Saturday, 25 October 2008

a few unrelated things have rubbed together in an unexpected way.

Firstly I see via Journalista that my old pal Phil Elliott is posting his earliest material online: "This could almost be considered one of the founding documents of the U.K. small-press movement of the 1980s, I suspect. Here’s the complete minicomic introducing one of the most well-regarded series from that period, Elliott’s Tales of Gimbley." He's putting them up in sequence, a new one each day.

This coincides with a month of broadcasts/podcasts AT RESONANCE 104.4 FM devoted to myself in a program titled Panel Borders. It includes a good interview withAlan Moore just about From Hell and A Disease of Language. There are a couple of anecdotal details in there that I didn't know about. The first of these podcasts catches me and Paul Gravett in a Nottingham pub on my recent visit to Blighty, in which we are queried at some length about the first British comics small press scene by Alex Fitch and Oli Smith, who has an interest in the subject on account of casting himself as the reviver of said scene.

I've become wary of talking too much about the '80s small press thing, in the same way that I decided not to contribute a reminiscence about the '90s self publishing thing when Jeff Smith was rounding them up recently. It would be too easy to be smug and make it sound like a bigger event than it was. I haven't worked out a theory or an official summary of events (leaving aside the fictionalized version in How to be an Artist). On the other hand, most accounts of the situation are usually incorrect. I once took issue with Roger Sabin's version, of which it was not so bad that it was incorrect as that he trotted it out more than once with only slight variations.

The thing about the original small press comics scene is that there was a seeking to make comics into a kind of café thing. The exciting challenge was to make the medium interact with the regular passing parade. Objects were creatively undefined, and poetry music and mail-art were in the mix. Getting an exhibition in a coffee house or a Mayfair gallery, or a review or interview in the music press or in an arts context, or selling stuff at the Saturday open air market or at CND rallies were a few of our opportunities to connect, as I recall. In the end this all failed and the subject got stripped down to its least interesting components and sucked into the vortex of comic books (meaning the American idiom) which I regarded as the enemy then and still do now (elsewhere referred to, by me, as the great extravaganza of baloney). I'm worried I may have said something in that interview (above) to the effect that Paul Grist is an example of an artist who has managed to eke out a living from his art but that he is not as original now as he was in his first small press outings. I did not make it clear that I apply the same criticism to most of my own work since then too, and that it is in fact a general principle in the matter of making a living from art; the longer you commit to it the more it will wear you down. But my point was to indicate a successful artist who had come out of the small press milieu, before I confused the issue.

In this 2005 interview with Phil Elliott, Phil shows an old photo that brought back the spirit of 1982. There was a nucleus of folk who had connected in different ways, but mostly through Paul Gravett as old high school chums (I don't think there was any residue from his time at Cambridge). Paul found me in late 1981 showing my wares in an Amateur Press association, which really wasn't the place for them but I was frustrated and without a way forward, and he found Glenn Dakin doing a regular twice-monthly page in his college paper in Manchester, and he drew our attention to many other things happening, like the VIz guys turning out their scurrilous comic paper from a bedroom in Newcastle and taking it to sell at the local pub. It would later sell millions and be Britain's third biggest selling magazine after the two TV guides (the rest of the top ten were all womens' magazines, needless to say.) And stuff happening in other countries, Lat in Malaysia, Chester Brown in Canada etc. etc. Paul's contribution, prior to actually publishing the groundbreaking Escape magazine (and eight or nine Escape albums) I mean, was knowing what was going on and where.

The photo shows Phil Elliott and Ed Hillyer as bookends, both of whom I have worked with over extended periods and in the middle is Jerry Thackray, alias Everett True, who was very much a part of the early scene, though I was never sure what he was going to amount to. He is "best known by many music fans as the man who introduced Courtney Love to Kurt Cobain in 1991." he turned up in my neck of the woods recently:

LEGENDARY British music critic Everett True has rankled the local music industry with a scathing attack on Australian street press, accusing local writers of going too soft on Aussie bands.
"Australians don't have much respect for the music press - it runs counter to their culture. Australian rock is all about 'Good on ya, mate - well done for getting up on stage and switching that amplifier on'," True writes in his blog.
"The idea of anyone actually daring to criticise musicians for the sound they make is almost heresy. Everyone is treated equally, which means no knocking anyone back, however great the temptation (that'll be why Australian rock is best known to the outside world for such musical abominations as Silverchair, The Vines and Savage Garden)."
Hey, True, if you're still in the vicinity, drop me a line.


Friday, 24 October 2008

just going out to the photocopier, thirty years ago. (sketches for part of a cover idea... they weren't intended to look like a sequence)


blogger Alicia Carrier finds wee faces in the broccoli (photos)


Thursday, 23 October 2008

john Cale was a founding member of the band the Velvet Underground among other claims to musical significance. His autobiography, What's Welsh for Zen? (1999) is one of the great illustrated books of our time. it was Neil Gaiman who brought Cale and Dave McKean together for the project, as Neil explained in his blog last year. Mckean did something more than just set the type on almost every page of the 270 page volume. He even found ways to use his familiar comics approach in a few places. It doesn’t tend to turn up in lists of McKean's work; Wikipedia doesn’t mention it while having a list of all his comic books and DVD covers ( “We’ll fix that when we get home, Bart”).

Here are a few random example spreads:

While revisiting the book recently I became fascinated by Cale's brief account of the oddly famous September 9 1963 performance of Erik Satie's Vexations. This musical composition has its own 3,000 word Wikipedia entry. It was organised by American 'avant garde' composer John Cage, described on the Wiki page as being "doubtless instrumental in creating some misconceptions about Erik Satie's work in general". The instructions on the score indicate that it is to be repeated 840 times. It was played the requisite number of times in a public performance by a relay team of players including the 21 year old John Cale. An interesting follow up to the event occurred on the tv show ‘I've got a secret” which teams Cale with Karl Schenzer, the only person in the audience who sat through the whole thing. That sequence from the program is of course is easy to find on Youtube:

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Wednesday, 22 October 2008

This may be my last post until i figure out why logging into blogger closes down Safari on my computer. I can get in here long enough to type a short message but not long enough to access my drafts folder, putting the pictures I uploaded a half hour ago beyond my reach. Suggestions anybody?
musician plays his banjo while having brain surgery. (Two minutes of video of the performance.)
A musician who underwent brain surgery to treat a hand tremor played his banjo throughout to test the success of the procedure.
Eddie Adcock is one of the pillars of Bluegrass Music and realised his tremor could threaten his ability to perform professionally.
Surgeons placed electrodes in Mr Adcock's brain and fitted a pace maker in his chest which delivers a small current which shuts down the region of his brain causing the tremors.
(link thanks to Bob Morales)

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Tuesday, 21 October 2008

You kids keep offa my lawn!

due to the overwhelming thumbs up in response to my post telling you kids how to dress properly, I am now offering 'Comicbook morality in one easy lesson.' What you gotta do, right, is if you have a character and you want to send the reader a signal that we are not to take this person's actions as morally positive, you first must show him eating badly. Here is Rorschach with a can of cold beans:

Later when you want to show him ruthlessly breaking a criminal's fingers one by one in what would normally be unacceptable torture, don't worry because you will already have covered it by showing what a sloppy eater he is:

Now let us take a more recent example. It helps if the foodstuff is something that you kids don't like very much, like seafood. Pizza or burger is no good for this technique. Here is the Joker with some scampi:

And now we can show him blowing a guy away with impunity. You can take a low angle like you would with a hero blowing a villain away. It's all right because we already covered it with the yukky seafood:

This old fuddy duddy will no doubt have more useful advice for navigating those difficult parts of the comicbooks on another day. Keep watching, kids.

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Sunday, 19 October 2008

i've been listening to a box set of of Joseph Haydn's arrangements of Scottish songs, of which these folk are in the course of recording as a complete program, which they say includes stuff never performed in modern times. He made them mostly in the last couple of years of his life, many of them with verses by the immortal Robert Burns. I'm reminded of a set of old encyclopedias I recently threw out because I found that I was tending to use Wikipedia all the time. I can't remember the name of it now in spite of it being my close companion for fifteen years. Harmsworths? Anyway, I liked having this set in particular because it was sixty years old and still had all those old forgotten English gentlemen who have tended to drop out of more recent encyclopedias, and it was useful to have all that when I was doing From Hell. But all its values belonged to a distant age. On the subject of Burns it discussed his poetry in a lengthy entry and then added that he wrote verses for several hundred sentimental songs of no account. That certainly isn't the modern estimation of his songwriting, or of songwriting generally.

In another article, on that magnificent beast, the Elk, the encyclopedia told me all about this noble creature, its size, its habits and its habitat and then added 'It tastes of musk'.

I caught a few lines of The Simpsons recently while passing through our living room. Homer is driving somewhere with Bart also in the car. They are disagreeing about something, I can't remember what, and Bart says "but in Wikipedia it says..." and Homer responds, "We'll fix that when we get home."