Friday, 31 October 2014


DC Comics have Wonderwoman.
The Superman titles have Supergirl.
The original Captain Marvel has Mary Marvel.
Mick Anglo's Marvelman had Kid Marvelman instead of a female character.
Alan Moore restored a female character to the Marvel/Miracle Family:

"To have seen her then, as Liz described her later: cold and glittering, a statue of cut glass, immaculate save for gauntlets darkened by unEarthly blood...
"Aphrodite risen from the churning foam where fell the manhood of Cronos."
-Miracleman #11.

At last, the words match the ideas and strongly connect with Greek myths.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Modesty Blaise: Sabre-Tooth II

Modesty Blaise has a much better attitude to men she has had sex with than James Bond has to women he has had sex with.

Sabre-Tooth shows us how much work would be involved in assembling a secret army. The conspirators can recruit mercenaries and can train and prepare them at a secret hideout in the hills but they cannot conceal from Intelligence organizations that large numbers of cutthroat boys have gone out of circulation.

Lucille, the girl adopted by Modesty's partner, Willie, is introduced in this novel. Modesty, Willie and the reader should have foreseen that Modesty and Willie would be blackmailed through her. Was Lucille introduced as a character just for this purpose?

Peter O'Donnell equals or excels Fleming and Forsythe for apparently authentic technical and background details.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Modesty Blaise: Sabre-Tooth

The first collected volume of Modesty Blaise comic strips waits faithfully for me to pay for it at First Age Comics, Lancaster. Meanwhile, I have collected the second Modesty Blaise novel, Sabre-Tooth, from Waterstones Bookshop. I have a common problem with both books: big and awkward sizes. The collection has large format pages to accommodate quantities of newspaper comic strips. This print-on-order edition of the novel is large print.

In the novel, Modesty must prevent an invasion of Kuwait: highly topical. This book does not seem to retain the villain of the first novel, Gabriel. I discuss the novels on this blog because they are based on the comic strips and written by the same author, Peter O'Donnell.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Plebeian, Pilgrim And Performer, Part II

See here.

Interactions between the author's three roles become more complex. On p. 181, the Pilgrim (abbreviated as "THE PILG" in the script (see p. 55)), rowing a boat, sings, "Life is but a dream," and again, " is but a..." Turning the page, we find a more realistically drawn Bryan Talbot waking from a dream. Going downstairs, he draws page 1, the Plebeian approaching the Sunderland Empire Theatre. Pages 2 and 3 are the same picture filled in, then completed, with the texts, "Well, there's this guy, right..." (p. 2) and "...and he goes to this theatre..." (p. 3). When the more realistically drawn Bryan Talbot has drawn p. 3, the Performer appears in front of the panel and recites these words. Then, the Plebeian, seeing all this on a screen inside the theatre, objects to his image being used.

Plebeian and Performer argue, the latter repeating Wonderland words to claim that they are both mad. This makes the more realistically drawn Bryan Talbot exclaim that he is mad. Then he asks the reader whether the reader is dreaming him. When Scott McCloud has appeared and shed some light, the more realistically drawn Bryan Talbot, addressing the Plebeian, removes a mask and costume, showing us that, underneath, he is the Performer. Going backstage, he steps through a door on a right hand page and emerges from the same door on the following left hand page, thus passing through the page. He shows us that Carroll made Alice do this with the Looking Glass. Then he draws us panels of himself in Tintin style walking through Morocco before reminding us of the Bayeux Tapestry, seen earlier, and analyzing the works of William Hogarth over seven pages. The Tapestry is "...the beginning of British comics history..." (p. 195) and Hogarth is "...the next great milestone..." (ibid.)

On p. 216, the Pilgrim, who has been walking through history, is suddenly on a screen in the theatre with the two resident ghosts, introduced earlier, commenting. The unidentified White Lady tells Sid James, a comedy actor who had died on stage, a local ghost story in horror comic style before they again watch the Pilgrim on screen and the reader soon forgets that there has been a screen.

On p. 317, an even more realistically drawn Bryan Talbot wakes up at the end of Swan Lake at the Empire and his wife thinks that he has missed the show but he thinks that he hasn't. P. 318 is them walking home.

(...hopefully not to be mugged by Joe Chill.)

Visual And Verbal

Some graphic documentaries fail to integrate the verbal with the visual. For example, an uncompromising slab of prose quoted from a source text is accompanied somewhere on the same page by a cartoon. By contrast, in Bryan Talbot's 318-page Alice In Sunderland (London, 2007), although there are indeed many words, they are presented in small captions or balloons spread across profusely illustrated large format pages in a wealth of color and detail covering the entire available surface, sometimes receding to an impossible distance of time as well as of space in perspective. See image.

We cannot possibly assimilate all the verbally imparted information but realize that, by careful rereading, we would learn at least as much as we could from a dense prose text. A Thomas Dixon is mentioned on page 77 and, on p. 173, we learn that "John Ruskin's Mackem cork-cutter, the highly cultured Thomas Dixon, is buried in the churchyard."

8 Oct 2014: Rereading, I find Thomas Dixon on p. 48: "...a self-educated Mackem cork-cutter of uncommon intelligence and friend of many Victorian intellectuals, writers and artists.
"Ruskin addresses his books Letters to a Working Man and Time and Tide by Weare and Tyne to Tommy Dixon."

Monday, 6 October 2014

Plebeian, Performer And Pilgrim

I had already noticed that Bryan Talbot plays three roles in his Alice In Sunderland, then I realized that he had told us this on the title page:

               THE WIGAN TITWILLOW
As the Plebeian, the Performer and the Pilgrim

(I have not reproduced the colors of the smaller letters accurately.)

The Plebeian enters the theatre, where the Performer, as the White Rabbit, speaks from the stage, saying that the comic medium will conjure a vision in the imagination. The Pilgrim first appears on p. 26, drawing the Performer. The Pilgrim then addresses the reader and walks through Sunderland but is interrupted by the Plebeian who is answered by the Performer with the Pilgrim, in his most recent panel, in the background. Then the Pilgrim also addresses the Plebeian and resumes his narrative walk. Later, the Plebeian sleeps, dreams and meets the Tweedles who put the White Rabbit mask on him and send him onto the stage where he is now the Performer addressing the Plebeian. 

Needless to say, on my first reading of the book, I concentrated on the verbal content and completely missed all these interactions between the author's three roles.

Alice: The Acrostic

Since the republic of letters, and of pictures, is one, let us discuss poetry on Comics Appreciation: "...the acrostic poem that concludes Through The Looking Glass" is beautifully reproduced on the graphically illustrated page 64 of Bryan Talbot's Alice In Sunderland: An Entertainment (London, 2007).

The poem is about nostalgia:

"A boat beneath a sunny sky,
"Lingering onward dreamily
"In an evening of July -"

and the passage of time:

"Long has paled that sunny sky:
"Echoes fade and memories die:
"Autumn frosts have slain July."

But something endures, in memory:

"Still she haunts me..."

- and in imagination:

"Alice moving under skies
"Never seen by waking eyes."

- and in future generations:

"Children yet, the tale to hear..."

Each generation experiences the summer:

"Dreaming as the days go by..."

 - and successive summers:

"Dreaming as the summers die..."

- and always remembers:

"Ever drifting down the stream -
"Lingering in the golden gleam -"

In the third last line and despite the theme of transience, the word "Ever..." is used. Finally, life ends:

"Life, what is it but a dream?"

To Lewis Carroll, a clergyman, life was a dream from which we wake whereas many of us think that it is followed by a dreamless sleep. (Plato in the Phaedo: "Eternity is a single night.") Carroll reversed the metaphor in another Alice poem:

"We are but older children, dear,
"Who fret to find our bedtime near."

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Alice In Sunderland And Voice Of The Fire: A Fourth Parallel

In Bryan Talbot's Alice In Sunderland, the author, dreaming, sits in the otherwise empty Sunderland Empire Theatre while the author not only speaks from the stage but also interacts with the author writing the script, drawing the strip and walking through the city's history, speaking the words in speech balloons and captions.

In the concluding chapter of Alan Moore's Voice Of The Fire, when the author comes on stage:

"...the Help menu [is] lettered up on the proscenium arch. The cursor winks, a visible slow handclap in the black, deserted auditorium."
-Alan Moore, Voice Of The Fire (London, 1996), p. 292.

Depiction, narration and action/acting are the three story-telling media. Talbot compares his sequential art with drama and Moore likewise compares his prose with it.

Alice In Sunderland And Voice Of The Fire

Three Parallels

(i) Alice In Sunderland, a graphic documentary by Bryan Talbot, surveys the history of the North East of England. Voice Of The Fire, a prose novel by Alan Moore, spans the history of the site of Northampton with chapters set in successive periods from 4000 BC to 1995 AD.

(ii) Both works incorporate the author writing the work.

In Alice... (London, 2007), p. 55, panel 5:

caption: ...right now I'm writing the script, typing these words.
picture: Talbot typing; the words on the screen.

In Voice... (London, 1996), p. 293:

"The author types the words 'the author types the words.'"

(iii) Both authors are best known for their works of graphic fiction.

One Autograph

My copy of Voice... is signed:

"To Paul,
"From the septic navel of the nation,
"With very best wishes -
"Alan Moore."

I will miss the Kendal Comics Art Festival (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here) this year but should try to get Mr Talbot's autograph on Alice... next year.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Some English History

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation today.

Rereading Poul Anderson's works has slowed down because I have:

worked my way through most of the Technic History;
been reading Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise for the first time;
begun rereading Bryan Talbot's Alice In Sunderland.

Since I have met Bryan Talbot a few times and saw Poul Anderson at a couple of World SF Cons, that leaves Peter O'Donnell as the only one of these three writers with whom I have had no personal or visual contact.

Talbot's Alice... summarizes a lot of English history and thus covers some familiar Andersonian territory. Talbot mentions Romans, Vikings and Normans but, so far, has skipped over Harald Hardrada. He reminds us that it was the Venerable Bede, the father of English history, who invented the BC/AD calender.

Does anyone out there know which Poul Anderson book this cover illustration is for?

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Modesty Blaise: The First Novel

I used to say that the best team in comics was Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth but Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin seem to be as good in a different way, although I have so far read about them only in the first novel.

In this novel, the man whom Gabriel needs for a crucial job breaks his leg so Gabriel gets Willie to do the job. I expected to be told that Modesty and Willie had caused the broken leg. Or were they counting on Gabriel to co-opt them for the disposal of the stolen jewels in any case?

The underwater activity was reminiscent of Fleming's Thunderball and Modesty watching the theft as Gabriel's prisoner was reminiscent of the film, You Only Live Twice. When Hagan asks why Modesty has returned to such dangerous work, Willie replies:

"'It's one way of knowing you are alive...'"
-Peter O'Donnell, Modesty Blaise (London, 2014), p. 122.

That is reminiscent of James Bond's imperfect haiku:

"You only live twice,
"Once when you are born
"And once when you look death in the face."

Willie's wisdom is also displayed in this passage:

"Willie Garvin's long-held view was that in these soft and secure days life was held a lot too sacred, and that the high importance attached to it was no part of natural law. In the natural order of things, life had always been cheap. You came and you went and it didn't much matter. Only cruelty disturbed him." (p. 213)

That last sentence matters. Our morality is not part of the natural order but it remains our morality.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Blaise And Bond

Is Modesty Blaise a female James Bond? No, she is an independent character - although they would make an interesting team. Modesty ran an international criminal organization called "The Network," retired young and rich and then agreed to help the Secret Service mainly because she preferred an active retirement.

I have only just started to read Modesty Blaise but my previous discussions of Bond are here, here, here and here.

Modesty Blaise

Peter O'Donnell based his first Modesty Blaise novel on his screenplay which he had based on his comic strip. See here. I am reading the first novel and consider it appropriate to discuss it on Comics Appreciation. It is excellent as a work of prose fiction and I look forward to following it with the first comic strip, The Gabriel Set-Up.

O'Donnel's equivalent of M, Sir Gerald Tarrant, unintentionally comments on another comics character when, discussing archery, he says:

"'It's a great sport, I understand. But rather impractical, surely? You can't carry a bow and arrows around with you.'"
-Peter O'Donnell, Modesty Blaise (London, 2014), p. 69.

Modesty's side-kick, Willie Garvin, is her Q, with an explosive tie pin, a lipstick case that fires tear-gas etc. Gabriel and his henchmen, and woman, are an impressive casts of villains.