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Guest Post by Andrez Bergen
2013 was, for me, a year of comic book reacquaintance verging on renaissance.
It was (and still is, at least for a few more days) the year I finally dug in heels to read and indulge in the absolute pleasures of Alan Moore’s Watchmen (art by Dave Gibbons) and V for Vendetta (with David Lloyd).
I brushed up on Jim Steranko’s entire run with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1966-68), went back to the late ’70s basics of Judge Dredd that I barely remember thanks to The Complete Case Files 01, spent glorious time with Will Eisner’s The Spirit and such femme fatales as P’Gell and Sand Saref, and then re-examined the 1960s development of The Avengers and Thor.
2013 was that kind of moment.
This might come as no surprise to those who know I published my third novel Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? in September — a noir/pulp-flavoured mystery that’s heavily influenced by 1940s (Golden Age), 1960s (Silver Age) and early 1980s (Bronze Age) comic books.
Thing is, I finished tarting up that manuscript in February and most of the comics reading has come since wrapping it.
Call me reignited with the four-colour passion.
And this, after years of estrangement from contemporary American and British comic books.
Over the past decade or so I’d stayed afloat via endless re-reads of Jack Kirby/Stan Lee Fantastic Four and Captain America from the 1960s, Roy Thomas & Barry Smith’s work with Conan in the early ’70s, Byrne/Claremont’s dawning 1980s X-Men, and Frank Miller’s mid ’80s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
Plus all the manga surrounding me over here in Japan.
So it’s been a revelation to step back into the fray, discovering Western sequential art new, old and middle-aged alike.
Of the recent, the standout American title has been All-New X-Men by Brian Bendis & Stuart Immonen, even if I sometimes get frustrated with the pacing and characterizations. Mostly this has been a romp. I also dig what Gail Simone & Walter Geovani are doing with Red Sonja.
Back in Australia the indie comic book scene is booming far more than it did when I lived there, with some great titles including Ben Michael Byrne’s Kranburn and Craig Bruyn’s From Above.
Also look out for the diverse work of fellow Aussies Paul Mason, Matt Nicholls, Bernard Caleo, Paul Bedford and Frank Candiloro.
2013 saw my own baby-steps in comic book activity, since I had sequential stories published in collaboration with artists Drezz Rodriguez, Andrew Chiu, Michael Grills, Marcos Vergara and Nathan St. John, and did my own art and story for another. These came out in The Tobacco-Stained Sky, The Condimental Op and Uncanny Adventures.
Best of all, I finally got to publish my first comic book in collusion with fellow Melbourne artist Matt Kyme — who’s been an absolute revelation to work with.
This is a guy who improves leaps and bounds with every frame he draws, and is able to channel old school artists like Kirby and Eisner without ever once coming across derivative. I love what he does, his sensibilities, and the fact we bounce off one another like well-aligned elastic bands.
In between, while doing press for Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, I’ve been blessedly enabled to share email words of “wisdom” with Roy Thomas, Joe Sinnott, Steranko’s manager, and Robin Snyder — who works extensively with comic book legend Steve Ditko.
Oh, and by the way, in case you think I gush too much, there were some bombs in this annual reading matter.
However you may look at it, some of the new stuff filtering through from Marvel and DC lacks… soul, since I’m clutching at the right word to use. This material is invariably slick and gorgeous to look at, but polished up too much and occasionally comes across banal. Look to your roots, guys — there’s no harm in employing a rear vision mirror while addressing the future. Dust adds depth.
And the other reading matter, especially the ’60s Avengers and Thor, too often came across as over-worked staff putting on a listless soap opera drama in which dames are weak and the men sprout the same lines each issue. Not to fault the art so much, but the scripts and dialogue pale when compared with the Fantastic Four material from the same era.
The X-Men post-John Byrne, in the latter half of the 1980s especially, was a suffering slog since Chris Claremont appears to have sunk into repeat-mode and the artists never matched Byrne at his peak.
The graphic novel covering the Supergirl revamp in 1996 by Peter David and Gary Frank was basically a waste of time that I struggled to finish, and I wasn’t so impressed with Mark Waid’s rejig in 2011 of Daredevil with artists Paolo Rivera & Marcos Martin.
A far superior dram was returning to Frank Miller’s Daredevil of issues 168-182 (1981-82) thanks to Daredevil Visionaries – Frank Miller, Vol. 2, which was better than I remembered — and I already held it up to nostalgically high standards.
And digging up older still material from the 1940s — lesser-known characters such as Bulletgirl and Tarpé Mills’ Miss Fury — has been another highlight for the year.
The joys do continue somewhat unabated.
I’ve just found out that Titan Books will be putting out a collection next year from essential 1970s British comic Action (featuring such mad romps as ‘Hook Jaw’ and ‘Death Game 1999’) — and I hear Santa Claus is going to gift me with an omnibus by Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill that I haven’t yet read.
Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?
With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.
Today I am joined by author, Andrez Bergen, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.
* * * * *
Inception by Hans Zimmer. Let it be known that Zimmer’s work with Terence Malick (The Thin Red Line) and Christopher Nolan (the Batman movies) were scores I loved so much I had them on repeat hundreds of times, I sampled them in my own music, and they have influenced some of my writing. He’s also done a lot of crap. The German composer’s soundtrack for Inception therefore had to be insanely good to win me over – and it did. Sad, nostalgic and rousing all at one, there’s a rough, raggedly layered quality to the work. Superb stuff.
The Third Man, by Anton Karas, who single-handedly (with his zither) scored Carol Reed’s 1947 film noir classic. Word has it the Austrian worked up to 14 hours a day for twelve weeks to produce the soundtrack, using a stringed central European instrument until then largely unknown. Definitely most memorable here is ‘The Harry Lime Theme’ — which is used as the train platform melody at Ebisu Station in Tokyo. It’s a remarkable, mesmerizing tune that conjures up images of, well, Orson Welles (in his younger days) with a smug smile as he settles back to talk cuckoo clocks. And there’s nothing better than that.
Ran, by Toru Takemitsu. I love most of the soundtrack music utilized by Akira Kurosawa, especially from Fumio Hayasaka (Drunken Angel & Seven Samurai), but for Ran (1985) he inducted Takemitsu, a man who composed music for over 100 films in 40 years. Renowned as a hands-on composer who acclimatized himself with the on-set action during filming, Takemitsu’s work on Ran is a piece of art that fully compliments the movie it defines. Most striking are the moments of absolute silence while all hell breaks loose on-screen. The “found” sounds of reality, here, are soundtrack unto themselves.
The Italian Job, by Quincy Jones. You know, I very nearly slotted in the score for the 007 film You Only Live Twice in here, which I do cherish, until I noticed that Todd Stadtman had already done so in his version of Liner Notes. So let’s look at another British production from the swinging ’60s, made two years after Sean Connery hit Japan. Instead we get Michael Caine (as Charlie Croker) waltzing around Italy, and swap Bernard Lee’s M for Noel Coward’s Mr. Bridger. But it’s the theme music — put together by the great Quincy Jones, 36 at the time – that makes this film stand out. Jones has worked with people as disparate as Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Michael Jackson, and he did the soundtracks for In Cold Blood and The Anderson Tapes. The opening credits song here, ‘On Days Like These’, with lyrics by Don Black (a regular on the James Bond movies) and vocals by Matt Monroe (From Russia With Love), is a sublime number that lulls the senses — cue suave gent in wraparound shades and a cigarette in his mitt, heading out for a Sunday drive along a scenic mountain route. That is, until he heads into a tunnel and collides with a carefully placed Mafia tractor. Later on, after a successful, often hilarious bank heist, the film winds up with the bus hooning around corners and mountainous cliffs to the dulcet tones of the Cockney-inspired ‘Get A Bloomin’ Move On’. Perfect bookends to a perfect movie.
Mothra, by Yuji Koseki. Again, this was a last minute decision as I originally thought to field Akira Ifukube’s rousing score for 1954’s Godzilla. But there’s something enchanting about this wildly original soundtrack put together by Koseki, otherwise most famous for composing a baseball song for Japan’s second most-popular team, the Hanshin Tigers. Probably this enchantment has much to do with vocalists The Peanuts (twin sisters Emi and Yumi Ito) who also star in the flick. Their song ‘Mosura ya Mosura’, with an extra-added Polynesian influence and the lyrical handiwork of Ishiro Honda (director of both Godzilla and Mothra), is all tribal drums and a reverberating vocal hook, making it one of the catchiest riffs to hallmark a movie.
Andrez Bergen is an expat Australian writer, journalist, DJ, photographer and ad hoc beer and saké connoisseur who’s been entrenched in Tokyo, Japan, for the past 11 years. He published the noir/sci-fi novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat in 2011 and just published his second tome, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude through Perfect Edge Books.
He’s currently working on #3, titled Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?
Bergen has also published short stories through Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Snubnose Press, ‘Pulp Ink 2’, Another Sky Press and Solarcide, and worked on translating and adapting the scripts for feature films by Mamoru Oshii, Kazuchika Kise and Naoyoshi Shiotani.
I do not know anything about science fiction noir – beyond Riddley Scott’s Blade Runner. Of course I am talking about the original release which had the voice-over narration by Harrison Ford, not the plethora of director’s cuts and re-releases since 1982. I remember at the time, I actually tried to read Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep – which was the basis for the film Blade Runner. The thing is, science fiction isn’t really my bag, and I didn’t know what the hell was going on – so I wandered away from that one, more than a little confused (it’s nothing like the film).
However, hard-boiled detective fiction is something that I am familiar with, having read my share of Chandler, Spillane and Hammett. All of which are perfect preparatory tools to Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, which is a retro pop culturist’s dream come true – and fairly entertaining to boot.
The story, which is set in Melbourne, Australia, some time in the future, concerns a fellow named Floyd, who, when his wife becomes ill and racks up extensive medical bills, is coerced into employment as a ‘Seeker’. And despite the Melbourne setting, being a ‘Seeker’ has nothing to do with singing ‘Georgy Girl’ or ‘The Carnival is Over’.
A Seeker is a bit like a cop, and their job is to hunt down ‘Devs’ – Deviants. But unlike other Seekers, Floyd is not particularly trigger happy, and as the story begins, he has never killed a Dev in the execution of his duties – which makes him unique.
Floyd hates his job, and sees the hypocrisy in the system he works for, and this eats away at him. To deal with it, he drinks, smokes and takes pills – all ceaselessly and immoderately. This kind of lifestyle leads to a blurred state of mind, part dream, part reality – but all, a living hell. Nearly all of his relationships end up bad, with both his love interest, a woman named ‘Laurel’ Canyon, being relocated (which is a polite way of saying she has been instutionalised as a suspected ‘Dev’), and a friend, a professional cricketer, taken away by the ‘Cricket Police’, for missing a training session.
The world, or all that is left of it – which is Melbourne – is essentially a police state, and the only thing that stops Floyd from being carted away, is that he is one of the policiers – and even then he appears to be walking a tightrope.
If your a fan of the series Department S (and why wouldn’t you be?), the chapter entitled ‘jack your kitsch up’ will delight you no end. Our hero, Floyd and his partner Hank, are preparing to go into Richmond area – which is now a no-go zone – to track down five heavily armed Devs. Along for the ride area television crew, to film the incursion. The television network covering this incursion is ITC. The reporter on the scene is a man named Montgomery Berman, the camera operator is Stew Sullivan and their assistant is a young girl called Anabelle. For those who don’t remember, Monty Berman was one of the creators of Department S (he was also a co-producer of The Saint, with Roger Moore). And in the series Department S, Stewart Sullivan was the name of the character played by Joel Fabiani, and Anabelle Hurst was played by Rosemary Nicols. You’re forgiven for not remembering Sullivan or Rosemary, as they were overshadowed by Peter Wyngarde as the flamboyant Jason King.
This operation opens up a new world for Floyd. Once the footage of the operation is shown on TV, he becomes a minor celebrity, and he is promoted to being what is called an ‘Observer’. An Observer watches operations from the wings, with news crews gathered around – and Floyd is expected to comment on the operations for the news services.
The villain of the piece is the head honcho for an evil big business conglomerate named Hylax – think ‘Big Brother’. His name is Wolram E. Deaps, which is an anagram of Marlowe Spade. Philip Marlowe being the battered hero in many of Raymond Chandler’s hard boiled mysteries, and Sam Spade being the hero of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Of course, both Marlowe and Spade were played by Humphrey Bogart in celebrated movies made in the 1940s.
As I suggested earlier, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat is a retro pop culturist’s dream – and while that delighted me no end, and if you’ll forgive the self indulgence (and ego trip), I probably have watched and read more of the in-joke material referenced in the story than the majority of readers (and I am sure I missed some of the references). And therefore I would assume many other readers may find these references fly over their head, or at worst seem to be padding, or down right confusing. There is a glossary at the back, which outlines the many sources, but if you are not familiar with the source material to begin with, knowing its title, isn’t much good.
Some of you are probably wondering about the title itself, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat? It’s a line lifted from the movie That Certain Feeling, starring Bob Hope, Eva Marie Saint, and George Sanders. In the film, Sanders refers to a dog as a ‘Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat’. Said goat can be seen on the poster on the right.
So with that, I will leave it for you to decide. If you’re knowledgeable about George Sanders, Chandler, Bogart, Siamese Vodka, Hitchcock and more, then this may be the book you’re looking for. If not, you may find it confusing, and full of pointless chatter. I hope that makes sense?
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Or you can order it online from Another Sky Press for $4.74 + P&H. Note, Another Sky has a great philosophy – providing a trade paperback at the cost price of production, but encouraging readers to “donate” more if they believe the artist behind the book deserves it.