Friday, 12 April 2013

A Socialist Defense Of Thatcher


I never thought I'd write a post defending Thatcher.
Though I don't class myself as a socialist, I am a child of socialism and of trade unionists. I despise Thatcher for what she did to this country, to the working classes and for what she did to me personally. My family lived in poverty because of her policies as I grew up. Her government's interest rate hikes meant my parents' first mortgage rose to 17%. My mother lived on two pieces of bread and a smear of Marmite a day, and me and my (then only) sister survived on offal scrounged cheaply from the local butcher. (Be god we wuh poowah etc. etc.). There were also policies that at my age at the time didn't affect me, but ultimately would have had they not been altered by subsequent governments, eg Section 28. She also grew our reputation, made the UK a world power once again, opened trade routes and much more. But the point of this post is not to debate her pros and cons. The point of this post is that no-one deserves the reaction to her death that she got this week.
There have been parties, celebrations and an awful lot of hate-filled bile aimed at her via social networking sites. Even my own mother sent a text saying "ding dong the witch is dead", not just to me but to a Tory friend of mine who was genuinely sad about Thatcher's passing. It was unnecessary. When people joked about how they would have a 'party on her grave' before she died, most people wrote it off as just that; a joke. But however you felt about the woman's time as Prime Minister, she is still a human being. She is still someone's mother. And she was also just a politician. She wasn't a dictator, she didn't participate in mass genocide, and she certainly didn't invade Poland. She made critical decisions, she made many mistakes, but she was elected democratically and only did what she believed to be right. You can't ask more of a person than that, and as much as I disagree with almost everything she did, I have the utmost respect for her for doing that. She didn't care for popularity like Blair or Cameron. She just wanted to do the right thing and believed that was exactly what she did.
Here's the rub; her death didn't change a thing. The mines didn't magically re-open when her heart stopped. She had a stroke, she didn't 'get her comeuppance'. Let her family, peers and fans mourn. Grow up and move on. Stop cheering about the death of a senile old woman. 'Cause when all is said and done, that's all these people are doing, and frankly it's disgusting.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

So Hip It's Square

Usually, I'm not one for commenting on individual comic issues beyond a tweet, but Young Avengers #3 has me riled. Issue #1 was stunning. It was a great jumping on book for the series and for Marvel comics in general. It was intelligent, relevant and fresh. Issue #2 was understandably calmer, but set a good pace for the rest of the volume. But something really stuck out in a bad way for me with issue #3, and that is the references. 
© Gillen/McKelvie
Don't get me wrong, I like pop culture references in fiction. It gives it a cultural context, something which you can identify with at the time of publication, and later on fixes it's place in time but with warm hints of nostalgia. Everyone likes warm fuzzies that take them back to the period in your life when you did use a Nokia 3310 and thought it was shit hot. 
But these references, especially references to other works of fiction, shouldn't stilt the story if you just don't get it. 'Spaced' for example, contained hundreds of quotes and references, it was basically nerddom's Mamma Mia, but they were so skilfully woven into the script that if you didn't get one, you didn't even notice it was there. Overt references can work too, of course. In The Authority, Apollo watches 'Friends' and The Midnighter takes the piss out of it. Now, not everyone liked, or even watched 'Friends', but it was a show that had been on TV for so long that either you did watch it and it was funny, or you didn't watch it, but knew of it and it still made sense. 
The other problem with rooting fiction in pop culture is that it rarely gets better with age. When YA volume 2 hits the trades it will no doubt still be relevant. But for how long? 
© Gillen/McKelvie
Now, Young Avengers being a teen book, it's okay to have more than the usual references because teenagers do that and nerds do read more than the book in front of them. After the second Lord of the Rings mention in three issues, we get that Billy and Teddy have their geeky sides. But this Game Of Thrones thing I did not like. I have not read/seen it yet. I will at some point and I've no doubt that it is fantastic. But I shouldn't miss a plot point just because I don't know it, and half a page of Loki talking about it is pretty damn dull.
What I love about Gillen's work more than anything is that his intellect shines through the pages. His writing is clever but he never makes you feel dumb. Until this issue that is. Maybe once I have read the books I'll have a eureka moment and laugh at how well it works. For now though frankly, I'm with America on this one. Huh?

Monday, 28 January 2013

Okay To Read Gay

Following the release of Young Avengers #1 this week, I thought it was about time I addressed an interesting point regarding LGBT characters in fiction. Let me start by saying I have no problem with Wiccan and Hulkling, in fact I bloody loved what Gillen, McKelvie et al have done, but that in itself is the problem. When raving about Young Avengers to a friend, his first question about why I loved it was "are there gays in it?" I did a double take and had to remind myself that actually there are, because it was treated so refreshingly normally that I very nearly forgot. Which is a wonderful thing. But as soon as I confirmed it, my opinion of the comic was now biased.

There is definitely an assumption that I, and others, actively seek out fiction with gay characters and story arcs, and that I only enjoy them because of their gay content. No disrespect to my friend, that is sometimes true. I doubt I would ever have seen I Love You Phillip Morris, Queer as Folk or Sugar Rush had there been no LGBT involvement. The same probably goes for the Boy Meets Boy comic and the subsequent sequels of K. Sandra Fuhr's, and I will freely admit that I first picked up The Authority when a (different) friend gushed about how cute Apollo and The Midnighter were as a family.

But there are many more examples where I didn't pick up on an LGBT storyline. When X-Man Northstar got married, aside from a cultural point of view ( and smiling at the invite postcards all over Mega City Comics) the actual storyline didn't interest me. The same goes for Archie's Kevin Keller, Rictor and Shatterstar, the rebooted Batwoman and probably more I don't even know about. When I heard the news about Dredd's Closet arc, I didn't feel suddenly compelled to go and read it, in fact I heard about it from a straight guy with only a minor interest in comics.

When I'm reading something and LGBT themes turn up, and they are treated well, it's nice. But when Grace Choi got together with Thunder in The Outsiders, I didn't immediately jump up and go 'OMG lesbians!'. When I read Brian Azzerello's run on Hellblazer, I found the psychology and the BDSM aspects of John's relationship with Stanley far more intriguing than the fact they both have a cock. 
I guess my point is, that gay or not, some stuff is just genuinely good. I'm not gonna bother going into detail about Young Avengers #1, there are plenty of decent reviews online already. What I will say, is I hope the cynics won't write the love for this comic off just because of it's subject matter, because it is a highly intelligently written book with stunningly fresh art. If the thing sold out of it's first print run, that's more than a bunch of queer fanboys, and that my dears, is progress.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

How Comics Saved My Brain


My love affair with comics began at a young age. I have fond memories of Beano annuals bought by my nan, Rupert Bear graphic novels of my mums and Asterix books 'borrowed' from an uncle. My father was also a big 2000AD fan (though I'm pretty sure my mum vetoed any kind of 'collection'). He kept them on a shelf above my parents bed. They had always intrigued me and when I tried to climb up to read them one day, he deemed Judge Dredd and co a bit out of my age range. I wasn't disappointed. As a troubled child who desperately did not want to grow up, I distinctly remember thinking that it can't be that bad if they make comics for adults too. As I prepared to enter my teens, comics were bought for me less and less by relatives, who decided that 'real books' were much better for a growing young adult mind. When the comics stopped coming, since money was scarce in our household, I didn't seek them out for myself.
Having two younger sisters meant I could get away with watching kids TV with them for a long time and so I stayed with comics through the Batman and X-Men cartoon series', and of course the 1960s Batman series was practically a family tradition, but gradually as my love of the written word increased, I did turn to the so-called 'real books' and stayed within their pages for a long time. I should probably say that I don't regret this at all, if I hadn't strayed into literary fiction I have no doubt my writing would be appalling and I would have no interest in perusing a career in it, and I do attribute my intellect almost entirely to the wealth of books I read as a youngster. As my home and school life became increasingly unbearable, my writing became more serious and I immersed myself in it. I wrote and I read and I wrote some more. Comics didn't come into it. On my 18th birthday, my then boyfriend gave me volumes one and two of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, apparently inspired by my love of Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker (yes, I was a bit of a gothy emo kid back then). He may have turned out to be a total douche, but I will always be grateful for that.
They came with me to university and I loved every panel. I read them over and over, finding new detail or references in the both the dialogue and the art each time I picked it up. Those books also proved to be an ice-breaker, and I soon found out one of my new flatmates in halls was obsessed with Spider-Man. And I mean obsessed. This girl owned almost every issue he had ever appeared in, even some pretty rare ones (all charged to daddy's credit card I should add), every little plastic thing with his face on, hugged a pillow of him every night, like crazy obsessed, but I digress.
As my first semester got underway, the focus of my writing was academic. Any time not spent in lectures, seminars or the union was spent at my laptop churning out pretentious lunchtime theatre, beat poetry and a few electro songs. I was a creative writing student, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. While I got very into the webcomics of K. Sandra Fuhr, Erica Moen and others, comics as a whole weren't something I could use or even discuss at uni (my tutors were very snobbish about what constituted acceptable writing), and so they didn't have a place in my work at that time.
In my second semester I had something of a minor nervous breakdown, for many reasons that had nothing to do with my actual course. I fell behind with my elective modules (which ironically were chosen for me) and had to leave at the end of my first year. The whole experience left me feeling powerless and disillusioned, almost as if my writing was to blame for what had happened. As such, when I left university I didn't write anything for a very long time. Almost three years to be precise.
I moved to Manchester, got a proper job in the Post Office and settled down. For fun I went clubbing, had meals in pubs, did karaoke with a heavy metal band, you know, the usual. But I didn't write a word. Then, it all went to hell. Short version is I had to move away and quit my job. And when I quit my job, they gave me HMV vouchers as a leaving present. Don't remember why, but I used them to buy V for Vendetta. Alan Moore just wants to drag me back in.
After that, I raided the local library and found a copy of Crisis on Multiple Earths, began reading Fables, Hellblazer and all the titles I still read today. And the more comics I read, the more I wrote again and I never stopped.
I like to think of myself as a bit of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to genres and formats, I've pretty much done a bit of everything, and I love it all. It's a little odd putting this into words, but when I write comics it feels like home. Writing is my life, and comics gave it back.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Random Mortality



Today I was all set to write a nice positive blog about how my depression has affected my writing over the years. This is not what happened.

A man died today, hit by a tesco truck, yards from where I work my day job. He stepped out into traffic without looking and was hit head on. He had no chance. It's a small blessing that he was killed instantly, but that does little to remove the tragedy of this waste of a life.
While my thoughts are with the man's loved ones, as well as the driver, it makes you think. I know that's a terribly over-used phrase when confronted by random mortality, but it really does. One minute you can be shopping on the high street, the next...

The plans I've made for the next few months, I'm more determined than ever to see them through. I'm going to push myself harder than ever with my work, keep trying to build bridges with my family (even more poignant as my sister was hit by a truck a few years back and was lucky to survive), and generally appreciate what I have before its gone.

Friday, 31 August 2012

I draw therefore I code?


This last week I've been bitten by the art bug again. Now I used to have a little, well, less a webcomic, more my life obscurely (and badly) illustrated. I'm not a great artist, in fact I wouldn't call myself one at all, but my drawings were fun to make and I loved confusing people with them.
My housemate found my old sketch book a few days ago, with some bits I hadn't even scanned yet and had actually forgotten about. I'm pretty proud of some of them even, my lettering has come a long way I think, and they made me laugh, but then that's not saying much.
Until I can get hold of some new Indian inks (someone used them all as biros), I thought I'd make do with cleaning up my old drawings and sorting out my Comic Genesis account. Easier said than done. Like so many things technology related, HTML hates me. When deleting old comics, ready to tidy them up, something in my code has gone badly wrong and now I need to fix it, which will probably take up more time than drawing everything I've done so far. BUT I shall persevere, scream, punch inanimate objects, scream some more and eventually I'll have my comic up again all revamped, shiny and awesome.