Tag Archives: graphic novel

Curiouser & curiouser: Alice in Wonderland exhibition

15 Jul
Bryan Talbot's Jabberwock, from Alice in Sunderland

Bryan Talbot’s Jabberwock, from Alice in Sunderland

Come down the rabbit-hole with me, to the Cartoon Museum’s Alice in Wonderland exhibition. It opens today in celebration of the book’s 150th anniversary, and the press launch was last night.

The most striking part of the show is what a gift Lewis Carroll’s creation has been to political satirists. Not all are wildly original: there are five books in a glass case all weakly punning on the title – Adolf in Blunderland, Malice in Kulturland, Wilson in Wonderland, Alice in Wonderground and Alice in Plunderland! They might have added Russell Brand’s TV show Ponderland, and the current kids’ TV fantasy spin on that, Yonderland.

They are in good company, however. There are two Punch cartoons by the definitive Alice illustrator, John Tenniel, parodying his own work: Alice in Blunderland (1880) derides the erection of the Temple Bar Memorial, and Alice in Bumbleland (1898) attacks the bill to divide the County of London into 28 metropolitan boroughs. I guess you had to have been there.

And there are a few really clever ones. My favourite might be the Vietnam War-era cartoon by Robert O. Bastian, with Lyndon B. Johnson as the Duchess and Chairman Mao as the Cheshire Cat. It’s captioned: “Speak roughly to your little boy, and beat him when he sneezes/ He only does it to Hanoi because he knows it teases”!

An honourable mention, too, to Victor Weisz of the Evening Standard in 1961, when strike action by teachers led to school closures: “That’s why they are called lessons,” he quotes from the Gryphon, “because they lessen every day.”

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is, of course, a gift to political illustrators, but the best use of Humpty Dumpty must be Les Gibbard’s in 1988. It portrays the ovate Mr. Dumpty toppling at the feet of Edwina Currie as Alice, after Currie’s comments about salmonella had wrought havoc in the British egg industry.

The ad industry co-opted Alice, too, particularly Guinness, who have a series of poorly pastiched poems on posters around the Cartoon Museum, of which one good line stands out: ‘Off with its head!’ cried the Queen. ‘Nonsense!’ replied Alice. ‘Guinness keeps its head.’”

The rest you’ll have to find out for yourselves. Look out for Ralph Steadman’s striking Patty Hearst trial illustration, and the great comic writer/artist Bryan Talbot tackling Tenniel head-on in his wonderful graphic novel Alice in Sunderland.

Kudos, by the way, to the magician in a Mad Hatter’s hat who performed close-up tricks. I was also rewarded with a story for gallantly giving up my seat to a lovely lady who turned out to work for the Museum. The seat in question was a toilet seat, for which I had been first in line, at which she directed me to the upstairs loo: “It’s said to be haunted, so most of the staff refuse to use it.”

Intriguing. Clearly JK Rowling was on to something with Moaning Myrtle.

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD, at the BFI tonight

28 Oct
2000AD characters

A rogue’s gallery of 2000AD heroes, anti-heroes and villains. If you can name most of them, you’re a true “Squaxx Dek Thargo”.

2000AD is the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. It says so on the masthead. Tonight, as part of the BFI’s Days of Fear and Wonder sci-fi season, a new documentary goes a long way to proving that’s no idle boast.

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD gathers an impressive array of interviewees from the comic’s history: founder Pat Mills, editor David Bishop, a wide array of artists and writers (Alan Moore, predictably, is the only no-show), plus fans such as Anthrax’s Scott Ian, who wrote a song about Judge Dredd; Portishead’s Geoff Barrow; and screenwriter Alex Garland, who penned the Karl Urban Judge Dredd movie. The documentary is a master-class in editing: though it’s pretty much all talking heads, apart from some semi-animated stills from the comic (“Gaze into the fist of Dredd!”), the interviewees speak with such passion and eloquence that it’s never dull.

Some of the ins and outs, and the admirable frankness with which the loss of direction in the ‘90s is addressed, may appeal more to the 2000AD devotee (or “Squaxx Dek Thargo”, as we are known). But the key points will be of interest to anyone who loves comics:

1. 2000AD was born in 1977 out of punk and a feeling of revolution. It was Pat Mills’s follow-up to Action, the comic that was too violent to live. It used science-fiction not as escapism, but as a device for satirising the present without getting sued or banned (though they came close sometimes, which is why “Burger Wars” is never reprinted). It had four or five different strips in each issue, allowing room for experimentation and the nurturing of new writers and artists, but its one constant was Judge Dredd – a futuristic reboot of Dirty Harry whose brand of legally sanctioned vigilante justice made him popular with lefties who could see the satire, as well as, uncomfortably, others who couldn’t.

2. 2000AD changed the face of American comics. With the honourable exceptions of Warrior (home of V for Vendetta), Deadline (home of Tank Girl) and the odd Marvel UK or Doctor Who comic, 2000AD was pretty much the only game in town. If you were a Brit, and you wanted to work in comics, this is where you did it. The talent pool, therefore, was incredible. America’s DC Comics, under the editorship of Karen Berger, set up the Vertigo imprint specifically to tap into that pool. Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, Kevin O’Neill, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Brendan McCarthy, Pete Milligan – Brits such as these brought a humour, an anarchy, a rule-breaking, risk-taking mentality that shook up American comics and created a new golden age.

3. 2000AD had, and is continuing to have, a big impact on Hollywood. The only two official 2000AD movies so far are both of Judge Dredd, and neither set the box office alight. But the comic’s influence is far-reaching. The sci-fi film Hardware was based on a 2000AD Future Shock (it wasn’t credited at first, until I put two and two together in Time Out magazine and the producers had to settle out of court, full story here). RoboCop was a rip-off of Judge Dredd – the early version of his helmet, shown in the documentary, was an exact copy. The Book of Eli is, to all intents and purposes, set in the Cursed Earth. And it’s wormed its way into the DNA: a whole generation of Hollywood film-makers grew up reading 2000AD, and have absorbed its world-view.

I could go on – but why not see for yourself? There are still a few tickets available now for tonight’s screening, which includes a Q&A with 2000AD founder Pat Mills, artist Kevin O’Neill, and the documentary’s director Paul Goodwin and producers Helen Mullane and Sean Hogan.

The Hartlepool Monkey: how we made comic-book history

21 Sep

ImageSummer’s always full of comics turned into films. We’ve had Superman, Iron Man 3, Wolverine, 2 Guns, Red II and Kick Ass II, with R.I.P.D. still to come. But comics aren’t all about superheroes – in fact this year’s Cannes Palme D’Or winner, Blue Is The Warmest Colour (opening Nov 15 in the UK), was based on a graphic novel.

The world of comics is much more diverse than some people realise, as demonstrated by The Hartlepool Monkey, a French graphic novel which I co-translated with the multi-award-winning Frank Wynne, published in the UK in early October. It’s based on the true story (the details of which are shrouded in legend) of a monkey who was washed ashore from a wrecked Napoleonic vessel, and hanged by the Hartlepool locals who mistook the small, hairy brute for a Frenchman.

To this day, the Hartlepool football team has a monkey as its mascot. In a bizarre twist of fate, the man in the monkey suit ran for mayor in 2002 on a platform of free bananas for school children… and won. He was even reelected in 2005 and 2009.

The graphic novel is terrific, so much so that it recently won the prestigious “Rendez-vous de l’histoire” prize, awarded by a distinguished panel of historians. Sadly, my excitement at opening an advance copy was somewhat diminished by discovering that the English-language edition had one salient omission: our translators’ credits were mistakenly left off! Ah well. Virtue is its own reward. (And the fee, of course.)

You can find advance previews here: Propermag, The Times (paywalled), Hartlepool Mail, Forbidden Planet, and The Crack magazine. To pre-order from Amazon, click here.

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Video

The Presence LDN: a Cosplay post-punk rockapocalypse

5 Jul

Sometimes, a critic must set subjective judgement aside, and just say: this is TOTALLY FREAKING AWESOME!

The video above, released just today, is one such time. It’s a compilation of Cosplay footage that will get any comic-book fan pressing the Replay button again and again, set to a two-minute hit-seeking missile of a song. It’s put together by the frontman of new band The Presence LDN, a man who seemingly now wants to be known as just “SWP”, though my personal nickname for him is “Occult Steve” due to his habit of… how else can I put it… materialising in unexpected places.

A former horror film director and composer whom I first met thanks to omniscient film critic Kim Newman, SWP has since manifested at three club events I attended as well as a Shoreditch street corner. Usually while I was thinking of him.

Ageless under a shock of white hair, resembling a much handsomer brother of Johnny Rotten (indeed, former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock played bass in his last band, King Mob), SWP and The Presence have even been immortalised on their website by cult comic artist Shaky Kane…

As I say, totally freaking awesome.

‘Like’ the band on Facebook here: http://on.fb.me/17SpmDo

Easter special: Dave McKean picks his Passion films

29 Mar
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Dave McKean, illustrator, director and dead ringer for Orson Welles

Dave McKean is an astonishingly brilliant and prolific illustrator, graphic novelist, animator and director. His credits are too numerous to mention, but his films include Mirrormask, written by long-time collaborator Neil Gaiman, Luna (as yet unreleased) and last year The Gospel of Us, in which he filmed Michael Sheen being crucified on a beach in Port Talbot.

I’ve interviewed Dave a few times, and had the pleasure of asking him about his favourite movies involving Christ and crucifixion, to get us all in the Easter spirit:

“There are a lot of screen depictions of the Passion of Christ that I love. King of Kings, the silent film, has a beautiful atmosphere. There’s the Christ sequence in Ben Hur, which goes from a sepia image to glowing  Technicolor. Pasolino’s The Gospel According to St Matthew has these incredible faces of these non-actors he got to play the parts. Jesus of Montreal is probably the closest to The Gospel of Us. The Last Temptation of Christ is fantastic, it’s close to being my favourite Scorsese film. Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ is brutal and over the top in the scourging sequence but it has some amazing stuff in it. But nothing beats Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain.

Holy Mountain was hard to find for a very long time. The original prints were embargoed by the producer and it was only available in Japan in degraded and often heavily censored form: glowing orbs would appear over people’s genitals. But Jodorowsky finally got the rights back recently, and it’s an astounding film to look at, though it makes variable sense depending on who you are and how much you’ve had to drink.

“Jodorowsky has said he basically rounded up his actors and kidnapped them, kept them in isolation, broke them mentally, then put them back together on screen. In a key scene the Christ figure, who is a complete innocent, gets cast in papier mache by his followers. When he wakes up, he sees a thousand versions of himself and is driven insane, smashes them all up, and the last sequence is him eating one, ripping great chunks out of it.

“But the whole film is incredible. You start with this man, who wakes up, covered in flies… it doesn’t make much sense but it’s incredibly compelling. It’s one of those films where you arrive somewhere, look back, and you think ‘How the hell did I get here’ and you can’t imagine where you’ll be in ten minutes’ time.

“My own approach to Gospel of Us wasn’t much more sensible. We basically raced down to Port Talbot, where Michael Sheen was re-enacting the Passion over 72 hours with a cast of a thousand locals, taking ten cameras to shoot what the hell we could. It took eight months to whittle it down to a two-hour film.”

So there you go. That’s your Easter weekend movie viewing sorted. And we didn’t even mention The Life of Brian

A shorter version of this post first appeared in The Book magazine