Friday, 31 May 2013

Minx Reviews: Water Baby

This week's Minx review is the graphic novel Water Baby by Ross Campbell. I think Ross Campbell is epic however I promise to be subjective with this review (mostly).

Water Baby is a story of two halves. The first part focuses on surfer chick Brody's recovery from having her leg bitten off by a shark. She is plagued with nightmares of a mutant version of the shark which attacks not only her but also her best friend Louisa. Just as Brody starts to get used to her loss another shark enters her life: ex-boyfriend Jake. Jake is a total douchebag and is ruining Brody and Louisa's peaceful existence. When he trashes their apartment Brody decides it's time to send Jake packing. This is where Water Baby enters phase two and becomes a road story. Instead of just ejecting Jake, Brody takes it upon herself to drive Jake back. At a service station he meets Chrissie. They say bad people attract each other and this is very much the case and before Brody and Louisa know what is happening Jake has invited Chrissie along with them. Chrissie's boyfriend apparently abandoned her and it becomes obvious why as she systematically tries to destroy the trio's already strained relationship.

As far as I remember Water Baby was my first Minx graphic novel and though, by no means perfect, it was enough to get me hooked on not only on the Minx imprint but also Ross Campbell.

I'll talk about the art first. It's faultless. If you like the slightly moody and decaying style of Wet Moon then you will be at home with Water Baby. When Brody shaves off her hair she very much looks like Mara. The story too has a very Wet Moon-ish feel to it (it was written between volumes 2 and 3). It is definitely the most grown up of the Minx stories. Brody's accident and nightmares are very graphic and the characters have very mature relationships with sex and sexual fluidity.

The first part of the story is very much the strongest. Because you start with Brody and Louisa a few minutes before the accident you already feel like you know them and their relationship when it happens. You are much more invested in Brody's recovery than if you had started a few seconds before the attack or just after. Louisa takes a lot of crap from Brody but because you know how close they were you want to see their relationship recover too. Then there's Jake. He is a trigger for the nightmares and causes some good extra tension but he is such a selfish, ignorant, douchebag that whenever he pops up he really sticks out. Everything is so nuanced and subtle and inferred then Jake comes along and does something dumb because he is an irredeemable idiot. You could say that maybe his stupidity is cute but he is also a chauvinist so unless you like guys who treat women as little more than put on the earth for their gratification he is not cute. I guess what I'm saying is he's a little bit too much of a jerk. I most definitely would not have offered to drive him home - but then that is also part of the story - Brody realising that you don't have to tolerate or pander to jerky exes.

The second part of the story is the road trip. It is very standard fare. It is here we meet Chrissie. Chrissie is cute but poisonous. I knew a girl exactly like her at university and maybe we all know girls like Chrissie but if you don't you'll probably find her a bit of an evil seducer stereotype in a book that is otherwise very liberal. I think because the book is so open to all sorts of ways of life if feels strange to have such an obvious 'villain' but like I said...girls who look cute and use their cuteness to do incredibly destructive things do exist. I suppose it doesn't help that Jake really is such an idiot and falls for her sly ways so easily whilst Brody and Louisa know there is something up and want as little to do with her as possible. I think because the books is a single volume and a big chunk is devoted to Brody's recovery there is not much space to develop Chrissie as much as the other characters. Though it is not intended she has a tendency to come across as bad because she sleeps around rather than bad because she is generally out to cause trouble.

Water Baby desperately wants to be two different stories but if you're willing to overlook the meandering plot there is a lot still to enjoy, notably the naturalistic dialogue, Brody and Louisa's relationship and Ross' beautiful art. It is also refreshing to find a male writer who can actually write good female characters and isn't afraid to write a less than perfect male. It gets very tiring seeing male writers mouth off about how great they are at writing strong females when in reality though their characters are not the 1950s housewife stereotype they are still no way near dimensional enough to be 'real' (yes there is a difference between 'strong' and 'real'). Long live Ross Campbell's obsession with deep, gutsy girls!

You'll like Water Baby if you like:
Wet Moon, Ghost World, Kakera: A Piece of Our Life, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, female road trip movies such as Boys on the Side and grungy surfer stuff.

Also by Ross Campbell (writer and artist):
Too Much Hopeless Savages!, Wet Moon, The Abandoned, Resurrection (v2), Shadoweyes and Shadoweyes in Love

Also by Ross Campbell (artist only):
Spooked, House of Mystery #1: "The Hollows", Hack/Slash, Fraggle Rock (v2 #2), Glory (#23-34) plus a load of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stuff.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Come and live in my world...

...there's room for everyone :)

An application video (you may need to turn your volume up).

The music featured is Silent Hill (Otherside) by Akira Yamaoka.

The 3D clip is from the work I do for zuboxTV. You can view all my zubox videos here:

You can see everything else either on my YouTube channel or at

This was so much fun I'll definitely be making a show reel in the future!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Minx Reviews: Emiko Superstar

Sorry I forgot to do this last week - when I start writing I get completely carried away sometimes! Anyway, I thought I would start with my favourite Minx graphic novel Emiko Superstar by writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Steve Rolston.

Emiko is the kind of girl who drifts through life. Bad things happen but she's always too scared of the repercussions to ever try to shake things up...that is until she sees Poppy, a beautiful, alternative teenage performance artist, at the mall. She is faced with a choice: attend young executive summer school with her 'safe' frenemies (but the closest she has to friends) or explore an alternate side of herself at the not-so-legal performance venue 'The Factory'. At first Emiko is fine just watching the performances but soon finds herself performing pages from the diary of the young mother she babysits for. She is an instant success but soon finds all that glitters isn't gold when 'The Curator' of The Factory (and Poppy's sleazy older boyfriend) comes on to her.

I think out of all the Minx heroines Emiko is the one most appealing to the intended readership. She is an everyday, intelligent, slightly introverted girl (much like the average Minx reader) who decides to leave a world and friends that dissatisfy her and reinvent herself for the summer as a character with no restraints on her freedom of expression (probably the biggest angst a teenage girl has) . Because The Factory is not some alternate world, just a hidden place on the other side of the tracks, it makes the idea that anyone can explore a different side of themselves much more accessible. Mariko doesn't try to over glorify the alternative scene though. Yes Emiko makes good friends there, but she also finds parts of it unnatural to her nature / personality and is especially unsettled by the motives and pushiness of The Curator. Mariko and Steve depict life at The Factory as beautiful but transient with those unable to move on paying the price. The biggest example of this is Poppy. Poppy is Emiko's idol and appears to revel in her role at The Factory and with The Curator but is also the most unhappy. She is like a butterfly trapped in her chrysalis with the lifestyle that created her slowly suffocating her and her life's full potential.

The art is also very likeable. Everything has a gentle roundness to it like the character designs for Lilo and Stitch. The panels are characterful and detailed without being crowded. Emiko is also a refreshing character design being short and curvy rather than tall and skinny or massively out of proportion like a your usual DC female.

The only niggle I have with Emiko Superstar (and it is a small one) is that Emiko refers to her school friends as being geeks (and she does not mean the cool kind like yours truly ;-) ). I'd say the people she hangs out with aren't geeks but friends of convenience (we've all been in that situation where you haven't managed to make any real friends so hang out with the first group willing to take you). Mariko somewhat assumes that if you're a geek you're uncool and unpopular (therefore lumping the three together) but that really depends on what circles you move in. I'm happy being a geek and *shocker* I have friends who *bigger shock* think I'm cool(ish). Being a geek doesn't necessarily make you uncool. Being a douchebag does. I think the best way to perceive it is that Emiko is a geek AND unhappy with her position in life. Throughout the story she remains herself (therefore remains a geek) but comes to understand herself and her needs better.

You'll like Emiko Superstar if you like:
Andy Warhol and his Factory, Kids on the Slope, Adventureland and modern American poetry and prose such as the work of Jack Kerouac, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg etc

Also by Mariko Tamaki:
Cover Me, True Lies: The Book of Bad Advice, Fake ID, Skim and Set Me on Fire.

Also by Steve Rolston:
Jack Spade and Tony Two-Fist, Queen & Country, Pounded, Mek, One Bad Day, The Escapists, Tales of the TMNT #28, Degrassi: Extra Credit vol. 4, House of Mystery #4 and Ghost Projekt.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

A Selection of Japanese Craft

Whilst in Japan I was very lucky to not only learn about wasabi but also take part in various traditional crafts.

Washi Paper

Wa means Japanese and shi means paper. It is a traditional paper made completely by hand (as you can see in the picture below). It is made by stripping, drying and pulping together the fibre from the gampi tree, the mitsumata shrub, the paper mulberry and the tororo plant. The pulp is put into a big vat and the paper maker dips screens into the vat to produce the sheets of paper. The sheets are then pressed and dried.

Here are the sheets of paper my mum and I made:
There are five styles of Japanese calligraphy. The character I produced is in the kaisho / regular script style (a formal style). Japanese calligraphy generally involves black ink, a brush, washi paper, a weight to hold the paper down with and a name seal. There are three main types of brush strokes (all of which you can see in my character). The first stroke is one where you press down at the beginning and the end of the stroke, the second is one where you press down at the beginning and trail off the pressure as you reach the end and the third is where you press down at the beginning and flick at the end (but not too much). Unlike writing you must have a rigid arm and hand. You must hold the brush 90 degrees to the paper. To generate the variety in strokes you have to be very confident - pressing lightly will produce thin lines which are not very aesthetic.
This character is wa which we now know means Japanese. It also means harmony. (I don't think the photo could be any more unflattering if it tried).

Tea Ceremony

Traditional tea ceremonies last up to six hours and not only include tea but a whole meal. They are very formal affairs with many rules. The green tea used is the bitter matcha tea. The matcha is whisked into the hot water rather than infused. To make the tea more palatable it is served with very sugary sweets. Sweets, bowls and kimonos are all carefully chosen to reflect the season the ceremony is taking place in eg in spring petal patterns in pink are preferred. People are allowed to talk during the ceremony at certain points however subjects must be peaceful ones such as the weather rather than ones that could cause arguments such as politics. If you are given a bowl to drink from with a pattern on which has an obvious front and back you much turn the bowl so that the pattern faces away from you to honour the pattern, your host's decision to pick it and the person who made it.

Here is an example of a spring tea ceremony sweet on a traditional pottery plate:

I also took part in an origami lesson (I made a box and samurai hat) and an ikebana (flower arranging) demonstration.

Origami is paper folding. Proper origami does not use tears or scissors and uses only one piece of paper. Here are some simple origami patterns for you to try.

Ikebana is incredibly complicated and takes years to master. The two main differences between Japanese and Western flower arranging are: 1) whereas Western arrangements are meant to be viewed from all angles ikebana has a back and front, 2) ikebana is as much about the negative space between the plants as the placement of the plants themselves - less plants are used and therefore much more importance is placed on the individual plants that are used in ikebana compared to Western flower arranging.

Here is a video that explains the basics of ikebana:

Saturday, 11 May 2013

(Late) Friday Feature - St Lola in the Fields

This week's (slightly late) Friday Feature is St Lola in the Fields a singer/songwriter due from Nashville, USA. Their album High Atop the Houses and the Towns is a combination of playful pop and absolutely beautiful, slow ballads featuring Cindy's soulful voice over just a piano (and sometimes strings). The pop songs are grown up but quite standard but the slower, graceful, heartfelt songs such as 'Don't Say' which is full of regret and understated emotion are just beautiful and make St Lola in the Fields a must listen.
Where will I have heard them before?

Cindy and Jeremy are both successful solo artists as well as write for other people. Cindy also performs modern Christian popular music under the name Cindy Morgan. Their single Hold Me appeared on TV series Pretty Little Liars and Don't Say appeared on One Tree Hill.

Featured Song: Don't Say

Where can I hear more?

St Lola's first release was an EP called Little Breaks/Little Bends (2008) but good luck trying to get it out side of the USA! Luckily the majority of the songs appear on their 2010 album High Atop the Houses and the Towns. You can listen to some of it here and download an acoustic version of 'He's in Love' here. You can get High Atop the Houses and the Towns from iTunes and Amazon.

What is their website?

Next week: Friday Feature is going to take a little break whilst I do the Minx reviews!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Wasabi Farm

Whilst in Japan I was lucky enough to visit a wasabi farm. Here is what I discovered:

Wasabi is a root and is grown in water (like horseradish). The way the wasabi plants wind through the valley makes it looks like this farm was once a river.
There is even a bridge so that you can cross the river of wasabi to get to the Shinto shrines on the other side.
Here is a shrine from one side of the river...
 ...and here is the inside of another on the other side of the river.
People harvesting the wasabi.
Here are just some of the products that the farm puts wasabi into including that very green drink which is wasabi beer!
This is a meal you can have at the wasabi farm. All aspects of it contain wasabi! The two little wrapped things are sweet wasabi buns filled with red bean paste, below them is a fried fish fillet and at the bottom are wasabi noodles and spring onion in a dashi broth.

The black lacquer box is a bento box! Top row (left to right): savoury potato jelly, sweet omelette, fried prawn ball. Middle row: broccoli with wasabi mayonnaise, fried fish (I think it was eel), cucumber with a very hot wasabi pickle. Bottom: tofu and bamboo root, chicken salad, mountain vegetables in a sesame dressing.
We then got taught how to make wasabi pickle. Wasabi pickle uses both the wasabi root and the wasabi stem. You chop it up then mix it with miso paste and leave it to ferment.

 Chopping so finely with such a big knife was scary!

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Back Together

So whilst I was away The Hush Sound got back together. Whoop!

Check out their new(ish) EP Forty Five on iTunes or via their brand spanking new website!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Friday Feature - Saint Motel

This week's Friday Feature is Saint Motel an indie pop band from Los Angeles, USA. If you could distil pure fun into music you would get Saint Motel. For example take single 'Puzzle Pieces'. It is like a salsa party in a song. The piano bounces along which is then matched by the playful pace of the rest of the band and finally A/J Jackson's powerfully seductive crooning of knowing lyrics (I think I might be in love with his voice). By the time he reaches the chorus you WILL be singing, "F-f-f-face of puzzle pieces WOO!" if not dancing around your room. Ditto for the rest of the songs on the album Voyeur be they playful like 'Puzzle Pieces', smooth like 'Benny Goodman' or a pure anthem like '1997' - they were designed to be sung along to. They were designed to be danced to. They were designed to be swept away on a musical cloud of ecstasy to...
Where will I have heard them before?

Saint Motel have toured with bands including Band of Skulls, Nico Vega, Imagine Dragons and Races. They have also started holding an annual Valentines concert called The Zombie Prom.

Featured Song: Puzzle Pieces

Where can I hear more?

You can hear all of Saint Motel's album Voyeur on their soundcloud where you can also download their single 'Benny Goodman' for free.

What is their website?

Next week: We'll continue the saint theme with St Lola in the Field
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