comics, i would like to recommend these people's writing, neopulp

“Creating Myths, Acting Them Out with Toys” – An interview with Brandon Barker

WorCovers  Attention conservation notice: this guy makes crazy fun toys and comics. I talked to him about bespoke action figures, comics and the pros and cons of nostalgia. (2564 words)

Brandon Barker is the man behind Warlords of Wor, a series of handmade limited-run toys coming out of Barker’s own ManOrMonster? Studios. Warlords of Wor celebrates 1980s fantasy barbarian action figures (think He-Man) right down to their awkward bodybuilder physiques, furry underpants and goofy names.

Figures released so far include the claw-handed Clawbber (“Two-fisted General of Justice!”), the evil scientist-turned-swamp-monster Bog-Nar (“Mutant Muck Menace!”) and the skull-headed albino gorilla Beastor-9 (“Twisted Abomination of Science!”).

In addition to the action figures, Brandon has released 5 minicomics featuring stories about the characters in the toy line. They’re fun little reads, great examples of shortform genre comic writing that pack a lot of plot and character in between action scenes and still leave time for a bunch of playful riffs on childrens’ activity books and the crazy ads you used to see in 1970s comic books.

What makes Warlords of Wor different from other retronostalgic offerings out there is that, while it’s following in the tradition of the toys and comics I loved as a kid (and still love), it never crosses the line into simple pastiche, mere mashup or thinly veiled fan fiction. They’re a great example of using tropes to tell new stories instead of slavishly referencing and remixing characters and stories that are already out there.

L-R: Bog-Nar the Mutant Muck Menace; Clawbber, Two-Fisted General of Justice; Beastor-9, Twisted Abomination of Science
L-R: Bog-Nar the Mutant Muck Menace; Clawbber, Two-Fisted General of Justice; Beastor-9, Twisted Abomination of Science

A little while back I got to swap some emails with Brandon, talking to him about how he got started making his own toys, how he negotiates the pitfalls of nostalgia and how he comes up with such cool and kooky names.

To start with, how did you get into making your own action figures?

I got interested in model kits when I was young, and I’ve always drawn and created in other ways, so building and customizing toys is something that developed very early for me.

“…it just takes a little DIY, punk rock spirit.”

I think the first “custom” toys I made were cyborg army men.  I would take green army men, cut off arms or legs, and glue on pieces of chrome model kit sprues (the plastic “trees” that model kit parts were attached to).  I would also repaint action figures to give them new, mission-specific outfits like night ops, desert camouflage, or arctic gear.

As an adult I decided I wanted to create my own comics and toy lines, so I just started doing it. The materials and resources are out there… it just takes a little DIY, punk rock spirit.

Continue reading ““Creating Myths, Acting Them Out with Toys” – An interview with Brandon Barker”

i would like to recommend these people's writing, people who are nice enough to publish me, short stories

Published: I Was Here

A couple weeks ago I submitted a short story to Chart Collective’s I Was Here project.

The deal was they were asking for anonymously submitted 300-character-max stories about real things that had happened in the Melbourne CBD. 50 stories would get picked and put onto posters that would be stuck up around the city as part of some This Public Life festival of landscape architecture or something.

So this week I was doing a bit of story stalking after being sent an email with a map pinpointing the 50 stories. Since the stories were anonymous nobody was contacted to be told if they got picked or not, so I was checking out the two posters placed in flinders lane, near where my story was set. I found the two posters, one on the notice board at the City Library:

And one in a shop window in the Nicholas Building:

Neither of them were mine, so I figured I hadn’t got in.

Continue reading “Published: I Was Here”

i would like to recommend these people's writing, lines I wish I'd written, new poems, poems, poetry, writing

Our New Blog: Poem Monday

For the last few Mondays Oonagh and I have been writing poems together. We pick a topic and then write one poem each, reading them out to the family when we’re done.

Our first poems were about blue hamburger fish.

You can check them out over at our Poem Monday blog, and stay tuned for more poems every Monday from now on.

i would like to recommend these people's writing, Me and my opinions, poetry

Just Read – The Rest of July

Attention Conservation Notice: Thoughts on the last 10 poems I read for the Just Read Readathon, by people like William Blake, Katie Degentesh, joanne burns, Claire Potter and Patricia Lockwood, and profuse thanks to everyone who helped to raise just shy of $700 for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (1,987 words).

Well this last week of poem-reading-fundraising has been amazing. Up front I should probably admit that I certainly haven’t hit the two-a-day goal that I wanted to, but despite that these last two months have been brilliant in terms of reading more and reading more widely.

I think I’m going to try to keep this level of poem reading up to an extent in my everyday life, something like trying to read a poem a day or at least a few every week. I’ve also discovered some poets to look more deeply into, both canonical and contemporary, which is very nice indeed. So a profitable time from a personal perspective for sure.

And speaking of profitable, I am as humbled as can be by the generosity that both friends and strangers have shown with their donations to the Indigenous Literacy Fund in response to this odd little undertaking. I may be the one reading the poems and rambling about them on this blog, but that’s totally chump change compared to the heroes who stuck their hands in their pockets and handed their readies over so that young Indigenous kids can afford the books and other equipment they need to learn to read, which is sadly actually a thing that needs to be addressed in this frankly pretty fucked up endemically racist country of ours.

So on behalf of the Just Read crew, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and myself I thank you from the bottom of my heart. As of this writing we’ve raised over $650, smashing my goal of $500 in the bestest possible way. And kudos to Jane Rawson in particular for coming up with the idea for a readathon for grownups in the first place, and then making it actually happen.

And if you want to know more about the amazing and important ILF are doing, and other ways you can help out, stay tuned to www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au.

But now, before I get too teary, here’s what I thought of the last bunch of poems (which, yes, is once again not enough to hit any two-a-day goal I might have had but there you go).

William Blake – To Spring

I was reading this one on the train on the way home, thinking “well, I better read some Blake, it’ll be good for me but I’m not sure I’m really up for crazy-dense inscrutable religious nuttery this afternoon but let’s have a crack and see” and instead I found myself reading this rather romantic and actually sort of naughty ode to Spring returning to England, thinking “does

…scatter thy pearls
Upon our love-sick land that mourns for thee

mean what I’m thinking it means? Oh my…” and then Spring decks England with its fair fingers and pours kisses on her bosom and England lets down her bound tresses and hello!

Which is nice.

Continue reading “Just Read – The Rest of July”

i would like to recommend these people's writing, poetry

Just Read: The First Bit of July

Attention Conservation Notice: I still haven’t read enough poems, but some lovely people have donated anyway. Poets read include Aleister Crowley, T.S. Eliot, Lee Cataldi, Carolyn Kizer, Banjo Patterson, Ellyn Touchette and Simon Armitage. (1716 words)

Okay it’s not going brilliantly. Amazing how three days can just whip past and you turn around and think fuck I haven’t read a single damn poem in days and then don’t do a damn thing about it. I’ve also been sloppier about actually keeping notes on when I’ve actually read these poems, so that whole day-by-day format is out the window too. Totally defenestrated.

But!

Here are some of the poems I did read of late. And thank you muchly to the generous donors who’ve come to the party since I last posted, bringing the total raised to a delightful $241.50. If you’d like to be part of this odd little project and donate some money to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, then head over to my Everyday Hero page and follow yon instructions.

To the poems!

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

Holy fuck. I know this is kind of an obvious choice in some ways, one that risks the “really? you hadn’t read that?” accusation, but no, no I hadn’t read it but now I have (and if you haven’t yourself, you really really should) and holy fuck. This? Is a pretty good poem.

I’m not kidding myself that my opinion, heaped onto the back of everything else that’s been written, thought and said about it, is worth anything, but damn this poem is a shot in the arm, extolling the virtues of carpe diem et cetera by painting the picture of a most vacillating and cowardly person who’s paralysed by inhibition. Trust me. You don’t want to be this guy.

Do I dare to eat a peach, Mr. Eliot? Yes I bloody well do. And thank you for reminding me of that.

Continue reading “Just Read: The First Bit of July”

i would like to recommend these people's writing, poems, poetry

Just Read – The Rest of June

Attention Conservation Notice: Thoughts on 21 more poems I read as part of the Just Read readathon in June, including poems by JS Harry, joanne burns, Lisa Bellear, Dylan Thomas, David Brooks, Jeannine Hall-Gailey, AD Hope and Adrienne Rich. Also some recriminations about not having read as many poems as I promised to. (1817 words)

I have shame.

In hindsight I think starting this whole 2 poems a day readathon during a week of leave from my full-time job set up some false expectations about the time and energy I’d have to commit to this endeavour. Short version: I have not read anywhere near two poems a day on any week since the first week of June. Nor have I actually had the time or energy to blog about what I have read. Hence: shame.

In any case I haven’t given up. I haven’t yielded to the temptation to fake my way through this either (“Oh yes! I read two poems from Blake’s collected every night in June over scones and Darjeeling. The imagery! The passion!”). So in the interest of keeping things honest here’s a look at what I’ve managed to read in June, plus a commitment to pick up my game in July and see how close I can come to reading… Let’s see… (2 x 30) + (2 x 31) … One hundred and twenty-two poems (holy shit) by July 31.

Anyway, if you want to help raise funds for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation by contributing to my readathon fund, you can do so by heading over to my Everyday Hero page. As of today I’ve raised just over $130 toward my goal of $500, so thanks to everyone who’s donated so far – you know who you are.

And now, the poems!

Tuesday 9th June – “West of Al Shualla” by JS Harry & “Light, I Know, Treads the Million Stars” by Dylan Thomas

“West of Al Shualla” is one of Harry’s Peter Lepus poems, featuring her recurring rabbit protagonist and, this time, his huntsman spider buddy Clifta. I’ve only just discovered Harry, thanks to Ivor Indyk’s obituary in the Sydney Review of Books, but after enjoying the unusual recurring devices of Jennifer Maiden, I’m looking forward to reading more of Peter’s adventures. In this poem he’s in Iraq, riding camelback with two humans (and Clifta hidden under the saddle) while contemplating discretion in the face of powerful enemies.

“Light, I Know” is a dark little sucker about fear of the dark/fear of death with a compelling rhyme scheme that I couldn’t quite work out – it seems orderly enough until You look closer to see that there are some rogue rhymes scattered through the regular couplets. There’s also a dramatically shorter line about halfway through that twists the idea of prayer into something very cruel:

…some attentive God
Who on his cloud hears all my wishes
Hears and refuses.

Continue reading “Just Read – The Rest of June”

i would like to recommend these people's writing, Me and my opinions, people who are nice enough to publish me

Published: It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Don’t Feel So Fine)

So apparently there’s this thing called cli-fi. Climate Change Fiction. It’s totally a thing. And I wrote an article about it for Australian Author. It’s an overview of this emergent genre coupled with interviews with the amazingly talented Ellen van Neerven, James Bradley and Jane Rawson. It also has a fantastic illustration by the superb Nicki Greenberg.

Here’s a snippet:

It’s not surprising that climate change has resonance for Australian authors. Australia’s persistent climate-contrarianism, at least in terms of government policy, in the face of rising popular discontent with such a policy stance, would seem fertile ground for stories about humanity’s negative impact on global climate.

You can read the rest of the article in Australian Author, if you’re a member of the Australian Society of Authors, or you can buy the article as a single (aka .pdf) for $A1.40.

i would like to recommend these people's writing, poetry

Just Read – Week 1 in review

Attention Conservation Notice: Thoughts on the 14 poems I read last week as part of the JustRead readathon, including poems by Jennifer Maiden, Harry Hooton, Ted Hughes, Les Murray, Gig Ryan, Klare Lanson & Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I liked most of them. You should also read these poems. (1548 words)

It’s been a week since I started on this careful-reading-of-2-poems-a-day-for-two-months endeavour as part of the Just Read readathon, raising funds for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, and I’m having a ball. Poetry is kind of excellent, you know?

I’ve managed to meet the 2-a-day quota almost every day, and I think there’s really something to be said for going back and re-reading poems a couple of times instead of reading them one-and-done.

As promised, here’s a look back at what I’ve read this week. But before we start, if you’re interested in sponsoring me, just head over to my Everyday Hero page and follow the instructions to make a pledge. And thanks to my four donors so far, who have helped me to raise $110.25 towards my $500 total.

And now, the poems!

Monday June 1: “What?” by Mary Gilmore & “If I Had a Gun” by Gig Ryan

You might know Dame Mary Gilmore from your Aussie $10 note (she’s the one who isn’t Banjo Paterson). “What?” is a short, solid rhymer in the voice of a mother who is prostituting herself to feed her children, rhetorically asking the reader what other options are open to her. It’s a powerful social justice piece.

“If I Had a Gun” really blew me away (pun intended) – an angry, smart, funny, detailed and precise litany about the overt and subtle violence against women that arises from the embedded assumptions of male privilege. To read this as a man is chastising in an inspirational “do better” way.

Continue reading “Just Read – Week 1 in review”

i would like to recommend these people's writing, the writing process

The Reassurance of Dystopias: Talking to Jane Rawson

Attention Conservation Notice: a couple of ravy paras about how much I like Jane Rawson’s novel leading into an interview that shows her to be smart and funny in which we talk about dystopias, utopias, her new book and the inevitable reality of climate change (1992 words).

WrongTurnI really really love Jane Rawson’s A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists. It’s a dark and surreal urban fantasy partly set in a dystopian, tropical future Melbourne, partly set in an imaginary space accessible only through the worn-through creases in reality that are indicated by the worn creases on an old map, and partly inside a fictional version of San Francisco written by Caddie, the story’s protagonist who lives in the aforementioned dystopian future Melbourne.

A lot of authors would be satisfied with simply working out how to hold together such disparate elements without their story exploding, but Unmade Lists does more than just hang together – it tells an entirely convincing emotionally compelling story about the lives of the people who exist and interact in these places. It’s a case study in exactly how the freaky crazy worlds of fantastic writing can properly coexist with the emotional weight of realism without ever seeming like they don’t belong together.

Seriously, I cried. At least a couple of times. It’s a brilliant book. You gotta read it.

A while back I convinced Jane to let me interview her about Unmade Lists, which at the time had just deservedly won that odd award for most under-rated Australian book of the year. We spoke about Unmade Lists and also about her new book: The Handbook: Surviving and living with climate change, which is exactly what it says on the tin and which will be out in September this year.

WrongTurnDinkus

Do you see Unmade Lists as a dystopia?

Yes. Definitely. I’ve got my notes from when I was first thinking about it and I’ve got a list of “OK, what would a terrible Melbourne look like?” It would include lots of things like being really hot and dusty, you don’t have enough food today… Cockroaches, which didn’t make it into the final draft, but I pretty much set out to work out a future Melbourne.

And did that tie neatly into your own mental exploration of the refinery explosions?

Yeah, the imaginary explosions in Yarraville in my book are set very close to where I used to live.

“OK, what would a terrible Melbourne look like?”

You’d been thinking about that independently of the dystopian Melbourne scenario, though?

I think about all kinds of crises all the time. It was actually really reassuring. The guy I talked to said, “All of Yarraville would go up if these explode. You’ve got a $100,000 discount on your house because you’re so close to it, but ha ha, sucks to all those other people further away who paid more – they’re going to blow up too.” So that was nice. Continue reading “The Reassurance of Dystopias: Talking to Jane Rawson”

i would like to recommend these people's writing, Me and my opinions

Three Articles for ANZAC Day

Sharon Mascall-Dare: ANZAC Day: Ethics of Remembrance (via the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma)
“From an ethical perspective, such a prolonged focus on commemoration and remembrance raises numerous issues.”

Jane Rawson: Don’t Mention the War (via Overland)
“Courage, ingenuity, good humour, mateship and even sacrifice are qualities which have no inherent relationship with war. Sure, they occur during war; they also occur in primary schools and at stitch and bitch sessions in inner-city bars.”

Bruce Scates: Political Rhetoric Makes a Parody of Remembrance (via the Age)
“Seldom do we consider the flawed political systems and destructive ideologies that pit the young men of one nation against those of another. And in that, again we do that generation an injustice.”

Lest we forget.