Friday, November 17, 2017

Twin Peaks soundtracks: It's a whisper, it is always just a dream

Driving randomly around the outer suburbs after midnight, with the car speakers playing sweet little melodies, disconcertingly ominous droning and someone crying about sycamore trees. Going past all the dull, normal houses where a thousand secrets hide behind the closed curtains, every house closed up and dark for the night, but still alive with a thousand stories.

Or it's even later at night and there is more of it on the Walkman/MP3 player/phone, walking back from town to a snap-happy beat, some nightmare nightclub music, or a tune that gives me a real indication about a laugh coming on.

Either way, getting around town late at night is always a million times cooler when you've got some music from Twin Peaks with you.

For a quarter of a century, that has mainly meant a steady diet of Angelo Badalamenti, but there is so much more now. The recent return of Twin Peaks wasn't just the best television in a decade, it was also a terrific variety show, with heaps of achingly cool musical acts showing up to perform a tune.

Almost all of the songs played at the show's roadhouse have been collected into a soundtrack album - along with some of the background tunes -and right now that's all I want to listen to, mainly when it's really late at night, or really early in the morning.

It's a gorgeous soundtrack album, full of familiar old music and brand new artists. There is a short reprise of that eternal theme music, with his languid and lamenting bass line, and it closes out with the ethereal Julee Cruise, but there is a bunch more than just that.

There are several pop acts who are beautifully energetic and earnest, with all the synths turned up to 11. There are also some deeply unironic 50s love ballads, and a couple of tunes that are totally uncool - James' dopey song is in there, and there is even a ZZ Top tune, for crying out loud.

But it all works, with the kind of eclectic mixture that makes a truly great soundtrack album. It goes from Sharon Van Etten straight into the Nine Inch Nails at their most NIN, and finds room for the unmistakable groove of Green Onions before showcasing the Veils at their most un-Veil. And then it all climaxes with the transcendental wonder of a live Otis Redding track.

There are the usual sad omissions - there's another fucking awesome Au Revoir Simone song that doesn't make it onto the final set list, and it could have used a bit of Badalamenti's delicate piano from the scene were Cooper finally got his cherry pie - but a large part of the new Twin Peaks series was about how it wouldn't always give you what you wanted, so you've got to expect the same from the soundtrack.

The roadhouse in Twin Peaks is both part of the show's reality, and something beyond that as a place that exists only in dreams, and each song has some kind of symbolic reference in the episode it appears in, and there are all sorts of depths hiding behind the cheeriest of tunes.

I don't know what any of it means, and I'm not really interested in trying to nut it out for a while yet. All I really know is this - while it doesn't sound much like the other Twin Peaks soundtracks that I've bopping around to since the early 90s, there is no other music I want to hear more when I head back out into the dark.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!: Pat Mills sets the story straight

The personal memoir is a great way to settle scores and get even, and even though Pat Mills has been doing plenty of both in his long and brilliant comics career, his new self-published memoir about the "secret history" of 2000ad is Mills' best opportunity to really tell his side of the story.

It's no exaggeration to say Pat Mills changed the face of British comics. He created 2000ad and was a major developer in the character of Judge Dredd. He has written and commissioned some of the best stories ever published in the UK, and formed fruitful long-term alliances with artists like Kevin O'Neill. He co-created the wonderful Marshall Law, and detests super-heroes as total fascist bully-boys. He still writes great comics for 2000ad to this day - his Defoe, Greysuit, Flesh and Slaine comics are still a vital ingredient in the ever-changing make-up of the galaxy's greatest comic

All of this is fully covered in Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! - the title comes from the catchphrase of Torquemada, the biggest douchebag ever created in UK comics - with Mills going back over his long career, and revealing the stories behind the stories. There are dozens of fascinating anecdotes in the book about his long association with the comic industry, and he goes particularly deep on the earlier phase of his career, when he was first creating 2000ad.

As well as writing about who created what and revealing details of some of his many battles with management, Mills also makes some compelling arguments for the difference between the creator and the developer of a major character, recognising that both have an important part to play, but that there really is a distinct difference.

Mills - who has been fighting the good fight since before you were born - fills his stories with working class heroes, and usually has empathy-lacking toffs as the bad guys. In his new book, he reveals that he doesn't just talk the talk when it comes to sticking it to the man, as he spends a large amount of the book explaining the injustices of the current system, especially in his home country. The fury he feels when creators are routinely screwed over by faceless management who can only find beauty in the balance sheet is all right there, radiating off the page.

Mills' prose style can become something of a rant against the fuckers and fools who get in his way, but it doesn't overwhelm the text. It also helps that this isn't a dry, academic trawl through his bibliography - it is roughly chronological, but bounces back and forth in time as Mills often gets sidetracked into explaining a pet peeve or some ideological injustice, or follows his relationship with a character or a fellow creator all the way through.

After all his years in the industry, Mills has some definite and fixed ideas on what makes good comics and how creators should be treated, and has a few harsh words about editors who keep giving in to the demands of fanboy culture - Mills likes his fans on the individual level, but is appalled when they join a nerd hive-mind and decide on the direction of a comic, away from a mainstream audience who might save it.

Mills also has a go at the unfortunate treatment of former co-writer Tony Skinner, just because he was a full-on, balls-out witch; and frequently refers to the dark period of 2000ad (although this is still a debatable point - I personally think it started in the mid 90s, a lot earlier than Mills believes - but the beauty of reading a book by somebody with such strong opinions is that you're never going to agree with them on everything).

But still, even with all his fiery rhetoric, Mills is a bit of a softie at heart - laying down praise for fellow writers like Gerry Finley-Day, or talking up the efforts of current 2000ad editor Matt Smith. He's also surprisingly willing to bury the hatchet with someone if they apologise. One former editor with whom he had some very public clashes gets off lightly in the book, largely because he took the time to write an apology for the way he dealt with Mills during his tenure as Tharg.

Mills refusal to slag off somebody who has made amends means this book isn't as comprehensive as it could be, but again, that's part of the charm. Mills knows what makes a good story, and that's more than enough.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Silver Surfer: Blinded by the gleam of his heavenly arse

Kirby's Silver Surfer had the power, Buscema's Surfer had the passion and Moebius' Surfer had the grace, but none of them were ever as shiny as Ron Lim's Silver Surfer.

The start of the Surfer's longest-running solo title saw the big man soar away from Earth in the late eighties, straight into a full-on galactic war and immortal vengeance. But with all due respect to the late, great Marshall Rogers, it was all a bit pastel. Steve Englehart's scripts reached for the cosmic, but Rogers' art was always a bit thin, and a bit forced - the artist always looked a little more comfortable with the street-level grime of a Batman story or creepy mood of a DC horror comic.

After Rogers got the series rolling with the first dozen issues, it was Ron Lim - who would draw the character full-time for the next six years - who gave that classic Marvel character a new and thoroughly modern gleam.

Lim was a contemporary of the Image crew, but never quite grabbed same kind of fanboy adoration during that period. His work eschewed the scratchiness of artists like Lee or Liefeld, and was simple and clear, rather more than powerful and exciting. His figurework could be stiff, his design was rarely more than serviceable, and there was a general blankness to his faces that could be off-putting.

But he was perfect for the Silver Surfer in the late '80s and early '90s. While his art couldn't match the sheer balls-out power of previous Surfer artists, he swiftly found a way to make a bald naked bloke covered in skintight metal look visually interesting, and that was by buffing the shit out of the Surfer's body.

In Ron Lim's Silver Surfer comics, every part of the title character's body gleamed and shined, with light bouncing off every kink in his smooth muscles. Lim's Surfer was always a bright source of cosmic light, burning with an inner fire, while his glossy exterior reflected every light source around, bouncing back the cosmic grandeur of the universe back at itself.

When he was surrounded by fire, he would reflect back every lick of flame, looking like a badass humanoid hot-rod from hell, and the light of distant stars would sparkle across his arse as he sailed through the infinite void on his dopey board.

And for all those small limitations at portraying a truly human expression, Lim also did a surprisingly good exasperated or befuddled Surfer, given some emotion to a face without hair or pupils or anything. He was given plenty of chances to do this when Jim Starlin came onboard as writer. As well as resurrecting Thanos after a decade as a statue, Starlin brought a much-needed sense of the absurd to Norrin Radd's meandering through the cosmos, and frequently sent the Surfer to the very limits of weirdness and pointlessness.

But through it all, Ron Lim's Silver Surfer shined on, especially when Marvel started upgrading its paper and printing stock, and made Lim's work even brighter and clearer. It's also little surprise that one of the most successful foil covers of the time used Lim's art to give the Surfer another dimension of gleam on the cover of #50.

Lim's enthusiasm for the Surfer's chrome overhaul was eventually worn down by overwork, and by the end of the last Infinity Gauntlet sequels, Lim was spending too much time cramming a thousand characters into a panel. There wasn't the time to get the Surfer gleaming when he's just one tiny element on the page, and when Lim moved on to other projects, they never shined as hard.

There have been plenty of groovy Silver Surfer comics since then, right up to Mike Allred's wonderfully fluid art. But even with all the improvements in paper and effects, the Silver Surfer has never again gleamed that eternal, not like he did in Lim's hands.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Grandville - Force Majeure: Packed tighter than a badger's den

In the afterword for his fifth and final Grandville book, ace comic creator Bryan Talbot reveals that part of the reason he's packing it in is that it takes him so bloody long to do each book. With the benefit of digital art editing, it can take him up to 40 hours to do a single page, because he's a total perfectionist who can't resist tinkering with the image over and over again.

The results are right there on the page - Force Majeure shares with the other Grandville books a lush, vivid and exciting visual sense - but it's a tonne of work for the artist, and he's earned the right to do something different now.

After all, that 40 hours doesn't even include all the time he spends setting up the plot, and while each of the Grandville books has had a complex story, with a huge amount of detail and incident, Force Majure is particularly dense as hell, full of dodgy dinosaurs and dense deductive reasoning.

There are also doppelgangers and double-crosses and clandestine escapes and fake deaths and long-simmering conspiracies going right to the top of the bureaucratic pole. There are cracking headbutts and huge gunfights and old mentors lured out of retirement, for one last case. There are several different big mysteries going on at once in this volume, and still room for extended flashback sequences and miniature stories within stories - all perfectly balanced with the fine craft of a clockwork watch.

And, as always, there is loads of violence. The latest story in Talbot's anthropomorphic phantasmagoria of an alternate world is kicked off my a terrible act of violence at a restaurant - nobody quite captures the horror of a machine-gun massacre like Talbot - and ultimately leads to the familiar sight of Detective Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard strapping on his big fuck-off guns and unleashing some righteous vengeance on some nasty fools.

Despite a few 'all is lost' moments -and an astronomical body count - Force Majeure ends the Grandville series on a fairly optimistic note. Each book was getting progressively darker as the grim secrets of this alternate world and its complicated society were peeled away, ultimately leading to the decidedly grim previous volume, which revolved around a hidden and ancient genocide of the dough-faced human species, by other bipeds desperate to hide the fact that humans were the original Adam and Eve in the bible.

With the anticipated finality of this last book, there is definitely added peril when LeBrock admits that he is unlikely to come back from this climactic confrontation - there is a good chance this tough old badger really will fall this time. Anything could happen, and it looks increasingly likely that it's all going to go very bad.

You'll have to read the book for yourself to see if LeBrock digs himself out of this particular hole, but you can be reassured that it's a suitable and fitting ending for the Grandville story. You wouldn't expect anything less from a comic crafted by Bryan Talbot, who has been delivering the goods for decades, and the bitter taste of no more future Grandville books is made all the sweeter by any potential new stories from the artist.

After all, there aren't many of his contemporaries who can manage to make this kind of complex storytelling and dynamic art look so easy, even though he has been labouring over the finer details for bloody ages.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

There and back again with the bloody Moomins

I fucking love travel.

I love the strange city streets and familiar airport lounges. I love struggling with the local language and resorting to grunts and pointing. I love the subway systems of all the world's big cities, and how convenient and easy they are to figure out. I love the culture and the history and the people and the architecture and the food.

Oh my god, the food. In the past month, we ate steak in Argentina, tea in Versailles and ramen in central London. In Copenhagen, we scoffed the best cake I've ever eaten, some smorrebrod and snaps for lunch and an eight-course meal at a Michelin star outfit, all in one day. We ate Max Burger with extra cheese in Oslo, devoured lemon chicken in Hong Kong and I discovered that I'm more Swedish than I thought, because the traditional meal of mashed spuds and meatballs turned out to be the kind of brilliantly boring meal I grew up on. We also ate at three different Moomin cafes, because the lovely wife thinks they're adorable.

The museums and art galleries and sites of great history are all well and good, but I can still taste that smorrebrod and snaps.

I love it when things get a bit rough.

Getting lost in the rain in Finland and jumping on a tram illegally to get out of it, and then delayed flights and long hours trying to get the bloody airport wifi working. Under-estimating distance and and overconfidence in overcoming the jetlag leading to more grim death marches around the city streets.

It's all a pain, but it all becomes a great story when you get back home again. You forget all the bad shit, and it all just becomes another story.

I love being out of contact. We still have wi-fi in all the hotels, so it's easy to keep up with all the news. Still checking every morning to see if we had a government back in NZ, or to see if there is a new Closer Look video from , or to follow the massive shit-show that has followed the inevitable fall of the odious Harvey Weinstein, but it's just checking in, there isn't time to follow all the latest developments in everything.

There's too much to do in a day to sit around and read all the latest hot takes on international geo-politics, or the latest announcements from Marvel and DC. Instead, I catch up on everything when I get back - the day allocated for jetlag issues is spent binging on all the dorky news I can handle and it takes hours to get through it all, but by the end, it's all just a bit hard to find anything I really give a shit about.

I mean, I saw a bunch of websites telling me that the forthcoming crossover between the original Battlestar Galactica and the rebooted crew was something to get excited about, but it wasn't. It really wasn't. Nobody needs that.

And shit yeah, I love looking for comic shops on the far side of the world. There were always going to be some I looked up before we left home, but just the ones in England - travelling around Scandinavia, I only looked up the local stores when I arrived in town.

And I stumbled across a couple completely by accident, but after years of prtending to stumble across comic shops all over the world, the lovely wife never believes that any more. But it's true, I don't pretend not to know if there are new comic shops in the latest town we're passing through, because I know I'm never fooling her. But then I am instinctively drawn to the parts of town that do have comic shops, so we inevitably accidentally run into them. Our first night in Stockholm, we go to this sweet little restaurant in Old Town, and I'm scarfing down the lingonberries when I see a shop with a bucket of Vertigo comic back issues across the road. She's never going to believe that's the accident it really was. 

Still, I go to the wool and craft shops with her, and she puts up with my dumb comic shop obsession, and it all works out. Even though I regularly have that thing of walking out of shops disappointed by the way the medium has got away from me, I still seek them out.

And I find the stores in Norway and Denmark were clean and precise and had very, very few actual comic issues, relying instead of some primo collections, trade paperbacks and hardbacks. And it wasn't hard to find Finland has a humongous amount of translated material, dating back decades and decades, and I spent so much time convincing the wife she didn't need one of the innumerable Moomin comics, until I was forced to admit that I had already ordered her the ultimate Moomin book as a Christmas special.

But oh man, I went hard on the comics when I could, and found crucial back issues and weird comics all over the world.

In London, there were missing 2000ads and the issue of the comics journal with the Dylan Horrocks interview and gross old Judge Dredd Megazine yearbooks from the early nineties. I was hugely disappointed that I couldn't find Pat Mill's terrific 2000ad memoir in the main Forbidden Planet story on Shaftsbery Ave, although the shop at the Cartoon Museum came through, as always.

In Helsinki, I get completely fucking lost in an underground mall complex in the centre of town, looking for a comic/gaming store that proves to be another clean and dull outfit, but then I find this second hand store with a back room full of comic goodness, and I come away from there with a book about the brilliant Nick Cardy, the long, long desired You are Margaret Thatcher by Mills and Emerson, and an Excalibur comic from 1990 I'd never seen before.

And everywhere, there were Silver Surfer comics and Batman annuals from the early nineties, and loads of odd random bronze age stuff, from here and there.

It doesn't stop there. There is some surprisingly cheap Dan Clowes in Stockholm, which is always welcome, but all I take away from Oslo is the memory of that fucking park with the weird statues and a book about gritty horror novels from the seventies and eighties.

I can't even remember where I got the Jim Aparo Brave and the Bold  comics, but it was somewhere along the way. Same with the BPRD, Johnny Red, Stray Bullets and Lazarus comics that fill out irritatingly itch gaps, as well as the long-term projects like Peter Milligan's Shade The Changing Man and Hellblazer comics.

I only ever bought one issue of Shade brand new off the shelf ,and have been hunting down the rest of that series since the early nineties. I'm only nine issues away from getting 'em all, so that's probably a couple more overseas trips away.

They get fuckin' heavy, these things, but I never, ever complain about how hard it is to drag all these comics from airport to airport, from one side of the world. That's my choice and it's worth the shoulder ache.

The day we got back from a month overseas, I went straight to the last day of the local annual comic convention and loaded up on even more comics, desperately flipping through comic bins before the jetlag really kicked in. I dragged this heavy-ass shit around the world, I'm hardly going to stop now.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #31. I choose comics

We all go through that moment where we wonder if we're getting too old for this shit. Usually somewhere in the teens, we wonder if we should give up childhood pleasures, and focus more on the grown-up world. It's a real choice.

I'm at home in Temuka, somewhere in the very early nineties, and I'm really thinking that maybe I should give up these stupid comics and be more of an adult, but I just got the first issue of the New Warriors, and it's so slick and so fresh and so new...

I choose comics. I choose comics, and the physical shackles of having a mad, sprawling collection that I'm only just getting under control now. I choose comics, and a lifetime of seeking out and hording the bloody things, and I have never, for one second, regretted that choice.

I choose comics, or they choose me. No difference, same thing.

Monday, October 30, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #30: The night the Doctor came back

The night Doctor Who finally comes back on air after 15 years in the wilderness, I should be on the couch, ready and waiting for the return of the best TV programme ever, ready for another adventure in time and space.

Instead, I’m in the back of an ambulance, helping keep a car crash victim steady after a cop called out for help when I was covering the incident for the local newspaper, and the show can bloody well wait.

It’s the right thing to do. It’s the Doctor thing to do.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #29. Upgrading to CDs with Pulp

When we get home from the pub at three in the morning, the video for the new single from Pulp – Disco 2000 – is playing on the TV, and I realise I have to get a CD player.

This is a time when the year 2000 still sounded a long way off, but I was still well behind the ball on getting a CD machine. This is nothing new, I am terminally slow at catching up with the latest tech, and I was still happy with the massive pile of cassette tapes I’d been blasting for the past decade.

But that Pulp song sounded so new and so modern, I had to get the Different Class album on the slickest format. So the very next morning, still hungover as hell, I get a new stereo system on HP, and get the album, and also get a free tee-shirt that is down the bottom of the wardrobe. Result.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #28: Preachering in Monument Valley

When you’re growing up on the arse end of the world, Monument Valley - and its epic evocation of the American West - might as well have been on the moon. I never expected to actually get there one day, but I wasn’t surprised that the first thing I wanted to do when I stood in the shadow of those literally awesome monoliths was read that issue of Preacher that was set there.

Friday, October 27, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #27: Khan’s wrath made a great first date

I’m only 7 when the second star Trek film comes out. I hadn’t even seen the first one (although I still, to this day, have my little Spock and Kirk and Ilia action figures, which proved a lot more durable that their Star Wars counterparts).

But I’ve seen the ads on the telly, and am desperate to see the new film, and only slightly horrified when my Mum only lets me go if I go on a date with Katie, a girl from my neighbourhood. Despite my intense and entirely rational fear of cooties, I get over it for the Star Trek.

Me and Katie have a great time, and she’s into the film even more than I am, showing this dumb little boy that girls can like the nerdy stuff too. It's not a bloody competition. We can just enjoy it together.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #26: New roads open up at the airport

It’s all very sad, saying goodbye to my big sister, who is off to live in Australia for a few years, but after saying goodbye at the gate, I am heading straight for the airport bookstore, because holy shit, it’s a DC motherlode in there.

For some reason, the bookshop there has a tonne of DC comics from the past few years, all going super cheap, and it’s not just the junk, it’s all the great, weird late ‘80s/early 90s comics, and a large chunk of Armageddon 2001 annuals.

I’m all loaded up with asparagus-picking money and go a bit crazy and buy heaps of the slick new thrills. Most of these comics never come close to my little corner of the world, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen a lot of them.

That’s where I first read my first issue of Sandman, and my first Hellblazer, and the first Doom Patrol.  They’re only bite-sized chunks of these brilliant comic sagas, but it leaves a huge hunger for more that is still barely sated.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #25: Tom Baker’s grin

When I see Tom Baker’s big goofy grin staring up at me from pile of junk put out on the street for the local council’s latest round of inorganic collections, my first thought is that there is no way that it could be part of a pile of hundreds of Doctor Who Magazine back issues, impossible to find anywhere, just sitting on the road, ready for anybody to pick up and take away.

But that’s exactly what it bloody well is.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #24: Bonding for life over the Judge Child

So this kid Kyle, who I’ve just met after starting Miss Green’s class at Temuka Primary in early 1985, he reckons he’s into comics too, and says he’ll lend me the issue of the Judge Child Quest, if I want. He seems pretty cool.

Thirty-three years later, we’re still incredible geeks about things like Doctor Who and the X-Men. We’re a hell of a lot older now, but when it comes to this shit, we never really grew up.

The other week we went for an eight-hour drive just to go check out the comic book possibilities of Dunedin. He still seems pretty cool.

Monday, October 23, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #23: Birthday movies

My birthday is exactly one week after New Year's, so usually falls on the one weekend of the year nobody wants to party any more.

So from a very young age, instead of parties, I grab some mates and go to the movies. I see a Bill and Ted film for my 17th, waste one birthday at the godawful Batman Forever, and see at least three different Star Trek films.

The best was probably my 40th, when I see John Wick at some hipster cinema in Portland, Oregon, after a night of deep degustation and classic video games. Some people want to rock all night and party every day, but I'd rather sit in the dark with the wife and watch Keanu shoot gangster scum in the face.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #22: Break open your heart

The only right and proper place in all of this gleaming, shining space-time curve of the universe to read the Invisibles is on some beach in the mid-1990s, brain swirling with a cocktail of drugs and alcohol and dodgy existential ideas.

It always worked for me, anyway.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #21: One day of geek hell

Sometime in 2003, I visit my little sister in Sydney, and it's great to catch up, and the short holiday gets even better when I find a bunch of 2000ads going cheap at a second-hand place in the centre of town.

I'm in a peak 2000ad period, and especially obsessed with the latest deepening of the Judge Dredd and the balls-to-the-wall thrills of Nikolai Dante. So I'm trying to snap up all the issues I've missed over the past eight years, a task that is proving surprisingly difficult, and when I see ones that are only a couple of years old, going for an Aussie buck each, I grab a fucking shit-ton of them.

To be more accurate, I end up walking out of there with about seven of eight kilograms worth of comics, which isn't a big deal, until I remember that my sister's place is a good few kays away from the train station, and I gotta walk there in the early summer heat, because I've blown all my cash on comics.

There have been a couple of times when being a total fucking nerd has almost got me killed, and this was one of them. I sometimes think that if I die and go to hell, it will all go a bit Sisyphus, and it will be something like that endless fucking walk along baking Sydney streets, carrying a dead weight of printed paper and getting weaker and weaker, and getting to the end of the journey, only to discover they were a bunch of issues I already have.

Friday, October 20, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #20: Up all night watching music videos with my mates

And when we’ve all just moved out of home, and are far away from Mum and dad, we discover we can stay up all night watching music video channels until dawn, and nobody is going to stop us. We’re grown ups now, and can do what we want, and what we want to do is watch music videos all night.

We ended up doing it a lot, and every night would end with a mission to the 24 dairy for some supplies, and a climb up some hill to meet the sun. It was so easy back then, but I am old now, and the last time I stayed up all night, it took me three days to recover.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #19: Missing the Battlestar

My relationship with the lovely wife started as a long distance relationship, which meant we spent a lot of time on the phone for a couple of months, before she made the ultimate sacrifice and moved to Blenheim with me.

At the time, Battlestar Galactica had just been rebooted, and was playing on Friday nights, and the soon-to-be wife would always ring up 10 minutes into a new episode, and I would completely miss what was happening. I got so lost, I gave up the series altogether, and didn’t catch up on this missing episodes until after the series had ended. Even though I was really enjoying the show, I gave it up without a second thought, because some things are more important than some TV show.

Spending a Friday night watching Battlestar Galactica is a fine thing, but sometimes a boy just needs to get out of the house and meet some girls.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #18: My first paycheck

The first thing I buy with my first proper paycheck is a new, more powerful TV aerial, so I can watch season three of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is only playing on a station that doesn't yet broadcast in our area. It's not perfect, and I still have to watch most episodes through the static for another year or two, but it’s my only ticket to the final frontier.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #17: Hungover as hell with David Lynch

For some darn reason, every time I see a new David Lynch film for years, it's at the very end of a drunken, debauched weekend.

Me and my mates head off to Lost Highway one Sunday night, all still hungover from the excellent wedding party we'd all been to the night before; I see Mulholland Drive at the end of a massive bender of a weekend, still tripping from the night before, dry and confused in the cinema; and I'm too old to be getting that drunk at my sister-in-law's 21st, but the massive hangover doesn't stop me from staggering off to Inland Empire the next day.

It's not big, and it's not clever, and for a while I convince myself that it really helps, seeing movies with such fluid grasps of reality, when it feels like everything in my body and mind is turning inside out. That some kind of physical punishment boosts the intellectual connection with these fractured narratives, and these moments of goofball humour and shattering horror.

And when I watched almost all of the new Twin Peaks stone-cold sober on a Monday afternoon, and Lynch's work is as transcendent as ever, it looked like that theory was just a load of malarkey. Then I saw the last episode at two in the morning, and I'm still a bit traumatised by that.

Monday, October 16, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #16: By the pool with the Classic X-Men

Finding old issues of X-Men comics was an absolute fucking mission in the late eighties, but at least there were plenty of Classic X-Men comics to fill in the gaps.

I still have the same issues I bought off the shelves of Baird's Bookshop, all those years ago, and when I read them recently to see if they still held up - shit yeah, they do - I found myself reading a comic I first read by the public pool at the Temuka Domain. I know this, because the back cover is still crinkled from where I accidentally sat on it. I was almost inconsolable about the small damage to the pristine comic book back then, but that damage is now a direct wormhole to that day.

Summer days by the pool with new X-Men comics can feel like they last forever when you're 12-years-old. As long as I've still got the comic in question, they still do.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #15: I’m with Rowdy Yates

When my mum bought me the Judge Dredd roleplaying game for my birthday one year, I thought she was the best Mum in the world. (Still do.)

I never actually played the game – I never played any proper D+D games, the few I tried had shit gamemasters – but in those pre-wiki days, any kind of reference book, filling out the weird and wonderful history of Judge Dredd and Mega City One. Nearly all the useless facts I still have about Judge Dredd, rattling around in my skull, come from the background revealed in that game.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #14 : A Planetary pity party

We were getting married in a month, but the lovely soon-to-be-wife had disappeared for the day to go get shit-faced at a local wine festival with an old mate, so I was all alone in the house on a sunny Saturday afternoon, with nothing to do except drink my own wine and read the Ellis/Cassady Planetary comics.

This was no pity party. It had taken me a long time to get into Planetary – I’d only read the first trade, and by this stage it was only a couple of issues away from its climax (although these final issues would literally take years to come out). But I’d picked up the whole thing for a song online, and it was a beautiful day for a binge read.

I was a mess by the time I got through two dozen issues of beautiful homages to all the crazy genres of the 20th century, and that was only partly due to the wine. Warren Ellis always puts on a hard face, but he can also be a total sentimentalist too, and the affection for all the dumb old tropes overcame all the other snark and sneers. As a love letter to the silly fictions of the past century, it’s unmatched, and John Cassady’s art was shiny enough to capture all that affection.

She might have been the one to get out of the house and interact with actual human beings like a proper person, but the wife was just drunk and sunburned when she got home. I’d been to the glorious limits of genre fiction, man. My head was bursting.

Friday, October 13, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #13: Uncle Soul comes home with the Robocop

Growing up, my Uncle Soul was the coolest uncle – he would give me comic books and let me stay up a bit late to watch cheesy horror on the TV.  But he took another step up the cool ladder one Friday night when I was staying with him and my Aunite, and he came home with a copy of Robocop one Friday night.

Even though I’d been a total sci-fi geek as a kid, and even though Robocop always owed an obvious debt to Judge Dredd, which I’d been reading since I was six, this was next level. It was nasty, and funny, and biting in a way Star Wars never was. It was also incredibly grown-up, and not just because it was tremendously gory, and left me desperate for more adult sci-fi action, leading down a path towards more brilliance like Aliens and Predator.

Looking back, I was probably a couple of years too young to be seeing such gleeful carnage up on the screen. I had nightmares about the ED-209 blowing my bones away for years afterwards. But it was totally worth it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #12: Walking into my very first comic book shop

It was on the corner, right at the bottom of Stuart street, opposite the Dunedin railway station. There was a bunch of Crumb and Bagge comics on a shelf, and they seriously freaked me out – I was only just 13 – so I headed straight for the safety of GI Joe and Excalibur comics that wouldn’t be in my local bookshop for another four months.

You never forget your first comic book shop.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #11: Return of the Great Grape Ape

I was only a little kid, so I can’t remember what I’d done, but I’d certainly be naughty enough for my lovely Mum to confiscate a pile of my absolute favourite comics, including some Claremont/Byrne awesomeness and, tragically, a Great Grape Ape annual that was my best book in the world at the time. (Although I didn’t really care about the comics featuring the Ape, I was way more into the weird Hong Kong Phooey strips.)

My parents were staggeringly young when they had us kids – Mum would only have been in her mid-twenties at this time – but her parenting skills were golden. Whatever I did to deserve this punishment, it was traumatic enough to ensure I didn’t bloody do it again.

It wasn’t until months later, while playing hide and seek, that I found that she hadn’t thrown them out at all, and they were sitting in the back of a cupboard. She let me have them back, because I’d learned my lesson, and she inadvertently ensured that I would be a comic freak for life, because that rush of getting them back after months of being deprived was so, so good.

I’ve still got the Great Grape Ape annual. I could never get rid of it after all that.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #10: Ultimate surround sound with the Wild Bunch

It was a cold, cold night in Dunedin, and I was up to the bit in The Wild Bunch where they blow up the bridge to foil the posse chasing them down, and at the instant the explosion went off, there was an almighty crash right outside the window.

It turned out it was so cold that a council truck that was laying down grit on the frozen road outside had lost its grip and was pin-balling down the steep street, bouncing off the cars at the side of the road, including the one right outside the window.

I felt bad for the neighbour whose car was demolished, but I gotta say - that was one hell of a sound effect. Beats any sub-woofer in the world.

Monday, October 9, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #9: Drunk as fuck at From Dusk Till Dawn

I used to make a habit of going to the movies while completely shitfaced, which never really worked out as well as I planned.

But I was stone cold sober when the funniest drunken moment I ever saw in a cinema happened. It was a late night screening of From Dusk Till Dawn, on the first weekend it was out, and the dude who slumped in his seat two rows in front of us was obviously off his tits. He seemed to fall asleep pretty quickly, and you could hear him quietly snoring during the tense hostage drama of the first half.

And then the vampires showed up, and that woke Drunkey McDrunk the hell up, because just as situation in the Titty Twister devolved into bloody carnage, he sat bolt upright in his seat and screamed out ‘WHAT THE FUCK?!?’

Nobody had told him about the vampires, and he obviously thought it was just another crime drama, like all the other Tarantino knock-offs at the time. Until it suddenly wasn't.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #8: The days 2000ad (future) shocked me

I’ve been reading 2000ad on the street for nearly 40 years now, and whether it was spinning out over the Zenith revelation, or the double hit of Necropolis-era Judge Dredd, I always, always remember where I am when 2000ad hits me with a twist so full of thrillpower it stops me in the tracks.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #7: Back of the bookstore

I was buying an issue of John Wagner and Cam Kennedy's Outcasts comic from the second hand bookstore on Sydenham Road in Christchurch, when the owner told me that if I was interested in comics, I should check out what he had in the back.

That usually meant a pile of worthless Eagle or New Universe comics, but it turned out the dude used to own a comic store in town, and all of his back issue stock, mainly from the late eighties, was still piled high on the shelves in the room out back, all for sale for a buck fifty each.

I went a bit crazy that first day, finally finishing off painfully incomplete runs of the slightly esoteric comics from that period, and taking a stab at all sorts of series I’d never even read before.

That craziness didn’t die down for a while. It was hot as hell that whole summer, but after cooling off at the beach, I would spend hours in that cramped, stuffy room, dropping sand everywhere. The shop is long gone now, the building another victim of the city’s devastating 2011 earthquake, but that moment of walking into a room full of weird, almost unsellable comics was the best moment of the summer.

Friday, October 6, 2017

31 days of dork heaven #6: Off to Rohan with the Virgin Suicides and Wonder Boys

I wasted far too much of my 20s getting stoned with my mates and going for vast, rambling road trips all over the South Island. Sunday drives to the West Coast might be a 10-hour round trip, but they made good ice creams in Westport, and it was something to do.

One of the best was one Saturday afternoon, where we decided to bash around the countryside and find some sets for Lord of the Rings, which was shooting in our back country at the time. It took ages to get up there, and find what we were looking for, although getting stuck in a crowd of horseman brandishing big fuck-off swords was a good sign we were on the right rack. We ended up parking up surprisingly close to the Halls of Rohan, and got fucking munted on some sweet oil that Spook had scored.

That was fun, but one of the best parts of that particular trip was the reading material I'd taken along. I always took a book on these drives, to get through the long stretches of familiar landscape, and on this particular trip, I blazed through The Virgin Suicides on the drive up, and got through almost all of The Wonder Boys on the way down.

Neither of the books had been turned into movies yet (although they were both on the way), and for one brief, golden afternoon, I went to Middle Earth while high on cannabis and the crippling ennui of growing up in 20th century America. It was a surprisingly good mix.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #4: A double dose of Pulp

If my young man movie obsession ever peaked at one particular point, it was probably the day me and Anthony drove up to Christchurch on a Sunday to watch Pulp Fiction twice.

Antz was just as much a movie freak as I was at that age - at its worst, we would later compete to see who could see Escape From LA at the cinema the most - and we were both definitely on Team Tarantino after Dogs had blown our minds. When it opened, it wasn’t playing in our home town, so we had to drive 200kms to see it, and we didn't hesitate.

We saw Pulp Fiction for the first time at 10am on a Sunday morning, and since we had made the effort, went to four other films throughout the day. I honestly can’t remember what the other films were, (although I have a sneaky suspicion one of them was Linklater’s Slacker), but when we were about to head on the long drive back home, Antz suggested going back and seeing Pulp for a second time late in the day, and I couldn’t argue with his plan.

In the end, we didn’t get home until well after midnight, and it was hell getting up for work the next morning, but it was totally worth it. I’d never seen the same film twice in a theatre in the same day, and haven’t done it again since, but Pulp was always worth it.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #3: Driving with the lights off

I was so fucking excited to get my full driver's license, after a lifetime of being chained to semi-rural South Canterbury, so the first thing on the day I got it was borrow Dad's car and drive right across town to buy the latest issue of Justice League America.

I felt so mature, and so free, and so on top of the world, right up until the moment I realised I'd been driving around town at night without my headlights on.

I don't read the Justice League anymore, but I always, always check my headlights are on.

Monday, October 2, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #2: On a mountain in Mongolia, reading Love and Rockets

We were travelling through the lower part of Mongolia when I got some awful food poisoning. It was bad and nasty and at one point I was sure Dani Moonstar was coming to take me away to Valhalla. But I also got over it surprisingly quickly, thanks to lemon tea, the bracing Mongolian air, and the local tendency to treat any illness with 'drink more vodka'.

So two days after I was puking my fucking guts out, while the lovely wife and the rest of the tour were off on a horse trek, I scrambled up the side of the nearest small mountain with some dry cheese, a bottle of apple vodka and my battered copy of Duck Feet: volume six of the Complete Love and Rockets, and read about Carmen and Doyle and Israel and Tony. It was a beautiful spot up there, with one of the country's few clear and empty lakes below, and I was so far away from the rest of the planet, and I had to stop reading to take in the whole thing, because I was getting a bit emotional up there.

When I saw them coming back from the trek, far below, I packed away the Love, and tumbled down the mountain with the last of the vodka swirling around in my cup, and I didn't spill a fucking drop.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

31 days of nerd heaven #1: The day the Unknown Soldier taught me how to read

Most of the greatest moments of my life don't involve comic books and movies and TV shows, but a lot of them do.

Of course, the best days were the ones where I met my wife, and courted her, and won her fair hand, and all the days since, and all the places we've been, and all the weird shit we've seen together, and all the love we've shared. Nothing compares to that.

But I've also been a total fucking dork my entire life, and there are days I still remember with tremendous fondness, because that was the day I first read some comic that made me think new thoughts about the world, or watched a film that moved me beyond words, or just really fucking enjoyed some piece of pop culture bullshit.

Even though I had a huge crush on Ms Marvel from a very early age, it really starts with the day I realised I could understand every word in an Unknown Soldier comic. I was only five or six, and still already deeply invested in comic books, swapping out a grocery bag full of everything every Tuesday down at the second hand bookshop where my Nana Smith worked.

I was still earning to read - shit, I learned a new word yesterday, so I don't think you ever stop - but I would try to understand every word in all the big boy comics like Sgt Rock and X-Men, not just the easy Whizzer and Chips. And I still remember finishing off the latest issue of the Unknown Soldier while driving to the store one afternoon, and the brilliant realisation that I could follow all the words.

Like a junkie, I'm still chasing that rush of such an intellectual breakthrough. And like a junkie, I've come close a couple of times, while never quite matching the original high.

There is going to be a lot of this kind of trite sentimentality at the Tearoom over the next few weeks, but that's par for the course. I'm on holiday, and I'm all about the trite sentimentality.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Far, far away

I don't remember much about the first time I went tripping on acid - it ended up being a very messy, incredibly confusing and slightly enlightening night - but I still vividly remember freaking out in the bathroom at the KFC in Timaru.

I was staring in the mirror, trying to get a grip on things, and trying to deal with the fact that I was so very, very, very far away from home, and I had no idea how to get there, and my head was spinning and I had to get out of there, but it was such a huge distance to get home, and I was stuck.

I wasn't, of course - my mate Simon was driving us around and could take me home at any point. Also, crucially, I was actually only about 17 kilometres away from home, which wasn't very far at all.

Last year, while visiting Iceland with the lovely wife, we drove up to one of the most northern points of the island, and before we turned around and headed back to Reykjavik, I made us stop for a photo because that was, as far as I could figure, the furthest away I would ever get from home.

This time, I really was several thousand kilometres - and at least three plane rides - away from home, so this was a lot further than the local KFC. If we went any farther north, we would start coming around the other side, so without actually going off into space, this was as far as I was ever going to get.

I wasn't tripping this time, so there wasn't anything to panic about, although I almost got the rental car stuck in the Icelandic sand getting the hell out of there.

We're heading off on another trip at the end of this week, right around the world, but mainly in the Scandinavian countries, because they're so fucking pretty. While I still get a day to check out the finest book and comic shops in London, most of the time I won't be speaking the same language.

I'm going far, far away again. 

The Tearoom will remain open while we're away, but things are going to get tediously and embarrassingly confessional for the next month. Like, really fucking dorky. You have been warned.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The peak of geek

I'm not as dorky as I once was, and I've always wondered when that nerd tsunami peaked. So, using the finest research methodology, I've finally managed to exactly work out what point in space and time I was at my dorkiest. I based it on the one month in history where I owned more comics than any other month.
It took a while, but it was easy to figure out in the end. Unsurprisingly, it was the bloody nineties. August 1993, to be exact.

I worked this out because instead of having useful information like 'how to fix a car' or 'how to arrange a mortgage', my brain is instead capable of recalling any comic I've ever owned since I was 7-years-old, purely from seeing the cover. All that fucking useless information is still rattling around in my head, doing no good at all.

But it did mean I could use the database of comic covers at Mike's Amazing World, which showed all the comics put out by the biggest publishers over the past few decades, and figure out which month was the most frenzied for comic buying. It took a couple of weeks, but when I needed to do something to switch off from the world for a while, I would go through and count out how many comics I got from that month.

It wasn't not entirely exhaustive or scientific in any way - there were some comics that were missing from the list (a lot of small publishers aren't in that database, so no Love and Rockets, or anything like that); and I only did between 1985 and 2000, because I already knew that was when I bought the most comics, by far.

I wrote it all down and it looked like this:

That might just be the nerdiest fucking thing ever posted on the internet, and I know that is a high bar to hurdle.

Jesus fucking Christ, what a fucking dork.

But as nerdy as it was to do this, I'm still nowhere near the levels I was in August 1993, because I have, at one time or another, owned 58 individual comic books published this month.

The nerdiness remained high, all the way through these years. There wasn't a month of published comic between 1985 and 2000 where I didn't end up buying at least 10 issues, and there are several years when I don't get any less than 30, every single month. This was, to use the technical term, a fuck-tonne of comics.

But August 1993 was the peak - it took a while to get to that point, and it never got quite that frenzied again. That was the high point of comics for me, and it's not hard to figure out why.

It's worth noting that there were always more comic buying at that time of year, because there are always a tonne more actual comics published every American summer.

That's when there were more crossovers, and annuals, and a lot of regular comics would go on a bi-weekly schedule for a few months. 1993 was particularly bad for all this - there was the Reign of the Supermen and Knightfall bollocks going on, a bunch of annuals introducing characters that nobody would ever care about again, and several thousand Infinity Crusade crossovers, as well as all the usual nonsense. June to August was always going to be packed with comics.

But really, it's all personal history behind this surge and ebb - 1993 was my first year out of school, my first year earning a wage, the first year I could buy anything I felt like.

Plus, I had a car, and I could get out of my tiny town and to the big smokes of Christchurch and Dunedin, raiding the comic shops there, and coming home with a back seat literally covered in comic book goodness.

It was also that time in my life when I went through that weird tipping point between a deep obsession with all things superhero, and the first faltering steps into 'mature' comics. A few years earlier, and it was all Marvel and DC, a few years later and they're the rarity.

I was definitely tending more towards DC over Marvel at this time, just because Marvel was stuck in a post-Image funk, while DC was really getting into the iconography of their characters, and were more willing to mess with the formula. But the days when it was all things superhero for Bob were numbered.

Most of these comics that I bought from August 1993 are long gone, the majority disappeared during the usual purges, when I realised I didn't need all those Infinity Gauntlet sequels and spin-offs, and all that post-death Superman, and all those endlessly awful X-comics, and they all went to new homes.

I do still have a small fuck-tonne of them though, sitting in boxes under the bed, a metre away from where I'm typing this. I've still got all the Legion of Super-Heroes and Flash and Cerebus the Aardvark comics I bought at the time, and most of the Vertigo from that period (I still can't get rid of Kid bloody Eternity). I still got the Miracleman and the Lobo. I definitely still have the 1963 comics and all the Garth Ennis books, (this month's issue of Hellblazer is arguably his best single comic of this period), and I was just reading the Batman comic with the sweet Arthur Ranson art the other day.

I've had most of these comics for almost a quarter of a century, and they've survived multiple purges, so as much of a cultural wasteland as August 1993 was, it still had some merit.

I got caught making this list at work a couple of times at work, and I couldn't admit what I was doing, because it was just so fucking nerdy. But it was pleasantly addictive, and mildly educational. I'm glad I did it.

I'm also still fucking glad I'm not 18 anymore, because outside of the comic obsession, I was the usual late-adolescent mess. But all I have to do is look at these covers and it takes me right back to that heady rush of young adulthood. Maybe it's worth using up all that brain space after all.