Trip to Amsterdam

I took today off from my busy drawing schedule to go to Amsterdam for a meeting. I went to Lambiek’s new warehouse to talk to the warm bodies of Stripster’s editor Henk and the site’s technician Aart, as well as Margreet and Bas, who run Comiclopedia. Both these sites will be extensively featured in a project I’m working on for the Comics Museum I mentioned earlier. My project is a digital exhibit about webcomics, and Stripster will be included as an example of the Dutch approach to putting comics online, which is mainly to build group sites. Comiclopedia will supply a lot of the biographical information about the featured artists, and will hopefully get a lot of new biographical info in return for its participation.
All that stuff has to be integrated and scripted, so despite it being a six-hour round trip by train (plus lots of walking) for a short meeting it was useful for me to show them what my plans were and ask them what they needed to make it work. Plus it was nice to see Amsterdam again… I keep telling myself I don’t like Amsterdam much, but that is mainly a result of the mood I’m in when I arrive. This afternoon, it was quite a good place to be in.

After the meeting was concluded and some scurrilous gossip exchanged, I had some time to go shopping! First I browsed Lambiek’s own warehouse in the Utrechtsedwarsstraat, then I went to the actual shop that is located near its original location in de Kerkstraat (which it had to leave and which Lambiek’s owner is now selling). I was going to go to the Concerto music store in the Utrechtsestraat, quite near the warehouse, but it turned out the walk to the shop was a bit longer than I thought so I didn’t go back for the happy vinyl-browsing I’d promised myself. At any rate I managed to spend quite a bit of money at Lambiek, and I felt some grumpy, tired, Amsterdam-hating vibes coming on, so I walked towards the train station, stopping only at the American Bookstore in de Kalverstraat, where I found and bought a Glen Cook novel for the first time in many years, and in Fame records store. Because you know, the day wouldn’t be complete some record shopping.
One interesting thing about the American Bookstore was that it had quite a nice selection of manga. If I knew the first thing about what is and isn’t good manga I’d have bought some there.Unfortunately Fame had gone downhill a bit since I last shopped there; the rock section was nowhere to be found, everything was overpriced despite there being a ‘sale’ going on, and the basement was full of generic movie DVDs.

As I left Fame, I was momentarily disoriented. This is normal for me, because I’m spatially disadvantaged, but it was extra embarrassing because I was at Dam Square, which is just about the most familiar location in the Netherlands and I’d been there several times before!

I’ll blog some of the books I’ve bought after I’ve blogged the ones I’ve been reading.

Evil plots discovered while you wait

We all know how much fun you can have with Lego. The other day I picked up a catalogue and frankly was shocked by the way they managed to remove the fun factor with neigh surgical precision. They now have a thing called Lego explore, for kids aged 2+. This is no Lego! These aren’t building blocks, it’s all prefab crap! They just added useless pegs to give parents the impression it’s still Lego, it’s become a design statement if anything…
And there are some very disturbing products they are coming up with. Take for instance this heavy truck. In the first place, what’s with this Bob the builder-crap? In this day and age where nature conservation is the first thing our kids should learn, the most popular toys are of a guy who’s best friend are a bulldozer and a cement mixer?! And if you look at the Lego heavy truck, take a closer look at the driver. That’s one creepy mother! Unshaven, mean eyebrows, shades, evil smile! He’s not there to save the squirrel from extinction, that’s clear. Just look at the tires on that machine of his, not to mention the enormous exhaustpipe! Maybe the scandinavians are sick of their heating bills in winter and have created an evil plot to speed up world heating. Yeah, that’s got to be it…

Lines join in faint discord as the Stormwatch brews

Currently listening to: Stormwatch and A by Jethro Tull. These are the remastered editions. Both bear the logo of hate but I bought them anyway, because they are still very attractive to me as a long-standing Tullie overall.
Buyer Beware though: both albums had tracking errors on my Diskman. The DVD player can cope with them fine.

Stormwatch is the last of a trio of folky-sounding albums, but it’s much darker than its predecessors. Ian Anderson played much of the bass guitarhimself and I love his angular approach to the instrument. It doesn’t sound like any other bassist I know. All the other instrumental playing is excellent. However, the record is let down by the songwriting, which doesn’t have the fluency of Tull’s best efforts.

A, which I already had an original release CD of, is a much more interesting album musically. The arrival of three new musicians gave the group more of an edge, and the sound was unmistakably fresh and new. The apocalyptic tone of “Protect and Survive” and “Fylingdale Flyer” fit the mood of the time very well, and these songs still stand today. Unlike Stormwatch, A has no bonus tracks, but instead has a bonus DVD containing the long-unavailable “Slipstream” video.
What’s annoying about all concert recordings from Tull is Anderson’s tendency to a) tinker with the recording in the studio, re-doing much of the vocals, and b) in the case of videos, the misguided urge to make them “more than just a concert registration”, which leads to the interpolation of staged video fragments, recordings from other sources and the use of cheesy effects. Living With The Past was marred by this, but the problem, if anything, was worse with Slipstream, where the concert footage is rudely interrupted by a music video set to “Sweet Dream” off the Bursting Out album, and another one of the then-current band performing a cheesy mime act to “Too Old to Rock’n’Roll, Too Young To Die”, recorded five years earlier by a different line-up of the group. On the up side, the concert footage itself is excellent, and one other video, for “Fylingdale Flyer” is actually moderately interesting. The package as a whole is more than satisfying.

I’ma starteeng a blawg!

Yeppers, I’ve got a blog now. I’ve always regretted the disappearance of the Spotlight from the ROCR site, and this will be one attempt at bringing it back while making it easier to do.
So I’ll discuss web and print comics, music, books and anything else that tickles my fancy.
To reduce the likelihood of this blog being abandoned, I’m inviting guest writers. If you’re a creative person with an interest in webcomics, email me to apply for a guest spot!

Wake

Publicity image of Navee, swiped from bdsillage.free.fr

For well-drawn, well-written escapism, check out Wake. Wake is the story of a human girl marooned on a jungle planet and picked up by a nomadic space community seeking to colonise planets for the many sentient races the Wake consists of. Young Navee is quite happy living the life of a solitary hunter-gatherer in the jungle she grew up in, but the Hottards, a species requiring extremely hot, dry weather, has chosen the planet to settle on. Because the Wake’s definition of intelligence includes telepathic ability, Navee is not recognised as a sentient being, and is slated to fry along with the other animals living on the planet. The first album, Fire and Ash, is about Navee’s battle to stay alive, ending with her being taken along as a research subject (if you think this is a spoiler, think again. As an origin story, it could only end that way, and in any case, the journey is a lot more important than the destination). The following books document her growing up and becoming integrated in the traveling community, becoming an undercover agent and adventurer. The fourth book, not yet available in English, seems to be the beginning of a new cycle in which Navee begins to uncover corruption within the system she’s serving.
Wake has excellent stories and presents a thoroughly developed, original Science Fiction universe with many interesting, believable alien species. I was impressed by the way the ostensible villain of the first story got to put in his defense at the end. What really makes the series special, though, is the art, which is clean, complex, spectacular and gets better with each new book. Page layouts and colors are breath-taking. If you enjoy science fiction comics, you’ll want to check out this series.

Book 1: Fire and Ash
Book 2: Private Collection
Book 3: Gearing Up

This is a backdated entry from before this weblog was started. It was originally posted on rocr.net.

Jethro Tull – Living With the Past

Even though they have been one of my favorite bands for many years, I didn’t have very high expectations of Living with the Past, their latest live album. Their 1999 studio album, Dot.com, hadn’t exactly set me on fire, and the last concert I’d been to had been, frankly, a bit on the dull side. Well, I must have caught them on an off night, because this live album, the bulk of which was recorded just a few months later, features the Tull I’ve loved all those years: a tight, dynamic rock group delivering classy songs with great instrumental skill and passion. Sure, singer Ian Anderson’s voice is the worse for wear, but on this record, he really makes the most of what he’s got, and on those long-standing live staples that he is the most confident with, songs like Aqualung and Locomotive Breath, he overcomes his limitations, helped by the vibes from his audience (I’ve observed this phenomenon in concert as well). Martin Barre’s guitar is outstanding (as always, only more so) and for the first time in their history, they’ve managed to create a live CD with decent production value. Feel the power!
The tracklisting includes those classic songs that they just have to play, but also some lesser-known chestnuts such as Roots to Branches from "long before September 11", as Ian Anderson puts it, and Jack in the Green, from 1977’s pastoral Songs from the Wood album. Most of the material is drawn from a concert in London in Novermber 2001, but it has been fleshed out with additional material such as a few acoustic sessions (including sterling recordings of Life’s a Long Song and Wond’ring Aloud with a string quartet, and three tracks from a long-unavailable 1989 radio session. The DVD edition has a slightly different track selection. Since I don’t have a DVD player, I can’t comment on that.

(Depending on where you are, you may prefer to get the CD and/or DVD from Amazon UK.)

This is a backdated entry from before this weblog was started. It was originally posted on rocr.net. Since posting the review, I have got a DVD player and the DVD. I can’t say I like the DVD as much as I like the CD – there is far too much post-production on the DVD. In their attempts to make it more than just a live registration, Ian Anderson and the DVD’s producers have managed to make it far less. It’s worth having for “Budapest” though.

Terry Pratchett and Paul Kidby – The Last Hero

Cover showing Cohen the Barbarian

The latest Terry Pratchett book is something special indeed! It’s a shorter story than usual, but this is more than compensated for by the lavish and wonderful illustrations by Paul Kidby who also drew the two or so Discworld graphic novels that came out a few years ago. Kidby’s interpretation of Rincewind is very close to the way I’ve always imagined him to look, and I’m glad to report that the incompetent wizard is in the story. I’ve only been able to browse the book a little (cuz I’m broke), but man, this is an object of desire, and would make a great Christmas gift for fans of fantasy literature and pretty picture books! I think there should be more illustrated books for adults in any case, and finding such a beauty in the shop just made me drool. Order it from Amazon.com or from Amazon.co.uk before it goes out of print or somebody has the bright idea of reprinting it without illustrations like Pratchett’s Eric novella.

By the way, Amazon.co.uk also announced Amazing
Maurice and his educated Rodents
, a new children’s novel by Pratchett.

This is a backdated entry from before this blog was started. It was originally published on rocr.net. Since posting this preview, I’ve read the book, and while I wouldn’t consider it the best that Pratchett has written, I do recommend it for the artwork.