A few thoughts on the Spritz app, which has been designed for wankers’ glasses and other such “smart” platforms with a view to allowing punters to read up to 500 words per minute:

  1. Trying out those samples is a bit like consenting to get poked in the eye repeatedly by a robot with a fistful of multi-coloured sticks, but I found it bearable on the short term and despite the fact that I’m a quick reader the upper speed there was definitely quicker than mine.
  2. Its effectiveness for prolonged use seems highly dubious for a variety of reasons that our good friend Andrew Hickey has already outlined behind closed doors at Mindless HQ – it’s not necessarily faster than some people’s extant reading speed, the stream of flashing red letters seems like a sure route to a headache, and their method of delivery ignores the fact that writing is composed and consumed in units separate from the individual word.  Plus there’s also the fact that whole project seems not to take into the account the existence of blinking – I did a genuine lol when Andrew pointed this out to me.
  3. HOWEVER!  I’m actually pretty fascinated by the thing for what it seems to me to be: a way to take in writing that is fundamentally different from the process of “reading” as we currently understand it.
  4. Without wishing to downplay the many differences between ebooks and their traditional counterparts, Spritz seems to me to be an order apart from both books and their digital equivalents in terms of the experience it suggests.
  5. The fact that Spritz takes the progression of time out of your hands/rendered it non-collaborative is not just a quirk but a ground-up realignment of the reading process.  To state it plainly: Spritz obliterates the idea of the page or paragraph as constructed units, elides the difference between description and dialogue, and renders obsolete any other techniques the author may have used to arrange their chosen words.
  6. This process echoes and amplifies the experience of reading comics on a smartphone by dictating the amount of time you spend on any given linguistic unit while also limiting the context in which this encounter takes place.  In both instances the compositional unity of the page is obscured, but this new(ish) method of reading comics preserves the reader’s input as to the flow and narrative density of time.
  7. Mister Attack described the experience as being like downloading a file instead of reading and he’s not wrong.  There’s a slightly dated Matrix-porn aspect to what we can see of this app, a fetishisation of the idea that you too can learn kung-fu in twenty minutes without ever getting off the couch!
  8. What Spritz represents is a reduction of writing to communication – the writerly aspects of composition are only effective here inasmuch as they were already striving for the effect of information overload.
  9. There’s a potential for further reduction implicit in this first one, namely the reduction of language to mere commodity, to be valued purely in terms of the volume in which it is consumed  – for extra marks, compare and contrast this with the different values words accrue by virtue of their usefulness to search engines.
  10. Spritz therefore seems most suited to the brute rush of “necessary” information to my eyes; certainly, anything that requires thought, reflection and inflection would prompt a bracing disengagement from the system.  This encompasses both works of fiction and non-fiction, of course – neither having a monopoly on allusion or complexity or forward rushing exposition.
  11. All of this calls to mind the passages of Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction where he claims that new forms develop to achieve effects that old forms have been straining in vain towards - photography achieved things that realist painting was striving towards just by existing, film made easy effects that Dadaist art and poetry had been thrashing out at in defiance of the traditional values, etc.
  12. Bearing that idea in mind, is there a possible application of Spritz‘ effects in fiction?  Can we imagine it as an extension or fulfilment of any existing forms?  I can see an endpoint to/heightening of hysterical realism that would be possible using this form that exceeds the possibilities for reading, but many other styles of writing - from Emily Dickinson to Toni Morrison by way of Alan Garner - would be rendered aggravating or just plain useless here.
  13. I still don’t actually think this will work, but if it did work what would it do?  The immediate possibilities seem depressing – bullshit “e-learning” initiatives, a constant stream of data flickering into your eye at work, “DO YOU SUBMIT TO THIS PROGRAMME?”, etc.  Still, eternal optimist that I am I keep coming back to Benjamin and his attempt to imagine a radical potential in cinema.  Given his efforts to imagine the automated flow of film being broadcast to a distracted public as a potential engine for communal agitation, the question occurs – is there any such potential in the Spritz app? Given that it has been developed for wankers’ glasses and e-readers and is therefore primarily an enclosed, solitary form of distraction, the most likely answer is “probably not” but I would greatly enjoy being proved wrong on that point, because the idea of there being yet another channel for commercial noise to filter through into my life without it adding much of anything is too fucking tedious to bear.

With thanks to Brother Bobsy, Mister Attack, Andrew “Andre Whickey” Hickey, Ad Mindless, Amypoodle, CormacTaters, and Kip Manley, all of whom helped me focus my thoughts on this topic via twitter and email.

 

Having spent 2011 and 2012 listening to so much new, free hip-hop that I almost lost track of who I was and where I laid my head (in case you were wondering: a man who writes about comics on the internet; Glasgow), I made a decision early at the start of 2013 to cut back a bit.  While this means that someone like the Bottie Beast is probably better placed to give you an overview of what’s going on with hip-hop right at this point in 2014, it also means that I’ve had a decent amount of time to really dig into the albums and songs I did check out over the past few years.

With an album like Ab-Soul’s Control System,  it’s just as well that I had time to spare because otherwise I might not have got my head around how good it really is.

As the member of the Black Hippy crew who does the most to live up to the back half of that description, Ab-Soul risks being obscured by some of the more traditionally appealing rappers in his posse. Schoolboy Q’s perfectly titled Habits and Contradictions provided an early warning that the current era was going to belong to the TDE crew, and Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city received so much praise that it kicked off a discussion about what rap fans mean when they label something a classic.

Still, now that the smoke has started to clear – well, shit, as I type this Q’s Oxymoron is currently setting fire to my speakers but let’s deal with that in a separate post – it’s Control System that’s stayed with me.  Ab’s too stoned and too subtle to make an album full of straight bangers, but there’s something about the raw fluidity of his rhymes that just gets to me.  The way he can get stuck on a series of punishing homonyms for most of a verse before switching his flow up to effortlessly hit series of breathlessly off-kilter punchlines suggests the movement of a mind that’s still in the process of making itself up.  This sits in stark-contrast to Lamar’s ever-more impressive verbal gymnastics: the power of good kid, m.A.A.d. city lies in the fact that it always seems like Kendrick knows what he’s doing, while the genius of Control System is that it makes you feel like you’re thinking these thoughts for the first time every time.

The cracks in Ab-Soul’s voice have as much to do with this as words he’s speaking.

Harvey Pekar’s and Joseph Remnant – Cleveland

It’s hard to think of this as anything other than epitaph, given its status as a posthumous release, but the question remains, is this a memorial for the man or the city he lived in?  Neither, as it happens - Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland is a book full of and about life, with both the city and its people being given ample space to breath on every page.

Pekar’s Cleveland has traditionally been an overbearingly crowded place, with even the most casual walks around town populated with an abundance of word balloons, thought bubbles and interjecting faces that threatened to black out the sky.  That abundance of words and opinions is still present in this book, but even when the text is at its densest it’s always carefully contained at the top of the panel, leaving the environments depicted underneath gloriously un-squashed.

The city and denizens of Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland are every bit as rich with opinion and story here as they ever were, but I can imagine some people finding the first half of the book a little bit plain, filled as it is with broad historical overview rather than the crooked, close quarters detail at which Pekar has always excelled.  Pekar’s generosity and his sense of interest manifest themselves differently in the first stretch of this narrative, where they are implicit in the amount of space city and artist are given to establish themselves in concert with each other.

Remnant  – his name far too apt for the job - renders Cleveland with an adherence to architectural detail that echoes the work of Eddie Campbell and his assistants in From Hell:

Here, as in that great book, buildings have a life of their own on the page – part of the environment Pekar and co exist in, but rendered with a solidity that rises above mere background detail:

Let us think of these places as being real; perhaps they are!  Remnant’s background players have a similarly suggestive definition to them.  Sometimes they add a lot to a simple scene – take the bit players in these panels for example:

 

The guy in the front of the first panel looks like he wants to cudgel himself to death rather than keep on contributing to Cleveland’s economic well-being, while the guy behind the ballot box in the second frame doesn’t look best pleased to feature in this particular historic moment.

Pekar’s history of Cleveland takes up the first forty or so pages, and while it draws a generally progresses in a straight line it does jump back and forth a bit on its way to the present. This detailed tour through the city would be enough to make Cleveland a quiet pleasure, but things gets a lot louder when Pekar arrives on page 42, breaking the story in half as he does so.

From this point onward, the reader is in the more familiar position, walking and talking with Harvey as he makes his way through the city he lives in:

It’s not all entirely straightforward though - certain details and anecdotes repeat themselves, sometimes with new details sometimes almost verbatim, forcing to reader to ponder whether these are stylistic choices or examples of wonky editing.

Take the story about how John T. Zubal’s used bookstore used to be a Hostess Bakery for example. On page 51 we’re told that “Even now, years after John acquired it, it’s possible to eat the Twinkie filling safely.  It was all chemicals and didn’t deteriorate.”  This story recurs again 44 pages later, prompted by its appearence on a TV show hosted by Antony Bourdain.  On this occasion we’re told that the Twikie filling “had been there 10 or 15 years, but the the stuff was all chemicals and didn’t rot after all that time.  It was still edible, and Bourdain tasted it on the show.”

Glitches like this make it clear that the history you’re reading the by-product of a slightly dysfunctional, human memory.  The title says it all, I guess – this is Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, and its most striking details and points of interest are therefore likely to be the ones that kept Harvey coming back after all those years.

Reading through the book again, I’m struck by the way that Pekar’s trademark hunched stride seems to be shared by all of the denizens of his Cleveland.  More than his particular outlook on life, with Remnant’s help Pekar gives everyone in this book – even the baseball stars – something of his physical manner:

It’s no wonder the people of this town stoop so much, given the amount of history that’s piled up on them – history that is here present in almost every panel in the form of Pekar’s narration.  The buildings may stand un-bothered by the running commentary, but Remnant’s human characters show evidence of this strange gravity in their every motion.

Sometimes it’s as though the barely contained agitation of Robert Crumb’s illustrations has been pushed downward into the characters’ feet by the weight of Pekar’s words:

Rather than adding up to a portrait of a defeated man or a defeated city, however, this adds to the sense of defiance that runs through the book.  Pekar is plenty familiar with the many economic and social problems that have effected in the city, and he’s careful to qualify his more optimistic impulses while filling the reader in on these issues, but that optimism is still there.  It’s not for nothing that the book open’s with Pekar telling the reader that he’s “had plenty of good days.”

The book ends on a vision of a Cleveland free of people, free of Pekar, free of life:

The trick is to remember that they’re not in here for a reason.  They’re out there, in the world, struggling against the weight of their own stories one footstep at a time.

Read more reviews of comics by Moogs Kewell, Marc-Antoine Mathieu and Ulli Lust after the cut!

Was There Blood on the Sheets?

February 28th, 2014

(This article was originally posted to Vibrational Match on Saturday 29 August 2009)

The first thing I think of whenever I see the cover for Darwyn Cooke‘s adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter

…is this page from Frank Miller, David Mazzuchelli and Richmond Lewis’ Batman – Year One:

Wanna know why? Click here to find out!

During a heated bit of trolling at Mindless HQ, Brother Bobsy expressed his incredulity that “anyone watches US TV drama expecting it to be somehow better than TJ Hooker (which at least had Shatner and Locklear in it).”

Curious little Mindless that I am, I decided to expose his statements on the overwhelming silliness of American TV drama to the True Facts contained within my might brane… 

Properly Good American TV Dramas:

  • The Wire - Or ‘How the West Was Won and Where it Got Us’ part 2.  Like David Peace’s best work – his GB84 tells part 1 of this story, of course – The Wire ends up feeling even more mythological for its reliance on things ripped from the real.  If season five presses its argument home too hard then it’s a testament to the strength of the show that it’s details remain as crooked and cryptic and free even at the point where the system is finally completed.
  • The Sopranos - Embodies everything that’s annoying about so much popular serious drama, with its faux cinematic stories about serious men hurting each other (some of them are quite ugly,  THEY DO CRIME!) but nevertheless stays far ahead of its peers by allowing visuals, plot lines, and actors as much focus as they demand.
  • Mad Men - All the strengths of the Sopranos divorced from the macho genre weaknesses, plus this show deals with the protagonist problem that is inherent to this type of TV show more confidently than some of the reactions might have you believe.
  • Twin Peaks - Half of this is admittedly not so good, but the best stuff is still excellent at a lot of things that the rest of the shows on this list have approached only tentatively.
  • The first three episodes of the third season of Battlestar Galactica - Watch the first two series so you get the full impact of this story, which represents the point where the American military imagination somehow manages to conceive of itself in the Al Qaeda position. Watch the rest of it if you want: it’s neither as good as it threatens to be nor as bad as its worst episodes might suggest.  The board game is still totally amazing though!
  • Gilmore Girls - One of the few successful uses of the chatty American dialogue style, probably because it aspires to pseudo-Shakespearean fencing instead of pseudo-Shakespearean posturing.  Horrific warning signs such as “quirky,” “offbeat,” and “irreverent” somehow manage to stick without turning everything they touch to shite for a change. Also one of the few American TV shows to display and awareness of and willingness to investigate ideas of class, how money effects relationships, etc.  You will all disagree with me about this one but I am not wrong.
Good American TV Dramas
  • Girls - Generation Vice on autocritique, manages to be both massively cringey and genuinely empathetic at the same time; an exceptionally strong show, if narrow.
  • Generation Kill - Girls for boys.
  • Breaking Bad - Starts slow but builds to a sustained tension high before tipping all the way over into wonky Batman logic. Limited re-watch potential, but fuck me was it good, awful fun for a while there! (Richard Cooper makes a case for the first four seasons being Properly Good here.)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Yeah yeah yeah, but fuck it, I don’t even give a toss about Joss Whedon anymore but this is the best adaptation of that Stan Lee/Chris Claremont style of self-aware soap opera to the screen, screw yer Marvel movies and yer Agents of S.H.I.T.E..  Shame the last couple of seasons are a bit duff though, eh?
  • The Corner - Somehow manages to be both more didactic and more anecdotal than The Wire, but it’s good even if it does feel like the materials for a modern myth than the real thing.
Shite But Entertaining American TV Dramas
  • Game of Thrones - Dynasty with actual backstabbing, Dinklage is phenomenal, it can get a bit racy, etc; don’t worry, I’ll get round to the books once people stop telling me that they don’t read fantasy but they do like to read Game of Thrones.
Ambitious and (Accidentally?) Relevant American TV Dramas That Aren’t Actually Very Good
  • Dollhouse - see Plok for the why of this.
Shite But Entertaining But No Wait They’re Probably Just Shite American TV Dramas
  • Dexter and True Blood - these shows are both full of high nonsense from the word go, but I’ve actually got more time for the increasingly absurd and unstable True Blood these days. I couldn’t pretend that it was good but it’s a fun train wreck that I can watch without worrying about my girlfriend’s enjoyment levels so we fuck with it every now and then just to make sure everyone’s entertained (basically, she just wants to bone Alcide).
American TV Dramas I’ve Not Seen Enough Of To Properly Judge But Which Might Be Good
  • Treme, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, True Detective, The Shield - actually I’ve seen a bit of SFU but I’d need to watch it again to get a sense for how good it is. Never watched more than a minute of the rest but they have their enthusiasts, so.
Having completed this survey I am now relieved to be able to confirm that while Bobsy isn’t right, he’s not entirely wrong either.
Tell me, friends – would you have it any other way?

It must be strange to be in Mogwai, and to read reviews that chastise you for sounding too much and not enough like yourself.  It’s a familiar pattern, but then Mogwai are a familiar band these days.  Perhaps that’s the problem: when they started out with the ten minute songs and the Blur: Are Shite t-shirts and the Bucky rage they were easier to idolise.  Eight albums in, they’re a more difficult journalistic proposition.  As comfortable noise merchants, opinionated men who are adamant that their music carries no pre-determined meaning, purveyors of defiantly mainstream art rock, what exactly are we supposed to make of Mogwai in 2014?

These concerns seem relevant in blog posts and in music magazines, but in the context of January’s show at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall they seemed utterly meaningless, even absurd.  It’s an observation that’s tired enough to seem trite by now, but Mogwai are one of those bands who you really need to see live in order to fully appreciate.  2010′s Special Moves is an excellent simulation of the band’s live dynamics that doubles as a testament to the quality of their later work, but even played at an absurdly high volume it never threatens to capture Mogwai’s true range.

There’s something in the grain of Mogwai’s live show that’s never quite made it onto their records.  It’s in that washed out, trebley guitar sound that starts out sounding like an inner ear itch and then grows until it batters you bodily.  The physical impact of this noise would be near-impossible to recreate without the help of plush PAs like the one in the Concert Hall, but you can hear an echo of it Mogwai’s quieter recorded moments – it haunts Happy Songs for Happy People and provides the undercurrent of barely controlled rage in their soundtrack to Douglas Gordon’s Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, for example.  You can hear it on Rave Tapes too, but what was merely a whispered rumour on the album version of opener ‘Heard About You Last Night’ is screamed loud enough to ruin hairlines and destroy reputations in concert.  

Speaking of damaged reputations, click here if you want to see me do more violence to my own!

An Aversion to SILENCE!

February 15th, 2014

I’m reliably informed that there’s no SILENCE! this week, but in the absence of fresh podding from your favourite UK-based space god and his beastly (~plus annoyingly handsome/talented) friend, here’s a short video directed by Con Chrisoulis and featuring one half of the SILENCE! crew talking about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and just generally doing stuff:

 

They’re already here. In fact, they’ve been here since you were a child. What, you don’t remember?  Go have a look at your old photograph album — see those unfamiliar figures in the background?  Have they always been there, teaching you, getting you ready for a new world, a world with a different religion?

I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t some dull UKIP propaganda piece, with the fear of Empire blowback writ painfully small and self-regarding  – there’s something stranger, more familiar, more plausible going on here.

Anyway, this isn’t some grand sci-fi conspiracy theory or allegory: it feels more like the sort of weird dream that might just be worth sharing, a rapidly decaying memory with little bits of understanding peaking in through the slim cracks in the darkness. Everything looks static, undisturbed, but something’s broken, something’s wrong at home, something’s wrong with her. Time keeps on slipping, and similar looking scenes can hold terrible differences if you catch them in the right light.

When are you going to come home?

When are you really going to come home?

Like the text says, there’s more from me and Mister Attack at The Weegie Board dot wordpress dot com! If you’d rather read Scott’s comics without all my stupid words on top, he’s got exactly the thing for you at his own site.

If, on the other hand, you were hoping to find out about actual Weegie Boards (for contacting dead weegies), you might have to take your business elsewhere

Merry Christmas?

Special “Two years late and several thousand Bitcoins short” Edition!

People still do linkblogging, right?  I mean not here, not recently, but elsewhere.  Feels like a holdover from the “internet as big magazine” approach to broadcasting into the void, and given that I’m too scare to commit myself to any other model that suits me just fine!

EMBARRASSING ENTHUSIASM DEPT: You read it somewhere else first, but we’re in a celebratory mood in Mindless HQ anyway, so fuck it – STRAY BULLETS IS COMING BACK!

It’s too early in the day for me to get totally shameless on this, so you’ll have to go read that interview to find out about the massive collected edition of the first forty issues, the continuation of the old series, and the launch of a new one.  Suffice it to say that Stray Bullets is the best, most unsettling crime comic out there, and that we’re glad all those kittens weren’t sacrificed in vain.

If you’ve not red the series before, issues #1-4 are apparently free to download right now, and Zom (or “Ad Mindless as he now likes to be called) wrote a piece about issue#1 that should set the scene just nicely:

A car speeding into the night, a lonely county road, as an establishing shot it’s hardly setting a precedent. But the first panel in SB #1 transcends its over familiarity by actually saying something meaningful about the book and all that follows it. This is a story that will make good on the panel’s familiar metaphorical properties. What we need to keep in mind here is that this road is black, to see anything we’re going to need a torch, and that things probably lurk in those woods. For that matter, things probably lurk in that car – what’s it doing out there in the dark, anyway? The world of Stray Bullets is a dangerous place, and the road travels on until you die.

We should also consider the notion that Lapham doesn’t want to simply transcend cliché, that he’s keen to set-up certain expectations in the reader. So later, when the tires on the car blow out and that familiar scene with the cop and the dead body in the trunk rears it’s head, we shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of novelty on offer. What’s interesting about all these little genre ticks is that, by issue 2, you could be forgiven for forgetting you were reading a crime comic in the first place, and that’s a recurring pattern throughout the series. The effect being that just when you think you know where you are Lapham pulls something entirely unexpected out of the hat, and suddenly definitions like ‘crime fiction’ start to feel inadequate or in serious needs of revision. If I was hunting around for words to describe Stray Bullets #1 I’d eschew genre definitions and settle on adjectives like macabre and gothic.

The comic, like Ad’s write-up, only gets better from there on in.

MISSING PERSONS DEPT: Free Batman/set Batman free.

For serious though: this is the best(/most horrible) Batman comic I’ve read all year, the tactically deployed evil of Batman Incorporated notwithstanding.  Twitter account here, if you’re interested.

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