Archive for the ‘ Comics ’ Category

The problem with comic book films.

My favorite comic book has always been 2000AD. I like American comics but overall I have always preferred this British Sci-Fi anthology. In a word 2000AD is anarchic. Anarchy permeates its world view. It has been a home to some classic stories: Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog, Slaine, Halo Jones, Zenith etc etc. It’s most famous character is Judge Dredd and he epitomizes the outlook of the weekly. Dredd isn’t a superhero, in fact he is the complete opposite but I’ll get into that anon. In this day and age we live in the Marvel cinematic universe: they produce sleek and slick films by the bucketload. I enjoy them for what they are and what they are are high-concept films.  These are films that have one broad concept that can be easily distilled into a sentence thus eschewing nuanced character development and the layered, the ambiguous and the  difficult. The high concept film works. Dredd should work within this framework for he is a lawman in a post apocalyptic America that has the power of judge, jury and executioner. With that in mind the money should flow and the films find a ready made audience for comics equal big bucks but it hasn’t worked out that way. Here is my take on why. 

Judge Dredd first came to the screen in the 1995 eponymous film starring Sylvester Stallone as the titular character. It was a mess but remember this was the 1990s and comic book films weren’t ubiquitous and streamlined like the Marvel megaliths today. As discussed Dredd should be an easy sell for he is a lawman in a post apocalyptic America that has the power of judge, jury and executioner. However, his problem is a stark one namely Dredd is a fascist not a hero. He is a clone that comes from a long dead Chief Judge called Fargo. America has been destroyed in a nuclear war and those that remain live in mega cities that are controlled by the judges.  In Dredd’s world America is no longer a democracy in and since Hollywood produces films with an American-centric view that’s a massive problem. Particularly when trying to sell a film to an American audience.  Basically, then the villain in Megacity One is the public. The judges have big bad’s such as the Sov Bloc and the inter-dimensional Judge Death but by and large the public is the enemy. The film is aware that selling an anti-democratic fascist American anti-hero that loves busting heads is a problem. Their solution: go to a story that sees Dredd start as a fascist but ends up as a democrat. It failed because it wasn’t true to the character and it was a flop. 

Most of us fans thought that was the end of that but in 2012 ‘Dredd’ was released. This was a darker film and more in keeping with the comic. The premise was simple: a day in the life. It looked like a high-concept film but again Dredd isn’t a hero so violence abounded and it flopped. It is a pity as the world of Dredd has so many possibilities but hey why produce that when we can have three different Spider-Men in as many years? I don’t know where comic book movies are going anymore. I don’t know why I’m paying to go and see them. I do know that Marvel are a monopoly and their fanbase picks apart any other franchise that doesn’t adhere to it formula (hey it’s all connected! We have the bit at the end that shows this explicitly! Aren’t we clever!) Dissent is not allowed. Star Wars is following the same trend. It is a franchise I love but a large part of the  fanbase cannot tolerate a story that doesn’t chime with its world view. Sci-Fi is in a bad state. The high-concept rules and the adherents are not happy with feminist voices, left-leaning voices or indeed anything that supposedly deviates from canon. Dark days indeed. 


Unfinished comic.


Below are chapters from an unfinished comic book. Unfinished as I couldn’t find an artist to draw my ideas. It is very roughly edited, however I wanted to give it a home. I felt at the very least it deserved that. To note: this work is trademarked.
The Corridor
The date is the nineteenth of May, 1998

I have waited to walk down this all my life…I just never thought it would be this soon.

Never thought it would be this long.

I can smell the smoke in the air. Taste the fear in the shadows.

The clock on the wall reads: 1:30 AM.

God why am I hear? What can I do to get out?

There is no way out. I know that…somewhere in the very fabric of me, in the blood that courses through my veins,that there is no way out.

Behind the thin walls I can hear sounds: the endless phlegmatic coughing. Barking like dogs…that is a phrase she would have used…the low rumbling groans and the murmured prayers.

Murmur to a God that doesn’t listen.

The watchmaker God that winds the watch and lets it go. He, she or it then buggers off to let the whole stinking mess wind away.

Tick – Tock- Tock-Tick-Tock.

Louder and louder in my mind and drowning out everything else. Mocking the solemnity of the occasion.

The corridor. The one I know I have walked before.

The shadows are alive with the fear. Animal and primordial fear. Fear of what lurks just beyond our sight. Just beyond our reasoning.

Leaden steps (land of clichés? Possibly.)

Can I ever find the words to say what I need to say? Paragraphs get caught in my throat…

I see a door. My throat tightens like a boa constricter crushing the breath out of it’s pray

I see but the watch-maker God turns away. The night outside turns away. The artifical light flickers like the wings of a death-head moth. Crazed and driven.

I know what is beyond that door.

I know what is underneath that white sheet.

I have always known.

Deep down I have always known.

[door opens- we see a street-scape]
The box:

[scene: London]

The hope of love-the hope of better things to come.

‘I love you’ I laughed

You look at me in surprise and gently reply ‘Do you?’

Back in time in a muesum:

‘These clothes-these fibres represent the hard cold commerce of colonialism’

‘Think of all the women that made these, think of how the empire couldn’t stand without the work of ordinary women.’ I say

‘You always think of the cog that turns the wheel-the little person’

It is the nicest thing anyone has every said to me. In hindsight I think this is when I fell in love with you. Such a simple statement but you have seen my heart for what it is.

History: the collective memory. They make statues to the big men of history.The rest of us are like ants- we work we go un-noticed-unaware.

Love is the spark we hold close to our soul.

We love family- we love friends and if we are lucky we find another to love.

Someone that loves us back- someone that makes it alright to be an ant.

You look to the sky -after taking a bite of the takeway meal you look to the sky and say:

‘Did you ever think that during World War Two they must have thought the world was going to end? The aeroplanes overhead raining down bombs on their heads. They must have thought it was the apocolypse’.

I think you are in tune with history-seeing the humanity behind the horror of mechanised war. Looking beyond the object and towards the subject…

Ah I am in a mood of hindsight for that is not what I thought..I just thought you were sweet. Smart.

Hindsight is such a wonderful thing. We look for patterns, a narrative, something that unifies and explains the moment. Something we can hang our hat on and say that was the moment when everything changed.

We create our own history. We create ourselves. We create reason and meaning. Conscious that all the time it is sometime so simple,when we think someone is so sweet and that their laugh can change our life. In Trafalgar Sq. the empty plinth becomes a place where my art stands: it is the fact I made you smile.

An intangible smile surrounded by tangible objects.

Objects. We collect them we place meanings on them. The western world obssessed with totemistic objects-they represent us they say I was here. I existed. I was. Even the objects we don’t want sit and gather around us-cluttering up our lifes. They grow and grow and grow and as they do we diminish somewhat. They represent us and at the same time they make us empty. Why? Why does this desire make us feel so empty? Because it reminds us of our futility because it reminds us that what we really seek is that intangible sweet smile. The metaphysical realm calls us to seek love and no object can fill the gaps.

‘I love you’

‘I love you too’

Your hair is long and its darkness stands out in stark contrast against your milky white skin.

God I am making you tabula rasa- projecting all my loneliness on to you. Consuming you making you an object. I know this-well my intellect knows this I know the dangers of my misogny. How fucking smug men can be. How much we objectivy women-page three, skin mags-porn vids-porn hub. Desiring you as objects.

As an object of my affection I buy you a gift. A cliche of romance. A box of chocolates. I stand here now buying a newspaper it is two years later and I see those box of chocolates on a shelf. They remind me now of only one thing.

You don’t love me anymore.
Dates- border 1939
Dialogue 2001

I stand in isolation. Somewhere in between. Dreams are all that remain…in the realm of myself. Only one except the man at the border.

Smokes: ‘what we have got to do is write it down. Capture the buzz of the second.

Head: ‘jesus dude. I am fucked if I know how to deal with all this in my skull. I am reaching breaking point.

S: ‘You need a pint. What is on the head?’
H: ‘Everything and nothing. I feel lost. Don’t know what I want to do.’
S: ‘What can you do? There is fuck all left.
Nothing to work towards…especially now I don’t have her.’
H: ‘The muse. The one.
Ennui in a cold climate eh?
God I thought I had the one once. Legs from here to ya ya.’

S: ‘I don’t think anyone understands me. The angst won’t stop…the piss and takes hold.’
H: ‘Destroys any chance you have.’
S: ‘Till all you have got is your own delusion.’
S: ‘Dissolution.’
H: ‘Cans at the ready.’
S: ‘Smoke between my lips.’

The ennui of the border guard. Flippant attitudes in the face of mass annihilation. The mechanisation of murder, mass bodies piled high. Soon to be a scar on the European landscape.
Smoke rising steadily from chimneys. No bird sings and the centre begins to snap.
Sweat on the forehead of the refugee,
The coming storm will soon engulf…the breaking point comes soon…
H: ‘The individual is all. So fucking what about society?’
S: ‘Dead in the gutter.’
H: ‘Sitting here at the edges.’
S: ‘Liminal.’
H: ‘Sub- Liminal…No words fly.
S: ‘She loved me once, I felt it, knew it. I loved her…but I couldn’t breach the space between us, I think I put her on a pedestal you know…
I think I made her more than…more than me. Own me. Control me…but I never knew what was in her heart…’

H: ( in kitchen) ‘Sorry dude, missed what ya said.’
S: (dejected) ‘it doesn’t matter anyhow.’
H: ‘It always matters…’
‘I know I loved her once. Two teenagers. My first love. Strong love- hormones and romantic ideas. Foolish but pure. We dreamt of escape…waiting to cross borders and away into freedom…sunshine days…lust filled nights.
Crescents and the smell of cigarettes.
Running down the backyards of home.
God I miss…’
S: ‘…communication is key…and….’
H: ‘Sorry I drifted.
S: ‘Ah it is okay.
I think we are both drifting neither to one stop or the other.’

H: ‘It doesn’t matter, what day is it?
S: ‘Fucked if I know!!’

Somewhere the man at the border. Guards say ‘no.’
The storm behind gathering pace.
Whipping into frenzy. The world will crack and run with blood. The soil will not be able to soak it up.
The mother weeps. Mothers weeping.
The man at the border puts a gun in his mouth…
They refuse to yield..the finger does not.
Man at the border with the gun in his mouth.

Orange light

(Fist bangs against wall: darkened room with light on wall it is the 20th of May 1:30 am 1998)

One: ‘What now – why now?’ What ways can the heart rip?

Ghost: (cold and detached)
‘A facsimile of the moment. Cheap tawdry exposition. Rip it up and start all over.’
(physically rips up actual page. We see a blank page).

O: ‘Why me? Why us?
There is nothing outside these walls
There is nothing outside these walls that can help…
O: ‘What can I say?’
G: ‘Then why say it?

(ripped up. Start again)
Character one in frame and nothing set

G: ‘We are getting nearer…closer to the truth but then memory lies, loss messes with the senses.’

O: ‘Senses are the only thing we can trust.’

G: ‘You have broken the fourth wall. We can trust nothing.’

(two characters-small on a blank page.)
O: ‘Is this just a lie? Have I used the one thing that hurt me the most, just to tell a story? How selfish have I become? Here in my room. Alone. Except for this.

G: ‘Is this what I have become? An editor of memory? Over thinking a past that no longer exists? Rewriting a pain that is dull??’

Both: ‘No closure.
Rip it to shreds.’
(pages in pieces. Words in flux.)

Both: ‘Back to the start.’

O: ‘A lonely joke
Against a wall,
A tumbledown king
With nothing at all..

G: ‘Ah we enter the cheap rhyme.
The poetic soul
Another conceit.
A lonely word
Creating a world
A joke without a punch line
Crowned as absurd.’

O: ‘Am I mad? Has the blank page took over??’

G: ‘Who is truly sane in a madhouse??
Edit reality
Edit sanity
Can we truly start over??
We sit at the border
Am I ever going to live?’

O: ‘Ah enter melodrama.’
G: ‘I am the editor.’
O: ‘The past talks back.’
G: ‘I have used you.’
O:’As I have you.’
G: ‘lets start again….from the top.’

O: slumped against wall
Radiator at back
Light- orange- comes through the window.
No words, no thoughts…only of her.
Sometimes words say nothing at all.
( tears run down cheek and from above we see the two characters)

G: ‘better…much better…..but let’s try again.’

Fiery the angels fell (and other moments)

I want to talk about a beautiful film that lives long in the memory. Don’t you love when a movie does that? I can never forget the soliloquy at the end of Blade Runner, you know the one…the one about the rain and life. Odd thing about Blade Runner is that it’s sometimes ignored by sections of the viewing public because it is Sci-Fi. Genre plays an important role in how we decide what to watch. Up to a point cartoon films were firmly in the genre marked: Children’s movies but somewhere around the late nineties Pixar began producing animation that had nods and winks to the parents in the audience and all of a sudden animated films became socially acceptable. Of course, Pixar are not short of money so their films are very slick and digital: high-end stuff that teaches simple enough morals about the values and mores of the western world. The film I want to talk about is the opposite in every way firstly it isn’t digital secondly it is black and white and thirdly it is set in the Islamic world. Persepolis is a 2007 film based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel of the same name. Persepolis means city of Persians and the story is a Bildungsroman of a young girl called Marji as she comes to terms with the effects of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Again, we are in a different world from Pixar et al as this films deals with politics, religion, revolution and the way in which the individual deals with all three. It is also a film about love: familial and romantic love and the ways in which Marji has to deal with the beauty and pain that exists in both.



Like all good history it allows us to make sense of seismic events through the eyes of the individual. It constantly reminds us that behind ideology there are human stories and behind every revolutionary dream there are groups willing to seize power and clamp down on dissent. We see the downfall of the Shah and the rise of fundamentalism in Iran as one torturous regime leads to yet another oppressive regime. It is the classic story of revolution: we have the revolutionary moment leading to rupture and then the return of the status quo. Marji is a rebellious girl and her ideas of the world clash with that of the new theocratic leadership for one she likes to listen to punk and heavy metal. This is itself is an act of revolt as it is perceived as western and decadent by the powers that be. We see the way in which girls and women lose their freedom in the new Iran we see Marji packed off to Europe (where she meets discrimination due to her nationality) and we see her spiral into depression due to everything she has experienced and witnessed. Revolutions, more often than not go wrong and it is the masses, the ones that had suffered previously, that suffer all over again. I don’t want to spoil the ending but it lives long in the memory and serves as a fitting coda to what has gone before. Yes, Persepolis may not be highly polished in the way that animation has become under the digital age, you may not be able to see every hair individually move or there may not be countless references to other franchises but for all that it is a movie that deals with, rather than nods at, adult themes whilst all the time wearing its heart on its sleeve, which is no bad thing. Go see it.



Hanging with Halo Jones

So, the blog that has been brewing for some time finally comes to life. Where do I begin? I think I shall start be discussing that much maligned genre: sci-fi. Now sci-fi never had the street cred of its cooler older brother Horror or the sullen insouciance of the Gothic, sci-fi truly belonged and still belongs in the realm of the nerd. Add in the term comic book and we are firmly in the world of loners and losers. People that read comic books are a by-word for virgins and funny weirdoes (see Comic Book Guy or The Big Bang Theory).  Now and then, academia and society at large bestows a comic book title with its blessing, indeed my own Alma Mater now studies Maus, the work deemed serious and weighty enough to rest on the shelf alongside such worthy titles such as Pamela and The Wild Irish Girl, what lofty company indeed. Of course, Maus is not a sci-fi title and as such presents little or no serious threat in the hallowed halls of universities. Watchmen, another heralded title, is a different matter, populated as it is by costumed vigilantes and a naked blue superhero by the name of Dr Manhattan, it deals with, among other things, meta-narrative, the epistolary form and the way we would react if real people started running about in superhero costumes. In other words it should be perfect fodder for academics but isn’t, I cannot say for certain why it is ignored but I do think it is because it is sci-fi. I could enter into a rant about this but I won’t and the reason why is two-fold: firstly, I think it is enough to say I enjoy sci-fi and comics and secondly, this piece is not about hate but my attempt at a love letter.

The aforementioned Watchmen is the work of the famous Alan Moore. Moore is also known for V for Vendetta (a meditation on Anarchy), From Hell, which looks at the Whitechapel murders, Promethea, a truly magnificent piece on literature, magic and religion and the Victorian romp that is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Great works all but to a certain few among us his greatest work is his unfinished epic: The Ballad of Halo Jones which was created with the equally talented artist Ian Gibson. How do I begin to describe it? How do I begin to describe her?  Well first of all it is a bildungsroman built around the titular character of Halo Jones. Halo began life in that fantastic British title: 2000AD and the remit for Moore and Gibson was a simple one: create a female character. Why? Well 2000AD had very few female characters in its pages at the time. I am sure the editor expected a female superhero type character but Moore, not bound by expectation, created a character that was sympathetic, realistic and above all normal. Gibson’s artwork is sublime (as it always was) his rendering of the future and the characters that inhabit these worlds are fantastical but never totally unrealistic. There is a lived in feeling to the drawings and it is in black and white which is my personal favourite style of comic book art.

Halo, Brinna and Rodice.

Halo, Brinna and Rodice.

Halo (in the foreground) and Rodice

Halo (in the foreground) and Rodice

Book one deals with the theme of isolation, the effects of long-term unemployment and the desire to escape the confines of a claustrophobic world. Reading it in 1989-1990 (three to four years after it was first published)as a twelve year old growing up in Ireland I could relate to Halo, as Ireland still had a touch of the Joycean labyrinth so famously mentioned in that other Bildungsroman The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Halo, lives in a very literal labyrinth a giant structure built off the coast of America called The Hoop which is the home for masses of the unemployed, the ‘increased leisure citizens’ that exist in 50th century Earth. Moore, as ever, is unafraid to introduce big themes in his work, this is a feminist story, one about an everywoman and begins, in the best classical tradition in media res. Halo is surrounded by women, from her flatmate Brinna, her best friend Rodice and the tragic Ludy (she also has a talking robotic dog called Toby, who becomes a very important character). Halo herself has a dignity, a quiet anger and humour that I love, she was the first comic book character I read that I felt was three dimensional.


Halo escapes the mundanity and horror of her life on The Hoop after being pushed to the edge by the murder of Brinna and the loss of Ludy to a cult called ‘ The Different Drummers’. Book Two sees Halo becoming a stewardess aboard the space liner the Clara Pandy but not before we find out, in a framing device at the beginning that Halo became a famous historical figure. Again, Moore gives us a believable story as our protagonist escapes, not in a heroic but rather in a very normal way. Book Two also introduces us to new characters none so sad as ‘The Glyph’ a character that has changed sex (on a number of occasions) and ultimately ends up invisible (a comment on how we view people that are different and don’t fit in to our perceived view of reality?).

Book Three expands on a war that has been mentioned in the previous book. It is the darkest of the three and we find out that Halo has become a soldier. She meets General Luiz Cannibal, a man that looks like he could be the ‘love interest’ but I won’t ruin the story for those who want to read it. It culminates with Halo leaving after the war ends, that was that and so we waited for book four. We wanted to see where she would go next? Who would she meet? Why did she become a historical figure? Alas, we are still waiting, as book four never came. In many ways I think it is fitting that Halo Jones ended as it did. There was no cosy resolution and no happy ending for our heroine. She was always normal and in that very normal way there was to be no epic ending. She just rode out into her future unsure of what was to happen next.

In my weaker moments I sometimes wish that Halo Jones would return (it is rumoured that there were meant to be nine parts to the story) but then I remember the Star Wars prologues and think: best left alone. Halo is like an old friend, I come back to her again and again. Like all good stories I find new things within the pages, it grows as I grow. It offered me hope all those years ago: hope that I could get out of the script that my community had written for me and hope that there was a wider world waiting just around the corner. What more can you ask from a great work of fiction?

Getting out