The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Archive for January, 2010

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Posted by BigWords on January 31, 2010

I’m barely getting the chance to sit down for five minutes at a time before something (or someone) interrupts me, so if I’m conspicuous by absence anywhere it really isn’t my fault. If you remember my irritation at possibly having my brother come to stay, along with his family, then I’m pleased to say they have found somewhere. It’s smaller than they wanted, but it will suffice in the interim. I’m less pleased to say they have roped me in to the idiotic rush to do everything over the course of two weekends (which is why I’m not in the best mood), and this decision means that, alongside the Herculean efforts I’m making to be everywhere I’m meant to be, I also have more work when I ought to be relaxing.

At this point I don’t know if I’ll ever manage to untangle myself from all my commitments once March rolls around – a month in which, historically, I have been able to catch a breather. I’ve already missed a doctor’s appointment, left books on a train (three, count em’, three), lost my chance to attend Angoulême, fried a classic games console, and mislaid a handwritten manuscript. Things don’t appear to be settling down any, as there is no time set aside next week for myself either. Is this a rant? I don’t know any more, because my short-term memory is fucked. My vision is also being affected by the lack of sleep or rest, though double-vision can be kinda fun if it isn’t permanent. Don’t ask me to re-wire anything though.

Ach. I’m ahead of myself. Backtrack to the last paragraph… The doctor’s appointment was for the nasty evil nipple on my wrist. I’m still thinking that it is needing taken care of, but as I can’t drag myself off to take a shit in peace, I don’t know when I’ll have enough time to take a couple of hours away from the neverending madness. The books I left behind – The Herald Of Coming Good by Gurdjieff, Newton’s Wake by Ken MacLeod and The Chemistry Of Death by Simon Beckett – which I have been half-reading on my journeys, were forgotten as I tried valiantly to stay on schedule. I was offered the chance to travel to Angoulême by a friend who was travelling South for the festival, but with everything that is happening I’m in no position to escape for a few days to read BD, as much fun as it sounds.

The games console… Oh man, that deserves it’s own paragraph. I got a hold of a small stand-alone unit a couple of years ago – a battery-powered unit with screen, controls and a single game loaded onto the hard drive. They were popular back in the eighties, and I thought it might make an interesting addition to the collection of games I’ve been amassing. It had (or had) it’s own adapter for mains usage, but there was something wrong with the unit and I decided to check whether the problem came from the unit or the adapter, so I used a multi-purpose adapter with various power outputs. Of course, being deprived of sleep makes even simple jobs horrendously complex, and I forgot to check the output before switching it on. Cue faint smell of burnt plastic and metal.

The manuscript is less important than you may think, mostly because it is (was, dammit, was – I keep using the wrong tense) a parody of eighties horror, teen comedy and action films. There were references to everything from the Stallone and Arnholt brain-dead canon, Hughes teen comedies, Freddy (Jason, Myers, et al) right through to the Stephen King novels of the era. I think I made point of a few television shows as well, because I vaguely remember writing a monologue about The A-Team. I don’t consider parodies less worthy than ‘straight’ novels, and the reason I’m not cut up about the loss is simply because most of what I wrote wasn’t very good. It is also rather weird to consider an entire era worthy of parody, but if any decade deserves scrutiny for artistic and fashion crimes then the eighties is the decade I would turn to first.

I should mention Wednesday night here as well, because things started going wrong then. That is the night I spent four hours sitting, alone, in an empty apartment – no television or radio, no kettle (and thus no coffee), no seating of any sort… I was waiting on an electrician (or a plumber, or gas engineer, or someone else) to turn up while my brother sorted out other things. Needless to say the idiot never turned up, and I had to make my way home at an ungodly hour. The guy did show up eventually… After 8am the next day. I’m pretty sure that was around the point when my week went wrong. Having been unable to recover the time from such a pointless task has pushed everything else, concertina-like, into a time-frame which is impossible to deal with.

This is also where I’ll ask everyone to be patient. I know I’ve said I’ll do stuff (and I will), but there’s so little time that isn’t occupied by something else that I don’t know when I’ll be able to get around to doing anything. The epic lists – back when my spiralling OCD was out of control – are all still on compressed Win 98 disks. The dictionaries and media guides which I spent so long accumulating and indexing are going to be decompressed when I have the chance. I have the disk now (got one yesterday) but I have no way of knowing when I’ll have the chance to load the OS onto a spare laptop. There are so many things on the To Do list that it might be the middle of April before I’m in a position to think straight.

I mentioned the giant ice-trail down the side of my house, and the £210 it cost to get the drip repaired, but it seems that the idiot repairman sent to do the job was a bit hasty in getting me to fork out cash for the repair. It is back, and with a vengeance. There’s a growing puddle of water in the pot below the drip, and I’m getting a migraine just thinking about how much it will cost to get fixed a second time. The financial pressure on keeping this house from falling down around me is beginning to piss me off. If I had managed to get half-decent repairs done five years ago (when I spent upwards of £20k on the building) I wouldn’t be so annoyed, but it seems that all of the so-called experts in this country are taking liberties with their qualifications.

I’ll be busy, just in case anyone needs to get in touch. My mobile is on mute, the house ‘phone is unplugged and I’ve got half a mind to tape the letter box shut while I’m out. And don’t bother calling when I am home, because you’ll just get yelled at. Or water poured over you from an upstairs window.

[This post took five hours (on and off) to write. Don’t think I’m slacking off here.]

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Apocalypse: The Incident With The Car (One For The Road)

Posted by BigWords on January 30, 2010

From my zombie WIP (currently laboring under the working title of Zombie Apocalypse) comes the first actual sighting of a ghoul. This is from the chopped-down version – and still comes in at around page fifty. It is still in very rough shape. There’s so much I’m meant to be doing right now that updating this blog has been pushed down the schedule a ways, though as soon as I get everything sorted I’ll be back to abnormal as usual.

####

The Incident With The Car
(One For The Road)

Harold’s mind was racing as he turned off from the more familiar streets on to the long road back to Lumberton; a mobile ‘phone gripped tightly to the side of his face as he pushed the car on to greater speeds, desperately attempting to conjure a plausible scenario which could explain his absence and yet cast him in a good light. It was harder to fabricate balls-out lies than he remembered from his youth, the necessary neurons not quite firing in his brain due to a potent mixture of fatigue, stress and – crucially – alcohol. Simmons wasn’t born to move in lazy towns, the pace of life in the city had shifted his internal clock too far from the rural timeframes which others seemed to accept. “I’m on my way back now, and you wouldn’t believe the roads up here.” A pause. “Probably around three. Maybe a touch later if I can’t floor it down some of the dirt trails which pass for roads up here.” The line crackled and fell away for a moment. Dumb fuckin’ ‘phone he thought, and held it in front of him as he tried to focus his vision. The bars indicating reception quality rose and fell in a steady rhythm, mimicking the equalizer on the car’s radio.

The dull thud, as a shape hit the car, rolled over the hood then fell away to the side of the road – taking the wing mirror with it – was merely the punch line to the bad joke that Harold Simmons’ day had become. A sharp crack appeared in the windscreen after the fact. At no point did Harold’s mind dare to contemplate the possibility that he might have inadvertently caused the death of another human being. “Aw… You god-damned cock-sucking son-of-a-whore,” Simmons spat out. The mobile ‘phone had landed at Harold’s feet as he struggled with the steering, beeping once in protest at its’ treatment before deciding that things were too stressful to deal with.

Spun like a child’s toy, the car came to a stop facing back in the direction whence it had come, its’ journey’s end marked by black rubber laid into the surface of the road. The body lay twenty-five yards back, yet the most important detail of the night – at least in Harold’s mind – concerned one broken light, a dented hood and a certain missing wing mirror. Toting up the damage, albeit with four beers and an empty stomach hindering his math, the damage came to the somewhere in the region of a thousand dollars. “This is why I hate pissant, backwater, shithole, hicksville…” Harold’s tirade stopped mid-sentence when he realized Mr. Roadkill wasn’t as dead as he ought to be. Staggering along the dirt embankment, his victim haphazardly navigated his way towards Harold.

“What is it, you dumb sonuvabitch?” Harold yelled, stepping out of his car. “You want to swap insurance details or something?” No response. “I could’ve killed you back there, ya drunken bum.” Still silence. Bain damage, Harold pondered, maybe a mute? Too drunk to talk? The last thought hit a little too close to home. The man moved closer, agonizingly slowly, but moving closer all the time. Harold glanced at the man as he tried to reign in his anger. Average height, average weight and utterly unremarkable, even Roadkill’s clothing was forgettable. The checked shirt, blue jeans and heavy workboots didn’t help with his bland conformity. This guys wife couldn’t pick him out of a line-up.

Harold ran his hand over the hood, “Look at it. Just look at it.” The car was of no importance to Mr. Roadkill, who – it seemed – moved very fast for a man who could barely  put one foot in front of the other without having to comically readjust his center of gravity by waving his arms like a windmill. Harold turned back to the man in time to see the man lunge forward again. He seemed to hang there, mid stumble with his head cocked slightly too extremely to one side. Inertia, slow to take hold, finally caught up with him, and his full weight propelled him the two feet distance towards Harold. The full weight of the man had pinned Harold to the side of the car, time stretching as Harold’s brain tried to make sense of the surreal situation.

“Get off me ya pole-smoker.”

Mr. Roadkill sunk his teeth into Harold’s left arm, tearing away jacket, shirt and skin from the wound as he pulled back, trying to straighten his head. The man’s arms flailed, making him look even more like a certifiable bug-munching, shit-flinging looney tune than ever. Senses already dulled by alcohol, shaken by the crash and confused by the crazy idiot with a biting fetish, Harold tried to force his brain into action. Harold pushed back against the man with all of his strength, mentally calculating how much time he had wasted with the interruption to his journey. Roadkill, sprawled on the ground, displayed no sense of impropriety at his actions, moving his head to one side as Harold’s foot swung out at him, swiping at the leg once immediate danger had passed.

Moving backwards to the safety of the car, Harold was careful not to take his eyes off Mr. Roadkill for one second. Bite me once, shame on you. Bite me twice, shame on me. Slipping into the driver’s seat he brushed his right hand over the open wound, pulling closed the door with his increasingly painful arm. It burned, but as he could still move his fingers (enough to flip off the bitey idiot as he pulled away at least) he put the incident behind him. That’s gonna hurt in the morning, he thought.

The drive went surprisingly quick once Harold had gotten past the back-roads and on to the freeway. The streets were clear of heavy traffic, though the question of why didn’t register.

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So… What Would YOU Do?

Posted by BigWords on January 21, 2010

I got into one of those “what would you do if…” conversations today, mostly because people know I’m writing some nasty crime stuff and because of this. The question was simple – what would I do if someone committed a murder after reading one of my stories. I didn’t have to think about the question for long, because the answer seems entirely simple… I would do nothing. That may come across as rather more blunt than it should, but the process I went through to come to that answer follows entirely logical paths, disregarding emotional blackmail and (wrongly) presumed moral obligation. I would do diddly-squat because there is no way that a novel – or a video game, television show or film, for that matter – can have any possible input into a criminal act. It’s not possible. I’ll go one further than that, and claim that there are only a handful of books which have the ability to drive people to violence.

Before you bring up some infamous cases, you really ought to think carefully. Has a novel, or a game, or a crappy horror film, ever managed to bring someone to the point where they are so deluded that they are able to put aside morality and take the life of another? No. Everything you have read in newspapers, seen on television and heard on the radio about “evil” media is wrong. All of it. Even when someone famous has made the assertion. It’s all crap.

Lets go back to the early days of the comic-book industry for a historical perspective on this. Remember the story about the little boy who tied a red dish-towel around his neck, clambered on to the roof of his house and jumped, all because he read an issue of Superman? It’s a famous tale. Now, can you answer me this… What was the boy’s name. I’ll let you take your time; don’t rush to a conclusion. Think about it carefully. Stumped? Want the answer? That little boy never existed. One of the major incidents which brought into existence the Comics Code Authority is an apocryphal tale, no doubt woven by a bored journo who needed to fill a space between adverts for Red Ryder BB guns and Kooba Cola. The story has been successfully disseminated through hand-me-down accounts, embellished where needed (his shin bone popped straight out through his skin, blood spurting all over the back yard) and remains unquestioned in some circles to this day.

There was a shameful time in British newspapers after the James Bulger case when national newspapers lied their assess off to implicate the motion picture Child’s Play 3, a fairly unexceptional film, in the murder of the child. Their loose acquaintance with the truth didn’t merely stop at insinuation, but drew on artistic license rarely seen in ‘news’ to fabricate an elaborate web of “coincidences” to back up their lies. It was a mightily impressive distortion of the case, leading video rental outlets to pull the title from their shelves – presumably to stop any members of the public watching it and calling the tabloid editors out on their bullshit. I kinda admire the way that certain people in the public eye managed to keep a straight face while spouting some of the most blatant untruths heard during the nineties. Astonishingly, the owners of the franchise never stepped up to tell the gutter press that their observations and conclusions were cut from whole cloth.

The most audacious ‘spin’ in recent memory was reserved for Grand Theft Auto, a game which deserves massive praise for elevating RPG games from the creatively bankrupt swords and sorcery sub-genre it languished in for so long. The most vocal opponent of the game was (and presumably is) the rather disturbed former American solicitor Jack Thompson – a man who is obviously ignorant of the First Amendment. Hell, he even had the balls to compare the game to Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, losing any respect he may have had before that incredulous statement. As of this date, there hasn’t been a single car theft, murder or misdemeanor committed which has, in any real way, been associated with a person playing the game. That salient point is, however, disregarded by the salivating, ratings-obsessed vultures on television channels such as CNN.

It seems that the only books which really have the ability to twist souls and drive people to kill are the ones which are off-limits to any eager ban-happy librarians. The Bible and the Koran, together, have caused more deaths than every other book combined… And then some.  Those two books are responsible for more atrocities than any political or social movement in the history of the human race, driving their most ardent followers into frothing blood-lust at the prospect of spreading their delusions across the face of the planet. I did point out that no novel had the power to drive people to kill, and my point stands. Those books have but the hint of structure, jumping all over the place. If I didn’t know better I would suggest that D*n Br*wn had a hand in their scratched together, half-lucid witterings.

But back to my original statement… I would say nothing, in addition to the reasons I have already given, because the families of murdered individuals really don’t need another voice spouting armchair psychology and platitudes. As you should be aware, we’re living in highly litigious times, and the prospect (even the slightest glimmer) that a novelist accepts some portion of guilt or remorse for their writing, can lead those left behind to consider the payday waiting if they decide to chance their luck in a civil court. It isn’t worth the hassle, so my take on the problem is simple. SAY NOTHING. If you remain silent, your words can’t be used against you.

I’m off to play GTA4. Screenshots of me popping a cap in a cop’s ass are forthcoming. 😉

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2010 – Not The Movie… The Year

Posted by BigWords on January 17, 2010

You start with an idea in your head. You take the first step, then the second. Then you realize you’re up to your neck in something mad.
Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), The Vanishing (1988)

Lists

Waaaay back when, probably the early days of the 1990s, I began an OCD-fueled list of television shows. This wasn’t merely an attempt to catalogue every show ever made, but included the broadcast date, title of each episode, writer, director and guest cast. Each entry had a sypnosis, and as the thing grew in size and scope (daring to take over my entire life) I decided to stop. Cold turkey. Never again. It didn’t quite work out the way I had hoped, and the folders and folders of information may yet, if the proper place for the information is available, be of some use. I’ve been thinking about that list, and the way in which it ate up the best part of a decade of my life (interspersed with a few other lists and some fiction) , and have come to the conclusion that my data-mining and information sorting skills are one of my strengths. You might think that I have learned better, but no… Really. Just no.

There is a wonderful (if limited) blog – and forum – which deals with lists (Listverse Forums in case you were wondering), but my junkie-like addiction to lists is barely given a fix by the way the lists appear. I can’t sit back and smile when there are a maximum of fifteen or twenty things in a given list… Hell, I’ve created lists with twenty thousand entries before now. That is one of the things 2010 will bring to this blog, much to the horror of any psychiatrists reading. Yes, I’m giving in to the compulsions and embracing my weirdness. There will be a variety presented here, but I figure that for some of them I’m going to need to upload the files themselves (hundreds of pages of information will get really old, really quick for casual browsers) or create web pages for them. Some of the stuff I’ll be presenting has been seen in a limited fashion before, but most of it is brand new.

The zombie ones all need re-working to take into account the last few years of film and book output, and the comic-book ones probably need updating as well. There will be book lists (which will be listed over on Book Re:View – where I have also started creating lists), film lists, metafiction lists… which basically boils down to all my resources which don’t have prior dibs, and all the stuff I’m not actively pursuing. Tho the question remains – who needs to have a list of fictional magazines and newspapers which have appeared in books and in films? Or a list of talking gorillas who have appeared in fiction? Maybe those can appear later… When I work out the finer details you’ll be the first to know.

Fiction

Damn, I still have to look through my discs for all the stuff I was meaning to upload. Okay, here’s a promise… I will, absolutely, grab some free time to sift through the crap and find whatever isn’t too horribly overwrought to post. I’m having some time-management issues at the moment, but as soon as I manage to dust off those pieces fit for human consumption they will be up. I may even spend a week posting excerpts of random things if I find enough gems in amongst the endless rubbish. There is a lot on disc, so I probably don’t have to worry too much about finding suitable material. I’m gonna be digging through material anyway (for the lists) and may as well make use of the effort. There is a post-it with a small list of ‘must do’ items staring at me now, so I’ll have a reminder of everything which needs attention.

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I should have personal goals for the year ahead, as that is a common theme in the ‘new decade, new life’ meme which people have jumped onto. There are a few things I want to get away from, first and foremost being the endless hours. I used to think that being (technically) unemployed would be boring, with the sitting around and doing nothing part taking up most of everything. Nope. Not in the slightest. I’m working harder now than I have ever worked in my life, punching in up to twenty hours a day on a variety of things for money alone. No artistic freedom, no leniency, just “do the job and do it right.” This, ironically, is making me more money than I ever made whilst in one job at a time; I get the feeling that I would be tempted to stick at this way of living for a bit longer – if only for the money – though there is so little time for myself that it can’t be maintained.

There is more to life than endless work, which I’m slowly beginning to realize – even if I can’t help but answer in the affirmative every time a job is offered which falls within my abilities. This is madness, and it has to stop soon.

Another thing I intend to do, from this year on, is planning. I’m good at theoretical planning, and the organization (in hierarchies) of information, but actual sort-your-life-out-planning has always fallen short of expectation. There has always been a rollercoaster of things requiring my attention, and I’ve never sat down and made a realistic schedule to keep, though time is so short now (even with the extra hours I have during the night when I should be sleeping) that I can’t go without a schedule any longer. Maybe it will have to be a color-coordinated one, so I have a clear indication of when I should remember to eat, but I’ll have to do it before I burn myself out.

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Some “Fun” Graphics For Bibliophiles

Posted by BigWords on January 14, 2010

Off the back of a drunken argument in which I argued that, yes, the British government has gone overboard with their nannying behavior in the past few years, I find myself thinking of the ways in which warning labels have crept into everyday life. The ones warning of the obvious risks are bad enough, but with so many of the damn things popping up there is an important question which nobody seems to want to corner – does the proliferation of messages become a white noise after a while? You see them, but do they actually register? Am I the only person whose selective blindness has encompassed all of these warnings? I’m not sure I am.

They aren’t appearing on books yet, but it is only a matter of time before the government decides we can’t be trusted to read without attending a course on proper page-turning (y’know, so we don’t sue publishers every time we get a papercut). I’m slightly surprised that nobody else has had the idea that something like this might one day be all too familiar, though I am willing to concede that one of the triggers for this post lies in the Comics Code – a blight upon the industry for decades.

Enjoy label-free books while we have them.

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A Quick And Easy Way To Create Comics Digitally

Posted by BigWords on January 11, 2010

There are probably the better parts of twenty or so comics on various hard drives, so I have plenty of elements if I ever decide I really want to torture myself trying to pitch a title, but with the Commando character I’m in uncharted waters. I haven’t thought of trying to do a comic which harkens back to the old days of paper rationing and gung-ho national pride (because I get fixated on the irregular size) but I’m willing to see how well I can use the styles and distinctive mood to create something new. The main difference (‘cept for the shape of comics back then) is the text boxes and page layout in the better examples. I’m going to focus on elements rather than the bigger picture – no pun intended – to show my method through this.

First of all we are faced with the physical comic itself. Given the harshness of white paper, and when trying to recreate the feel of a Golden Age comic this is important, the look is completely off – so it is necessary to use a  suitable substitute. Yes, that is a Photoshop recreation of old paper… And the original is 2.7 GB in size and seven layers deep. Obsessed much? Probably, but I like playing with the software. The paper used on Fawcett and Fox comics are prone to browning (as are other publishers to greater or lesser degrees), but I don’t want the base image I’m building on to look too dirty. Off-white is enough to give the impression of age and distress without turning people off the idea of looking at it in the first place.

If you have never seen a GA comic, you might be surprised to find the name of the comic printed at the top of each page throughout the book (just like in some novels), and trying to match this is damn hard. The first attempt (using – appropriately enough – ‘Comic Book Commando’ font) is overlaid with a 50% fade of the background to break up the solid black. It ain’t perfect, but it’ll do until I can start scanning scratchier, hand-written fonts. There are many little details I want to capture, and some of the most distinctive elements are the stuff that isn’t considered important any more – such as letterboxes. But I’m getting ahead of myself… First there is the basic page shape to deal with.

I can’t work irregular shapes. I’ve tried. I’ve attempted three or four different shapes which correspond to GA comics, but each and every workaround is hampered by the restrictions which I need to impose on the underlying framework. Before I even consider adding any visual elements to the page, I start with a new Photoshop file 12cm x 18cm (at 500 pixels per cm – more than enough for b&w printing), and a white background. Onto the white background I drop in a layer that assists with scaling, being a grid of ½cm black and white cubes, and a layer of solid red (at 25% opacity) so I can pick out any stray pixels that need correcting. Yes, that does come under the heading of obsessive, but it works for me.


For anyone wanting to play along at home, this is what the image ought to look like thus far. Using the Magic Wand Tool (W) – add to selection – I select the four corner boxes from the grid layer, and then create a new layer. It is simply a matter of joining up the boxes to each other to give a border to work within – this is an easy way of checking how cluttered the artwork looks with text inserted – using the full page would look cluttered anyway, and this gives a better approximation of the printed image.

Save this, as it can be used and re-used for multiple images.

When I need to use grids, a rather outdated style these days, I have them set up as standard images ready to re-use when needed. The gutter width varies depending on the number of panels per page, but I like to keep them as close as possible throughout the length of the title.

The boxes are still red, being ‘layer via copy’ from my red layer, though putting in black borders this early seems as if I am rushing things. I like the images ready to use before I decide on how strong the borders are going to be rendered. Of course, my natural instinct would be to use as many quirky border effects as possible. The following element example is from a kung fu comic I started a while back, and demonstrates how unusual border elements don’t necessarily have to be complicated.

This, of course, is redundant with a Golden Age comic, so I’m having to treat every single panel as if it was fresh off the page. Too many clean lines will ruin the immersion, and it is complicated enough trying to work out the depth of image I can get away with as it is. The most complicated pieces of the puzzle (ironically) will be the text boxes, as some of the best examples hail from the early forties.  Yes, I know it looks awkward and too faded at the moment, but it should look okay once I have gone over it with several more layers of rendering, smoothing out the gray background and darkening the text.

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If You Want To Be Safe, Don’t Mention My Birthday…

Posted by BigWords on January 9, 2010

I stomped around all morning, grumbling under my breath and trying – not entirely successfully – to work out the easiest way to clear the snowdrift from my back doorstep without the benefit of salt. The past week has been spent trying to conserve the little remaining reserves of the stuff, despite the fact that I need to have clear paths – really, I do, it isn’t just OCD. I’ve been brushing away the loose snow with a hard brush and scraping away the ice beneath with a spade, but that just makes the path dangerously slippy once I finish. The spreading of salt over the paths is the only way to keep me from breaking my neck, but I’m down to half a tub and none of the shops withing five miles has any more. The snow, unfortunately, has fallen quite heavily since last Sunday, rendering all my hard work pointless.

I really can’t stand not being able to walk around the house.

Oh, while I’m bitching about the weather, I should add a major inconvenience and cost into my rant – on Thursday I got a plumber in to fix a valve (or something) which had dripped water down the side of the house. In other weather I might not have noticed it, but in the current climate it presented me with more visible effects… A trail of ice, roughly a foot wide at the base and protruding eight or so inches from the wall at its’ deepest part, had appeared in the space of a couple of weeks. The cost of getting the (minor) repair done? Only a mere £210 thankyouverymuch. If I knew how to fix it myself I could have saved myself a bundle of cash… So much for blue-collar jobs paying less, right?

Up until Friday my mood has been fine (if not bright and cheery, I was at least restraining myself from verbal assaults on anyone who crossed me), but a three-hour journey ended any pretense I had of enjoying the bone-aching cold. It should have been twenty-five or so minutes, but with the weather trying to kill of anyone stupid enough to travel – moi – there was a reasonable enough excuse for the journey descending into farce. I hate winter, I hate Christmas, I detest (beyond any normal levels of bile and spite) the damned and uncontrollable snow and ice, and I really, really, really want to throttle anyone who deigns so much as smile at me in the morning. What is wrong with people? There’s nothing to smile about. Smiling simply makes me believe you are mentally challenged. Seriously, this is not the weather for cheery people…

If you read that and think, obviously, that my week has been bad, then this morning – as per bloody usual – managed to trump any problems thus far. The bank, in their infinite wisdom, has lowered my credit. This wouldn’t be a problem, but the fools have managed to lower it below the sum which is on my credit card, necessitating four letters dropping through my letterbox this morning – one to tell me I’m not allowed to spend over a certain amount, one telling me I am overdrawn (thanks to the bank) and warning me that I have incurred a fee for doing so, one with the standard thinly veiled threats of repossession, bankruptcy and (possibly) jail, plus a fourth which has the sum I am due to pay this month, handily including all of the information from the other three letters in case I didn’t get the message the first time I read through their crap.

I swear, sometimes it feels like the universe is playing an extensive and coordinated game at my expense, probing the edges of my patience until I explode into a frothing rage.

So it’s my birthday… I’m really not sure if I feel older, but I certainly feel more cynical, more irritable, definitely more aches and pains… Some of the benefits of birthdays (the presents, f’rinstance) are out of the question with the abysmal postal service here, so I’m stuck inside the house listening to Jefferson Airplane on a loop and drinking Jack Daniels. Hey, it ain’t as bad as it sounds… At least I don’t have to worry about my brother moving in until the end of the month – which is a problem I’m ignoring until he actually turns up on my doorstep with the rugrat in tow. Jeez, if only things could turn out as planned, rather than the unexpected little problems kicking me in the face at ever opportunity.

Seeing as how I’m venting, I may as well expend a bit of energy complaining about the idiot tax in the UK, otherwise known as the television licence fee, which currently sits at £142.50 per annum. I’ll pay the money, but I do so grudgingly, and with the complicit agreement that I am under no obligation to be anything but disrespectful to the overpaid, under achieving idiots who staff the BBC – one of the worst run companies in the UK at present, which is really saying something. The latest brain-dead decision (to let their lisper in residence, Jonathan Ross, walk from the corporation) is one which confounds me. Are they trying to drive people away from their channels, or is there some secret master plan at work?

My guess is plain, old-fashioned incompetence.

What, precisely, am I paying for? A bunch of radio stations I don’t listen to? The Gaelic channel with twenty-eight regular viewers? The web presence they keep needlessly promoting? The parliament channel that runs twenty-four hours a day, even when nothing is actually happening? Can someone please pull the Director General to one side and explain to him how crap the service is in comparison to the money they get? There is no need to have such a large fee when they seem determined to pack the schedules with endless repeats. I wouldn’t be so annoyed if they were the shows worth watching, but they seem to be under the impression that their bargain basement crap needs viewing at least a dozen or so times… Make it stop, pleeeease… I don’t want to see Heir’s Hunt For Cash For Antiques In The Attic Roadshow bullshit on the schedules any longer.

Oh, while I remember to include it here – I finally got a doctor’s appointment set. It’s for the 28th, so a bit sooner than I expected for the NHS.

Posted in Over The Line | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Mining The Public Domain

Posted by BigWords on January 6, 2010

As I try to keep myself occupied with adequate levels of strangeness, it occurs to me that there seems to have been a shift in public opinion regarding public domain characters while I wasn’t paying attention. There used to be a sniggering, sneering attitude taken whenever people brought up the outmoded (and often laughable) characters and situations which had been abandoned by their creators, but these days it is hard to turn around without catching a glimpse of a famous character free from troublesome copyright problems. I guess it saves people the trouble of having to do the hard work. Or something.

Take a few moments to think of the number of revivals kicking around at the moment. The new Sherlock Holmes film, the Project Superpowers comics, the Robin Hood and Merlin series from the BBC… There are many, many examples kicking around now, which take the elements of the original characters and spin them off in new ways, and I’m wondering if this current fascination may have something of worth. Maybe there is redemption for the neglected characters nobody seems to want to take the blame credit for. Lets pick a good example from the Golden Age of comics… Hmmm. Captain Commando seems particularly pathetic.

Now, my first problem is the name. There’s no way anyone can write a character called Captain Commando with a straight face. I’ll simply use Commando from now on, if only to save myself from getting a migraine trying to take him seriously. And then I come to the costume. Were S. M. Iger and Alex Blum being incredibly lazy when they came up with this particular patriotic character, or did they know he was fated for the trash heap when they first cobbled together the (sparse) elements? There is nothing particularly memorable about him save for that awful, awful name – nothing to be proud of here, guys.

Do I have to point out the V on his costume? Considering that neither his real name nor his nomme de guerre (or even an affiliate organization to which he is attached à la Legion of Super-Heroes) contains the letter, it’s merely a visual distraction. That isn’t even the most obvious problem with the costume, because, given his military rank, he displays a lack of any insignia or other company identifiers. I’ve always liked the fetishism of uniforms (look at the Germans in the second world war for the prime example of military style), so there has to be something which looks like it is straight out of a war film.

That’ll do for now.

Next on the agenda is that belt. I like simplicity combined with automatically recognizable elements, though there is no way that damn V is staying. He’s the poster boy for the US war effort (in his mind, at least), so he ought to have something a little more patriotic than a letter – even that lame-ass Aquaman has a letter on his buckle, and look how his career turned out. Maybe a simple American flag would suffice. It’s clear from a distance, and the soldiers who watch him from a distance will know whose side Commando is on.

John Grayson (Commando’s real name) doesn’t really have an origin, which also points to the lack of care in crafting the character. There’s already way too many characters whose origins are clouded in Super Soldier serum / radiation / mutant DNA bullshit, so there really should be a more realistic take on the origin if he has any hope of being of use. Considering how many of the Stars And Stripes characters have been deconstructed and psychoanalyzed over the years, for the worse in many cases, I don’t want to use too much of the sub-Freudean hackery that passes for ‘depth’ in comics.

The first point which I have to make regarding superheroes is simple – you can’t have a character say the Nazi’s are doubling their garrisons all along the coast if the character isn’t at least Superman-level. It doesn’t work with Batman, so it sure as hell doesn’t work with the lame sonufabitch pictured above. The Nazi’s are – in all likelihood – wetting themselves with laughter at him prancing around in his red underwear. I’ll let that sink in a moment before hashing out a half-decent origin for you… A guy wearing spandex is not threatening. It’s one of the unfortunate hold-overs from the early comics, and it has to stop being portrayed as anything but camp.

My point made, I promised you an origin. Here goes:

The US military forces, sensing that their troops are being demoralized by the superior fashion sense, the awesome-cool supernatural trinkets, and the sexy baroness’s in tight-fitting leather which Hitler has been parading in front of their GIs, decide they need a show of force that will raise the spirits of the troops. The best way to get the blood up is, apparently, by having a focal figure which they can look up to and attempt to emulate. Nobody bothered to check the ways that this could mess up their fighting force, with mere mortals trying to live up to an unrealistic ideal. Great way to encourage troops to run into a hail of gunfire…

So, barring any of their men tripping and falling into a vat of radioactive-super-soldier-making-macguffin, they need to manufacture their hero. There aren’t any easy ways to get a regular guy to the state of battle-readiness that Commando displays, so slight of hand is needed. I suggest this could be done simply and without recourse to any of the tired and predictable superhero staples which make me despair for the state of writing in comics. First of all, a small unit (twenty men) armed with enough firepower to take out any number of enemies they encounter are deployed as quietly as possible. No witnesses – this is a really important bit.

These guys, hand-picked for their abilities, do all the dirty work and make damn sure everyone within the target zone is eliminated. With the area cleared, Commando is safely dropped into the middle of the battle to be picked up by a unit which has been ordered to go pick him up. As he is being transported back to a very visible base to be flown back to HQ, he busies himself bullshitting the troops about how he managed to single-handedly take out the enemy forces in the area. Suitably buoyed by his tales of heroism, the soldiers have their spirits raised and hope renewed.

Shower, rinse, repeat.

There ya go – one origin story just as I promised.

Posted in comics, Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »