Monday, 21 January 2013

Comic Clue!


Well my main hobby is really comic creating (and of course publishing through Accent UK) so its probably about time I gave a hint of the comic strip I'm currently working on. It's been some time since I released anything new, too long really, but I've always had plenty of ideas and have continued to work on things here and there.

I do therefore have several strips in various stages of production, the problem with that of course is that you flit between them and end up not knuckling down and finishing any of them. It's an obvious point but you've really just got to choose one idea and get on with it - something my good comics friend Garen Ewing reminded me of last year.

So here I am, the above is a wee journal sketch of the idea that I chose to do and have been working on for a little while now. There's probably not many clues in the image but this little fellow is what is inspiring and driving me at the moment.

The plan is to carry on working on this until its finished and not get sidetracked with other ideas, we've a couple of comic show appearances coming up in the next few months and I'm using these as a deadline, so we'll see how I get on, wish me luck!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

2012 Music

1. ENNIO MORRICONE: The Good The Bad & The Ugly (1967)
2. DEAD CAN DANCE: Anastasis (2012)
3. THE UNTHANKS: Last (2011)
4. CLASSICAL:100 Hits (2008)
5. BEIRUT: Riptide (2011)
6. KATE BUSH: The Dreaming (1982)
7. THE DOORS: The Very Best of (2007)
8. DEAD CAN DANCE: Wake (2003)
9. MARK KNOPFLER: Local Hero (1997)
10. KATE BUSH: 50 Words For Snow (2011)
The above are my favourite CD albums of last year, the ones that I reckon I turned to the most often. Mmm, looking at the list, I'm not the most contemporary of folk am I? However in my defence most of those albums were only bought last year (or within the last couple of years) so although 'old' in terms of their original release, they're pretty contemporary to me!

I did in fact buy several new releases last year including albums from Feist, Smoke Fairies and Amy MacDonald but although they've all got decent tracks on them, they haven't yet made it onto my regular 'play pile'.

Finally getting The Good, The Bad & The Ugly soundtrack was inspired by a rather excellent show by The Spaghetti Western Orchestra in Stoke last year, which itself was inspired by their TV performance at the proms from the Royal Albert Hall.

I mention this as we visited the Albert Hall for the first time in October to see the rather wonderful, enigmatic Dead Can Dance in their reunion concert. Their music is a recent discovery for me and I'm so pleased we managed to share in what was a very special event.


Monday, 14 January 2013

Adventures in Cooking!

Perhaps my strangest adventures these last 12 months or so have occurred very close to home in that terrifying place known as The Kitchen!

Now for those who know me will confirm that until my escape, I spent as little time as possible in the kitchen, usually either to raid some snacks or very nobly doing the dishes.

However part of my escape clause was that I would now not only do some 'chores' but the majority of the shopping and cooking too. Easy said but not so easy done as my cooking skills in the first 24 years of marriage amounted to no more than toast or a rare pizza in the oven, resorting more often than not to the safety of the local takeaways instead.

However I've approached things logically, watched a few cookery programmes, acquired and actually read a few recipe books, made some terrible blunders along the way but now a year or so on have filled my wee menu book (yes, sad I have to write down all the steps involved and ingredients as I can't be relied upon to do it all automatically!), with a fine selection of almost 50 recipes!

Okay these range from simple sausages and Gas Mk 4 specials to the more challenging (to me anyway) enchiladas, chili, home-made burgers, meatloaf, beef wellington and various rice and pasta dishes, yum!

Hairy Bikers - Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food and Lose Weight  Anyway the reason I choose to mention this is since receiving TV's Hairy Bikers latest cookbook for Christmas, I've been able to flex my culinary muscles even further with some cracking new recipes which are not only easy to follow but tasty too.

So far so good, until with  a few successful meals from their book under my belt I embarked on the rather daunting looking "Special Cassoulet", a hearty concoction of meats, veggies, beans and sauces, mmmm, but how hard could it be?   

The prep and cooking time for this dish isn't short, around 2 1/2 hours which for a slow coach like me equates to about 3 hours. Undaunted I made this my target for Sunday's family meal and eagerly bought up the extensive list of ingredients the day before and set off to the kitchen late afternoon in good time.

As expected, it took longer than advertised to chop, trim and fry my way through the various steps and then transfer the cooked contents to a casserole dish before adding the rest of the long list of ingredients. My dish was close to overflowing at this stage but I was pretty chuffed at how appealing it both looked and smelt, particularly after adding the required red wine and treating myself to a little slug.

I then noticed that there was a small step still required before placing the pyrex dish in the oven, calling for it to be simmered on the hob for  a bit before covering and being slow cooked in the pre- heated oven.

Wondering how long it would take for this feast to 'simmer' I intently watched the glass dish and its contents starting to warm and bubble on the hob, feeling a swelling sense of pride that I could add another master dish to my menu book. Then of course the inevitable happened as the noise of my pyrex dish cracking into a dozen pieces filled the air as it spat its carefully nurtured contents all over the hob, dripping down the oven door onto the floor!

Lovely! Not a lot I could say or do really other than screech for help and switch off the gas supply as my lovingly prepared dish seeped everywhere embedded with chunks of glass. My call quickly brought my wife and youngest son running to my aid and gamely helped with the tidying up, not before of course asking how on earth I didn't know that warming glass on a hob was not the wisest thing to do?

I made a feeble attempt at saying I was just following the recipe but my wife was wise to this and grabbing the book read out the offending step of "transferring everything to a flameproof casserole dish".

I didn't of course have a decent reply so sheepishly took the flak as I swigged more wine and reached for the Chinese takeaway menu.......oh well, maybe some things don't change after all!

Our special cassoulet
(This is not how my special cassoulet looked!)

Sunday, 13 January 2013

2012 Movies

Did pretty well with catching movies last year, even seeing my first James Bond movie at the cinema since Live and Let Die! Also saw a few on planes during various travels, so fairly easy to pick my favourites this time;

     The Avengers

Avengers Assemble PosterMy 12 year old self would simply not believe that this would ever be made, not just made, but be so well done, almost unbelievable really from the days of Lou Ferrigno's Hulk and those ropey Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man movies.

Despite my genuine admission that I no longer read superhero comics, I do enjoy (most of) the movies, featuring versions of my cherished childhood heroes.

The story may be predictable but the great cast, dialogue, terrific action and effects more than make up for that by being so much darned fun, and to my 12 year old self, thats enough!

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises PosterNo surprises really that this comic book fan loved this movie and you've got to admit it pretty much lived up to expectations, which after The Dark Knight is of course no mean feat.

I've since watched it again after getting the Blu-ray for Christmas (thanks Scott!) and it stood up pretty good, strong steady acting, action and tension growing and those endings, both perfectly finishing Nolan's trilogy off and opening doors for possible continuation, very well done.

Oddly I've never been much of a Batman man, having very few of the comics, but these movies have been something very special.

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom PosterI caught this movie on one of our flights last year and what an unexpected gem! Its cinema release had passed me by despite its A list stars who play fairly low key supporting roles.

In this Wes Anderson directed film, it is the young lead actors who catch the eye in a wonderful quirky tale of runaway love set in 1965 taking in dysfunctional families, Scout troops, impending storms and much more underscored by an emotive soundtrack.

I chuckled my way through the movie on the plane, much to my wife's embarrassment, but finally she too was chuckling away as we watched the DVD together.  

If you've not see it, check out the trailer for yourself;

So that's it for my movies, I wasn't amazed by Spider-Man and if that was the best ever James Bond I've certainly not missed anything! Honourable mentions to flawed delights Ruby Sparks, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Safety Not Guaranteed (another in-flight find) which were all pretty good and provided more than a few moments of adventure.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

2012 Comics

I read comics more than anything and did quite well last year in trying to catch up with the many I've acquired, although I've still some way to go it has to be said. I gave up on the super-hero genre many years ago and get annoyed when that's what people associate with the word 'comic', (its usually that or the Beano!), when the medium has matured with a wide range of quality titles.

Anyway without having a rant about things here's my particular top picks of comics read last year, all being of the 'graphic novel' variety and not necessary first published in 2012, (although I think most were).

There were many others that I enjoyed but these are the ones which I wouldn't hesitate in recommending to demonstrate the talent and diversity that comics can offer.

The Complete Rainbow Orchid - Garen Ewing

All three volumes together at last! I think Garen's said that this was an amazing 16 years in the making from when he first had the idea, certainly I recall seeing a preview article in the long defunct Imagineers small press fanzine around 1998 or so?

He wasn't working on the book all that time but allowed the story and characters to gestate so when he came to tell their story they and the world they inhabit were fully formed which makes their wonderful adventure all the more enjoyable in the reading.

Isle of 100,000 Graves - Jason and Fabien Vehlmann

I came fairly late to the quiet delights of Jason's art and storytelling but have enjoyed playing catch up. This though is a joint effort co-written by Vehlmann of Green Manor fame and is a fantastic read belying its 56 pages.

The story's relatively simple, little Gwenny goes on a  quest to find her father who disappeared after finding a treasure map in a bottle. How she cleverly enlists Pirates to help her outwit the island's menacing inhabitants is a real treat with twists, turns and genuine suspense. A real treasure (urgh!).

Koma - Pierre Wazem and Frederik Peeters

Almost impossible to describe - a girl prone to fainting fills in for her overworked mineshaft cleaning father and falls down a forbidden tunnel befriending a creature who...well who does what exactly? and why is he (and the others) being hunted by those above ground?

Odd, mysterious & complex, masterful storytelling at its very best recently translated from the original French. Despite the artist telling me that the production of this UK edition was "Sheet!" this is a simply wonderful book. If you can find it, buy it!

The Loxleys and the War of 1812 - Alan Grant, Claude St Aubin & Lovern Kindzierski

This was a real find during our very special anniversary trip round Canada last year which took in various sites and exhibitions to do with this often overlooked conflict.
The tale follows a Canadian family caught up in America's attempted invasion of Canada which at that time was under Britain's rule. The story is so skillfully crafted that you forgive the books few predictable moments as you genuinely care about the characters and the impact events have on their lifes.
The quality of the story, art and the comprehensive historical summary add up to a quality package expertly produced.

Dark Matters - Sean Azzopardi and Douglas Noble

Even harder to describe than Koma and maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much! The mystery of the three tales collected here is part of the fun, open to interpretation they take you to some dark places indeed. Deep and disturbing, its not pretty but it is thought provoking even if you're not quite sure you've followed it correctly, the journey itself is memorable.

This collection is a 'mash up' from two of the UK's leading indie creators and is a timely reminder of each of their respective talents in a daring marriage of inconvenience. Well worth seeking out.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Great Expectations....

At the start of the year its normal to reflect on what was and consider what will be and I'll aim to do a bit of that but today just heard the unexpected news that my all time music hero has released a new song ahead of a planned new album, his first for 10 years (is that slower than my comics Dave?), all this and on his 66th birthday too.

Welcome back Mr Bowie, you've been missed....