Needless to say, it's been a tough fortnight here.
If you didn't see my piece about the EU Referendum before the results, it can be read here.
Needless to say, it's been a tough fortnight here.
If you didn't see my piece about the EU Referendum before the results, it can be read here.
I grew up watching Wimbledon and it would always coincide with the start of my summer holidays. I think, largely because of that, I've always had a soft spot for the sport. It's only been the past few years that I've really tried to follow the tour throughout the year, but my love for the sport has grown the more I learn about it. I was recently talking with my friend, and fantastic writer/journalist, Alex Macpherson - who is much more knowledgable than I am about tennis - and we tried to devise a way for us to collaborate on something tennis related.
This piece for Vox is the result. A 29 panel look at tennis in 2016. Vox don't cover sport so the we tried to reign ourselves in from the more obscure stories and keep the summary as news-focused as possible.
I really hope we get more opportunities to work together on tennis comics as I had so much fun drawing this. I want to draw an entire comic about Serena Williams. And one about all the up and comers. I also hope I can do some tennis illustrations in the future too. Basically, more drawing about tennis!
Here's a sneak peek at the piece - the whole thing can be read here. Huge thanks to AD Javier Zarracina for all his help on the piece.
Other tennis related things I've been enjoying: The collection of David Foster Wallace essays about tennis - String Theory - is a delight, Alex invited me along to the Roehampton Wimbledon Qualifiers a couple of weeks ago - which I didn't realise was free to attend - and it was brilliant - loads of new faces and exciting stories, I'm currently reading Love Game: A History of Tennis, from Victorian Pastime to Global Phenomenon which is very interesting, I subscribed to this lovely looking tennis magazine - Racquet, and the Serena documentary on the BBC was great. I've also ordered a couple of ESPN 30 For 30 docs - one about Navratilova and Evert's rivalry, and one about Jimmy Connors. Speaking of 30 For 30 - have you been watching the OJ: Made In America doc? It's great right? Seek it out if you haven't!
I was asked by Titan if I'd like to illustrate the September Doctor Who cover. I couldn't say no to that. It was such a fun commission and I hope I get to try my hand at more in the future. The solicitations for Titan's September comics are listed here. I think the order code for this is STL015068.
This is for the finale issue of year two of the Eleventh Doctor - written by Si Spurrier and Rob Williams with art by Simon Fraser.
This comic went live a few days ago on The Nib. I've been working on it for a while - trying my hardest to make the forthcoming EU Referendum as accessible and entertaining as possible. It was a huge help working with my editor Eleri Harris who guided me through the process of editing down a potentially sprawling 70-80 panel comic into this relatively succinct 40 panel piece. You can read the full comic here.
The comic had to to do several things: it needed to communicate the situation to international readers who were not as exposed to the more complex inner workings of UK politics, but it also needed to be useful to those in the UK who were unsure how to vote. I wanted to be as fair and as balanced as possible, presenting the facts and opposing sides clearly - while not being afraid to state my own opinions and disingenuously pretend I didn't have a bias. I wanted to make sure the comic was honest.
There are all sorts of issues I didn't cover, and some that I couldn't spend as much real-estate on as I wanted, but I'm proud of how this came out and hope it's helpful to people. I hope it provokes deeper dives into some of the issues and concerns it raises and I hope it, at the very least, encourages some more voters to get registered now we have a slightly extended deadline.
If you're annoyed the comic didn't discuss a particular issue or skimmed something you think deserved more interrogation, I hope you'll appreciate that I probably spent days agonising over whether to include it or not, but in the end had to create the EU comic I wanted to see.
Thanks for reading and sharing it if you have already done so.
There are still a few hours left to register to vote if you haven't yet - the website is here.
And if you want to stay in the EU and want to help out, but don't know where to start, you could do worse than check out The In Crowd - it has a handy function that helps you find the best way to get involved.
The Guardian got in touch to ask me to illustrate a regular, small column in The Guide. Every week a different person pitches a new TV show and I illustrate it.
Here are the illustrations:
Vox got in touch to ask me to illustrate a fantastic long-form piece by Caroline Framke - detailing how the fantastic FX show The Americans is made. I love the show and the piece was a joy to work on thanks to a great AD and a fascinating article. It's a wonderful read for anyone with a passing interest in how TV shows are made, even if you're not aware of The Americans (you're in for a treat if you decide to give it a watch).
Read the full thing here.
Hot Rum Cow magazine were running a piece on how to use a sabre to open a bottle of champagne and commissioned me to illustrate it. Happy with how these came out and was a pleasure to work with AD Eric Campbell.
Another poem comic that Chrissy Williams and I collaborated on recently. It's called When I Write I Use Every Part Of Myself.
If you liked this, Chrissy and I co-edited a book about poetry comics called Over The Line: An Introduction to Poetry Comics - available here.
You can see the rest of our collaborative poetry comics by clicking on the Poem Comics category in the sidebar.
Chrissy also runs the Poetry & Comics Tumblr which is worth a follow.
Here's a new poem comic that Chrissy Williams and I have been working on recently. It's called Wake.
Last year, Chrissy and I co-edited a book about poetry comics (Over The Line: An Introduction to Poetry Comics - available here!) but had, before that, collaborated on a few of our own. It was nice to return to creating poetry comics together and hopefully we'll be doing lots more in the future!
You can see the rest of our work by clicking on the Poem Comics category in the sidebar.
Chrissy also runs the Poetry & Comics Tumblr which is worth a follow!
I was extremely honoured to be asked to illustrate one of the b-sides to the new volume of Phonogram. It's a six pager and will technically be the very last Phonogram comic seeing as it's in the final issue of The Immaterial Girl.
I drove myself a little crazy drawing this as I was nervous about letting the team down and making sure I stepped up to the challenge. Hopefully it goes down well and people enjoy it.
Oddly, the comic is called 'Modern Love' and is partly about the (brilliant) Bowie song. This was a comic I drew last summer. I received comp copies of the comic last Monday - the day Bowie died. I feel if I tried to articulate my feelings about Bowie here I could end up doing so for the rest of the day (and still not manage to say anything much that hasn't already been said better elsewhere), but suffice it to say - I felt more emotional about it than I was prepared for.
Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, Clayton Clowes, and Chrissy Williams (plus all the other excellent b-side contributors) have been doing exceptional work on Phonogram and I'm sad to see it go - make sure you get the whole 6 issues of The Immaterial Girl.
You should be able to pick up a copy in your local comic store tomorrow (Wednesday 20th Jan). I'm excited about being in a comic which is on the This Week's Comics shelves.
"We just want to play."
Quick summary: A french couple living in a remote mansion in the Romanian countryside face a home invasion from unknown intruders who like to obnoxiously announce their arrival via the use of metal music.
I was unsure how to finish this month with a strong, Halloween-friendly film - most of my decisions on what to watch this month has been made after twitter/facebook recommendations and just taking the plunge without reading much about the films beforehand. Ils/Them was, it turned out, a perfect way to finish off - a taut, incredibly tense, mercifully short (77 mins), stripped-down home invasion movie. Definitely the best of this sub-genre (which I'm not much of a fan of) I've seen since You're Next.
The film reminded me of Haute Tension - another great French horror movie - in the way it maintains a sustained, mounting tension throughout. Both films have genuinely had me on the edge of my seat and desperate for the relief of a final act. There's even a very effective scene involving dangling plastic sheeting that calls to mind a similar scene in Haute Tension.
It smartly keeps us and the protagonists from ever glimpsing much more of the intruders than some feet or a hood - and there's something in the way they move and the way that sound is used that made me think of mime and Philippe Gaulier style clown school techniques.
After reading around the film in an attempt to find out how much the "based on a true story" is genuine or just another horror cliché - I discovered a piece which criticises the film for it's xenophobia. The piece is here - if you're planning on seeing the film, it contains spoilers. Without revealing too much, the protagonists are French, living in Romania, and the intruders are Romanian locals. The piece suggests the film (which came out just before Romania joined the EU) was either consciously or unconsciously a racist attack on Romanians and served to increase and play into French fears of Romanian immigrants. I think the piece is unfair on the film in terms of how successful it was on a purely technical level, but I think it raises very interesting points. I can't think of a reason (other than potential budgetary ones?) that this couldn't work in the French countryside. Don't get me wrong though - it is nowhere near the sexist, racist and homophobic levels of the Eli Roth trips to Europe.
And I'm done. That's 31 days. 32 illustrations. 38 films.
Films I found the scariest: The Borderlands, The Innocents, Dark Water, Unfriended, Ils.
Suggesting the things that scare me the most are: Under-explained paganism, creepy children, and greyed out boxes on facebook.
Films that left me with a lingering sense of unease for a few days: Threads, Bug, Possession, Repulsion, Berberian Sound Studio.
Directors I plan on delving into more: Val Lewton, Larry Fessenden, Ti West, Mario Baba, Dario Argento.
I really enjoyed this and while the addition of the daily illustration had me cursing myself for promising to do it on days when I had a lot of other work on, I'm going to miss having this routine. I would love to do this again sometime. The daily illustration gave me a chance to try out new inking and colouring techniques, and I can see an improvement from the first to the last piece which is gratifying. I wish I'd managed to fit more double-bills in and push that number of films watched to 40 but life, and principally a heavy workload, took priority.
Thanks to everyone on twitter/facebook who suggested horror films for me to watch throughout the month. Every film had something interesting in there, I don't think anything was a complete disappointment, and I've probably come away with at least five new favourite films. The list of recommendations can be found here - where I still have over 90 films to eventually get around to - I just may not be illustrating those! Please do get in touch if you think of any films that need to be on that list.
Also, thanks if you've been following along every day, and for everyone who shared the blog on social media. It's been really nice to see compliments on the drawings, or find out when people have a watched a film based on the blog - and it helped to hear that on the days when I was overwhelmed with work and finding it hard to fit this in.
I've had a little bit of interest in prints of some of the illustrations I did throughout this. I've started looking into a place where I can get really nice quality, A3 giclee prints on textured, thick, Hahnemuhle paper for a reasonable price. It's looking like I probably wouldn't be able to charge less than £20 per print but I've still got a few more printers to call.
If you're interested in getting a print, and £20 sounds like a fair price - let me know on my twitter or on facebook (and tell me which illustration you'd like) as that will give me some idea of how much interest there is.
I could also sell the original ink drawings if people wanted those.
Anyway. Icky capitalism aside. Thank you so much for reading and Happy Halloween!
Dellamorte Dellamore/Cemetery Man/Mi Nova es un Zombie (1994)
"I should have known it. The rest of the world doesn't exist."
Quick summary: Rupert Everett is the guardian of a cemetery where the dead sometimes come back to life. He spends his evenings shooting them through the head before they cause trouble. Then the film gets weird.
That was an eccentric, silly, and absurd movie - and pretty enjoyable. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, having not heard much about it before, but while it was tonally all over the place I was never bored by it. At times it reminded me of Braindead and the early work of Peter Jackson - particularly the zombie boy scouts and zombie nun set-piece, or the flying zombie head that hangs out inside a broken TV - but that's just the (relatively) standard genre stuff you expect from this sort of film. It's in the weirder, more surreal tangents the movie takes that it really gets going.
The twin themes of love and death frequently recur as does the film's fascination with birth and rebirth (even the rebirth of castrated penises). It throws some very arresting images at the screen in a way that calls to mind a lot of the indie directors who made their name in the nineties (Robert Rodriguez comes to mind).
The movie was based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi who wrote the Dylan Dog comic series (the protagonist's features were apparently based on Rupert Everett in this film). Scorsese called the film one of the best Italian films of the nineties. I'm not sure I've seen enough Italian cinema to really chip in on that.
There's a biker zombie who bursts out of the ground on a working motorbike.
There's a Citizen Kane snowglobe ending. Or St. Elsewhere, depending on your reference point.
Tonight: It's actual Halloween tonight so while I plan to watch Ils/Them (2006), I'm also going to probably re-watch some old favourites...
Happy Halloween! Thanks for following along if you've been reading. See you tomorrow for my final illustration.
"And I don't want to be presumptuous, but if I do get into heaven and all my loved ones have been watching over me... a lot of my relationships will have been compromised."
Quick summary: Pauline is your typical teenager. Awkward. Sullen. With a macabre fascination with blood and gore, violent psychosexual daydreams and a desire to become a surgeon.
Whew. Well, that was something. The film kicks off with a bloody, sexual fantasy in a sterile hospital room and just sort of builds from there. There's a lot of black humour and sardonic wit throughout that reminded me of the tone of Heathers.
Anna Lynne McCord was incredible in the lead role.
While the ending was inevitable and hinted at early on, it doesn't make it any less shocking when it happens and the journey there was unexpected, and deeply odd - in a good way.
The very deliberate, symmetrical composition of the shots, and the attention to detail had me thinking this might be the sort of horror film Wes Anderson would make. Or at least Anderson by way of the body horror of Cronenburg (though obviously reality is never going to beat the SNL Wes Anderson horror trailer). That sort of comparison does the film a disservice though - it has a confident, assured directorial style all it's own.
Lovely to see the John Waters cameo - doing double duty as priest and put-upon psychiatrist (while also acting as one giant "this is a film by - and for - outsiders" sign). And Waters favourite Traci Lords is great as the domineering mother.
Also great to see Joey Lucas from The West Wing make an appearance! Oh, and Malcolm McDowell too I guess. But Joey Lucas guys!
With it being Halloween weekend, I thought I'd throw some easy-to-access suggestions out there in case you've not decided what to watch/listen to. As this blog proves, I'm by no means an expert but hopefully it's helpful for the casual and/or curious horror fan:
The horror fiction riff on Serial - Limetown - is a great listen. Lore is worth subscribing to for interesting histories and explorations of horror tropes alongside some creepy unexplained stories. There's a new episode of the brilliant I Was There Too with PJ Soles talking about her role in Halloween that I really recommend. There's a Halloween special of Film Fandango where they talk about recent horror films. Plus, there's a good listener-outsourced bunch of scary stories on This American Life.
Fright Night on Radio 4 (Saturday evening) looks like it'll be great fun with The Stone Tape, Ring, and other treats.
UK Netflix There's the brilliant The Babadook and the romantic, and unexpected Spring. Recent favourites on there include House of the Devil, Housebound, Berberian Sound Studio, and Starry Eyes. The enjoyable What We Do In The Shadows is a giggle. Classics like American Werewolf in London and The Omen are always worth a re-watch. I really like the clever and funny Teeth and Ginger Snaps. The Mist is worth a watch if you enjoy bleak endings. And finally (it's not technically a horror but it takes place in a perma-Halloween and uses familiar horror beats and Carpenter-esque shots) you're in for a treat if you've not already seen The Guest.
US Netflix A little more choice here. You have most of the above plus other recent favourites like Jug Face, We Are What We Are, and The Nightmare. More classics like Rosemary's Baby. Recent classics like Let The Right One In and The Others. Plus, the excellent A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and the overlooked Pontypool.
Amazon Prime Instant Not a huge selection but it has recently added the fantastic It Follows. And Kill List is on there too if you've not already joined the Ben Wheatley fan club.
And there's a bunch of public domain horror films here if you'd like to give Nosferatu or the excellent Carnival of Souls a go.
Oh and no-one asked but my favourite halloween episodes from TV: Buffy The Vampire Slayer - "Halloween" and "Fear Itself", Angel - "Life of the Party", Brooklyn Nine Nine - "Halloween Parts 1-3", Community - "Epidemiology", Castle - "Vampire Weekend", Louie - "Halloween/Ellie", The Office - "Halloween", Parcs & Rec - "Greg Pikitis", Freaks and Geeks - "Tricks and Treats", Frasier - "Halloween", and Friends - "The One with the Halloween Party". That right there might be my halloween programming...
Tonight: Time for Dellamorte Dellamore (1994) now my copy has arrived.
The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974)
"They vandalise cemeteries, they profane tombs, and they... y'know... hold black masses."
Quick summary: Edna, on her way to see her sister, is lumbered with chauvinistic antiques dealer George - only to find out there's a bit of a zombie problem when they get there. But the bigoted local police don't believe their stories of the walking dead.
This film has - the internet assures me - a total of 16 titles worldwide. Including: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Don't Open The Window (which went on to inspire Edgar Wright's brilliant Grindhouse trailer Don't!).
I'd seen this film referenced as an influence on things like Charlie Brooker's Dead Set and other zombie films. Because of the title, I think I'd assumed it was a British take on zombies but it's actually a Spanish-Italian production with all the dubbed dialogue and sound design that Berberian Sound Studio nodded towards.
All the characters apart from Edna and her sister appear to be massive dicks.
There's some dialogue gold to be found around every corner:
"I wish the dead could come back to life, you bastard, so then I could kill you again."
It's a fun movie with some great zombies-consuming-human-remains gore and a suitably nihilistic ending that suggests things are only going to get worse. And it has a fun, dopey scientific reason for the dead to be coming back to life (damn you Department of Agriculture! Damn you all to Hell!).
Tonight: Going with Excision (2012).
Berberian Sound Studio (2013)
"Just think of it like your microphones. Each one has a name and you remember."
Quick summary: Sound engineer Gilderoy is hired by an Italian production company to sound mix The Equestrian Vortex - a disturbing horror film in the Giallo tradition.
Always good to see a film where Toby Jones is front and centre.
As you'd expect from a film all about sound, the sound design on this is brilliantly effective and creates a real sense of tension. The only time we ever see The Equestrian Vortex is in the opening credit sequence (accompanied by a Goblin-esque score) and some audition scenes - otherwise, we only ever hear it. Which is all the more unsettling. I can definitely see why director Peter Strickland has been tasked with bringing The Stone Tape to Radio 4 this month. He clearly has a love of the craft of sound engineering.
It's a lot of fun seeing all the foley work with vegetables and random props. Even that, eventually starts to become increasingly disturbing as the film progresses.
The second half of the film has a very Lynchian flavour to it. I've also seen comparisons to Inferno and Dream of the Mad Monkey - both of which I've not yet seen but will make sure I do.
I can imagine the ambiguity and lack of linear sense or answers at the end of the film would frustrate some, but I really liked the strange, meta, summoning ritual that seemed to be taking place.
Tonight: Bit of zombie action with The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974).
"I'd rather talk with you about bugs, than nothing with anybody."
Quick summary: Agnes is living in a crummy motel room, terrified of her abusive ex-husband returning from prison, and on the edge of sanity when she meets Peter. An army vet who believes he's been experimented on.
Oh man. This was an intense watch. Absolutely compelling and probably one of the films of the month. But on the Threads spectrum of not-an-easy-watch. Interesting that it's a film that taps into the fears of a surveillance state but was made before the Snowden revelations - it almost feels more relevant now than it would have in 2006.
I felt itchy for about an hour after the film.
It's based on a Tracy Letts play (Michael Shannon played the same character on stage) and the dialogue and structure of the film certainly feels stageplay-esque. But that's not to say this isn't cinematic. Friedkin uses some jarring editing, heightened sound design, and beautifully composed shots to really make this feel like a film. It's a dialogue-heavy, paranoia filled bottle episode.
Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd are incredible. Also, I could draw Michael Shannon's super intense face all day long.
Beyond The Exorcist and French Connection, I haven't actually seen much of Friedkin's back catalogue. This has reminded me to finally sit down with Killer Joe and Cruising at some point. There's a refreshing, uncompromising tone to Bug that had me itching to go back and re-watch Friedkin classics too.
Tonight: Time for Berberian Sound Studio (2012).
The House of the Devil (2009)
"This one night changes everything for me."
Quick summary: Samantha is hired to babysit on the evening of a lunar eclipse. It's in a house off the beaten track. The clients are odd. And they don't have a child to babysit. Satanists? Satanists.
Beyond the immediate nod to 1970s and 80s films with the "satanic panic" storyline, the film feels like a recently uncovered video nasty that no-one knew about. It's shot on 16mm, there are a lot of quiet, locked shots, zooms versus dolly moves, the pacing is deliberate and tense, the soundtrack is eighties all the way, and the credits use a strong yellow typeface against freeze frames - Ti West knows what how to do a homage - and clearly has a lot of love for this style of film-making. Maybe it's my fondness for this sort of horror film, or maybe it's just how successful this film is on it's own terms, but if the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse project was half this good, I would have enjoyed it so much more.
There's a "based on a true story" title card at the beginning that reminded me of the two Wes Craven movies I watched on the first day of this Horror Month - and this seems appropriate. The film feels like a spiritual companion to Last House on the Left while actually being a lot easier to stomach and much more tonally consistent than that film. It also reminds me of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other films of the time that used the "true story" opening.
In fact, Samantha - played by Jocelin Donahue - almost looks like Sandra Cassel - the lead in Last House.
The final, gore-filled final act comes relatively late, is surprisingly short, and could strike some as a bit anti-climatic for those looking forward to a bloody finale - but I tend to find the climb of the roller-coaster in horror films much more unsettling and satisfying than plummeting down the other side.
Enjoyed the Walkman dance interlude.
Nice to see Greta Gerwig make an appearance.
Also nice to see Tom "The Tooth Fairy" Noonan.
Lewton bus moment: Greta Gerwig needs a lighter!
Tonight: Finally going to watch Friedkin's Bug (2006) I think.
I was commissioned by Buzzfeed to illustrate this piece by Ella Sackville Adjei about a one night stand with a guy who turned out to be racist. Probably best to avoid the comment section if you want to enjoy the rest of your day. Matthew Tucker, the excellent art director at Buzzfeed UK, wanted the images to work as comic panels - something that was more storytelling than illustrating. We played around with a few ideas before landing on these six images. Obviously, it all works better in context and when the images have more room to breathe, so head here to read the full piece.
We Are What We Are (2013)
"It is with love that I do this."
Quick summary: When their mother dies, the Parker children and their father try to pick up the pieces, with the eldest daughter - Iris - having to take on her mother's responsibilities. Which aren't terribly pleasant.
I was all ready to sit down and watch the 2010 Mexican original of this - Somos Lo Que Hay - because when has an American remake of a brilliant foreign language horror film ever added anything? Usually, it just leads to less effective, higher budget special effects (The Ring), a defanged ending (The Vanishing) or <insert some disparaging remark directed at Let Me In because I've not seen it but I bet it's not as good as the original>. But an AV Club review of the film popped up in my feed with the headline "An American Horror Remake That Transcends The Original" - which changed my mind at the last minute.
I'm glad it did. It makes the most of it's relocation to America - forging a backstory that plays into American gothic mythology and playing with a twisted family religion (though I'm not convinced we actually needed the flashbacks to the 18th century). And the direction is beautiful - letting the camera linger on small details of the flood that is slowly unearthing the Parker family's secrets, and revealing the strong bond between the children in quiet, small moments. According to the AV Club piece, the film also changes the gender roles from the original - letting this version explore patriarchal themes as well.
I wish I had the time to stick the original on as well so I could compare the two properly - hopefully I can fit it in before the month is out but I'm fast running out of evenings!
It's always a pleasure to see Michael Parks! And the rest of the actors are great too. Particularly Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner who play the teenage Parkers.
"Did you eat my daughter?"
Tonight: Time for my introduction to Ti West with The House of the Devil (2009) I reckon.