Thursday, 28 July 2016

A Hundred Years To Arras: A New Blog

I have begun a sister blog to this one, concerning a distant relative who died in the Battle of Arras in 1917:

File:Usma battle of arras 1917.png

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Some thoughts about the EU Referendum...

One thing I've noticed quite strongly before and after the referendum is that Leave voters really really don't like being challenged with facts that give the opposite viewpoint. The only responses they can give mostly are repeated soundbites that they descend into personal attacks. Someone I thought was a friend has told me to go elsewhere, I've been called names for offering another point of view in what, to me, is an intellectual, discussion rather than an argument. Very very few Leave voters have a factual, reasoned thesis. Those who have, I'm grateful to them for giving me something to think about. The others, I've been genuinely surprised how poorly informed most Leave voters have appeared to be. On the other hand, every time I've seen a Remain voter challenged, they've come back with facts and been met with abuse. What this referendum has done has expose the prejudice in our society and emboldened people to publicly spout racist views. It's scary how many people harbour these viewpoints behind a tolerant facade. And it's scary how many people fall into the clich├ęs of "make Britain great again" and "take back control" etc when there hasn't been a time of Britain not being "great" or having "control". The poor don't have control. Our rich elite have the control. The problems are within our society, not without, and the biggest triumph of this referendum is to convince 52% of the country that the problems caused by our own government have in fact been caused by distant forces outside the country.
This is where our problems lie, this is where our future looks bleak. We as a society simultaneously don't trust politicians but believe their lies when they divert the blame elsewhere. It's a bizarre cognitive disconnect that makes people not listen or not understand. Whatever you think of the EU, the facts are undeniable with regard to investment in social regeneration, community projects, scientific research and so on. We're giving that up because 52% of us either don't understand that or don't care. A lot of that 52% have suffered directly as a result of austerity cuts, and now they've voted for even more.
What hope for us when we say we don't trust politicians but we still believe what some of them say when it aligns with prejudices that enable us to shift the blame far away rather than hold them to account? The real tragedy is that nobody, even apparently most of the Leave campaigners, wanted the consequences of the Leave vote, but that's what we've got. It's not good enough to now say "let's make the best of it" or "let's pull together to make it work" when there's no money. Reality doesn't work like that. Our lives are so bound up in looking after ourselves and our families - and rightly so - that, even if we wanted to, we're powerless to help when our friend's small business goes under because dealing with the EU now costs her too much; we're powerless to help when our neighbour can't pay the mortgage because he's lost his job; we're powerless to help when the children we see every day are going hungry because their parents on low incomes can't afford proper food. These are the realities of austerity, these are the realities of what leaving the EU may do to us. And I haven't even mentioned what it will do to families and relationships and race relations. We've already seen in a few days lots of examples of racial abuse happening much more openly.
Blame is a fool's game. I don't do blame. But we as a society have failed in our responsibilities to each other. We had a chance to say that we are better off uniting together than being divided, but 52% of us blew it. We chose division.
In 2010, the electorate sent a message that we didn't trust Labour or the Tories enough to run the country, and we put our confidence in the Lib Dems to firm a coalition. At the time, it seemed that they sold out their principles and suffered for it last year when the Tories gained a narrow majority. In retrospect, we can see that they did more to moderate the extremes of the right wing of the Tories than we knew about. Their mistake was in not shouting about it enough, and now they barely exist as a party. Labour have not been any kind of opposition at all since Gordon Brown stepped down. Their long history over the last few years of refusing to speak out against Tory education policy, of not challenging the line that Gordon Brown caused the global financial meltdown, of not even getting themselves together enough to be a coherent opposition, has cost the country dearly. The working poor have lurched towards UKIP and Britain First because they've been convinced by their true enemies that their friends are the enemies. And it's partly Labour's fault that this has happened. They no longer stick up for the working class. Who does? I liked Jeanette Winterson's suggestion yesterday that we need a new party , for argument's sake, The Equality Party, that will put back into the public consciousness the values that we need for the 21st century. We either need to transform Labour or the Lib Dems into that or we need a new political party. And we need it now.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

WesterNoir:: Birmingham Comic Festival 2016 Comic Review Part 4!

And now we come to Accent UK's 'WesterNoir'. This is a proper Western with overtones of the supernatural. This is written by Dave West with artwork by Gary Crutchley, ably assisted by Andy Bloor's design and Matt Soffe's colours on the covers. The story is layered and takes its time to tell what seems like a long sprawling tale. It certainly rewards patience and reading the whole series. Having said that, the latest two issues, 4 and 5, could almost be a jumping on point, as we have mystery about what has happened to our hero Josiah Black in issue 4, which builds up to some interesting revelations in issue 5. Crutchley is a master of layouts and storytelling, and West's dialogue is gritty. Get  it here.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Birmingham Comic Festival Comic Reviews Part 3: Futurequake and Zarjaz

Imagine if 2000AD was full of one-off Future Shocks per issue. Got that? Like the idea? Then why oh why don't you read 'Futurequake'? Some really inventive sci-fi shorts in here, and some artwork of a really consistent standard. A lot of this is pro quality and wouldn't be out of place in 2000AD itself. Plus, there's more Bolt-01! The best thing is that, because very few stories continue from issue to issue, you can drop in and start with any issue, so why not start with the latest? Look at that cover! Buy here!
Talking of amazing covers... the same publishers bring us the 2000AD fanzine 'Zarjaz', which is basically more 2000AD, with small press writers and artists (and some pros!) contributing their takes on old 2000AD favourites. The latest issue concentrates on the Dredd world and Strontium Dog, but this varies from issue to issue, a lot of it (whisper it) sometimes as good if not better than what crops up in 2000AD itself these days. Perhaps it's time for me to dust off my M.A.C.H. 1 ideas and send them a script... But it here, Earthlets!

More Reviews of Comics From The Birmingham Comic Festival 2016. Part 2: Flintlock and Stephenson's Robot

I intended the reviews to come thick and fast but of course, life intervened. Next on my list to read from the pile of comics I bought from the Birmingham Comic Festival was Steven Tanner's 'Flintlock'. I like one-word titles, and this is a great title for a great concept. What we have here is essentially an anthology of three ongoing stories with three high-concept characters. The first is concerned with 'Lady Flintlock', who is a female highwayman - a highwaywoman - whose identity is gradually revealed by the end of this episode. It's a wonderful adventure story with astonishing attention to period detail from Anthony Summey's art, who is quite a find. I expect to see even greater things from him in the future. Slightly less successful artwise Lorenzo Nicoletta's pages on 'Shanti The Pirate Queen'. Again written by Steve Tanner, this is a nice original concept of a female Indian pirate. There is some really nice character design here in a bloody and brutal tale of piracy on the High Seas. She seems to have a plan, and the appetite is whetted for further adventures. Last up is 'The Clockwork Cavalier', basically a vengeful 18th century robot. The art by Ed Machiavello is reminiscent of 2000AD from years gone by - indeed it's the kind of thing that might have appeared there at one point - and for me it's Steve's most entertaining script of the three. Lettering from Bolt-01 needs a special mention as it works so well here, tying everything together in a stylish fashion. Get it here or you'll have to walk the plank. Also worth investing in while you're there is Steve's anthology 'Bomb Scares', edited by Paul H Birch, a devious and deviant collection of horror stories with an array of art and twists in the tale.

Something else that could easily have appeared in 2000AD once upon a time is 'Stephenson's Robot' by Dave West and Indio! in the main, with various contributions from others in the equally high quality back-up strips that serve to support and deepen the main story. The story concerns itself with a steampunk robot in an alternative Victorian England where Stephenson, Brunel and Babbage became more concerned with creating an artificial man than laying down railway tracks. Over the two full-colour issues published so far, we're gradually revealed the backstory which contains as much black magic as it does steam-powered science, as the robotic hero comes up against bizarre proto-Nazi villains. Dave fills this with humour and his trademark strange concepts, while Indio's artwork is a maddening assault on the senses with a vivid line in exploding heads. This is published by Accent UK and you can get it here. While you're there, do sample their burgeoning array of other titles, one of which is 'The Troll' by Martin Flink, a tale told only in pictures of a young boy who wanders off and encounters - what else? - a troll. It's beautiful and, just like Flink's previous 'Man Of Glass', quite moving. Where MOG made me tear up, The Troll made me smile with its childlike charm.

More Reviews Coming Up...