A LOOK BACK AND A LOOK FORWARD

As this is the last day of 2014, as I have done the last few years, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at 2014 and think about plans for next year. 2014 was a pretty good year:

•I did some more work for Comic Heroes and for Imagine FX, although with Comic Heroes gone, after four years there won’t be any more work for them. I also got an article in Esquire Weekly, although sadly that has closed.

•I did some more work for digital magazine Cult TV Times and we almost struck a deal for TRIPWIRE. But with the future of CTT uncertain, it is not that likely that this will com to fruition.

•Speaking of TRIPWIRE, the digital edition was launched and didn’t really do what it was supposed to do. The TRIPWIRE 21st anniversary book from 2013 didn’t work out the way we’d planned either so we have put TRIPWIRE to one side for the moment.

•I moved the blog from blogspot to here, which does look a lot nicer.

•On the subbing front, I had a big chunk of freelance work that saw me through from February to the end of November for a variety of different places which was good.

•Regarding my photography, I made a few small sales on RedBubble and I got myself a new SLR, which should keep me going for a few years. Despite the fact that they were only a few sales, they were more sales than I made when I first signed up with RB a few years ago. I also put a load of new photos up on flickr.

•I got to 10,000 words of a second draft with my detective novel, which I am proud that I managed to achieve this.

So 2015 is upon us and there are a number of things I intend to do (this blog post is as much a plan for myself as it is a look back)

•With my instagram account now up and running, I shall be sticking photos up there regularly.

•I have registered tripwiremagazine.co.uk and from around February this year, we shall be sticking stuff up on it on a regular basis, so we can keep TRIPWIRE out there and I can keep my hand in.

•I’ll be doing more with my photography including putting more up on Redbubble and looking at the logistics of putting on a photo exhibition funded by crowdfunding.

•I’ll be doing more with my fiction including finishing the second draft and getting through a third draft to send to an agent.

•I shall still be freelancing, writing for whoever will accept my pitches and subbing, but I’ll be casting my net wider for other freelance work like photo retouching and graphic design, building on a book project I designed in 2014.

I have a lot of plans for next year and hopefully some of them will happen.

To everyone who visits here, have a great New Year and I’ll see you in 2015…

BREAKING THE HOBBIT

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So after three years, we have The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies, director Peter Jackson’s final Tolkien adaptation. What is interesting is that the three Hobbit films have mirrored their Lord Of The Rings predecessors. An Unexpected Journey was alright but dragged quite badly, while The Desolation of Smaug was much better than the first film with a stronger script. The Battle of The Five Armies ends the Dwarf quest to retake their homeland of Erebor from the clutches of the evil dragon Smaug but there is the small matter of defeating the Orc armies led by Azog (Manu Bennett). With a  running time of only two hours and twenty minutes, it feels quite brisk compared with its progenitors but while it does wrap things up fairly well and sets things up for Lord of The Rings, it feels a little bit lightweight. The main battle doesn’t feel as epic and as grand as the battles in Lord of The Rings and the tension created by Jackson in something like the battle for Helm’s Deep in the Two Towers is absent here. Freeman is good as Bilbo and McKellen is always decent on screen but the sense of threat we had in the Lord of The Rings films feels like it’s missing here. It’s not a bad film by any means and if you enjoyed the other two, then this will neatly conclude the story for you. It will be interesting to see if Jackson can move away from Tolkien and try something different. A pleasant enough two and a half hours…

ARTFULLY DONE

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Over the last few years, IDW Publishing have created a unique niche with their Artist’s Edition series, showcasing the best in comics in a large format. Manhunter and Other Stories Artist’s Edition by Walter Simonson represents the classic series where Simonson, with writer and co-creator Archie Goodwin, made his name and got noticed by the comics industry. Despite the fact that it was published back in 1972 in the pages of Detective Comics, early on in Simonson’s career, it is still a magnificent story. Goodwin and Simonson channelled James Bond and brought Eastern weaponry and sensibilities to bear in a story that predates what Miller did in Daredevil by a number of years. And despite the fact that Simonson was an inexperienced artist at this point, it is still fantastic to admire every stroke of his linework at the larger format. And you can see a real development between the first chapter and the last, Gotterdammerung, which guest-starred Batman. By the time you read the silent postscript story here which was published years later, you can see just how accomplished and exceptional an artist Simonson has become. There’s not just Manhunter here also: it also reprints Captain Fear written by David Michelinie, Detective Comics 450 with Elliott Maggin, Doctor Fate by Martin Pasko and even Metal Men written by none other than Steve Gerber. Simonson is a true original and IDW with editor Scott Dunbier have created the ultimate celebration of Simonson’s DC work. For fans of Simonson, this is a must-buy book…

PULP FRICTIONS

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James Ellroy is a class act. There are very few of the old school American noir writers still around, with the death of Elmore Leonard. Only Lawrence Block springs to mind. So Ellroy’s new novel Perfidia, set in (where else) Los Angeles just before and just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The book sees two policemen, William H Parker, a captain with a  drinks problem, and Sergeant Dudley Smith, an ex-IRA killer, go head to head to solve the murders of a Japanese family in a city hellbent on revenge after the Japanese attack. Ellroy throws beautiful young dilettante Kay Lake and Japanese police chemist Hideo Ashida into the mix as well as a number of other LA policemen, members of the triad and real-life Hollywood actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. It’s an incredibly dense book and it is testament to Ellroy’s skill that he manages to keep most of the balls in the air throughout. However, it is a little too long, clocking in at nearly 700 pages in hardcover and so it does feel like it would be a stronger book with some judicious editing. Perfidia is an impressive piece of work perfect for aficionados of crime and thrillers and despite its flaws, it is still well worth picking up…Perfidia cover

SOUL POWER?

get_on_up_xlgBiopics are by their very nature formulaic and so it’s very hard to break out of that formula. If it’s someone in the music industry, it’s usually a story that starts with abject poverty, moves onto huge wealth and then ends in tragedy. Get On Up tells the story of the Godfather of Soul James Brown but director Tate Taylor (The Help) does try to play with the formula a little bit. Chadwick Boseman, the future Black Panther in Marvel’s forthcoming movie, plays the lead role as a larger-than-life man who managed to break out of his desperately poor South Carolina background to pull himself up by his bootstraps to become a  huge success in the world of popular music. Taylor injects some genuinely amusing scenes into proceedings, mostly keeping the tone light, which helps pass its two hours and twenty minute running time pretty effortlessly, and Boseman does have real charisma on screen, channeling the real James Brown with some skill. The director does move around from Brown’s childhood to his later life in a non-linear fashion but it does keep the structure a little more interesting. We see Brown in Vietnam, Brown being pursued by the police later in life and the singer making his name. There is an impressive supporting cast that includes Dan Aykroyd as his manager Ben Bart and Nelsan Ellis as his right hand man Bobby Byrd. Brandon Smith as Little Richard, who Brown encounters early on his career too, puts in an impressive performance too. The film is produced by Mick Jagger and there is a knowing but entertaining scene where Brown is seen supporting the Rolling Stones, a band that he dismisses as being a flash in the pan. Some of the more negative aspects of Brown’s life like his violence towards women is skirted around but mostly Get On Up is an accomplished and likeable biopic of a major player in music. Boseman is obviously an actor to watch and this film will help increase his profile…

NOT AN INTERSTELLAR EFFORT

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SPOILER WARNING

Very few films warrant long running times. Epics like Lawrence of Arabia or The Godfather justify breaking the two-hour mark. Director Christopher Nolan seems to have made a career out of very long films but he has managed thanks to the commercial success of the three Batman films to put himself in an envied position in modern Hollywood. Interstellar is a film that has been eagerly awaited, looking like an intelligent sci fi film with an impressive cast and the sort of visual flourishes that Nolan has become associated with. The world has been hit by a terrible disaster, wiping out the crops and obliterating technology. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former engineer who has turned his hand to farming. His life changes when he encounters Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a scientist with a plan to save Earth by sending a team in a rocket through a wormhole to find a new planet for us to colonise. But of course, nothing is what it seems and Cooper discovers that the professor’s plan has some major flaws. Anne Hathaway plays Brand’s daughter Amelia, who accompanies Cooper on the mission. Interstellar is a fairly ambitious film and some of it looks stunning. The cinematography by Hoyt Van Hoytema is spectacular and Nathan Crowley’s production design, with its nods to classics like 2001 and Alien, is superb but there are some serious problems with Interstellar. Clocking in at just shy of three hours, the film drags in several places and what begins as an intriguing concept becomes quite tiresome in places. It would have been a better film if it had a tighter running time. The other problem, which is arguably a more major one, is that the plot is filled with holes and you get a mcguffin that is foreshadowed but just doesn’t really make any sense. Just like Inception, or perhaps more so, Nolan and his brother love the idea they have created here but they don’t really know how to wrap it all up. McConaughey is very good here, Caine is wasted and Hathaway is bland and annoying. It does have its moments but these mostly occur in the first half of the film. John Lithgow appears but is also wasted because he disappears early on in the film. There is also a sizeable Matt Damon cameo in the film. The brothers have set up an interesting premise about a world riven by a blight but the cause is not explained satisfactorily for the viewers. Interstellar feels like a three hour EC or Twilight Zone story with a poorly executed pay off. It will be interesting to see just how well it does. Nolan is a talented director but here he has been given too much freedom and so we end up with a film that wants to be groundbreaking and seminal but is just a very frustrating failure. A shame really…

ON THE SHELF OCTOBER 2014

batman noir long halloween cover comics-grandville-noel-artworkUntil TRIPWIRE returns as a website hopefully in the new year, I’ll continue to post reviews and material here that would normally be in TRIPWIRE. First up is Grandeville: Noel, the fourth book in Bryan Talbot’s anthropomorphic graphic novel series starring Detective Inspector LeBrock. Talbot is a rare talent: able to write and draw, he brings a number of unique influences to bear (pardon the pun) in his work. Grandville: Noel deals with LeBrock being hired to find a missing girl, only to get embroiled in the machinations of a sinister cult. Grandville: Noel, like its three predecessors, is the work of a truly accomplished mature comics creator and Talbot manages to channel a number of illustrative inspirations in his work here. Exciting, satirical and smart, Grandville: Noel is a worthy addition to fans of graphic novels, Bryan Talbot and adventure…

Next is Batman Noir: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, where DC represents the acclaimed Batman story in stark black and white. There is a murderer killing criminals in Gotham and each murder has a holiday theme. Loeb has never been better, introducing rival crime families the Maronis and the Falcones while showing a city on the edge of an abyss. We have seen tales of Gotham in its earlier incarnations but it has never been so magnificently realised  before or since. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Sale’s brilliant simple but effective art, bringing the world of Batman to life with rare skill. The Long Halloween was a great read in colour but there’s something even more elegant about seeing it in pure black and white. For people who have enjoyed the story before, reading it in monochrome lends a whole new dimension…

www.dcentertainment.com

www.randomhouse.co.uk

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND 2014

Street-trader-near-the-Javits-closeup-New-York-12-Oct-2014-grey josh-hale-fialkov-nycc-2014-10th-oct-2014-pic#1-grey Dean-Haspiel-nycc2014-12th-oct-2014-grey Homeless-man-near-Javits-Center-New-York-10th-Oct-2014-closeup-grey-pic# generic-crowd-shot-medium-nycc-2014-09th-oct-2014-pic#1 Street-trader-near-Javits-Center-New-York-US-11th-Oct-2014-grey Penguin-gotham-nycc-2014-pic-12th-oct-2014-pic#1-col Doc-Ock-cosplayer-nycc2014-11th-Oct-2014-col captain-america-nycc-2014-cosplay-col richard-taylor-nycc-2014 Death-cosplay-nycc2014 captain-america-cosplayer-nycc-2014-10th-oct-2014-pic#1I have been going to New York Comic Con since 2006 and I have been going to the city itself since I was about six years old. The show has grown from a small one of around 10,000 people to a huge event. I went this year to cover some TV for Cult TV Times and to catch up with a few friends. I was lucky enough to stay with Walt and Louise Simonson, who I have known for about a decade, and they were kind enough to let me stay in their house. This year’s show felt a little strange as it was the first one I’d been to without my friend Bill Baker, who sadly passed away in Feb this year, and Comic Heroes has ended so there were no interviews for them. But it was still a very enjoyable show as my friend David Baillie, who is now embarking on something for one of the big publishers, was present, as was my friend Murphy, who is a great artist but his day job means that time is tight for him to devote much time to drawing. Other things have changed since I started coming too: I have been getting more into my photography too so I was keen to get some candid street photography as well as a few portrait photos at the show. It’s impossible to cover everything here so this will just scratch the surface. On Thursday, I had lunch with my friend Mark Chiarello at DC, and it’s always great to see him. At the show, I did my interview with the very talented Richard Taylor from Weta, who I hadn’t seen since around 2010 and that was a pleasure. That evening I grabbed dinner with Ketan, who I know from this side of the water. On Friday I went to the Paley Center to see the first episode of the new 12 Monkeys TV series and a Q&A that SyFy put on. It is hard to tell whether this spin-off from the Terry Gilliam film will work but it looks like it has potential so we’ll see. I did a roundtable with the cast and crew on Saturday as well. On Saturday I had a meeting with Steve Saffel at Titan about some potential book projects and we’ll see if they happen. I did get to do a  roundtable for Constantine on Sat too which went alright except there was one girl who monopolised the roundtable and behaved like a total pain in the arse. I did get some good content though. That night, I got to catch up with Mike Kaluta for dinner uptown and it was great to see him. On Sunday I did roundtables for Gotham and The Following, both of which went very well. Then I grabbed dinner with Murphy and David Baillie, which was a nice end cap to the show. There were loads of people I was hoping to see at the show but it has got so huge now that it’s very difficult to see everyone you want to. It has reached the point where it’s almost too large for it to be worthy my while going to which is a real shame as it is still an enjoyable show. We’ll see. Here’s a selection of photos from the show and from New York in general…

MURDER IN MIND?

enhanced-buzz-wide-384-1406873867-8Gone Girl was a huge novel when it was published back in 2012. Gillian Flynn’s book has been adapted by big-name Hollywood director David Fincher. I admit that I have never read the book so I am coming to this adaptation cold. Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a journalist who comes home one day to find that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has disappeared in very mysterious circumstances. The finger of suspicion seems to point at Nick but as the investigation progresses, the waters are muddied and it is uncertain which is the guilty part here. Affleck is very good as Dunne but Pike steals the show here as his complex wife and the audience is drawn into the emotional rollercoaster and the question of whether Nick did kill his wife. Fincher does a good job of holding it all together and there is solid support from the likes of Tyler Perry as media manipulator Tanner Bolt and Carrie Coon as Nick’s put-upon sister Margo. Despite a running time of two and a half hours, Gone Girl never outstays its welcome. It is a smart, sophisticated and intelligent thriller with a decent pay-off. Affleck continues to show that he is one of the best actors currently operating in modern Hollywood and this film also shows off the best of Fincher’s considerable skills. The first quality thriller of the autumn…

ARTFULLY DONE

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Hyperluminal_coverTitan Books have been a part of British comics for decades now and at one point, they were best known as bringing DC’s output to the UK. When Titan lost that DC content, it wasn’t certain how they would continue. But the company has reinvented itself, generated new comic content and also bringing out an increasing line of Art Of books. The two latest titles are The Art of Jim Burns: Hyperluminal and The Art of Greg Spalenka: Visions From The Mind’s Eye. Both books are lavish hardcovers but the two artists couldn’t be more different in terms of their style. The Art of Jim Burns takes a look at the impressive career of British science fiction genius Burns, whose work has graced book covers by the likes of sci fi and fantasy giants like George R R Martin, Anne McCaffrey, Joe Haldeman and Robert Silverberg, to name but a few. The book has a commentary running through it, which does help to contextualise Burns’ work and gives the readers an idea of which point in his career we are talking about. Reproduction here is magnificent and it really shows off just what a master of science fiction art Burns is, able to create new worlds of imagination with his  brush strokes. His work on fantasy covers is slightly less accomplished as he seems to be a little less comfortable in the fantasy world. But this is a very minor quibble. Burns is a uniquely talented artist and it is great to see a book that celebrates that…

Greg Spalenka is a very different artist indeed to Burns. He is an American illustrator who is more in the painterly traditions of the Old Masters, the Pre-Raphaelites and also the hordes of talented 20th century American illustrators and artists. His work follows the lineage of the Wyeths, Dean Cornwell and the British Victorian painters. The Art  of Greg Spalenka shows off the versatility of this man, who is as comfortable drawing Mike Tyson as he is working on Narnia film The Voyage of The Dawn Treader. There is a beautiful elegant simplicity to Spalenka’s work and this format, a slightly oversized hardcover, does do his magnificent paintings full justice. There is a little commentary here but perhaps the work speaks for itself a little more here. The design here manages to reflect Spalenka’s approach as an artist and it does give you a feel of the way he works.

So while I am reviewing both books together, I am in no way comparing the works of the two artists. They are both exceptional practitioners in their own fields and both of these books are welcome additions to the library of anyone who is an aficionado of modern illustrative art…