Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key by Jack Gantos is a book you probably haven't heard of, and that's a shame. Chances are that you've heards of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by mark Haddon though, you might even have read it. Curious Incident is a good book, no doubt about that but I'm not really sure why it's done so well, in the same way I don't know why Harry Potter did or A Gathering Light. Why has there been such a fuss over Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell? No idea. All these books are well written but (actually as much as I like Curious Incident I don't think it's as good as many have claimed and I don't care for Harry Potter much at all) I don't think that's what's gave them great sales. About ten minutes before I began typing this I finished reading Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key (or JPSTK) and I was still teary-eyed when I started. JPSTK is about 5 years old and about a boy with ADHD, it's written from his point of view and is so successful in putting you in Joey's position that I felt I had ADHD every time I put it down. Joey's bright open manner, desire to be a 'good kid' and inability to control himself is the heart of this book, there's no realy plot to speak of just Joey's life and that's the power of the book. In a quirky natural and unsentimental way it punch you in the stomach with it's strong mix of sadness, humour and joy.
Jack Gantos' autobiography Hole in my Life is coming out in a few months, it talks about how he was sent to prison at the age of 20 for his part in a get rich quick drug scam and wrote his own thoughts between the lines of The Brothers the book that inspired him. It sounds excellent and I'll be buying a copy.
No writing today, noe yesterday and none the day before. Everytime I have a good day I follow it up with a few bad ones which is annoying. It's proving insanely difficult to build up any momentum, life and my inability to deal with it just gets in the way. Sometimes I wonder what I could achieve if I just focused on writing and drawing. The idea of doing nothing else but writing and drawing, is really attractive but I don't have the heart or the will power to do it. Also I'm scared I'll find out I'm not that good. The only thing I want to do with my work is to let go and just apreciate the moment but it seems to be beyond me. Perhaps one day I'll stop creating problems for myself but that seems typical of so many people of my generation.
Our new matress should be getting delivered tomorrow and I'm so looking forward to sleeping on it. Our present matress feels like a layer of rocks covered with cheap white bread which I don't think has improved my back much. Hopefully it'll encourage me to sleep, for some reason even though I love sleep and can easily sleep for 10 or 11 hours solid I tend to go to bed as late as possible and usually get about 4 or 6 hours sleep. Since I cut down to one cup of coffee a day I'm felling more tired (although not as tired as I did the first week I cut down) but still making myself stay awake. I just can't get the idea out of my head that the sooner I sleep the sooner I'll wake and be back at work with nothing to show for myself. Bad habit, must have more early nights.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Is a post really bad if you can't think of a name for it?

After a slow week of writing I seem to have stepped up a gear managing to write over 500 words today. As a bonus I'm also quite pleased with the scene I wrote, it seems to capture the right blend of pulp noir and silliness I have in my head as I write but usually fail to put down on paper, or PC. I'm going out tomorrow as a friend is taking pity on my lonliness and has invited me round for feeding and company so I'll probably not get anything done, but other than that maybe I'll actually be productive this week.
As well as writing I also managed to read a couple of short books, The Red Judge by Pauline Fisk was good, the prose and plot started awkwardly but eventually settled down into a strange tale that went from odd happening to odd happening with a dreamlike quality totally suited to the story. The other book was less good with a lame plot Rod Sterling would have rejected, irritating characters and a dreadful finale (or finally you might say) Demon's Rock like Red Judge was a kid's book but decided to be patronising and shallow instead of honest and interesting.
I'm going to read Freak the Mighty next which has been well reviewed and looks pretty decent. I've a stack of unread books on my bookcase, maybe that's something else I can do this week.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

What time is it!?!

Oh man I have wasted my morning and a big chunk of the afternoon online. You know how it is, you see one article read it maybe follow it up on comments/forums and before you know it you've found a few more things of interest, you follow them and then you suddenly realise that you've lost a few hours that could have been better spent than reading idiots argue on line.
The big news for me at the moment is that I'm on my own. My wife has to sometimes support people on holiday and that's what she went to do this morning, for a eight days. I'll see her next sunday when I get in from work. Great. Of course this is why I ended up wasting half of the day online. I'm going out in a couple of hours to meet up with a friend who's visiting, I'll only see him for an hour of so but it's been a while sinse I last saw him so I'll be going. I might waste time at the cinema watching a crappy film (I'll wait until Rebecca get back to see decent films), anything to make the time pass until Sunday when I can get back to taking Rebecca for granted.
Unless I suddenly get hit with inspiriation soon my 1000 words for Simian this week will fall a few hundred short. It's been a bit busy and I've wanted to spend time with Rebecca instead of writing. Also I'm a bit stuck with what comes next. Being on my own next week should mean I'll get more done though so hopefully I'll make up for the shortcoming this week.

more 'reviews'

Entirely by coincidence I ended up buying mainly manga on my weekly visit to my local comic shop. Fortunately for me my local shop is Page45 and fails to meet the usual expectations of comic shops. Unlike Forbidden Planet and many other larger comic shops it's not a toy shop pretended to be a comic shop, it's clean, tidy and well laid out. The big difference between Page45 and most other comic shops is that it doesn't just pay lip service to independent or alternative comics, it puts them up front and displays them proudly. Of course the superhero stuff is still there, just not in the usual quantities or prominence. It would be dull of me to drone on about the superhero/alternative divide, or the notion that what comic fans consider alternative is what non-comic fans would consider mainstream (Maus, Jimmy Corrigan, Palestine for instance), or even to talk of the slow death of the comic industry. They're self evident to anyone who has taken even the slightest bit of notice. This isn't an advert for Page45 either, I do have a few problems with them and the standard of many other comic shops has risen in the last 5 years or so, but it's still a damn good shop.
So, back to those comics. The only non-manga I bought was two zines, King Cat, totally impossible to describe but utterly irresistible and unique, John Porcilleno is creating something utterly personal and has been doing it himself, his way, for years. Fantastic work. I bought two to send one on to Danny, I've always thought he'd like it.
Manga is not something I'm amazingly familiar with but I still have quite a few books, Uzamaki (scary and weird in a way that I've rarely seen), Lone Wolf and Cub (Kill Bill 2 name checks the film adaptation Shogun Assassin), Ranma 1/2 (and a few other Rumiko Takahashi books, she does character based comedy and drama better than anyone, whether it's realistic such as Maison Ikkoku or genre based such as Lum or Ranma), Hellbaby (brrrr.....), Miyazaki's Nausicaa (the excellent director creates an epic comic using his favourite themes of nature and love) and a fair few more. But still, I know very little about manga beyond the big stuff and the odd quirky little title, the recent massive expansion thanks to publishers like Tokyopop and the huge leap in sales in the US, and presumably the UK, has meant that there's just too much out there. Also I suspect that in an effort to keep up with the demand a lot of filler stuff is being translated. A quick look at the bulging shelves in Page45 reveals the same stuff being repeated over and over again, the skill on display is undeniable but the thing I've always loved about comics is that they are a great medium to produce something unique and personal. Unlike the big US comic though though manga publishers at least have more strings to the bow it's repeatedly plucking with Sci-fi, horror, fantasy, crime, romance and comedy the popular staples of manga genres, as opposed to superheroes and the odd horror and crime title.
But not all manga follows the usual blueprint, there's quite a lot of interesting 'underground' style manga out there (Fantagraphics did an excellent collection that had me wishing for more translations) and many other more personal tales, which finally leads me to the point of all this rambling. Jiro Taniguchi's The Walking Man is a wonderfully sweet life affirming book that manages to avoid being trite or manipulative. Imagine the excitement of... taking a walk. Because that's all that happens. No day dreaming flights of fancy to spice things up, just a guy who likes to walk. What makes this so special is the very ordinariness of it all and the walking man's openness. He might stop to help some children get a toy plane from down a tree, take a look at the view from the top of the tree, find the toy plane broken lying in the gutter on the way home and take the time to fix it and send it flying once more. Or he'll get over taken by a gentlemen walking faster than him so he'll catch up, be over taken, catch up, be over taken and so on until a silent understanding is met and the two men walk together sharing the moment. The slow pace, sparing dialogue and exacting artwork make this a pleasure to read and an inspiration to go outside and enjoy the world. Sadly I couldn't find this on amazon, just mention of Ibooks translation of Taniguchi and Moebius' collaboration which didn't terribly impress me when I saw it, lovely artwork from Taniguchi but Moebius' writing is not half as interesting as his drawing. I haven't looked at it yet but the publisher does have a website though ponentmon.
The other book I picked up is also by the same publisher, Fanfare/Ponent Mon, and is a book I've been wait for for a while now. I haven't had a chance to read it yet so you'll have to wait for my long winded opinion (!), but I've got seriously high hopes for Kazuichi Hanawa's Doing Time. It's about the author's time in jail for possession of a gun. The reason for having a gun is fairly innocuous and the three year sentence seems to have been unnecessary. The book looks to be slow moving, lacking in melodrama and beautifully illustrated in a style that reminds me of Yoshihiro Tassumi (who's work is sort of Raymond Carver-esque and is apparently getting a new translation through Drawn and Quarterly) Hopefully Doing Time will live up to my expectations.
And that's it.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Deer are breeding during Sept-Nov, do not approach

There's a wide path in the park that's lined with really big trees adn on the way to draw deer I decided I'd have a go at drawing some of them. Trees are beautiful things, no matter what season. I realised I wouldn't be doing them justice, I didn't have the best tools for the job and my ability is just too limited at the moment but as I stared at the thick textured trunk twisting up and become utterly choked with branches and leaves I figured it would be fun to try my best. I managed to draw two trees before giving up, the first try wasn't very good but I'm quite pleased with the second one, the leaves caused the most problems for me as I just didn't have the time to spend drawing every leaf and the loose scribbles I went for failed to capture the dense foilage. One thing that struck me about the trees was the branches, obviously no one had pruned them and they looked amazing. Some of the branches climbed skywards so elegantly it was hypnotic, others spead out towards the groung under their own weight and some of the branches looked like ink on paper that's been blown on (remember the way you drew trees at school when you were little, a big wet blob of watery paint and a straw to blow it in the right direction?), it's hard to believe that these branches didn't just explode out suddenly but instead slowly extended over months and years.
Sadly the deer were too busy having sex somewhere for me to draw them. I suppose I could have hunted around for them but I'm not sure I want to draw copulating deer and I don't think they'd want to be drawn.
A few people came up to me as I drew which turned out to be quite a pleasant experience. An old American guy came up to me and politely asked if he could look over my shoulder, I told him it was fine but I'd just started and there wasn't much to look, he looked for a while and told me it was very good. I guess he might have just felt obliged but it seemed genuine and made me feel quite proud which seemed ridiculous but nice all the same. A little later as I was drawing the same scene three kids came over and watched for a while and asked a couple of questions, one of the kids (the eldest I think, he seemed to be about thirteen or fourteen) kept saying 'cool' in a fairly awstruck voice, the others also seemed incredibly impressed. I'd forgotten how fascinated people can be about drawing and how magical it can seem to kids; my work wasn't great but the fact that I was doing it and it looked like the scene in front of me was enough to make these kids stop, particularly impressive considering how grungy I look today.
As I was drawing today I found that I wanted to draw more and there seemed to be so many things worth drawing, I realised that even though the pictures aren't coming out how I want them that it's just not that important.
I'll post some of the sketches up later.
On the way back I saw another fox, this one looked a bit thinner than the one I saw in the back garden, it was dashing across the road into some bushes. As Danny points out on his blog foxes seem to combine the features of cats and dogs which explains why I find them so amazing. That people are protesting the banning of foxhunting at the moment saddens and angers me, I'm not sure what makes people think they're justified in chasing such beautiful creatures until they are too tired to run and then watching them be torn apart by dogs.

Need coffee.... must.... resist

There's a guy playing in town tonight called Jeffery Lewis who I might go and see. He does the kind of acoustic stuff I like (and my wife calls 'dringy dringy music', which seems like a fair comment), I'm not too familiar with him though and I'm not sure I want to go into town so I've not made my mind up yet. I think I will go to the park in a bit to draw the deer though, it's dry and Rebecca's gone to work so I might as well do something. Hope I do the deer justice.
Talking of sketching, the image hosting site I use is working again so here's some pictures from my sketch book.

This was a guy waiting for his girlfriend (or wife) in the hairdressers I was in waiting for Rebecca. I don't know if he knew he was being sketched but he stayed still for a remarkable length of time which is why this sketch is fairly accurate.... although not necessarily good!

I'm still trying to do a decent picture of my wife and still failing. This one. as the not suggests, is at least getting somewhere, I think it's going to take a lot more practice before I get better at capturing likenesses

Rebecca again, this time in the garden. No attempt made at getting the face done here I'm ashamed to say, the garden looks very little like the one I've drawn. I quite like the way this one looks but the plants are very sketchily done, this can sometimes be a good thing as it gives the impression of something enough for the mind to fill in the blanks, I don't think I quite succeeded here but I still quite like the picture.

Final picture and Rebecca is once again my 'muse'. Drawing people reading is almost as good as drawing them sleeping - very little movement. The attempts at shading spoil this one but it's pretty decent. Still not happy with any of the sketches I've been doing, the drawing is getting a little better and it's sloooowly getting easier (ever so slightly) to capture what I see, but the final results aren't terribly pleasing and there's still very little interpretation going on, I'm just recording images which is not my preferred kind of work. As I've said before though I need more confidence and to get better at drawing before I can free my self up to simple put down something on paper the way I see it and the way I want to come out. In the mean time I am quite pleased with these - and I'm picking the best out of sketchbook as I go!
Had a bit of a rubbish day yesterday, work's getting harder and I'm back to feeling slightly unfulfilled by it. I need to find a different job but it's such a scary prospect that I keep putting it off for various (usually manufactured) reasons. At the moment I figure I'll see Christmas through, see if I actually get the promotion I've deserved for the last few months and then I can try and get work as a classroom assistant in the new year.
It's getting on, I'd better finish this up and make my way to the park.

Friday, September 17, 2004

I drank a lava lamp, It wasn't lava.

Lost an earlier post for technical reasons that utterly escape me. The gist of the post was -
Rainy grey weather makes a welcome return, hot sunny weather (when we had it) is mine, but I like blustery winds, clouds rushing across the sky and wrapping up warm.
Mama Cass has a great voice.
Anchorman is amazingly silly fun.
No deer sketching because of weather.
Moans about my writing in notes books meaning that when it comes to typing it up the natural editing that happens is making the end word count suffer.
Charity shop couch buying didn't work out but we found a good couch from a fairly cheap place and will hopefully be taking possesion of a very large squashy olive green couch next week.
I bought a hat that my wife thinks make me look like a cute pixie.
And that was it.
I'd like to add that the Daniel Johnston CD I managed to pick up was excellent, to call his singing heartfelt doesn't do his voice justice.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Stuck on the 6th level on Manic Miner

Saw Supersize me tonight. It may be an easy taget the basic message may be pretty obvious but I can't remember the last time I felt so depressed anxious and entertained..... maybe one of the more grim episodes of Six Feet Under.
Even though I don't eat at McDonalds (or BurgerKing, KFC etc)and haven't in about eight years it's still given me plenty to think about, but nothing worth posting up!
I'm still writing but I'm not getting round to typing it up, I think I've managed about 600 hundred words so far this week, but I'm not sure, tomorrow I'll type it all up.
Only one picture in the sketch book today and it's rubbish, mostly due to the incredibly unispiring choice of material, but if was any good I'd manage to transform the mundane into pure gold in much the same way as Bob Carolges (spelling?) and Hellmans mayonaise used to do. Off to the park on friday to draw deer.
Hopefully we'll be buying a new (to us) couch tomorrow, I discovered a furniture charity shop that has some really nice stuff in it at excellent prices. I like supporting charities and I like not spending much money so that works out pretty well.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Wasted time is never time wasted

Too much time wasted tonight after downloading a PC version of Manic Miner last night. What a great game, better than the stuff out nowadays. I mean GTA 3 is great and all that but I prefer simple direct games especially when they are as dopily charming as the kind of things teenagers were creating in their bedrooms while there mums were shouting them downstairs for tea.

This is a legible version of the previous post

Back from Basingstoke. My back's still a bit sore. About four months ago I tore a muscle but I'd had a bad back for years before that, the kind of sore stiffness that's usually just about bearable. After tearing the muscle I was on heavy-duty painkillers and anti-inflammatory pills for a while and it seemed to settle down. No idea what set it off, could be the cold I briefly had, our rubbish mattress or I might've over done some exercising.
Basingstoke itself was fine, or rather Hook. My brother in law his wife and two year old son seemed in fine health and all ready for the arrival of another family member very soon. The presence of child and pregnant woman did nothing to cause my wife and I to plan our first child, we just don't have the urge and doubt we ever will.
Only 100 words typed up so far out of the 300 or so I reckon I did in my trusty notepad over the weekend. That should see me nicely over the 1000 for the week.
My sketchbook also saw a little action, I'll post something from it in a couple of days. The quality of the actual pictures is still lacking but I think that my observing ability is coming along a bit and that seems to be the main purpose of sketching.
One smart thing I managed to do on the train was to leave one of my bags. Nothing important in it so it’s not too much of a problem, I wouldn’t mind a couple of tops back, but other than that there’s nothing that I’ll miss. The new upcoming Carl Hiaasen was in the bag though which is a shame as I quite enjoyed it having not read anything by him for ages. His books are all remarkably similar but good fun and well written. Fortunately I managed to finish it before I left it on the train.
There’s a book coming out soon called Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, it’s set to be pretty big and I’ve had a proof copy for a couple of months. I’ve promised someone I’d let him read my copy but foolishly decided to start reading it myself.

Friday, September 10, 2004


We're heading down to Basingstoke in an hour or so to visit my brother in law and his family, I don't care for visiting people for seem reason, but it should be nice. Unfortunately my back is hurting quite a bit at the moment (it just came on yesterday and I've no idea what set it off), it's been worse, but I'd still rather not be spending time on a train. Typical.
So far I've only managed about 850 words this week. It's been a busy week, I stayed back at work because I was organising a book event a couple of days ago and last night was a friends birthday drink.

Monday, September 06, 2004

But what about the writing?

Up until today, since I started writing Simian Smith I had managed to write 2240 words. I’m not sure how long I’ve been writing, but even knocking off the time spent working on ‘The Hitcher’ comic strip I guess it’s been almost two months. Which means I’ve only managed 250 words a week, not even 50 words a day.
At the present rate it’ll take about 2 years to finish what will amount to about a 200 page book tops.
It’s fear and laziness. Fear that I’ll never get anywhere because I’m not good enough and my own half-arsed sluggishness. At the moment I’m doing enough to say that I’m working, but not enough to actually get anywhere. Well no more.
Today was my day off and after spending a pleasant afternoon with Rebecca, who was also off, I wrote about 500 hundred words, pretty good ones too. My goal is to write about 1000 words a week, some days are going to be better than others but 1000 seems achievable and it’ll add up to more than 2200 every two months.

A few days ago there was a fox in our back garden

We live in a smallish bungalow in an okay part of Nottingham, it's a bit pricey for a couple with our meagre earning but after renting a few rubbish homes we decided that we'd had enough and a nice place to live was worth the extra money. One of the great things about the area is that it's next door to descent size park. There's not an awful lot to the park but it's nice and does have one special feature; a deer reserve. It's nice being able to look at the deer, and I intend to go over and draw a few soon now that I'm sketching again. The other great thing about being near a park is that we do get to see the odd fox, Rebecca once even saw a badger in our front garden, which I'm incredibly jealous of. Foxes aren't exactly rare and you don't just need to live near a park to see them, but it does mean we see them a bit more regularly. Anyway, the fox in our back garden was different, it was in our back garden during the day and I've never seen a fox in the day time. It was a bright sunny morning and Rebecca spotted it as she was making coffee. If you have a dog or a cat you've probably seen that beautiful serene expression on their faces when they're in that incredibly relaxed not quite asleep or awake state brought upon simply by lying in sunlight. It's an expression that looks just as good on a fox. It must have stayed in the long grass (we don't mow regularly) for ten minutes before finally leaving. For those ten minutes we barely spoke and I didn't even think to draw it. For some reason I only just remembered it today. There's scene in Stand By Me (the film and The Body the book it's based on) where a young boy and a deer look at each other, it lasts seconds but it's a beautiful moment, and when it's over it's gone, not forgotten, just a moment that doesn't quite exist in the regular world. That's how it felt with the fox in the back garden.

Friday, September 03, 2004

As promised

All these should show as just a tiny bit smaller than actual size which is A5.
First up is the view from the kitchen window, well, not really the view from the window, more a view of the window.... anyway, this is the first sketch I did in the book and in many ways I think it's the best so far.

but that doesn't mean the others totally suck. Next up is an unflattering picture of my wife. I'm not particularly good at likenesses, especially if I have to do them quickly with no planning. That's why it doesn't look like Bec, or much like a woman for that matter. Other than the face I'm quite pleased with it though.

Finally we have our TV, there was something showing on it at the time but I can't draw fast enough to capture that. I think the atempts at shading spoil it (and the other pictures where I shade) but I still sometimes do it. Silly really.

That's it for now, there are more in my book but that's for later.

Thursday, September 02, 2004


Not the band of course. It was my day off and Bec and I went into town, she had an appointment at the hairdressers and we decided to go to the cinema later (Hellboy, good fun, pretty close to the comic but not quite as good), this meant we had about 3 hours to kill so we had a wander around town. There was a book I meant to buy yesterday but forgot so I thought I'd buy it today and we could steal a look at a cookbook to buy some ingredients for food tonight; that’s the problem. Going into work on my day off, it is a sad thing to do. It started when I used to cycle into town to go to the gym, I'd take my bike into the shop because I didn't trust it to be safe chained up outside. Also I used to meet up with a friend for a drink or to go to the cinema occasionally. All these visits built up and there was a bit of mickey taking. I've barely gone into the shop on my days off in months now, the guy I met up with most has left and I don't go to the gym in town any more. Still, when I'm in town I might pop in to buy a book, I could wait until I'm back at work but when I want something I usually like to pick it up then and there. It's lame going into your place of work, I deserve the mocking. I'm sorry. ------------------ Last night I spent far to long writing a post that my computer objected to so it shut down. Frustrating. Rather than try and conjure it up from my memory I'll just give you the abbreviated version. The
  • other Paul
  • wrote an interesting
  • essay
  • on his site about blogging and after telling Jon, who I work with (who, with Ali, another reader of this blog, so cruelly mocked me today), about my blog I'd been thinking about this whole blogging thing myself. Paul pretty much covers it in his article, but there were a couple of things I'd like to add.
    Why I don't just do this in a diary. This blog started and mainly exists as a way to get me working. Over the last year I've drawn and written very little and I thought I'd use a blog as a way of prompting me and also to allow me some sort of writing practice. It's hard to tell if it’s helped but I think might have, mainly because it not a diary. You see, if I wrote in my diary something stunningly offensive no one would know. If I wrote in a diary tonight that I intend to write an novel a week it doesn't mean I'll do a damn thing tomorrow, but if I posted up my novel a week intentions here I'd be open to whatever ridicule and scorn I'd rightly deserve. My rambling innocuous carry a bit more weight because there’s the possibility of people reading them. I like that, it helps me focus.
    What's so great about blogs? Nothing necessarily, but it's like
  • James Kochalka's sketchbook diaries
  • , an individual entry means nothing, read one a day and they still don't mean that much, but read 10 or 20 or 100 in a sitting and they become an amazing representation of living breathing life. Blogs are like that, they can be dull, banal, and mundane but over the course of time they can become fascinating portraits. As Paul says, it's probably more interesting if you already know the person, but there has been the odd blog that's made me feel like I already do know the person. It's not a modern obsession though, reading blogs is just a high tech way of nosing through people’s windows.
    As I mentioned in the previous post I've finally started sketching again. So far I'm enjoying it, the work's not great and a bit derivative at the moment, but I'm hoping that it'll improve and I'll find a more natural 'voice'. Anyway, I thought I might post some of the sketches, so stay tuned.