Thursday, 6 July 2017

Alan Moore Obscurities: Providence (#1-4) NSFW

 NSFW/Trigger warning: images of full frontal male nudity and incest rape.

"It's the risk you run if you're a dreamer.  Fact and fancy get mixed up, and dreams can come to rule your waking circumstances" - Tom Malone

"Objection!"  This series which ran for twelve issues last year and is currently in the middle of of being collected is too new to be considered an obscurity, you say. I say, had you heard of it?  The fact I couldn't walk into Forbidden Planet and pick up this volume relying instead on Amazon and the fact it's another for the small publishing company Avatar Press really makes it an obscurity from the start.  Which is a shame because, at least on the basis of this first trade, it's something of a return to form for Moore.  Now I must iterate that I am writing this up before reading the next volume in the collection, but on the basis of these four issues we've got something rather good forming.  It's a return to the Lovecraftian themes that inspired the repugnant Neonomicon (links to a very NSFW post), but unlike that vile piece of filth this captures the subtle building horror that so defined Lovecraft's work and lacks the unpleasant reflections of the real Lovecraft's asexuality against a backdrop of extremely graphic rape and abuse. Set in the 1920's we follow a journalist called Robert Black who has decided to write a book based on the underbelly of American small time life and the sinister things he discovers as he keeps probing deeper.  Each chapter ends with text diary entries that at first seem like padding but actually start expanding the story in a most interesting fashion while allowing us to get to know Robert more intimately via his ruminations and theories. I'll be concentrating mainly on the comic portions which are drawn by the talented Jacen Burrows because adding in summaries of the prose sections would probably triple the length of this already lengthy post. So let's begin and see long Moore can hold out before the inevitable rape happens.

We begin in New York 1919, a man called Jonathan whose face we never see is standing on a bridge in a park tearing up some romantic letters and tossing the pieces over the railing.  Then we cut to the offices of the newspaper The Herald.  There the boss, an older man called Mr. Posey is lecturing the others - Prissy the secretary, journalist Mr. Dix and our protagonist journalist Robert Black - on how journalism is trailing in the gutter now thanks to the antics of Hearst.  Journalism was once known for its courage, now "it's a badge of shame is what it is."
Robert Black, foreground.
They have one half page left to fill for tomorrows edition, Dix suggests something on local legends like the Jersey Devil.  Prissy pipes up and asks Robert about the book she remembers hearing about that "sent everybody crazy". Robert says it's called "Sous Le Monde" back in the 1880's, Prissy says no, wasn't it called something like "The Yellow Thing?"

Robert says she means "The King In Yellow" by Robert Chambers, which was written round the turn of the century, which was based allegedly on the scandal round Sous Le Monde.  He decides he will investigate further because it'll get him out of the office and his bickering co-workers.  There is a doctor who lives locally who wrote an essay on it, so Robert looks up his address as they had previously interviewed his landlady on an unrelated matter and leaves. 

We then see Jonathan silently walking towards a building in the park, to jump slightly ahead, this is an "Exit Garden" where people can go to end their lives peacefully. As Robert walks we get some flashbacks, first to him as a young boy and our first hint that he is from a family of German Jewish immigrants as first they argue about what he'll be when he grows up, then him as a young man leaving for New York while his father asks him "what do they have in New York that's not in Milwaukee?"

He stops off an an automat to grab some lunch and bumps into a friend called Charles who asks if he is still seeing "Lillian?"  Robert says he and "Miss Russell" broke up, "it was getting too close for comfort".  Charles says he recalls Robert saying he was going to write a book wasn't he?  Robert says he's been doing lots of planning, very little writing, he doesn't have a subject yet to be truthful.

Robert: "I want something that cuts to the heart of this country and these times.  That's talks about things nobody's dared talk about before.  You know? Not just another slice of life in the City of Bachelors."

After that he leaves and we get more flashbacks.  Him getting the job at the Herald where Posey tells him his personal life is his own business and not to bring it to work.  Then him skulking down the docks.   Then a woman whose face we don't see introducing herself as "Lillian Russell".  Then him naked in Lillian's bedroom as he admires all her books.  Finally he arrives at where Dr. Alvarez is living.  The landlady, Mrs. Ortega, wearing a furcoat and nothing else, lets him in warning that it will be cold inside Mr. Alvarez's rooms.
Memories haunt Robert.
Alvarez introduces himself and says the primitive air conditioning is keeping the place cool for his health.  Robert says Alvarez wrote an essay about Sous Le Monde for a Spanish literary magazine and could he ask him about it.  Alvarez spots some underwear on the floor and picks it up.  Robert apologises for interrupting Alvarez and Mrs. Ortega's love-making.

Alvarez: "Love is the only substantial thing.  It is noble in its noises and its odours.  From where I look at this, to not love is to waste the existence.  Even life is a small matter beside it.  You see, it is not interrupted by death.  Without it, the world cannot be endured."

Another cut to Jonathan now inside the Exit Garden, choosing some music to listen to on the gramaphone.  Then back to Alvarez and Robert.   Robert asks him what attracted him to Sous Le Monde?

Alvarez says it has a mention of an Arab alchemical text which had connection to his work at the time, "Kitab Al-Hikmah Al-Najmiyya" which means "Book of the Wisdom of the Stars".  For many years it was considered a fiction, but Guillot, the author of Sous Le Monde has read it.  It linked with Alvarez's interests and work at the time.  That was the prolonging of life.  Guillot reported that the Arab text had four methods, two of which - reviving cadavers and transplanting souls - seemed mystical.  "Others, perhaps, were more scientific" says Alvarez.
Dr. Alvarez and Robert chat.
Robert asks if he had read the Arab book himself.  Alvarez says not the original, but he knew of a copy in America which proved authentic and Sous Le Monde had proved useful in that regard.  Alvarez then goes on to say he thinks as literature Chambers' The King In Yellow was better. He tells Robert that Chamber's book is almost prophecy, set in their times with a just concluded war with Germany and "the lethal chambers we have in New York now".  He then asks Robert about working for The Herald.

Alvarez: "Before my illness, I greatly admired its offices.  The statue of Athena, the brass owls with electric eyes flashing... 'Al-Hikman Al-Najmiyya', there, too, is wisdom among the twinkling stars, is it not?"

Robert says it's a lovely thought, then questions Alvarez about his illness, did it start in 1905?  Alvarez says it was then he and his colleague Doctor Este tested their proceedures on themselves, but Este died and he is now confined to his cold rooms.

He doesn't seem all that bothered by his predicament, "life does not trouble me".  Robert notes that most people in New York mind their own business.  Then Alvarez gives him an idea.

Alvarez: "In America, we are allowed our privacy, yes? We are allowed our secrets.  I have my secret and you have yours, I think other people, also. There is a concealed country, therefore, hidden below the society we show the world. Uncomfortable truth, it lurks behind our pretences. This truth, it is a land sunken beneath many fathoms.  Were it on day to rise and confront us all, what would you do, Mr Black?  What would any of us do?"

After a cut to the man overseeing Jonathan's death checking if he is dead at the Exit Garden, we return to Alvarez and Robert.  Getting ready to leave, Robert thanks him for giving him a lot to think about and then asks Alvarez about the tragedies surrounding Sous Le Monde.  Alvarez says it was just coincidence exploited by the publishers.  Robert says he guesses that sinks his story, but talk of the hidden America is an idea he'll be chewing over.
Alvarez bids Robert farewell.
Alvarez shakes his hand as says he hopes his words on love have sunk in as well, "we must never discard those we are loved by. Lacking them, we are cursed." He says without Mrs. Ortega his world would fall to peices and that he has enjoyed their lively conversation.  As Robert leaves, Mrs. Ortega asks him not to print any lies about Alvarez, Robert says he would never put anything dishonest to print.  She thanks him saying, "Dr. Alvarez, he is the loneliest people, in this world, no one is like him".

Robert walks down the street, it's night now.  He remembers a conversation with Lillian who had met Mr. Posey at a charity function and this has freaked out Robert for some reason.  Then we see him walking out on her because of this and she pleads with him, saying she loves him:

Lillian: "How can you be so cowardly? You hide your religion, you hide the truth about us... you cover your feelings, it's like you don't have any.  You're cold, Robert.  You're really cold."

And Robert finds his way back to The Herald.  Posey is bemoaning the laws that will become Prohibition and how they are a sop towards the women who will be voting for the first time.  Although he thinks even if they pass it, it won't be enforced.

Robert tells them there wasn't a story in the Sous Le Monde business after all but Alvarez himself might make an interesting story.  Dix then says he has filled the half page so they won't need a story afterall. It's about the man who ended it all that day in the Bryant Park Exit Garden.  Robert mutters to himself about how The King In Yellow predicted it, while Prissy and Dix look for the biography file.  Turns out his surname was "Russell".
Robert controls his emotions.
Robert freezes, his back to them.  Mr. Posey says he remembers Jonathan, a successful young lawyer and oh didn't he say he knew Robert to Posey once? Robert stammers that he knew him a little.  And as Posey wonders why a man like Jonathan Russell should want to end it all, we realise that Jonathan Russell was Lillian Russell was Robert's boyfriend and when Posey says they could dig around and look for a motive, Robert silently panics, and tells the first lie he can think of, that Jonathan read Sous Le Monde (his notes accompaying this chapter do confirm it was "Lily" who introduced him to Sous Le Monde but obviously it's not why he killed himself).  Dix says he can work that into the copy, Posey seems satisfied and with his back stilll to them Robert looks quietly saddened. The first chapter ends with Mrs Ortega knocking on Alvarez's door and shedding her fur coat to reveal her naked body for him.

We begin chapter two with a short flashback of Robert taking his leave of The Herald for now to start doing research for the book he's decided to write based on his conversation with Alvarez who told him a man called Suydam had the copy of the Arab alchemical book.  Posey wishes him good luck and says that The Herald has a police contact in Brooklyn he might want to speak to... and Robert is greeted by the very handsome Tom Malone who thanks Robert for his "eloquent letter".
Detective Tom Malone.
Robert shakes his hand saying he'd imagined someone older, Tom says because his letter mentioned Guillot and Chambers he's a man after his own heart.  He's had Robert meet him here in Red Hook because he wants to show Robert where Suydam works.  It's a church now used as mostly a dancehall and in the cellars underneath Suydamn lectures on Occult Philosophy.  Although from the noises "you'd think it was a witches' coven or an orgy".

Tom admits that he's studied mystical and mysterious texts and had thought policing Red Hook might be glamourous and exotic due to the mixture of people there, "in plain truth, Red Hook's a heaving slum, with nothing extraordinary about it."  After some chat about crime, and Robert admits he's here not as a journalist but researching a book and wants to try and track down the original alchemical text and Suydam who had a copy seemed the best place to start.  Robert says that he finds the idea of alchemists in modern America interesting.

Tom says he'd be interested in reading a book about that, they talk somemore about Suydam's love of underground spaces and Tom brings up Jung and how cellars and caves correspond to the unconcious mind.

Robert: "Well, if dreams are parts of us that we've hidden away or buried, I guess it makes sense."

They've been walking all this time and have travelled close to where Suydam lives.  Tom asks Robert to sit with him in a nearby cafe to watch out for Suydam when he comes out to take the air in the nearby park.

We jump forward a little in time and Robert has finished telling him about how the death of his "friend" had made him want to leave New York and if Suydam catches his imaginations he may never go back to The Herald. Sympathetically Tom slides his address over to Robert and when Robert goes to take it, Tom places his hand on top of Roberts telling him to come and see him if he writes the book or not.  Then he spots Suydam and Robert goes out to speak to him as Tom watches thoughtfully and drinks his coffee.
A significant touch.
Robert introduces himself to Suydam saying he is an occult scholar and Dr. Alvarez recommended him.  Suydam invites him back to his house, outside of which is a Kurdish man selling peacock feathers.  Inside Robert notes Suydam has a basement, Suydamn says it is unusable right now due to a gas leak.  Suydam says that his transcript of the Kitab Al-Hikmah Al-Najmiyya came from suppliers in Salem where there is a Brotherhood devoted to the book.

He says that his contacts in Salem and their associates are intrigued by a different world that may "precede or even underlie our own".  Robert asks if that means prehistoric remains buried under towns?

Suydam: "Not exactly.  It is more in the way that dreams or impulses of which we are not conciously aware may underlie our waking actions."

The Kitab explains it more fully, it is a book considered blasphemous and heretical amongst the Arab peoples.  Robert says Alvarez had said it was relevant to his work about proloning life and avoiding death.  Suydam says says the four methods concerned diet, temperature, transfer of the soul and finally revival of the cadaver of which the last interests him the most.
Suydam adds to Robert's knowledge.
Suydam then hands him a pamphlet on the Salem Brotherhood and tells him he's been dealing with them and buying their "folk artefacts" for forty years.  As he leafs through it, Robert asks him if he has anything concerning the Kabbalah, his grandfather had great respect for it.  Suydam says "rightly so.  Its mysteries are inexhaustible".  He says he is currently researching the "Qupoth" it's adverse aspect which includes beings such as "Lilith" and after telling him that "older Kabbalistic traditions... insist that dream and reality are part of the same sphere" he charges Robert a dollar for another pamphlet on the matter.

Then a woman comes in and Suydam says that his business with Robert is concluded.  Robert can stay and peruse more pamphlets and let himself out as Suydam has to hurry away to inspect some "merchandise".  Robert can let himself out.  But after they have gone, Robert is alone and as he makes to leave, he notices the basement door is open.  He walks downstairs and finds a torch on some shelves and sees a pentgram in a circle on the wall and a stone staircase leading down.
The black ocean under Suydam's house.

He walks down the steps and finds himself in a dank cave system, the floor is littered with human bones and skulls much to his horror.  Futher on he shines the torch out over a black ocean with strangely carved columns rising out of it.  Then suddenly a luminescent female humanoid yelling "HooHooHoo" at him starts chasing him, he runs losing his hat as he runs.  It get's closer and closed and he trips and falls and everything goes black...

....only for him to wake up on the basement floor, no steps down to be seen and no occult symbol on the wall.  Standing over him is a sympathetic Suydam and Miss Gerritsen.  Suydam says the fumes must have overcome him and he had a nightmare. Robert babbles about the cave and the ocean and being chased by Lilith, which Suydam puts down to his subconcious mind.

As he collects himself and leaves, he psychoanalyses himself, that Lilith was representative of Lily and the cave his subconcious guilt at not doing more to help her.  He then asks them if he had a hat when he came in?  Suydam and Miss Gerritsen say they didn't see one.  And that seems to satisfy him.  He waves them goodbye as they wish him well and the final image of the chapter is the three claw-mark like scars on the Kurdish seller's face.
Sinister.
After leaving a New York in the grips of what looks like a strike so severe Vaudeville are out on the streets, Robert arrives in Salem.  He's booked in at a nice looking hotel with a creepy manager who, like many locals has an unnervingly wide mouth, deep, wide-set eyes, small ears and sallow skin. Robert says he is hoping to find and talk to a man called Tobit Boggs who has a gold refinery there, he's a contact Suydam mentioned to him.

The creepy manager gives him directions and Robert makes his way there and overhears a weird conversation as two men are discussing some "considerable bounty" which has come into Boggs' possession which sound like it might just be about rare bottles and also well, something a lot more sinister.  Because when we see what they are, they are just bottles but have blobs inside them and tiny speech bubbles with unreadable text coming from a couple.  One of the other men quickly covers them up.
Tobit Boggs centre.
Boggs greets him with pleasure saying he has a card from Suydam saying he'd be coming to see him.  The other two men are leaving, one of them says bluntly to Robert that it "smells to me like you're a Jew, would that be right?"  Robert lies saying he might have Jewish ancestors, while the man tells him not to worry, he actually likes Jew smell.  His friend scolds him and Boggs laughs and shows them out while Robert sits meekly and waits.

Boggs returns and asks what Robert wants and Robert tells him he heard he had made a copy of an alchemical text about fifteen years ago.  Boggs said he it was "Hali's Booke" and he had "old Garland Wheatley from out Athol way write that out in Fair for me".  He was associating with The Order then before their split in 1912.  Robert is surprised The Order was still going strong then.

Boggs says they are still going strong today, 1912 was just when the schism happened, " 'course my folks hadn't been welcome since Granpappy Jack forty year afore that" Boggs goes on to say. Boggs says Captain Jack Boggs got into it via the other sea captains although it was when he brought back "Granma Pathithia-Lee" back with him that seemed to be when they turned against him.  Boggs says he can show the old sea tunnels to Robert if he wants and Robert says yes.

As they walk down the street Boggs tells Robert that his best bet as a next move would be to visit the Wheatley Clan out past Athol.  There's a bus tomorrow, then they both come across a swastika drawn in chalk on the pavement.  Boggs grumbles about the "big-eared, crowdy-eyed bastards" who did it, "they know this is our baptizin' season".  Robert asks what it is and Boggs says it's a symbol from India, and out on the islands it's known as bad luck "or worse".
An ominous sign.
He carefully walks round it saying that the waterfront folk have been shunned since Granma Pathithia-Lee, "people don't want different races breedin' together".  Robert commiserates with him saying people can be so primitive.  They arrive at their destination at the main refinery office.  There is Boggs' wife, she is from the islands herself, and has a very piscine appearance and speaks no English. 

Boggs tells Robert that the tunnels were mainly used by his Grandfather to bring immigrants from the islands, "it's how we look out for one another".  He opens a hatchdoor in the floor and tells Robert to go in first and he'll follow with the lamp.  As Boggs follows he rather overshares describing his wife as a "quite a catch" and "them island women... they don't mind it in the mouth or nothin'" Robert notes the tunnels seem ancient.

There are dirty pictures scrawled on the walls, which Boggs says were done mainly by the women.  It seems island women adapt to marriage with mainlanders better than the otherway round.  Captain Jack also read about the island in the Kitab.  They unlatch a heavy door and it opens out into a large cave with the sea, black and brooding in front of them.  Suddenly reminded of his "dream" of being chased by Lilith in the cave, Robert gets freaked out and so Boggs takes him back out and he takes his leave.
Some of Robert's dream.
That night he as a five page tour-de-force of a symbolic dream by Moore that I am quickly going to summarise as dealing with his grief at losing Jonathan/Lily, guilt over hiding his Jewishness, shame at his homosexuality, lots of fish related imagery including them all being gassed to death with piles of bodies under the images of swastikas in an Exit Garden and the owner of the Exit Garden saying he'll be getting to Robert soon enough, all wrapped up in puns and wordplay and just fantastic writing overall.  It ends with him getting into bed with Tom saying he wants to go to sleep and forget about it, does Tom love him enough to let him do that in peace?  Then he wakes up and all he can say is "the hell?"

Next day he catches the bus for Athol, as the bus makes its way along the coast road, one of the kids calls "howdy, all you sunk 'un ones! Howdy" to something moving in the water.  Robert asks if they are seals, then further words sputter out as everyone on the bus turns to look at him, all scowling all fishfaced.  Then the father says, yeah they're seals. And a freaked out Robert goes back to his to the parish magazine of the fishface people which has some piscine priest's fishy takes on parables and signs off with the cheery "Oannes keeps you safe within his mouth".
Creepy as fuck.
At the barber's shop in Athol, Robert collects some gossip on the Wheatleys, he's been in Athol a week and nobody can tell him much about them.  The barber says if he's after "Warlock Wheatley" he has a farm out on North Orange road, to be truthful.  They're poor as dirt, "and nobody round here thinks much of 'em".  Robert queries why he's called a "Warlock", the barber says folk call him that because he goes on like he's a medicine man.  He gives Robert directions there and off Robert goes.

As he walks there he reflects in a conversation he had with the local librarian, the Wheatleys came from Salem and most of the Wheatleys in Athol are fine, upstanding citizens but some branches are not. 

Librarian: "Bloodlines can degenerate over time. Intellectually, morally... even physically".

She doesn't know Garland Wheatley and if he's from the declining stock she doesn't want to. The way these people live, well, "it's nothing to shout about."

He arrives at the farm and there doesn't appear to be anyone around. He approaches the barn, then Garland Wheatley appears and tells him to move away, there's slaughtering done in that barn and blood soaks into Robert's shoes. He is surly and when Robert tells him Boggs suggested he come here and Garland says "that wall-eyed bastard owes me thirty bucks".
Meet Garland Wheatley.
Robert goes on to say he's writing a book and is interested the copy of Hali's Booke he copied for Boggs.  Garland says he hasn't seen it since 1912, "when ny privileges was took away."

Garland: "See, this society I belonged to give Saint Anselm college in Manchester a copy o'the book aroudn 1890. That was when they was havin' all their big ideas. Anways, we had a fallin' out.  They don't allow me in their library now."

He then grumbles some more about how they'd looked down on them and mentions a stone they brought back from farming land and they claimed it vanished before he could see it (shades of "The Colour Out Of Space" perhaps?).  He was bing shut out by the "blue-bloods" they have their own plan for the Order.  They want to fufill the "Redeemer prophecy" and the "poor relations wasn't consulted".

Robert notes that the Redeemer prophecy appears in Hali's Book. Garland says the Redeemer is the "feller gonna put the world to right again".  The Order decided it'd be one of their own then gave the book to St. Anselms, "reckon they were done with it."  But after a fire which destroyed pretty much all the books but never touched Hali's St. Anselms didn't want it either.

Garland bemoans their high-handedness and says he's a better "cunnin'-feller" that what they are.  He waited and when the Redeemer thing still hadn't happened in 1912 he put his proposal togther and he and his daughter Letty were immediately expelled from the society. Robert says it sounds like the prejudice he heard aimed at Boggs and Garland decides he can meet his daughter.
Garland's daughter Letty.
Robert is unsure, but Garland wants him to have the whole story and also it'll be good for Letty to see some new blood, "she's dreadful isolated".  Robert asks what happened to his wife, Garland says she was found with all her bones broken which happened right after he objected to the Order creating their own Redeemer.  After their expulsion Garland says they Order had enough influence to keep him away from the book.  So it's just you and your daughter says Robert.  Garland says, well there's also Letty's offspring, "could be us Wheatleys gets the last laugh over them gentlefolk an' their Redeemer".

Inside the house a dull looking woman called Letty is sitting at a table and doing some drawings.  She is happy to see Robert and Garland leaves them alone to chat.  Robert makes small talk about the renovations Garland told him they were having.  Letty says it's for her boy, he's getting too big for his shed.  Robert says that's Willard ins't it?  Letty says "Lord, what did I say?  I didn't say John-Divine did I?"

She then vehemently says John-Divine definitely isn't Willard's name and what is his book about?  He tells her and she offers him the pictures she's drawn saying a book should have pictures. Robert takes them politely and asks if she still sees the boy's father. 
Letty's drawing of "John-Divine"
Letty then reveals what happened, she only saw the father one time.   Her memories are hazy but she was taken up onto the hills by the Sentinel Elm.  Garland was present, although Letty says "he was and he weren't, kind of". She says her dad was like an inseminating syringe, "that's how he worked daddy".   She remembers the flowers and the nightjars and Garland saying "We'll show them stuck-up bastards".   Then he was having raping her and:

Letty: "He was... just big balls, you know?  Just hangin' there... It was fireworks, like what they say in the books.  The love.. fireworks right up to the sky".
Well done Alan, you managed to hold out until the fourth chapter
Garland then reappears and says Willard wants to see Robert and he's out in the shed, but he's got one of his "queer humours on him today".  Robert mustn't get riled by anything he says.  So tentatively Robert goes out to see him.

Inside the barn is a large male, he's a dark grey colour and a definite bestial aspect to him.  Robert says he's surprised he's not in college, Willard says he's six and-a-half and continues playing with the tesseract cubes he has.   Robert tries some small talk saying his mother and grandfather seem like nice people.

Willard: "They's a hindrance, thuh both of 'un.  On'y reason they's heeyun is cuz it's haow the story's gotta be. In the 'deener story, s'gotta be thuh crazy granpappy, un' thuh whaht-faced wunnun , un' thuh bad-lookin' bwoy.  Thet's whah ah ain't warmin' tuh yuh. Yur aht uv a diff'run story awlduhgethuh".

Confused Robert says "I-I am?" and Willard says yes and he thinks he's putting a spoke in the Wheatley's wheel.  Robert stammers that he is just here to meet his family.   Willard tells him to stick around and leaves.  So Robert takes a look around and sees a photo on the wall with Willard putting his arms round someone invisible.
Willard Wheatley.
Garland and Letty come in and Robert says he upset Willard.  They say he'll be better after his nap.   Garland starts to hurry Robert back to the road and Letty turns and says "Oh, mercy, what's he done?"  Robert turns to see her talking to some invisible beings.  Garland tells Robert "this is a personal family concern".

He takes Robert to the front gate and apologises to him.  Robert says that's fine and he he is grateful for telling him about Saint Anslem.  Garland says he'll be heading to Manchester then and hopes he has better luck than him.   He hopes "as you'll speak kindly of us Wheatleys when your books all done".  Robert says he can't wait to follow his new lead. They wish each other well and Robert sets off down the road back to Athol.  Bringing this chapter and the volume to and end with an excerpt from the HP Lovecraft story "The Ancient Track".
Robert heads back to his hotel, deep in thought.
So, I must reiterate, I am assessing these volumes as they come.  I haven't read volume 2, and will most likely have a full wrap up overall when I come to do the third and final volume.  So based on what we have so far, it's very good stuff, Moore on the best form he's been on for a long time.  It's full of those lovely ironies and juxtapositions Moore has always done so well.  The main one being that our protagonist is searching for a hidden America while he himself hides his religion and sexuality. In chapter one we have the comparison between the physically cold Dr. Alvarez who values his relationship with Mrs. Ortega above all else and believes that life cannot be endured without love, while the emotionally cold Robert abandoned Jonathan/Lily who killed himself because well, life cannot be endured without love.  We explore the symbolism of dreams in chapter two, but that is used to create the lie he didn't have a genuine real life experience down in the caves under Suydam's house.  And of course in chapter three his epic dream is screaming out all sorts of things he is being somewhat naive about as well as acting as prophecy for the Holocaust.  Lovecraft used fish people breeding with normal humans in "The Shadows Over Innsmouth" as being symbolic of his fear of racial mixing because he was a massive racist.  But chapter three asks us how people might react to their fish people neighbours and ironically it's with social exclusion and out-and-out racism, the fish people and their mixed offspring are creepy no doubt, but seem to be harmless and although they peg Robert as a Jew, show no prejudice towards him. They're just living their lives, raising their kids and though of course future issues could show them as actively evil, so far they seem innocent enough.  The same can't be said for the unpleasant Garland Wheatley, raping his daughter despite acting as the physical embodiment of somekind of god himself, he still planned and executed it.  That said, I find this rape justified by the context it takes place in and has interesting ramifications in the half-god "Dunwich Horror" son/s, Willard or John-Divine. Finally let me praise the artwork of Jacen Burrows.  He has a hard task, he's locked into a four panel layout with the occasional half or full page panel.  Yet he manages to block his scenes so the talky stuff is compelling to follow as well as capturing the era beautifully and giving us fine facial and body language.  Although it's only four issues collected, the inclusion of Robert's notes, the excerpt of the pamphlet on The Order and the fish people's church magazine means you get plenty of material for your money and I am eagerly awaiting the next installment which of course will be chronicled here.

33 comments:

  1. I really should do a crash course in Lovecraft*. I'm sure it would add a whole other level of enjoyment here. I'm already doing the thing of spotting Moore's oblique references, and I bet there are loads I'm missing cos I don't have your background knowledge of the source material.

    (*That suddenly reminded me of a great Ray Bradbury story where all horror is banned in the future and a librarian thinks Lovecraft is a sex manual)

    I can pick up on a lot of the occult stuff though and that gives things a particular perspective. It seems the gas leak in the cellar is channelling the Oracle at Delphi. She (well 'they' really, it was a job description not a person) worked in a cave where there's natural gas leaks that cause hallucinations. Funnily enough the only other place I've seen that referenced is an episode of the Simpsons.

    There's also a bit of Madame Blavatsky going on too I think. Although could be I'm reading too much into it. But that would tie in with both the internal narrative (such as the proto swastika) and also in a meta way, Lovecraft's less than progressive stance on racial identity.

    I'm also getting a Jacob's Ladder vibe. But I feel that every time one of these noir style investigators crops up.

    I like the 'hidden identity' theme running throughout. You familiar with the 'as above, so below' principle that crops up a lot in certain schools of paganism? I know Moore subscribes to it. It's like a fractal microcosm/microcosm thing. And it seems to be playing out here with our protagonist's personal issues reflecting the larger narrative. It's also supposedly the origin of the Star of David (it's a triangle pointing up superimposed on a triangle pointing down). So I won't be surprised if that crops up later, especially with the swastika already established. Although contrary to popular belief the swastika isn't based on the old Hindu symbol; it's a deliberately reversed 'sunwheel' rune. I like Carl Satan's theory that the swastika shape generally is based on a comet seen head on, hence it's ubiquity. Which of course leads us nicely into all the Jungian collective unconsciousness/synchronicity vibe that also runs through this.

    You've been doing that a bit yourself. We've had Nommo. Now we've got more fish people. And if you do Slaine there's the Fomasi. I like your meta twisting in your blogging.

    So overall I like this. Has a lovely pagan/occult vibe I can relate to. And unlike Pat Mills, Moore can be a lot more subtle about it. 15 year old me would have been all over this.

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  2. Glad you enjoyed it. This is once again why I do my blog, my initial read of this missed loads of stuff. Checking in detail to write it up therefore really added to my enjoyment.

    It also has a few of "Promethea" which was a series he did for America's Best Comics that I had decided not to cover as it's one of his best known projects. That is basically a long treatise on Moore's view of the world, full of magic and alchemy. This definitely has the same feel. I'm starting to think maybe I should cover Promethea now like I did Miracleman... maybe next year.

    I actually am rereading my Lovecraft now! I pointed out the more obvious links, but I actually start to think I'd missed a lot more. Especially his Dream Cycle given the importance on dreams in this volume.

    I definitely have The Horned God on the schedule for next year now. The Brit comics month will likely be Feb so yeah more fishy people.

    Moore and his beliefs are a fascinating area. He seemed to get into it during the 90's when he was writing fairly bad superhero stuff for Image and the Awesome Comics. He "worships" a puppet snake God that was proven false back in Roman times but he says the fact it's a false God makes it all the more interesting.

    It's another rivalry he has with Grant Morrison who is also a practicing wizard. Morrison has also done a series that speaks from his heart called "The Invisibles" which I haven't actully read yet. But I a planning to hopefully next year.

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  3. I'd certainly like you to cover Promethea. Sounds right up my alley. And I'd be very interested in an opportunity to ramble about Moore's belief system and occultism in general.

    I totally get worshipping a proven false god. I'm a bit of a Bokonanist myself. Not sure if you're familiar with that? It's the admittedly fake (and consequently completely true) religion in Vonnegut's 'Cat's Cradle'). In fact that ties in so much with this discussion. Busy, busy, busy (as Bokonanists say when they spot the universe in motion). Ooh, this is a massive topic. Just Vonnegut alone and his two fake religions could be the subject of a book. The other religion being the church of god the utterly indifferent. "I am the product of a series of accidents; as we all are". Which ties into both my favourite quote (well, one of them) "The most terrifying thing about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent" and tne trend for fake religions amongst old school Sci-Fi writers. I'm sure you 'Grok' Scientology arose from a bar bet between Heinlein and Hubbard. And if you get the reference you'll grok the whole point I'm making.

    On a personal level it also encapsulates how I can simultaneously be a hard core rationalist and a completely believing pagan. Ooh, I'm loving this story Moore and Moore for stimulating all this. Other Alan has always had this effect on me in a way Pat Mills (who's work I love) never manages. It's the doors of perception thing. Tne idea that to truly understand an artist's work you have to be in exactly the same state of mind as they were when they created it. That's really kicking in now. It's a true apocalypse (and that's another occult reference I'll leave you to ponder) :-)

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  4. Curses I am going to have to do Promethea now aren't I? I'm getting sweats on how to deal with the issue that runs three storylines (that interact) on every page (the single issue was designed so it could fold out into one long single page) or the issue that is designed to be taken apart and reassembled as a poster. I shoulda kept me mouth shut :D Nah, once I am done with all the more obscure stuff, of which I still have a decent amount, I shall grant your wishes and do them all in one month because I enjoy flagellating my brain.

    I also like real fake Gods. Because I am an Epic Nerd I have often substituted phrases like "By The Nine!" instead of My God after the nine benevolent Gods of The Elder Scrolls-verse. "Tarim's Blood" instead of Jesus Christ after the nineth god who was a man who became divine. And any of the Daedric being's names when I feel like being even more of a dork.

    I know more about videogame religion than real life religion, but I think apocalypse means a revealing or lifting of the cover. I know this because not to spoil too much it's the driving force behind the character of Promethea and the conclusion to the series.

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  5. Grud on a greenie! The synchronicities keep on coming. Funny you mention video game religions. I went to the Wikipedia page on Bokonanism. I meant to put the link for you in case you weren't familiar (then I forgot, dork). But it mentioned that it featured in that vampire game you like (is Granfalloon familiar?).

    I like the sound of the complex layout in Promethea btw. I know that art for art's sake can get overdone now. But back in the day I liked when artists experimented with something other than the regular grid layout and linear storytelling. Killing Joke probably seems Seinfeld isn't funny nowadays, but at the time I loved the segues between the time periods. Bit like the fades between scenes in the first Highlander movie.

    I could bang on forever about fake/real religion, but I'd end up going all metaphysical. Suffice it to say I exist in that quantum superstate where it's simultaneously the same thing and therefore irrelevant. We create the goddess as she creates us. As above so below etc. It's all ouroborous. As Dumbledore says "Death to muggles!". No, not that, the other thing "Of course it's all in your head. Doesn't mean it's not real.

    The more we're chatting about this story though and the wider themes the more all the synchronicities kick in and the magic starts to get strong. Of course, that's probably Moore's intention all along. He is a magus after all. Writing it makes it real. In the beginning was the word. You familiar with the concept of the Logos? Spells, prayers, and that weird thing Noel Edwards does when he scribbles on his wrist. That's what this is all about. I love how Moore gets that. That's why so much of his work is so compelling.

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  6. Ugh I'm feeling awful all of a sudden, wonder if it's the bug nephew ver.1 had. Been lying down watching a twelve episode anime called Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which in another bit of synchnicity is what you'd get if HP Lovecraft wrote a magical girl anime and was totally into lesbians. I love it, best TV show I've ever seen.

    Anyway when it comes to religions beliefs I have a sort of nebulous Jungian idea of a collective unconciousness which is where we all go when we die and are reborn from. I believe passionately in reincarnation therefore and don't half get some mockery from my atheist family for it. Hah shows them when I come back as a cat and them as slugs!

    That reference does sound familiar. Thing is I need to replay Vampire The Masquerade because I chose the insane character clan and all his/her dialogue is unique and so oblique you're never sure if you're propositioning someone for sex or picking a fight. Made the game fun in an "oh please don't kick my arse if I say this" kinda way. When I replay it as a "normal" vampire some of the backstory may become more clear to me.

    Moore is great really. I tend to come down hard on him only when I think he's being lazy. Like I didn't "Sin Bin" him for the rape in this story because it was valid via context and built upon with the interesting spawn of said union. I zapped him in the bin when doing Miracleman because the rape was a pointless afterthought for some cheap drama. So I am maybe unfair holding him to such high standards, but hey he made those standards so he ought to know how to live up to 'em!

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  7. I don't believe in reincarnation; I didn't even when I was a frog. I really love my life, but I just couldn't be arsed going through it all again. Like school and exams and stuff. I'm more than happy though with all that 'we are star stuff' idea of Carl Sagan's. Technically it's not accurate. We're mainly hydrogen and that was created in the big bang rather than supernovae. But the principle is cool.

    That manga sounds fun. Are they writing them just for you now?

    Vampires, fighting, and sex. Two of my favourite things. Although Kate Beckinsdale and Rhona Mitra could swing it for me. Seen a few of those films and I enjoyed them. I think it's that thing where you've got great actors doing campy films but playing them totally straight like it's ken loach or something. Really sells it.

    I wonder why Moore keeps returning to rape as drama? Its not like he's short of ideas. It's almost like it's beneath him. A lesser writer might use it for faux grittiness but he's got so many alternatives. But even V has the idea that Evey needs to effectively be tortured and abused to find her true self. Hmm?

    The rivalry between Moore and Morriston intrigues me. I'd like to know more about that. Thinking about pat mills also. Wonder why (at least) three of the best writers in Brit comics are so obsessed with the occult? Any thoughts?

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  8. It's an anime actually although it's had a manga adaptation that I may cover in the future. Thing is it's a story that really needs the colours and music to make it fully effective so the manga comes off a bit lifeless by comparison. Hmmm, I could do the manga and use it to eulogise the anime version which I truly think is better than every other thing I like. As you say it's pretty much like the peaked in my brain and made an anime from what they found :D

    For Morrison take on Moore versus Morrison check out this article where he pretty much loses his shit!

    http://www.comicsbeat.com/the-strange-case-of-grant-morrison-and-alan-moore-as-told-by-grant-morrison/

    I have no idea why Moore keeps returning to rape as drama. I can only echo what I said in the Miracleman post, he seems to have a very binary view of sex. Sex is either amazing, life affirming and highly spiritual and only had by Good People. Or it's bad rapey violent degraded sex had by Bad People.

    One of the reasons I love Saga so much is it's take on sex is much more... human. Ironic because it's all aliens having it.

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  9. Ah Puella Magi Madoka Magica... also known as the biggest troll of the 2011 anime winter season. (And I don't think it was ever topped.) I say troll because it starts, well, normal. Just another (albeit otaku o'clock airing) magical girl show. Nothing to see here... then episode 3 hits.

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  10. Ah sorry, getting me Chinese Cartoon genres mixed up. Once again though you've got me thinking. That documentary series was very good at exploring Japanese art's relationship with colour and space. It really gave me some new insights into manga. But that highlights the very bright and brassy tone of some anime. Especially the 'japanese super seizure robots!!!' type stuff. But I'd never considered the implications for that in translating manga to anime and vice versa. More to ponder.

    Thanks for the link to that article. Loved it, and the comments. Didn't realise the animosity between Moore and Morrison was so intense. I was vaguely aware of it, but thought it was more a friendly rivalry vibe. Clearly not the case! I'm still mulling over all the points raised. I like both writers work so I'm not going to take sides. Although I do think Morrison has some good points about timing. But until I read that I'd always seen Moore as the grandpappy of new wave Brit comics. I didn't even realise the closeness of their ages. Moore has always seemed like the elder statesman. I still have difficulty in imagining him as ever being young, even when he was. That seems to be reflected in their work (or perhaps my view is formed by their work). Morrison just has that young over confidence, like with Zenith. He's like pop 'postcard punk' as opposed to Moore's taking it a bit serious real ale prog rock approach.

    Sex in comics, what a subject. I guess we're back to the readership and audience and all that stuff about angsty teenagers. Sometimes the portrayal of sex does seem informed by the naive cluelessness and insecurity of that particular audience. Like sex described by people who've got vague ideas from hearsay in the schoolyard but no actual experience. Putting on my occult head though I see a few of the common 'wizardry' motifs in Moore's work. I think you hit the nail on the head with the binary thing. There's a lot of gnosticism in Moore's work. And maybe their ideas about asceticism leaks through too. All that sex as a worldly distraction to be avoided at all costs. Hence all the celibacy and even eunuchs. It's that ascending to a higher plane stuff with the idea that sex is a base impulse that makes us no better than animals. That might go someway to explaining the rape obsession. Like sexual desire is the ultimate flaw in unenlightened humans. That contrasts a lot with Morrison's chaos magic background where sexual energy is a catalyst for magic. And of course the more earthy pagan vibe that it's just great fun.

    Now I'm thinking how that might feed into Moore's portrayal of asexuality. This is a great post for getting my mind wondering. Cheers!

    I'm very surprised though that two people so bound up with those schools of magic (which have an overlap in regards to the power of words) haven't considered the implications of their names and Grant being "Moore's son".

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  11. "Ah sorry, getting me Chinese Cartoon genres mixed up."

    Don't tempt me. I might bore everybody to death with an explanation about the differences between manga, manhua, and manhwa (Japanese, Chinese, and Korean comics). :3

    (I was such an insufferable weeaboo in my 20s.)

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  12. @ malitia

    That is far from boring! In fact you've just cleared up something for me, so thank you. I've seen 'manuha' referenced on TV Tropes and always been too embarrassed to ask what it was :-)

    I'm going to buy some Pocky now in your honour. I probably won't eat them though unless I get really desperate; they're horrible.

    Now I just need to know what "Mongo nukes" means. (I get the nukes reference, it's just the other bit)

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  13. Thanks for clearin up the Eastern comic genre for Alan Malitia.

    Oh Moore does love him some sex. He's won awards for his comics portraying the Good Sex, I haven't really written about those though because they tend to show up in his more well known comics that I decided not to touch. Miracleman and Miraclewoman screwing in the sky is about as close as I got, pure sex between two divine beings.

    Funnily enough Morrison rarely broaches the subject of sex. I think it's partly because he is so wedded to meta commentary and "all those wonderful toys" the playground of DC comics gives him access too. That said I haven't read The Invisbles which was a Vertigo imprint so might have done more. You have to remember Morrison is now probably the biggest UK name in the US simply because he is, at heart, a company man and Moore is seen a grouchy old contrarian whose burned every bridge he's ever crossed and now toils in deserved obscurity. Ah comic book fandoms, where people hate the Elvis and love the Colonel Tom Parkers.

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  14. And lets not dwell on Moore's ideas about asexuality which he seems to see as the ultimate perversion in Neonomicom. I have an ace friend and I read that book with it's comments on Lovecrafts asexuality against a backdrop of graphically depicted and prolonged rape and was so mad I slung him in the Sin Bin for about four months!

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  15. Yeah I remember your post on that. He does seem to have some odd views on sexuality. I'm not familiar with the miracleman stuff so maybe I'm being unfair to him. But as well as using rape for drama he also seems to have a bit of a tendency towards 'abuse is ultimately good for you'. So Evey only finds her true self after a simulated guantanamo scenario. And in some ways the Silk Spectre arc channels a lot of that Reddit kid thinking. It's 'Alpha' Comedian who she comes to truly fancy. And her husband is literally the beta cuck provider. Hmm, wonder if that's why he's so popular with the neckbeard crowd? He might not be promoting their world view, but some of his stories do echo it a bit. I appreciate though he can be a lot more complex than that. Glyph in HJ was perhaps one of the first expressions of gender fluidity in comics. And HJ herself is a really well rounded character, as are a lot of her co stars. Strange man.

    Morrison's 'wonderful toys' (great expression btw) approach is touched on in that Future Shock documentary. I've mentioned before how he states his reverence for the history of some characters means he's a lot more 'respectful' of some of the conventions and therefore restrains himself somewhat, saving his more radical stuff for the newer characters and series.

    It's funny, I'd never thought of Moore as languishing. I'm really frozen in time where he's the epitome of comic writing and people like Morrison and Neil Gaiman who are promising newcomers :-) I think thats partly the attitude Morrison is railing against in that article you linked. Of course that shouldn't be an issue for the later generations of fans, but maybe Morrison has internalised it a bit, or it might even be a hangover from those initial days.

    Hmm, in the days of pulp science fiction John Campbell occasionally did a thing where he'd give a few writers the same initial idea. That could be a theme, a bit of poetry, a painting etc. And then get them all to write a story based on that. He'd then put them together in an issue of the magazine. I'd love to do that with Moore, Morrison, and Mills.

    (Hey, what's with all the 'M's?)

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  16. Well it's only obscurity if you're the type of fan who sees Marvel/DC as the pinnacle of comicbook achievement. Moore stopped working for Marvel in the mid-80's after they screwed him over royalties and DC after they screwed him over the whole "we'll give you and Dave Gibbons Watchmen back when it's spent a year out of print lol" fiasco. Then he did his stint for Image/Awesome in the 90's while he paid the bills to fund Lost Girls and From Hell, after that he moved to Wildstorm which was another Image imprint..... which then got sold to DC. Torn between his hatred of DC and not wanting to let down all the artists he was making plans with, America's Best Comics was created as a sort of "buffer zone" so we got about five amazing years of Promethea, LXG, Top Ten, Tom Strong and other stuff but the imprint couldn't support itself when he started to lose interest and turned his mind to writing Jerusalem and folded in the mid-noughties and his work has been pretty sporadic since with really only The LXG Nemo stories, Neonomicon and now Providence (I ordered book 2 today, can't wait!) as his major works. I'm hoping now he's got his Great Prose Novel out of his system we'll be getting more comics out of him again. And that's a potted history of Moore post 1980's lol.

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  17. That was brilliant, and really helpful. Thank you. My comics knowledge is pretty limited. Unless it was published in Britain between 1970 and 1985 or features a girl in leopardskin I'm completely clueless. I love your blog for introducing me to new things but I do need a bit of a 'History 101' in relation to a lot of the topics. I knew something of the issue over royalties and IP rights, but it's nice to get the actual details.

    It is amazing how even the biggest names get screwed over. But that's not dissimilar to the music biz. It's not as bad these days at the higher end. Madonna isn't going to starve to death. But at a general level a lot of musicians are barely any better off than if they worked in a factory.

    Heh, Factory records possibly being a good example. Tony Wilson was actually lovely to the artists. But for various reasons most of them never saw any money. New Order pretty much subsided the label. In the old days it was particularly bad. I think it's Jimmy Page's missus who tells of how, at the height of Led Zep's success, she went to buy a sofa. It wasn't until the shop (which had just run a credit check) said they'd need cash up front that the band found out they personally didn't have any money. It had all gone to management and record companies. But the biz is full of tales like that.

    I know Moore lives in a terrace house in Northampton. Of course he'd possibly be a bit better off if he took some of the royalties on offer from the film adaptations. Still, I admire his principles and the fact he doesn't foist them on his collaborators by scuppering the adaptations (although in view of what you've said, would he actually have the power to do that anyway?)

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  18. I don't think Moore hurts for cash, and it's amazing how venomous comic "fans" are about him refusing the royalties, I think it's great because he actually has his share paid to the artists instead. Now he's had his fallings out with artists in the past over things, but he is generally a Good Egg towards them and fellow writers who are not Grant Morrison. For example he stopped blocking the reprints of his Captain Britain tales because it was preventing the release of the Dave Thorpe penned stories immediately prior and Thorpe was someone who needed the royalties. I think most of his eighties cash got given to his wife when she ran off with their mutual girlfriend, heh. But he and Melinda Geibbe seem happy, they created Lost Girls together (she did the art) and he said there was nothing like collaborating for ten years on a pornographic work to really show you're made for each other. His daughter from marriage no. 1 is a writer now, she's called Leah Moore. I had planned to cover a collaboration they have done next month, but now I am tempted to crack on with Providence...

    There's a fascinating bio of Moore by Lance Parkin called Magic Words which details much of his legal travails and fallings out. But also has some fascinating insights like how he has only been to the USA once and hated every minute there, yet somehow does such incredible research you'd think he'd lived there all his life. The book also points out he's always, always managed to sign the rights away to his work without legal advice, so something like LXG which he did outright own, he signed a bad contract for the adaptation even after all the messes he suffered at the hands of DC and Marvel. Man's his own worst enemy!

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  19. Ooh Moore's personal life sounds intriguing. I'll add the Parkin book to my winter reading shopping list (I get through a lot of books on those dark nights). I'm always a but amazed at why people don't consult lawyers before doing deals. That's not just self interest, but not doing so is a recipe for being ripped off. To bring the music biz in again, I pitched a short series on music biz law to some radio producers. Had a lot of interest in that. Really I should follow that up. I'll put it on my ever expanding to-do list. One meeting about that was with a guy who'd just sold his half interest in Endemol the people who make, inter alia, that millionaire quiz thing (would you believe the other owner is Jasper Carrot!). He was really nice. He'd just bought a load of radio stations and wanted to talk about that 'Legally Speaking' programme I did. He took me to a really nice hotel so we could chat over a meal. But I barely heard him. I just kept thinking "Give me some money you bastard".

    Ah, I really should get off my arse and follow up on some of the opportunities I get. It's just that thing where I'm good at sorting out other people's lives but really slack about my own. A number of my friends reckon with the right woman in my life I'd be a millionaire. But I'm pretty happy where I am and I enjoy my immature floozing. Plenty of time for growing up later. In dog years I'm barely a kid.

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  20. Parkin's book is well worth and interestingly what inspired me to do a regular monthly look at Alan's Obscurities, because when it comes to weaving in all his comics it hits all the major notes, his time at 2000AD, Swamp Thing, Watchmen, The Killng Joke, From Hell, Promethea, LXG and Lost Girls but just sweeps over his Image work with a lip curl and barely discusses his ABC output bar Promethea and LXG so basically over a decade of work not covered in any meaningful way. That's not to be critical of the book, I can see why he needed to focus on the best known and important works but nevertheless it sent me off to wikipedia and I've been working through the bibliography page ever since :)

    I don't tend to get many opportunities myself, but that doesn't really bother me. Given how badly I deal with even minor stress I'm quite happy with an uneventful life. And as you say, we're still young, hell given the average life length of the women in my family I'm not even halfway through it!

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  21. Moore was responsible for the first ever reference to Bradford in 2000AD (and possibly comics generally) so I'll always like him for that.

    I'm not sure I'd categorise your life as uneventful; you've done all sorts of fascinating stuff. You're a very interesting character. And your blog is pretty much a full time job. I'm surprised you have time for anything else really. I think eventually you should maybe collate some of the stuff you've written over the years and do a book or something. You bring out a lot of points that I've not seen covered elsewhere. There are obviously a few feminist perspective commentaries on media; but you break a lot of new ground and bring some fresh insights to topics that have previously been ignored. The timing's getting right for that now too as identity issues are becoming more mainstream. But what little commentary there is still doesn't seem to get it; it's all very superficial. The writers don't have your level of expertise or experience.

    I don't want to seem like I'm dictating how you should do your blog. But one idea I'd just run up the flagpole and see who salutes, is that occasionally rather than posting about a particular story, maybe post about a particular topic and reference numerous stories to illustrate that. For example, a post about the portrayal of asexuality generally would be quite fascinating. And at the risk of being obvious the treatment of mental illness in media is another subject crying out for some knowledgeable and sympathetic coverage. I'm also quite keen on following up on the idea about school life which I'd love your input on. Oh btw, I think I forgot to tell you, you know my idea for my magnus opus about the spy girl? Well, was listening to Radio 4 Extra a few weeks back when they announced their new series about the trials and tribulations of a young woman working for MI5. I had to switch off in the end, it was just so good and dealt with loads of the stuff we'd been chatting about but was really well written. She's even got that flatmate! :-)

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  22. *discretely closes the tabs of various Puella Magi Madoka Magica fanfics* Yes, I totes work hard all the time at me blog, hem hem hem. Ah wait I can stick the Madoka Magica manga's on the schedule and call this research. I am winner!

    Actually I have thought of mixing up some essays and possibly Top Ten lists in amongst the usual posts. I think what worries me is I feel like I would need to have access to a lot more comics on the same subject and over so many years, and then I archive panic and have to breathe into a paperbag. :P But um.. I still like the idea, it might be a future project when I can afford to cover the topics more fully.

    That Radio 4 show sounds cool, I can still listen to Radio 4 without a TV licence thank goodness so I'll have to check it out.

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  23. That's the great thing about your blog, *everything* counts as legitimate research. I had an interesting copyright dispute once which resulted in me being paid to read the "Hungry City" books (which I also got given for free as part of the evidence).

    Yeah, like I say I didn't want to dictate what you should blog about

    *proceeds to dictate what Varalys should blog about*

    but I'd love to see your thoughts on some general themes. Don't want you hyperventilating though so take it at your own pace. You could always do my skivy uni essay approach:

    "Although this issue is the subject of much discussion, we can perhaps highlight the main points by reference to these key works..."

    You'd love Radio 4 Extra, they have some great classic sci-fi on there. Goes all the way back to the 50s radio serials. And they do the Dr Who audios. They also have some good documentaries. I'm still sulking a bit though about that MI5 series. My own fault though. As James Dyson said "I wasn't the first person to come up with the idea of a cyclonic vacuum cleaner, just the first to get off his arse and actually build one."

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  24. Talking of skivy essay approaches I swear my A grades in English Lit and History at A'level were purely down to my ability to bullshit round stuff I was a bit unprepared for. There's a joke I recall hearing a long time ago that I can't for the life of me think where it was but it's always made me smile. A student starting an essay "When considering the dilemmas faced by Hamlet we should first look at how he would have approached them if he'd been called MacBeth..." I never got quite that bad, but considering I wrote an A grade paper on Great Expectations a book so DULL I only read the start and end, I came pretty close :D

    I have dabbled a bit with Radio 4 Extra mainly to download the comedy podcasts because I'm not always in the mood for music whe n I'm out and about, but I need to hit it up more often now I have a computer with working sound.

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  25. Also talking of fanfiction, I just started browsing "An Archive Of Our Own" for more Madoka fics and had to laugh that "Time Travelling Lesbians" is a common enough trope that it has its own category tag. I Approve!

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  26. What, you mean you *can't* all time travel? Actually 'Time travelling lesbians' is pretty much the Dr Who subtitle these days :-)

    You remember that not the nine o'clock news sketch about the kid who always submitted the same essay about his aunt's parrot? I quite enjoy essay writing, but you've probably spotted by love of waffling. I once did a couple of essays for friends at uni just for the laugh. I'd done mine and them I did there's. One from a Marxist perspective and the other from a lassaiz-faire libertarian one. Banged all three out during an evening of mooching and drinking. There was a fair bit of bluffing in those. Got decent grades amazingly. Ah, how we amused ourselves before the Internet.

    Legal writing can be fun. Especially what are called Pleadings. That's where you set our the factual narrative for a civil case. Our bar school tutor said the key thing was to make them compelling so they actually read like a gripping story. It actually says in the manual "If it was a 'dark and stormy night' don't be afraid to say so". The first exercise we did on that was to draft a claim for Humpty Dumpty. But there's a great thing floating around by an American lawyer who drafted a claim by Wyle E Coyote against the ACME company. It's so funny. Basically all the cartoons redone in a very formal legal format "resulting in singeing of the ears and causing the upper torso to take on the appearance of an accordion with consequential musical accompaniment upon walking.." etc.

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  27. Brilliant, they've actually loaded it onto the legal database

    http://www.lectlaw.com/files/fun13.htm

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  28. I believe younger lesbians can time travel all over the place now. I can only do it very slowly and only forwards ;)

    I had a ridiculous course load at Uni and one of my lecturers had followed me there from being one of my A'level History teachers and would take great delight in ignoring me desperate pleas and when handing out seminar presentations she'd give me the ones no one else wanted. For the following week. On bloody topics like Semiotics or my worst one Auteur Theory. I still have nightmares about being set that one again! Still she was a cool old Marxist who used to give me a lift back to Uni on a Monday morning after I'd worked in the Opera House over the weekend.

    I shall check out that link in a while, sounds like fun. I'm still suffering from stupidly taking two sleeping pills last night in the hope I could defeat insomnia and unfortunately, while it worked, it worked too well and I STILL feel "hungover" from them. I shall just live with the insomnia in the future, this is way worse than feeling tired >_<

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  29. I really enjoyed uni. I think it's because I very much wanted to be there so it was fun. Our year was also predominantly mature students (ha, 25, mature!) so there was maybe more of a work ethic. Although don't get me wrong, we certainly partied. Bar School was such a skive it was practically a part time course. And those were the days where the main qualification was 'dining'. That's where you had to eat a certain number of dinners at your Inn of Court. We had some exams but they were either open book drafting exercises (and if you'd made sure you had all the model answers that had previously been handed out it was pretty much just copying them) or advocacy exercises on video. And that's just acting. The only two real exams were the dreaded "MCTs". They were multiple choice exams on procedural rules, so you actually had to know something. Remember cramming with a friend for those in the gardens of a museum near my house. We got through a lot of cake. My final 'electives' were pretty weird. One was criminal procedure. But by that stage I'd been working for a solicitors for three years actually attending court, so the tutors used to literally ask me in seminars how things were being done in practice these days. So I did pretty well in that. Tne other was the 'tribunals' option. At that stage some of us had actually been doing real legal work for a thing called the Free Representation Unit. It says a lot, but totally unqualified students are allowed to represent poor people in actual real life cases. So all I had to do was submit all the paperwork from one of my cases. As it happens though the one chosen was an employment tribunal case. But we settled it. And part of the settlement agreement was a confidentiality clause. So all I could hand in was literally the one page court order saying the case had been settled on confidential terms. I couldn't even refer back to what the claim was actually about. After a bit of arguing (and reference to the rules that said I had to act in the client's best interests) we agreed that should count as a bare 'pass' albeit with no actual grade. Luckily that was all I needed to pass the course overall. Ah do kinda miss those days. It really was like being at uni in the middle ages. I remember once being in our tutorial group. One of our number had been dining the night before. There's a lot of semi compulsory boozing at those events so she was slumped with her head in a wastepaper basket. Our lovely tutor (he was like something out of jeeves and wooster) just said: "I think Tamara is a little worse for wear today so perhaps we might keep things down a bit"

    And having just harped on about all that hopefully you no longer need the sleeping pills. :-)

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  30. NO that was interesting :) Well you already know how much my school sucked and I did see University as my salvation which it was. Interestingly because Media Studies was a "new thing" they set the course requirements at Two D's and a C, and I got two A's, a B and a C. No one could figure out why I was there lol. But I liked it because everyone wasn't up themselves and boring overachievers. We had quite a few mature students as well we had an influx of them in my second year there and one became my best gay male friend and another my first girlfriend, who still lives up the road from me.

    It was hard work because they were literally writing what would become the Media Studies curriculum for the whole country so we were sort of their test run. I got a 2:1 in the end which I was happy with, what's cool is both my sisters got 2:1's as well. Of course me and baby sister like to tease sister no.1 for not doing a Masters because we are mean heh heh. Working at the Opera House fitted in with my socialising, we tended to club it on weekdays because prices in the Village got ridiculous on Saturdays and Sundays. So I could drift home Saturday morning and as I didn't drink, not be suffering a hangover either.

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  31. It's funny that your course was so new. The Inns of Court School of Law had literally had the monopoly on teaching barristers since about 1230. So you can imagine the quality. It's all changed now. A few universities offer the course and it's a proper Masters degree now. But that's why we still had all the dining stuff. It was actually a clever method. You had to sit in groups of 4 and you weren't allowed to talk to anyone outside that group until after dinner. So the idea was you'd learn stuff from barristers and judges you'd end up sitting with (in practice of course most people just sat with their friends from bar school). But them after dinner there'd be a talk. Technically you didn't have to stay for it. But they'd bribe you with free carafes of Port if you did. That's what resulted in my brush with the tube train.

    There was quite a conflict though between the actual inns and the school on how advocacy was taught. Midden Temple was considered the leader in developing advocacy training. I joined the inn during my time at uni and was a Guinea pig for the training they were developing. That's why they gave me the scholarship when I went to bar school. It also meant I'd been able to clock up half a dozen dining sessions before I even started there. And that really took a bit of tne pressure off. It was great fun though. I remember on one occasion they got me to go up to Leeds for a demonstration of the new training. They sorted me out the train ticket and asked "do you travel first or standard class?". I just said I refused to dignify the question by answering and they laughed. They put me (and a mate I dragged along) in the *second* best hotel up there. The judges got a slightly nicer one. Not complaining though. Because of that experience though I had a sort of head start on advocacy. The inn wasn't very impressed with the school's training but said to do it the school's way for the exams but the inns way in real life. And I think they're very right about that. There's a world of difference between training with actual judges as opposed to lecturers. Tne judges are the actual customers as it were. Got to do some great post bar school training cos of all that. Hard to believe but I was being groomed for stardom. Got invited to the advanced international advocacy course at Oxford uni. That was amazing. One of the tutors was Geoffrey Nice. He's the guy who prosecuted slobodan milosovitch. Hence all my war crimes nerdery. Did some stuff at Cambridge too so I can genuinely claim to have an Oxbridge education. But tne best one was the course at Cumberland Lodge. That's in Windsor Park and that's how I got invited to breakfast with the Queen (didn't go as you know). The inn has now accepted that I'm never going to be Lord Chief Justice (although their theory is eventually every one of the top law positions will be filled by people who did those courses) but they do want me to lecture on advocacy for them. I really want to do that. So it's another thing on my 'must finally get round to it' list. The person in charge of all that is very interesting. When I first met her and her husband, she was running all that at the inn and her hubby was a barrister who was also heavily involved. Became really good friends with them. But was a bit surprised in the early days when they introduced me to a very good looking young chap who turned out to be their live-in mutual boyfriend. Heh, the law eh? Bernard's actually a very senior judge these days. I think you'd like the Bar. Some very interesting people there. I'll put a trip to middle temple to meet everyone on my list of places to take you.

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  32. That sounds really cool. The most I know about the law is the stuff mum would tell me after a hard day prosecuting council tax dodgers, housing benefit fiddlers and Freemen of the Land. So not as glamorous as your experiences :)

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  33. ""Time Travelling Lesbians" is a common enough trope that it has its own category tag."

    That's not how AO3 works. ^^;

    I post there occasionally, and people can tag their shit anything they want common-uncommon-stupid-ranty doesn't matter. Occasionally the algorithms & mods try to reroute the excess tags into more usable ones (or the right ones... some people can't use the tagging system to save their lives *grumble*stupid-MCU-fans*grumble*) but it's a losing battle.

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