Walking In The Air

So, before Christmas, we took the kids to the National Concert Hall to see ‘The Snowman’. It was a great show, with the half-hour film as the main event, but also featuring the Spotlight Stage School doing some excellent renditions of Disney tunes – although there were a few strange choices, given the range they had to choose from. There was also some carol singing (including a couple where the audience had to do the singing in true karaoke style) and a flying – or rather ‘cycling’ – visit from Santa Claus.Snowman-Raymond Briggs

Watching the film again after all those years, I was struck not only by Raymond Briggs’ lovely story, but also the gorgeous animation, directed by Dianne Jackson. In these days of computer-generated animation, it’s hard to appreciate just how challenging a film like that would be to make. The sheer drawing technique involved in the flowing backgrounds, changing perspectives and the naturalistic rendering took my breath away when I first saw ‘The Snowman’ onscreen.

Seeing the film again, this time accompanied by the live orchestra, brought it to life once more. It was a joy to witness. Briggs’ work and the characters he creates have always had a piercing simplicity. If you ever want to see a funnier, but far more haunting example of his work adapted for film, you should check out ‘When the Wind Blows’. Storytelling at its best, but Disney it definitely ain’t.

On a brief negative note, I was disappointed to discover that neither Raymond Briggs’ nor Dianne Jackson’s names appeared anywhere in the programme for the concert. A shocking omission.

I’ve also just finished Tim Hamilton’s comic adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’. I went through a real Bradbury phase for a while (I had a lot of book phases) and Hamilton’s comic version of this classic book does it justice. Fahrenheit451This is a thoughtful work with dark, dramatic undertones about a man whose job it is to burn books because they are considered a danger to the state. It’s about how he starts questioning what he’s doing, and how those doubts put his own life in danger. And those questions about where culture is going are just as relevant now, as they were in the 1950’s.

Like all good sci-fi (and Bradbury has written across many genres), he questioned what kind of future we would end up in, if we continued along our present paths. Hamilton’s stark, brusque style of artwork suits the story really well. It’s a little bit ‘tell, don’t show’ for a comic adaptation, but well worth a read. For a rather more violent, stylized and Matrix-style (but still fun and thought-provoking) take on the story, check out ‘Equilbrium’, starring Christian Bale.

Crash-JG BallardI’m in the middle of reading ‘Crash’ by JG Ballard. Definitely not for younger readers, or anybody with a delicate disposition or a weak stomach . . . or just about anyone of a vaguely uptight nature. But it is great, compelling writing from one of the masters in our field. Made into an eerie but engrossing film by David Cronenburg back in the 90’s, its themes of mankind’s obsession with and bonding with technology and how it affects relationships are, like Bradbury’s, all the more relevant today.

Dark Imaginations

It’s probably fitting that I was reading some of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories over Halloween, as he was truly the grandaddy of modern horror. Any secondary school student can tell you that writing in the nineteenth century was a little wordy and long-winded for modern tastes. But with no television, radio, cinema or console games, they had plenty of time to kill, so writers could take their time telling a story.

Edgar Allan PoeIn a world where modern audiences demand punchy, fast-paced stories, Poe’s tales can sometimes seem awkward and unwieldy by comparison. But back in his day, he set the standard for the bizarre. And his influence has reached up from the grave to affect all of us writing this kind of stuff today.

Many of Poe’s creations have been deposed by more recent stories, but he laid the foundations for many future tales of mystery, suspense, horror, sci-fi and fantasy and the just-plain-weird. Look at that picture, you can just see it in his face, can’t you? That’s a haunted man if ever I saw one.

He created C. Auguste Dupin, before Doyle gave us the remarkably similar Sherlock Homes. He wrote ‘The Oval Portrait’ before Oscar Wilde penned his classic tale of a soul captured in a painting in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. In ‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar’, Poe created a zombie. He influenced writers like Herman Melville and Jules Verne  – Verne  was so taken with one of Poe’s books, ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket’, that he actually wrote a sequel to the tale of the adventures of a stowaway aboard a whaling ship.

EAP-Tales of MysterySo if you’re young and you find the language of the nineteenth century a bit heavy going at times, that’s only natural. We speak and write differently now – but it is just the language. Poe’s stories have still stood the test of time. They’ve been made into comics, radio plays and films. Even two hundred years after his birth, he can still weave an eerie atmosphere, paint a picture in your mind – he can keep you riveted and leave you feeling just a little bit disturbed. Respect is due to Mr Poe.

I’ve been indulging in a bit of nostalgia too, with a collected edition of stories from ‘Battle’, an action-packed war comic I read as a kid. Battle CoverThey had a great culture of researching stories well and a human, gritty style that many other comics of the time lacked. Most of the ones in this book are from before I started reading the comic, but it’s still a treat to see the likes of ‘Charley’s War’, ‘Johnny Red’ and ‘The Rat Pack’.

And last but not least for now, I got to meet and have dinner with Dave McKean the other day, when he came to Easons bookshop on O’Connell Street, in association with CBI. I’ve loved McKean’s work ever since reading ‘Arkham Asylum’ and seeing the work he did for Vertigo Comics back in the 90’s (although I only read Gaiman’s iconic ‘Sandman’ comics as a series much later).

Arkham AsylumHis mixture of superb drawing, painting, collage and photography helped change the face and perception of comics and threw the challenge down in front of every other artist to buck up their ideas. For me, comic art grew up when I saw work like McKean’s. Now he works in children’s books and we’re glad to have him. If you haven’t seen his illustrations in Neil Gaiman’s and David Almond’s books, you are truly missing out.

That’s it for the moment (it was another long one, wasn’t it?). Back soon with some news on the work and where I’ve been.

Animated, Dead and Ukrainian

I’ve been a fan of Pixar’s films ever since I first saw ‘Luxor Junior’, ‘Knick Knack’ and ‘Tin Toy’ in college (before Pixar was bought by Disney). I think John Lasseter’s company was the first to give computer generated imagery the human touch.Luxo Junior Since then, they have gone on to produce such varied wonders as the ‘Toy Story’ films, ‘Monsters Inc’. ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Wall-E’.

There are very few film-making companies for whom it can be said that they have never put a foot wrong. With ‘Up’, Pixar have once again proven that beyond all the high-tech imagery, the flawless animation and Disney hype, they truly are master storytellers. I loved this film, from the light-hearted but moving opening, to the spectacular flight of the house, the mismatched heroes, the talking dogs, the weird bird and the hilarious action sequences (I nearly wet myself seeing the boy smeared across the windscreen of the airship). The people at Pixar are geniuses. Long may it last.

The Graveyard BookAnother master storyteller, though one with a very different style, who has also moved into the film medium more than once, is Neil Gaiman. His latest children’s novel, ‘The Graveyard Book’ is one of his best. Filled with his trademark imaginative magic and that sense of chilling child-like wonder which makes you wonder what kind of bedtime stories he tells his kids, ‘The Graveyard Book’ is a great story. I’ve just seen the movie version of ‘Coraline’ too, and though I thought the book told the story better, the end is proper spooky.

And finally, for now, you should check out this video of Ukrainian artist Kseniya Simonova’s fantastic sand painting. A kind of performance illustration, it is hugely impressive to watch and very moving in places. Amazing what you can do with sand and a light-box.

Away I Went To The Pictures

I mentioned the film ‘District 9’ in an earlier post, but I’ve just started creating categories, so I’m going to mention it again here; an offbeat, riveting sci-fi thriller set in South Africa. It’s one third social commentary to two thirds violent bio-tech-charged chase sequence. Giant Under The Snow CoverGot to the cinema again recently – rare for me to get out twice in as many weeks – and saw ‘Away We Go’, directed by Sam Mendes and written by Dave Eggers. Definitely for mature viewers (you know who you are), it’s a slow-paced, almost aimless film that revels in character and dialogue rather than plot, but it’s well worth a watch.

If you haven’t read Dave Eggers’ ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’, then you’re missing out on a true literary treat.

I recently read ‘The Giant Under The Snow’ again, and was delighted to find it every bit as atmospheric and spellbinding as I did when I was a kid. A great book for readers young and old.