Saturday, May 29, 2010

Empire

www.collegehumor.com/video:1936291 - This could turn into an obsession if I'm not careful. Lost continues to tear me in two - so congratulations to the creators, whatever they intended to create will have a legacy; people will talk about this for years to come. But I still think it will end up being best remembered for having lazy plotting and being all style and no substance (which, considering the depth of substance, sounds like a bold statement).
Rarely does anything have me locking horns with myself like this has. Half of me loved the finale, but half of me hated it. That doesn't work out in mathematical terms, because the finale and the series was not so-so or average. I doubt there will be many things that end that will have such a dramatic emotional effect on me and its been a long time since I can remember ruminating over a TV series the way I have with this one.
One thing I'll stake my reputation on; it'll be a long time before we see a major network attempt to do something as ambitious, without it being instantly labelled the 'New Lost'.

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As beer festivals go, I don't have that much to compare the Northampton annual CAMRA event at Delapre Abbey, every Whitsun Bank Holiday, the only other festivals I've been to have been in pubs, not in the grounds of a historical building - http://www.delapreabbey.org/
It's the third time Roger and I have found ourselves there and while the organisation had improved and the crowds were many, there just seemed to be this nagging feeling in my head that it didn't have the rustic charm of yesteryear. I was also disappointed that despite having over 200 beers, they didn't have a lot of very worthwhile brewers and a slightly underwhelming number of beers from the good breweries.
It didn't help matters that I've been carrying around some kind of bug for best part of the week. A really bizarre thing happened to me at the pub quiz on Tuesday. I came over all nauseous. Roger, who was sitting opposite to me said he saw me literally go green. I wasn't drunk and I'd done nothing different - apart from being a bit off of my food that evening. Four days later and it's still not right - my stomach seems to be involved in a constant battle with itself. 4 halves don't seem to have done it any favours...

***************

I switched on Facebook this morning and saw this link - http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/notes/andy-winter/ci-rip/428392851411 I don't know if you'll be able to see it if you're not Andy's friend, but the upshot is an announcement that Cosmic Publishing has shut down.

Doesn't mean much to anybody does it?

Cosmic Publishing bought Comics International. Any one that knows me knows that I worked on that magazine for over 130 issues, ranging from contributor to news editor.

I spent two hours and 2,732 words talking about this and this morning I decided that Comics International, in one form or another and by one association or another has been part of my life for 21 years, that I needed to stop.
I input approx 40,000,000 words during my time there. I've written far too much about it since I parted company with it and I have a completed, but not finished, 300,000+ word autobiographical book, which spends a lot of time talking about my time there. I have been accused of being obsessed, if not by the magazine, by its former owner and my former exploiter, um, sorry, employer and frankly, while this is possibly the last best opportunity to talk about it with any topicality. I can't be arsed. I have my finger poised on the delete button. There may be a time when I do write something definitive, but now is not the time.

Comics International has really been dead for a few years. It limped along under a new regime that wasn't equipped. To eulogise about it now is a little like writing an epitaph for a person who has suffered from Alzheimer's for many years - its story is rooted firmly in the past.

However, as a footnote to it, I will say this. I have documented evidence of this, so I'm not just claiming to be a prophet...

In 2006, when the magazine was sold, I said the magazine would struggle and would last a couple of years, at best. I also said that this would please the man who sold it, because it would inflate his ego knowing that no one else could do it. I very much expect that now the name 'Comics International' is available to purchase from the administrator's sorting through Cosmic's finances; someone might have a go at doing it all again, just to see if he can prove, yet again, that he is what he's always believed he is - the messiah of British comics.

Of course, had Cosmic ever even considered asking the only other person in the country capable of producing Comics International to either run it or save it, the above wouldn't happen. I'm not saying that I would have made it a success, it was almost an anachronism in the late 1980s when it launched; but I would have guaranteed turnover, reader loyalty and some return for the investors money. Whatever people thought of me when I was in comics, no one can deny that I can deliver the goods and on time.
Who knows, maybe someone with integrity and desire will buy the name and do something honest and good with it. If that happened, they'd get my backing - but only spiritually.

Now, delete...

*************

Moving on.
It appears that one of Fabio Capello's problems was answered this weekend. How to get England scoring goals? Play Japan's central defenders up front instead of Crouch, Bent, Defoe and Heskey.
Two cracking goals though.

**************

Peter Gabriel had a bad one once; so did Brian Eno. Phil Oakey's was just plain daft and over the years there have been lots of ridiculous hairstyles that have caused a lot of us to snigger. At the beer festival on Friday night, Roger and I were supping one of the less interesting beers when two lads, about 18 or 19 walked past us. We both had one of those 'WTF' moments as we witnessed two adolescents sporting the new, 2010 version of THE MULLET!

Except these were no ordinary mullets; these were really tight cropped hair on the top, front and both sides; just the back had a luxuriant mane remaining. As beer festivals tend to be patronised by largely middle-aged men with beer bellies and a love of pub rock, these two looked like a couple of cocks at a clunge convention. In fact, they just looked like a couple of cocks...

***********

Radical idea; guaranteed to make me decidedly unpopular amongst kids and fans of Christmas.

Why not make Christmas day February 29th? That way it's closer to the supposed time that the supposed event that we're supposed to be celebrating happened. Also, it only happens once ever 4 years, so like the Olympics it becomes something to look forward to (or dread). That way you can give the poor people 12 bank holidays a year - one a month, and a bonus one in May, because we have two already. That way, we get 13 extra days off a year, we don't bankrupt ourselves totally and all of us who hate Christmas and kids can go away for that week and we have four years to save up for it!

***********

The irony of David Laws resignation from the coalition cabinet is that he not only broke a rule that came into being four years ago (therefore not just running up wrong expenses, but also breaking parliament laws, if you'll pardon the pun). Amazingly, and I don't give a hoot about his circumstances*, President Blackadder and sidekick Baldrick have defended the man, saying they hope he can rejoin the cabinet at a later date.

Less than a month into a new political era and the government is already blighted by a good old fashioned bit of deceit. The only thing that spoiled it was it wasn't Lord Snooty, but one of his attack dogs.

*The wife commented that Laws "couldn't possibly be gay!" I asked why and she said, "Look at him, the man has no dress sense at all."

*************

To suggest I'm going to stop using Facebook is a little like predicting that Blackpool will win the English Premiership; there is a chance, but its pretty small and I'd probably have more chance of getting a naked lap dance from Karen Gillan; but one lives in hope... Sorry, got sidetracked there for a moment...

Facebook. Yeah, that was it. Is it me or has the social networking side of Facebook been replaced by a more invite networking kind of thing? The reason I ask is because one gets the impression that social networking is a bit like meeting your mates at the pub, only you're all at home or work. Facebook isn't about networking, not in the actual sense of the word, it's about sharing. Facebook is a social sharing site; you share all kinds of information with your 'friends' - from what you think to what you like to what you need for your fucking Farmville obsession. It's used to brag about high scores, show drunken photos that once upon a time would sit at the bottom of draws, forgotten. It's used to promote things, it's used to pry into your private life, if you let it and worst of all it shows just how bland and boring our lives are if the highlight is getting home (or not in some cases, because work will do) to recruit new neighbours for some time consuming folly with no real goal to aim for. It does have things that make it socially interactive - a chat feature that is as temperamental as Liza Minnelli and a notifications alerts jobby that states the bleeding obvious. The status update thingy is only any good when you have something profound, witty or seemingly important to say.

Where Facebook scores with me is the ability to 'share' other stuff with friends. It's no different than being on a forum, except there still is an ease, which was always missing from something like Delphi or Yahoogroups, that makes it feel interactive, even if it's just a fancy hub for a directory of web based ephemera. It lets me play Scrabble for nothing and it keeps me connected with the members of my family that I'm notoriously inept at keeping in touch with. After that, despite the hours I've spent on it since 2008, I'm hard pressed to see any positives.

Today, the sun was shining and I had a choice. I could sit here and fiddle about with my Social City game, which I'm growing indifferent towards, surf around Facebook to see if there's anything remotely interesting or pick up a book, sit in the garden and do something just as meaningless, but away from the monitor, with fresh air in my lungs and a memory of when home computers didn't exist.

**************

The rest can wait...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost - the con-clusion

When Matthew Fox (Doctor Jack Shepherd) revealed in an interview with The Guardian, last year, that he was the only member of the cast to have seen the final scene from ABC's most ambitious television series, he inadvertently gave away a massive spoiler. It was obvious he would be in the last ever scene.

For many people Lost was lost after season 2. Those who persevered through the first season, we not rewarded for their patience and a lot of viewers just gave up on it. The last three years have been spent telling these people that they gave up on something quite extraordinary.

In the end, Lost was about a group of people, not about anything else. Life isn't neatly tied off, unless you die, but even then everything else goes on around you. Therefore there were things about the conclusion of the island story that were left completely dangling; these things are left to our imaginations to decide. If you come out of a disaster movie wondering who's going to clear all the mess up rather than enjoying the spectacle, then you're not the kind of person who'd have enjoyed the end of Lost.

In truth, all of the mysteries of the island and why there were there had already been answered; admittedly the true origin of the island was something that was never going to be fully explained, but someone I knew likened the island to the Garden of Eden and regardless of its biblical connections, I'm happy to accept that as a feasible explanation. The final double bill was really about tying up the loose ends and discovering just what was going on in the 'alternate universe'. There was the smoky side issue of how 'John Locke' was going to be stopped and what the ultimate fate of the island was going to be.

It was a phenomenal episode for its emotional impact and for best part of the 2+ hours it was on, you were completely drawn into this parallel world, where it looked like Desmond Hume holds all the cards. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry; there are reunions you never expected and everyone looks like they're going to get a happy ending - in both realities. But then after it all finished and the tears were wiped away, the stark reality of it starts to hit you. They didn't jump the shark, but they did cop out big time. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe they shrouded a poor finale in schmaltz and emotional indicators.

Season 1 was about the miraculous survival of Flight 815; season 2 was about the struggle with the incumbent 'other' residents; season 3 was all about the hatch and the Dharma Collective; season 4 was all about the arrival of would be saviours and the escape from the island; season 5 was all about time travel and began to clear some things up and muddy others. Season 6 just explained things, in an almost methodical way - who Jacob and his brother (Esau?) were; why the people who survived the crash were there (and that all but the names written down were expendable), what the purpose of many of the peripheral people was and the ultimate battle for control or destruction of the island.

In the end it was about keeping a plug in a hole. At the heart of the island is a light and that light comes from beneath the ground, it bestows magical properties on the island; if removed the island sinks. Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Hurley, John, Sun, Jin, Sayyid, Claire, Charlie, et al were all just players in a low key cosmic stand-off; one that seemed to neglect some pretty pretty poorly executed red herrings, unless they changed their mind about the denouement.

The first episode of season 6, where Juliet dies in Sawyer's arms, you later find out from Miles, the guy who talks to the dead, that the only thing Juliet was thinking when she died was that 'it worked' ('it' being the decision to blow up the island in 1974). At the start of the same episode, Jack and co are all on board Oceanic 815; they hit some turbulence over the ocean and below the sea is the island. Obviously, exploding an atomic bomb in the centre of the island in 1974 did work and this was the alternate lives of people on that flight, who hadn't been touched by Jacob. Except, with hindsight, Jacob's story started hundreds, possibly even thousands of years before this; destroying the island in 1974 would not have stopped Jacob from touching the lives of at least James Sawyer. But you don't think about that until after...

Season six steamrollered its way through sub-plots and mysteries; a lot of them being accepted by the survivors as totally plausible; but we're talking about a cast here that were either never ever informed of how it was going or could act bemused incredibly well. Jacob's death at the end of season 5 meant that one of our survivors had to become Jacob - become island protector. The John Locke/Smoke monster summed it up best when he said, "I kind of expected it." I think we all knew that regardless of Jack's lesser role in this season, he was heading for the big finale, he said it so himself.

With the mystery of the island virtually explained, this left the conundrum of the alternative universe and this is where a potentially excellent existential ending could have been manufactured and it seemed like it right up until the scenes with Desmond and Daniel's mother, then Jack and his father and finally the one with Hurley and Ben Linus. What appeared to be Desmond rushing around trying to reunite all the original survivors, perhaps to lead them to at least a version of the lives they would have had had the island not been blow up; but the feeling you had that Island Desmond and Alternate Desmond were sharing the same body but different universes was a red herring; a clever one; far cleverer than what really happened, but a red herring all the same - he saw the alternate reality; he said so as much, except the alternate reality he witnessed wasn't real... How does that work then? Desmond as god?

Desmond was collecting them all - getting them to reunite, meet their 'lost' ones, to remember what happened. He was giving them all what they all wanted - a happy ending. An ending so happy that even Jack's father, Christian Shepherd - dead from episode 0, was there to do all the explaining; or rather to give Jack the good/bad news. Despite the poorly executed red herring at the beginning of the season: the aforementioned island under the sea and Juliet's proclamation that 'it worked' - it didn't. The alternate universe was a waiting room for 'heaven'; they really were all dead; but not the way that hundreds of people had speculated. I think they were trying to say that after all their journeys, they would eventually all be in the waiting room area at the same time, to allow them all to be reunited one last time before they 'move on'. Because they achieved so much together, was the message Christian was saying; that what they did was important, even if only they will ever know about it and therefore they had to be reunited one last time...

The producers managed to squeeze every last drop of emotion out of the finale; cranking up each part of memory recognition on the alternate universe further and further. You get swept away by Charlie and Clare's reunion; Jack and John's realisation; Sawyer and Juliet's really powerful scene and finally Jack and Kate, when Kate starts to let the plot slip. All of this was designed to make the anticlimax as painless as possible - they wrung every emotional muscle in your body just to finally give you a conclusion that was wholly unsatisfying.

The conclusion of the island story was pretty lame; Desmond's prophecy didn't come true and Jack basically sacrifices himself. The unplugging of the source of the light, seemed to strip the immortal presence on the island of their immortality - suddenly Jack (now gifted with Jacob's power) and 'Locke' could hurt each other, Richard grew a grey hair and everything lost its magic. Jack fights 'Locke' to a stalemate and Kate manages to put a bullet in 'Locke' because he isn't looking or speaking to her. Big Bad dealt with in an almost rudimentary way. Kate and Sawyer go, Jack, mortally wounded, Hurley and Ben stay behind to try and save the rapidly disintegrating island (some uncharacteristically poor special FX here, btw). Jack saves Desmond, saves the island and Hugo and Linus believe him to be gone. So we're left with the fat millionaire, who has become new custodian of the island and the lying deceiving double crossing, totally lovable Ben as his sidekick and Desmond, still stuck on the island after all those years. Ben tells Hugo that now he's in charge he can perhaps do things a bit different from the old Jacob way, but that's just a line to end that story.

All that's left is Jack, who wakes up in the same place that the cave spat Jacob's brother's body - the essence of him had become the smoke monster. He isn't in a good way and still the producers' pull at those emotional strings. The close of the show has interchanging scenes - Jack slowly moving through the bamboo forest, Jack being reunited with all the survivors in a church that played a role throughout the series. As it becomes clearer that these people are spending their last time with each other before they go (Ben Linus opting to stay in purgatory (?) seemed to be a kind of sadly executed Judas moment), the scenes shift back to Jack, now lying in exactly the same spot he was in when the series opened, with Vincent the labrador lying next to him. The last thing he sees before he dies is the plane with Sawyer, Kate and the others flying over the gap in the canopy. Christian Shepherd opens a door and the congregation in the alternative world are bathed in brilliant pure while light... Jack's eyes close on the island...

The end...

I've already read pointless criticism at such pointless loose ends as: what happens to the 5 who got away? How did Desmond get off the island? How do you explain Richard Alpert? What about the rest of their lives? On the whole the programme didn't have any real goofs and you can't explain everything. I think the show's makers' wanted to tease us until the last moment, to make us think we could second guess them. But saying all of the above, I can't for the life of me think how they could have done it differently - there are clues throughout the entire series that pointed to this ending, even if the light at the source at the centre of the island was something of a deus ex machina moment in the show's normally well planned bombshells; some could argue that was where Jack landed after the crash and he could have walked the other way and found it immediately. The 'place beyond the bamboo forest' seemed a wee bit flimsy a plot device in the end.

If you want to be existential about this; the alternate universe could have been designed as a metaphor for success, or equally that they all did die on Oceanic 815 and those that 'survived' were there to perform the task they did - Jack admits something like this towards the end. They all served their purposes and had their real lives stolen away from them as a result, which is why the alternate universe has them all reunited, in circumstances that fitted in with the original storyline - a place to reunite them all where they all have memories of that 'life'. But, I'm afraid, it just doesn't hang together. Even if, with hindsight, the scenes where they were reunited with the special people in their lives seemed to hint at a finality. You notice, in the alternative world, that no one, once they remembered, talked about their futures.

But why Clare with a baby, apart from a plot device to allow both her and Kate to remember the island; why a cheerful, wonderful employer like Charles Widmore (someone who will spend his eternity in that world along with Ben, presumably). Why Desmond and his wife amongst the survivors moving on, but no Daniel Farraday, or Miles? Some of these can be explained by saying they were not fundamental in the course of events, or they weren't there when it all started, but Penny Widmore was peripheral at best. No, this was pure happy endings with a spiritual twist - use the God idea to wrap up a story.

So they all died, but maybe Kate and Sawyer both lived full lives back in the real world - one is a fugitive, one a con man, so explaining why they turned up with a 500 year old man might be difficult, but, that's neither here nor there. Perhaps Hugo and Ben had a great time on the island, they certainly seemed to think so in their final scene together. These are stories that people would like to know but aren't important. The bottom line is that two ancient creatures knew that time had come for a final confrontation with the destruction of the island at stake. Everything was set up like a chess board and they left them for 5 seasons to work out an order. There was much thrown in to confuse and throw off the hunt.

The survivors' were put there to whittle themselves down to the last one to do the job. The reunion was to show them they did something special, each one played their part. It was a lame ending, because it was a cop-out and it was executed poorly.

It doesn't detract from the fact that Lost was and will be one of the great TV series of all time; it had more twists and turns than the world's biggest twistiest and turniest thing; it had moments of laugh out loud incredulity and, cleverly, developed an entire community without the viewer being that aware. Much of it will be remembered for being brilliant television and I suppose it had all that to live up to.

NB: It is now Tuesday and 36 hours since I got up and watched it at an ungodly hour. I can't help thinking that it has kept me thinking; which is the mark of good television. The sad thing for me is that I can't reconcile myself to the fact that that's it, and for all the time, investment and emotions it cost me, I can't help feeling a little bit let down. The word contrived features a lot in my thinking, but most importantly, they opted for the most generic conclusion they could think of, after years of breathtakingly audacious television, they bummed out. The worst, yet best part of this is - they are never likely to make anything quite like it again. We can all rest easy that we won't have over 100 hours of our lives wasted on another flimflam ending.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Consumed by the Goblin

This is a companion piece to the Lost post.

I have to admit, I've never really liked Ashes to Ashes, it's been interesting TV. I had a problem with Life on Mars, to be honest and was very unsatisfied with that outcome; but I felt it recreated the 1970s very well. Ashes to Ashes was very un-1980s and felt like the producers were unhappy with the lack of 1980s locations. The glaring thing about Ashes to Ashes was the lack of people on the streets in London. But that could, of course, be explained away by the series denouement.

The thing is, despite my ambiguity towards both series, there was, it became clear, an internal logic, that didn't need a huge leap of faith (if you'll pardon the pun) to comprehend. In LOM, Sam Tyler was so close to death, he could exist in Gene Hunt's world. He existed in the early 70s because that was a traumatic period of Sam's life that he needed resolution with. Plus, he wanted to be a real policeman, rather than a modern day pen pushing bureaucrat. When he recovered, turned the corner and got better, normal reality was different, he no longer belonged. I think (after re-watching the final episode) that Sam knew the truth, which was why he took his own leap of faith.

So therefore, the ending of Ashes to Ashes actually begins to make sense. The line through the entire series, has an internal LOM logic - Alex returned to the 80s - her most traumatic period. Her concerns over her own daughter's life without her, was manifest in her illusions of her own daughter and the bizarre parallel with her own life she was witnessing in her 'fictional' 1980s.

The problem with AtA is that it sold out for an extra series to milk the popularity of Gene Hunt and subsequently padded out a story that would have held together better if has been the same length and format as LOM. There was too many episodes that seemed bolted on, that had no significance other than to attempt to give the characters more depth; but surely one of the pleasures of LOM was the fact that outside of the police and the pub, these people around Sam Tyler had ambiguous and possibly non-existent lives. The thing about LOM was that Sam's supporting characters didn't appear to exist outside of his consciousness. They had no lives and what possible lives were hinted at, was just that, hints. Gene Hunt had a wife, but no one saw her.

In AtA, Gene Hunt became the cypher, while all the others seemed to have lives built around them - you had a love story between Chris and Shaz, a look at Ray's family, the complicated life of the desk sergeant and lives. Some of the episodes were clever - the one where Shaz confronts the youths in the tube could be construed as her still struggling to face up to the fact that she died in the line of duty. A great indicator of what was to come, but lost because of the need to feed BBC coffers with extra revenue.

All the combined series had fatal flaws in the casting; the actors (with the exception of John Simm and at times Philip Glennister) were all incredibly bad. Annie from LOM was dreadful; Ray and Chris seemed at times like they were aware they were being filmed and whatserface, Montserrat Lombard, she not only couldn't act, but she had a face like a bucket of horse arses.
I'm really not sorry to see it go. I'm amazed I stuck with it for the duration. But, when it comes down to scrutinising it, it does work - however unsatisfactory it was - and I put that feeling down to the fact that I think there were enough clues given to have worked it out and because I actually felt disappointed that Alex Drake was actually dead. However, that doesn't explain her reappearance back in the real world for a number of weeks, when it was stated in the finale that she actually died at 9.06 in hospital after being shot.

Maybe she dreamed that? Maybe the writers didn't think? Or probably they had an idea but didn't execute it well enough. That has to be the reason, otherwise you only feel that all the earlier stuff about internal logic become a big fortunate coincidence.

A footnote to this. I never was LOM (US). I downloaded the pilot and the revised 1st episode, but heard such bad things about it, I never bothered. My mate Phil, in an attempt to help me appreciate the ending of AtA better, directed my attention to the last ten minutes of the US version. I believe I might be in a minority of 1 here, but I actually thought the US ending was clever, interesting and almost amusing and in a strange way, original. I expect brickbats at dawn!

***

I'm still a mixed bag of feelings about Lost. I blubbed at least 3 times during the finale and while I'm not in the slightest bit embarrassed about admitting that, I feel the tears were conned out of me and it appears that the producer sort of agrees. Damian Lindlehof (or whatever his name is) literally admitted that there were parts of the story that couldn't be explained so they went for the heart strings option. It was quite brilliant television, yet the more I think about the ending, the more I think it was just vacuous and lazy writing, which ultimately spoiled a phenomenon.

It's left me with an intriguing dilemma. I'd like to watch the entire series again - all of it - in the same way I've watched series that the wife has no interest in - in one go. But, two things prevent me, the first is I know how it ends and all the dissecting in the world isn't going to change that and secondly, I'd like to see if it works as a 121 episode narrative. I have a feeling it might not.

I recently downloaded 8½ series of Smallville, mainly because I felt, as a long time Superman fan, that I should find out why this series has outlasted all previous attempts, including the great for its time Lois & Clark. Watching it last summer, while recuperating from my operation, it cannot under any circumstances be called a high point in my crappy summer; if it wasn't for the fact I had nothing better to do, I would have given up and just read the Wikipedia episode synopses. It definitely works better as a weekly view rather than in a DVD-fest.

And suddenly TV dies for the World Cup. There are now huge holes in the schedules that are unlikely to be filled even when the trophy is lifted in July. We do have Eureka to look forward to and I've finally started to watch The Sopranos (and I'm already understanding its appeal).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Break with Tradition

I should be writing this in July 2011, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of one of the highlights of my life.

Nine years ago this week, I was still the organ grinder's main monkey; engaged in a strange game, which I was always going to lose. Playing piggy in the middle, fiddling while Rome didn't burn, but smouldered in the corner, creating a massive stink.

2001 came in with ominous signs. Comics International, the once proud leader in the field of comics journalism, was struggling with a number of crises. Advertising revenue had fallen; sales had dropped to a new low, staff (at least some of us) were facing diminishing returns (or in other words, we were having our pay cut) and the owner was having a mid-life crisis and was in the process of shifting the entire magazine to Brighton. They were fraught times and at times I was grateful that I had other little jobs that pepped up the coffers.

The atmosphere at Comics International was always tinged with an element of paranoia - it was the way my boss operated, but in 2001 it was rife. For reasons irrelevant to this, I had built myself into a position of considerable influence, especially since 1998. My relationship with my employer had changed significantly and by 2001 we were still boss and employee, but I really ran the show. Without me Comics International didn't come out. In the past, the magazine had been delayed because I'd been on holiday and my boss couldn't be arsed to bring it out without me making sure that it was perfect. He polished the diamonds, but I made sure they were all in the right places and that everything in the process flowed smoothly.

Oddly enough, I'd once been warned not to kid myself into believing that I was important, because in my then employer's grand scheme of things, only he was important, everything else was expendable. But part of the adventure of working for this man was seeing how much you could manipulate him while making him think he was manipulating you. By 2001, I was confidante for both my boss and the man who would eventually become editor and destroy the magazine. Oddly enough, I deluded myself in thinking that I was the go-between, right up until the moment when it ended.

I was playing a dangerous political game. The two people I was standing between were old friends, but had got to the stage where they hardly spoke. Having been in a similar position myself several years earlier, I was in a good place to 'liaise'. The problem was I, if I'd been as cold as either of them, I wouldn't have been selective about the information I shared with both of them.

The upshot was that I got played for a kipper by one and ended up telling the other to stick his job up his arse. I solved the crisis at Comics International and left myself in a complete mess at 39 years old...

I was full of bitterness and it took about three years for it to completely disappear and another two for others to leave me alone. I had initially wanted to gain some kind of revenge and the only way I could think was to show my ex-boss just what he had allowed himself to lose.

Rewind a few months. As stated the magazine I worked for was experiencing an impending downsizing and yet the UK comics industry seemed to be thriving despite the failings of its flagship newspaper. I had started networking with a number of old friends and new kids on the block at the Bristol comics expo and we started to talk about producing a comics magazine with a difference. I'd been working on various prototypes for years (mainly for fun), and with CI in turmoil...

My sudden departure from the magazine, in June 2001, hastened a flurry of activity; a number of contributors left Comics International and rather sweetly pledged their allegiance to me and suddenly we had a team of people ready to put together a new comics magazine, something that was going to break moulds.

The general consensus was that if we were going to do something different, we had to deliver it differently and most importantly make it about comic books and not just a sub-genre, albeit an all-powerful sub-genre - spandex! I had to overcome various problems - some people refused to get involved because they felt all I was doing was trying to get one over my old boss; others couldn't get their head around the concept of being edited, while others just didn't think we could succeed. But eventually I assembled a team of people with bags of enthusiasm and a lot of talent.

On August 1st, 2001, BORDERLINE arrived. It was different. It was a magazine, but it wasn't. It was a PDF file. It could be read on a screen or printed out. It was also, quite remarkably, free! It received criticism for not being a website, criticism for using a format that was not liked (some people actually said they wouldn't download it because IRS forms were also PDFs, huh?) and criticism for not being someone else's idea.

It lasted a little over two years - 20 issues and two specials. It had more highs and lows than valleys in Wales and it won an award. I could quite easily write 10,000 words of excellence about it and never once mention anything I contributed to it. It was innovative, relevant and blew every other comics magazine out of the water. But, the only way for people to be able to see this is for them to see it. Provided I have done this right, there should be a new gadget box on the right of this page, under the banner - Borderline Magazine. If I've done everything correctly, you should be able to download or view any or all of the issues we produced.

In 2001, it took a little under an hour to download a low resolution version of Borderline. Low res versions were 1meg, high res versions, which could take 6 hours to download ranged from 5 to 13meg. You can now download all 22 issues in the same amount of time as it took to download one.

While I've been doing this, I looked at some of the issues, to see if they stood the test of time. I know what I thought, it'll be interesting to see what some of you think.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Passion of Lovers World Cup Special

Phil's Guide to the World Cup

For my final excursion into the world of football until August (probably), I thought I'd have a look at the World Cup and the teams involved.

Group 1

France

What I know about the team: Winners in 1998 (at home, like us and have consistently, apart from one tournament, like us, been perennial under performers). Have lots of aged players who were pretty good in 1998, but tend to be a little wooden now. Have some good young players, but they don’t appear to be going to South Africa.

What I know about the country: Good wine (allegedly), good food (alledgedly), antisocial people (probably), Disneyland Paris, lots of history and nudity.

Star Player? Possibly Chamakh, he might score a goal or two.

Manager? Raymond Dominech is the most unpopular person in France since WW2; his has the footballing acumen of Phil Brown and the respect of his wife (allegedly)

Chances? Like the Germans there is a sense of reticence about writing them off. If they get through the group stage then QFinalists.

Entertainment Rating: Could be car crash TV, equally could be really dull and produce the least goals in the tournament.

Mexico

What I know about the team: Giovanni Dos Santos, ex-Spurs, is regarded as something of a Mexican Pele by people who live in Mexico. Ranked really highly in the world on the basis they play rubbish teams. Managed once by Sven, he flopped really badly there for over £100K a week.

What I know about the country: Tortillas, chili, Acapulco Gold, jalapenos, smog, tequila, Baja, Tijuana, Herb Alpert, Cheech Marin and hairy women.

Star Player? Giovanni Dos Santos

Manager? Javier Aguirre replaced Sven and the team started beating all the rubbish teams around them again.

Chances? Will flatter to deceive.

Entertainment Rating: Their mix of South American flair and Non-league ability will always be worth a watch, especially if there’s nothing on BBC2.

South Africa

What I know about the team: Bafana Bafana – the worst team in the competition and if they perform like they have at times probably the first team to be eliminated (it is more than possible).

What I know about the country: Nelson Mandela, apartheid, red bush tea, ‘Git owt off the wee blick min’, Cape Town, Durban Poison and District 9.

Star Player? Steven Pienaar of Everton but probably a different club after the WC.

Manager? Carlos Alberto Parreira, a WC winner with Brazil and the man who appears to have got the team playing like a team again. Will big up their chances, even if they need to win their last match 22-0.

Chances? Zilch

Entertainment Rating: Could possibly lead to embarrassing scenes for the hosts.

Uruguay

What I know about the team: They have Diego Forlorn in it. He used to miss lots of opportunities for Man U a few years back. Gus Poyet is also Uruguayan, but he’s the manager of Walsall or something now. Once the dirtiest team in the world (and they might not have been very clean either). This team has Diego Forlorn in it…

What I know about the country: It’s this little place stuck between Brazil and Argentina, like a sock stuffed into the mouth of a nagging kidnap victim. Montevideo and not a lot that isn’t done in the two aforementioned countries.

Star Player? Diego Forlorn

Manager? I know nothing about Oscar Tabarez at all.

Chances? Better than South Africa’s, but not much.

Entertainment Rating: Dull and laborious.


Group 2

Argentina

What I know about the team: They won two WCs, one by cheating. Not as good as they used to be and now packed with players you haven’t heard of, oh and some bloke called Lionel Messi, so if he decides to turn up we’re all doomed.

What I know about the country: that it’s a weird place logistically and politically. Buenos Ares is arguably the largest city on the planet, it appears to span most of the north of the country now with places over 100 miles from its centre being classed as within the city limits. Gauchos, pampas grass, Patagonia, the closest thing that Wales have to a representative in the competition.

Star Player? Messi – nuff said.

Manager? Diego Maradonna – the twat of God who once had the hand of god and now has assembled a team that only seem to play when no one is watching them.

Chances? Slim unless Messi takes it by the scruff of the neck.

Entertainment Rating: high – in a group they should win easily, it could be really nail-biting.

Greece

What I know about the team: lots of journeymen lower league and fringe players who are capable of upsetting all the odds – play well as a team, apart from that nothing.

What I know about the country: will probably struggle to pay for the team to go and if they win would not be able to afford to throw a party. The Acropolis, birth place of democracy, Athens, beaches, semi-naked sun burnt Brits, Aya Napa, Crete, Jason & The Argonauts, etc etc etc

Star Player? I have absolutely no idea.

Manager? Otto Rehhagel, a German (or maybe Austrian) who has a reputation for getting the best out of his players, even if he looks a bit weird.

Chances? The same as they were for Euro 2004

Entertainment Rating: Not entertaining unless you enjoy watching Burnley

Nigeria

What I know about the team: Jay Jay Okocha is probably too old now, Kanu can’t surely be going and Yakubu only performs in warm weather – so this being South Africa in the winter…

What I know about the country: Oil, dictatorships, human rights problems, massive wealth disparity, Africa, Lagos.

Star Player? They’re all stars in Lagos!

Manager? Lars Lagerback is obviously not Nigerian, he’s Swedish and has a funky name.

Chances? Should get out of this group.

Entertainment Rating: The least entertaining of the African nations statistically, so expect them to shine.

South Korea

What I know about the team: Spurs had a left back from South Korea, once: Lee Pyo Young, he might still be in the team. Bolton have a talented player, don’t know if he’s going.

What I know about the country: They bloody eat dogs!

Star Player? Ahem… They’re all stars in Seoul.

Manager? Huh Jung-Moo – get in there! What a great name.

Chances? Nothing like the last time they were here.

Entertainment Rating: Do you like Antiques Roadshow or does it make you sleep?

Group 4

Australia

What I know about the team: The best player ever in Australian history – Harry Kewel – has been injured since 1937, he’s unlikely to feature here either. They have (or had) a player called Vince Grella – what a great name!

What I know about the country: There are things that kill you everywhere, Ozzies are loathsome and hopefully won’t win anything to inflate their already hoisted petards any more. Ayers Rock isn’t called that any longer. Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Queensland – yet it isn’t the gay capital of Australia and yes, of course, kangaroos, koalas, wombats and barbecues.

Star Player? Is injured.

Manager? Pim Verbeek – yeah, that’s what I thought.

Chances? Slim

Entertainment Rating: colourful

Germany

What I know about the team: Hack-ptui.

What I know about the country: sauerkraut, sausages, lederhosen, Hitler, Fawlty Towers, Munich, Berlin, Blue Nun (which sounds so interesting, but isn’t) and lager.

Star Player? Bastian Schweinsteiger ­– babelfish his surname

Manager? Jocham Low – looks like a 1960s art photographer.

Chances? Very high. They piss everyone off at major tournaments by being spectacularly efficient.

Entertainment Rating: None whatsoever unless they’re being beaten heavily by Ghana.

Ghana

What I know about the team: Their star player might be injured.

What I know about the country: It’s in Africa and I went to school with a kid called Martin Addo, he was from Ghana. Yams.

Star Player? is injured

Manager? Milovan Rajevac – see Australia

Chances? As good as Portsmouth’s chances of survival in the EPL after the points deduction.

Entertainment Rating: bright green and crazy

Serbia

What I know about the team: I know more about American Samoa (they lost 0-37 the other week, not their worst defeat by a long shot).

What I know about the country: It is a Balkan country and was once part of Yugoslavia. Um… Sarajevo?

Star Player? Someone whose name ends in ic

Manager? I certainly hope so.

Chances? Unlikely, but pretty much unknown.

Entertainment Rating: Play spot the beard or beetroot.

Group 5

Cameroon

What I know about the team: Had a guy called Roger Milla play for them once – he was a King of the Road if there ever was. Play in red and green, I think, so mix that with that god awful buzzing sound the locals make and you’ll be grateful you didn’t have that extra pint the night before their game. Sebastian Bassong of the mighty Spurs.

What I know about the country: I used to pride myself on my knowledge of foreign countries…

Star Player? There’s obviously one young man who is idolized by the country’s nubile young virgins.

Manager? I sincerely hope so.

Chances? Could Abba ever have another number 1 unless one of them dies?

Entertainment Rating: They play in red and green!

Denmark

What I know about the team: The names Olsen (or variations), Jensen (or variations) and those umlaut things appear quite a lot.

What I know about the country: herrings, bacon, lager, Copenhagen, probably, Tove Janson.

Star Player? Someone whose name ends in ‘son’, ‘sen’ or some variation.

Manager? Someone whose name ends in ‘son’, ‘sen’ or some variation.

Chances? Write them off at your peril, should squeeze through to the knockout and then it really depends if their opponents turn up.

Entertainment Rating: Like watching old episodes of ‘The Adventures of Thor Heyerdahl’.

Netherlands

What I know about the team: Orange, skillful, scary when on form.

What I know about the country: flat, tulips, drugs, prossies, Rotterdam, Martin Jol, hydroponics and bicycles.

Star Player? Possibly Wesley Sneijder

Manager? Bert Van Marwijk – famous for being Mr & Mrs Marwijk’s little boy.

Chances? A good bet but… it’s the Dutch, they always flatter to deceive.

Entertainment Rating: Edge of seat stuff.

Japan

What I know about the team: Much less than I know about Serbia.

What I know about the country: sushi, geisha, manga, anime, kon ishi wa, whales, blow fish, censored pubic hair, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Pearl Harbour.

Star Player? Wouldn’t mean much to us even if I knew his name.

Manager? Not Gary Lineker.

Chances? A toss up between them and me getting a blow job from Samantha Cameron while she’s giving birth to the antichrist.

Entertainment Rating: Special mention for the game with Denmark – this will be the first game where spectators rip their own eyes out with spoons.

Group 6

Italy

What I know about the team: World Champions. No Totti – that’s Francesco not women. A mix of age and not so old, I believe the goalkeeper got a telegram from the queen; he’s one of the kids in the team.

What I know about the country: Pizza, pasta, Mussolini, everything the French do but with less class. Milan, Rome, the Pope and the nationality of the manager of the England team.

Star Player? Isn’t going, so pick any one from four or five.

Manager? Marcello Lippi – either a genius or another also ran

Chances? Very good.

Entertainment Rating: potentially embarrassing as they have a dismal record against poor teams.

New Zealand

What I know about the team: Ryan Nelson and a bunch of 2nd, 3rd and Eridivision league players.

What I know about the country: That I’d move there given half the chance; the home of the Lord of the Rings films, considerably better at Rugby, Cricket and kiwi hunting than football.

Star Player? Probably Ryan Nelson.

Manager? Ricki Herbert – who sounds like he’s a part time night club singer.

Chances? I stand more chance, me and a bunch of 50 something mates, with prosthetic limbs, very drunk and on hallucinogenic drugs.

Entertainment Rating: the matches might have a lot of goals in them.

Paraguay

What I know about the team: Absolutely nothing apart from Roque Santa Cruz who sits on the Citeh bench keeping his buttocks flat.

What I know about the country: The only other landlocked country in South America, although actually it isn’t because of some big river, and when I say big I mean as wide as London, not the Thames.

Star Player? Roque Santa Cruz

Manager? Gerado Martino sounds like Ricki Herbert’s warm up act.

Chances? They’re South American, they have flair, skill, ability and no chance.

Entertainment Rating: When they played England at the last WC it was one of the most dull games of football ever.

Slovakia

What I know about the team: Nothing.

What I know about the country: Nothing.

Star Player? Who knows?

Manager? Vladimir Weiss

Chances? Slim

Entertainment Rating: doubtful

Group 7

Brazil

What I know about the team: Ha, you’re having a laugh?

What I know about the country: Copacabana, Rio, bottoms, favellas, barrios, beaches, bums, salsa, carnival, rain forests, the Amazon, Sao Paolo and big bottoms.

Star Player? All of them.

Manager? Dunga – a man not a pile of shit.

Chances? Favourites.

Entertainment Rating: in footballing terms its like having sex with someone you really fancy.

Ivory Coast

What I know about the team: Didier Drogba, man who scores lots of goals and others like Didier Zokora and Didier Dodardodardai.

What I know about the country: African coastal country and other stuff.

Star Player? Didier Drogba

Manager? Some geeza called Sven.

Chances? Group of death, if they get out of this they might do well.

Entertainment Rating: high, but they’re in the group of death – either brilliant or nail-bitingly boring.

North Korea

What I know about the team: Nothing, it’s a secret.

What I know about the country: Nothing, it’s a secret; communist.

Star Player? They’re all stars in the eyes of the Chairman.

Manager? The people of the republic

Chances? As good as it was in 1966.

Entertainment Rating: None whatsoever – they eat dogs, switch off.

Portugal

What I know about the team: Cristiano Ronaldo and the others who make up the numbers.

What I know about the country: Our friend, holiday destination for losing your children, the Algarve, Lisbon, Porto and Spain’s next door neighbour – they don’t like each other.

Star Player? Aforementioned Ronaldo bloke.

Manager? Carlos Queiroz – SAF’s #2 for donkeys.

Chances? Group of death blah blah blah…

Entertainment Rating: should be a mix of Premier league and dog’s dinner.

Group 8

Chile

What I know about the team: Claudio Brava (and I got that from Wikipedia)

What I know about the country: Lots, but that’s because I have a book in front of me. Lima, the Andes, Llamas and that Attacama desert place.

Star Player? Probably Claudio Brava

Manager? Marcelo Bielsa – who’s been here before

Chances? Very little

Entertainment Rating: very unlikely despite being from South America – that doesn’t always automatically mean quality.

Honduras

What I know about the team: Wilson Palacios and probably his brother.

What I know about the country: It’s in Central America and they speak English a lot. Tax Haven.

Star Player? Wilson Palacios

Manager? Reinaldo Reuda

Chances? None, none whatsoever.

Entertainment Rating: If there’s nothing on and the Chile game is on, you can watch and be entertained by something.

Spain

What I know about the team: Very, very good. Two star players both injured – Torres and Fabregas, but will probably feature. Have always flattered to deceive until the last Euros which they walked through with ease.

What I know about the country: Paella, cerveza, Barcelona, Madrid, Torremalinos (sp) and a king

Star Player? Are both struggling to be fit.

Manager? Is a racist.

Chances? My tip.

Entertainment Rating: As good as Brazil and Barnsley.

Switzerland

What I know about the team: resilient, lacking in flair, a sort of Stoke of world football.

What I know about the country: money, gold, chocolate, cuckoo clocks, Alps, skiing, Berne, Basle, Geneva and neutrality.

Star Player? Phil Collins or Frei

Manager? Ottmar Hitzfeld, who I think you’ll find has form.

Chances? Not in the frame, despite chances against two of the three teams in this group.

Entertainment Rating: sex with your 80-year-old neighbour will seem more preferable.

And the all important group, the one with England in it:

Group 3

Algeria

What I know about the team: Someone from the Algerian team scored on the final day of the season. They are considerably better than every one thinks they are and are consistent in the, at times, inconsistent African cup of Nations.

What I know about the country: lots of desert, Algerians

Star Player? Yazid Mansouri, you know him? He was that bloke. You know the one? Algerian.

Manager? Rabah Saadane, which is his name and not the national dish of Algeria

Chances? Like I said, better than people think; surprise qualifiers or everybody’s whipping boys – who can say?

Entertainment Rating: Depends really on the result against us.

Slovenia

What I know about the team: see Slovakia

What I know about the country: see above

Star Player? And above again

Manager? I have been assured they do have a manager and he likes herrings.

Chances? We’ve already beaten them in a friendly with half the team replaced by inflatable Wayne Rooneys.

Entertainment Rating: See Algeria.

USA

What I know about the team: Clint Dempsey, Brad Freidel, Landon Donovan, but not Freddy Adu. Accomplished and workmanlike, with a little bit of flair and a toughness to beat – they are Everton.

What I know about the country: fat bastards, Jesus freaks, cowboys, Native Americans, Detroit, Springfield, Barrack Obama (that is how you spell it?) and enough crap to fill a further 40,000 pages and still not even scratch the surface.

Star Player? Tough one; all of them work well together. Donovan could be a handful against us.

Manager? Bob Bradley (whatever happened to Bruce Arena?)

Chances? Should join England in the knockout

Entertainment Rating: rarely sets pulses going; their games will be a bit like Bolton versus Everton matches.

England

What I know about the team: Ancient goalkeeper, mercenary red shite glory hunting past his best retired defender, man with no knees, two defenders with clunge addictions, a Twitter, a thug, a man mountain, Shrek, a praying mantis, a little man who runs like he’s gay, a big black man who struggles to stand up and a wee black man who seems to have forgotten how to play just when he needs to.

What I know about the country: we have a ConDem coalition; most people are arseholes, hidden costs, York, Frinton, black pudding, badgers, beer and fat girls in the wrong clothes.

Star Player? Wayne Rooney

Manager? Fabio Capello

Chances? If we don’t lose on penalties in the semi-finals I’ll be really disappointed.

Entertainment Rating: zero – when is watching England ever entertaining?