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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Seduction of the Innocent

Monday, July 19th, 2010

soti-webThis is my contribution to Seduction of the Innocent, a new collection of pin-ups by various artists of pretty girls reading comics. Other contributors include Jeffrey Brown, Ivan Brunetti, Sam Henderson, Dave Kiersh, Peter Kuper, Johnny Ryan and many more, and the drawings range from the sleazy to the hilarious. You can see more sample pages and/or buy the book on publisher Kettle Drummer Books‘ website.

Hicksville at the High Seas!

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Hicksville at the High Seas

Yay! We’re having a launch for the NZ edition of Hicksville at The High Seas (12 Beresford Square, Auckland) on Friday 19th March (6pm). It’s also an exhibition of original art from Hicksville, which will stay open through Saturday 20th March (when Beresford Square is also hosting the fabulous Aroha Day!).

So spread the word – and come join the party!

Hicksville at the High Seas

The Tango Collection

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Tango Collection
I recently wrote a foreword for The Tango Collection – a big fat book of comics about love by over 50 Australian cartoonists (plus a few New Zealanders, including Jared Lane, Tim Molloy and Toby Morris). The comics are selected from eight issues of Bernard Caleo’s love comics anthology Tango, each issue of which is organised around a theme (Love & Death, Love & Food, Love & Sedition, etc). The book is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now!

You can read my foreword below, or else just buy the book and read it in the comfort of your own (or a loved one’s) soft warm bed…

Tango Collection Foreword
(more…)

Hicksville – the new edition

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

HicksvilleCover
Lord, how time flies! My brief hiatus turned into a looong one, for which I apologise. Thing is, I was very very busy doing a few things, more of which I’ll tell you about (and post the comics of course!) soon.

But first let me tell you about the new edition of Hicksville, which is coming out from Drawn & Quarterly (and, in New Zealand, from Victoria University Press) in early February 2010. Getting it ready is one of the main things I’ve been busy with, but now it’s all good to go.

Above you can see the new cover, but there’s also a brand new 13-page introduction (in comics form) by me – one of the most personal comics I’ve done – and the glossary has been expanded (and illustrated). I also redesigned the book, rescanning all the artwork and giving it all a bit more space to breathe on the page. I added page numbers (at the request of various academics and students!), relettered about 12 pages (where the lettering was just too damn sloppy to read!), and corrected a couple of mistakes that had slipped past us in the previous editions. Everything in the book – from the indicia to the glossary – is now hand-lettered (except the barcode, sadly). All in all, I’m pretty happy with it.

I’m especially thrilled that there will finally be a New Zealand edition, too – and doubly so that it’s with Victoria University Press, who I’ve always enjoyed working with in the past. For years, Hicksville was very hard to get hold of here in my home country, and it’ll be a relief to no longer have to field emails from forlorn bookstores and desperate customers. A big thank you to Fergus Barrowman for making it happen!

I’ll post more information about the new edition closer to the time, but for now, I’m looking forward to having it in print again.

The Elfish Gene

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

The Elfish Gene
Mark Barrowcliffe’s The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange is a fascinating memoir of being obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons in 1970s Britain. It does a good job both of capturing the time and place and also of dissecting various forms of cringeworthy D&D geekery. I first got into role-playing games a few years after Barrowcliffe (around 1980, at the age of 13), and my own experience was considerably more benign than his; but even so, many of his anecdotes had me squirming with queasy recognition, and he’s especially good on the strange combination of defensive arrogance and false machismo that many hardcore geeks display.

But for me, where Barrowcliffe strikes the most powerful chord is when he describes his painful yearning for a better, more magical world than the dreary, grey mundane reality that surrounds him. One of my favourite parts comes early in the book, when Barrowcliffe describes having to go on a seaside holiday in Wales with an old friend’s family (when he’d much rather be back at home playing D&D with his new gamer friends). One day, walking past a bustop, Mark and his old friend Dill are rudely proposititioned by two bored girls who abruptly demand a snog. Later that evening, Mark is in bed:

I lay in bed trying to think of lying with a dryad in a boat of reeds, floating down a river of leaves and stroking her tits. Another fantasy kept butting in, though, a dream of a beefy Liverpudlian girl with blotchy legs and the smell of bubblegum on her breath and me with my hands up her sweater.

This seedy intrusion is too awful to contemplate.

In future I’d have to practise harder at having the right fantasies. In all things, I thought, I should strive towards the perfect ideals of the fantasy world where there was no bubble gum, definitely no blotchy legs…. I didn’t want real girls, I didn’t want real anything. I hadn’t since I’d started D&D, and I wouldn’t again, for years.

On the final day of the holiday, Mark is desperate to get back to home and the D&D world. But his friend’s mother can’t understand his impatience: “Don’t you want one last look at the sea?” she asks…

Of course I didn’t want to look at the sea. I wanted to gaze upon the sparkling oceans of the Grey Havens or see dragon smoke rising above a stricken galleon off the Isle of Pendor. All that would be visible from Llandudno seafront was the pier and the crazy golf course, things, it seemed, that had been put in place to spite my fantasy.

I noted this passage down, because it describes pretty well how I felt at the same age. Immersed as I was in dreams of Middle Earth, even apparently “scenic” landscapes in the real world seemed horribly disappointing. Where was the grandeur? The majesty? The enchantment? That sweet, painful yearning seems close to what C. S. Lewis called Sehnsucht, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how it lies behind much of my own relationship to fantasy, fiction and art, with their promise to “re-enchant the world.”

Barrowcliffe’s writing style isn’t entirely my bag; he seems to have honed his skills working as a stand-up comedian and writing satirical novels, and sometimes he comes across like the class clown, trying a little too hard to make us laugh at his own expense. I’m also put off when a memoir tries to read like a novel, complete with long passages of (re-imagined) dialogue. But after a while, even these quirks ceased to grate on me; it all seemed part and parcel of the book’s tone of defensively self-mocking embarrassment. It’s as though Barrowcliffe is still trying to impress us with his superior smarts and wit, even as he excruciatingly dissects those very impulses in his geeky teenage self. “I’m better than that now,” he seems to be saying – in precisely the voice he once used to put down some worthless ignoramus at the gaming table.

Anyway – it’s well worth a read if, like me, you’re an old gaming nerd. Especially if you follow it with American Nerd: the Story of My People, by Benjamin Nugent, another painfully personal, very insightful exploration of the geek as type, as community, and as a presence in the broader history and culture.

Floating Worlds

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Floating WorldsOut this month from Victoria University Press:

Floating Worlds: Essays on Contemporary NZ Fiction
Anna Jackson & Jane Stafford (eds)

The ground-breaking New Zealand fiction of the last fifteen years has not attracted critical commentary beyond initial reviews, despite its success with readers both local and international, and despite its attracting major awards both local and international. Floating Worlds contains stimulating and insightful essays on eight of the best novels of recent years.

These are novels in which there is no longer one authoritative way to tell a story. In contrast to Allen Curnow’s stricture that New Zealand writers should conform to ‘the disciplines of an uncompromising fidelity to experience, of an unqualified responsibility to the truths of themselves, in this place and that time’, these novels invite us into what Paula Morris calls ‘a floating world’, where identities are negotiable and performative.

Floating Worlds illuminates the distinctive ways in which contemporary New Zealand writing approaches the relationship between the real and the imaginary, and the different kinds of challenging, edgy authenticities that operate in the space between them: the familiar and the foreign; the copy and the original; the fake and the genuine; the intention and the act, including the act of writing.

Nicholas Wright on The Miserables by Damien Wilkins
Kirstine Moffat on In a Fishbone Church by Catherine Chidgey
Jane Stafford on The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox
Hamish Clayton & Mark Williams on Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks
Lydia Wevers on Slow Water by Annamarie Jagose
Anna Jackson on The Time of the Giants by Anne Kennedy
Erin Mercer on Hibiscus Coast by Paula Morris
Jennifer Lawn on Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

Pride and Extreme Prejudice

Monday, March 16th, 2009

zombiesA great moment for literature.

From ‘American Nerd’

Monday, March 16th, 2009

American Nerd

The heroes of American popular culture are surfers, cowboys, pioneers, gangsters, cheerleaders, and baseball players, people at home in the heat of physical exertion. But so many of the individuals who make these images are more like Anne Beatts [whose experiences as a teenage nerd inspired her creation of the TV series Square Pegs]. Their voyeurism – their sense of staring from the wrong lunch table at a radiant nation – makes for a vision of America that appeals to the whole world, including America itself. There’s a globe full of outsiders thirsty for glimpses of the land of myth, and American nerds have gratified them with adoring images. [Brian] Wilson – the bodiless studio addict who spent days refining drum sounds for songs about high-school football and girls on the beach – was the rule, not the exception, for North American fabulists, for DreamWorks as much as Microsoft.

from American Nerd – The Story of My People, by Benjamin Nugent

So, after dithering, I’ve finally decided to treat this site not only as my webcomic site, but also as my primary blog (largely replacing my blog on Vox). That means I’ll occasionally be posting general news, but also idle thoughts, opinions on movies I’ve seen, found news stories and pictures, and – as above – interesting quotations from books and articles I’ve been reading.

Hopefully, this won’t be too tedious or annoying for those of you who are just here for the comics… (ahem)