Sunday 29 May 2016

Spectre by Horak and Lawrence et al

I'd forgotten how good the James Bond newspaper strips were. I was reminded by the appearance of a handsome new hardcover from Titan books.  

The release of the latest Bond film Spectre is the excuse for this volume of strips, which is a compendium of all the stories featuring that eponymous organisation of bad guys. (Thank you to the lovely Lydia for alerting me to its existence.)

Three of the stories included here are drawn by John McClusky and one by Yaroslav Horak, which is a pity. But we'll get to that...

The first entry is Thunderball, which is an engrossing and intelligent adaptation of the Ian Fleming novel, until it is cut short less than halfway through. The bizarre and clumsy haste with which it "ends" is simply astonishing — we get three panels of the underwater battle! 

I was baffled by this until I did a bit of research and found out what the hell was going on... The Bond strips originally appeared in a British newspaper called the Daily Express. It seems the owner of the Express, Lord Beaverbrook, had a tantrum because Fleming sold a short story to a rival paper, the Sunday Times. So he ordered the Thunderball strip stopped in its tracks.
Of course, this action did nothing to harm Fleming — was he even aware of it? It merely served to ruin the pleasure of Beaverbrook's own readers. Truly, there's nothing like the petulance of a press baron. 

The only good thing about this premature ending is that it means we are straight into The Spy Who Loved Me which is drawn by the magnificently talented Czech artist, Yaroslav Horak. And although, like all the other strips in the book, Ian Fleming is credited, the writer is actually one Jim Lawrence. Lawrence really proves his worth here by cannily supplementing Fleming's original novel.

The Spy Who Loved Me didn't even feature Spectre. It was a tale of Bond versus American gangsters at a rural motel. 

But the Jim Lawrence script features a clever and exciting espionage subplot neatly grafted onto the beginning, concerning experimental Canadian fighter jets — it's actually rather better than Fleming's novel.

And then there's Horak's art. 

All the images in this post are by Yaroslav Horak. I notice the sensible designers at Titan chose a Horak image to use on the cover of the Spectre collection, even though his work only makes up a small portion of the book.

Most of that volume consists of strips (Thunderball, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, You Only Live Twice) scripted by Henry Gammidge and drawn by John McClusky. McClusky's art seems perfectly acceptable until you compare it to Horak's.

Horak's dynamic, brilliantly composed work is so spacious and uncluttered it's hard to believe the strips are the same size as McClusky's dim, crowded, poorly designed panels
One amusing feature of these 1960s strips is that speech ballons all too often come from the wrong character, though you think they'd know there's only one person who could say this: "Now don't hang on my gun arm, there's a good girl."

Titan seems to have reprinted virtually all the Bond strips in various paperback editions and I am now going to go in search of all the ones drawn by Horak. A classic newspaper strip, overdue for rediscovery. 

(Image credits: The Spectre cover image is from Titan Books. The Spy Who Loved Me cover is another Titan image. The "Rona" panel is from 007 Magazine. The cigarette smoking panel ("Ghosthawk") is from Active Scrawler. "Cold blood" is from Comic Art Ville. The Spanish cover is from Tiendascosmic. )

Sunday 22 May 2016

Batman v Superman by Terrio and Goyer

This movie was not as bad as I expected — I really didn't like Zack Snyder's previous Superman movie. No effort was made to get the audience to care for the characters and consequently all the fight scenes and special effects just left me cold.

But, as I say, this new effort is not as bad as I expected, and not bad in the same way I expected... but still pretty terrible. Shall we go through the headline mistakes?

Like so many movies of this ilk, it begins with a big action sequence which means nothing because we don’t care about the characters yet. I am developing a maxim for film writing: a car chase is only interesting if we care about the characters in the cars. 

Well, that's not the case here. So much so that there is a car chase during which I actually fell asleep.

Where was I? Oh yes, the other things wrong with this movie: the bullet of a mystery design which is shot into Lois Lane’s notebook, and which is a major plot point, doesn’t look like a bullet. Everybody in the audience (or at least I) thought it was another one of those little tracking devices which we just saw in the earlier scene. 

I must concede that the cast is excellent. Indeed Jeremy Irons as Alfred is far and away the best thing on the screen during the endless two and a half hours of this movie. Jesse Eisenberg’s version of Lex Luthor is a lot fun, until it begins to grate... Plus, I could have done without the revelation that he's an abused child. Oh well, that's you off the hook, then, Lex. 

But what is really unforgivable is that the "end of level" monster  (i.e. the one at the movie's big climax) is truly, unbelievably crap. I really mean I couldn’t believe it — I was absolutely sure it must metamorphose into something more interesting. But it didn’t. Guys, since H.R, Geiger created the Alien in 1979, this kind of crap is no longer acceptable.

Also, making your big shock ending the death of Superman is stupid beyond belief. Because literally nobody is going to buy the notion that he’s really dead. So there goes your ending. 

Oh, and Gal Gadot, who was supremely wonderful in Criminal, is wasted here as Wonder Woman. 

(Image credits: No shortage of posters at Imp Awards.)

Sunday 15 May 2016

Written in Dead Wax: Going Underground

Okay, it may not surprise you to learn that it's been a hectic week. As I described in last Sunday's post, my debut crime novel Written in Dead Wax has just been published. In case you're intrigued, here's an account of what's been happening since...

Right, well on Monday I recovered from throwing the launch party on Sunday (which I catered myself; I also did the cleaning up afterwards — I'm multi-talented). 

Tuesday was the official publication day. I say 'official' because bookshops had already been selling copies for over a week, bless them.

Once upon a time books used to be "embargoed" until the publication date and it was a big no-no for a bookseller to break that embargo. 
Nowadays things are much more relaxed — unless it's a huge publishing event like, say, a new Harry Potter. And shops can start selling a book as soon as they get copies.

Publication week also saw the beginning of the poster campaign in the London Underground. I'm eternally grateful to my publishers, Titan, and my wonderful publicist Lydia Gittins for swinging this. Trust me, not all first novels get this kind of publicity push.

Officially the campaign runs from the 9th to the 22nd of May, but friends began to report sightings a few days early.

It's an amazing, trippy sensation to see your own beloved book on posters all over the Underground, or the Tube as we Londoners affectionately call it. I still can't quite believe it's happening. Indeed, when Lydia told me she'd got me some Tube advertising I thought she said "cheap advertising."

I celebrated the event by going on a pilgrimage with a list of poster sites. I didn't manage to visit (or even find) them all, but I did pretty damn good job. 

And here are the cream of the photos, all taken with my primitive phone camera, including a shaky portrait of the author obtained by importuning a passing commuter. I'm also oddly fond of the one with graffiti on it.

But — one of my absolute favourites — is the Bakerloo Line corridor at Oxford Circus which has a poster on both walls.

We're going to get them coming and going.

(Image credits: Mine, all mine... Maniacal laughter...)

Sunday 8 May 2016

Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel

Today I'll be laying out plates of food (cooked by my own fair hands) and putting on ice bottles of wine (rather a nice Rhône white), because I'm throwing a party. 

It's to celebrate publication of my novel, Written in Dead Wax, which is published in two days time — 10th May 2016, by Titan Books. The story of Waxy (as I affectionately refer to the book) and its journey from concept to publication is both straightforward and hellishly complicated...

When my friend Ben Aaronovitch became a bestselling author, he suggested to me that I should follow his lead. The important thing, he said, was to write about what you genuinely love. I thought, well... I love crime novels, and I love looking for rare records in charity shops...

And so the Vinyl Detective was born. I won't bore you with how it took six months to get an agent to read the first book, Written in Dead Wax. Or how I maintained my sanity in that period by writing the second novel, The Run Out Groove. 

And then, having fallen in love with the characters, I wrote the third one, Victory Disc. 

Or how the books were turned down, seemed to be dead in the water, years passed, and then my good friend Guy Adams put me in touch with a brilliant editor at Titan called Miranda Jewess and she fell in love with them...

Whoops, I guess I did bore you with all that. Anyway, thanks to Miranda — and Guy — I now have a three book deal, and the first novel is available in a couple of days time.
I hope you like it.

(Image credits: All of the pictures, come to think of it, are from me. Including the cover I commissioned from a talented designer called James King, back in the dark days when I thought I might have to self-publish.)

Sunday 1 May 2016

Criminal by Cook & Weisberg

I was going to quip that any movie which kills off Ryan Reynolds in the first 15 minutes has to be a winner, but actually Criminal is much better than that and doesn't deserve to be dismissed in such a smart-ass way.

This is a thriller with a heavy element of science fiction — it involves technology developed by scientist Quaker Wells (Tommy Lee Jones) which allows a dead man's memories to be transferred to the brain of a living subject. The complication is that the living brain has to be undeveloped — stunted — in a certain way. And the ideal candidate is a dangerous criminal called Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner in a comeback role).

Ryan Reynolds has played a similar role in Self/less, one of the better films of last year, in which he was the recipient, rather than the donor, of someone's personality. But Criminal is even better.

This kind of story has its antecedents in the 1966 Frankenheimer film Seconds. And there are also echoes of Daniel Keyes's sf classic Flower for Algernon. I could go on to mention Ralph Blum's novel The Simultaneous Man, but that would be showing off.

The Reynolds character, Bill Pope is an intelligence agent who has — or had — vital knowledge of a deadly terrorist plot. His memories are duly downloaded into Jericho, who then escapes from the authorities but, as you might imagine, eventually ends up foiling the plot.

This is a fine thriller, with genuinely great use of London locations, but what really makes the movie is that Jericho is a sociopath who has never really experienced any emotional connection with another person — and he has to deal with the fact that the dead man's love for his wife and daughter (Gal Gadot and Lara Decaro, both dazzling) begins to surface in him.

Adding urgency and poignancy to the plot is the fact that Jericho only has Pope's memories in his head for about 48 hours — this is where it's similar to Flowers for Algernon, which told the tragic story of a mentally subnormal man who is given superior intelligence, only to gradually lose it again. In this case, what Jericho is going to lose is his humanity.

This is a truly terrific movie, with what used to be called a star-studded cast, which also includes Gary Oldman and Michael Pitt. And I was particularly impressed by the work of director Ariel Vroman (who previously did the Michael Shannon hitman movie Iceman).

But the real prize here goes to the writing team of Douglas Cook & David Weisberg who also wrote Double Jeopardy, another clever thriller starring Tommy Lee Jones. Here they truly deliver the goods in a complex, engrossing script with real depth.

My only quibble is the scene which depicts a London black-cab driver using GPS instead of relying, as is required, on his memory (ironic in a movie where memory is the theme). He's promptly shot dead, which is the least he deserved.

(Image credits: as usual where movie posters are concerned, Imp Awards comes up trumps.)