Monday 31 October 2011

Waaarrrrggghhhhhhhhhhh!!!! It's All Halllows Eve!!!

This is turning into something of a tradition, but every year I find myself creating Halloween masks for friends and family.

Here's this years offerings:

Sunday 30 October 2011

I See a Bad Moon Arising...

Yes it's your old gloomeister with a truly apocryphal vision of what could happen if the people that rule the world (allegedly Goldman Sachs) continue in the manner that has brought entire continents to the brink of ruin and  Capitalism which is now floating on so much conflated debt finally collapses. This is an all too credible view of how things might unfold when the giant Ponzi scheme that international banking has become finally hits the buffers:

and here's part 2:

Scary stuff huh???

There are several thematic similarities to other shot on a budget, chillers, one in particular being Oscar Romero's Night of the Living Dead, where again there is a real feeling of claustrophobia, which rather than underlining to the viewer that the film makers did not have the sets nor the resources of Cecil B De Mille, actually adds to the feeling of unease.

In both cases we see comfortable Middle America, the land of the comfortable Middle Class beginning to feel less comfortable as it comprehends it's imminent demise. The redeeming factor for viewers of Romero's film is that it is in the final analysis a fantasy, whereas The Economic Collapse sadly is all too close for comfort.

The USA in the immediate post war years was in a constant state of apprehension, which manifested itself in fear of Invaders from Outer Space (remember the proliferation of Flying Saucer sightings throughout the 1950's), The Red Menace (remember Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Senate Enquiry into UnAmerican Activities aka the McCarthy Witch Hunts?). To these you can add on Motorcycle Gangs, Horror Comics, Teenage Dope Fiends, Race Riots, Alcoholism, Kill Crazy Charlie Starkweather and his gal Caril Fugate terminating the lives of eleven people in Nebraska and good old wannabe taxidermist Ed Gein who was so starved of company in his lonely Winsconsin farmhouse that he dug up his recently deceased neighbors and brought them back to his home for company along with some fresher victims when conversation stalled as it inevitably does in such circumstances.

There was of course one horror which dwarfed even these frissons of unease in it's awful magnitude and whereas films such as Invasion of The Body Snatchers or the Mars Attacks series of bubblegum cards created visions of enslavement of the planet by alien forces, the real terror was founded on the cataclysmic final trump of Atomic Warfare.

To this there was no apparent remedy, protection or reassurance - it was going to get you and you had better prepare your soul, because there was absolutely no way of preparing your body unless you were naive enough to attempt the kind of precautions that were so mercilessly exposed in Peter Watkins film The War Game, originally planned for broadcast by the BBC in 1965 until the Powers that Beeb referred the whole thing to the British Home Secretary who then ordered it to be effectively put on ice.

Here's why:

Follow the YouTube channel links for the remaining episodes.

It was of course a theme which had been explored by those comic genius's Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein in stories such as Child of Tomorrow from EC's Weird Fantasy (No 17 although actually No 5 for all you comicologists).

But powerful as Feldstein's treatment of a nuclear apocalypse is in what for 1951 was indeed very strong stuff, it is in the main a look at the post nuclear world of middle America. The real horror wouldn't manifest itself in terms of pulp based trash culture until a chance collaboration between graphic genius Basil Wolverton and the US evangelist and founder of The Plain Truth magazine Herbert Armstrong. As Monte Wolverton describes in the introduction to the recently published The Wolverton Bible his father's working day was such that a lot of his most productive hours in terms of his one off maniacal artistry was spent in the evening working to the accompaniment of the wireless. It was during these hours that he first started listening to the preachings of Armstrong who had secured himself a broadcast slot with one of the nations radios stations. They entered into correspondence and it wasn't long before a deeper relationship had been established. Wolverton found that many of the preacher''s thoughts and concerns addressed issues with which he had been wrestling for much of his teen and adult life. Armstrong aware of Wolverton's immense and unique talents wanted to draft him in to providing artwork for his religious tracts. Wolverton's workload and success, which peaked on the back of his creation of Lena The Hyena as a response to an Al Capp (creator of L'il Abner) sponsored contest to depict the world's ugliest woman, precluded him from being able to avail himself to creating much in the way of work for Armstrong.

It was therefore several years before Wolverton could commit to producing work for Armstrong but when he did the work he produced was epic in quantity, scope and imagination. Amounting to nearly a thousand artworks, Wolverton's illustrations for The Bible were a tour de force, unlike and uninfluenced by any previous attempt to illustrate the Bible.

Great as the images were, the real shock and awe came with the last section when Wolverton unleashed his full power and intensity on the most chilling images yet seen in either an interpretation of the bible or an attempt to illustrate the effects of a nuclear conflagration on cities and people which to his middle American readership would have seemed too close to home to be viewed with the relative detachment such subject matter would normally be accorded.

More, as in 700 plus illustrations along with introductory texts by Grant Geissman and Monte Wolverton, can be seen in The Wolverton Bible published by Fantagraphics books - a very necessary and inspirational addition to your bookshelves.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

But Sir I Can't Draw Horses!!!

When the legendary AP editor Leonard Matthews was looking for an artist to undertake work on a forthcoming series of comics under the title of Cowboy Picture Library, he approached artist Geoff Campion whose punchy and vibrant artwork was just what the visionary editor had in mind for spearheading this new line of monthly pocket libraries.

Bear in mind that this was in 1949 and a moment in time when as an antidote to post war austerity and in an era when even TV was a rarity, the UK was on the cusp of a real renaissance of comics publishing with Hulton's Eagle comic due to launch that following spring.

But for the majority of boy's adventure fiction, especially the sort that Matthews favored, horses rather than space ships were the de rigeur form of transport. In other words, to have any hope of a sustainable career as a Matthews comics artist, you were going to have to engage with equestrianism.

This was something Matthews was very mindful of when with his usual direct manner he retorted to Campions' observation that horses were not something he was comfortable with drawing, "Bloody well learn then!".

Campion was sent off with his first Cowboy Picture Library assignment and a pile of pages by Matthew's most favored Wild West artist, Derek Eyles. Eyles who was born in North London in 1902, had been creating bravura paintings and drawings for the Amalgamated Press since his stunning paintings first started appearing in Chums in the late 1920's.

His earliest paintings were distinguished by a vivid and rumbustious application of paint which was in marked contrast to his later work as these samples demonstrate.

Meanwhile Campion went on to deliver just the kind of cowboy comics that Matthews craved, to the extent that the editorial imprimatur was extended to Campion as fledgling artists were sent on their assignments with samples of Campion's pages to Look and Learn from.

More of Eyles work can be viewed on the Look and Learn website.

Sunday 16 October 2011

The Flamin' Groovies + MIckey Mouse = Sunday Quiz

Yup, I have come to the conclusion that you guys are having way too easy a time of it. Here I am doing all the work, dreaming up new subjects to post up on this blog and feeling all the time that I am not working at this friggin' blog in the way that my heroes such as Mr Door Tree or Leif Peng do on their awesome and substantive blogs.

So today I am going to get you to work.

It all comes about because of a post I was going to make along the lines of how large corporates (don't you just LOVE them!) are inexorably subverting the internet. I was going to take the example of YouTube, where a lot of crappy stuff that makes TV so unwatchable is now grabbing you by the throat every time you go onto YouTube. I mean YouTube was supposed to be where you access stuff that you COULDN'T access on TV. Well TV execs are now responding somewhat late in the day to the realization that the next generation of viewers they have to cater for gave up on the magic box years ago. As in they are way too busy with Facebook and summoning up videos on YouTube to want to sit down and watch TV with mum and dad thank you. I mean how uncool is that?

So OK we now get TV for losers on YouTube, that I can cope with, we live in a democracy and if people want to watch their crappy soaps on YouTube fine, just so long as I can watch my kind of stuff on YouTube. But hey! What's happening??? All of a sudden stuff is being pulled from YouTube by the big corporations for copyright infringement. Now I can well understand stuff being pulled if it's going to affect artist's royalties, but a lot of the times the artist's rights are just about the furthest thing from the mind of Mega Corps. What they are doing is removing choice.

And here we come to the subject of today's post, The Flamin' Groovies. For it was a particular clip of them on Marc Zermati's YouTube SkyDog Channel that I wanted to revisit. Bear in mind that this clip was from Marc's personal collection, which is unique, he being the man behind a lot of the punk movement in France and in fact released the notorious Iggy and the Stooges album Metallic K.O. as well as hosting the first punk festival at Mount de Marsan in 1976 and it's follow up in 1977. Marc it was who signed the Groovies to his label, his channel is a real event and one of the best things on YouTube for lovers of gritty rock n roll.

So imagine my chagrin when I discovered that this film of the Groovies is no longer available because some suit at a record company had decided that a huge copyright infringement had occurred and in a fit of corporate hubris had flagged up to YouTube, that it must be taken down fourthwith but preferably firstwith. It wouldn't be so bad if you could buy a DVD of the Flamin Groovies, in fact their front man Chris Wilson would love a DVD of their few TV appearances too. But no, now there is now no record of this performance to be accessed. Marc Zermati had the film because he cares about this stuff, corporates don't care but they are extremely litigious and they can flex their muscles fairly effortlessly.

However all is not lost because I discovered a couple of other Flamin' Groovie classics from French TV, doubtless the corporate dinosaurs will have this taken down before too long, while they infest the internet with reruns of X-Factor or Strictly Come Dancing, so enjoy one of the all time Groovie classics:

and after that check out this brilliant cover of Chuck Berry's Little Queenie:

And now flex your brains and get the old grey matter doing a few press ups within the dark confines of your skull as I hit you with this question. What is the connection between the Flamin' Groovies and this Mickey Mouse comic???

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Commando, Komando and Sonderkommando

I was the happy recipient of a recent news item from Calum Laird, editor of  the UK's longest running and now 50 year old war pocket library. We are of course talking about Commando, which you'll be pleased to hear has an audience well beyond the shores of this green and sceptre'd isle. Yes indeedy, amongst the far flung readership of this long running comic, the people of Estonia have access to tales of derring do which emanate from the sandbagged redoubt of Commando HQ located in Dundee.

So here is the cover of a new four in one selection of Commando stories. I'll hand over to Calum so that he can provide you with more details:
Latest news from Estonia is that a four-in-one Commando selection is about to go on sale.

The stories inside will be:

4163 Raiders Recalled

4171 Raiders On The Rampage

4179 Raiders At The Ready

4187 Raiders — The Reckoning

All four have stories by Ferg Handley, inside art by Keith Page and covers by Ian Kennedy. And, as you’ll all know, they are stories featuring our own special forces team Ramsey’s Raiders.
The fact that in Estonia Commando is called Komando, got me to thinking about several of the truly stunning covers that the great Gino D'Achille created for Commando in the late 1980's, back in the day when Maggie Thatcher was de-regulating the City (what a great idea THAT was!), a bloke called Loads Of Money was popping up all over the place and Terence Trent Darby was outsinging and outdancing Michael Jackson and Prince and being hailed as the biggest thing since Elvis.

It all seems like such a long time ago...

Anyway I digress and regress and am playing with your attention span to the peril of this posting.

So back to Gino D'Achille and his Commando paintings; I gather that the way these covers were supplied was that the paintings were bought in by Thomson's from D'Achille's agent and stories were found after and not before the event. The paintings tend in the main to focus on the beastly Huns as opposed to the doughty Brits. Probably because not only were the teeth of the average Whermacht squaddie in far better shape than his British counterpart, but also their uniforms were infinitely cooler.

Such observations were of course a luxury that the luckless inhabitants of occupied Europe didn't have much time to dwell on, particularly if they had the misfortune to live in Soviet Russia, or Poland where a couple of the photos that D'Achille used as springboards for his paintings originated from.

In the first photo you can see how D'Achille, mindful of not dwelling overlong on the negative aspects of war on the Eastern front, has omitted the dead Russian from the snowbound trench the MG 34 gunners are setting up in. Whereas in the second photo, the artist has sourced his photo from a series of photographs of the razing of Warsaw in 1944 (not to be confused with the suppression of the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto a year earlier). The soldiers who feature in this photograph are from the notorious Dirlewanger Sonderkommando. Named after their founder and leader Oskar Dirlewanger and initially recruited from imprisoned poachers and SS penal battalions. These people were a truly loathsome bunch, even Dirlewanger himself had initially been sprung from jail for the rape of a thirteen year old girl by one of his mentors. Needless to say, they set about their abominable tasks with unholy relish.

Not the sort of stuff to serve up to the younger or more sensitive readers of Commando, the closest that anyone has got to conveying the true horror of what outfits like the Dirlewanger Sonderkommando enacted on their victims is film director Elem Klimov's searingly vivid film Come And See which was released in 1985 and which utilized effects and cinematic techniques that Steven Spielberg would revisit some thirteen years later in the combat sequences of Saving Private Ryan.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Before and After - The Gentle Art of Restoration Revisited

Just to shed a few tantalizing extra shafts of light on both Illustrators and The Art Of Denis McLoughlin, I must make mention of the amazing work of Mark Terry of Facsimile Dustjackets. Mark who has a real passion for his art and the knowledge and understanding of the medium within which he works has brought his skills to bear on restoring many of the fabulous 'noire' covers that will be illustrating both the feature on Denis McLoughlin in our debut issue of Illustrators and the forthcoming Art of Denis McLoughlin, which will be coming your way from Book Palace Books in 2012.

Here as a taster are a couple of before and afters, from some of those incredibly rare early TV Boardman, McLoughlin designed covers.

For more of Mark's work and information on some truly exquisite reproduction dust jackets I would strongly recommend a visit to his site where you can access some truly iconic cover images, one of the coolest time capsules on the web.