THE HORROR OF IT ALL
The month of Comica has now ended. I went to one of the last events at the ICA, an interview with Australian artist Ben Templesmith, followed by a screening of British horror film Heartless and a Q&A with its director Philip Ridley. I admit that I only knew Templesmith from things like 30 Days of Night and a few covers for Image and I was knocked out by many of the single images I saw on display at the interview at the ICA, including illustrations for a book on American Presidents, where he managed to capture likenesses with rare deftness and sketches for classic book covers like Animal Farm and Dracula, sketches not done for publication but effectively doodles on blank versions of the novels put out by Penguin. He came across well during the interview although it did seem to go off subject and wasn’t terribly structured as chats go. After this, they screened Heartless, which is a horror film set in London about a boy born with a birth mark over his eye, who witnesses killings in the East End and is drawn into a web of intrigue that seems to point to the existence of demons in London. Visually it was fairly impressive but the acting smacked a little bit of BBC TV drama and it was directed a little bit like a promo. There were some interesting ideas on display here but the payoff wasn’t worth sitting through the whole film for. Director Ridley’s Q&A was intermittently interesting but since the film had no connection to comics, it was a little bit tenuous to have him there. So Comica was a bit of a mixed bag (and I only went to a few of its events) but it’s still better to have a festival whose reach exceeds its grasp than not to have anything at all and when it’s on form, it continues to be one of the highlights of the London culture calendar…
COVERING ALL THE BASES
On Tuesday I went to a small studio off Albert Bridge Road, by Battersea Park in London, to see an exhibition opening, Hipgnosis: For The Love of Vinyl. Hipgnosis were a design studio in the Seventies and Eighties who created the covers to many of the decade’s most iconic albums including Led Zeppelin’s Houses of The Holy, Presence and Coda, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon and 10cc’s Deceptive Bends, to name but a few. I admit I’m not a fan of all of the bands that Hipgnosis designed covers for but I am an admirer of their design ethic and one of the main players from Hipgnosis, Aubrey Powell, was there surrounded by copies of new book Hipgnosis: For The Love of Vinyl and prints of many of Hipgnosis’s best-known album covers. It took place in a small studio and the prints looked fantastic framed. It’s an art that hasn’t quite died out but is less commonplace these days so it was a very enjoyable evening. The exhibition runs until 18th January 2010. We also walked by the Albert Bridge, lit up in all its glory.
COMICS AS ART
As it’s November, it’s time for the month-long festival of Comica at the ICA in London. Each year, curator Paul Gravett manages to gather together a diverse mix of comic creators, publishers and those associated with the industry and the form. There are too many events to go to all of them but I went to two of them the Saturday before last: Dark We We Were and Golden-Eyed, hosted by Mike Lake, which looked at the history of the British comic shop, and Grandville, a talk complete with slides by Bryan Talbot, which revealed the influences on Talbot’s Grandville graphic novel. On the comic shop panel were Derek ‘Bram’ Stokes, the man who ran Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, the first comic shop in London, Phil Clarke, who started British comic shows in Birmingham, Mike Lake, the co-founder of Forbidden Planet and Titan Books, Judge Dredd and Batman artist Brian Bolland and the aforementioned Bryan Talbot, who filled in for an ill Dave Gibbons. It was interesting to delve into the past and find out a little bit about what the scene was like in the days long before Forbidden Planet and Gosh but it was quite a bit before my time so it didn’t have any personal nostalgia. It was also intriguing to see fanzines by Bolland as a kid and the first UK Comic Art Convention flyer from 1970. Talbot’s talk on Grandville was very well organised and Talbot showed why he is one of the most erudite and intelligent comic creators currently working in the English language as he draws influences from places like Edwardian and Victorian children’s illustrators and from Europe. He held our attention like an old pro and it was eye-opening to sit through this after reading Grandville.
I also popped in on the Thursday after to the opening of a Robert Crumb exhibition at the Scream Gallery in Mayfair, R Crumb Uncovered, which was also under the Comica banner. But it was too crowded and packed with the sort of people that Crumb would run a mile from. However it is good to see a comic artist getting that sort of attention from the mainstream art world.
Comica continues to be a must-visit destination each year for the comic and comic art aficionado and long may it continue…
I intend to go to at least a couple of other Comica events so I’ll post from them too but here are a few photos including some rather grainy ones from the comic shop talk and the Grandville one…
MY FIRST PHOTO ESSAY
My initial City of London photo essay is up at thecity.co.uk website. I’m very chuffed with my photos so feel free to check it out: http://www.thecity.co.uk/blog/01057-city-of-london-bridges-photos/.
I’ll be doing these on a regular basis with the next one on City of London churches.
It’s very exciting to be doing stuff like this and to be getting paid for it is absolutely incredible.
A PACKED WEEK
The last few months have been fairly quiet but things have started to pick up. Although subbing has been absolutely dead for me, I’ve started to make money from my photos and I’ve been doing a lot of features and writing. It’s very satisfying that the photography, something that I started doing just to get reference for a comic project, may well turn into something more substantial. It also looks like possibly one of my other book projects may become a reality and if it does, it will be an amazing book to work on. The past week has been a little bit crazy: on Monday, I went to the launch of London History Week at Kensington library, where I saw history writer Simon Sebag Montefiore talk about visiting archives in Russia to research his books on Stalin, which was fascinating. Before that, I went into town to interview director Jake West and writer/ comic artist Dan Schaffer at the Groucho Club in Soho about British horror comedy Doghouse.
On Tuesday I was lucky enough to go to the launch of the Viz 30th anniversary exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury (and for the Americans reading this, this is not the manga publisher but the very British humour comic that started life as a fanzine and at its peak sold over a million on the newsstand over here). I have written a piece on Viz‘s anniversary for Big Issue In The North, which is why I was invited. I got to get quotes from BBC’s Charlie Brooker (Screenwipe) and newspaper illustrator Martin Rowson and I also got to meet Simon Donald, Graham Thorp and Davey Jones, the past and present people behind Viz, which was very cool. On Wednesday, I got to see Up in 3-D at last, which was very enjoyable as it was a film with a heart.
Thursday I got to go up The Gherkin in the City of London for a meeting with the deputy head of PR for the City of London to talk about one of my book projects. The Gherkin, or 30 St Mary Axe as it is officially known, has amazing views across the whole of London and we were lucky enough to sit in the cafe at the top, on its 40th floor. It was days like this that made me realise how lucky I am doing what I do. Then, because we had time to kill and my friend Andy Colman had not been recently, we popped to Spitalfields, where they’ve done a great job of maintaining the feel of the market while modernising what is there and again because he had never visited, we ended the day at Borough Market and took a look inside Southwark Cathedral. The day was all about London because I spend my time travelling around the country and admiring churches in places like Bath and Wells but Southwark Cathedral is easily a match for the most exquisite churches anywhere else in the UK.
Then on Friday I did an interview with Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Dexter’s Laboratory), something I’ve been trying to set up for a few months. I have three or four features I’m currently working on, a couple of book projects, some fiction (something I’ve not tried in years) and a number of photo essays, so long may it continue…
WRAPPING UP THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL
I’ve had a fairly crazy ten days, so this post is a little bit behind schedule. The last two films I went to see at the London Film Festival were An Education and A Serious Man. The former was a fictionalised version of journalist Lynn Barber’s book on her life, adapted by best selling author Nick Hornby while the latter is the latest effort from the Coen Brothers. Thematically they couldn’t be more different: in fact the only thing they really have in common is that they are period pieces of sorts, both set in the Sixties. But An Education looks at London while A Serious Man is set in the Coen brothers’ native Minnesota.
So let’s start with An Education, which has schoolgirl Jenny (played brilliantly by Carey Mulligan) take up with seemingly unsuitable older man David (Peter Sarsgaard). It’s London in the Sixties and Teddington girl Jenny is swept off her feet by the bohemian David and his friend Danny (Dominic Cooper) and his girlfriend Helen (played by Rosamund Pike). It shows off a fascinating picture of London and England in the Sixties before it became ‘swinging’ and Jenny’s predicament shows off the dilemma that women faced when they had very few options open to them in terms of career and a life of their own. Mulligan is enchanting as Jenny while there is good screen chemistry between her and Sarsgaard as the ultimately sleazy David. It does have serious points to make and while there isn’t a lot to An Education really, it is a likeable and well-made film with a cast that is enjoyable to watch, that passes time very pleasantly indeed…
A Serious Man is a return to the sort of films the Coen brothers used to make in the Nineties. While No Country For Old Men, the movie that garnered them their Oscar, was extremely good, it was a different sort of picture for the brothers. A Serious Man deals with a Jewish man, Larry Gopnik, and his wife, Sarah, who live in Minnesota in the Sixties and looks at the personal trials and tribulations that Gopnik and his family go through. But since this is the Coen brothers, this is no ordinary nostalgic drama: Gopnik is a physics professor with a deadbeat brother and a wife who decides to leave him for a friend of theirs. Only the Coens could open a film with a sequence entirely in Yiddish and set in Poland at the end of the 19th century and make it work. A Serious Man is one of their first films that isn’t a genre piece but a surreal drama examining and questioning the role of religion in society. It dips into their childhood in Minnesota as the children of Jewish academicians and so it means that the film is their most ‘Jewish.’ But this lends it a verisimilitude that may have been lacking. As a black comedy drama, A Serious Man contains all of the best flourishes that a Coen brothers film has to offer: a slightly literary feel to proceedings with a superb cast and some moments that make you laugh with others that make you think. Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik commands the screen while the rest of the cast are equally mesmerising. Apart from Richard Kind, who plays Larry’s feckless brother and has been in The Producers on Broadway and in Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, there are familiar faces but no stars. It means that there are no names to detract from the overall experience. They create a picture of Sixties Jewish middle America that is unique and captivating. It is heartening to know that, even after over decades in cinema, the Coen brothers can continue to surprise cinemagoers. One of the highlights of the LFF…