Monday, 31 January 2011

Wayne Osborne's FX Is Back for Second Outing!

In September 2009, I talked about Wayne Osborne and John Byrne's six-issue mini-series and TPB FX over at IDW (see my Goodreads review). At the time, I mentioned that a second mini was in the works, with Uko Smith on art duty, and that I yet again felt giddy with anticipation.

Eventually, the first issue of the second series, FX 2: The Lost Land, was solicited in Diamond, but for some reason or other (quite possibly low orders), IDW pulled the plug on the mini already before I had managed to secure a shop subscription anywhere. Naturally, I found this sad, but I took some heart in the news that eventually seeped out: FX 2: The Lost Land would see the light of day in direct-to-TPB-published form in December 2010.

After some delays for the title to appear in the on-line shops (at least on this side of that wee puddle they call the Atlantic), the title was available to buy around the shift from 2010 to 2011, and it naturally snuck into one of my book orders soon after.

Uko Smith does a very fine job as third FX artist. Yes, I did say third: remember that A. J. Jothikumar did the cover to the first TPB (and a very fine job at that, I would not mind seeing any FX material from his pen in the future). And Osborne shows that he can indeed hold his own beside Uko (which I already said I believed he could, mind you). I will not go into further details about the title here, feel free to read my in-depth Goodreads review for that; but I will say that the giddiness and excitement is still there.

And I do ever so much hope that there will be future adventures to be had with Tom Talbot, a.k.a. FX, and his friends and allies. Heck, I would not mind seeing some offshoots from the series. In fact, TPBs with the Foundation, Homefront or Professor Gerald "Gerry" Turnbull-Stout in it would be a great addition to my collection, to be sure. Together with his artistic accomplices, Osborne has successfully managed to project an enticing new fictional universe with seems to be teeming with exciting people and beings, not to mention stories to be told; and while I hope that quality never goes out of FX or any FX-related material Osborne produces, I certainly hope to see more of those stories.

And perhaps, as a result, to have even more stories just beyond the horizon to dream of.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Let Writers Be Writers: Musicians Musicians and Film Makers Film Makers Too

This past summer, I came across across an article by Mike Masnick over at Techdirt that I fully intended to blog about. Other subjects have kept coming in-between, and thus that post was never written. In all honesty, this post is not it either, but (for reasons I will return to) some of the basic gist of what I opposed in the article has just recently been given new immediacy here in Sweden.

Masnick's article dealt with copyright issues and was a response to some things written by composer Jason Robert Brown on his blog. Among other things, Masnick quotes Brown: "The blueprints for your house should be free. Movies should be free. The DSM-IV should be free, regardless of the expense required to create these things." He then responds by writing:
This is really frustrating because people accuse me of making this kind of statement all the time. It's not should, it's will. 'Should' is a moral argument. 'Will' is a predictive economic explanation. People aren't saying the information 'should' be anything. They're saying it will be -- or, more likely -- already is. Again, the question is what do you do about it? Falsely claiming people are giving it moral value by saying 'should' twists an economic/business model debate into a moral one.
Perhaps needless to say, I have a couple of problems with Masnick's argument.

First of all, it allows for no ethical dimension in an economic/business discourse. Or rather, his argument never considers whether the fact that something is a certain way means that it should, or ought to, be that way (i.e. is it ethically sound). By way of an admittedly very rough but also very clear analogy, slavery was an economic reality and it was hardly financial reasons that drove that foul practice out of existent in most culture; it was ethical reasons. In fact, given slave-like conditions in manufacturing in certain Asian and African countries, one can only assume that capitalism per se has absolutely no problem whatsoever with the concept of slavery.

Secondly, I find that Masnick's analysis lacks a certain depth. In not better analysing what will be (or perhaps already is), Masnick fails to consider possible implications and consequences of this predictive economic explanation. Now, the quote above is, as stated, a direct response to the following Jason Robert Brown quote: "The blueprints for your house should be free. Movies should be free. The DSM-IV should be free, regardless of the expense required to create these things." If we focus on the second sentence (i.e. the one referencing the medium of the film) and apply Masnick's logic that films will be free (if they are not already), this raises an important issue: Who will make films for free?

Oh, sure enough, there would probably be some ventures made, but clearly the most expensive artistic/entertainment medium we have created would suffer if there would be no money to be made, because who would want to invest? Masnick's analysis may be correct on one level (i.e. that the situation with, currently illegal, downloading may well suggest the predictive economic explanation he sees), but fails to go deep enough to see that this condition might actually lead to there being no film production at all. At which point at least I feel it appropriate to ask: Is that what we want?

So what has given this the new immediacy mentioned in the opening of this post? Well, in the last week or two, there has been something of a public dispute between Swedish author Björn Ranelid and the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, historian Peter Englund. The whole (somewhat ludicrous) affair started when Ranelid, currently a participant in the latest edition of the Swedish version of the TV program Let's Dance, threw out the challenge that the members of the Swedish Academy should leave their ivory tower and participate in this program (or at the very least others like it, presumably).

So what does this have to do with Masnick's article? Well, Masnick and his ilk continuously propose that musicians, film makers, even authors, adapt to the current market and develop new business models. In short, this means a view where for example an author should write his books for free and gain payment some other way, be it on lecture/reading tours or participation in TV programs, etc. Personally, I have two major problems with this idea.

Firstly, I doubt many other workers would accept it if you went up to them and said, "So, hey, we're not going to pay you for your work from now on, but we want you to continue doing it. We understand that you want to be paid, but you just have to do something else on the side to make money." I dare you to try it with a construction worker or a doctor.

Secondly (and sticking with the example of writers), the qualities of writers do not require them to be loquacious, quick-thinking or witty. Heck, they are in no way required to be any type of public performers. What is required by any given writer is a good imagination, a way with words and an understanding of the craft of writing.

Do not get me wrong. I am by no means saying that a writer cannot be a loquacious, quick-thinking and witty public performer who thrives in front of stadium-size audiences. I am merely pointing out that the two are unrelated, and that, perhaps more importantly, there is something seriously wrong if we promote writers not on the basis of their writing, but on how they perform in (at the very least somewhat) unrelated fields. Personally, I am not comfortable with this. I want to read good books, not books by people who happen to be good on stage or in TV sofas, etc (although I do not, as ought to be clear by now, mind reading good books by the latter).

So, for crying out loud, let writers be writers, musicians musicians and film makers film makers too!

Monday, 3 January 2011

"Listen as the Syllables of Slaughter Cut with Calm Precision"

So, a new year is upon us, and I thought it somewhat appropriate to focus a little bit upon on music, seeing as how it is a somewhat under-represented category given this blog's subtitle.

And, as it happens, during the last few days I have been revisiting an old favourite of mine, which still holds up with razor sharp excellence. Dear readers, I give you Marillion's 1984 album Fugazi.

The album consists of seven tracks, "Assassing" (7.02), "Punch and Judy" (3.21), "Jigsaw" (6.50), "Emerald Lies" (5.09), "She Chameleon" (6.53), "Incubus" (8.30) and "Fugazi" (8.13); the B side of the vinyl starting with "She Chameleon". In the strictest sense, it is not a concept album. There is no plot running through the album, tying the songs together and shaping a unified narrative, but that having been said, I would strongly argue that it is a conceptual album. Because the songs are cleverly tied together thematically. Fugazi, as an album, is all about human relationships, and more specifically ones that "Fucked Up, Got Ambushed, Zipped In" (the acronym stemming back to the Vietnam war).

The brilliance of the album comes, to a large extent, from Fish's lyrical genius. As a huge Fish fan, I would say that this album in many ways constitutes one of the man's finest hours. Each song deals with the aforementioned theme, but each song does so by placing the theme in a certain semantic field. The reference is always to the human relationships going down the drain, but the fantastic metaphors used create seven very different tableaux.

In "Assassing", Fish opens up by creating a mixed metaphor of a battle and linguistics, appropriately expressed in a phenomenal piece de resistance of word play extraordinary. As the title of this post ought to demonstrate quite adequately.

The short, but very intensive, second track, "Punch and Judy" makes use of the commedia dell'arte character Puncinella, or more commonly in English, Punchinello or Mr Punch; or even more precisely it uses the old puppet show classic about a relationship taken to murderous levels (Mr Punch killing both his baby and wife before moving on to other pastures – for people interested in the story, I would strongly recommend Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's interpretation in The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch) to express the theme in a more modern, urbanised, and bourgeois setting.

"Jigsaw" is built up on several metaphors, from the notion of jigsaw pieces fitting together (or not, as it were) in the first verse, through the hopelessness in "Screaming out a ceasefire, snowblind in an avalanche zone" in the second one, to the utter despair of playing "Russian roulette in the waiting room / Empty chambers embracing the end" in the final verse. All of these, however, are nicely fitted together as functioning puzzle, almost working as a mise-en-abyme of the album as a whole (i.e. I would argue that it expresses the artistic and stylistic principle behind the lyrics on the whole album, neatly compressed in a single song).

Closing the original A-side of the album, "Emerald Lies" combines a medieval reference involving the Inquisition with a modern day courtroom drama. The colour green is obviously the colour of jealousy and this in turn suits the semantic fields of choice when it comes to the metaphors, since the invasive nature both of the Inquisition and a prosecution eloquently expresses this feeling that can almost literally tear a relationship apart.

Opening the original B-side, "She Chameleon" uses the metaphorical value of a chameleon as type of shape-shifter or deceiver to express physical encounters that somehow never amount to any true meaning, yet which the poetic I nevertheless do not refuse or abandon. Incidentally, I would dare anyone to find a better, more poetically apt use of the word fuck (repeated at that) than in this song.

One of my favourite tracks has always been "Incubus", with its use of photography-, cinema- and stage-related metaphors to describe the lingering remnants of the torn-apart relationships around which the album centres. The power in a phrase like "You who wiped me from your memory like a greasepaint mask / Just like a greasepaint mask" never ceases to amaze me, and never fails to affect me emotionally.

The title track, "Fugazi", brings the theme to a strong close. In some sense, it opens up the notion of failing relationships to a larger stage. It starts with the somewhat intimate lines – "Vodka intimate, an affair with isolation in a Blackheath cell / Extinguishing the fires in my private hell / provoking the heartache to renew the license / Of a bleeding heart poet in a fragile capsule" – but then moves this loss of faith in the Romantic beyond its simpler application on twosome relationships to human relationships on a larger scale, referencing the Holocaust, race riots and the ever-present (at the time) threat of nuclear annihilation.

After establishing that "This world is totally fugazi," the song, and the album, closes with the repeated lines "Where are the prophets, where are the visionaries / Where are the poets, to breach the dawn of the sentimental mercenary," which suggests a desire on the part of the lyricist to plead for a way out of the madness, or perhaps more accurately a way of seeing outside the box, when it comes to human relationships.

Ah well, do not take my word for it. Listen to the album yourselves. And be sure to give those lyrics some extra attention.