End of an Era As Ms Marvel Co-Creators leave After 5 Successful Years

After 5 years, 50 comics and numerous comic and cartoon crossovers, two of the co-creators of Ms. Marvel, G. Willow Wilson and Sana Amanat are leaving. For those not in the know this is kind of a big deal.

Since her debut Ms. Marvel has become a pop culture icon and a voice for hope. She received a lot of hype in 2013, primarily due to her status as the first Muslim character to headline a Marvel series, but 6 years on and the comic series has become one of the industry’s best titles because it is simply, an excellent superhero comic book, which is written with wit, pathos and heart.

Ms. Marvel has had a 10 graphic novel run, an impressive feat for a series that was only supposed to be a 10 comic limited run series.

Ms. Marvel has had a 10 graphic novel run, an impressive feat for a series that was only supposed to be a 10 comic limited run series.

Superhero stories featuring teenage characters are notoriously difficult to write for but to create a monthly comic with a teenage girl of faith was something nearly unheard of in mainstream comics, let alone the religion in focus being Islam. Islam features quite prominently in the comic series as Ms Marvel, Kamala, is Muslim and as such it forms a major part of her narrative; it greatly influences her behavior and decision-making, adding tension to her life that doesn’t come from the more traditional sources like romantic interests or the masked super villain of the current story arc.

In a medium that has been pretty hegemonic in portraying powerful white heroes, the recent wave of real world representations in mainstream comics has been exciting. It is explained well in the very first Ms. Marvel comic when Kamala first meets Captain America, Iron Man and Captain Marvel. She is surprised to hear them speak Urdu, but Captain Marvel replies,

"We are faith. We speak all languages of beauty and hardship."

This is a real nice touch that speaks to the universal humanity in us all, with the underrepresented now being represented in a medium supported by the diverse community invested in these characters.

As a longtime comic book fan (I first started collecting when I was 7 in 1988 and Iron Man and Spiderman were my first loves) the fact that the main protagonist, Kamala, was the child of immigrant parents from Pakistan, Muslim and a millennial changed the hitherto well tilled soil of fertile comic tropes. I had loved comics for years and certain aspects I could identify with; Peter Parker being picked on by Flash Thompson in High School, the various aspects of loss in the Death of Superman and striving to achieve against all odds, which was a common comic book trope but with Ms. Marvel it was different. I could identify with her, even though I'm not a millennial teenage girl I am a Millenial Muslim comic book geek who enjoys pop culture. I remember what it was like as a young teen trying to find my way through school and life where balancing my home life and religious beliefs and practices with those of my mostly white Christian friends was difficult. I wanted to go to parties, go out clubbing and have relationships. Other comics have covered these aspects but the fact that the struggle Kamala has in balancing her home and life outside rings true for me.

In issue 6, Kamala seeks guidance from Sheikh Abdullah, an Imam. Fearing she will be told off for not following her parents will, she is surprised to be told,

"... do it with the qualities befitting an upright young woman: Courage, strength, honesty, compassion, and self-respect.”

This message is one of positivity, which against the current media obsession with violence done in Islam's name is interesting and challenging.

Another scene in the graphic novel 'Mecca' has Kamala's brother, Aamir, placed in detention after being accused of not conforming to 'societal norms'. It's a powerful scene as he explains how, just because he is brown and wears traditional dress, he isn't to blame for all the ills in the world but because he stands out, its easy to target people like him. This storyline was in direct response to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's policy of separating children form their parents at the border, an extremely controversial policy.

It's for these reason that I wanted to give thanks to Wilson et al. for creating a comic character that speaks truth against power, something I'd normally have to go to indie comics to find. The fact that such subjects have been broached in the biggest comic company and in one of the most popular series in the world is heartening; there is a sea change in the representation of BAME people and that has been long overdue. I feel a connection to Ms. Marvel in the same way that Miles Morales speaks for another, often underrepresented or unfairly represented demographic. Ms. Marvel speak to me in a profoundly deep way.

Art is of its time but it can have a long-lasting cultural and societal impact on the world. By encouraging a sense of community and a forum for discussion change can occur, and comics are an excellent medium for showing or even introducing that change.

Even though I'm sad that after 6 years the original team is breaking up, I'm excited to see what the next team do with such a well loved and respected character. Now roll on the Ms. Marvel movie!

My daughter likes Ms. Marvel too.

My daughter likes Ms. Marvel too.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 2- Complete Series Review

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on Netflix is a modern reimagining of the classic ’80s Filmation series. She-Ra is a part of the He-Man universe and so holds a place in many fans’ hearts, and as expected this led to many debates about the redesign of the characters. Some arguments seemed to be reasonable, like some complaining about the more cartoony super deformed art style, or the redesign of She-Ra herself, but some seemed purposely argumentative and toxic like why was there a wider LGBTQ and minority ethnic representation on the show and why She-Ra herself was less 'feminine'.

I personally thought that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 1 was an excellent 13 part animated series with a lot of heart. I knew that it would not please all fans of the 80s show but as a father 2 young daughters I liked the strong female lead, the characterisation of the entire cast and the well told Heroes Journey tale.

Well, this second series continues from where the last series ended with She-Ra still being trained by Lighthope and making slow progress. The Princess Alliance is holding strong against the continuous daily onslaught of Horde robots.

The story works from there as the Princesses start getting used to being friends as well as allies. Meanwhile, Catra is making good progress as Horde Captain by taking over many of the kingdoms but becomes increasingly disillusioned by the paperwork, red tape and slow bureaucratic busywork of it all. Hordak, meanwhile, is busy with his portal machine, looking for an intergalactic endgame. So, from this briefest of overviews you can see that there's a lot going on.

At only 7 episodes this series is light on storyline but it really focuses on the characters and the world of Etherea. Along the way it tackles some heavy topics like toxic friendships, ageism and bureaucracy through the lens of animation. The episode focusing on Shadow Weaver is excellent and offers us a look into her past, showing her descent from the light side. The MVP of this series however is Scorpia, the wannabe bestie/ lover of Catra. We see her try to get Catra to open up to the possibility of friendship and maybe more but to little success. Don't get disheartened though, it's not all edge lord stuff, there's plenty of fun and the D&D episode, 'Roll With It' shows that the writers are on a winning streak with this series.

I'm glad that this series exists, one with strong characters that aren't afraid to work together to challenge the status quo.

Wandersong- Video Games As Art

I’ve just finished Wandersong, a puzzle adventure game in which you play as a little Bard who solves puzzles and attempts to save the world through singing. He's a naively optimistic protagonist, a gaming trope for sure, but his ability to make friends with everyone and selflessly help them, even though it will take him away from his main task of saving the world, endears him close to my heart and makes him one of my favourite video game characters ever.

He does this all just to spread some kindness in a world that is destined to die. Wandersong affirms that anyone can make a positive difference in the world; you don't need to be a superhero to do that, just kind and thoughtful. In an oft-jaded world, Wandersong offers light in the darkness and shows that a gentle approach works just as well, often better, than a more heavy-handed approach.

This game is a joy to play and there are moments that will stick in my mind for a long time to come, not bad for a game coded by one man with music supplied by a team of just 2. You owe it to yourself, and the game makers, to play this wonderful video game. Check out the beautiful art below:

Ah, those were the days...

Avengers Endgame made $1 billion in 5 days, which is impressive until you consider that it took the video game Grand Theft Auto V 3 days to achieve the same thing. As credited by the Guinness Book of Records, ‘GTA V sold 11.21 million units in its first 24 hours, and generated revenue of $815.7 million (£511.8 million), going on to reach $1 billion (£624.45 million) in sales after just three days on September 20 2013.’

It went on to make over $6 billion and counting due to recurring user spending with dlc, online etc. This dwarfs the $4 billion achieved by best-selling films such as Star Wars, Gone with the Wind and even Avatar, the highest grossing film of all time at $2.8 billion.

Gaming is on the up and while it faces teething issues like any other medium before it such as video game violence, toxic online communities, positive LGBTQ+ and diversity representations to name but a few, it is maturing, developing and undergoing its own issues including archiving and the rights of gaming staff, much like cinema before it.

This got me to thinking: Will I be talking about the year of '97 which saw the release of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy 7, Metal Gear Solid, GoldenEye and Half Life 2 as much as film lovers talk about the year Rocky, Star Wars and Annie Hall fought it out at the Oscars?


From my arthritic hand will I still be playing the latest iteration of Mario? I don't know... Will my misty-shortsighted vision ever set eyes on the remake of FF7? I don't know. Will my bladder still hold when I hear that the biggest ever entertainment event at the time will still be GTA, probably up to part 69 by then? I don't know but as the biggest entertainment industry which accounts for over half of all entertainment sales in the UK, I don't see why not.

LINK- DIC: Series Of Your Childhood page

LINK- Mysterious Cities Of Gold Nostalgia

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Inspector Gadget Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Ulysses 31 Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

Manga Exhibition at the British Museum: Review

In Japan, manga has been a part of the culture for a long time. The origins of manga are debated and The Handscroll of Frolicking Animals by Kitazawa Rakuten is considered a major influence, but generally it gained prominence in the post World War 2 era where artists such as Osamu Tezuka brought some levity and lightness to proceedings with Mighty Atom or Astro Boy as he's known in the West. Tezuka was to manga what Will Eisner was to American comics; the medium existed before their arrival but they brought it to the fore and forever changed it.

Astro Boy is iconic and will feature heavily in the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in Japan.

As a young boy growing up in east London, England, I didn't know anything about manga or anime but I was consuming it unknowingly through shows such as The Mysterious Cities of Gold and Ulysses 31.
One Saturday I went into my local WH Smith and saw issue 22 of a magazine called Manga Mania and was taken by the big eyes, spiky hair style and tiny mouth and nose of the cover star that reminded me so much of the animation style I liked. When I picked it up, from the top shelf next to the more salacious magazines, I felt a bit of a rebel but upon opening it the kinetic imagery and artistry blew me away. Flicking through it I saw a mention of The Mysterious Cities of Gold in the letter pages and knew I had found something special. From then on I would buy Manga Mania monthly and purchased graphic novels, VHS films, soundtracks and even anime cels. The shop Forbidden Planet became nerd nirvana for me and I'd visit it monthly. Manga was one of my first true loves and one that has survived to this day, at least to some lesser extent. Manga is in my lifeblood and even though it doesn't feature as prominently in my daily life as it once did for me, it was formative in my youth and for that I am still grateful.

I loved getting my monthly Manga Mania fix.

I loved getting my monthly Manga Mania fix.

Since those heady underground days in the early 90s, manga has grown and thrived and its influence is spreading across the world. So, when I heard that the British Museum was hosting the largest manga exhibition outside of Japan I wasn't surprised and knew that I had to go. The British Museum has dipped its toes into the manga and anime pool before over the years but these have been smaller, more focused exhibition. This promised to be a much larger, grander affair as manga is still developing and evolving, the form has and is still contributed rather uniquely to modern culture and I'm glad that a venerable institution as the British Museum is recognising this. I visited the Kyoto International Manga Museum several years ago, which is the largest repository of manga in the world, and wanted to see how this exhibition would compare.

So the question is, is the exhibition worth visiting? In a word, yes.... but this comes heavily loaded with a proviso, which I'll go into later.

The whole show feels less like a staid exhibition but more like something you'd see at more immersive and engaging galleries, no surprise as manga means 'irresponsible pictures' and what is on show is a riotous walk-through of the medium. Being a family oriented exhibition the more controversial elements have been excised but that doesn't diminish what's on show, rather it still offers a smorgasbord of artists and genres that covers the art-form well without excluding younger generations or upsetting some sensibilities.

The exhibition starts with an introduction about the origins of manga and provides a guide on how to read it, from left to right. Then there is a section on the manga-ka, the artists who produce the manga, and the tools of their trade.

On an impressive display of collected comics are a few televisions with the chiefs and editors of the weekly manga collections which are published weekly and sell in the millions. They offer their insight into the creative, production and distribution process.

Around the corner, there is a brief look at the influence of woodblock and scroll works on the medium. There are a few stunning pieces on show but a couple stood out to me, the one where a recent piece of work by artist Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira, Domu and Memories) was compared to his woodblock forebear. The current breed of artists have built on the shoulders of giants and their influence is appreciated here.

After that, the bulk of the exhibition is split into little islands where different themes of manga and artists are explored like Love, Sports, Horror etc. This is all quite dynamic and exciting as there are banners and posters hanging from the ceiling and giant murals and original art pieces stuck on the gallery walls.

In the middle of the exhibition, there is an impressive library of manga on offer and many soft seats in which to read at your own pace.

Manga Exhibition at the British Museum

The last section of the exhibition has a couple of art installations. Kawanabe Kyosai’s theatre curtain from 1880 was painted in just four hours after the artist had imbibed several bottles of rice wine. He painted the 17 metres by five metres high piece using a huge brush and it was done in such a rush of inspiration that you can still see his footmarks on it!. It really is an impressive achievement and whilst not manga, it shows the kinetic frenetic art style that would feature in so much manga years down the line.

Kawanabe Kyosai ’s theatre curtain certainly is an impressive piece of work.

Kawanabe Kyosai’s theatre curtain certainly is an impressive piece of work.

Near the exit, a large projected montage of Studio Ghibli films at the end is a fitting bookend to an impressive exhibition.

The exhibition is a great primer for the common manga fan or someone with a cursory interest in the medium but someone looking for a deeper look into the minutiae of manga, this is not that. In my opinion the exhibition, whilst well organised and curated, had some glaring omissions in manga-ka such as Rumiko Takahashi (Mermaid Saga, Urusei Yatsura and Inuyasha) and Masamune Shirow (Ghost in the Shell, Aplleseed and Dominion Tank Police),  but on a personal level I'd have loved to have seen some works by Yoshitoshi Abe (Serial Experiment Lain, Haibane Renmei) and Yukito Kishiro (Battle Angel Alita). I understand that with such a large number of artists it is not possible to get everything in the exhibition but Takahashi and Shirow are titans of the medium and needed some mention or recognition. It’s like having an exhibition on Italian masters and forgetting to mention any of the Turtles; Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo, it just wouldn’t seem complete. However, as the first real look at manga outside of Japan this is an excellent exhibition and well worth the 90 or so minutes of your time. It is an amuse-bouche to the promise of something more and for that I’m excited.

LINK: Japan: My Journey to the East

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: And So It Ends

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Inspector Gadget Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Ulysses 31 Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Sonic Mania Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack

LINK- Thomas Was Alone Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

LINK- Akira Soundtrack Vinyl Review

(Gaming) Self-Care Isn't Selfish

As is usual in our house, my wife went to bed at 8:30pm and I went into my man-cave to play on the Playstation 4 to relax and unwind, sloughing off the days hard work of teaching. This is the daily weekday routine in our house and initially I had a sense of guilt of staring at the screen late into the light (until about 11pm) whilst my wife and children were sleeping; shouldn't I be doing something more productive instead? Looking through the bills or doing some chores?

However, as time has passed so has my sense of guilt. Some perspective: often my wife goes to bed with her iPad ready to catch up on some BBC documentary about India or women's rights whilst I decompress by jumping on some Goombas, explore a dungeon or climb some colossi, ready to plunge a sword into their sacred sigil (not a euphemism) and I realised... we both spend quality family time together with the kids until 7pm, then it's the usual bedtime routine for the sprogs and a chat and dinner for my wife and I, followed by a quick look at Channel 4 news.

Usually this is followed by an episode or two of the series we are working though, which at the time of writing is Jane The Virgin. Then, it's off to bed for the missus and into Skyrim, Hyrule or some other fantastical land for me.
We each have our way to chill and it isn't always Netflix... This is a love story for the ages, unwinding in your own unique ways keeps marriages and relationships healthy.

RE 7 and PSVR

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Trailer Drops

I watched The Dark Crystal in my early teen years and found it a bit creepy and disconcerting. I haven’t revisited it since but with the new trailer of the series dropping I might just do that. I always loved the art style by Brian Froud and the show seems to combine CGI practical puppetry effects. Maybe it’s just me but I feel that CGI works best when worked alongside practical real-world effects. I’ll revisit the original movie soon in preparation for this promising series.

DIC: Series Of Your Childhood

I am a huge fan of the animated series Mysterious Cities of Gold, it is my favourite programme of ALL time and was a formative part of my childhood; single handedly igniting my interest in anime, manga, South and Central American cultures and synthesizer music (It's why I love Jarre, Vangelis and Oldfield).

In my mancave I have a MCOG medallion, an original cel, a French book discussing the making of (even though I haven't studied French since my GCSE's 20 years ago) and a model of the golden condor. The animation was created by DIC and legendary creators Haim Saban and Jean Chalopin, who in their time created Ulysses 31, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, M.A.S.K and Inspector Gadget.

Now, a new documentary is seeking to be crowd-funded to explore their world and find out about the origins and development of the studio. I am SO on board with this as anything that delves behind the making process of some of the finest animation of my childhood deserves further exploration.

In their own words:

We have started with the distribution of leaflets in mailboxes. About 100 people worked full time. One day, we received an order to create a cartoon, Bernard Deyries joined us and we started to work on the animation. We had a company that was based in Tours and then in Paris. One day, we felt like creating series just like big companies. We started by making a creation that was “Ulysses 31”, which he presented to France 3. They accepted the idea and Jean Chalopin said:" there are not enough people to do this in France". He went to Japan and came across a Japanese company looking for a way to get into Europe. One day, Jean Chalopin told me: "I will go to the United States." I said: “You’re crazy! You're not going to beat the Americans on their own turf." Well! I was wrong. In cinema as in television, going to Hollywood is always a dream, which until now and before our company existed, has been unattainable to almost all Europeans. We created a different way of working, which mixes the American and the French systems with Japanese special effects. We imported, for example with “The Littles” or with “Inspector Gadget”, a trait, which was very different; it did not exist in the American market.

I’m going to help fund this documentarty, why don’t you?

Huge Manga Exhibition Starts This Weekend at British Museum

The British Museum is one of my favourite places in the world; not only is it a magnificent building but it houses some of the worlds greatest treasures. I go there every month at least for a couple of hours to take in the wonders of the ancient world.

On another note, I’ve been a HUGE manga fan for about 30 years now. Back when I got into it in the late 80s, manga and anime were not as prevalent as it is now in the West, so to see its emergence and cultural impact has been fascinating for me. When I started this blog wayyy back in 2013 my very first post was an influence map and manga features quite heavily.

The influence map I created way back in 2013.

The influence map I created way back in 2013.

The British Museum is about to run the biggest manga exhibition in the world, outisde of Japanand I am so there for it! The exhibition runs from 23rd May to 26th August 2019. In their own words:

Immersive and playful, the exhibition will explore manga’s global appeal and cultural crossover, showcasing original Japanese manga and its influence across the globe, from anime to ‘cosplay’ dressing up. This influential art form entertains, inspires and challenges – and is brought to life like never before in this ground-breaking exhibition.

I hope to be going this weekend and will provide all the photos, details and review. I can’t wait!

LINK- British Museum Manga Exhibition Tickets

LINK- Good Grief, Charlie Brown Exhibition Review

Posy Simmonds: Retrospective at House of Illustration

Writer and illustrator Posy Simmonds has been a comic artist and graphic novelist for over 50 years. Her works have garnered much praise and have even been turned into an Indie movie (Tamara Drewe). In celebration of her impressive achievements the House of Illustrations in Kings Cross is running a 4 month exhibition.

The exhibition will run from 24 May to 15 Sep 2019, 10:00am - 5:30pm and will feature lots of work covering the span of her career as well as offering an insight into her creative process. I hope to visit soon and will, of course, write a review.

Posy Simmonds Exhibition at House of Illustration

Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 6- Comic Review

This volume is an important one as it brings together most of the plot points about Alita and Erica and the socio-ploitocal history of Mars. For Alita fans, the true origins of Alita's 'birth' is revealed and we find out who her 'mother' is. In true Kishiro fashion it is anything but normal as the rug is swept from under as the expected royal lineage is not accurate. Alita’s birth does have parallels with many virgin birth stories, however I don't know of many miracle sprogs birthed from cancerous martian tumours. The shock of the reveal is grotesque in true Cronenbergian sense but with a dash of Kishiro nihilism.

Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 6

The rest of the graphic novel moves at a cracking pace and we see the end of Baron Muster and Lady Kagura as they destroy each other in the most hideous fashion. This graphic novel series is dark and continues to get darker but I do hope that we move to the present and see what the endgame is for Alita and friends.

There is a long wait until the next volume releases near the end of the year so get comfy.

LINK- Alita: Battle Angel- Film Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 5- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 4- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 3- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 2- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 1- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: And So It Ends

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Inspector Gadget Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Ulysses 31 Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

Moominvalley- Complete Series Review

I have a deep love for the Moomins as many of you may know. I've discussed the Moomins multiple times before, either when talking about the creepy 80s stop motion animation, the recent vinyl soundtrack release or my visit to Moomin World in Finland.

Moomin World was a great place to visit.

Moomin World was a great place to visit.

What many people may not know is that my love for the Moomins is all pretty recent. When the Japanese animated show came out in the early 90s I was already too old for the show and was busy being an edge lord  with the X Men cartoon. No, my love for the Moomins came in the mid 2000s with the release of the comics. Tove Jansson's comics were published in the 1950s in the Evening Standard and it was here that the characters became popular, however the collected volumes weren't released until 2006. As a comic collector I noticed the first 4 volumes on sale and decided to buy the set and it was here that the whimsical stories with heart and street philosophy entered my life. I fell in love with these hippo-like creatures that spouted aphorisms and enjoyed the simple things in life:

“I only want to live in peace, plant potatoes and dream!”
 – Moomintroll (Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip - Book One)

“The world is full of great and wonderful things for those who are ready for them.”
 – Moominpappa (Moominpappa at Sea)

“You must go on a long journey before you can really find out how wonderful home is.”
 – Snufkin (Comet In Moominland)

“When one’s dead, then one’s dead. This squirrel will become earth all in his time. And later on still there’ll grow trees from him, with new squirrels skipping about in them. Do you think that’s so very sad?”
 – Too-Ticky (Moominland Midwinter)

When a comic and book series speaks such profound truths, how can one not fall in love with the world.
With the Easter release of 13 Moominvalley episodes I had an opportunity to enjoy the show with my family; my two young daughters and my wife. They knew the characters from the various items strewn around the house, the children's books and our visit to Moomin World but had never seen the show so this was exciting for them. So how was it? Well, the CGI reinvention was attractive enough but not remarkable. The lush vistas of Moominvalley and the crystal clear rivers and lakes are wonderfully realised in computer animation but I do always feel that there is something lost in translation when a comic undergoes a CGI movie transformation, although the recent Charlie Brown movie did have texture and expressive lines to bring those characters and world alive. Here, it's quite difficult to bring large white hippopotami to life as they are quite a basic shape and have tiny mouths at the side of their face.

The voice acting is very strong and Taron Egerton shines as young Moomin troll. Matt Berry voices Moomin Papa but with his distinct voice and cadence I found it hard to take his character seriously, he does pompous and self-aggrandising well but does subtlety less so. The music is sublime, all slow acoustic sounding stuff with lush vocal from Tom Odell, Mo, First Aid Kit and many more acoustic musicians that suits the mood of the show well.

Overall, the show isn't going to set the world alight but it is a slow, meditative half hour of animation with interesting stories to tell; they are heartfelt and gently affecting.

The highlights for me were episode 5, The Secret of the Hattifatteners and episode 10, Ghost Story. The Secret of the Hattifatteners is quite spooky and sets up an interesting mystery and the finale really does leave you in awe and wonder while Ghost Story is sweet and the conclusion of that is a bit of a tear-jerker, when the credits rolled I was blinking quickly as it really got to me.

Moominvalley is a slow, meditative half hour of animation that is a tonic in this golden age of media. With the hyper-kinetic energy of other shows often being an assault on the sense, Moominvalley is a slow paced oasis of calm. It is a sweet and wonderful show that can be enjoyed by all the family.

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire- Book Review

For those who may be unfamiliar with the name, Akala, real name Kingslee James McLean Daley, has been a very vocal public speaker and fierce intellectual for many years. He has been discussing such issues as class, racism, the Wests foreign policy and the legacy of empire through his music. So far so obvious for rap and poetry, but what has made Akala stand out as a voice for this generation has been the statistically watertight, factually driven discussions which have made people stop and think about what is often stated as fact in the media and public domain as a whole. Most recently, his appearances on Question Time and Good Morning Britain, where he disarmed and impressed the normally bullish Piers Morgan, garnered him much respect and praise. And so the release of his book, Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, has been hotly anticipated. So, how does it fare? Does it live up to expectations and raise the debate about empire, racism and its legacy?

The book has an interesting structure in that it is part autobiographical with personal events placed in context of key historical facts and data to provide contexts interspersed with polemic, a call to arms to get knowledgeable about key issues and facts. His message is similar to Russell Brand but where Brand often strays into florid flights of fancy with truthiness (things that sound true but without factual basis), Akala is laser focused in breaking down the issues of racism and legacy of Empire with precision facts and documentation to back him up.

Akala speaks about his early life and we learn about the overt racism he experienced at school and at the hands of the police with their racist profiling of stop and search. He breaks down the straw man arguments often used against people who try to discuss race in Britain and I identified many of them from personal experience:

If we don't talk about it (racism) it will go away.
Stop playing the race card.
Why can't you get over it? It's all in the past.
You have a chip on your shoulder.
Why don't you just go back to where you came from?
Well, why don't you go back to Africa then? (even if you are from the Caribbean)
You should be grateful that you have free speech.
You just hate Britain, you are anti-British.
But what about (insert any injustice here)
You're obsessed with identity politics.
You are trying to blame me for what my ancestors did.
Stop making excuses.
You just blame the West for all of the world's problems.
I don't see colour.
It's not about race.

He talks about his 'rise' through the socio-economic classes and how he has still been stopped and searched twice in the last 5 years, because the police don't believe he could drive such an expensive car or live in the 'posh' area that he does now.

In the chapter Linford’s lunchbox, he writes a powerful critique of the British narrative around black sporting achievement. Instead of focusing on Linford Christie's gold medal win at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 the conversation was turned to his impressive package and eugenics. Much was made about how most 100 metre runners who had won were black and there was even a eugenics based video shown before the finals apparently. What does this say about the portrayal of people of colour in British media? The fact that Raheem Sterling is calling out the racist media shows that this is still going on and has never really gone away.

He shows how in our apparently post-colonial society there is a struggle for people to identify what being English or British means. There is historical amnesia in Britain, which is perpetuated by the powers that be and the education system, that the British empire was benevolent and did much good for the world. The fact that it participated and perpetuated the slave trade and theft of people and goods on an industrial scale is ignored to push the idea that it brought democracy and administration across the world and ended slavery through the man of destiny, William Wilberforce.

Akala also confronts the arguments 'for' slavery, the oft stated 'fact' that Africans were selling their “own people” seems to provide a justification for some. He gets particularly pointed with historians like Niall Ferguson, who say that Britain should feel good about its empire and the fact that its historical conduct was better than that of the Belgians or the Nazis. Akala tears this down by arguing, “It’s true, but it’s a shit boast.'' Godwin's Law asserts that if you mention the Nazis in a conversation to make a point then you lose the argument... He's not wrong is he? To say '' Atleast we weren't as bad as the Nazi's'' should not be a badge of honour or a statement of merit.

The fact that over the past few decades the British government have systematically destroyed records, files and any accounts of its atrocities and crimes committed during its empire show that Operation Legacy has tried to purposely keep private the evil things done in the name of empire. They say history is written by the victors and this is certainly the case here; it was written, rewritten and edited by the British government, which is why there is seemingly a historic amnesia about Britain's empire and what it contributed, especially during World War II.

Akala investigates the British foreign policy and discusses how many wars are still being fought by Britain, and this is being supported by propaganda from the British media. In our apparently post-colonial Britain, our foreign policy is sold as us being the policeman of the world alongside the USA and advocates for democracy, yet we have invaded many countries for 'humanitarian' reasons, for citations see Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and much much more.
Akala argues that Britain still feels like it should rule the world, abetted by the USA. The Anglo-American foreign policy is a danger to the world and the constant attacks against China, Russia and India are a reflection on the waning of power in the West.

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire is an eloquent and articulate read, it places in context much of the what has occurred in the past but also its profound impact in the current world. Akala wants people to get armed with facts and move forward but with Brexit and the current wave of populism he isn't too optimistic. The book is an essential read and will impact the way many will see current race relations and foreign policy. It is a high recommend.

Thunderforce 4 Soundtrack on Vinyl Arrives

I’m a huge fan of DataDiscs and their video game soundtrack releases. I have bought many of their vinyl OSTs including Okami, Golden Axe, Panzer Dragoon and all three Streets of Rages. When they announced that they would be releasing the Thunder Force 4 soundtrack I was beyond excited. The game is one of my all time favourites and the soundtrack is amazing, one of the best on the Megadrive in my opinion. I pre-ordered it when the link went up a couple of weeks ago and it arrived today. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet but will write a review once I have. In the meantime, here are some pictures I’ve taken of this impressive looking 3 disc vinyl collection.

New Moominvalley Soundtrack on Vinyl

I have a love for the Moomins as many of you may know. I've discussed the Moomins multiple times before, when talking about the 80s stop motion animation, the recent classic 80s animation vinyl soundtrack release, the exhibition at the Southbank Centre or when I mentioned visiting Moomin World in Finland.

With the new Moominvalley show premiering on Sky One on Good Friday this Easter I am super excited and today, I received the new vinyl soundtrack. I’ve only listened to it a couple of times and love it. I’ll write a review once I’ve listened to it more.

Uncharted 4- Video Games As Art

Many games have claimed to be like the movies but few can claim to be as proficient in the art of building a gaming experience that mimics the thrills of a blockbuster summer action movie than Naughty Dog. With the Uncharted series it has perfected the video game blockbuster. I only got onto the Uncharted bandwagon in the PS4 generation as last generation I had the Xbox 360 and Wii U. However, I am making up for lost time and after completing the first 3, moved onto the 4th and final (so they say) of the series. Out of all the Uncharted games it is the most movie-like and has twists and turns like the best Indiana Jones movie. I’m sad to be saying goodbye to Nathan Drake but do feel that after 4 games (not counting the portable one) it probably is time for the series to be put to pasture to age gracefully.

AER: Memories of Old- Video Games As Art

AER: Memories of Old is a game that owes much to Ico, Journey and Rime in terms of its gameplay style but what sets it apart is its gorgeous, low-poly aesthetic. Travelling the world in my 4 hour or so playthrough I was constantly stopping to take screenshots of gorgeous vistas, almost painterly in their style.

The game is a beautifully meditative experience and it nails the flying aspect, as your avatar changes form into a bird to explore the stunning world. Check out my screenshots below.

Lumberjanes- Ongoing Comic Series Review

The ongoing Lumberjanes comic series follows the misadventures of Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley, five plucky young girls as they attend the Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpets camp for hardcore lady types. The girls are trying to earn their pun-ny Lumberjane badges, like the Naval Gazing Badge, Pungeon Master Badge and the Everything Under the Sum Badge… but what sets this series aside from the usual ‘boys’ own adventure’ stuff, apart from the gender (obviously), is the weird supernatural element. The woods surrounding the camp feel like they're just a stones throw from Twin Peaks and just a hop, skip and jump from the island in Lost. In this land a Bear Woman, ancient Greek gods and unicorns rub shoulders with a whole plethora of colourful characters that roam free, bringing this wonderfully eclectic place to life. It all makes sense in a strangely logical way as the world is a tapestry of story and character within this world-building tableau, and yes I'm aware that sounded incredibly pretentious!

I have the complete graphic novel series so far, including the Gotham Academy crossover.

The story of the girls, who meet in the camp and create a bond where they support and love each other, banding together as they face trials and tribulations such as bear-women and vampires is awesome. The stories themselves are often simple standalone adventure tales but there are elements of continuity as each episode has repercussions for all that follows. The tales have a lot of heart and are touching, something I've been seeing a lot more of in 'children's comics' over the past few years.

The series is very girl heavy, from the writers to the artist to the characters, the whole package is one wonderful group of girls making a positive and life affirming comic series. Even if you're not a girl though you will still find much to love in the 10 graphic novels that exist to date. Featuring people of colour, LGBTQ+ and other inclusive groups Lumberjanes is a force for good in this often fractured and jaded world.

Noelle Stevenson (Of the new rebooted She-Ra and the Princesses of Power fame) is no longer head writer, which is a shame as she is a very talented story teller with a strong ear for dialog. All of the volumes she wrote (1-4) were incredible but that doesn’t mean that the stories still aren’t good, just less consistently good. I miss her style and I feel her voice added much to what made the series so unique and outstanding.

I’m a man in my late-30s and even though I’m not the target demographic for the series I still purchase each new graphic novel release with zeal. It is rare for a series to be so kind hearted, open and just gorgeous.  

Uncharted 3: Video Games As Art

The words ‘cinematic’ and ‘epic’ are overused terms, often used to sell you on a game. By using these buzzwords the hope is that the hype will build and interest in the game will pique. Many games have claimed to be like the movies but few can claim to be as proficient in the art of building a gaming experience that mimics the thrills of a blockbuster summer action movie than Naughty Dog. With the Uncharted series it has perfected the video game blockbuster. I only got onto the Uncharted bandwagon in the PS4 generation as last generation I had the Xbox 360 and Wii U. However, I am making up for lost time and completed the first 3. Here’s to the 4th!

Dorothea Tanning Exhibition is a Surreal Delight

The Dorothea Tanning exhibition at the Tate Modern is an excellent one, containing over 100 pieces of work from her 70 year career. I wasn't aware of who Tanning was but the moody trailer sold me on her.

Tanning's art style reminded me of gothic horror and surrealist writings by the works of Fanu, Poe and Danielewski, whilst recalling the themes of David Lynch's filmic work, especially the themes from Twin Peaks. She discussed the dual world dreamlike theme, which played heavily in all her works, but said she didn't know what they meant, only that she painted what came to her. Going through the 5 rooms I was enraptured by her vision, however I especially love her early works, which were inspired by fairy tales and the works of illustrator Gustav Doré. Highlights include: A Little Night Music, Birthday and Self Portrait.