Posts Tagged ‘misplaced nostalgia’

80s Coming Back

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Everyone’s done with Watchmen by now, but seeing as that movie is at least 20 years out of date, this shutting the stable doors after the horse has bolted style post is entirely appropriate. As a fan of the book I could sit here and endlessly pick holes. But I’m not gonna, seeing as everyone else has been doing that.

The most egregious omission is not the (spoiler alert!) squid (although the sheer WTF factor would have made the movie 85% better) or the Tales of The Black Freighter comic book (inexplicably adapted as a cartoon for the DVD release), but rather Alan Moore’s name in the credits. It’s his decision of course but it just seems wrong.

So, apart from more squid, what would have improved that movie? If they are gonna not only include Max Headroom (Kudos to director Zack Snyder for casting Matt Frewer) but also prosthetic makeup on Richard Nixon that’s so ridiculously caricatured it resembles a Spitting Image puppet, they should have gone all out on the 80s references.  Network 7, Dick Spanner, LM Magazine (Leisure Monthly? Lively Magazine? Lloyd Mangram? I guess they couldn’t make up their minds), Terence Trent D’Arby and the old Channel 4 logo should have all been in there. And rather than emo funsters My Chemical Romance, why not give these guys a crack at the theme tune?

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Got An Intergalactic Revolution!

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

With JJ ABrams’ Shatnerless Star Trek reboot hitting cinemas this summer, the eternal question is back on everyone’s lips. To whit: which is the best out of the major “Star” franchises (Trek, Wars, Gate)? Well. First of all we can disregard Stargate as I have never seen it (except for the original film, which seemed pretty cool in 1994, although that might be because we were so impoverished for space spanning adventure that James Spader versus an androgynous Pharoah was an acceptable evening’s entertainment. In retrospect it can be blamed for paving the way for  Independence Day. So not good then).

So Star Trek vs Star Wars. It’s a debate that has raged among nerds for years, and we can finally put it to bed now. The criteria we will use will be a seemingly inconsequential element of  the most misbegotten moments of each saga. From Scott Bakula helmed crapfest Star Trek: Enterprise we have the overblown, incongruously 80s style power ballad Where My Heart Will Take Me, while the acid flashback fever dream that is The Star Wars Holiday Special provides Jefferson Starship’s “futuristic” performance of Light The Sky On Fire.

Enterprise was an attempt to free the Star Trek franchise from the entrenched continuity that the previous three series had built up, being set as it was before the formation of The Federation and the adventures of Kirk and Spock. Unfortunately this resulted in episodes about making a really good chair. It was also distinct in that it forsook the traditional “spacey” orchestral theme tune (none of them a patch on the otherworldly warbling of the Original Series) and went for a (gulp!) “rock ballad”.

Gratuitously sexy vulcan, Sam Beckett and blue dude - Enterprise had it all

Where My Heart Will Take Me was sung by crossover opera star Russell Watson in full gravelly transatlantic style, and while a bit cheesy, it’s not bad if you like that kind of thing. Not surprising as it was written by uber songsmith Diane Warren, whose oeuvre includes such AOR classics as Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time, LeAnn Rimes’ Can’t Fight The Moonlight and Aerosmith’s That One From Armageddon. That drivel about “reaching any star” notwithstanding,  it’s nothing to do with Star Trek though, which is unsurprising when you find out that the song was originally written for Patch Adams, a Robin Williams (urgh) comedy drama (uurrgh) about a Doctor who treats patients’ spirits as much as their bodies (glurgaargh!!). Spizz  Energi’s Where’s Captain Kirk? would have been a better choice. As long as it was the live version with screaming in the middle.

Diane Warren’s CV also includes Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now from the movie Mannequin, performed by Starship, the 80s stadium rock incarnation of pivotal godheads of 60s psychedelia Jefferson Airplane.

In between their glory days of bashing the Nixon Administration through the medium of acid rock and their latter years, singing of the love between a man and a shop dummy, they were known as Jefferson Starship, and seemingly did a lot of songs about space. This set them up as an ideal “special musical guest” for that infamous, interminable, Star Wars Holiday Special.

Now, much has been written about this 97 minute (but feels a lot longer) toy advert slash variety show slash psychological torture, so I hardly need to get into it here, suffice to say that it has to be seen to be believed, but you’ll wish you hadn’t bothered.

They're really big on Kazhyyyk

Appearing as a pink hued hologram, the band perform the song as a distraction for the Imperial officers, who obviously like a bit of a groove to murky 70s rock during downtime. Marty Balin is singing into what I presume is intended to be a lightsaber, but it resembles a flourescent dildo. At least they make the effort, wearing swishy costumes (pitched between glam rock and male stripper), twirling drumsticks, and generally pulling shapes while their instruments (including the fantastically futuristic keyboard on a shoulder strap) emit sonic waves (or something). The song features a spoken interlude about “The Great God Kopa Khan”, and (apropos of nothing) cries of “Cigar shaped object”! I can’t be certain but I’m sure that’s not canon.

Psychedelic siren Grace Slick is nowhere to be seen in the preformance. She had actually been fired from the band earlier in the year for drunkenly goading German audiences by shouting “who won the war?” while she should have been singing Somebody To Love for the 30,000th time. Nice one Grace. At least she was spared the embarrassment of appearing in the one part of the Star Wars franchise that is deemed too bad to ever get an official release.

Even though I have a grudging affection for Where My Heart Will Take Me, the prize has to go to Light The Sky On Fire, just because it’s so mental. So that’s that settled then. Next week we sort out which is the one true religion.

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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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Uncool Britannia

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

I have recently been playing Guitar Hero a lot. No, stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this. The game, if you are unaware, involves tapping buttons on a toy guitar, in time with renditions of popular rock tracks. That makes it sound boring, pointless and, frankly, ludicrous, but it’s actually great fun and after a while you really feel like you are, uh, rocking out, no matter how stupid you look.

Listen to that video crowd!

The fact that the Guitar Hero franchise is on it’s fourth release is proof of it’s success. Everybody loves it, even musicians (the original game featured mostly copycat cover versions of its songs, the recent iterations feature mostly original recordings). However, I suspect that if the same game had been released fifteen years ago (not impossible, as it is based on an extremely simple gameplay system) it would not have been half as successful, at least not in this country. This is because, at that time, Britain was in the vice like grip of a cancer, a vile, fetid abomination known as Britpop. And it was not OK to rock under Britpop.

I’m being overly dramatic of course (it’s fun, you should try it). Obviously there is good music as well as bad in every era, and genre. But Britpop brought with it, or at least walked hand in hand with a deeply unpleasant attitude. The movement grew out of indie (as useless a description of a musical genre as “prog”, but you all know what I mean), which was characterised by introspection, a modicum of pretentiousness, and generally low expectations, particularly with regards to commercial success. But indie bands started to sell records in great numbers and became the musical mainstream, and there was an attendant arrogance, and this coincided with the rise of “lad culture”, typified by Chris Evans’ TFI Friday and Loaded magazine. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but the problem with ironic sexism, ironic racism, and ironic loutishness is that they are virtually indistinguishable from actual sexism, actual racism and actual loutishness.

The beginnings of the movement were clearly an attempt to reject the overwhelming cultural stranglehold that “Grunge” had in the early nineties. Hosting a one off TV special featuring British bands at the time, Blur’s Damon Albarn bemoaned the band’s lack of success in their earlier years: “Unless you were Nirvana, or a diet Nirvana, you were nothing”. Presumably, now it was de rigeur to be a bargain Beatles, a cut-price Kinks or a second rate Small Faces. 

I remember a particularly stupid NME review of sarcastic US rockers Ugly Kid Joe’s album Motel California (what wags eh?) in which the writer pronounced that it was useless because “we don’t even have motels in Britain”. Of course, it is only natural that after the hegemony of American music was over, British musicians, writers and commentators would be slightly full of themselves but it annoyed me no end (at the time I remember being late for a night out because I was at home watching Alice in Chains Unplugged on MTV. My indie kid pals were not amused).

The Bluetones: they look like any old mimsy shimsy indie wasters, but they wrote some brilliant tunes

The era’s most memorable, and idiotic moment, was the (largely media created) competition between Oasis’ Roll With It and Blur’s Country House. It didn’t really help that these were both fairly awful, self parodic records (although, it could’ve been worse, it could’ve been Stereotypes), and the “conflict” escalated from being merely about record sales and (supposedly) divided the nation into North versus South, Working Class versus Middle Class, Stupid versus Clever. Blur won the battle, but Oasis won the war by selling more albums. Blur had the last laugh by retreating and changing their sound (ironically, to more resemble the American alt rock that they had earlier affected to despise), while Noel Gallagher bought himself a very big house in the country (true).

For an entertaining overview of the period, check out John Harris’ The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock. Although I can summarise it here: Suede and Blur hated eachother, Elastica took loads of heroin, and Pulp wrote all the best songs. Less comprehensive, but just as enjoyable is Alex James’ autobiography Bit of a Blur, which is full of floppy fringed charm (sample line: “Famous people are just the same as normal people, except a bit more famous”) -and he even remembers to mention Me Me Me.

However, Britpop eventually faded away (I blame Northern Uproar and Cast), and we were faced with the atrocities of Nu Metal. Now, Limp Bizkit are all very well if you’re drunk and Rollin’ is playing at ribcage shattering volume in your local dirty rock club, but it’s hardly music for the ages is it? I think the idea was to ransack the work of Rage Against the Machine and that Judgement Night album, which is as good a goal as any I suppose, but the trouble is you got stuff like Crazy Town (Chili Peppers aping oafs), Linkin Park (anime obsessed whiny rap metallers with “I hate you mum & dad” songs) and Papa Roach (someone shouting over the top of old Iron Maiden riffs).

Fuckin' kick it with a tasty groove!

However, at this point every successful band was keen to point out how brilliant and what a big influence Black Sabbath were. Sabbath were The Beatles of the late nineties. Weirdly enough, up until that point, throughout a thirty odd year career, Sabbath had always been severely underrated. To all intents and purposes, they invented metal, and I suppose critics never forgave them. Now they were being praised left right and centre, and covered by everyone from Elbow to Mercury Rev, and sort of went from being underrated to overrated. And rock gradually became acceptable for mainstream audiences once again. I think The Darkness and Tenacious D are also partly responsible – although ostensibly parodic, both were deeply rooted in a love of classic rock. We even now have bands like The Answer and Wolfmother who appear to be completely without irony. Of course, for a lot of people this meant just wearing ironic rock t-shirts, but rock, proper rock, seemed to be a lot more popular. And continues to be, if all the hoo ha about Zeppelin’s recent reunion is anything to go by.

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Everything’s Jackanory

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

In the recently completed tale It’s About Time Lee outlines the hypothesis that all Britpop was shit. He’s wrong of course, but what can you expect from someone whose brain has been addled by the three pronged attack of metal, alcohol and pornography? You’d have to be pretty cloth eared to not acknowledge that the likes of Supergrass and The Bluetones released some terrific records at the time. To this end I have created another Spotify playlist: Mid 90s Non Stop Indie Disco a Go Go.

While I often claim that I fought in The Indie Wars, I wasn’t a wholehearted enthusiast, so my knowledge of the scene/era/genre doesn’t go particularly deep. In fact this playlist has the whiff of a bog standard compilation of obvious choice “Best Indie Anthems in The World Ever”, possibly advertised on telly by Egg off of This Life.

It’s with some mixed feelings that I added a track by Menswear. Not quite the nadir of the genre (that “honour” could go to anyone from Cast to Northern Uproar) but they weren’t far off. I remember this song being pretty good. It really isn’t, but has been added to give a sense of perspective. Most of these songs are pretty good. And I still like Kula Shaker.

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6 Degrees of Francis Bacon Day 7: Venger

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

I AM THE WARLOCK!

From Tom Baker, we go to his role in the, let’s be honest, not very good film version of Dungeons & Dragons, and from there we go to the let’s be honest, not very good cartoon of Dungeons & Dragons, and that series’ half Vader half David Warner out of Time Bandits villain, Venger.

The D&D cartoon is fondly remembered by many people, and nostalgic reminiscences about it always lead to the same question. No, they never got home. Actually it was a bit of a weird spin off. A bunch of American teenagers, including Ralph Malph from Happy Days find themselves in a surreal not-very much like D&D world where they are given orders by a grinning Yoda like homonculus , the self styled Dungeon Master. I reckon he was the evil genius pulling the strings, seeing as Venger and Tiamat couldn’t get much done between them.

A backstory for Venger was hinted at, that he was DM’s “fallen apprentice” or son or some such, but in the style of most 80s US cartoons, there wasn’t a lot in the way of character motivation or development, but I like to think that this is a tribute to the big V as it sounds so much like him.

So what next?  Suggestions for something cool to draw can be made here, on my Twitter feed, or at the Facebook Group.

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6 Degrees of Francis Bacon Day 9: Ulysses 31

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

No one else can do the thing you do...

As suggested by Flying Monkey Comics‘ very own Andrew Livesey, we go from a picture featuring a telly, to Telemachus, and his dad Ulysses 31. This was a cartoon in the early eighties, chiefly remembered for having a kickass theme tune, which is awesome. If you can ignore the Countdown bit. Weirdly enough, no matter what language it’s in, it’s always strangely reminiscent of Journey’s Steve Perry.

Unlike most cartoons when I was a kid, Ulysses 31 was actually good. It was weird, creepy, atmospheric and had a definite conclusion. Of course, Greek Mythology is a terrific source for a sci-fi makeover, and both France and Japan have pretty distinguished credentials with regards to surreal sci-fi/fantasy, so a combination of the two is always going to be a winner.

In The Odyssey, Telemachus is at home on the island of Ithaca, no doubt developing a raging Oedipus complex, whereas in Ulysses 31, his dad takes him along on his suicidal cosmic adventure. You may be a Groovy French Space Jesus, but that’s just bad parenting, dude.

This picture makes specific reference to Steven Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds , in which Tom Cruise gets his daughter to sing to herself so she doesn’t hear him beating special guest wacky cameo Tim Robbins to death. That, along with the incongruous use of John Williams Trade Federation March from Episode I, was probably the best bit of that movie. The worst was undoubtedly the part where the schlubby single parent everyman, played by The Cruiser, manages to single handed destroy an Unstoppable Martian Killing Machine. If I burst out laughing during what is clearly meant to be a tense moment, then you know a film has problems.

So where next?  Suggestions for something cool, related in some way to any of these auspicious subjects, can be made here, on my Twitter feed, or at the Facebook Group.

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