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Alien – The Illustrated Story: Original Art Edition

October 24, 2013 5 comments

CoverI found this online at virtually half price recently (here) and couldn’t resist it…

It’s the Original Art Edition of the 1979 graphic novel, Alien: The Illustrated Story, and it is a truly wonderful thing to behold. Made possible because the artist Walter Simonson kept all his original art boards, these have all been faithfully reproduced at their original size. There are also some additional early mockup pages and all of Archie Goodwin’s typed out script pages are set out at the back. These are fascinating to read, creating a totally different experience on their own without the pictures.

P1000801_aI first saw this huge, hard back book about a year ago at Forbidden Planet. Despite spending about half an hour reading it, I managed to persuade myself that I couldn’t afford the full price at that time. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted, but I must say that now I actually own it, I can’t believe I didn’t just buy it there and then…

The standard size coloured version of the comic is an absolute classic. Issued in 1979 and based very closely on the story of the first film, it was the first graphic novel to make it onto the New York Times best seller list. I’ve enjoyed it for many years now but I must say, I think this black and white version is actually better than the coloured version, even accounting for the size of it.

In many respects it’s more expressive, and with the differing weights of the pen lines clearly discernible, you can actually imagine Simonson drawing and inking it all in. I like that you can see all the mistakes and changes, redrawn over the Tippex, and the differing colours of paper where new bits have been stuck over a wrongly drawn face. There are even coffee stains and bits of sellotape on some pages, all of which just add to the magic of the whole thing…

Now as And has pointed out, there’s just the matter of finding somewhere for it to live…

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Lazy Post No. 3: Henry Flint. Now there’s a man that can draw…

September 11, 2013 1 comment

I haven’t written about a comic book artist for a while, so today I’m adopting my new lazy post strategy to put up some of the dizzyingly involved and detailed work of Henry Flint, a wildly talented British artist responsible for work primarily in the 2000AD comic, where his work on such classic strips as Rogue Trooper, Judge Dredd, Nikolai Dante and Shakara to name just a few, has undoubtedly created some of the most memorable images of the last couple of decades or so, and brought these often complex stories alive for may thousands of people…

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Flint was also responsible for the rather fine sleeve for DJ Food’s Search Engine LP of a few years back on one of my favorite labels, Ninja Tune…

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So whilst I fully accept that explosions, guns, mutants and destruction on a huge scale are not to everybody’s tastes, I’m sure with a closer look, there are aspects of Flint’s work that can be appreciated by anybody, as he is undoubtedly one of our finest comic book artists…

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John Betjeman on the Isle of Dogs…

July 24, 2013 Leave a comment

P1210527aI recently discovered that the nations favorite poet (certainly mine anyway) John Betjeman, that esteemed arbiter of good taste, sensible architecture and Gentlemanly manners, visited the Isle of Dogs back in the Spring of 1956.

Writing a piece for his regular “City & Suburban” column in the Spectator Magazine (a facsimile copy of which can be found here), Betjeman describes my chosen little bit of London as “a cut off kingdom”, remote and populated by proud people and ruined buildings… I get the distinct impression that his visit so far east of the city was something of a novelty, a change from the more leafy suburbs and halcyon times of which he always wrote so eloquently.

Along with this more usual interest in churches, public houses and dockside wharfs, its interesting to note that Betjeman writes about a then recently completed housing scheme, Castalia Square, comparing it favorably with the more widely known Lansbury Estate in Poplar at the top of the Island. Lansbury was a key aspect of the 1951 Festival of Britain, and is a subject I’ve written about in detail previously.

I must say I’ve walked through the Castalia Sqaure area many times, and although the houses are indeed nicely proportioned with now well established gardens and tree lined courtyards, the square itself must have looked very different 60 years ago, as since its refurbishment back in the 90’s, the large commercial building fronting the square looks rather nondescript and undistinguished, or maybe this is a later addition and wasn’t there at the time of John’s visit…

He’s dead right about Island Gardens though. A beautiful little park with an amazing view of Greenwich and well worth a visit, especially from the south with a walk through the foot tunnel, which I’m surprised Betjeman didn’t mention in his article. Maybe it was still closed after being bombed during the war.

Anyway I’ll leave you with a picture of the great man himself, as full of life as always, and the complete text of his piece…

John Betjeman“In the evening sunlight on Monday, I went to that least visited part of London, the Isle of Dogs. It’s more than a square mile of docks, houses: shattered Victorian churches, no train service, no cinema, a bus service, and only approachable by swing bridges. The people on the Island are proud of it and don’t like living anywhere else. Poplar people on the mainland don’t like coming to live on the Island.

It is a cut-off kingdom, the remotest thing you can find in London, and was very badly bombed in the war. Among the ruins three sights well worth the journey are to be seen. (1) Coldharbour, near Blackwall Basin, where some fine Georgian merchants’ houses have the water washing up to their walls and where a public house looks over Blackwall Reach. (2) Island Gardens on the southern tip of the Island, which commands the best view of Greenwich Hospital there is. Reflected in the water one sees the doomed Union Wharf beside the Hospital, with its weather-boarded houses, Queen’s House, and in the background the trees of Greenwich Park and the outline of the Observatory.

(3) One of the best new housing estates I have seen since the war, comparable with Lansbury, intimately proportioned, cheerful and airy and yet London-like. It is called Castalia Square and makes one realise. when one compares it with the gloomy blocks of ‘artisans’ dwellings’ of the mid-war and pre-1914 periods, how good modern architecture can be. In all the destruction I record in this column, it is a pleasure to be able to write about something newly built which makes one’s heart rejoice.”

Copeland Book Market & Frank’s @ Bold Tendencies, Peckham.

July 23, 2013 1 comment

i.phpAs a regular contributor to The Modernist Magazine, I was pleased to receive an invitation last Thursday evening to the London launch event of Issue No.8 “Carried Away” at the Copeland Book Market.

Situated on the eighth floor of an underused multi storey car park in Peckham, it was a good opportunity to both meet the editors of the magazine who have been kind enough to keep selecting my written offerings, and also to visit Frank’s Cafe, the seasonal bar and restaurant on the top floor that friends of ours have been telling us to go and visit for ages now.

Carried-Away---cover-webThe book market was really interesting. Full of beautiful, self and small scale published books, it was an inspiration as to what can be achieved when ideas, talent and enthusiasm are in greater supply than money. More evidence to my eyes (if it were needed) that the death of the printed page has been greatly over exaggerated…

The floor below the open roof deck on which the book market was held, is part of Bold Tendencies, a non-profit  initiative which commissions art and cultural based projects over the summer months that the car park is open, and there’s some lovely stuff up there.

As for Frank’s itself, it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area, although checking exactly how to get there online before you go will save seemingly endless wandering up and down Rye Lane trying to find it…

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When the weather is good and hot like it was last week, the only downside of somewhere like this is that queues can be quite long, so my tip of the day is to walk to the far end of the roof, past the old Mercedes and the spangly wind blown sculpture, where there is a little satellite bar that always seems to be free…

Then once you’ve got your drink you can, like Darren and I did, spend ages and ages just looking out over the roofscape of this wonderful City.

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Richard M. Powers

July 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Star of Life_RMPThe quite literally, fantastic work of the American illustrator Richard M. Powers is at once dated and timeless, reflecting as it does both the heady, trippy times in which it was made and the infinite possibilities that alternative futures and alien worlds might offer.

Powers (1921-1996) had a very distinctive and singular style that caught the eye of both publishers and the public alike, resulting in his work gracing many science fiction book jackets throughout the 1950’s and 1970’s.

Galactic Diplomat_RMPTaking influences most obviously from the surrealism of Joan Miro and Yves Tanguy, Powers’ organic landscapes were populated by collections of often vague, indistinguishable shapes and suggestions of beings, which in terms of appearance, scale and biology were light years away from the generally held ideas of Venusians, Martians and other Hollywood B Movie space monsters…

Indeed it is a commonly proffered argument that it was Powers and his wonderfully escapist imagery that were one of the key bridges between the stereotypical 1950’s space girls in short skirts being rescued by handsome spacemen with hard wired technology (usually in the form of ray guns) and the wider concept that we were on the edge of a wholly unknown and potentially dangerous universe. We humans could effectively be insignificant, our destiny’s at the whim of beings and civilisations far beyond our wildest dreams…

All of which I think still makes these images hugely powerful and impressive, dated possibly, but with an insight and imagination that only the truly gifted can achieve. Looking at them again now, I can see so many things that must surely have taken their cues from Powers’ work: the lanky aliens in Close Encounters, the gas giant worlds in Iain Bank’s Culture novels, the organic spaceships of H R Geiger and the mind numbing scale of the Matrix…

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Iain M. Banks

June 11, 2013 2 comments

Consider Phlebas_frontI can’t begin to tell you how saddened I am by the recent death of Iain Banks. I can’t believe that The Hydrogen Sonata will be the final word on his most consistent, unparalleled and brilliant of inventions, The Culture, a seemingly futuristic construct that allowed Banks to assess and reassess aspects of our own society’s development and it’s likely outcomes should we continue as we are…

I’ve been a Banksian fan almost from the very beginning. Bank’s first novel The Wasp factory was published in 1984, but it was a year later when I started at Leeds Poly in 1985 that I was told in no uncertain terms by one of my new friends that I just had to read it and that I was obviously from some backwater town for not having done so already (students are like that).

Suffice to say my friend was right (about my birthplace and Iain Banks) and from then on I was hooked. I’ve bought every single one of his books since, even taking time off work to go to bookshops where I’d queue to get whatever his latest book was signed by him and to shake the great man’s hand… (well I did that 3 times anyway)

Iain Banks (and even more so Iain M. Banks, the name he used for his Science Fiction works) was the only author I can think of that I counted down the days to the “release” of his newest book in the same way I did for the new releases of records from bands. It was the seemingly limitless invention of his imagination that amazed me, with each story in whatever style or genre, expanding beyond all expectations to the point where I used to wonder how on earth he was going to follow on from (let alone better) the last one.

Banks’s writing never disappointed, and I would argue that he almost single handedly (along with maybe William Gibson) made Science Fiction cool again in the 1980’s, giving it a more high tech and politically aware aspect that, after the floppy excesses of the Science Fantasy books that washed out most of the decade, was very welcome to a hungry mind like mine.

So it is with an empty heart that I have to accept that there is only one more book to look forward to from one of Britain’s very finest writers. The Quarry will be a story about living with cancer and was rushed forward in the schedules so that Iain could be there to see it published on June 20th.

Sadly this was not to be and the literary world is a lesser place for his loss.

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William Mitchell’s Autobiography – availaible very soon…

April 15, 2013 5 comments

Bill Mitchell - The Eyes Within book cover.My friends Bill and Joy Mitchell have just emailed to let me know that the autobiography they have been working on for the last few years, has finally been given a publication date at the end of July and is now available for pre-order on Amazon

This is most excellent news indeed. I’ve played a very small part in helping them in the final stages of the project and Bill has done me the HUGE honor of using one of my photographs for the front cover… (it’s a detail from the doors of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral)

Bill has produced a whole series of beautiful new drawings to illustrate the various chapters of his life… from childhood illness to service in the Navy, from Art School to his pioneering sculptural work for the GLC, from regular appearances on TV and hobnobbing with royalty, to his work abroad and long time Directorship at Harrods…

Without doubt, the man has had a pretty eventful life and produced some truly stunning and timeless art along the way. I’ve written about William Mitchell in these pages a number of times before (here and here for starters) and what’s more I shan’t stop until more people are aware of his name and the huge contribution he has made to our artistic, social and cultural heritage.

I’m happy to report that there is evidence that this is indeed starting to happen, as over the last year or so, several Flickr pages (here and here) and numerous write ups on personal blogs have started to appear and this autobiography is another exciting step towards the recognition that I believe Bill so rightly deserves.

If you are interested in his work, Bill’s own website is here, but keep your eye on these pages, as we are currently looking into the possibility of organising a number of supporting events later on in the year…

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