December 26, 2010

Tintin Movie

The countdown begins! If you're a fan of Hergé's The Adventures Of Tintin, mark the date on your calendar, or put it into that poncy phone of yours if you're over the whole 'writing on paper' thing. Today makes one year until the release of Steven Spielberg's film The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn. (Actually, Wikipedia says the release date is December 23, Empire magazine says December 26. I'm going with Empire because it was printed in Australia.)


Am I a Tintin fan? Am I heck as like! It was what got me into making my own comics in the first place. I have all the books, yes, even the Lake Of Sharks one that was based on a French cartoon no one's even flippin' seen. One of them I had to get on Amazon. The timespan in getting all the books you see in the picture below was 13 years. But enough about that. My previous encounters with the other Tintin films made has been pretty dismal. I've never seen the Blue Oranges one, and the one time the Golden Fleece one was on SBS, I had to tape it and the tape wasn't worth watching because the reception was so bad.


Come Boxing Day next year, though, the 3-D animated film will be out, the animation done through motion capture. The photorealistic look of the characters as shown in Empire is really impressive; they look like real people and Hergé's cartoon characters at the same time, and given Hergé's attention to backdround detail in the comics and his theatrical sense of drawing settings, the film is something to really look forward to. So let the countdown begin –

365:00:00:00
364:23:59:59
364:23:59:58...

December 24, 2010

Cel-Out


I've just done (well, earlier this month) four new drawings of the main Airbury cast using a graphics tablet to render them all in a cel-like non-photorealistic style. It gives a nice effect to the backgrounds. The above is a composite image which I hashed together in 8 nanoseconds, but you can see the four individual drawings on that art gallery site with the puke-green backgrounds.

I don't know how long the comic will be on hiatus for, as it will be a long time before I finish writing any stories. Run out of ideas? No, quite the opposite, old paint. Too many. But problem is, how to take these story threads and spin them into a lengthy yarn, like yer granddad did when telling you about how he used to put porcupines down the back of his pants before getting the cane at boarding school – except the stupid bugger put 'em with the spines facing inwards. Cuh. Typical.

Anyway, a couple of people have asked me what Airbury Academy: Aluminium Edition is. No, it's not a comic drawn on sheets of tin-foil (although that would be pretty cool). The idea came to me when I was going through some old shite, er, sorry, precious archival material, and found a heap of old artwork that somehow survived my move interstate. So it's a PDF with old and unused artwork, rejected design ideas, sketchbook scraps, photos of turnips, stuff that was taken out and other fun stuff. It's like you're having a perv into someone's journal – which, in fact, you are.

December 21, 2010

2010 Top 10

Hey, is this really my 80th post? Wow. Must have been all that World Cup stuff I posted earlier in the year. Unfortunately, there won't be this many posts next year. Don't want to get burnt out. Quality, not quantity, yeah?

So here we are at the tail end of the year, as 2010 reaches its dismal and anticlimactic ending. This being an art blog, I would normally list the Top 10 graphic novels/comics I've read this year. Except I don't seem to have read any. That's what comes with writing and drawing the things myself; I don't have time to read anyone else's. I've been going to Minotaur, but absolutely nothing new from Frank Cammuso, or Evan Dorkin, or Holly G has showed up on the shelves. And the manga series Joshi Kousei has stalled at Volume 9, which I got in July 2008! What gives, Towa Ohshima? Y'know what my gran'fadder used to say? Git back to work!

So, with the lack of any comics lists, I might as well list my Top 10 songs for 2010.


1. White Flag – Gorillaz
2. Hello Machina – The Analog Girl
3. Superfast Jellyfish – Gorillaz
4. EOEOE – Go! Go! 7188
5. Pick Up! Chu~! – E.Via
6. Ich Bin Nicht Ein Roboter (I Am A Lion) – Die Roten Punkte
7. Song 2 – The Brilliant Green
8. The Creeps – Ash
9. Perfect Freedom – Shonen Knife
10. Hardcore Porn Star – The White Eyes
10. Alive – Goldfrapp

UPDATE 12/25/10: I only just heard this, but Japanese rock band The Brilliant Green (fronted by one of my favourite 'J-pop' singers, Tomoko Kawase AKA Tommy Fabruary6) put out a new album this year, their first since 2002, and it has a cover of Blur's "Song 2" on it. There's not much better as far as covers go than Tommy covering one of my fave Blur songs! Bargain!

December 18, 2010

The Name Game

INANE AM RADIO TALK SHOW CALLER (FEMALE): I'd just like to wish you and all your families a very happy Christmas, and a peaceful and safe new year.
INANE AM RADIO TALK SHOW HOST (MALE): Yeh. Same t'you.

And there we have Christmas sentiment in a nutshell, folks. The time of year when people pretend to care about others' feelings. Yeh. Whatever. Same t'you, lady. Now sod orf. There's 38 more callers waiting on the damn line.

Anyway, even though this is tagged as a Top Ten, it's actually only a Top Five. This is my list of –

Five Japanese Sega Video Games From The Early 1990s With Strange Names!

1. Popful Mail
(Falcom, 1994)

Yes, that is its actual title! A side-on platform game starring a girl called Mail with a big sword. You make her walk around the forest slashing stuff up. Get the picture? The game also has an RPG element to it, in the way that you converse with various characters you meet. Being a CD release it has the obligatory cartoon intro sequence. The English version of it is pretty funny, I have to say.

Isn't that a Pokemon on the right?

Pointy ears, like all elves.

That raccoon-type thing is about to get the chop.

"Intriguing. A happy face on the left, and what looks like a hedgehog on the right. But what's that brown lumpy thing in the middle?"


2. Keio Yuugekitai (Keio Flying Squadron)
(Victor, 1994)

A 2D shoot-'em-up set (oddly enough) in the year 1867 starring a 14 year old girl named Rami who, for reasons best known to the programmers, decides to ride on her flying dragon Pochi to shoot fireballs at marauders wearing nothing more than a bunny girl costume. How many bags of Wizz Fizz did these guys get through when they storyboarded this? Besides all that it's actually a rock-solid game; it was released on PlayStation four years later.

"What do you mean, 'Where's my cocktail'?"

"There sure are a lot of middle-aged married men down there."

Little raccoons in rowboats.


3. Warau Salesman (Laughing Salesman)
(Compile, 1993)

Seriously, you have to watch a clip of this. Even if you don't understand Japanese, this is hilarious. It's also just a little bit effed-up and dark. Not a game as such, it plays out more like an interactive cartoon. You control the leering overworked salesman in a variety of situations, such as drinking in a bar and fondling the girls on either side of you.

Wow, what a title screen.

The eponymous salesman. Creepy.

"Hey, barkeep. Keep the friggin' Suntory comin'."


4. Panorama Cotton
(Success, 1994)

Another weird title, and this time the heroine is a girl called Cotton who flies around on a broomstick shooting at monsters and looking for enchanted candies. Seriously, what are these dudes on. This is a pseudo-3D shoot-'em-up that was never released outside of Japan, and that's too bad, as it looks like fun.

Aw, would you look at that. She's riding on a broom.

Play view. That girl in the purple bikini is just there to distract you.

That purple bikini girl is back for more distraction. And look! More fan service.


5. Time Gal
(Taito, 1993)

This actually hit the arcades in Japan in 1985, but what we see here is the Sega version. A girl called Reika travels through time, and does stuff in different eras. The FMV animation is really good. The programmers put in all these bizarre and sick death sequences for when Reika loses a life – one has her minecart crashing at full speed into a cliff face. In another, she gets stepped on by a dinosaur. One of the future time periods she travels to is the year 2010. It is depicted as bleak and soulless. How did they know?

'Wolf Team'. My my, aren't we enigmatic?

How to pick up women. Tee hee.

Yay! That block I was standing on exploded.

December 15, 2010

Gorillaz


On Saturday, December 11, Dan and I attended the Gorillaz concert at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, the 33rd of 36 dates on the 'Escape To Plastic Beach' World Tour 2010. Here is my review of the show along with some pictures we took – some have been massively zoomed in to show detail!


Gorillaz have come a long way from their days as a virtual band of four cartoon characters created by cartoonist Jamie Hewlett. It’s almost a decade since I first heard their single ‘Clint Eastwood’ in 2001, instantly recognizing the vocals of Blur’s Damon Albarn as the singer 2D, along with bandmates Murdoc the bassist, guitarist Noodle and drummer Russel. What once was just a virtual band is now one of the world’s best live bands and concert experiences.

The man DJing on stage who welcomed us all was Mase from De La Soul. He promised the crowd an evening of unforgettable music, and that’s what we got. Both the opening acts were affiliated with Gorillaz, since they have made appearances on two Gorillaz songs, including the new album Plastic Beach. First up was Swedish band Little Dragon, fronted by Japanese-born singer Yukimi Nagano. Their songs had some crazy synth riffs, as well as pounding drums you could feel in your rib cage.

Next was De La Soul, who did a number of their songs including ‘Me Myself And I’, ‘Stakes Is High’ and of course their 1991 single ‘Ring Ring Ring’ which was a crowd favourite. Trugoy and Posdnuos talked to the crowd a lot, saying they have been coming to Australia every year for 15 years. Finally, Mase yelled “Make some noise for the Gorillaz!” The Gorillaz sign lit up, and a video started playing on the big video screen. It showed Murdoc in a backstage room getting annoyed with 2D while he attempts to listen at the stage door. “Will you stop playing that sodding banjo!” Murdoc says. “If you play another bum note on that hillbilly instrument, I’m gonna stick it in your mouth!”

Cheers went up as the band took the stage. Not counting the guest vocalists, I counted 22 people on stage. Seven string players at the back, a five-person orchestra next to them, four female backing vocalists, and the rest of the band which included another one of my favourite musicians, The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite’s Mick Jones on guitar and his fellow Clash ex-bandmate Paul Simonon on bass. Both of them, and a couple of others, were wearing naval hats and T-shirts with black and white horizontal stripes. And of course Damon, who was wearing a black leather jacket and a T-shirt with red and black horizontal stripes – the same thing he has been wearing for the other shows on this tour.


The string section began playing ‘Orchestral Intro’ and then all of a sudden we saw Snoop Dogg dressed as a naval admiral on the big screen, not physically present but very much a part of the show to perform his part in ‘Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach’, the opening song with its blaring horns courtesy of the seven members of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. For each song played, accompanying visuals were on the video screen, playing the music video for the song if there was one, or otherwise various Gorillaz still images or photos. It was all in time with the music and added another dimension to the experience – visual as well as aural spectacle.

The varying influences of rock, hip-hop, electronica, soul and funk can all be heard during the live Gorillaz set and there is no way you can go to one of their shows with a singular mind-set. If you’re into a certain genre of music, chances are you’ll hear it, but there are so many styles mixed into their music that it’s impossible to identify with just one.

“Good evening Melbourne!” said Damon, and they began ‘Last Living Souls’, followed by ‘19-2000’ which got nearly everybody on their feet and singing along. At the end, Damon said “It’s a great pleasure to introduce...Bobby Womack!” Everyone gave a cheer for the 66 year old R&B/soul singer and they knew exactly what song he was going to perform. There was a massive cheer when the first thudding beats of ‘Stylo’ filled the air. It sounds great on record, but being performed live turned it into an anthem. I have no idea what the lyrics are or what the song is even about, but it will definitely get you on your feet.


Damon picked up an acoustic guitar for the next song, ‘On Melancholy Hill’. When he wasn’t playing the guitar, he was usually standing at his keyboard, jumping up and down on the spot while playing, and when he was just holding the mic and singing, he was bounding across the stage with endless energy, a grin on his face, getting the crowd to raise their arms and slapping hands with those in the front row. ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ was next, with crazy arm-waving from the crowd, and then De La Soul came back out for ‘Superfast Jellyfish’, which was accompanied by still images of fast food shop signs on the video screen. Personally, I think it’s pretty awesome that someone has written a song about breakfast.

‘Tomorrow Comes Today’ sounded very chilled-out and slow, and then Little Dragon came back for ‘Empire Ants’ next, followed by ‘Broken’, which featured the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble that Damon said were from Chicago, Illinois. One of them had a tuba, which was pretty cool.

Everyone cheered as they recognized the opening notes of ‘Dirty Harry’, the only song with a video not to have its video played. Instead, the screen showed an animated sequence of the kids from the video singing along to their backing part. Bootie Brown, who had previously come on stage for ‘Stylo’, re-appeared to perform his thought-provoking rap for the song, one of the definite highlights of the Demon Days album and of this show as well.


The melancholy ‘El Mañana’ was next, then Damon went over to the aforementioned five-person orchestra at the back of the stage. “They’ve come all the way here from Damascus in Syria,” he said. Holding the mic up to the leader of the ensemble he said “Do you like it here in Australia?” “Very much, very much,” he replied. I knew what song was coming next; my personal favourite track from the new album, something I was really looking forward to hearing live.


Everyone clapped along as the ensemble performed a short instrumental piece, which was then followed by the amazing Oriental Arabic intro to ‘White Flag’. The song is a cultural blend; a testament to music that knows no boundaries. British ‘grime’ MCs Bashy and Kano, who perform on the album, were also on stage and the song closed with the Arabic section combining with the song’s electro beats and Damon weaving around the stage waving a massive white flag. The flag could be a mere prop, but on the other hand it could symbolize something; not surrender, but victory perhaps, or even a sense of unity like the lyrics suggest. Above them all the video screen showed a Middle Eastern dancer with two phrases written in Arabic. Awe-inspiring stuff.


There was another brief video clip showing Murdoc, still backstage, saying that the people on stage sound like a Gorillaz tribute band. ‘Dare’ was next, which everyone was either singing or clapping along with. Like Snoop Dogg, Shaun Ryder only appeared on-screen, but people seemed to be singing along to his part, as well. After this, it was a great treat to hear ‘Punk’ from the first album, a short burst of manic energy, with Damon once again jumping around. If I’d had an iPod in 2001, this song would be near the top of my ‘Most Played’ on iTunes by now. The first Gorillaz album holds special memories for me because I bought it the day before I went to Japan to live for a year, and I listened to it a lot while I was there. Even now, the songs on it bring back memories of my little apartment in the middle of the rice paddies.

‘Glitter Freeze’ was a chance for the band to show they could produce amazing sounds and energy, being mostly an instrumental, then Yukimi from Little Dragon came back to sing ‘To Binge’ with Damon. This restrained, introspective song has more than a touch of Blur in it and is one of Damon’s best songs. It was accompanied by visuals that best sum up the song: yellow liquid gurgling down a plughole, with two beer bottles rolling around in it at the end. The whole song’s lyrics scrolled up the screen, in Japanese. Ending the main set was ‘Plastic Beach’, sounding much louder and crunchier than it does on the album.

After a few minutes’ break, the band returned, as did Bobby Womack to lend his sombre tones to ‘Cloud Of Unknowing’. “This song was written by Mister Damon Albarn,” he said in his introduction. During this song, some disconcerting war footage was played, showing planes dropping bombs, exploding in fireballs and crash landing, and also footage of people pushing a helicopter off a naval carrier. It fit the music well though, and made a definite point.


Damon said he was really thankful to have worked with all these musicians, and that it was the fourth-last show of the tour, and they had been touring for three and a half months. Then he said “Now, you have to help me out here. This next man...I had the pleasure of DJing with him last night. We were in a really small booth, and it just has one window, and people were looking in...anyway, you have to help me say his name...Mase-ee-o!”

Everyone did, and the three members of De La Soul came out to do a frenetic version of the huge hit ‘Feel Good Inc.’ which maintained the high crowd enthusiasm. After this, Damon was joined by Mick and Paul at the front of the stage. He had a red melodica, which he had already used in a few songs. He only had to play two notes before the whole place erupted knowing it was the start of ‘Clint Eastwood’. Bashy and Kano substituted their own rap for the original one by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, and the whole thing built to a climax.

During the encore Damon brought out Jamie Hewlett which surprised me – I didn’t think Jamie had any involvement in the Gorillaz concerts, but he was there all the same, wearing the same nautical outfits as Mick and Paul. He didn’t say anything, but waved to the crowd. The show closed on a calmer note with the two reflective songs ‘Don’t Get Lost In Heaven’ and ‘Demon Days’ which had people waving their arms. “Melbourne! Do you feel us? Do you feel us?” Damon yelled out.


The verdict: one of the best concerts I have ever been to. It made you feel something – a love of music played without preconceived genres, national borders or creative limits – rather than merely listening to loud music. This is how a concert is supposed to be.

December 8, 2010

Quarantined

A track-by-track rundown of the China 5 album Quarantine, for those of you who have read the review, heard the album and thought "Why not?".

Contra:
After songs about suicide bombers and September 11 on the last CD I wanted something that would cheer me up, after the death of a friend earlier this year. And this is it. Lychee helped out with the backing vocals, even though he doesn't like this style of music.

State Of Flux:
It was the first song to be recorded, that's why it has that A.D.D. song structure where dark kick drums give way to 16 bars of this weird lounge stuff.

Too Many Sushi:
Classic acoustic folk-pop in a dancehall vein, that you can sing on your way to work in your stupid gas-guzzling car.

Anna Wilde:
I wrote 32 lines of lyrics for this when it only needed 16, so I cut it down by half into the snappy edit you see before you. You'll be a hit if you dance to this in French nightclubs (after taking drugs of course).

Shield Your Eyes From The Horrible Truth:
The vocals in this song are from a practice run-through, but they stayed in because we have this thing about not doing too many takes of something in case we get sick of it.

I Can't Sleep At Night:
I think I was trying to write a song that sounded like it should have been in some '80s anime movie.

Midnight Aquarium (Waltz #6):
Recording this was tough. There was more editing than the Christmas Day broadcast of Beverly Hills Cop.

Pharmacy:
I was inspired to write this after I saw Suede's lead singer in a Britpop doco saying he wanted to write a song with a catchy melody but really sinister lyrics, and get it into the Top 10. I sang it in different ways: sounding really tired, in a drunk-ish voice, even a bad Jamaican accent, before settling on the final style.

Song For Singapore:
This song actually has electric and acoustic guitar playing at the same time. The electric was recorded first, you can hear it fade in at the start. Classic Saxophone Pop that will never let you forget that time you started bawling at the casino.

Tetris:
I recorded it solo last year with tons of feedback on the guitar and distortion on just about everything; this is a cleaner version of the song with different keyboards.

Constantinople:
Nothing to do with my autobiographical comic of the same name. When my friend Yoji from Japan (and also from our band The Cataracts) visited me in May, I had him record some random guitar towards the end of the song. He found it an odd request, but did it anyway.

1994:
I wasn't sure about putting a personal song on the album, but it sounds nice and you can't hear me mess up any chords since the guitar is way down in the mix. Quite an organic sound, recorded as is, with no enhancement on the tracks. It's very hard to play at a constant tempo as well.

Don't Give Up:
The Richmond Tigers and Mei Wong walk the streets of Mount Waverley at night ripping leaves off overhanging trees. Thanks for listening. And now, the politburo of China 5 bids you farewell!

And, of course, there were a number of songs that didn't make it, coming to a USB near you...

Cryptogram:
A fairly unpolished electric guitar song that doesn't have a proper ending. It was totally improvised, as I recall.

I Need A Better Friend:
It sounds like something you'd listen to on a hobo train ride. Pretty simplistic stuff, a bit cornball really.

Lava:
This would have been one of the best songs on the album if we'd left it on. We just didn't record it right. It needed jangly electric guitar strumming. We recorded it two times before this; both those versions sound pretty decent, but they have obvious mistakes in them.

Sick Of Being Pushed Around:
Left off because there were already enough robo-vocals on the album.

Angel Dust:
A song I wrote in 1999! It's under two minutes long and only has three chords.

Pete's Song:
Just a silly little warm-up thing to help me practice chords, with some strange high-pitched vocals on it.

untitled analogue song:
A throwaway analogue bit that never got finished. Could be the most amazing unheard China 5 song ever. But most likely not.

Now, get lost!

December 1, 2010