Two-and-a-half years ago, I went through to Edinburgh to see Richard Herring‘s stand-up set, What is Love, Anyway? and to catch up with a few friends.  The next morning, I woke up with a hear shaped balloon hovering over my bed:

Given that the stated aim of Herring’s set was to destroy love before it destroyed him, I found myself wondering if this was love’s way of taking revenge on me. Was I going to experience Prisoner style trauma at the hands of this helium powered monster, or would I just turn over and go back to sleep? [1]

It seems to me that this incident echoes nicely with the theme of Herring’s show, which starts from the basis that love is just our daft way of contextualising a freak series of occurrences and chemical reactions and then builds up a powerful argument for the existence of love that can survive in this materialist setting.

Of course, Herring being Herring, he also takes time to chastise parents for failing to take care of their sexual excrement (or “sexcrement”) along the way.  There are fine examples of Herring’s fondness for skits that are stretched far past what should be their breaking point in this set too: at one point Herring asks the audience to imagine an absurdly dystopian scenario that’s quite literally built out of Ferrero Rocher pyramids, and he closes the show by performing a routine about visiting his one hundred-year-old grandmother in hospital that manages to be both close to the bone and genuinely moving at the same time.[2]

Somehow, Herring structures all of this so that it ends up underlining his argument, even if does feel like it should obscure it completely – in this way, his that contention that our romantic ideals have a power that survives their irrationality is demonstrated in the form of the show as well as in its content.

It also helps that What is Love, Anyway? is a lot more poetic than I’m making it sound here. If you’re familiar with Herring’s work, it’s closer to The Headmaster’s Son than to ménage à un. If you’re not familiar with his work, then there are plenty of crude jokes in this set, but there are also passages of unashamed lyricism that succeed without pratfalls or punchlines. [3]

Still, you might reasonably be asking yourself by this point what all of this has to do with a pink love heart balloon.  The only honest answer is, nothing and everything all at once!

Obviously this balloon wasn’t really an agent of love, out to destroy a sleepy blogger for his dubious taste in comedy, but that didn’t mean that this novelty hen-night leftover lacked emotional significance for me. At the time of the show, I’d spent a month wiped out with an infection that just wouldn’t fuck off, and this balloon had been floating around my room the whole time, watching over me while I tried to sleep through headache and fever like a cheap knock-off version of Barbelith:

This was just another delusion, of course, but the balloon was left there by my girlfriend Karen, so it became an ever-present reminder of the care she’d been lavishing on me on a daily basis.[4]

When I saw it hovering over me all sinister like me on the morning after the Herring show, I couldn’t help but laugh at how easily this silly symbol of affection had transformed into its opposite.  The only meaning it had was the meaning I’d allowed myself to attach to it, and if this seems startlingly obvious to you then remember that it wouldn’t have felt that way to me while I was in the grip of the fever!

Of course, the damned thing could burst or deflate at any moment, but hey – that’s just how it is with love. [5]

Richard Herring’s still out there, of course, still touring his emotions for fun and profit.  I’m off to see his latest show, We’re All Going To Die, on Sunday.  It should be brilliant, but there’s always chance that he’ll blow it this time.  I don’t care.  I’m willing to take the risk.

I guess that’s kind of how it is with love too.

Click here for footnotes!


As you’ve probably noticed, it’s Valentines Day, and since we’ve already established that FEELINGS ABOUT COMICS ARE THE ONLY TRUE FEELINGS, I thought that it might be a good time to get a bit soppy about some of the comics I’ve read recently…

It’s been hard to think loving thoughts about comics in the past week or so (because: WA2CHMEN, Gary Friedrich), but I’m a trooper, and I’ve got my good buddy Mister Attack (aka The Boy Fae the Heed, aka The Beast o’the Bar-G) to keep me company, so here it goes!

Winter Solider #1, by Ed Brubker, Butch Guice and Bettie Breitweiser

Fatale #2, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

It’s a bit awkward to read these two comics back-to-back, and to find yourself preferring the one that’s built on the soiled dreams of Jack Kirby, but it’s also hard to pretend that clean hands make for good art when you’re not a teenage boy.  The first two issues of Brubaker and Phillips’ latest collaboration have proceeded exactly as expected – this is the sort of work (solid, well-crafted, “ugly things in the darkness/worse things in store”) that makes it easy to under-appreciate one of corporate comics’ best partnerships.

It’s perfect pulp, in other words, but at their best these guys can suggest a whole city’s worth of stories in one panel…

…and there’s been nothing in the first couple of issues of Fatale that’s hinted at that sort of imaginative depth. Winter Soldier #1 meanwhile, is absolutely full of potent images. Despite having a truly ugly, gurning cover – despite looking like a superhero book, basically – it’s a sneakily great wee comic, all slick superspy action and unexpected quietness. This panel has caught the attention of a few other commentators

…and rightly so.  Butch Guice’s art here has a softness too it (and not just in the sense that it contains – ugh! – kissing) that couldn’t stand out more in context if it radiated ethical integrity (ooh, burn – take that, comics!). If I was looking to get all thematic on your ass I’d point you in the direction of Clive Barker’s comment that comics aren’t good at making room for love, but I’m not feeling particularly clever today, so instead I’ll  just note that while most individual images will yield lots of strange, abstract patterns if you crop them artfully enough, this image gives itself more readily to this treatment than most:

Look, I don’t want to make too much of a prat of myself this early in the post, but there’s something beautiful about the way that the boundaries between the two characters in this panel seem to have been gently and willingly collapsed, isn’t there?

Yeah… there definitely is. Click here to watch me search for love in all the wrong places, like a character in a story with a blunt moral!

Looking Glass Hearts

March 24th, 2011

Being: an index to my recently completed series of posts on stories, mirrors and what happens when you mistake one for the other.

Since I botched the timing of these essays, I thought I’d link to them all in order, just in case anyone felt like humouring me and reading them all as part of the one big story:

Come on, take a dive with me – you might not regret it!

All of that blather aside, I’m pretty happy with this little essay series. It’s properly modular, just like Seven Soldiers wasn’t, but I also think it pays to read the whole thing at once.


Please feel free to let me know in the comments!

Being: the long post about Scott Pilgrim that my last two posts were building up to!

So 2010 saw both the death and the rebirth of the comics internet’s favourite slacker hero, Scott Pilgrim.  Time to celebrate?

Well, if you ask Brendan McCarthy we should probably just be happy that it’s all over and done with:

I find that ‘comics geek’ bedwetter subculture very inward-looking. It doesn’t interest me at all… Comics like Scott Pilgrim are not on my radar. I think that stuff has already had its day in the sun.

I was going to contest Mr McCarthy’s classification of Scott Pilgrim, but then I watched the movie again and realised that there are two jokes about characters weeing themselves, plus various other references to pee and peeing throughout the film, so maybe he was onto something after all!

Lapses in basic potty training notwithstanding, I still love the comic and the movie, to the extent that I’ve spent the past few weeks immersed in both of them (GEEK!), cataloguing the differences in style and pacing (GEEK!), comparing the three different endings on offer (GEEK!), and listening to commentary tracks (GEEK! GEEK! GEEK!), all in the hope of finding out quite why I bothered doing all of this in the first place. Circular logic? Trust me, you don’t know the half of it!

Sounds like a good reason to go all *SPOILER* crazy and Panel Madness one of the final images from the series in the hope of finding out why I can’t get this song out of my head, eh?

Well, this guy thinks he’s already been there and done that and built an inescapable black hole out of the image that we’ll be spending our time with…

I'm a dick, you're a dick, everyone's a dick, right? RIGHT?!  No, wait - come back!

But don’t worry about him – he’s just some guy from the story!

More Mindless dickery! More SPOILERS! More wee! More romance! Come on, you know you want to look into my horribly reflective brain!

Being: the second of two short posts building up to a third, slightly more impressive one.

It’s no secret that Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic zine has its faults – my fellow Mindless Ones have talked about them a bit here and here already – but it seems to me that the short comic strips by comedian Josie Long exemplify the magazine at its worst.

Well, I say they’re comics, but they provide none of the pleasures that one associates with the medium, so they only really exist as an example of the “I know comics when I see them” nature of the form (Scott McCloud, consider yrself warned!):

You can do anything with words and pictures, but maybe you should try a bit harder than this...

The above excerpt comes from ‘Love’, the Josie Long strip that graced the first issue.  In fairness, this is probably the worst comic Long has contributed to the magazine – her recent re-coloured, re-dialogued Ikea instruction diagrams reached the levels of mild amusement you’d find in the absent scribblings of a troubled friend.  Whereas this comic, well, it’s a fifty panel pile-up of squished text and ever squishier faces.  I almost feel like I should apologise for putting such horrible images and colours up on the Mindless Ones site, to be honest with you.

Click here to see my put on a full suit of armour to attack a fudge sundae!