Thursday, April 30, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 4)

TRON (1982)

Ah, another one of my absolute faves. I love TRON. So much, I'm going to use capitals every time. TRON.

Disney was experimenting with some cool movies in the early 80s. The Black Hole (technically 70s, but I didn't get to see it until early 1980), Dragonslayer, and the wonder that was TRON. At a time when every waking moment that wasn't at school or playing tabletop roleplaying games, it was all about video games. Living in a seaside town meant we had easy access to a handful of arcades where we spent far too long playing all the classics - Galaxian, Defender, Tempest, Battle Zone... you know the score. And then we had access to our home Atari VCS systems, and then the ZX Spectrum.

Video games was where it was at. So when they announced this movie where the lead character goes into a video game, I was totally there.

TRON was unlike anything we'd seen before. Short of some little video shorts to show off what computer graphics could do at the time, this was all new. I know a lot of it isn't even CGI, it was carefully and painstakingly created with backlighting, negative shooting, rotoscoping, and merging it with matte painting. But it looked amazing. And, like most of the audience, I was in complete awe at the lightcycle sequence and the escape from the game grid.

Add to that the amazing Wendy Carlos soundtrack, and a great and nerdy plot - programmer wanting to prove that a big corporation had stolen his games - I was in my element. Somewhere I have the soundtrack on vinyl, and a weird LP called "The Story of TRON" where the soundtrack is narrated over with sound effects.

I remember going to the cinema to see TRON four times before they finally stopped showing it. I may have been a little obsessed.

We spent a lot of time trying to replicate the world of TRON. I remember most of us had a go at programming some form of lightcycle game on the Spectrum. I even started working out how TRON would work as a tabletop RPG, but didn't get very far.

TRON's still a big influence on me, and that whole 'escaping to a virtual and alternate world' is a major part of the RPGs I write today.

When TRON Legacy (2010) was announced, I was there like a shot. Even went to the strange preview that happened at the cinema where they showed fifteen minutes of the movie to get you excited for it. Like I could be any more excited for it. Jumped on that viral bandwagon, visited, did the puzzles and games, got my ENCOM staff badge. I was in my element.

The movie itself did not disappoint, and the 3D effects being only used for the world inside the computer was brilliant. Almost like The Wizard of Oz's use of colour.  If anything TRON Legacy is even more of an influence on the RPG I'm working on at the moment. Okay, so the de-aged Jeff Bridges was a little weird for the non-computer world version, but Disney were just getting to grips with the new tech that would de-age Marvel stars in future movies.

The TV series that bridges the gap between the two - TRON Uprising - was awesome. Super-stylised character design by Robert Valley are amazing. Just brilliant.

Still hope that one day Disney come to their senses and green-light a third movie, or a Disney+ series...

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 3)


We started going to the cinema a lot more often after Star Wars. My parents seemed to enjoy the sudden surge in cool and exciting blockbusters, and maybe it was because I was taking such an enthusiastic interest in movies. I remember us going to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Empire Strikes Back a couple of times. Though I have a distinct memory of my grandparents coming to stay with us for a week, bringing my (step?)uncle with them. He was a couple of years older than me, and the first weekend of their visit I went with him into the city to see Clash of the Titans during its final run. That was cool, but the end of the week, before they went back, we went to see this new film that I knew very little about on its opening weekend - Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I saw a trailer or two on TV, and it just seemed to be a bit of an action movie and it had Harrison Ford in it. As he was so cool in Star Wars, I was happy to go along.

I remember the opening sequence was cool and sucked you straight in really quickly, but the skeleton on the spikes was pretty gruesome... and then poor Satipo met the same fate. Ew... I didn't do well with horror movie stuff as a kid, and by the time we got to the burial chamber sequence through the wall in the Well of Souls I knew I was feeling a little off.

And then there was the finale. Opening the Ark of the Covenant, and the pesky Nazi's horrific fates. You know that moment when you can feel something snap - like you're either going to pass out or throw up? Luckily, I did neither, but it was certainly burned onto my memory for a while.

But like those horror novels that tried to lure you in (yes, I'm talking to you Stephen King's IT - getting me hooked on reading every Stephen King novel) there was something that fascinated me. And talking of novels, I bought the novelisation of the movie (with a red foil cover, which I still have somewhere - they brought it out with multiple different colour covers for some reason).

I didn't go back to the cinema to see it, but Raiders was one of the first movies that came out straight to retail on VHS at a sensible price. £19.99 if I remember correctly? And after we'd gained a VHS player, I was becoming more desensitised to the horror a little. Still freaked me out a bit, but I could watch it, and paid up the cash for my own copy on VHS. And I watched the whole movie A LOT. So damn cool.

The first thing on the VHS of Raiders of the Lost Ark was a trailer with a little red line on the map, just like in Raiders, saying that they were filming across the globe to work on the next instalment in the Indiana Jones saga - Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom.

To be honest, while Raiders had a massive impact on me, I love Temple of Doom more. I remember choosing the scene in the trapped room in Pankot Palace from the novelisation of Temple of Doom as my verbal English exam piece - you had to read a passage out to the class to prove you could read and give it comprehension and emphasis.

Temple of Doom was definitely my favourite, and when it came out on VHS it was a horrifically expensive price for Rental only. I talked to my local video store and agreed to pay them in instalments until I finally paid the £80 for a copy of Temple of Doom the moment it came out. I still have that somewhere too.

Of course, when the RPG came out for Indiana Jones I was in my element. I wrote a whole bit about it a while ago when I dug out my battered copy for a nostalgic read.

And then, in an act of weird synchronicity, I ended up working for the archaeology department of our county council. Absolutely nothing like Indiana Jones, but there was a moment after a dig when I got to see where they filed all of the bits of broken pottery and bone that I'd spent weeks drawing and recording. It was just like the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. A massive warehouse where everything was tagged, numbered, filed and then stored in boxes.

Let's face it, most of the stuff we ended up digging up wasn't anything too exciting, and certainly didn't "belong in a museum" like Indy said...

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 2)


Continuing my list of the twenty movies that had the biggest impact on me. Chronologically, we come to the movie that has probably had the biggest impact on me out of all of the movies on the list. As I mentioned before, going to the cinema was rare as a kid to begin with. My dad didn't like driving into the city to go to the nearest cinema, but after seeing The Man With The Golden Gun I do have a memory of going to see The Spy Who Loved Me, and The Rescuers. But it was the next big movie that completely changed my life.

Star Wars.

And it was just "Star Wars" when I went. 

My earliest memory of Star Wars is thanks to my dad. It didn't happen often in his line of work, he worked as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital, but there were a couple of instances where he went away for training or something. I was too young to really know what he did, but in 1977 he went off for a week for work somewhere, and when he returned he brought back gifts for my mum and me. He gave me two action figures from a film that the toy store clerk said would be big, called Star Wars. We'd not heard of it, but I was thrilled to receive these figures - Chewbacca and R2-D2. The original UK production run from Palitoy, with the illustrations of that first wave of figures on the back.

My parents had a great sense of value of things, and while I was encouraged to take the toys out of the blister packaging to play with (after all, that's what toys are for), my mum suggested cutting the top of the blister carefully with a knife so that the figure could slide out, and I could put it back when I'd finished. Brilliant.

Then there was the feature in 2000AD in one of their summer specials with some stills from the movie, but it wasn't until my local newsagents stocked the Star Wars Special Edition Marvel comic, in its oversized format, that I really knew what was going on. I have fond memories of laying on the floor in the living room absolutely devouring the comic, mentally shutting out the outside world until I'd finished it (though it was only the first half of the movie, and left it all on a horrible cliffhanger!)

Up north, the nearest cinema that was showing Star Wars when it was released was the Dorchester in Hull. It had been closed for years, but reopened just to show Star Wars. And that was all it screened. Three times a day, every day, for over a year.

It had one screen. A huge screen, with a balcony seating area. But you had to book weeks and weeks in advance. I remember my dad asked his brother in law to get us some tickets as we rarely went into Hull. The earliest we could get was about three months away, but the day came and as a family my mum, dad and I went to the cinema one afternoon and witnessed the movie that would change my life. Part of me is convinced I skipped a day of school especially for it, but I can't be sure.

My mum was in a wheelchair, so we sat right near the back on the ground floor. The balcony almost obscured the top of the screen, but not quite. However, when the first crawl had finished, and the Tantive IV entered the frame, followed by the Star Destroyer, my mother nearly shot out of her chair, convinced they'd come from the balcony above us.

From that moment on, I was obsessed. I went to see it again with my sister and brother-in-law a few months later, and collected the figures, and read the novelisation and the comic over and over again.

(L to R) Me, my Dad, and Tom in 1978
I have particularly fond memories of our town carnival in 1978. My obsession with Star Wars continued, and my dad was just as enthusiastic. He loved dressing up every carnival and joining in the parade, and we quickly decided we'd dress up as characters from Star Wars. My dad loved Darth Vader, and we searched everywhere to get a Vader helmet, but it was both incredibly hard to find and also well out of our price range. We couldn't afford the £50 for a helmet back in the late 70s. So we ad-libbed.

The photo shows me in my Luke Skywalker outfit (more on that later), dad as Darth Vader, and my best friend at the time, Tom, dressed as Han Solo.

Dad's outfit was basically black clothes, a cape which he already had, and my lightsaber (though we couldn't afford a licensed one, my parents kindly bought me what was sold as a "Force Beam"). The helmet was a work of genius though. A black balaclava with a black bucket with the front cut out stitched onto the top. We'd found some black plastic grilling, and cut a rectangle of it (which we added buttons to) to make the chest controls, and cut a triangle of the grill and stitched it to the front of the balaclava. Then my dad put on his glasses, and clipped on some sunglasses, and bingo!

I think we even did the shiny shoulder piece with a bin bag.

Mum made my outfit, and we borrowed the white wellies from a friend of the family who worked at a fish processing factory.

Luke. Always the coolest.
I don't think we won the fancy dress competition, but it didn't matter. We had fun, my dad was the coolest with his Darth Vader outfit, and I got to be Luke Skywalker. While everyone I knew thought Han Solo was the coolest character in Star Wars, I just wanted to be Luke.

Luke was the best as far as I was concerned. He was from the middle of nowhere, learned he had super-powers, and went off to save the galaxy.

My obsession with Star Wars never really faded. When Return of the Jedi came out we had to go even further to go and see it (for some reason our usual cinemas didn't bother with it). And Luke had a cooler black outfit and it inspired me to wear black ever since (except for a brief stint wearing a suit like The Blues Brothers). 

Still love it. 

One of my biggest regrets is selling those Star Wars figures. What a dumbass selling those off... So, so, so very stupid...

Monday, April 27, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 1)

These are strange and troubling times for everybody, and I've been trying to keep motivated and actually do creative stuff, but getting my brain in gear and actually doing it is tricky when your mind is racing with the mild panic and paranoia of the world today.

Just trying to think about writing a roleplaying game when your brain is racing through every worry known, wondering what the point is producing a game or two for a world that's falling apart...

But I've been getting there. The writing is happening (albeit slowly) and I've been finding that doing these little blog posts every day - little flashes back to simpler times when you could go out without being so paranoid you feel like throwing up - have been helping to get my mind in the right place.

Each day I've been doing a post about media that has had a big impact on my life. It kinda started with a look at the music that shaped me, then tabletop roleplaying games, and I moved onto the TV shows that have had an impact. Most recently I've listed the fourteen comics that had the biggest influence on my life.

So I thought I'd keep going. It gets me motivated to start writing when I actually want to sleep for about three months and hope that when I wake it'll all be back to normal. What to do next? I've done TV, roleplaying games, music, and comics. I guess the obvious thing that is missing from the list is movies - I love movies. I have always loved movies, and they've been a constant and huge influence on my life from a very young age.

I was going to do fourteen - like the comics - so it would last two weeks. But movies have been such a major part of my life that I decided to do twenty.

There will be humour, horror, excitement and tears. Hope I don't bore you too much with my memories.



May as well start your movie going life with a big one! Not the first film I saw at the cinema, that would be Snow White from what I was told. I can't remember that at all, I was waaaay too young. I have a really vague memory of going to see The Three Musketeers (1973) - the version with Michael York and Oliver Reed. I must have only been about five or six at the time, but it was fun, and a cool day out with my parents.

But it was the next film that really stuck in my mind and really got me into movies in a big way. That was The Man With The Golden Gun. It was a bit of a weird one, as I have this memory of my parents not telling me where we were going. A trip to the cinema was a bit of a day out for us, as the nearest cinema was a good 45min drive away into the nearest city (and my dad really didn't like driving there much). I got into the car and they didn't tell me anything. We were getting close to the city and I asked where we were going, and I remember my dad saying we were going to see a particular glam rock artist who won't be named here (I didn't like him then, and he's since become a bit of a controversial figure). I was annoyed, upset and disappointed as you can imagine...

Luckily, it was all a ruse to keep me guessing and we were soon going into the old Cecil cinema for my first experience of a James Bond movie. Couldn't have asked for a better introduction, with the cool opening sequence in Saramanga's weird funhouse target range.

The whole thing was just great, especially when you think I must have been about six or seven (it wasn't busy so it must have been after the Christmas it was released, and into the following year). It had car chases, an insane car jump, guns, martial arts, tracking devices, and a face off at the end in that creepy funhouse target range again.

From then I was hooked. My mum was a big fan of Bond, and owned all of the novels (old Pan editions that I still have today), and she encouraged my fandom. We watched the movies when they were on TV, and we made another cinema trip in 1977 to go and see The Spy Who Loved Me. I have a distinct memory of us stopping at the toy shops on the way home from the cinema, my dad almost as enthusiastic as me, to try and get a Corgi Lotus Esprit that turned into a submarine. Of course, the toy shops were sold out, the car being immensely popular. I think my dad ended up buying me/us the Stromberg Jet Ranger helicopter helicopter that fired little missiles.

Anyway, that was the first big movie that shaped my life, making me a Bond fan from a very early age.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Comics That Shaped Me (Part 14)

MORNING GLORIES (2010-2016, hopefully more to come)

Finally, the last comic in my rundown of the fourteen comics that have had the biggest impact on my life we come to the most recent one on my list - Morning Glories.

It's a really odd one that flew under a lot of people's radars, and I always felt was ignored. So much so that back when I wrote for the UK SciFi Channel blog I wrote a big feature on Morning Glories and why it was one of the best comics that you're not reading.

Why was it ignored? I dunno. But it was brilliant.

Morning Glories follows a group of new students at the prestigious prep school, Morning Glory Academy. You quickly realise something is seriously wrong...

The students all have the same birthday. Communication with their families have been completely severed the moment they arrived, and communication to the outside world is not permitted.

The faculty staff are psychotic, threatening to drown the students, drugging them, locking them in the academy basement - but this could all be connected to the strange, spinning artefact in the basement.

The students are just as cryptic. Not exactly super-powered, one is out of phase with reality and haunting the corridors. Others have a talent or quirk that makes them different - one sees all clocks to read one single time, one seems to be psychic, another has a mysterious twin that may have gone missing.

When I first started reading it, there were a lot of comparisons to the TV series LOST, and that is very true - especially when another group of students are introduced towards the end of season 1 (as the first arc is called) known as the Truants. It all gets crazy, just like LOST, with time travel, mysterious secret societies, murder, and Hunger Games style sports day called "Woodrun".

I loved it. Bought all of the issues, and the big hardcover collections when they came out (still hoping for volume 4, Image, if you're reading this?)... then, at Issue 50, it went on hiatus. Summer Vacation was planned to continue the story beyond "season 2", but that was three years ago and we're only just getting hints that there may be some progress on it. I suppose when the writer and co-creator of the comic series hears the call of Marvel saying "come write the Avengers for us" you awesome and weird project about a bizarre school gets shelved for a bit.

I seriously hope it returns. I hope that someone like Netflix realises that it would make an amazing series, and interest in the comic is revived.


Well, that was the last of my posts about comics. I may have to go back and reread Morning Glories when I finish my complete read-through of Tintin that is occupying my bedtime routine at the moment.


I dunno. I have a big writing project that I should get on with, so I may continue these blog posts to get me started in the morning, but it may not be daily. I think it'll be movies next - but choosing just fourteen is going be very, very difficult.

Until then, stay safe.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Comics That Shaped Me (Part 13)

LOCKE & KEY (2008-2013, and more)

Another one I came a little late to, I completely missed the first few issues of Locke & Key when it first launched. Which is ridiculous as the writer was someone we'd known about before. Joe Hill. Probably bored of being called Stephen King's son, Joe Hill had a novel out in 2007 called Heart Shaped Box, and he came to our hometown to do a signing at the bookstore where Debs worked - I remember she created this display in the store of an old suit she'd bought from a charity shop, suspended from the ceiling. It was really creepy. Debs loved the book, and his other works, so it was surprising we completely missed the first few issues.

Those first issues sold out really quickly so we just waited until IDW produced a collection of the first storyline, Welcome to Lovecraft. We bought the cool hardcover, and were blown away by how cool it is. The storytelling is phenomenal, with some amazing art by Gabriel Rodriguez that has you looking over pages again and again to get every little detail.

It's so brilliantly drawn there's one bit that really stands out where the characters are looking for keys in Keyhouse and they pass one hidden on top of a clock (I think it is), then go back and find it... but you could see it in earlier panels, just a little detail that the eagle-eyed would spot.

Anyway, for those who don't know, Locke & Key is about a family (the Lockes) who move back into their old ancestral home (Keyhouse) after the father of the family is brutally murdered. While there, the three kids (Bode, Tyler, and Kinsey) discover the secrets of the house, of their family, and the various keys in the house that each have a unique power.

Unfortunately, Dodge, a mysterious stranger is released from their imprisonment and tries to gather all of the keys for their own evil doings and to finish what had been started a generation before.

It's just brilliant. The characters are great, each with their own hang-ups and flaws, while Bode (the youngest) tackles each key discovery with dangerous joy. The moment when they discover the Head Key, one that literally opens your head so you can remove aspects of your personality, or revisit memories, and Bode is just stood there with his head open thinking it's the coolest thing ever... Amazing.

As the past is revealed and you discover what happened with their father and his group of friends, it just adds a sense of horrible foreboding that it'll all happen again. And the final volume was so tense, it was a really sweaty-palm read.

So tense it was, just the memory of what happens made the final couple of episodes of Netflix's adaptation of Locke & Key even more scary. You knew how bad it was in the comic and kinda couldn't believe they were going to do it on TV...

Brilliant stuff.

The main storyline of Locke & Key finished in 2013, and there are some lovely hardcover collections out there that are a must have for anyone who likes spooky, cool and incredibly imaginative comics. And if you watched the Netflix series and enjoyed it, seriously read the comics.

There have been some short stories published since that tell various tales of Keyhouse in the years before the Locke kids show up, and the most recent one hints at a new continuation. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are working on a new storyline, which leads into a cross-over with the universe of Sandman (another of my favourite comics), joining Lucifer's Key to Hell into the Keyhouse mythology.

I can't wait.

Must admit, I do think it would make an excellent tabletop roleplaying game... (hint hint)

Friday, April 24, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Comics That Shaped Me (Part 12)

THE INVISIBLES (1994-2000)

I was there when the revolution started. I saw the molotov cocktail fly. I saw it start... but I turned away.

That's kinda how it happened really. In the early 90's I picked up everything that Vertigo produced. Grant Morrison is a bit of a legend, and I'd read anything he produced. So when Vertigo announced this new comic by him I picked it up from issue 1. I have this strange memory of the first issue having a weird cover - besides the simple graphic of a hand grenade? Anyway, it was weird. The first issue was strange, and I wasn't sure if I completely got it... and that was how it continued until about issue 10 when I gave up altogether.

What an idiot.

Once again, it was the staff at my lovely friendly local comic shop (Abstract Sprocket) that made me look again. Volume 2 was just starting, and the manager said that I really should give The Invisibles another go - it was about conspiracy theories, alternate dimensions, and freeing your mind.

So, I went back to it. I picked up the trades for the first few volumes, and tried again.

I think the problem was that The Invisibles is meant to be read in big chunks - if not, all in one sitting. I read somewhere that The Invisibles is a spell. A magic spell, and the ritual of casting this spell is to read it in one sitting. It'll open your mind.

The story of Grant Morrison being abducted by aliens and becoming aware of fifth dimensional creatures while writing The Invisibles just adds to the legend.

But The Invisibles is even more mindblowing than that. It has connections to one of my favourite movies of all time. Let's see if you non-Invisibles readers can spot it...

Young guy who's a bit of an anarchist is recruited by a leather clad bald guy. Young dude discovers he is the next messiah, the new Buddha. He joins (and leaves, and joins again) a group of revolutionaries who are trying to bring down an organisation from an alternate dimension who want to enslave humanity and make them conform and docile.

Hmmm. There is a theory that you can cut up panels from The Invisibles and make The Matrix out of them, and The Invisibles were around five years before Neo became "The One". But this is also inspired by Grant Morrison's earlier work on a pair of sequels to the cyber-movie The Lawnmower Man, where a group of teenagers discover that their reality is actually a simulation controlled by extradimensional insect creatures manifesting as men in suits.

Anyway, I digress. The Invisibles completely blew my mind - as it's supposed to do. Especially as the manager of the aforementioned comic shop was already feeding my brain with Robert Anton Wilson and Philip K. Dick, this was just fuel for the brain. When it got to the Magic Mirror substance recovered from Area 51, and the characters were informed that we were being lied to - there are more than 26 letters of the alphabet, there are in fact 64. When you are aware of those letters, you can see the things in our reality that we couldn't before because our brains couldn't comprehend them without the vocabulary.

Insert that gif of the guy going "Mind Blown" over and over again.

In summary, I loved The Invisibles. Once I got over myself with those first few issues that I probably wasn't prepared for, it became one of my favourites. I've read the whole thing a number of times - though I really should look into tracking down the second two hardcover collections. The complete hardcover is a bit big to comfortably sit and read.

It's a bizarre and very progressive comic that feels very 90's, but still resonates a bit today.

That said, it's the last in my list from the 90's. Nothing really struck me with as much force comic-wise for many years to come, until the final two titles on my list...

Thursday, April 23, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Comics That Shaped Me (Part 11)


I guess the whole of this entry could really be the 90's indie comic revolution, but out of the many titles that emerged from this era I've decided to focus on Scud: The Disposable Assassin. One of those weird little comics that came out that really appealed to me. It was a simple black and white comic about a world where you could hire an assassin robot from a vending machine, have it go off and do what you needed to do, and when the target was eliminated the robot would self-destruct.

Scud realises that if he takes out the strange creature that is his target, Jeff, then he'll explode. So he decides that if he just wounds him - a lot - and leaves him on life support, he can keep existing. The only trouble is, those hospital bills for keeping Jeff in a coma are mounting up and Scud takes on extra assassination jobs to pay for the fees.

The writer/artist, Rob Schrab, worked with Dan Harmon (who wrote the Scud spin off about the robot mafia, La Costa Nostroid) and Schrab would go off to Hollywood and end up working on series like Community (with series creator Harmon) and the huge Rick and Morty (again, with Harmon and their friend Justin Roiland). [Sidenote, Scud is the inspiration for Mr Meeseeks from R&M)

Scud was one of those things were the cool art, the simplicity of the style, and the ease of production was an encouragement to try to produce something like this myself. Especially as there was a video game, and talk of a movie produced by Oliver Stone. Heck, if Scud can become huge, I gotta try!

Another great comic that really inspired me along the same lines was Mister Blank, by Christopher J Hicks. A story of an everyman who discovers a terrorist plot to destroy his workplace. Super simple art, really stylised, and really cool. Well worth looking at the complete collection. The Exhaustive Edition collects all 14-15 issues of it in one volume.

It was a slippery slope to reading loads of black and white indies as inspiration. Lead me to British titles like Strangehaven, Sleaze Castle, Strange Weather Lately, Kane, and more. All created by awesome and incredibly friendly indie folk who were really helpful when I started working towards doing one of my own.

Typically, by the time I got onto the scene (just as 2000 was hitting) the indie scene was in a minor decline. I'd missed the boat. But that's another story...

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Comics That Shaped Me (Part 10)

HELLBOY (1994-)

You'll remember I mentioned that the manager of the awesome local comic shop (Abstract Sprocket) was great at recommending new comics to me that would quickly become favourites? Well, here's another one of those great recommendations. I was a huge fan of Bram Stoker's Dracula movie when it came out, and there was a comics adaptation of it that was in such a unique and brilliant style, it was etched onto my memory.

Of course, that comics adaptation (that has recently been rereleased) was by Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy. I remember having issue 1 of Hellboy: Seed of Destruction waved at me at the comic shop saying "You'll like this! It's also got a talking monkey in it." (Referring to the rather excellent support strip at the back of the issue featuring Art Adams' Monkeyman & O'Brien).

You probably know the basic story of Hellboy from the awesome Guillermo del Toro movie with Ron Perlman - Hellboy is a demon summoned during the last days of WWII by Nazi occultists. When he arrives, he is just a baby and is taken in by the US military and raised by Professor Bruttenholm as the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense is being formed (the BPRD).

As an adult, working for the BPRD alongside other persons of unique abilities, Hellboy basically goes around with his big, stone hand and punches evil supernatural creatures back to the hellscapes they came from. It's great, funny, action-packed, pulp adventure.

But that artwork. Man, that artwork is amazing. Such a unique and vivid style, with amazing high-contrast shadows. It's just something else. Absolutely love it.

We faithfully bought all the individual issues, and then when Dark Horse produced the Hellboy Library editions, we bought them all again collected in gorgeous clothbound hardcovers. Ooooh yes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Comics That Shaped Me (Part 9)

THE CROW (1989)

I've put 1989 as the date here, but chronologically I didn't discover The Crow until 1993. I missed all of the Caliber Comics versions, and the Tundra reprints, and like most readers I first read The Crow with the Kitchen Sink Press graphic novel that came out in '93. I remember I was at my local comic shop (Abstract Sprocket) and the awesome manager was great at recommending things to me that he thought I may like - Sin City was one, and The Crow as definitely the next (and not the last).

I don't know what it was about it. Maybe it was a combination of the story behind it, James O'Barr - the writer and artist was inspired by the grief and anger he felt after the death of his girlfriend at the hands of a drunk-driver. The sheer anger and emotion that was poured into every page of the comic is seriously hard-hitting and moving.

Combine that with the extremely goth artwork, with black and white art throughout. It was a similar style to the comics I was producing, and had that angry drive behind it that reminded me of my own angsty annoyance at the world.

It was inspiring, moving and quite a revelation in its simplicity. It was an indie comic that suddenly became huge. There was talk of a movie coming soon, too. Heck, if a cool goth indie comic can get turned into a movie, maybe I could do the same?

I read The Crow in one emotional sitting, and read it multiple times afterwards. So taken by it, we bought the limited edition of the graphic novel - a hardcover in a slipcase, signed by J. O'Barr, complete with a CD by John Bergin (O'Barr's collaborator) and his band Trust Obey. Fear and Bullets is a seriously doom-laden stream of extremely dark goth - mostly shouting in-character as Eric Draven (The Crow) over heavy drum-machines and guitars. Nothing like walking in to work with it on your headphones, shouting along "I am fear, I am complete and total madness, You're all going to die!"

You get some funny looks...

And then came the movie. The horrible accident on set that took the amazing lead actor, Brandon Lee, shrouded an already emotional story with another layer of sadness. Brandon Lee was brilliant in his other movies (I loved Showdown in Little Tokyo) and was absolutely perfect as Eric Draven. A brilliant and faithful adaptation of the graphic novel. It's one of those movies we watch every year, usually on Devil's Night.

If you haven't already read The Crow, do hunt it down. May inspire you to put ink on paper to vent your frustrations.

Monday, April 20, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Comics That Shaped Me (Part 8)

SIN CITY (1991-2000)

Frank Miller's extreme noir was a bit of a departure from my normal comics, and I came to it a little late - I completely missed the original Sin City before the trade paperback collection came out. But when I did finally check it out, I was blown away. It was super minimal in its art, with pure black and white - with sometimes a hint of a single colour if necessary.

The first volume was a tale of a very heavy handed thug called Marv, who goes on a violent spree to track down the killer of his "girlfriend" Goldie. He whittles his way through various criminal lowlifes before finally uncovering a serial killer. It was cool, but when the second storyline started, A Dame To Kill For, I was particularly taken by the way it weaved into the timeline of the original story.

A Dame to Kill For is a typical tale of a beautiful woman tricking a gullible guy into killing her allegedly abusive husband, and the guy finding out he was fooled and looking for justice.

By the time the third storyline, The Big Fat Kill, started I was in my second year of my university degree specialising in animation and storyboarding. I decided to increase the weighting of the theory on my grade, and increased the size of my dissertation opting to compare comics narrative language - how the reader interprets the story progression from panel to panel, and comprehends what's going on by framing - with film language. I picked Sin City as the comic I'd look at as it is particularly filmic, and compared it to 1940's film noir - focusing on Double Indemnity. Double Indemnity is an excellent movie, about a beautiful woman tricking a gullible guy into killer her allegedly abusive husband... you know the rest.

If only I'd gone to university about ten years later I could have incorporated the Sin City movie into my dissertation.

Anyway, I loved the style, and the really cool art. Sin City opened my eyes to some of the cooler black and white comics that would come to heavily influence my own art for years to come.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Comics That Shaped Me (Part 7)


I mentioned last blog post that a lot of the early 90's comic reading for me was dominated by DC/Vertigo and the range of cool, yet darker, comic series. Hellblazer, Kid Eternity, Doom Patrol, Enigma, etc. But just after Sandman started, another really experimental comic came along that had me even more hooked, and remains my favourite series of all time - Shade: The Changing Man.

With the early covers by Brendan McCarthy (yes, the Brendan McCarthy that brought Mad Max: Fury Road to life), the title really stood out on the shelves as being something a little weird. After all, the "New McCarthyism" as he was credited sometimes was certainly not your average comic cover design. (see left)

The insides were even weirder in places, but the story reflected that. I'd never read any of the first incarnation of Shade from 70's, so this was my first experience of Rac Shade - a poet from another world who leaves his body behind on Meta to inhabit the body of Troy Grenzer - a serial killer about to be executed.

Shade teams up with Kathy, whose parents were killed by Grenzer, and Lenny, and they travel the US in a weird roadtrip to battle the madness that is infecting the land.

It's nuts. Whole sections are within "the Madness" and you could spend days trying to see all the detail within those pages. Not only was Peter Milligan's storylines bonkers and brilliant, but the art...

Oh the art...

One of my favourite artists, Chris Bachalo, who I'd first seen in an issue of Sandman, brought the madness to life in some of the coolest artwork I've seen.

Bachalo's style was simply amazing, and iconic with the cross hatching on the character's noses. I loved it. I still love Bachalo's art, and have followed it through his career into Marvel's Generation X, X-Men and Doctor Strange. It's awesome.

Over the years, Shade died about four times, inhabited different bodies, and different cool coats. It got really weird and surreal, but I loved every minute of it. 

Ultimately, it came to an end, and I was really excited recently when Gerard Way announced his DC imprint (Young Animal) would see a new series called Shade: The Changing Girl. It was good, but compared to Way's awesome revival of Doom Patrol it just wasn't as weird, or gripping as I'd hoped. The new Doom Patrol did it so much better. Oh well...

My dream would be for Noah Hawley, who did the awesome TV series Legion, would decide to make Shade into a TV series, inspired by Peter Milligan's run. Oh, we can hope...

Saturday, April 18, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Comics That Shaped Me (Part 6)

SANDMAN (1989-1996)

If I tried to cover everything that is in the mind-blowing Sandman comic that was published by DC/Vertigo from 1989-96, I would be here for months. Sandman was a bit of a revelation. A character I hadn't heard of before, with cool Dave McKean covers, and a lead character that was the ultimate goth - I thought I should check it out. I think the first issue I picked up in the comic store was issue five or six, but luckily I was on board early enough that I could get the first missing issues before they went up in value to crazy money.

Sandman wasn't a superhero comic as I was expecting. It was about The Endless - godlike entities that govern the universe. Destiny, Destruction, Death, Desire, Delight (who became Delirium), Despair, and the title character of the comic, Dream. Dream, or Morpheus, starts the series mistakenly captured by occultists hoping to capture Death, wishing immortality, but they imprison Dream for seventy years. They take away his objects of power, and when he finally escapes he enacts vengeance on his captors, needs to reclaim his objects, and restore order to his realm, The Dreaming.

Some dreams have escaped into the waking world, and the story of Dream's hopes to fix everything that has happened while he's been imprisoned takes him on a journey of self discovery and his ultimate fate. It's epic. I mean, seriously epic. Tales that span millennia, incorporating award winning Shakespearian storylines, and starting the rationalisation of the "dark DC Universe". Talk about a massive undertaking. Add to this, it was still part of DC continuity, and included appearances from John Constantine, the Martian Manhunter, and even Batman and Green Lantern - but Sandman, along with Books of Magic, helped define the universe.

Neil Gaiman's writing is emotional, clever, and so brilliantly researched - not just in the comics he was unifying, but in myth, literature and storytelling, that I often felt that I only skim the surface of the references and meaning within those pages.

Seventy Five issues later it came to an emotional end, but it wasn't the last we'd see of Morpheus. Sandman: Overture is one of the most gorgeous comics you'll see. The legacy of Sandman still continues today, with The Sandman Universe comics and the return of the spin off comics The Dreaming, The Books of Magic and Lucifer - yes, that Lucifer that became the TV series you all love...

I'm excited to see what Netflix do with the forthcoming Sandman series...

Back in the early 90's, just about everything I read came from DC's Vertigo imprint. And thanks to that, comes tomorrow's comic...

Friday, April 17, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Comics That Shaped Me (Part 5)


While I loved The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, there was a graphic novel (technically a trade paperback collection of a comic series if you want to get pedantic) that really leapt out at me and absolutely blew me away. Elektra: Assassin. Written by Frank Miller of Dark Knight fame, the story was cool and a weird tale of SHIELD, Elektra and an assassination attempt on a President that is harbouring a creature known as The Beast. But the artwork by legendary Bill Sienkiewicz was something I'd never seen before - painted, experimental, and simply amazing.

I was so blown away by the art I hunted down the rest of Bill Sienkiewicz's work, which lead me to buying the awesome sketchbook of his art, and his amazing series Stray Toasters. Thinking about Stray Toasters now, I honestly don't know if I ever actually understood what was going on in the series. It seemed to be about a psychologist trying to track down some weird serial killer.

This was just as I was creating comics with Pete for the Swampland publications - heck we even advertised in Deadline! But everything I was inspired by was the sort of comics I'd been reading up until then. But Stray Toasters was the comics equivalent of watching a David Lynch movie, or a Peter Greenaway movie, for the first time when everything you'd seen before was Hallmark Channel made-for-TV movies. It was radical, free and so completely different - it was so experimental playing with the art styles, the typefaces of the text boxes, the format, the... well, everything.

So cool. It inspired me to free up my style a lot, and try doing things a little differently.

I really should dig out Stray Toasters and have another read after all these years.

Stray Toasters opened my eyes to other more experimental comics like Ted McKeever's Metropol, and Dave McKean's Violent Cases and Black Orchid. Which lead me to pick up something for its cover alone...

Thursday, April 16, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Comics That Shaped Me (Part 4)


Okay, I have a confession. I'd given up on comics. Early 80's, I started playing D&D and the other RPGs with the group and didn't really have time for comics any more. My standing order for 2000AD was cancelled, and I was just really gaming. I drew comics, and I bought a load of MAD Magazine which was seriously influencing my drawing style. I wasn't drawing anything huge or majorly serious, it was just a stupid three panel comic of our adventures in the Star Frontiers game we were playing, with the characters looking more like us as players.

A lot of it was heavily influenced by the glorious comic strip that used to appear in White Dwarf called The Travellers (do a search for it, it's amazing and was a comedy parody of Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, and more...)

My art wasn't great, though there was a time when I nearly got it printed in the Hull Daily Mail - though I don't think they understood it and suggested I submitted something different.

And then the group slowed down with the gaming as half of them vanished off to university and I concentrated on writing RPG stuff for Ghostbusters hoping to break into the games industry. But it was during this time that John, our GM for Call of Cthulhu and Dr Who, said that comics were suddenly getting dark and cool again. I really should check out the Batman comic - The Dark Knight Returns.

I used to read Batman way back in my childhood, but everything I read was in those Superman & Batman annuals from the mid 70's, so it was all heavily influenced by the 60's TV show or really old classic strips. But John insisted that I give it a go, and showed me the four issues he'd bought of Dark Knight Returns.

This was suddenly cool. Batman was old, far too old to be leaping around in a costume. Superman hadn't aged as much but he was more like some unearthly god. There were hints that something bad had happened to Robin, and a new character (Carrie Kelley) had taken up the suit much to the grumbling and grumpy Bruce Wayne's complaints.

The Joker wasn't just some stupid clown any more, he was genuinely scary.

It was awesome.

Of course it wasn't very long afterwards that John said, "If you liked that, you'll love Watchmen"...

And Watchmen was amazing too.

Which lead me to checking out all sorts of cool graphic novels and comic collections featuring art and styles I'd never seen before.

Every week my parents used to drive up the coast to Bridlington to do the weekly grocery shopping. I wasn't working at the time, this was before I started working in Nature Conservation and Archaeology, so I used to go along and check out the records in Woolworths, and go up along the Promenade to a little newsagents that used to have a couple of boxes of new graphic novels for sale.

It was here that I bought my own copies of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. I also bought volumes of American Flagg! because I remembered Howard Chaykin's art from the Star Wars adaptation, the amazing Love and Rockets collections after Pete recommended I checked out Jaime Hernandez's style - god, I love that artwork. And the visually stunning and brilliant Elektra: Assassin which will lead me nicely into tomorrow's post...

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Comics That Shaped Me (Part 3)

STAR WARS (1977-)

Just as I was really into 2000AD and reading those hints of a new movie coming out called Star Wars, my dad went off on this trip for work for a weekend (some sort of training thing) and when he came back he bought me my first Star Wars figures. The original Palitoy (as they were in the UK) figures of Chewbacca and R2-D2. I remember seeing something about them in 2000AD, but I didn't really have a clue who was who, and what was going on, but I loved those figures.

Shortly after that, Marvel UK brought out the first half of the comic adaptation of the movie - Roy Thomas scripted, with art by Howard Chaykin. It was huge too. Oversized, and full of glorious action. I remember poring over it, every page, over and over again - but not knowing how it ended.

It felt like months and month before the second half came out. It was probably only a month, but finally I could find out how Star Wars finished. This was long before we got to see the movie at the cinema. If my memory serves me well, I think we saw it over the school holidays early '78. It must have been Easter or even the Summer holidays as it came out December '77 and I remember we couldn't get tickets to see it for at least three months.

Anyway, comics...

I also got, and still have somewhere, the first Star Wars Annual. Not sure when this one came out either, but 90% of the annual was a reprint of that comics adaptation of the movie. I remember the first few pages, and the last few were in black and white (for some reason), and (being my childish self back then - see the post about Super Spider-Man a few posts ago) I had this thing about colouring things in with felt tip pens... so stupid.

Though not as stupid as the me who said "Hey, why don't I sell my collection of Star Wars figures? I've only got the first 48 with their original backing boards, and I don't think I need them any more..."

So, bloomin' stupid...

But those adaptations of movies were really my thing. I still have the Raiders of the Lost Ark annual with the adaptation filling most of the pages.

And somewhere I still have the Blade Runner annual. Strangely, an annual - which you normally associate with being a thing for kids - for a movie that was definitely not a kid's film...

Very weird choice for an annual.

I didn't really continue reading the comics for Star Wars when it came out as issues. I remember getting the first couple of issues because they came with little card spaceships - sheets of preprinted punched card that made an X-Wing with issue 1, and a TIE Fighter with issue 2. But when they continued beyond the movie I didn't really keep going. I'm not sure if I was just being a purist - it's not the movies so it's not official... Weird, but I never had that feeling reading Splinter of the Mind's Eye, which is so completely wrong you wouldn't believe!

I had the odd single issue here and there, and got the adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Strangely they were printed in small paperback novel sized editions when I got them.

I picked up the odd comic here and there over the many years since when it came to Star Wars - especially the Last Command series (as I loved the artwork) and Tag & Bink (just because it was funny). When Marvel started doing Star Wars comics again recently, after the Expanded Universe was reset with Episode VII, I thought I'd give them a go, and loved them. They were great, but as always happens with these comics - when they get successful the publishers bring more and more out to cash in on the success and there's too much for me get, especially financially. So I kinda gave up after a couple of years. I don't think I've got around to reading half of the issues I bought. Maybe that's something I should be doing now we're stuck at home...

Anyway, I talked about the old Star Wars comics, and the new one when issue 1 came out, on a video I shot ages ago. Means you get to see inside the comics I've talked about here. The older stuff is about half way through the video...