back on the comic book wagon

I used to love comics. As mentioned in my previous post on the subject, I started out with Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ series and have been a dabbler in the genre ever since. But a strange thing happened around five years ago. I fell out of love with comics, and graphic novels, and visual storytelling in general. It wasn’t a matter of snobbery, or ‘outgrowing’ the form – I suppose it was more that I’d forgotten how to enjoy comics.

I credit ‘Saga’ with resurrecting my love for the genre. I think I’ve sung Saga’s praises before, and having just finished vol. 4 my opinion is no different – Saga is an amazing comic. The artwork, the characters, the story – everything is stunning, and original, and the humour is underpinned by a sense of urgency as you realise the story is being told in retrospect. What you’re seeing has already unfolded. And in some ways you’re reading through your fingers, especially in the latest volume as Alana and Marko’s beautifully developed and completely believable relationship starts to crack. They’re the star-crossed lovers of lore, and that kind of thing can quickly grow tiresome and even cheesy, handled badly, but that’s not the case here. You so badly want them to make it, even though deep down, you know that can’t possibly be so.

Also, there’s Lying Cat:

Lyingcat(You know a comic is good when the character who starts off ostensibly as the attack dog of the Big Bad ends up tugging at your heartstrings just as much as the heroes do – moral ambiguity abounds.)

In my quest to resurrect my love of comics, I’ve been revisiting Hellblazer – aka ‘the comic with John Constantine in it’.

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The thing with Hellblazer is that it could very easily read as a relic – there’s a very real and very vivid undercurrent of 80’s Britain beneath everything, with references to Thatcher and fascism and AIDs, and the scariest thing of all is how horribly relevant all of this still is. The nouns might have changed but the themes are still present. Best of all, to me, is the definite Britishness of it all: it brings an otherwise fantastical story right back down to earth, grounding it in a reality that I still recognise. And so when Constantine – chain-smoking, trenchcoat-clad antihero – defeats a chimera-like monster born of a group of football hooligans by pointing out that half of them support Chelsea and half of them support Arsenal, I find myself sniggering in appreciation. I’m intrigued to catch up with the series and see how it’s evolved to fit ‘modern’ times. I suspect not a great deal will have changed.
From the tried and tested to the new and bizarre, then, and here I am in 2015 finding myself growing emotionally attached to a group of sentient alien robots. Sentient alien robots who transform. I hesitate to use the ‘t’ word because of the association with the utter abominations that are the Michael Bay Transformers films (my husband’s words, not mine. He’s rather attached to his sentient robots.) I myself have never been especially interested in Transformers beyond watching the show as a kid in the 80’s, and, for a brief stint, wishing I was Optimus Prime. I also wished I was Tina Teaspoon from Button Moon. Don’t judge me.

What does this have to do with comics? Well, this

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‘More Than Meets The Eye’ is sort of a riff on the standard, slightly po-faced Transformers franchise. I can only describe it as Red Dwarf meets Firefly with a dash of Monty Python, only with sentient robots. In space. Trust me, I didn’t get it either until, after the joint insistence of my husband and a friend similarly enamoured with the series, I picked up the first volume.What MTMTE does right is that it doesn’t treat the robots as robots. What I mean by this is that, aside from the obvious biological references to gears and sparks and all the rest, the characters are completely human. They have distinct personalities, hopes and dreams and goals, and everything else you’d expect to see were they made of flesh and blood. And the comics are so adept at making you forget they’re robots – or perhaps, more accurately, making you not care that they’re robots – that before you know it you’re completely emotionally invested in everything. Laughing at the jokes, being fascinated by the ins and outs of politics and religion (the worldbuilding is superb) and, as is typical for me, falling utterly in love with a character who ultimately suffers a devastating fate. My new years’ resolution is to stop having favourite characters. They always seem to go the way of George R R Martin:

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Farsickness

‘Wanderlust’ is such a well-recognised word that it might as well have been adopted as a piece of honorary English vocabulary – it’s one of those delightful German words that means exactly what it sounds like. Recently, I’ve been introduced to a new word – also German, that most efficient of languages – that perhaps better encapsulates the way I feel about travelling.

‘Fernweh’ literally translates as ‘far-sickness’ – the opposite of ‘homesickness’. It describes the craving for travel; feeling homesick for somewhere you’ve never been. Waking up to another gloomy, grey London day, crammed body to body on the Tube and then, that grim march from the station to the office…is it any wonder, then, that this word seems so relevant to my life most of the time?

IMG_20150115_082549I love London. It’s important to put that across. London is a wonderful, baffling, frustrating, magical, hideous city. You can hear twenty languages spoken on any given train ride, see live music of any genre you desire, see lush green spaces and bright glass skyscrapers on the same walk. I can find food from almost anywhere in the world. I can read books in any language I like. London is an amazing city.

But sometimes, I wish I were somewhere else. I’ve felt this acutely, in recent months. Memories of Japan evoke such a fierce longing for even the most mundane Japanese experiences, like popping in to the Seven-Eleven to get melonpan and iced green tea for lunch, or walking through peaceful Kyoto backstreets on the way to somewhere else. I miss Berlin: the cleanness of everything, the triumphant post-war architecture, the smell of currywurst (despite being a vegetarian) and the vibrant colour of the graffiti. I miss Portland, Oregon, and the chilled-out, self consciously hipster vibe, the sense that everyone is in on the joke and enjoying themselves nonetheless. Everywhere I’ve been leaves a small mark, and when I’m fed up of London┬á – when I forget all the good things and am left only with the rudeness, the tedium of the daily grind and the smell of petrol and dust – I find myself longing for these places.

The grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it? I wonder sometimes, when I’m concocting plans of escape, whether leaving England entirely would really be the glorious, life-changing experience I seem to think it will be. The practicalities are alarming: what would I do for work? (Lab techs without a science degree are hardly in high demand, I’d imagine.) What about the language barrier? (I’ve been learning Japanese for two years and still, I could probably barely conduct a full conversation with a five year old.) What would my husband do? Would I be able to bring my cats with me? And that’s before you even get near the anxiety-inducing bits: what if I don’t like it? What if I get sick and I don’t know how to communicate? What if I realise that the grass isn’t greener after all?

The thing is, the daily grind is the daily grind, wherever you’re doing it. If you’re lucky enough to find your dream job abroad – blogging at a sunbaked desk in Ibiza, as per the photograph my friend recently showed me (cue wistful sighs.) It doesn’t mean I’m any less determined to live abroad, even if only for a while; I’m not about to pretend that life outside of England is all sunshine and happiness, and it’s important to be practical, because building up a fantasy only to have it burst in your face is a cruel thing. We’re not the only country with rude people, dull jobs, air pollution and ugly buildings, awful newspapers and UKIP style politics.

But still, the fernweh persists. Perhaps if I experience the world outside England for more than just two weeks of idle sightseeing and relaxation, that little part of me might be quieted somewhat. And who knows…maybe it’ll lead to something amazing?

Obligatory ‘Looking Back on 2014’ blog post

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This has been a strange year.

Amazing things have happened to me in 2014. ‘When Charlie Sleeps’ was reprinted in “Best British Horror 2014”, an incredible honour and an achievement which saw me reading with three fine gentlemen – Stephen Volk, John Llewellyn Probert and Reggie Oliver at Waterstones in Covent Garden. Incredibly surreal and nerve-wracking, but also my best memory of the year. I had the privilege of meeting authors I’ve admired for a long time – and I really need to learn how to actually speak and interact with people instead of just gawping and gibbering like a nervous schoolgirl at a One Direction concert.

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And in October I took part in Manchester Metropolitan University’s Gothic Festival, reading ‘Ptichka’ in Manchester alongside Tom Johnstone and Rosanne Rabinowitz – another fantastic experience, and in a lovely city to boot. I owe Johnny Mains and Tom Johnstone huge thanks and quite possibly some kind of cake for the opportunities they’ve given me this year.

I still feel somewhat of an imposter, masquerading as an ‘author’ when I’ve got a mere three short stories to my name…I’m going to assume this is normal. I am, after all, a ‘baby writer’ in the grand scheme of everything. And my resolution, such as it is, is that in 2015, I’m going to write as much as I can. Try to improve my skills, become a better writer and, hopefully, get more stories out there. I hope fervently that I won’t end up a one-hit wonder, but I’m going to have to work for it!

This has also been a tough year in many ways. Among other things, I lost my grandad. The world is a duller, darker place without grandad Pat, who had the most wicked sense of humour, and whose love of second-hand book shops almost certainly had a huge hand in the amount of reading I did as a kid. I miss him very much.

10428019_10154134058400012_4177273231330028331_nNow, to the best of 2014 – just my opinion, of course.

5 Best books of 2014

– The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R Carey

– The Republic Of Thieves – Scott Lynch

– MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood

– Brown Bread Boys – Delilah Des Anges

– The Language Of Dying – Sarah Pinborough

5 Best short story collections of 2014

– Gifts For The One Who Comes After – Helen Marshall

– The Moon Will Look Strange – Lynda E Rucker

– Dead Funny – edited by Robin Ince and Johnny Mains

– North American Lake Monsters – Nathan Ballingrud

– Year’s Best Weird Fiction – edited by Laird Barron and Michael Kelly

(I’d have put Best British Horror 2014 on here, but it feels a bit cheeky including an anthology I appear in)

5 Best TV shows of 2014

– Hannibal (NBC)

– Constantine (NBC)

– Psycho-Pass (Gen Urobuchi)

– Space Dandy (Shinichir┼Ź Watanabe)

– Game of Thrones (HBO)

Here’s hoping 2015 is an exciting, fun and positive year for all of you. Happy new year!