ONCE UPON A SLIME

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With two flat tires on their runaway rickshaw, and building blisters becoming unbearable, the lovers stopped to rest in an untouched grove. Charles and Evie lay on a bed of moss by the river and gazed into each other’s eyes with passionate lethargy. He held her featherweight frame in his thick and weary arms as the helicopter seeds began to fall. The water was so clear that the carp could look straight up at you before fleeing in terror at a funhouse reflection. Evie had given up everything she had known for the one she knew was her soulmate. Tired of running, they let themselves feel safe in the moment and listened to the shore wash over the sound of approaching sirens.

~

Officer Hastings yanked the caution tape around the sycamore tree, as the end got snagged on a stretcher. He thought to himself, It’s just as well the locals are non-existent. “Who knows how long before the media gets wind of this” remarked Officer Starling, “We might never have uncovered this place if it wasn’t for the grizzly trail.”

“Have you heard the Serg’s bringing that detective in?”

“Grant? Oh God I can’t stand him. Gives me the creeps.”

“Well I reckon he’s well suited to this case then.”

“You can say that again. Guy gets brought in on a few cases and acts like a damn superhero.” 

Hidden within the forest of a valley, lay a self-sustaining commune, several acres of fertile land with simple mills and cottages built around ivy-covered and indistinguishable ruins. Overnight, this viridian settlement had become littered with police and military vehicles.

One more jeep rumbled onto the site, and out stepped a willowy gentleman, well-dressed but with an unkempt demeanour.  He had tousled hazel hair and a beige suit stained with flecks of emulsion and dirt.

“Ah, Officer Hastings, Officer Starling. What have we got here?”

“Mr Grant, if you’d like to follow me.”

Detective Samuel Grant pulled on some latex gloves and ducked under branches, as the policemen led him towards the village. Samuel was an agent with often little care for his wellbeing, hurling himself nose-first into cases. He was malnourished enough to ferret through crowds or monkey his way though air-conditioning systems, and there were few surprises left for him in this line of work. He was a force of obsessive logic wrapped up in pulp stereotype, piercing amber eyes through a crisp domino mask.

In every chamber, in every bunk lay motionless bodies in beds. Men. Dozens. Between the the ages of 24 and 71, each static with a neatly folded red robe placed over their faces with only bare feet uncovered. Deceased, simultaneously, three days at most. Bicycles draped in cobwebs, wild weeds winding through walls, candles fused to the floor.

Grant spent thirty-five minutes in silence pacing past the rows of burgundy ghosts before stepping outside for fresh air.

“Officer Hastings, I believe you came by this unfortunate village by discovering some sort of gruesome trail, what was it?”

“Oh yes, well sir, we’re awaiting toxicology reports on the victims, but everyone seems… physically intact… and yet we keep finding these” the policeman handed him an evidence bag. Inside was an eyeball.

“Where is the leader?”

~

Evie Europa was a nymphlike girl with natural lavender hair, adorned with pansies and she wore jewellery made from fossils and flint found around the ruins.

At 16, she had spent her whole life in the commune as the only female and felt saturated in solitude. Unbeknownst to her father, in the neglected gloam, she would occasionally venture out to edge of civilisation and collect litter from another world. She kept a secret treasure trove of lottery ticket shreds, bottle caps and other fragments of a forbidden land.

She believed in love. Or rather she believed that she believed in love, as rain-damaged romance novels were one of her few external stimuli, which she’d found propping up the various bookcases of more incomprehensible tomes. The life of a cult leader’s disillusioned daughter was convincingly far-fetched. Though respected by the resident followers, she considered none of them a true friend. Their shiny scalps and hopeless grins reminded her too much of her mother. Or what she could remember remembering. Moonbiscuit the groundskeeper had offered good company, but his advances were becoming increasingly less subtle. Tumblewolf, Rainfish, Thistlebear all seemed to have abandoned their idiosyncrasies the closer the ritual came. Besides, they had all migrated from their secret city lives in search of a higher power, whereas Evie was going through that difficult phase where all you know stops making sense.

But everything changed when she met Charles.

 

Father Francis, the patriarch had been deep in study for weeks, pupils flickering over hieroglyphs with a permanent set of aviators in-between, barely communicating with his daughter. He was convinced that the time had come. The town was abuzz with cryptic excitement, but no-one would tell Evie what was happening. Through eavesdropping snippets she’d heard “the time is now”, “200 makes 1” and “they will be released”. Evie confronted her father about the whispers of a ceremony.

“Child,” he adjusted his lenses “you are my flesh and blood, but this is not your place. You are too young and fair to be concerned with such things, but when we succeed, you shall join us in the kingdom. Stay away until you are called.” 

Naturally, Evie disobeyed her father, like any rebellious teenager would. That night, sensing the wave of collective anticipation, she snuck into the grand chamber and hid behind an arras. 

One hundred and nighty nine figures in nervously ironed satin robes floated in and formed a circle. Father Francis was the last to join, reaching the centre and scattering a ring of leaves. The crowd rotated around him like a school of clockwork fish as he lit each candle they carried. The tapestry musk made Evie want to sneeze, but instead she held her breath, as did the hooded crowd.

The leader began to speak, but not in any words Evie could recognise, garbling tongues met with a union of hums. Then the crowd fell to their knees and extinguished their candles. In the sudden darkness the scent of wax shifted to sulphur and then another smell, inconceivably new. It was like burning hair that turned to sugar in the throat. Suddenly a cyan light filled the room. Evie crept closer.

Drip

Drip

Drip

A sudden micro deluge erupted from thin air and spilled onto the stone floor like the sound of a thousand peaches splattering on a windshield during a typhoon.

“No!” Father Francis cried. “NO NO NO OUT!” Quickly the monks lost their composure and scurried to the door. This wasn’t supposed to happen. In moments, the townspeople had left the chamber and Francis had bolted the great doors. Evie was locked inside, frozen in terror. But then the blue glow made her feel calm. Peering behind the arras she saw the most beautiful thing in the world. 

In this same hall, days later Detective Grant inspects the charred stone floor from whence Charles came. He turned over the leaves stained with soot and studied the dried blue ectoplasm in-between the bricks. The rest of the room was empty besides a few stray pansy petals behind a tapestry depicting the circles of hell. Samuel suddenly remembered something he’d seen in a book in the study where he’d found what remained of Father Francis. He dashed back across the courtyard, and found himself doing what he’d never done in his career as an deductive perfectionist, he wished he was wrong.

~

On their first meeting it was love at first sight. Evie was speechless and Charles incapable of speech, yet they made an instant telepathic connection. Charles was a puddle of luminous slime, that rose from the earth and moulded himself into the vague semblance of a man. He was bluer than the clearest sky and his body was pimpled with dozens of lidless eyes which twinkled with new life like the late light of distant stars. She took his amorphous attempt at a hand, he was so cool and soft to the touch, wet but without residue, firm but without form.

He spoke straight into her heart, “I am not the saviour of your Fathers. I am the mistake that trickled through.”

Evie fluttered. Fate must have sent her a guardian to escape this dry reality. She realised that he was not young. Beneath his glossy veneer beat a post-traumatic core. Like the townsfolk, she felt he had come from a place of hurt in search of purity. She could relate and found a deep kinship in this sentient goo. She had to leave before her father noticed she was missing, but promised to return each night. Charles lifted her to the window and lowered her out on a gelatinous tendril. She blew him a kiss and scampered back to the cottage. 

The monks had sealed the chamber, but each night Charles would seep through the cracks to take midnight strolls with the girl that taught him the simple pleasures of the surface world. She demonstrated her mimicry of night birds and he would never tire of the smile she gave whenever he juggled his eyeballs. 

The commune had taken a collective vow of silence. No matter how hard she tried to get their attention, they all maintained a lugubrious disposition. Interaction was as futile as trying to execute a tortoise with a guillotine. Even Moonbuscuit’s inappropriate flirting had been curtailed by these hushed-up events. She didn’t need them anyway. Her father was too busy to see her, presumably trying to find out why the ritual had gone awry, and how to deal with its unexpected results.

~

Grant manoeuvred around broken glass and empty kegs in the study, piecing together the events whilst searching through Father Francis’s unreadable notes and trying not to disturb an already baffling crime scene.

~

On the evening of that incident, the lovers quickly decided to leave and start a new life together. Evie grabbed her trove, hoping its contents could be used as tokens in the real world. Charles reconstituted himself into a trench-coat and hid in the compartment of Evie’s rickshaw as they rode towards civilisation. To hell with the Watchers, she thought, there’s a whole world out there. One night they eventually came across a dank motel along the highway. Charles oozed into an empty room and unlocked the door, and the couple spent the night there. That was the first time they made love. Virginal flesh met iridescent mucus in a graceful mess of passion.

Charles was the embodiment of body, shifting and responding to every measure and desire, building elaborate gelatinous pleasure constructs while Evie delicately kissed every contour of his quivering mass. 

 

Charles lay silently across the mattress. He slept with his lidless eyes open, but they had all congregated peacefully at the centre of his body on a respiratory current, glistening under the flickers of the neon sign. Evie watched her lover and wondered what dreams an inter-dimensional slime beast might have, hoping that they were of her. A chorus of crickets and plumbing kept her from joining him there. The sudden stillness cornered her swirling thoughts. She put on her robe and stepped onto the balcony, watching the moon rising over the mire. It had all happened so fast. 

~

36 hours ago Father Francis had summoned her to his study. In her heart, she knew that he knew, but not of what this had done to him. When she opened the door, Francis was frantically decanting vials of fluid into a collection of cauldrons.

“EVIE!” He slammed his hands on the desk.

“Father.”

“Child, I know what you have been doing with that monster, I know that it has tainted your soul. I WARNED you. I locked it up. I told you to stay away.”

“Father, just tell me what..”

“We were trying to reach our saviours, our lords, but instead, we received this THING. We took a risk, we thought this dangerous substance came from the wrong channel to compromise everything we believe in. Everything I raised you to believe in. But creature was no accident, it is the catalyst, it is the trial and we must act quickly and exterminate it or the Grigori will never return to us! But you… I thought you would trust me, but I knew.. after everything I’ve done… I knew you are a non-believer.”

“STOP!” Evie cried “This has gone too far!”

“Child! I will exorcize you, but first we must dissolve that putrid glob of-“

“STOP IT! His name is Charles and he loves me!”

“No. NO NO NO. No child of mine, perverted heretic!”

“What’s happened to you Dad? All these people call you Father but I’m your only child and you never loved me!”

Francis was trembling with rage. “Get out of my sight, heathen.” he bellowed and shoved her to the floor.

An eyeball on a slimy stalk had been watching from the doorway, and the moment Francis raised his hand, Charles quickly sloshed himself from the hallway and formed a barrier between the girl and the man possessed.

“No no NO! Get back!”

Francis jumped behind the desk and started to splash the potion at the globster, each droplet scolding his epidermis. Charles let out a psychic shriek.

Evie screamed, and smashed an Erlenmeyer flask over her father’s head. 

Francis swayed. His glasses slipped from his face and, for the first time in years, Evie saw her father’s ochre irises, before he collapsed face-first into the cauldron.

The sanctified water slowly turned a clouded crimson as the preacher’s brains osmosed inside. 

Charles took Evie’s hand. They stood motionless for one long minute. Then she said: “Let’s go”.

Detective Grant was sitting in a white lawn chair, flicking through a warped paperback as the army air-lifted away two hundred bodies. The cover of the book featured what might have been two embracing lovers, but a fluorescent slick had blurred away the image.

Officer Hastings came and sat beside him. 

“Samuel… the Sergeant wants to hear your thoughts. There’s more personal effects to look over, but it seems they lived quite modestly. Coroners say cyanide poisoning. Seemingly ingested by choice. They put them selves to bed, for the love of…” He took off his hat and rubbed his brow. “And any one of them could be responsible for the leader. It looks like they wanted to join him.”

“Are you a religious man, officer?” asked Grant.

“After seeing this? Can’t say I am. What did this cult believe in, anyway? Maybe I’d kill myself too If there were no women around. I mean I’ve seen some pretty odd horrors in my time on the force. Clowns with assault rifles… Kindergarten meth labs… these men lived away from our urban hell. What was all this for?”

Grant rose and started to pace. “Well there’s no use sugarcoating a missile. The First Book of Enoch tells the story of two hundred angels called the Grigori or “Watchers” sent by God to watch over humanity. They defied God by intermarrying with mortal women and teaching them secret angelic arts – metalwork, astrology, the use of cosmetics… The children of these unions were known as the Nephilim, a race of giant demons who wrought havoc over the Earth, which prompted God to send the Great Flood to wipe them out. God punished the Watchers by imprisoning them in the bowels of the earth until Judgement Day. 

This community called themselves the “New Nephilim” and from what I gather, believed themselves to be demons incarnate, dedicated to releasing their angelic ancestors. They wanted forgiveness. Their leader, this Father Francis seems to have built this commune in preparation for the coming of a new age.”

Hasting’s face was drained of colour. 

“My job here,” Grant lifted his eyemask to itch his nose “…is to determine whether this is mass suicide or mass murder.

“Who…?

“Well from the looks of this trail we have at least two defectors, who might hold some answers. 

“You don’t believe any of this bullshit do you? Did these poor bastards really think they were summoning angels?”

Grant handed over the sticky book to the policeman who put back on his evidence handling gloves. On the inside cover was scrawled “CHARLES ❤ EVIE.”

He pointed to rickshaw tracks which forked away from the main desire path and into the forest.

“It appears they already have.”

The next morning Evie woke to find the gaunt masked man perched on a nearby boulder, fixated on Charles.

“Miss Europa…”

Evie gasped and tried to shake Charles awake. “Please, I’m not hear to hurt you. My name is Samuel. I need to talk with you about..”

Evie wasn’t listening. Charles wasn’t moving. “Charles? Charles!?” his bloodshot eyes were drifting to the edges of his hardening body. The warm synapses in her mind that she felt when they were together had run cold.

“Please!” she sobbed, help him!”

“I’m sorry” the man’s voice cracked “I’m not a wizard. I’m a detective. Your father summoned Charles…  I think he is an extension of him… Evie I…”

“I killed my Father” she said without hesitation.

“I know.” Said Grant. “Do you know about the others?”

Her lilac tears did nothing to soften the body of her lover. He started to crumble. Grant put his jacket around her as Charles started to flake into the river.

“Just… please”

Grant nodded and retreated into the woods. She let out a piercing cry that cast a confetti configuration of birds into the sunlight. She kissed his membraned brow, and pushed him into the river, where he shattered and sailed toward ocean in shards of pewter dust.

Grant was sitting on the bonnet of of the Jeep reading the non-blurred pages of the untitled murky paperback. “That’s mine” Said Evie as she left the forest and approached the car.

“is it good?” asked Grant.

“Not really.” Said Evie, plucking the pansies out of her hair. “Let’s go.”

~

The unknown truth would haunt Samuel and Evie more than the 199 monks who took this knowledge to this knowledge to their graves. They knew what a broken-hearted Francis couldn’t piece together. What an skeptical Samuel couldn’t quite bring himself to believe. What a traumatised girl could never be expected to understand. Charles was indeed the herald of the angels, but Evie’s touch had tainted him. She was the last daughter of the Nephilim, and by laying with The One Who Sees she became a technical succubus, forever barring the return of the divine children.

 But had Evie known this, that she had traded a better world for true love, she would have said it was worth it.

 

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NATIVE TONGUES

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A spoken word story I performed for the final day of the Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show.

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

Our story begins in the negative space of an asteroid field. I am piloting my robotic chicken to brighter pastures, and my dashboard whirrs and clucks in anticipation, as I approach a dainty silver orb on the fringes of my old life.

It is a place most strange. I settle in a small industrial village overlooking wire forests and continuous chimneys. I sleep in my ship but make frequent trips into town in search of microcosms.

The aromatic smog that pours over us with a daily-shifting odour ranges from the scent of warm crops dancing through turbines, to the stagnant musk of ritual waste.

The townsfolk are eccentric, yet kind and devoutly traditional. Most of my neighbours have long, hairless faces with a central mouth framed by three docile eyes. Some walk with a trail of somber tails, others have translucent skin to showcase their pulsating innards, some are mostly bionic and others completely gaseous. Aside from frequent stares at my bobbing antlers, I feel quite comfortably alien here.

A significant proportion of the villagers are led to work by brutish beasts with tentacled mandibles which walk on rocky fists. These creatures gasp as they amble, mapping their routes with colossal droppings which I tire of tip-toeing over. As far as I can surmise, this regenerates the earth, which trembles like clockwork to denote the start of each foggy morning. 

Canteenas, chapels and charity shops stretch around ancient obelisks and plastered monuments. I can’t place what the quasi-figurative constructs are meant to represent, but it looks like there are parts missing, limbs chipped away.

Despite a relatively rowdy morale for the most part, the fourth day of the week is a shared vow of silence in which everyone carries out their business wearing featureless black masks. I’ve tried to inquire about the meaning, but my only response would be a tilted head and a tisk. On the fifth day everybody assembles in the amphitheatre to hum in unison for an hour. This reverberates through my tin chicken to make a pleasant hypnotic sound, which I wake to.

 

I somehow swung a job at a local gas tavern through what could have only been a combination of beaurocratic error and awkward charisma. It’s here that I get to listen to the pulse of people. They share the same heartaches and brainjoys of any other geographical family, but few speak of these weekly pilgrimages and mysterious monuments that I wanted so much to understand.

Everyone drinks to forget something. A luminous fuchsia concoction called “Mytzplk” is exceedingly popular, its label boasts that it is brewed from alpine dews and quasar dust, but I couldn’t tell you what it was really made of. It smelt like the outside air, sickly and sedate. 

I got talking to a giant disembodied eye who frequents the place seemingly more than the staff, each day engraving his memoirs into tablets with his laser beam vision.

“I’m Gary” said the giant disembodied eye. “Private investigator. What’s your name?”

“Erm, Duke.” I replied, which wan’t my name. I must have lied to see if he was telling the truth.

“Well Duke, you’ve certainly been drawing attention to yourself with your curiosity and cumbersome headwear.”

“actually they’re attached…”

“Well perhaps I can give you some answers since everyone else here’s near-enough given up. What is it you want to know?” His voice vibrated softly from his orbicular body.

“Why… why does the ground need constant treatment? Why is the air so thick? Why doesn’t anyone speak on fourthday and what happened to all the statues?”

He rolled his body. “Well, you see, have you ever built a sandcastle?”

I must have, but had no memory of doing so.

“Every grain of sand that makes up your temporary palace is an ancient mineral that began life as a greater body somewhere else, right?”

“..right…”

“And the tide goes in and out, in and out, only plucking the moon from the sky can stop that.”

“…yes…”

“So no matter how attached you are to your matter, you can’t take it with you. Just enjoy the loan before it’s reclaimed by the waves.”

“…well that all sounds very meaningful, but it doesn’t really answer my questions.”

“Dun’t it?”

“…”

“Well to be honest I’ve had plenty of Mytzplk. My nerves are shot and this isn’t my native tongue. Time to call it a night”

His limited features made it difficult to tell just how inebriated he was.

“…okay, well, thanks anyway Gary.”

“Son, if you really want to know, just follow the smoke signals. But you’re better off making your peace. It looks like you’re running from your own waves, if you don’t mind me saying. Well, be seeing you, Duke.”

 

That night I couldn’t sleep.The humming from days before seemed to still echo around my ship. I kept thinking of shattered fingers and piles of poo. The earth didn’t shake when it was supposed to and the city smog was silent and still. I went for walk in the wire forests, towards the cooling towers.

 I walked down the tracks, past taloned children sledding down hills on old construction signs, through winding steel estates of inorganic flora. The further I got, the fainter the desire paths became and the ebb of the settlement was gradually replaced by the quiet reverb of steam. Finally I approached the factory. It was an ornate iron keep, with walls moist with rust. I felt a warmth through the darkness and sidled passed stoic conveyor belts towards a glowing refectory. I heard one or many voices. I crossed the threshold.

 There, before me, lay one thousand heartbeats quaking together in one physical orchid. A living diagram, a fleshy atlas of impossible biological equations and anatomical glitches, a matter-transporter disaster of a tired orgy, a wailing composition of fused body parts, an amorphic entity dancing reluctantly with itself, moving nowhere. I could almost recognise the dimples and moles between the groans of agony or pleasure and recoiled at the sight of familiar faces transplanted onto this foreign form.

 A throat was cleared.

 Past the pile, looked on a centurion with a unicorn’s head reclining on a stone throne. A halberd gripped in one hand and a metronome in the other. His robes were adorned with fingers.

“I AM CECIL THE BASTARD” he bellowed “AND YOU ARE TRESPASSING ON MY DOMINION. STATE YOUR BUSINESS OR QUICKLY JOIN MY HOARD.

 His voice was a glacial guillotine. Collective murmurs unfolded into tangled speech bubbles. One whisper caught my ear with painful recollection. “Shall we go?” I could not look down, but I knew it was her. I felt a silky hand slide into mine and squeeze with a familiar softness. “Don’t look back” she whispered, “Run.”

Cecil the bastard slowly rose. He tapped his spear on the ground. He opened his jaws and spat a manic equestrian laugh.

“HAAAAHAAHAAAAAAAHAAAAAA”

 I ran, I took her hand, shut my eyes and ran. I pulled and felt her part from the pile and sprint beside me, and we ran through the wide iron halls, through the blinding steam, through wire forest as my antlers tore recklessly through the natural scaffolding, until we were out in the open.

 I squeezed her hand. It didn’t squeeze back. I opened my eyes. She wasn’t there. I held a broken stone palm, which crumbled to sand. She was never there.

 

I wondered through the clearing steam, to where I felt home should have been. But it was not there. Where the village once was was now a perfectly circular chasm. Miles wide, the gaping mouth had swallowed the town, slowly sucking the steam with it.

The only familiar signposts were the clouds of bittersweet miasma, my teetering chicken ship, some partially disintegrated bottles of Mytzplk and a sullen eyeball, perched on the precipice.

Gary gazed into the abyss. “Some socket, huh?”

“What happened?”

“Show’s over, Duke. We’re not canon anymore.”

“What?”

“Guess we were up for deletion. Low tide. Razed. Reset. New file. “

“But… wh….”

We sat in silence for some time, as I struggled to comprehend the enormity of the event.

“Are they… all gone?”

“In a manner of speaking. They’ll be back. All energy changes state, why would consciousness be the sole exception?”

“How are you alive?”

“Let’s just say there’s more to me than meets the eye!”

I felt like jumping in that hole.

“Gary, who the fuck is Cecil the bastard?”

“Eh? Oh he’s the editor. Odd sense of humour, that bloke.

“I… I thought I found a loved one.”

“Yeah, nah. He’s a bastard.”

“Was this all my fault?”

“Nah son, you were just an NPC. A tourist. Or an archiver, if you like. That’s my job. Wait for the end, take notes, better luck next time.This has been going on for a while, it’s almost a relief tha- look Duke, you just have to move on. That’s how it works around here.”

I wanted to push him in the hole, for what good it would have done. But instead I walked a lap of the lip and watched the last of the factory steam vanish down into the pit.

Gary finished beaming onto his tablet and hovered over.

“I’m sorry, son.”

“Forget it. What are you going to do now?”

“See what’s next I suppose. See if we can stop it next time. You’ll be alright. Sail on, my son.”

“See you later, Gary.” 

“See you later, Eli” He winked, and vanished.

 

I emptied the sand out of my pockets, opened a bottle of Mytzplk and got back in my ship.

3

2

1

Take off.

Back into where the asteroids once were.

PICTURE THIS

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The sketch and the doodle, the comic and the cartoon, the glyph and the graph, the grim caricature and the political ideogram. Perhaps our most convenient and universal form of expression is the line drawing. Whether you’re using a zero-gravity pen to scrawl in space, or blotting post-it notes in your office cubicle – the eternal relationship of ink on paper breeds an objective subjectivity, a rudimentary, understandable and instantly accessible portal into the 5th dimension of imagination. Here are a random selection of scribblers that mirror our skull’s interior with nothing more than 2-D tools.

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Histoire de M. Vieux Bios or The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck by 18th century Swiss caricaturist Rodolphe Töpffer, is considered to be the first modern comic book. It featured a revolutionary use of interdependent words and pictures in a sequential bordered format, effectively creating time with space. Marked by its dark and weird humour (much of which still holds up today), Töpffer caricatures the madness of love to tell us the tale of Vieux Bois/Oldbuck’s repeated botched suicide attempts and frequent efforts to escape captors and rivals in order to reclaim his fiancee’s affections. The episode is an affair of mad monks, starving steeds, coffin canoes and manic chivalry. An old-school monochrome love story. A favourite line of mine is “For eight-and-forty hours he believes himself dead. He returns to life dying of hunger.”

The critics panned most of Töpffer’s caricatures as a low ambition for a greater mind, but he never designed them to be anything more than novel entertainment for children and the lower classes. In the words of iconic alternative cartoonist Robert Crumb: “Low class art of the time [was] the popular art of the times. Just in our lifetime it’s changed – Look at the comic books that came out in the forties, they were just that: crude, lurid, low-level, working class… all those artists came from working class backgrounds, all of them. Jack Kirby and all those guys. They thought of themselves as entertainers, not artistes, not like us.” 

In modern society, the lines between art and entertainment are often blurred and attitudes to less revered art forms have changed over the last century, in part thanks to movements such as expressionism, minimalism and outsider art. The DIY punk movement of the 70’s in particular gave many the encouragement of self-expression through limited means.

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Raymond Pettibon, known for his Black Flag and Sonic Youth album covers, carries in his ink the macabre American spirit – the world of dead presidents, mushroom clouds and domestic insanity. His graphic subjects appear rough and physical, while clear and toneless. The decontextualised comic panels are reconstructed into bombastic statements on consumerism and violence with the use of enigmatic text, resonating non-sequiturs and visceral dialogues. Pettibon’s success paved the way for many underground scribblers to transmute into recognised artists or spokespersons.

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Before the satirically suburban Simpsons and phenomenally fantastical Futurama, Matt Groening wrote and illustrated Life in Hell. The strip began as a cautionary tale of 1970’s Los Angeles, taking inspiration from the drudgery of menial employment and the anxiety of urban existence. As the series developed under the alternative comics movement it became an underground success, appearing in both avant-garde magazines and weekly newspapers, leading to the animated stints which spawned the familiar family of four-fingered yellow overbites.

Life in Hell chronicled the adventures of such characters as Akbar & Jeff, “brothers, lovers… and possibly both” a symmetrical couple clad in fezzes and Charlie Brown shirts, Binky the perpetually addled rabbit self-insert and his illegitimate son, the single-eared and alienated Bongo. The latter shares his name with Matt Groening and Bill Morrison’s publishing company Bongo Comics Group which ruled beside D.C. Thomson & Co. and Marvel in my childhood education of pulp wonder.

The comic often featured pseudo-analytical charts and diagrams depicting the fractured nature of society and the human condition, this presented the simple strip as a relatable haze of geometry and anthropomorphism. It is certainly a testament to the expressive success of such rudimentary materials as the pen, paper and photocopier.

The torch of chart-comics is currently carried by cartoonists such as Grant Snider and Tom Gauld. A classic Life in Hell quote: “Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, trapping you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.”

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I shouldn’t be allowed to ramble on about the modern appreciation of absurd ink drawings without mentioning David Shrigley. Undoubtedly a popular and prominent figure in this movement of perceptively primitive art, Shrigley made his name through his countless publications such as Ants Have Sex In Your Beer, Kill Your Pets and Drawings Done Whilst On Phone To Idiot. In addition animation or taxidermy sculpture, the thousands of witty drawings that make up the bulk of Shrigley’s work are formed by seemingly deranged hands which challenge the mundane and the rudimentary qualifications of art. His “style” stems from a desire to abandon such a concept, it is rather “a default setting of making graphic images and text… that is avoiding any kind of craft, and therefore style”. The direct, quick and self-descriptive work reduces communication to its bare essentials and invites us into its absurd world – the sign of potency being that I needn’t waste your time describing his work at all, it speaks pretty loudly for itself.

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Like Shrigley, Swiss artist Olaf Breuning creates minimal things full of character, sheerly for the fun of it all. Breuning is a modest polymath, making films that blur fiction and reality, sculptures that talk to one another and even abstract paintings made of gas. He often uses the abundant materials at hand which include made-in-China plastic products, cardboard boxes and people who happen to be around. His work is a cheerful and inviting doorway into conceptual art, presenting complexity within simplicity through an unpretentious and uncomplicated philosophy of “work makes me happy”.

A potential evolutionary explanation for our art and fiction may in part be that it is an elaborate subconscious ruse to impress the opposite sex, or failing that, establish some sort of non-biological legacy. But I feel that as we homo sapiens become at our most upright and articulate, we seek to express ourselves in ways that comprehend yet exist outside of nature, as a sane reaction to an insane society, as an indulgence in or protest against nature’s complicated tangent. We imprint ourselves and our perspective of the world onto our creations, as a sort of consolidating code so that as we might occasionally feel swept away by tides of bureaucracy, genetic imperative and social nonsense, we can find each other on that democratic psychological landmass. Like the passing of notes in class or the graffiti on the wall, artistic expression, no matter how trivial, is a rebellion and a grasp at free will in a storm of clay, piano keys or celluloid film. But if those tools aren’t available – doodling in the margins of the newspaper is not a bad place to start. We create because we are greater than the sum of our atoms.

The impetus for many artists and entertainers alike is a common exercise in autonomy, a shedding of self-doubt in the name of sublime communication and conceptual exploration. Artists like Shrigley and Breuning give me faith in my own work, that people are receptive to the simpler brand of complexity. These artists in particular remind me of a quote by C.S. Lewis:

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

So here are a few some more contemporary artists which embrace this freedom.

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While Stanya Kahn is known for her warm and bizarre approach to filmmaking, her drawings contain a similar ethos in her telling of the tribulations of zombies, worms and deep sea fish.

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I can think of no better example of the ordinary-extraordinary juxtaposition than the drawings of Danish kid’s TV writer “Don” John Kenn. In his own words “I have not much time for anything. But when I have time I draw monster drawings on post-it notes… It is a little window into a different world, made on office supplies.” Kenn’s work is brilliant yellow bridge between the mundane and the wondrous, drawn in a pleasantly grim style reminiscent of Edward Gorey or Harry Clarke.

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And finally, Matt Furie’s comic Boy’s Club – a hallucinatory gross-out sitcom which, like Life in Hell, features a cast of misanthropic animal-men. These anecdotal features regurgitate and parody with goofy sincerity the 90’s culture of pizza-skating and cowabungadudes.

Furie comfortably walks the line between comic book and fine artist, producing compulsive colour pencil creatures. The deadpan antics of Boy’s Club set it aside from its webcomic contemporaries which often attempt to say too much. Despite this, the comic has generated a handful of popular internet memes such as FEELS GOOD MAN and Sad Frog. In a similar vein, Andrew Hussie’s MS Paint Adventures and Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff continues this weird genre, but instead uses the internet as a medium to produce and distribute episodes of pixel-humour and glitch art. Despite not being a physical drawing, the direct crudeness, coupled with the availability of its methods, makes it and anything drawn with a mouse an intangible spiritual descendant of the graphite line.

The punk fanzine exchange and the letter sections of comic books were in many ways precursors to our modern internet, where ideas could be shared directly and composed with little more means than a do-it-yourself motivation. Today, the digital realm has become an even more convenient podium for expression wherein forums, webcomics and fanfiction are ripe with the spontaneity of the individual. Though the screen is now mightier, the pen still has its place as the inky extension of the soul. But perhaps someday, like the sword it will become retired from common use.

The tools of basic stationary are artefacts of the human mind, the keys into an abstract plain that can be drawn clear as day, a short-cut from the second dimension to the fifth. Why not celebrate this nanosecond of existence by drawing something silly?

by Theo Cleary

 You can find more of these artist’s work and more on my image hoarding blog:

Rodolphe Töpffer

Robert Crumb

Jack Kirby

Raymond Pettibon

Matt Groening

Grant Snider

Tom Gauld

David Shrigley

Olaf Breuning

Stanya Kahn

John Kenn

Edward Gorey

Harry Clarke

Matt Furie

Andrew Hussie

Spore Our Troops

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*

I must obligatorily state that this story does not reflect my own attitudes towards love or nature, etc. I don’t fancy plants. This was written as a spoken word piece, designed to make the audience experience uncomfortable sensations.

Performance costume based on the story may be produced by the talented ANNA GIBB who requested something cosmic, western and mutant. The brief I gave myself was 50 Shades of Grey meets Swamp Thing. Why not kill two birds with one stone and write my first pieces of science fiction and erotica as one?

Try reading this yourself in silly voices and refrain from any urgent onanism until the end.

And please, for the love of Lovecraft – don’t read this, Mum.

*

 SPORE OUR TROOPS

The dame that broke Private Woodrow Quizlak’s heart was both a delicate flower and literal specimen of plantlife.

Our tragic protagonist was stationed on Tropius-Xorn, a lustrous viridian marble bobbing on the outer rim. It was a planet pimpled with velvet summits of diverse botany which tagged it as a highly desirable site for the oxygen harvest. The insectoid natives defended their hemisphere vigilantly from the generic invading imperial forces, but many noble exoskeletons were swatted in the forest’s desecration. The forces were being recalled so that the de-terraforming could commence and the remaining troops were granted shore leave.

Woody was a simple, farm boy with a love for nature. Raised by a nurturing father in his isolated farmstead on Ugget IV, he grew up drawing stickmen in the dirt, watching the techno-organic bamboo jolt up at dawn and the pelican seeds pirouette downwards at dusk. The crops died along with Pa, so Woody decided to enlist. A fresh start, see the world, find something or someone to die for. He was a honest man, caught up in a mad mess.

War is hell. No place for either the jaded or the green. He was in the shit, he saw some shit. He got shat on. His buddies got shat on worse. Real worse. Real deep shit. Entrenched in faecal catastrophe never again to smell the sweet stench of cosmic freedom. Good men died in that shit, a generation of lost boys claimed by the quagmire. Somehow though, Private Quizlak got lucky.

Woody sat at the bar with the remaining survivors of his battalion as they intoxicated themselves with lofty banter. They counted their exotic spoils and spoke of how engorged their respective testicles had become during their time away.

“Can’t wait to spill my sack over those gorgeous eggs the missus has got waitin’ back home.” said private Nemosus from Atilan 7.

“My gal’s a cyborg, reason I signed up was for the RAM upgrade, if you know what I mean yuck yuck yuck end statement” said Battlebot Jason. Like leaving a movie theatre, the men return to their bodies and readjust to the harsh starlight. Woodrow had said nothing since white flags went up.

“So Quizlak, you must have a bird back on land thinking of you, solider?” inquired Sgt. Eddie “the Cockateal” Crackers, brow dripping with tonic and cheeks blazing like the fires of hades.

“Well sure, there’s this one dame all over my dreams.” he gushed.

“You been on them telepathic sexlines, son? That shit will warp your mind, and it’s goddam expensive.”

“No Sarge, ain’t nothin’ like that.” He reached inside his shirt produced a capsule from his chest cavity like a humanoid pez dispenser. Inside was a drawing of his love, pieced together from these perverse fever dreams.

Nemosus spluttered cigar smoke from his pseudo-gills and in glitch, Jason’s monitor made an archaic “XD” face. Sarge’s feathers ruffled.

“Son, you see that that’s a goddam tree, right? I mean it’s scientifically illustrated and all, but you realise what this war’s about, right? Besides the point, a plant can’t love you back.” Woody ignored his commanding officer, flattening the paper slowly with his thumbs.

“Man that’s twisted” said Captain “Twiggy” Cortenza, a man who’s judgement is normally reserved based on his own eccentric tastes. Nemosus raised a fishy eyebrow “didn’t clock you for a tree-hugger, Quizlak you got jungle fever”

A mocking ruckus erupted which lead to Woody raising his voice for perhaps the first time.

“I’ll batter you poisson, you got ocean madness”

“THEHELLYOUJUSTSAY?” was the private’s bellowing retort, fin slapping the table over. Glasses smashed and ashtrays unearthed.

Twiggy rose, “Hey man, war’s over.”

“Get lost, ya goddam racist arborphile” the amphibious soldier growled under his breath, which was erupting from the blowhole on top of his head.

“Cuss you guys.” Woody stepped over a puddle of vomit the rough proportions of a chess board, trenched out the bar and into the bog.

“Yo,” Jason broke the silence (or what would be a silence beneath his system’s ambient hum) “My search engine says that that plant in his drawing is the genus Lady of the Vally. You think we ought to stop him end statement?”

“No” said Sergeant Cockateal “We’ve lost enough goddam kids to this war, but if he’s havin’ the dreams… spores are already on his brain and he’s not comin’ back. Let’s get off this goddam rock while we can. Buddah, help us.”

So why did he want to go back that bloodstained woodland? Had war burned the innocence from his veins? Had obeying insane orders severed him from his own freewill? With so much violence in his recent history, Woody needed to dispel the overbalance and acquire a fresh delusion. He needed love in his life, he had found no one to die for, except a conflicting mutant environment.

Each morning the forest had grown closer to the military base, but the saplings formed at a point, the leaves reached and pressed themselves solely against the window adjacent to Woody’s bed. Each morning he would wake from dreamscapes of leafy hammocks rocking him safely, to the sound of a gentle wind massaging leaves over distant gunfire. His local carnage was obscured in those waking moments by a personal garden. He was infatuated with his dreamland and might have carved hearts in bark if not for his admiration for flora.

It was this slumbering trail that Woody followed into the swamplands. He was jittery, but defiance had strengthened his resolve. She was calling him. He approached a grove where the Lady of the Vally snoozed on a mattress made of moss. He twiddled his digits and gripped his facial cilia anxiously in his teeth. The vines met at the centre of the clearing and with each approaching topsoil footprint, they began to twist into shape. Flexing and feeling, winding and responding. Roots dragging, muscles tightening, weaving itself into a feminine figure, unfurled on a swing. Petals peeled open to reveal dewy lips and lavender irises. She spoke in smells, pheromones that caressed Woody’s bruised cortex.

“Yes?” she flapped her leafy tongue.

“Uh, hello ma’am, I been thinking’ on you fer a while now, I brought you these” our infantryman hypnotically raised a stiff elbow and brandished a fistful of lilies.

“You present me… with genitals?”

“Oh gosh, I’m so sorry-” he stammered “I didn’t think-”

“I adore a man of brutal honesty.”

A frail yet assertive tendril felt its way around an earlobe, and then entered Woody’s waxy cove. The bombastic tinnitus inside his head fell still. He took in a large gulp of precious oxygen, which dizzied him. Her tendrils writhed beneath skin like snowed-under centipedes. She lifted him on celadon strings and as marionette dandelions, they danced.

Just be clear – interspecies relationships are to be celebrated in the new McUniversal order, but physiology is so diverse across the Kentucky nebula. One creature’s civil union is another’s cooking pot, for the lines between sexual partner and predator are poorly defined within extreme dimorphism. But who are we to judge? For shame on our cynical hearts. Surely the distinction between parasitic and symbiotic love lies in the will. Perhaps the manufactured consent of the weak willed stems from our modern desire for submission, to be delivered from ourselves. To be part of something grander than our atomic mass. What is love but the ego’s white flag?

Her humid breath carried a docile sweetness. “Come to Mother Earth, my soldier.”

“Mah Goddess, mah Temptress, mah Gardener.” In sight of her incomprehensible anatomy he emitted an ambiguous “Fuck me.”

The pheromones had clouded a once rational nucleus. To an outside observer the affair began with our Woody sticking his manhood into a tree stump and licking the sap from armpit branches. But to his overwhelmed senses he was locked in passionate embrace with a sublime forest deity that soothed his battle-bludgeoned spirit. His uniform was torn away by sentient adhesive pads as the skin beneath wept under a purging of thrashing thorns. To our eyes, it was all about as sensual as staggering repeatedly face-first into a freshly-cut hedge. But in a storm of red and green he was entwined in Venus’s flytrap

Woodrow had felt pulverised by military routine, becoming a disposable commodity, an expendable. Like a potted plant behind a closed window, barred from rooting. Before he had dreamt of flowers opening from his chest cavity each season for nobody but Tropian Crunking flies to splatter themselves against the glass. But the leaves had reached out to him and wove themselves into the foundations of his mind, luring him from bloodshed into emerald light. Dodging lasers and climbing from innumerable potential graves, exhuming his body each morning and burying it each night. After the war, he sought only to rest under Gaia’s design.

Suspicious receptors folded backwards, each shimmering stamen oscillating independently, fine hairs crawled into his every pore. As he thrusted helplessly she stretched her toes up to the sunlight, scraping her celluloid nails against the sky. As the Lady reached out for apparent climax, her grappling vines lifted her higher, and higher to the top of the canopy, whilst pushing her mate deeper into her land. He did not struggle. He did not protest. He fell slowly headfirst into warmth and darkness, hearing the cries of distant lovers, atoms scattered in the soil. Met by invisible hands and “I-told-you-so”s, their history now part of his own. Over the gloam, he was enveloped in undergrowth. Unbirthed to the world’s womb, pushed down into heaven.

He was Earth’s male angler fish. Bacterial and inferior, they throw themselves to the queen, fusing their bodies and corroding their minds in voluntary symbiosis. The fish will rot away, leaving their genitals behind, providing the comparatively gargantuan female with fertility fountains and granting her esca a glow that cuts through the lightless abyss. Meanwhile little lifeless remains flap through the waters like the ambassadorial flags of a Cadillac, only representing nations of contently castrated servitude.

In his dying post-orgasmic depression Woody remembered Pa using household analogies to explain photosynthesis, as a paintbrush lay idle in a glass of juice, drinking up the world.

In the next Proto-Fall Woodrow Quizlak’s bodily moisture fed the canopy, urging tentative fingertips to cling onto their leaves this season.

In the second Winter the energy gained from his burning lungs provided the plant with a thicker bark, shielding its limbs from the impulsive bites of land piranhas.

In the quasi-solace his powdered bones promoted a ring of rancid fungi which incubated the plant from minibeasts.

In the classified nuclear season, the wrinkles of the Quizlak brain finally unravelled and borrowed deep, meeting each individual root with a cerebral kiss.

In the Monsoon, his phallus flaked and withered into the soil, ensuring its fertility.

And in the ill-distinguished and brief season of Sol, the soldier’s compost heart provided the plant with opulent buds which, once our Romeo’s remains had faded, would bloom to entice new lovers.

With each host devoured, the plant grew in strength and she bore bittersweet fruit from sanguine orchids. Within the next cycle, the family tree had obliterated all harvesting machinery and had sapped the life force of all militant oppressors. Tropius-Xorn returned to a prehistoric state of eden. A floating green utopia built on the ashes of modern man.

You must not pity old Woody for he is now one with nature, liberated through decomposition. In that dying singularity, he was certain that his last feeling was love.

THE MARTYRDOM AND RESURRECTION OF ZOMBIE EYECHILD: The Phenomenon of the Comic Book Death

“Death in superhero comics is cyclical in its nature, and that’s for a lot of reasons, whether they are story reasons, copyright reasons, or fan reasons. But death doesn’t exist the same way it does in our world, and thank God for that. I wish death existed in our world as it does in comics.”

Geoff Johns

I: Into a Paper Universe

We need heroes. Since the dawn of language, we have been educated by cautionary tales and have founded cultures based on word-of-mouth legend. We have sought to identify with our better selves, projecting onto idealised protagonists of our own design, and extracting natural lessons from their artificial adventures. As we begin to question what is true, we continue looking for sagas in everything. We think of ourselves as the main character in the biopic of our life played by ourselves, and each day an episode in the volume of existence. Time being a relative concept, we use artificial structures to reflect in 20/20 hindsight on the story arcs of our past. It is because of the intensity of consciousness that we wish to distance ourselves from the real and measure our actions by the convoluted events of gods. Escaping from confrontation we discover how powerful the imagination is, and from immuring ourselves in fiction we once more begin to question what is true.

The superhero comic is one of the earliest examples in which we might encounter lessons in virtue and diligence, wrapped in a unique format. These characters, like the Greek and Roman gods which preceded them, provide entertaining, motivational and logically absurd tales for us to extract and compose our own moral code. Supernatural elements are analogue to our desires and fears, our aspirations and our tragedies. If drama is life with boring parts cut out, then the world of monsters and supermen is a life painted in broad strokes with impossible colours.

The comic book industry is generations old, and its most famous continuous stories have developed long, winding, eccentric paths over decades of steering away from an ultimate conclusion. Every now and then we shall be teased with a simulation of death to regenerate excitement, but in its conservative survival the comic book changes shape with the era, clinging on to its fundamental core of fantasy, and refusing to die. How many more exhibitions of immortality can there be before the identifiable aspects which entertain us and fill us with hope are lost to crappy plot holes.

II: The Martyrdom & Resurrection of Zombie EyeChild

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III: A Truncated History of Immortal Heroes and Their Deaths

The Golden Age of comics introduced such enduring characters as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Captain America and Namor the Sub-Mariner. It was during the 30’s and 40’s that comics provided cheap and disposable entertainment to the troops, but superheroes had declined in popularity following the end of the Second World War, with the industry setting its focus on the contending romance and western genres. The Silver Age, beginning in mid-50’s revitalised interest in superheroes, with new variations on the Flash and Green Lantern being introduced. In the early 60’s Atlas (formally Timely Comics) evolved into Marvel, lead by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, today’s Marvel Universe beginning with the publication of Fantastic Four no.1 in 1961. This age saw the birth of the “two-dimensional” superhero, flawed characters of great strength weighed by relatable anxieties, such as with the unfortunate adolescent Spider-Man, the corrupting emotions of the Hulk and the X-Men, a group metaphor for the resistance of persecution. The Silver Age began under shadow of the scaremongering McCarthy era and it was during this time that “teenager” subculture grew from the products of the post-war baby boom and comics came under scrutiny for their appeal. The medium was accused of indoctrination and encouraging juvenile delinquency by the 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham, which lead to the establishment of the Comics Code Authority. Wertham feared that the anti-establishment nature of vigilantism would lead children astray to the apparent evils of communism or homosexuality.

“As our work went on we established the basic ingredients of the most numerous and widely read comics books: violence; sadism; and cruelty; the superman philosophy, an offshoot of Nietzsche’s superman… Why does our civilization give to the child not its best but its worst in, in paper, in language, in art, in ideas? What is the social meaning of these supermen, superwomen, super-lovers, superboys, supergirls, super-ducks, super-mice, super-magicians, super-safecrackers? How did Nietzsche get into the nursery?” [1]

Publishers imposed self-censorship and as a result this affected the tone of many comics, most ironically, the campy re-imagination of Batman. The rise of “underground comix” occurred within the Silver Age, as a reaction to new censorship and distribution laws. Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb emerged as a prominent figures of the alternative comics movement for their raw, subversive work. The Amazing Spider-Man‘s 1793 The Night Gwen Stacy Died story was a pivotal moment in comics, often attributed with ending the Silver Age and ushering in a Bronze Age of stories, featuring darker plots of social relevance more akin to those of the Golden Age before the introduction of the CCA. A revision of the code in 1971 relaxed some of its rules, allowing the growth of horror-oriented titles such as Swamp-Thing and Blade. This shift continued into the present with what is currently known as the Modern or “Dark” age of Comics, beginning with Watchmen in 1986 which initiated a trend in more adult-themed graphic novels. This was mirrored in established series with The Killing Joke by Alan Moore, The Dark Knight Returns and Year One by Frank Miller restoring the more macabre themes of Batman. This Dark Age often sets an emphasis on realism within unreal universes, The Long Halloween by Jeph Leob depicted the rise of the super-villain concept as the result of the fall of the mafia empires. The Modern Age also sees a rise in independent comics, perhaps most signified by the foundation of Image Comics in 1992 by a collective of disillusioned Marvel artists such as Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld who yearned to tell creator-owned stories. Epic and Dark Horse Comics were instrumental in the introdtion of Japanese manga to the West in the late 80’s when translations of works such as Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira became available, increasing the international market and influence of manga and anime. Comics are currently enjoying high exposure due to the trend of Hollywood blockbusters adaptations, notably due to the success of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogies. After a buy-out by Disney, Marvel is producing a “cinematic universe” for Joss Whedon’s Avengers and its member’s respective films, further boosting comic book public popularity in the modern age.

So the ubermensch concept has spanned many generations and, but just why exactly did it catch on and persist for over 70 years? Superman has the major honour of being the first superhero. Although created in a time before camp irony and literal pathos, the character stands as a perfect example of the importance of modern super-heroic mythology. His first appearance in 1938’s Action Comics no.1 marked the genesis of the industry, showing a mysterious caped man in full colour exhibiting amazing superior strength, unlike anything seen before. Superman was a depression-era hero, a period in which many lost their jobs due to the rise of machinery during the Industrial Revolution. The cover depicted the Man of Tomorrow lifting a car which symbolised humanity overcoming the machines, cementing a new concept of personal aspiration in the younger generation.Within the Atomic age Superman remained a beacon to readers, laughing in the face of nuclear annihilation, allowing us to laugh with him. The character and those he inspired became figureheads of diligence, virtue and self- improvement. DC and Vertigo writer Grant Morrison claims that Superman reinvents himself with the times, to personify what is good in society:

“Actually, it’s as if [Superman is] more real than we are. We writers come and go, generations of artists leave their interpretations, and yet something persists, something that is always Superman.”

[2]

Superman is an embodiment of truth, justice and the “American Way” but does so as perhaps the most famous immigrant. Mark Millar is another big name Scottish writer who is applauded, like Morrison, for his modernisations of fictional franchises, and writing heroes close to their political origins. Millar explores Kal-El’s cultural identity in the Elseworlds story Red Son, in which the infant of steel’s escape pod lands in a Ukrainian collective farm as opposed to Kansas and is raised as a Russian “Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.”[3]

Remaining in print and other media, Clark Kent was long ago assured as a cultural icon. However, through the peaks and troughs of sales over the changing ages of comic books, Superman’s popularity in and outside of comics wained as comparative infallibility amongst his successors eclipsed his characterisation. There is an increasing disillusionment with the concept of Superman, for being an unerring “saviour” representative of humanity’s further dependence on forces from above. There are certain totalitarian themes to this kind of unelected representative, when anonymous do-gooding becomes messiah-configuration, and this line is inspected in series such as Kingdom Come and Miracle/Marvelman. I will discuss the further political implications of the superhuman later, but initially I would like to speak of the comic book phenomenon to which my scruffy piece relates to: the comic book death.

The comic book medium allows the limits of speculation and fantasy to be pushed as far as panels can bind them. Although surviving as an icon and having had his powers and origins revised by numerous writers, Superman was thought to be just too infallible. It was decided that to resuscitate his relevance, the Last Son of Krypton had to be killed. The 1993 Death of Superman was an important storyline in the infancy of the Dark Age, a time when heroes were becoming more tragic and subjected to all manor of torture, with DC deciding to go one further.

The Death of Superman competed in sales with the infamous Spider-Man Clone Saga, which instead of exploiting the mortality of one of the most beloved heroes, the story birthed several Peter Parker clones, disputing who was the original. The series resulted in a sprawling and complicated storyline which required Norman Osborn to be brought back to life in order to tie up the ending. Batman: Knightfall was also published at this time of highlighted weakness, with Batman’s back being broken by Bane and having to seek an unreliable replacement crimefighter during his recuperation. So after a long story/punching exchange featuring the nigh-immortal Doomsday followed by four rival Superclones, Clark Kent was eventually brought back to save the day, revealing that his Kryptonian “healing coma” presents all the symptoms of death with additional deus ex machina. So effectively, one of the best-selling comics of all time, with the purpose of exposing a vulnerable aspect of the character (and martyring him) immediately undid this relatability by clarifying his immortality. The importance of this lies not in story of the DC writing team but in its influence. As writer Max Landis said, “the Death of Superman didn’t kill Superman, it killed death”[4]. The suspension of disbelief regarding death was gone, and martyrdom and mortality had now become a plot device for temporarily suspending the status quo. Countless characters have fleetingly fallen and been readily revived since with a broad spectrum of silly methods.

“In mutant heaven there are no pearly gates, but instead revolving doors” – Prof. Charles Xavier [5]

Now in the fantastical realm of speculative fiction, the pursuit of the perhaps, it’s given that you carry with you a willing ignorance of how the world works. Bullets bouncing off his chest? Ring- swinging Space Police? Army men in glaciers? Nazi cats? IMPOSSIBLE! What is this sensationalist hogwash? Certainly a trouble with realism in fantasy is that certain science-fictional futures are incorrectly assumed to be an intended depiction of our future. We certainly aren’t endowed with the robot slaves proposed in the Atomic Age, but for the premise of fantasy realism, why not imagine we were, and why this would be bad?

As far out as the medium allows the imagination to be stretched, your excitement hinges on the very real human perils and consequences of heightened situations. When you care about a character, you care about their fate and even with hover bikes, cosmic cubes, ancient krakens and ray guns, when explicitly portrayed, death is death. With this one rule gone, anything goes.

The aphorism of comic book death was that “No one stays dead except Bucky, Jason Todd and Uncle Ben”. Yet following the Death of Superman, the portal to the pulp afterlife opened wider still. Bucky Barnes (written over in 1968 because Stan Lee hated sidekicks) was brought back in 2005 as the Winter Soldier and then temporarily replaced Captain America when he apparently died (faked assassination, body possession), apparently dying again himself, after Cap was brought back, operating as the Winter Soldier while being believed dead (again). Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America was written by Jeph Leob shortly after the death of his own son, and the structure takes the form of the five stages of grief. Jason Todd, was an unpopular replacement, and so the second Robin was subjected to a publicity stunt in which the readers could vote as to whether he lived or died. He wasn’t much cared for at the time and so 1988’s A Death In The Family brought Batman’s ongoing series to a violent and miserable ground. (Although the tone of the story was somewhat warped by Batman’s inability to seek vengeance, as the Joker had been granted diplomatic immunity as the ambassador for Iran.) Todd was brought back in 2004 as the revenge-addled Red Hood, fighting to claim the title of Batman after Bruce Wayne’s apparent death (actually sent back in time by Darkseid) with Dick Grayson (first Robin, later Nightwing) protecting the mantle with Wayne’s son Damian becoming the fourth Robin. Lineage and duality are prominent themes in superhero comics, with an established identity being taken up by others along half-decade-long floating timelines, and these identities consuming the person beneath. Bruce Wayne’s billionaire playboy role is one of such facades.

The absurd explanations for resurrection or “apparent death” in comic books ranges from typical clone decoy/robot double placement scheme to traditional off-page disappearance, leaving open returns. Some of the more creative fake deaths include Aunt May’s genetically-altered-actress-imposter, Prof. Xavier’s time-travel kidnapping, and Batman’s experience of both in Final Crisis, ditching a clone corpse to hop through puritan, pirate and cowboy periods, as you do.

Death is frequently the impetus for super-heroics. Spider-Man’s initial appearance in Amazing Fantasy no. 15 could stand alone as a horror story. It doesn’t end on a heroic new horizon, it ends with a young man, alone and crying, learning the cruel nature of fate and accountability. The death of Uncle Ben is essential to Peter Parker’s motto: with great power, comes great responsibility. Not suggesting that Ben Parker’s hypothetical un-killing would grant Spider-Man greater recklessness, Ben’s death must be so as he isn’t so much a defined character as an essence of motivational tragedy. Regardless, Uncle Ben has made appearances in flashbacks and alternate-realities, as per the power of comics.

Such a formula of is a hallmark of revenge-tragedies, but in histrionic comics the device can appear clearly systematic. Birds of Prey writer Gail Simone coined the phrase “women in refrigerators” referring to a list of gruesome murders or injuries of female characters, used as a motivational personal tragedy.

“Not every woman in comics has been killed, raped, depowered, crippled, turned evil, maimed, tortured, contracted a disease or had other life-derailing tragedies befall her, but… it’s hard to think up exceptions” [6]

Simone argues that this plot device is used disproportionally on women, such as with the paraplegia of Batgirl Barbara Gordon or the murder of Green Lantern’s girlfriend and her disposal in a refrigerator. The issue is one of several addressing misogyny in fiction, in addition the the idealised physiques of characters such as Power Girl and Starfire who coming under much criticism for their revealing costumes. Many comic books are exceedingly guilty of wish fulfilment, such is the nature fantasy. It can be said that super-heroism is male power fantasy and idealism is granted through drawing ability, but comic books are by no means masculine-exclusive (my girlfriend somehow, not only tolerates, but enjoys my supernerd rambles). The stereotype of the comic book fan is an overweight, neckbeardy basement-dweller that avoids typically masculine behaviour such as team sports and talking to girls, but stereotypes are, by their nature, inaccurate. Any footage of convention gatherings portray an even split, such a substantial world holds something for any age or gender. I could include a section on the psychoanalysis of comics, but I would probably cease to enjoy them quite so much.

The comic book death has its origins long before this particular visual narrative. Sherlock Holmes and Jesus Christ are perhaps the most famous examples of fictional non-permanent death. In order to focus on his historical novels, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote The Final Problem to kill off his popular character Sherlock Holmes in an slightly uncharacteristic scuffle with his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty atop the Reichenbach Falls. Watson’s third-person narrative of strange circumstances created a mysterious safety net for the possibility of his revival, should Conan Doyle yield to public outcry and cash in on his legacy. There are other theories regarding Sherlock’s “great hiatus”, 1891-94 was the time period in which Conan Doyle was weaned from his cocaine addiction by the questionable influence of Sigmund Freud.

For as long as supernatural heroics have captured imaginations, we perversely delight in seeing our protagonists suffer. We like to see the hero overcome adversity, be beaten within an inch of their life, only to save the world in that enviable last minute twist. Dragonball Z is a manga that virtually exploits the near-death state, suspending young warriors in a permanent state of bludgeoned-yet- hopeful. This afterlife is refreshingly viewed as a strawberry-skied realm of bureaucracy. Once in Hades, returning back to life is no more complicated than twelve Herculean tasks, performed by Goku whose origins and powers rivalling Superman have earned him two and a half resurrections under his belt. The plot device is more often used in ongoing sagas, such as serialised books or soap operas, as opposed to stand alone works. The nature of many comics is that they are ongoing indefinitely, with the exception of reboots, retcons and writer/artist shakeup. Batman, for example has been consistently popular since 1939 with a mythos (and several comic book deaths) deeply woven into the different mediums of popular culture. Last year, DC comics relaunched its 52 continuing series, knocking back Detective Comics from no.881 to no.1. Superman is enjoying another popular re- imagination, during our current economic depression, in the new Action Comics.

The relationship between writer and artist works in a variety of ways, it is interesting to view several people contributing to one character’s mythology. Grant Morrison, Frank Miller, Dennis O’Neil, Scott Snyder, Jeff Leob, Alan Moore and Paul Dini aren’t writing the same Batman as creator Bob Kane or each other, but each uses elements of others to amalgamate their own. Grant Morrison interprets Batman’s 70-year career as the backstory for one man, further contributing to his mental breakdown in Batman RIP. Morrison’s comments on adulthood and realism in comics illustrate the narrative advantages of the medium:

“Adults…struggle desperately with fiction, demanding constantly that it conform to the rules of everyday life. Adults foolishly demand to know how Superman can possibly fly, or how Batman can possibly run a multibillion-dollar business empire during the day and fight crime at night, when the answer is obvious even to the smallest child: because it’s not real.” [7]

I have favourite artists and writers, but greater respect for people such as Mike Mignola, Art Speigleman, Joe Simon, Robert Crumb, Luke Pearson, Daniel Clowes, Katsuhiro Otomo and the many others who manage both. Ultimate Spider-Man, the version of the character I followed most closely, has the honour of being the longest running series by a single writer/artist duo, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, at a continuous streak of 111 issues, surpassing the original record holders of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on the Fantastic Four [8].

To anyone who hasn’t grown up with comics, to penetrate the surface of these half-century old continuities is daunting, but that experience is intrinsic to the wonder of these worlds. What you don’t understand is left to your imagination, or else you thirst for more. That first comic you read is so chaotic, you’re plunged in, you might not know a character’s name, abilities, or motive but something about them will click with you and you want to know more. The Ultimate Marvel Universe, with Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar as the primary architects, was launched in 2000 to refresh the company’s legends and make them accessible for my generation, with Ultimate Spider-Man as the starting point, we experience the slow growing complexity of the universe through the eyes of Peter Parker. It was then followed by Ultimate X-Men, the Ultimates and Ultimate Fantastic Four, establishing a younger, modernised, more grounded and often darker take on the mythos. Roughly a decade after the launch began, the imprint began to mirror more closely its historic parent.

In 2008 the crossover event Ultimatum, written by Jeph Leob during his destructive period, was universally panned for its gratuitous violence and shock-value selling point, its obtuse shift in tone and for killing off 32 established characters, including most of the X-Men. Such uncharacteristic culling included some heroes like Beast which had only just been brought back into the fray for a purpose that would be scrapped. After a short period of regrouping stories, this world was rebooted yet again after the somewhat unexpected and generic Ultimate Comics: Death of Spider-Man in 2011, which saw the reunion of Bagley with Bendis. The Ultimate universe had progressed so much that the world we are initially introduced to by Peter had been severed from its origins. Spider-Man was killed off after 11 years of character development.

In the wake of Ultimatum and Death of Spider-Man, much effort has been made to deviate further from the main continuity world It seems retrospectively, these stories spearheaded a new direction that offered new perspectives in a familiar background, the reinterpretation of Reed Richards as a villain and Peter Parker’s young biracial replacement have received much praise after initial uneasy adjustment period. A conservative aspect of comics is the occasional fear of change, or the disillusionment of it, knowing that it will usually be only temporary. The seemingly permanent deaths of Ultimate Marvel, although poorly executed, seems to have been hugely successful in reintroducing originality once the initial hysteria faded, and thus is a good application of death in comics. The longevity of mainstream comic story lines can be attributed to a maintenance of their equilibrium and a general lack of consequence. In the early days, Marvel comics had continuity and DC did not. During the Silver and Bronze ages, DC learned that anxieties and investment takes place with decompressed sagas.

A positive aspect of the undoing of death becoming commonplace is that whilst shedding the ‘ultimate consequence’, also gone is the religious worship of these icons. If you think of queues of muggles awaiting a Harry Potter release, you see the public face of fandom. The phrase “cult status” exits because of fanatical devotion to story and its ideas. Popular franchises have their iconography and central figure, but unlike Marvel, KFC don’t make a fortune from temporarily icing the Colonel (they obviously do that from liquifying birds). You can certainly say that people forgot about Jeeves of Ask.com pretty quickly. I had to check to see whether he came back or not, or whether the website was even still existent. Characters usually need to be popular to warrant a resurrection. This constant wave of martyring popular heroes dilutes the meaning death in fiction, when there is remote possibility of revival in a world with disbelief conveniently concealed behind visual punctuation. And so each time, less like the crucifixion is the death of a hero. After all, it’s just entertainment, not the end of the world.

IV: The Power of the Medium I Seek to Imitate Poorly

The subject of my piece, The Martyrdom & Resurrection of Zombie Eyechild, concerns this phenomenon of comic book death. It’s not exactly a parody, as any humour can only be derived from a lack of quality, and it isn’t a satire in any aspect other than noting the existence of the concept. It uses heroics and death as a basic narrative pattern to tell a simple story, it is from the imagery and layout that I imagine any interpretive enjoyment can be gained. Hopefully it is familiar details that chime with people.

Although an avid fan, I certainly didn’t want to make a superhero comic, most modern-made spandex wearers are born within the ongoing Marvel and DC universes, giving them familiar surroundings and histories to flaunt around in, independent modern heros are often created in the vein of Hellboy or John Constantine, being either completely out-of-our world, or very much a gritty face of it. I went for the former route, wanting this short story to be apolitical, morally ambiguous and supernaturally unfamiliar. I tried to administer certain tropes utilised by cape comics, but maintain the crude hand-made aesthetic of my usual work patterned after printed zines and artist books. I wanted to include very thinly-veiled religious allusions, in reference to both the perception of resurrection and as comment on the fandom and iconography of corporate comic book characters.

My previous attempt at a sequential narrative was a short comic entitled Dorian [9]which served as a vehicle for experimenting with a consistent drawing style and learning to cast shadow the way that Mike Mignola and Frank Miller do in Hellboy and Sin City, respectively. Like …Zombie Eyechild, Dorian was wordless, however the climax of the story centred on one empty speech bubble. The general concept was taken from a short story I started writing about the bereavement of a nameless man driving him to project his conscience onto his pet cat, Dorian, who then convinces the man to commit unintentionally gruesome murders. I never bothered to finish the story, but when adapting it into comic form I ended up leaving the only line of dialogue, the first thing spoken by the cat, blank for a number of reasons. The gradual de-compressive story followed the man home, gaining suspense, and rather than break that with some ham-fisted wording which might undermine the short build-up, I left it so that the reveal was merely the cat’s speech capability. I found that the speculation towards the vacant bubble was more engaging with people than anything I could have written, and it was a case where lettering would have detracted from the preceding imagery. Even though bound into a small book, with a front and back cover, the unfinished aspect of the story created a cliffhanger scenario. This was partly to provoke the imagination but also a degree of my own laziness. In this case, I neglected words for their redundancy in the story, in which the humanity and verbal skills of each character are ambiguous and it is through frames of action that any sequence is formed. The cartoon Samurai Jack, a stunning mix of animated choreography, cinematic illustration and comic-like action sequences, uses minimal dialogue and instead opts for subtle body language as its most frequent form of narrative.

After spending a long time boiling down imagery to their bare bones, my drawings became increasingly minimal with no tone or shades of grey, standing as objective and open as ink on paper. Fixated with line drawings, I stripped a subject of its relativity and laid it naked to speculation. Honestly, the varied interpretation I get from my drawings is an added bonus, and the way that I draw is more down to comfort zones caused by practicing consistent components, before contextualising them in more explicit narratives. Only recently have I began again to build up using collage and colour to consider composition and generate an environment for my floating figures.

…Zombie Eyechild combines both drawing and collage because I wanted the drawings to stand out in the way that my usual contextless work does, but while integrating them with dynamic backdrops reminiscent of comic scenery, the changing environment becomes part of the narrative as well but does not infringe upon it. I scanned, printed and rescanned to move it more towards the pulp-print quality of zines or ragged singles. Because my story is very abbreviated, I wanted it to feel rather flat. I have been told that my drawings often appear violent, which is strange to me as I try to make them as suspended still frames, yet my interest in distorted figurative work (something that comic artists such as Rob Liefeld employ to a tasteless extreme [10]) may subject it to motion in the eyes of others.

I suppose I can explain my perception of comic book narrative by comparing it with another medium. Often when a graphic novel (particularly one with capes) is adapted into film, it acquires Hollywood grammar and becomes a colourful action movie, which is experienced in a totally different way to the source material. You are a passive viewer, bombarded with sounds and lights, completely binary to the method of reading, in which the active eye can decide the tone and pacing. Because of this comics can be read in an almost deadpan manner, sometimes employing a self- parodying mise en scène. Words and images intwine and narratives become self-aware, particularly in older books in which the writer speaks to the viewer. Most early Marvel books can be read in Stan Lee’s distinctive voice as though guiding you through Jack Kirby’s colourful conflicts. You can read a character’s innermost thoughts and fully comprehend their situation. I have great admiration for comics in their position as a midpoint between prose and film, the spectacle is presented to you yet a lot is still left to the imagination. An image has an immediate, visceral effect on you brain and you carry it with you as the drawing style dictates the rules of the universe and you are engaged with an object, turning the pages yourself. I am fascinated by the idea of adaptations, because by transplanting a story from one medium to another, you are forced to reshape it to suit the new storytelling language. Superhero comics rely on the tropes and layout of their books in order to convince you, when portrayed on screen by humans whose abilities and social norms you are familiar with, it is harder to suspend that disbelief. Acting and special effects have a hand in this, but it is entirely the direction that allows you to invest in this genre. Sin City is such a film where the cinematography mirrors so closely the tone and visual style of the source material that you are compelled to not question motives in this extreme world. 28 Days Later made the leap from screen to page, and The Walking Dead complied with the reverse, adding a new dynamic to both worlds.

I love the use of recurring visual motifs in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen, so during the construction of my short comic I tried to include a similar yet more simplistic pattern by including circles of some form in most panels. Zack Snyder’s film version of Watchmen, However, is an example of how such a translation between media can fail if the subject depends on its methods of delivery. Although stylistically adapted scene by scene, it is not necessarily the story of Watchmen which makes it so compelling. Moore and Gibbons intensionally used narrative devices that could only work through the power of the comic. The overlapping of the comic-within-a-comic The Black Freighter and Dr. Manhattan’s circular clairvoyance and hindsight are rooted so firmly in the narrative, that it is your selective eye which brings it together. Sequential art has had a long history to learn tricks of creating time with space in the absence of sound and motion. The film also omits the civilian characters and their interweaving lives, which removes not only the social commentary but the soul of the living city and its devastating ending. Although the film version makes Manhattan the scapegoat for avoiding nuclear war, instead of the original false alien invasion, orchestrated by the teleportation of an exploding psionic squid into the centre of New York. Simply put, you can achieve certain things in some mediums and not in others. Critic Devin Gordon says “That’s the trouble with loyalty. Too little, and you alienate your core fans. Too much, and you lose everyone – and everything – else.” [11]Moore famously refuses to watch any adaptations of his books, and donates his share of royalties to the illustrators, whilst still benefiting for sales boosts after garnered interest.

Aside from traditional comic books, a piece that has particularly inspired me is Max Ernst’s A Week of Kindness. Lying in definition somewhere between early graphic novel and artist’s book, une semaine de bonté is divided into days of the week and elements, with imagery in part inspired by the psychoanalysis of dreams, a subject commonly explored by the surrealist artists. Although a vague narrative can be traced, increasing in abstraction, it can also be viewed as a disjointed series of illustration and collage that contain both dark and whimsical scenarios. I pursued monochrome for screen printing potential, minimal perception and disposable appearance.

I suspect that it is a combination of my limited attention span and my obsessive behaviour that leads me to produce books of collected pieces, as opposed to stand-alone images, yet I rarely have the patience for consecutive narratives. This is why I am particularly a fan of zines. As catalogues of images, they are simultaneously liberated from sequential ties and applied with subjective viewer narrative. Past books I have made featured images with linking themes, but no obvious storyline. Nobrow Press produce a lot of comics, zines and books of print which juxtapose dreamlike, surreal and graphic imagery to make for a beautiful and occasionally non-linear experience. Luke Pearson’s Everything We Miss is a satisfying display of visual motif and minimal colour.

Zines possess a certain balance of punk DIY incentive and artistic appeal, quite unlike the connotations of comics which are regarded as a low-culture art form. Webcomics are a modern variation on DIY comics but usually with much lower artistic merit newspaper strips and similarly range in quality, from CTRL+ALT+DEL to The Perry Fellowship Bible. Roy Lichtenstein painted enlarged single comic panels as a comment on industrial art and its public perception, being typical of Pop-artists to merge the boundaries between the public perception of “high” and “low” art. Raymond Pettibon is another example of the comic philosophy being inducted into exhibition environments. Will Eisner’s coining of the term “graphic novel” with the publishing of A Contract with God in 1978 was the beginning of the concept of comics standing beside literature, but his experience exemplifies the attitudes and division between book types of the time:

“I called the president of Bantam Books in New York, who I knew had seen my work with The Spirit. Now, this was a very busy guy who didn’t have much time to speak to you. So I called him and said, ‘There’s something I want to show you, something I think is very interesting.’ He said, ‘Yeah, well, what is it?’ A little man in my head popped up and said, ‘For Christ’s sake, stupid, don’t tell him it’s a comic. He’ll hang up on you.’ So, I said, ‘It’s a graphic novel.’ He said, ‘Wow! That sounds interesting. Come on up.’ “Well, I did bring it up and he looked at it and looked at me through his reading glasses and said, ‘This is a comic book, bring it to a smaller publisher,’ which I did. . . . At the time, I thought I had invented the term, but I discovered later that some guy thought about it a few years before I used the term.” [12]

Perhaps because of the reassessment of artistic mediums during the 60’s Pop-Art movement, comics have slowly climbed to be considered artistically valid with Art Spiegelman’s Maus being the only comic or graphic novel to have won a Pulitzer Prize [13].But in terms of publishing, it was not until the 1990’s that the trade paperback became a standard release format, and now collected works are an industry standard. Commercial series are usually gathered in volumes after each 6-issue story arc, free of advertisements and delays.

I do not see why consecutive illustration tied by compelling narrative is less deserving of artistic merit than literature or printmaking when comics have the deftness the conjoin both with radical speculative power. One cannot dismiss a medium, as with anything in the spectrum of expression, there lies both good and bad taste within it.

“Words and pictures are yin and yang. Married, they produce a progeny more interesting than either parent.” – Dr. Seuss [14]

Zombie Eyechild, however comparatively contextualised, is inevitably stripped down like most of my work, (applying to as much the narrative as the drawing) and so is broken down into quick sequences. An environment is established, we meet our eponymous protagonist, we encounter our civilians, the antagonist is revealed, the battle ensues, victory is claimed, our hero falls, he encounters a divine presence, he is resurrected and stands triumphant. It’s a basic heroic template but hopefully it leaves a lot of room for speculation and interpretation to anyone interested. After all, George Lucas may have made Star Wars, but it is the fans who brought the expanded universe to life. I’m probably no less egotistical than Lucas.

V: What This Does to Your Head

Despite the ease in which many discredit comic books as childish escapism, the collective mythology of the art form imprints social and political insight. Comics have always jumped from desk to consumer far quicker than film or television, and so they can be stationed at the forefront of events when chosen to be. Just as dissecting the alien adverts of the era can determine the intended reader demographic, the contents of comics illustrate the political climate of their times. The Atomic Age began as a shining period of progress and speculation, this was reflected in a boom of naïve science fiction romanticism. However this soon turned to cautionary tales and despair, as the disasters of nuclear power became increasingly apparent. As such dystopian fiction rose, fear and wonder being reflected in comics such as 2000AD. The Silver Age superheroes were often the result of awry scientific experiments, gamma rays, radiation and cosmic exposure all being converted into pulp jargon to create dynamic characters whilst appearing informed on current scientific advances. In modern re-imaginings of superhero origins, the geek-speak has evolved to sound more realistic and adopts modern political parallels.

In the Ultimate Marvel canon under Mark Millar, the abundance of super-powered peoples is attributed to a post-WWII genetic arms race, Captain America serves as the original template, a living Hiroshima. The X-Men have always stood as a manifestation of resilience against discrimination in all its forms, the stories themselves reference real world issues, the Days of Future Past explored mutant persecution in the manner of Nazi Germany, and the Legacy Virus represented AIDs and HIV.

As with personal experience, and like any other art form, writers frequently use their fiction as an outlet for their own ideologies. After leaving Marvel over creative differences, Steve Ditko started Mr. A as a vessel for his Randian objectivist views. Watchmen features a range of characters, each personifying a set of ethics, with Ozymandias practicing mathematical utilitarianism, Dr. Manhattan displaying divine nihilism and Rorschach (being an amalgamation of Ditko’s Mr. A and The Question) expresses an extreme form of uncompromising objectivism. Golden Age classics such as Captain America and The Invaders were blatant examples of militant propaganda, and were never denied as such, but the political implications of the Modern Age are of a more subtle breed.

Super-heroes are an American body of myths. 90% of Marvel heroes appear to live and work in New York, where the Jack Kirbies and Jerry Robinsons of past and present stare out at the skyline from above their drawing boards and imagine all the different ways to fly. An exercise in how abstracted the American Dream can be painted. The in-comic consequence of this localisation is that when these characters are portrayed in a shared universe, America (or more specifically Manhattan) becomes a superfascist, steroid-fueled police state with a surplus of supernatural disaster and exhibitionist personality disorders. Though this may interpreted as a romanticisation of New York’s diverse culture and its conception of itself as capitol city of the world.

Conflict makes a captivating story, and stories are streamlined realities. Every grown-up should know that the lines between good and evil are obscured by fields of fog. But in depicting a story with escalating stakes and numbers, good vs. evil multiplies to become a war of Might is Right. An intended tale of doing good in extraordinary circumstances can run dangerously into Social Darwinism. The combined force of superheroes could eradicate hunger and poverty, but of course world peace would make for a tedious comic. So demigods usually spend their glory years fighting demidemons in a constant stalemate, preventing horrific schemes instead of devising their own virtuous ones. The inevitable result of any super-success would be a totalitarian world in which the mortal species without special genes or wealth would become a unified underclass, cast into shadow beneath collateral damaging messiahs. I find that some of the characters with the greatest magnetism in the super-earth are the humans which tolerate it, the Alfreds, the Aunt Mays and the Newsstand vendors who provide grounded commentary from within their extraordinary world. Like Greek myths which document the mortal warriors dying for glory in the shadow of their deities, the series Gotham General recounts episodes of the GCPD’s battle against crime in lieu of the Caped Crusader, which grants them needed independent competence.

The absurdity of hero-worship is frequently a theme in alternative or independent comics, such as Alan Moore & Neil Gaiman’s Miracle/Marvelman (the title of which is a separate odyssey in corporate trademark battles – the word “marvel” is a legal landmine.) explores the crumble of a ‘utopian’ society under super-fascism. It is rated by Time magazine as one of the greatest pieces of visual literature of all time, yet due to its various ownership claims, has been out of print for so long that it is also a rare collector’s item.

Journalist Rick Moody argues that super-heroes are the front for making inherently conservative action films marketable to children, strengthening Hollywood’s “cryptofascist” grip on consumer spectacles:

“The kind of comic-book-oriented cinema that has afflicted Hollywood for 10 years now, since Spider-Man, has degraded the cinematic art, and has varnished over what was once a humanist form. …our allegedly democratic political system, which increases inequality and decreases class mobility, which is mostly interested in keeping the disenfranchised where they are, requires a mindless, propagandistic (or “cryptofascist”) storytelling medium to distract its citizenry.[15]

Ang Lee, director the lacklustre 2003 Hulk film said ”Kids don’t even read comic books anymore, they’ve got more important things to do — like video games.” [16]One might assume that this surge in popularity of these kind of stories in different mediums would detract from the first force, but it avid fanboys like myself hold a clear distinction between the original home of modern myths and their commercial substitutes. Games are, like comics, overlooked candidates for artistic merit and instead often accused of encouraging aggressive behaviour. and as another potential narrative realm, has become the most modern choice of escapism. Everything fun is bad for us, in modern culture you have to acknowledge that throughout your day, you will be exposed to various brainwashing nuggets, but if you let it effect your sleep, the sentinels have already won.

At the end of the day, they’re just comics, made-up stories, disposable gratifying fantasy. You can make up anything you want. None of it matters, none of this is real. But something about these concepts and characters has lived on timelessly, constantly being brought back to life. They refuse to die. Why should they stay dead? Conan, Batman, Odysseus, Moses, Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes were here long before (most of) us and will continue to live on in the minds of us all. Comic books are a most enthralling method of telling a ridiculous story. There will always be supermen for as long as we wish to better ourselves.

Hopefully writing this will evict circling nerdy obsessions from my skull and prompt me talk about something else for once. But I doubt I will ever discard my view that the peak of mental evolution is to speculate and fantasise, to stand on time’s arrow and imagine the most unlikely thing to happen next.ImageImage

1. Superman’s first appearance in DC’s Action Comics no.1 (1938) by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

2. The Night Gwen Stacy Died in Marvel’s The Amazing Spider-Man no.122 (1971) by Gerry Conway and John Romita.

3. Days of Future Past in Marvel’s The Uncanny X-Men no.141 (1981) by Chris Claremont and John Byre.

4. The Death of Superman in DC’s Superman vol.2/no.75 (1993) by a long list of writers and artists, notably Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens and many more.

5. A Death in the Family in DC’s Batman no.428 (1988) by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo.

6. The Death of Spider-Man in Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man no.160 (2011) by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley.

7. Dark Phoenix Saga in Marvel’s The Uncanny X-Men no.136 (1980) by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.

8. Some of many X-Men killed in Ultimatum, shown in Marvel’s Ultimatum: X-Men Requiem no.1 (2009) by Aron E. Coleite, Ben Oliver and Edgar Delgado.

9. Captain America’s first appearance, fighting Hitler in Timely’s Captain America Comics no.1 (1941) by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

10. The apparent death of Batman in DC’s Final Crisis no.6 (2009) by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Doug Mahnike, Christian Alamy and many others.

11. Dream Sequence from chapter VII of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen (1986) through DC/Titan Books.

12. Scene from Dark Horse’s Hellboy vol.1: Seed of Destruction (1993) by Mike Mignola and John Byrne.

13. Comparison between scenes from Dark Horse’s Sin City vol.4: That Yellow Bastard (1996) by Frank Miller and Troublemaker Studio’s Sin City (2005) by Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and others.

14. Cover of Image Comic’s Supreme no.0? (1993?) by Rob Liefeld. Just Terrible. 15. Scene from Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1972-1991) Apex Novelties, RAW magazine, Pantheon

Books. 16. Poster cover for Everything We Miss by Luke Pearson (2011) published with Nobrow Press. 17. Scenes from une semaine de bonté (A Week of Kindness) by Max Ernst and Paul Éluard

(1934) 18. Drowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein (1963) from the Museum of Modern Art, New York. 19. Joke from Marvel’s What If? no.34 (1982) remarking on super-hero trademark disputes. 20. Scottish comic book writers Mark Millar and Grant Morrison at a party.

VII: Bibliography & References

1. Seduction of the Innocent: the influence of comic books on today’s youth (Chapter 1: Such Trivia as Comic Books) by Fredric Wertham, MD (1954) – out of print.

2. Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero by Grant Morrison (2011) – Jonathan Cape http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supergods-Our-World-Age-Superhero/dp/022408996X/ref=sr_1_1? ie=UTF8&qid=1331749536&sr=8-1

3. Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar (2003) – DC

http://www.comics.org/series/11868/

4. The Death and Return of Superman parody/documentry film by Max Landis

5. Marvel X-Factor Vol.1/no.70 (1991)

6. Women in Refrigerators – site by Gail Simone

http://www.unheardtaunts.com/wir/

7. Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero by Grant Morrison (2011) – Jonathan Cape http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supergods-Our-World-Age-Superhero/dp/022408996X/ref=sr_1_1? ie=UTF8&qid=1331749536&sr=8-1

8. Mark Bagley’s return to Marvel on ComicsAlliance (2010)

http://www.comicsalliance.com/2010/12/17/mark-bagley-returns-to-marvel-and-ultimate-spider-man/

9. Dorian by Theo Cleary (2011)

http://whimsybox.tumblr.com/post/3335820886/miscellaneous-comics-1-dorian-wordless

10. Top 10 worst/best Rob Liefeld Covers on Ranker (2011)

http://www.ranker.com/list/top-10-worst-_best-_-rob-liefeld-covers/analise.dubner?page=2

11. Devin Gordon of Rotten Tomatoes on Watchmen (2009)

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/devin-gordon/

12. Will Eisner speaking at the Will Eisner Symposium (2002)

http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v1_1/eisner/

13. Pulitzer Prizes – special awards (1930-present)

http://www.pulitzer.org/bycat/Special-Awards-and-Citations

14. Dr. Seuss Quotes at GoodReads

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/40106

15. Frank Miller and the Rise of Cryptofascist Hollywood by Rick Moody, The Guardian (2011)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/nov/24/frank-miller-hollywood-fascism

16. Ang Lee in the New York Times (2003)

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/22/movies/film-ang-lee-on-comic-books-and-hulk-as-hidden- dragon.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

VIII: Endroduction

The frustrating enthusiasm for this piece stemmed from my reaction to another almost antonymic art form. We were asked to consider the narrative properties of Anna Barriball’s current exhibition at the Fruitmarket gallery, I felt that you had to stretch the imagination pretty far in order to extract any sort of captivating story from Barriball’s work. I found it irritatingly minimal, not minimal in the way that I lazily attempt to draw something interesting with very few lines, but minimal in the way that a lot of time had been spent creating something so underwhelming. The exhibition consisted of large, dark pencil rubbings of doors and window shutters. Large, battered obelisks of wilting geometric monochrome and near-toneless tracings framed behind reflective glass, presenting my tiresome mug back at me. It was by no means the worst exhibit I had visited at the Fruitmarket gallery, but the more time I was given to contemplate, the more frustrated I grew. The story didn’t lie in any interesting characters, objects or scenery, the narrative was merely the creation of the work itself. Bariball had spent months and innumerable pencils (which I would have rather seen) documenting the time it had taken to document the time taken to colour in a shutter.

I got morbid vibes, not just because I thought a window-print was at first a tombstone, but the act of copying texture relentlessly reminded me of solemn monks, devoted their life to bible replication and endless calligraphy, but without even a beautiful tome or wacky stories about angry bearded clouds to show for it. I usually like morbid art, if it’s a mischievous shrine of foetus skeletons or something, this however was the physical representation of being bored to death. The inspiration behind one piece was to enlarge the pattern on the most insignificant ceiling tile, to be hand- illustrated for the attention of the masses. Except she had a team of interns helping in shifts, which kind of undermined the whole concept of her work. She succeeded at nothing more than making something tedious inconceivably more so and draining a lot of time and graphite. There was one piece I liked, a projection of a fireplace in an small room, with a sheet sucking in and out of the chimney. This was noticeably different to the rest for its intimate presentation and humanlike respiratory characteristic, however this was apparently achieved by accidentally slamming an unseen door.

I had to write about this exhibition previously for an internship application, so I had more time than desired to debate Ana’s insight. My delayed entrance due to an evening of endless vomiting may have saved me from a potentially worse fate.

Yeah, so I guess it got me rather riled up. To me, this just epitomised art wankery at its most concentrated, wasteful of both physical and imaginative energy. The theme was pretty much doing it for the sake of doing it. Why is it that this sort of conceptual insubstantiality is revered in exhibition conditions for appearing as little, attempting to say lot? What about eventful art that has a lot to say? I could identify with the obsessive nature of the exhibition, I too am set in my ways with repetitive image-making. But to my core I am an obsessive person (this essay was supposed to be 3000 words). I like things that are interesting, stuff overflowing with speculative ridiculousness. Everything that enthuses me is connected by endless invisible webs of pleasure. I realised after retreating to my creative comfort zone that the complete conceptual opposite of all this intermedia guff was my unshakable lifelong passion for comic books. The recent discovery of wildly inexpensive comics online and in charity shops have given me no reason to stop adding to my library. Comics are snobbishly regarded to be “low-culture” and, by all means, I will defend the medium itself to the death, but not its individual titles. Like film or literature, it contains an indefinite spectrum of executed ideas. That is its beauty – subjectivity and diversity like nothing else, the marriage of image and text is the unsealable portal to the absurd wallpaper of our skulls. Comics books, aside from their corporate tendrils, their subliminal propaganda, their psychosexual idealism, their merchandising plague and their niche fanboy circlejerkery… they are about perhaps the purest thing, the immeasurable imagination. These are pocket worlds inspired by our own, through the contemplation of history, anticipation of the future and channeling this into content which resonates with the timeless conflicts of the present. Colourful, gratifying, excessive, wonderful. So I made a shitty little comic. Not because I believe I have anything closely approximating the stamina or talent of a regular visual raconteur, but because I like weird stories, and it’s healthy to enjoy your brain. Obviously I’m being self-indulgent, and perhaps I was too harsh on Anna Barriball, after all it’s easier to pick fault with something when it’s on a pedestal. But, if you give yourself an opportunity to be heard at least make it interesting. We have our say, and then we die. Why not create a universe to live on after you?

A Eulogy for Megavideo

Some time has now elapsed since our turbulent friend was taken from us, and ripples of absence are still being felt in the digital kingdom. Our first world problem being the abdication, imprisonment and death of MegaUpload and its favourite son MegaVideo.

Our trusted prophet for entertainment has been subdued by the powers that be, and with cyber-anonymity being promoted to terrorist threat, many others are yet to fall. But let us take a moment to be thankful for the hours of knowledge, art, entertainment and trash that has been gifted us free of charge these years. Goodbye Planet Earth, goodbye Wire, goodbye Buffy, goodbye Jeremy Kyle. See you on some less pixelated pasture.

Of course, Megz, our often reliable compromise was not without its drawbacks. We all had our own variety of methods for vaulting the 72 minute rule, whilst shooting down a polluting fountain of advertisement. Thrusting at us poker, quasi-porn and macKeeper’s dubious yet vigorous claims of cauterizing the doomsy junk of your laptop, no doubt spouted by itself.

There were the good bad times too, inadvertently trolling you with wrong links to The Happening whilst scouring for Shawshank or Gump.

Without MegaVideo, our bored receptacles turn towards its waning supernova brethren. The survivors are a gallery of suitors equally as suspect. Streaming from VideoBB is like walking an orange tightrope of loathing, Sockshare masquerades as The One before jilting you three minutes in to your Simpsons episode, and there’s Videoweed: mockingly self-aware, its movements lagging. These fragile sites are a shower of many, named by contracting two nonsense words and voted marginally reliable at 50% successful each. Gorrilavid, Vidxden, Vureel, Vidbux, Filebox, Movreel, Upsneeze Snublox, Wormpload, Crudbucket, Apefile, Necrox, Fedpeel Smutreel, Shitcocks, Herpbox, Derpfile O where can I find my stories amongst these lacklustre clones?

Truth be told, we have been stripped of something we shouldn’t really be entitled to in the first place, but have swiped Prometheusly. Now, for those of us without salvation in Netflix or Love Film, we shall mooch outside the video store in our regressed 90’s form, like a skulking Silent Bob wraith (as opposed to the hunched gloaming binger of internet TV that we once were).

So think upon all that has been lost, next time you stare vacantly into that rotating rainbow wheel. Or don’t. I don’t really care.

Robots, Romance & Religion

Robots, Romance & Religion: Losing Ourselves in Each Other.

(A paranoid rant about technology’s warp of communication, sporadically punctuated by four short films.)

It is fashionable to suggest that cyberspace is some island of the blessed where people are free to indulge their individuality. This is not true. I have seen many people spill out their emotions – their guts – online, and I did so my self until I began to see that I had commodified myself.” – Carmen Hermosillo [11]

Idealised and foggy as it may be, there is something which binds us together, an existential consciousness that counters our biological selfishness to generate empathy and community. Whether this subjective notion is credited to society’s institutions, to law or religion, artistic creation, nationalism or establishing our presence on the internet, it is a common desire to be part of something greater than ourselves. We may aspire to project our identity outwards and hope to be accepted by those likeminded during or after our time, in an effort to take root ourself in the fleeting earth. The sensation may be called spiritualism by some, while others see it as a more sophisticated war for air, whatever it is, human interconnectivity and the longing for acceptance is a universal feeling which has evolved with our socially constructed consciousness. Our current leap in social evolution is guided by technology, acting as a watchful robotic lighthouse to our network of lives.

To talk about my love for the internet would exceed the word count even further, so while trying to simply portray my admiration for the data haven, my one-sided discussion will focus on the more unpleasant aspects of new communication, unity and how we cope with the technology of our time. To fuse together my scatterbrained thought-bubbles on the digital age, I present four short entertaining videos in an attempt to illustrate this vital reaction to our new social template. The videos I have chosen literally show romantic depictions of humans and/or robots, because I see this concept as a representation of humanity lost within a technological, self-aware culture.

In Sherry Tuckle’s book Alone Together [1] she talks about how the real year 1984 stood in contrast to George Orwell’s novel of the same name, in that the genesis of technology was imbued with hope and optimism. However the holding power of technology in this excitement was a precursor to a coming culture and lifestyle under the machines, as a second self:

Some people found computers so compelling that they did not want to be separate from them. I am worried whether losing oneself in worlds within the machine would distract us from facing our problems in the real – both personal and political.”

Decades later, we see that technology has spread so far into our lives that it defines our structures of entertainment, news, politics, economics and, more specifically what I would like to attempt to discuss, communication. Writer and critic Charlie Brooker, discusses early in his Guardian [2] career the changing state of TV under the rapid wing of the internet:

Eurotrash simply doesn’t outrage anymore, and not just because it has reached season 13. No. The trouble is that in the years since the programme first spurted onto our screens, everything else on television has steadily degenerated into a slew of dead-eyed, opportunistic, utterly heartless quasi-porn, which leaves Eurotrash’s recipe of cheerful, cheesy smut looking positively archaic.”

Internet sensibilities had already penetrated the media by this time, saturating its membrane and rendering shock-TV tame and irrelevant. I consider myself more or less desensitized to gaudy mutant entertainment having witnessed through the interweb some of mankind’s darkest hours, but having stopped watching TV for a number of years now, and experimentally watching a morbid marathon of Coach Trip followed by Embarrassing Bodies, followed by Sexetera, reduced me to a foetal state. This is entertainment of the dark part of the soul easily catered for on the internet. For the viewer it appears that a synthesis of morbid-curiosity web browsing and channel hopping through car-crash TV has replaced and physically sedated both our eros and thanatos drives. In another article, Brooker dubs a rising hybrid-genre:“masturmentary: programmes which exist solely to assist masturbation… yet is forced to adopt a flimsy documentary guise in order to appease the broadcast authorities.”

This was article was written eleven years (over half my life) ago from the date my digits tap these digits. By date-dropping, I have inevitably made this essay subject to the flinching you receive when reading an outdated article that thinks of itself as the raconteur of the cutting edge, proclaiming from the time-cliff: ‘everything was leading up to this moment!’ only to be heckled by the merpedant in the future ocean with jeers of ‘you naïve prehistoric simpleton how did you live without your hoverbikes?’ Surreal digressions aside, you can’t help but be aware of how integrated technology is into the present (or past-future) and contract at least mild whiplash from how accelerated the exchange of information and invention has become today. Sometimes I lament for the days unprobed by constant email and while simultaneously rejoicing the surge of fleeting factoids. I can’t be the only person who suffers nano-heart-attacks when their phone vibrates or barks rhetorical rage at their jammed printer or who lies awake paranoid that I might not survive without them, and succumb to the inevitable zombie apocalypse, due to de-evolutionary domestication. The more you immerse yourself in the abstract realm of information, the more you become lost in what isn’t real. You spend more time looking into screens than another person’s eyes, and often more time stalking through someone’s profile pictures than actually asking them about their day. Quite simply, technology has changed the way we interact with each other, and constantly growing is the idea of an online presence, a network of representative avatars existing as a projection of our physical essence, an electronic snail trail which becomes tangled in code. I suppose I should state that “closeness” is a human concept, something personally relative and normally unrelated to physical distance. Our day can be brightened by a Skype conversation but we ultimately alone in the room in front of a screen.

Essentially, this unavoidable culture of convenience and knowledge comes at the price of detachment, short attention-spans and square eyes. I wonder if we are able to keep up with our own creations, our culture being so saturated with screens we feel atomized and ever-incresingly trying to run from the society of the spectacle. Plato ominously foreshadows our fixation with the techno-continent in The Republic [3]: “Everything that deceives may be said to enchant.”

I find myself occasionally envious of my free-range facebookless friends who find more joy in the outdoors, interacting with the substantial world, but then I refuse to regret many of the hours I have spent online due to all that I have learnt, seen and shared with the democratic free reign of information. There is an infinite archive of thought resources with insufficient life hours to digest. Discovering music and art you may never have known about, exchanging with relatives at a geographical distance, surveying the news, donning nostalgia goggles to appreciate old things with others. I consider so many of my interests and defining factors being brought to me through the internet. No doubt the influx of the digital world is a good thing, it doesn’t take much time to trawl through the net and find news of someone being granted a bionic replacement hand or stumble upon the first ever footage filmed of a snow leopard or dragon shark. But watching the I.C.U.B robot mimic the movements and cognitive patterns of a toddler is a discomforting example of the effect technology and media have made on our awareness of life.

I recently read a ragecomic [4] written by an 86-year-old man (which can be assumed true only as much as anything anonymously posted on reddit) in which he summarised his life story with rage faces. Having missed out on his 20’s due to drafting in the Second World War and subsequent alcoholism, he retired at 65 in the 1990’s feeling “more alive than ever” growing with computers, games and films those of us who have grown up in this time without the comparative decades, we are bred to take communicative ease for granted.

I grew up in a world of face-to-face communication. You had to walk places. You had to mail things. Information was always second-hand via newspaper… We stayed active and challenged our minds throughout the 2000’s, a decade during which nothing much happened. Do you disagree? Well imagine the decades I have to compare it to. Our friends started passing on, and a few started going senile. We felt sharper than ever, though, and I chalk that up to our activities and games.”

He kept up with the burgeoning internet to reconnect with his estranged daughter of 24 years and her family of whom he never knew. True or untrue, it is a touching story of human contact shaped through history’s mutation of communication. It’s a nice thought that someone who struggled through life eventually found happiness and ease with the world growing around them, content to anonymously 1HKO kids a fraction of their age in online games with his wife. My own grandfather of the same age has just started his second ipod and having retired from his industrial world, he still marvels at new machines. My parents contemplating retirement too have their electronic distractions, and most of my work involves the use of computers. I cannot shift in my inbox amongst the spam and animal videos sent from my mother.

I have a monthly image blog in which I post hundreds of images of art, comics, photographs, anything I find inspirational, informative or funny and yet I keep a backup of everything because the internet is so immaterial that if tumblr were to go down forever, so would the scrapbook of myself. I don’t imagine being able to reflect on my 20’s when I’m 86 because the website will probably be long-gone and all information will be made of radioactive rainbows beamed directly into the retinas. That is if I’m lucky enough to live that long, the race of technology may have slowed with the recovery from the undead war. I feel as though I have become less materialistic (if not egotistical) through my lust for online knowledge, yet we must remain aware that even though online content is written in ink, not pencil, its terrain is not that of a stable world which will last forever. But then again, neither is our own.

A machine that becomes defective dies, when did we decide that we too were machines?

Many mediums throughout time have explored the connections between man and machine, from ancient Hebrew legends of guardian golems to the cyber-Sartre Matrix trilogy, tales of our own creations have replaced the tales of our creators. I have selected four short films which I feel explore the concept of connectivity, shafted apart by technological abundance. The first piece of film I have chosen to exhibit is the music video for All is Full of Love by Bjork, directed by Chris Cunningham.

The image of two identical artificial humans engaging in tender acts of love subverts the socially alienating vibes that technology can present us with, but the video can also be interpreted as a dark representation of mechanised masturbation. In the making-of video [5], Bjork says how the designs remind her of porcelain dolls, artefacts of Japanese erotica and undoubtedly there plenty of sexual implications in the video, sparks flying, robotic insertions, etc. The designs of the robo-Bjorks are reminiscent of the pearly sheen of Apple hardware, and predate the similar looking automatons of the I, Robot film by a few years. I interpreted this as a comment on the growing obsession with product cult-status but stylistically, Cunningham shows a minimalistic use of colours, noting that he wanted a distinctively retro feel to video.

Not only did I find the image of robot lovemaking a striking piece of computerised choreography worthy of projected display, but the themes of the video also strongly reflect on the ideas that have captivated me. Simply put, the act of giving machines a defining human trait, love, is in stark contrast to the monotonous detached voyeur that technology can potentially make us. By sitting, glaring at code, are we watching machines live in an environment we have created. During technological disillusionment we can feel robotic and distant, yet these robots are living and capable of love.

The song is the original mix of the closing track on 1998’s Homogenic. I first became aware of Cunningham through his Aphex Twin music videos, Come to Daddy [6] being burned in my mind at an early age, I found the shrieking gangly figure reminiscent, if not more powerful than Edvard Munch’s The Scream, bearing in mind that the actual song is a death metal piss-take. Cunningham is a connoisseur of the grotesque, Robber Johnny is another traditional freak-out piece whereas Windowlicker [7] is a surreal Spitting Image puppet take on booty-shaking bling culture. I got into Aphex Twin (along with Boards of Canada and Brian Eno) through David Firth’s Salad Fingers [8] internet flash films, which similarly explore a concentrated viral creepiness. Most of Cunningham’s work utilises prosthetics and camera mastery, but in All is Full of Love he ventures into the use of CGI which was growing in realism at the turn of the 21st century. In the making-of film Cunningham claimed to be initially dismissive of special effects but found that most of the striking movements and visuals could be created and enhanced in post-production. Technology has played a huge role in the inception, growth and distribution of edited and animated art. Even David Lynch became a fan of strange internet animations and created his own webseries Dumbland [9]. With previously established bands such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails turning to the internet for free distribution, the realm of information is expanding beyond commercialism.

The series Futurama [10], developed by Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, houses some very profound ideas. As both a satirical comedy and piece of speculative fiction, it has the freedom to discuss present-world issues mirrored in a future fantasy reality. 20th century slacker Philip J. Fry is accidentally cryogenically frozen and wakes up in the year 3000, initially happy to leave behind his drab prior existence. A Fishfull of Dollars comments on the estrangement of wealth and class, and the all-consuming power of advertising. In this episode Fry learns that products manifest themselves in your dreams, through gamma radiation:

Leela: Didn’t you have advertising in the 20th century?

Fry: Well sure, but not in our dreams, only on TV and radio… and in magazines, and movies, and at ball games and on busses and milk cartons and t-shirts and bananas and written on the sky but never in our dreams.

The episode shows Fry acquiring the wealth to escape to his own time by surrounding himself with 1990’s relics. There is exploration of how culture is misinterpreted by future generations (“Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot being reassessed as “stuffy classical music”) and how ultimately our possessions own us, with Fry resigning drunken to a darkened room watching ancient videotapes of Stanford and Son.

The second video I have chosen to exhibit is an “educational” film from the episode I Dated A Robot which explores illegal downloading and online relationships.

‘DON’T DATE ROBOTS!’ presents a hypothetical (or implied actual past version of) Earth in which people downloaded celebrities into blank robots as subservient sexual partners. The video boldly proclaims “all civilisation was just an effort to impress the opposite sex” and hence, society crumbles. As well as being very funny, it analyses what happens if we are given unhealthy objective control over our sexual desires, much in the way that we can wade through internet porn with little difficulty and arguably, this is obstructive to our social and professional lives. Civilisation collapses because humanity grants itself the freedom to return to a selfish animalistic state of retirement. The video is a parody of propaganda exploitation films such as Reefer Madness and its episode pokes fun at the controversy over (kid)Napster and illegal downloading.

Robot (as well as sewer mutant and alien) rights are exercised throughout the series – not all robots are worker drones, a large percentage are equal citizens and the episode Proposition Infinity follows up the issue with the campaign for “robosexual” marriage, mirroring Proposition 8, and the changing public attitudes of non-heterosexual relationships and secondary ‘human’ rights. It veers into absurdity when announcing that in the future a horse and a ghost also have the right to wed, illustrating that the concept of marriage is perhaps not a sacred or logical thing. The anthropomorphised automatons are given human freedoms, pleasures and guilts, so a Robot Hell exists for followers of Robotology.

In Adam Curtus’ profound and charmingly despair-inducing techno-socio-political documentary series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace [11], he starts by addressing how the objectivism of author Ayn Rand influenced the boom of Silicone Valley entrepreneurship during the infancy of the digital age, and the notion of a society composed of “free” individuals. In these aspirational 1990’s, the internet was still a romantic idea for an abstract plain where one was free to express their individuality. Yet even this early on some were struck by an utterly atomizing sensation, having our identity reformatted so that we become a cog in a machine. Disillusioned Rand circle member Carmen Hermosillo spoke:

Cyberspace is a black hole. It absorbs energy and personality and then re-presents it as an emotional spectacle. It is done by businesses that commodify human interaction and emotion, and we are getting lost in the spectacle.”

Objectivism can be thusly summarized by Rand’s regards towards death:“I will not die, it is the world that will end.” I think this might-is-right attitude stands neatly in contrast with a line from Christopher Nolan’s Memento [12]:The world doesn’t disappear when you close your eyes, does it?The egocentric view can be seen simultaneously as a fighting against your system whilst very much remaining in it, in such that you are looking out for your own interests, because your contemporaries are your genetic enemies. This relates to the internet in that you have the freedom to voice your thoughts, but are competing against a tide of rival voices for the loudest, the most up-votes, likes or views. You are still reliant on others for your success, but only you can be responsible for your own happiness.

In the second part of the series, Curtis discuses life’s ecosystems, the equilibrium of society and the flaws of viewing life under this hypothesis. Rand’s Objectivism is broadened into a systematic computer’s-eye-view of the world and this is a simplification which tends to overlook the fundamental idiosyncrasies of everything, the economy is an example of life being viewed as a cybernetic system. Computers have shown us that we work in networks, and it’s not nice to have your individuality boiled down to non-endearing data. Stability is not necessarily natural – in fact, evolution and natural selection illustrate an existence of constant change so we may not always be nature’s favourite species, at least not in our current state. H.G. Well’s The Time Machine [13] looks at the descendent of mankind and theorises that one race immunized itself to the dangers of life through genetic modification of food and extinction of disease, so much that it has become weak and docile and is therefore watched and farmed by a savage cannibal underclass. Underneath the earth there are ancient machines which have remained unaltered, and knowledge of their operation is part of a latent survival instinct in future humanoid generations.

Internet freedom is a concept birthed from a utopian systems viewpoint as a seemly apolitical mirror to the real world. By appearing scientific, a system appears neutral and so human morality is adapted around seemingly objective presentation of fact. However, enforcement of stability is not neutral, which is the basis of revolution if say, democracy is viewed as an unscientific ecosystem. As new environment, the internet can be used to step outside of society’s construct, such as was the birth of music piracy. In AWOBMOLG‘s third part, The Monkey In The Machine And The Machine In The Monkey, Curtis talks about the implications of the gene’s predetermined role in social structures, racial warfare, and how science brought computer logic to modern self-analysis. The series paints a dark picture of how we live entangled in a system of feedback loops – but what of love, and emotional experience beyond the the machines?

Ayn Rand’s views on love were certainly ominous. In an interview, she was stated that “in love, the currency is virtue… you do not love indiscriminately, you love only those who deserve love.

Her own love-life was arguably her downfall, finding that she was unable to apply her hypothesis towards the genuine feelings of herself and others. Love is not rational. Of course you can always try to follow logical decisions and progressions with your partner but the head is often gladiatorially slain by the heart. This has always been the case, but now it seems there is a wall of invisible wires further distancing and distorting our sense of reason.

The Dateline NBC series To Catch a Predator [14] with Chris Hansen is a real horror show which bluntly guides us through the morally ambiguous act of online paedo-baiting, going so far as to have a former Miss America winner (an attempt at poetic irony) pose as an innocent tween in chat rooms luring in desperate perverts. They are always sat down at a suspicious breakfast bar when Hansen pops out from behind an arras, reads the chat transcript and explains the premise of the show watching as the flabbergasted potential-nonce is whisked away by a camouflaged SWAT team. Harrowing and hilarious stuff, right? This is entrapment, and although no actual foul play is conducted and no children are actually involved in any way, the John Does are usually charged with an attempt to solicit sex from a minor and veiled in shame for the rest of their lowly life. Aside from its controversial subject matter, it also blurs the lines between justice and entertainment in a similar way to American punditry platforms like the O’Reilly Factor on bullshit emporium Fox News, which disguises itself as formal newsroom discussion platform so that Bill-O can hoot arrogant ignorance over scientists, war veterans, the bereaved, etc.

Fights to the death in colosseums with tridents and tigers was once a normal form entertainment, we have always desired to be spectators to the bloodthirsty, the tragic and the unusual events rooted to our culture. Incidentally, Bullfights have only just ceased in Catalonia this year.

Chris Morris is a comedic satirist who managed to lampoon characters such as Hansen and O’Reilly before their internet fame, channeling the same type of madness – blunt news authority saturated with the absurd. Aside from his own character performances, he writes dark humour in a number of performances including sketch shows, including the “ambient comedy” series Jam.

The Third video I have chosen is a sketch from Jam entitled “casual parents” in which a couple nonchalantly learn that their child is missing “Incidentally, did he come home from school today?” and act unsurprised and indifferent when his grim fate is revealed. This is not specifically related to either religion or technology, but the distant, unemotional responses of the mother and father (Julia Davis and David Cann) are completely binary to the passionate automatons of the Bjork music video. It is as if their human aspects of have been replaced by a modern chilly existence, just words in lower case on a message board. The child, and his viewpoint are completely absent from the scene and instead we witness a terrifying apathy over an up-beat down-tempo soundtrack. Jam, and its remixed alternative Jaaaaam are presented as an “ambient comedy” which as with the news program The Day Today and the extreme documentary series Brass Eye, Morris is subverting a comedy subgenre while keeping its content shocking, absurd and funny. A episode of Brass Eye literally puts science on trial [15] for its (fictional) dark accomplishments such as black market limb growth and harvest and villages being crushed as a result of “heavy electricity”. The often partially oblivious celebrity spokespeople in Brass Eye contribute to its self-aware and self-parodying form of humour.

The complete indifference expressed by the parents reminds me of Dr Manhattan from the graphic novel Watchmen [16] by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, who after gaining godlike powers of matter manipulation finds himself increasingly alienated with human concerns until he decides to exile himself to Mars. Although he was once human, he expresses guilt towards his loss of feeling over the gain of existential awareness.

If the internet can be our bread and circuses, what about the former opium of the masses? Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion [17], enamoured me with the concept of Einsteinian religion. Einstein received some truly shocking hate-mail for his denunciation of God, but I feel his views on religion are far purer and truer to the feeling of human connectivity, often misappropriated as forms of dogmatic unknowing spiritualism.

Einstein said:

I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

Einstein’s religious views have been a subject of much debate and Dawkins discusses how many scientists of the past have had to bend-backwards to appease the theist population and if their years had been more liberally-minded ones, they would have outright come out as atheist. Thomas Jefferson clearly believed that Christianity had no place in the founding of a nation, and believed that the constitution should be amended every nineteen years and equated not doing so to being enslaved to the prior generation. Again, unheeded advice [18].

Dawkins and his supporting quotes from, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Douglas Adams and many more marvellous minds all made viewing existence from a scientific standpoint seem like a beautiful thing. The complexity of life and nature is a humbling and awesome thing to affiliated with, and no mythological sky lord is going to prevent me from enjoying the brief flicker of my existence, and no catalogue of mistranslated, misquoted, misunderstood tome of arcane tall tales is going to influence why I treat anyone else with no less respect that I would expect to receive. However, here comes the hypocrisy, the internet has become my bible for guidance, and such as with religious texts, its ideologies and freedoms are pure, whereas its content is subjective, questionably authoritative and morally dubious.

I am excited by picking up basic scientific facts, such as the moon being ¼ the size of the Earth and 1/81 its mass, or that many male angler fish are the tiny bacteria that fuse to one female’s antenna to give it its glow. There is such immense beauty, pride and comfort worshiping the world in the name of truth, but again like religion, science has its sinister side-effects. This speculative nature can often lead to the morbid side of research. I’ve been a big fan of Darwin, sad not not see him on money more often, however Social Darwinism is an altogether insidious thing, promoting elitism, fascism, eugenics and scientific racism. This maybe an undesired application of these theories, but Randian followers view business as a survival-of-the fittest game, and ultimately we decide our own happiness.

Religion is an alluring network for a single identity, but the gap of knowing is narrowing each year, leaving the logic-filler god(s) with less relevance now that we can Google our existential woes. Typing the start of a question into a search-bar usually yields some interestingly bizarre suggestions. In the past, religion has been a vital part of a human mindset, giving one apparently more important reason to be decent to each other, but now we are expected to understand the law, and more so our effect on the planet and its accelerating culture, leaving such dogmatic institutions redundant. It is possible that it is the screen which fills this void. The paradigm shift of communication has dispelled much of our superstition and as a result we are killing God every day.

I was having a conversation with a colleague who is an ex-born-again Christian and all-round loveable person about how scientific theory and artistic theory can be extremely similar (an experiment based on previous awareness and rules), and yet the business of the art world is eerily similar to that of organised religion (exhibitionism, elitism, worship). Furthermore, the isolating connectivity sought in religion to be part of something larger is not dissimilar to idea of an online identity. Likewise, art and media are so saturated under the internet’s influence that we have come full-circle and this confusion and resulting anhedonia are the dizzying side-effects of our generation.

Out of curiosity I read The Satanic Bible [19]. A friend of mine studying costume design asked me to write something as a basis for her next project, and honoured to be source material, I am writing a play about an addled alchemist who tries to resurrect the moon in order to win over a kleptomaniac duchess in a dystopian alternate-jacobean world. Escaping from the refreshing scientific truths I had been reading, I turned my interests to magic and madness and looked to Satan for research. I was surprised to find that Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible is actually atheistic and the devil merely represents “all of the so-called sins, as they lead to physical, mental or emotional gratification!” Satanism is a rejection of gods and a celebration of hedonism and animal instincts. Aside from vague instructions over the correct use of black magic, The Church of Satan’s ideology seems twofold: To present itself as an organised religion specifically to piss off the Christian church, and to celebrate the inherit selfishness of man.

I couldn’t quite figure out why this felt so familiar and connected strangely well, until I read that daughter of the author [20] had pointed out that a majority of The Satanic Bible was a watery plagiarism of The Enochian Keys by Dr John Dee, the pseudo-anonymously published Might is Right and primarily Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The 9 Satanic Statements are unacknowledged paraphrases of Rand’s ideas, and I found it both hilarious and unsurprising that Rand’s ideologies had been repackaged as the views of Beelzebub himself. If we extract the messages from their religious templates and apply flimsy metaphors to our technological ideology, we can speculate that we are running from God unless we are Satanically selfish. God being the counter-evolutionary sedative yearning for higher community, the internet, and Satan being the selfishly genetic engagement with life’s struggle, (the unternet?)

So Satanism is essentially institutionalised egotism proposed through raw animalistic nihilism, which brings me on to the lonely chaos of Internet Trolling and meme culture.

The term “meme” was popularised by Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene [21] in which it is explained to be a social companion of our genetics, in that information which survives, be it through scientific testing, or lasting humour is spread and developed by many people. Internet memes are essentially evolutionary in-jokes which collectively demonstrate an equally subversive and niche collective sense of humour, and their spread and discussion are as much a part of online traffic as baiting and teasing in chat-rooms. The internet is a self-aware entity through its amusement written by strangers. in which takes many forms, there is the notion that it is a simple series of tubes, a game we are all aware of, something we can win and lose at.

Trolling is the intent to evoke a response by entering an absurd level of thought with a intentionally inflammatory, irrelevant or stupid remark, and is primarily a source of humour in text-based online communities. Organised trolling by the group Anonymous resulted in 4chan.org founder Christopher “moot” Pool being voted #1 in Time’s top 100 influential list [22], the orchestration of hundreds of Scientology and Westboro Baptist Church protests, and tracking down and reporting participants in animal abuse within hours of their post. Anonymous and trolling have become more recognised in the mainstream due these public demonstrations, but trolling can be often on a par with cyber-bullying. KnowYourMeme [23] is said by its twisted satirical predecessor Encyclopaedia Dramatica [24]; to be“intended for the mass commercialization of every ‘cute’ meme” and was “created entirely for the benefit of the newest of new and the odd over-the-hill, old media type.” ED stands defiant against this new accessible wave of meme-culture, representing itself as an institution of the more old-school internet humour – hacking, casual discrimination and shock images. The internet’s more commercial references have grown to rival and penetrate that of television pop-culture, and the reposting of videos sharing website networks appears to be replacing TV as the primary form of technological entertainment. KnowYourMeme employs a more analytical approach with some of its memes, for example, Poe’s law is “an axiom which states that it is difficult to decipher whether extremism on the Internet is authentic or satirical without the use of signals like emoticons.” If you’ve ever engaged in an online debate, you will be painfully aware of its futility. There are many “reaction images” imitating characters seated at computers, responding to statements they have read amounting to a flurry of illustrated emotion , yet always partaken by lonesome heads behind monitors [25].

There is the saying “Trolling is a art” which summarises its philosophy fairly well. This type of satire can be called artistic in its forms, Chris Morris has been called an IRL (in real-life) Troll. The fact that ‘real life’ has an acronym for referral exemplifies the growing realm of digital thought.

Internet Trolling is usually a solitary act, and can be used within a faceless crowd to identify gullible targets for humour. Through simple provocative methods, personality traits can be extracted out from an anonymous thread as though divisions are sought out even if everyone is covert and given equal freedoms. I remember people highlighting a distinction on 4chan between “NewFags” and “Oldfags”, being that the new young users who dominate the message boards during summer holidays and spring break were more outgoing and radical, whereas the elder members were more misanthropic, nihilistic and disproved of Anonymous banding together for public cause, preferring their own self-destruction as a social structure.

Encyclopaedia Dramatica, which disguises itself as a comedic wikipedia, informed me of 4chan.org which is infamous more so for its morbid, sexual and occasionally illegal content, which lead me to associate it with the motto “give a man a mask and he’ll show you his cock”. ChatRoulette [26] similarly embodies this as a randomly generated webcam conversation site, known for its initial labour of having to cycle through too many videos of men masturbating before being able to find a willing conversationalist. “Net artists” Eva and Franco Mattes’s film No Fun [28] explores this dark exhibitionist behaviour by hosting a mock hanging on ChatRoulette and filming the despicable public reactions. Thousands watched, many laughed, one played the guitar, one called the police and one masturbated. These voyeurs unaware of the troll showcase human isolation without consequence, those who laugh at death through window shutters.

David Fincher’s film The Social Network [28] dramatizes the history of Facebook’s rise to omniscience from its creators, using the legal depositions as a framing device in which the intellectual rights of methods of personal information sharing are fought over. Each character is screwed or successful in some way through their enterprise of temperamental internet business and self-fulfilment, with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg being portrayed as remote and robotic. The film explores corruption in ideas, legal systems, business, friendship and relationships I was interested in how the music and graphic art was reflective of this, but also the more literal corruption of data. Rob Sheridan’s illustrations for Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’s score [29] seeks to further adapt the subject of warping personal information, reflecting the sombre digital soundscapes of the film’s score:

An early idea I had was to digitally corrupt the images we had from the film, combining a “glitch art” visual aesthetic I’ve always been interested in with a metaphor for digital images shared on Facebook, the corruption they’re susceptible to, and the corruption portrayed in the film. This idea resonated with Trent, so I began experimenting with different ways to destroy the publicity stills Sony had sent me.

The relation between sound and image has always been an appealing concept to me, and I have been searching for ways to marry my noises and scribbles, but I have recently started to experiment with film (which appears to be allowed on a painting course). In terms of video editing, the website EverythingIsTerrible! [30] has been an intriguing influence to me.The collective hunt for old VHS tapes of children’s Christian puppet public access television, alien conspiracy documentaries and many awful made-for-TV movies, meshing them together to create surreal, disastrous video art. The equally gitchy kitschness of these short films provides entertainment and thankfully distances yourself from television as a concept, by presenting to you the unswallowable propaganda of a cross-section of people using the medium.

Text message and leetspeak succeed at truncating language, but when the British Transport Police use it on their twitter feed [31], it comes across as a mix between incompetence and Orwellian newspeak. Language takes another form when reduced to data and “ASCII art” is a further manipulation of data to create visuals from text. Indeed there are many examples of computerised expressions for analogue animal experiences.

The final piece of film I present is the trailer George Lucas’s 1971 movie THX 1138 (the original un-remastered version).

A trailer is a feature-length film’s expressive collage which often misrepresents context and tone, however THX 1138’s edit encapsulates the jarring cuts between flesh and mineral, numbers and voices. The added narration recites that in this world, love is a perversion from an efficient system and uses repetition to emphasize its mechanical mantra. With the subtitle a love story filmed on location in the 21st centurythe film embodies the concept of a systematic society void passion, ideas and conflict. The eponymous character attempts to merely escape, with new feelings rather than to hopelessly overthrow this totalitarian nightmare, the reclamation of human emotion is the only real triumph in the story.

Lucas’s re-interference with his finalised works is much to the chagrin of his fans. Documentary film The People vs. George Lucas [32] gathers people who have equally been inspired by and disillusioned with Lucas’s world, to vent their frustration at his role as a merchandising architect and subculture puppeteer. In a 1988 Congressional speech he declared “People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians.” [33]He had a point, recent insertions of new movie advertisements into old episodes of How I Met Your Mother [34] is perhaps on par with Big Brother’s rewriting of history books, not that that TV show is art, but in principle it’s just wrong. Lucas, however, recently released the complete Star Wars collection on Blu-Ray with added CGI Ewok eyelids [35] and airbrushing in Hayden Christensen’s ghost into Return of the Jedi, so grief of the fan-base is understandable. However, many geeky digressions aside, Lucas’s first movie THX 1138 was also subject to revisited cannibalisation, and after much time scouring for the original copy, I have selected the trailer as the fourth example of man and machine’s self-constructed love affair. Like the other three films which explore personal consequences, THX 1138 goes further in its exploration of God as a machine. Futurama humorously blames the destruction of culture on technology whilst Lucas credits it with reshaping it beyond mortal recognition. The crux of this speculation is down to who the power belongs to.

As stated in …Machines of Loving Grace, even in equal networks power does not go away. The highly acclaimed (and frequently stated as best-TV-show-of-all-time) The Wire [36] explores as one of its many potent themes the changing symbiosis of power and technology. The cases brought against criminal organisations in the series are often upheld by the use of wire-tap surveillance technology and there is a frequent struggle to maintain the legal system, with the introduction of new technologies putting a strain on the chain of command. Detective McNulty’s methods of stepping outside of it to manipulate things for a greater good, as with the homeless serial killer fabrication (in the name of seeking better resources) in season 5 mirrors the philosophy of the God-like galactic cyber-entity from the Futurama episode Godfellas: “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” Technology is after all supposed to both empower and alleviate us from certain responsibilities. It depends on your point of view to whether this is playing god, or fighting for autonomy. The democratic state of the web could be seen as raising a generation of people who see the chain of command as obsolete because in the abstract techno-realm there is no hierarchy. We are used to pushing buttons and having our modest demands met, but this is not necessarily a good thing. Media monstrosity The X-Factor is an exercise in hivemind popularity but is heavily accused with playing a heavy hand in the cultural destruction of the music industry. This seems to be the price paid for this particular freedom of speech. Production-line pop music and pop-up advertising are inescapable, but resiliently ignored by many.

You will have to forgive my cynicism, as a child of digital age I am beset with the naivete, short attention-span, desire for instant gratification and awkward social skills attributed to my generation. I love this shit really, but I find it easier to construct my written thoughts through a tone of despair. I am passionate about my interests but cringe when analysing how too much of my existence is computer-orientated. I consider myself enormously lucky to be born in this fleeting timeslot of knowledge and potential, and not a shrivelled ignorant peasant being whipped to bloody ribbons by some sort of fascist Pharaoh overlord. Our only overlord is a mechanical mirror which I do not wish to turn on for all the liberties and information it showers down on us. The internet is truly a miracle of our own hands, I simply feel that we might start to evolutionarily lag because we are not designed to cope with our own designs. Perhaps I even possess a paranoid fear that the robots will revolt and we’ll all be Morlocks pushing buttons under a waining moon.

As someone who clicks refresh as a nervous response, this is a subject hazardously close to my ventricles. I broke off a long-distance relationship, pillared by Skype, Facebook and numerous mobile phones after feeling severed and ungrounded. I felt that this was an abnormal system of interaction and not a healthy method of personal maintenance, at least for something as intense as a romance thrust hundreds of miles apart. Technology has gifted us with the ability to stay close with people we struggle to coexist with, but as we alter our social efforts in accordance to the machines is this distant interaction not a perversion of our social norms? Is it safe to deconstruct our behaviour in such a way? Synchronising your life with someone in a technological structure leaves me feeling anxious yet robotic. I don’t want to be a robot, but biologically we all are, in vast shifting global ecosystem heading towards abstraction. The internet merely represents a vague self-awareness and a narrator to this delusion of complete freedom. We stare into a mirror and the mirror stares back.

By Theo Cleary

Bibliography

  1. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Tuckle (2011) Author’s Note: Turning Points, xi – Basic Books ISBN-10: 0465010210 / 0-465-01021-0 IBSN-13: 9780465010219 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alone-Together-Sherry-Turkle/dp/0465010210/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1322682898&sr=1-1
  2. Screen Burn by Charlie Brooker (2004) Conentious? Moi? 7/7/2000 & Sexual Swearwords 30/11/2000 – Faber and Faber ISBN-10: 0571227554 ISBN-13: 978-0571227556 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Screen-Burn-Charlie-Brooker/dp/0571227554/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1323626381&sr=1-1
  3. The Republic by Plato (380BC/2007) – Penguin Classics ISBN-10: 0140455116 ISBN-13: 978-0140455113 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Republic-Penguin-Classics-Plato/dp/0140455116/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1323626780&sr=1-1
  4. I turned 86 today… ragecomic by Anonymous http://memebase.com/2011/11/09/internet-memes-rage-comics-i-hope-you-get-headshot-by-grandpa/
  5. Making of All is Full of Love by Bjork & Chris Cunningham (1999) on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QReuUcQ_c9U
  6. Come to Daddy by Aphex Twin & Chris Cunningham (1997) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Az_7U0-cK0
  7. WindowLicker by Aphex Twin & Chris Cunningham (1999) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MBaEEODzU0
  8. Salad Fingers by David Firth (2004) http://www.fat-pie.com/flash.htm
  9. Dumbland by David Lynch (2002) http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=3172484887764151155
  10. Futurama created by Matt Greoning & David X. Cohen (1999)episodes: I Dated a Robot” S3E15 (2001) 3ACV15Proposition ∞” S6E04 (2010) 6ACV04A Fishful of Dollars” S1E06 (1999) 1ACV06Godfellas” S4E08 (2002) 3ACV20 http://theinfosphere.org/Episodes
  11. All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace written & directed by Adam Curtis (2011) BBCLove & Power”/The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts”/The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey” http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/all-watched-over-by-machines-of-loving-grace/
  12. Memento by Christopher & Jonathan Nolan (2000) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0209144/
  13. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895) – ISBN 0-89375-345-9 http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Time_Machine.html?id=KwYnUM-id1EC&redir_esc=y
  14. Dateline NBC: To Catch a Predator with Chris Hansen (2004) http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/catch-predator/
  1. Brass Eye written & directed by Chris Morris (1997) Channel 4 http://www.channel4.com/programmes/brass-eye/4od
  2. Watchmen (chapter IV) written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons and lettered by John Higgins (1987) DC ISBN-10: 1852860243 http://www.philobiblon.com/isitabook/comics/Watchmen1Medium.jpg
  3. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (2007) ISBN: 9780552773317 http://www.amazon.co.uk/God-Delusion-Richard-Dawkins/dp/055277331X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
  4. News Bureau Illinois: U of I Scholars Collecting, Analyzing Constitutions From Around the World (2007) http://news.illinois.edu/news/07/0212constitution.html
  5. The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey (1969) Avon Books – ISBN: 0380015390, 9780380015399 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Satanic-Bible-Peter-H-Gilmore/dp/0380015390/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1323692998&sr=8-1
  6. Anton LaVay: Legend and Reality by Zeena & Nikolas Schreck (1998) http://satanismcentral.com/aslv.html
  7. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1989) Oxford Paperbacks – ISBN-10: 0192860925 ISBN-13: 978-0192860927 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Selfish-Gene-Richard-Dawkins/dp/0192860925
  8. 2009 TIME 100 Finalists: moot http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1883644_1883653_1885481,00.html
  9. Poe’s Law on KnowYourMeme http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/poes-law
  10. KnowYourMeme on Encyclopedia Dramatica http://encyclopediadramatica.ch/Know_Your_Meme
  11. Computer Reaction Faces on KnowYourMeme http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/computer-reaction-faces/photos#.TrrQqM2oqkI
  1. chatroulette on KnowYourMeme http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/chatroulette-reactions
  2. No Fun by Eva and Franco Mattes (2010) http://www.0100101110101101.org/home/nofun/index.html
  3. The Social Network directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, based on The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich (2010) trailer  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lB95KLmpLR4
  4. Glitch art for the soundtrack of The Social Network by Rob Sheridan (2010) http://rob-sheridan.com/TSN/
  5. EverythingIsTerrible! (Collective founded in 2000) http://www.everythingisterrible.com/p/about.html
  6. British Transport Police‘s Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/btp_uk/status/141202380216733696
  7. The People vs. George Lucas directed by Alexander O. Philippe (2010) trailer on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aoc3roT81nU
  8. George Lucas‘s Congressional speech (1988) http://www.iwatchstuff.com/2011/09/george-lucass-1988-speech-about-preservi.php
  1. How I Met Your Mother changed to advertise Zookeeper (2007/2011) http://thedailywh.at/2011/07/06/how-about-that-of-the-day-18/
  2. Star Wars alterations for Blu-Ray release (2011) http://www.toplessrobot.com/2011/08/all_the_star_wars_blu-ray_changes_for_your_viewing.php
  3.  The Wire (season five) created by David Simon (2002-2008) http://www.metacritic.com/tv/the-wire/season-5

Bonus Material:

  1. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Stuart McMillen – Comparative comic between Brave New World and 1984 (2007)
    http://www.prosebeforehos.com/image-of-the-day/08/24/huxley-vs-orwell-infinite-distraction-or-government-oppression/
  2. Tetsuo: The Iron ManTrailer by Shinya Tsukamoto (1989) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uROMTzJsfOI and its ending: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=gwbSRuCD0xo
  3. Everything Was Better When You Were Twelve by Ruben Bolling (2007) http://scoutmaster.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/06/24/story.gif
  4. The Facebook Resisters – The New York Times (2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/technology/shunning-facebook-and-living-to-tell-about-it.html?_r=4&hp
  5. The AplphaVille Herald: Pandora’s Vox blog by Carmen Hermosill (2004) http://alphavilleherald.com/2004/05/introducing_hum.html

i accidentally the whole internet