Saturday, July 27, 2013

It's Mainly About Me

Here’s something you wouldn’t expect me to say – life is good.

I have days where I think my head is going to explode, but part of that is down to the fact that since Borderline Magazine finished I’ve largely lived my working life on autopilot and do you know, it made my brain stagnate. Because my focus was on sensible things and supporting people, the creative juices simply stopped flowing. For all my rhetoric about hating comics and all the surrounding stuff, I think that’s just me – never bloody happy with everything and vocal about it.

There are times, like sitting on the phone to the bank for 55 minutes on one of the hottest days of the year, when I get despondent and think all this legal and start up bullshit is doing my head in, but, you know, it’s just a bit of hassle and hopefully in the long run it will prove to be worthwhile. When some people tell me I’m mad or regale me with horror scenarios; or tell me that any comics publisher outside the top 4 loses more money than they make (then how are they still in business then?), my reaction is always the same. These companies are not me. These setbacks will be overcome by me. The hurdles will be jumped by me. The people at these rival publishers aren’t ME!
Just this once, it really is all about me.

So, I’m sitting here, on the patio, enjoying the rapidly clouding over last day of proper summer. The forecast for the next few weeks appears to the kind we’ve all gotten used to; cloud, rain and cooler temperatures. The heat wave hasn’t so much been burst as had a series of little pinpricks which have slowly allowed it to dissipate, by Monday, I reckon, it will be 20 degrees and at least I’ll be able to breathe again and return to my increasingly escalated fitness regime.

I’ve got Fuck Buttons blaring out in my headphones and there is much news that I have unbelievably neglected to mention…

The best wedding ever took place at Dodford Manor on Sunday 14th when Neil and Jenny got married on a baking hot day. I cannot remember a wedding that was so enjoyable and that so many people were blown away by. That’s my wife’s creative brother for you and in many ways it brought back memories of his twin brother’s funeral (Glynn would have loved to have been at Dodford) because that was the best funeral I’ve ever been to, so I suppose there was some symmetry involved and as my key word at the moment is ‘symmetry’ it’s fitting.

I posted about 100 photos up on Facebook and we took over 650 in all. Wonderful food, fabulous music, great hosts, excellent guests, sexy women, hot sunshine, unexpected guests and smiles all round. Welcome to the family Jen, you made a good choice (but so did Neil)!

The other big news is the new neighbours who have moved into the Dead Man’s house. The first thing you immediately notice is they are young, and they have a kid and another on the way and that he has this big fuck off customised van and she has a car and they have lots of friends and suddenly with Fishwife, the Lithuanians and the Noisy Woman and various other new additions up and down the street it’s no longer a nice quiet suburban street inhabited by people who appreciate peace and tranquillity. For the first time since we’ve lived here the streets are full of the noises of kids and frankly I fucking hate it and the sooner we have enough money to move to Kirkcudbright the better.

As for ‘Yoot Bwoy’ and his pregnant missus, the jury is out. I did here him talking on the phone to one of his homies hence why he has initially been christened Yoot Bwoy, because despite being as white as my arse he has that slightly cockney Jamaican patois, the one us middle aged old twonks just love…

So to recap: on the left is Fuckwit and Fat Girl; on the right is Fishwife and Fat Lass; over the road are, to the right Mr Miserable, the Lithuanians, Yoot Bwoy, The Token Black Family and then Weird Bloke and the Stranger daughter. These are essentially the houses I see from my office window. There is the Incest family next to Fuckwit and CinderNelly (must tell you about her at some point) next to Fishwife and the Noisy Family next to CinderNelly. Fat Lass actually called her CinderNelly and it stuck; she thinks she’s a princess and she looks like Dumbo.

Time has come for a business meeting. I shall resume this, if there’s any great need, later…

… Turned into a day later, because that’s what my life is like at the moment!

The best thing about this is my pessimism is failing; even my forecast that summer would be over today is wrong – despite a forecast that said torrential rain, thunderstorms and cooler temperatures, I’m out here on the patio again, in my shorts, looking at a largely clear sky apart from some very high cloud; with a bit of luck the shit weather will head east and today will be fabulous! [That was written a few hours ago; we've just had some extremely pleasant thunderstorms, even if the dogs are wigged out.]

Heck, I’m even pretty ambivalent about the coming football season – although I’m sure that will change once Spurs lose to Palace and various other shit teams (sorry Tim).

This weekend has already seen news about Borderline Press start to permeate the great hide of internet comics fandom and I hope by the middle of next week to increase my already burgeoning workload – doing this work is great, I love it.


I always said I would never use Borderline as a vanity project, but sometimes an opportunity is just too good to turn down and that’s how I’ve ended up writing the story for a book I’m going to publish next year. It is a tale of sadness and hope in a future world where humanity’s legacy is being maintained by the unlikeliest of sources. The artwork is fully painted and the artist is the magnificent Joanna Karpowicz, who is celebrating her birthday as I write this!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Touching Cotton

I suppose the odd thing is that this time last year I was writing about 3 blogs a week and probably boring people rigid with pointless meanderings about life from my patio.

I don't appear to have the time for frivolity at the moment. Setting up a new publishing business is unbelievably hard work beset by days of anger, days of frustration, days of elation and just days where all I seem to do is just go over old ground all the time. Don't get me wrong; I'm loving every minute of this new venture, even the setbacks and the knock backs.

I haven't felt so alive for 10 years.

Things are also beginning to move along. I have one definite project; two which aren't finished yet but I have first refusal on; a project that I appear to have volunteered myself to write - a children's book (which I am very excited about - despite my obvious reservations about publishing myself and the stigma attached to that); and I've started negotiation with a couple of people about producing collections of their web comics. And I also have my stumpy mitts involved in another children's book, but that won't be ready until 2014. Plus I continue to rebuild links, repair napalmed bridges and reconnect with people that for a number of years I believed I'd never have anything to do with! The initial plan was to have two or three books out just before Christmas and that plan is still very much on schedule!

It appears that the government accidentally allowed their Direct.gov website to have the link for a bogus company... I was looking for some government grants, to help with the set up of the company and I was directed towards a company called Business Grants - http://www.ukgrants.org.uk/ - who eventually offered me some money for web development on the proviso I paid something up front. My team of scrutinisers all warned me that something was dodgy about this and subsequent investigation has led to me believing that this is a bogus company, despite assurances from one of their 'customers' that they were okay.

A search on their registered address showed nothing. There was no phone number. No trading address. No way for anyone to get in contact with them other than an email address. No FRN - a 6-digit number they should have if they are a registered company (my company has one, why don't they?). But more importantly, not a single email has been answered from them since Tuesday when my alarm bells started going off. The only thing I can find about this company on line is a thread on a notice board about them being a con. That was enough for me to feel disheartened but also realistic; did I really expect this current government to give anything to new businesses or have affiliates that weren't dodgy?

***

It appears the summer could come to a crashing halt by next weekend. I know there are some who think this is a great thing, but I have a certain amount of sadness about it. England - my bits, anyhow - has looked like a proper summer. The fields are a lovely golden colour - which is nice when you've just seen green and grey for the last seven years - the fields are full of wild flowers and grasses that are having, if you'll excuse the expression, a real field day of growth and the late spring has meant that this country looks as good as it has for years. It is a pleasure to walk the dogs and be out in this heat and sun.

But... By Tuesday we'll be seeing those fabled thunderstorms that often follow decent weather and by next Saturday the forecast is for about 20 degrees; about 10 degrees cooler than what we've been used to. That said, I might be sitting here in shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt at the moment, but its cloudy and cool out there at the moment and part of me think that even if we see ridiculous temperatures over the next couple of days (35 in London tomorrow apparently), I think we've seen the end of summer until perhaps September. I just can't help thinking that August is going to be a cool washout. I have been wrong about the weather already this year, so we shall see.

The irony is that if we get cooler, low pressure driven weather, I breathe so much easier and I even get to sleep!

Of course, it could just be wishful thinking that the weather for the next 6 weeks is going to be crap; but I don't want people thinking I'm being pernicious...

***

When I was at the Youth Offending Service, I worked with a lot of very knowledgeable people - one of them was even the social worker for one of the Jamie Bulger killers until he was 18. I learnt an awful lot and one of the things I became aware of was that people who put child pornography on the internet are a) going to get caught and b) idiots.

David Cameron's desire to prevent any paedophiles accessing illegal material and roping in Google, Yahoo, Bing and all the others seems, on the surface, to be admirable. Except, you can't find child porn on the internet. It's hidden, in news groups, usenet and private - access only - sites that are disguised to be as innocuous as possible. Child porn is not pornography; it is a wholly different beast in its distribution and the people purveying this sad filth are experts and a lot more expert than Cameron's self-appointed web gurus.

The cynic in me has seen torrent sites banned by my ISP because there is a fear that the 2% of the population who illegally download stuff will rob the world of vital finance (but these places spring up again two days later under a different website allowing those 2% to carry on regardless) and now the proposal to ban all pornography sites, which, of course, will result in them just moving themselves around. Look at Pirate Bay - every time Virgin or BT ban them, they pop up with a new site somewhere else; that gets banned and they pop up again. The one key factor here is that if you use Pirate Bay to download the torrents file you need and they have been blocked, a quick search on ... a search engine ... and you'll find a mirror site that hasn't been banned - ad infinitum. If you can't find a mirror, you'll find another torrents site, offering the same service (until they are shut down and someone else steps in). Have I said 'ad infinitum' already?

China has all kinds of problems monitoring the Internet. It is believed that for every 70 people they prevent from going to places the Chinese government don't want them near, 30 people have already found a way round it and are viewing things via a proxy server.

Could it be that Cameron is so desperate to impose bans and barriers on the Internet because more now than ever before anti-government rhetoric is rife on the net. As more and more people become hooked on the net, more and more are exposed to anti-government 'propaganda'. Hiding behind 'child pornography' as an excuse is almost cowardly.

Incidentally, if you want to stamp out child porn, shut down Usenet. Oh, it's a US creation and 70% of the users are from the USA. That isn't going to happen then...

***

It's Monday now. After a dull weekend, the sun is out, the temperature is rising and we're going to melt. Great innit?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Kick in the Teeth

I have a real moral dichotomy with Kickstarter. If you’re a musician without a record label, an amateur without a publishing contract or just a wannabe with some chutzpah, then if you can persuade people in this current climate to part with cash you deserve to get what you ask for and produce the thing you’re promising.

However, if you are independently wealthy and you view Kickstarter as a way to do something you are not confident about spending your own money on, then I start to have a serious problem. I actually find it morally reprehensible for a rich person to use Kickstarter, because, you know, you don’t fucking need to. I actually have a serious problem with anyone who has money resorting to this kind of ‘begging’ – it’s an insult to all the people who genuinely ‘need’ your money because they can’t afford to do it. You could argue that if they can’t afford it then they have no right to do it, but what’s the point of Kickstarter if it’s just going to be for people who would rather use your money than their own?

I first got pissed off about this new kind of funding stream when some US producer managed to, in my humble opinion, scam $2.5million to do a movie based on a failed TV show. I read in comments on blogs and Tumblr about this and kind of gave a silent cheer when people started suggesting that the $2.5m might have been better spent on charitable concerns, because you know, raising that kind of money to finance a film isn’t going to put food on the table of the poor. But that’s a different issue and nerds and geeks will justify their passion even if it means someone dies of starvation in a country that isn’t in Africa.

The thing that has tweaked my ire this time around is actually two things. The first is the fact I spent nearly an entire day putting together, filling in and ensuring the application for a grant to help my new business was faultless only to discover a week later that it had been rejected and a reason was not offered – the people who dish out new business grants don’t actually tell you why they’ve rejected your application, so you don’t know what to do ‘right’ next time you want to be rejected…
A friend suggested I go to Kickstarter and I looked at him like he’d just suggested shagging me or my wife. The logic behind my reasons for not thinking this was viable were clear – I’m setting up a limited company, I dread to think what the bullshit involved in getting independent funding for it from a thousand people might entail – it’s bloody hard enough at the moment without muddying the waters even more.

The other reason was one I didn’t go into. I had just read an interview with a famous writer who claimed that Kickstarter was the way forward; the way for things to be done, now and in the future – presumably with no threat to his own bank balance? This is where I have a massive problem; a friend said he saw a project by Zack Braff on there; you know the guy, he was in Scrubs for years, makes indie films and I’m thinking probably is quite independently wealthy… So why is he wanting to gamble with your money? And more importantly, why are people allowing him to gamble with their money when he clearly has enough of his own?

I know a musician whose Kickstarter was a success and it allowed him to record his first album in years; 1000+ fans were delirious and it helped fund some tours and the chance of another new album in the coming year or so. This guy hadn’t been near a label in years and the best he could do was probably some bedroom tapes sent to a small but select mailing list – suddenly the 1980s has been reinvented… But the point is I believe that if 1000+ people paid for his new album, got it and everyone was happy then fine, they have something for their investment even if it could have been an album of him farting into a goat’s mouth. Would he have released that album without Kickstarter? Probably not. Could Zack Braff do his project without Kickstarter? Probably with the small change in his wallet.

I’m not suggesting Kickstarter should prevent wealthy people from making the same appeals as amateurs or poor people, but I do sort of think there should be a disclaimer that says, “You are aware that this is an independently wealthy individual asking for you to take the risk on his idea rather than him use any of his extensive wealth!?” Then if people want to invest in it, then they deserve everything they might get.

***

Summer has been going strong for nearly two weeks now and the forecast suggests that it could last at least two more weeks. I said not so long ago that this year reminds me of 1975, the year people forget because they were either not born or 1976 is far more prominent. 1975 was a late, long hot summer. If we’re following those kind of patterns, then 2014 is going to molten.

The irony is that for most of the last fortnight I have struggled to breathe very well; it’s in weather like this that COPD really plays its hand and despite having wonderful weather when we were in Scotland last year, it was much easier to breathe because we were by the coast. This has made us change our long term plans again…

Our dream when we were in our 30s was to go and live in the West Highlands; but during our 40s we decided that this was impractical as a retirement idea, especially with Mr Healthy here. Dorset became the new favourite, but then we saw how many snobs lived there so we scrubbed that idea. After spending a glorious week in Wigtown last August, we’ve changed to moving to the south west of Scotland and probably not after we retire! If my business takes off, it doesn’t matter where I am as long as I have space and broadband, so it like doesn’t matter where I am…

I’m sitting here writing this on the patio; the temperature is already 30 degrees and it’s not 11.30 yet. I’m sweating like a rancid clunge and we have a weekend full of stuff, the centrepiece of which is the wife’s brother Neil and his wedding to the lovely Jenny. Those of you who have known us for years will probably be amazed that Neil is getting married, what with him only being 7, but of course he’s only been 7 in my eyes; he’s even younger in the wife’s! He is now 37 and the weather forecast is perfect for what we hope will be as auspicious as day as the one I had on September 13th 1986.

Effercio et Ineptias

·         There might be podcasts…
·         Listening to Triple S on the headphones; it’s wonderful Teutonic ambient wibbling about Antarctica and is absolutely perfect as background music.
·         I am reading nothing at the moment; I have been listening to Salem’s Lot on this here netbook as an audiobook.
·         We’ve had strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb so far this summer. We had four redcurrants and we’ll have a lot of blackcurrants. The spuds look patchy. The tomatoes are better than I have ever seen then, as are the beetroots. We have four strange things growing among said beetroots – they look like spinach, taste a bit like spinach but are developing large white bulbs – like white beetroot – at the bases. It’s generating a lot of fun speculation and I want to eat one!
·         I’ve just about given up on television…

Sunday, July 07, 2013

A New Book Review

NOS 4R2
by Joe Hill

I struggled with this book at first; it seemed... bitty. It jerked around a lot; there was a lot being told and it had a quality about it that suggested the writer was born into the MTV generation - which, indeed, he was. It was also different than his previous novels (which one hopes will be the case), but it was different in that I struggled to continue reading it for a while because it made me feel uncomfortable.

It is a book that parents should avoid, because it plays on just about every fear a parent has and doesn't offer one shred of redemption from those fears. You read it almost knowing that there isn't going to be a happy ending; that this is Joe Hill's Pet Semetary, the book so many people love that was written by his father and offers nothing but death, despair and cold relentless end. NOS 4R2 does that almost from the first word; it's harsh, uncompromising and very, very unlike his father's books, despite being a horror novel.

Stephen King doesn't write books like this; books with a world view; books that contain real characters that are shown unreal things and simply cannot comprehend them. In King's novels, the weird happens and people, kind of, accept it. Even something as 'worldly' as Under the Dome it was about the people coping rather than the reaction from the other side of the barrier; this book plunges the real world into an impossible situation and it's what makes the book shine so brightly.

I have just finished NOS 4R2 and I still can't shake the feeling that there are probably thousands of holes in it; also that I shouldn't care about characters who have not been created the way his dad creates characters; these are no rich tapestries of humanity, Hill tells us what we need to know, the rest is unimportant (and I liked that too).

I will give no spoilers except to say that at the end the tears were in my eyes. Also, it does something really clever, so clever you will laugh despite it not being a funny thing. It also allows the 'real world' to accept that 'something' happened but to carry on regardless, which is why at some point, at the end, you know the book has to finish, because the epilogue would open a beer barrel full of worms (and probably worms with teeth) and I'm not sure how anyone in reality would deal with the unreality of it all.

It is a really creepy, scary and almost slapstick book. The villains are both very, very nasty and yet behave at times like the Chuckle Brothers doing Burke & Hare. The main protagonists are all really likeable and it all fits together really well and at the end you look at the book and wonder why his dad couldn't write something so good. Don't get me wrong, there are Stephen King books that piss on this from a great height, but there hasn't been a King book since (imho) Insomnia that is as good as this (albeit for different reasons).

You know when a critic calls a book 'a roller coaster of a ride'? Well, this is. A quite brilliant book, with a superb and spectacular denouement and a simply perfect ending.

9½ out of 10