearguedabout.com , this is a man who has picked his theme and is running with it. A, one most presume, largely autobiographical book, this follows Pel Dalton (hmmmmm), an extremely hapless man who drifts from one crisis to another, while arguing with his girlfriend. As a novel, this works very well as a collection of columns. It is laugh out loud funny, and Millington often has a Wodehouse-like mastery of the wit of understatement. Do not, however, come to this book hoping for a gripping tale, or even any tale at all really. There is a half hearted attempt at excitement featuring Triads and deadly nerve gas, but it really is pegged on to fill the gaps between Millington noticing that women like cleaning and men like sitting on the sofa watching TV. Good for light relief between more weightier books (it has driven me into the arms of Saul Bellow’s Herzog) but little more, why not try visiting the website instead. Plus, it’s all a bit one-sided. I await ‘My Boyfriend has Based his Whole Career on the Fact that we Argue all the Time, but you don’t see me Writing a Book about it’, but then that would be a book, and she would’ve made the entire project redundant before even the title was finished. Very funny though.

6.5/10

My Walk to Work

(Contiguous arrangement of London thoroughfares)

JAMES says:

It sounded so good on paper. No cramped tube, no late trains, the opportunity of buses if it rained. However, two weeks into my new job, and the walk to work is starting to become less appealing. It's not the length really, at half an hour each way, a tad self indulgent but manageable, but the road. While Kensington is a nice area, the road that forms the major part of my route is very busy, but not busy enough to bring the traffic to a standstill. The result is constant noisy trucks and buses for the duration, and a surrounding haze of fumes. Also, crossings are numerous and dangerous, so there is no real chance to relax. It's a shame, because the quiet street I walk down at the end shows what is possible from a walk to work. Overall, though, I would recommend shutting down the roads to traffic if the powers that be really wanted to make this a good walk to work. Until then I'm never going to arrive at work in the state of zen-like calm needed to fulfil my duties.

5/10

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

by Chris Ware
(Graphic Novel)



Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is a big fat graphic novel, proud winner of last year's Guardian First Book Award, now available in paperback.

NEILL says:

I liked it, it was purty.

Chris Ware's arch, structural portrait of family life is one of very, very few graphic novels I have ever read that does not by its very existence debase and insult the term 'graphic novel'. A lengthy and elaborately structured celebration of the excruciating banalities of emotional isolation, it offers a combination of epic grandeur and intimate pity that is genuinely affecting. The story is the tale of one developmentally stunted manchild and his wacky adventures failing to have any kind of meaningful human interaction with his long-lost absentee father or, indeed, anybody. As you can probably gather from that description, it’s really more about character than plot.

Any fictional character depicted with such savage loathing as the absolutely pathetic figure of Jimmy Corrigan is clearly a thinly-veiled representation of the author of the piece, and indeed that is the case here. With the full pitiless fury of the self-loathing semi-autobiographer, Ware lets rip and subjects his hero to a series of painful and humiliating traumas, always simultaneously reminding us how utterly uncharismatic the character is. (God forbid we should actually start to identify with the hapless little shit.) Jimmy Corrigan is a worthless human being; so consumed with a pitiful, craven fear of being disliked that he is barely able to function at all; barely even able to speak. Obviously a guy like this takes a while to warm to, and indeed that is the major problem with the book. Whilst admiring it in terms of formal achievement, it took me a long time to actually start to care about the story. This kicked in for me at some point during the middle section; a lengthy flashback set around the 1900 Chicago World’s Fair which tells the desperately sad story of another Jimmy Corrigan and another paternal abandonment. Here Ware tells a tale with incredible vividness and emotional force, which both engages on its own terms and provides a perfect counterpoint to the decidedly understated adventures of ‘present day’ Jimmy.

I suppose I should mention the art. It is a graphic novel, after all. What can I say? Ware’s work is inventive, stylish, frequently astonishing. It shows up pretty much everyone else working in comics whilst being an incredible glimpse of the potential of the medium. Blah blah yak yak. As I say. I liked it, it was purty.

9/10



JAMES says:

I both agree and disagree with my brother. This is a book of emotion rather than narrative, but I didn't feel that the main character being pathologically introverted meant we could not have an emotional connection with him. While he may not (hopefully) represent us, he does represent the fear of embarrassment and lack of confidence that we all possess, magnified to a painful level. I therefore felt for the younger Jimmy, continually wanting him to make some human connection, caring about him. The masterful way that Ware mixed fantasy and reality to really communicate his inner life, allowed me to feel a sense of hope about the character, even though he is doomed by his own insecurity to never be able to act, like Hamlet or something.

Conversely, I felt it was the lack of hope that made me find the protracted central flashback sequence heavy going. It was an effective tale of the misery and emotional destruction brought about by poverty and a home without love, and it created the feeling of an existence without escape so well, that it actually quite depressed me.

Anyway, the art was very effective in helping create the mood, and really shows the possibilities of the format. Some of the images stay in your mind, as memorable shots from a film do. It even includes a how-to-read comics bit, for those of the female persuasion.

One small quibble, if he was the Smartest Kid on Earth, how come he didn't build any giant robots or anything? An opportunity missed, methinks.

Two thumbs up

The Matrix Reloaded

Dir: Larry & Andrew Wachowski
(Movie)



NEILL says:

Liking a movie is a funny thing. By liking a movie, and expressing that like, one is in a way exposing a part of oneself. It's a lesser but similar version of the anxiety that accompanies actually creating an artistic work and putting it out into the public sphere. The things you like are in a way as much a reflection of yourself as the things you create, and criticism of either can feel oddly personal.

Perhaps it's because I have so little faith in the value of my own opinion, but I find this to be a very fraught and complicated area. It may have something to do with the absolute vacuum in our society where genuine political debate should exist, but it often feels as if one has to have a position on the book/movie/TV show of the day. The web of argument, counter-argument, strategy and alliance that can spring up around these positions does to me genuinely resemble politics. The weight of opinions surrounding a work can take on a greater significance than the work itself. I myself am so feeble-minded that I can listen to an album, enjoy it, and then read so many reviews and have so many arguments (both internal and with actual real other people) that I can actually get to a point where I am no longer able to tell whether I like it or not.

Furthermore, when dealing with art that is approached in a communal setting, the opinions of others take on an inescapable power. I have a friend who shall remain nameless (... actually, forget that, it's Emma) who is by no means shy about expressing her scorn vocally when watching a movie, through a series of tuts, sighs and the occasional "oh for fuck's sake...". To give an example of how powerfully affecting this behaviour can be: after an initial tut-heavy viewing of 'Fight club' it took several years and numerous ‘return visits’ for me to come finally to the realisation that it was, in fact, a fucking spectacular movie.

Anyway, where was I? I liked Matrix Reloaded. Or at least, I think I did.

7.5/10

Hope for the Future

By Simon Perrins
(Comic)



Hope for The Future is a british indy comic written and drawn by Simon Perrins and Andrew Livesay. There are six issues to date. Further details on www.usby.freeuk.com

NEILL says:

In terms of sheer pound-for-pound entertainment, I can’t think of many things I like more than ‘Hope for the Future’. It’s like a sarcastic British Buffy, or a supernatural Spaced. I use TV shows rather than other comics as reference points because so does ‘Hope…’. It concerns a trio of students and their adventures protecting the world from supernatural evil in varying degrees of crapulence. The scripts are steeped in Pop and Geek culture to a frankly terrifying degree, there are so many background references and sight gags that you’ll be well rewarded by repeated readings, and there are a bunch of cute girls. Often with bunches. Come on, what’s not to love?

I suppose if I’m to find fault it would be that the humour can occasionally come off as slightly smug, as student comedy is wont to. On the whole, though, it’s just really fucking funny. Anyone who has seen Star Wars, anyone who enjoys the Simpsons, anyone who isn’t a completely dead-eyed cynical miserabilist and who likes to be entertained: you should be reading this comic. Why aren’t you? It’s dead cheap. You can even get it by PayPal, so you’ve no excuse.

8/10