Wednesday, July 31, 2013

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009

"London is a country coming down from its trip. We are sixty days from the end of this decade and there's gonna be a lot of refugees. They'll be going round the town shoutin' 'Bring Out Your Dead'."

Rounding out Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's most recent LoEG series is the final chapter in the Century trilogy, set a mere four years ago in our time, a more recognisable world in parts, and that's a problem for me. But first, a recap. When last we encountered the core surviving League (Alan Quatermain, Mina Murray, Orlando), it was 1969, and the above prophecy of Withnail and I's fried hippy Danny (not featured in that strip - boo) has rapidly and unexpectedly taken form. Oliver Haddo's Moonchild is slipped into the world, and the League is once again rendered impotent and separate from one another for thirty quite years.

So, apparently, nothing of import ever happened to the ex-members of the League in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties? Which is interesting. Mina by the opening of 2009 is, as she was left at the end of 1969, in a sanitarium, Alan completes his League circle and retreats to a vagrant, narcotic denial of his existence, and Orlando continues his/her doomed existential holding pattern, signing up to fight for Queen and country in far-off places. Only when Moore analogue Prospero intrudes to literally push the narrative into second gear does Orlando find her purpose and the rags of the League reassemble themselves.

I have to say that to me 2009 is the most frustrating of the series, particularly for its references which play either as being outside of my familiar zone (I haven't, to my shame, yet watched The Wire or The Thick Of It, but apparently neither has Moore) or too far into them; once you've seen one fanfic where the current Doctor and companion turn up in the background then you've really seen the lot. I've a British friend who is to this day unable to bring himself to critically assess Britpop because for him 1994-1997 is still too recent history. I feel much the same with 2009 - it's playing Where's Wally with contemporary culture, and in the age of the Internet and fan fiction, DeviantArt and the like, it's not more than anywhere else Moore's magpie tendancies show the master up - his recent griping about a small screen adaptation of the original League series (yes, it will most likely miss the point and be awful, but then again it might not

There's less of an element of literary discovery this time around because of that overfamiliarity, so I found it less fun. I also feel some sadness at the easy surrender Moore seems to have made to Twentieth-century media - heroes and villains of literature in this trilogy have been usurped by those of cinema and TV, meaning Kev O'Neill's previously imaginative recreations of the formerly described now becomes a duty of caricature. It's a role he fills like a pro, of course, but he's also better than this.  It's disappointing also to see Moore, whose version of the Doctor in the Doctor Who Weekly strips had such a profound impact on the modern era of the show, reduce the character's role of that of a walk-on. Add Torchwood and Ashes to Ashes and the box-ticking seems all the more obvious.  By the time we get to the inevitable reveal of the Antichr- sorry, Moonchild himself the novelty is sort of spent - a twisted vision of a boy magician ubiquitous in books, films and all manner of visual merchandising? It's painting one's self into a corner. The two highlights I took from 2009 were returns to already-established or covered characters - the various Jimmy Bonds and Andrew Norton. I will concede the final Deus Ex Machina is fantastic, however - almost matching Black Dossier's WTF Golliwog moment for bravado and genuine surprise. But getting there was not half as much fun. League's immortals have long become burned-out monsters, with only one expendable member remaining to meet their demise here. If this is the last we'll see of the current League then perhaps it's for the best.

I did wonder while reading 2009 what the point of an aside to Janni Nemo and her terrorist offspring might have been, given they have no significant role in the main story. Fortunately there's a spin-off recently out, Nemo - Heart of Ice, which is filling in some pieces rather neatly.

Friday, July 26, 2013

All a Quiver

It's been a right interesting week in Wellington recently, as anyone local and maybe a few not so local will tell you(okay, not these guys, they got it Awl Rong)

Yes, Wellington got a serious case of the shakes last Friday (first a 5.7 just after 9am, then a 4.4 mid-afternoon) courtesy of some tremors centred a wee way from Seddon. Nevertheless, as the largest metropolitan area adjacent to the hot spot, Wellington got a lot of attention, particularly from our Auckland-based national news shows. "Wellington shakes as it prepares for the Big One" - Actual. Lead-in. Impossible to over-read the meaning of that in an alarmist way, right? I was pretty annoyed by it all.

Still, at 9:25 on Friday morning I was at work high up in our office block set on the waterfront, a large area of reclaimed land partially brought up in the last big quake Wellington had in 1855. It wasn't a comfortable experience, despite our building being regarded as one of the Very Good Ones, and of Sunday's 6.7 quake and subsequent aftershocks only shaking one book off our library shelves. Sunday's jolt I took very well considering, as my earthquake survival plan (be at home with the family) worked wonders. Long may it be available just when I need it.

We were lucky. I was out of the office for two days while the building was being inspected, and some places took longer. Some older buildings lost mouldings and some window glass, but we're kidding ourselves if we think this is as bad as it could get. The Capital will be one of the worst places to be when a major earthquake hits, not only from its inner CCBD population, large number of tall buildings with too much to shed mid-shaking, but also the question of safe exits from the CBD itself. It's estimated that my twenty minute daily commute translates to a walk home of up to three days. I hope I'll be around to manage it, or maybe I don't. I'm not sure.

As far as I know my fellow Wellington bloggers Morgue, Al and Alden all made it through okay. Jamas blogs his experiences here, and pinches a suitable Tori Amos song for the purpose, leaving me with this vintage classic instead. I win!


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Moria Cutaway: Balin’s Tomb Completed

Balin’s Tomb is now finished. This has been a project like no other - started maybe six years ago, 'rested', then revisited over the past couple of months, it's been repainted, revised, restored and with a resident corpse stored within its stone foundations. I’ve extended the base on one side to make it a little more symmetrical (though it’s by no means centred), and included a few bones here and there – something of a green stuff lesson for me as I worked at it. Finally, finding a perfec square of larger card by chance I mounted the complete diorama on a further tier and repeated the exercise again. The new base is now thicker and, I hope, a little more robust. I’ve squared off the corners of the crypt (being built around a plastic box with rounded corners) as much as I was happy to, and there’s a surprising heft to the model now, mainly due to the card itself.

Outside Balin’s Tomb is Ori, still, his head remodeled slightly and his book given a spine of sorts. I’ve also added arrows to the model, a detail I’d always intended but never got around to – here they’re pins with painted woodchip flock for fletching, sealed with PVA glue and finally washed with some Brown Ink to make them look oily and nasty. The lid to the Tomb still comes off, deliberately, and has a raised floor to present Balin’s body better. I had to thicken the interiors of the walls with ice block sticks to make it look more robust and stone-like, while the lid underside was lined with two layers of card on which the legend Baruk Khazad – Khazad ai Menu is inscribed. Well, painted.

Here’s a WIP picture of the Balin model, a green stuff sculpture formed around an armature of matchsticks on a rectangle of foamboard, with a stick-on gemstone from a craft shop as a shield to rest the separately-sculpted head on. Balin’s pose is based on a number of real-life crypt effigies, as I thought they conveyed the necessary dignity of a fallen hero. I kept any major details the most defining characteristics of Balin – his white beard, an axe similar to the one I chose his earlier model from, and his age, of course. The great axe (possibly Durin’s, a detail inferred by the movies) is in his hands and is the only concession to the plastic Dwarf models, but he’s crown-less –it was just too much detail for me, unfortunately. Instead, his head rests on a Dwarven shield (based on a design from the LotR movie art books). After a LOT of angst about whether to line the sarcophagus interior with plush fabric, heap up treasures and tributes around him or lay Balin’s corpse on a detailed stone slab I abandoned all of these concepts after several dry runs. Every one of them ended up making the crypt interior look cluttered, overly busy and venal. We know virtually nothing of the burial practices of Dwarves, but my concept is that to Dwarves death is a return to the earth, and a body committed for burial is therefore an object stripped of treasures and sentiment.

Here, Balin is buried partly in armour (chain and shoulder vambraces), but is mostly robed and akin to the old soul of The Hobbit, his only concession to war the axe and shield. Anything else would, as I say, have visually detracted from the fallen king himself. It should in the main be a pathetic image, recalling the nature of Balin’s death, and perhaps the quickly diminished fortunes of his fellows now trapped in the halls they sought to claim. Early versions of the crypt floor (much bolstered by foam card and scrap wood) were painted in gold and silver – again, it was flashy and gaudy and said nothing, so a simple black outline of overlapping geometric shapes replaced them. Finally, some colours. Purple and red were of course early contenders, as well as gold and grey, but I wanted them all watered down or at least toned down – bright colours on a corpse look cartoony, and I avoided grey or white fur (befitting an older Dwarf seeking warmth rather than riches) so it wouldn’t blend into Balin’s white hair. The skin is closer to a light tan than the warmer Dwarf Flesh colour GW’s paints reserve for their (living) Dwarves. And with that, Balin is now at rest.

The larger base was added last weekend and early this week - more thick card with thinner card for flagstones (some are deliberately offset to show some age) and more detritus - I guessed at the colour mixes for the stone floor and strewn papers and got lucky! There's also some green stuff here - a couple of skulls (a frequent destiny for any left over blobs of green stuff late in the evening), some plastic shaving ribs and a rather grisly spine and hip combination; Tolkien himself spared no detail of the carnage that took place there, so I followed suit.

And with that, my time with Thorin Oakenshield's late company is finally at an end! or my nest project I;ve promised myself models with more stature, more colour, and less individuality. And I know just the subjects...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Dancing About Architecture

Manic Street Preaches have been and gone from New Zealand, they played the Vector Centre in Auckland, and apparently put on a very good gig, actually "trolling through the back catalogue" as Nicky Wire promised after their performance on X-Factor. Man - they did Revol. I'd have loved to have seen that.

But about that X Factor performance:

Something of a specialist already,'s travel/entertainment/lifestyle writer Owen Vaughan wrote this Tuesday "Rock's Dead, Manics, You Killed It", an article with a tiresome and ridiculous headline, but writers don't always get to choose the clothes their opinions get dressed in, I suppose. Obviously I take issue with the sentiment behind it and the article itself, that MSP have sold out by playing a populist show like X factor.

It's a facile argument, and classic bait-and-switch news 'blogging', designed to elicit a response. I'm not going to give Stuff the on-site response they might want, however, because I simply can't be bothered to sign in to their Stuff Nation 'community' to do so.I'm sticking to my blog, thanks. So about my issue with Vaughan's complaint - I can think of five reasons why this article isn't worth linking to:

1. Live entertainment shows on TV in New Zealand are not common, particularly when you try to think of a suitable format. Seven Sharp is still trying to firm up its identity as a sort-of 'infotainment' vehicle, and while Good Morning will host touring live spots, Manics probably weren't a good fit there, either. X Factor is almost the only prime time game in town. At least it wasn't Dancing With the Stars. Speaking of which...

2. This argument has been made before, or at least a more balanced version, which I strongly suspect Vaughan may have already read, and perhaps figured that it needed more 'bite'. Ben Myers wrote in The Guardian of Manic Street Preachers playing in an elimination episode of Strictly Come Dancing in the UK in 2010, and the comments on that page are in some part worth reading, because they themselves in places take a more balanced view, including the following:

3. Manics have some form playing populist shows. Even in their alleged heyday they played Saturday morning TV shows, chat shows, and almost anyone who'd have them. They were a band seeking attention, and if their heyday is some years behind them now, well I don't think we should be surprised to see them seeking what few avenues there are in New Zealand to promote their first live show there. X Factor, a high-rating series that Stuff features a running blog commentary on, is a pretty appropriate option. Is that really so different from, say, The Beatles playing on the Ed Sullivan Show?

4. Vaughan's argument (and some of Myers' commentators) seems in part based on a personal grievance that Manic Street Preachers have (gasp) changed from the young upstarts that they were, settling for a more populist approach and softening their early, rebellious image. There's nowhere for a band as old (or older) than Manics to go with this argument; bands age and their members do too, they change and often mellow. It's a natural progression, and in the cases where this hasn't obviously happened (AC/DC?), the alternative is being seen as something of a one trick pony, descending into self-parody. I think Manics (who made no secret of courting the mainstream from day one) made their decision some years ago, and maybe Vaughan just hasn't been listening? Finally, and in a related way:

5. Rock and Roll is already dead. It died decades ago. We have pretty much officially been in a post-Rock and Roll environment now for at least a generation, with most standard instrumental innovation now exhausted and the genre so schismatic and subjected to genre after sub-genre it's a diluted quantity. In that sense Rock and Roll was dead well before Manic Street Preachers came along and opted to posit themselves between a few already-existing sub-genres anyway. That said, I wonder whether the history of modern music may be something that Owen Vaughan, author of such articles as "Shetland ponies wearing jumpers. Everyone say Awww" and "Nine ways to turn Gareth Morgan into a cat lover" put in the too-hard basket for this article.

Look, I know it's only rock and roll. It's stupid, too-heavily weighted on ephemeral ideals (youth, rebellion, individualism without compromise), and it's entertainment and spectacle at best. There's a complaint in Vaughan's article that to me just epitomises the neediness of the immature music fan, who can't see past age and change and reality and just wants things to stay the same as it ever was. There are bands for those people of course, - Bon Jovi come to mind. My friend David and I often discuss the notion that in this rather absurd 'industry' there is no real retirement plan. Well, there is, but to expose the reality of living off the royalties of one's most fruitful years goes against the ethos of what rock and roll is apparently about. Instead, there's money to be made in reissues, reunion tours and associated merchandising, as bands from the Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones to Bon Jovi will acknowledge, but there's not always an obvious stepping-off point. Stuff music blogger Simon Sweetman went into this in his own way this week as well, and it's worth a read.

Owen Vaughan's opinion though? Stick to the ponies, mate.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Blog Update: Stray Monkeys

Balin's Tomb. So close to being finished. So very close!

As usual, it was painted in front of the TV in some not-flash living room light, so as always the final check of things is done in daylight. The television wasn't bad viewing last night though; Glastonbury on UKTV, and of course Manic Street Preachers playing their first ever live performance in New Zealand, on The X Factor. Tonight's the night of their Vector Arena performance., and no I can't, thanks for asking (a logistical issue above anything else, I should add.)

All of which reminds me that I have loose ends on Jetsam. Balin's Tomb must go up of course, but also there's the issue of the third installment of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, and I'm not entirely finished with the Manics themselves; probably two short installments to go there.

And then the decks are cleared for a while, for some new projects!