Monday, 29 September 2008

The Spirit: Showcased by Frank Miller

“Hollywood breeds very many male actors and very few… men.” Frank Miller, commenting on his choice of Gabriel Macht for the lead role.

Contrasting dramatically with the polished wooden delivery of the film company’s marketeers, Frank Miller’s passion for his project is equalled only by his dry humour – and by his anecdotal respect for his own Spirit, that of writer Will Eisner, who penned the original comic in 1940.

Whether it’s faith, fear or homage, the 40s feel is woven through the film. In Miller’s hands, it’s been fused with his ‘Sin City’ style cinematography to make his lead character an icon of the past in a story of the future. You expect him to wear a raincoat and communicate by matchbook; you expect him to encounter a dazzling array of gorgeous damsels and femmes fatales – you don’t expect his bloodslash tie, his urban parkour, or his – erm – footwear.

The trailer is a jumble of black, white and red, of sex and violence, drama and desperation; it’s oddly formulaic. Only after Miller lifts the screen and allows us to glance underneath it does its dark magic manifest.

He tells us the story, illuminating crucial points with crucial footage. The ‘love scene’ is dark, outrageously sexual, with an unexpected narrative twist that has more impact than a naked Eva Mendes. The ‘showdown scene’ is deliciously violent, vicious, shocking – but very comic book, and very funny.

The past-and-future, blend-and-contrast though, is iconised by the ‘clone scene’. It’s fantastical, the clones evocative of the goons in early Adam West ‘Batman’. Scarlett Johanssen’s breasts provide a fascinating backdrop to the Octopus’ latest experiment; it manages to be conventional, controversial, futuristic, humorous, creepy and sexy… all without losing the theme and integrity of the film.

It’s lighter than either ‘Sin City’ or ‘300’; a bubbling brew of seduction, violence and genetic experimentation that Miller subtly stirs with his speech. He’d opened by commenting that he and Eisner creatively disagreed for 25 years; he closes with an impression of his inspiration and mentor – the man he’d always felt was looking over his shoulder. ‘It’s too modern’ he grumbles, his body hunched under his hat, ‘And where’s all the colour?’

It may be too modern for Will Eisner – and perhaps too ‘Dick Tracy’ for fans of ‘Robocop’ – but The Spirit has rather haunted me. Sold by Frank Miller by his love of his project, his inspiration and his city – seeing the film through the eyes of the Director is a way to see it in its finest form.

Roll on, January 2009!

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Better Vader: Designed

This is a repost of a guest post for; my response to the Design a Better Vader competition. The full results and opinions of the other judges can be found here.

There you are, a scarred and battered Anakin yours to mould. You can do anything with him – anything! – change his face, his body, his gender, her image, its impact. You can remake the Ultimate Villain into whatever you want… an armoured giant, a perfect beauty, a sex toy…

Being asked to judge a competition like this means you have to make a tough choice. You know that the ten semi-finalists will all be arse-kickingly good – and you know you have to pick the best ones. It’s a hard selection – but as the Emperor threatened my son with incarceration in the Spice Mines of Kessel, I had no option: -

Forbidden Planet is about being different. For my three, I chose to look for those who’d thought outside the armour – who’d actually broken or changed the classic Vader mould and done something new with the Anakin canvas.

My second runner up is No 6 because it’s androgynous – even inhuman. I like the strong use of simple colour and the stance… and (oh yes all right) I like the weapon. Forbidden Planet aside for a moment, the Viking in me is still a bit of an ordnance freak and giving the New Vader a New Weapon seemed an integral part of the creation. It’s strong, and striking and simple – and carries the right sense of presence and fear.

My first runner up is No 9. It references Vader in the caricature helm and armour, but I love the play on Master Yareal Poof (the position of the lightsaber didn’t go unnoticed – no, I’ve never worked out how he managed to fight either!) and the comical contrast of a belly that would better on Selbulba. It’s sharp, well-drawn and insightful – and the wristwatch on the chest gives it a comedy-steampunk look that ties it all in perfectly.

My winner is No 10 – am image that has taken the traditional Vader and made him darker, more evil, less human. I love the picture – it’s gothic, dramatic, sinister – and it’s the one that’s made me think. Not about his WarHammer –esque appearance – but about how changes in his construction would change his character, would change the story in Episodes IV though VI, and change the whole Universe of Star Wars as we know it.

Could you imagine this Vader being mushy about his Jedi son?

If you’re going to design a New Vader – why just stop with how he looks?

Reposted with thanks to Emperor Palpatine, and to Diz and the boys from the 501st for their help in choosing a new Boss, right in the middle of Forbidden Planet's birthday party: -

Friday, 19 September 2008

MonQee Business: An Hour with Terry Pratchett

A confession of Heresy: I’m not a Discworld fan.

Don’t get me wrong, The Colour of Magic put fantasy on the UK best-seller lists, gave the genre a massive kick up the credibility ladder… With much respect to the man who penned it, it just never floated my turtle.

Meeting him, though, has made me wonder if I still have a copy.

Funnier than his fiction, sharper than his bright brown gaze – bandy words with this man at your extreme peril. Five minutes in his company and I’m not engaging in repartee, his (what else?) rapier wit is straight under my guard and curling me round jabs of laughter in my stomach.

His energy is palpable; his insight unparalleled – he challenges with the bifurcation of science fiction from fantasy. Even as I answer, he’s there before me – with how sf is mainstream, time-travel is current. I counter with the popularity of post-Cyberpunk; he turns my riposte with an image of a vacuum cleaner whooshing from a wall-slot – his description reducing the office to hilarity.

His family weave through his wit – his daughter who, unsurprisingly, ‘can write a mean plot’ and his approval of her bloodgore-writing boyfriend – a father to be proud of, I think.

He talks about Spaced like he’s lived it, about the new Star Trek like he fears it and about a random plug-in for Oblivion whereby an adventurer can take his mother Questing. The concept that Mum is always one level up is hilariously astute – I mean, who ever gets the better of their mother?

The thing that disarms me, though, is his comprehension of the nature of geekdom – his experience and insight paint word-sketches that are caricatures in accuracy. From the fandom’s stalwart ‘comic book guy’ to the shapely ladies with the echo-chamber cleavages; from the families that love Discworld to his immediate identification of me as ‘geekarina’ (as oppose to ‘geekette’), nothing misses him.

In his hour in the office at the London Megastore, he signed some five hundred copies of ‘Nation’ while he kept up the barb of his badinage – and he signed one more thing.

The MonQee has been waiting for the pen of his master, and now, secure with his final signature, the auction is going ahead here.

Sunday is World Alzheimers Day.

Please don't forget.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

People Like Us... Like Schwag!

The cornerstone of successful retail marketing is simple.

When you break from branding, veer from visual merchandising, lose your leaflets and put off your promos, you come back to the basics: -

Free shit.

There’s nothing people want more than the chance to grab schwag.

In its thirty-year history, Forbidden Planet has seen every kind of geek – and an advertising campaign based on ‘something for nothing’ guaranteed that our nationwide birthday party greeted all of them. From Trooper to Pirate, Bored Bird to Lone Loon – they braved rain and roadworks and came down to see what they could seize.

Dedicated Opportunists were queuing on both mornings. There were Families, dads and kids together buying toys from Doctor Who. There were lifelong Collectors, less worried about the freebies, using their vouchers to secure big toys they’d been eyeing for months. There were Pirates, cheekily wondering if they’d wait an extra hour for the next batch of give-aways. There were Geek Girls, stocking up on their manga and Pro Geeks, disdaining the lesser-spotted high street geek and buying only the Limited Edition stuff from the San Diego Comicon.

Numbers of comics-readers were unchanged – but more people braved the Heart of the Department and returned, enthused, with a handful of free Batman badges and a shiny-new copy of Watchmen.

The Lone Loons were happy and harmless; the Cool Teens were everywhere and the Cosplayers were back – fabric-sodden but unstoppable.

Braving the weather, the Troopers from the 501st did, as ever, a storming job of creating energy – and much giggling embarrassment. Prevented from too much mischief by pavement barriers and soggy concrete, their spirits remained undampened – and their collective eye for a victim as sharp as ever,

And yes, even with wet armour, the ladies still can’t get enough.

And if the Trooper Groupies were many, then the Bored Birds were few – I did chuckle on seeing one of the girls of Vader’s Fist stocking up on her Stargate stuff while her husband rolled his eyes in mock-despair. Who says the missus can’t do this too?

A party may kick off with a fountain of freebies, but unless a retailer can put its mouth where its marketeering is, even generous goody bags are just so much biodegradable plastic.

When the bags have gone – what’s left?

I like making people happy – from the small child smiling at the balloon to the blushing girl cuddling the Trooper to the delighted hoarder with the bagful of new toys…

...seeing Thirty Years of Geek in one place, people spanning every type, archetype and (occasionally) stereotype is the ‘what’s left?’ question answered.

The cornerstone of successful retail marketing? It isn’t the company. It’s the customers.

Seems that Brian Bolland's 'People Like Us...' brand from 1978 is still wonderfully true.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

So.Me, So.You, So What?

So. What were you doing, the Night Before The Net?

I was in the pub. I was round my mates’. I was running round with a sword in all weathers. I was singing round bonfires and waking up, sweating under canvas, still young enough to be hangover free.

My mates were the most important things in the world – and we moved mountains.

Cue a post that’s been stewing for weeks.

It started the evening I saw ‘City of Men’ (appropriately a very human and empathic film); it’s spanned a couple of Friday mornings at the Tuttle and got pissed at the MOO Party. It’s had lunch in Hyde Park with @markmedia and @iankath and it’s hit crystallisation upon realising that @annohio, always Champion of the Social, has moved her blog.

Whatever sites, platforms, methods of online communication we choose - they’re just the framework.

The framework for the people.

Somehow, I had lost this.

Attending the Tuttle has been a slow sartori. Friday mornings at the Coach and Horses offer coffee, croissant and conversation – and a range of people who cover every angle, business and level of experience. It’s encouraging and encompassing and there’s always someone with an answer.

London, then, has a very strong Social Media community – precisely because ‘hub’ events like the MOO Party bring us all together, face-to-face; they reinforce existing bonds, forge new ones and provide a riverhead for ideas and motion.

It’s common sense, isn’t it?

So: how did I lose sight of the First Rule?

If you follow my Tweets, you probably know I can’t get to many of these events. In the great arena of ‘be noticed: be seen!’ I rattle my tin mug up and down The Bars of SAHM and rely on Friday avatars to make up my social shortfall.

My web community has kept me sane, given me focus, helped my business and occasionally got me into mischief…

…but somehow, like a bad retail manager, I’d lost touch with the shop floor – the basics I instinctively understood in my fighting-Viking twenties.

Thanks to a little freedom, I finally have them back.

The ‘social’ in Social Media means ‘people’ – it means being sat in the pub, talking it up after your second pint. It means meeting-up with those in your city and tweeting-up with those stopping by; it means getting off your geeky arse and getting out from behind your screen.

I remember now.

This isn’t So.Me – this is So.Cial.

I can be a right fucking idiot, sometimes.