Historic and Pared Down
I woke from an odd dream, but the thing about processing dreams on waking is that your conscious brain doesn’t work the same as your subconscious and unconscious mind. There were details in the dream that kept changing, things that made no sense and several things that happened out of order or couldn’t possibly happen. This is no good to the conscious mind. It likes narrative and order and structure. I find myself both knowingly and unknowingly editing my dreams as I try to transcribe them, the final result diminishing whatever it was about them that made them worth writing about in the first place.
It’s unusual I remember my dreams. I don’t know if that means I don’t dream or only some of them I remember. When I do remember they are vivid though. People and structures whose faces I can visualise to the point I could probably draw them and colours that are saturated and distinct. I dream in colour, although apparently this is no longer believed to be a sign of psychosis. Simply of having grown up with a colour tv.
Currently there seems to be a lot of news relating to the penal system within this country and justice in general. At an open prison inmates regularly abscond, smuggle in alcohol, face burglaries into the compound and riot when denied a Christmas drink. The main political parties seem to have reached a consensus whereby we don’t send criminals to jail anymore and neither Labour (who cut the probation service) or the Conservatives (who didn’t rush to revive it) will admit there is actually no alternative in place that could cope with the quantity of criminals it would likely have to deal with.
A bit back there was a story about prisoners in a Scottish jail being given new LCD televisions with built in DVD players to meet energy efficiency targets. The reactionary outcry was allayed with the promise that the taxpayer would not be out of pocket as the inmates paid for their television viewing privileges. The news media being what it now is, no one stopped to ask where the prisoners got their money from in the first place.
Amidst all the talk of reform, of preventing reoffending and of rehabilitation we seem to have forgotten some central tenets of justice and of the justice system: in punishment for wrongs committed, in providing examples to act as deterrents and to protect society by removing the people from it with a proven record of damaging it. In this era of cutting costs we’ve forgotten that there are actually victims as well as just perpetrators.
I don’t think we can lock people up on finite sentences without some form of rehabilitation, and I don’t think all crimes warrant a custodial sentence, but I do think that there needs to be an infrastructure in place to actually protect society and to punish offenders. And, for that matter, to actually rehabilitate them. What we have now isn’t working and looks like it will get considerably worse before anyone takes the time and invests the money needed to make it any better.
Having been given a £15 gift voucher for Christmas for WH Smith I finally set about finding something that I actually wanted to exchange it for today. I did briefly consider drawing supplies, and some cookery books, but eventually settled on Captain America: Reborn from Marvel/Titan.
The majority of the book contains the reprints of the Marvel mini series of the same name by Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch and Jackson “Butch” Guice. It tells a fairly straightforward story of the resurrection of Captain America and attendant conflicts. Honestly, it is not so much what the book does as how it does it that makes it worth considering.
For me the main selling point is Bryan Hitch. Now, I feel that Guice is perhaps not the best inker for him (I will go on record here as saying Paul Neary is the best inker for him, and Alan Davis, and probably umpteen other artists) and there are places (particularly on smaller panels and characters) where more of Guice’s style is visible than Hitch’s, but the art is lovely. This is Hitch doing his widescreen thing, perhaps not to the same insane level as when paired with Millar or Ellis, but bringing moments of action to visceral life and making static images dynamic and genuinely exciting. More than this, and this is as much Brubaker as it is Hitch and perhaps even some synthesis between the two, characters have distinct body language and posing. There is a point where you can tell who is in a costume (not to spoil too much of the plot) simply by the way the character is posed and stood. The acting and body language of the characters here is top notch.
Brubaker is not redundant here. As much as I do love Hitch, it is Brubaker’s balancing of the quiet character driven moments with the bombast of the action scenes he calls on Hitch to draw that makes the book work. Yes, it is widescreen comics, but Brubaker ensures the characters have distinct voices and all the main ones have important plot moments, in order to keep the interest going and make me actually care what is happening. Perhaps he doesn’t quite reach the scale of Millar, but he does cover a lot of ground and keeps the book exciting and something I actually care about.
At the end of the book is a gallery of all the Captain America covers from his first silver age appearance through to issue 600. Reproduced at smaller than postage stamp size, it is a lesson in what makes for a strong and noticeable cover. Bluntly: most of them aren’t. The Mike Zeck, Steranko, Cassady and Garney covers tend to stand out nicely. The rest all kind of blur together. And whatever happen to John Ney Reiber anyway?
James Jean is amongst my favourite contemporary artists. Certainly amongst the least realistic of the artists I like, he tends to imbue his work with an ethereal yet expressive quality and has a great sense of design and composition. He came to my attention working on the covers to Fables, which is a monthly comic published by DC’s Vertigo imprint and written by Bill Willingham and illustrated by a variety of artists, most notably Mark Buckingham.
The book of James Jean’s Fables covers, which seems to me to cover his entire work on the series and various spin offs, is handsomely presented and shows the process involved in each cover as well as brilliantly presenting the final piece. It also serves as a showcase for the evolution of Jean as an artist: how he constantly changes his process depending on the piece but also how his finishing and underlying structure subtly evolved through the course of the work. It also features one of my favourite comic covers of all time: The Tulip Girl.
So, aside from a lack of insightful commentary, this is a comprehensive tome that excels in presentation and content.
Bryan Hitch’s Ultimate Comics Studio, from Impact Press, is a 128 page book detailing Hitch’s artistic process in creating comic art. Now, immediately, the 128 page count is of mild interest to me. As a reader of Target Doctor Who novelisations at an early age as well as having a slight understanding of the printing process, I know that 128 pages is related to folds of a larger sheet of paper and there are cost implications in going over this count. I’d like to say that the limitation doesn’t affect the book, but I do feel that there are places that content is compromised by the constraint.
For the most part the book is well presented and attractive, but there are a couple of places where the typesetting and layout looks a little clumsy. The real problem, apart from the aforementioned brevity, is the lack of a decent proofreader or copy editor. There are words used incorrectly and factual inaccuracies that mar the book. These don’t really affect the main thrust of the work, but they are annoying and distract from the subject matter as well as detracting from the overall experience of reading it.
What subject matter there is is brilliant, with some pieces created specially for the tome, some rarities and some great examples. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be enough of anything. As good as the material presented is, as well thought out as some of the examples are, as revealing as it is to see the process, I want more. I want more examples, step by step walkthroughs and more comparison pieces. I can’t help but feel I got the summarised version of a truly great work. With a poor editor.
As is the recent tradition, there was a Christmas special of Doctor Who broadcast on the BBC on Christmas Day. Now, Doctor Who is singularly British and something I heartily approve of being broadcast at Christmas and having special episodes of commissioned. Particularly, as it currently is, when it is being overseen by Stephen Moffat. Moffat, especially when he writes the episodes himself, has a great ear for dialogue, handles moments of humanity and crazy ideas equally deftly and manages to have good ideas he can carry through in implementation. He knows just how sentimental he can get away with being and how to construct a story with moments of drama and humour without it being silly or overly scary. He also did very well on the BBC’s recent Sherlock series (although not all the series writers did, sadly).
Now this Christmas we were treated to a retelling of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol on a planet that clearly isn’t Earth but with moments from Earth’s history. We weren’t shown at what period the planet was meant to be analogous to as the technology is both archaic and impossible. Fish swam in the crystalline sky and people used loved ones as collateral for lending. And then saw them placed in cryogenic suspension when they were unable to make payments against the debt. But the world had its own consistent logic and feel and nothing felt jarringly out of place. This was another reality that hung together and worked, partially because all the details were but backdrop to the main story unfolding.
Michael Gambon had centre stage and his voice does sound wonderful. None of the actors put in a bad shift and the details and direction were good. It worked on a few levels, from being simplistic fun to the children, to having a sense of wonder and imagination on closer inspection to actually asking some questions about the relative morality of changing someone’s past to effect the outcome you want. The doctor may be a clown, but he is not as clear cut a hero as in more simplistic tales: he is morally flexible in achieving his aims and clearly has a sense of the greater good and a degree or pragmatism in achieving his desired outcome. Personally I loved the program and feel it finally shows the Doctor as someone with an alien morality and a degree of intelligence and as somewhat of a shemer.
A government minister has floated the idea of censoring the internet on an “opt in” basis. To whit: if you wish to receive censored sites you will have to contact your ISP and ask them to allow you to do so. This has been spun as a way of stopping children from accessing pornography and sounds altruistic. However, who determines what counts as pornography?
The previous government implemented anti terrorism laws which were ostensibly designed to prevent funding from reaching radical groups. The first use of these powers that I am aware of was to seize Icelandic assets during their economic turmoil. The papers applauded and I certainly have no wish to see people lose their money, but it is a striking example of how legislation with one aim is appropriated for others entirely. How long will it be, should this mooted legislation pass, before we are routinely denied access to sites that we don’t even know exist in order to ask for access to them?
For me the red flag is Wikileaks. It seems too much of a coincidence
for this to come about just as Wikileaks is facing enormous pressure and
the US government and its corporate allies are doing everything in
their power to shut down the site and prevent it from being able to
function financially. With this proposed filter, would we see Wikileaks?
What about sites routinely challenging the government or authority?
This is a fundamental freedom of speech issue. This is not about children or porn, but about communication, about honest criticism and about freedom of the press. This is about truth and those that would seek to prevent us from accessing it.