Thursday, 15 January 2015

10,000 Bad Drawings #00001-#00012

Yurgh! Isn't this brilliant? It just goes to show what you can do if... well, if you actually do it. Staring the present in the face I've likewise decided to renew last year's resolution to draw A MONSTER A DAY! I want to fill that book and drawing's a discipline I want to get back. Now that I don't doodle I've stopped paying the same kind of attention to other peoples' doodles, which means I don't enjoy comics so much for example, and I want that enjoyment back. I know it's also because I'm forty, and I know my body's running out of Ooo's and Ahh's if I don't exercise them. I also appear to have developed a fear of putting pen to paper. Thank-you letters haven't helped: What if they can't read my handwriting? What if it's all tiny like a serial killer's? What if I accidentally write Cunt? 
Anyway, what's the saying? "We all have ten thousand bad drawings in us, the sooner we get them out the better. " Here then are twelve. 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

"Nevertheless I will defend to the death his right to say someone should stab me to death."

Finally! I'd been trying to make the massacre at the Paris offices of "Charlie Hebdo" somehow about me for days, and then I remembered John Finnemore's Voltaire sketch:

Of course it's a disaster when this question becomes anything but hypothetical, even if it's not the only disaster. My own take on all this? Hang on, let me check twitter...
That's right: "Extremists are gangsters. There's money in it. Take that away and you'll see how small a part ideology actually plays." And, regarding the #jesuischarlie hashtag: "It's possible to support free speech as a principle without supporting everything ever said. So I'm not Charlie. And surely that's fine... confuses something that should be very simple. I'm defending your right to be not me."
Having said that... it was a remarkably nuanced campaign of solidarity as these things go on twitter, and even if the later #jesuisahmed seemed a slight dig at #jesuischarlie ("Charlie ridiculed my faith and I died defending his right to do so"), without it I doubt I would have known about Ahmed at all, and I'm glad I know about Ahmed. So "You're not Ahmed. You're not Groot. Free speech allows us to do far more than taking sides will." But also, well done the internet. #iamgroot was Keeps' idea, by the way.
I also enjoyed the clarity of Jon Taylor's summary: "Shot dead. Drawings." and Frankie Boyle's "Glad everyone's celebrating free speech in Trafalgar Square, and not in Parliament Square where they'd be arrested." Yeah, imagine if we'd done that.
And by "we" of course I mean "not me".

Saturday, 10 January 2015

It's not just Mrs. Nesmith

We all know that the Monkees' Mike Nesmith's mother invented liquid paper. But how many of these other rock-n'-roll family inventions are you familiar with...

 Elton John's parents are jointly responsible for the "pop-up house". These paper homes, while certifiably stable (see photo above) were never mass-produced owing to the prohibitively large number of children needed to get one open.

 David Crosby's father Werner invented "gree-ellow" - a colour David refused to ever sport.

 Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick's mother invented the "baby".

 Donovan shows off just three of the identity-changing cosmetic treatments pioneered by his dog "Doctor McAllistair". 

Richie Havens models the nuclear coolant synthesised by his conjoined siblings Sweets and Gummo.

Uncle Gretchen poses with the patented Succubus-Absorbent Silverware he used to exorcise a grateful Eric Clapton.

And of course Frank Zappa's sofa invented holograms.

(Thank you,

Friday, 9 January 2015

"I might have that little chair we were talking about now."

"The Box of Desires" - a chilling new episode from The Monster Hunters - is now up, and that is a line from it. A particularly unsettling tale this, in spite of my Sir Maxwelling and the obvious influence of M.R. James - Wait, not "in spite of ". Sorry, I meant "because of the influence of M.R. James" obviously. M.R. James is very scary, sure. What's more scary than basically nothing?

Although now I think of it, while your headphones are up, draw your curtains and get your looking-at-stuff gear round this from the beautiful and talented Joel Morris and Will Maclean. Its young star Susy Kane is also tremendous and definitely one to watch. You will jump.

Brilliant stuff. There's a bit I want to freeze-frame just to accustom myself to the terror.
But I daren't. Like that bit in "Mulholland Drive" - Oh wait no, not that bit in "Mulholland Drive", the bit with the monster round the corner. Not the bit with the - Not the - Not Laura Harring and Naomi Watts in the - I don't freeze-frame -
Anyway that's loads of bits.
Susy can also be heard playing Griselda Promegrew in Monster Hunters' Series 2, of course.
And now I think of it, I can be heard playing the aforementioned M.R. James in a super fun sketch written by aforementioned Will Maclean in the new series of "Before They Were Famous", recorded last July and going out - When? What? MAY?!

"Perhaps she'll thaw"

In a happier start to 2015, it looks like Fred Spencer - of fleeting Fred-and-Sharon fame - is out of the motor home.

This is fantastic news. Although I'd tried to plug his work over Christmas, grateful for the laffs, I hadn't actually kept up with the "My Strange Life" updates over the holidays - Fred Needs a Shower Day 161, say, or A Sad Start to Christmas Day 162 - because he'd always kept so happy, and I wasn't sure I wanted to see that end. But New Years Resolutions Day 163 (from which these images are taken) has clearly seen a turnaround in Fred's fortunes...

With typical gallantry, all he'll tell us about Sheryl Anne Wilson - seen on Day 163 proudly relaying details of the various self-improving courses offered by the Penticton Community Centre and hammering frozen vegetables - is that she is "a good friend, who took me in during a cold winter". But he's put her name on the opening credits now, I notice. And he's made it spin.

Sheryl Anne makes an earlier appearance in the video below. Ostensibly, the star of Day 159 is Betty (whose anecdote about angora I'm not sure I really get) but I suspect it's really Sheryl Ann's presence that was responsible for restoring the giddy life to Fred's work (and those familiar with the work of his sadly estranged wife Sharon will also have to admit that Sheryl Anne seems a lot happier in front of the camera too).

Whatever happens, I wish them both as much happiness as they would wish for themselves. To quote Fred's clearly improvised closing number:

"Where'm I going? I don't know.
Hope it's warm and sunny.
Hope there's lots of money
Lots of friends.
Rains all night.
Suns all day (?)
Everybody likes to play.
Hope I have lots of friends.
Lots of girls.
Lots of boys.
Hope I have lots of money.
Hope I have...
Nice and sunny.
Sitting on a beach somewhere
Within my hand up air (?)
And a little bit of noise
Just to make
Things happy.
Good music every day.
Good things to eat, to play.
Hope it's always sunny.
It can rain at night.
It's going to be funny.
Hope I have a great time."

So say we all, Fred. Happy New Year, and thank you.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Fat Adolf


The novel's full title is The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale, and for Joseph Conrad maybe it is, but there are definitely simpler tales. Roger Ebert declared it Conrad's most unfilmable book, but he only had Christopher Hampton's pudding of an adaptation to go on, and even Hampton's fudge threw up sparks: the uncredited casting of Robin Williams for example, as sociopathic bomb-geek "The Professor" - one hand forever clasped around the bulb that would blow him up - comes years before his similarly chilling work in One Hour Photo or Insomnia. For my part I first read the book in 1997, shortly after catching The Conversation on television - a perfect 1970's paranoid thriller starring a mopey Gene Hackman (in a Parrot Shop Sketch mac) - and I was struck by the similarities in tone. I thought it read like a prophecy, was very filmable, and, as longtime readers of this blog might know, I've been pondering how to film it ever since.

"It sounds like Watchmen" said Adriano Shaplin when I told him the story, which meant I was probably telling it well. The most interesting correlation is Conrad's boldest departure from the failed bombing on which the novel was based: In The Secret Agent, the bomb is not the work of terrorists, but of a supercilious peace-keeping force. The everyday anarchists in The Secret Agent are harmless. Even The Professor just makes "the stuff". He never expects anyone to use it. He's a low-rent, walking testament to the theory of mutually assured destruction. The book's most obvious villain is actually the bullying youngblood Vladimir, the celebrated ideas man of the Imperial Embassy. His ultimately ineffectual nemesis is the Assistant Commissioner, a whimsical, nationless embodiment of a comfortable respect for civil liberties, shown no respect himself by his baffled Chief Inspector. And the Assistant Commissioner is ultimately ineffectual because he loses his star witness, not to the anarchists, nor to the Chief Inspector or the agents of Vladimir, but to... SPOILERS. There are definitely simpler tales.

  1992. Poor sods.

There are strange future echoes in the book too: The secret agent and his wife are called Adolf and Winnie, the Professor says "Exterminate! Exterminate!" And there are images that seem taken from the very earliest cinema, specifically comedies: a man throwing himself from a train, another man blown literally to pieces (another invention of Conrad's)...

It is a heap of characters - a batty clash of world views on the cusp of a new century* that ends in hopeless chaos... Except there is no end. Life, or if not life, stuff goes on. That's the tone, as far as I could make out. It's not unlike the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading, which is why I like Burn After Reading. You should read it. OR...

There's this!
I knew there had been a television adaptation a few years before Hampton's, with a heavily mustachioed David Suchet as Adolf Verloc and Peter Capaldi as Vladimir, and I'd been dying to see it for a over decade but couldn't find it anywhere. Well, it's finally up on youtube, I've seen it, and I adore it. Dusty Hughes' adaptation gets everything right that Christopher Hampton couldn't be bothered to, preserving politics, consequence and tenderness. The cast is tremendous, and all seem to belong in the same film, unlike Hampton's (as well as losing Robin Williams last year we also lost Warren Clarke and David Ryall. Both are brilliant here.) Suchet's make-up looks stupid in the photos - an obvious attempt to distance himself from Poirot - but works in action, and Barrington Pheloung's score puts the tin lid on it. That's the other thing: in my unmade head-movie the music was vital. I knew it had to be like the solo piano in The Conversation, or the solo zither in The Third Man - it had to play against the hopelessness, be pitilessly light-hearted and say "That's life. That's entertainment. Stroll on."
In my head! This scene was in my head!

What I'm saying is... I can't think of a better way to open what is already looking like a terribly serious year, so let's all watch this, and if I can get you to do that, can we pretend that's the same as me actually making the film, and move on too? Great!

(And if you want a shiny one, it seems to be available here.)

P.S. Thanks to all those who have suggested how I might stage Jonah Non Grata again. Basically, I need a producer. All suggestions welcome. Jonah, of course, is not a million miles away from Fat Adolf.

* P.P.S I've just remembered, the book's dedicated to H.G. Wells.


"Okay, now one with just the Bride and Groom. If someone could wheel Great Aunt Musty out of shot?  Okay, I'll do it. I'll... I..."
The photographer's eyes and the bride's met once again - four of his, both of hers.
"Oh, why now?" thought the Bride, "Why, of all times, am I feeling this NOW?"
"Such sadness," he thought, "Such longing." And then, "Shit, I'm telepathic!"
"What?" thought the Groom, "Ow, these chafe."


Darrell K. Sweet - Between Planets, 1978.

Illustrated by Darrell K. Sweet