A rare pic of the author in his natural habitat

“Whose stupid idea was this novel upload thing anyway. Bloody Cory Doctorow mumblmumblCreativebleedinCommonsmumblemumble…””: “

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(Via WFMUs Beware of the Blog.)

The Ugly Truth About The Ugly Truth

It’s been an unsettling few weeks for me. 2008 has become The Year Of Change in a lot of ways, and many of the people I’m closest to have changed careers or moved on in some way. I’m not immune to that process. I’ve been at risk of redundancy for the last couple of months. That’s fortunately no longer a problem, but my workplace and responsibilities have changed, and pretty rapidly. I can’t really discuss what I’ll be doing over the next 18 months or so. Let’s just say it’s a decent sized project for a very prestigious client, and it’s extremely flattering that my name was the first one discussed to spearhead it.

Nonetheless, the situation has got me thinking. With the changes at work, and being without a computer for a fat chunk of June, I’m reappraising my online and creative life. In short, I need to get some shit done, and the blog needs to reflect that. I was reading a post Warren Ellis put up recently regarding the way blogs need to be more than simple linkdumps if they’re to be of worth. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, although I try to avoid the obvious stuff and give a link a little context. The rapid spread of a meme online is of course a part of why the internet is so important. But as Warren says, there are plenty of places to find an instant web hit of funnitude. I’ve got an RSS reader full of that stuff, and The Ugly Truth does not need to be that place.

So, here’s what I’m thinking. I claim to be a writer of fiction, and TUT needs to be a place where I can showcase that. It’s entirely likely that I will completely retask the blog into a proper website over the next couple of months, featuring new and archive writing. In the meantime, I will attempt to throw up some flash fiction (under 1000 words) and, for your delight and delectation I will also begin serialising my first novel SATAN’S SCHOOLGIRLS. At the end of that run, I should be in a position to offer a paperback copy with original cover artwork at a knockdown price. My toedip into the waters of the new self-publishing business model.

All this starting on Monday, presuming that I’m done watching season 4 of The Wire of course…

Nirvana

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That’s me sorted. then…:

This is a pretty brand new cafe located at 3030 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. The parking log signs in back says the cafe’s name is ‘Chaya & Total Relax’ but this pix is of the sign out front.

Lots of tables, tons of magazines and manga comic books, smoothies, coffees, boba milk tea, and unique selection of Japanese cuisine. Free wifi. Internet terminals available. 2 fancy electronic massage chairs were available for free use with a button-filled console almost as complicated as the starship Enterprise. Membership for something I didn’t recognize b/c I don’t read Japanese.

They don’t have a business card yet, and don’t have a takeout menu. Hours from 11:30am to 1:00am (or later).

At a loss without a laptop.

The Blackbook chose the ideal time to blow up on me. In a week when Barack Obama finally made the Democratic nominations, Bo Diddley died and its still only Wednesday, I’m reduced to blogging on the phone and blagging time on Clare’s Book. Which is tricky at the best of times, and almost impossible when she’s in the throes of organising a massive international get-together for fifty of her closest friends. I am both GAAAH and AAARGH. Keep an eye on the Twitter feed, and stay tuned for further developments.

(let’s not embarrass ourselves by suggesting I use the work PCs, eh? I do have standards…)

The Ugly Truth About Drinking On The Tube

Is anyone surprised that a Facebook-inspired party/jaunt/misguided freedom of expression demo turned into a drunken brawl that closed five tube stations on Saturday night?

Nah. Me neither. There is little worse than a drunk on the Tube. Best case scenario – boozy wibbling. Worst case scenario – vom. I, dear reader, have been guilty of both, and I apologise unreservedly to anyone that has had to witness my excesses over the years.

Yes, OK, there is a valid point to be made that the only way to make make the Circle Line bearable is being several pints in the bag. Yes, OK, there is an element of nanny statism about the pronouncement, and it’s rushed implimentation was almost guaranteed to bring on the pitiful scenes we saw over the weekend.

But let’s be honest. Didn’t you think that every single person that partook in that ride was a bit of a wanker? “Oh, boohoo, I can no longer drink on the Uxbridge branch of the District Line.” So flippin’ what? It’s not like there aren’t enough pubs/bars/restaurants/parks/gardens/street corners in town where you can quite legally wrap your face around a cold one. Why would anyone want to drink on the tube? What possible attraction can there be to swilling an alcopop on the Northern Line?

Let us not also forget that Facebook parties tend to be arsehole magnets, and boy did this one ever bring the twunts out of their twuntholes. Take a look at this gallery of gits, and bask warmly in the fact that the instigator of the whole thing is that most hated of lowlives – a city banker. Snuggle down cosily in the reports that he is now fearing for his job. Nuzzle enthusiastically in the fact that he started the whole thing as an anti-Boris protest, and has ended up vindicating the blond buffoons’ argument.

Oh, look, I know this makes me sound like an old fart of the highest ordure, but come on.
To my mind, anyone that drinks on the tube is a bit of a saddo and a loser, and I’m frankly surprised that there wasn’t legislation already in place.

If the best you can do for a Saturday night out is get drunk on the Circle Line, then frankly your social life is a bit lacking, don’t you think?

Not ‘armless at all.

One of the major nightmares of the war on terror is the flood of soldiers coming home without limbs after IED attacks. The field of exoprostethics is going to extraordinary lengths to address that problem, and at the same time snag some of that sweet, sweet military green.

OK, that sounds a bit snarky. I’m trying to disguise my astonishment at the leaps and bounds being made in the development of artificial limbs under a sheen of cynicism. Really, I’m astonished, and amazed. Check out this video interview with Deka Research’s Dean Kamen, demonstrating his bionic arm. In a nicely geeky twist, he’s called it the Luke.

There are some wonderfully poignant moments in the film too, as you see film of vets who have been unable to feed themselves for years doing just that. One throwaway comment did it for me, when Dean tells the story of a wife of one of the vets seeing her husband using a spoon for the first time in thirteen years –

“…either that arm’s coming back with us, or you’re keeping Chuck.”

Of course, all this innovation can go too far, as Warren Ellis observes.

Links For A Lazy Bank Holiday

God almighty, it’s filthy weather out there. Any thoughts I had about doing some gardening have been washed away in the face of the battering the world’s getting outside my window. Time to settle back with the Blackbook and indulge in a little light reading.

Reason Magazine has a fascinating interview up with Ed Burns, one of the prime movers on The Wire, probably the best TV show evar. He skewers the War On Drugs with alacrity, anger and a twist of humour. Which is pretty much what The Wire did over it’s five seasons.

Further to the announcement earlier in the week of the death of Will Elder, The Comics Journal has reprinted a massive interview they did with the man himself back in 2003. There’s insightful and intelligent discussion on the precariousness of the comics business in the 50s and 60s, and Will’s warmth and humour shine brightly all the way through. Lots of reprints of his artwork too, including some old friends like Mickey Rodent and Shermlock Shomes that I hadn’t seen in years. If you’re a fan of comics at all, I really can’t recommend this highly enough.

And finally, Futurismic have done a good’un with their weekly list of free fiction. Andre Norton, Joe R. Lansdale, and lots lots more. That should keep you going for a while.

Now, stop bothering me. Can’t you see I’m trying to read here?

The Ugly Truth About Eurovision

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As the smoke settles for another year, the arguments begin again. I’m not going to describe Eurovision as a guilty pleasure, because there’s nothing to feel guilty about. Eurovision is the best and worst of Europe all crammed into one gloopy, over-sugared, glorious mess of an evening. All the factionism, petty political point-scoring, all the eccentricity, all the glamour, all the weirdness. All there, all singing, all dancing, all for you, you lucky punter.

And once again, the bitching from the UK camp about how badly our country has done over the past few years have re-emerged. Terry Wogan has threatened to stop doing it, citing exactly the kind of openly partisan voting that’s made the competition much more fun over the past few years. Which is of course, hardly a big surprise as it’s been going on for as long as the competition’s been running. Mewing “no fair” at this point in proceedings is disingenuous, to say the least.

Despite all the griping about the Russian victory, (I was rooting for the crazed rock opera of Azerbaijan’s entry) let’s not forget that the song is a heartfelt if slightly dull ballad about believing in yourself and following your dreams – in effect, it’s a song about Eurovision. Factioneering aside, it was always in with a good chance.

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Let’s be frank. We’ve hardly been sending our best and brightest out to the contest lately, have we? While France, for example, have a song produced by Daft Punk, Germany have sent their equivalent of Girls Aloud, and most of the ex-Russian protectorates have voted in their biggest selling and most popular artists, what have we got? An X-Factor reject with a duff piece of disco-lite. In fact, we’ve been sending out reality show rejects to die on their feet for the last five years or so. The last time we won was in 1997, when proper band Katrina and the Waves won with a proper Eurovision song, Shine A Light. I’m still of the opinion that the great lost opportunity for the UK was the failure three years ago to sign Morrissey up for the cause. That would have been something.

Did we deserve to come last? Well, our attitude to the contest doesn’t help. With the element of complacency and the irritating smugness that comes with our pretense that actually, we’re a bit too cool for this nonsense, being the place where all the good music comes from and all, yes, we did rather deserve the drubbing we got. Why not throw a proper, credible band into the contest next year? I say, Radiohead for Eurovision. If we lose then, we may as well pull out of the contest altogether.

(decidedly odd photo credit: werewegian on the BBC Eurovision Flickr group. And that’s by no means the strangest photo on there.)

Seek The Boy and Find The Man or The Ugly Truth About Will Elder

I used to get told off when I was young for reading in class.

The small library at my primary school in Cambridgeshire was based in my home room, and it stored treasures. Almost a full shelf of the alcove tucked in one corner of that room was dedicated to French editions of TitTin and Asterix books. Presumably it was an attempt to get yer average kid interested in a foreign language. They never worked that way for me.

Nowadays I’d call the books bandes desinees, but back then they were utterly indescribable. Beautiful, magical, huge impenetrable works that made sense only in the sense of their visual storytelling, because I was eight, and French may as well have been Klingon to me. The experience was all about the interplay of picture and text in the purest possible sense. The closest I’ve been to that feeling since is reading some of Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso’s work in Zap reprints, where they would abandon narrative clarity in favour of the sheer panel-to-panel rush of tumbling pictures. Too add to the effect, their speech bubbles would frequently be filled with heiroglyphs, or squiggles. I had a twinge of nostalgia in reading those works, although I’d never seen them before, and I blame that on my early TinTin readings. I found joy in the knowing and simultaneous not knowing what was happening.

I couldn’t leave those books alone. Lunchtime, breaktime, there I was, the quiet, bookish spectacled child (no change there, I’m afraid), hunkered in a corner, buried in an Asterix. It became an addiction. So I was regularly pulled up for having a copy of Asterix Et Les Britons (imagine the headmangling I took for seeing English habits through a French lens, in a language I didn’t understand, and being too shy to ask why all the British warriors stopped fighting at four o’clock for cups of l’eau chaud) or Les Tresor Des Red Rackham open on my lap when I was supposed to be concentrating on my maths.

Which explains two things. My enduring love of comics, and my inability to add up without using my fingers.

Thinking about it, I was grokking those books rather than reading them. Scuse the Heinlein.

The other source of comicy goodness when I was little came from my Uncle Doug. I will, with his permission, talk more about my Heavy Metal Uncle at a later date, but for now let’s just discuss his exquisite good taste. Doug had a cupboard full of carefully boxed Corgi Bond cars, which I and my brother gleefully trashed in frantic reenactments of the car chases from Goldfinger. Doug had a cupboard full of mid-60’s TinTin reprints, which I snorted. They were familiar and strange at the same time. Guns suddenly went Bang instead of PAN. Snowy’s bark was just that, instead of the AIIIooo that Herge had written for him.

But this was just the core of the motherlode. He also had a pile of Marvel and Mad annuals, and it was these that well and truly spun my head the wrong way on it’s thread. Early adventures of the Avengers and Iron Man were snarfed next to the exquisite parodies and appalling jokes of Mort Drucker, Don Martin, Wally Wood and (yes, finally, we get to the point) Will Elder.

The news last week that Will had died at the age of ninety-five dried something up in me. I would spend hours poring over the insanely detailed artwork he would regularly fire off for Mad. Here’s an example that seems to be popping up quite a bit in the backwash of the announcement: RESTAURANT.

He was an extraordinary draughtsman, an amazing storyteller, and to my mind should be lauded with the guy I frequently used to mix him up with, Will Eisner. Through such errors are other great connections made. It should be pointed out, though, that you only assert that Will Elder created The Spirit to a comics-literate crowd once. Believe me, the memory still brings a flush up my collar.

Will Elder’s work was a gateway to some serious influences on my creative life, and fostered an enduring love in clean, cartoony and complex illustration. It’s a heartcracker that he’s gone, but I’m forever grateful for the path on which he put me.

Hey Will, how’s yer ma?