Archive for April, 2009

In the media…

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

The comics exhibition at Bath Street Gallery is reviewed at eyeCONTACT.

And the New Zealand Herald recently interviewed me about my “fear of comics” (as documented in The Last Fox Story) for a story about phobias, which has now been published (the bit about me starts on page 3). It feels a little presumptious to be included with some other interviewees who suffer from some pretty debilitating phobias, but hopefully my story provides some light relief…

The Herald also has an article by Adam Gifford about the Bath Street show.

UPDATED to include links.

Sorry for the pause…

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

A quick apology for not posting any new pages for a little while; I’ve been horribly busy, between kids’ school holidays, some freelance stuff, and working on the Hicksville new edition – among other things. I’ll try real hard to get some new stuff up soon!

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.

Exhibition in Auckland

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Comic Art at Bath Street GalleryThe Bath Street Gallery in Parnell, Auckland, is holding an exhibition of comics art from 8-25 April. I’ve got a few pages in there, as have Tim Bollinger, Darren and Kelly Sheehan and the great Barry Linton. There is also work by comics-influenced artists Mark Braunias, Dick Frizzell, Robert McLeod and Denys Watkins.

I’ll be at the opening on Wednesday 8 April, 5.30-7.30pm, so come along and say hello.

Calling all Auckland comics people!

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Public speaking...
On the first Friday of every month, Auckland cartoonists and fellow travellers are invited to a gathering at the Auckland Public Library (upstairs at the Central branch, on Lorne Street), at 6-8pm. It’s mostly pretty informal and sociable, but this month I’m going to give a little talk (probably about my recent work, webcomics, and general interweb-related matters).

All welcome!

Read this: my favourite essay on comics

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Tom Spurgeon’s You Can Lead a Messiah to Water, But You Can’t Make Him Walk. Written 9 years ago, but it shakes me to the core every time I read it.

Just the tiniest taste:

I used to keep comics bagged and the best ones taped mosaic-style to the wall above my bed; it never occurred to me this was dopey until the fifth grade. Learning about how to design a room to fit your personality, a little girl named Holly with big, brown eyes that dominated her head like a muppet’s turned to me and said, “I bet your room is full of antiques.” This was devastating, although as I got older I would become much more accustomed to disappointing women.

Now just go read it already.

Other comics news: Robert Crumb’s take on the Book of Genesis

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Best comics news in a while: Robert Crumb’s adaptation of the Book of Genesis is now completed and will be published in October. BoingBoing even has a picture of some of the artwork (see above), courtesy of Phoebe Gloeckner’s beautiful 2005 photocomic about Angouleme, which can be read at Indy Magazine.

Toby Morris online

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

The very fine NZ cartoonist Toby Morris, who now resides in sunny Amsterdam, has a lovely blog named XTOTL, where he posts a daily drawing of life in his adopted city. You can also find a heap of his gorgeous gig posters at
Toby's gig posters