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. 

Monday, 7 May 2012

Adam 'MCA' Yauch 1964-2012

I flicked the channel to MTV. The Beastie Boys were playing. A tribute to Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch it said in the top corner of the screen. This seemed odd because they don’t usually do tributes for artists that are alive. But I thought, well he deserves it because he’s a visionary genius. Then my brain started to tell me something I never wanted to hear. He’s dead. MCA is dead. Why else would there be a tribute programme?

A few seconds later my fears had been confirmed. Adam Yauch, founder member of the Beastie Boys, film-maker, producer, activist and tireless campaigner, had died of throat cancer at the age of 47.

I was devastated by this news. I haven’t been this affected by the death of someone I didn’t know personally since John Peel died.

The Beastie Boys have been a vital part of my life since I was 11 years old. Their music helped me make it through my teenage years and my twenties. I grew up with these guys as they grew up themselves. I identified with their changing attitudes and became interested in the issues they were increasingly spotlighting.

Adam Yauch always seemed like the most politically aware member of the group. His work in raising awareness of the unjust treatment of native Tibetans by the region's Chinese occupiers, including co-founding the Milarepa Fund, is testament to this. I am sure his work will be carried on by others whom he has inspired.

He was a great musician, the best rapper in the group, a talented director, a genuinely funny man. He was also, as far as I could tell, a really nice guy. I don’t know for sure but it certainly seemed that way.

What I do know is that out of all the comments, and articles, and blogs, and tweets that have poured forth since Friday, not one person will have a bad word to say about Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch. And that speaks volumes. 

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Ifanboy Weekly Sketch Up - 20th April 2012

Weekly Sketch Up - 04.20.2012

I love this feature on one of my favourite internet sites. I must admit though I haven't checked it out for a few weeks. When I opened this one up I was blown away. The quality of the art is always high, and it's really interesting to see different artists takes on well-known characters that we're used to seeing drawn in certain ways.

My particular faves from this week are the Green Arrow sketch by Jock which is so cool and understated; the Mad Men sketch by Phil Noto, which captures that thing Jon Hamm does with his eyes where he says a thousand things without speaking; and most of all the Calvin and Hobbes sketch by Sean Murphy as seen below.

Calvin and Hobbes by Sean Murphy

My favourite cartoon characters drawn by one of my fave new artists? Okay then! It's beautiful and I want it on a t-shirt or a poster or burned into my retina. Maybe not. But it is beautiful.

All the sketches are wonderful, as ever. So follow the link at the top of the post and check it out. And you're welcome!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Shooting pool on a smart phone

I’ve always had trouble getting down to it. Writing, that is. Actually it’s most things, who am I kidding?

I can procrastinate with the best of them. I can procrastinate better than the rest of them actually. I am the world’s most accomplished procrastinator. Well, you’ve got to have goals right?

Ok, maybe I’m not that good/bad when it comes to procrastinating but I give it a fair old crack of the whip. There are too many distractions you see? I’ve posted previously about the amount of “stuff” that fills our lives. I’m talking about books, films, TV, Twitter, our loved ones. Only kidding on that last one!

But that’s the thing. There’s so much stuff bombarding our lives all the time that it becomes difficult to make time for anything else. I somehow still have time to go to work every bloody day though. But I accept (begrudgingly) that it’s a necessity, like eating and sleeping.

The thing is (the other thing) I like all the stuff. Well, most of it. So it’s difficult to ignore it. And you can’t ignore it all, otherwise you’d have no fun in your life. Spending a few minutes on Twitter, or sitting down for a couple of hours to watch a film or read a book is not a bad thing, and you shouldn’t feel bad for doing it. If you’re a writer then yes, you could be using that time to write, but you’ve got to have some down-time too. Remember all work and no play leads to a whole load of madness and death.

I suppose what you do with your down-time is the thing (the last thing).

Which brings me, in a leisurely, some might say procrastinating, way to the title of this post. You see, I recently got a new phone. The model is unimportant. What is important is that it’s a smart phone. Now, my old phone was smart but it was never going to take over the world. Whereas my new phone scares me it’s so damn smart. And now I find myself shooting pool on a smart phone when I could be reading a book, or watching a film or a great TV show, or, you know, that thing I profess to do in my spare time - writing.

So I resolve to spend more time writing and less time playing games on my phone. There is a place for such a thing I’m sure, and it is harmless fun, but I’ve just got to remember how much I love writing and not spend so much time not doing it.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Reflections on Time

I appear to have woken up 35 years old. It’s not that much of a surprise. It happens at the same time every year after all. But it’s one of the few days that I actually think about how old I am, and what that means, if anything. And that leads to looking back, reflecting on my life so far.

Urghh. Do I have to?

In the words of the great Sandy Denny, “Who knows where the time goes?”

That’s an interesting question.

Usually this question is asked rhetorically, but I want an answer. Where the Hell does it go? One moment I’m working in bars on a Greek island, waking up to beer for breakfast, the next moment I’m sitting at a computer in my living room, watching the birds out the window, worrying if I’ve got enough money to pay for my upcoming wedding.

What the Hell happened?

I mean, I know what happened. I’ve got the pictures, memories, scars and regrets to remind me.


I’m 35. What is that? Halfway through my life? If I’m being pessimistic, I guess. So has it been good so far? Well I think so. But I’m generally a positive person, and I’m biased.

Then again, is there much point in looking back and assessing your life so far? Probably not. There’s nothing you can do about it now, so why bother, right?

So is it more important to embrace the now? That’s the only thing you might have some degree of control over, after all. Then again, do you?

And what about the future? The intangible, unknowable future? Is it worth worrying about the future? You can’t do much to shape it, so why worry about it?

I realise I’m asking a lot more questions than providing answers here. But I’m not smart enough to work out the mysteries of time, or to discuss the “realist” theory versus time as an “unreal” concept. I’ll leave that to the experts.

But it is tempting to look to the future. We all do it, don’t we?

I look to my immediate future and see the stress of organising a wedding being replaced by the joy of being married to the woman I love.

I look to my more distant future and see my writing developing and improving, and maybe one day even getting something published.

That’s something to look forward to right there.
Well, I think that’s enough reflecting for me. I’ve got a hot bath and the first volume of American Vampire waiting for me. Then beer, home-made tortilla chips and enchiladas.

It is my birthday after all.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

My Top 5 Comic Books of 2011

2011 has been a bumper year for comics. With the re-launch of 52 DC titles to much fanfare, a few relaunched titles from Marvel with much less fanfare, a slew of great independent publishers producing great books, and some truly outstanding single issues, mini-series and brilliant on-going series. I was going to pick a top ten (which would have been easy to do) but I decided to make life hard for myself. To be honest on another day a totally different top 5 could be here. There's just been so many good comics this year. Anyway, let's kick off with:

5. The Punisher. Greg Rucka, Writer. Marco Checchetto, Artist. Matt Hollingworth, Colour Artist.

Frank Castle, as written by Greg Rucka, is a great character. A true anti-hero in the comic book world. Punisher is not a character I’d read much of until now. This relaunched Punisher, written by Rucka and illustrated by Marco Checchetto, is a brilliant introduction to the character. And I have huge respect for a comic book writer who gives his main character no dialogue at all in the first 3 issues. It’s risky move, but calculated because it works brilliantly. Frank Castle is a man of action, defined by his obsessive need to avenge his family’s death. And the illustrations by Checchetto give him all the voice he needs. I’ve really enjoyed reading Punisher and it looks gorgeous. Which is why it is one of my top 5 books of the year.

4. Animal Man. Jeff Lemire, Writer. Travel Foreman, Artist.

I wasn’t really familiar with Animal Man until I started reading Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman’s DC New 52 version. What a great character he is, written beautifully by Lemire, and drawn spectacularly by Foreman. It’s refreshing to see a superhero from a different perspective; in this case through the lens of his long-suffering family. Buddy Baker is a family man. This is unusual for a superhero and it’s really interesting to see how his life as a superhero interacts with his life as a husband and father. Jeff Lemire is doing a wonderful job in creating a believable world for Animal Man, even when it delves into the Red, the lifeblood, with fantastical accompanying images by Travel Foreman. Foreman’s art seems to be something people absolutely love, or just can’t get with. I love it. It’s weird, wonderful and a refreshing change from typical superhero imagery. Judge for yourself below. I’m really enjoying Animal Man, and can’t wait to see where these guys take him.  

3. Batwoman. JH Williams III, Co-Writer, Artist. W. Haden Blackman, Co-Writer. 

Wow. Just wow. A review of JH Williams III’s Batwoman could just consist of images from the comic itself. They would be enough to make anybody go and seek it out. But I’ll say a few words too. This was one of the most eagerly anticipated New 52 titles from DC, and it has certainly lived up to the hype. It is one of the most beautiful comic books I have ever held in my hands. Williams’ artwork is extraordinary, and to produce this level of art every month and sell it for $2.99 a pop. Man, that’s astonishing. The writing, by Williams and W. Haden Blackman, is brilliant too and shouldn’t be overlooked. Kate Kane is a complex character. She is flawed, like most superheroes, and I’m eager to see how she develops. To have a lesbian comic book character right at the heart of DC’s mainstream line is something to be celebrated. I look forward to Batwoman every month, and that’s how it should be with comics.

 2. Batman. Scott Snyder, Writer. Greg Capullo, Artist. 

First off, Batman is and has always been my favourite comic book character. I’ve got more Batman comics than any others. I love the films (most of them anyway) The first comics I ever read were the Fleetway Editions Batman comics that I used to buy at my local newsagent when I was about 10 years old. The Dark Knight has been with me for most of my life. So yeah. I’ve got a lot of love for the Bat. When I heard that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo were going to be the creative team on the New 52 Batman, I knew that the character was going to be in good hands. Snyder’s run on Detective Comics had been very well received, and rightly so. Snyder brings the detective element of the character to the fore, and for me, as a crime fiction fan, that’s great. In the new Batman the dark elements are present and correct, and the run has started off with a cracking story involving the very sinister Court of Owls. The most recent issue, number 5, was absolutely astounding. Batman is shown to be vulnerable, cracking from lack of sleep, and paranoid and, dare I say it, a little bit scared, in a horrendously disorienting labyrinth. Batman scared? No way. Well he’s damn close to being scared. I was terrified reading it. The way Capullo has drawn this issue is brilliant, turning the pages on their side and then upside down, and back again. I got so engrossed in the story, that I went backwards and re-read a double page spread before I realised. The detail in the panels is painstaking and I’m sure I’ll need to read it a few more times before it all sinks in. So yeah, Batman’s in good hands. But it didn’t quite make my number 1 spot.

And so to my, and many other people's, number 1 comic of 2011:

1. Daredevil. Mark Waid, Writer. Paulo Rivera, Artist. Marcos Martin, Artist. 

What can I say about this comic which hasn’t already been said over and over again by numerous reviews, comic blogs, die-hard fans and recent converts? Probably nothing new. But you know what? The relaunched Daredevil, written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin, is so damn good that all the praise that’s been heaped upon it bears repeating. DC’s line wide relaunch may have been the biggest ‘event’ of 2011, but the best comic relaunch, by a mile, was Daredevil. I’ve always been a fan of the horned red fella, and I really enjoyed Bendis’ run a few years ago. What Mark Waid has done with this latest re-launch is to bring the fun back. Big Time. The scene with Matt Murdock walking into a room full of party-goers wearing a jumper emblazoned with the words “I’m Not Daredevil” may be one of my favourite images in a comic book ever, never mind last year. 

After everything the character has been through it’s really refreshing to see a lighter side coming out, without it seeming forced or awkward. Waid truly has done a fantastic job here, and I’m grateful for it. As for the artwork on this book. Well, the quality of the writing is equalled by the beautiful illustrations of Rivera and Martin, who have shared the art duties on the book. Just take the cover of issue 7 by Rivera, which has Daredevil lying on a snow-covered roof making a snow angel. And he’s grinning like a crazy person! The fun I was talking about. That’s it right there. Beautiful. 

Reading Daredevil is so much fun, and it’s an experience like I used to have when I first started reading comics over twenty years ago. Right down to the fact it has a proper letters page. I miss letters pages at the back of comics. It enhances the overall experience I think. With Daredevil Waid, Rivera and Martin have created a comic that deserves to be read, enjoyed and loved by a wider audience than just comic book fans. If you’ve never read a comic book in your life or you’ve fallen out of the habit, I urge you to pick up Daredevil. You’ll fall in love. Guaranteed.

So that's it. A little later than I'd planned! As I said it would have been easy to do a top ten, and more. It's been a great year for comics. Hopefully 2012 will be bigger and better.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Where have all these vampires come from?

Warning: Contains some graphic, possibly disturbing, imagery.

I don’t know how it happened but by the end of 2011 I seemed to be reading more vampire comics than I ever have before. I know the popularity of all things vampire has surged again recently with the Twilight books and films, and True Blood on TV, among other things. But it just seems that I have been stealthily assaulted with a steady stream of vampire comic books, both established titles which I have just discovered, and new on-going series and mini-series. And you know what. I’m thoroughly enjoying all of them. And that’s the thing that surprises me most.

I’ve never really been a big vampire fan, although I’ve always recognised the appeal. I like the Dracula/Vlad The Impaler myth, and the themes of the vampire related books and movies I read and watched growing up held a certain fascination. Actually, one of my favourite films when I was a teenager was The Lost Boys. And I will admit to sitting through Coppolla’s Dracula film more than once. So, okay, I’m not a huge fan of vampires, but clearly I didn’t go out of my way to avoid vampire related stuff. But as I said, over the last six months I’ve been reading so many vampire related comic books, and on the whole they’ve been way above average, some outstanding. In fact three of my top ten comics of 2011 have featured vampires.

I started off the year reading Justin Cronin’s excellent novel The Passage. If you haven’t read this book you need to stop everything, get a copy and read it. Simple as that. It is amazing. It’s a monster of a novel, filled with original ideas on a subject which has been around for hundreds of years and has been written about countless times. I won’t give anything away about the plot, but I will say that I pretty much put my life on hold while I read it, and some of the characters stayed with me for weeks, if not months. I envy anybody who hasn’t read it, because they get to experience the joy I felt while reading it. I’m just thankful he’s publishing a sequel this year called The Twelve. So excited about that. You can find more info about The Passage and The Twelve here

I also watched for the first time the brilliant film 30 Days of Night. A gripping film with an original, exciting premise, and some truly terrifying vampire monsters. I shudder just thinking about the way they move and sniff the air when they get the scent of a human. Brrrr. Watching this film led me to the comic it was based on. Created by writer Steve Niles and artist Ben Templesmith, 30 days of Night was a breakthrough work for both guys. It’s not hard to see why. The writing is filled with tension; even having seen the film and knowing what’s coming, it’s terrifying to see the unwitting inhabitants of Barrow, Alaska, completely unaware of the Hell which is about to descend on them. If you enjoyed the film you’ll love the comic. There have been numerous spin-offs and mini-series form the original comic. Most recently there has been a mini-series written by Joe Lansdale, and there is a current ongoing series written by Steve Niles and illustrated by the ever fantastic Sam Keith. It is published, like all first series by the brilliant IDW. Find out more here

Another well established vampire comic book which I recently started reading is American Vampire. Created by writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque the first five issues featured two stories, one of which was written by Stephen King (himself no stranger to vampires, ‘Salem’s Lot being in my imminent read pile – I just can’t get enough vampires!) American Vampire is an ongoing series and is one of my current favourite comic books that I’m reading regularly. Snyder is an amazing writer who has created some unforgettable characters. Each story arc is set in a different era. The new story arc which began in the most recent issue #22, is set in the 1950’s. If the first part is anything to go by it’s going to be a blast. Featuring a young, cocky vampire hunter with a cause, named Travis Kidd, the writer and artist seem to have so much fun creating their little slice of 1950’s America - hot-rods, mini-skirts, diners and all – that you can’t help having fun while reading it. Snyder is so good at drawing you into his world, and the artists just top it off. American Vampire is a really great comic book, which seems to be getting better, and it is one of my top ten comics of the year.

Which leads me to another of my top ten comic books of the year, and one of the biggest surprises from DC’s “New 52” re-launch. (See my earlier posts on this subject.)

I, Vampire, written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and beautifully illustrated by Andrea Sorrentino was a title that I wasn’t really that interested in when the relaunch was first announced. I, and a lot of people I spoke to at the time couldn’t really see it taking off and I even thought it might be one of the first titles to be cancelled early. But as more and more preview pages got released ahead of the first issue my interest in the title started to pick up and I decided to give the first issue a try. I am so glad I did. Originally created by J.M Dematteis in the early ‘80’s, it features protagonist Andrew Bennett, a character with the powers and weaknesses of a vampire, who resists his base instincts and has vowed only to drink animal blood and human blood taken from blood donor centres. The first issue of the re-launched title reveals a little of his history and his relationship with Mary, Queen of Blood. By the end of the first issue battle lines have been drawn, and we know we are in for an almighty fight between these two characters, whose lives are entwined by centuries of history.

Finally, released in December of last year was the first issue of The Strain, a comic book based on the novel of the same name by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. The comic book is written by David Lapham and illustrated by Mike Huddlestone. The first issue was an introduction to the main character in the story and really set the scene for the series. It was very atmospheric and did a good job of getting me interested enough to get on board for the next installment. It also got me interested in reading the original novel, which turns out to be the first of a trilogy.

So it looks like 2012 is going to be a year of vampires for too. At least for me. If the quality of the comics and books is as high as what I read in 2011 then I’ll be happy to develop my vampire addiction and really sink my teeth into some blood-sucking tales. (I had to have one lame pun in there. Come on!)

For vampire, and non-vampire related comic book action I recommend and – both brilliant sources of all comic book news, as well as film, TV and other stuff.