Phonogram… Stripp’d

Gestalt Mash have my (long overdue) column on Kieron Gillen and Jamis McKelvie’s Phonogram comics.

To date, this series only has two volumes — 2007’s Rue Britannia and 2010’s The Singles Club — but those two volumes contain enough ideas to keep a Marvel character running for a generation.  The Joel Silver-style 30 second pitch is that the comic is Gwyneth Jones’ Bold as Love (2001) meets Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (2001) via Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) and John Tynes and Greg Stolze’s roleplaying game Unknown Armies (2008).  Set in contemporary Britain, the comics tell stories about a group of mages who perform magic by engaging with pop music.  Some mages are critics, others produce fanzines and some simply love to dance.  What is fascinating about this particular comic is that Phonogram is that rarest of things, Fantasy series that does not look to the past for its sources of enchantment:

Think of the memories of Woodstock in the 60s, of the Kings Road in the late 70s and the acid house scene in the 80s. Think of the tales that people tell and of the sense of place that inhabit those stories. These were times when people knew where they were and they knew that what they were seeing was important. They knew that magic existed because they could see it spring fully formed on stage amidst the stenches of weed, sweat and overpriced cheap lager. Anyone who has been part of a musical scene will know what it is like to walk into a club and to know who everyone is and why they are there. To be a part of a scene is to know everyone’s side-projects and why absolutely nothing good can come from their decision to start fucking the bass-player. To be in the right place at the right time is to be cool and to be cool is magic. But then the bubble pops. The wave breaks. Maybe the lynchpin band fall out with each other or there’s a fire at the important venue. Maybe the wrong people start turning up to gigs and the atmosphere turned sour. All kinds of things can happen and when they do, you can feel it end. To be cool is to know what it’s like to live in a world filled with meaning and magic, but it is also to know what it’s like when the gods depart the stage and the magic drains from the world. To be cool is to know how it feels to be left standing in a sweaty club surrounded by stupid people who suddenly feel very tired, very old and very sad.

 

Book Log for the First Half of 2011

It’s that time again… the year has turned and the first six months of 2011 have given way to the second tranche of annual decay and entropy.

As in previous years, I am listing all of the books that I have read in the last six months with links to where I have reviewed them.  Sadly, as one of the sites I review for regularly is undergoing problems, I will be unable to link to a lot of the reviews I have produced.  However, once the site is back up again, I shall return and fill in the links for anyone foolish enough to be curious.

 

Continue reading →

Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit… Stripp’d

Gestalt Mash have my column on Matoro Mase’s manga serial Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit.

My column draws on the first six volumes of what will be an eight volume run if Viz Media do actually translate the entire series.  Set in an alternate version of contemporary Japan, the series is about a society that has decided to force its population to make the most of life by killing one citizen in every thousand at random.  The series examines this ideas from two different perspectives; on the one hand, it examines the psychological impact of the death sentences on the victims and their families while, on the other hand, exploring what the effects of this policy are on the Japanese body politic.  The result is a series of graphic novels that paint exquisitely detailed pictures of human grief and suffering whilst also slowly creating the impression that such a society is monstrous and must be overthrown:

Death has the power not just to end lives, but also to change them. It can change them for the better by prompting people to make changes, and it can change things for the worse by fostering a crippling sense of futility and loss. Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit is an exploration of the tension between these two reactions to the revelation that we too shall someday be no more.

The series has also spawned a film adaptation, which I also wrote about a little while ago for Videovista.

Universal War One… Stripp’d

Gestalt Mash have the second issue of Stripp’d, my monthly column looking at translated comic series.

Written and drawn by Denis Bajram and released in two volumes by Marvel, Universal War One begins as a Dirty Dozen in Spaaaaace story but, once the characters are bedded down and the theme of redemption is introduces, Bajran starts to mess with the gonzo knobs, slowly ramping up the epic and the fantastical until the series ends in a widescreen expose of man’s unparalleled hubris. I enjoyed it quite a bit… it’s silly.

The Chimpanzee Complex… Stripp’d

Gestalt Mash have the first issue of my new column Stripp’d!

Stripp’d is devoted to independent and/or translated series of comics and graphic novels.  The aim is to celebrate the diverse ways in which different comics, manga, graphic novels and sequential art approach ideas from the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror in an attempt to help open the field up to influences from other cultures and other forms of media.

For my first column, I decided to take a look at Richard Marazano and Jean-Michel Ponzio’s trilogy of science fiction graphic novels The Chimpanzee Complex. Originally published in French and translated by Cinebook, The Chimpanzee Complex is about the search for consolation in narratives of conspiracy.

Ooku: The Inner Chambers – Volume 5

Gestalt Mash have my fifth piece on Fumi Yoshinaga’s excellent Ooku: The Inner Chambers.

The fifth volume (the last one translated to date) of the series slows the pace down after the brisk historical jaunting of the previous volume. Again, the primary concern is the failure of the Shogun to provide the sort of leadership required to steer Japan through troubled times but Yoshinaga subtly shifts the emphasis of the book opening up whole new vistas. Indeed, while the previous volumes have been all about the need for the Japanese ruling elite to reflect the changed demographics of Japanese society, enough time has now passed that we are on (at least) the second generation of female rule. In Yoshinaga’s alternative Edo period Japan, women now have exclusive control over all aspects of society. This changes the power dynamic between the sexes and so presents Japanese culture with another ‘fact’ that it needs to reflect.

Ooku: The Inner Chambers – Volume 4

Gestalt Mash have my fourth piece on Fumi Yoshinaga’s alt-historical manga epic Ooku: The Inner Chambers.

Volume 4 shifts the timeline forward in order to see how later Shoguns fare with the task of managing a changing Japan.  By allowing us to see the ways in which these later Shoguns struggle to fill the first female Shogun’s sandles, Yoshinaga not only invites a more generous appraisal of the first Shogun, she also shifts the series register away from an explicitly feminist analysis of gender differences and towards a more general political analysis of the responsibilities that accompany power.

Oh… and the book ends on a spectacular cliffhanger!

Ooku: The Inner Chambers – Volume 3

Gestalt Mash has my third piece on Fumi Yoshinaga’s alternate history manga Ooku: The Inner Chambers.

Following hot on the heels of the second volume in the series, volume three teases out a political conflict at the heart of the Shogun’s court.  A conflict in which the forces of conservatism battle the forces of social progress for control of both Japan and the mind of the Shogun.  Beautifully drawn, exquisitely written and awesome in the power of its insights into contemporary attitudes towards gender and sexuality, Ooku continues to be a fantastic piece of sequential art.

Ooku: The Inner Chambers – Volume 2

Gestalt Mash has the second of my pieces about Fumi Yoshinaga’s excellent Ooku: The Inner Chambers.

Having introduced us, in the first volume, to an alternative history of Edo-period Japan in which 75% of the male population has been killed off by disease, Yoshinaga goes about trying to explain why it is that this culture allows women to rule while also paying lip service to the idea of masculine superiority.  Intelligent, insightful and quite moving, Ooku: The Inner Chambers continues to be a very rewarding read.

Ooku: The Inner Chambers – Volume 1

Gestalt Mash has recently relaunched itself and it brings with it the first in a series of posts about Fumi Yoshinaga’s Tiptree Award-winning manga series Ooku: The Inner Chambers.

Set in an alternate Edo-period Japan in which the male population has been decimated by a terrible disease, the series is an examination of why it is that old values (in particular the myth of masculine supremacy) outlive their utility in the face of social and demographic change.