HAPPY NEW YEAR
To all my visitors here, regular or occasional, hope you have a great new year and I’ll see you in 2013…
A LOOK BACK (AND A LOOK FORWARD)
As I always do at this time of year, I take a look at what I’ve done over the previous year and what I hope to do in the following year. 2012 has been a very interesting year for me:
•I had my first photography exhibition, the comic portrait photos shown in Gosh back in March of 2012. Even though this was supposed to tie in with a 20th anniversary that didn’t quite happen, I was still very proud to see my work blown up and shown at Gosh in Soho in London for three weeks.
•TRIPWIRE 20th anniversary through Unbound. Unfortunately, the 20th anniversary book that was supposed to be published through book crowd-sourcing site Unbound didn’t happen, despite our best efforts. We gave out postcards at Kapow and Bristol and constantly promoted it on Twitter and Facebook. But it just didn’t gel. However if I hadn’t started to gather material for the project, I wouldn’t have had about 20 images in hand that will be running in the 21st anniversary book in 2013, so it wasn’t a totally wasted effort
•I published two more photography books, Spooked: A London Gothic and Faces. They had their problems but it was thanks to the Faces book being published that my Bryan Talbot photo was seen and I received some money from Steve Bissette for its use on the cover of an ebook he is bringing out about Bryan Talbot. So I am very pleased that I put it out
•We did another digital TRIPWIRE edition, our Dredd special, in November. We were hoping to put a digital TRIPWIRE out a bit more frequently but this was designed to show that we are still a going concern. It made me decide to do a digital bi-monthly as of Feb 2013
•Freelance work was pretty good. Despite a parting of the ways with the Judge Dredd Megazine in the summer, I continued to do features for Comic Heroes and by the end of the year, I have a number of other outlets lined up including a publishing website and a print magazine I haven’t worked for in a while, which is a result. In terms of subbing, despite a few contracts ending prematurely, was also a good year, thanks to me casting my net a bit wider
•I also continued to submit stock photos to Writer Pictures and I have a number of pages there now. The fact that I kept shooting increased my confidence and I intend to build on this
•I am almost halfway through the first draft of my detective novel, which I am determined to complete
•I started two new blogs on Tumblr, one dedicated to my photos and the other whose aim is to promote TRIPWIRE 21
So it had its ups and downs but it was a very packed year. So my aims for 2013 are almost as ambitious
•We shall be doing a TRIPWIRE 21st anniversary book through Kickstarter UK. It shall be up to pledge on by the middle of January and it will hopefully be a great celebration of the magazine’s 21st birthday, with the plan to release it sometime in May to launch at Bristol. There are also plans afoot to schedule some anniversary talks and events around London in 2013
•From the end of February, TRIPWIRE digital will be put out initially as a bi-monthly publication. It will cover comics, film, TV and genre in the same way that we have been doing it in the magazine, offering quality and depth while also making the content accessible. I am very excited to get started on this and if it works out, then we may do a print annual which will reprint the cream of the digital
•I probably will do some more photography books, both in print and as ebooks, as I have improved considerably since I started and really want to pursue some more photography projects
•I shall continue to populate the three blogs and the TRIPWIRE website with content as they all serve a slightly different purpose
•I shall follow up on a few nibbles from New York Comic Con, one of which may be the resurrection of a comic artists studio interviews book like Studio Space
•I shall finish the first draft of the Hanging Man detective novel
•I shall continue to submit photos to Writer Pictures
•I also intend to try and get my photos seen in a number of new places. The Gosh exhibition made me realise that there are an infinite number of opportunities regarding where to show off your work but you have to think laterally sometimes
I want to build on what I have achieved in 2012 and hopefully set some new goals. These blog posts at the end of the year are as much for me as for regular visitors to this blog. It helps to crystallise my own intentions if I consider what I’ve done professionally.
So 2013 is looking like another very fruitful year…
THE BLAND LEADING THE BLAND
In what will be the last film review post of 2012, here’s my review of Jack Reacher, the film adaptation of Lee Child’s successful book series. When it was announced that Tom Cruise would be tackling Child’s loner former military policeman, there was a big furore. Reacher is described by Child as being a man of a certain physical presence while Cruise, er, isn’t. Adapted from Child’s novel, One Shot, about an ex-army sniper who appears to have gone on an arbitrary killing spree, Jack Reacher is packed full of flaws. Before I start, while Child’s Reacher books are fun and very readable, they are still effectively pulp. So a film that successfully translates them onto the big screen didn’t need to be great art. Unfortunately, Christopher McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher, as McQuarrie is nominally the director, is a horrible mess. Starting with Cruise, the man has no screen personality here: he is bland, unengaging and unmemorable on screen. The height wouldn’t have been a problem if he brought any personality to Reacher but there is nothing there. And the problems don’t begin or end with Cruise either: McQuarrie is a very perfunctory director. It very much feels like he’s going through the motions. Support in the film isn’t much better. Rosamund Pike as lawyer Helen is just eye candy, emphasised by the number of scenes where we get to see her bending over to show off her cleavage. Werner Herzog as pantomime villain The Zec plays everything for laughs so he’s not remotely sinister either and Robert Duvall, usually a spectacular actor, appears to be sleepwalking here as Cash, the old guy who runs a gun range who decides to help Reacher out. The script doesn’t help either as it is so hackneyed and cliched and because McQuarrie is such a dull director, he can’t bring anything new to proceedings. Jack Reacher is laughably unoriginal, poorly directed and cursed with some of the worst performances I’ve seen this year. I hope that Lee Child was very well paid as it’s unlikely this will spawn a followup. I’m not even sure if it’s worth checking out when it comes to Blu-ray or DVD…
I’ve added a new blog to my repertoire, on Tumblr, which will just be focused on photography.
I’ve also set up a Bigcartel shop where people can buy A3 prints of my work. So if you’re looking for a last-minute Christmas present, then why not check it out?
SHORT ON INSPIRATION?
Peter Jackson’s three Lord of The Rings films dominated mainstream cinema last decade, offering a unique and exciting cinematic experience. So when it was announced that we would be seeing The Hobbit adapted to the big screen, I admit that I was interested to see what their approach would be. The film had a very chequered path to the screen, with MGM collapsing under the weight of its debts and director Guillermo Del Toro leaving the project. But at last The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is with us. At the screening I saw last Sunday, it was in 3D and at the 48 fps that has caused a little bit of controversy in the run-up to its release. The Hobbit is a far more slim book and one that is aimed at a younger audience than the Lord of The Rings, so it was always going to be problematic to give it the same sort of breadth and depth dramatically and emotionally as its three cinematic predecessors. I would like to preface my review by saying that I didn’t hate this first Hobbit film but there are flaws that need to be discussed. The plot is a simpler one than LOTR: a group of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), are brought to Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) by Gandalf (Ian McKellen returning) with the aim of reclaiming their kingdom of Erebor, which has been taken over by the evil dragon Smaug. Fate throws trolls and a group of vicious orcs, led by the White Orc, who defeated Thorin’s grandfather, King Thror, in the band’s path. Less is at stake here than Lord of The Rings, which does make it a less epic tale, so the question is whether there is enough meat on its bones to warrant another two presumably lengthy films? An Unexpected Journey has its pros and cons: Freeman is decent enough as Bilbo, Andy Serkis reprises his role as Gollum in the riddles in the dark scene, probably one of the stand-out sequences here, and Armitage as dwarf king in exile Thorin is suitably heroic and an interesting character. McKellen is always watchable and when he is on screen here, it does lift the film a little. The rest of the dwarves feel pretty interchangeable as they look similar and it’s hard to keep track of a dozen characters. Their slapstick antics are annoying on screen, although it’s easy to forget that this is pitched at a younger audience than its progenitors, so young children will probably enjoy it. Jackson and Boyens have shoehorned a trip to Rivendell into proceedings, which feels like an excuse to include elf queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) into proceedings and wizard Radagast (played by former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy) is a screen creation who really doesn’t work, coming across as oafish and laughable. The 3D is totally pointless as the visuals would have looked just as impressive in 2D and the 48 fps makes certain scenes look like you’ve just stepped into a 1970s BBC TV drama, taking you out of the action. Also, the battles lack any real emotional connection thanks to the 3D and they look artificial and unreal. Visually of course, there are some treats to be had (the goblin mine is nicely realised and we see a Rivendell in the fuller flush of its power).It feels like a film that outstays its welcome as the source material really doesn’t have enough to it to be able to flesh it out to a nine-hour extravaganza. They will really need to ramp up proceedings with the second film if they are going to come anywhere close to justifying this as a trilogy. I was a big fan of the three other films, especially The Two Towers but they all had something, and I was genuinely disappointed by the efforts here. It may work better in 2D and at the regular frame rate and it will keep young children amused but The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 3D and at 48fps is a three-star film…
THE GREATEST ESCAPE
Before Goldfinger and Funeral in Berlin, Guy Hamilton directed The Colditz Story, which arguably created the template which every other POW camp film followed. Released in 1955, and based on PR Reid’s account of the prison in Germany which was designed to hold Allied prisoners of war who had attempted to escape from every other prison they were held in, The Colditz Story is released at last on Blu-ray thanks to Studio Canal. A phenomenal cast that includes John Mills (as Reid himself), Lionel Jeffries, Bryan Forbes and Anton Diffring, Hamilton displays the deft hand he has with actors and script that he showed to great effect in his later work. The tension between the various Allied camps (British, French and American) is palpable and it is well paced and exciting. The members of the cast acquit themselves well although perhaps it is John Mills who stands out here. Accompanying the film is a fascinating documentary about the real Colditz, a menacing German castle, and the various escapees over the years, which makes you realise that, despite the fact that some of the escapes in the film seem outlandish, the truth is sometimes even more unbelievable. The Colditz Story is an important and seminal British film which deserves its Blu-ray release and the transfer is crisp and clear. For anyone who has seen The Great Escape, the TV series Colditz from the early seventies or anything else that covers similar ground and wants to see the progenitor of the Second World War POW camp movie, this is the grandaddy of them all…
JUST A SPECTATOR?
I don’t normally respond to the mainstream newspapers writing about comics and graphic novels but I read a piece by Giles Coren on the Spectator website, published on 1st December, that made me want to write something here. He takes issue in his column about the Man Booker Prize shortlisting graphic novels in this year’s awards. Interestingly, when I read it the first time, I thought it was just a negative criticism of the comic form but reading it again, its satirical intentions are a little bit clearer. Here’s two paragraphs taken from Coren’s piece:
“They are basically for -children, and for men (yes, men, really, men) who are a bit too thick to read proper books, as I was for many years, and still sometimes am, like if I’m tired or hungover or on a plane.“
This might have been the case twenty years ago but now comics and especially graphic novels are read by a cross section of people, men, women and those who are well-read, who read a diet of everything from literary fiction to comics. It is arguable that we are living in a golden age of quality graphic novels: just go into Gosh in London or any other quality comic shop, you will see shelf upon shelf of intelligent, erudite and broad comic reading material.
I have read comics for about thirty years now and I also read novels from the likes of Hemingway, Graham Greene, Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler. There are things you can do in graphic novels that are either very hard or nigh on impossible to do in prose. I do enjoy novels though as I have been a voracious reader since I was a child and I would miss my hit of prose too.
I get the sense that the sentence I just quoted is purely in there to incense the reader and get Giles Coren a few more visitors to his blog. It’s lazy and inaccurate and something that doesn’t hold up to any sort of scrutiny. Ironically the rest of the piece makes a decent stab at what Coren is actually trying to say: that literary prizes are actually meaningless and graphic novels don’t need them.
Despite the case that this may well be true, attracting attention outside of the comics industry may drive the mainstream reader to pick up work by Chris Ware, Alison Bechdel, Bryan Talbot and Daniel Clowes and this can only be a good thing.
Giles Coren is a competent journalist but he has come unstuck here and since the column has incensed a number of people in the comics industry, perhaps he should research his columns more thoroughly before he submits them for publication, whether in print or online.
Here’s the link if you wanted to read what he said