OPEN HOUSE 2006
Open House is an event that’s run in London for a number of years. I’ve been going for at least seven years. Basically, it’s a weekend in September each year that grants the public access to buildings and places in London that you can’t get into during the rest of the year. It’s a great way to engage with the city and this year’s Open House weekend was last Saturday and Sunday (16th and 17th September). Planning is always essential: some buildings need to be pre-booked (even though tickets are pretty much always free). So here’s a brief rundown of the buildings I visited, with my friend Dave Morris, who is going to be drawing Hidden City, the supernatural comic series that I’ve written:
Saturday began at The Reform Club, a magnificent gentlemen’s club on Pall Mall, near Picadilly. Started by Whig politicians in 1836, the interiors were designed by Sir Charles Barry, who also created The Houses of Parliament, and they are based on the Farnese Palace in Rome. The place smells of power and money and the forty minute tour really wasn’t enough time to explore its rooms…
Then we moved onto Dover House, Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, which is located on Whitehall, next to Horseguards. This was less impressive than the Reform Club: although it possesses a grand marble entranceway, the rooms are decorated in a very plain, Georgian style so it looks like so many other Georgian places here. It’s got a nice view of Horseguards parade ground though…
The third place we visited was the real surprise: we had a little bit of time left of the day (the buildings are only open in the daytime) so we walked to the end of Pall Mall to Marlborough House, which is now the headquarters of the Commonwealth but was built by Christopher Wren and his son in 1711 for the Duke of Marlborough and his family (the family that Winston Churchill was part of). As soon as you enter it, you are greeted by a fabulous ceiling festooned with paintings and gold. It’s a truly unique house complete with a series of grand rooms. What was also rather nice was the statue we found to Queen Alexandra that’s located outside Marlborough House, which is worthy of Rodin. It’s just a shame that we weren’t allowed to take photos in any of these three places.
Saturday night we checked out Brian DePalma’s The Black Dahlia at the cinema, which had a great cast and some exciting moments but which was let down by messy directing and a script that needed to be tighter.
Sunday was as much fun, possibly more: we started at Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner and got to look out at the top towards the Palace and through Hyde Park. The weather was great, as it was on Saturday: in the mid-seventies even though we’re halfway through September. It was entertaining to wander near the Arch and our next place was Seaford House, this Victorian house on Belgrave Square with a very over-the-top onyx staircase which was added in 1902. The house was very impressive in parts. Then we left Hyde Park Corner and walked through Belgravia, Chelsea and came out by Brompton Oratory, just west of Harrods and spent about an hour wandering through the series of mews behind the Oratory, finding some hidden gems. I’m not familiar with that part of London at all so it was a real pleasure discovering places like the Russian Orthodox church there and a lot of very picturesque streets. Then we went back to Hyde Park Corner and decided to end the day in Apsley House, occupied by the Duke of Wellington and his family since the 18th century. Another exceptional house, I sneaked a photo in there although it’s a bit blurry. So Open House is over for another year. I got to see six places I’d never visited before and explore a part of London I really didn’t know. It’s a great way to engage with the city and I’m already counting the months until next year.
A PICTURE TELLS 1000 WORDS (OR SO)
I took this photo walking down Waterloo Place on Friday at about 11.30am. It made me wonder if director Zach Snyder is trying to create a buzz out there for his proposed movie adaptation or if a comics fan just got drunk on Thursday night and happened to have a spray can with him? Either way, I think it’s an interesting photo…
A short post this time because I’m gearing up for a massive one on Openhouse, which I went to at the weekend, complete with photos and quite a lot of descriptions. Expect to see that by the middle of this week.
On The Shelf
Every now and again I’ll take a look at a selection of new comics I’ve been sent by DC and other publishers. First up is Deadman #1. Published by Vertigo/ DC Comics, written by Bruce Jones and John Watkiss. The title takes the name of the classic DC supernatural character and attaches it to a new persona: pilot Brandon Cayce. I really don’t know what to say about this: Jones used to be a great writer (if it’s still in print, check out his Somerset Holmes from Eclipse in the 1980s) but this is just muddled. The reader is thrown in at the deep end here, witnessing the death of Cayce and his rebirth. Watkiss is a very talented artist but Jones’s plotting is all over the place, jumping from flashback to present day, making Deadman #1 a very muddled read indeed. I don’t know where Jones intends to take the title but there’s a real danger that readers will be put off by the overly complex plot and confusing pacing. We’ll have to see where it goes…
Next is The Boys #1, Wildstorm/ DC’s new ongoing title written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Darick Robertson. It’s hard to believe that Ennis used to be a spectacularly gifted creator as The Boys, which presents a covert government agency dedicated to keeping the world’s superheroes in line, is lazy and obvious. This is most definitely Ennis by numbers and not even Robertson’s entertaining linework can lift it above something Ennis has done to pay the bills. It may develop as the series progresses but it’s just petty and venal at the start and Preacher had far more emotional depth that we see here. If it makes it past the twelve issue mark, it may improve…
Martian Manhunter #1, one of DC’s spin-offs from its Brave New World oneshot, written by AJ Lieberman and drawn by Al Barrionuevo and Bit, is an eight part miniseries that takes DC’s JLA mainstay and attempts to take him in a new direction. Frankly, it’s pretty dull, anodyne stuff: They’ve given John J’onzz a pointy head and a new costume but the plot, which sends the Manhunter on the trail of an escaped Martian on Earth, is fairly uninterestingly handled. There’s nothing Brave about this series, to be honest…
Finally, for this batch of reviews, there’s Batman and The Mad Monk, again from DC Comics. It’s the second of writer/ artist Matt Wagner’s six parters, dealing with the early years of the Darkknight Detective’s career. For me, this was the highlight amongst these four titles: Wagner has an elegant simplicity to his work and he writes a decent mystery, something a lot of modern comic creators have forgotten is at the key of a solid Batman story. He also has a neat line in dialogue and his handling of Captain Gordon is consistent with Frank Miller’s in Batman Year One. The first series, Batman and The Monstermen, is out in trade paperback now and is recommended too.
I spent most of this weekend down in Winchester, visiting my friend Gary Marshall (photo of him carving some marble here for you), who I’m doing the Studio Space book with. We got a lot of work done, coming up with intros for each artist in the book. While I was down there, I got to see Gary’s new camera, a Canon 350D, which is really really nice. Here is a shot of me taken with his camera. Currently the list of artists in Studio Space (something I’ve never stated publically before) is: Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Tim Bradstreet, Howard Chaykin, Sean Phillips, Duncan Fegredo, Joe Kubert, Mike Mignola, Tim Sale, George Pratt, Tommy Lee Edwards, Adam Hughes, Sergio Toppi, Walter Simonson, Jim Lee, Frank Miller, Moebius, Alex Ross and Steve Dillon. There may be a couple of other alterations but that’s pretty much the final rundown. It’s beginning to feel like a real book now: we’re delivering to our publishers at the end of the year and it should be out in the Autumn of 2007, which is exciting. You realise that books move at a different pace to magazines and it will be two years from when we signed contracts to when it’s actually out on the shelves. I’ve also been working on two pieces for Variety‘s Inside London supplement: one on the production of Elizabeth sequel The Golden Age with its producer Tim Bevan and production designer Guy Dyas while the other looks at the relationship between London’s post production houses and British filmmakers. For the second piece, I’ve picked fantasy film Stardust, based on Neil Gaiman’s illustrated novel, and Danny Boyle’s Brit sci fi epic Sunshine. There’s also another book project I’m waiting to hear back about, which’ll be exceptionally exciting if it happens and of course I’ll talk about it here.