Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Into Darkness

Pretty cool news to round out a month of wobbles, shakes, tumbles and quakes: Push Push are reforming! No, hang on, that's not it. And it's certainly not the way to announce an article that otherwise ought to get my attention, because courtesy of Twitter I discovered The Darkness are coming to NZ next April. Yah-roo!

And then courtesy of chum Tim I discovered they're coming to Wellington. Get in.

Opportunities are now open for all and sundry to apply for the unofficial position of Jet's Plus One on 21st April 2017. No application will be refused.

And now, to mark this momentous news here's a celebration of calligraphy, geography, Cadbury Flake, casual/alarming cross-dressing and the institution of marriage:

Monday, October 31, 2016

Seven Weird Facts About Pumpkins We Couldn't Believe Will Blow Your Mind

List posts. Gotta love 'em.

1. Pumpkins are fruit, notanically. They grow on a vine and develop from flowers.

2. Early European Jack O Lanterns weren't pumpkins, but were more likely carved turnips. Even in the US into the Twentieth Century your actual Halloween produce could be a squash, a turnip or swede, a cucumber or a potato. I wish we'd carved the weekend swede we had last Saturday because it was late season and inedible.

3a. I reckon kumara might be a go-er. A nice gold variety, obviously. (Sorry, a kumara fact crept in there)

3b. Back on topic: The first Dungeons & Dragons 'Bugbear' creature to appear in the game's 'white book' edition was a bear-like creature with a large pumpkin for a head, due to the artist taking Gary Gygax's description a litte too literally. Figurs have been made pf this vriant, and some still play Bugbears in this form. The creature was lifted out into Runequest as the 'Jack-o-Bear.' (note to self: must use these some time)

4. New Zealand's common variety pumpkins are usually more closely related to squash, which is why some American pumpkin reipes don't work quite so well with our varieties. But  thought my spicy pumpkin muffins kicked arse, thanks to Alison Holst's recipe.

5.  Pumpkins will climb if you let them. You can grow them perched in trees, on roofs, or even ladder 'em. That's what I plan to do.

6. I first developed an interest in drawing pumpkin-headed people during my band days when illustrating posters for my and other bands. An example was done of course this time a couple of years back Here's the first one I did, the spelling mistake was at the insistence of the band (I checked):

7.  And here's something I put out the front door this evening, our own Jack O lantern / Hinkypunk / Punkie / Spunkie what have you. It worked a treat and survived the ocasional maraduing tweens who turned up to graze over our sweet offerings, taking the larger bars, picking and choosing between the sweets... honestly, if they hadn't been the remainder of last year's bucket, the Chistmas pile, and sundry birthday party goody bags one could be offended!

In all, a pretty good Halloween, despite some less prominent decorations and the slightly under-par Jet Jr. Pop culture followers might wish to note that by and large vistors were in back as assorted zmbies, ghouls and ghosts, including one young lass in candy skull make up (bravo!, one Hawkeye (who drew his arrow at me and nearly copped a door in his face) and a Harley Quinn (who'd have been offered an extra pick from the candy bowl out of brand loyalty were it not for the fact that she'd already helped herself hugely.) Next year I might even dress up myself!

 Happy Halloween!



Hallowe'en in a Suburb

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Now, long-time readers and short-time archives browsers will recall from a year or so back that I am a long-time Halloween fan, and am quite happy to celebrate it, even out of season as we do in New Zealand. Tonight the Simian household will see in the Spookiest Night of the Year with a brace of in lawses and young cousins. Jet Jr is a bit poorly today, so it might be a stripped down affair, but the moment has been prepared for: the decorations have been dragged out from the garage, Mrs Simian has made some white chocolate cupcakes with chocolate spider toppings, and I've been busy with a pumpkin...

This is (I think) the first pumpkin I've carved in Wellington, and it's the best one I've done yet! The local pumpkin of this season is the crown pumpkin, a fine and fleshy variety whihc is not really ideal for carving. The flesh is a beautiful orange, and very thick as well as dense - excellent for soups and roasting, but in need of some prep for baking and the like. For the necessary deal of hollowing out the fruit, I hit on an absolute gift of a suggestion online: an ice cream scoop! This weekend Jet Jr and I selected an ideal pumpkin from a local market, and yesterday I got to work, reducing some five centimetres of flesh to about half that amount. The face design is courtesy of Jet Jr, who picked out his favourite sets of eyes, mouth, teeth and nose from sketches I'd prepared, and the knife work - well, it had to be me, was duly carried out. Too risky and hard otherwise.

 Elsewhere Halloween continues to insert itself into the local commercial calendar. All manner of tat can be bought for the day from your neighbourhood Warehouse or Two Dollar Shop, and the usual received wisdom is being reported and broadcast relating to the day's purported origins. Now, in my first Halloween posting I was still a wholesale subscriber to the belief that Halloween is a Celtic hangover and descendent of Samhain (this idea is still the majority view, appearing as recently on Radio NZ yesterday morning and presented by a professor of cultural stiudies from AUT) however over the past couple of years my opinion has changed, thanks to the reputable Jim Moon's research in his Hypnogoria podcast. We may never truly know whether Halloween is an Irish Celtic harvest festival marking the thin veil lying between the worlds of the living and the dead,  sustained in the US from potato famine refugees and exported back to us... but Jim doesn't believe it, and his case for the negative is an exhaustive and compelling one. I'm now led to believe that Halloween isn't especially Celtic, not particularly Irish, definitely not an American invention, and pretty much nothing to get all worked up over.

I've a mind to see if I can grown some more suitable, red-orange pumpkins to carve next May for a seasonal Halloween (when they'll also be in season.) As for today's pumpkin,he's going to be lit up tonight for the evening, and has already made a rather nice dozen spicy muffins to give out.

Boo-ya, indeed.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Steve Dillon



Just bloody gutted to read this this morning. 

Steve Dillon was one of my early art heroes. Coming into the world of Eagle's second generation return, and then into 2000AD meant that a banquet of inspirtional art was suddenly opened to me after childhood years of rote caricatures and established characters through Disney comics and UK kids' titles. I've not thought until now just how immediate the variety of styles and techniques hit me. There was no way any of these guys - the O'Neil's, Ezquerras, Kennedy's and especially McMahons would ever be mistaken for something from Key Comics. As I got older these stylistic and idiosyncratic outings became more and more intimidating as I vainly tried to copy them and develop my own confidence in drawing.


Cry of the Werewolf
Fortunately, among these artists was a younger name, only eight years older than me, whose style was more relateable. Assured, yes, but solid - really solid, well-defined and very 'readable'. Steve Dillon's  art was easy to aspire to, but reliably more complex than its his clean lines and nice black and white balancing suggested. That said, though, if there's a style that I took to most readily, it was Steve Dillon's. I mean this as no damped-down praise - Dillon was a master of ink, confident in every line, especially given his young age, and I've no doubt that I'm not the only young artist who ran to his deceptively-effortless work as a masterclass (paging Guanolad...)


City of the Damned
The rest, for Dillon at least, is history. Some early Doctor Who Magazine work, initially as a backup artists, but later to provide the work for Steve Parkhouse's last regular story The Moderator in which both Parkhouse and Dillon combine two then near-inconcievable Doctor actions - the Time Lord crying and shooting a gun, and turn the result into something very Doctorish indeed.   Lots of 2000AD, including three of the big hitters in the Eighties - Judge Dredd (the momentous death of series regular Judge Giant is pictured here, from Block Wars), Rogue Trooper and ABC Warriors plus some lovely covers for Zenith), and then, into the Nineties and more recent years, Transatlantic success, the most notable being Preacher, which he co-created with fellow 2000AD alumnus Garth Ennis. His line of stories for The Punisher has already been credited on several comic boards as being the reason some readers returned to the series, Dillon was that effective, that readable.

54 is no great age to depart this earth, though the very young age at which Dillon started his career (drawing Nick Fury and the Hulk at sixteen! And thanks to the keen foresight of Dez Skinn) means there are decades of his work to see, and a mighty field of followers who saw and were inspired by his instantly recognisable style, an who went on to draw for 2000AD, DWM, Marvel and DC. With the late Brett Ewins he co-created the influential breakaway pop-culture comic  Deadline and from that venture we have Peter Milligan, Jamie Hewlett and Tank Girl among others. The comics world has indeed lost a great storyteller.

As others have said already, completely unexpected. Thank God his prodigious start and global success means his talents and influence won't be forgotten.

 RIP.
The Moderator, Doctor Who Magazine

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

RIP VHS

This week marks a bittersweet moment in the Simian household. Well, two, really. First and foremost is another year marked off by Jet Jr as he burns through his single-digit birthdays like a cheetah on Ritalin, but such things are unavoidable, and calls are for celebration. No, the second is the cruellest marker of time's passage, for this holiday weekend the labours of our local video rental shop cease, its dorrs to close forever.

For the past month Civic Video have been selling off their wares from top to bottom - DVDs, Blu Rays, TV series, movies, games, refreshments, shelves... like a distressing Dick Smith closure but cheaper and with longer queues. I defy any self-respecting staffmember to resist a sad and understandably rueful acknowledgement that this same throng could have saved the business on any other day, but over this short period it's been a quiet and certain bleeding out of a store that was a real life saver at times - particularly wet weekends and school holidays.

As a past librarian I've frequently had to make hard decisions about collection management. They're hard decisions because beyond the cold equations of linear metres, storage overheads, rental and futureproofing, there's an emotional attachment to a well-stocked collection. Like a lot of people my generation and older, I like to discover by browsing and through serendipity, and you can't do that much with what resources we have at home for domestic film viewing. We don't torrent movies (though I do admit I've been the grateful recipient of one or two in a bind), and we don't have Netflicks - though we suspect this will have to change at some stage. Sure, the hit rate for Civic was sometimes not our friend, and there would be a distressingly-large number of scratched discs that would have to be returned, swapped, and maybe returned again to be swapped for a different title for a crestfallen Jet Jr, but the store was a mainstay of our little suburb, and the staff were unceasingly friendly, courteous, and helpful. I'll miss them - I do already. I have been, I admit freely, in an extended period of mouring for the old place, even if I confess I haven't been using it as much as I should have, or would have done were I a younger ape with more time on my hands.

But as I say, it's been a real friend. When I broke my back nearly ten years ago I spent a lot of recuperating hours finally watching Outrageous Fortune. I binge-watched when it wasn't fashionable to! Thanks to the less-recent closure of a neighbouring Video-Ezy, Civic's collection was also pretty decent for arthouse fare, and their World and SF collections weren't bad, either.

Alas, no more. And two visits to the shop post-closure announcement have meant some sad purchases were made - I have Batman v Superman now, for my sins, plus My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (oh boy), The Spiderwick Chronicles, Snowpiercer, E.T, Galaxy Quest, a Count Duckula collection (which may be scratched beyond play but at $2.25 was worth the gamble) and The Bean Movie. The father and son before me in the queue second time around walked - or at least staggered off - with just over ninety titles ranging from Dog Day Afternoon to The Delinquents for a cool hundred bucks. On my first visit a small boy eyed my quartet of movies and quietly asked 'Do you have Hunt for the Wilderpeople?'. I didn't. No chance. How am I going to see it now?!  Whole collections of Tolkien, Rowling and Meyers I passed by, and I regret not picking up Frankenweenie when I saw it, but on the whole I felt somehow culpable in part to a good shop's demise.

So, off to Netflicks or Neon we Simians march and call it progress. I've known some great video shops in my time. Well, no I haven't. I've known maybe one or two - but Civic Video in Johnsonville along with Amalgamated Video in Kilbirnie were the best two Wellington shops I frequented. Aro Video deserves its dogged survival, and long may it continue, but to me it's never been as friendly, as homely, or as handily local.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

AD DC



So now the DC cinematic universe is up and running, and what a start. Collective wisdom would indicate that it's not been the most auspicious of beginnings, but two things come to mind- principally that Marvel's movie universe didn't arrive fully-formed and blockbuster-ready, and that this muted beginning- plagued though it may have been with low critical scores and seemingly divided audiences, at least has a vision that its current creators simply cannot take for granted. Harsh lessons have been learned.

By far the greatest surprise has been Suicide Squad, a movie I did get to see and reviewed here. It did Box Office gangbusters, which on the face of it is very good news for a movie with only marginally-recognisable characters (and no, the Joker doesn't count, even if he does feature heavily in the trailers - simply put, the same word of mouth that afforded its bad reviews must naturally be telling anyone who listens that the Joker wasn't in the movie very much at all.) Indeed one of the big lessons moviemakers might take away from its four-week run topping the US box office is that August needn't be a dead zone for franchise movies and that a few more slots may open up in schedules in years to come, thanks to its performance. 

That said, this success was probably a fluke and not to be repeated. My worry is that the pressure that came off the reviews of Batman. V Superman and which informed the arguably-botched late changes to Suicide Squad will now be visited upon Wonder Woman, a movie which unlike Squad is expected to be a tentpole franchise winner. But a female lead and also one not yet wrought from Hollywood's A List and a less-recognisable setting for a Tinseltown movie (World War One, rather than its more recognisable legacy) may prove challenging.

Still, among the remarkable things about Squad was its apparent appeal in the US to some broader moviegoers - namely young women and Hispanics. It is a remarkably diverse and progressive cast ethnically and in gender, with (as Forbes covers) features nine out of its fourteen leading characters who are not a white male - and that includes all three potential villains (no, still not a Joker movie). Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman ought to appeal to one of those demographics directly, and further down the line James Wan will give us an Aqua Man who to intents and purposes could bring a decidedly Pacifika bent to a traditional white bread super hero.
Diversity is the next big battle in superhero movies, and it'sa battle that needs to be fought hard.When Marvel fans baited the 'serious and realistic' DCEU birth with cries of "hey, we just had a blockbuster movie featuring a tree and a talking racoon!" the correct response is to counter that with a movie led by an ethnically diverse and gender-mixed cast. Crocodile man aside, Suicide Squad did just that, and we'll see Wonder Woman headline on the big screen well before Captain Marvel, let alone a Black Widow solo feature.

So although its start was less than ideal I'm cautiously optimistic about the future of DC's hero franchise. Justice League may have the worrying presence of Zack Snyder behind the lens but is a year away yet with clear directive post-BvS, and there still seems a lot of goodwill held for it with Ezra Miller's Flash receiving a lot of positive buzz. There will be a solo Batman movie yet, Man of Steel 2 is in development, and somewhere in the schedule it's believed Margot Robbie will give Harley Quinn a well-earned victory run - with or without the rest of the Squad, and maybe with some other female DC heroes in tow. We'll see, keep working hard everyone.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Under Hill

I've been required to do a fair bit of travelling recently. A bit of flying (I love landscapes from above), and a lot of driving. Though New Zealand varies region by region, and certainly it's not the postcasrd travelogue recent movies have CG-ed up, there are parts of this country that are gorgeous in their mute simplicity.

As a young Simian I would travel the main highway to Dunedin with my parents when visiting family down there, and from the back set of our car I'd watch the contryside change as we travelled further south, becoming hillier, greener, the low slopes and mrangeds alternately withdrawing and approaching as we wound our way through places with evocative names: Blueskin Bay, the Kilmog Hill, Pigeon Flat, Flagstaff . As I grew older and took books with me for the journey these places would become proxies for Tolkein's Middle Earth locations: Weathertop, Amon Hen, the Dead Marshes, the Misty Mountains, Mirkwood.

Kilmog Hill by Ian@NZFlickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/nzpix/28102631315


For me, reading has always been a very visual experience. I'm unable to follow a story unless I can build a picture of it in my mind, with locations, casting (for want of a better term) and so forth. I've no idea if this is normal, but it's been the habit of a lifetime. Similarly, my Dungeons & Dragons experiences were also visual, and informed by the same landscapes I travelled though at the time. Travelling through the lower rolling countryside of the Kapiti Coast and lower Manawatu, Rotorua's Waioekea Gorge, and the Rimutaka incline brings back those fancies of a younger me, head full of roleplaying and fantasy scenarios. What armies of goblins and unspeakable creatures lurked inside those emerald grassy domes carved by rivers and wind?


Landscape plays a part in roleplaying, but I'm interested to know how much this matters to players from different locales. I was of course extremely fortunate to have literally just outside town the countryside that would become Peter Jackson's Middle Earth (and no, I've not yet made it to Matamata/Hobbiton!), but did city-locked Inner Birmingham and Greater Manchester players of my generation plant themselves in fantasy worlds built from their surroundings? Did the experience of players in the US work the landscapes seen from their bedroom and car windows into the same sweeping prairies and cliff and pine tree panoramas that the likes of Larry Elmore made a career painting into the rulebooks I lost myself in?

Answers on a postcard. Really.