Ptooff!

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There’s a sub-genre of the psychedelic album cover in which florid, unfocused and vividly polychrome doodles by friends of the band are used as the principal artwork. (The cover of The Parable Of Arable Land [1967] by The Red Crayola is a typical example.) The art which decorates the fold-out sleeve of Ptooff! (1967), the debut album by British group The Deviants, isn’t quite in the doodle league but it treads a narrow divide between drug-addled scribbles and American comic-strip art à la Jack Kirby. Someone named “Kipps” receives the art credit. Viewed today the swirls and explosions on the sleeve’s outer panels also seem to predict the graffiti art which would flourish a decade later.

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The Deviants were the first musical vehicle for writer and singer Mick Farren who died last week. At the time Farren was known as a journalist for International Times which explains the disembodied head of Theda Bara (from the paper’s logo) floating in the top right-hand corner of the front cover. The lysergic wildness continues inside with an incoherent scene and the promise that “APSARAS—is an Epic forthcoming—a marvel of the Universe—an illustrated saga of a Godwoman. On sale soon.” John Peel provided some sleeve notes. See the artwork at larger size here.

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Charles Shaar Murray penned a memorial note for Mick Farren last week. My favourite track from Ptooff! is opening song I’m Coming Home, a song which demonstrates the group’s ability to combine humour with hard-rock freakout.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
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Previously on { feuilleton }
International Times archive

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.

Continue reading “Watchmen”