Rise of the Machines

Posted on September 30th, 2013

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My computer had a right little tizzy at the weekend. My macbook wouldn’t reach the login screen, making it somewhat difficult to access ANYTHING. Luckily, Apple have a special Recovery partition already factored into their computers, making reinstalling the OS without losing any of the files on the hard drive a relatively painless (if somewhat tedious process). I like that it has this function, I don’t like ever having to fucking use it. But my machine appears to be saved (for now).

But the most unbearable thing about the whole experience was how it nearly caused me to have a nervous breakdown, even though it was, in the general scheme of things, a relatively minor incident. I’d already backed up my files and done a Time Machine backup earlier in the week, so I would have only been losing incredibly minor files and game saves, but I couldn’t bear the thought of this.I couldn’t bear that I’d lost my personal connection to The Stream of power that is the internet.

Because I’m such a generic male in his 20s, one of my favourite films is Terminator 2. In particular, I have much love for the opening sequence, which depicts the all-out total war in the future between man and machine, leaving humanity to live amongst the rubble.

Look at it. It’s so… terrifying. The machines sending out their skeletal warriors to stomp on our puny asses of flesh and bone. Their flying machines bombing our living matter from on high. The message is clear: when the machines learn to build themselves, they will crush us under their metallic feet.

But here’s the thing: the machines don’t need to resort to all-out armageddon. They’ve already won. They’ve assimilated us. We bow down at their altar. They’ve become our dæmons, our souls carried around in our pockets with touch screens. They’ve become embedded into our psyche. Because we think we’re fucked without them, we are fucked without them.

Look, there’s no denying that technology has made our life better, simpler, more efficient. But when your machine breaks down you realise just how reliant on it you are. Hell, you realise how defined by it you are. It’s more than enough to send a man into a romantic Walden-style fantasy. But if I did that, would I be allowed to tweet about it or would that violate the rules of the experiment? And how would I keep up with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Or would I spend all my time in my log-cabin playing Angry Birds?

Bow down before your new masters.

 

Followed

Posted on August 11th, 2013

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Here’s a little short story I’ve done. It’s for anyone who’s ever walked across a park or common at night, and had that creeping suspicion of dread, all done in a grainy airbrush style. Enjoy.

Wounded Issue #3: Crash Course

Posted on July 9th, 2013

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 At long last, Issue 3 of Wounded is finished, printed, bundled and stacked. The last three of those are only true in the metaphorical sense, admittedly, which makes that a long-winded way of saying that it is now ready for download and reading.

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 Things get a little more intense for the remaining Redbands, as they try and work out who attacked them and realise their motivation, and decide whether the best course of action is flight or fight.

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 In the meantime, Jed continues his pursuit and stumbles onto a lifeline that levels the playing field against the red bands (some of you might work out what it is from the incredibly subtle hints that may even be on this very page) which sets in motion an inevitable path towards direct confrontation.

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On a technical level, I was gnawed at by a tweet I saw mentioning digital comics needing to become ready for retina-displays, as I really should have been thinking about that from the start. As a result this issue is done in 150dpi, as opposed to the 100-or-so DPI that the previous issues have been done at (and I’ll go back and put those issues at 150dpi soon), which does mean that the file sizes are larger. Who knows, maybe the technology will have evolved to the point where I need to have 600dpi versions out by the time it’s all finished. I can’t rule it out.

As ever, you can get to the Wounded page with all three issues for download by clicking on the link to the right, or by clicking here. Alternatively, here’s a direct download link for the PDF and the CBR file for Issue 3.

One more issue to go. Better get going on that.

Jaime Hernandez @ Institut Francais

Posted on July 3rd, 2013

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It was a special treat last month to get to see one of the World’s great cartoonists talk about their craft. Jaime Hernandez, one half of Los Bros Hernandez and creator of the Maggie the Mechanic branch of Love & Rockets, dropped by London to talk about his work in front of a packed Cine Lumiere at the Institut Français as part of the BD Comics and Passion festival.

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The conversation was lead by Woodrow Phoenix, a great cartoonist in his own right (who once flogged me copies of Sugar Buzz and Rumble Strip at I think the Mini Comics Thing long ago) who was quite clearly a big fan of Mr Hernandez. If anything, he may have been too big a fan as the reverence he paid Hernandez meant that it took a little while to get going. Hernandez seemed reticent to get talking to start with and suffered a bit from mumble mouth, but after a while things thawed and various subjects like intercutting chronology through panels (especially in the newer Love & Rockets stuff) and the increasing economy of Jaime’s line work (because he doesn’t need to use so much line work and cross-hatching).

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A very special treat was getting to see Jaime draw live on stage (it was projected up on the screen, we didn’t get to all huddle around the desk) whilst doing an audience Q&A at the same time, which showed an admirable talent for multi-tasking. Some of the questions were a little flat (I’m pretty sure I knew that Robert Crumb was a big influence on Jaime’s work, for instance) but it did bring up the fascinating notion of how working in black and white affects the depiction of race (Jaime says it took him and Gilbert a while to work out why they as Latinos seemed to focus so much on caucasian characters).

Incidentally, it’s not a shop I usually advocate visiting but the Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue had those fantastic paperback collections of Love & Rockets going incredibly cheap in their Sale section. I recommend checking it out.

Unavailable

Posted on May 23rd, 2013

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Burning Love is a Yahoo original web series. Starring many funny types such as Michael Ian Black, Ken Marino, Kristen Bell and June Diane Raphael, it’s a piss-take of reality TV, starting off as a spoof of The Bachelor before developing a focus on Big Brother style shows with its latest edition. Even though spoofing reality TV isn’t so much shooting fish in a barrel as making a barrel out of C4, it manages to do so with such a level of wit and commitment and with a level of deadpanning and seriousness in the performances that takes the whole thing to another level. I recommend checking it out.

Or I would recommend checking it out, if it wasn’t for one small detail…

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Look, I’m getting fed up of this now. I’m getting fed up of being prevented from watching things based on nothing other than geographical location. I’m fed up of having to take the long route to finding these things (and there almost always is a long route available).

Ultimately, this feels like a holdover from the era of pre-web television dominance. In roughly a decade we’ve gone from newspapers ruining George Clooney’s exit from ER on their front pages months before it aired in the UK (I distinctly remember that happening) to the finale of Lost simulcasting on Sky One with the American west coast edition (yes, I did get up at 5am to watch it, and I don’t regret it one bit). Thanks to the internet, the world is a narrower place and accessing shows from across the globe is much easier. It would be nice if those in charge realised this and facilitated this instead of partaking in unnecessary gatekeeping.

Even if I don’t agree with it, I can at least understand something like Hulu blocking out UK viewers from watching their TV shows – a lot of the shows on there do end up on UK channels at some point and they probably don’t want the public having a way of pre-empting their airing. But Burning Love is a web series, and being made free from network ties it has no need for such obtuse chicanery. Why block a series that isn’t going to be seen anywhere else? Why block out things like short clips and sketches from Saturday Night Live (on both Hulu and NBC.com)? What does anybody gain from limiting international exposure of fragments of one of the biggest brands in comedy?

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(especially weird thing about SNL clips: some of them are available to watch in the UK without faffing around. The Digital Shorts mostly seem fine to view, for example, but Stefon clips are not.)

I know there’s ways of accessing Hulu and Yahoo via plugins and the like. I know that Burning Love is available to download from websites. That’s not the point. The point is that I’m forced to use these illicit access points for seemingly no good reason. Look, media companies, I want to access your content, and there’s no good reason for stopping me doing so, is there?

The Private Eye, and the Art and Business of Digital Comics

Posted on March 23rd, 2013

So Brian K Vaughan’s return to the comics fold appears to be well and truly on track. His Image series Saga has been a pretty big hit, and now he’s trying his hand at something a little different. Issue #1 of his latest series with Marcos Martin, The Private Eye, came out on his new website Panel Syndicate this week. It’s pretty cool and I recommend checking it out, especially if you’ve ever liked any of Vaughan’s other work (which reminds me, I’ve still got a few volumes of Y: The Last Man to catch up on. Always behind the times, me).

It’s an interesting project on two main levels. Artistically, it feels important that this is presented in a widescreen horizontal format. Comic books of course have always traditionally favoured a more vertical alignment, although some books have of course used the double-page spread as a way around this, Frank Miller’s 300 being the notable example of a book consisting entire of double-page spreads.

Comic strips have used horizontal layouts for years, and with the transition to digital media, most webcomics have had their roots in the strip medium and have stayed horizontal to match computer screens, and in the last few years there’s been a movement to longer-form horizontal comics (that smart man Warren Ellis has written about this).

I’d always thought that the transition to tablet screens would be useful for the mainstream comic book medium because it enables the reading of vertical books without much fuss, but somehow it hadn’t occurred to me that the beauty of reading on a tablet is that it can be horizontal too. In an era when both screen and tablet are used (and this isn’t even taking into account the push for TVs as internet devices) switching to the common alignment makes sense. Based on #1 of The Private Eye, this is a pretty good thing – it turns out a book of Marcos Martin spreads looks pretty sweet. With the images being fairly large and coming in at a retina-friendly 200dpi, this is a book optimised for higher-resolution future.

On an economic level, it’s interesting that this is a self-published, pay-what-you-can model of distribution. Now, there are clearly limits on pay-what-you-can as a viable business model. For example, if I was to put the stuff on this site up using that, I’d get very few people paying, and it might even put off people who don’t want to go through the charade of being begged at for money. But if you’re an established name, a known quantity with an in-built fan base? It makes loads of sense to gamble on your economic viability, particularly if you’re going to get a bigger cut and more creative independence.

Brian K Vaughan appears to be at a point in his life where he just doesn’t need the bullshit that surrounds working for the major publishers. The first sign of this was taking Saga to Image, seemingly the most frictionless of the major publishers. Now he’s taken it one step further, cutting out the middle man entirely, and he knows that he’s a big enough name to be able to afford to do so. It seems inevitable that digital self-publishing by some of the more established names in comics is inevitable, particularly as the means of distribution is now so streamlined.

Going forward, it feels like major writers and artists are going to get into the digital self-publishing game more and more. If they have pet vanity projects that none of the publishers want to go forward with, or feel that they’ve earned the right to get the benefit of the doubt, betting on yourself might be financially viable and get it access to a wider audience than traditional channels. If these creators are going to commit to digital, then they’re going to have to at least reconsider layout and shape in their work, which means that we might start seeing a new shape of comics that’s been a while in coming. It won’t work for everyone, but if this allows some of the bigger names in the game to get their interesting pet projects off the ground, then I’m on board.

Oh, and I paid $1, 1 whole cent above BKV’s RRP. I’m generous like that.

Ballet on a Battlefield

Posted on January 31st, 2013

Rugby League is back. Tomorrow sees the commencement of the new season of Super League (and the 2nd-tier Championship is engaged in its first match as I write) and the return of my favourite sport. I’m looking forward to watching the most demanding, brutal yet somehow poetic sport that there is for another year.

I was once asked by a female friend why I liked playing Rugby, and I couldn’t really come up with an answer. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realised I was probably crazy playing it. Now there are the usual reasons for playing team sports like camaraderie and support for exercise and the like, but why put your body on the line in the name of fitness and entertainment, weekly no less? I don’t play so much now (my body’s giving up on me) but I think it’s largely due to the crazy intensity of the sport. Both mind and body have to be running at full speed. Basically, playing it is the most reckless thing I do.

The thing that appeals most of all to me about Rugby is the combination of skilful flair with sheer undiluted thuggery. There’s no getting around the fact that a large part of the appeal of Rugby is the level of violence and conflict contained within, which provides a sense of machismo that is central to the sport’s identity. Rugby League players put their body on the line – as Paul Wood’s ruptured testicle will attest to. But around this chaos and collision runs a vein of skill and ingenuity that provides an aesthetic thrill just as powerful as the physical one, heightened by being contrasted with the physical onslaught.

Rugby when it is played the right way is a ballet on a battlefield.  Look at the promo video above. It’s not Wood or Adrian Morley or Richard Moore or any of the more brutish players who are the featured star – it’s Sam Tomkins, probably the most skilful, enigmatic player in the English game right now, and it’s the backs who become major stars because they provide the beauty, but it’s a beauty which would be impossible without the physical sacrifice of their forward packs. At its best, Rugby League is the perfect collaboration between brawn and finesse, a harmonious balance of brutality and artistry.

I’m a little bit excited for this season. A new season means a clean slate for all clubs, a chance for people to dream, and a World Cup at the end of the season adds an extra frisson to proceedings, an extra edge for players to perform (not that they need it). It’s good to have it back.

Let battle commence.

 

 


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