Tuesday, August 26, 2003



JAMES says:

The heart and soul of the Simpsons. Lenny may not be as brash and showy of some of the other cast members, such as the Sea Captain or Krusty the Klown, but to my mind, he’s the best. He makes every scene he’s in with his understated wit. No real catchphrase (‘Awww… Nuts’ is about as close as he gets), Lenny goes beyond such simple notions to a deeper world of humour. While he is often used as the fall guy in gags, you can’t help but love him for the dignity he carries it off with. In many ways I think he is dragged down by being too closely identified with his Heterosexual Life Partner, Karl. In my years of Simpsons I’ve never come across a Lenny centred episode which, in the words of Barry White, is a Damn Shame. Still, that’s Lenny’s charm. He’s happy to stay in the sidelines, letting others take the lime light. He’s a real class act.



Series II
(TV Show)

JAMES says:

The equally longest day of Jack Bauer’s life. Although, at 24 hours, it’s about as long as most people who aren’t crossing international date lines days. Jack’s back, and this time he’s grittier. He even has a beard to start with. The ante’s been upped as well, with the looming threat this time a NUCLEAR BOMB IN LOS ANGELES!!!! It actually was very disturbing watching the scenes of the cabinet discussing just how everyone would die and how if this happened, especially when you grew up with a mother who would tell you about how many nuclear bombs have gone missing in the break-up of the Soviet Union and how powerful all those terrorist organisations are. However, the start wasn’t too promising. Some blonde chick is getting married, and her blonde sister didn’t like it, and blonde Kim is looking after a small blonde girl for her blonde mother. It was all getting a bit Hollyoaks. Thankfully, Jack came in to start sawing peoples heads off, and everything was OK. Well, not really, the magic had gone a bit. What was new and innovative last time round was starting to get a bit dull by the end of the first series, and I was nowhere near as gripped this time. Sure, I watched most episodes, but it didn’t really matter if I missed one. My interest waned further after the killed off Darleen from Roseanne, unforgivably, then built up a bit towards the explosion of the bomb, surprisingly timed to go off exactly on the hour.

But, then what? You’ve exploded a nuclear bomb, what do you do next? You get a bit boring, that’s what. After finding evidence that ‘Three Middle Eastern Countries’ were behind the bomb (no need to name them, you know the ones) it settled into Jack trying to disprove the evidence while Senator Palmer sat around looking thoughtful. And it was all a conspiracy, obviously. What was good, though, was that Jim Robinson got to be President, which I think is a vindication of his tough but fair parental style. Meanwhile, Jack descended into action star self parody. One memorable line ‘It’s nothing, I was just clinically dead for a bit a few hours ago.’ Which wasn’t helped by him starting to look a bit pudgy and red in the face.

It all followed the similar line, or leitmotif, of someone trying to do their job, while their superiors, and indeed inferiors, didn’t trust them. And lots of people getting shot. It got a bit absurd, though, when they wouldn’t give any slack to the man who actually saved LA from a nuke. What’s a guy have to do to get some support? And don’t get me started on the Perils of Kim. Not content with getting chased by a Lion, she met, by my count, at least 5 different psychopaths in one day. You have to wonder if maybe she has some kind of effect on people. And, all the time, whinging a lot and having nothing to do with the main plot. If she wasn’t so goshdarn cute, I’d say get rid of her entirely.

So, an absurd but mildly entertaining show that I’ve wasted about 18 hours of my life on.


Buy on Amazon: 24: Complete Season 2


by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
(Book of the Samurai)

NEILL says:

Hagakure is a strange book; a patchwork of recollection and philosophy, anecdotes and prescriptive morality. It was put together over a seven-year period at the turn of the eighteenth century by ex-Samurai turned Buddhist monk Yamamoto Tsunetomo, and is essentially an examination of and a guide to the Way of the Samurai. This is a system of thought that is similar in some respects to Zen Buddhism, although there is considerably less emphasis on the contemplation of abstruse metaphysical puzzles, and considerably more emphasis on the finer points of cutting peoples heads off. It can be boiled down to a set of principles that stress immediacy, resolve, fealty and compassion. And cutting peoples heads off. It is a very difficult philosophy to try and think oneself inside of, given that in at least two important respects it is diametrically set against fundamental principles of modern western thought. Firstly there is the Samurai's absolute subjugation of self before master, a kind of all- encompassing fanatical servitude that can seem more than a little strange from our latter-day perspective of humanistic individualism. Secondly there is the unnervingly frank attitude towards death. Samurai are encouraged to confront the fact of their own mortality to quite a pathological degree, to act in all things 'as one already dead'. Our own culture expends an equally frenzied energy on avoiding precisely such issues, meaning that the Samurai mindset is a little hard to approach; many of the tales in Hagakure evidence attitudes and behaviours that could easily be misconstrued as either inspirational heroism or sickening callousness. It is a belief system in which life is less important than principle, and this is always going to cause a certain amount of uneasiness in the modern reader.

It’s not all morals, death and honour, though. The book is also packed full of all kinds of handy hints and practical tips, a sort of 'Good Samurai Housekeeping'. These range from the usefulness of powdered rouge in covering up a hangover, to the ability of badger-skin underpants to deter lice, to a step-by-step discussion of the best way to remove the skin from the face of a decapitated enemy. (In case you're interested, and how could you not be: cut it lengthways, urinate on it, and trample on it with straw sandals. That sucker'll come clean off. And I quote: "This is information to be treasured.")

Hagakure is utterly fascinating, packed full of incident and detail and genuine wisdom, and it is perhaps a shame that its insights are nowadays disseminated through our culture in the bastardised form of countless bushido-inspired self-improvement tomes on management and finance: 'The Way of the Samurai in the Boardroom', that sort of thing. I am reliably informed that such tomes are something of a mini-industry these days, something I find a little incongruous given that the book’s fundamental message is so explicitly anti-materialistic. Then again, we live in a world where 'Jesus, CEO' is a global bestseller, so I don't suppose I should be surprised by this sort of thing any more.


Buy on Amazon: Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Having a Giant Robot

(Having a Giant Robot)


I must confess to having been a little taken aback when through a bizarre accident of cosmic destiny I first acquired my giant robot, UltraTron X, and perhaps felt some trepidation at the prospect. Me, a giant robot pilot? Surely not! However, I have since come to appreciate the many and diverse satisfactions associated with having a giant robot. There are of course the obvious benefits, such as the ability to fly at the speed of light and fight giant mutant lizard monsters with my X2000 laser missile arrays and kung-fu action grip. And of course we must not forget the simple pleasures, such as transforming into a giant spaceship/ hovercraft, or being able to crush one's enemies beneath a giant robotic boot. Admittedly my life has become a little more complicated by having to constantly fly off to exotic star systems to engage in fierce giant robotic battle with my nemesis, the evil renegade Ultratron Z pilot Shiro Darkk, but this is more than balanced out by the fun and scrapes I get up to with my pals in the Giant Robot Earth Defence Corps, my bumbling comedy sidekick Hoshi and sexy glamorous love interest Susan. Now if only that stuffed-shirt desk-jockey Commander Steele would stop riding my ass with his damn Defence Corp regs all the damn time! God dammit!
On the whole though, I would have to say that there are very few things in life finer than having a giant robot.


JAMES says:

I also got a robot. However, mine is a protocol robot. If he tells me that it's incorrect to drink red wine with fish one more time, I swear I'm going to kick his shiny camp yellow ass so hard his input socket will become an output socket. Goddammit.



by Saul Bellow

JAMES says:

What do you call a novel without a plot? Well, if you’re Saul Bellow you call it Herzog. Some guy bums around a bit, and thinks a lot. But, that isn’t to say it’s not worth reading. Admittedly it was a chore, something to inch through a few pages at a time until your concentration has given up. Like some books of this ilk I was forced to read at uni, however, I’m glad I’ve read it. This was one to read to get something out other than enjoyment, and what I got was an insight into a different kind of mind. What it lacks in a story it makes up for in the fully realised character of Moses Herzog, the lead of the book. Herzog is a respected but worn out scholar whose wife has just left him for his best friend. And does he go on about it. As you’d expect from someone of his brain power, he overanalyses it all, and the novel forms a recollection of the relationship and its breakdown. This is all related to his worldview as expressed by letters he obsessively writes to people, both living and dead. These combine to allow you into the characters mind to a great degree, and this is the reason why I kept at this novel even through the most dense and trying bits.

It is the human tragedy that, however close we get to other people, we can never know what it’s like to be them, to see how their thoughts work. How can we judge, govern, advise other people, when all we know is the world as we see it? We don’t know if they interpret the world, if their thought process, even if the way they see colours is the same as us. Art is the only way we can hope to get more of an insight into other people, and that is why this book works. I will never be as smart as Herzog, nor as introverted, nor hopefully as plain loopy. However, after reading this book, I have an idea of what it would be like if I was.


Buy on Amazon: Herzog (Penguin Modern Classics)



JAMES says:

The only Pokemon that has a name that actually sounds like a noise it would make (Cat=Meow), and it’s the only Pokemon that talks rather than just saying his name. I ask you. Still, he has a lot more character than that Pikachu joker. And he’s not called Jigglypuff.


Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Dawson's Creek

(TV Series)

Or, The End of an Affair

JAMES says:

It’s a sad fact of TV programs, and one that is exploited by evil execs, that if you find characters who you engage in a TV series, there is a disproportionate amount of crap you will go through following them. How else to explain TV series continually being made after all originality and quality has gone? We liked these characters, we’ll sit through barge loads of crap like later series of the X-Files or Hollyoaks during it’s low periods (not that I do, but people must, I would imagine). So, it is with great relief that I find myself physically unable to watch Dawson’s Creek these days without shooting the TV, Elvis style.

I should’ve got out a long time ago, I know, but they caught me when I was young. When ‘the Creek’ started, it was a charming little teen drama. You couldn’t take it too seriously, but it was good soapy fun. And, y’know, in a way I was just like Dawson. I experienced painful break-ups, I was more sophisticated than all the stupid jocks. I had a wise-cracking best friend, who I never really saw as he was busy with his own storylines but we usually talked about our problems about once a week. My forehead wasn’t quite so big, granted, but I had my identification character right there. And hot chicks fancied him! So, the first series of Dawsons, all very good. Especially on a Sunday when you had a hangover.

But, like Buffy, they had to shake it up by adding new characters. It wasn’t so bad to start with, a wisecracking girl for Pacey, and a sensitive bloke for sensitive Joey. But every year they’d be a new intake of partners for the mains, and mostly they’d be gone by the next year. It all served to dilute the essential Dawson/Pacey/Joey/Jenness of it. Plus, they started messing with the characters. Pacey became the sensitive troubled teen lead, which kind of left Dawson with nothing to do but sit around and think about how much he loved movies. Which is a bit unfair, as it was his creek after all. Plus, the whole Dawson/Joey love affair, established as basically the centre of the entire series, was certainly too weak to merit it As the whole on-again, off-again thing happens for the 8th time, you’re forced to wonder just how much you really care. The answer: not at all.

There was no overnight drop of quality, however. The reason I didn’t get out sooner was that it was a gradual process, so it took a few moments of absolute naffness before I could step back from myself and realise just how utterly pointless the whole thing was. Case in point, the character of Jen. Now, she couldn’t just be a wild party girl because she was stuck in a dull one-creek town filled with self-analytical stereotypes. She had to have issues. So, they built up her relationship with her psychiatrist, so she could discover some repressed memories. And, even though all of this was pointing to an abusive relationship with her father, and was actually being handled quite sensitively, they absolutely copped out and invalidated the entire character by saying that the repressed anger and need for self destruction she had was because she saw her dad having sex with a girl she knew. I mean, that’s certainly icky, but I don’t think it would scar you completely at such an emotional level.

To be fair, it wasn’t just a case of the series getting crap, sometimes it was the series not changing at all. Like Sisyphus pushing his stone up the hill, the cast can never really sort out their issues, because if they did they would have nothing to moan about. It’s like a friend going through a hard time. To start with you feel compassion and sympathy, but after a while you get the sense that they enjoy wallowing in self pity, and that they go looking for problems, and you just want them to pull themselves together. I mean who amongst us has not wanted to give Dawson a big ol’ slap across the chops. If you look at these people’s lives, you have to wonder how they manage to find so much to complain about. Joey’s a genius and an incredibly talented artist/singer going to a good university, Pacey’s a talented chef who’s shacked up with the most well endowed member of the cast, Jen’s a DJ (?!?) and Dawson is, as far as I can make out, assisting a director on a Hollywood movie and shagging one of the actresses. It is representational of American culture that people can be achieving their dreams and still find so much to be upset about. The Dawson gang should spend a couple of weeks in Eastenders, they they’d get something to complain about.

That’s not to say that it’s descent into mediocrity didn’t contain some classic moments of humour, mostly unintentional. If you’ll indulge an old man, I’d like to share a few of them. When Joey got mugged, for instance, but managed to do it in a sharp talking, excessively dialogued way; ‘Give me your money’ ‘oh, that’s real original’ ‘Listen, you stuck-up little girl’ ‘Hey, you don’t know how hard it is for me’ etc. etc. Or when they tried to ironically spoof the Blair Witch Project by just copying it and adding lots of over analytical talking. Look at Sunset Beach’s superb Terror Island sequence for how to do horror film homages in bad soap. Or when Jack was gay, only it didn’t mean he slept with men, just that he was quite deep and pouted a lot. Only then he became a football player, to stuff their stereotypes down their necks and stopped being sensitive.
However, these occasional moments of laugh out loud rubbishness did not cover up the fact that the whole thing was just no fun any more. I didn’t care who was going out with who, why they’d all managed to end up in Boston even though they had ironically mocked TV shows which had all the cast members go to college in the same city. I didn’t give a damn that Pacey had a beard or Joey was now smart talking with yet another young spunky lecturer. All it did was reinforce how much of my time had been wasted on this shambling corpse of a TV show. But maybe, we can take something from this. Don’t watch a program when it stops being good. Drop it, cold. It might get better, but really life’s too short. So, mark-wise, I would give the first series of the Creek 7/10, then subtract one for each subsequent series. Which would make the 7th and last series, by my reckoning


NEILL says:

Yeah, but you'd still do Joey, wouldn't you?


Buy on Amazon: Dawson's Creek: The Complete Collection

Friday, August 08, 2003

De La Soul Live at the Kentish Town Forum, Sat 02 August 2003


NEILL says:

De La Soul were a major force in the development of intelligent, conscious hip-hop and have been going on strong in recent years with a string of albums that haven't exploded across the mainstream pop consciousness in the way of 'Me, Myself and I' or '3 is a Magic Number' but have been ceaselessly inventive and generally rather cool. The crowd at their London gig on Saturday was a relaxed and thoroughly positive mix of folks, ranging from hard-core hip-hop heads to 80's nostalgia-trippers, united by the common goal of... well, just having a good time. You know?

Things were warmed up nicely by first support act MC TY on the mic with DJ Billy Bizness of the Enforcers on the decks, a pair of local boys who got a very warm welcome from the crowd for their skills, their unquenchable enthusiasm, and not least their slow-mo moonwalking to the tune of 'Rainbow'. Things cooled off a bit with the next act, a couple of Canadian guys whose name frankly escapes me. They suffered in that whilst unquestionably technically deft, noone really knew who they were or seemed particularly to care. And frankly, no-one's going to come off well when trying to follow a couple of guys slow-mo moonwalking to the tune of 'Rainbow'. By this point the crowd were wanting to De La their Souls! DJ Shorty blitz held back the tides for another twenty minutes, dropping old-school classic after old-school classic and building the tension up to the point where the joint was ready to, quite literally, blow up. Word. And then the band came on.

It was just all rather fucking ace from then on. De La Soul have been rocking parties for years, and they are very, very good at what they do. I've seldom enjoyed a performance so much, and I've VERY seldom seen such a fantastic atmosphere, anywhere. Everyone was loving it, from stagefront to rafters, the whole house heaving in unison, waving hands and busting moves. No assholes starting fights, none of the casual violence that passes for enjoyment at a rock gig, just a whole lot of people having a hell of a good time. There were downsides to the evening involving navigating night-buses and people puking in bags of Kentucky Fried Chicken, but these were all in the realms of Personal Tragedy. The band's performance and the gig itself were pretty much damn near faultless.


Fantastic Four - Imaginauts

by Mark waid and Mike Weiringo
(Comic book collection)

JAMES says:

Beware of Manifestos, my son. This volume collects Mark Waid’s first few issues writing the Fantastic Four, the comic super team who not only fight together, they live together. Like Morecombe and Wise. Included in the volume is the essay Waid writes explaining how he’s going to write the Fantastic Four, and show everyone else. All he really had to say is that he would not be as crap as pretty much everyone else who’s ever written it since Stan ‘the Man’ Lee and most people would’ve been happy, and this is essentially what he does say. Only in a Mark Waid smug way. But, y’know, at the end of the day it’s the comics that matter, and they’re a mixed bag. Like Superman, Fantastic Four comics often show a bit too much reverence for the characters, with writers feeling reluctant to do anything to denigrate characters they grew up with, and thus there can be a lack of evolution and dynamicism in the stories. Despite his revolutionary principles, Waid falls into the trap a bit here. They’re alright in a action comic style, but there’s not really any depth to them. Reading them is kind of the comic equivalent of watching Sliders. Basically, if you were ever trying to convince your girlfriend that comics can be literature, these aren’t the ones to use as examples. However, they’re OK. And sometimes that’s all you want. As for the art, the jury’s still out. No… wait.. I’m just hearing, yes, the jury are returning, and…. Yes, the verdict’s in…Well, ladies and gentlemen, it appears the art is clear and cheerful without being spectacular. And it fits the story well in that respect. So, worth reading if your brother bought the book and lent it to you, but not really one to spend money on.


NEILL says:

Damn it, he's so right.


Buy on Amazon: Imaginauts (Fantastic 4)

Working on a Helpdesk

(Employment situation)

NEILL says:

There is an unavoidable element of servility in working on a helpdesk that greatly offends my natural sense of my own cosmic importance. The most galling thing, though, is the psychic damage wreaked by spending eight hours a day thinking and talking about computers. I lost my Jurassic 5 'Power in Numbers' album the other day, and actually caught myself thinking "...oh well, I guess I'll just run a Search for it. Start > Search > For Files and Folders containing... oh my Fucking God, I've lost the ability to discern the difference between Life and Windows!" Then again, quite frankly I think Life would be a lot better with the application of some standard Windows functionality. The Search function is an obvious one, but there's plenty others... for example, whose life wouldn't be substantially enhanced by being able to 'Undo' at will? For example: you've just accepted a job working on a helpdesk? Undo! Undo!

Only recommended for stoics and the restless dead.


Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Selection of Fish Sandwiches

by Marks and Spencer

Guest-reviewer-of-the-week Laura Naldrett for the The London School of Contemporary Dance Sandwich Review Panel says:

In this sweltering weather, my colleagues and I felt compelled to seek out the nearest park to indulge in a lunchtime picnic. In the course of this we had occasion to sample some picnic fare by that finest of purveyors Marks and Spencers™, namely a selection of the fish sandwiches.

Let us begin with Poached Salmon and Rocket, a balanced meal within a sandwich, as we all know how important it is to eat our greens. Our panel found that this was one of the most popular sandwiches on the day due to its subtle flavour, delicate texture and super tasty bread. Rocket is a firm favourite with the panel so the inclusion of this alongside this perfectly poached fish earned a definite thumbs up!

Secondly, we have the classic Cream Cheese and Smoked Salmon. Our panel found this slightly stodgy but not unpleasant. The classic combination of the cream cheese and smoked salmon was a winner but it was felt that the sandwich as a whole could have been more tender as it verged on the chewy.

Our last example was the ubiquitous Prawn and Mayonnaise, my personal favourite, however there were mixed feelings on this. One of the reviews refused to test this offering on the grounds that she didn't like prawns because they look like embryos and another was a strong supporter of adding lettuce to this combination to make it more akin to prawn cocktail. Virtues were pointed out such as the oatmeal bread (it just doesn't work with white, strangely) and the generous amount of filling.

Overall, the selection rates highly with the panel on the grounds that there was something to suit everyone's taste. However, none of us were brave enough to try the mixed seafood sandwich (crabsticks and prawns) so the jury is still out on that one.

7.4 / 1o

Enter the Matrix

(Video Game)

JAMES says:

A slight case of style over substance, methinks. To any hot-blooded young man the chance to play as a rebel in the matrix, doing funky kung fu and dodging bullets, is simply irresistible, and this game recreates it well. You can’t play as Neo or Morpheus, except in two player mode, but you do get to fight Trinity, who is surprisingly easy to beat. You choose from either Morpheus’ ex, Niobe, or her Zen sidekick Ghost. Guess who I played as? Rather than recreating the film, it provides a separate and complimentary storyline with additional scenes filmed. All very well and good, but divorced from the story line, and without Keanu, the whole thing just ends up looking a bit naff and Babylon 5. Also, some bits are shoe horned in a bit, like having to save the key master, then him just getting captured again so he can be rescued by the proper crew. Still, it gives the game an automatic headstart over most out there.

And it really does need it, because after the initial ‘I am so cool, look at the way I just kicked that guy in the head! Bow down to my power!’ you start to realise how little you’re actually controlling the wee man on the screen. It really is a case of press this button and you’ll do a fantastically impressive move. Likewise, some moments are only fun because they’re Matrix-y. Running away from a legion of Agent Smiths is about the coolest thing ever, until you realise it’s just a case of going through it memorising which doors work and which don’t. Some sections are easy enough to get through first time without even trying and other parts are difficult merely because it’s not clear what you’re supposed to do. In one section I kept on dying merely because I was using the wrong control method. Plus, despite my cynical generation Y detachment, I did feel slightly uncomfortable playing an entire level where all you have to do is kill policemen.

Despite all this, it’s a good meaty game. It does have quite a few fun bits, you get a variety of gameplay, and there’s a lot in there. And, kicking people in slow motion is always good fun.


Hart FM

(Radio Station)

JAMES says:

There are several warning signs when you first start to listen to Hart FM, and unfortunately none of them are misleading. First of all, they still think 'Can't Fight the Moonlight' by Leanne Rimes is a hot single. Secondly, they still employ Pat Sharpe. Thirdly, even the adverts are smug and annoying, most of them seeming to feature Michael Winner. This is a radio station that is so lacking in knowledge that it has as a slogan 'More Music Variety', yet I heard 'A Little Bit More' by Liberty X four times in the space of 2 days. I can only assume that the only time people listen to this is when they have too, e.g. Waiting rooms, bus journeys. Surely no one would choose it? Only recommended to those that find Capital FM a little racy.


Friday, August 01, 2003

Comparitive Review: Violet Berlin vs. Isaiah Berlin

JAMES says:

Violet Berlin
(Media gaming pundit / presenter)

To boys of a certain age, I think we’ll always be scarred by Violet Berlin. It was such a dilemma, we love computer games, we hate Violet Berlin (we’re indifferent to Andy Crane the broom cupboard traitor), do we watch Gamesmaster rip-off program Bad Influence? With her lisp and bizarre hair style, she was a definite stunting factor in our burgeoning sexuality. For me, she represented everything that was bad about adults attempting to make TV for teenagers. She was quite clearly not cool, but it was thought that as she was a girl who played video games she would be alright. Well, as Bits was later to conclusively prove, that is not enough. Plus, she failed entirely to deal with the problems caused by living in a post-liberal society. I suppose I could just not have watched it, but video games on TV were scarce in those days, and we had to take what we could get. When Bad Influence inevitably finished after one series, I thought I was free of the Violet terror. It was with a sense of excitment, when, years later checking out my newly installed hundreds of channels of cable TV, I came across the Bravo computer game show. But then, that thin lisping voice starts commentating over shots of computer generated men shooting each other. It couldn’t be, they wouldn’t dare. Then there she was. The hair had changed, but it was unmistakably her. The Bastards, they’ve done it, they’ve actually done it. She’s Back…


Isaiah Berlin
(Man of letters)

Eschewing the computer games route, Isaiah instead decided to go for the world of academia and political philosophy. This savvy move, there were no computer games at the time, typifies Berlin’s pragmatic but thought out approach to his work and life. Berlin was unsure about any systems that explained everything, and those that believed in them. He famously quoted the Greek poet Archilochus, that ‘the Fox knows many things, but the Hedgehog knows one big thing,’ although I’m not sure if he ever tells us what this big thing is. Probably Marxism. Berlin’s philosophy is convincing because, unlike his predecessors, he doesn’t claim to have any grand final answer. He sees society as a series of conflicts, which each need to be negotiated. While some might find this unsatisfying, I think it’s very close to the truth. There are no perfect societies, only societies that are able to overcome obstacles well, and those that can’t. This view might explain why Berlin never wrote any grand work, only essays, which as I student I was obviously grateful for. He is a persuasive writer, and has a sense of innate dignity lacking from his violet namesake. Plus, he wrote ‘White Christmas’, so respect.



By Bob Byrne

NEILL says:

MBLEH! is an indy comic book written, drawn and published by modern Irish renaissance man Bob Byrne. This is a man so confident in his talents that he thinks nothing of giving his comic a name that is basically unpronounceable and even if you can manage it, sounds a bit like someone being sick. Way to generate strong word-of-mouth! (Of course, I can hardly criticise others when it comes to choosing ill-thought-out names; at least Mr. Byrne hasn't set himself up to be known as 'that dumbass guy'.)

Still, never mind. MBLEH! is a thoroughly enjoyable collection of stories from Byrne's singularly fecund imagination, ranging from surrealist action-adventure to bitterly misanthropic autobiography. The disparate stories are bound together by a common tone of sleazily hallucinogenic bad taste, pitched somewhere between Gilbert Shelton's Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and early Irvine Welsh; whilst there's not nearly so many explicit drug references, there's definitely an air of being on something. And not necessarily something good. Cockroaches wearing papier-mache human masks, gangs of glue-addicted juvenile contract killers... it's all quite substantially messed up.

The absolute highlight of all this is the lead feature 'Clam Land', which features the ongoing adventures of the utterly perverted and morally corrupt Penzram, his insanely violent ice-cool-muthafucka pal Lucas, and his mentally-retarded coprophile infant nephew Herby in the colourful setting of Clamtown. Think Uncle Scrooge's Duckburg, but with more crack whores and bum rapists. Basically, this is one of the funniest things you're ever going to read, as long as you find jokes about AIDS and child mental illness funny. Which, clearly, I do. If you can see past the explicit violence and teddy-bear-fucking you will find a classic sitcom family structure, built around a central set of relationships that are really rather sweet.

So, yes. It's an excellent comic, and everyone should go and read it. Even you people who "don't read comics". You watch South Park, don't you? You read the Onion? You like things that are funny, yes? What's the matter with you? If we lived in a world with any kind of natural justice, Bob Byrne would be as famous as.. oh, I don't know, Carol Vorderman. At least.


Full ordering details and lots of fun stuff besides are to be found at www.clamnuts.com - go have a look, it's great.

The Earth


JAMES says:

Mostly Harmless