Weekend links 87

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Untitled art by Katie Scott.

“…the very fact that people cannot get published by the big-name publishers in the way that they used to has meant that you’ve got some really interesting and often really beautiful little small publishing houses that are springing up and coming into existence. And the stuff that they’re providing is actually a lot better. I’m thinking of people like Tartarus Press, Strange Attractor and various other commendable small publishers that do a beautiful job and that are producing books that are good to have on your bookshelf.”

Alan Moore discussing books old and new in a lengthy interview at Honest Publishing. In part two he takes to task hardboiled moron Frank Miller and offers his thoughts on the Occupy movement. Elsewhere the Guardian finally paid some attention to the importance of design in the book world. Some of us who do this for a living have been saying for years that if publishers want to see physical books thriving they need to maintain (or improve) the quality of their design and materials. Related: The Truth About Amazon Publishing, Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent examines some the figures behind Amazon’s PR.

• “Tenniel argued for several changes to the characters as conceived by Carroll. The croquet mallets are ostriches in the original drawings, and the hoops are footmen bent over with the tails of their coats hanging down over their bottoms like an animal’s. Tenniel left them out. He told the author that a girl might manage a flamingo, but not an ostrich.” Marina Warner again on John Tenniel, Lewis Carroll and the Alice books.

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Untitled painting by Christian Schoeler who was interviewed for a second time at East Village Boys.

Shamanism and the City: Psychedelic Spiritual Tourism Comes Home and Scientists finding new uses for hallucinogens and street drugs. Related: LSD – A Documentary Report (1966), “a totally new kind of record album”.

• More books: Interview with a Book Collector. Mark Valentine, author, biographer and editor was also the co-publisher in 1988 of my adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark.

• The Priapus Chandelier “features six hand-sculpted phalluses cast in translucent resin, which radiate an atmospheric light.”

Stewart Lee on Top Gear, in which the comedian and Dodgem Logic contributor eviscerates the BBC’s pet trolls.

• The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library put the Voynich Manuscript online.

• The 432-page SteamPunk Magazine collection with my cover art is now on sale.

Hubble, Bubble, Toil & Trouble: The Haxan Cloak Interviewed

• The Sunn O))) chapter of The Electric Drone by Gilles Paté.

Colonel Blimp: The masterpiece Churchill hated

Submergence (2006) by Greg Haines | Reyja (2011) by Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason | The Fall (2011) by The Haxan Cloak.

Cain’s son: the incarnations of Grendel

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Beowulf wrestles with Grendel, Lynd Ward (1939).

There’s nothing new in pointing out Hollywood’s crimes against literature, the film business has been screwing up book adaptation since the earliest days of silent cinema. But sometimes the wound is so grievous you can’t help but speak out, in this case against Roger Avary’s Beowulf which is released next month. This is another CGI-heavy confection along the lines Polar Express, with the actors being given digital bodies via motion-capture, and it’s something I’d probably have ignored until I saw this picture of Grendel, the story’s principal monster. Beowulf is one of the earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon poems and Grendel, the bloodthirsty creature which Beowulf battles, is one of the ur-fiends of English literature, along with his equally monstrous, lake-dwelling mother and the dragon which fatally wounds the hero. The trio give us a peek back into the dark imagination from a time before recorded history and Grendel especially has always had something raw and primal about its character. So when you see a beast with such a history portrayed as little more than a diseased muppet you wonder what’s going on. Are the creators inept? Ignorant? Were studio restrictions at work? How does an industry with the talent to give splendid life to the trolls and Balrog of Lord of the Rings, or Davy Jones and crew in Pirates of the Caribbean, screw up so badly?

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Watchmen

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This year sees the 20th anniversary of the publication of Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. This landmark comic book, one of the few to deserve the designation “graphic novel”, remains a particular favourite of mine, and one that still excites today for its consummate command of the comics medium. The following is a very long round table discussion with Watchmen‘s creators from issue 100 of Fantasy Advertiser, first published in March 1988. It’s surprising that this doesn’t seem to have been posted anywhere else on the web as it’s an excellent discussion into some of the details of this great book.

Spoiler warning: this piece discusses in depth just about every revelation in the story so you’d be advised to skip it if you haven’t read the book.

MARTIN SKIDMORE: Alright, let’s have a starting point… just what is it about Watchmen that distinguishes it from other…
STEVE WHITAKER: Cream cheeses?
MS: …superhero comics on the market?
DAVE GIBBONS: Is this in the form of direct questions to us, or…
FIONA JEROME: No, we’re all gonna talk.
DG: Well, I’ll have a schnoozle then…
SW: The thing that I think distinguishes Watchmen from other comics is that the series holds together more like a novel. Your climax isn’t in the last 3 panels in Watchmen 12. There are long quiet tracts with exciting bits or…moderately exciting bits (LAUGHTER) In terms of Jack Kirby Wham! Smash! Pow! it’s all very quiet. There’s a lot of suffering but…
MS: …it’s all emotional rather than physical suffering.
ALAN MOORE: It’s a difficult question for me and Dave to answer, probably one that you could answer better, but if I had to say anything then it’s the degree of structure that me and Dave have applied to it—I can’t think of many examples of that degree of structure, that degree of layering.
FJ: I was going to say: especially visually you don’t get such a use of motif certainly not in American comics.
MS: Doug Moench has used it occasionally.
FJ: But not with the same complexity and not filling-in with written structure as well.
PETER HOGAN: The thing is: you’re given a world. The characters, alright, they’re based on the Charlton Characters but they’re new as of page 1. Even so, they’re characters with a history that comes out over the course of the thing… Their world has a history… it has a cohesion to it.
SW: Something that quite interests me now we’re talking about structure and stuff, is the symmetry—there is a real symmetry to Watchmen and the way the characters are set up.
DG: Two arms… two legs. (LAUGHTER)
MS: Perhaps the Comedian and Rorschach…
SW: I was thinking more of Osterman and Ozymandias.
MS: That’s right—the intellectual and physical, chaos and law…
AM: It’s difficult pinning down what’s symmetrical to what—I mean to me, at least to some extent, there’s an equally good case for contrasting Nite Owl and Rorschach.

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Alan Moore interview, 1988

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Originally published in Strange Things Are Happening, vol. 1, no. 2, May/June 1988. Note: “Vincent Eno” was Richard Norris, later one half of dance/ambient outfit The Grid with Dave Ball. See also the Watchmen round table discussion on this site.

Vincent Eno and El Csawza meet
comics megastar ALAN MOORE

Amidst smouldering heaps of superlatives flung in the direction of the comic genre of late, one name stands head and shoulders above the crowd: ALAN MOORE. But don’t just trust the gushing blurbs on the back of Moore’s works (‘Alan Moore has reinvented the comic book genre’ and so on), take it from your pals at Strange Things – Alan Moore is beezer!

With Watchmen the comic book format legitimately became what the media manipulators were attempting to tell us all about – the graphic novel. Watchmen is a work to be read and re-read, loved and cherished. Poetry, Cinema, narrative, music… they’re all here. The advent of such a work is as exciting in literary terms as the publication of the earliest novels, and you’d better believe it. Because within the next two years, the work of Alan Moore and his contemporaries is going to eclipse Watchmen and zoom into overdrive. As Alan says, ‘the next two years are going to be good for comics.’ Some understatement.

Turning into the first true comic megastar wasn’t an easy ride for Alan.

‘After school I did a variety of awful horrifying jobs,’ he recalls. ‘They look great on the dust jacket of your first novel, but were shit to actually live through! I started off by working at the skin division of the local Co-operative society. We’d go to work at seven thirty in the morning, drag these blood-sodden sheepskins out of vats of cold water and urine, chop off extraneous testicles or hooves and throw them at each other in this concentration camp gaiety we’d established to cope with the grimness of our surroundings. People there were splattered with this chemical for removing wool from hide, these blue marks all over them.

‘Then I climbed up the social ladder and became a toilet cleaner for a hotel. After that I went through a number of grindingly tedious office jobs; finally I had to make the jump into writing because we’d got a kid on the way and if I’d waited until after the baby was born I’d never have had the nerve. I decided that life being as short as it is, and as far as I know us getting only one crack at it, it just seemed important that I shouldn’t spend any of it doing something I didn’t want to do.’

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