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Friday, November 27, 2020

Comic Cuts - 27 November 2020

I'm over the 100-page mark with BAM! and we might be finishing at around the 128 pages mark, as long as I don't go mad with the last of the big articles. I've had to bump one piece over to issue two as it would have added more cost on what is already going to be a bit of a pricey print bill.

I was busy with some work on Sunday, which has become my day for posting comics to eBay. I should be back to normal next week unless some paying work comes along again. I spent Monday and Tuesday working on the mag. including a chunk of time transcribing an interview that I thought was sounding awfully familiar... I'd brushed off the feeling because, well, I had done the interview after all. But the nagging feeling persisted that I'd typed these words before, so I did a search of my hard drive for the text and promptly discovered that I'd transcribed the same recording back in October. D'oh!

Above is the first look at an actual pair of pages from the first issue. This from a lengthy history of British pocket libraries, which  celebrate their 70th anniversary this year. I don't want to blow the full line-up of contents, but the issue should start with a look at an old DCT character, continue with the pocket library history, a look at a video with a popular pocket library cover artist, an interview with a current scriptwriter for Commando, and a look at a classic pocket library character. Then a big interview. There's a comic strip by a very well known artist, a bio of an old AP editor, a look at a movie with comic connections, a feature about Frank Bellamy and then an reprint of what was almost certainly the first serious SF newspaper strip. There's an 'In Memoriam' section, plus reviews. There's a short interview within the reviews and I might add another article as it relates to a book that has just come out and this seems the apt moment to use it.

I'll do a proper contents list once everything is firmed up. I'm still going to be busy rewriting and laying out pages for at least another week, probably two. I'm not the fastest designer in the world, slowed further by the fact that I have to clean up every image. Back in the days of Comic World we were almost always dealing with new comics and could rely on DC or Marvel to send over nice bromides or transparencies shot off original artwork which could be dropped straight into the magazine. I can't do the same with BAM! as old comic pages tend to go a nasty smoky colour and covers get scuffed, stained and creased. I want them to look like they've just come off the printing press for the first time. It's a bit OCD, but hopefully you'll appreciate the effort when you see the results.

The second sample above blows the surprise about which "classic pocket book character" I'm looking at. Ah, what the hell... it's John Steel from the pages of Thriller Picture Library. I love those stories. I'm hoping to write something about artist Luis Bermejo for issue two or issue three.

We're still managing to get out for our regular walks even under lockdown. We're trying to be supportive of local businesses and have treated ourselves to fish & chips from the local chippie and buns from a local bakery. I haven't entirely abandoned my efforts to lose some weight, but with the nights drawing in, we're not walking quite so far in the evening. It's cold and sometimes its miserable. Thankfully I discovered a year ago, almost to the day, that I can make an awesome chicken stew, and we've been having that, piping hot, for lunch a couple of times a week.

We've also been regularly "meeting up" with friends (via Zoom) to play board games. I can heartily recommend Board Game Arena for a huge variety of games for people of all skill levels. Some games are only possible if you have a group of players, but it doesn't cost anything (although some games are available only to premiere members) and I'm sure you'll find something to your tastes.

There are spoilers ahead in my look at The Alienist, so hop to the end of the column if that's something you dislike.

Based on the novel by Caleb Carr, The Alienist was (well, still is...) a ten-part series that was originally broadcast in 2018, so I'm only two years late getting to it. Set in the 1890s it concerns a group centred around the 'alienist' doctor Laszlo Kreizler. An introductory text reveals that the insane were thought to be alienated from societal norms, and thus psychologists were known as alienists. Kreizler is taking his studies a step further, and believes that psychology can be applied to criminal cases in order to create a picture of the criminal.

The gruesome murder of a boy prostitute makes headlines in New York City and Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) is asked by newly appointed police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty), a former Harvard classmate, to help the investigation. Another classmate, John Moore (Luke Evans), now a cartoonist and illustrator on the New York Times, is also brought in. Moore and Roosevelt have a mutual friend in Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), who has recently become the first female employee of the New York Police Department. As Roosevelt's secretary, she becomes his link to the parallel investigation taken on by Kreizler, Moore, and two brothers from the NYPD, Marcus and Lucius Isaacson (Douglas Smith, Matthew Shear).

The investigation is hampered by retired police chief Thomas Byrnes (Ted Levine) and Captain Connor (David Wilmot), who are intent on protecting the interests of their wealthy benefactors, these including banker J.P. Morgan (Michael Ironside) and the rich matriarch of the Van Bergen family (Sean Young) whose son, Willem (Josef Altin), is known to prey on young boys.

Kreizler is a complex character himself, born of a well-to-do family, a piano prodigy but who has lost the use of one of his arms. He surrounds himself with some of the people he has helped, including Cyrus, his valet, Mary, his housekeeper, and Stevie, a house boy. He strongly believes that, by seeking the insight of other murderers and psychopaths, he can discover the identity of the murderer -- soon confirmed to be behind a string of murders that have been ignored by the NYPD.

As soon as I realised that the cast was led by Daniel Brühl I knew we weren't going to get many laughs. He brings an intensity to even the dumbest movie -- and I do mean The Cloverfield Paradox. But he's also been brilliant in Inglourious Basterds, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Fifth Estate, Rush, A Most Wanted Man and Captain America: Civil War, and so he is here. Kreizler is the sort of brooding, impassioned character you watch for five seconds and think: "At some point in the narrative he's going to either scream at his own reflection or punch the mirror."

The story explores a number of ways society is riven: the gaping chasm between wealth and poverty; the casual sexism endlessly endured by Sara; the racism endured by the Isaacson brothers; and the invisibility of the disabled. These things do not overwhelm the central story, which is occasionally gory (the killer removes eyes, which are later found, so be warned) and sometimes distressing (children surviving by prostitution), but also compelling as they cannot rely on the usual methods of the police procedural: gathering fingerprints, casts of footprints, forensic testing. Some of these methods were in their infancy, but that means The Alienist is more Sherlock Holmes than CSI.

A second storyline The Alienist: Angel of Darkness was released earlier this year. That sounds like a barrel of laughs, eh? I'm looking forward to catching up with it in... oh, 2022 or thereabouts.

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