Archive for the ‘fiction’ category

Demons, ghosts, warriors and superheroes: Irish comics today

February 22, 2012

Demons, ghosts, warriors and superheroes: Irish comics today
LookLeft #9, December 2011

Growing interest in recent years has seen a burst of activity in the home-grown Irish comic/graphic novel scene; LookLeft reviews some current titles.

The League of Volunteers

The League of Volunteers
Atomic Diner

The League of Volunteers transports readers to an alternative WWII-era Ireland, where vampires roam Dublin’s streets and mythical characters from Irish folklore exist alongside costumed superheroes. Despite Irish neutrality, De Valera has organised patriotic heroes into a secret League to protect Ireland from the Nazi menace and other dangers of a more supernatural nature – namely the goat-headed demon Bocanach, freshly released from its eternal prison by those always foolish Nazi occultists. Centuries of isolation have left Bocanach with only one objective:  the demonic reconquest of Ireland.

The mix of superheroes, mythology and alternate history invites, not unflattering, comparisons with the likes of Alan Moore’s own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hellboy and Sláine. Robert Curley serves up a smörgåsbord of curious characters including the anti-fascist street fighter Glimmerman; ex-Blueshirt Archer; human-demon hybrid Blood Rose; Lúgh Lamhfada of the Tuatha Dé Danann; and even Fionn mac Cumhaill.

The exciting plot is full of historical and folkloric references and in-jokes, and characters appear interesting and rounded (e.g. it’s implied that Glimmerman and Archer fought on opposite sides in the Spanish Civil War). Meanwhile, Barry Keegan’s simple, energetic greyscale illustrations are highly effective, giving the feeling of watching an old war film. Though perhaps not as polished as the above mentioned titles, the first two issues are extremely enjoyable.

Róisín Dubh

Róisín Dubh
Atomic Diner

It’s the dawn of the 20th Century, and Rose Sheridan’s cosy middle class life is irrevocably shattered when her parents are slain by a freshly liberated vampiric sorcerer. Herself injured in the attack, the catatonic Rose is unwillingly bound to obey Donn, Lord of the Underworld. Donn tasks her with re-vanquishing the supernatural leech, who now has a 1,400-year-old blood thirst to quench. Thus is born Róisín Dubh, demon hunter.

Issue #1 is writer Maura McHugh’s retelling of the legend of Abhartach, a power-lusting Derry chieftain whose magical dabblings render him immortal, with a taste for human blood. Hated and feared by his subjects, he was eventually imprisoned by a rival. Stephen Daly’s high contrast monochrome artwork is a perfect accompaniment to the brutal tale, and this deliciously bloody apéritif whets the appetite for the next course.

Jennifer Wilde

Jennifer Wilde
Atomic Diner

Of all three offerings from Atomic Diner, this is certainly the most original. We’re promised a 1920s trans-European romp featuring “death, espionage and revolution”, in which young artist Jennifer Chevailer and the wisecracking ghost of Oscar Wilde attempt to discover the strange secret behind her father’s murder. While extremely enjoyable, issue one is mostly exposition and scene setting, so it’s difficult to tell where the story is going. Nevertheless, its smart, sassy and sophisticated stuff from Maura McHugh; fingers crossed it will fulfil its potential.

The Cattle Raid of Cooley

The Cattle Raid of Cooley
Self-Published

Belfast writer/artist Patrick Brown has been publishing his brilliant adaptation of the epic Irish legend Táin Bó Cúailnge as a free webcomic for three years. Part of the Ulster Cycle Legends, the Táin relates Cú Chulainn’s defence of Ulster against Connacht’s Queen Medb. It is a violent, visceral and darkly comic tale and Brown’s interpretation doesn’t leave much to the imagination; the single-colour artwork, raw and frenetic, is reminiscent of Eddie Campbell’s work on From Hell and the story is well-crafted with an obvious passion for the subject matter. The webcomic stands at 140 pages with more promised, and if you like it you should support the creator by buying the print editions.

The Curse of Cromwell

Cromwell and William’s Irish Wars
Moccu Press

Writer Dermot Poyntz and artist Lee Grace have produced a trilogy of historical graphic novels dealing with the Cromwellian and Williamite wars in Ireland (Curse of Cromwell, War of the Two Kings and Plight of the Wild Geese). Similar to Blood on the Rose (reviewed in LookLeft #5), while historically accurate, they lack a sense of engagement. While enjoyable enough, often they feel like perfunctory military or Leaving Cert-esque histories with images added on.

Brian Boru: Ireland's Warrior King

Brian Boru: Ireland’s Warrior King
O’Brien Press

Much better is Damien Goodfellow’s debut offering, chronicling the life and times of Brian Boru of the Dál gCais who rose from minor Munster chieftain to become High King of Ireland. There are no heroes in this story, just a cast of power-hungry Gaels and Vikings whose alliances and intrigues are constantly shifting. Narrated by the wily Gormfhlaith, wife and ultimate betrayer of Boru, the book traces his life from his rise in Munster to his death at the Battle of Clontarf. The art – jagged, dark and bloody – reflects well the times depicted; unrelentingly harsh and marked by constant warring. While the Brian Boru’s legend is open to historical critique, this is a rollicking good read.

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A couple of comic related articles up on Rabble

November 2, 2011

Rabble, Ireland’s newest and best non-party culture/politics freesheet has published a couple of articles about Irish comics (the type you read) that I wrote on their website. Hoepfully I’ll be contributing more frequently to this mag, which is one that is definitely worth supporting!

1 – Now Now Stolen Cow: The Cattle Raid of Cooley Webcomic – an interview with Belfast comic creator Patrick Brown, about his epic (in both senses of the the word) online interpretation of the Táin Bó Cúailnge.

2 – Irish Comics on the Web: Five of the Best – does what it says on the tin. Almost…

TV Review: The Promise – A rare and compelling political drama

March 18, 2011

Below is my latest (unabridged) piece in Socialist Voice.

The Promise DVD

The Promise DVD

TV Review: A rare and compelling political drama – The Promise by Peter Kosminsky (Channel 4, 2010)
Socialist Voice, March 2011

The Promise (Channel 4) is the latest in a number of programs critical of Israel to have aired on British television over the past few months. However, unlike Jezza Neumann’s Children of Gaza (Ch4 Dispatches), Nurit Kedar’s Concrete (segments of which aired on Ch4 News) and Louis Theroux and the Ultra Zionists (BBC), The Promise is unique in that is a work of serious political fiction. Although one might accuse Jane Corbin’s Death in the Med (BBC Panorama) “investigation” into the flotilla massacre of peddling seriously ridiculous fiction masquerading as serious journalism.

The Promise is a four-part serial telling the story of an 18-year-old Londoner, Erin, who uses her gap year to visit Israel to emotionally support her dual-nationality school friend who has been conscripted into the Israeli military. Just prior to embarking she finds her dying grandfather Len’s diary which details his life as a soldier during World War Two. The diary begins with the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, then sees Len sent to British Mandate Palestine between 1945-48 as British Imperialism prepared the ground for fulfilling the promise of the Balfour Declaration – the creation of the “Jewish state” of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians already living there.

The diary is a narrative device that allows the series to exist in two historical timeframes: Erin’s journey of discovery in Israel/Palestine in 2005 and Len’s experiences in Mandate Palestine. This is an approach that pays off, allowing the director, Peter Kosminsky (himself Jewish), to juxtapose imagery and events from past and present. A striking example is the British policy of destroying the homes of Jewish Zionist militants and Israel’s policy of demolishing the family homes of Palestinian resistance fighters. Also interesting is the comparison drawn between suicide attackers (viewed with revulsion in Israel) and the King David Hotel bombers (widely viewed as heroes). Kosminsky also allows us an insight into how – whatever about British Imperialism – squaddies posted in Mandate Palestine in large part initially sympathised with the idea of a “Jewish homeland”, but by 1948 after seeing comrades die and Palestinians ethnically cleansed, had come to view Zionism with extreme distaste.

The Promise - Len and squadmates in Mandate Palestine

While it is brilliantly acted (by Israelis and Palestinians), scripted and directed, it’s true that The Promise is not without its flaws – both political (e.g. a relative softness on the role of British Imperialism in the Palestinian catastrophe) and dramatic (e.g. an over reliance on unlikely coincidences, though this was probably unavoidably necessary to advance the plot) – overall it is a fantastic piece of political drama, made all the more amazing by virtue of the fact that it aired not as part of a niche film festival, but over four weeks in a prime time slot on a British terrestrial channel.

It is also worth noting that it was shot entirely on location using an Israeli crew – and interestingly the scenes depicting Gaza were shot in Jisr az-Zarqa, one of the poorest villages in Israel, and not coincidentally populated by Palestinian citizens whom the state has effectively abandoned.

If it took many serving British squaddies some three years to change their attitudes towards the racist colonial project called Zionism, it has taken large segments of the world population significantly longer to begin to move in that same direction. However, in recent years there has been something of a sea-change in opinion in relation to Israel. Events like the building of the Wall, the siege of Gaza and the wholesale slaughter of ‘Operation Cast Lead’, the murderous attack on the Freedom Flotilla and the increasing repression of progressive forces within Israel itself have increasingly exposed the true Apartheid nature of the Israeli state.

That The Promise could be aired in 2011 is a sign of this shift in opinion, and while it may never have the impact upon collective consciousness as – for example – Roots had when it first aired in the US, it is to be hoped that Kosminsky’s work will reach out, speak to and engage a new audience that were unaware of the great historical and contemporary injustices perpetrated against the people of Palestine.

The Promise is a must see – catch it online at Channel 4oD (www.bit.ly/fyl04i) while you still can, or buy the DVD or Blu-Ray box-set that also has some interesting looking extra features.

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Fiction & Socialism – Interviews with Kens Loach and MacLeod (and China Mieville)

November 18, 2007

 

By way of introduction, here are a few audio interviews I stumbled across featuring two of my favourite Kens (Loach and MacLeod), and China Mieville.

The first is an October 2007 interview with famed socialist film director Ken Loach. In the interview he talks both about his latest film It’s A Free World… and more generally about his past work. He’s promoting his two new DVD box sets which feature many of his films such as Land & Freedom (1995), Hidden Agenda (1990), Carla’s Song (1996), The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006), Kes (1969), Cathy Come Home (1966), My Name Is Joe (1998), Bread & Roses (2000) and many more – including lots of commentaries. I just bought both so that’s my Xmas viewing sorted. We can only hope that one day his and the late Jim Allen‘s epic mini-series Days of Hope (1975) along with their various Play For Today collaborations will one day surface from the BBC archives and get proper DVD releases – they would make fine companions to this collection.

The 11 minute interview can be heard here (via Film Detail). There’s also a very in depth profile of Loach that can be read here (via Senses of Cinema).

The second interview is actually a lecture given by socialist sci-fi author Ken MacLeod at the British SWP’s annual ‘Marxism’ event in 2006. The topic of the lecture is ‘Science Fiction and Historical Materialism’. Despite the perhaps dry title, it’s a very informative and often witty talk. I’ve only recently discovered MacLeod – by accidentally reading his latest novel The Execution Channel (2007) – but am now moving on to my fourth book of his, Learning the World (2005). As someone who rarely reads fiction – let alone science fiction – these days, this must be an indication of… something. I’ve also included a link to a more recent interview (February 2007) featuring MacLeod – along with Charlie Stross and Farah Mendlesohn – talking about his short story contribution to the Glorifying Terrorism (2007) anthology. The authors talk about their fears for free speech under New Labour’s draconian Terrorism Act of 2006. As the blurb says: “[This book] is, technically, illegal – because every SF/F story in this anthology breaks the current UK law that bans the glorification of terrorism. Whatever that is, of course.” Indeed.

The lecture can be downloaded here (via Resistance MP3) and the interview can be heard here (via Archive.org).

Finally, here are a couple of lectures given by the SWP’s resident ‘fantastic fiction’ author/International Law expert China Mieville – again at the SWP’s ‘Marxism’ event. The first from 2003 is entitled ‘Blockbusters and Boy Wizards’, and the second from 2005 is called ‘Marxism and Monsters’. I’ve yet to read any of Mieville’s works, but the talks are pretty interesting and tread some of the same ground as MacLeod’s speech above. Mieville has also produced a list (I love lists!) of ‘Fifty fantasy and science fiction works that socialists should read‘ – one day I’ll finally complete the list. I’ve also included a couple of other interviews where Mieville discusses his own work, socialism, ‘world building’, terrorism, his criticism of other genre authors, and many other subjects.

The lectures can be downloaded here [Blockbusters] and here [Monsters] [part 2] [part 3] (via Resistance MP3). Further interviews can be listened to here (via SciFi Audio, from 2002), and here (via The Bat Segundo Show, from 2007). There’s also a couple of interviews linked to on his Wikipedia page.

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