Úrscéalta Grafacha (Graphic Novels)

Atmo-Craft, Colin Wilson

An Atmo-craft from the Rogue Trooper story Marauders drawn by Colin Wilson

An Atmo-craft from the Rogue Trooper story Marauders drawn by Colin Wilson (Íomhá: © 2002 Rebellion A/S)

During a quick discussion over on CLR in relation to Joss Whedon’s short-lived Sci-Fi series “Firefly” I was reminded of the New Zealand comics’ artist Colin Wilson and the incredibly realistic hardware illustrations he produced in the early 1980s for “Rogue Trooper”, 2000AD’s future war series. Some of the best – and most convincing – designs in futuristic weapons and machines I’ve ever seen came from Wilson’s accomplished hands, hardly surprising given that many were clearly based on contemporary military products. From the Mil Mi-24 Hind, the famous Soviet-era attack helicopter, to the lesser-known Centurion main battle tank Wilson took real world inspirations and extrapolated their future equivalents in technically exquisite detail. One was left thinking that if such machines did not exist in the present they most certainly would do so at some stage in the future. After my first exposure to Wilson’s carefully engineered designs I spent much of my teenage years copying his style and still do so whenever I turn to Science-Fiction themed art. In a long and extremely varied career the New Zealander went on to contribute to the Star Wars franchise beginning in 2007 with artwork for the comic book series “Star Wars: Legacy”. However his influence is in evidence well before that through the likes of the “Low Altitude Assault Transport/infantry (LAAT/i)”, a CGI military aircraft that features in the 2002 movie “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” and which bears an uncanny resemblance to the hardware designs produced by Wilson for the Rogue Trooper story “Marauders” way back in 1982.

A Low Altitude Assault Transport or Republic Gunship from the Star Wars movie franchise

A Low Altitude Assault Transport or Republic Gunship from the Star Wars movie franchise (Íomhá: © 2002 Lucasfilm Ltd)

A Low Altitude Assault Transport or Republic Gunship from the Star Wars universe

A Low Altitude Assault Transport or Republic Gunship from the Star Wars universe (Íomhá: © 2002 Lucasfilm Ltd)

 

About these ads

Cultus Obscuram – Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze

Ron Ely in Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze 1975

Ron Ely in Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, 1975

The old cliché “…so bad it’s good” springs to mind when one watches the 1975 cinematic release “Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze”. Based upon the eponymous 1930s’ pulp magazine character primarily written by Lester Dent the film was intended to be the first in a series of purposefully old-fashioned adventure movies by legendary Sci-Fi entertainment producer George Pal that would cash in on the then box office popularity of nostalgia-themed dramas like the Sting (1973) or Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Unfortunately Pal’s release was missing the production values or high-profile casts of its rivals and was inevitably destined to be nothing more than an also-ran. It features an impossibly blue-eyed if charisma-free Ron Ely (formerly the star of the US television show “Tarzan”) surrounded by various well-known and not so well-known TV and B-movie actors of the 1970s hamming it up in fine old style. Given a script that unintentionally careers back and forth between the comic and the camp with the odd flair of the not-so-dramatic or not-so-thrilling the resulting hyperactive acting offers no surprises. Perhaps what is surprising though, especially given the cinematic heritage of George Pal (the man behind 1953′s “The War of the Worlds” and the 1960 Oscar-winning “The Time Machine”), is the mediocre special effects, including the use of almost wilfully fake-looking matte paintings and visuals. They really are poor, more at home in a cheap 1970s’ TV series than a mainstream Hollywood production. Shot in the tame and overly familiar landscapes of southern California or in poorly finished sets that look like rejects from an episode of “Columbo” even the appearance of a dangerous-looking fuselage-free helicopter does little to up the on-screen “wow” factor.

From a toe-curlingly awful supervillain who laughs manically at his own deviousness to ethnic stereotypes that span the range of mildly to deeply offensive there is much to be amazed by in Doc Savage. Perhaps the worse offender is a brutal (and I do mean brutal) Scottish accent borne by a stocky would-be assassin. Just about the only thing of real interest is an early appearance of the actress Pamela Hensley who went on to play the sultry alien princess Ardala in the SF television series “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”. However with all that said Doc Savage is so gloriously silly that one can’t but help at times enjoying it. The fact that those who produced and starred in it obviously thought they were making what could have been a proto-Indiana Jones makes it all the more fun (in an admittedly cruel way). Bare chests (lots of that), dodgy accents, egregious stereotypes, hokey special effects, ratty-looking studio sets… what’s not to enjoy?

Pamela Hensley and Ron Ely in Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze 1975

Pamela Hensley and Ron Ely in Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, 1975

Even A Fanboy Has His Limits

Speak no fanspeak, see no fanspeak, hear no fanspeak

Is it just me or is there now a dearth of thoughtful and well-informed websites and blogs on the genre worlds of Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature? Oh yes, the banner-heavy, paragraph-light sites that focus on the latest Marvel or DC movie franchises are in plentiful supply. However most of these flash-happy affairs have as much substance as a stick of candy floss; and are just as forgettable. When it comes to in-depth reviews, essays and analyses by people who know what they are talking about – and who aren’t afraid to break the taboos of fannish devotion – one is left clicking through page after page in search of something with a bit of intelligence and insight (who knew that Monster & Critics was still in existence? And by god is it awful). One longs for the likes of the Cimmerian, the now defunct US-based website devoted to Robert E. Howard, where people of real talent wrote with eloquence and wit on the works of Howard, J.R.R Tolkien and others. Ironically in some cases where good online venues did exist to examine or debate such matters their supposed “improvements” have actually managed to ruin them. Britain’s SF Crow’s Nest springs to mind (that is if you can actually find the current website via a Google search. Talk about SEO unfriendly. Not to mention the dubious honour of creating an internet site that actually looks worse than its pleasingly old school predecessor). Websites specifically focusing on the old reliables, books, comics and graphic novels, have now succumbed to the cult of infotainment-style soundbite-reporting on the latest rumour about the latest superhero flick. It is all so mind-numbingly inconsequential.

Is this the dreaded future of the internet that the critics warned us about? The sinking into the mire of collective mediocrity? How has fandom come to this?

An Irish Equivalent For Geek Or Otaku?

Gaeilge (Atari)

Gaeilge (Atari)

I was recently asked if there is an Irish word that is the equivalent of the Anglo-American term Geek or its Japanese near-equivalent Otaku (おたく/オタクおたく/オタク). I couldn’t think of anything unless one went for something like a crude Gaelicisation of the originals in the form of Geic (?) or Odacú (?). Then I remembered the Irish and Scottish literary genre of aislingí (“dreams, visions”),  stories and narrative poems that began in the Medieval period with mythological or ecclesiastical tales and which later developed a more political edge in the turbulent 17th and 18th centuries. Though principally focused on interactions with or expressions of the Otherworldly it often bore a commentary on current events. In this context the Irish word aislingeach, which means “dreamer, day-dreamer; visionary”, seemed a suitable equivalent for geek. A bit clunky though, given the subject matter.

Could others come up with a better or more organic term?

[Update]: Thanks to Méabh in Nua Eabhrac who claims that Aislingeach is too long and established as a word. It needs to be something (and I quote) “…with vocal punch” and a neologism to boot. I agree.

[Update]: Pól offers up on Facebook the word teicnóg for geek or geek culture. You could gloss that as “young-tech” which I kinda like. A lot! Though should it be teicóg?

[Update]: Well it seems that “officially” the Irish language does have an equivalent for the word Geek. It is Geocach which is “geoc-” (geek) with the “-ach” ending to make it a thing (in this case a person). To my ears it sounds rather unappealing and judging by the reaction it seems I’m not the only one.

So far on Facebook the suggested term Teicóg (loosely “young-tech”) is gathering some favour. So that would give us:

Teicóg = geek culture
Teicógach = a geek
Teicógaigh = geeks

Fight The Power! An Interview With The Authors

Fight The Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples by Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson

Fight The Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples by Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson (Íomhá: Seven Stories Press 2013)

In the 18th and 19th centuries one of the more popular forms of protest against authoritarian governments or regimes was through the publication of satirical illustrations or short picture stories frequently created with both literate and semi-literate audiences in mind. Using familiar or reoccurring images, symbols and caricatures political dissent or contrary opinions could be disseminated far and wide, the readers understanding and appreciating the visual cues presented to them. From the revolutionary struggles in France and North America to industrial unrest in England and Germany artists and cartoonists offered partisan commentary to the masses. By the latter half of the 1800s many of the larger newspaper or magazine titles in Europe and the United States maintained small teams of artists on their staff, some illustrating contemporary news events while others specialised in grotesque caricatures that appealed to notions of national or class chauvinism.

With the development of photography and later film the field of political cartooning was gradually narrowed to the role of comedic-satire and ephemeral “cartoons of the day”. However the emergence of the liberal and at times anarchic “counterculture” of the 1960s and ‘70s gave birth to a new genre of “underground comics” some of which were activist-inspired publications presented in a seemingly non-political form that proved attractive to rebellious youth. Since that era overtly radical comics have not disappeared entirely though they have largely remained in the domain of the “small press”. Occasional ventures by mainstream publishers have proved problematic, more often than not the contrarian views being subsumed by traditional story-telling techniques or sacrificed for commercial gain (notable early examples in Europe are the late 1980s’ British comics “Crisis” and “Deadline“). In most cases political messages were safely hidden behind a non-political front, a misdirection created by the use of familiar genre tropes such as “super-heroes”.

So it is still relatively unusual to see an avowedly political graphic novel being issued, one that wears its heart on its cover (so to speak), which in some ways harks back to an earlier era of instructive pamphleteering. “Fight The Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples” is a collection of illustrated potted histories from across the last two centuries of political and social struggle in Europe, the United States and Africa. Written and edited by long-standing comic-creators Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson with artwork by Hunt Emerson, John Spelling, and Adam Pasion the book ranges in time from early 19th century England and the Luddite movement to the contemporary United States and the Occupy protests of the early 21st century. Each era and the events within it are given several pages of an overview, some more detailed than others. The chapter titled “Irish Rebellions (1791-1922)” is the most sparse in some ways since it tries to cover the furthest ground while others are more successful by focusing on one point in history. However though the quality of the artwork can sometimes be uneven all of the stories are of interest especially those that highlight some of the more unusual – and largely forgotten – events in the struggle for social equality (the unprecedented Boston Police Strike of 1919 and the 1934 The Battle of Toledo spring to mind).

The-Luddittes-and-Swing-Riots,-1811-1832

The Luddittes and Swing Riots, 1811-1832 (Íomhá: Seven Stories Press 2013)

An Sionnach Fionn has been lucky enough to secure a Q&A with authors Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson.

ASF: Can you tell us a little about your background and that of the other members of the team behind “Fight The Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples”? What prompted you and your collaborators to produce such an avowedly political work at this time and why in the format of a graphic novel?

Seán: I’m a professional comic book writer born in Scotland (from an Irish family), who now lives in Japan. I’ve had more than a dozen books published with a variety of US, UK and Japanese publishers. I write both ‘western’ style graphic novels, such as adaptations of classical novels, and manga style books with Japanese and Chinese artists. I’m currently writing books for big Japanese publisher Kodansha, being the only Scottish writer to do so (or indeed the UK or Ireland – but I don’t mind a few more of you coming over! Dozo yoroshiku…). I’m also  the editor of the critically acclaimed collection “AX:alternative manga” (one of Publishers Weekly’s “Best ten books of 2010″). I often do comic books that are different from the normal superhero/fantasy brands, working with a variety of “non-comic book” organisations in the process. My main influences remain British and American creators – such as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Eddie Campbell and Harvey Pekar.

The other folk involved in the book are Benjamin Dickson, my co-writer, who I’ve invited to answer some of these questions too. The artists are Hunt Emerson, who is yer actual “living legend” of UK underground comics since the ’70s. A real pleasure to be working with him, especially since I first read his stuff when I was 13 years old! John Spelling is an excellent artist living in Devon, and Adam Pasion is from the US, but a guy I got to know here in Japan. The cover art was by an Australian, Eva Schlunke working in tandem with left wing cartoonish, Polyp. A good team!

Benjamin: It was Seán’s idea initially, so I’ll let him answer that one!  But in terms of why a graphic novel, we’re both comic writers, it’s our chosen medium as creators, and being active in the comics scene is also how we know each other. So we never really considered doing it in any other medium – but to answer your question more directly, comics as a medium are inherently good at communicating complex ideas in ways that are easy to access and understand.  If the purpose of this book was to introduce the layman to the subject of protest and its historical importance in the shaping of society, the graphic novel is a good format to work in!

Seán: Initially, the idea for this book first came to me as a parody of the history series by Winston Churchill (A History of the English Speaking Peoples). Instead of “great leaders” and battles, I thought why not do one about ordinary people’s struggle? Calling it “A visual history of protest amongst the English speaking peoples” occurred to me as a joke at first, then I thought, “Actually, that could be good.” Obviously it’s visual because it has illustrations. I decided to keep the “English speaking peoples” aspect, to give the book some focus and because that already encompasses a lot. But we intend to do a volume 2 that looks at popular rebellion in the wider world.

Why a graphic novel? Because it can – there is still a very silly outmoded idea that comics are just for kids. That is wrong and always has been. So, us doing this Fight the Power book as a comic book is just one more little example of how comics can be used to do sophisticated stories and take on culture and history, etc. In fact, there’s a case to be made for saying that comic books can do this type of thing better than normal text books. Because the interplay between the visual aspect and the textual helps to bring these kinds of complicated issues to life. The text can remain complex while the visual aspect makes it easier to take in, and the combination is apparently more memorable than text alone.

ASF: The book ranges through a history of political agitation across the globe, from industrial unrest in 19th century Britain to the Occupy Movement in 21st century United States. How were the subjects chosen?

Benjamin: There were so many subjects that we could have looked at that it really became a matter of what we couldn’t afford to leave out rather than what we wanted to include.  We started with the Luddites because that happened around the time of the industrial revolution, which is when the modern world, and modern Britain in particular, as we know it was born.  Before then it’s quite hard to connect society as it was back then to society today, so it seemed a good place to start.  Then we just threw a whole load of suggestions into an online Google document, argued and bartered over who was going to write what, and pretty much went from there.  We tried to include a broad range of stuff, ideally not covering more than one protest per decade/era.  But we didn’t really have a specific agenda over what to include.

ASF: Were there any subjects that were proposed but excluded? Were there any additional ones that you wished to see included?

Benjamin: Yes, lots!  The Miners’ Strike, Bloody Sunday, Cable Street… We could easily have tripled the size of the book without ever expanding our remit, but we had to have a cut-off somewhere.  It’s a shame that many stories weren’t included, but then the idea of the book was to serve as both an introduction to protest, and as a demonstration that political change usually comes from the ground upwards – 14 examples was enough to show that I think.

ASF: The book is published by Seven Stories Press, an independent publishing house in New York, and is now available for purchase from Amazon amongst others retailers. Was it difficult to secure publication and distribution of the collection?

Seán: Not difficult to get publication, as this is about my 17th book published so far, so I have a good track record. Seven Stories (and the UK publisher, New Internationalist) have a pretty good distribution system too. The main problem is sales. Even nowadays, with all the higher level of appreciation of graphic novels, these kind of mature books don’t sell much. Not that selling a lot and making tons of dosh is the aim. Few people in comic books achieve that! But we do need to sell a decent, medium, amount – for two reasons: to help us creators pay the bills and to encourage the publishers to continue doing this type of graphic novel. If, in 5 years time, the many good publishers now doing great comic books, have got to cut back because there is simply not enough sales, then we will soon see this recent comics renaissance fall back into the dark ages. These publishers operate in a capitalist world where sales are the bottom line. That is a very bad state of affairs, and yet another example of how capitalism is a barrier to creativity (despite pretending that is helps it). I have written an article about how in an anarchist system (that I favour), comics books would prosper much more than now. But, for the time being, what we need is for folks to go out and buy interesting graphic novels. For the sales to be good enough to keep things moving ahead nicely – so we can all keep on making good comic books.

ASF: Who are you hoping to reach with “Fight The Power!”?

Benjamin: Personally I’m hoping to reach people who aren’t involved in protest movements, who maybe thought Occupy was a little pointless or who think protest doesn’t really change anything.  I see little point in preaching to the converted, though this book should provide plenty of information for people who do think protest is important.  In terms of age, I would say it’s aimed at an audience from teenagers upwards, though there is no sex or swearing in the book (apart from the word “tits”!) so you could certainly show it to a younger child if you wanted to.

ASF: Tariq Ali, the well-known Pakistani-British author, journalist and activist has written an introduction for the book. How did you secure such an impressive recommendation?

Seán: Basically I just asked him. I find that if you simply ask, and the idea is good, that you get a decent response much of the time. Or I suppose if the figure involved can see that you have a past record of doing other such good stuff, they think it’s worth getting involved. As it goes, my previous “social issues” type book, “Parecomic“, has an introduction by Noam Chomsky. That was his first official connection with a comic book, and he had previously been rather dismissive of them. So perhaps Tariq noted that. To be rather shallow about it, the first thing that impressed me about Tariq is that he influenced John Lennon and the Rolling Stones song “Street fighting man”. It’s hard to top that, in my books!

ASF: I know that some promotional appearances are planned for “Fight The Power!” in the UK. Have you any plans to promote it elsewhere, including Ireland?

Benjamin: It’s a little difficult for Seán as he lives in Japan, but I’d love to come to Ireland!  I’ve never actually been, but if someone invites me then I’ll come…

Seán: Coming from an Irish family I’ve been to Ireland many times, of course, though I was born in Scotland. Bit hard for me to pop over, as Ben says, living in Japan now. But since there is a chapter in the book on Irish popular movements I want to do some promotion of it in Ireland. We look at United Irishmen of the 1790s, the “monster meetings” of Daniel O’Connell, the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s, Parnell in the 1880s and right up until the establishment of the Irish Free State. There is also a chapter which looks at the “Bloody Friday” protests in Glasgow in 1919 and how that was an important stage in the development of a far more socialist inclined Scotland. So, we’re doing some promotion in Scotland too.

ASF: On a personal note, being a Scottish writer and editor living and working in Japan, what are your views on the forthcoming independence referendum in Scotland? Are you eligible to vote?

Seán: I’m not eligible, because I live in Japan now. But that’s fair enough, the residence rule is ok. Emotionally, I think I’ll be happy if the vote is a yes. But I’m not keen on narrow nationalism, I’m an internationalist! In practical matters what is important is the chance for Scotland to become a progressive left wing country, since most Scots in the last 50 years or more, seem to favour that. If Independence can help that then I’m for it. And, if that is successful – we would have to make sure we don’t balls it up – then the model would hopefully have a good influence on the region in general.

“Fight The Power!” is available directly from the publishers,  Seven Stories Press in the United States and New Internationalist in Britain, or can be purchased on Amazon. You can follow the authors on Twitter at @boychild23 (Seán) and @Beniswriting (Benjamin).

The-Trial-of-Nelson-Mandela,-1964

The Trial of Nelson Mandela, 1964 (Íomhá: Seven Stories Press 2013)

That Alan Moore Interview

Alan Moore

Alan Moore (Íomhá: © Comic Vine)

The Ard Rí of Irish Sci-Fi and Fantasy fandom, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, has managed to secure a lengthy Q&A with the elusive and frankly legendary British comics writer Alan Moore over on his Slovobooks blog. Even more impressively it has been highlighted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper and others which has probably sent his stats meter into meltdown. I highly recommend a read of something which has stirred up much controversy in the world of genre fiction.

[With thanks to An Lorcánach for the link]

Raven, Swordmistress Of Chaos, Chris Achilléos

Raven, Swordmistress Of Chaos by Chris Achilléos 1978

Cover illustration “Raven, Swordmistress Of Chaos” by Chris Achilléos (Íomhá: © 1978 Chris Achilléos)

Chris Achilléos is a Cypriot-born British artist who came to prominence in the 1970s and ‘80s with illustrations for a large number of books and magazines in the Fantasy and Sword ‘n’ Sorcery genres. Instantly recognisable for his exquisitely rendered female figures, invariably beautiful, frequently belligerent, he became widely known amongst fans through several best-selling art-collections that remain popular to the present day. His obvious delight in painting muscular, female warriors who stared defiantly from the covers of countless publications contrasted at the time with the willowy, weak-limbed princesses favoured by many of his contemporaries. Aside from the stunning and much-loved “Elven Warrior”, a 1983 wrap-around jacket for Michael Moorcock’s seminal high fantasy work “Elric at the End of Time”, his most famous artistic production is “Raven, Swordmistress of Chaos” drawn for the cover of a 1978 book of the same name by Richard Kirk (the shared nom de plume of the authors Robert Holdstock and Angus Wells). However in this particular case the fame came incidentally through the Irish-British musician Kate Bush who along with the designer Pamela Keat chose the illustration as a source of inspiration for the costume she wore in the music video of her 1980 hit “Babooshka”.

For a gallery of more magnificent artworks by Chris Achilléos please visit here.

Kate Bush from the music video Babooshka in full Chris Achilléos inspired style

Kate Bush from the music video Babooshka in full Chris Achilléos inspired style (Íomhá: © Kate Bush/Parlophone UK)

Male Writers, Female Characters

Tricia Sullivan, Picocon 2012 (Íomhá: the_eggwhite)

Tricia Sullivan, Picocon 2012 (Íomhá: the_eggwhite)

Talking of online kerfuffles here is another example, albeit of rather less significance than the one discussed earlier. British sci-fi writer Rod Rees, author of the popular if sometimes derivative Demi-Monde series of novels, has penned an article for the publisher Joe Fletcher Books pondering aloud if male writers can create authentic female characters. To me it is a somewhat odd question in the first place. The gender of a character should be irrelevant to an author’s ability to imagine that fictional person in the first place. Either you can or you can’t. Great writers write great characters. Where most authors fail is in the area of cultural-specific characterization where it is easier to indulge national and racial stereotypes (out of ignorance, intellectual laziness or knowing bias). For centuries most British fiction writers couldn’t create a realistic Irish character, male or female, if their life depended on it. Nor indeed did their audiences want one.

Rees’ controversial conclusions have drawn the ire of several notable authors including (a somewhat irate) Tricia Sullivan and (an equally angry) Foz Meadows, as reported by reviewer Liz Bourke. The original piece and the rebuttals are well worth reading as the world of Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature finds itself of late questioning the inherent and observable male bias of the respective fields. It’s not the first time that we’ve seen such soul-searching in the SF and Fantasy community but the growth of female fandom over the last decade (especially given the genre-busting popularity of literary and media phenomena like Harry Potter, the Game of Thrones and Doctor Who) is making it harder to ignore.

Judge Minty – Taking The Law To The Lawless

2000AD's Judge Dredd

2000AD’s Judge Dredd

After touring the convention circuit the Judge Dredd-inspired fan film “Judge Minty“, written and directed by Steven Sterlacchini, has finally been released online. While the acting may be less than inspiring the special effects on the other hand show just how far technology has moved on since the days of filming spray-painted plastic bottles on wires against a blue background.

ICN – Irish Comics News Launches

Some good news for Ireland’s small but loyal army of comic fans. A new dedicated comics’ site, ICN (Irish Comics News) is now up and running. Lots of interesting news pieces, articles and links featuring comics and graphic novels. Hopefully the site can take on a strong Irish flavour – including in the native tongue.

Meanwhile for more news and views on all things Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror check out Prog464, Ireland’s home of cult (we said cult!). You’ll even find me there.