Tag Archives: Comics

Can U Dig It?

Some more ancient thoughts from the drafts folder. Quite the essay this one.


After going to Comic Con here in San Diego a couple of weekends ago (This was written back in 2008 – ed.) (about which I have some more thoughts later), and after unpacking the boxes of books that were shipped over from London in the big move, I’ve been thinking about comics and all that entails.

I’m rather excited about the forthcoming film version of Watchmen. Oh, I know, I hear what you’re saying. “Matt, you should know better than to get excited about an Alan Moore comic movie adaptation. Don’t you remember From Hell? Or The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Or V For Vendetta?”. But maybe what I’ve seen so far gives me a modicum of hope. Would you take that away from me?

I love the original collection. I wasn’t hip enough to buy the comics when they first came out in 1986 (or whenever), but I became aware of the story and the artist through the songs (songs? Mashed-up dated beatbox grebo rock studenty grooves is more accurate) of Pop Will Eat Itself. In a couple of their best and most beloved numbers, they chant series of things that they dig, concluding with the observation that, “Alan Moore knows the score” in Can U Dig It?, and going so far as to say, “Watchmen! We love you all!” in Def Con One.

(By the way, the sample “Can you dig it?” was spoken in the movie The Warriors by actor Roger Hill, who died at the end of February. RIP. -ed.)

I have a book I found in a charity shop called Beyond The Gates Of Dream by a certain Lin Carter. It is a pulp book in the truest sense, being printed on the cheapest paper and featuring a gaudy cover bearing no relation to the content. It was an interesting read, with a big foreword describing the joys of turning over the pulps at the bookstore every Saturday, before going to the movies to watch the next Flash Gordon serial episode, then coming home to listen to The Shadow or The Phantom.

My earliest exposure to comics was buying a big bundle from a jumble sale for 10p. I never really bought them new. I think the bundle had a bunch of tatty Fantastic Four in it – I still remember the early story about the Impossible Man.

I was a member of the Dennis the Menace Fan Club from the Beano, which gave me automatic membership of (Dennis’ dog) Gnasher’s Fang Club. I was also a member of the Desperate Dan Pie-Eater’s Club from the Dandy. I suspect there was some rivalry between these clubs, but i think I was too young to be aware of it. I think I still have the plastic wallets and badges somewhere.

Something else about those funnies – I didn’t find them that funny. They always depicted kids reading the comic and crying with laughter. To me even then, they seemed like an old-fashioned form of comedy. I think they’ve had to drastically change their style, if indeed they still exist.

I was always at a loss to understand who went out and bought these things every week. I was raised to be very frugal. Frivolous things things like that were frowned upon. I would make a comic last for weeks – similar to making the Sunday paper last until the following Sunday. Even now I have trouble letting go and buying stuff like that. I have this fear of getting into a situation where I have to become a collector to “keep up”. I’m not the tidiest person, but I do like stuff to be organised, and I can’t handle clutter. Living in a cramped less-than-tidy London flat taught me that.

A good example is the excellent zombie horror comic series The Walking Dead. I bought the first volume in Secret Headquarters, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I often take it out and read it again. I now find that there are eight volumes available, and I would love to read them and see what happens, but eight volumes? I just don’t have the space, or the inclination to spend and store. Oh yeah, the money is an issue too.

Another comic I bought on recommendation in Secret Headquarters was the vampire series 30 Days of Night. This was recently made into a bloody (excuse the pun) terrible movie. I’ll explain why.

The book tells us that vampires exist, and have alway been around. It doesn’t tell us about their origins or anything, but they are effectively immortal, and can withstand serious injury. A group of vampires descend upon a remote Alaskan village, Barton, which is so far north that once a year, the night lasts for thirty days. Thirty days without sunlight – great for vampires. Carnage ensues, until the townspeople, particularly the sheriff, fight back in an innovative way. Great story, fantastic splattery scratchy artwork by Ben Templesmith.

The movie didn’t change that, but it did remove some key points, and the portrayal of the vampires just ruined it. In the book, the vampire speech is written in a scratchy typeface, to give the impression of a nasty, hissing, rasping voice. But in the movie, they took this to mean that the vampires spoke a different language, and the language they chose sounded alarmingly like Klingon – that is, harsh and guttural, with overuse of the “sh” and “k” sounds. So clichéd.

The behaviour was just as bad. In the book, the vampires were just normal people, except with the teeth and all. They came in various shapes and sizes, including a little girl. During the double-page carnage scene, one of the lead vampires stands in the midst of it all and shouts that it’s “F**king fantastic!” – a realistic sentiment, given the fun they’re having popping people’s heads off like soda caps.

In the movie, they just ponced around, doing animalistic clichéd “predatory” head movements and being very conscious of the prosthetic teeth in their mouths. Lots of mouth open hissing/roaring too, although not as bad as Underworld. (Wow, that was nearly my first post here!).

Worst of all, they left out the best bit of the book. They’re all having fun in Barton, and then the big boss vampire turns up. He’s very annoyed that this gang of vampires has made such a news-worthy mess – they’re supposed to keep to the shadows and not draw attention to themselves. Don’t frighten the meat!

So, to punish the leader of the gang, he bites his head off or something vivid. Most enjoyable. Still in the movie, the cop punches through the gang leader’s head, so we don’t lose too much. Fun!

Birthday Comic Book Vouchers

For my birthday back in June, my friends Tom & Jen gave me some gift vouchers from the SF comic book store Isotope. I’ve not had a chance to go in and check it out – until today. Coming back from the oral surgeon after my checkup, I stopped in and spent my vouchers.

I like comic books, but I’m not a collector or an avid fan, but I do appreciate a good story and some good art. I grew up with 2000AD and Judge Dredd, Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine and so on, and I really love Alan Moore’s classics Watchmen and V for Vendetta. I also have some Dave Gibbon stuff, and some bits and pieces I’ve picked up at Comic Con and WonderCon over the years.

So when I went into Isotope and was enthusiastically greeted by James Sime in a fab suit, I explained the above and asked what he would recommend. He jumped into action, showing me the Dredd collections, one-shots (“done-in-ones”) and various other goodies.

Based on my general 2000AD fandom, he recommended and I bought Glimmer Rats by Gordon Rennie and Mark Harrison, which is a grisly-looking futuristic/supernatural war story. Then after talking generally about SF, he told me that “Jonathan Hickman is the best new SF writer in the last decade”, which is high praise indeed, so I took the plunge and bought Hickman’s take on S.H.I.E.L.D., Architects of Forever, which has the Earth-defending organization starting in ancient Egypt and listing Isaac Newton as a member. Finally, to scratch the nostalgia itch, I bought a book of collected stories from the intergalactic anti-xenophobia of Nemesis the Warlock: Death To All Aliens.

I could have done with these last week when I was laid up on the sofa. I wasn’t short of entertainment though. Of course, as I walked out of the store with my purchases, I spotted several things I would probably like to get in the future. It’s always the way. Isotope is a great store, and it has a lounge for lounging with your new comics, and apparently does events and parties. Cool place, and just around the corner from my favourite fancy brunch spot, Absinthe. I’ll be back when we next meet friends there.

Anyway, the Vicodin I took with lunch is kicking in, so I ‘ll be signing off now. In the words of Torquemada – Be pure. Be vigilant. Behave!

Teardrop Explodes with Kirby Krackles

The “Kirby Crackle” Effect In GIMP

Kirby Dots example

Fantastic Four #72, with red and black "Kirby Krackle" akimbo

The “Kirby Krackle”, also known as “Kirby Dots” are an artistic effect created by legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby while drawing The Fantastic Four in the 1960s. Here’s a great description of the evolution of this effect. In the example to the left, it’s used to represent the weird energy of the cosmos, and also the brain power of the caped ‘Watcher’. I love the effect, and I remember seeing it a lot when I was a kid and would buy bundles of old comics from jumble sales. (I wish I still had many of those comics!)

It’s actually quite  a simple idea, using a series of black dots and blobs to outline a negative space (red in this example), giving that space the “crackling” look of raw energy. Of course, you need to have talent to get the effect right.

I wanted to figure out if there was a way to achieve this effect semi-automatically, using software. I’m no artist, and I can’t draw for real, but I’m interested in creating this stuff, so I gave it a go using The GIMP.

The GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) is an excellent open-source graphics package, which can do a lot of what Photoshop can do, but for free. There’s a big community of users who create filters, plugins and scripts to extend its capabilities, and I’ve used it for many things over the years. After playing around with the settings and brushes available, I’ve managed to achieve something that looks pretty good without having to code a plugin or write a script.

The Teardrop Explodes Daredevil panel

The Teardrop Explodes Daredevil panel

As an example, I took the famous panel from Daredevil (#77) which gave the band The Teardrop Explodes their name. It’s a striking image as it is, but could it be improved with some Kirby Krackles? After all, it was a Marvel comic.

I removed the background, leaving behind the text panels and the main starburst in the center. Then I used the GIMP paintbrush (shortcut ‘P’) with the following settings to give us the black Kirby Krackles dots.

GIMP Paintbrush Krackle settings

GIMP Paintbrush Krackle settings

I used the Paintbrush in Normal mode, full opacity, with a 5px size. The key parts that give us the effect we want are the Brush Dynamic for Size set to Random, and Jitter applied, with a setting of about 3.7. You can play with the Jitter and Brush Size settings to get exactly the effect you want.

In  a new layer over the original art, I applied the paintbrush in the darker areas (to outline the “negative space”). I then used the colors from the original art to give the negative space the correct shading. I also applied a little HSV noise to the background colors to make it look like the old printed page.

The result can be seen below.

Teardrop Explodes with Kirby Krackles

Teardrop Explodes with Kirby Krackles

Not bad eh? The original was a bit small, so the dots had to be small too, and that made them a bit pixellated. It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty pleased with it, and it’s a good example of what you can do with GIMP and some fiddling with settings!

Now, to apply this technique to an idea that’s brewing…

An Open Letter To Chris Onstad

It’s no secret I am a fan of the webcomic Achewood. There’s so much stuff there to enjoy, what with the character blogs in addition to the strip itself. I’ve written about it many times before, including considering how one character’s reaction to his impending marriage could influence my reaction to my own.

Updates have been a little thin on the ground recently, however, so when I saw that the comic’s creator, Chris Onstad, had posted this explanation on his blog, I was a teensie bit worried. I needn’t have been – it turns out that he’s very busy, needs to sit down, and will get back to it when he can. Also, what “it” is may change. I’m glad. I decided to send him an email, which I reproduce below.

Dear Mr Onstad Sir,
I wanted to just add to the no-doubt stifling torrent of support from the positive half of the decade’s worth of strangers. Achewood was, is, and will hopefully continue to be among the best comic strips out there. I feel qualified to say this, despite only reading a few. The characters, the stories, the language, and yes the art style are all appealing to me. Certainly, yours is the only one that I have bought merchandise from, at least. In fact, I am slightly embarrassed to realize that over the years I have bought or have been gifted several pieces of your high-quality memorabilia. It has always impressed me that you have been able to provide such a rich seam of “content” (curse that word and the conveyor belt it represents). It shames me and my family to say that I am not a Fanflow subscriber. I was once, a while back, but that credit card expired. I’m on it.
In the face of growing expectations and commitments, I can appreciate the need to withdraw and draw breath. I am reminded of the words of one of your characters, Pat Reynolds, who said he would update his blog “whenever in the fucking hell I feel like it, you slavering, puckered assholes!”. Words to live by, I’m inclined to think.
In short, whatever you feel like coming up with, your fans will appreciate, despite moaning about it in the associated fora. Thanks for it all.

Yours sincerely,
Matthew Petty,
(an English white guy with glasses)
San Francisco

Big Fat Whale – Free Speech Free-for-All

 

Big Fat Whale – Free Speech Free-for-All.

Wonderfully Mellow: WonderCon 2010

I seem to be following these things around. When I lived in San Diego, I was able to go to ComicCon twice, and now in San Francisco we have WonderCon, run by the same people, but a bit smaller and mellower, as it turns out.

Of course, my buddy Brian, being a makeup artist and therefore an “industry person”, gets free passes for himself and an entourage, so all I have to do is lay out the lilo and have guests for the weekend. Brian, Stacey and their Golden Retriever Camden arrived Friday afternoon, and we had a pleasant weekend of geekery. (They were supposed to come up on Thursday, but Brian had a short-notice job applying makeup to Ernest Borgnine and Mickey Rooney).

WonderCon is much smaller that ComicCon, much less crowded, and the big names like DC and Marvel don’t have huge staged kiosks. In a way that made it better, because it allowed the smaller publishers and artists to stand out more. We did our usual wandering and browsing, Brian adding to the Kinney Hoard Museum of Action Figures, and then picked out some panels and talks to go to. Again, because of the smaller scale, it seemed easier to get to more of these interesting events. Of course, some of the panels were huge draws, such as the Arkham Asylum Forensic Psychology panel (“Is The Joker psychotic or psychopathic? How does that affect the law? Should he be in prison or the asylum?”). The huge line running round and round the corridors put me off that. There was also a big buzz about Dr Who, so any mention of that brought the fans running. We chose smaller stuff.

Creator’s Rights was a useful panel about how artists and authors should approach publishing, with horror stories of unscrupulous publishers ripping artists off. The upshot seemed to be to get someone (anyone, if not a lawyer) to read any paperwork and keep your trademarks. One panelist said to just post your work to a blog, and then use a Print On Demand service like Lulu.com to publish physical books yourself – your rights would be protected. What does a publisher bring to the table anyway? Brian was interested in this because he has a story that he wants to publish as a comic book (as part of a wider continuum of “product”) with an artist friend of his. I think they just need a kind of pre-nup.

Wandering around, I saw a short line leading up to Max Brooks, who was signing copies of his comic book Recorded Attacks, as well as anything else you wanted. I love his zombie books, so I took the opportunity to buy a copy and get it signed, and he was very friendly and charming, making a note in the book that the UK was my home – there was a recorded zombie attack in the North of England in Roman Times. That’s what Hadrian’s Wall was for. When I told Cassie of my nice encounter with the nice man, she asked if I had “asked him to sign my balls”. Such a classy lady.

I was interested in the Special Effects Makeup Demo, if only because I wanted to see what Brian would say about the guy’s technique. It seemed pretty good – he got a volunteer (with a revealing neckline) to have a nasty neck wound attached. While he did the application, makeup, and final oozing blood, he talked about techniques, materials and took the opportunity to play a trailer of some crappy zombie cowboy movie he did the effects for. I’m all for the little guy doing it for cheap, but jeez.

Following straight on from that was a demo of body casting, with one volunteer having her arm done in plaster, another having half his face (and beard) done in alginate, and a third having his palm done with silicon rubber. The presenter, in his bowler hat, (necessary) eye patch and leather apron, looked very much the quirky Con-attendee. He used a pocket watch to time his talk, which was pretty cool, and answered questions about materials, costs, tricks and techniques.

Saturday evening we had pub grub and pints at The Irish Bank, which I’d not visited before. It was originally called The Bank Of Ireland, but had to change its name after a complaint from the financial institution thousands of miles away. Fools.

The next day, after some freshly baked croissants, we hit the Con again. First up was Spotlight On Max Brooks, with my mate Max talking to a big room full of fans. Sitting behind the usual long front table, he said he didn’t like being alone, so he asked members of the audience to join him. He then aimed most of his talk, which covered his career, the status of the movie of World War Z (script due “in a month or so”), the GI Joe comic and so on, at a 10-year-old boy in the audience, which was really cute. Brian asked a good question about why the audiobook was abridged: because you have to pay all the different performers. It’s the same reason the movie will have to be big – it’s a global epic, with many settings, characters, and individual stories. He was really funny, frank, and informative – definitely his parent’s son. And just about a fortnight older than me!

The presentation by the Bay Area R2-D2 Builders Club was fascinating. They have all built, or are building, are are continually improving, full-sized functional radio-controlled models of the Star Wars R2-D2 droid (or variations thereof). The examples on display were astonishingly detailed, this one even including the hologram projection feature. The talk gave some tips about materials, costs (a lot), time costs (a lot), and impact on family life (a lot). I wish I had that kind of dedication, passion, skill, money, time and a workshop. If I made myself a droid (which I won’t, especially after the stress of the zombie collars last year), it would be one of these, only in Rebel orange and white. Perhaps a Death Star maintenance droid would be more possible – a radio-controlled car with a box on top. Lick of paint.

As a final treat we went to a very interesting panel on Local TV Horror Hosting, with discussions of history, method, anecdotes about the crazy people involved, and so on. They showed a short video about a few of the local heroes of the scene, including The Ghoul, Vampira, and Bob Wilkins. I had a flash of remembrance when seeing Zacherley – I thought he had been the model for one of the Horror Trumps cards I had when I was a kid. But when I checked I remembered the model was actually Lon Chaney (father of Wolfman Jr) in Tod Browning‘s London After Midnight, with his top hat and teeth. The idea was very popular up until cable TV and VCRs became so big – local stations would show mostly-rubbish old movies, topped and tailed with these hosts making terrible puns on creaking sets. For most people, this was the only chance to see these movies – they weren’t in theaters any more, and VCRs weren’t around yet. Their styles were very different – Vampira of course was the wasp-waisted scream queen, The Ghoul was wacky and over-the-top, with tonnes of props and fireworks, and Bob Wilkins (my favourite from the short clips we saw) was very understated, sitting in his rocking chair and making dry, disparaging comments about the films he was showing. Local cable stations still have similar hosts, but they are no longer so popular. But podcasts give them the chance to go back to their radio roots, and YouTube and Vimeo can open up audiences. Nice history, hopeful future.

Bit of a rant. There is a lot of genre-spanning in the geek world (“I span all genres, they call me the genre spanner” “Well, they call you the spanner”). You can’t mention Joss Whedon without a certain amount of squealing about musical episodes, puppet episodes and so on. The recent hit book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has given rise to a sequel by the same author, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and plenty of copycats. A new movie about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is coming soon. Adding “zombie” to any profession or character opens up Halloween costume possibilities in the way that “sexy” still does. I think it’s all a bit fan-servicey and predictable. Within a year, we’ll have Puppet Zombie Benjamin Netanyahu: Vampire Hunter, The Musical: On Ice! (Holiday Special). And then where will we be? I’ll tell you – I don’t know, but this kind of pandering recycling does seem rather lazy.

Anyway, this Con was a lot of fun, and far less stressful than ComicCon last year, probably because I didn’t have to dress up as a domesticated zombie this time.

Possible Use For iPad?

I’m not getting one, but I have to say these iPads are pretty intriguing, and I’d love to play around on one. Wil Wheaton has found a possible case of buying one after initial scepticism – board games. Complex board games like Car Wars and Arkham Horror. And reading that post, and the comments, made me think of the movie Big, with Elizabeth Perkins and Tom Hanks. Towards the end of the movie, Hanks’ and Perkins’ characters make a presentation about an “electronic comic book”:

JOSH
You see it won’t be like these where you just follow the story along. You would actually make a whole different story appear just by pressing these buttons.

SUSAN
An electronic comic book? That’s amazing!

JOSH
Yeah. An electric comic book. It’s gonna be different every time.

SUSAN
This is incredible. You’re brilliant–you know that?

JOSH
If you like one you could see it, you know, over and over and over  again.

SUSAN
You’re wonderful.

JOSH
You really like it?…You think Mac will like it? You know, what we could do…We could do like sports comics… or like if you’re going to steal second or something like that…You’d have sports books… baseball, football…really, it works with almost any sport there is. Hockey!

Later on they give a presentation which goes into more detail, including interchangable “disks” with new stories on them.

JOSH
There’s this flat screen inside with pictures on it and you read it. And when you get down to the bottom you have to make a choice of what the character’s going to do… Like if he going to go in and fight the dragon then you have to push one of the buttons.

SUSAN
See, there’s a computer chip inside which stores the choices, so when
you reach the end of the page, you decide where the story goes. That’s
the point.

MR. M
Terrific Susan.

SUSAN
A kid makes his own decision.

MR. M
This is really possible?

SUSAN
Yeah. In fact, it’s a very simple program. Isn’t that right?

MAN
So what happens when you run out of choices?

SUSAN
Well, that’s the great thing. You can just sell different adventures. Just pop in a new disk and you get a whole new set of options.

MAN
We could market this on a comic book rack.

MR. M
How much would the unit cost?

SUSAN
Well, our initial figure is around… around $7.00, with a retail cost of around $18.95.

PAUL
You expect a kid to pay $19.00 for a comic book?

Only the first time, you racketball-playing dick, Paul. The disks would be a lot cheaper, and you could have serial stories, new heroes, the possibilities are literally (OK not really) endless!

Talking of Big, Cassie and I like the bit when he calls his Mom, pretending to be his own kidnapper, to say he’s safe and will be coming home soon. She forces the “kidnapper” to sing the song “I used to sing to him when he was a little boy” to prove he’s safe.

Oh, I got it! I got it! “Memories, like the corner of my mind. Misty water color memories, of the way we werrrrrrrrrre. Scattered  pic-tures…”

The Choose Your Own Adventure books from Bantam weren’t a big success in the UK, but Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy books certainly were, from the classic (and infuriating) Warlock of Firetop Mountain to the stranger Sword of the Samurai and more complex Starship Traveller. I had a few of these, and they were well-thumbed and covered in rubbed-out pencil marks. I also had a few of Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf books, which had a much more (IMHO) immersive story and better (and more creepy) artwork. These were similarly thumbed and marked, so in the end I got my Dad to photocopy the score page, so I could keep the pages free of scribbles.

Searching around, I find that the series is now freely available to download, or even play online, complete with links between pages, and all the beautiful artwork. You can also view an SVG flowchart of the pages! The HTML version looks like an ideal candidate for iPad play – but you still have to maintain your own scores and inventory, which would be a pain. Easy to implement though, I guess.

It looks like there would be a range of complexity for electronic comic books, from a simple text document with built-in choices, to added features like hit points and skill levels, item inventories and magic spells. It would be a blurred line between that and the old text adventures like Zork, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and, er, Ship of Doom. But rather than having to type in directions, like simple VERB NOUN stuff, or the more flexible Level 9 parser as used in my old favorite The Saga of Erik The Viking, it would be preferable to use on screen buttons. But the text parsers could allow a huge variety of commands, whereas a button interface would be limited. You could just display the set of commands possible at a particular moment, but that would make the game a case of just trying all the available possibilities, instead of thinking around a problem. I suppose it depends on how good the on-screen keyboard is.

Of course, it goes without saying that a Linux-based tablet would be more open, flexible and probably cheaper, and would allow all sorts of experimentation along these lines without being forced through the Checkpoint Charlie of Apple’s walled garden. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

This should be interesting.

Like It Matters Here Is My Review Of ‘Watchmen’

So I went to see Watchmen in San Diego with Cassie and house-guest Martin. Of course, I’d been looking forward to it greatly, being a fan of the book and of Alan Moore’s other work. I’m not some huge Moore scholar, but I loved Watchmen and V for Vendetta, and I’ve read some issues of Top Ten (another “what if” story concerning superheroes) and Swamp Thing, and in general I think Moore is a true artist.

I loved his novel The Voice of the Fire, set as it was in a 10-mile radius around Northampton over 5000 years of personal and community history, with each story feeding a myth or legend to the next. I come from Bedford in the UK, not all that far from Northampton, which has its own long history. It makes me wonder what dark secrets hung over the Castle Mound, or the site of the old Ford that gives the town it’s name. No worse than the dark realities of the High Street on a Saturday night, I bet.

I’m well aware of Moore’s feelings about film adaptations of his work, and for the most part they are well and truly justified. But this one felt different. Artist Dave Gibbons was on board, and the shots of sets and costume sketches that dribbled out from the production all looked very hopeful.

Friend Brian, he that built these teeth for me for Halloween, had met Dave Gibbons when he was doing the special effects for the fantastic documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore (video clip here), and when we went to San Diego Comic Con last year he got him to sign his copy of Gibbon’s own book The Originals, a retro-futurist retelling of Quadrophenia, complete with hover-scooters (for the faces) and hover-bikes (for the “dirt”), high-collar riding coats known as “mantles”, and of course, hard pork-pie hats. There was lots of props, toys, early trailers and so on to see at Comic Con, and hype was at its height. So I had high hopes for this production.

I was a little disappointed. I’m not worried about the retelling being “faithful”. It definitely was. I don’t want to be that guy, complaining about every tiny difference. The sets, costumes, effects, design, vehicles were all great.

I’m not too bothered about the change to the ending. The “squid” would have needed many more characters and scenes: the artist who designed it, the pirate writer who came up with the hellish visions it propagated in the people of New York, the massacre of the secret community in the bombing of the ship, and so on. It was easier to just stick with a “big bomb” SFX sequence and leave it at that. In fact, by making Dr Manhattan the threat instead of some “alien invasion”, you might say it was a neater and more plausible ending (if “plausible” can be a word you would use in this context).

The acting was variable. Malin Ackerman was a bit wooden, and Billy Crudup’s performance as Dr Manhattan suffered from the fact that he was trying to be otherworldly and inhuman, but instead it just came across as “talking in a lilting la-la voice”. Jackie Earle Haley was fantastic, and Patrick Wilson was excellent as well, both of them showing the necessary vulnerability.

I didn’t recall the book being so violent. Checking back, of course, I see that it was, and the film was pretty faithful to the number of punches and kicks thrown during the rape scene. Nasty. However, there were some extra nasty little bits that were added, in one case with reason, in others without. I wouldn’t mind, but it did seem to enjoy lingering on some bits.Lingering was the problem on the whole. Every line was an important, every frame was a freeze frame. In the effort to not miss any bits from the book, it seemed like they were trying to make sure that every line was highlighted and clearly signposted. Despite this, the actors weren’t always that good at making the line clear, so even I, that knew every line that was spoken and where it came from, sometimes had a hard time understanding what they were saying. Even the bits that were played for laughs (the ejaculatory flamethrower for example) got overshadowed by the films – dare I say it? – pompousness. The funniest bit was Rorschach’s initial responses, “Some nice flowers”, “A pretty butterfly”. That says quite a lot.

The fight scenes suffered from the current trend for slow-motion sequences. They wanted you to see every bullet, every punch, every breaking bone. I think that these superhero sequences would be more impressive if they were done in real-time. These people are supposed to be superhuman, even if they don’t have superpowers, so a fight which lasts five seconds and leaves five bad guys on the out cold floor is more impressive than a painstakingly choreographed and elaborately filmed violent ballet. The new Batman films have it right. *Biff!* *Wham!* *Whoosh! – “What was that?”.

I think overall that my disappointment is that now the film is out, there’s nothing to look forward to. Except for the Tales of the Black Freighter DVD. And the director’s cut with the other 30 minutes they shot…

San Diego Comic Con 2008 – Photos

About time too. Still need to get round to writing about it, but here are the photos.

Geek Bonfire Burny Burny Fun Time

Went to a San Diego Geek Bonfire last night, organised by Mitch Wagner of Information Week, and Gina Trapani, editor of Lifehacker (which I comment on sometimes). We met at one of the concrete fire pits provided by the city in this lovely little cove. When I arrived, there were already a bunch of people there, and there were a couple of families with children playing in the water.

I stuck on a ‘Hello my name is…’ badge and dived in to talking to people. I met several nice friendly geeks, many of whom were told about the High Speed Rail link I’m working on – some were even interested. (joke) Vote yes on Prop 1a!

Among the new people I met and swapped geek info (Twitter usernames, moo cards etc) were the above mentioned Mitch and Gina, A Kovacs, Lightwave Will, and many more. (I left the cards I collected at home today, soz)

Small World Update – one of my current crop of blogs I read is Bad Astronomer, which I mentioned the other day, and it turns out A is a friend of Phil Plait, and was lucky enough to be on the recent Galapagos trip. It was fascinating hearing about that, especially the sea lions.

We hung out, ate toasted marshmallows and drank soda-pop-drinks, and discussed all sorts of stuff. Short incomplete list below.

  • What is a geek?
  • Ringtones
  • Cartones (I reserve a TIE fighter sound for me)
  • Twitter on iPhone vs Palm (iPhone wins because of weird code on the site)
  • Spaced
  • Doctor Who
  • Marine Boy
  • Speed Racer
  • Battle of the Planets / Gatchaman
  • Daleks
  • The Clone Wars
  • Trains
  • Maglev from LA to SF, suspended over the 5, and why it won’t happen
  • California High Speed Rail
  • Vote YES on Prop 1a this November
  • … and many other geek topics.

One set of photos is here. After the beach got a bit too dark, despite the roaring fire, I drove to O’Connells Bar for some “Tech Karaoke”, which was pretty good fun. Despite a huge range of songs, I couldn’t decide what to sing, and ended up doing My Life by Billy Joel again. I left before I was due to do Veronica by Elvis Costello, which is probably a good thing.

More geek fun please!