I Hate Us
Sunday — May 8th, 2011

I Hate Us

Well, with the completion of the online publication of Liggers With Attitude, our long trek through the archive comes to an end. With issue 13 still selling well (for some ungodly reason – obviously Cryptozoology and angry spectral monkeys are a bigger draw than I previously anticipated), it seems a bit daft to stick it all on the internet just yet. Rest assured I am currently working on issues 14-17, all of which will make up HFTF Book 4, and will conclude the story once and for all – no unfinished business if I can help it! Keep checking back for updates, and I’m sure I’ll continue to do one off strips, dopey pictures and confused, ill thought out rants on a variety of subjects. And if you’re new, hello, have a trawl through the archive, as you’re sure to find something to amuse you in there. Even if it’s just the dodgy way I draw hands.

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Top 7: Eurovisionaries

Every year television audiences are subjected to hours of unbearable tedium, tuneless caterwauling, and an enormous waste of money. But that’s enough about The X Factor, let’s talk about The Eurovision Song Contest. The standard line that most (slightly xenophobic) British people trot out is that all the other European nations are incapable of making decent music, take the competition way too seriously, and hate our guts. Well, I would probably agree that they do hate us – but the fact that we never win is likely more to do with the fact that our entries are invariably wank. In 2011 we sent Blue, for fuck’s sake  –  for that we deserve to be kicked out of Europe forever.

So here is my rundown of the best of Eurovision through the ages – Yes, yes, obviously Waterloo by ABBA is brilliant (although not as good as the live version of Does Your Mother Know, replete with guitar solos and “stupid sexy Flanders”), but by “best” I obviously mean “most ridiculous”.

Svetglana Loboda – Be My Valentine (Anti Crisis Girl)

It sounds like Mikki Disco from The Fast Show covering Flight Of The Conchords, but Anti Crisis Girl has a serious message. I can’t be certain, but I think it’s about the Global Recession. Topical in 2009, topical now. It seems this proactive Ukranian has this covered, however, and she’s going to sort out the worldwide economic meltdown, presumably by using her Sexy BOM!

Teräsbetoni – Missä Miehet Ratsastaa

Metal! Battle Metal is not something you would normally expect from the competition that brought you Ding a Dong (Netherlands, 1975) and Diggi-Loo Diggy-Ley (Sweden, 1981), but The Finns clearly love metal as much as they love Moomintroll. It’s probably a good thing Teräsbetoni didn’t win, however, as some trophy or other would have been an insufficient prize for these musical marauders. They probably would have demanded their enemies crushed and driven before them, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

Lena – Satellite

Being cute never hurt anyone. Your average British racist sees The Germans as humourless, cold and officious – or at least angry, intimidatingly stylish, or good with computers. Lena didn’t fit any of these stereotypes  – imagine Amélie, with Björk’s mangled faux cockney accent, singing about her underwear. No wonder it won the competition in 2010 – we all know those Europeans are dirty!

Lordi – Hard Rock Hallelujah

Monster Rock! Finland entered these rubber clad panto rockers in 2006, and they well and truly brought home the demonic bacon. Sadly this didn’t open the floodgates for vast hordes of Euro metal bands to take part in subsequent years ( Teräsbetoni notwithstanding), but we live in hope. Lordi are named after their singer, Mr Lordi, so they must be a sort of monster version of Winger or Bon Jovi. Despite all looking like Citadel Minatures, they have done some pretty decent radio friendly rock anthems over the years. Best of all they have their own movie Dark Floors, an atmospheric Twilight Zone ish affair. Sadly, it doesn’t feature the band all that much, but it does include one of their better tunes Beast Loose In Paradise.

The Ark – The Worrying Kind

Glam! Sweden’s 2007 entry didn’t win (boo) but they’re still ace. The Worrying Kind is suspiciously similar to Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes by Edison Lighthouse, has definite shades of The Sweet’s Blockbuster, and quotes Bowie’s Quicksand, so what’s not to like? They’ve also toured with The Darkness, which should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone.

Ruffus – Eighties Coming Back

80s! Songs about international brotherhood and understanding took a back seat to this baffling entry from Estonia in 2003. Less a boyband, more a bunch of dudes who have taken way too long to put together their GCSE music coursework. It’s hard to tell whether Ruffus (original name: Claire’s Birthday) consider the fact that the Eighties are Coming back a good thing or a bad thing- It’s fairly upbeat but the singer apparently “wakes up in the middle of the night in terror”, maintains that “it makes you wanna cry” and yells out “I can’t stand it”! Also, those deep synthesiser sounds really freak you out.

LT United – We Are The Winners

Confidence! Crazed electric violin solo! Idiot dancing! Shouting into a bullhorn! Five blokes that look like second division Football managers! What more could you possibly want?

LT United were Lithuania’s entry in 2006, and should definitely put paid to the old chestnut that all the non UK entries take things way too seriously. The group was made up of musicians and television personalities, all well known in their home nation, and the official video featured clips of each of them- brilliantly out ofcontext for the rest of us. Their stated aim is “to represent the truth”, but this mostly consists of repeatedly telling us “We Are The Winners. Of Eurovision”, and suggesting that we “vote”.

Sadly, the truth is that they didn’t win (2006 was a strong year, at least for crazy gimmicks), but they did manage the (admittedly easy) feat of making Daz Sampson look like a fucking idiot. Who is Daz Sampson you might well ask? He had the UK entry that year, Teenage Life, a sort of embarrassing chummy hip hop number. Daz looked like the kind of guy that would hang out around schools, trying to pick up the hot 25 year old schoolgirls that were onstage with him (unconvincingly lip syncing the Grocer Jack style kiddie chorus). Immediately following We Are The Winners and perhaps realising he had been blown off the stage by our Lithuanian pals, he capped off the performance by  bellowing “Vote for the music!”, as if to say Teenage Life was a serious piece of musical theatre, rather than a dopey joke song.

That year Daz came 19th, with with a total of 25 points. LT United came 6th, with 162 points. In your face, Bus Stop!

Bonus vid- presumably a rehearsal version where they can’t be arsed, yet somehow 98.5% more awesome. Vote!

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May The d4s Be With You

My journey back through the mystical labyrinths of Role Playing Games led me to the most predictable point possible – The Star Wars RPG. We played quite a lot of this as teenagers  and my memory is that the books published by West End Games were always really well produced and entertaining. This game actually created a lot of what was later to become known as The Expanded Universe. Prior to this, we only had those jokey nicknames like Hammerhead, Squidhead and Motorhead (One of these may be falsified). I still love the fact that there was a character whose given name (or the name of his race) was Snaggletooth. Actually maybe it was both: Snaggletooth The Snaggletooth. Who has a snaggle tooth.

Other stuff from that original RPG that was ace:

  • Anyone can fly any ship – this is quite an important distinction from things like the Star Trek game in which you could only do something if you’d spent a couple of years at the Academy taking exams – here, like in the movies you can just just leap into some bucket of bolts, start flipping switches and be doing The Kessel Run in an unspecified amount of time and/or distance
  • One of the starting “character templates” was called “Quixotic Jedi
  • It taught me the meaning of the phrase “In Media Res” – According to the rulebook, all Star Wars movies start in the middle of the action. Except they don’t – only Star Wars (and, later Revenge Of The Sith)  actually do.
  • It was more about heroically doing faintly ridiculous things, rather than collecting gold pieces and +2 Vorpal Swords
I guess if I’m going to run any RPGs, that’s the one, right? I mean I’ve spent the last 36 years filling my head with made up space nonsense, I may as well put it to some use. So, after a quick trip to eBay I bought up a bunch of the more recent (but now over a decade old) Wizards Of The Coast published RPG books. I think the edition I have is officially called “The One with Episode 2 Shit In It”. Since then my internet research has told me that the later “Saga Edition” (aka “The One With Episode 3 Shit In It”) is better, but even that’s been replaced by Edge Of The Empire published by Fantasy Flight. Even though this brings out a primal urge in me to get back on eBay and spend a ton more money, I suspect it doesn’t matter what system you use. With the old West End Games version, after a while you used to have to throw a bucketfull of d6 dice to do anything at all and I don’t recall anyone complaining.
For a scenario I bashed together a bunch of bits of the movies, along with references to some of my favourite stuff from the Expanded Universe (Purely for my own amusement, there is a casino on Nar Shaddaa called The Kopa Khan). I had a out-of-time Jedi that had been frozen in carbonite since The Clone Wars, a starship chase through the aforementioned cityplanet, Trandoshan Bounty Hunters and a sneaky doublecrossing Duro. Everything came to a head on the Moon of Sulon, purely because I liked the old Dark Forces/Jedi Knight games. No “Grave Tuskens” though – that’s the beauty of this shit – you can ignore anything you don’t like. Now, roll for your Midichlorian count…
Seeing as the game was relatively well received (ie. no one fell asleep, set fire to their character sheet or punched me in the face) now I’m continuing a campaign for these characters – luckily, there are a ton of published adventures out there on the web. Next up is Dawn Of Defiance, a ten part adventure, that I’m not sure we’ll get all the way through, but I’m going to have fun redrawing all the characters from it. And also my own. I guess doodling the most obscure characters I could find from the Star Wars Universe wasn’t quite niche enough – I eventually had to start making them up.
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Music To Watch Gnolls By

I ran a Dungeons & Dragons game a while back, after a short role playing hiatus of about twenty five years. It was ok, but I think I may have gone for the wrong tone. At the time I had a real bee in my bonnet about Wolf People‘s amazingly grungy acid folk prog rock and I wanted to get some of that feel – a kind of bleak, Dark Ages Englishness. I probably should have aimed more for that light hearted, colourful D&D world that I used to see in the pages of White Dwarf magazine in the 80s. Turns out there’s a ton of music that fits perfectly. Now, I love creaky, maudlin acoustic ballads about floods, witch hunts and incest, but the brash, unsubtle American version of Fantasyland is seemingly better served by hard rock bands that occasionally dabbled in prog.

 

Here’s a list of Dungeons & Dragons rock – note that On A Storyteller’s Night by Magnum is not included. No matter how much they got Rodney Matthews to do their album covers, I’m still not going to listen to them. Harsh but fair. Now let’s rock (troll)!

 

  • Wishbone Ash, A King Will Come  – or indeed pretty much anything on The Ash’s Argus album. The fact that the cover features some sort of mystical warrior is your first clue
  • It Bites, Calling All The Heroes – 80s prog! I’m fairly sure this was in the charts while I was fully entrenched in playing Lords Of Midnight on the Spectrum – which is why, in my mind it goes “Corleth All The Heroes”
  • Dream Theater, The Killing Hand – it’s basically One For The Vine but with loads of screaming and pinched harmonics
  • Iron Maiden, Moonchild – Surprisingly, England’s greatest metal based export never  really explored straight fantasy themes in their songs. Their stuff seems like it should all be about paladins fighting wights, but they’re mostly based (loosely, it has to be said) on historical or literary sources. Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son was their concept album, and while it’s a bit vague as to its setting,  it has prophets and magic and shit, so I think it counts.
  • Rainbow, Stargazer – Ronnie James Dio regularly fought dragons on stage, so it should come as no surprise that most of his songs were a bit sword and sorceryey. Stargazer is the tale of a wizard who commands a legion of slaves to build a tower from which he can fly to the stars. If he could fly, you’d think he wouldn’t need to waste time with a tower – he could just take off from the ground. As it turns out he can’t fly at all, he just drops to his death. Pretty dopey, but utterly metal.
  • Heart, Dream Of The Archer – saying Heart were influenced by Led Zeppelin is a bit like saying that Star Wars is a western in space. They loved that semi acoustic semi mystical shit. I can’t be certain, but I have an inkling this song is about Hank The Ranger
  • Rush, The Necromancer – Many of Rush’s song titles sound like they could actually be Dungeons & Dragons modules – The Fountain Of Lamneth, By-Tor & The Snow Dog, A Farewell To Kings and so forth. The Necromancer sounds like the actual text of one – “Stealthily attacking/ By-Tor slays his foe/ The men are free to run now/ From labyrinths below” – gain 300 XP
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One Life, Furnished In Early Gygax

In an effort to be absolutely as predictable as possible, I’ve decided to get back into role playing games.

As a teenager, I roleplayed a fair amount, with a number of different game systems. We would generally go for games based around licensed properties, so we went for Star Wars, Star Trek, Stormbringer ( based on Michael Moorcock’s Elric books), Judge Dredd, and on one memorable occasion, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I guess the main one was Middle Earth Role Playing – I was well and truly on Team Tolkien, and wanted to recreate that world, but I think those rulebooks and supplements (and subsequently, my adventures) were a little dry. Presumably, the designers thought the huge tapestry of world building that J to the R to the R to the T created shouldn’t be besmirched by things like humour, fun, or a teenage boy’s preoccupation with half naked elfmaidens.

There was, however, no such reticence from the creators of the uber RPG, Dungeons & Dragons (or Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, if you were doing it right). Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson claimed that Tolkien wasn’t an influence, favouring Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance and Michael Moorcock, although they filched orcs, hobbits and just about everything else from the book.

Although intended to give generic fantasy based rules for the players to pick and choose elements to create their own world (for example, you didn’t necessarily have to include Hippogriffs, Gelatinous Cubes and Type VI Demons in the same adventure), D&D came to be represented by a rather specific setting.

This was due in some part to the art created around the game, by illustrators such as Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley. If Peter Jackson’s Rings movies were a little too clean and styled for you, check out some of the early D&D art – everything looks like a particularly inauthentic Renaissance Fayre, or the cover of Heart’s Little Queen album. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – every fantasy world needs its own feel and I guess they made a conscious decision to be fairly light, rather than dark and gritty. It’s very 80s and very American, unsurprisingly.

Talking of Heart, Dungeons & Dragons, whether it’s Greyhawk, Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms, reminds me of when the Americans try to do Progressive Rock – it’s not quite as twiddly or whimsical (or serious) as the likes of Yes and Genesis. It tends to be a bit more straightforward, rockin’ and… well, fun. Maybe that’s where I was going wrong with my Middle Earth campaign. All those lengthy tables of statistics on herbs in the Greater Rhovanion region, and the fact that you couldn’t play a wizard because it might upset the balance of Tolkien’s set in stone history (even though all the game supplements were set two thousand years before LOTR)… it doesn’t amount to much if you can’t kick a goblin in the bollocks and swing out of a Tavern window, whilst cheekily exposing yourself to a sexy cleric.

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Wilson & Me

If you ever lay asleep at night wondered what comics I would take with me to a desert island, if that were at all a concern or possibility, then worry no more. Your prayers have been answered in this handy article I wrote for the Forbidden Planet Blog. Seeing as all I needed to do was write a few words about some comics I liked, it took me an unfeasibly long time to narrow it down, so I hope you appreciate it. Corrections, arguments, rebuttals and queries can be sent through the normal channels. NOTE: This blog originally contained a less than complimentary reference to Jim Aparo, but I cut it out as it was too mean and, like, who am I to talk, right?

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The Present Is Good…

Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Winter Solstice, Pancha Ganapati, Festivus and Life Day. Zardoz is pleased.

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Man I Feel Like Some Christmas

I’m not going to tell you that The Santa Clause 2 is a classic. I’m not even going to tell you it’s a good movie. But it’s a damn sight better than you probably think it is (ie. shit). It’s an eight years later sequel to the 1994 Disney original, in which Tim Allen accidentally kills Father Christmas (great start to a kids’ film), then gradually bloats and beards up as he finds he has to don the red coat and replace the big guy, with the assistance of his young son and an irascible Jewish elf called Bernard. You can choose to view it as one man’s descent into insanity, but it also seems reminiscent of Piers Anthony’s On a Pale Horse, a comic fantasy in which a suicidal man replaces Death. Anthony spun out the novel into the Incarnations of Immortality series, which took in characters like Father Time, War and Nature.

Similarly, The Santa Clause 2 introduces a council of mythological personifications like The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy and The Sandman, who’s played by a narcoleptic Michael Dorn. That’s right, it’s fucking Worf in a nightshirt. Believe it or not, that’s not the best bit.

The main plot concerns another “clause” (see what they did there) meaning our man Santa has to bag himself a wife before Christmas Eve, for some unconvincing reason. I guess immigration laws at The North Pole are unexpectedly draconian. While he’s off out in the real world, mackin’ on chicks, over in the B plot, the elves create a replacement, Last Starfighter style. The replacement “Toy” goes mad with power, puts everyone in the world on the naughty list and ends up as a black leather clad, vaguely fascist militaristic dictator. Unbelievably, this is also not the bet bit.

The best bit comes when Allen starts begins his desperate quest for a shotgun wedding. He dates a woman who is so obsessed with the Festive period that she immediately launches into one of the most excruciatingly awkward performances in cinema history, a version of Shania Twain’s Man I Feel Like A Woman, lyrics bastardised to the grammatically suspect Man I Feel Like Some Christmas. It’s astonishing, and credit must be given to the actress, for such a balls out, batshit crazy performance.

There’s nothing quite so entertaining in The Santa Clause 3, an undercooked franchise entry that not even an off the shelf riff on It’s A Wonderful Life, and Martin Short in the role of Jack Frost can salvage. To add insult to injury, Bernard is nowhere to be seen and not even mentioned. At least the production designers were amusing themselves – I’m pretty sure I saw a fireplace that was suspiciously reminiscent of the big stone head from Zardoz.

Forget that. They should make a spin off about the crazy Christmas lady, the true breakout character (or, if you prefer, The Boba Fett) of The Santa Clause “Trilogy”.

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Reist

Shortly after Marvel UK’s Star Wars reprint title published the Empire Strikes Back adaptation, it went from weekly to monthly, so for the first time complete stories appeared in a single issue rather than broken up over several. This created the need for additional stories, as the UK issues tend to regularly catch up with the US. The title had already seen stories that were unique to the UK title, but these were created by the series’ regulars. Post Empire, stories written and drawn by UK creators appeared, none of whom seemed particularly interested in the mythos of the Star Wars movies. As such these tales are wildly different from anything that had previously appeared in the series, and tend to lean towards the macabre.

A number of these stories were by visionary, mystic and awesome beard owner Alan Moore, and Death Masque is often attributed to him, although it’s actually written by his old mate Steve Moore (no relation). In it Luke Skywalker lands on a dead planet and starts hallucinating horrific visions of his pals being blown up and crumbling into dust and stuff likes that. Turns out it’s all down to a skull faced telepathic monkey called Reist. Luke pulls himself together and kills his tormentor, but, even though it’s fair to say Reist creeped me the fuck out, I can’t help but feel bad for the little guy. He was essentially a slave of an Imperial Commander (we can assume that our Skeletor looking pal wasn’t particularly well treated), and his ability to inspire nightmarish illusions might not even be voluntary so he probably didn’t deserve to be lightsabered in the chest.

Death Masque is the only story that appeared in the UK that was never reprinting in the US, so Reist may be one of the most obscure Star Wars comics characters out there. So far I haven’t been able to find any instances of Reist fanart, so here’s a long overdue shout out to the creepy yet strangely cute little monster.

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Jedi Kidz

So when I heard that The Clone Wars was going to feature a group of Jedi younglings, well, I can’t say my heart sank, exactly, but I certainly didn’t think it would be essential viewing. At its introduction, the series was always supposed to be for a younger audience, but gradually it has developed into a much more interesting and (to employ a cliched and overused word) “dark” show, to the point we now have people getting tortured to death, clones murdering their commanding officer, and General Grievous dismembering zombies. At its finest, Clone Wars evokes the spirit of the movies (see The Citadel, Wookiee Hunt, A Friend In Need and so on) and even when it veers away into other genres (The Mortis Trilogy, The Box, Brain Invaders et al) it’s still enjoyable stuff, and occasionally recalls some of Marvel Comics’ more idiosyncratic spin off tales. Incidentally, the only EU I care about is The Clone Wars, the Marvel comics, and this.

Fair enough that the series is being taken, if only temporarily, back to its original conception, but it turns out that these episodes were great – funny, exciting, and including some great stuff from mercurial weequay pirate Hondo (a real breakout character on the show). Most of all, the kids weren’t annoying. Wonders will never cease right? I was expecting Cindel Towani, but the younglings are pretty good characters, and two of them are downright adorable. Gungi the smiley wookiee seems to be the popular choice. Everyone loves wookiees, I guess. Not even The Holiday Special can change that. But it’s Byph the Hammerhead (oh, all right then, “Ithorian“) that gets my vote. Lanky, awkward, chittering away in his alien language, I find it impossible not to love this guy. The “Young Jedi” arc is clearly a tryout for a future kid based spin off show, but all it needs is Gungi and Byph in an Odd Couple style setup, and I am totally sold.

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Quixotic Jedi #2

And now, more Marvel Star Wars comics stuff. Jedidiah, like Don-Wan Kihotay before him, was another crazy old dude who thought he was a Jedi. The story involves Luke and Leia rescuing some alien Prince, and then assuming the identities of his entourage, for reasons that I’m sure made perfect sense at the time. Leia gets off with the Prince, which makes Luke have a hissy fit. Luke takes an uncharacteristic dislike to the bug faced loon, until said loon takes a bullet (laser) for him, and then he’s all like “Truly he was The Last Jedi”. I’m doing this from memory, you might have guessed.

By this point, Carmine Infantino had left the title, and The Empire Strikes Back had been released. We were into an era of new creative teams, as well as new story dynamics. Walt Simonson may have made some idiosyncratic choices with his art (wheels on a Y-Wing? Call the Continuity Police!), but his fluid and dynamic work took the series into a new realm. While Carmine Infantino is to be commended for a lot of great stuff, a lot of his stuff feels slightly old fashioned. It was, perhaps, consciously aping the old sci fi comics, movies and pulp adventure books that inspired Star Wars originally, but lantern jawed hippy Luke, fifty year old Han and muscle bound Threepio never quite recalled their movie counterparts. Simonson’s characters, on the other hand, captured the essence of our heroes. The writing in the post Empire issues, was also a lot better. I guess having twice as many movies to draw on helped.

As great as Simonson’s (relatively brief) run was, the secret weapon (the goalkeeper, if you will) of the entire Marvel comics series had to be inker Tom Palmer. His work brought a consistency to the art that really gave the book a real character all of its own. I suspect that on many issues, he did most of the heavy lifting (and as such was often credited as “Finisher”). Well done Palmer, you beautiful bastard.

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