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Saturday, 26 May 2007

Ellis has new novel on the way


Warren Ellis, who recently swept the boards in the 20007 Eagle Awards, the writer behind Transmetropolitan, Planetary, and Marvel's hot new Thunderbolts, has put his uniquely deranged imagination to work on a brand-new series, Doktor Sleepless, from Avatar Press this July.

He recently talked to the web site Playback about Doktor Sleepless and also about his first novel (Crooked Little Vein, due out this summer in the US from William Morrow and August in the UK from HarperCollins).

A story centring on a burned-out private detective enlisted by an army of presidential goons to retrieve the U.S. Constitution -- the real one -- it sounds to me that this might just be the kind of tale to get picked up as a film.

Click here to read the interview on the Playback site

The Aesthetics of Trash?

A major academic conference on comics and animation is to take place in Manchester in August, and a call has gone out for papers.

Taking place from 28th - 29th August 2007 the event, titled The Aesthetics of Trash?: Reassessing Animation and the Comic - An International Conference will take place at the Manchester Metropolitan University and the deadline for submitting abstracts is 25th June 2007.

Arranged by the University's Media Studies department, this is an interdisciplinary conference which organising joint chairs: Dr David Huxley and Dr Joan Ormrod hope will address issues surrounding the achievements, cultural status and thematic concerns of animation and comics.

David Huxley is Programme Leader for Manchester University's BA (Hons) Film and Media Studies course. His subject specialisms are Cartoons and the Comic Strip, Censorship, Hollywood Film and Animation and Fashion Theory, and his current research interests include the representation of 19th century American historical figures in 20th century film and comic strips.

Joan Ormrod lectures on the History of Film and Media Studies degree in the School of the History of Art and Design and is currently researching a PhD in British surfing between 1966-1980. Her main research interests are subcultures and the ways in which subcultural audiences consume mass media texts, including the cultural construction of gender, particularly masculinity, in popular culture and the history of comic books. (So yes, she's researching the lifestyles of comics fans. Best of luck with that!)

Until comparatively recently, feel the organisers, the fields of animation and comics have received little serious critical attention in the English speaking world. Both have been regarded as second class media which were below critical radar. Since the 1980s, writings and research on animation (Donald Crafton, John Canemaker, Giannalberto Bendazzi, Paul Wells) and the comic (Martin "Haunt of Fears" Barker, Roger Sabin, Paul Gravett) have begun to recuperate the reputation of these media, both through a thorough examination of their history, and a critical assessment of their aesthetic and cultural value.

The organisers feel there is still a vast amount of work to be done in these areas (and also on the relationship between both media and the live action film). This two day conference will bring together current research in these areas and indicate directions that future research might take.

Papers are invited on a wide range of topics, including:

• Comics/animation & Genre
• The Language of Comics
• How has new media affected the comic?
• What has been the influence of Japan on Western comics and/or animation?
• What is the future of animation?
• Comics fans
• Comics/animation and gender issues
• American Animation Studios
• The Animator as Auteur
• Animation & the Net
• Has the superhero comic been superseded by the superhero film?
• Comics & New Media
• Comics/animation and censorship
• Film Adaptations
• Animation: art versus industry
• How does the construction of the cartoon star relate to live action stardom?
• Experimental Animation
• The Comic Strip
• Underground and Alternative comics
• Comics/animation and nationalism/nationality

Papers will be considered on related themes. 300 word abstracts should be submitted by 25th June 2007 to the organising joint chairs: Dr David Huxley (d.huxley@mmu.ac.uk) and Dr Joan
Ormrod (j.ormrod@mmu.ac.uk).

Natural Born Thriller


You usually have to buy books, but not if it’s 2000AD creator Simon Spurrier’s debut novel Contract. The Times reported earlier this week that his tale of a morally repugnant yet charismatic hitman named Michael Point is being released free online in six weekly installments - the first is online now - with a traditional hardback from publishers Headline on sale from 4th June.

The Times describes Simon as having "amassed a cult following apparently ready to lap up his first full-length work of fiction" through his work for 2000AD.

• His murderous antihero Point has apparently gained a life of his own, with his own web page at www.itsallaboutthemoney.co.uk and MySpace account at www.myspace.com/michaelpoint

Friday, 25 May 2007

Yes to the Olympics - No to Arts cuts

Please forgive me. I'm having a rant.

On the Number 10 Downing Street website there's a petition up and running right now, which aims to stop the Chancellor using Arts and Heritage Lottery money to plug the funding gap in the 2012 Olympics.

The Chancellor proposes to plug the funding gap with a 35% reduction in Grants in Arts funding and reallocating the money - some £675 million - to the Olympics. Please submit your name to the petition and oppose the cuts to Arts Grants (Here's a link about recent developments as reported by The Guardian).

Any way, the petition is at: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/lotteryolympics

It has already gathered over 18,000 signatures – If it gets to 40,000, it would make it into the top five most popular petitions on the site.

I've no objection to the Olympics and Paralympics themselves. It's great that it's coming to Britain. But I take exception to arts and heritage groups losing out because of it. And I'm not alone: the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has spoken out and remains unsatisfied by the Government's response to the concerns they've raised. The Stage reported just this week that leaders of Britain’s largest performing arts unions, trade associations and lobby groups have taken the unprecedented step of drawing up a joint letter to chancellor Gordon Brown warning of the dire consequences of the Olympics Lottery raid for the cultural sector.

If you're as annoyed about this as I was, and I hope you are, I hope you'll sign the petition... and maybe you'll consider adding this banner I knocked up to your web site or blog:

Say no to arts cuts

Update: Whew! The power of the web. I e-mailed this out late on a Friday evening and within an hour, Liam Sharp had the item up as a news story on MySpace, Tim Perkins had re-blogged my message and the likes of David Baillie, John McCrea, Hunt Emerson, Simon Fraser and Sean Phillips had all signed the petition. Smart.

Life on Mars producers head for space

UK TV trade magazine Broadcast has reported that BBC1 aims to repeat the success of Life on Mars with a new high-concept series from Kudos set in space.

In Outcasts, penned by Spooks writer Ben Richards (the series is known as MI5 in the US - he also wrote the BBC's Party Animals and Channel 4's No Angels.), the future of Earth looks increasingly precarious and the race is on to find an alternative home in the universe.

In return for their liberty a group of social misfits and criminals -- ranging from a "brilliant deviant" to a "petty thief" -- are sent into space to be the pioneers of a large new settlement on a nearby planet and tasked with building the conditions for a new life.

"The colonisation of space is only a matter of time," feels Kudos joint managing director Jane Featherstone. "Ben Richards' brilliant vision of what life will be like when that happens offers a dramatic, original and entertaining new drama arena."

The series is currently in development with BBC Wales boss Julie Gardner, whose department is responsible for Doctor Who.

This looks promising - let's just hope it isn't treated like Phillip Hinchcliffe was on Star Cops, the BBC's last big attempt at a SF mainstream show not linked with Doctor Who, way back in 1987!

Fantastic Four, Spider-Man animation news


Cynopsis Kids! reports the first of 26 episodes of Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes, a new mixed 2D and 3D animated half hour series, will premiere on the US Cartoon Network's Toonami block on Saturday, 9 June 2007 at 9:30pm. This is the precursor to the Fox and Marvel Studio's live-action movie, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, which releases simultaneously in the US and the UK on 15 June.

The new TV series is a continuation of the newly-produced four-episode Fantastic Four show that debuted on Toonami in September 2006, already released on Region 1 DVD, and is a co-production of Moonscoop, M6, Cartoon Network Europe and Marvel Studios.

In other Marvel superhero animation news, Cynopsis also reports that Spider-Man Merchandising L.P. (a limited partnership between Sony Pictures Consumer Products Inc. and Marvel Entertainment, Inc.) is set to launch licensing and merchandising programs in support of the upcoming Spider-Man animated series, tentatively titled Spectacular Spider-Man, which is slated to bow Saturday mornings on Kids' WB! on the CW Network in early 2008.

Produced by Sony Pictures Television's Culver Entertainment, Spectacular Spider-Man picks up the story as Peter Parker enters his junior year in high school, where in addition to dealing with the pressures of homework and a social life he must conceal his identity and newly-found powers.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Dan Dare, Space... Horse?

Hmm... I'm no betting man, aside from the ill-advised persistent belief/affliction that my numbers will come up on the lottery, but as a comics fan I am tempted by the news that there's a horse called Dan Dare running at Newcastle next Bank Holiday Monday.

As long as the other runners don't include "Mekon", it might be worth a punt!

Addams Family heads to Broadway

Good news for Addams Family fans (which includes me). Variety reports that The Addams Family is on its way to Broadway, a new large-scale musical based on the cartoons of Charles Addams, aims to hit the Rialto in the 2009 -10 season.

Addams' cartoons -- about a ghoulish family whose members include father Gomez, mother Morticia, uncle Fester and daughter Wednesday -- appeared for more than 50 years in the New Yorker.

(You're not likely to find many images on the web as the Addams family estate has requested they not be published online, according to this unofficial fan site, but you can buy some great collections, including Happily Ever After: A Collection of Cartoons to Chill the Heart of Your Loved One, from amazon.com or amazon.co.uk).

The cartoons inspired several TV series, including the 1960s live-action sitcom and a couple of animated series, along with two features.

Variety says the musical - composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party) is writing the songs, while Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) provide the book - will be based solely on the cartoons, not on the big- or small-screen incarnations. It hasn't yet been determined whether the creatives will be granted permission to include the familiar TV theme song.

Buffy creator calls for equality

An author friend of mine sent me this moving piece by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly creator Joss Whedon, who is clearly appalled not just by real world tragedy but by a new film in distribution called Captivity.

Joss' comments speak for themselves, but deserve the widest exposure possible, hence this forwarding.

It might also be cause to alert people to a wider concerns about Captivity, a film Lionsgate describes as in the vein of the Saw and Hostel franchises in which people find themselves trapped and terrified by abductors, now due for US release 22 June.

Back in March, an initial billboard ad campaign for the film in the US drew huge protest, even from diehard free speech supporters, and the Motion Picture Association of America responded to the complaints by slapping producers Dark Films with an unprecedented sanction for posting the explicit ads, which the MPAA had previously ruled as inappropriate (as you can see from these news stories from Variety and Hollywood Reporter - subscription may be required).

After the storm of protest After Dark CEO Courtney Solomon said the wrong files were sent to the printer, who then passed them on to the billboard company without approval from any executives at After Dark. (Of course, that someone at After Dark clearly thought the campaign was a good idea and created the ads in the first place...)

A second PR campaign, this time approved by the Motion Picture Association of America, which has drawn similar protests.

Solomon told Hollywood Reporter the movie is certainly a horror movie and it's about abduction, "but it's also about female empowerment.

"We re-shot the ending so the main character ends up in as much of a positive situation as the situation could allow," he claims. "There is no rape or nudity in it, though it should be an R-rated movie. For the audience it's made for, it's satisfying to that audience. I'm sure that's not the same audience that's complaining about the billboards."

Oh, so that makes everything all right then?

The original post on 20 May 2007 by Joss Whedon, and the many responses can be found at: whedonesque.com/comments/13271

Let's Watch A Girl Get Beaten To Death. This is not my blog, but I don’t have a blog, or a space, and I’d like to be heard for a bit.

Last month seventeen year old Dua Khalil was pulled into a crowd of young men, some of them (the instigators) family, who then kicked and stoned her to death. This is an example of the breath-taking oxymoron “honor killing”, in which a family member (almost always female) is murdered for some religious or ethical transgression. Dua Khalil, who was of the Yazidi faith, had been seen in the company of a Sunni Muslim, and possibly suspected of having married him or converted. That she was torturously murdered for this is not, in fact, a particularly uncommon story. But now you can watch the action up close on CNN. Because as the girl was on the ground trying to get up, her face nothing but red, the few in the group of more than twenty men who were not busy kicking her and hurling stones at her were filming the event with their camera-phones.

There were security officers standing outside the area doing nothing, but the footage of the murder was taken – by more than one phone – from the front row. Which means whoever shot it did so not to record the horror of the event, but to commemorate it. To share it. Because it was cool.

I could start a rant about the level to which we have become desensitized to violence, about the evils of the voyeuristic digital world in which everything is shown and everything is game, but honestly, it’s been said. And I certainly have no jingoistic cultural agenda. I like to think that in America this would be considered unbearably appalling, that Kitty Genovese is still remembered, that we are more evolved. But coincidentally, right before I stumbled on this vid I watched the trailer for “Captivity”.

A few of you may know that I took public exception to the billboard campaign for this film, which showed a concise narrative of the kidnapping, torture and murder of a sexy young woman. I wanted to see if the film was perhaps more substantial (especially given the fact that it was directed by “The Killing Fields” Roland Joffe) than the exploitive ad campaign had painted it. The trailer resembles nothing so much as the CNN story on Dua Khalil. Pretty much all you learn is that Elisha Cuthbert is beautiful, then kidnapped, inventively, repeatedly and horrifically tortured, and that the first thing she screams is “I’m sorry”.

“I’m sorry.”

What is wrong with women?

I mean wrong. Physically. Spiritually. Something unnatural, something destructive, something that needs to be corrected.

How did more than half the people in the world come out incorrectly? I have spent a good part of my life trying to do that math, and I’m no closer to a viable equation. And I have yet to find a culture that doesn’t buy into it. Women’s inferiority – in fact, their malevolence -- is as ingrained in American popular culture as it is anywhere they’re sporting burkhas. I find it in movies, I hear it in the jokes of colleagues, I see it plastered on billboards, and not just the ones for horror movies. Women are weak. Women are manipulative. Women are somehow morally unfinished. (Objectification: another tangential rant avoided.) And the logical extension of this line of thinking is that women are, at the very least, expendable.

I try to think how we got here. The theory I developed in college (shared by many I’m sure) is one I have yet to beat: Womb Envy. Biology: women are generally smaller and weaker than men. But they’re also much tougher. Put simply, men are strong enough to overpower a woman and propagate. Women are tough enough to have and nurture children, with or without the aid of a man. Oh, and they’ve also got the equipment to do that, to be part of the life cycle, to create and bond in a way no man ever really will. Somewhere a long time ago a bunch of men got together and said, “If all we do is hunt and gather, let’s make hunting and gathering the awesomest achievement, and let’s make childbirth kinda weak and shameful.” It’s a rather silly simplification, but I believe on a mass, unconscious level, it’s entirely true. How else to explain the fact that cultures who would die to eradicate each other have always agreed on one issue? That every popular religion puts restrictions on women’s behavior that are practically untenable? That the act of being a free, attractive, self-assertive woman is punishable by torture and death? In the case of this upcoming torture-porn, fictional. In the case of Dua Khalil, mundanely, unthinkably real. And both available for your viewing pleasure.

It’s safe to say that I’ve snapped. That something broke, like one of those robots you can conquer with a logical conundrum. All my life I’ve looked at this faulty equation, trying to understand, and I’ve shorted out. I don’t pretend to be a great guy; I know really really well about objectification, trust me. And I’m not for a second going down the “women are saints” route – that just leads to more stone-throwing (and occasional Joan-burning). I just think there is the staggering imbalance in the world that we all just take for granted. If we were all told the sky was evil, or at best a little embarrassing, and we ought not look at it, wouldn’t that tradition eventually fall apart? (I was going to use ‘trees’ as my example, but at the rate we’re getting rid of them I’m pretty sure we really do think they’re evil. See how all rants become one?)

Now those of you who frequent this site are, in my wildly biased opinion, fairly evolved. You may hear nothing new here. You may be way ahead of me. But I can’t contain my despair, for Dua Khalil, for humanity, for the world we’re shaping. Those of you who have followed the link I set up know that it doesn’t bring you to a video of a murder. It brings you to a place of sanity, of people who have never stopped asking the question of what is wrong with this world and have set about trying to change the answer. Because it’s no longer enough to be a decent person. It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news. True enlightened activism is the only thing that can save humanity from itself. I’ve always had a bent towards apocalyptic fiction, and I’m beginning to understand why. I look and I see the earth in flames. Her face was nothing but red.

All I ask is this: Do something. Try something. Speaking out, showing up, writing a letter, a check, a strongly worded e-mail. Pick a cause – there are few unworthy ones. And nudge yourself past the brink of tacit support to action. Once a month, once a year, or just once. If you can’t think of what to do, there is this handy link. Even just learning enough about a subject so you can speak against an opponent eloquently makes you an unusual personage. Start with that. Any one of you would have cried out, would have intervened, had you been in that crowd in Bashiqa. Well thanks to digital technology, you’re all in it now.

I have never had any faith in humanity. But I will give us props on this: if we can evolve, invent and theorize our way into the technologically magical, culturally diverse and artistically magnificent race we are and still get people to buy the idiotic idea that half of us are inferior, we’re pretty amazing. Let our next sleight of hand be to make that myth disappear.

The sky isn’t evil. Try looking up.

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