Thursday 29 December 2011


Time was, I used to pretend that these end-of-year reports were some comprehensive distilling of the year, like you get in proper blogs or quality papers. The truth is, I was only ever using them a memory-jogger for all the things I’d thought to write about over the past twelve months, but never got around to.

Particularly for visual art exhibitions, but in most other fields as well, this last year’s been a frenetic one. (If ‘Doctor Who’ went somewhat off the boil, that’s an exception to the rule.) And I’ve been busy with other stuff, so perhaps it’s no surprise I’ve got behind things.

So, despite the blog’s recent concentration on visual arts, there were still a few things which escaped comment. Perhaps not strictly to be listed as visual art, but I enjoyed both the British Museum’s ‘Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World’ and (particularly) ‘Journey Through the Afterlife: The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.’ The Afghanistan show was perhaps a little scattershot, recounting different civilisations arranged along the silk route which had little in common, while the Egyptian had more of a focus - on how their myths and rituals concerning the afterlife had changed over time.

Generally, I enjoy such events but there’s not much scope for me to write about them. I’d love to imagine I could make erudite points, on how recent scholarship has challenged some of their hieroglyphic translations or something like that, but the chances seem remote to be honest with you. (I’m back to see their show on the Hajj next year, but short of becoming an Islamic scholar in the meantime shall probably stay quiet on the subject.)

I did consider writing something about the ’Out of Australia’ exhibition in their prints room (which seems to be fast becoming one of my haunts), but time was pressing and it was so wide-ranging (from the Forties to the present) it was hard to focus on.

I wasn’t always convinced by the emphasis on “Australian-ness”, I got the impression that rather than trying to capture Australian landscape or culture most saw themselves as modern artists who simply happened to be based in Australia. The Angry Penguins, for example, a self-styled Surrealist group, were hardly named after the most notable native animal, and seemed more concerned with imagination than nation. (In fact the precise phrasing of the title seemed to have it better, for most seemed to leave Australia as soon as their career kicked off. Perhaps in those days it didn’t have much of an indigenous art trade.) One exception was the European artists who’d been interned there during the war, such as Erwin Fabian (see below). Others became influenced by Aboriginal art...

I seem, for some reason, to be very bad at writing about Cartoon Museum exhibitions. I did intend writing something about their ’Doctor Who in Comics: 1964-2001’ show. Readers with exceptional memories will remember me writing something about Doctor Who and comics for the late, lamented ’Comics Forum’, longer ago than I care to admit. This exhibition did convince me I should go back and rewrite whole chunks of it, possibly not a very realistic prospect but surely a sign of a good show!

My main criticism would be the lack of material from the Sixties. This is probably something of a fait accompli, shows like this rely on comic fans and their private collections of original art. But before the Seventies there’s little of this, particularly in British comics. Without anyone intending such, it feels like a whole era of comics history is being written out. (Disclaimer: a fair amount of Doctor Who comic strips from the Sixties were admittedly awful, and nothing much to do with the TV show beyond affecting a fairly rough approximation of William Hartnell. But surely they’re still part of the history!)

’Capturing Colour: Film, Invention and Wonder’, at Brighton Museum, was a decent local exhibition. But it’s emphasis on the technology of early colour film (if interesting in itself) did make it rather insistent on “capturing” colour, as if any other kind of image was incomplete, rather than employing colour – as an aesthetic choice and key to emotional states. And this while showing clips from Powell and Pressburger films, whose lurid colour coding was surely anything but naturalistic! (see below)

(Brighton Museum also brought us ’George IV and His Friends’, a small-but-perfectly formed exhibition of caricatures and political cartoons from the Regency era, and ’Ragmala: Paintings From India’.

Despite my best intentions, I managed to miss the shows dedicated to Bridget Riley, Gerhard Richter, Lygia Pape and ’Infinitas Gracias: Mexican Miracle Paintings’. The last three of these are still showing into the New Year, but I almost certainly won’t be able to make them.

I was also absolutely gutted to realise I had missed Wild Thing, a Royal Academy show devoted to the sculpture of Eric Gill, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Jacob Epstein. (Which actually finished the year before last.) Anyone who read my review of the Vorticists will be familiar with the last two names, while (irony of ironies) I publicly grumbled about the smallness of a British Museum show given to Gill last year! Oh, to turn back time...

While this year may be pushed to match the last for quality (even if I’m very much looking forward to both the Munch and the Bauhaus shows), it seems more than a match for quantity. I already seem to have managed to commit myself to seeing at least one out-of-town exhibition a month, and counting.

As much of this is of course due to the accursed Olympics, a fair portion of what’s happening is blatant tourist bait. (Though I will probably be sad and obsessive enough to attend this one.) But others do seem intent on actually giving the crowds something worth seeing. You never know, I may even attend one or two shows not about Modernism...

Coming soon! First I shall endeavor to put together similar catch-up posts on films, theatre and gigs. Then, despite all this activity, there are still a few visual art reviews I should have posted last year which I will hopefully  catch up on in the next few weeks. (Yes, doing them now does officially qualify as a pathology). There’s also one I might even be able to manage to run in the nick of time, but please don’t hold me to that! After then things may go quieter on the blog from while I concentrate on other things for a bit. (Not always interesting or creative things, alas...)

Monday 26 December 2011


Apologies for the lack of posting here lately, just as I was behind on things anyway I was struck down with the lurgee!

This year has been so frenetic that I pretty much skim-shopped the Cine-City film festival, usually an annual staple! I did manage, however, to take in the two live soundtracks at the Duke of Yorks –David Thomas’ take on ’Carnival of Souls’ (of Pere Ubu fame, but this time assisted by the Two Pale Boys) and 65daysofstatic’s ’Silent Running’. (Incidentally, you are supposed to spell the band’s name like that, as one word.)

If the sound of the two bands couldn’t be more different (Wikipedia describes 65days as “instrumental post-rock” while Thomas has explicitly defined the Two Pale Boys sound as “indy arthouse films”) then perhaps the two films couldn’t be more different either.

’Silent Running’, released in 1972, was the first directorial effort of Douglas Trumbull, who’d been SFX wizard on ’2001’ and others of a similar ilk. (He would only direct one more film.) Though small compared to others he worked on, it’s budget was huge compared to ’Carnival of Souls’, made a decade earlier. This was the only film by Herk Harvey, produced and directed in three weeks’ downtime from his day job of making industrial and educational films. The cheapest of B flicks, it first sank without trace but then resurfaced as a cult classic.

What makes ’Carnival of Souls’ such a horror classic, despite so little horrific actually happening in it, is it’s indeterminancy. You’re not just unsure what’s going on in it, you’re even unsure what kind of film it is – is it cheesy B-horror, a straight-faced parody of all that or some psychological art movie? The elements seem to shift around without settling. (This is surely what made it such an acknowledged influence on Romero’s ’Night of the Living Dead’.)

Though Thomas gave the film a brief introduction, he was smart (and archetypically playful) enough to avoid taking any kind of angle. Instead, both his words and his score played up those ambiguities. The music seemed as indeterminate as the film, taking in Sixties jazzy pop, woozy broken-trombone film noir soundtrack and dark ambient electronics, much of it at the same time.

And like all great soundtracks it never tried to dominate. Officially described as an “underscore”, it worked almost as the film’s unconscious, worrying away beneath the surface. It could drop away to a whispered presence, or for long stretches even lapse into silence. But like an undertow it could as quickly change currents and stir itself up into dominance. Just like the dream sequences in the film, it would sometimes seize control.

’Silent Running’ is probably one of those films you need to see at the right age, which in my case I did. (Early teens, since you asked.) It’s a kind of SF parable, with a blatant (and fairly hippified) ecological message. (The original score has, I kid not, Joan Baez songs on it!) There’s long sequences of geodesic domes in space, housing the last plant life of the earth, tended by an astronaut gardener (played by Bruce Dern) and a team of diligent robots.

An astronaut gardener tending a geodesic dome in space... there’s something of having it both ways in that image. We get our fix of huge spaceships but at the same time can tell ourselves we’re decent citizens concerned about ecology. (Though of course in ’72 perhaps any kind of ecological message was an advance.) I’d be fairly certain that it was this combination which attracted 65daysofstatic.

Certainly their intricate yet explosive musical outbursts worked well with the extended SFX sequences. However, you couldn’t help but wonder whether those were the “money shots’ – the moments which had attracted them, but which then obligated them to soundtrack the rest of the film.

When the Two Pale Boys fell silent, you felt the silence was part of their intent – like white space being incorporated into artwork. When 65days fell silent you sometimes wondered whether they were just waiting for the spaceships to come back.  At other points they would drown out the dialogue. (Okay, it’s the sort of film where you can fill in the dialogue for itself.)

And not all of what they played was great. The band clearly like the piano-based ’Burial Scene’ enough to stream it on their site, yet it doesn’t really cut it for me. Though I don’t know the band’s recordings so well, I’ve seen them live a few times and can report they’re not merely about bombast – they’re quite up to providing light and shade. The problem, then, can’t be in them coming up with quieter sections - but must be the essential soundtrack question of moulding their music to the film.

Though much of the music was splendid stuff, I’m not sure it was soundtrack music. I suspect the band were taking sections of the film to use as their rock videos. (I’ve seen them play live to video projections before.)

In a nutshell, while one soundtrack made the film a backdrop, the other was so firmly wedded it would never work without it.

Part of 65days’ soundtrack from Bestival...

’Carnival Of Souls’ was never copyrighted, and you can see the whole thing (unsegmented) on YouTube, or even download from here. (Nothing on-line from Thomas’ soundtrack, however...)

Sunday 4 December 2011


Here’s the promised answers to the comics, cartoons and animation quiz questions I posed earlier, which hail from this year’s Comics Friends United. (That’s me above, setting the test in requisite Teacher garb, under the somewhat wary eye of event organiser Hassan Yusuf, in a photo by attendee Martin Hand.)


Q1: Paul Mavrides’ strip ‘No Exit’, published in Anarchy Comics No. 3 in 1981, featuring punk singer Jean-Paul Sartre Junior. What actual punk singer was he based on?
A1: Henry Rollins (from his Black Flag days)

Q2: ‘Watchmen’ contains quotes from all sorts of folk from Jung to Nietzsche. But only one musical figure is quoted twice. For three points, who is it and which songs are quoted from?
A2: Bob Dylan. “At midnight all the agents” (in 1) is from ‘Desolation Row’ and “two riders were approaching” (in 10) is of course from ‘All Along the Watchtower’.

Q3: A record made No. 2 in the singles chart over the Christmas period in 1967, despite actually being a double EP with a comic strip insert by Bob Gibson. For one point each, what was the EP called and who recorded it?
A3: ’Magical Mystery Tour’ by the Beatles

Q4: For a point each, what comics artists drew the cover of Frank Zappa’s 1978 album ’Studio Tan’ and his 1983 album ’The Man From Utopia’?
A4: Gary Panter and Liberatore, respectively

Q5: Nurse With Wound’s 1996 album was called ’Alice The Goon’, after the track ’Prelude to Alice the Goon’. What’s the comics connection?
A5: Alice the Goon was a Popeye character, created by EC Segar.

Q6: The 1990s satirical cartoon Duckman (based on a Dark Horse comic), had a theme tune by who?
A6: Frank Zappa (yes, him again!)

Q7: What comic artist also performs in the noise band Lighting Bolt?
A7: Brian Chippindale

Q8: In the 1996 Simpsons episode ‘Homerpalooza’ Homer attends a Loollapalooza festival. In the course of the episode he meets several bands, all voiced by themselves, one of which provides a version of the theme tune for the closing credits. Which?
A8: Sonic Youth (I discovered in the course of asking this question that i) I cannot pronounce “Loolapalooza”, ii) neither can anyone else.)

Q9: The Teardrop Explodes sang “comics are all I read”. What’s their other comics connection?
A9: This is the one that Rol got. Daredevil 77 had the caption “and then – it happens - filling the wintered glades of central park with an unearthly whine – painting the leaf-bare branches with golden fire – the teardrop explodes!” (Someone asked on the night if that was by Gerry Conway. I replied “well, it’s badly written.”)
No points for “from a comic”, one point “from a Marvel comic”, two points for “from Daredevil”. If anyone knew the exact issue number they are too sad even for us.

Q10: Who recorded the song with the lyrics “Doctor Strange is always changing size”? (Please name band and song)
A10: ’Cymbeline’ by Pink Floyd


Q1: Superman hangs out in Metropolis, and Batman Gotham City, what City did Will Eisner’s Spirit inhabit?
A1: Central City

Q2: Fort Thunder (now sadly defunct) was a warehouse turned into an art colony by a bunch of crazies, including comics artists whose style came to be named after the venue. They included Brian Ralph, Brian Chippendale and Mat Brinkman. What city was it located in?
A2: Providence, Rhode Island

Q3: The European comics magazine Stripburger has been running since 1992, and claims to be the only comics magazine in its home country. Which country?
A3: Slovenia. (Easier to answer if you’d been to their recent exhibition in Orbital Comics.)

Q4: What imaginary country was featured in Dylan Horrock’s ’Atlas’?
A4: Cornucopia

Q5: In which imaginary country is the TinTin adventure ’King Ottaker’s Sceptre’ set? (Clue, it was derived from sections from the names of two existing East European countries.)
A5: Syldavia. It was dervied from Transylvania (which then still existed) and Moldavia.


Q1: Richard Hamilton’s 1956 collage ‘What Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing’ has a comic cover framed on the wall by a well-known pair of comic artists? Who are they?
A1: Simon and Kirby. (As seen above, the comic was ’Young Romance.’) Half a point if you only got one.

Q2: Which of the For Beginners series of books was drawn by Robert Crumb?
A2: ’Kafka for Beginners’ (Later repackaged by Fantagraphics as ’Kafka.’)

Q3:...and which by Oscar Zarate?
A3: ’Freud for Beginners’

Q4: What American writer wrote a novel about Krazy Kat?
A4: Jay Cantor (Called, appropriately enough, ’Krazy Kat’.)

Q5: What Academy Award winning author wrote the storyline for the first Superman film?
A5: Mario Puzo


Q1: Hanna Barbera’s The Flintstones was, as we all know, set in the stone age. But other settings were trialled. Which of these wasn’t?
- Hillbillies
- Pilgrims
- Ancient Rome
- Outer Space
A1: Outer space

Q2: Which of these famous people was never used as a ‘guest star’ in Cerebus?
- Woody Allen
- Marty Feldman
- George Harrison
- Brian Jones
A2: Brian Jones. Allen appeared in ’Latter Days’, Feldman and Harrison in ’Guys’, and Jagger and Richards in ’Church and State’ - but without Brian Jones.

Q3: Which is not a genuine Asterix title? 

’Asterix in Belgium’
‘Asterix in Corsica’
‘Asterix in Spain’
‘Asterix in Sweden’

A3: ‘Asterix in Sweden’

Q4: Which was not a genuine subhead of Raw magazine?
"The Graphix Magazine for Damned Intellectuals"
"The Graphix Magazine of Abstract Depressionism"
“The Graphix Magazine That Became Jaded by Ennui”
"The Graphix Magazine That Lost Its Faith in Nihilism"

A4: “Jaded by Ennui.” The others were in issue (2 ’80), 5 (’83) and 3 (’81) respectively.

Q5: The Caption convention in Oxford, now Britain’s longest-running comics convention, normally has a theme for each year. One of the following is a fake year name, but which?
Are we having fun yet?
Euro Standardised Caption
Love is Caption
Pirate Caption Ahoy!

Pirate Caption Ahoy. (Though people on the night suggested it would make a good theme for Caption!)

(One point for each)

K = Moon Knight
N = Deadline
0 = Frontline Combat
W = Whizzer and Chips (half-point only for Whizzer, as they were never two separate comics.)

T = Swamp Thing
H = Hate
E = Asterix

L = Lone Wolf and Cub
O = Thor
G = The Avengers
O = Love and Rockets
S = Maus

C = Captain America
F = The Flash
U = Fantastic Four
!! = Cor!! (I thought no-one would get the double exclamation marks, but it seems almost everyone did!)

(One point for knowing the name of comic, plus another for the issue number. Half a point for a ‘Friends explanation’ eg. “the one where the FF first face Doctor Doom!”)

1. Dark Knight Returns (or Dark Knight 1)
2. Where Monsters Dwell 21 (half point for “the one withFin Fang Foom”)
3. Conan the Barbarian 1
4. Watchmen 12
5. Nick Fury Agent of Shield 1
6. Brave and Bold 28 (1 point for “first appearance of Justice League”, half-point for ‘Justice League’)
7. Red Sonja 1
8. Amazing Spider-Man 1 (no points for Fantastic Four!)

Q1: Nicholas Cage was such a comics fan he christened his first-born son Kal-El.
True. (Though he has as yet not fired him on a rocket ship away from the globally warmed Earth.)

Q2: The Alan Class reprints of old Marvel comics in Britain were copied from the printed pages, without securing any copyright, which is why they were always so badly reproduced.
False. (Well they were reproduced pretty badly, but just because of penny-pinching.)

Q3: The voice of The Shadow on radio broadcasts was provided by Orson Welles .

Q4: In October 2004, Fathers For Justice member Jonathan Stanesby protested about family law by scaling Tower Bridge dressed as Spider-Man, only to get stuck and have to be rescued by the Fire Brigade.
A4: False. (In October 2003, FFJ member David Chick scaled a crane near Tower Bridge, and didn't get stuck.

Q5: The Dazzler as originally conceived was based on an actual disco singer in a cross-promotion with Casablanca records, and her only super-power was the ability to compel people to tell the truth.
True. The deal collapsed before publication. (Of course a better power for the Dazzler would be to compel polite lying, as in “no, we all love your comic, honest!”)

Q6: Marvel’s ’GI Joe’ 21 (1984), was “the most unusual GI Joe story ever” – a completely silent issue! However, this was because in their haste they sent the artwork to print before it had gone to the letterer.
A6: False . The issue was produced in haste, but the silence was always planned.

Q7: The “bullet logo” used by DC comics in the Eighties, with the four stars in the circle, was created by the same designer as the “I Love NY” logo.
A7: True. (It was Milton Glaser.)

Q8: In 1989, the Barbie Liberation Organisation stole a bunch of Barbie and GI Joe dolls, switched their voiceboxes, then returned them to the stores. Children then found Barbies who yelled “vengeance is mine!” and GI Joes who breathed “let’s plan our dream wedding!”
True, all true!

Q9: A talking Clanger doll, commercially released by the Golden Bear Company, said when squeezed “oh sod it, the bloody thing’s stuck again!”
True! (Oliver Postgate always wrote actual dialogue for the Clangers, though it was always rendered indecipherably through the swannee whistles. Major Clanger used that line. The toy company then used the phrase unwittingly.)

Q10: The 2000AD strip ’Nemesis The Warlock’ was originally based on the Jam song ‘Going Underground’, as everybody in the strip lived underground?
A10: True There was a planned series of ‘Comic Rock’ strips based on popular songs of the day, but that was the only one to appear.

(1 point for cartoon, 1 point for character)

1. “It’s the wool-uf, it’s the wool-uf!”
Lambsy Divey,
‘It’s the Wolf’

2. “Hay-lp! Hay-lp!”
Penelope Pitstop,
‘Perils of Penelope Pitstop’
(One team on the night insisted
’Wacky Races’ was an equally valid answer. However, though Penelope of course appeared in it, I’m sure she didn’t use that catchphrase.)

3. “Up and at ‘em!”
I was thinking of Radioactive Man from
‘The Simpsons’, but someone pointed out on the night he actually filched that catchphrase from Atom Ant – so either earns a point!

4. “To infinity – and beyond!”
Buzz Lightyear,
‘Toy Story’

5. “Herbidaceous!”
The Narrator,
‘The Herbs’ (or ‘The Herb Garden’) It was said at the start of every episode as a kind of “open sesame” for us to enter the garden.

(One is not a cartoon theme tune, please say where its’ from)

Q1: “Buckle up your seatbelts,
They could be in orbit in the stars
On a spooky planet, maybe Mars
There’s no way of knowing
When they’re groovin’ way above the atmosphere
Trying to get back to here”

’Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space’

Q2: “With beauty and grace,
as swift as can be,
Watch it flying through the air.
It travels in space,
or under the sea,
and it can journey anywhere.
It travels on land,
or roams the skies,
through a heavens stormy rage,
It's Mercury-manned,
and everyone cries,
‘it's the marvel of the age!’”


Q3: “Be an early riser
Strive to be ambitious
Speak a little wiser
Try to be judicious
Be a good adviser
Never ever vicious
Where will you be then?
Face front, lift your head, you’re on the winning team”

If you joined the Merry Marvel Marching Society, Marvel’s original fan club back in the Sixties, you got this song on a single as part of the package. 

Q4: “It’s -- -,
Brave and free,
Fighting evil ‘neath the sea,
He is a boy.
A very special boy,
Powered by propeller shoes,
Flying sub ahoy.
Whooshing through the water
On a friendly dolphin’s back
Racing to the rescue
Of victims of attack”

’Marine Boy’

Q5: “Terrorist your game is through
Cause now you have to answer to...
What you going to do when we come for you now?
It’s the dream that we all share,
It’s the hope for tomorrow”

’Team America – World Police’ (Special expurgated version for a family audience!)

A6: The words to the 'Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines' theme...

“Muttley, you snickering, floppy eared hound.
When courage is needed, you're never around.
Those medals you wear on your moth-eaten chest
Should be there for bungling at which you are best.
So, stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon
Nab him, Jab him, Tab him, Grab him
Stop that pigeon now.
You, Zilly, stop sneaking, it's not worth the chance.
For you'll be returned by the seat of your pants.
And Clunk, you invent me a thingamabob
That catches that pigeon or I lose my job.
So, stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon
Nab him, Jab him, Tab him, Grab him
Stop that pigeon now.”

...okay, who do I need to send no-prizes to?

Coming Soon! All the stuff I’ve promised to post here and haven’t yet...