Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Alan Moore on Resonance

Resonance FM has recently been broadcasting (and podcasting) a great comics series, and the latest show is an interview with Alan Moore that’s definitely worth a listen.

For those that don’t know, Resonance FM is a listener-supported, London-broadcasting, available-worldwide, dedicated Arts radio station, full of the most wondrous, bizarre, fascinating stuff, all of the time. I started listening about five years ago when they’d frequently broadcast birdsong for hours at a time – which was wonderful as I was living in a highrise in Camden at the time.

Resonance is currently in severe financial difficulties, and struggling to stay afloat. If you like what you hear, please think about donating to keep this unique and utterly deserving project going. That it needs our help is sad, but its passing would be even more so.


tags: Comics + Radio | permalink | 1 Comment

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Nah pop no style

And now, back to our roots… it’s been a while since we’ve been down to Lower Marsh in Waterloo, home of such wonders as Radio Days, Honour, the brilliant Scooterworks Cafe and the now-gone but much-lamented Last Chance Saloon (descendants of which can be found at the Aquarium Gallery and Nude Magazine). But professional concerns sent us South of the river (outer darkness, wailing, gnashing of teeth et cetera) to the wonderful Crockatt & Powell, a bookshopper’s delight.

C&P was set up by Adam & Matthew, two former employees of the Pan Bookshop, Daunt Books, and the big W, who’d had enough of “We could do better than this” conversations in the pub and decided to prove it. The result is lovely. Many independent bookshops, for all their wonders, can feel like they’re either just piling up whatever the wholesaler sends them, or struggling not to turn into a remainders merchant, but at C&P everything feels like its been selected for the shop.

For those intrigued by the process of setting up an independent bookstore – and what litgeek doesn’t want to do that when they grow up? – they’ve got the obligatory blog on which you can follow their progress (origins and original attempt here). They’ve just set up a mail order department too, but as ever we highly recommend actually getting off your arse and going down there in person – AC Grayling’s a regular apparently, so who knows who’ll you bump into.

One of the highlights for us was their large stock of Cabanon Press books and bits, featuring the work of Tom Gauld and Simone Lia, who we’ve been a fan of for ages – ever since Tom did that short-lived ‘Moving to the City’ strip in Time Out. We highly recommend Tom’s Three Very Small Comics and Simone’s Fluffy for the best in monsters, robots, border guards and paternally confused bunny rabbits.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Don’t think of midwives

In 1955, between the publication of Junkie in America and Naked Lunch in Paris, William Burroughs wrote of the new style he was developing: ‘It’s almost like automatic writing produced by a hostile, independent entity who is saying in effect, “I will write what I please”… only the most extreme material is available to me.’ (Paris Interzone, p.250)

To what extent is this the methodology of Kenji Siratori? His texts are, in a real sense, unreadable, yet feel very like a language; an alien tongue transliterated into English. This language frequently has a physical effect on the reader, a violent reaction, like knives clashing in the belly. Moreover, while the sense of the text eludes us, it may be possible to comprehend its intentions (Examples here and here).

In The Invisibles, Grant Morrison created a “metalanguage” which he described in terms of “emotional aggregates. It’s like… one word, one sound, represents a whole complex of ideas and associations and feelings.” (Bloody Hell In America, p.15). If English words are circles on a piece of paper, The Invisibles‘ alien metalanguage consists of bubbles floating in space. This metalanguage appears to be what theorist Reza Negarestani is describing in his recent essay on Siratori, Technodrome, when he writes of text as a “woven space” and Siratori’s “un-woven text” as a “three-dimensional wiremesh… occurring in several distinct forms at one time: a volume, a surface, a soft exoskeleton which facilitates movement rather than restricting it… a holy space and an autonomous convoluting line which relentlessly recomposes itself in space.”

Elsewhere in The Invisibles, Morrison describes “the secret common language of shamans – that language whose words do not describe things but are things.” (Apocalipstick, p.172) Such a language has strong resonances in the religious notion of glossolalia, a tongue which appears alien but is in fact comprehensible by all: the biblical gift of tongues, the restoration of that privilege which was withdrawn at Babel. There is also a relationship between glossolalia and Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘minor literature’: the infection of one language by the structures and intentions of another. By using phonemes from the ‘host’ language, a non-native speaker can twist the host into new and dangerous positions. (At a reduced grain, this is same process which occurs when dialect and neologisms are used deliberately in literature, as in Trainspotting or A Clockwork Orange.)

All this could be a kind of Ur-comment on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which states that there exists a systematic relationship between the grammatical categories of the language a person speaks and how that person both understands the world and behaves in it – that is, by radically reconstructing language we radically reconstruct our understanding of and relation to the world. Morrison also considers his writing in The Invisibles to constitute magical work in the Chaos tradition, something that had powerful consequences in his own life. At one point in the books, the main protagonist and Morrisonian alter-ego King Mob believes himself to be the victim of a flesh-eating bacillus. A few months after writing this, Morrison found himself in hospital, close to death, suffering the same, stunningly rare, infection. Those who immerse themselves in all seven volumes of The Invisibles become rapidly, sometimes vertiginously, aware of such synchronicites, in much the same way as readers of The Illuminatus! Trilogy begin to see the fnords.

What Siratori gives us is Morrison’s “metalanguage” and Burroughs’ “automatic writing” loosed from their original nests within other fictions: the “hostile entity” has broken out. That Siratori’s writings are most often labelled cyberpunk is more of a Sapir-Whorfian comment on the choice of English words used in the texts than an appraisal of their style or meaning. Presumably, a similar effect but at a different pitch could be produced by substituting a different word-set as the input to Siratori’s language machine, one which would not fit so easily into the ‘cyberpunk’ pigeonhole (cracking Biocapture 1.0 would make this hypothesis testable).

The texts are, however, unmistakeably violent, and extended readings produce a kind of nausea, much like that associated with the third stage of Stanislav Grof’s Basic Perinatal Matrix as explicated in Morrison’s The Invisible Kingdom: “biological filth, demonic types of sexuality, inhuman technology… psychotic, morbid states of shame, disgust, greed, fear and power.” (p.120) But is violence itself enough to suggest intention, is rage enough to suggest sentience? Or, as various (attempted) interviewers have been reduced to asserting (see here, here and here) is even the author himself reduced to mere mechanical response, a churning out of dead code?

Literature is possibly the last art in which we feel the need to attribute meaning in order to gauge value. But the value of Siratori’s texts is that, without meaning, they haunt the mind, and, what’s more, the body. This at least must be an author’s intention.

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Thursday, December 8, 2005

England Prevails

If you don’t read comics, it’s a bit like that Time Out Dance Special they did a while back. You know that there’s a whole ‘nother art form out there, that’s mystifying and heartbreaking and wise and terribly, terribly beautiful, you just don’t know anything about it, and fucked if you’re buying tickets to the ballet.

Well hold up there pilgrim: there’s something you can do about it, right now, and you can do it in the privacy of your own home. You can go buy some Alan Moore, and get on. STML, shamed by the upcoming moving pictures version, got hold of a copy of V for Vendetta from Gosh Comics, just one of the fine sequential art venues littering our fair city.

Alan MooreIf you don’t know Moore, he’s one of England’s great bearded visionaries, and even though he lives in virtual hermitage in Northamptonshire, he loves London. From Hell and V for Vendetta carve up the capital in Sinclair-ish ways, butchering it in the former, dynamiting it, with unpleasantly contemporary resonances, in the latter.

What the graphic art format allows is an utter disregard for genre, style and the accepted version of history. Their pariah status in the literary community means that they can knowingly step outside both critical pronouncements and popular expectations, borrowing furiously from both the mainstream and the underground, from art high and low, from painting, pop music and pornography. From Hell takes from Sinclair the magical city aligned by Hawksmoor and the Dyonisiac architects, from Sickert the dark imagined murder rooms of Camden Town, from Hogarth the vaudeville of the rookeries, from Blake their hidden divinity. The well-worn path of the Ripperologist is, in his own words, “strip-mined to provide material.” V for Vendetta picks up and runs with Pynchon’s endless enigmatising; Orwell’s all-seeing, all-hearing, government; and the earthy English legend of Guy Fawkes, who Moore seeks to restore from the pyre to his central place in English self-mythology. There is no plagiarism here: simply the riffing on all frequencies of a joyously disturbed, unfettered mind. In the afterword to V, Moore describes a crucial stage in its development, before he and David Lloyd ran down the central image of the Popish Plotter:

One night, in desperation, I made a long list of concepts I wanted to reflect in V, moving from one to another with such a rapid free-association that would make any good psychiatrist reach for the emergency cord. The list was something as follows:Orwell. Huxley. Judge Dredd. Harlan Ellison’s “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman.” “Catman” and “Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World” by the same author. Vincent Price’s Dr. Phibes and Theatre of Blood. David Bowie. The Shadow. Nightraven. Batman. Fahrenheit 451. The writings of the New Worlds school of Science Fiction. Max Ernst’s painting “Europe After The Rains.” Thomas Pynchon. The atmosphere of British Second World War films. The Prisoner. Robin Hood. Dick Turpin…

Any writer who can move from Bowie to Max Ernst via Batman in seven “free associations” deserves an audience. But Moore’s interest is not only in literary and cultural illusion: he wants to score politically too. For Moore, England is a corrupt state, enslaved to a despotic, decrepit Queen in From Hell, enthralled by a fascist dictatorship and its pervasive media in V. From Hell rages against the inequalities of class unchallenged in the Victorian era and embodied, literally, in the Whitechapel murders (while bemoaning the loss of history’s visceral reality: Gull, Moore’s ripper, time-stumbling into a modern, computerised office, asks of its occupants: “Where comes this dullness in your eyes? How has your century numbed you so? Shall man be given marvels only when he is beyond all wonder?”). V is more explicit, condemning Justice atop the Old Bailey for having “an eye for a man in uniform” and the population en masse who encouraged and voted into office “a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars and lunatics,” citing an all-engulfing anarchy as the only solution to impassive, craven and cruel governance.

Sir William Gull, in 'From Hell'
Watchmen, Moore’s fantastical rewriting of the All-American Masked Crusader, does similar things to American history and the canon of the Golden Age. That it has been his most critically successful work and is cited as the first instance of a comics ghetto-buster highlights the US bias of the comics world (David Lloyd, in a sarcastic aside during V‘s genesis, suggests calling the strip “‘Good Guy.’ That’s how he signs his name: ‘Good Guy’. Good for US appeal, right? Logical.”) and its inherent conservatism (Watchmen, unlike From Hell and V has not made it to the big screen, on grounds of narrative and, some suspect, political complexity). But even writing within the constraints of the genre, as in the groundbreaking Swamp Thing or in his additions to the Batman legend in The Killing Joke, Moore gets away with murder.

All of these books are excellent reads, as is his series of linked stories The Voice of the Fire (described by Iain Banks in The Guardian as “a neglected masterpiece”), and his (even more) experimental graphic works: A Disease of Language, a new collaboration with Eddie Campbell, the artist on From Hell, is out in January: a graphic rendition of Moore’s “visionary, highly personal magic based performance art pieces,” according to Gosh!. Get on.

[Need some tunes while you’re reading?
Try The Mic, STML.com’s new MP3 feed.]

tags: Authors + Comics | permalink | 1 Comment

Monday, December 5, 2005

The Smell of the Ink, the Taste of the Biscuit

“I once punched a man for saying that Hawk The Slayer was rubbish.”
“Good for you.”
“Thanks. But the point is, I was defending the fantasy genre with terminal intensity. What I should have said was: ‘Dad, you may be right. But let’s give Krull a try and we’ll discuss it later’.”

Their image may be tarnished (if not downright wrong) in the popular imagination, but we are so, so far past that old chestnut “Comics: not just for kids!” that I’m likely to set fire to anyone who hasn’t read at least one thing from Vertigo, Titan, Dark Horse or the host of tiny, independent houses out there (another personal favourite). More of the books later (promise): first let’s mention some of London’s finest emporia, so there’s absolutely no excuse for not checking this stuff out.

30th Century Comics, SW15Despite earlier, somewhat derogatory comments, STML spent much of his youth in the Western Lands, cavorting on the banks of the Thames and hunting venison in Richmond Park. Hence, such a review can only begin with the wonders of Thirtieth Century Comics on the Lower Richmond Road in Putney. Run by two of the nicest comic store guys you’ll ever meet, 30th Century is a proper bookstore, with both the latest books and boxes and boxes of vintage material from the mainstream to the hand-printed – a story related before. They also, as many comics stores do, run a proper subscription service, so you don’t have to worry about missing an issue, and can drop by to pick up your latest editions any time you like. Just try to spend less than an hour in their basement.

Another fantastic and very local shop is Mega City Comics in Camden, on the enduringly lovely Inverness Street. If you can fight your way through the goths and junkies (and that’s meant in the most loving way: they’re all pushovers. Literally) Mega City has tonnes of excellent manga and Indies alongside the standard fare. (“Skunkhashweed?”)
Gosh Comics, WC1
Nestled around the British Museum are a number of fine bookshops, such as Ulysses, the LRBS, and Atlantis, but it wouldn’t be complete without Gosh! at 39 Great Russell Street, practically mooning at the old beast over the road. Probably the best place to go in London for hardcovers, graphic novels and collections, there’s also an occasional gallery of cartoon and comic art in the basement. It is allegedly part-owned by Jonathan Ross, which is, frankly, irritating, but that aside, it can’t really be beat.

It’s certainly a lot better than Forbidden Planet, which we have to mention simply because if nowhere else has it, they probably will, but they’ll also have 8,000 harassed parents buying light sabres for their demented progeny, and the fifth android from some obscure Sci-Fi Channel Trek imitation signing laminated photos of their holographic codpieces. Now at 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, the old store on New Oxford Street contained an excellent, laid-back basement atmosphere noticeably lacking at the new address, but as a last resort, it occasionally must be done.

“Hey, Derek, Babylon 5’s a big pile of shit!”

And next time, we might explain why.

[The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted our new Linkblog in the sidebar. (Over there –>) Check back regularly for STML-sympathetic linkage, if you’re interested…]

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Zine Madness!

The N Testament

For various reasons, STML has been reading around the old zine scene for a few days, and interesting connections have been unearthed.

My first contact with zines was the oversize compendium Zines! Vol. 1 published by RE/Search, possibly the greatest independent publisher of weird shit of all time, which chronicled the emergence of the zine, self-publishing and small press scene through interviews with such legends as Lyn Peril of Mystery Date, and Noel Tolentino from Bunnyhop. As the cover said: “Surrender to the incredibly strange urge… to create your own Zine!” – and I did. Several times.

Being far away from such centres of hipness as Dover, Tennessee and Detroit, Illinois, my greatest influence were the homegrown queerzines and minicomics of the mid-90s: Rachael House’s Red Hanky Panky, Sina’s Atomic Boy and especially Jeremy Dennis’ 3 in a bed. These were roughly photocopied booklets I used to get from the wonderful 30th Century Comics in Putney SW15, and I still feel that, compared to independent bookstores, comic shops are not given their fair dues as disseminators of the radical, the rare and the dirty. The first time I took a queerzine to the counter was up there with buying Gay Times in W.H.Smiths, or condoms in Boots (Now on 3 for 2!), but I soon learnt that comic shops, like indy bookstores, were havens for sallow-faced misfits. And me, of course.

I was very pleased to stumble upon Jeremy Dennis and Damian Cugley’s current website, the excellent Alleged Literature. Among various other minicomic projects, Jeremy is busy doing bad things to the bible in The N Testament, a page of which is reproduced above, continuing the theme of book abuse from the last post.

The advent of the interweb pretty much killed off the zine movement, as discussed, coincidentally enough, on Sunday, when a large number of people, including Iain Sinclair, Tim Wells of Rising and 3AM Magazine‘s Richard Marshall, turned up to watch STML listen to them discuss Self-Publishing and DIY Culture, the final event of this year’s Clerkenwell Literary Festival. The CLF’s own blogger captures the salient points here, and if you look carefully, you might catch STML in the audience. If you didn’t make it to the Fest this year, keep your eyes open and your ears peeled for next year. It’s worth it, not least because almost all the events take place in pubs.

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