Monday, January 28, 2013

Things I bought in the UK


Rick Geary Lovers' Lane - the Hall-Mills Mystery. From Rick Geary's Treasury of XXth Century Murder series. I am fond of Rick Geary's comic books about American murder but I fear that this will lack the bizarre gothic qualities of The Bloody Benders or The Bears of Chicago

Simon Reynolds Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Past. Man, I remember when this classic came out, it is so much better than the music books of today. The edition I picked up is also pretty collectible.

Clifford D. Simak City. This is a second hand copy of the classic weirdo SF novel that has maybe crept back into print thanks to Gollancz and their SF Masterworks series.

Jean-Pierre Filiu & David B. Best of Enemies: A History of US and Middle East Relations. Comics and international relations, together at last.

Peter Haining (ed.) Beyond the Curtain of Dark. A New England Library collection of classic horror stories from the great anthologist Peter Haining.


The Keelers Farewell to the Master: Sea Shanties. I bought this from one of the Keelers. Yarrrrr.

The Unthanks Diversions vol. 2: The Unthanks with Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band. | am interested in the combination of Unthanks and brass.

v/a American Murder Ballads: 50 Vintage Murder Ballads. A three quid impulse purchase from Fopp.

v/a Sailor's Songs & Sea Shanties: A Classic Collection of Sea Songs and Shanties. Another impulse purchase from Fopp. It was either this or another collection of sea songs, let's hope I did not get the wrong one.

Image sources (with reviews):

Beyond the Curtain of Dark

Lovers Lane

Best of Enemies

Monday, January 14, 2013

Night Shift

The Black Beetle #0, by Francesco Francavilla

People these days are always doing comics inspired by the pulp magazines of the past. Here is the latest one, a standalone issue of a comic from Dark Horse that may soon be an exciting standalone series. Its plot involves some Nazi stormtroopers who arrive in still neutral America in 1941 to steal some ancient Egyptian artefact of immense occult power. But when they arrive at the museum where it is being stored they are eventually foiled by the titular Black Beetle, a gun-toting masked vigilante who is definitely very different to any other masked adventurers going by a beetle themed name.

The art has a grotty quality that is evocative of the cheap and nasty fun one is meant to get from things pulpy. The shadows and darkness give it all a somewhat noir feel. But the story is a bit slight, spending more or less the entire issue on a not particularly exciting fight in the museum. I feel that a comic should be delivering far more thrill power if it aspires to follow in the footsteps of the classic pulps.

That said, the fascination many writers feel for the pulps is an interesting one. If we assume that it is one shared by the readers, then I do find myself wondering whether publishers would be better off just arranging for cheap reprints of original pulp material, which is now often hard to come by. If people really are so intrigued by things pulpy, would they not rather read the real deal than the work of imitators writing decades after the fact?

Image source (another review)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Seal Pups Cause Chaos - By Being Too Cute

Seals have long been known to arrive at Horsey beach in Norfolk to give birth to their young. But this year, a record number of pups have been born - 600 of the little fellows. And their presence has attracted an enormous number of curious animal lovers, with some 30,000 people showing up to have a look at them. This has caused traffic chaos.

Volunteers from the Friends of Horsey Seals are tying to keep visitors from disturbing the little pups, while the Norfolk Police are urging motorists to stay away.

More (BBC)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

TV loving cat tries to eat TV

Alphie is a kitten who lives in Sheffield. His owner, Ms Vanessa Waite, reports that he likes watching the television, as he seems to find the moving images fascinating. But Alphie loved the television so much he had the bright idea of trying to eat it, starting with the aerial. Unfortunately it stuck in his stomach and he had to be operated on to remove it.

Ms Waite reports that Alphie has not learned any obvious lessons from his experience. He is still watching too much television and appears to be still trying to eat all kinds of inappropriate objects.

More (Guardian)

Friday, January 11, 2013

My favourite tunes of 2012

At last! My favourite new (new-to-me, that is) tunes of 2012 are now available on one CD-R. But don't go looking for this collection in your local HMV - it is not available in any shop. And it is not available anywhere to download either. If you want a copy you will have to ask me to make one for you. And then I will!

Here are the tracks that appear on this amazing compilation:

Ros Sereysothea 'Gunya Ruoh Sroh (Miss Beautiful)' [1975 at the latest]
Sparks 'Hasta Manana Monsieur' [1974]
Fleetwood Mac 'Sisters of the Moon' [1979]
King Missile 'Cheesecake Truck' [1990]
Melodica Deathship 'All Horizon' [2002]
A Hawk And A Hacksaw 'Portlandtown' [2005]
[Unnamed Nubian Musicians] 'Dahab' [unknown]
Sparks 'Good Morning' [2008]
Tieranniesaur 'Here Be Monsters' [2011]
Matt Berry 'Take My Hand' [2011]
The Unthanks 'Sea Song' [2011]
Cornershop (feat. SoKo) 'Something Makes You Feel Like' [2012]
Cate Le Bon 'Fold the Cloth' [2012]
Gallon Drunk 'Hanging On' [2012]
The North Sea Scrolls 'The Morris Man Cometh' [2012]
Wizards of Firetop Mountain 'Sonic War' [2012]
LA Vampires (feat. Matrix Metals) 'Berlin Baby' [2010]
Tau Emerald 'Full Moon' [2008]

In more detail:

Ros Sereysothea 'Gunya Ruoh Sroh (Miss Beautiful)' [1975 at the latest]
This comes from the compilation Groove Club Vol. 3: Cambodia Rock Intensified!. My beloved and I dance around the room whenever we hear this song. Ros Sereysothea was one of the biggest stars of the Khmer Pop scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Then the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and exterminated her and everyone else who was involved in this type of music.

Sparks 'Hasta Manana Monsieur' [1974]
This comes from the album Kimono My House. When it was announced that Sparks would be playing in Dublin at the end of October I started to explore their music. This track is from the era when they used to appear on Top of the Pops all the time, with Ron Mael frightening little children all across these islands.

Kimono My House is the Sparks album with 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us', but that was not new to me. And listening to 'Hasta Manana Monsieur' should make clear to the Sparks-curious that they are not some kind of one-song band.

Fleetwood Mac 'Sisters of the Moon' [1979]
This is from Tusk, Fleetwood Mac's follow-up to the quintillion-selling Rumours. If I was not already familiar with it I would have included the brilliant title track of that album, but it was not new to me so instead I present this Stevie Nicks classic.

King Missile 'Cheesecake Truck' [1990]
This is from a CD-R compilation given to me at All Tomorrow's Parties last March. Like the best novelty tunes it does not outstay its welcome.

Melodica Deathship 'All Horizon' [2002]
This comes from The Sunken Path. Melodica Deathship play a doomy form of hip-hop music with such strong nautical themes that a wag has styled them as "Ship-Hop".

A Hawk And A Hacksaw 'Portlandtown' [2005]
This is from the album Darkness at Noon. Most of this lot's music is instrumental. I saw them perform a new soundtrack to the film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors at All Tomorrow's Parties last March and fell in love with them.

[Unnamed Nubian Musicians] 'Dahab' [unknown]
This is from a record called Music of Nubia, a bootleg copy of which I bought in Egypt (Egypt being a land untouched by intellectual property laws, at least as far as music is concerned). The photocopied sleeve is a bit thin on detail and I cannot find anything about it online. Ho hum. But the record itself is fascinating. It is mostly call and response vocals with a heavy percussive accompaniment, the drumming having a most hypnotic quality.

Sparks 'Good Morning' [2008]
This is from Exotic Creatures of the Deep. I bought this at the Sparks concert last year. The lyrics describe a situation in which we have all found ourselves. Well maybe you have, with your glamorous and exciting life.

Tieranniesaur 'Here Be Monsters' [2011]
This is from the compilation Popical Island 2. Tieranniesaur are the band of Irish pop star Annie Tierney and they have made music on the Popical Island record label. I keep missing their live concerts. When I put this track on the other day my beloved said "Oh, is this another one by Fleetwood Mac?"

Matt Berry 'Take My Hand' [2011]
This comes from Witchazel, the interesting folky album from the deep-voiced comic actor.

The Unthanks 'Sea Song' [2011]
This is from The Songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & the Johnsons, Live from the Union Chapel (Diversions Vol. 1). This is a cover of the famous Robert Wyatt song, from his Rock Bottom album.

Cornershop (feat. SoKo) 'Something Makes You Feel Like' [2012]
This is from Urban Turban – The Singhles Club. It features the patented Cornershop stoner groove.

Cate Le Bon 'Fold the Cloth' [2012]
This is from Cyrk, Cate Le Bon's second album, which I embarrassingly have not listened to anything like enough.

Gallon Drunk 'Hanging On' [2012]
This is from The Road Gets Darker From Here, the latest release from this great band.

The North Sea Scrolls 'The Morris Man Cometh' [2012]
This is from the album The North Sea Scrolls. These eponymous scrolls were discovered by Cathal Coughlan, Luke Haines, and Andrew Mueller. They reveal the true history of England. This song concerns the terrifying collaborationist militia from the period of England's 20th century occupation.

Wizards of Firetop Mountain 'Sonic War' [2012]
This is from the compilation MISC that I acquired at the Hunters Moon festival last October. Wizards of Firetop Mountain rock. One day they will have an album.

LA Vampires (feat. Matrix Metals) 'Berlin Baby' [2010]
This is from the album So Unreal, an example of the "hypnagogic pop" that the young people were then very excited about. Most of the album is both strange and dreadful - as previously noted, a lot of it sounds like an avant-garde version of shit 80s music, only with the worst elements of both. But with this track I think they nail what they are trying to do, producing something that sounds strange and hypnotically evocative. You may disagree, which is why I have put it here near the end.

Tau Emerald 'Full Moon' [2008]
This is from the album Travellers Two. Tau Emerald are the collective name for the individual solo stars Fursaxa and Sharron Kraus. Fursaxa is a bit experimental and avant garde while Sharron Kraus alone makes more straight down the line folky music. Put them together and - PA-ZAAAA! It all gets a bit dangerous.

And that's it. If you want a copy, let me know and I will make you one.

image source

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Poignant Tortoise News

Sometimes I think it is only fairy tales that true love lasts forever. And it seems this is true of tortoises as it is for people. From Austria comes news that their two giant tortoises, Bibi and Poldi, are no longer on speaking terms. The two animals are 115 years old and have been together almost all their lives, becoming a breeding pair when they reached maturity. But now it seems to be over - Bibi no longer has any time for Poldi and went so far as to bite a chunk off his shell last month. Since then the two have had to be separated. Their zoo is trying to effect a reconciliation, but it does not seem to be happening.


Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Attack of the Volleyball Teens

Mara #1, by Brian Wood, Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire

Brian Wood has been on my radar since I came across the interesting title Local he produced with Ryan Kelly. That followed a young woman as she moved each issue to a new location in North America, with the episodes being full of local detail. Mara is not like that, in so far as it is not just a character study but has science fiction elements. It is set in the near future, in a world that has become completely obsessed by sport. The implication seems to be that this sports obsession somehow differentiates this future world from our own.

The eponymous Mara is the 17-year-old star player in a volleyball team. She is one of the biggest sports stars in the world. Meanwhile her brother is off in the military serving in some central Asian hellhole made up for the purposes of this comic. Things trot along until Mara's team has to play an exhibition match against an up-and-coming team. On live television Mara then exhibits bizarre super powers, which is as much of a surprise to her as to everyone else.

I am not entirely convinced by this. The future setting seemed a bit thin and lacking in detail. Maybe that would unfold over time, but for now it felt like there was not really much going on with it. The main character seemed a bit odd too - for someone in her teens, she seems wise beyond her years. Maybe this is meant to foreshadow her being superpowered and all that, but to me it just made her seem less like a real person.

Still, there are things to like here. The sporty stuff was fun (despite hating sport I have always enjoyed sport in comics). And the art (from Ming Doyle, with colours by Jordie Bellaire) is likeable too. One thing that should be saluted here is that in a story about buff teenage girl athletes, the art seems to lack a voyeuristic aspect - even a full-page picture of Mara in her underwear seems strangely desexualised. Mara looking far more white on the cover than she does inside is however a bit odd.

Overall, while this comic is somewhat interesting, there is not enough in it to bring me back for a second issue. If this turns out to be a terrible mistake, let me know.

Image source (also another review)

Some mostly-very-short reviews of other comics written by Brian Wood.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Death in Texas

Fatale #11, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

This begins with a policeman sitting in a bar drinking on his own when he suddenly realises that the woman who left him there will not be coming back for him. It then flashes back to how he found himself in this situation. Some days previously he and his partner arrested a woman at a murder scene, a beautiful woman he was then unable to get out of his mind. He then busted her out of the holding cell, killing his partner in the process, and with her went driving across Texas as she went looking for a writer she said she needed to contact for some reason.

Although this is #11 of a series, that introduction tells you almost all you need to know to start reading this. The woman is Josephine, or Jo, and by this point the reader has picked up a number of things about her. She is very beautiful, but beyond that she seems to have a supernatural ability to make men fall in love with her and to do the most irrational things for her benefit. She also seems not to age (previous instalments have shown her in the 1920s, 1960s, and 2000s all looking pretty much the same). And she is being hunted (the hunters show up later in this issue). The why and how of all this have yet to be explained. They seem also to be somewhat irrelevant, as the point of the title is to watch Jo as she destroys the lives of the men she attracts into her orbit.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have done a number of titles together now, typically about crime and brazenly wearing influences from the worlds of noir, pulp, and the hard-boiled. In this one they add horror (tacitly Lovecraftian horror) to the mix. They also make the interesting choice of playing to one of their weaknesses. In such previous titles of theirs as Criminal or Incognito, it was always noticeable that the world they wrote about was a man's world, with men as the agents and arbiters of their fate (often through the terrible mistakes they made). Women tended not to appear, and if they did they usually were victims or else identikit noir shady ladies to leading the heroes astray. One might say that in so doing they were reflecting the conventions of the fictions to which they were paying homage, though that would be to ignore the subtlety and depth of character often exhibited by women characters in noir films.

In Fatale Brubaker and Phillips have taken an identikit noir shady lady and turned her up to 11. Josephine becomes a supernatural force of destruction. She is not malevolent as such, but she will use and destroy men to get herself out of trouble and advance her goals. She may then feel a bit sad about it, but so be it. She reminds somewhat of the tragic figures you get in the more emo vampire film - implacable and amoral, yet lonely and sad with it.

For all that she is central to the plot, Josephine always seems less vivid than the men in the story, probably because an immortal femme fatale is hard to identify with. In this one the police officer led astray by Josephine has a convincing air of terrible tragedy, with Sean Phillips' art playing a big role here - he captures well the facial expression of one who has been doomed by unwise choices he was powerless not to make. And then there is the writer Josephine goes to meet, who appears to be modelled on Robert E. Howard. In a nice meta-fictional touch, he is the hack writer of the kind of lurid pulp fiction Fatale is referencing, but Josephine spots something in his horror stories suggesting that he is not just writing from his imagination. Her intervention proves as fatal for him as it does for everyone else who crosses her path.

So there you go. If this sounds interesting, you could probably jump aboard with #11 and go back later to read what has gone before. Or you could check out the two trade paperbacks collecting earlier issues - Death Chases Me & The Devil's Business.

Fatale #11 cover image source (and another review of this issue)

Samples of interior art

My review of the first Criminal book by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

My review of the first issue of the second series of Brubaker and Phillips' Incognito

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Feline Felon in Prison Plot

A white cat has been arrested in a Brazilian jail. It was spotted crossing the front gate of the prison in Arapiraca city, with a variety of contraband items strapped to its body, including a mobile phone and charger, drill bits, files, and earphones. It is believed that the cat was part of a gang and that the contraband items would have been used in an escape attempt or to communicate with criminals outside.

The cat is being held in an animal protection centre while attempts are made to track down its accomplices. However, prison spokesperson Estado de S. Paulo reports that the case is not progressing as the cat is proving uncooperative. "It's tough to find out who's responsible for the action as the cat is not talking," commented Mr de S. Paulo.


Friday, January 04, 2013

Invasion of the Mutant Rats

Scientists have discovered that increasing numbers of rats are now resistant to poisons commonly used against them. In fact, 75% of rats in Bristol, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire are now resistant to the standard suite of poisons. Scientists fear that in as little as ten years all rats in those areas will be resistant.

Rat sources suggest that once this stage has been reached, they will progress to Phase 2.

The Rats by James Herbert


Thursday, January 03, 2013


Scientists report that climate change is putting Pandas in danger of extinction. As you know, Pandas love nothing more than stuffing their faces on bamboo and tend not to eat much of anything else. Unfortunately, climate change means that there is an increasing likelihood of bamboo diebacks. And because of ever-expanding human settlement, Pandas in an area where bamboo has died off will find it difficult to migrate to an area where it remains abundant.

The Pandas in the Qinling Mountains in Shanxi province are believed to be particularly vulnerable, as their range is completely surrounded by human settlement - if their bamboo dies out, they will have no way of escape.