Category Archives: Comics

Zone 1: The Guernsey Comic Book Anthology

Zone 1 coverIn 2015 the Guernsey Literary Festival expanded its programme to incorporate ‘graphic novels’ for the first time with a focus on the islands links to a revelling of Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs in that form.

As part of that a workshop was held with the writer and artist who adapted Hugo’s novel, David Hine and Mark Stafford, and they inspired a group of writers and artists to put together the first comic book anthology from the island, Zone 1, which was released through Black Moor Press in mid-2017.

Prey by Mikal Dyas

Prey by Mikal Dyas

Consisting of six short stories, they vary in tone and style about as broadly as is possible without heading directly into superhero territory and are by turns darkly disturbing, interestingly poignant or just downright baffling.

Prey by Theo Leworthy and Mikal Dyas

The first story has the feel of a bad dream as we join a father and son on a hunting trip that goes wrong.

While the story is fairly simple, the artwork amplifies it into truly horrific territory and, while it never quite comes entirely into focus as a whole, it finishes in a shockingly memorable moment that feels like it wants to say something but isn’t really sure what.

Heavenly Body by Hugh Rose

Heavenly Body by Hugh Rose

Heavenly Body by Hugh Rose

One of the nicest things about this collection is that it doesn’t lean heavily on being from Guernsey with this really being the only story with a suggestion of a local link, though not dealt with in the way it often is, as it is a tale of evacuated children during the Second World War.

The artwork is simple but evocative with an oddly playful sense despite the potentially serious nature of the story. The whole thing ends on a lighthearted note to defuse the situation that does a good job of bringing a child’s sense of wonder to a potentially rather different tale.

Meek The Mighty by Kit Gilson

Meek The Mighty by Kit Gilson

Mighty Are The Meek by Colin Ferbrache and Kit Gillson

While only brief, the highlight of Mighty Are The Meek are the cartoonish goblin designs of Kit Gillson. If you follow Kit on Instagram you might be familiar with his cartoon designs and they look great here.

Unfortunately beyond this the strip feels a little too much like an unfinished sketch but the ‘to be continued…’ at the end offers the suggestion that it could grow into quite a charming, comic strip style, piece.

Fimbulwinter by Llewellyn Van Eeden

While Llewelyn Van Eeden’s tale drops us into one of the most complete settings and slickest looking art of the anthology, as a whole it feels a little too clichéd as it tells what feels like the first part of a story focussing on a fairly stereotypical Norse blacksmith and his village.

Fimbulwinter by Llewellyn Van Eeden

Fimbulwinter by Llewellyn Van Eeden

While I could see it developing nicely with a few hints of mystery, based on this the characters feel a little too stock and the art while smooth and sleek, doesn’t stand out as well as the other pieces.

Urbane Paria by Adam Gillson

While this painted story starts out in mysterious fashion with what sounds like a gruesome death it soon becomes a little lost and confused.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the artwork, while interesting and expressive in one sense, does little to help provide character or a consistent setting and the whole thing veers a little too far from the standard comic book or murder mystery conventions to properly work.

The Race For The Black Gate by Russell Wicks

The Race For The Black Gate by Russell Wicks

The Race For The Black Gate by Jonathan Dawe and Russell Wicks

Probably the most conventional tale in the collection comes with the last, though even then it throws its own spin on things.

With something of a hard-boiled, murder mystery aspect combined with a paranormal element, the basic story and the shadowy cartoon artwork combine to create the collection’s most complete feeling piece.

With enough detail revealed to draw the reader in it leaves things on a mysterious cliffhanger that I hope means there’s Zone 2 on the way to continue the tale. 


Urbane Paria by Adam Gillson

Urbane Paria by Adam Gillson

While Zone 1 is, expectedly, a mixed bag, there’s a lot to enjoy from striking visuals to intriguing stories to various attempts to subvert comic convention and, while a few may miss the mark and come off as trying a little too hard to be clever for the sake of it, there’s certainly enough to recommend to fans of comics beyond the Marvel and DC mainstream and I hope it isn’t just a one-off.

Note: apologies to the artists for the slightly ropey reproduction of the images but I couldn’t find any online

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Paper Girls: Volume 1 by Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

Paper Girls Volume 1Generally when I pick up a new comic I have a fair idea what to expect. If it’s Marvel or DC that’s generally the usual superhero fare, while more indie comics will usually be recommended by friends or because there’s a movie or TV show based on it. 

Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls then is something a little different as I took a punt on it based on a combination of the cover art and it being recommended in a few different comic book stores, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Telling the story of four young girls who, while out on their paper round, get embroiled in a mystery apparently spanning time and space the series, which was launched in late 2015, lands firmly in the same kind of zeitgeist as Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Set in the late 1980s the style evokes this excellently and it treads the line of nostalgia and truth brilliantly while its small town America setting just adds to the 80s movie vibe, a little like a more adult The Goonies or slightly more juvenile Back To The Future or The Lost Boys but laced through with the same sense of down to earth grit in the lead characters as all of those.

Paper Girls and objectI don’t want to spoil things in the story too much but, as it goes on, the design of the mysterious, somewhat alien, characters who appear contain the right level of grotesque and scary to again fit this style and, like the best of those 80s movies it doesn’t shy away from getting a bit more graphic than you might initially expect.

Artistically, Chiang’s style is a great mix of simplicity and detail so we get an idea of the settings quickly and easily but with everything we need to know where we are and who the characters are without things becoming over complicated.

It also treads the line between realism and cartoon excellently with some very nice design flourishes in the more fantastic elements. In my experience this is often a highlight of the more independent end of comic books and Chiang is clearly a fine exponent of it.

Erin - Paper Girls

Erin

As a whole then Paper Girls is something of a joy combining a healthy mix of nostalgia and creativity to produce a comic book with a unique feel that captures a current spirit but has everything it should need to be a highlight of the medium for a long time to come.

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Akira (Book One) by Katsuhiro Otomo

Akira book oneSince the western release of the anime film version of Katsuhiro Otomo’s early 1980s manga Akira it has entered the western pop culture lexicon like few other things from the Far East, arguably kick starting the ongoing fascination with Japanese culture in the western world that spans from the films of Studio Ghibli to the likes of Pokemon.

Despite having seen the film long ago and the many references to it in cinema since, I had yet to go back to the original manga until now. So, while I had some expectations, I didn’t have a total grasp of what it might be like.

This first book of the series kicks off by introducing us to a teenage bike gang (bōsōzoku) in Post-World War Three Neo-Tokyo, and we are dropped into a slightly familiar, exaggerated gang culture of Japanese youth (if this exists in real life or just in manga and anime I’m not able to say, but it certainly has a ring of truth) in a vaguely totalitarian society where we soon discover something is amiss with superpowered mutant humans being hidden, somewhat unsuccessfully, by mysterious government agencies.

Akira - Kaneda and Tetsuo

Kaneda and Tetsuo

The story itself is one that has become somewhat cliché, but this feels like where it started, so we follow gang member Kaneda as he becomes embroiled in this mystery following the apparent death and resurrection of fellow young biker Tetsuo.

While the story is undeniably engrossing what sets Akira apart, and at the time of its original publication must have been fairly astonishing, is the pace of the storytelling and action. While American comics traditionally were fairly verbose works, with long passages of expository dialogue, in Akira much of this is removed and Otomo allows the images to do the heavy lifting.

So we race through the society and city which is never explained explicitly but we explore it much as we might in a film, through the detailed visuals. Similarly the characters are revealed to us as much through action as anything else and, while they are mostly fairly typical, it isn’t long before we get behind Kaneda and get a genuine sense of mystery over the fate of Tetsuo that builds to this part’s climax.

Katsuhiro Otomo

Katsuhiro Otomo

While American comics have since caught up with this style it’s hard not to recognise the pioneering nature of Akira as it races along like its characters. While this first volume is clearly just getting the story up and running, it is as engaging and engrossing as any comics I’ve read and, as well as being a notable historical artefact of the medium, remains a compelling read with some excellent artwork.

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The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys – Gerard Way, Shaun Simon and Becky Cloonan

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys coverReleased as six-part run by Dark Horse Comics, The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is a spin-off to the final album by My Chemical Romance. While I am a fan of the album, the idea of taking its fairly more thematic than narrative concept and turning it into a comic book led me to approaching it with a certain sense of apprehension.

Prior to this I had read Gerard Way (MCR frontman) and Gabriel Ba’s The Umbrella Academy series and very much enjoyed it. It’s off kilter sense of b-movie pastiche, superteam and obscure pop culture references perfectly balance a sense of humour with some surprisingly dark themes. This though, just from the cover artwork, seemed to be something else.

With writing duties divided between Way and Shaun Simon there are moments where what Way showed in The Umbrella Academy poke through but, for the most part, the story mixes generic, post-apocalyptic, locations and characters with a generally paper-thin and at times downright confusing plot.

Rather than telling the story of the album it seems to be more bothered by getting in as many track names as possible while also labouring some very obvious moral moments.

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys artworkThe story is divided into two. One side focuses on a group of outlaws in the desert, the titular Killjoys, along with a potentially messianic young girl and a pair of pirate radio DJs.

The other deals with the inhabitants of Battery City (a 1984-lite development) and specifically a pair of ‘porno droids’ who have fallen in love but one of who’s batteries is failing and Korse a chief Scarecrow of the ruling powers but who is discovered to be in love as well and therefore becomes something of an outlaw himself.

This setting is, it would seem, several years after the events of the album’s loose story and so the original Killjoys, the characters portrayed by the band in the record’s promo material, aren’t really involved and are instead transformed into heroic legends, though we never really find out what made them so heroic.

My Chemical Romance

My Chemical Romance – The original Killjoys

This is problematic as the main target audience for the book, and certainly myself, would surely rather prefer the story of their heroes rather than some dubious extrapolated other.

Other than this though the main problems with the book are that the tone is hugely imbalanced. It is at once hugely simplistic, particularly in its moralising, but deals with some rather dark issues with Room 101-like torture implied and generally vein of nastiness that, while never as graphic as the likes of Preacher, doesn’t sit with the younger aimed core.

The other problem is in the artwork from Becky Cloonan. While the colour scheme is entirely in keeping with its source with bright and vibrant colours on the Mad Max-esque desert folk and monochrome tones in the city, the actual drawing style is very flat and lacks detail.

DraculoidsBecause of this the whole thing seem rushed and generic and doesn’t add adding anything of its own to an already well established genre.

If I weren’t a fan of My Chemical Romance I really can’t see there being much to appeal in The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, and, while it isn’t really bad, it’s not really very good either and just felt somewhat empty and pointless, particularly when compared to The Umbrella Academy. I can’t help but think if Way had had the time to develop it like he did that other series, it could have been a far better piece of work.

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From Hell

From Hell coverAlan Moore’s writing has always been something apart from what was around him. Certainly his 1980s work for American comics giant DC has, and can be, included with that decades re-evaluation of the form, but even next to his contemporaries from that era his work has always seemed to stand apart.

So, from the voice finding 1984-like super-anti-hero series V For Vendetta, through his epic retelling of 20th century history with ‘real world’ superheroes in Watchmen (and more in between) we get to From Hell, his take on the Jack The Ripper story.

Much like his previous work, Moore doesn’t take the usual route with his tale of murder on the foggy streets of Whitechapel. Rather than the police procedural a story like this would often be (and to an extent is in the lackluster film adaptation), From Hell focuses as much on ‘Jack’ and the lives of his victims as it does Inspector Abberline of the Yard.

From Hell 1But, what really sets this entirely apart from what it could have been, is its speculative fiction approach. This mixes elements of historical fact with reasonably well supported conspiracy and the odd moment of outright invention to create something genuinely compelling in its basic plot, with a couple of extra layers of social commentary laid over the top.

The basic plot deals with one of the stronger theories of who the Ripper might have been, looking particularly at Sir William Withey Gull and the idea of a Royal and Masonic conspiracy to cover up the birth of an illegitimate royal baby.

This explains, fairly satisfactorily, why the five specific women were killed and, by Moore’s own admission in the book’s footnotes, explores a fairly biased conspiracy against Freemasonry – though coming from where I do I have to admit to finding this hugely compelling as well.

from hell 2On top of this we get flashes of Gull’s supposed madness. While this isn’t entirely based on fact there is evidence he suffered a stroke, which may have led to seizures and arguably ‘visions’. Moore runs with this idea to turn Jack The Ripper into the progenitor of the serial killer as we see it portrayed in both the real world and fiction today and give a twisted motive to his crimes.

This portrayal of the serial killer idea is a fairly obvious, but very well executed, comment on how the media has dealt with the subject since and references the likes of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley and Ian Sutcliffe.

In the eyes of some this may be a controversial set of  direct references to make but, for me, it brings home the reality of the crimes portrayed in From Hell and acts as a reminder that, while this is a compelling mystery narrative set in the now-alien streets of Victorian London, these murders did rally take place and involved real people having a major effect not only on the life of those involved, but also the psyche of certainly the city and possibly the entire country.

From Hell 3While Moore’s writing is, rightly, the most focused on aspect of From Hell, that is to do artist Eddie Campbell something of a disservice. Without his scratchy black and white imagery the feel needed for this story would be lost.

The detailed line drawing style feels right for the setting of the story as it evokes a sense of mystery and gloom that working class areas of Victorian London had. Along side this, it gives a transcendental feel when the visions occur and, with more detailed backgrounds when we see into the lives of the upper class, helps show the social divide at work in the story. Chiefly striking in this is Queen Victoria who appears surrounded and shrouded in her mourning black throughout.

from hell 4If all you know of Alan Moore is his famous American work, or all you know of From Hell is the Hughes Brothers mildly diverting but flawed not-quite-whodunit movie, then I couldn’t recommend From Hell more as the vision of a singular artist, both in its writer and, as described here, in its main character.

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Preacher

Preacher - Gone To TexasWith all the recent talk around DC Comics characters slowly but, seemingly, surely making their way to the big and small screens, from John Constantine and Sandman to The Flash and Batman Vs Superman, I thought I’d take a look back at one of their Vertigo imprint titles that I had particularly enjoyed, Preacher.

Across nine ‘trade paperbacks’, some 75 issues including one-shot specials and spin-off mini series, Preacher tells the story of Jesse Custer, a Texan small town reverend and his adventures as he becomes possessed by an angel-demon hybrid and fights off Armageddon while hunting down an absent alpha-and-omega.

Along the way he encounters everyone from conspirators bent on ending the world through the second coming to hideously deformed rock stars to vampire wannabes, all while flanked, for better or worse, by his on/off girlfriend Tulip and an Irish vampire called Cassidy.

While a lot of this sounds not that out of the ordinary for a comic book series, particularly one put out by Vertigo, what does set it apart is the framework within which Ennis places his story, that of a western. In this western Custer is the Man With No Name like hero, riding into town to save the day while doing his utmost to battle his own, in this case literal, demons.

Jesse Custer and Tulip

Jesse Custer and Tulip

It’s this view of the western and the epic myth of America that really is the underlying theme of the whole series and it is something that, much like the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s can really only come from outside the USA and Ennis, being Northern Irish, fits the bill to add to this thematic history.

So we get a lot of stereotypical touchstones, from New York City to The Alamo via Monument Valley, but, on top of this, rather than Clint Eastwood riding in, we get Ennis’ misfit band.

Mixed in with this is something of Kerouac’s mythic America, as seen in On The Road as well. The presence of Cassidy being something of an obvious reference and otherwise in the road trip sense that the whole series has as well.

What marks them out from much of what has gone before is a few things. First is the time period, this is very much a millennial tale set in the late 1990s, but general with a sense of the vague (again mythic) now.

Cassidy

Cassidy

Second is the humour which is the kind of thing you could see Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonson come up with if teamed with the writers of Viz and let lose without any restrictions. And thirdly is the level of sheer ultra-violence that ties all this together with liberal doses of blood and a whole hell of a lot of killing.

Another thing that sets its apart is the characters as well as the excellent lead, Jesse Custer, and his aforementioned entourage, we get a supporting cast that really are both fascinating and, at times, truly demented.

High up among them is the Saint Of Killers. An ex-legendary gun fighter now taking on the role of the Angel of Death and seemingly one of the few beings even the almighty fears. In some hands The Saint, a seven-foot cowboy with ever loaded pistols that never jam and never miss, could be a dull super human presence but Ennis provides him with a back story that makes this being hell-bent on destroying all in his path genuinely sympathetic.

In the villain department Herr Starr of The Grail starts off as a something of a hyper-devout Christian zealot and grows into a genuine monster who, in the tradition of much action adventure fiction, becomes more physically deformed as he becomes more evil – much like the rest of the comic it may not be politically correct but it makes for a compelling story.

The Saint Of Killers

The Saint Of Killers

Then there is the ever-present side story of Arseface that frankly has to be seen to be believed.

It being a comic seeing, of course, is as much a part of things as the story and it is here that any disappointment really comes.

While Steve Dillon’s artwork gives a good sense of the characters and the places it is, at best, perfunctory with a style that is often very flat, though in this it does let the story and the words work their magic.

The cover art by Glenn Fabry, however, is a totally different story. With a depth that sometimes goes too far it is here that we find the striking images that would normally come as splash pages in the comics and, if these are kept in mind while reading, serve to expand what is actually show on the page.

How (and if) anyone ever manages to translate the sprawling story of Jesse Custer and co to the screen remains to be seen, but, before that happens I would urge anyone to check out the comics, but don’t go in unless your prepared for some at times harsh, brutal and funny in the most wrong of ways action all wrapped up in an epic Western context.

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American Adventure – Part Ten: Los Angeles Days Four and Five and coming home

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach

My fourth day in the City of Angels was something a bit different as it was the birthday of one of my hosts, so to start the day we headed out to Manhattan Beach for breakfast at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House and my first real experience of a proper ‘American breakfast’.

Being one who normally goes for something simple like a bowl of cereal, I chose one of the menu’s more modest sounding options of scrambled egg and bacon with two pancakes and, I should have guessed, my plate arrived stuffed with enough food to feed a small army. While my general experience hints that large portions often leads to lower quality that certainly wasn’t the case here as it was all delicious, including the large mug of hot chocolate, and should you be in the Manhattan Beach area at breakfast time (or anytime really), then Uncle Bill’s is well worth a look, especially if you can get an outside table like we did as you get a (partial) beach view to go with the food.

On the way back from Manhattan Beach we went past LAX and just peeking up over a rise along the road was a very recognisable blue tail fin, so we headed up and around a side road to get a great view of Air Force One, which had flown in that morning, so the military plane we had seen the previous day had indeed been carrying “the Beast”, certainly an unexpected extra to my trip.

Surfers at Malibu

Surfers at Malibu

For the afternoon Nick and I left Shannon to put the finishing touches to her birthday party which was coming up the following evening, and we headed out in the car to check out Santa Monica and Malibu beaches.

As someone who lives five minutes walk from the beach, visits to beaches can be a mixed bag as, unless there is something particularly special on offer they often feel much like driving around at home, these beaches however certainly had something different.

While it was an overcast day some areas of the beaches were still busy as many surf breaks lined the coast as waves broke on the many small headlands. Between each of these headlands the road snaked at the bottom of a cliff, often behind a row of yet more beach front houses.

The further away from the city we got the sparser the buildings on the land side of the road became and we entered a strange area of beaches lined with houses but then comparatively open land on the other side, with more spectacular houses lining the hills just back from the road.

The beaches in this area looked like they would have been great to visit on a sunny day, though I also got the impression they probably get very busy when the sun is out, it was just this day’s ‘June Gloom’ that was keeping people away.

After the beaches we headed into Santa Monica itself, another of the many towns that make up the vast sprawl of LA. Unlike many of the others though it seems this one has managed to maintain something of a semblance of being a separate community, albeit one mostly consisting of very high-end residences along with a very nice central shopping street where I found a Hot Topic and picked up a couple of t-shirts including a CM Punk one and a Loki one – take me to the fanciest shopping mall and I’ll still find the pro-wrestling and comic stuff…

For dinner we headed out to meet a few more relatives who had flown in the weekend’s celebrations at the In-N-Out Burger in the shadow of LAX. While appearing from the outside like any other fast food restaurant, I have to say it lived up to my expectations from the recommendations I’d had as the food tasted far fresher than I’ve ever encountered at McDonald’s or Burger King and with their unique menu certainly added something extra to the standard fast food model – and sitting outside with 747s and similar landing across the roads certainly added a different element to the meal.

With more relatives arriving my last full day in Los Angeles was mostly one large celebration in honour of Shannon’s birthday and it started out with another huge breakfast back in Manhattan Beach, though this time at a different place that didn’t quite have the same amount of character as Uncle Bill’s.

Manhattan Beach Pier

Manhattan Beach Pier

After breakfast we headed for a walk down the seafront where people were playing volleyball as signs warned against swimming near the pier where waves were breaking with quite some force on the shore.

We followed this with a quick visit to another comic book store, The Comic Bug, which once again featured friendly and knowledgeable staff as well as having its own gaming area at the back, something I generally see as a good sign in comic book stores, even though I don’t play anymore and I picked up a copy of the hardback edition of Hit Girl (the follow-up to Kick-Ass) to complete my set of Mark Millar’s fine, ultraviolent series.

The remains of the cake

The remains of the cake

The rest of the day was taken up with the party and assorted preparations which I won’t bore you with other than to say it was a great bash and featured the most amazing birthday cake I’ve even seen or tasted before things continued into the small hours which meant Sunday involved simply packing and heading to LAX for my flight home.

After such a great time the trip back was always going to be a sad affair, but thankfully Virgin Atlantic once again managed to make things easier for me with a double seat to myself and some more great movies and TV shows on offer on board, before traversing the outskirts of London and making it back to the little rock int he English Channel a few hours early.

It’s somewhat clichéd to say a trip to the other side of the world, even a largely touristy one like this, is a life changing experience, but I think this one probably has been for me on at least some level, with great thanks to my hosts Nick and Shannon in LA and Ashley in San Francisco, and I have to admit, two weeks on from my return home, I’m already beginning to plan my next adventure…

Read about my third day in LA, featuring Space Shuttles, Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper, here.

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American Adventure – Part Eight: Los Angeles – Day Two

Day two of the my time in LA kicked off with a drive down the beaches south of Playa Del Ray with Nick as tour guide, so we headed down the Vista Del Mar and took in Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach which have a feeling of little seaside towns caught up int he sprawl of Los Angeles but still managing to retain something of their own sense of self – along with some more very impressive beach front houses.

The beaches themselves look fantastic and I can imagine for those who like relaxing on the beach there is plenty of room as the sands are so huge, however I’m told on clear and sunny days they still get busy, particularly in these areas.

The Griffith Observatory

The Griffith Observatory

In the afternoon we headed out towards Hollywood and the hills overlooking the famed area which features Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard and Melrose Avenue to the Griffith Observatory which is perched opposite the famous white letters and affords great views across the whole city as well as a fascinating museum of astronomy.

The observatory itself is a spectacular 1930s building that fits in with much of the classic architecture found around the city. Still featuring a pair of classic observatory style telescopes the complex is now more a tourist attraction than a genuine science facility with the central dome housing a large planetarium.

Downtown LA from the observatory

Downtown LA from the observatory

The show we experienced in the planetarium took us through the history of the universe with a great live commentary as the stars, planets and the stories about our relationship to them swirled in the air above us in spectacular fashion – unfortunately I have to admit that the combination of a warm day, a dark room, a comfortable reclined seat and anti-allergy tablets led to me dozing off a couple of times during the show, but I guess I just have another reason to go back (as if I really needed one).

The rest of the museum featured various displays on the planets as well as some pieces of meteor recovered from the desert areas of Southern California and Nevada with some pieces having been dated as being older than the Earth and continuing the mind-boggling facts that still amaze me no matter how many times I hear them.

The Dolby Theatre

The Dolby Theatre

Heading down the hill we soon hit the junction of Hollywood and Highlands where the Dolby Theatre and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre mark the iconic centre of the movie industry in the midst of one of the most crass and touristy streets I have ever seen.

The Dolby Theatre itself (and its adjacent shopping mall) is impressive as it echoes the sets built in the 1910s for D.W. Griffith’s epic Intolerance and other Hollywood greats and theatres entrance hall lists all the Best Picture Academy Award winners with space for 50 more years of winners to come.

Grauman’s is even more impressive with its famed Chinese design and courtyard packed with hand and foot prints of stars ranging from Harold Lloyd and Cecil B. De Mille to the cast of the Harry Potter and Twilight movies. Despite the somewhat novelty approach of this seeing the indelible marks left by great movie stars over the years does demonstrate the lasting effect they’ve left on out culture and society, though as it was the likes of Potter and Twilight that seemed to be the most popular prints I wonder how long the old stars will really remain shining.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

Before heading down to Melrose Avenue for the Groundlings improv comedy show we stopped off at the Guitar Centre on Sunset which was an amazing yet overwhelming store for a guitar enthusiast with a selection of vintage guitars that was like nothing I’d ever seen, including a 25th Anniversary Gibson Les Paul Custom which falls firmly into my ‘dream guitar’ territory.

Also before The Groundlings we headed for dinner at Roscoe’s, where the speciality was the initially strange-sounding combination of chicken and waffles – well in for a penny in for a pound, as they say, I ordered the Scoe’s, and the mix of sweetness from the waffles and maple syrup worked excellently with the southern fried chicken, even if the whole thing had the distinct air of a heart attack on a plate, but I’d certainly recommend trying it out if you’re near a branch of Roscoe’s.

The Groundlings are a comedy troop who have been performing their brand of improvised comedy since the mid-1970s and have featured comedy stars such as Will Ferrell and Kirsten Wiig having been members. Tonight we got to see The Crazy Uncle Joe Show which, at first, seemed it might be a little too ‘zany’ for my tastes, but once the improvs were rolling it was a great show full of genuine laughs and certainly more hits than misses amongst the ‘on the fly’ skits which linked together to tell surreal stories.

The Groundlings theatre

The Groundlings theatre

Tonight’s show was packed, and this seems to be a common occurrence, so while I would recommend checking out a show if you are in the city, it seems booking is fairly essential.

After leaving the theatre we stumbled upon a small but perfectly formed comic book store, Melrose Music and Comics, which boasted a fine and broad selection of comics and associated ephemera as well as, on this night at least, an exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable member of staff who was also an Arsenal fan like Nick which I think helped lead to the discount I received, so I guess I found a use for football at last!

A visit to Amoeba Records and a drive down the Sunset Strip rounded off another packed day in Los Angeles that continued to demonstrate how astonishingly huge this city is as I still attempted to get to grips with it geography and gain a sense of it as a place.

Read about my first day in LA featuring Kubrick at LACMA and Venice Beach.

Day three in LA featured the Space Shuttle Endeavour and a double headline gig from Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper.

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American Adventure – Part Two: San Francisco – Day One

The Ferry Building from Pier 14

The Ferry Building from Pier 14

So this has taken me a little bit longer to get to than I had planned but here we go, “the city by the bay”.

Having visited San Francisco in the past I took the first part of my first day in the city to have a scout around and see much I remember of the place and what new things I could find amongst what I remembered.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that what I found was a city that was at once familiar yet new and that I could, as I remembered, explore a fair chunk of it on foot, something that I found to be the best way to get acquainted with a place during my various trips to London over the years.

Fishermen on Pier 14

Fishermen on Pier 14

My morning took me to the Embarcadero in the shadow of the bay bridge where I got a taste of some of the real life elements of the city as fisherman, mostly it seems from Chinatown, lined the head of the Pier 14 while seagulls watched on, no doubt in hope of some of the left overs or spoils of the fishermen.

Further along the Embarcadero I found Cupid’s Span, an unmistakable piece of public art in the shape of a giant bow and arrow emerging from the ground and got a further taste of city life as hip, young professionals shared the space on the benches with members of the cities large, but seemingly generally harmless, homeless population.

Cupid's Span

Cupid’s Span

This, all in the shadow of the cities financial district, highlighted by the Transamerica Pyramid, provides a perfect microcosm of the city as a whole where big business mixes with the ‘hip’ the homeless and the traditional to form a melting pot of culture like few others in the world, marking what has made the city so famous for the past century or so.

My continued initial explorations led me to discover the South of Market Street (or SOMA) district of the city that seems to have undergone something of a relatively recent revitalisation with a large conference centre, Museum of Modern Art, IMAX Multiplex and many small art galleries and facilities.

Yerba Buena Gardens

Yerba Buena Gardens

As well as these I found the fabulous Yerba Buena Gardens which nestle in the shadow of many high-rise buildings as well as a 19th century church building to create one of the many small park like havens for the urban landscape which mark the city out as something unique. As I found it the fountain monument to the civil rights movement was undergoing maintenance but this hadn’t stopped many of the cities seemingly young and hip, (many I assume attending one of the nearby buildings associated with artistic education) from relaxing on the grass on the warm and sunny afternoon.

If you ever chose to head to the city I would strongly recommend taking some time to explore this area and relax in the park.

Sam Keith sketches

Sam Keith sketches

Continuing up Mission Street (which here runs parallel to the cities main thoroughfare of Market Street) I spotted what seemed to be a small but interesting comic shop, so headed in to find what it actually was (as well as a shop) was the Cartoon Art Museum where, for only $7, I was able to explore four exhibitions of cartoon and comic book art.

As well as what seemed to be the museum’s standard exhibition exploring the history of cartoons from Hogarth to the recent reinvention of the DC Comics universe (via early newspaper comic strips and single panel cartoons to Stan Lee’s creations and the 1980’s reinvigoration of the comic) the other exhibitions explored graphic storytelling, Superman and the work of Sam Keith.

For anyone with an interest in cartoon art or comics the Cartoon Art Museum is an absolute must and a true hidden gem in SOMA.

North of Market Street is something of a different story and comprised the next part of my days explorations (now accompanied by a something of a ‘local guide’ in Ashley Seymour).

Chinatown from the Stockton tunnel

Chinatown from the Stockton tunnel

Once you are past the high-end shopping district centred on Union Square you hit Chinatown and the atmosphere changes entirely and, while still friendly, this is clearly a neighbourhood that is very much what the name suggests and most of the voices you hear change from speaking English to Chinese and the areas small park area is filled with Chinese families playing in the sun.

Along both the more tourist inclined Grant Avenue and its parallel, more truly Chinese street, of Stockton the shops are filled with exotic foods and souvenirs and even the smell changes as spices fill the air, while I found nothing particularly engaging in terms of attractions in Chinatown it is certainly an area worth taking a walk through and seems to be home to several restaurants (both Chinese and otherwise) worth investigating and continues the feel of San Francisco’s compact but cosmopolitan nature.

Read Part One of my trip here.

Read Day Two of my time in San Francisco here.

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So what is this all about?

Well like many other blogs on the big wide world of the internet it takes a look at film, music and, occasionally, books and gives you an opinion on them.

My aim with this blog is give my views on what I see, hear and read in the fair and balanced way I feel they deserve.

With that said a little bit on my philosophy of criticism (which sounds a lot fancier than it really is).

My aim is take anything from a fair perspective and give my honest opinions on them whether they are already perceived as classics, are new releases or are generally considered as utter rubbish — it has to be said I already don’t like quite a few so-called classic records and films and definitely have a soft spot for the rubbish but entertaining.

While I will not be focussing on any specific genres or styles my writing will follow my natural artistic inclinations so there is likely to be a random selection of movies and rock ‘n’ roll records, alongside blockbuster movies and whatever music may happen to take my fancy, which spans a lot of things and hopefully will continue to expand, and books wise is likely to be a lot of film and music related things, along with comics.

There may also be blogs on random other subjects as they come up, but we shall see what happens there!

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