Monday, 21 May 2012

Animation: "The External World" by David OReilly

What can I say? This is one of the best animations I've seen. I'd seen Oreilly's previous animation 'Please Say Something' which was also very good, but this, to me, is outstanding. I've watched it 3 times and it just confirms it's brilliance on each view (to me anyway). The voice artists include Julian Barratt & Adam Buxton (if anyone's interested).

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Review: Kiahan (A Tale Of Migration) by Carrie MacKinnon

Kiahan is a harrowing and informative tale about a 14 year old boy, who the comic is named after and based on.

Carrie met him in a detention camp in Calais; a place of squalid conditions, lacking in basic human rights. The comic is based on Kiahan and his brother's story along with other real testimonies and experiences of other migrant 'refugees and asylum seekers' who Carrie met.

Kiahan was born in Afghanistan, but when his father was killed by the Taliban, he and his brother fled the country and the comic chronicles their journey and attempt to make their way to the UK for asylum.

The comic highlights the exploitative people-smuggling trade, where Kiahan and his brother spend all their money to be packed into a truck with others and smuggled into countries that don’t want them, and the dangers of deportation, beatings or death that they face on the way.

When they reach Calais, Kiahan and his brother Amir try to claim asylum, but are separated when the authorities don't believe Amir is 17, and he is segregated with the adults into a different part of the camp.

It is here that the story is interrupted by a two page segment that uses quotes from those living in the terrible conditions in the camps, interspersed around Carrie's evocative and slightly surreal art which was inspired by the quote; "it was like dipping your toe in an enormous pool of lost people":

When Kiahan and Amir finally are allowed into the UK to live with a foster family; we then also see the prejudice they are subjected to in British society. The comic also conveys Kiahan's wish to not be pitied by others; he and his brother want to learn english, fit in, work and be a useful members of society. Without giving too much away, the story ends on an ambigous note.

Interspaced between the comic pages are text pieces that range from reports on the Calais shantytowns where Kiahan lived, to more general pieces of information on refugees, detention centres, and the 'No Borders' group; to whom Carrie is affiliated.

I found this to be a very moving and passionate work; both informative and personal. Carrie's use of subtle water-colour like shading adds a subtlety and mood to the art.

There are website addresses and contact information for a lot of different support groups involved with refugees in the book too, should you be inspired to get involved.

The comic is only £1 (+postage which is only 50p in the UK!). All the proceeds of the zine go to the 'No Borders' campaign.

You can get it via here

 Also here is a link to those who want to learn more about the issues and lend support:

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Review: The Lengths 1-3 by Howard Hardiman

So I've read the first 3 issues (of what is to be an 8-issue series) of Howard Hardiman's excellent 'The Lengths', looking at the murky world of male prostitution through the eyes and experiences of the protagonist, Eddie, and the people who he meets and interacts with, all within the setting of London.

Although using anthropomorphic dog-men to portray characters in a very gritty and real world may seem like an initially somewhat bizarre concept, it actually works extremely well in telling the story (in the way that Spiegelman's 'Maus' did); it is never gimmicky, and it adds symbolism and added character to the work.

It’s a story which has a foundation in real life – Howard interviewed several male escorts a while ago, and has incorporated much of what he learnt about during that time, as well as putting much of himself into the fictional lead character's personality; which gives the work a very personal, involved and authentic feel.

The comic explores and narrates Eddie's double life; he's an art school dropout, moving between jobs, looking for love and possibly a relationship, but he also has his secretive alter-ego of 'Ford'; a male prostitute, who has learnt to hustle and sell his body for cash.
Through clever use of flashbacks, and a slightly disjointed layering of the story (initially a little disorientating, but which 'clicks' pretty quickly), we see glimpses of Eddie's past and present, travelling through his thoughts and memories and his two separate, yet gradually intertwining lives.

It becomes apparent in the first issue, that Eddie is conflicted in many ways, including by who he is attracted to. At the beginning of the story, Eddie (under his alias of 'Ford') sits overlooking the Thames with Nelson; a butch and athletic fellow-escort, whom he's somewhat besotted with. Nelson comes across as unattainable and closed, yet Ford still sees him as ideal. This intro to the tale immediately sets a moody atmosphere, with Ford somberly huddled on the ground, his feelings unrequited as the abrupt Nelson coolly walks off into the night.

The story then jumps forward, to Eddie's regular life, and what looks like the beginnings of a passionate yet potentially secure, loving, relationship with 'Dan'; an amiable, intelligent and affectionate fellow geek, who he befriended years before at art college. Eddie feels confused after spending the night with his long-time friend, who it now seems, could well be his lover. He's ashamed of his secret life, and of himself, and afraid of telling Dan the truth. As he ventures off to meet a client, he questions if he's cut out for, or deserves a relationship, and we also see, he's still not hung-up his obsession with Nelson.

We are then taken back to Eddie's memories of his previous relationship with ex-boyfriend James. It's around that time that Eddie is approached in his gym by a stranger to model for one of the more 'arty' gay porn mags, and the seeds are being sewn - the initial step that will lead Eddie towards exploring prostitution. This is then juxtaposed with his frustrations with his life, and secretive, guilty behaviour, which results on him taking things out on James, who is portrayed as a sympathetic, understanding and patient character.

Eddie, it becomes clear is a flawed and damaged person, but very human. You get the sense of Eddie's appreciation of those who show him love, his vulnerability, of wanting to do the right thing; but his weakness and addiction to the material trappings of his trade draw him back in. As a result, you experience his head-trips, conflicts and isolation, of feeling hollow as he wanders around the cold and distant london backdrops, as he goes from love, into the world of those who just want him for sex.

As the story progressed, I also became aware of how Eddie becomes 'Ford' to escape reality when his relationships come on strong, and there are also increasing subtle indications that 'Ford's' life is also linked with increasing drug use. We also see how the mess, guilt and secrets, are spilling out over into Eddie's life and mind and adding to his problems, making him more evasive and insecure.

As the pieces of the story fit together, it seems like only a matter of time before the walls between his two lives (which he tries to keep apart like his two separate phones), will come crashing down.

There is the feeling that Eddie/ Ford is walking a tightrope. I think it's the art that really helps create this uneasy feeling with it's atmosphere and its often stark and heavy contrast of light and shadow, which still retains sensitivity and warmth through it's linework. And the artwork, by the way, is improving each issue.

The scene in issue 1 where a younger and more naive Dan & Eddie visit a male brothel to find out whether or not Eddie should get work there, was for me, the darkest moment so far. The silent, seemingly emaciated and drug-addicted young men pose and lie around in the background, whilst the 'top dog' heavy of the establishment who is clearly an unpleasant character, exploiting and pimping the boys (who are all younger than Eddie) is shown in a slightly absurd, yet disturbingly effective way.

It's also worth mentioning, that this isn't a 'thoroughly depressing' piece at all. The dialogue is snappy, there's wit and comic relief throughout. There are genuinely warm and likeable characters, such as Dan and his ex-boyfriend Krys, James and also Eddie too; who although messed up, retains a dark sense of humour, self-deprecation, and irony throughout the 3 issues I've read. It's this balance with the darker undercurrents that really make it work, and Howard writes the lead character's narrative so well, that you often feel like you're in his head.

This series already feels like the first 3 chapters of a graphic novel; one which has a controlled and considered method of storytelling, yet which unfurls at an engaging pace, with an interesting visual style. It deserves to get picked up by a publisher, and seen by a wider audience, but in the meantime, you can get it here:

Friday, 11 May 2012

Review: JB's Comicstories #1 by JB

We have a bizarre, darkly funny, bold and unnerving little comic here by the mysterious 'JB', once more coming from Canadian Underground Comix Smut Peddlers; 'The Comix Company'.

Subtitled "Traumatism.vid"; The comic explores the murkier side of internet pornography, in particular, the more extreme aspects of live-feed webcam videos.

The star of the comic is 'Louiese Diseasy' accompanied by her ghostly yet loyal little friend 'Weesy'. Louiese is somewhat of an internet celebrity for her no-holds-barred (or should that be holes?) solo amateur sex videos which attract 1000's of viewers every evening. Louiese considers herself an empowered artist of the adult sex cam, earning money and having a 'wishlist' of gifts that her voyeuristic admirers buy for her.

Enter the not quite so popular 'Little Baby Teef'. LBT as he is known on the internet, is a troubled and isolated chap who lives in his mother's cellar and has just spent his last bit of internet creds buying a special anniversary DVD edition of 'Nightmare Before Christmas' for Louiese (from her wish list).

To make ends meet and fuel his porn-addiction/ obsession with Louiese, LBT has a pay-per-view webcam portal of his own; a much darker and masochistic affair, where he uses every extreme BDSM method at his disposal (which is thankfully mostly left to the imagination), torturing himself (or more specifically, his genitals) for money.

Far from being repulsed by his actions, Louiese considers him the ultimate freaky artist and showman for whom she has the upmost respect."What a monster!" she declares.

Soon, after, LBT goes out in his van to get some food and happens to recognise Louiese going into the same takeaway place with weesy. Too maladjusted and over-excited to just go up and speak to her, LBT instead kidnaps her off the street, leaving the stricken Weesy behind.

Louiese is not a bit phased, thinking that her abduction and blindfolding is a planned kidnapped fantasy gone wrong. "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING TREVOR, I TOLD YOU FRIDAY!!!". After removing her blindfold and realising that it's not Trevor,  instead seeing the sweaty ski-mask wearing pervert who tries to reassure her that he's her 'number one fan', Louiese then knocks seven shades of shit out of her captor, before exposing his genitals, which she then recognises from LBT's masochist-cam.

The two decide to team-up and shake up the online sex world, "together we'll stir emotions and reveal brutal, basic human truths" declares Little Baby Teef, like some nerdy little Marquis De Sade.

For well over half of the rest of the book, Weesy the ghost searches for Louiese utilising a human host, whilst LBT and Miss Diseasy go on an even more twisted and imaginative odyssey together, garnering interest from all over the internet, which builds, in ways they had not predicted, to a tragi-comic finale, where calamity strikes, then everyone gets what they want...err, kind of.

Now, this may just sound like an abject lesson in how far human kicks can go, and in many ways it is. The comic, it seems, satirises and comments on extreme sexual fetishes, voyeurism, self-abuse, as well as the 'trollishness' and shallow behaviour of many on the internet; the modern trait of 'viral' videos, where for many, everything is entertainment to be laughed at, sneered at and shared.

Internet anonymity and privacy (or lack of) plays a part in the story, as does loneliness, taking oneself too seriously, exhibitionism, public ridicule, self loathing, and self-mutilation.

There's also a good balance/ representation between the two BDSM 'freaks' of the tale; Louiese comes across as sexually liberated, pretty well-adjusted (if just as full-on) and fairly sound of mind, whilst LBT represents someone who is pretty disturbed, yet pitiful, with many hang-ups.

How much you read into this comic is up to you. At it's core is a black comedy in underground comix mould, but even at the end, the punchline says a lot about how messed up people can be. It also felt like, to my mind, that along with the absurdishness, grossness and humour, it was also somewhat critical of those who judge, ridicule and bully those who are different, just as it was a cartoonish exploration of the extremities of sado-masochism and self-martyrdom...I found it a refreshingly different read, and a very original idea.

JB also has to be commended on his art style; both the colour cover and his black and white line art look really nice, with a natural fluidity throughout the pages....You can buy the comic for $4 here. Don't torture yourself, just buy a copy!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

For Kelly Thomas...Untitled Piece by Michael Em

Artist Michael Em, made this piece after listening to the audio of the police beating and tazering Kelly Thomas, a mentally-troubled, homeless and unarmed man, to death.  As they beat him, Kelly cried out, saying he was sorry, and later screaming "help me" and screaming for his Dad.

I've seen the video myself and it's easy to see that it was an unprovoked attack. The two cops who were there initially intimidated and bullied Thomas, then brutalised him, before being joined by others who tazered and jumped on him like a gang of thugs.
And the way they all reacted afterwards was so matter of fact, like it was all just so routine.

I thought this was a superb piece of art, and very moving and fitting. RIP Kelly Thomas


I had to share this trailer. It looks a wonderfully cheesy 60's creature-feature B-movie, enhanced by the narrator's accentuation; "the Greeeeeen slime!". Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, the song kicks in at the end. Fantastiche! (P.S: I've noticed that the blog cuts off part of the video screen, so you might want to click on the youtube link at the top of the viewer to see it in it's unadulterated glory!)

....Amd here's that groovin', haemorrhoid poppin', acid-rock space-ditty in all it's glory: