Saturday, 15 September 2018

Blade Runner by Sean Phillips


Here's the signed Blade Runner print I bought from the wonderful Sean Phillips at NICE Convention a couple of weeks back. Isn't it a beauty?

Check out Sean's website below for more amazing artwork:
http://seanphillips.co.uk/


Sunday, 9 September 2018

NICE Convention 2018 featuring Don McGregor and old bloggers united


Using my customary lightning-fast, razor-sharp blogging skills I'm going to share some thoughts and pics from an event a whole week ago. Yep, there's no flies on this blogger!
Said event was NICE Comic Con 2018 in sunny Bedford. As can be seen in the image above there were many talented comic creators in Bedford last weekend but the big draw for me was the legendary Don McGregor, one of the true greats of the Bronze Age of comics.

Don was part of an early 70s renaissance in the comic book industry  -  along with other such talented writers as Steve Engelhart, Marv Wolfman, Steve Gerber and Doug Moench he pushed the boundaries of what mainstream comic writing could be and do. It was a time of experimentation when adult themes and more sophisticated story-telling ideas began to creep into comics, building on groundwork laid by the likes of Lee / Kirby, Steranko and Eisner but with a younger, more modern sensibility. Don's work was unabashedly sentimental and romantic but still with a sharp, questioning aspect and an overwhelming love of language and words. In fact, gushing torrents of words, flooding the pages, competing for space with the art of Gene Colan, P. Craig Russell, Billy Graham and Don's other great collaborators. Don did come under criticism for this, with many feeling the words to pictures balance of "perfect" comic book story-telling was tipped unfairly in his balance, but I personally loved his style. As I said, it was an experimental era and this was Don's style... a style that could often seem verbose and overwrought... but... but... every word, every single word was ripped from Don's heart and dropped bleeding onto the page. No filter, no excuses, he gave his all to his readers and asked you to join him for the ride. Pretentious? Maybe. But it made for some glorious comic books!

Anyway, back to last Sunday... 
James and I took the two and a half hour trek to Bedford ( a lovely morning drive up over the Cotswolds and down through Banbury and Milton Keynes ) and to the venue itself, the Bedford Corn Exchange. This was an impressive 19th century building, in very good repair, near to the river Great Ouse in the heart of the city.


The convention itself could be described as "compact and bijou" -  and with very little in terms of cosplay or assorted media distractions, this was really about the comic artists and writers. Which is absolutely fine by me but I would have welcomed just a few more actual comics vendors, with most of the sellers on display dealing in modern stuff which I couldn't really care less about. ( I did manage to get a few issues of Master Of Kung Fu and a nice Batman #210 from 1968. )
But, apart from that, the other major draw of this con was ( finally ) meeting up with a couple of my old blog buddies. Soon after we arrived we hooked up with the man behind the wonderful
Bronze Age Of Blogs, the mega-cool Pete Doree. Pete was there to support his childhood friend, the highly-talented artist Sean Phillips... and to interview Don McGregor! luckily, Pete also had a bit of time to spare for old bloggers so we went for a drink and a chat in the coffee shop next door to the venue. It was great to catch up with Pete after following his excellent blog for so many years and we had a good old chin-wag about all things comic-book. James was probably bored out of his skull but he hid it well. After a while we headed back into the Corn Exchange for another look around, a chat with a few other punters and then it was Don time!

Here's Don ( on the left ) being interviewed by Sean Phillips ( centre ) and Pete...

Well, I say "interviewed" but the guys didn't have a chance to ask many questions! Don McGregor in full flight is like a runaway verbal express train. For a guy in his 70s who had been in attendance at the con all weekend Don was still full of passion and conviction as he told us tales of the comic book industry, from the hilarious story of his first meeting with the legendary publisher Jim Warren to his struggles with the conservative Marvel editorial staff. Of course, a lot of the talk was about the Black Panther, the African king super hero that Don inherited from Stan 'n' Jack and turned into one of the most compelling, human characters in comics. And who is now, of course, belatedly world-famous as part of the MCU, with the majority of the characters and situations in his block-busting movie stemming from the mind of guess who? Yep, that's right... Dauntless Don.


After the panel ( and after much queuing because Don gives everybody as much time as he can ) we finally got to meet the great man properly. ( I've been Facebook "friends" with Don for a number of years and we've had a few online conversations but that doesn't really count. ) Unsurprisingly, Don was an absolute delight to meet. After I babbled about being a fan for 40-plus years and introduced Don to James, Don proceeded to tell us more of his hair-raising stories of life in the comic book industry and in New York  -  and I lapped it all up! He told us of sneaking around Harlem late at night with the late artist Billy Graham, finding ( literally ) underground movie-houses that were run like speakeasies and showed old cowboy movies; he told us the background of the photo below  -  Don jumping off a wall outside the New York Public Library  -  and how so many of the old buildings seemed to disappear virtually overnight to be replaced by corporate monstrosities. 


This is from his short story collection, Dragonflame & Other Bedtime Nightmares, which Don kindly signed for me, as well as my copy of Amazing Adventures #29 ( see above ), the first issue of his ground-breaking KIllraven strip that I ever bought. Don was interested to hear what I thought about reading the Killraven stories at the age of 8 and the Dragonflame stories in my early teens. I told him I was always reading above my expected reading age!
( Oh yeah... Paul McCartney's feet, you ask? Apparently, the lady who took the above photo of Dapper Don missed his feet out of the frame, so he cut a photo of Macca's feet out of a magazine and pasted it on. Pete said he always thought Don looked too tall in that photo... )


All too soon our time with the Dauntless One was up ( Don was understandably starting to flag by this point and he had more people to speak to ) but it was such a great experience to talk to such a warm, friendly and unbelievably energetic man. You can see from the grins on our faces how much James and I were enjoying ourselves! I'll leave the last words to Don: ( Thumps fist on table ) "If I'm going to tell a Black Panther story, I'm going to tell the best damned Black Panther story I can!"


But that wasn't all! Oh, no. I also managed to catch up with another old blog buddy and Facebook friend, Mighty Joe Ackerman aka Joe Bloke. Some of you reading ( if anyone is still reading! ) may remember Joe's late, lamented blog Grantbridge Street & Other Misadventures, which was one of my go-to sources for comic artwork and, er, "fit birds" ( Joe's words not mine! ) for many a year and is sorely missed. We'd been at the con for a few hours and I was beginning to think I wouldn't get a chance to meet Joe but then he appeared like a bolt out of the blue and we were off and running!


( Here we are being rather silly. ) Just like with meeting Pete it was a joy to catch up with someone who I've only known via t'internet and who turns out to be solid gold, as if we were old ( real world ) friends reunited. We had a great time, swapping stories of blogging and comic books ( what else is there to talk about? ) and all three of us headed to the local Subway as the con wound down, where we were met by Joe's lovely better half, Mary, for more chat and laughs. It was a lovely, chilled ending to a great day out. My only regret is that I'd hoped for Joe and Pete to meet but that didn't quite work out. Maybe next time. 
I'll leave you with a few shots of Bedford itself  -  a pretty cool place!






Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Kirby 101


Happy birthday to the late, great King of Comics  -  the incomparable Jack Kirby!








Thursday, 23 August 2018

King Creosote at The Thekla


Last Saturday my good friend Tom ( of The Sensitive Bore fame ) kindly gave me a lift down to that there Bristol to hear some folkin' folk music on a boat. Specifically the acclaimed Scottish singer / songwriter Kenny Anderson aka King Creosote at the wonderful Thekla  -  Bristol's premier water-borne venue. I was only vaguely aware of KC previously but I'm always up for hearing something new / different so I was ready for anything...

After navigating the labyrinth of Bristol's new Metro bus system and an unfortunate run-in with a ticket-wielding traffic fascist we got down to business and checked out the support act, Liverpool's Robert Vincent.
I'm always impressed by anyone who can stand in front of an audience with just a guitar and put on a performance, and Robert Vincent was a great example of this. Although his set got off to a slow start, his melodic Country-tinged songs and rich singing voice soon won over the audience. The title-track from his new album, I'll Make The Most Of My Sins, was probably his best song of the night  -  imagine if you will a Scouse Johnny Cash and you're part of the way there. While never bound for international stardom in this age of auto-tuned, manufactured pop puppets, Vincent is the living embodiment of the old troubadour ideal and it's good to know that there are still artists like him around.
After a break, during which Tom and I headed up to the Thekla's top deck for a drink, a chat and a quick battle with marauding pirates, the main man came out onto the stage. I hadn't been sure what to expect from King Creosote  -  maybe he would have gone the one-man-plus-guitar route of Robert Vincent  -  but he actually brought a full band with him. As well as Kenny himself on acoustic guitar, the sound was filled out by electric guitar, violin, keyboards, double-bass and drums. Quite a squeeze for the Thekla's not overly-roomy stage!

The full band line-up meant that there was more of a variety of sound to this set than the support act, from some quieter, more ethereal songs to some full-on folk-groove pounders with an almost Velvet Underground-goes-acoustic kind of hypnotic repetition. And what a voice the man has! Often fragile, occasionally strident, now and then rising to a falsetto, but always with the Fife accent shining through, Kenny Anderson's voice is a beautiful instrument in itself. The songs were obviously unfamiliar to me but I soon cottoned on to the themes of love, loss, failure, joy and the earthy, wind-blown imagery. If all this sounds too pretentious ( it really wasn't! ) then I just have to mention that Kenny was a warm and funny presence on stage  -  asking us if Bristol was a "sex town" ( because his band come from north of Hadrian's Wall and don't know anything about that stuff, apparently ) and regaling us with the tale of their last gig ( the Purbeck Folk Festival ) where they died a death and suspected the organisers had wanted King Crimson, not King Creosote. Somebody in the crowd shouted out "We love you Kenny!" and I think the feeling was mutual. All too soon, the set was over but I'm sure everyone there came away with a smile on their face. I certainly did. I'll definitely have to check out some of King Creosote's forty plus (!) albums.

Tom and I went in to Bristol for a couple of drinks in dingy rock 'n' roll boozer The Hatchet and also in a more mainstream pub on the Harbourside. Strangely enough there was a folk band playing in the latter, but one of a more Pogues-like persuasion. They were very energetic and could certainly play their instruments but the Punk-folk version of Pulp's Common People was a mash-up too far and when they started playing pirate drinking songs it was time to go...
So, a cracking gig and great to catch up with Tom! Let's do it again soon!



Sunday, 8 July 2018

Steve Ditko


The major news events of this weekend may include the football World Cup, Wimbledon and London Pride but, for me, the most significant news was the sad passing of comic book legend Steve Ditko. There are countless excellent tributes to the great man on t'internet to which I can add very little, so I thought I'd post just a few Ditko images from my collection starting, of course, with his most famous co-creation, the Amazing Spider-Man.


These two early Spidey covers are among my favourites, showcasing indelible images of our wall-crawling hero fighting some of his idiosyncratic Silver Age foes. Both of these comics are a bit wrecked ( which is how I could afford to buy them! ) but that just adds to their charm for me. I love the "Spidey in darkness" image of the first cover and the instantly-recognisable Ditko cityscape and vile villain of the second. ASM #9 is the oldest Spider-Man comic I own and is a treasured possession, taped-spine and all!


Of course, Sturdy Steve's other most famous character was Stephen Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts and this issue of Strange Tales was Ditko's swan-song on the title and also featured his only cover. And what a great cover! The mind-bending, psychedelic adventures of Doctor Strange in Ditko's surreal worlds often come across as a four-colour waking dream and this image of Doc encountering the enigmatic Eternity is a splendid example.


Of course, Ditko worked for many comics publishers throughout his career, creating supernatural stories and the mighty Captain Atom for Charlton, as well as various jobs for Warren, Atlas, Pacific and Eclipse. After jumping ship from Marvel in 1968 he dreamed up some outlandish characters for the usually staid and conservative DC Comics, including The Hawk & The Dove and the outrageous chap above, The Creeper. This weird-looking misfit never set the super hero scene on fire but was a fine example of Ditko's bizarre character designs.


And, speaking of bizarre characters, during a later stint with DC in the 1970s he created the short-lived Shade The Changing Man series, packed full of his trademarked surrealism and dimension-hopping adventure. In many ways it was an attempt to recreate his 1960s weirdness which could only seem out-dated ( although the distorted architecture on the cover above seems to prefigure the likes of Inception... ) but it was fun while it lasted. And it gave us pages like the one below...


The fiercely independent and legendarily reclusive Ditko became an avid proponent of the objectivist philosophy of the likes of Ayn Rand and devoted decades to expounding these moralistic, black-or-white theories in self-published comics such as Mr. A. ( I've got a copy of that somewhere but haven't managed to dig it out. ) These almost hysterical Libertarian tracts were virtually unreadable but often the great man's sublime style shone through the tub-thumping...



Steve Ditko was indeed a unique talent whose imagination made the world a better and weirder place. He will be sadly missed.


Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Happy Birthday America!


Dear America,

Whilst you're living through Trumpocalypse Now! it's always worth remembering that your great country has been better, can be better, will be better than this. Have a great 4th of July!

Love and best wishes for a brighter, saner, more tolerant future for us all,
,
Your friends across the Pond x




Tuesday, 12 June 2018

2001: A Space Odyssey ( 1968 / 1978 / 2018 )


Last night James and I went to a rare screening of Stanley Kubrick's 1968 science fiction masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. This 50th anniversary re-release featured a lovely, if not quite perfect, print of the film and was presented as originally intended, with overture and intermission included. ( It's certainly the first movie I've seen since the 1970s with an intermission! )

I first saw 2001 on its 10th anniversary re-release back in 1978 with my dad, Pete, and my mate Adrian, so it was quite a strange experience to see it again forty years later with my own son. I'll always remember Pete turning to the 11-year old me during the intermission and more or less saying "So, what's actually happening in this film?" Luckily ( or maybe not, in a spoiler-y sense ) I'd already read the Marvel Treasury Edition adaptation by Jack Kirby so I had a head start...


It was great to see 2001 on a big screen again. Both James and I are very familiar with the movie but seeing it like this just brought home all the amazing attention to detail that Kubrick worked into the story, and the ground-breaking special effects still stand up in this age of photo-realistic CGI. The famous "star gate" sequence still looks stunning, with its psychedelic evocation of multiple realities rushing past, and really should be seen on the big screen as the film-makers intended.

There have been many pretenders over the years ( Chris Nolan's Interstellar springs to mind ) but 2001: A Space Odyssey is still The Ultimate Trip...

Monday, 28 May 2018

Fabulous at 50!


Kylie Minogue is... 50 today? How is that even possible??? Anyway, she still looks absolutely amazing as this picture shows. Happy Birthday Kylie!

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Comics! New Comics! Action, Captain America and The Prisoner!


If there's one thing I don't do much of these days it's write posts on this 'ere blog. And if there's another thing I don't do much of these days it's buy new comics. What if I combined these two things I don't do much of these days into one thing? And put that thing here on t'internet for your perusal? Let's try it...

Yesterday I visited my ( sort of ) local comic shop, Proud Lion in Cheltenham  -  with my usual impeccable timing, only a week after Free Comic Book Day. I was after one comic in particular ( which I'll come to later ) but I managed to pick up another couple which looked interesting.

First up is Action Comics #1000, a landmark issue for the Man of Steel in his 80th anniversary year. There are a few variant covers out there, including a strangely sub-par one from Jim Steranko, but the only copy left in the shop sported the regular edition cover by Jim Lee. And I think it's a pretty fine illustration of the Last Son of Krypton, back in his iconic costume, red trunks and all. Unfortunately the contents are rather a mixed bag. There are nine separate short stories ( although "stories" is stretching the point ) which all pay homage in one way or another to the career of Earth's mightiest mortal. Even though there are some creators represented here with excellent track records with this character ( Dan Jurgens, Marv Wolfman, Curt Swan ) most of these short vignettes fall flat, being stuffed with often trite moralising, and mostly going nowhere very interesting. But there are lots of pretty pictures...


A far more satisfying landmark issue comes courtesy of Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson as the Star-Spangled Avenger reaches his 700th issue. ( I'm trusting Marvel and DC to have accurately worked out all this numbering, considering both characters have had various "first issues" and reboots over the years. ) As well as being an anniversary issue this is also the concluding part of a continuing storyline where Captain America has been catapulted into a near-future, Dystopian America ( yes, even more Dystopian than the one that exists in 2018 ) where he is trying to protect the crumbling Republic from various enemies both from within and without. Waid is at his dependable best, crafting a fast-moving adventure which tests Cap to his limits, mentally and physically, while Samnee proves yet again that he's one of the foremost stylists in the business with his wonderfully retro-yet-fresh artwork:
There's also a strange 10-page back up story which Waid has cobbled together from various Bronze Age Cap comics and added his own dialogue. It doesn't really hang together but it's nice to see the Jack Kirby / Frank Giacoia artwork. All in all, Captain America #700 works far better as an anniversary comic than Action #1000 because the main story is so engrossing and the tribute to the character grows organically from that...


And, saving the best for last, we have the brand new Titan Comics adaptation of The Prisoner by Pete Milligan and Colin ( friend of TGW-S ) Lorimer. ( Yep, this is the comic that prompted my journey to Proud Lion ) This modern-day updating of the 1960s spy-fi mind-bender sees an M15 agent on the run from his own side after a disastrous mission in the Middle East. Inevitably his luck runs out and, in an echo of the very first Prisoner episode, he is gassed in his London ( not so ) safe house, only to awaken in the mysterious Village.
Pete Milligan is an idiosyncratic writer, a creator of many surreal and intriguing comic book worlds who is the perfect author to chronicle the story of the new Number Six. And Colin Lorimer is a wonderful choice of artist  -  there's an enjoyable tension between his gritty, contemporary style and the psychedelic / Pop Art leanings of the original show which seem to bleed into the modern setting. It will be interesting to see how many of the McGoohan / Markstein creations will appear in this 21st-century nightmare...
This is The Prisoner retooled for the Information Age where the Village seems to be an autonomous state, obtaining information from its "guests" by "mental fracking" ( ouch! ) while also carrying out bizarre crimes in the outside world. The surface has barely been scratched in this first story and I'm looking forward to uncovering more of this world where no-one dares trust anyone else.
Be seeing you...

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