Thursday, December 31, 2009

That was the year, that was

December the 31st and all is well. Ish. I have Swine Flu, there are still big dollops of snow on the pavements outside and I've just had both of my cats put down. But hey-ho. Life goes on. Except for the cats. I should explain that they were both old and very ill - one was nearly 20 and could no longer walk and the other was 16 with terminal cancer - so it was justified, if a bit sad. But enough of that, let's look back at the year that was 2009 and get really depressed.

It seems to me that most people saw 2009 as an annus horribilis. Collapsing banks, more of our lads dying in a war no one wanted, greedy MPs taking the piss, tumbling house prices ... there isn't a lot that can be said in 2009's favour. But there were some nuggets of interest that caught my notice in the year gone by and I did meet some fascinating people. So here we go, my slightly obscure and deeply personal review of 2009. Prepare yourself. There will be whingeing.

To start us off on a lighter note, the year began with the publication of some of the oddest police sketches ever. Here are a couple:
You can see more here. I took a particular interest in this as 2009 saw the retirement of my good friend Jan 'Boris' Szymczuk as the Metropolitan Police's longest-serving police sketch artist. He did this one of me a few years ago. And these of Stephen Fry and Alan Davies for an article I wrote for the 2009 QI Annual. Sadly, the feature was dropped due to space restrictions but you can see them (and read the aborted feature) here. January also saw the announcement that Matt Smith, at 26, would be the new, and youngest ever, Doctor Who. The first Doctor, William Hartnell, was 55 when he took on the role (He looked older as he wore a long white wig which he hated). If it's taken 47 years to get from Hartnell to Smith then the Doctor has lost, on average, seven months per year. Which means that when Matt Smith is 55, the actor playing the Doctor will be around nine years old. Just a thought.*

I just watched the trailer for Matt Smith's first series here on the BBC website. Nice to see the Daleks, the statues from Blink and River Song making a reappearance. But is it just me or do the younger cast members make the show look worryingly Harry Potter-ish? Ah well, I shall watch in April and make judgement then. I already hate the new logo.

February saw the UK (or the South East anyway) blanketed in snow. Looking back on it now, it seemed like a big deal but it wasn't even a quarter of what we've just had this December. It was also the start of the celebrations for Charles Darwin's bicentenary. It gave us a wealth of excellent TV shows and bolstered the knowledge of us beleagured atheists and rationalists. And good thing too as I ended up having to destroy a couple of rampant Creationists this year.

My views on the whole Creationism vs Evolution debate are well-documented here and here. My views on religion versus atheism are similarly recorded here, here, here and most notably here. I won't go through it all again; suffice to say that I'm a great believer in 'each to his/her own'. However, I get very eggy when someone insists that their viewpoint is the only valid viewpoint, especially when it is based on pure belief and superstition. My beliefs, or lack of them, are just as valid. One man in particular needed me to deconstruct the whole Noah's Ark myth before he'd bugger off and leave me alone. So thanks for the extra ammo Chuck.

March saw a new low in the history of tabloid journalism when the Scottish Sunday Express ran a non-story about the kids who survived the Dunblane massacre in 1996 and how they were now allegedly alcohol-fuelled yobs who;d squandered their 'second chance'. The only evidence for this arse-gravy of a feature was the kids' Facebook photo galleries, all of which showed exactly the kind of party shots that any teen on Facebook would post. The whole event was an absolute disgrace made all the worse for the fact that the story's author, Paula Murray, had the same kind of photos on her own Facebook page. This story, plus reading Tom Hodgkinson's excellent dissection of the whole social media phenomenon, We want everyone, made me decide to leave Facebook. Except you can't can you? They won't let you. All you can do is make your account dormant. So I'm sorry if you've tried to get me via this route this past year. I will not be part of any social network that was founded by members of the American right wing who believe that diversity is wrong and who were famously outed by Stephen Fry because they didn't want gay people on their network. Also, please do bear in mind that, once posted, you lose the copyright on your photos. Which means that - heaven forbid - if anything newsworthy happens to you, the press will immediately search Facebook for a nice controversial photo to publish and you can't do a damned thing about it. It's happened a couple of times this year when kids have been killed in tragic accidents. The first photo to appear in the papers is never sanctioned by the family and always, sadly, seems to involve an alcoholic beverage. But the best Facebook faux pas of the year must surely go to Lady Shelley Sawers who posted some lovely photos and personal information about her family, including her husband, Sir John ... who just happened to be the new head of MI6. Oops.

That said, social networking has a place in our society if used properly. Even that most ancient of social networking systems - the telephone - can still be used for abuse. For me, the social networking hero this year was Twitter. I was introduced to it last December by chief elf Justin Pollard at the launch for the 2009 QI Annual. In the twelve months since, it's introduced me to a wealth of new friends - many of whom I've gone on to meet in the flesh - and it has changed my life in ways I never expected. I've taken part in on-line campaigns, vicariously followed rebel voters during the outrageously unethical Iranian elections and have swapped gags and opinions with any number of celebs. It doesn't invade my personal life, doesn't demand anything from me but allows me to communicate with people I'd normally never meet. That's what social networks are for surely? By the end of 2010, Twitter may well be dead and buried but I'd like to believe that it's taken the evolution of social networking one stage further. Certainly, Father Ted and IT Crowd creator Graham Linehan agrees and recently wrote the best piece on Twitter I've read yet. It's here.

March saw the death of Jade Goody and yet another appalling piece of journalism when celebrity-obsessed suckmag OK! published a 'tribute' issue before she'd even died. The magazine stated that it had her final words - an extraordinary piece of prediction unless Jade had signed an exclusive deal with the magazine to stick to an agreed script with her last croaking breath. I, like many others, was sickened by the whole sycophantic circus surrounding her final months. After all, this was the woman that the press had presented to us for years as a gobby, thick-as-pigshit, racist slapper. Now, simply because the subject of their ire developed a terminal illness, these no doubt professional and compassionate journalists all suddenly morphed into champions for her canonisation. Extraordinary.

Jade Goody symbolised everything that I hated about reality TV and the way that our society seems to be going. Don't get me wrong; I had nothing against Jade herself. If anything, I rather admired the woman. She came from the most appalling background living on a foul sink estate with drug-dealing parents and had a dreadful education. Despite that, she was, essentially, a good, if occasionally misguided, person whose heart was in the right place. After her appearance on Big Brother she went on to create a lucrative business empire. Her spat with Shilpa Shetty onCelebrity Big Brother was ill-advised and ignorant but no worse than anything you'll hear in some pubs, but she seemed genuinely upset that she'd caused hurt. And she had the guts to appear on the Indian version of the show and make amends. And, to her eternal credit, she faced her death with dignity and has done much to raise young women's awareness of cervical cancer. As I say, I have nothing really bad to say about Jade Goody herself. I have plenty to say about the quality of TV programming, the turncoat slimeball press and the dreadful voyeurism of her death.

Television seems to me to be tumbling down a turd-greased slope of tired ideas into a brown and stinking pond of cruelty, cheapness and lowest-common-denominator shite. By far the most popular section of most reality TV shows is the auditions where the never-will-be-wannabes and the mentally ill are wheeled out like freaks to be pointed and laughed at. We've already had one suicide as the result - Paula Goodspeed killed herself outside Paula Abdul's house last year (read this) - how many more will it take before this drivel is off the air? Big Brother is dead so that's a good start. But it's not enough. The recent campaign to get Rage against the Machine to the Christmas Number One spot is indicative of the depth of feeling out here in the real world. While it wasn't an appropriate Christmas song, it was performed by real musicians with real passion, not some TV product singing a wet recycled Miley Cyrus song. We want quality TV and quality music. No, we demand it.

Talking of quality programming, April was the month of The Museum of Curiosity; John Lloyd, Dan Schreiber and Rich Turner's Radio 4 sister series to TV's QI. I was kindly invited along to all six recordings and got to meet a stellar mix of panellists including Clive James, Kate Adie, Tim Minchin, Philip Pullman, Brian Eno, Charlotte Uhlenbroek, Simon Singh, Chris Addison, Dave Gorman, Roger Law and Chris Donald among others. And, of course, presenters John Lloyd and Sean Lock. It was also the month that the MP's expenses scandal hit the news. It was deliciously ironic to see people like Hazel Blears being hoist on her own petard after being so vitriolic about the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand 'moment of awkwardness' over the airwaves in late 2008. David Mitchell wrote a wonderfully eloquent piece on the subject for The Guardian which you can read here and it's fascinating to read it again in the light of the expenses scandal.

If an MP broke the rules or, worse, broke the law, I would expect to see them punished and publicly admonished. But if they really did act within the rules ... were they wrong? It's an interesting moral question. How many of us, if told that our boss would let us have money for nothing, wouldn't take it? The difference, I suppose, is that the 'boss' in the MP's case was us, the taxpayers, and we had no say in whether a duck house or moat-cleaning was appropriate use of our money.

May and the winner of this year's Diagram Bookseller prize for the oddest title was awarded to the excellent The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais.Wonderful. Previous year's winners include People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It (2005), The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories (2003), Living with Crazy Buttocks (2002), Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers (1996), Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality(1986), The Joy of Chickens (1980) and Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (1978). There's a great book that celebrates the award called How to avoid huge ships. I implore you to read it. While hunting around for a suitable submission for the 2009 prize I came across a very real book called Sexual skills for the Christian husband and entered into a spirited discussion with the author here. This led me on to one of the most bizarre websites I've ever seen. The author(s) of Sex in Christ somehow manage to square every sexual practice imaginable with Christian belief. It's quite extraordinary and you can visit it here. Be warned, it is as candid as it is bonkers.

May also saw filming of QI series G begin and I was delighted to reacquaint myself with Stephen Fry, Sean Lock, Alan Davies, Bill Bailey and the usual suspects as well as other invited guests like Neil Gaiman and Derren Brown. I also discovered the wonderful Awkward Family Photos website and it has brought me constant joy ever since. Here's a very disturbing example (look closely):

June saw me taking a bit part in Tony Hawks' movie version of his bestselling Around Ireland with a Fridge. The Centrecourt shopping centre in Wimbledon was tricked out to become a similar venue in Dublin and we were shooting the scenes where Tony arrives for his triumphant reward (a chain of office made from Irish-themed fridge magnets) upon completing the task. Oh. Have I just spoiled the film for you? Great fun though. I'm the fat guy with the young, attractive girlfriend that he rushes past just before meeting the presenters from All Ireland Radio. My write-up on the filming is here.

We also said goodbye to Michael Jackson in somewhat mysterious circumstances. However, the most mysterious thing about his death was that Sky TV actually commissioned a seance to talk with him in September. Derek Acorah and several obviously damaged fanatics (that is what 'fan' is short for) groped the King of Pop's hat and utterly failed to ask any significant questions about Jackson's curious death, the allegations against him involving child abuse or why he chose to mutilate his good looks with extreme surgery. What? You didn't see the seance? There are chunks of it here on YouTube and it marks yet another mangy nadir in the history of television.

It was a good Summer this year with lots of very hot days and lots of very wet days. July saw me enjoying Anthony Gormley's One and Other installation on Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth. I do a lot of walking around in central London as I hate the Tube and would often modify my route to see who was on the plinth and what peculiar exhibitionist madness they were indulging in. We had artists and strippers, dancers and people who just sat and watched the crowd. We had pleas on behalf of various charities and a bewildering range of mad costumes. It was the British public at their eccentric best and it was quite, quite brilliant. I wish it had been made permanent and that everyone in the UK could have the chance of being up there and their 60 minutes of exposure. So much more representative of the UK than any kind of reality show.

July also marked the month in which the Metropolitan Police Service - the world's largest police force - recognised that pagan belief was as valid as any other form of faith. The creation of the Pagan Police Association means that you can now be stopped and searched by a practising Druid or Wiccan just as easily as you can by a Muslim, Christian or Hindu. Isn't that great? Now you could get a ticket or a curse.

August now and, once again, Facebook and its less-successful social networking cousins were thrown into the spotlight. Vincent Nichols, the Catholic archbishop of Westminster, told the Telegraph newspaper that 'Among young people often a key factor in them committing suicide is the trauma of transient relationships. They throw themselves into a friendship or network of friendships, then it collapses and they're desolate. It's an all or nothing syndrome that you have to have in an attempt to shore up an identity; a collection of friends about whom you can talk and even boast. But friendship is not a commodity, friendship is something that is hard work and enduring when it's right.' While I agreed with some of the points he made, I did take umbrage with others. For a start, UK suicide rates have been dropping for years (according to both official statistics and charities such as The Samaritans and Mind). Secondly, the internet has enabled a lot of people who are isolated by such things as geography, health or even shyness to meet others. Just recently, someone on Twitter wrote 'Why is it that I've met more of the kind of people I like on Twitter than in real life?' The point, I believe, is that we shouldn't invest too much in the technology; it should never replace real physical friendships. I've made it a point to meet as many of my fellow Tweeters and Bloggers in the flesh as possible and, almost without exception, they've been a joy (see here). That's what social networking should be for; establishing contact with like-minded individuals. As soon as there is a hint of cyber-bullying or misuse, accounts should be suspended or deleted.

September's low-point was Jan Moir's hugely insulting and unjust Daily Mail column about the untimely death of Stephen Gately. 'Something is terribly wrong with the way this incident has been shaped and spun into nothing more than an unfortunate mishap on a holiday weekend, like a broken teacup in the rented cottage', she wrote. 'Consider the way it has been largely reported, as if Gately had gently keeled over at the age of 90 in the grounds of the Bide-a-Wee rest home while hoeing the sweet pea patch. The sugar coating on this fatality is so saccharine-thick that it obscures whatever bitter truth lies beneath. Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again. Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one.' She then went on to suggest, without any evidence, that it was Gately's 'sleazy' lifestyle that killed him and ended with the homophobic conclusion that Gately's death 'strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships. Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael. Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately's last night raise troubling questions about what happened. For once again, under the carapace of glittering, hedonistic celebrity, the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see.' Moir's feature led to more than 22,000 complaints and a huge public demand for an apology, much of it led by Twitter. Charlie Brooker wrote a splendid piece dissecting her nonsense here and I'd implore you to read it. Just as we deserve better TV and better music, we deserve better press coverage than this kind of gutter journalism. Moir, of course, was unrepentant despite the internet campaign and the fact that companies removed their adverts from her on-line page to avoid what they saw as 'contamination'. But Moir shouldn't be pilloried alone. What about the sub-editors and editors who allowed the feature to run?

September was also the month in which a paperback book came out called Joined-Up Thinking ... right, shameless plug over.

In October I withdrew from the world to do 23 illustrations for this year's QI Annual but I did get time to visit Anish Kapoor's exhibition at the Royal Academy. A giant sliding loaf of red wax being constantly reshaped by a series of arched doorways? A tower of shiny balls? Lumps of wax being fired from a cannon? Who could resist? I couldn't. I love Kapoor's work and it was wonderful to experience. However, nothing as yet beats his Marsya at Tate Modern a couple of years ago. That was magnificent and awe-inspiring and it looked like this (and this photo shows no more than a third of the overall sculpture) :

One of the big news stories in October was Nick Griffin's appearance on BBC's Question Time. Enough has been written about this already and I'm keen not to provide him with any more publicity. Because he's a c*nt.

In November I got invited to two very different but wonderful events. The first was the 30th anniversary party for Viz magazine where I got to see a lot of original artwork and spoke to all of the artists and writers. It all culminated in me getting my copy of Chris Donald's Rude Kids: The Story of Viz signed and scribbled in by all and sundry. What a great keepsake. Here's the link to my write-up of the event. Then, a few days later, I went to an exhibition of art by Hipgnosis, the creators of most of the iconic LP covers of the 1970s including Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Paul McCartney and Wings' Band on the Run and Led Zep's Houses of the Holy. Great to meet the guys having been a fan of their work since my teens. I even got my copy of their bookWalk Away Renee, which I bought in 1979, signed. Here's the write-up.

And now, finally, December and the first white Christmas in decades. certainly the first I've ever experienced and, hopefully, the last. What a nightmare. Here on the Chiltern Hills we took the brunt of the south-east snowfall with around 6-7 inches of the stuff lying on our criminally ungritted streets and pavements. I was twice forced to walk several miles home up a very long and very steep set of hills, had to abandon my car miles away at least once and utterly failed to get into London for my final two days of work for 2009. It was, as always in the UK, utter chaos. But it's easy to complain about lack of investment and preparation isn't it? The weather is so unpredictable and always has been. I can guarantee that there would have been a surfeit of purple-faced Daily Mail readers huffing and puffing if the local council had spent thousands gritting the roads and investing in snowploughs and no snow had come. My grandchildren enjoyed it though:

December crystallised my views on reality TV with yet more torture-porn in the form of I'm a celebrity, get me out of here in which living creatures are trampled to death and eaten alive for our 'enjoyment'. I don't want much from life. I want a roof over my head, food on the table, good health and someone to love who loves me in turn. Everything else is a bonus and, invariably, I have to pay for it. Therefore it seems only reasonable that the television I pay for is of a decent standard and not just some cheap, thrown-together toot 'starring' H-list celebrities doing utterly pointless things. I want quality serials and gripping drama - not depressing and increasingly bizarre soap opera plot-lines. I want fresh new comedy - not tired repeats. I want excellent documentary making - not some flash American format programme that repeats itself constantly (in case us thickos have forgotten what happened already) and where the world is marvellous enough to not need enhancing with CGI. Such stuff exists. Look at House, Life, Modern Family, Dexter, True Blood, Being Human, Outnumbered, The IT Crowd, Doctor Who, Bones, 30 Rock ... aren't we entitled to more of this?

And I offer the same challenge to our current affairs media people. Just report what's going on in the world. Even the BBC news, that last great bastion of sensibility, seems to have fallen prey to tabloid sensationalism this year. Just look at their coverage of the Swine Flue pandemic. It's been shamefully over-dramatised and scare-mongerish. As I sit here typing this, I've just lived through a bout of this debilitating illness and it is genuinely unpleasant. But, for goodness sake, many many more people die on the roads every year. Why doesn't that get the same treatment?

As I said at the start of this rant, 2009 has been pretty crap and I apologise if this final blogpost reads like an extended whinge. It is my fervent hope that things can only get better. I'll finish as I began with something light-hearted; the best headline I've seen all year:

Happy New Year!

* For the sake of completeness, Pat Troughton was 46, Jon Pertwee was 51, Tom Baker 40, Peter Davison 31, Colin Baker 41, Sylvester McCoy 44, Paul McGann 35, Chris Ecclestone 41 and David Tennant 34.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I've always gone for the also-rans

I've always liked my music to be a little bit edgy and challenging. It's why I prefer albums by Bjork, St Vincent, Joanna Newsom, Jim Moray, Mumford and Sons and Planet X to those by Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Keane, U2 or Oasis. Somewhere in the middle, there are bands like The Cure, Radiohead, The Smiths and Blur who are about as mainstream as I like to get. Unsurprisingly, I feel the same about comics.

Admittedly, if pushed to suggest the 'Top 10 Graphic Novels', I'd probably pick an utterly predictable crop of well-known masterpieces like The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Sandman, The Tale of One Bad Rat, Akira, Preacher, Batman: The Killing Joke, Maus, Luther Arkwright, Sin City: Hard Goodbye etc. But I can't help rooting for the underdog and I would also have to include a few 'lost gems'; some of the comics that have made me very happy but which haven't necessarily registered with the mainstream reader.

I never really got my head around superheroes and American comics in general as we couldn't get them where I grew up in Cornwall. Instead, I migrated from the Beano to Whizzer and Chipsto 2000AD and Heavy Metal (Metal Hurlant). Consequently, I became (and still am) a huge fan of European and British comic artists like Enric Sio, Mike McMahon, Esteban Maroto and Moebius. I also loved the intelligent storylines and anti-heroes of strips like Judge Dredd, Lone Sloane, Asterix the Gaul and The Incal. Sadly, British comics came and went and, with the notable exception of 2000AD, they all failed. But they did leave us with some amazing characters and I would implore you to seek them out and enjoy them as I have. So here are a few suggestions:

1. Hewligan's Haircut by Peter Milligan and Jamie Hewlett. This bizarre eight-part story ran in 2000AD in 1990. Hewlett - best-known these days as co-creator of pop band Gorillaz with Damon Albarn - had achieved cult status with his Tank Girl character and was soon finding himself in great demand. His anarchic style suited this story exactly. Hewligan, a patient at a psychiatric hospital, is about to be discharged and decides to cut his hair. However, he unknowingly cuts it into the shape of a secret symbol used to keep the universe 'in tune'. With the symbol at large, the walls of reality crumble and fall and Hewligan finds himself on a strange inter-dimensional road trip with the lovely Scarlet O'Gasmeter to find the enigmatic giant heads that can fix things. Mad stuff but a terrific read.

2. Johnny Nemo by Peter Milligan, Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon. New London 2921 is a city sunk in despair, corruption and violence. And that's just how Johnny Nemo, ultra-violent and foul-mouthed private detective, likes it. During the course of his adventures he gets to face transgender barmen, a Princess Diana lookalike with Siren-like powers, Latin-spouting fascists, exploding nuns and even a weird religious cult who worship Bing Crosby's left testicle.

Johnny made his first appearance in the American comic anthology Strange Days, before a short three-issue run in his own book by Eclipse in the mid-eighties. A few years later, the stories (plus some new ones) were reprinted in the first dozen issues of Deadline, a British monthly comic aimed at giving new talent a chance. It was created by former 2000 AD artists Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon. Deadline also introduced us to Hewlett's Tank Girl and helped launch the careers of artists like Phillip Bond and D'Israeli. Smart and violent.

3. Kane by Paul Grist. This comic, an independent publishing venture by Grist (Dancing Elephant Press), follows the exploits of detective Kane in the city of New Eden.

Grist is a superb storyteller and has a unique vision, much more European in style than similar US strips. He also has a wonderful cast of characters like the Bunny Man (a tall chap permanently dressed as a pink rabbit) and The Blind Man: a legendary hitman who tracks down his victims by listening to their heartbeats. Paul used to be quite often on the next stand to us back in the days when myself and some friends published our own indie comics (see here). A nice guy and well-deserving of the recognition he now gets within the industry.

4. Marshall Law by Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill. 'Some of them think 'cause they're superheroes they're above the law. It's my job to change their thinking. Sometimes this can prove fatal.' In a twisted, decadent future not so far away, the city once called San Francisco is now a war zone. The government has commissioned living weapons of mass destruction to wage war on terror. The survivors return home broken, bitter, insane - and almost unstoppable. Only one man has the power to take on America's best and brightest and bring them to justice - ex-superhero Marshall Law.

Marshall Law never really found a home in British comics. He popped up in Marvel UK'sStripand later in the ill-fated Toxic. Since then he's appeared in specials and in various collections and trade paperbacks. A great anti-hero from British comics legends Pat Mills (Judge Dredd) and Kevin O'Neill (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Worth reading for the spoof versions of other well-known traditional superheroes alone.

5. Fred the Clown by Roger Langridge. How to describe Fred the Clown? This is the signature character of New Zealand's most prolific cartoonist, Roger Langridge. Fred is your bog-standard tragic clown; unlucky in love, prone to despair, always suffering pratfalls. The strip jumps from era to era and art style to art style but never once loses the pithy wit or the quality of the artwork.

Fred exists mostly in the form of a webcomic and can be accessed and read, free of charge, atHotel Fred. If you like the more traditional ink and paper, many of the strips were collected into a book (see above). Meanwhile, if you like what you see, also check out Roger's Knuckles the Malevolent Nun.

6. Accident Man by Pat Mills, Tony Skinner and various artists. I don't really know much about the creation of this character. All I know is that there wasn't enough of him. The story centered around the life of Mike Fallon, a high-class hitman. Fallon was known for making his murders look like accidents, often going to extravagant lengths to do so. Fallon is also noted for his love of high living and glamorous girlfriends. Mike Fallon's, "I don't give a damn" attitude to his hits was changed the day his girlfriend (a would-be Greenpeace activist) was murdered. Fallon then went on a murderous rampage to find out who paid the contract on his girlfriend and who actually made the hit.

Accident Man ran in Toxic for just three stories illustrated by Martin Emond, Duke Mighten and John Erasmus. There was a later three part series drawn by Duke Mighten for Dark Horse (see above). More please!

7. The Last American by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Mike McMahon. There is absolutely no way that I'd let a Top 10 slide by without mention of Mike McMahon, one of comics' most consistently innovative illustrators. I've blogged about him before here and here. The difficulty was choosing a comic that really shows him off at his best. In the end it came down to a toss-up between his artwork for 2000AD's Slaine or Epic's The Last American.

In the end I chose The Last American because Pat Mills, as a writer, has already had two mentions. Instead, here are two of 2000AD's stalwarts - Wagner and Grant - who between them penned nearly every Judge Dredd story. Twenty years after a global nuclear conflict, one man is released from suspended animation to see what remains. It is unclear why nuclear war occurred or who started it but the devastation is immense. The protagonist is joined by three robot companions who accompany him on his journey to discover if he is, in fact, the last American alive. Poignant and wonderfully scripted.

8. Arzach by Jean Giraud (Moebius). The most influential entry in this alternative Top 10, Arzach is a comic book collection of four wordless short stories by Moebius, which were originally published in the French magazine M├ętal Hurlant. The stories follow Arzach, a silent warrior who rides a pterodactyl-like creature through a strange, desolate landscape (see top of post).
The imagery and situations inArzach are often compared to dreams or the subconscious. These stories had an enormous impact on the French comics industry, and the Arzach character is still among Moebius' most famous creations. Simply some of the best comic artwork I've ever seen.

9. The Actress and the Bishop by Brian Bolland. Brian is one of the UK's best known comic artists ... despite producing very little in the way of comic art for many years. Instead, he confines himself to covers mostly. However, he does indulge himself with the occasional self-written strip and The Actress and the Bishop have now featured in several.

Having been a staple pair of characters in British humour for decades, it's surprising that no one thought to create a strip around them until Bolland. But I'm glad he did. The scripts are clever, funny and set in rhyming couplets reminiscent of old Rupert the Bear annuals. Wonderful stuff.

10. The Bojeffries Saga by Alan Moore and Steve Parkhouse. Everyone knows Watchmenand V for Vendetta. Everyone knows The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Killing Joke andFrom Hell. Not many people know about this splendid Alan Moore gem. The Bojeffries Saga is a series of comics which have been published by a number of different companies since their debut in 1983 in the UK comics anthology Warrior. Described as a 'soap opera of the paranormal' it features an eccentric English family of werewolves, vampires and monsters in various peculiar tales. It has the usual sharp satire and clever plot lines you'd expect from Moore and the crisp, sharp illustration of Parkhouse, an often sadly overlooked star.

Alan Moore has hinted at the fact that there may soon be a whole new Bojeffries story to finish off the saga. In his words: 'Yeah, I have written a final Bojeffries – well, I don’t know if it’s a final – but I’ve written a kind of, it wouldn’t hurt if it was the last one, although maybe me and Steve will want to do some more with them. What we’re going to do is, we’re going to collect up, with Top Shelf, all of the Bojeffries material that’s appeared to date, and we’re going to cap it all off with a twenty-four page story called After They Were Famous, which is the Bojeffries in 2009, existing side-by-side with culture as it is now, as opposed to culture as it was in the eighties and the early nineties'. So there's something to look forward to.

So there you go. My alternative Top 10. seek them out and enjoy. I know you'll love them. and if enough of you do so, they may start topping some 'best of' polls.

After all, if Rage against the Machine can do it ...

So humble, humble ... part 2

Back in November 2007, I put this post up on my blog which shows the relative sizes of planets and stars. It made me feel quite small and insignificant, it must be said.

But now, the American Museum of Natural History have gone one step further and have produced a short animation showing all of the known universe to scale. It's really quite amazing.

Thanks to Derren Brown for making me aware of it via Twitter.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

This Week's Artist: Amanda Visell

This sculpture is what first turned me on to Amanda Visell's fabulous retro artwork. Since then I've bought a couple of her pieces (including the pink elephant 'snake oil' version of Drunky McSkunky above) and a copy of her book Popping through pictures.

Her paintings have a great 1950s cartoon feel, just like Genndy Tartakovsky's animations - Dexter's Lab and Samurai Jack - do. And the pictures translate excellently to 3D too.

I also love the way that she can take well-known images and characters and re-imagine them in her own inimitable style, as she's done here with Disney's Peter Pan.

Want to see some more? Then check out her website or her blog, which she shares with the also hugely talented Michelle Valigura. Or check out the gallery here. Or buy her stuff via Switcheroo.

Separated at Birth ... one last time

More parallels between Roger Dean's art and Avatar. The more I look, the more I find ...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Separated at Birth ... again?

Spot the difference ... the paintings of Roger Dean and the landscape of Avatar's planet Pandora. If he hasn't sued, he hasn't seen the film yet.