WALKING WITH SATANUS – I finally meet Dinosaurs in the Flesh

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Great expectations, but will the show have any teeth?

We went to see Walking With Dinosaurs at the 02 a couple of nights ago and I was thrilled by the animation.  Absolutely superb!  But I was so disappointed by the weak script. The dinosaurs were fantastic, truly enthralling, brilliantly constructed, and we loved them as much as any kids there.  But the paleontologist’s explanatory storyline left much to be desired.  The actor did his best, but it was a tough gig. It had that infotainment BBC quality that reminded me of articles in Look and Learn and Eagle.  That awful educational quality that teachers and A-stream kids revel in, but bores the pants off the rest of us.   Especially the kind of teachers who hate comics and want to bring back Eagle. They’re still out there, you know, with a subscription-only magazine called Aquila which specifically trashed comics in their advert in The Lady.  (The Lady?! Well, they wouldn’t want readers whose parents read The Sun, would they?) Their nice middle-class readers, of course, would know it was the Latin for Eagle.

So the WWD script wasted precious time by including great chunks of Wikipedia-style exposition about the break up of the continents and the origins of flowers.  Does anyone really trek out to the O2 to Look and Learn about cross-pollination?!   We want more predators!  More fights! More kills!  And we want to see all the earthy, dirty, bloody, disgusting things dinosaurs do, because that’s what makes them real, not lectures on the Triassic.  The time and elaborate SFX spent on enormous, unconvincing plastic flowers inflating around the stage could have been more usefully spent on building another dinosaur or creating a scene where they do actually bash each other up, not circle around endlessly and impotently growling.  The script reminded me of the last time I was at the O2 – when it was still the millennium dome – and I was bored senseless by hard core edutainment, so dreary I have erased the details from my mind.  All I can recall was Blair was responsible.  The public gave that a resounding thumbs down, but the kind of people who hate popular culture will always ignore the masses. They know so much better.   So here they are again on dinosaurs – who happily deliver at the box office, no matter what – peddling a recycled educational message which felt like it was from the 1950s Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia.

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Sanitised shit.

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Walking With Flowers

I watched the kids around us who were truly mesmerized as each monster thundered onto the stage, then I saw them zone out and concentrate on their popcorn as the Blue Peter script rambled on about tectonic plates, before their attention was quickened once more by an impressive pile of dinosaur shit. At last, I thought, we’re going to have something a little grittier.   But, no, even the shit was given an antiseptic treatment with meaningless facts about dung beetles that led the storyline nowhere.  Where were the remains of plants, or other animals, that not only tell a story about the dinosaur, but also provide glorious opportunities for grossing-out the punters? Alas, the show had no nasty facts.  No gory facts. No gore. Not even circus-style hi-jinks, like a raptor or two jumping off the stage to attack the audience.  Far too frivolous and irresponsible and possibly  against health and safety.  Its nannying restraint reminded me of when I ran Flesh in 2000AD and I wrote a scene where styracosaurs are picked up and slaughtered by the fleshdozers.  The board of directors were genuinely concerned about featuring cruelty to dinosaurs, and – I assume – the bad example we were giving kids.  FFS!

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A feeding ‘frenzy’. My hopes for a tug-of-war over a severed limb or two were sadly dashed.

WWD also had no cutting edge research on dinosaurs, and  no humility, no questioning  to  pique our sense of wonder, no “we don’t have all the answers”, “this is just a theory”, or “we have no idea why”, despite there being so many unanswered questions about them and the constant revisions of dino facts every few decades.   And although the T Rex blew me away, it reminded me of the nagging doubts I’ve had ever since the current version debuted in Jurassic Park.   I felt it in the Natural History museum version, too, but here in “reality”, it really bothered me. There’s something about the interpretation that doesn’t look quite right.   I know palaeontologists or students of orthodoxy will protest it is definitive (as it usually is, until it’s revised) but I don’t care; it has to be said.   When I look at contemporary predators, large and small, they have a certain killer quality that is implicit in their physique and in their eyes.  It’s there in the Raptors, which is why they’re so popular; and of course it’s there in the Rex, but only through sheer scale and teeth: something is still missing in the latest reconstruction and it’s more than just the dreary colours it’s presented in. No stripes, like a tiger, or feathers or fur, for instance; that would be far too funky.  An artist friend of mine said he felt there was something wrong, too. He thinks Rex has a “North London” look now.  Cruel, but fair.

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Anatomically correct – for now.

And the ending! Everyone knows the dinosaurs into birds theory.  If we adults know it, you can be sure your average eight year old dinosaur lover has known it since they were five!  But it’s presented here as a wow! twist ending.   Concluding with a screen view of modern birds that was totally unspectacular and of subterranean budget, which is particularly shameful given the high price of admission to the show.   My wife, who is an avid bird lover, was left decidedly unwowed by the poor bird graphics.  I mean, if you will insist on birds as a twist ending, then you’ve got to really work at it.  Find a way to enliven the cliché.  It’s called script-writing.  Don’t just dump it on us at the end with a patronizing “and guess what, kids?” reveal.  But that’s what happens when you’re Walking with Teachers.  Even Arthur Mee could have done better.

So if you feel, like me, that you’re missing out on some scary dino shit, and if you want to see them and other preds in popular culture where they truly belong, in the finest tradition of King Kong, Gwangi et al, then I recommend you check out the latest special monster issue of Comic Heroes. I’ve written an article about some of the finest monster moments in the classic series Flesh, Shako and Hook Jaw.  So it gives you a chance to: Walk with Gorehead – the star of the new Flesh series, returning in 2013. Walk with Satanus, the star of Dredd’s Cursed Earth.   Walk with a savage polar bear who, memorably, was once mistaken for a fluffy white bath towel. And, of course, Swim with Hook Jaw.  Any educational content is not intended and is entirely coincidental.

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BREAKFAST OF THE VANITIES – Brats Bizarre recalled in Comic Heroes

The other night I had an e-mail from an American comic journalist asking me for British fanzine information about Jack Kirby.  I was baffled why he should contact me of all people.  My comic Gods are Tardi, Druillet, Caza, Ledroit, Bilal, Gal and similar European artists, and I know little about the origins of modern day superheroes.  So I gently explained this to him, but he insisted that maybe I could get in touch with my friends who, he was sure, would have the information on Jack Kirby he was after.  Of course I knew they wouldn’t – superheroes are not a subject often discussed in my social circle, unless it’s a negative view of them as in Marshal Law or Brats Bizarre.

Maybe because of this e-mail exchange, or maybe because I’ve been proofreading the deluxe collected edition of Marshal Law (due out next April from DC Comics), but I had the most extraordinary nightmare that night.  In it, a group of superheroes, splendidly cloaked and jazzled, were rushing down to breakfast, running on one leg towards me, in full “Crisis” mode, with mandatory gritted teeth and clenched fists.  Crying out “Aiee!” as they leapt through the air to seize a packet of cornflakes, desperately diving for the fridge to grab the milk, heroically helping themselves to toast, and then hurling themselves at the cooker to scramble eggs.

Mercifully, that’s all I can remember; I woke up with a start and couldn’t understand why I found this dream so disturbing.     Then I realised it was because someone was missing: a cereal killer.  Marshal Law.  He would have shoved those heroes’ heads in toasters, fried their asses and turned this Breakfast of the Vanities into a Bonfire of the Vanities.  Now that would have made for a most satisfying dream.

Okay, it’s easy to criticise, but how would I interpret superheroes if an editor foolishly let me loose on the genre?  Brats Bizarre – which appeared in Toxic!, brilliantly illustrated by Duke Mighten and co-written with Tony Skinner – gives you some idea.  Living in a sentient house run by their dubious butler Bates, they indulged in every imaginable teenage excess.  I’ve written about them in a recent issue of Comic Heroes and the images here show their very different attitude to their superpowers.  More recently, Channel 4’s excellent Misfits did it bigger and better and shows the Young Ones potential in telling it like it is, but I still think Brats has something pertinent – and certainly offensive – to say, to challenge the world of fantasy currently on offer.

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Marvel ran a limited series of Brats Bizarre in Epic Comics

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The new Brats Bizarre line-up.

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Life in the Brats Bizarre mansion, 2001.

THE LAST SUPPER CLUB – Celebrating The End Of The World

Marshal Law artist Kevin O’Neill said to me yesterday, “My Mayan advent calendar is a bit of a downer…today’s window shows Earth as a blasted wasteland.”  I, too, took the Mayan prophecies seriously, so last week my wife Lisa and I went to the Last Supper Club, a pop-up restaurant in East London where we had a fantastic Mayan-style meal to celebrate the forthcoming end of the world.  The pop-up ran for three weeks, with a different theme each week (The Salvation Menu, The Mayan Prophets Feast, The Doom’s Day Diner).  The cocktails were top notch: mine involved tequila, horchata and grated dark chocolate.

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Feast of the Jaguar: grilled market fish

But before dinner, two very friendly young priests had set up a confessional box, where diners could confess their sins before enjoying their last supper and preparing for The End.  Naturally, Lisa and I went to confession and I regaled the priest with the most lurid sin I could recall committing.  I think he was impressed, or possibly depressed, because he wanted to take our photos, perhaps to pass onto the police. But he used the most ancient, massive and funky-looking circa 1980s Polaroid camera I have ever seen which needed five minutes to warm up properly (!) and clearly had a dodgy viewfinder, so the results were thankfully rather ‘off-centre’.

Preparing to take confession.

Preparing to take confession.

Secrets of the confessional

Secrets of the confessional!

The mobile confessional.  All sinners welcome.

The mobile confessional. All sinners welcome.

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Happy after confessing my sins!

But I loved the idea of their mobile confessional. The reverends revealed that they regularly de-sin clients at gigs like the Last Supper Club and festivals.  So do look out for them if you feel the need to confess.  I thoroughly recommend them and confession is a lot cheaper than therapy. Check out some of their pictures at uberschnap.tumbir.com

I explained to the holy fathers that Kevin and I had also come up with the idea of a mobile confessional in our hero-hunting graphic novel series Marshal Law.  The priest would drive through the red light district of San Futuro, California, imploring sinners to “Stop Me and Confess”.  Like they used to do with ice-cream.  I thought it was an excellent religious idea.  A sinner could commit the most unspeakable sins, have them instantly forgiven, and then step outside and do it all over again.

Below are some images from Marshal Law featuring our mobile confessional to put all this in context. You’ll see our priest is also promoting Armageddon, spreading a message of fear to bring the punters back.  And I have to say it works.  I recall meeting a priest at a christening and asking him how work was going?  Like you do.  “Sadly,” he said, with a pious smile, “it takes a disaster like 9/11 to bring people to their senses (or their knees?) and fill the churches once again.”  I’m just no good at faking it, he must have seen the expression on my face, because when he left early to “visit the sick” he deliberately avoided my outstretched hand.

This has probably been a good week for him.

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The collected Marshal Law de luxe edition from DC Comics is available in April 2013.  It comprises all our Law stories, apart from the cross-overs. More news on Marshal Law soon.

 

2000AD TV INTERVIEW

Last month I was interviewed by Jose Barbosa for Media3, a magazine show on New Zealand’s TV3.  I’m only on there for a couple of minutes, but the the feature also includes 2000AD editor Matt Smith and Rich Johnston from bleedingcool.com.

Here’s a link to the show, the 2000AD feature kicks in around 15:00 minutes.

Jose and his cameraman came to my house to do the interview, so my wife snapped a few pics of them setting up.  I was very impressed by the lighting: they ran on battery packs.  I pointed out this marvel of technology to my wife, but she didn’t share my enthusiasm.  Also impressive was Jose’s modus operandi: they drove down to Colchester from London during rush hour, and spent no more than an hour in my house, before zipping off back to the capital, without even a cup of tea or a beer for refreshment. Such professionalism!

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