Posts Tagged ‘If you wish to run away like a pussy turn to 37’

Save Against Obscurity

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Now, some of you may realise by now that your average cartoonist/illustrator/comics creator is an insecure beast. Constantly seeking approval, always suspecting that he is inadequate, and all the while moaning about the fact he is unappreciated. Well, it’s just a fact of life I suppose. Here at Flying Monkey Comics Ltd, we combine this with an obsessive compulsive attitude towards checking our website stats. We are forever checking out how many hits we have per day (on average about 7), and how people have found us.

Often, our site is perused by accident, when some hapless web browser has typed something innocuous into Google. These have ranged from the obvious (“Flying Monkey Picture”), to the peculiar (“Screaming Monkey MP3″), to the downright seedy (“Sexy Aliens”). Now it should become apparent why I always crowbar words such as “sex”, “porn”, “hot girls”, and “full on anal action” into these news posts.

Venger: I AM THE WARLOCK!

Much more infrequently, we are linked by actual real live human beings, like, on purpose! One that springs to mind was a link put on a forum for UK Role Players. Now, both you know and I know that there are plenty of gaming webcomics out there, both good (do I really need to put a link in to Penny Arcade here? If you read webcomics at all, I’m sure you already know about those guys, and they certainly don’t need us to drive traffic to them) and bad (pretty much all the other ones – much harder to link to). However there hasn’t been a great deal of content geared towards the role player here. Maybe I should rectify this as a shout out to our D20 rolling brothers,  but I had enough difficulty getting people together to portray half elves and clerics for a “campaign” twenty years ago, so I imagine it would be even harder now.

It’s true that I spent my teenage years participating in Role Playing Games. I’m not ashamed. I once spent a whole day playing AD&D when I should have been revising for my GCSEs, and a jolly good session it was too (even though we spent about three hours stuck in a corridor dumbly staring at an enchanted statue, trying to work out how to proceed).

Recently I dug out a stack of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks. These were my “gateway drug”, if you will, to the relatively grown up world of Role Playing Games. I only hung onto the ones with artwork I particularly liked (such as Deathtrap Dungeon which was illustrated by Ian McCaig, perhaps best known for painting the cover of Jethro Tull’s Broadsword and The Beast album and creating Darth Maul), so unfortunately I no longer had the ridiculously difficult Creature of Havoc, which would find favour with Otto the Bus Driver, as it’s written from the monster’s point of view.

I always assumed I was a pretty hardcore FF fan, but it turns out that there were, like, a million other books that I knew nothing about. Still, I’m sure there’s a limit to the amount of goblins you can slay while searching a necromancer’s tower for a set of enchanted numbered keys before it gets old.

Steve Jackson & John Blanche's Sorcery!: Weird skinny elfin dudes a speciality

For my money, the FF series reached its peak with the Sorcery books, by Steve Jackson. These formed a four part adventure (it always bugged me that the other FF books were unrelated, so, by implication, you were playing a different generic adventurer in each one, and crucially, could not use all the cool gear that you found in previous books). There were plenty of interesting little details that linked them together, above and beyond the ongoing “storyline” (which was essentially not that different from the others) but Sorcery definitely had a peculiar feel all of its own. This was partly down to the fact that it mostly eschewed the standard orcs and elves template of many of the other fantasy based books, and partly because of Jackson’s knack for whimsical and strange sounding place names (Daddu-Ley, Baddu-Bak, Forest of the Snatta, and so on). The sly sense of humour helped a lot too (again, absent from a lot of the other FF books). But the thing that tied the whole venture together was the creepy, twisted artwork of John Blanche, like a cross between Kay Nielsen, Mr Benn, and something from the fevered imagination of the mentally unbalanced. It all added up to a strange, dark fairy tale atmosphere. And the spells were cool too.

Nice one Jackson and Blanche!

HUGELY AFTER THE FACT EDIT: If, like me, you loved the Fighting Fantasy and Sorcery books, you’ll want to get your hands on YOU ARE THE HERO, a great looking book which covers the whole FF phenomenon. It’s being crowdfunded on Kickstarter and you can contribute (and bag yourself a copy) now. Go now, Zagor commands you!

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SKILL 12 STAMINA 24

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

After backing You are the Hero on Kickstarter I felt compelled to write a review on Amazon. Unfortunately, I barely mentioned the actual book and just banged on about myself (as usual). But the book’s ace, so get it. And here’s the “review”:

YOU are the Hero

At some point during my childhood I watched a programme on ITV called The Book Tower. I didn’t read much, but the show seemed ever so slightly gothic and weird, and what’s more it was hosted by the likes of Tom Baker and Neil Innes, so you knew you were onto a good thing. One particular episode, which was hosted by the actor Alun Armstrong (you’d know him, he’s been in loads of things. Uh… like “Krull“), featured a kid reading a book in which he was required to sneak past a goblin in some pseudo medieval fantasy setting. This being early 80s telly, the goblin didn’t look terribly scary, just a bloke dressed up like one of Santa’s elves fallen on hard times, but I liked the idea, and the next day asked my Mum if she would be able to find the book for me. Books were cheap back then, so I didn’t have to wait for birthdays and Christmasses.

Unable to remember the name of the book, I described it as best I could “Something about a wizard, and it’s a different story every time you read it”, and my Mum returned home from work that evening with, yes, The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. Turned out the book was actually a game, in which you fought monsters, hunted for gold and sneaked past goblins. The goblin in the book was significantly cooler looking, luckily enough.

Eventually, after hours of wandering lost in The Maze Of Zagor, and failing to find the correct combination of keys to open the Warlock’s enchanted treasure trove, I completed the game, but that wasn’t the end of the adventure. There were two more evocatively titled books available in the series, The Citadel of Chaos and The Forest of Doom. I was hooked.

Jonathan’s Green’s book is an exhaustive history and celebration of the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook phenomenon, and is a nostalgic thrill for anyone who ever contemplated the difference between Swamp Orcs and Marsh Goblins, or cheated at a Test Your Luck roll. It features fascinating interviews with all the key players and crucially, is bursting at the seams with the wonderful artwork that the series generated, a reminder of how alluring and exciting the books were for kids in the 80s. YOU ARE THE HERO really brings home the differences between the FF books and their grown up, more established cousins. The art in Dungeons & Dragons, for instance, had a clean, coiffed, almost Renaissance Fayre quality. The FF books, by contrast showcased an odder, more British sensibility, dirtier, grungier and more anarchic.

This book makes me want to crank the soundtrack to Robin Of Sherwood (as much as you can “crank” any music by Clannad), put on my best green haired wig, and drift back to a simpler time. And maybe try to sneak past that goblin once again.

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