Sunday, 28 October 2012

My Social Media Awakening

My friend and fellow comic book fanatic Mark Brassington recently asked me to write a guest post as part of a series of articles celebrating the 100th post on his personal blog. The theme was social media, writing and inspiration. I was happy to oblige and really enjoyed recounting my first experience of joining Twitter and the journey I've been on since then.

I have reprinted the article I wrote below.

To see the full series of articles just head over to

I joined Twitter in February 2011. Prior to this I had no internet presence at all. I had previously been on Facebook, but deactivated my account because I had no interest in most of the people I was “friends” with.

However within the space of a year and a half I have become active on many social networking sites, I have a personal blog and I am a staff writer and editor of geek culture website GeeksUnleashed.Me.

When Mark asked me to write a piece for this project I started to wonder about my radical transformation from a person with no internet presence and being perfectly happy with that situation, to someone who wakes up and within seconds has turned on their phone to check Twitter, Facebook and Wordpress for updates and messages.

I thought back to the moment I entered the world of Twitter and my first tweet. It was 11th February 2011. A date notable for being my birthday, but more importantly this was the day that President Mubarak stepped down in Egypt following 18 days of protest in the Egyptian capital, which had centred on the famous Tahrir Square. I was moved by the scenes of utter joy and celebration in the square as news of Mubarak’s resignation had broken.

I was looking at the various pictures and videos on news websites and felt compelled to share the images and the joy that was being felt at that moment. Of course I told my wife, but she was the only person around. The cat wasn’t interested and short of going out on to the streets and shouting in the manner of an un-appointed town crier I was short of options. That’s when I saw a little icon at the top of the news story on the Guardian website – Tweet this.

So I did.

I joined Twitter that day and shared the joyful scenes in Egypt, just like many thousand others. It felt good. A few tweets later and I was hooked.

Soon after this I started my own personal blog and my internet presence has steadily grown from there.

So what have I gained from becoming involved with social networking and blogging? I could say connections, a direct link to people who influence me, an instant source of news, an effective communication tool, and an easy and instant way to publish some writing. All of those things are true and valid answers but there is another thing I have gained. Friends.

That’s right, friends. I wasn’t quite expecting it either. I always saw the networking part of the term social networking as being more pertinent than the social bit. How wrong I was. I’ve met so many great people from all over the world through Twitter and through my blog and now through my involvement with Geeks Unleashed. Most of the people I interact with on these platforms are mere acquaintances but a large number I have come to see as friends, people I interact with regularly, sometimes on a daily basis.

It is the friends I have made through the internet that I now turn to for writing advice, inspiration and encouragement. And that alone has made it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Unleashed Geek

I haven't been very active on this blog recently. There is one reason for this - I have been very actively involved with my good friend Mark Brassington's new venture GeeksUnleashed.Me

I heard that Mark was planning to launch a website focusing on geek culture, ranging from comics, film, TV, books, music, fashion, games, gadgets etc. It sounded like a fun thing to get involved with and I thought I could do one or two articles about comics, so I contacted Mark and told him I was interested. He very graciously accepted my offer to assist and we started talking about what the site should be and what content he wanted on it.

This was about four months ago. Since then I've posted over thirty news and review articles as well as starting a regular bi-weekly feature looking at web comics. I'm really enjoying writing for the site and it's really exciting to be involved in something from the beginning. I know Mark has big plans for the site and more people are getting involved all the time. I hope to be there for the ride for as long as possible.

However there is a downside to being involved in this collaborative venture. It has seriously affected my own writing and the time I have to work on my own stuff. I was never very disciplined when it came to writing in my spare time but now I have less spare time it has become even harder for me to sit down to work on my own writing. My fear is that I will lose any momentum I had built up earlier this year. So I need to set aside some time every day to write, not for this blog, not for Geeks Unleashed, but for my stories. And I will.

I know I can keep up my commitments to Geeks Unleashed, and I intend to do just that. All I need to do in addition is carve out some time for my own writing. I know it can be done. Hell, I'll just sleep less.

I do intend to keep this blog going too, and I'll let you know how I'm getting on with my writing next time I stop by here to empty my head.

Till next time. 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Tragedy in Denver & the Link Between Media & Violence

The senseless tragedy in Aurora will almost inevitably lead to a renewed debate about the link between films and real-life violence. This is a debate that can be traced back over the past few decades via Scream and alleged ‘copy-cat’ killings; Natural Born Killers and the murders which that film supposedly inspired; the murder of James Bulger in 1993 and the apparent link to the Childs Play films; and back to the film version of A Clockwork Orange and several crimes apparently inspired by it.

Some people are outraged by violent films generally and when things like the Aurora shooting happen, these same people become even more outraged and use the tragedies to add fuel to their crusades against any form of culture they see as morally objectionable. I think it is disrespectful to the memories of the people who lost their lives in these tragedies for their deaths to be used in knee-jerk arguments linking the actions of (usually) mentally unstable people to a film they may have watched or a comic book they may have read, or a video-game they may have played. Also I think it is basically wrong. Several studies have been done which look at the role of the media in violent crimes. As far as I can make out the results are inconclusive and the debate rages on among academics and commentators.

Even if a link can be established between a crime and a particular film or video game it doesn’t mean that the crime wouldn’t have been committed if the film or video game didn’t exist. Usually the person committing the crime has a history of mental health issues or a background in criminal activity or a natural propensity to violence.

I have always believed, and still believe, that a person does not watch a violent film and then go out on a killing spree because of that violent film. They are motivated by other forces and although aspects of their crime may be mirrored in the film, it is not the catalyst for the crime itself. The point is that the act they commit is already in their nature and whether they watch a film or play a violent video game isn’t going to make a person do something that is against their nature.    

The counter-debate, and in my opinion the much more pertinent one, is about America’s gun-control laws. In Canada and Europe, where the owning of firearms is largely illegal, there is much less violent crime than there is in America. Quite simply, if you make it harder for people to access guns, then you make it harder for them to commit violent atrocities such as the killings in Aurora. Obviously there are other weapons people can access and making guns illegal wouldn’t stop people getting hold of them, but it would certainly make it a great deal harder. And surely that’s worth it?

The debate will no doubt continue and eventually die down until another tragedy (most likely in America) happens and the debate will start up again.

The awful, saddening and tragic killings in Aurora were committed by a troubled man and his motivations may never be known.

I just hope that The Dark Knight Rises is not forever damned by its link to this awful tragedy. That would be a shame, and ironic given the character of Batman never uses guns and makes a moral choice not to kill his enemies.

My #MenageMonday Debut

So, I finally got a chance to get involved in Menage Monday, a flash fiction challenge organised by the wonderful Cara Michaels. Usually I'm working but this week I was off so I thought I'd give it a go.

If you're not familiar with the Menage Monday challenge it's really easy to get involved. Cara puts up three prompts - 1 picture, 1 sentence/phrase, and the judge's prompt. This week the judge's prompt was to do a werewolf story. The guest judge this week was my pal, and fellow Batman super-fan, Jalisa Blackman. So that was an extra incentive to get involved.

At first I didn't think I'd be able to take part because I don't usually write supernatural/horror type stuff. But as I thought about it, an idea started to form in my head and I started to put some words down, and before I knew it I had a coherent little short story. Unfortunately it was too long (Menage Monday entries must be between one and two-hundred words.) So I did some (a lot) of trimming, and voila, I had my 200 words and I was ready to submit.

I was fairly happy with what I'd written, especially as this was my first attempt at a flash fiction contest.

I didn't expect to win, which is good because I didn't win.

There was a lot of really strong entries and I enjoyed reading them all. It was great to feel part of a little community of writers.

What I really enjoyed and found very encouraging was the fact that I was able to write a fully formed piece of fiction in about an hour, from the idea forming to the finished piece. It gives me hope that I will one day finish the novel I've been writing for years.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the experience and I would encourage anyone to get involved and I'd like to thank Cara and everyone involved in making it happen.

Below is my entry and below that is a link to Cara's site, where you can see all the entries from this weeks contest and have a go yourself next time.

The New Arrival

 The new arrival sat in an armchair facing the window. His eyes were following the reflection of the rising moon. He was rocking gently.

“He’s barking mad that one.”

“How d’you know? He’s only just got here.”

“Heard the nurses talking. Said he was picked up by coppers last night. Stark bollock naked, snarling and howling.”

“Bloody Hell. Stay away from that one.”


“You heard about the bones?”

“Yeah. Found in the grounds this morning. Rat or something.”

“Yeah. But it weren’t a rat. More like a bloody dog by the size of ‘em I heard.”

“Bugger off.”

“Stripped clean the guards said.”


The men looked over at the new arrival quietly picking at his breakfast. He didn’t appear to have much of an appetite.

They looked at each other, raised eyebrows.


“Couldn’t be.”

Later, he was having trouble sleeping. He could see the new arrival’s room across the corridor. He saw the door open slightly and a shape came into view. It was hunched over on four legs. It looked unnatural. He saw red eyes flash, looking directly at him. The animal darted away, faster than anything he had seen.

Stay away from that one, he thought. 


Friday, 13 July 2012

Comics You Should Be Reading Part 2

(Warning - this post contains some spoilers)

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Lienil Yu

I was a late-comer to Mark Millar’s work. I read Civil War but missed some of his less mainstream work. It wasn’t until last year that I caught up on almost everything the man has written. And almost everything I’ve read I have enjoyed immensely. Which is why it’s really exciting that Millarworld is producing so many new, great comics in 2012.

One of those books is Supercrooks, which introduces the protagonist Johnny Bolt, on the run from superhero The Gladiator. Bolt is a criminal with powers, a Supercrook. Unfortunately, as we see in the first few pages, his powers aren’t enough to keep him out of the clutches of The Gladiator and, not for the first time, a high security prison.

This leads us to the main premise of the comic – what happens when super villains get fed up of being caught by the heroes all the time? They go to Europe where there are no superheroes. In this case Johnny rounds up his old crew and they travel to Spain, with the intention of making big bucks, to help out their old mentor. It’s a really interesting idea and I’m really looking forward to seeing where Millar goes with it. In Johnny Bolt, Millar has created a mischievous, likeable character who, even though he’s a ‘baddie’, I’m rooting for.

Just a quick word on Leinil Yu’s art in this comic. Wow.

Seriously, I could look at Yu’s stunning pages for hours. I love the detail in his panels and I find his drawing style enables him to render emotion better than most other artists working today. Simply gorgeous. 

Interior panel - Supercrooks #1 - Leinil Yu

The Secret Service
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Dave Gibbons

So, Mark Millar writes a comic book about spies and super criminals, in which a kidnapped Mark Hamill is killed in a snow-mobile crash in the first few pages. Oh, and it’s drawn by Dave Gibbons. Yes, the Dave Gibbons, of Watchmen fame.

What? You need more than that?

Okay. The story starts in a snowy Switzerland where Mark Hamill is discussing the relative merits of the Star Wars prequels with his kidnappers. He is rescued by a member of the British Secret Service who quickly dispatches the kidnappers. Unfortunately there are many more kidnappers and a snow-mobile chase ensues. The pursuit ends in the afore-mentioned snow-mobile accident and the death of Luke Skywalker. This leads me to imagine all sorts of “Mark Millar kills Luke Skywalker” fanboy outrage on the internet. But man, it’s funny as Hell.

Interior art The Secret Service #1 - Dave Gibbons

After that audacious opening sequence we are dropped straight into a high-rise flat in Peckham, amid scenes that visualise all sorts of middle-class preconceptions and judgements of people who reside in high-rise flats. Here we’re introduced to the main character Gary, a clearly intelligent teenager kicking against his depressingly chaotic, impoverished upbringing. Gary gets in to trouble with the police, and his Uncle Jack is called upon to get him out jail free once again. Jack happens to be one of the best secret agents in the country and his reach is enough to get Gary out of jail. But as Jack watches his nephew from afar it becomes clear that he has bigger plans for Gary. The first issue ends with Jack putting a call in to a contact at “Spy School”, and we know Gary’s life is set to change immeasurably.

There is so much going on in this comic: great writing; breathtaking art; tonnes of action; hilarious set-pieces; believable characters; and an interesting story. And all for $2.99. It’s an absolute bargain, and it should be on your list. 


The Massive
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Kristian Donaldson

Brian Wood’s new on-going series, published by Dark Horse Comics takes place on a planet Earth that has recently been ravaged by a cataclysmic environmental disaster. In the first issue we are shown a series of flashback images chronicling the events and their terrible aftermath, culminating in a quietly stunning image of Hong Kong “drowning under ten stories of water.”

Most of the action in this first issue takes place on Kapital, a ship commandeered by the Ninth Wave, an environmental direct-action group. We learn that the group’s sister vessel The Massive has gone missing in heavy seas and they are searching for any sign that it is still afloat.

There is a lot to absorb in this first issue and Wood, artist Kristian Donaldson – whose illustrations are wonderful – together with colourist Dave Stewart, do a great job of setting things up, giving the reader enough information to get them interested. 

Beautiful cover art - The Massive #1

It was always going to be interesting to see what Wood did after the epic, fantastic Northlanders and it seems he has embarked on a project similar in themes and scope. Similar in themes you ask? Northlanders was a historical series focusing mainly on the Viking age. (This is a terribly simplistic description of a wonderful comic book series and I apologise to Mr Wood. If you haven’t read Northlanders I urge you to check out the trades). The Massive is contemporary and asks the question “What does it mean to be an environmentalist after the world’s already ended?” At first it may seem the two comics have little in common. However, both comics focus on small groups of people facing challenges in a new, unfamiliar environment and I think what Wood is carrying through from his writing on Northlanders is a sense of characters isolated, navigating their way through a life thrust upon them. 

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

Ed Brubaker is one of my favourite comic book creators. For my money, together with George Pelecanos, he is one of the best writers working today. Throw Dennis Lehane into the mix and you’ve got a Goddamn writing power trio right there. But forgive me, I digress.

If you know the comic book work of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips then you’ll know what to expect from Fatale. In many ways you’d be wrong. It’s got the noir elements of Criminal and the supernatural elements of Sleeper. But it’s not a straight crime comic, or a noir comic. The first story arc, running through the first five issues centres on the mysterious Josephine. At first you may think she’s a typical femme fatale, but it soon becomes apparent that she is much more complex than that. The effect she has on men, typical of femme fatales, is more a product of her slowly revealed history/origin than the way she acts around them.

As the story progresses we are also introduced to rumpled journalist Hank Raines, who falls under the spell of Josephine, and crooked cop Walter Booker, who also has a history with her. The story also features a frightening antagonist in the shape of Bishop, and a centuries old satanic cult.

Brubaker brings all these elements together in a dizzying story which has several threads, all expertly brought together over the first five issues.

As ever, Sean Phillips does a fantastic job of bringing the ideas of this comic to life visually. I love his drawing style and it’s perfectly suited to the story elements here; and the cars, clothes and architecture of the place and times the comic is set in.

The extra content that we’ve come to expect from Brubaker and Phillips' comics is present, and each issue features a back-up essay written by passionate, knowledgeable people including Stephen Blackmore and Charles Kelly.

Stunning variant cover #1 Fatale

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Comics you should be reading right now - Part 1

 Comics you should be reading right now - Part 1

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion

This is an inevitable one on this list because Batman has always been one of my favourite characters. Some of the first comics I ever read were the Batman comics published in the UK by Fleetway, reprinting stories from the US comics. This led me to my first local comic shop in my then home town of Preston and that was it. I was hooked. Since then I’ve read tonnes of comics, of all genres – superheroes, crime, fantasy, sci-fi, indie stuff. Batman has always been a constant.

The Batman of DC’s New 52, written by Scott Snyder with art by Greg Capullo is one of the best incarnations I have seen. Capullo’s style is perfect for Batman and his Gotham City environment, and his art, together with Jonathan Glapion’s stunning colouring perfectly captures the darkness of the character. Scott Snyder has been writing comics for a few years now and is widely recognised as one of the best around. He was writing Detective Comics before starting on the New 52 Batman, so had really got to grips with the character. On this run his writing is getting better and better. The introduction of the terrifying Court of Owls is a really important development in the history and mythology of Batman and Gotham City and has made for some amazing storytelling from Snyder. Whether you are a fan of Batman or superheroes in general, or not, you have to read this comic. Each of the current ten issues to date has been the best comic out that week, and it just keeps getting better. Snyder and Capullo are a brilliant team and they really love this book. You can tell, because it looks absolutely stunning.

Below is a panel from Batman #7. Batman, having recently survived a near-fatal torturous ordeal at the hands of the Court of Owls arrives back at the bat-cave, beaten and bloody, vulnerable, yet defiant.  

Mind The Gap
Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback

Mind The Gap is a new creator-owned comic from Image; which, by the way is producing some of the best comics in its twenty year history right now. And Mind The Gap is one of my favourite books at the moment, even though it’s only just reached issue #2. I’ve re-read issue #1 a couple of times now and it is absolutely sumptuous. The art is beautiful and the writing is brilliant. The first issue sets things up nicely as we meet the protagonist Elle Petersen, as well as various members of her family and friends, both good and bad. I won’t give anything away about the story but it’s started out as a mysterious whodunit type story, multiple characters being introduced, at this stage we are not sure how they each fit into the story or how important they are. The writing gives you just enough information to be interested in finding out more about the characters and the story. Which is what the first issue of a new series should do. I for one am hooked already. 

Written by Mark Waid
Art by various including Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin

I’ve written here before about the current run of Daredevil and how great it is. But for good measure I am going to include it here because it is quite simply a comic book that you should be reading. The writing is fantastic. Mark Waid is a really great fit for the character. The art is stunning every month. It has a letters page, which I think is sadly missing from most mainstream comics now. I love letters pages in comic books and it’s great to see one here. Above all, Daredevil is a whole lot of fun to read and it reminds me every month why I spend so much of my time reading, thinking about and writing about these damn things.

How awesome does this look?

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Marco Chechetto and Matt Hollingsworth

Another character recently re-invented by Marvel Comics, the current run of The Punisher started at the same time as Daredevil. There is a lot of history between the two characters and they have indeed had an uneasy alliance in a recent crossover. As with Mark Waid and Daredevil, Greg Rucka and The Punisher is a perfect fit. Rucka’s writing is really suited to the complex character of Frank Castle. A character which has often been misunderstood by both writers and readers. The art on this comic book is absolutely stunning as well and it is an absolute pleasure to read. I can’t wait to see where Rucka goes with this one.

Look at this.

Enjoy the above. 

Part 2 to follow soon. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Don't get angry. There's no point.

I was so inspired this morning by an interview on Radio 4 with the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama? Inspiring you say? Well I never.

Okay I know he’s universally adored, and respected, and is inspirational to so many people but I realised when I was listening to the interview that I’ve never really heard him speak at length before, and certainly not in such a relaxed way.

Cos’ here’s the thing. The Dalai Lama? He is one cool cat. He was laughing and joking, and, as was later revealed by the interviewer, holding her hands during the interview. Totally relaxed, totally cool. And his laugh! Man, he laughs like Sid James. Seriously. So infectious. Maybe not as downright dirty as Sid James, but it has that same mischievous quality.

Anyway, what inspired me was a particular exchange in which the interviewer asked him if he ever felt angry with the Chinese government. When he answered in the negative the interviewer was somewhat incredulous. After all, this is the regime which has persecuted the Tibetan people for decades, denying them of basic human rights, imprisoning them, committing widespread torture, and causing Tibetan people who have felt so passionately about the cause of Tibetan freedom to set themselves on fire, in desperate acts of protest.

He doesn’t feel any anger? The interviewer asked him again.

His answer – “There’s no point. If I develop anger, suffer myself."

Just think about that for a while. I did. And then I remembered the previous day in my office when I got angry at my computer for running slowly, and then got angry at my mouse for no good reason, but it certainly got a firm tap, tap, tap from my index finger. I got angry at the hold music while trying to get through to an insurance company. That’s a lot of anger in a short space of time. And this guy doesn’t have any anger towards the Chinese authorities.

I suddenly felt very stupid about the anger I had directed towards inanimate objects the day before.

I resolved to try to be less quick to anger, more understanding of things that usually frustrate me. Because there’s no point. The Dalai Lama is right. It does you no good. Anger is ultimately turned inwards and only serves to hurt you.

So the next time you feel the rage building when your printer chews up your paper, or someone bumps into you and doesn’t apologise, or you need to phone BT, just let it go. Don’t get angry. There’s no point. Let it go. Or at least direct it towards something useful and creative.

I’ve tried today and I feel a lot better for it.

But if you think it’s too hard to let some things pass, don’t worry. The Dalai Lama did admit that while he has no anger towards the Chinese government, if his assistants do something wrong he just “blows up”. He said this with a huge burst of laughter, and a huge smile burst on to my face.