Something for the Weakened

Archive for 2012

Convention Sketches – Part Five

November 11th, 2012 by Alastair

Here we are again for another delve into the small selection of sketches I acquired from comic artists at the couple of conventions I attended back in the mid ’90s. Should you be interested in more details about my experiences at them, I refer you to the first post in the series. Hey, and while we’re at it here are parts two, three and four too. I’m going to try not to repeat myself or bore you any more than my general waffle normally would. Except with this paragraph, which I’m going to be pasting into all th other posts anyway. Ignore it in the next one you read and just move down to the sketch. Here it is.

Alien by Chris Halls

Alien was created by loads of people, though visually it’s probably down to H. R. Giger more than anyone else. The franchise is copyright 2012 20th Century Fox, a division of News Corporation. Boo everybody, boo. Booooo.

This was the final sketch I managed to acquire at U.K.C.A.C. 93 – I have an inkling that my parents might have arranged to pick me up, but I’m not 100%. They probably were, I was only 16, after all. My original request to Mister Halls hadn’t actually been for the Alien. I broke the cardinal rule of requesting characters I was unaware of him having drawn in the past. I think my first try was to have him do Lobo, who was fairly popular at the time, but I was told no, “Because Simon Bisley might come and beat me up,” or words to that effect. A reasonable worry – I’d seen Bisley sketching at the con’ I’d attended a year previously and he did look mildly terrifying, with his long hair and tats (though he rather sweetly signed the copy of Monster Massacre that I picked up, so he can’t have been all bad. I didn’t get a sketch from The Biz as he was at the height of his fame and the queue was enormous) I then tried to get him to do me a Sandman, but was again knocked back, because Chris, entirely reasonably, didn’t really know the character design. What was I to do? At this time, all that Halls was really known for in the comics world was an episode of Dredd in the Megazine. I believe his Mean Machine series for the title had been announced, but I was entirely unfamiliar with the character at that point in time. I already had my Staples Dredd and didn’t want another. What other options were there?

Then it occurred to me that there was other published work in the man’s past. As well as that small amount of strip work, Halls had done a number of covers for Dark Horse International’s Aliens comics. More than that, he had actually been involved in the production of Alien 3, I believe designing the ‘Dogburster’ for the film. According to the research I did for this post, he was due to illustrate a Grant Morrison script for the Aliens comic, but the UK iteration was cancelled when D.H.I. shut its doors and receded back across the pond. It was presumably never completed, possibly never started, as no US edition was ever printed either. I think that I would have been aware that Halls was involved in the production design of the Stallone Judge Dredd atrocity at that point, news of the film filtering through The Galaxy’s Greatest as it was, but would have had no idea what characters he would have been involved with, so didn’t go with it (apparently it was primarily the Mean Machine designs, though I’d convinced myself it was the ‘ABC Robot’, based predominantly on Bisley and Kevin Walker’s designs for Hammerstein from the ABC Warriors – a shocking mixing of continuities, but I digress). No, an Alien it would have to be and an Alien I received.

It’s a wonderful piece of artwork and probably the one with the most detail put into it that I forced anyone to draw. The Bisley school comes through in the sharp points in the chin, jaw and elbow, even the teeth to an extent. It’s a very assured sketch of the head – so few preparatory marks made and no evidence of corrections being made during the process. Understandable I suppose, if he had been spending most of the year previous drawing Giger inspired creations. The exposed ribs of the creature are deftly expressed with a few lines and a bit of shading, while the leg and arm, though vague still convey the beast’s spindly limbs convincingly. The presence of the weird funnels that first appeared on the creature’s back in the Ridley Scott film is a wonderful touch, they being something that I imagine most people forget about (it’s certainly not something that leaps to mind when I think of them) and shows an exceptional knowledge of the character design. Vaguer even than the limbs, the great curving arc of the tail, with its little scorpion sting frames the whole thing really nicely. And then the dedication. I’ve long since convinced myself that the dedication was “Hugs & Kisses”, a sign off I’ve used on vast swathes of correspondence since, being so impressed by its use here. Except that looking at it properly for the first time in donkeys, I see that it’s actually “Love & Kisses.” This calls into question everything I thought of as a memory and makes me wonder if I should change my sign offs from this time forward. We shall see…

Halls disappeared from the comics world in ‘93 and has never returned to it as far as I am aware. Over the years I wondered what might have become of him, though never really went out of my way to try and find out. My questions were answered in January of last year (Christ, was it really that long ago?), in this column by Joe McCulloch on The Comics Journal website. It transpired that Chris had carried on working in the film industry and that Halls wasn’t actually his surname, but that of his stepfather. His film work had been done under his given name.

Cunningham.

Yes, Chris Cunningham.

That Chris Cunningham.

Those amongst you who are unaware of his work, Cunningham spent most of the ’90s directing music videos for a variety of artists, ranging from Gene and Jesus Jones, to Autechre and Squarepusher, to Madonna and Bjork (for All Is Full Of Love, which is rather good). These culminated at the end of the decade with two astounding collaborations with the Aphex Twin on Come To Daddy and Windowlicker, the latter of which is still one of the finest videos I have ever seen. Other short film work followed, including a video installation at the Royal Academy called Flex (a naked man and woman float around in space, embrace, fight and have anal sex – there don’t seem to be any clips online, believe me, I’ve looked), Monkey Drummer for the Anthony d’Offay Gallery (both with Aphex soundtracks), another proper Aphex collaboration called Rubber Johnny for Warp films (still never seen it) and various commercials amongst other things. Wikipedia seems to think he took time off from film work in 2005 to “learn about music production and recording”, which has apparently resulted in him producing a couple of tracks for The Horrors and doing a reworking of I Feel Love with Donna Summer (before she died). Other than that, a Gucci advert, a Gil Scott-Heron video and a Grace Jones photo shoot, I can’t find any evidence for him having been up to much over the past five years. There are vague references to him writing screenplays online, but apart from an aborted involvement in an adaptation of Billy Gibson’s Neuromancer a decade ago, I’ve found no references to what they may be about. His website might have details, but this steam powered machine I’m working on only brings up some unsettling music and confused stop motion images from his videos in between the buffering. If there’s a link there to get into the site, I’m bollocksed if I can find it. Have a go yourself if you like.

Oh and here’s Windowlicker, if you’ve somehow failed to have seen it.

I started writing the above in early August. Hopefully I’ll have the next one ready before the next scheduled apocalypse, but I will promise you nothing. Um, happy Christmas? You, know, just in case…

Hailing Pace

November 6th, 2012 by Alastair

I’ve been thinking about Jackson Pace quite a bit recently. Like much of the population, I too have been sucked into the quite good drama that is Homeland. In the opening to each episode, Pace’s name appears in the cast credits. Up until yesterday, I had no idea as to who he was (turns out that he’s the small boy child who never seems to have anything particularly interesting to do).

That’s because every time I see the name Jackson Pace, I instantly think of Daniel Peacock.

You see, Jackson Pace was a Children’s ITV series that I remember quite fondly. Apparently not fondly enough to realise that its full title was Jackson Pace: The Great Years, but that’s by the by. My memories prior to yesterday were scant, save for the facts that it had been penned by the aforementioned Mister Peacock, that he also appeared in it, that it was an adventure comedy shot on sets that made the Aztec zone in The Crystal Maze look properly authentic and that it had an exciting theme tune. Doing a spot of research, I was pleased to find that most of these memories were correct, though there were some glaring omissions too.

My research informed me that the series was broadcast in 1990, when I would have been a stripling of 13 years. This makes some sense as to my recognition of Peacock – my fascination with British television comedy sparked off at around the same time, so I would have been familiar with his name from some of his Comic Strip appearances and possibly even from the Pete Richardson directed Eat The Rich that I videoed off Channel 4 at some point around that time. I was almost certainly familiar with his face from the dozens of appearances he’d made all over film and television before then, Porridge, Jewel of the Nile, Doctor Who, and would continue to become aware of more of them as I grew old enough to see things like Quadrophenia, Whoops Apocalypse Super Gran.

A couple of things I hadn’t recalled in the tiny bits of information I was able to uncover online were the rest of the cast. I was reasonably sure that Danny didn’t play Pace, but I was quietly astounded to learn that role was played by Keith Allen. Yes, that Keith Allen! In a kids show at the turn of the nineties! Thank the Christ child it wasn’t live. I’d presumably have recognised Allen from his Comic Strip work, but that didn’t lodge in my mind. Nor did the appearance of Josie Lawrence, who I must have been watching on Whose Line by this point, but again didn’t lodge like the Peacock did. The presence of Gian Sammarco made even less of an impression on me, but I never watched the original Adrian Mole TV series (in which he played the title character), so his appearance would have meant far less to me. It was to be his last acting on television.

As I say, information about the show online is next to non-existent. “Indiana Jones style adventure” seems to be the standard right up. The closest thing to an episode guide seems to be on the BFI’s site, but they look to be copied out of the TV Times, who never gave much more than a sentence’s explanation to kid’s shows back then. Cast lists aside, there doesn’t seem to be much else out there, no screen shots and certainly no video, the show forgotten by pretty much everyone who isn’t me. At least Danny Peacock seems to still be getting employed, spending much of his time writing kids telly, punctuated with acting work, most recently in the execrable Coming of Age and the Super-Hans written Starlings which was on Sky and I’m therefore not allowed to have an opinion on.

In spite of the series’ almost forgotten status, I did dig something up for you. You can find the theme tune here. It is still quite good. Though be warned, it does contain Keith Allen.

Convention Sketches – Part Four

August 5th, 2012 by Alastair

Here we are again for another delve into the small selection of sketches I acquired from comic artists at the couple of conventions I attended back in the mid ’90s. Should you be interested in more details about my experiences at them, I refer you to the first post in the series. You might also like to try the second and the third. I’m going to try not to repeat myself or bore you any more than my general waffle normally would. Except with this paragraph, which I’m going to be pasting into all th other posts anyway. Ignore it in the next one you read and just move down to the sketch. Here it is.

The Phantom by Dean Ormston

The Phantom was created by Lee Falk and is copyright 2012 King Features Syndicate

This was a bit of a peculiar choice to ask Mister Ormston to draw, hence the slightly peculiar image that he created. Several sketches earlier, though I forget when, a realisation struck me; that just because an artist creates comics, it doesn’t mean that they are necessarily able to sketch any comics character off the top of their heads. I forget who I asked, I forget what I asked them to draw, I forget even if I asked someone or just saw someone else make this error. But by this point in the afternoon, I knew that my best bet was to request the artists I was approaching to draw characters that I had seen them illustrating in print. At this point in his comics career, Ormston was mainly known in the comics world for the work that he’d done on Judge Dredd in the Megazine. As you should have already seen in part three of this series, I already had a Dredd sketch and didn’t want another. What would the point be? They’d all be the same, wouldn’t they? Oh poor, naive naif I was. This commitment to always get a different character drawn by every artist I approached continued through my brief convention going period, as you will see as the series continues.

Anyway, around this time I had seen copies of a new Phantom series on a number of newsagents shelves. These I think came about due to the popularity Defenders of the Earth was still experiencing when the Beeb were still showing it and because the character is so massively popular worldwide, leading to metric tonnes of material being available for cheap, poorly translated reprints. I don’t actually know if they were poorly translated, as I never bought an issue, but I have my suspicions and apologise if I’m doing wrong by those multi-linguists who did the work. I did however notice Ormston’s very distinctive painted style on a couple of the covers, possibly even going so far as to check the indicia to see if my suspicions were correct. I was that kind of kid. I am that kind of ‘adult’. So, asking for a quick sketch of the character, seemed like it might be a decent idea. Something different for him to draw. Something unusual, but which he still had a pedigree for having done. In doing the research for this post, I’ve discovered that he only actually created four covers for the series – you can see them all here, numbers 5, 7, 8 and 9. So it is plausible that my request might have only been the fifth time that he’d drawn the character. Unlikely, as I’m sure he’d have had to do a couple to land the cover gig, but still slightly possible. Whichever way, it clearly wasn’t a character that he was that familiar with, hence the sketch itself. He apologised to me for it as he handed the paper back, to which I probably nervously giggled, or something. I’m still very fond of it. It has character and wit, along with Ormston’s distinctive chunky, noirish figure work.

At the time of our brief meeting, Mister Ormston was only a couple of years into his comics career and had pretty much exclusively been producing work for the 2000AD group (except for something in Marvel Comics Presents – an anthology they put out, occasionally showcasing new creators – back in ‘88, when he can barely have been much more than a foetus). He had also been drumming for a number of bands that never quite hit the big time and producing artwork for some that did. My old smoking chum Bourney had a T-shirt that I instantly recognised with his artwork on it, that the band had all signed after Bourney had passed out at the front of one of their gigs and was dragged, prostrate backstage to recover. I’ve always remembered the band being Ned’s Atomic Dustbin in my head, but I can’t find any corresponding images online, so I might be misremembering. The closest I’ve discovered is this Mega City Four cover, which looks similar, but I can neither imagine my friend being that into Mega City Four to buy any of their merchandise, or indeed anyone being frenzied enough to pass out at one of their gigs. Maybe I’ll ask when next we meet.

The work for the Megazine continued, mainly on Dredd, but also on the Harke & Burr strip, that I remember rather fondly for it macabre, grave robbing comedy scripted by Si Spencer. Then, the inevitable move onto Stateside publications, where one of his first published works was an issue in the penultimate arc of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, The Kindly Ones. This was followed shortly afterwards by The Eaters, a fantastic tale of a family of middle class cannibals going on vacation written by Pete Milligan when he was really at the top of his game. It was reprinted about a year and a half ago and I would highly recommend seeking it out. Now if they’d just reprint Milligan and Fegredo’s Girl and Face, not to mention Delano and Davison’s Tainted, I’d be happy to advocate them. But that’s beside the point. Ormston’s continued to work predominantly for DC Comics since then, almost exclusively for the Vertigo imprint (though he did apparently produce some Predator comics for Dark Horse, that I had no idea existed and a spin off from James O’Barr’s The Crow, which I recall coming out and remember having no interest in, thereby single handedly destroying Kitchen Sink Press with my own indifference). Much of that work has been fill in issues for ongoing series, giving the primary artists a bit of a break from the monthly grind. Primary among these were the Sandman spin off Lucifer, written by Mike Carey, where it always felt like a bit of a treat to get an Ormston issue at the end of a six month storyline. He also appeared in the millennial one-shot Totems, which I personally found to be a horribly contrived mess, with some admittedly pretty pictures, the penultimate jam issue of The Invisibles, and a couple of issues of the underrated House of Secrets series, primarily produced by Steven Seagle (no, not that one, check the spelling) and the amazing Teddy Kristiansen.

Longer form works appeared in the form of the four issue mini-series The Girl Who Would Be Death, another Sandman spin off, this time written by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Haven’t read it for a long time, but I don’t recall being particularly enamoured of the story, though again the artwork pleased me. Five years later, Ormston helmed his first and, to date, only ongoing series, The Books of Magick: Life During Wartime. Another Gaiman spin off (Vertigo do love to milk him so), but of a character not generally associated with the Sandman series. This reunited him with Si Spencer on scripts and Gaiman did actually play a role as consultant on the series, more than he was credited as having done on most of the other works that were derivative of his own. The series lasted 15 issues and I rather enjoyed it, if memory serves. Updating a character that Gaiman had created as an 11 year old boy into late adolescence/young manhood was an interesting choice and was handled pretty well. Ormston’s art was pleasingly epic in large, fantastical battle sequences. Since the series’ cancellation, there’s been a lot less Dean available in the funny books. A one off Swamp Thing issue that I must have read but have no memory of (wasn’t massively impressed by Joshua Dysart’s run), a few issues of Douglas Rushkoff’s really terrible Testament (the art in pretty much every issue of that series was great, but the story and the dialogue were simply fucking awful) and a two parter in Brian Wood’s Northlanders (really good, thoroughly enjoyed it and am very sorry that the series was cancelled – the world needs more violent, swearing viking comics) in 2008, but next to nothing since. Until the start of this year, where he does appear to have reunited with Mike Carey for an issue of the almost indescribable fantasy The Unwritten (I’m only reading the trade paperbacks when they’re collected, so I haven’t got that far yet) and drawn a strip in Dark Horse’s revival of the old Warren Creepy franchise. What he’s been up to in those four years, I have no idea. I hope he’s alright.

As far as I can see, Mister Ormston doesn’t have a website, except for a MySpace page that doesn’t seem to have been touched since 2008, which is as it should be. You’ll find a list of comics his art has appeared in here and the Tumblr feed for his name has a decent selection of his art from over the years. Next time – someone you might have actually heard of if you’re not as comically obsessed as I.

Convention Sketches – Part Three

July 18th, 2012 by Alastair

Here we are again for another delve into the small selection of sketches I acquired from comic artists at the couple of conventions I attended back in the mid ’90s. Should you be interested in more details about my experiences at them, I refer you to the first post in the series (and the second one, if you’re interested). I’m going to try not to repeat myself or bore you any more than my general waffle normally would. Except with this paragraph, which I’m going to be pasting into all th other posts anyway. Ignore it in the next one you read and just move down to the sketch. Here it is.

Judge Dredd by Greg Staples

Judge Dredd was created by John Wagner & Carlos Ezquerra and is copyright 2012 Rebellion.

This was the first sketch I received that was actually drawn directly in ink (had I mentioned I was putting these up chronologically? Well, I am and the first two are both in pencil). Looking at the original, it actually appears to be drawn using a biro or some flavour of ballpoint pen. I might just about recall him fishing around for something better to draw with, though that could just be a false memory that’s implanted itself from staring at the thing. More fascinating anecdotes to follow. I find this piece kind of fascinating as there’s still so much of the working visible in the fainter lines behind the heavy crosshatching. The sketched in cross that denotes approximately where the nose and the bottom of the visor are going to run. The number of times the pen’s gone round the chin, almost giving Old Stony Face a little wispy beard. The outline of the helmet, which he seems to have gone over at least half a dozen times to give it the right sort of weight, yet still keeping the curve consistent. And of course, the massive jutting chin that was something of a signature of his work on the character at the time.

Rising to prominence when he did and with a spiky painted style, many dismissed Staples as just being a Simon Bisley clone (more faintly relating to The Biz in two parts time). There are obviously some similarities between the two, though working with a lot of the same tools, on a lot of the same characters, in the same comic, the criticisms seem a little harsh. Especially as it was Bisley who brought Staples to the attention of that period’s Tharg in residence. I was fairly familiar with Staples’ work by this point, his first works appearing in 2000AD shortly after I first started reading it. As his work there had been almost exclusively on Dredd, it was a bit of a no brainer as to what I’d request him to draw. His tenure at the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic pretty much coincides with the first period in which I was reading it regularly, appearing pretty regularly up until around the turn of the century. His style evolved over that period, moving away from the fully painted work on strips, to a more refined inked outline (not dissimilar to the style of this sketch) with painted colour washed over. Personally I found this a bit jarring when I first saw it, spoilt as I had been by the painted comics boom of the early ’90s, but I’m quite fond of it now and can see the logic of the choice – more spontaneous, tighter storytelling and so forth. Unlike many of his peers, Mr. Staples didn’t drift off Stateside to provide work for US comics publishers, save for a few covers here and there, instead firmly sticking with the 20000AD stable. I think I’ve therefore read all of his sequential output thus far in his career. Which is nice.

Come the new millennium, Staples strip work sadly stopped appearing, but he didn’t drop out of the comic world entirely. He still produces occasional covers for both 2000AD and The Megazine, in a painted style that often seems more based in portraiture than those early works. His paintings have also graced a fair few book covers and apparently a number of Magic: The Gathering cards. My research tells me that he’s also done his inevitable tenure working in the computer games industry and, most surprisingly to me, did some sort of War of the Worlds based work with Jeff Wayne, but I’ve failed to find out exactly what. The internet, you have failed me. He has done some concept work for films, including Solomon Kane and Doomsday and apparently worked on music videos for the Scissor Sisters, Muse and, um, Shaznay Lewis? From that list I’ve only seen Kane, which was fairly awful, but sort of fun in a switch your brain off and let it wash over you sort of a way. His blog mentions a return to actual comic work for actor Thomas Jane’s Raw Entertainment, but I don’t believe that ever materialised. The blog’s not been updated since 2010, and I don’t recall hearing of anything coming out from that particular publisher in the past couple of years, or possibly since 2005, when the series Staples was supposed to be drawing the sequel to originally appeared. Shame really. The world would be a better place with more Staples comics in it.

Official Greg Staples site can be found here a fairly comprehensive list of his comics work is here, while this site has a number of photo’s of him dressed up as Judge Dredd, if that’s your sort of thing. Next time around – more waffle about another artist, this time actually featuring minor details of a conversation that took place nineteen years ago! Keep your fat arse on the edge of that seat!

Convention Sketches – Part Two

July 14th, 2012 by Alastair

Here we are again for another delve into the small selection of sketches I acquired from comic artists at the couple of conventions I attended back in the mid ’90s. Should you be interested in more details about my experiences at them, I refer you to the first post in the series. I’m going to try not to repeat myself or bore you any more than my general waffle normally would. Except with this paragraph, which I’m going to be pasting into all the other posts anyway. Ignore it in the next one you read and just move down to the sketch. Here it is.

John Constantine by Will Simpson

John Constantine was created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette & John Totleben and is copyright 2012 DC Comics.

My recollection of this being drawn has again vanished into the massive dump of so many memories, eaten away by almost two decades of intoxicants. I feel certain that when I describe Mr. Simpson as being a lovely chap that I am not veering away from the truth in any way. My first contact with his artwork came almost a decade earlier, back when he was illustrating Simon Furman scripts in the Transformers comics my brother collected. Years after I briefly met him, I saw his even earlier work in a couple of issues of Warrior on the Big Ben strip – written, if memory serves, by the comics editor Dez Skinn. The character also appears briefly during Alan Moore’s run on Marvelman, as part of Skinn’s apparent attempt to create an integrated ‘Warriorverse’, but that’s a whole other clusterfuck for another day. By 1993, when this piece was produced, I was also familiar with some of Simpson’s more mature work. His painted art on Dave Gibbons’ Rogue Trooper reboot had been amongst the strips appearing during my first foray into collecting 2000AD and astounded me with its muddy viscera. I had been mildly disappointed by the content of Sex Warrior which he again painted, this time for the short lived anthology Toxic, though that disappointment stemmed from the fact that the strip focused more on the ‘warrior’ aspect than my sweaty fourteen year old palms had hoped. The painting was not at fault.

By this point in ‘93 I had been collecting the DC ‘Mature Readers’ titles that would go on to become the Vertigo line for about six months. The first couple of issues of Hellblazer I purchased from the small Shitney newsagent that stocked these things (walked past it a couple of weeks ago – depressingly it’s a party supply shop now) were the first two during Garth Ennis’ run to contain art from Steve Dillon. The collaboration between the pair would continue through a couple of dozen more issues on the title, before they went off to produce the classic that is Preacher. But prior to Dillon’s arrival, Simpson had been the primary artist under Ennis’ scripting and following those two Dillon issues, returned for a three issue arc just before Vertigo began proper. Thus, I was fully aware of the artist’s connection to the comic and that’s almost certainly why I asked him to draw its protagonist (in case you were unaware who the picture was of).

In the years that followed I remember enjoying his work in the Vamps mini series’, though if I’m perfectly honest the stories never grabbed me in the way that other Elaine Lee projects had in the past. Researching this it appears that he did the art on a couple of issues of Legends of the Dark Knight (again with Ennis) which I would have read but have long since forgotten and a few more painted pages in the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic on Gordon Rennie’s Witch World, a series I remember the name of, but can recall nothing about. Did it start out as one of the million series that Rennie was supposed to be writing for Tundra before that all went to cock, or am I making that up? Dunno. Anyway, around the turn of the millennium, it all seemed to go a bit quiet on the Simpson comics front. According to the aforementioned research, this seems to be down to his moving into the far more profitable world of storyboarding for films. Of the ones listed on Wikipedia, the only two that look familiar to me are Reign of Fire and Puckoon, neither of which I’ve actually seen, nor could I think of two more different films. Now he’s apparently working on the massively successful HBO adaptations of GRRRRR Martin’s Game of Thrones, which I also haven’t seen but am told are quite good. I’m sure in some part this is down to Mr. Simpson’s excellent work.

I’ve failed to find a site for the man himself, but this seems to have the best career overview I could find. Who will it be next time? Wait and see.

The Belated Eurovision Post

June 21st, 2012 by Alastair

I was invited to a birthday party on the day of this year’s Eurovision. Apart from watching the televisual car crash that is the song contest, one of the themes of the evening was that guests were to bring food from one of the competing nations. I’m sure my culinary ineptitude has been mentioned around these parts on more than one occasion, placing me in a bit of a quandary. Should I attempt to rustle up some sort of dish and risk poisoning many of me bestest chums? Or just turn up with some booze and scoff all their grub like I normally do? Or should I try something else?

I tried something else.

The image you will see below is what I created. Possessing no camera as I do, and as no one to my knowledge took a photo of it on the day, the only way to preserve it for posterity was by sticking it on my scanner, covering that with my duvet (it was the middle of the day when the scanning occurred) and hoping for the best. It hasn’t come out too badly, but being raised up from the surface of the scanner has caused it to elongate length-ways ever so slightly. Anyway, this is what it looked like -

That, my friends, is an effigy of the face of Englebert Humperdink, fashioned entirely from Chewits.

Yeah, you heard right.

I’d often thought about trying to sculpt something from Chewits, stemming back to when I must have been eight or nine and spent some time squashing them between my grubby fingers, twisting them, rolling them into balls. The idea of building a column of them and sticking it in the middle of a room so that anyone could take a bite whenever they fancied has long been a fantasy as yet unrealised. Their malleability is similar to damp clay, though they don’t set quite as hard.

Englebert is made from six packs of Chewits, two orange, two fruit salad and two strawberry – blackcurrant would have been better for the hair, but sadly my local vendor had none (should they still be being manufactured). The longest part of the process was probably taken up with removing the individual wrappers from every single sweet. Tip to aspiring candy sculptors -  it might be advisable to acquire a larger taffy bar that has a single wrapping. Chewits unsheathed, it’s then a matter of shoving them together into a single, globular mass. This isn’t too tricky. The heat given off by the hands and the forces being exerted by the pushing soon makes them pretty squidgy and manipulable. I blended the fruit salad and orange flavoured Chewits together pretty haphazardly, in the vague hope that it would give the appearance of mottled, leathery skin. Not sure if that really come across in the scan, but it did sort of in reality. When I had my ‘flesh’ coloured blob, I then fashioned that into a sort of ball (it was far from perfectly spherical), slowly flattened that into a head shaped oval, then stuck it to the bottom of a Tupperware container. Did I mention that it was an unspeakably sticky process? Yeah, unsurprisingly that amount of sugar based gunk could probably be used as an industrial solvent, had one the inkling. It took a couple of attempts to get much of a nose sticking out, without making the cheeks completely hollow, so I eventually settled for what you see above. The eyes were made just using my thumbnails, while most of the other features were achieved using the end of a teaspoon and a small vegetable knife. I’m quite happy with the jowls. Thinking about it, it might have been an idea to use some strawberry fragments for the eyeballs, but that didn’t occur to me at the time. Instead I rolled two small cylinders for the eyebrows and three for the lips, then put the rest into two large cylinders which were arranged into the hair. The longer of the two formed the quiff almost by accident on my first attempt, which was oddly satisfying. The knife was then taken to it to give almost the appearance of hair.

The effigy made it to the party unscathed. Rather than being consumed, it was placed upright next to the television as a mascot. It was a warm night and there were about a dozen people in the room, so it was amusing to see that by the end of the evening the face had slid down its Tupperware, deforming it slightly and the hair drooping from the top like the toupee of a sleeping baldy on a train. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the party’s host didn’t really want to hold onto Englebert (in spite of my repeatedly pointing out that I had washed my hands during the construction), so he came back home with me. I hadn’t lain him flat in my rucksack for my journey home, so when I next looked in on him even more slippage had occurred, the face melting into the contours of it’s container. So what was I to do with this soggy sweet mass on a Sunday afternoon.

Yes, of course I ate him.

In about ten minutes.

He tasted good. Though that amount of sugar did send me a bit funny.

Should anyone wish to commission me to create further sweetie sculptures, please get in contact. Maybe Wham bars next time.

Convention Sketches – Part One

June 17th, 2012 by Alastair

To date, I have attended four comic conventions. The first I forget the name of. The middle two were U.K.C.A.C.s and the most recent was Caption a couple of years ago. We can ignore that last one for this series of posts. The first took place in Alexandra Palace and was at the time of the fascinating clusterfuck that was Tundra, 1990, maybe ‘91. My memories of the event are mostly hazy. Mainly trawling through dealers tables for back issues I needed to fill holes in my collection and picking up more free posters than my walls could ever hold and other bumpf from publishers stalls. I went on my own, not having any friends who shared the interest with me. I didn’t meet anyone because I was too timid an adolescent to start conversations with strangers. I didn’t attend any panels as I doubt I knew such things were taking place and I certainly wasn’t interested in hearing them at that time. I probably only really conversed with retailers during the couple of hours I was present there. The only real event that’s emblazoned on my brain is the bit when Warren Ellis thought I was trying to filch an issue of Lazarus Churchyard (I wasn’t). I returned home with stacks of reading material and numerous bits of paper that mostly failed to get stuck up in my bedroom.

But those weren’t the only things. I have no recollection of the event, but at some point during the day I ended up in the presence of the artist Kev Walker (I think he’s ‘Kevin’ now, but he was mostly credited as Kev then). He drew a sketch for me. It was the first piece of original art that I’d ever possessed that was drawn by someone I hadn’t gone to school with. Unsurpisingly, I was mightily chuffed with it. At the time my Dad was in the process of trying to whip up some extra cash by doing some picture framing, so very kindly put the piece between wood and behind glass for me. I don’t think it ever actually made it onto my bedroom wall, there being so little room between the posters and no one (least of all myself) trusting me to use a hammer and nail. I still kept it safe though, until the glass shattered some years later under circumstances I can’t recall, but probably involved some form of mind altering intoxicant. Where it resides now is uncertain. It was of Nemesis The Warlock.

This post is not about that picture.

In 1993 I attended my first U.K.C.A.C.. Again, I treated the day primarily as an opportunity to purchase comics that had been unavailable from my local suppliers. I went alone. I attended no panels. I made no new friends. I became slightly confused by the fact that the event took place in two seperate buildings. One thing I did do though was get some established artists to draw sketches for me. I don’t think any of them took any of the artists more than five minutes to complete. Some I remember the drawing of and have things that almost resemble anecdotes attached to them. Others I’ve merely appreciated looking at in the book they’ve lived in these past couple of decades. These are what I shall present to you over the next couple of weeks in lieu of any decent self generated content. They come in the order in which they have always sat in the book, which is as far as I’m aware the order in which they were sketched. This is the first.

Judge Death by Peter Doherty – pencil on cartridge paper.

Judge Death was created by John Wagner & Brian Bolland and is copyright 2012 Rebellion.

I’m sad to admit that I have no real memory attached to this first sketch. At the time I was only familiar with Doherty’s work on the Young Death series that he had produced for the first few issues of Judge Dredd: The Megazine (though I may have only been familiar with the tale at the time through the US sized Fleetway Editions reprints that I managed to pick up the first two issues of in a local newsagent, failing to find the third and thereby not reading the end of the self contained tale until I picked up the Megazine back issues as the years ticked by). Thus, my decision to request a Death sketch from him seems to have been a bit of a no brainer (hope he wasn’t too hacked off with everyone asking for one from him). The drawing itself is very much in keeping with the character design he had used on the series, the obvious difference being that it wasn’t lushly painted as the work there had been. I particularly like the way that he’s managed to give the feel of the pterodactyl type thing that perches on Death’s right shoulder with half a dozen pencil strokes (if that).

Doherty continued doing marvelous painted work in 2000AD, The Megazine and in other venues (I was particularly fond of the Grendel Tales series he did with Terry Laban). He later refined his style, doing pencil and ink work for US publishers, his art on the Sandman spin off The Dreaming being the last time I encountered him for a while. These days, more of his time seems to to be devoted to colouring, often over the incredible linework produced by Geoff Darrow – indeed, it was my noticing his name in the credits for Shaolin Cowboy that showed me that he was still in the comic creating business. He is still producing full art as well, I’m pleased to say. The first issue of my return to reading The Megazine (after almost a decade away) saw him providing full art on the lead Dredd story that month. Most recently, he was responsible for the recolouring job on Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison’s long held in legal limbo Flex Mentallo collection. Much as I like the colour work he produces, I’d personally be far more interested to see some more linework from the man. Wikipedia seems to think he’s working on a Devlin Waugh project at the moment (presumably with the character’s creator, John Smith), though I’ve an inkling that that might be some old/dodgy info. Hope not.

A full chronology of Doherty’s work can be found here. His own website is here.

Next time – someone else’s sketch.

Tax Rebate

June 4th, 2012 by Alastair

Slightly later than I’d planned, but here are some results for the sounds quiz I posted up a couple of weeks ago. There were a whole one and a half entries submitted, plus some random cheerleading (which was very much appreciated), which should all now be unhidden in the comments beneath that post, should you desire to see how anyone did. Subjects first, so the interviewees were -

1 – 2 Unlimited

2 – Nick Ross

3 – Slash

4 – Cliff Richard

5 – Gary NuMan

6 – Whigfield

7 – Frankie Valli

8 – Donald Sinden

9 – Max Clifford

10 – Peter Stringfellow

I’ve failed to keep records of who the artists were that did the 8-bit covers, for which I apologise, mainly to the original artists, though primarily to you the readers for my laxness. They’re mainly taken from YouTube anyway, so are pretty easy to track down should you so desire. Here’s what they were covering and who the originals were by.

1 – Ghostbusters – Ray Parker Junior

2 – Livin’ On A Prayer – Bon Jovi

3 – Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple

4 – Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana

5 – Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

6 – Song 2 – Blur

7 – Crazy – Gnarls Berkley

8 – Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley

8 – Paradise City – Guns ‘n’ Roses

10 – Pyramid Song – Radiohead

And that’s it really. Well done to Mark for an impressive 18/20 and to Pete for his sterling 9/10 (I will accept “Some Radiohead crap, almost certainly” as you at least had the decency to participate).And many thanks for the whooping Margie.

Next time – content! Probably.

Cough Up Your Brain Tax

May 19th, 2012 by Alastair

A month or two back, I again attempted to do some co-hosting at The Blenheim pub quiz. As per usual, it was a cheery shambles – my muttering and peculiar mic technique, combined with my associates thick Irish accent made most of the questions we were reading out barely intelligible. Never the less, we eventually managed to get most of them across to the assembled throng and something resembling fun was had. But that’s not what we’re here for today. As per usual, I was responsible for the sound rounds and now present them here to see if anyone else is prepared to listen to them and hazard a guess as to what’s going on. Here’s the first round -

Subjects

In this round, I spent more hours than I’m prepared to admit to* editing out snippets of interviews that Chris Morris conducted for his Radio 1 shows back in the early ’90s. What you have to do is guess who is the subject of the  interviewing. They aren’t all that tricky (I don’t think), though I suppose a knowledge of media figures active in 1994 would probably help. Quick clue – they’re all individual people except for the first clip, where it’s a pop duo being scrutinised. Meanwhile, round two lurks here -

8-Bits

The sanctioned fun to be had in this round is guessing the name of the song that’s being covered using some kind of 8-bit technology. I like to imagine that they were all put together on Gameboys, but that’s probably just wishful thinking on my part. I deliberately made it so that it starts with some horrible noise (mainly to annoy the bar staff), but stick with it. They’re all pretty easy to get.

So that’s that. Please stick your answers in the comments bit at the bottom of this post and I’ll try and give out the answers at some point in the next week or so. While your at it, do have a go at the last couple of rounds I created – I’ve still only had one response to that and I’m buggered if I’m going to give out any results until I’ve created the vaguest semblance of a competition.

More posting soon, as I attempt to breathe some sort of life back into this wretched backwater. I hear your whoops. Really I do.

* About six!

Phony

April 16th, 2012 by Alastair

When wandering around near work, my eyes are often cast toward the ground – a mixture of mild ennui and no desire to make eye contact with anyone nearby. If it wasn’t for these downcast orbs, I wouldn’t have noticed the peculiar phenomena that seemed to start about six months ago.

I think it was about that far back when I noticed the first one. Looking down in the gutter, my eye was caught by an unexpected splash of colour. A vibrant pink something. I paused and examined closer. It was one of those furry coverings one puts over the ear pieces of earphones. Unusual to find one in that hue, I thought (or something like it, the exact phrase eludes me and probably included more expletives), but having lost so many headphone accessories in my life, thought no more of it.

Until a few days later.

When I saw it again.

Or did I? Because this time it had brought a friend. If I’m perfectly honest, I forget the exact course of events, but over these past few months, the number of these tiny bits of pink fluff in the area around (and, on a couple of occasions, inside) my place of work has continually increased. Where are they coming from? Did someone drop a big box of them months ago and they’re slowly coallescing in one place, through the tidal winds like that slick of rubber ducks somewhere in the Pacific? Is someone dropping them deliberately, one or two per month, waiting to see if anyone will ever notice? Are they actually some kind of Bodysnatcheresque new lifeform, come to burrow into the ears of all mankind? Are they what postman wrap their little red rubber bands around?

Perhaps I’ll never know. I did pick one up that I found in work and put it through the washing machine. Like I say, I’m always losing bits of headphones. Funny thing is, I can’t seem to find it now. And my ear feels sort of weird. I just left it on the bed when I went tohuil.cfkw.fvhdujk cb m klm dv

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Fine. Everything fine now. Ear feel better. Happy now.

Haaaapppppyyyyy.