December 10th, 2013
A thought occurs to me as I drag my sickly drunk head back to Glasgow from the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds: aren’t DECADENCE comics all a bit super-boyish in the end?
My throat too hoarse to speak with due to Saturday night shouting and Sunday con hustle, my brain so detached from its immediate environment that at one point I have to croak at Mister Attack to ask if we are in fact going backwards, the only thing I am able to do properly is comics. And so, I read through Lando’s Olympic Games, taking in page after page of landscapes that look as bare and arid as my larynx feels, squinting at the characters in survival suits, loving every second of it but questioning myself all the same.
“He’s just ridiculously on, isn’t he?” Mister Attack says.
I wince my agreement and keep on flicking.
It’s the survival suits that give me pause. As I shift out of Olympic Games and into a couple of comics by Stathis Tsemberlidis, Neptune’s Fungi and Epicurean Paradox, my drunken brain starts to worry that the spacesuits are emblematic of an attempt to build a stylish fictional identity, a barrier between person and world. My earlier thoughts about this aesthetic being “super-boyish” already seems glib and reductive to me, even if I can see where this thought came from. Something about the collision of cool influences, the sense that you’re reading the works of people who read only right comics from France and Japan, combined with a knee-jerk panic that aesthetics this good must in some way be suspect.
Where did I get the idea that comics could be cool? That they could communicate with the world while seeming at ease in it? From Brandon Graham, maybe, or perhaps just from The Internet.
Why would an encounter with these values provoke scrutiny? Perhaps because these comics do not reflect the values associated with my own formative experiences of the medium, bound up as they are with alt-comics and (sub-)superhero stories that mirror my own awkward, convoluted brand of self-reflection a little bit too clearly.
Comics scholars more erudite than me can argue about which specific artists have influenced Lando, Stathis and co, and armchair psychiatrists can deal with my issues at some later date – in this moment, my bleary brain is only capable of tracking where the lines on my face are going, rather than where they come from.
December 4th, 2012
In which two men enter and one frisky little blog post leaves…
With his feather-frazzled early fictions (Vurt, Pollen, Automated Alice and Nymphomation), Jeff Noon presented the world with a distinctly British (no, wait – English!) version of cyberpunk – one that side-stepped all those designer shades and phallic head jacks in favour of something that was a little bit less ashamed of its fantastical status. In his short stories (Pixel Juice, Cobralingus) and transitional ode to musical Manchester Needle in the Groove, Noon drifted even further from traditional modes of science fiction, working to match the ever-adapting techniques of then-contemporary electronic music and – in Cobralingus – offering a “how to” guide to the curious reader in the process.
Until recently, 2002′s Falling Out of Cars looked like it might be the last Jeff Noon novel. If the fractured mirror landscape of the book often proved to be as startling and dissociative for the reader as they were for the characters then that was probably a feature rather than a bug – Falling Out of Cars made the fact that all of Noon’s adventures in wonderland had been tainted by life on this side of the mirror horribly clear.
This notion was always there in Noon’s work – no amount of strain is going to make a looking glass show something that isn’t already here waiting to be reflected, after all – but in Falling Out of Cars it became inescapable. This made the subsequent absence of a “new Jeff Noon novel” seem more explicable, if still somewhat tragic – what better note for an author to stop writing on than this, a story about people whose very ability to comprehend the world and words around them was slipping away.
There were some signs of writerly life though, like 2008′s 217 Babel Street - a collaborative hyperlink fiction the served as the real world scaffolding on a fictional location – and 2012 has seen Noon’s strange pollen corrupting the air stream on a previously inconceivable scale. Noon’s endlessly imaginative twitter account is one of the best follows out there for those in a Mindless frame of mind, and if his microfictional “spore” fictions leave you craving more there’s always the echovirus12 account, to which Noon also contributes.
For those who like their fiction to occupy a more traditional form, there’s also a new novel, Channel SK1N, the story of a pop star who finds her skin overridden by the signals all around her as she transforms in a way that blurs the line between broadcaster and receiver. I’ve only just finished reading the book, and I hope you’ll forgive the ecstatic tone of this introduction because Channel SK1N combines the lysergically enhanced rush of Noon’s early fiction with the queasy comedowns of his later work, and in doing so reaffirms sci-fi’s status as the best tool available to writers who want to explore a future that’s here somewhere, already hidden.
Still buzzing off my contact with his SK1N, I got in touch with Noon to discuss his dazzling reemergence as a self-publishing internet invader…
Illogical Volume: It’s been ten years since you slipped through the darkly reflective cracks of Falling Out Of Cars; ?dlrow rorrim eht ni emit ruoy saw woH
Jeff Noon: Falling Out Of Cars seemed like the end of a period in my life, work-wise, and also I’d just left Manchester (my home town), so it felt like a good time to make some changes. I fell into screenwriting, and had some fun days and some bad days in that world. I was working on various scripts for a number of production companies. I also went back into the theatre, which was my first love in writing terms. I did a play for The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield about the early days of the Mod movement and a science fiction audio play for Radio 3. I still hang onto hope regarding the film scripts, but it’s a difficult media to succeed in, no doubt about it. Eventually, I realised that I’d been without a proper audience for 10 years, so I started writing prose again. I dug out Channel SK1N, which I written a draft of a couple of years previously, and started working on that. And that was the transit point.
August 23rd, 2011
Being: the first of three posts about Carla Speed McNeil’s “aboriginal science fiction” series Finder…
Reading one of Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder comics is like wandering through a strange new city without a reliable guide. Or a map, for that matter, but maybe that’s better in the end. After all, sometimes maps can cause a different sort of trouble:
A map can organize the world according to almost any principle of order…. All classificatory grids are arbitrary. They have no necessary or absolute status. It does not matter what kind of grid is used on the map. Any system of lines or points of reference can be imposed to provide orientation, although different mappings may serve very different interests…. For those who inhabit particular mappings, they are likely to be viewed simply as reality.
Forget maps for a minute. Let’s stick our head in there and see what we see…
Ah, well, as far as broad statements of intent go, that one’s as good a starting place as any for this post. You see, unlike that other master of anthropological science fiction, Ursula Le Guin, McNeil doesn’t pretend to build up her world up systematically in front of your eyes. Instead, find yourself discovering information about the cultures in Finder almost accidentally, by watching the characters interact and keeping your eye on some of the key sights. No wonder Kelly Sue DeConnick compared the book to a shotgun blast! Still, I’ll stick with my ‘strange city’ analogy, if only because of the comic’s pace. Freshly re-released as part of this collected edition, Finder: Sin Eater is a brilliant, wandering introduction to a truly great comic book. It’s a twisted mess of a story, with family ties, military ties and cultural boundaries revealing themselves at a leisurely pace, all the better to fully appreciate the damaged contexts the cast of characters live in. McNeil’s art becomes more and less abstract as the story dictates, sometimes suggesting an expressionistic hybrid of Western alt-comics and manga tropes, at other points snapping into “realistic” focus to give us a better look at the thoroughly singular world she’s created.