Monday, April 30, 2007

The Walking Dead Comic by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard: Emotionally Believable Zombie World

It’s rare that a mainstream comic book comes along that features ordinary people with human weaknesses trying to cope with the emotional fallout from a disaster. It’s even rarer to find emotional empathy in comics, where the need to big, violent things to happen and for even bigger things to explode (like the occasional planet) appears to dominate.

Having devoured 5 books of The Walking Dead in one week, I’m happy to have found a comic that has a cast of believable ordinary people and applies emotional realism to its storytelling. Admittedly these believable ordinary people spent their surrounded by (as well as fighting and being eaten by) zombies, but their reactions to this extraordinary situation are refreshingly realistic.

The scenario is the same as most zombie flicks: we follow a group of survivors as they try to stay alive in a nightmarish, shattered United States ruled by the shambling brainless dead with a penchant for dining on living flesh. We start out encountering a small-town cop Rick Grimes as he wakes up in hospital after being put in a coma by a gunshot wound (echoes of Danny Boyles' 28 Days Later). After quickly getting acquainted with the flesh-eating zombie situation, he tries to track down his wife and child in Atlanta (which is chock full of carnivorous corpses).

I don’t want to talk you too much about what follows, as I’d love you to read it and become as gripped by the twists and turns of the plot as I was. Suffice it to say that the writer, Robert Kirkman, deals with well-worn Romaro-style tropes and explores them in his own way. The characters develop, experiencing survivor’s guilt, fear, depression, boredom and loss. They harden up as the old social norms and certainties slip away. They grow and change. This is unusual for the horror genre in any medium, let alone comics.

In the main, the art is handled by the UK artist Charlie Adlard (who I know from his virtuoso black and white drawing for ‘Savage’ in 2000ad) whose dark, rough and expressive style adds to the realistic atmosphere.

Having never been a big zombie fanatic, I’ve had 7 days of living with the dead and I love it. Just have to wait for volume 6 to come out now…

Friday, April 27, 2007

Quote of the Day

One designer to another: "Ambidextrous? Isn't that when you can bend your arms right back?"

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Desk at Saatchi & Saatchi Interactive

The random debris, the crap PC, the lovely view of Charlotte Street! Yes, it's my 'workstation' (as I believe desks are called these days) at Saatchi & Saatchi Interactive. I started out being all minimalist with a bare white desk, but, as you can see, that didn't last long. 80 Charlotte Street is considered a key symbol of Saatchi's heritage. I feel like an ASBO candidate moving in and lowering the tone.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

This Weekend I' Awe of Churchill

A weekend of not a lot to report. The only significant thing on my mind tonight, as I half-watch Match of the Day 2, is my admiration of Churchill’s rhetoric. The Guardian gave away a little booklet of his ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech yesterday and I enjoyed reading it today. It was delivered to parliament as the British army had escaped from Dunkirk, saved from destruction by a tiniest of margins. It was an utter rout and, if it weren’t for Churchill, I imagine that we would have cut some kind of deal with Hitler.

It’s hard to believe in this era of soundbites and governmental wriggling in a macroeconomic straitjacket that a politician could deliver a magnificent speech on which Britain's fate hinged. Can you imagine Blair saying something that moves you or makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck? I think that living in this era of pygmies makes Churchill’s achievement even more awe-inspiring. We can barely imagine standing on the edge such a national precipice or having a leader who could inspire us to leap, not knowing whether we would survive as a people.

This leads me to a further thought – if we faced the Nazis now, would we be willing to face the sacrifices and privations that Britons stoically accepted in the Second World War? Sadly, I think not – if Hitler offered us free satellite telly and HD TVs, the majority would welcome him with open arms.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

New Boner Archive

I've put all the Boner and Spout cartoons in one place for the first time. Go and get some creative advice and inspiration now!

Visit the Boner blog

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

IT Dept. Hell: I'm a Living Typo

My IT department appears to have a problem with my name. They started out by setting up my email address under the surname ‘Fitzpatrick’ (I suppose they thought if it was vaguely like ‘Fitzgerald’ it’d do – after all, they’re both Irish surnames. I’m surprised I didn’t end up with O’Flannigan). Now, with our migration to Lotus Notes, they’ve got my Christian name wrong. Apparently my name is ‘Tristian’. I pointed out the error to the IT guy when he came round to install Notes, but I have massive doubts over whether they’ll correct the mistake by the time we go over to the new email client on Friday. So I’ll either have to put up with having no email (it took a week to correct the last cock-up) or change my name by deedpoll.

You could say that it’s my fault for having a poncey name, but I can’t help what my mother chose to call me. I’ve been entertained by a dizzying array of misspellings or mispronunciations over the years. Christian, Tristrum, Tristran, Christan, Trixton. My water company thinks my name is Tristran Fitzgerlad. East Londoners have difficulties saying Tristan. My friend Louis from Romford, after 7 years, STILL calls me ‘Tristjian’.

Given this history of name typos, it’s hardly surprising that my IT dept. have got a bit confused. Thank god I’m not Sri Lankan – I’d love to see how they coped if my name were Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi.

Monday, April 16, 2007

What if…Steve Jobs were British and Jonathan Ive American?

I love those comic book parallel world stories...

You know the kind of thing: “What if Wolverine was a cross-dresser?”, “What if Batman was in the Beatles? (Would they then be ‘the Battles’?)”, “What Doctor Doom had three legs and a pet octopus named Dave?”

Well, I thought on the train this morning, let’s apply that kind of alternative dimension thinking to Apple. What would happen if Steve Jobs were a Brit? And, equally intriguing – what if Jonathan Ive were a yank? Here are my conclusions…

The iconic Apple design would be a little…different

If you look at US product design – say Ford sportscars, the Xbox 360 or (hoho) the Zune – it’s very clear that the aesthetic, to put it politely, doesn’t quite have the same minimalist chic appeal as the current Apple product line. It’s all about bulk and muscle. So let us imagine a Jonathan Ive born in Chattanooga, rather than Chingford. First of all, I expect his name would be Jon-Bob Ive. I also suspect that his design for the new MacBooks would look like this:

Eyecatching, certainly. Elegant? As an elephant doing the fandango on crystal meth...

And those keynotes wouldn’t be quite the same

You can say what you like about us Brits, but you could never accuse us of being overly cocky. We don’t really do the whole ‘I’m great and my product is fuckin’ fantastic!’ thing. In fact, we’d rather die than ‘big ourselves up’. Think Hugh Grant in ‘Micky Blue Eyes’ (or any of his other films). It isn’t a cliché – it’s ALL True. So Sir Steven Jobs the Englishman wouldn’t do the ‘just one more thing’ part of his keynote in the same way. You’d be expecting an anti-climax and then, by god, you’d get one. Rather than “"Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone. And here it is...", Sir Steven would tell us: “Er…we’ve got this product and it’s quite good I suppose. It’s…erm..a phone and it does other things too. And here it – er – is…”

The conclusion

Business disaster. Utter ruin. We’d live in a world where the Zune is the MP3 player to be seen with and Dell PCs are cutting edge design. A grim vision I know – thank god it’s only in my imagination…

Friday, April 13, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut Changed My Life

I was saddened to learn that Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday. He’ll always be known for 'Slaughterhouse-Five', but I’ll never forget the impact that another of his books had on my childhood imagination.

When I was about 12, I have no idea why I chose it, but I borrowed 'Slapstick’ from the public library in Leamington Spa and it blew my mind. I think I may have thought it was straight Sci-Fi from the blurb – particularly the main character living the ruins of the Empire State Building. I discovered pretty quickly that it was so much more – both stylistically and in terms of sheer imagination. The narrative is episodic and non-linear, which was something new to me at the time. And Vonnegut, as he does in so many of his novels, threw out surreal amazing ideas left, right and centre – I particularly remember the entire Chinese population being reduced to microscopic size – so that, in the end, they infect people who inhale them.

Being a creative magpie, I began to work those sorts of motifs into my stories. I think Vonnegut freed me from my restricted expectations of what fiction could be.

His writing style will always stay with me – irreverent, bemused, very human and yet displaying an almost autistic detachment at the same time. He shifts our perspective on the things we take for granted in our society and reveals their absurdity. For that his novels should always be treasured.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Ben Elton Get a Grip Crapness Mystery Boggle-Poser

When did Ben Elton become crap? Was it after his 60th shit novel? Or after he decided to become the nation’s sanctimonious leftie conscience? Indeed, did Ben Elton become crap or was he always crap and it just took us a while to realise? Admittedly this isn’t a philosophical question that would bewitch Wittgenstein, but having endured the ads for ‘Get a Grip’ I feel I need answers. The bit that really makes me wince is when his young female sidekick says a line relating to his age/her youth and he pulls a face of aghast bemusement. The expression reminds me of nothing less than the face that my baby son pulls when he’s doing a poo-poo. Is Ben Elton so old that he's dropping one in his colostomy bag? The mind, as it so often does these days, boggles.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Crap Cycle Lane on the Euston Road Redux

Tom, who writes the 'Crap cycle lanes of Croydon' blog, has asked me to show my crap cycle lane on the Euston Road. Only too happy to oblige, Tom - although I'm beginning to suspect you're slightly autistic. By the way, it's 25 FEET long - not 25m. So it's even crapper than previously reported...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Virgin Media Problems Vex as Uma Thurman Beguiles

Virgin Media is continuing to infuriate me (see my previous difficulties with the idiots here). They’ve continued to take money from my bank account for my previous contract – alongside the payment for the upgraded contract. So, in other words, I’m paying for my broadband connection twice.

So I just rang up to sort the situation out. Went through endless automated menus. Got fucking cut off before talking to anyone. Twice. It’s utterly maddening. If anything the customer service from the old NTL was better.

On top of that, you need a pin-code in order to access any of the much-advertised on-demand TV services. A pin-code that was never at any point supplied. I haven’t even tried to sort that one out…

Oh, Virgin Media you prettily-painted (the advertising) syphilitic whore (the reality)!

A warning to the unwary new potential customer – don’t be taken in by Uma Thurman and her beguiling promises. It’s all a pack of lies, I tell you.

Pitches, Carbon Footprints and the End of Civilisation

Today is being spent anxiously waiting for the results of a pitch we did yesterday. It was the worst kind of pitch, as it was via a pan-European conference call. Not only could we not see any reaction from our audience, but we couldn’t sure they were even following what the hell we were telling them. On the plus side, I suppose it’s going to have a smaller carbon footprint than flying everyone to the same place.

Mind you, I’m already getting sick of hearing about carbon footprints. I think it’ll be the expression that defines our woeful decade, as everyone goes on their carbon footprint getting smaller, as they carry on consuming as much pointless shit as ever and capitalism fucks over the planet. But at least they can feel good about themselves because they’re driving a fucking Prius.

Ah well, at least we won’t be hearing about it after the total collapse of civilisation. The only footprints we’ll be worrying about then will be those of cannibal barbarians as they pursue us through the ruins.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Euston Road Cycle Joy

Wobbling along the Euston Road on my folding bike to my new workplace is never a pleasant experience. Especially as the taxi drivers appear to trying out for the David Carradine part in Deathrace 2000 (except an elephant seal gut and bottletop glasses doesn’t make for a very charismatic sci-fi villain). However, my cycle to Charlotte Street did at least raise a smile this morning. Why? Because I passed the most laughably pointless cycle lane in London.

It runs apologetically for about 25 metres from opposite the British Library to the next junction along and consists of a poorly painted band about 1 foot wide. It’s of no use to a cyclist, the layout of the road hasn’t been changed to accommodate it and I doubt motorists even notice it. All of which begs one question. Why the hell is it there?

OK, this is my theory…

Camden Council was either given a target by government to create a certain mileage of cycle lanes or made a commitment to the local electorate to do so. Knowing the bureaucratic mentality, rather than an expensive co-ordinated network of proper cycle lanes that might actually improve the life expectancy of riders, there are probably hundreds of cheap silly 25m long painted lanes dotted throughout the borough.