February Updates #2 | iBOy, RIMA, You Are What You Buy & the latest in Mibdul (again)

Some updates from my ‘day job’ desk-adventures. Happy to report that February is turning out to be quite the productive and creatively satisfying month. Click here to read the previous update. 

Questioning consumption | You Are What You Buy

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It was interesting to hear what Kristina Borg had to say about her project You Are What You Buy, which takes an interdisciplinary approach to assessing the implications of shopping at the supermarket.

“One of the principal themes of this project is consumption – what and how we consume. This does not solely refer to food consumption; one can also consume movies, literature and more. However, in order to reach and engage with a wider audience I felt it was necessary to work in, with and around a place of consumption that is more universal and common for all. Let’s face it, whether it’s done weekly or monthly, whether we like it or not, the supermarket remains one of the places we visit the most because […] it caters for our concerns about sustenance and comfort.”

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Kristina Borg

“An interdisciplinary approach definitely brings together different perspectives and different experiences and […] it could be a way forward for the local art scene to show and prove its relevance to one’s wellbeing. I think it is useless to complain that the arts and culture are not given their due importance if as artists we are not ready to open up to dialogue, exchange and distance ourselves from the luxury that one might associate with the arts. Talking about experience instead of a product might be what the local art scene needs. 

Click here to read the full interview

Fixing the moment | Mohamed Keita and Mario Badagliacca 

The migrants living at the Belgrade Waterfront are using the beams of abandoned tracks (or tires or rubbish) against the temperatures below zero degrees and to produce hot water. Photo by Mario Badagliacca

The migrants living at the Belgrade Waterfront are using the beams of abandoned tracks (or tires or rubbish) against the temperatures below zero degrees and to produce hot water. Photo by Mario Badagliacca

Ahead of their participation at the RIMA Photography Workshops, I got a chance to delve into the dynamics of migration — particularly the problematic way in which migratory flows are portrayed through mainstream political discourse and the media — with Sicilian photographer Mario Badagliacca, who tapped into his experience of documenting the realities of migration — most recently in my own native Belgrade — as well as Ivorian photographer Mohamed Keita, who took a self-taught route to photography after traversing Africa to reach Italy.

The power of photography is to fix the moment. Psychologically speaking, there’s a difference between perceiving a ‘fixed’ image and a ‘moving’ image (as in a video, for example). The ‘fixed’ image constrains us to reflect on it in a different way. In my case, I want the images to serve as a spur for further questions – to be curious about the stories I’m telling. I don’t want to give answers, but raise more questions. – Mario Badagliacca

Photography by Mohamed Keita

Photography by Mohamed Keita

Click here to read the full interview

Film Review | iBoy — Netflix takes the info wars to the gritty streets

Screams of the city: Tom (Bill Milner) finds himself plugged into London’s mobile network after being attacked by thugs in this formulaic but serviceable offering from Netflix

Screams of the city: Tom (Bill Milner) finds himself plugged into London’s mobile network after being attacked by thugs in this formulaic but serviceable offering from Netflix

I had fun watching the ‘Netflix Original’ iBoy — not a groundbreaking movie by any means, but certainly a fun way to spend an evening in the company of Young Adult urban sci-fi that slots into formula with a satisfying click.

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Love interest: Maisie Williams

“iBoy is yet another example of British cinema being able to strip down genre stories to their essentials and deliver up a product that, while hardly brimming with originality, still manages to create a satisfying piece of escapist entertainment. From Get Carter (1971) down to Kingsman (2014), the Brits sometimes manage to upend their Stateside counterparts by just cutting to the chase of what works without the need to inflate their budgets with unnecessary star power and special effects, while also toning down on any sentimentality and drama at script stage.”

Click here to read the full review

Patreon essay | MIBDUL & ‘that uncomfortable swerve’

MIBDUL & that uncomfortable swerve

Not exactly a ‘day job’ entry — though I wish it were — this month’s Patreon essay for our MIBDUL crowdfunding platform was all about me panicking over not having enough space to write out the story as I was planning it, and needing to make some drastic changes to accommodate this new reality.

“The thing about the detailed outlining of issues – and the rough thumbnailing of the pages in particular – is that, unlike the planning stage [in my journal], I approach them largely by instinct. This is the time when you have to feel your story in your gut, because you need to put yourself in the position of the reader, who will be feeling out the story in direct beats instead of painstakingly – and digressively – planned out notebook excursions. (To say nothing, of course, of the fact that the story needs to look good on the page – that the artwork needs the necessary room to breathe).”

Please consider donating to our Patreon page to access this essay and more

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Swords v Cthulhu read-a-thon #4 | Remy Nakamura

As outlined in an earlier post, in the coming weeks I will be dedicating an entry to each story in the upcoming anthology Swords v Cthulhu, edited by Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington and published by Stone Skin Press. My reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

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The Dan no Uchi Horror by Remy Nakamura

Much to the chagrin — though more likely the disinterested bemusement — of the bulk of my geeky friends growing up, I was never quite taken with anime and manga in the same way as the zeitgeist appeared to demand.

And it was further alienating by the fact that Malta, where I was based-and-raised, got a healthy dose of the stuff funnelled into the brains of unsuspecting kids through the easily accessible Italian channels.

(The legacy of this broadcasting arrangement yielded wonderful fruit in Italian cinemas earlier this year.)

I’m not entirely sure why I never felt attracted to Japanese animation — though I ‘appreciate’ some of its classics from a distance — and it’s even more baffling because the sheer variety within the stories, and their ‘outre’ style, otherwise jibes very nicely with my tastes.

But with all this in mind, a visit to an exhibition in Paris last December gave me a more immediate appreciation of the genre’s appeal — through the work of one of its precursors.

Yoko protecting his father from a tiger Utagawa by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Yoko protecting his father from a tiger by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Observing the work of Utagawa Kuniyoshi up close — yes, I made sure to exit through the gift shop and buy the coffee table book along the way — made me appreciate a clear and timeless dynamism of the style. This will of course speak to my wider ignorance of the woodcut tradition — to say nothing of my inadvertent but real western bias — but apart from anime, the thick outlines and sensitivity to what squeezes the most ‘action’ out of a still image reminded me of the likes of Jack Kirby.

Remy Nakamura’s story, I think, moves with the same scintillating immediacy. Packed with high drama, higher degrees of violence and a rhapsodic prose style, it also has its tongue firmly in cheek; checking off ‘Honor’ early on as a knee-jerk cultural expectation so as to highjack any inherent melodrama and cliche.

I was hooked from the first sentence, and the family saga that’s at the core of the story was wended into the kinetic narrative, instead of being a baggy burden. There’s hacking and slashing, there’s faith and inevitability. There’s sentences like: ‘The devils stank like a battlefield in the sun’.

This is Cthulhu in oozing, living colour, and it moves like the quickest of rapids.

Read previous: L. Lark

Swords v Cthulhu read-a-thon #3 | L. Lark

As outlined in an earlier post, in the coming weeks I will be dedicating an entry to each story in the upcoming anthology Swords v Cthulhu, edited by Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington and published by Stone Skin Press. My reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

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St Baboloki’s Hymn for Lost Girls by L. Lark

One of those words we’re not allowed to use for fear of sounding pretentious or whatever is, apparently, ‘fecund’. I can see the logic in effectively banning the word — it’s a fancy way of saying ‘growth’ and outside of the context of the discussion of population demographics, it can come across as a tad too highfalutin for most.

(Just check out how ‘James Joyce’ is framed saying ‘fecund in its nuttiness for laughs, in this clip.)

But fecund is the first word that came to mind as I was reading St Baboloki’s Hymn for Lost Girls by L. Lark.

“Young monkeys watch from low branches, cheeks stuffed with fruit” is an image from its first paragraph, and it could easily reflect the tone of the entire piece – exotic but not ornamental, and evocative of the growth and appetite of the natural world come spring time.

With this coming-of-age story embedded in a secondary world in which nature is a source of both truth and terror, Lark manages to paint a vivid picture of a world in constant — and sometimes dangerous — flux, building to a confrontation between Nalendi, who “grows too quickly for her skin”, and the titular St Baboloki: a deity in Lark’s ramshackle invented religion, and a figure that Nalendi is warned not to take too lightly.

Hieronymus Bosch was the first association to spark in my head: the teeming world constantly at the risk of altering itself in ways that may not be to your benefit or expectation isn’t only a decorous and inspired way to approach the coming-of-age trope. It’s also a reminder that we’re ultimately the mercy of the natural cycle and whatever it decides to churn out.

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch (1503-1515) (Detail)

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch (1503-1515) (Detail)

But, the appearance of Baboloki itself brought to mind more immediate pop culture precursors — namely, its shifting skin, made up of a hive-mind mosaic of flies. Sure, Constantine (2005) is not the most beloved example ever, but I’ve always had a soft spot for this particular scene — for the monster, if nothing else.

Beyond just flies though, the image is very satisfying for me because it presents the body as a liquid, pliable shape that can change at a moment’s notice. Coupled with a long-standing love and admiration for Ovid’s Metamorphoses and what I deem to be its most cogent modern response — the ‘body horror’ films of David Cronenberg — I was happy to find that in Lark’s story, this thread runs wide and deep.

But I think that my first encounter with such an entity was far less grandiose than all that. Mr Todd McFarlane, take a bow.

Eddie Brock/Venom by Todd McFarlane

Eddie Brock/Venom by Todd McFarlane

It’s a shame that the cinematic adaptations of Venom haven’t exactly been all that fecund after all.

Read previous: Carrie Vaughn

Swords v Cthulhu read-a-thon #2 | Carrie Vaughn

As outlined in an earlier post, in the coming weeks I will be dedicating an entry to each story in the upcoming anthology Swords v Cthulhu, edited by Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington and published by Stone Skin Press. My reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

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The Lady of Shalott by Carrie Vaughn

For obvious reasons, this particular story folds in very nicely with my approach to Tanzer and Bullington’s anthology, what with it singnaling a literary antecedent in its very title.

The Lady of Shalott was always something of a frustrating poem to me, for the reasons those of you familiar with it might imagine; namely, Lancelot’s shockingly dismissive final glance at the titular — and cursed — protagonist:

She has a lovely face;

God in his mercy gave her grace,

The Lady of Shalott

But like a lot of Tennyson’s work, the poem holds an irresistible charm, and I don’t think it’s accidental that genre writers and genre fans in particular continue to latch onto his brand of grandiose aestheticism.

Inflected as it is with the same Victorian mores and neuroses that continue to foment shows like Penny Dreadful, the finely sculpted drama of a lot of his work speaks to an archetypal space that – being Victorian and not, say, from Ancient Greece – also feels strangely close to our own world in its anxiety about ‘modernity’ and its desire to find pure, cloistered spaces where precious and beautiful things can flourish.

"I Am Half-Sick of Shadows", Said The Lady of Shalott by John Willam Waterhouse

“I Am Half-Sick of Shadows”, Said The Lady of Shalott by John Willam Waterhouse

Well, what Vaughn does is lift a giant, eldritch and bloody middle finger to all of that, and in ways that are entirely justified — and also, it must be said, all the more entertaining for it — she makes us feel ashamed for indulging in the kind of unreconstructed misogyny and jingoism that unfortunately forms the backbone of a lot of the work of the Victorian era.

But first, she immerses us into the world of the doomed Lady of Shalott with a thorough care for the artificial universe she is encased in. Her enclosure is her curse, but there is a great dignity in her work too. She weaves her loom with the kind of dedication that any self-respecting artist would apply to their life’s work. This is a silent, private dignity that the vainglorious Lancelots of this world cannot begin to understand.

As Vaughn moves to deliver the story to its conclusion, we dread the activation of the curse, but we also know it to be inevitable. Only… this time around, it won’t be just the Lady of Shalott that pays the price for Lancelot’s pursuit of spoils and glory.

In a Lovecraftian universe, that’s about as comforting as things get.

Read previous: Michael Cisco

The Joker Is Wild: Celebrating 75 Years of the Clown Prince of Crime

The Joker by Brian Bolland

The Joker by Brian Bolland

We celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Joker with a small conference dedicated to the Clown Prince of Crime’s ‘life and works’ last Saturday, and it served as a good reminder of how refreshing academic inquiry could be when placed actually outside an academic context.

Organised by Euro Media Forum and chaired by my good friend Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone  – who also gave an lucid an insightful paper on the Joker and Batman as a comedy double-act  – the event may not have been terribly well attended, but it did inspire an convivial atmosphere of open discussion and debate which wasn’t about intellectual one-upmanship but genuine passion for the subject matter, and a desire to get at it – him – from as many angles as possible.

 Jack Nicholson at The Joker in Batman (1989)

Jack Nicholson at The Joker in Batman (1989)

Running the gamut from conversational ‘geeky’ presentations and more scholarly insights into the Joker as a key character of Batman lore across various media (comics, film, animation and video game), we heard presentations which delved into Joker’s design history, evil clowns in pop culture, and how the Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger film-Jokers compare to each other; as well as the idea of the Joker as a demiurge, the Joker’s smile as a traumatic ‘wound’ (with all the symbolic weight that the image implies) and the socio-political imagery of both the Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger Jokers (that would be me).

Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008)

Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008)

It was an unabashedly geeky way to spend a Saturday, of course, but a part of me felt very proud of the fact that we got together to pay tribute to the Joker – one of my favourite characters in fiction – in such a concerted and dedicated way. The main take-away insight from it all – if we could reduce it to just one – is that the Joker’s familiar-but-amorphous nature is what makes him such an enduring – and enduringly scary – villain. He is equal parts prankster, psychopath, terrorist and trickster – sometimes embodying just one of those characteristics at a given time, other times (more often than not, it seems) amalgamating all of those things in garish and dangerous brew.

Illustration by Greg Capullo

Illustration by Greg Capullo

In short, I think he’s secured himself the role of an archetype worth remembering, celebrating and returning to.

Fuschiaing

'Fuschia' by Mervyn Peake

Fuschia by Mervyn Peake

“The fuschia is shallow-rooting and hence requires frequent watering, so drainage must be fast enough to carry away all excess. A mulch of peat or sawdust will keep roots cool and supply moist air when watered frequently. You cannot overwater fuschias if the drainage is good … Growing fuschias in bush form is easy. You control shape of the plant by regular pinching or pruning. Shortening of the main branches and pinching back of shoots produces a busy, stocky plant. Leave the branches fairly long if you want a plant with a loose open habit of growth” – Joseph Buttigieg

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Read previous: HUMANING

Humaning

Christ Carrying the Cross by Hieronymous Bosch (Detail)

Christ Carrying the Cross by Hieronymous Bosch (Detail; c. 1515-1516)

“…recent studies suggest that people behave with more charity if they’ve just gone upstairs and less if they’ve just gone down – if studies like that weren’t just an enormous pile of crap. There’s science and there’s science, is all I’m saying. When humans are the subjects, it’s mostly not science.” – Karen Joy Fowler

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Read previous: MESSAGING

Messaging

The Librarian by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (c. 1570). Source: Wikipedia

The Librarian by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (c. 1570). Source: Wikipedia

“At best, anyway, his ministry had been an odd assortment, attracting hippies and the straitlaced alike, because he’d pulled from the Old Testament and from deism, and the esoteric books available to him in his father’s house. Something his father hadn’t planned on: the bookshelves leading Saul to places the old man would rather he’d never gone. His father’s library had been more liberal than the man himself.

“The shock of going from being the centre of attention to being out of it entirely – that still pulled at Saul at unexpected times. But there had been no drama to his collapsed ministry in the north, no shocking revelation, beyond the way he would be preaching one thing and thinking another, mistaking that conflict, for the longest time, as a manifestation of his guilt for sins both real and imagined. And one awful day he’d realized that he was becoming the message.” – Jeff VanderMeer

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Read previous: HOUSING

Read more about Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy in this month’s edition of Pop Culture Destruction on Schlock Magazine

Exploding

The Last Day of Pompeii by Karl Briullov (1830-33)

The Last Day of Pompeii by Karl Briullov (1830-33)

“When there’s a big explosion, it doesn’t really have a visceral impact on the audience if it’s just flinging people through the air. They know that’s just stunts. But if you fly people through the air and they then they hit something, it’s a lot better. And then if they hit something really hard — like, you know, a brick wall — it’s even better. And if they hit a kind of rough edge on that brick wall, then you’re getting to the good stuff. And then if what they hit breaks, then that’s the best.” – Paul W.S. Anderson

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Read previous: KHANING

Monstrous Indulgences | Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

 

Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities

This volume may be the epitome of indulgence, and the tone of Marc Scott Zicree, Guillermo del Toro’s interviewer – and effective co-writer in this endeavour – can come across as a bit sycophantic at times.

But really, a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ can’t help but be a gloriously indulgent exercise, and you don’t come here to read a sober dissection of del Toro’s life and filmography.

No, you come here to luxuriate in what is probably the ultimate ‘behind the scenes’ look into Del Toro’s oeuvre, as presented in a gorgeous coffee table edition crammed with photographs and studded with mini-essays by Del Toro’s friends and collaborators (the book is framed by tributes from James Cameron and Tom Cruise, respectively).

The book introduces us to Del Toro’s eclectic imaginative landscape with a bit of a tour of Bleak House – his second home and studio, which gives the book its organising principle, as the house itself is something of a cabinet of curiosities writ large – more than just a working space, it is arguably also the geeky man cave to end all geeky man caves.

Bleak House

 

Stuffed with original art and sculptures (some of them taking an extravagant bent, like the statue of Boris Karloff getting the final touches of his Frankenstein make-up done), each room in the house is themed around a particular genre or artistic milieu – like the ‘Steampunk Room’, the ‘Manga Room’…

But above all, the ‘cabinet’ is really about del Toro’s colourful and frenzied notebooks, which the director has been keeping from the beginning of his career and which reveal the inner workings of his genre-melding chiaroscuro parables, from Cronos through the Hellboys and Pacific Rim.

Guillermo del Toro's notebooks

The pages of the notebooks reproduced in the book often have a drawing at the centre – usually a portrait shot of a character in one of del Toro’s films, or a close-up of some grotesque prop or monster – which would be surrounded by (multi-lingua) marginalia. These notes will probably be the most pleasant discovery for a del Toro fan as they leaf through the book, revealing, as they do, the inner workings of the writer-director’s mind, often as he’s tackling and trying to figure out several projects at the same time: practical concerns (about props, costumes and loose story threads) jostle alongside philosophical musings and personal anecdotes.

Reaper statue from Blade II

As an extra, readers also get a glimpse into projects of del Toro’s that never came to fruition – an easy pitfall for a filmmaker with a tendency to multitask various media and juggle a number of projects at any given time.

The most prominent – or at least, the most recent and infamous – of these is of course del Toro’s – ultimately thwarted – adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness.

That project might just see the light of day, however, as del Toro recently announced that he’s cool with going for a PG-13 rated version of his film, under the wing of his recent collaborators Legendary Pictures (insisting on an R-rating proved to be the deal-breaker with the film’s previous studio-home-to-be, Universal).

But even before this announcement – which arrived some months after The Cabinet of Curiosities hit the shelves – hope already burned for a renewal of the project. “While this project we were so passionate about didn’t work out the first time round, I know that it’s going to happen one day,” Tom Cruise, who was set to star in At the Mountains of Madness (alongside Del Toro regular Ron Pearlman) writes in the Afterword to the ‘Cabinet’.

“Why? Because Guillermo will never stop creating, no matter what. He will keep at it against all odds. And when it finally happens, it will be infused with all the things that make a Guillermo del Toro movie so distinct and unforgettable: images, emotions, vistas, and characters that no one else creates.”