In The Gutter

At some point today, I am reliably informed, X&HTowers will have it’s first dedicated e-reader. Sure, TLC and I both have laptops and iPhones, which are both perfectly capable display vectors, but she wanted something bigger than the phone, smaller than the Macbook. Plus, she’s a geek of the highest order and loves her tech.

Of course, in the process of researching which model to go for (no Kindle on the list, BTW. My wife likes it opensource. No wait, that came out wrong) I started considering the possibility of putting comic content on the device. Which got me thinking about digital comics in general.

The major and minor players are already pushing digital content hard, and in a hurried and unthoughtful way. Obviously reading from a screen is a whole different experience to picking up a book and flicking through it. It’s clear that there’s no way to replicate that experience on an e-reader. But what I’m seeing is a rush to completely rethink and reformat the way comics work, forcing them to fit the screen.  Alex De Campi on Bleeding Cool has already written insightfully about how this is likely to work. I can see the advantages, of course, (not least the financial benefits to the creators) but speaking as a consumer there’s still something missing when you’re forced to read a narrative panel by panel. It’s like trying to read a book when the formatting is set to one paragraph per page.

There’s less of a sense of flow, and certainly no way to expand and contract scale, say by moving from a tight 9-panel page to one with a single image. There are tricks you can play with pacing, sure, and tweaking for the Japanese market becomes slightly less of a pain but… I dunno. I’ve not seen an iPhone comic yet that’s been a satisfying experience, and downloads onto the laptop just feel cheap. I view them more as previews to see if I’m likely to want to invest in the comic or trade when it comes out in the real world.

And don’t get me started on motion comics. The bastard son of Crash Cargo-level animation and bad audiobook readings, I’m dumbfounded by any suggestion that this mongrel format is in any way the future of The Ninth Art. I watched a version of Brian Bendis’ Spiderwoman that had perhaps three frames in it, and a conversation between two characters on the top deck of a bus that seemed to go on for an hour and a half. Pretty impressive for a fifteen minute clip. I swear, I popped out to make a cup of tea and came back to find the same frame playing that had been on the screen when I left. This shit ain’t comics. It certainly isn’t entertaining.

I may be coming across here as something of a Luddite. In which case – good. I’ve not finished yet, either. Last week, on one of my increasingly rare trips to Forbidden Planet, I came across a title that quite genuinely had my head spinning with the possibilities.

I found the DC Wednesday Comics, and I fell in love.

The Wednesday Comics hearken back to the age of the comics section included in every big American Sunday paper. Broadsheet sized, and therefore able to cram a heck of a lot of story into a single-page strip. This was the place where Will Eisner’s Spirit blazed a trail, and where the story-telling techniques of masters like Alex Raymond and Chester Gould dropped through the mailbox of millions of American homes every weekend. In the UK, we’ve never really had anything like it. Our broadsheets simply don’t have the girth of the American heavies.

So, the Wednesday Comics have tweaked that look and feel for the modern audience, and the genius part is that they’ve made it transformable. It racks as an A4 (ish, I don’t have the proper dimensions to hand so I’m using shorthand) booklet, which then folds out to A3. Each single-page strip has an A3 page to itself, and in the centre two strips share a single unfolded sheet of A2.

Coffee Mug For Scale
Coffee Mug For Scale

Are we seeing the possibilities yet? I see a story that can go from small and intimate to absurdly widescreen within a sixteen page spread. I can see stories where scale can be reined up and down with abandon. It’s a neat, flexible way to get huge swathes of art and story into a pocketable form. Plus, it’s printed on lovely tactile newspaper, the kind of stock that most Brit comics were on when I was a kid and buying them regularly. I’d love to see Paul Grist do something in this format with his Jack Staff or Kane universe. Screw it, I’d like to see Rebellion do some 20o0AD spinoffs on newsprint. A new Cursed Earth maybe. Certainly, I remember Dredd back when it was in the centre pages and started every episode with a big splash page. Dinosaurs, robots and mutants rampaging across a huge sheet of paper.

It was cheap, it was lurid, and above all it was fun.

Let me throw down my cards, let me show you the cut of my jib, and the lining of my jacket. I don’t like digital comics. I don’t think they work as the fetish objects that comics should be. It kills the magic. It sucks out the joy. It turns art into graphics files. It turns the process of reading into a linear, stilted and over-directed chore. It turns the magic of what happens in the gutter between every frame into a LOADING message.

Fuck that. The best and brightest stuff on the web will eventually find it’s way onto print, and there it will finally find it’s true home. I talk about Warren Ellis a lot on this site, and it’s telling that his web project with the brilliant Paul Duffield, FREAKANGELS, would always preview on the web before making it to print in an expanded and collectible edition. Sure, you can read it for free online, but it’s not the same. He, and other writers I admire like Cory Doctorow have long been exponents and advocates of the web as a place where content can be tasted and sampled before you, the discerning consumer, complete the cycle, and dump some cash on an object that’s nourishing to the soul. An OBJECT, not a file.

Let’s put it like this. X&HTowers is home to a pair of techy geeks, and yet it is a place groaning with bookshelves full of tatty paperbacks and vinyl records. A place where a fat internet pipe cannot compete with music, booze, a book and quiet conversation. Sometimes, it seems that we are the McLuhanist dream. We are a place where the medium really is the message.

A Few Recommendations

Darwyn Cookes “Parker” adaptation, the only one approved by Donald Westgate (and that’s including the masterful Point Blank)  is on bookshelves NOW, and there is a preview of the first twenty pages here.

To reiterate what I was saying in my last post, Templar, Arizona is one of the most consistently surprising, innovative and imaginative comics I’ve read in a long time, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Start here.

You all read Diesel Sweeties, right? Rich Stevens has been a mainstay of my feeds for years, and he is just an unstoppable joke machine. No? Well, everything to date is up on his site as downloadable PDFs. Essential for all your sexy robot needs.

Adam Curtis is the alchemist of archive film. His latest, “It Felt Like A Kiss” will give you chills as he tracks where we are now to a tightly interwoven set of coincidence and dodgy interventionist foreign policy. Wildly funny, deeply unnerving. Free on the iPlayer.

In case you think I’ve been slacking off reading comics and surfing the interwebs well… you’re right. But. The observant amongst you may have noticed a couple of minor tweaks to the site. I’m also knee deep in a new short story that I’m really excited about.

Oh yeah. And we have us a summerhouse now. We raised it ourselves. Greetings from Copse End.

A quick one from Warren Ellis

This is the text of a speech Warren Ellis gave earlier in the month on the subject of comics. And it absolutely nails the reasons that I love this medium more than any other. It’s purity, it’s honesty, it’s speed of response mean that you can do things in a comic form that would either be impossible or unfeasibly expensive otherwise. Give it a read. If only for the jokes about Grant Morrison and the brown acid.

Here We Go Again

Regular members of The Readership will recall my posts late last year on the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, and it’s attack on free speech as pertaining so called “violent pornography”.

Well, as expected, that bill passed and is now being used to protect us against something else that isn’t a threat.

And this time it’s really personal.

The fuckers are going after comics.

The problem arises around this Bill used in conjunction with Section 49 of the Coroners And Justice Bill, currently being reviewed before making it’s way to the Lords. Take a look:

(1)
It is an offence for a person to be in possession of a prohibited image of a child.

(2)
A prohibited image is an image which—
(a)
is pornographic,
(b)
falls within subsection (6), and
(c)
is grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character.

(3) An image is “pornographic” if it is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal.

(4) Where (as found in the person’s possession) an image forms part of a series of images, the question whether the image is of such a nature as is mentioned in

subsection (3) is to be determined by reference to—
(a) the image itself, and
(b) (if the series of images is such as to be capable of providing a context for the image) the context in which it occurs in the series of images.

(5) So, for example, where—
(a) an image forms an integral part of a narrative constituted by a series of images, and
(b) having regard to those images as a whole, they are not of such a nature that they must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal, the image may, by virtue of being part of that narrative, be found not to be pornographic, even though it might have been found to be pornographic if taken by itself.

(6) An image falls within this subsection if it—
(a) is an image which focuses solely or principally on a child’s genitals or anal region, or
(b) portrays any of the acts mentioned in subsection (7).

(7) Those acts are—
(a) the performance by a person of an act of intercourse or oral sex with or in the presence of a child;
(b) an act of masturbation by, of, involving or in the presence of a child;
(c) an act which involves penetration of the vagina or anus of a child with a part of a person’s body or with anything else;
(d) an act of penetration, in the presence of a child, of the vagina or anus of a person with a part of a person’s body or with anything else;
(e) the performance by a child of an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive or imaginary);
(f) the performance by a person of an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive or imaginary) in the presence of a child.

Got all that? Anyone see the problem yet?
Well, as with the CJIB last year, the issue is with the distressingly vague terms with which the terms are couched. That old chestnut “must reasonably be assumed to” creeps into the text on more than one occasion. And of course “grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character.” That really ties it down, don’t it? My idea of grossly offensive is, I will bet you anything you like, different to my neighbour, the nice lady at the petrol station or the average copper who has to try and make sense out of this lax, lazy attempt at anti-child porn legislation.

In fact, it gets almost surreal. Please, reread section 7, subsection (e) and (f). And then shed a tear for the unicorns.

Let me make it simple for you. A drawing of a child is not a child. A drawing of a character that looks child-like is not a child. A drawing of that character engaged in pursuits and endeavours of an adult nature is still not a child. Tell you what, you tell me. How old is Astro Boy?

F0D6D49F-FF03-4701-8310-813AFDB7D612.jpg

How about Princess from Battle of The Planets?

2B8880E5-4A3F-4FAD-AB19-E4BF4E5369C0.jpg
(incidentally, this pic was hosted on the BBC Cult website, which described it as… oh, see for yourself).

One more, as noted on the Comic Shop Voice website when mentioning the even more bothersome Section 52, which states:

(6) Where an image shows a person the image is to be treated as an image of a child if the impression conveyed by the image is that the person is shown as a child.

B6248BD4-FF91-4FD3-ABE0-7259ABB75B0A.jpg

and for comparison…

A8C3F15D-B3E1-4655-A2D3-157965D4C523.jpg

(which I ganked from the Daily Mail website, who seem more than happy to print this kind of pic. Actually, linky to the whole page for more pics with kid actors underneath, which viewed out of context could be seen to be highly inappropriate.)

So, yet again, another piece of badly thought out, poorly examined and potentially ruinous legislation from a government that is passing laws that seek to criminalise me with every passing month.

Seriously. I own a copy of Lost Girls. Under the new laws, that makes me a criminal. God only knows what that makes Alan Moore.

Links for you to read include Comic Shop Voice who have a more detailed and much angrier version of the argument, and The Comic Book Alliance, a force for good in the industry. The Register have a very good (ie effing terrifying) version of events here.

There’s a big meet in Brighton about the whole situation this Monday. Bleeding Cool have the details. Worth lending your support.

A Day Of Tweaks And Noodling

Off sick today, which is always a bore. I’ve been pretty much stuck upstairs, shuttling between the bedroom and the loo (don’t ask, really, unpretty situation.)

Which leads, of course, to a day of Rob’s favourite pastime, Fannying Around On The Laptop. Listen to the author’s squeals of joy as he archives off 10 gigs worth of ephemera to the external drives! Rejoice with him as he gets Last.fm working along with Growl, and spends the day watching a window pop up on his desktop every time a new song plays! Gasp in near-orgasmic wonder as he … oh, you get the idea. Geeking out is what I do, and it can sometimes be good to have the excuse to do nothing but for a day.

So, concerning the local amenities, I’ve juggled things around eso slightly. There’s now a Last.fm list widget, so that you too can enjoy my musical “tastes”. I prefer to call them eclectic, although the accusation often levelled is “schizophrenic.”

Philistines.

There’s also a Facebook widget, and updates to the blog will now appear as new Notes in my FB profile. Sharp-eyed readers may notice a change to the quote in the header, and really sharp-eyed observers will note I’ve tweaked the logo. Notice I have resisted the temptation to stick a lightning bolt in the middle of it.

There’s been a few updates to the growing pile of juicy content in the writing rooms. Satan’s Schoolgirls will always update on a Sunday, so Chapter 5 has just gone up. I upped a new short story Saint Charlie to the Short Fiction room earlier this week, and I’m rather proud of it. Any updates to the fiction or film room will always be noted in This Week’s Special, the text box to the top right.

A couple of interesting links, because obvs I sent a chunk of time hitting the feeds today.

The guys at scans_daily came up with the goods again, with a wonderful piece by Darko Macan, about a bookshop that has every volume in the world … excpet one. The ending is just heartbreaking.

"Mister Bookseller"

Finally, as a writer, I am by definition a language technician. My chosen language (or rather the one that circumstance and to a certain amount laziness has forced onto me) is one of the most illogical and eccentric on the planet. With a vaudvillian twinkle, Ed Rondthaler takes us through a few of the pitfalls and pratfalls that the English language has in store for us.

(Youtube vid, better quality here)

Rice Boy

E7AB001E-DD26-40A2-A411-B8BE03929495.jpg

Following a recommendation from Katherine Farmer at the Forbidden Planet Blog, I’ve just spent the morning reading Evan Dahm’s Rice Boy.

It’s an extraordinary, surreal, moving and thoughtful tale, telling the story of the titular Rice Boy, a limbless, mushroom-like blob, and his quest to prevent a war and save his world.

The artwork is lush, while still remaining accessibly cartoony, and the story twists and turns, leading to an epic climax with a twist that I genuinely couldn’t see coming. I’m reminded in a very good way of Lewis Trondheim’s Donjon books. It’s a genuinely all-ages story, with enough to keep an inquisitively-minded reader absorbed for hours. I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

The good news is that while you can read Rice Boy for free on Evan’s site, you can also now buy it in a lush hard back edition with tons of extras. For 18 quid, it looks like a bit of a bargain, and a perfect example of the new try-before-you-buy self-publishing model that I’ve banged on about in the past before.

Speaking of which, the trade of the first arc of Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield’s Freakangels is out soon…

(Via Forbidden Planet.)