Saturday, 29 June 2013

It's A Sparks Show: Episode 4

A very quick Sparks strip inspired by the actual launch of the new Sparks store. I still don’t know how many of these I’ll draw except to say that they constantly cheer me up. I have another on my table right now, though I probably won’t finish it until Monday or Tuesday. I'm still getting no close to capturing the likeness of Russell Mael.

The Jimmy Savile Cartoon

Jimmy Savile Living Dead

Friday, 28 June 2013

The Large Greasy Bucket Called Humanity

I’ve probably written one, two, ten or twenty posts like this one yet rarely publish any. They always sound like a moan when they’re actually an attempt to express sheer disbelief at the things I discover.

No matter how much effort I put into writing or drawing original and good (okay, that’s questionable) content for this blog, the hoped-for traffic rarely arrives. My illusion that intelligent people with good (hopefully warped) humour will find their way here is shattered when I look at my total of page views. It can be stuck for hours and then suddenly I’ll have a hit and I’m delighted until I realise that the visitor is looking for ‘pornography’ or ‘3D porn’ or ‘plywood sex’ (don’t ask!) or ‘leather fetish’ or ‘Clare Balding in the nude’.

The pageview number sticks again until another hit comes in. Somebody has just searched for ‘Daniel Radcliffe’s cock’.

Silence. Many minutes pass. Another hit: ‘long+neck+woman+sex’.

Half an hour later, another hit: ‘secretary t*ts out getting f****d you tube’. I’ve edited that one, not because I’m prudish but because I don’t want to become the internet’s number one go-to resource for that particular term. I once wrote a post where I complained about the local cycle route into Warrington being blocked at one point by taxi drivers taking prostitutes into the bushes. I’ve now become the top internet resource for people wanting to know if there are any prostitutes in Warrington town centre. Well, there aren’t. They’re all hiding in the bushes along the bloody cycle paths.

Okay, not all visitors are quite that bad (although the above examples are just from today) and my traffic is better than I’m suggesting. Thanks to seven of you I can at least say I have regular readers. People do also arrive here from Google looking for more intelligent things than ‘rubber sex truss’ (another gem from today). However, running a website really does give you a privileged view of human nature and what you see is routinely so depraved that, some days, it makes you wonder why we even bother.

As a species we’re clearly devolving and the process won’t stop until we’re just a large greasy bucket of primal sex juice labelled ‘humanity’.

How to Bullshit Your Way To Wealth and Happiness

My wayward eyes sometimes catch an accidental peek at ‘The Apprentice’ and I feel the hot pain of acid reflux choking in my throat. Are those people really the best young business men and women of their generation? Is this humanity’s future, these strange, anodyne hermaphrodites capable of reproducing by simply looking at themselves in the mirror? If these are our best, then why do I feel like our planet is plunging into the sun? Why do they make me want to run away and hide in the woods, eating otter feet and wearing a wild badger as a hat?

Yet another part of me recognises that the reason I don’t like these bastards is because they exude the confidence that eludes me. Confidence is all you really need to survive. Oh, hesitation had its charms for a while in the 1980s. Doubt and self-awareness were perhaps good while they lasted back in the nineties. But we now live in the 21st century and life is all about Confidence: three syllables and one capital ‘C’. This isn’t a time to go around calling yourself a name like William Adams. People will abbreviate that to Bill and how good would that make you feel? No, you need to get creative with punctuation. Call yourself ‘will.i.am’. Turn it into a brand. Copyright it. Make a tattoo of it. People will then begin to see you for what you really are or am…

Hell, let’s just move to San Francisco, open our own internet startup on the back of one ill-conceived idea and a hell of a lot of capital. I’ll grow my chin hair into interesting shapes. You can invent your own yogurt which you’ll carry around your neck in your own trademarked rubber goitre. And if anybody says that we’re mad, we’ll just laugh because we know differently. We’re just confident!

Except perhaps – just perhaps – over confidence is starting to become a problem. Of course, that’s a message you won’t hear from ‘The Apprentice’. Ask a surgeon if they can operate and they would probably ask for vital signs and detailed medical history before they decide. Ask the chancers on ‘The Apprentice’ and they’d punch the air as they shout ‘yes we can!’ They’d be up to their elbows in spleens and kidneys before you’ve noticed they were only supposed to be removing your toe nail.

But where has this culture of arrogance and over confidence come from? It has to be a generational. We don’t look back and think: Marie Curie, now there was one great bullshitter and that Albert Einstein found a good marketing gimmick when he scribbled down e equals mc squared. Yet ask many people who know nothing about football who is the greatest footballer and many would say David Beckham. Beckham the ever silent. Beckham the enigma standing at the back of the stage as great events unfold. Beckham on his speedboat racing down the Thames as some poor bastard hides beneath the dashboard and actually steers the craft. Beckham the Confident.

Like many bad things and just a few good, overconfidence is probably a legacy of the Thatcher years. It was Thatcher who encouraged people to aspire higher and, though there’s nothing is wrong with aspiring to better yourself, somewhere the ends became less important than the means. Status was more important than the skill that got you there. Suddenly there are characters like Grant Shapp holding vast sway in the political life of our country.

The problem is that confidence is seen as synonymous with talent. We’ve bred a generation of super-children, all eager to grasp the world in their fat little fingers and make it their own. It’s everywhere you look: young screamers with old faces and absolute confidence in their abilities and ambitions. The reality is that we’re actually breeding a race of bullshitters, fast talkers, and people who can give a good presentation where opinion is more important than fact. When they get a little older, they’re reviewing the papers from London on Sky News or the BBC, expressing the same parochial views in a way that admits no shades of grey, no doubt, no humility towards the utterly unknowable entirety of the world and cosmos.

Yet I should be so lucky to have that middle class confidence. That ability to bullshit has become a requisite to success. It opens doors. I occasionally look down job listings and fall into a sobbing mess in the middle of the floor because even the simplest job demands the track record of a NASA astronaut. I read the job requirements for a bin man and I feel daunted by the qualifications.

What can I do? Nothing! My skills are ill formed, incomplete, a mixture of the self-taught and half-forgotten. If only I could bullshit and tell a lie that I could do all those things!

Because bullshit overwhelms us and it keeps us down unless we take the pill and become one of them. And my advice is to do just that. I’m thinking of slipping that pill myself pretty soon. I want to become a guilt-free bullshitter because there’s no nobility in remaining true to your values or beliefs. People will think you’re weak, confused, lacking ambition and drive. Climb that corporate ladder. Climb it because it gets easier the higher you go, up where the oxygen is thinner, where it starves your brain and it encourages the bullshit to grow.

It's A Sparks Show: The Slave To Fashion





I know I said I probably wouldn't draw any more of these Sparks strips (Part 1, Part 2) but after Ayumi's kind comment and Leg-Iron’s encouragement, I found myself drawing two long oblongs on a piece of paper late last night, not knowing what I was going to do with them. I needed very little encouragement to draw Russell Mael in his plus fours. Something about Sparks always brings me back to cheerfulness so I continued late into the night with this strip being the result.

This afternoon I need to just sit here and write some one panel gags. My list of ideas is beginning to look a little short and I need those ideas for the days when my brain isn’t firing but when I want to draw.

Cheap Labour

A cartoon about cheap labour labor

Thursday, 27 June 2013

You Are Here

You Are Here
Perhaps it's the rain. Perhaps it's Wimbledon. Perhaps it was the intellectual pretensions of my second Sparks comic strip. Perhaps it was the way I cruelly mocked Canada’s favourite comedian. All I know is that there's been almost no web traffic today except for somebody searching for ‘Bullseye Tony Green’.

Actually, parts of that need some explanation.

Last night, I thought this blog had been visited by somebody hostile to Canadian stand-up sensation, Baconface. On reflection, I’m pretty sure the visitor was the Canadian stand-up sensation himself. He arrived searching for ‘Baconface awful’ just before 5pm and didn’t stay long. Why? Well, who knows? Perhaps he was so offended by my first pen and ink caricature that he didn’t even bother to look at the second. Perhaps I said too many good things about him. How do I know it was Baconface? Well, as wiser minds than mine figured, who else would type ‘Baconface awful’ into Google? He was clearly looking for anti-Canadian criticism which he might then weave into the fabric of his show. Had I been crueller, he might have come back. That should teach us all an important lesson: that we should never be nice to anybody ever again…

He’s postmodern like that, Baconface. He deconstructs what it means to be a Canadian comedian in a country hostile to Canadian values, such as Celine Dion, world peace, and untreated lumber. The fact he didn’t leave a comment hurts but I have a whole pile of hurt in the corner of my room. Some days, I sculpt it into interesting shapes, such as this blog post, road rage or letters to Argos (see below).

Of course, he’s wouldn’t be the biggest celebrity to visit the blog and never come back. I’m guessing that either Russell or Ron Mael of Sparks might have visited too. That is another exciting but ultimately depressing thought. Exciting that they might have dropped by but depressing that they never came back to see the second part of my two part trilogy. In fact, almost every single Sparks fans on the planet has managed to stay away today. I had a very generous comment from a visitor called Ayumi asking me to draw more Sparks but I’m clearly paying for not playing to the core Sparks audience who didn’t enjoy my tank puns and references to Nietzsche’s ‘Birth of Tragedy’.

But isn’t that just the perennial the problem we all face? Just when you’re getting on well with somebody we go and mention mad German philosophers…

So, it looks like I’m back to blogging for a small but highly intelligent audience who don’t mind misguided intellectual pretensions mixed with a regular diet of arse jokes. You see: the red bottom of the Bobo the chimp! I was sitting on a rich seam of comic material right there but I had to ruin things by sticking myself in the cartoon. I’d mention ‘metafiction’ but I think it would lose me yet more readers. Now I bet even Ayumi won’t come back…

So here, then, is a cartoon I’ve just finishing drawing whilst sobbing to ‘The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman’. It clearly wouldn’t find a home anywhere else so it goes out to the seven of you… And to think, had things gone differently, I might now be picturing the seven of you sitting on a large virtual sofa with Baconface on the end, whilst Ron & Russell Mael of Sparks provided an impromptu 'Two Hands One Muth' set… As Ingmar Bergman has just sang:

Send an angel down to lead
Lead me from this barren land
How the Hell can I believe
If you withhold your guiding hand...

Dear Argos

You have to give credit where the good stuff is due. I shot this email off this afternoon and the matter was sorted in less than an hour. British industry might yet hold off Amazon. If only every company was as considerate. I should point out that apparently there isn't a company-wide policy about removing the seating in all Argos stores. It seems that this is specific to my local Argos.

However, for the record, this is the letter that turned wheels.
To: John Waldren, Managing Director, Argos UK.
From: Stan Madeley

Dear John,

You don’t know me from Adam but, unlike Adam, I am your bread and butter. I am your typical Argos shopper and would wear your tattoo with pride if such things were compulsory and not indicative of the hoi polloi.

But enough with my being polite… I have serious business to discuss and you need to hammer down on this issue before you haemorrhage sales. These observations will help save your company.

The reason I’m writing to the top is to inform you that somewhere down the executive ladder, some halfwit is making decisions from off half a rung. Which staple-brained executive decided to remove the seating from all branches of Argos? Don’t your people even understand your core business?

I was in my local Argos yesterday (a new Amazon eReader and some spoons) and I was told by incredulous staff (they quietly mumbled ‘dumb policy’) that ‘head office’ (i.e. your lot) had ordered the removal of all seating because we (i.e. ordinary punters) were ‘lingering too long’. Members of staff are also on shorter chains and have been told to process orders more quickly so the seating won’t be required or missed.

Don’t you understand that the seating was the very reason why many people shop at Argos? Do you know how many times I’ve heard older relatives say: ‘Let’s go and buy it from Argos. At least we can have a sit down…’

Removing the seating from Argos is like Costa removing the coffee, Boots removing the ointments, or WH Smith removing the tragically silent women with eyes hiding years of untold suffering and hurt from behind the tills. Sitting down is an important part of the Argos retail experience and some might even say THE most important part. My wife, Sandra (56), has very fragile ankles and she swore by Argos simply because of your seating. Was it harming your store that people were lingering longer among your promotional material?

I suppose this idea was dreamed up by some strong-thighed youth with a fashionable beard and a Saxo GTi parked outside. But what about those of us stuck shifting wife and luggage on the buses and trains? What about people who walk across town to Argos thinking we can have a breather before taking our place in queue B? Not all of us are equipped to live the life of a Jamaican sprinter.

Look, John, we’re all in a tight financial squeeze and you should be doing everything you can to make us linger a little longer. Don’t take away the chairs. Install some sofas and a coffee bar! Think laterally. It will be the secret of businesses going forwards. Encourage people to put their feet us as you subject them to clever marketing. You’re lucky to have people lingering. Some poor bastards can’t even sell sunlight in the current retail environment.

All levity aside: between myself, my friends and my family, we spend a hell of a lot of money with Argos but you’re about to lose all that to Amazon because of this insane short-sighted policy.

Hope you see the light and, indeed, see this email before it intercepted by the anti-seating cabal clearly operating at the highest levels of Argos.

Yours,

Stan Madeley

Republican Talk

I’m not exactly a republican but neither could I be called a monarchist. I don’t want to be ruled over by anybody, so if somebody is going to presume to do so, I guess I prefer it if that person isn't some vampish celebrity troll voted in by the British people. I’m not happy that our ruler is the descendant of some brutish psychopath who in the dark ages of English history used their might to seize power and oppress the people but, when the alternative is Vernon Kay, it really doesn't seem that bad.

Yet I read this morning that HMQ is about to come into some money. The Times reports that the Queen is to receive ‘£37.89 million from the State, a 5 per cent increase on this year’s Sovereign Grant of £36.1 million.’

Yesterday our Chancellor changed the rules so that jobseekers would have to wait seven days, not the previous three, before claiming benefit. It seemed spiteful, mean, and calculated yet typical of the man who once belonged to the Bullingdon Club where an entry requirement was supposedly to burn a £50 note in the face of a tramp.

The disparity here is of course a matter of scale. In terms of government spending, even £37.89 million is a sniff whereas Osborne will no doubt say that the changes to the rules will save the country hundreds of millions. To give it some scale: in 2006, the British Army bought 67 Apache helicopters for £2.5 billion, which works out at about £37 million each. So, one year of monarchy costs the same as one gunship.

It all makes me deeply angry, of course. As austerity bites the poor around the ankles, those at the top continue to get even more. Here in the north, we feel austerity more because the Tories know that locally their votes don’t matter. St Helens (which is my electoral constituency) has voted in successive Labour candidates since 1983 when the constituency was first created. Tories can squeeze us until we no longer have the energy to squeal and they know it won’t affect their vote in the rest of the country. In fact, it might make them even more popular among many who increasingly think that London and the South West should declare independence from the poorer parts of the UK.

Fractures like these become more obvious when times are tough. We’re all told to tighten our belts because a few pounds saved here and there will make a difference. Yet, a few million extra slipped to the Queen isn't supposed to count…

But there is, of course, an obvious solution.

We could simply replace the Queen with an attack helicopter. Not only could an Apache hold its own flyovers, it has a certain natural awe attached to it, plus it has more firepower than an 87 year old lady. Not only that, at £37 million a year, we could have a brand new Apache each year. And it’s surely a truer representation of what monarchy is about: an artificial sense of belonging imposed by a privileged few whose ancestors were at one point willing to back up the force of their arguments with the sharp end of a stick.

Holiday Slideshows

HolidayPhotos

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Baconface awful

Some vile crab-nosed critic visited this blog by searching for the phrase ‘Baconface awful’ on Google. I can’t believe they were searching for the comedian of the same name, leading me to believe that they’re thinking about my two Baconface cartoons which blatantly ripped off the comedy great’s likeness without caring a jot about the copyright implications of doing so. In which case, they might be right...

But still… ‘Baconface awful’? It doesn’t even make grammatical sense without some punctuation or extra words. A colon would have been the way I’d have gone but the simply addition of an ‘is’ would have made everything clearer. ‘Baconface awful’ is, at best, a vague gesture towards the suggestion that the comedian called Baconface needs to work on his act.

And what about ‘awful’? Does anybody except some mouth-breathing golf-club secretary use ‘awful’ these days? Shit, shite, terrible, unfunny, juvenile, lazy, boring, or a proto-reactionary manifestation of 1980s Canadian conservative policies given new life on the UK stand up circuit eager for new talent… But not awful.

Not that I agree with any part of that, anyway. The person writing ‘Baconface awful’ clearly has ‘taste awful’. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the person writing that just doesn’t understand modern stand-up comedy at all.

Which leads me to one conclusion: it was Michael McIntyre. That would make complete sense: inability to see beyond comedy’s flat middle ground, fear of a new comedian who is more ham faced…

It's A Sparks Show Part 2

When this mad lizard of an idea came to me, I planned to draw a couple of comic strips about my favourite band. I imagined that both would be completed inside a couple of days. This second, alone, took three days or nursing a sore elbow late into the night. As you can now see, it ended up twice as long as I’d originally planned. The problem is partly that they are addictive and fun to write and draw. I’m delighted that the first one was viewed so much and made Spark's official Facebook page. It should also be appearing (in translation) in the French music magazine, ‘New Noise’, in the next month or so, alongside an interview with the real Sparks. Great on the CV, I guess, even if it does nothing for the stomach...

This strip I don't expect to be such a success. I just cast it to the ether to be enjoyed or not. I had yet another batch of rejections from Private Eye this morning so I now need to work on some cartoons that might actually put food on the table. After that, I might draw another strip. At the moment, I just don’t know... The rejections from the Eye are beginning to take a toll. This is turning into a grueling business for men with spines as thick as a dinosaur's backbone.

So, if you’ve enjoyed these strips, please feel free to boost my confidence with a comment or email me. I don’t hear laughter or giggles of delight. I'll now post this and all I'll hear is the whirring of my computer’s fan and the wind in the trees. Hope you enjoy!







[Technically, I think this one’s a better strip but perhaps lacks the tightness of the first which had a better single joke. I was originally finishing this second strip after page 1, but I thought the songs puns weren’t a good end. I added the second page but trying to make the chimp the punchline but that didn't turn out well either. Last night, I drew the entirety of the last page. I liked the idea of breaking through the fourth wall by using myself as an even bigger chimp in the last frame. Other cartoonists do it occasionally and Crumb does it all the time.

What I learned: more frames gave me more room to breathe and to write. I really enjoyed writing the last page. I’ll have to try working at length again, perhaps going even longer but giving myself a full week to work on a strip, perhaps three or four pages long, which would be double this or 8 pages of A4. I was also much more liberal with Tippex in this strip. I've always tried to minimize mistakes but working with Tippex helped me change lots of things around if they didn't work. If only one good thing came of this it was learning to use Tippex properly!]

Private Eye and More Sparks

As you can see, I've posted a brand new cartoon. Yes, that means Ian Hislop must have come back off his holidays. After a long two weeks, the cartoons I sent to Private Eye came back with the familiar ‘Editor says sorry not to use’. This is turning ugly.

In fact, it’s becoming an almost morbid pleasure, this cycle of hope and rejection: a period of intense cartooning, firm belief that I have better cartoons than last time, a shred of hope, all to be dashed in one ugly moment of inbox hell. I’m beginning to think they’ll never accept any of my cartoons. This batch really contained some of my best and it seems that my best isn’t good enough. Between you and me: I think I’ve now given up.

Today I should be drawing cartoons or at least doing some proper writing but the Sparks comic strip keeps growing. It’s now two pages long, which is four A4 sheets or 27 individual frames. That's as long as it's going to get and now I need only finish some crosshatching, some polishing, and then a final check. I have no idea why I decided to finish it except I’ve actually had a blast drawing Sparks. I think I've also learned new things in the process of creating a longer piece of sustained cartooning, even if I haven't quite figured out how to draw a convincing Russell Mael. And now it's almost done, I’m not sure I even want to post the cartoon now. It's taken such time that I'd hate it just to go ignored, like everything I post here. Yet I'm sure that will happen. It’s a little different to the last, more ambitious but slightly odder. I don’t know what I’ll do with it, except I do know I won’t be sending it to Private Eye.

The Google Glass Cartoon

Google Glass Cartoon

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Alan Bennett Cartoon

Alan BennettAnother very old cartoon I'm sure I never posted before.


Sparks, Internet Banking and Alt Key Woes

Yesterday almost ate me alive, though it began with good news. Thanks to its appearance on the Sparks’ Facebook page, my Sparks cartoon will (hopefully) be also appearing in the French music magazine New Noise in the next month or so. My morning was spent changing all the text to French. Then I tried to progress on the second Sparks strip I've been working on (more about that later) but my PC had other ideas. Its random alt key problem returned with a vengeance.

I think it has to be one of the most irritating bugs I’ve ever experienced on a PC. I loaded the Windows onscreen keyboard and it revealed the problem. Every few seconds, the alt key would press on its own. It made working impossible. It wasn’t ‘sticky keys’ or the keyboard since I swapped it for another and the problem remained. After about two hours rebooting, scanning, searching the web for answers, I finally found software that would disable the alt key. Not an ideal solution but at least it allows me to work.

Just when I thought I could get back to the Sparks strip, I then discovered that using my new credit card online had set off the bank’s anti-Fraud mechanisms, meaning I couldn’t access my online account. That meant a phone call to an Indian call centre. That sounds straightforward and it certainly began that way. They asked my mother’s maiden name. I know that. My date of birth. Easy. My address. Know it like the back of my hand. Then they asked for one payment, the exact amount, the date, the person it was to or from, and the mechanism by which it was paid…

How the hell could I know that? I mean, if I know a sum, I probably don’t know the date. If I knew a date, I couldn’t remember the sum.

‘Check your statement,’ they suggested.

‘But since you’ve moved to paperless statements, I’d need to check online, which I can’t do since you’ve locked my card…’

‘Well, I need a payment before we can proceed.’

There’s something really frustrating about some guy on the other side of the world looking at your bank account when you’re unable to get access to it yourself…

In the end, a Tesco receipt discovered stuffed in a trouser pocket saved the day but it was just part of the wonderful panoply of crap that seemed to hit me all afternoon.

Anyway, I’m knackered this morning. I made up lost time by working into the early hours trying to finish this second (probably last) Sparks strip. I realised at around nine o’clock last night that it didn’t have a great ending and I’d need to draw a third A4 sheet, or another eight panels. In some ways, this strip is better than the first but I wish I could come up with a great last panel...

Okay, I have a hell of a lot of crosshatching to do this morning.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Four Cartoons

I still can’t believe yesterday’s Sparks success. I woke up with a sore face which suggests I must have been grinning all night.

Anyway, whilst I get my mind into gear, here are four old cartoons from the pile under my desk. These were drawn a long time ago and at very smalls scale in order to save on Bristol board (very expensive), so they look a little rough. I also hope my skills have improved (even a little) since I drew these.

Today I’m going to finish inking the second of the Sparks comic strips which I pencilled last week and then I might actually get around to drawing some new gag cartoons or even (deep breath) do some proper writing.

Euclidean Fork

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Sparkling Strangeness

What strangeness. What sparkling strangeness…

My Sparks cartoon appeared on their Official Facebook page tonight.

This is me (holds up finger) passing this close to greatness (passes finger past nose). My nose isn't a great nose but for the purposes of this metaphor let’s imagine it is. It’s a monumental nose. It’s a nose that makes the best albums in the business and, when seen live, my nose is a revelation. In fact, I hope my noses plays Manchester soon so I can see it again.

Excuse this ramble but, if you follow this blog, you’ll know that last week was a bad week because of my elbow injury (the swelling is now almost down) but there were other things too grim to mention. You might say I was filled with momentary euphoria when I saw my doodle on the Facebook page of my favourite band. Hell, my work getting posed anywhere is remarkable. I remember when my book first appeared in bookshops; I’d just go into Manchester or Liverpool and look at it in utter bemusement. Mind you, when it was pulped, I also stood there looking at it in bemusement…

However, this Sparks boost was a great surprise. Last October, I’d been standing across the road from the HMV Ritz in Manchester, shivering as I waited for the coach replacing my cancelled train home. I could see Sparks fans waiting around the stage door. I couldn’t wait. I wouldn’t have waited even thought I wanted to wait. It seems a strange thing to do: to annoy artists you admire by loitering and staring at them… And I say that as a man who wrote a book of spoof letters in which I annoyed artists I admire by writing them funny letters. Or I least I hope they found them funny. The best ones usually did. I’d written to Ron Mael about six months earlier and suggested they tour again. Some small part of me hoped I’d played my part in making it happen.

So, even if I hadn’t played a small part in making it happen, this cartoon gave me real pleasure. I’d drawn two strips based around Sparks and to have the first received so well filled me with confidence. Humour is a tricky venue to play, especially when you know that your humour is too warped for the mainstream, though I partially blame Sparks for that.

I remember Sparks from earliest childhood when I was too young to understand the music but Ron Mael’s glare would fascinate me equally as much as Russell’s missing tooth. I think even then my humour was warped. Or perhaps Sparks warped my humour. That’s something I’ve often considered. All I know is that I’ve always loved things that are left of centre. Cartooning, my heroes are the often incomprehensible B. Kliban, the I-dare-you-to-like-me Robert Crumb, and that wild visionary Ralph Steadman. My favourite books are the dense ‘Heart of Darkness’ and the second volume of Hunter S. Thompson’s letters. Films: Orson Welles’ ‘F for Fake’, Huston’s ‘Treasure of the Sierre Madre’, and Tony Hancock’s ‘The Rebel’ (which I maintain is *the* greatest movie about modern art ever made). Musically, it’s always been Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, and Sparks…

So, I write this blog for myself like I write my books for myself, hoping to find others that like them. So, imagine my delight when I saw that my cartoon had made Spark’s Official Facebook page. My grin reached from ear to ear, taking two circuits around the living room in the process. People seemed to like the strip. I’m feeling really happy and then…

‘Am I the only one who doesn’t find this cartoon funny in the slightest?’

I paraphrase. I’m not going back to read that comment again. Just cue the mangled cry of the brass section falling down the stairs. Cue the comic slide whistle descending the depths of pathos.

Never ever look. Never read the praise. Never read the hate.

Hard lessons have taught me that. From my first absolutely stinking review on Amazon to snide comments to my work online, I’ve learned never to listen. When I was interviewed on Radio 4 last year, I never went back. Never listened to it. I don’t look back. I just move on. That’s my approach and why I don’t use Facebook or Twitter. Perhaps I should try the Stuart Lee approach (and why I rate him as the finest stand-up in the business) which is to embrace the hate. Only, the problem with embracing the hate is that you really need to know you’re good in the first place to carry that off. My problem is that I feel that my cartoons are essentially worthless. Working class paranoia runs deep up here in the north and I find self-doubt the greatest obstacle when engaged in creative projects. Admitting you're a writer around here is like admitting to being a sheep strangler, something that's not encouraged and possibly illegal. So when the blank page faces me, it’s cruel. Marking it is a defiance and I will scribble something rather than face nothing. It’s the best way.

‘Am I the only one who doesn’t find this cartoon funny in the slightest?’

But that line lives with you before you pick up a pen or type a word.

‘Am I the only one who doesn’t find this cartoon funny in the slightest?’

The audience’s voice is always there in everything you do, ready to mock you for even trying to create something different, for simply trying to make people laugh and feel better...

‘Am I the only one who doesn’t find this cartoon funny in the slightest?’

Then I think: what would Hunter S. Thompson say.

And I think: fuck them. Fuck them in the desert where black ants can dance drunken Irish jigs on their shrivelled eyeballs. That’s probably what Hunter S. Thompson would have said but better than that, tapping deeper reserves of justifiable anger.

Because here’s the crux of the matter: there is more stupidity in the world than there is creativity.

Something happened to me a few months ago that puts it into context.

A friend teaches English Literature at a local comprehensive and one of her students needed help on an A Level project. It happened to be on the author I wrote about for my doctorate. I never have reason to use my PhD so I was delighted to write down some ideas about how to tackle the project. The suggestions were passed on. It felt like my ten years of university weren’t a total waste.

Fast forward two months. My friend mentioned the student so I asked how my advice has been received. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘they ignored your suggestions completely.’

‘Completely? You mean all of them?’

‘I know. She did something else. We couldn’t stop her, even though it didn’t make any sense…’

I shrugged but here’s the thing: when I got home that night, I actually went to my books and I researched the very thing I’d written down just in case I’d been wrong.

Of course, I wasn’t wrong. In fact, I was more right than I’d suspected and it was actually a pretty imaginative way of tacking the project. But after studying an author for ten years and having written a 100,000 word thesis, why did I think that I might have been wrong? Just because some vacant 16 year old, who couldn’t take her studies seriously, decided to take an easy option?

Then I realised it was just self-doubt, self-loathing… We all have it.

So, I’m writing this to myself as well as to anybody who creates and actually reads things like this ramble on the web. My advice to myself and to you: never listen to the critics. Never accept the praise. Ignore the scorn. Just write, draw, keep your head down. Produce. The poverty will get you long before the critics get to have a say.

Remember: the only thing that matters is the work. And occasionally getting your work on Spark's Official Facebook page. That makes it all feel almost worth it.

 

The Michael Gove Cartoon Strip

Michael Gove Comic Strip

The 'Married To A Tree' Cartoon

Married to a treeAnother very old (and very rough) cartoon from the archive. I don't think I've ever published it here before.

 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

It's A Sparks Show

Coming soon... It's A Sparks Show: Part 2...


[caption id="attachment_2166" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Sparks - Ron and Russell Mael Click to enlarge[/caption]

This was a comic strip idea that had been rattling around in my head for a long time so I’m glad to have finally sat down and drawn it out. I think drawing this was some kind of penance for once writing to Ron Mael as Stan Madeley (movie frogman) offering to teach him how to scuba dive. He never replied but I can hardly blame him.

I’ve been a big fan of Sparks, possibly from early childhood but, on a conscious level, since I discovered the 'Gratuitous Sax' album yet I consider myself to be far too sane to be one of those 'super fans'. I stood next to a few of them outside Manchester’s Ritz last October when I saw Sparks play live. It was a birthday present otherwise I would have probably missed the tour and missed standing in line with one scary woman who was ready to throw body parts onto the stage if Russell Mael had only looked in her direction. Rather than stand at the front, I crept up to the balcony and, as fate would have it, got one of the few seats in the house (video here). I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Sparks will come back to Manchester around October when they do another live tour later in the year. The evening was sublime.

Next to seeing the Ralph Steadman exhibition or going to the Fringe to see Stuart Lee and Baconface, a Sparks concert could be another highlight of that fantasy year when I actually earn money for my cartoons/books and can actually afford to see all the things I want to see.

Looking back at this strip, there are things I could have done much better. I mainly read underground comics so I love roughly framing, though, doing this again, I perhaps  wouldn’t make it quite as rough. Some of the crosshatching was also rushed. Yet there are parts of this I really like. Learning to draw cartoons is all about constant practice. I didn’t want to spend too long on this, though I’ve not drawn two A4 sheets for quite a while. Anyway, success or failure, this is one of those things I draw for myself. The monkey at the end amuses me enormously and I've not stopped smiling all day.

The Joy to the World Cartoon

SingersQuite an old cartoon. I don’t think I’ve posted it before so I thought I better get it up online so GCHQ can grab a copy.

Still trying to catch up with all the cartoons I want to draw but I’m my own worst enemy. I sat down last night intending to draw enough single panel cartoons for a week and ended up filling two A4 sheets with a 12 panel strip it will take all day to finish.

Friday, 21 June 2013

More Baconface

[caption id="attachment_2152" align="aligncenter" width="576"]Baconface Stewart Lee Click to embiggen[/caption]

When I wrote my slightly tongue-in-cheek review of Baconface's show, I had an alternative comic strip pencilled out. I chose to finish the other three panel strip simply because it would take less time. Now I’ve sat down and inked this in, I realise it has no home. So, here it is: a comic strip without a reason.

I could, of course, make up a reason. I could, for example, recommend that if you’re one of those lucky rich bastards going to Edinburgh for this year's Fringe, then you go check out the genius of Baconface for yourself. Perhaps video his entire act and stick it on Youtube so I can see what I'm missing. He’s performing at The Stand all through August and the tickets are available to buy for the ridiculously cheap price of £5. You can’t even buy real quality bacon for that price.

While you about it, you might want to also book tickets to see Stewart Lee who is also appearing at The Stand during August but for the slightly less reasonable price of £10. However, his tickets are going quickly and a few shows are already sold out. I wouldn't recommend videoing his performance and uploading it to Youtube. He's a big man and looks like he knows how to do violence.

Of course, you’re already too late if you wanted to see Sarah Millican (also at The Stand). Although tickets to her show were priced totally unreasonably at £12, all her shows are now sold out. However, if you did want to see her, then I suggest you buy a ticket for your head doctor. Just tell him that you’ve lost your fucking mind.

You see: here is an example of what’s wrong with this country. Baconface for £5 or Sarah Millican for £12? There are some days I don't despair but they're very few.

As for me, I won’t be going to The Fringe. I’ll have to make do drawing comic strips of what I imagine The Fringe will be like.

I'm going crazy...

I'm having a crap day. My computer has developed a form of low level insanity by which it randomly thinks that the ALT key is pressed. Driving me crazy. I can be typing and then I’m suddenly navigating menus… It's not a problem with 'Sticky Keys' or a hardware problem (this is happening with different keyboards). I have no idea what the problem is and it's now lasted through three reboots and three hours...

In addition, today, a hot sunny day when I need the window open to breathe in this small office, the local retirement home is having a garden party with ‘entertainment’. That entertainment is a local folk singer with an amplifier and he’s driving me crazy. I’m currently sitting listening to ‘The Oakie from Muskogee’… No, it’s changed. ‘You were always on my mind… You were always on my mind.’

I’ve always needed peace and quiet to write. It’s something to do with hearing words in my head as I write them. It’s probably why I prefer the winter. There’s no way I can work with this keyboard problem and that music…

So, in lieu (subsequent pun intended) of the things I wanted to write out, here’s Lou Reed being witty and intelligence in this Guardian piece. He’s sounding weak but I’m amazed to see him in public after his recent liver operation. Just these few choice quotes remind me why I’d don’t mind if he’s a truculent arsehole when meeting fans and journalists.

Oh, Christ this is impossible. The folkie is now singing ‘Matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs’ and the keyboard is driving me slowly crazy.

I’m going to see if I can fix this bloody machine... Can of worms about to be opened...

The Weather Forecast

Will GompertzWith quite a few cartoons still ‘out there’ to be rejected (or who knows, perhaps even accepted!), I find myself running a little short. I should really try to learn to blog more economically, perhaps with brief rants about things in the news instead of trying to post a cartoon every single day. But that’s the ambition I set myself and, looking through my PC, I realise that I still have the occasional scrap left over from other projects. For example, I found this which I sent to BBC arts editor Will Gompertz quite some time ago with a letter from my alter ego, Stan Madeley. I never got a reply but a weather forecast is perhaps the perfect way to celebrate the first day of summer.

Gomp

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Australian PM Casts A Long Shadow

Julia GillardA quick post for any Australian visitors.

 

The Good Bad Guy

James Gandolfini has died. I heard the news when my elbow gave me enough pain to wake me at 5AM. I got up, had tablets, checked the BBC... I couldn’t believe it. When I woke up properly, hours later, I thought it must have been a horrible dream.

I enjoyed ‘The Sopranos’ but for some reason I never watched beyond the second series, so that’s not how I best remember Gandolfini.

Gandolfini was that rare kind of movie actor, like Alan Arkin, John Goodman, or even Geoffrey Rush, who never top the billing but are usually better than the rest of the cast combined. It always pleasantly surprises me when I see their names listed in a cast. Films were never sold on the back of Gandolfini’s name but he often made films. I saw him most recently in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ where he gave real presence to the small role of the CIA Director (with a strong resemblance to George Tenet) but he was in many great films in even better roles. He was one of the best things in the remake of ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’ and he stole the underrated film ‘The Last Castle’ from Robert Redford. Yet, for me, his best performance was in Armando Iannucci's ‘In The Loop’ where he played Lt. Gen. George Miller, the commander who didn’t want to go to war. The final scene between him and Peter Capaldi was not just the best thing in the movie but the best thing in many movies.

The reason Gandolfini was so memorable in all these roles was that he was always convincingly real. It wasn’t nepotism or connections that made him a success. It was talent, charisma and that ineffable likability with which some people are naturally born. Even playing a bad guy, you always knew there was a good guy deep down. That, I guess, was the magic ingredient in The Sopranos but it was something Gandolfini brought to every role.

I can’t help but feel that the good guys have just lost one of their best bad guys.

The Sat Nav Cartoon

Sat Nav

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Ouch!

This morning I drew a cartoon I intended to (ouch!) post here this afternoon but had second thoughts and quickly dispatched it to the Eye. They still haven’t rejected (ouch!) the five cartoons I submitted two weeks ago so perhaps this additional one will elicit a response. Then I’ll have nearly a week’s worth of (ouch!) good cartoons to use for blog posts…

This afternoon I’ll try to write something more meaning but I’m already beginning to think it’s futile. As you can see, I’m suffering from olecranon bursitis or ‘student’s elbow’ which developed suddenly and for no apparent reason yesterday afternoon (though I might have cracked my elbow earlier in the week). It’s also called ‘water on the elbow’. All I know is that it’s swollen and hurts like a bugger if I (ouch!) put weight on it. It’s nowhere near as bad as it was last night so I’m hoping Ibuprofen and ice packs are doing the trick.

I’m also getting a bit jaded about my web statistics. I shouldn't look at them but I always like to see if my efforts are attracting regular readers. Only, here are some of the Google searches bringing (ouch!) people to this blog this morning:
3d porn blog, 3d porn blogs, 3d porn comics blog, 3ds porn, porn viewable on 3ds, porn+3d+++pop+out, pornography, Large penis tribal man with women, nipples, harry+potter+sex, ply sex com, Rupert Grint nude, spine porn, Warrington prostitutes, testicles in a jar photo.

It’s a depressing thought but I suppose, from now on, I’ll be getting visitors looking for sexy photos of olecranon bursitis also known as ‘Men with big elbows’.

Perhaps I just need a break from the web, go back to writing books that nobody reads.
What wouldn't I give for ten or twenty regular readers?!

PS. Ouch!

Strange Cartoon #3

Mysogyunistic PuppetryHere’s another of my stranger cartoons which, as I’ve previously mentioned, I’m currently drawing just to amuse myself.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Wrong Sort of Visitors

The reality of blogging is this: I spend about four hours carefully crafting a 1500 word article about the Nigella Lawson / Charles Saatchi story, finding my argument subtle and therefore difficult one to write. I link it in to different articles and news stories and eventually speculate that stereotypical attitudes towards domestic violence might actually distract us from understanding the everyday realities of violence in the world…

I enjoyed writing it and I post it hoping that somebody somewhere would enjoy reading it.

Then I discover that, in Canada, I’m rated the Number 1 on Google for the term ‘3D porn blog’.

I sometimes think it’s blogging that deepens my scepticism about human nature, except, perhaps I’m partly to blame. If I hadn’t taken the time to produce facetious posts about 3D porn, I wouldn’t be getting so many Canadians looking for 3D porn on this blog. And that’s the sad part of this notoriety: I can’t do anything with it. In fact, I’m probably exacerbating the problem every time I write ‘3d porn blog’.

I obviously don’t care about statistics that I want lots of visitors coming to this blog who think they’re actually going to get 3D porn. I want intelligent, humorous, good looking readers who are susceptible to flattery. I want readers (possibly Canadian, it doesn't really matter) who enjoy off the wall cartoons drawn by a man who is trying his best to hold it together despite his occasional need to rant. I want people who will come back even if I, one day, I write a long boring article or a crazy review of a comedian they’ve probably not heard about, complete with strange comic strip. Above all, I want readers who will stick by me despite the bad days.

If you’re here in your underwear with your 3D glass already strapped to your head, then I really don’t need you… Unless, of course, you’re also a regular who also fulfills the above requirements. In which case, you can stay. Just put on some trousers first.

I’m Not Charles Saatchi

There is no defence. There are no words that excuse the actions of any coward who puts his hands around a woman’s throat or commits violence upon her person. The morality of that begins at wrong and quickly scales up to that form of the prosecutable where you start to think about throwing away the key.

The fact that I have to write that as my opening gives you an idea of how paranoid we’ve become of the buzzards that hang in the high glare of the sun, ready to swoop down and pick the soft belly meat from anybody foolish enough to stand apart from the herd. Words have to be chosen carefully in these hot days lest they give a hint that we might not be thinking the right thing or making a point which isn’t part of the day’s narrative. It is a way of living life devoted to Newspeak, what Orwell warned us would ‘narrow the range of thought’:
In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.

So, I choose my words carefully because I want to write about the media response to the photographs of Charles Saatchi grabbing his wife, Nigella Lawson, around the throat. I want to talk about stories that create their own reality, where the facts are few and gaps invite speculation. From that, I want to make a distinction between justifiable debates about domestic abuse and the media’s response to individual cases.

Because, make no mistake, we are already slapping our sandals in the shallow waters of inference (‘if they did this, they must do that’) where we think that we know our celebrities (‘they are nice on TV so they must be nice in private’) and we delude ourselves with deductive fallacies (Person A hurts person B; Person A is a man; therefore all men would hurt Person B). Yet the way I pose that makes even me feel edgy. It sounds like I’m already setting up a defence for Saatchi when I’m not going to defend him for one miserable buttoned-up-collar of an inch. I’m simply trying to make a distinction between facts and journalistic narrative.

Take for instance Roy Greenslade who wrote an apology in today’s Guardian. He’d previously responded to the photographs by trying to keep a degree of journalistic detachment, concerned as he was, with ‘rushing to judgement’.
Sometimes one is too close to a story, and this is the irony: I was clearly over-compensating for the fact that I have been a friend of Nigella's ever since we were colleagues on the Sunday Times more than 20 years ago.

In order to be scrupulously fair about the incident, showing no favour to a friend, I went way in the wrong direction.

That’s very noble of him except I see nothing wrong with his staying loyal to his journalistic instincts. His apology feels like it was just an easier thing to do than making his serious point at length. Yet it’s not even the reliable self-aware journalists like Greenslade that should be making us cautious. We need to be wary of the dead-eyed sharks that already circle the reef having recognised a familiar taste of blood in the water.

This story is too big not to attract the man-eaters in search of easy meat. After all, this is about a beautiful best-selling author and TV chef, the daughter of a Tory Chancellor, who married an advertising troll decades older than herself and who, himself, rose to fame by marketing the Conservative Party before using his millions to turn the debate about contemporary art from aesthetics and into one about corporate greed. She’s young and he’s old, she cooks healthy food and he enjoys bad food and smokes incessantly. She is buxomly lovely and sexy and he is gnarled, crabby and difficult. The whole thing is set up for morbid soap opera morality and anybody who dares utter a hesitant or complex word will ultimately, like Greenslade, be forced to issue an apology.

That’s partly the problem. This story has everything it takes to be the new big issue. Even if the story ends now that Saatchi has accepted a police caution, it’s a tale that will grow in the telling until journalistic fingers are bloody stumps no longer able to hammer out a byline. To some, the story will summarise life on this planet: the oppression of women by men, the violence inherent in capitalism. It can be made to be about avarice or class or bad teeth or smoking or even the right of the individual to intervene when they see wrong being done. ‘Surely, domestic violence is the grubby problem of the inarticulate and poorly educated,’ asks Anna Maxted rhetorically in the Telegraph, her point being that we are always surprised to discover when the rich and famous lead unhappy personal lives. Except it’s surely not at all surprising unless we have a ridiculously na├»ve notion of human nature, have never read any history, or believe only what’s fed to us in the press and the media.

Commentators are creatures of confidence and find their firmest footing on easy terrain. They tend to wear black and pose for a good photograph and this story will either fill them full of righteous anger or cloying sentiment, both of which are always easy to show off from the high moral bank. No doubt many were sitting crossed-legged on their beanbags late into the night, their Macbook Airs balanced on their laps, producing identical diatribes thoroughly exploiting the blatantly obvious whilst throwing in liberal examples of that sexism that dare not speak its name. Suzanne Moore at the Guardian has already asked this morning: ‘Was there a woman who saw those awful pictures of Nigella Lawson who didn't think "If he does this in public what does he do behind closed doors?"’

‘Was there a woman’! What about ‘was there a woman or man’? What difference does gender make to how we might view domestic assault? The implication is, of course, that men might think something different, perhaps ‘She was clearly asking for it!’ or ‘Go on, Charles, you show her who’s boss!’

Yet this slide into sectarianism should always be avoided when we’re trying to understand reality. Sectarianism of any kind makes life more difficult than it should otherwise be. We don’t know the reality of the private matters between Saatchi and Lawson but the evidence was damning enough for the police to become involved. That is where our facts end. The rest needs to be handled with sensitivity by people closer to the issue than front page headline writers and freelancers hastily concocting 800 words of specious reasoning for the morning edition. For the press, however, reality is often less important than the narrative that they can construct.

Too many in the media respond to complexity with broad strokes. In the case of Charles Saatchi, many of the messages are familiar and the subtexts even clearer: men are always mindless subjects to a violent heritage. We deserve to be chemically castrated or, if that’s not available, properly castrated. In fact, probably best to lop off our balls just to be certain... Every expression of masculine culture ultimately ends in oppression, violence, murder, genocide…

Except they are wrong in so far as it is every expression of human culture that can ultimately end in oppression, violence, murder, genocide. Evil is not exclusively a male trait or hobby. Consider this: we read about a rape and we are all rightly appalled. We read about female circumcision and we want governments to do something about an abhorrent custom that’s still practised around the world. Yet think about the last time you read headlines about a woman cutting off a man’s penis. Was the tone exploitative (probably), outraged (unlikely) or comic (undoubtedly). Read this at The Sun and explain why the husband is referred to as the ‘hubby’.

If abuse is the subject then the subject is abuse. If it proves that Charles Saatchi is an abusive bastard, it's because he's an abusive bastard. It's not inherently because he's a man. Why should the gender of the victim or assailant enter into it? Abuse is abuse. Intellectualising individual examples ultimately proves useless when that rot is capable of taking hold in the heart of every human being and every supposedly loving relationship. It should not be an opportunity to preach high-feminism or any other ideology as the eternal truth of the human condition. That’s why it was so refreshing to see how Sarah Ditum over at The New Statesman took one of the more considered positions, asking why nobody acted when they saw Saatchi grab Lawson. The answer is that all of us, press and readers alike, are too busy constructing our own narratives.

We gaze at reality through the screen of our mobile phones, turning it into TV so as to make ourselves passive observers incapable of action. We are taught to know our place, stay safe and let others deal with problems. Nobody acts, irrespective of whether we’re looking at the all-too-silent horror of domestic abuse or the public horror being perpetrated in Syria. Only when we stop thinking that we know all too well what is happening, labelling everything as ‘the same old story’, might we actually start to look and understand what is actually going on.

In science, you commit what’s called ‘confirmation bias’ when you choose the facts that most favour your hypothesis. The cowardly actions of Charles Saatchi appear to confirm one feminist hypothesis. But not all men are Charles Saatchi.

Possibly the only truth out there is that, men and women alike, we are all capable of being Charles Saatchi.

A Job Centre Cartoon

Job Retraining

Monday, 17 June 2013

Review: Baconface - The New Face of Comedy (and Bacon)

BaconfaceShould pigs die so stand-up comedy can prevail?

That’s the deep moral dilemma that’s been testing me these past few days as the smell of bacon still lingers on my clothes and I feel weirdly complicit in some sick twisted crime for which there is as yet no name.

It’s hard to justify the death of an animal so a man can mask his identity but that’s precisely what’s happening whenever our newest comedy import takes to the stage. The Canadian comedy legend, Baconface, has been playing the Soho Theatre this last week with his show, ‘It’s All Bacon’, and this is my first chance to actually sit down and write the review of what was a truly terrifying hour or so of my life.

As his name implies, Baconface wears bacon on his face and he emerges into the spotlight like some stocky reject from a Texas chainsaw casting call. But he doesn’t wear bacon all over his face. Perhaps sheer laziness prevents him from fashioning a proper mask – a meat helmet, if you will – so what we’re really looking at is a man with a face that is part man and part bacon. It’s really a bacon-human flesh hybrid and should really be advertised as such. 'Baconmanface' would be a more appropriate name.

The gaps in the bacon aside, the act itself was as brilliant as it was occasionally incomprehensible to these northern working class ears. Baconface’s thick Canadian accent was often abrasive and sounded like Tom Waits doing a bad impression of Tom Waits were Tom Waits Canadian and suffering from emphysema. I picked up about 80% of what Baconface was saying and since 50% of that comprised punchlines, I laughed perhaps 30% of the time.

Yet there is also something quite humbling about being in the audience for a Baconface show. Remember: this is a man taking a perishable meat product under hot stage lighting every single time he performs. He’s not chosen to use a traditional prop like other comedians. He’s not wearing a fez which might last him twenty years if properly maintained. He’s not grown his hair long like Ross Noble yet neither has he Michael McIntyre’s bouncy fringe dancing playfully like flea-infested dingleberries over a dead sheep’s mutilated arsehole. He’s not even got the youthful good looks of Russell Howard, attractive to both women and aging paedophiles alike. This is just a man with his bacon which is technically pork and, as we know, pork is prohibited in many of the world’s great religions. Culturally, theologically, and morally: this is as cutting edge as stand-up comedy gets.

That’s why we have to admire his commitment to his art. What would it cost to wear six or seven good slices of bacon on your head? Sixteen rashers of Tesco smoked best go for £4, though they’re currently doing a 3 for £10 deal. That’s 48 rashers of quality bacon for £10. Now that expense comes straight out of Baconface’s profits before he’s even taken to the stage and that meat is only going to last him about eight shows. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s why his runs are so short. He’s just finished playing five nights in London and in August he’s going to do a run of nine nights in Edinburgh but followed by a run that will last thirteen consecutive nights! Will £10 of bacon last that long? My advice: book soon for the early shows before his meat goes off.

Baconface’s stagecraft was rough and not particularly elegant and that brings me to my one criticism of the show. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were parasites living in that bacon. It sincerely hope that Baconface won’t develop trichinosis which is a parasitic infection commonly caught from exposure to uncooked bacon. Indeed, I immediately thought ‘parasitic infection’ when I noticed Baconface’s tendency to scratch himself but I couldn’t tell if that was just stage nerves typical of the one show or a habitual tic. His bacon certainly wasn’t the healthiest I’ve ever seen and, by the end, I was feeling nauseous as the smell of rancid meat drifted off his every punchline.

Indeed, it will be interesting to see how the act develops into the summer months. How well with Baconface’s bacon hold up in warmer venues where his bacon is likely to attract flies? Beneath the bacon he wears what appears to be a modified pair of y-fronts but I’m informed by those in the know that it might be a Mexican wrestler’s mask. Whatever it is: will it provide ample protection against bacon juice seeping through and penetrating his skin? It would be a tragedy is this Canadian legend had to cancel his tour because his face had rotted off from the same virulent worm larvae that affect swine.

His involvement with Stewart Lee’s new TV series is the last enigma and should prove interesting. Baconface might be a comedy legend in his native Canada but over there the humour is less sophisticated and tends to be about overly colourful cardigans, elk, and the etiquette of hunting geese with a crossbow. British audiences require something more subtle than duck call jokes and it’s not entirely clear that Stewart Lee would be the best person to teach Baconface that craft. Baconface deserves to hone his routine with a comedian who has more jokes and fewer emotional, intellectual, and sexual hang-ups about not being Russell Brand. At the moment, Baconface is very much still finding his feet in a new country and he could learn a few tricks from the current generation of comedy talent such as Tim Vine, Miranda Hart, or any of those sexist postmodern Australians that have come over here and are so very funny.

[Update: Also check my Baconface update in honour of his debut at the Edinburgh Fringe ].

[Update 2: Also check my strip in honour of Baconface's recent disappearance when he walked off stage.]

Paperwork

Monday and I’m writing this to avoid having to do paperwork. It’s the kind of soul rotting paperwork that exposes you as the utter abject failure you are. It’s the paperwork where the government want to know how successful you are. Most of the time I can (just about) live with the knowledge that I’m probably the least read and most unsuccessful writer (with a nicely developing and concurrent failure rate as a cartoonist) on the planet. But when I have to fill in boxes and put that into words… Well, it’s enough to destroy a man.

It usually takes me about two weeks to build myself up to filling in forms but this time it’s only taken me a few days. I want it behind me to press on with writing things for this blog which I’m enjoying more than I think I’ve ever enjoyed my blogging. I have things I need to draw and things I need to write. I have a post for later today that I’m quite pleased with. But standing between me and it is this paperwork.

And I hate paperwork...

The Mariachi Band

Marachi band cartoon

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Why I Also Can’t Stand Clare Balding

In a pique of leftish rage, I found myself over at The New Stateman’s website looking to see if they had any imminent plans for revolution. I was in a mood to build barricades and wave Soviet-era pitchforks. An article on The Guardian had been sitting so shit pretty in its self-satisfied pose of middle-class dilemma (‘my children are obsessed with their iPads… I called the nanny!’) that my working-class boots were demanding protest action. Thankfully, there was a place to inject my fire without it leaking out into civil disobedience.

The title of Will Self’s newest essay (‘Why I can’t stand Clare Balding’) turned my anger into a satisfying whoop of delight. It promised so much, especially since Self is one of the best essayists around as well as one of grouchiest men I’ve ever witnessed beyond the context of my own bathroom mirror.

Now, the point of this post isn’t just to highlight an essay I think you should read. I also wanted to explain the reasons why I also can’t stand Clare Balding, especially since Will Self left such large gaps of loathing unaddressed. Perhaps he began to feel some compassion towards the woman in the process of writing his essay or perhaps he doesn’t know her well enough to dislike her entirely. Well, I have no such qualms about peering into the shadows of my deepest loathing and I hope you don’t have any qualms about peering there too. If, for any reason, you do have warm place in your heart for dear sweet Clare, then I suggest you read no further.

For instance, Will doesn’t mention Clare’s earnestness. No presenter fixes their eyes on the camera and lowers their voice quite like Clare Balding. One moment everything is bright and breezy, the next she’s driving you through a long dark tunnel and that sound you hear is your own breath being forced back down your throat until it makes you gag and turns into a sickly retch. When she speaks like that, in that drowning droning monotone, everything she tells you takes on the importance of biblical revelation. ‘Now this dog has FOUR legs. Now that’s pretty standard for a dog but you can sometimes get them with THREE legs. THREE legged dogs have usually been involved in some kind of ACCIDENT resulting in the severing of a LEG but sometimes they’ve been born with legs that, if you count them, just go up to THREE. Now dogs with FIVE legs are very rare…’

Christ save us from the drip drip drip of the jabbering obvious! Except he can’t help us escape it! Even he can’t help himself escape it because if a show isn’t presented by Clare Balding, people accuse the producers of skimping on their costs. Her big bold head has become so ubiquitous that every major live event looks like it’s being broadcast from Easter Island. And that’s where my enmity stems: from that enormous head.

She has the most suitable-for-outside-broadcast hair in the business, probably cast in an ironworks in Doncaster and modelled from photographs of the haircut that the late Princess of Wales wore in the 1980s. Except it isn’t the same haircut. It’s the same haircut on an industrial scale, modelled first in clay with thick channels to help the molten iron flow more evenly during the casting process and that big bold bastard parting hiding the inconvenient hole where the pig iron was poured in.

Had he been alive, Ted Hughes would now be writing children’s books about Clare Balding. The Iron Giantess with the unshakable head-girl confidence as she strides across the countryside, her hot exhaust gases slowly clogging our lungs until the whole nation is susceptible to her command. And it’s that confidence where my loathing ultimately crashes and breaks. It’s the pretence of normality that I can’t stand most about Clare Balding. The arrogance that people like her exude, that they should rise to the top simply because of who they are. She and her kind prove that we live in no meritocracy. She is where she is because she bleeds establishment blood. Daughter of a champion horse trainer who, along with her grandfather and brother, trained the Queen’s horses, she was at the same school as the equally loathsome Miranda Hart before she went to Cambridge and then the BBC gave shape to her modicum of talent.

She is the epitome of middle-class blandness disguising the reality that is upper-class ultra-chic lesbianism. She is our feudal lord and master. She is the crushing annihilation of every dream you might have had or hold, the death of the dreams of your children and their children’s children.

And that is why I can’t stand Clare Blanding, the destroyer of worlds.

Strange Cartoon #2

Novelty suppositories

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Modern Venus

Botticelli - The Birth of a Modern Venus

A Turn Towards The Weird

After what feels like months of pandering to other people’s tastes, I thought I’d start to draw and post a few cartoons which are closer to what I want to be drawing (such as Strange Cartoon #1 below). That’s not to say that the cartoons I’ve previously been posting aren’t also to my taste but I definitely try to restrain my tendency towards the weird when submitting cartoons to Private Eye. These cartoons are probably unpublishable on anything other than a blog.

As I continually mention, my favourite single panel gag cartoonist is B. Kliban. Since the moment I first saw his cartoons, I knew they lay exactly on my comedic meridian. The problem is that they probably lie well to the left of what most people find funny otherwise Kliban’s work would be better known than it is. In fact, if he’s known by most people, it’s because of his Cats calendars which continue to sell. I hate Kliban’s cats, though not his volume ‘Cat’ which is another of his comic masterpieces. I mean I hate the merchandise produced by his estate and which probably earns them a fortune. Kliban himself died in 1990, aged only 55.

Whilst his cats are widely available, his cartoons are completely out of print and you can only find them via second-hand book sites. The fact that his best work isn't more widely available is another sad indictment of modern tastes when he left us possibly the most stupefying (in every sense of that word) cartoons ever created.

Which brings me to my good deed of the day: all the books by B. Kliban worth buying, each one only a click away on Abebooks. My advice is to begin with Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head, Whack Your Porcupine or Two Guys Fooling Around with the Moon. Those three contain some of his best cartoons and are very cheap to buy. Buy ‘Luminous Animals’ and ‘Advanced Cartooning’ only when you have a full blown Kliban addiction. It took me a long time to track down reasonably priced copies, though I see here a couple going for around £20 which is something of a bargain.

Cat

Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head and Other Drawings

Whack Your Porcupine and Other Drawings

Tiny Footprints

Two Guys Fooling Around with the Moon

Luminous Animals and Other Drawings

The Biggest Tongue in Tunisia and Other Drawings

Advanced Cartooning

 

Strange Cartoon #1

Malcolm Powder

Friday, 14 June 2013

What Would Stewart Lee Do?

Stewart LeeThe problem of entering into any kind of debate on the internet is that, sooner or later, you eventually find yourself arguing with a died-in-the-skull idiot. That's what happened to me around midnight last night.

I really have to stop reading The Guardian and perhaps transfer my allegiance to The Independent. Not only do they knock back or ignore every article I submit to Comment is Free but their obsession with celebrity culture is sometimes worse than you find in the very worst of the toadying tabloids. At least the red tops write about celebrities. They don’t have the bastards knocking out 800 word articles on everything from handbag etiquette to global warming.

It was in the context of this that I’d expressed my continued disbelief that yet another bland article ostensibly written by a celebrity had been published in Comment is Free (as Orwell would say, more free for some than others) and I suggested that I’d like to see video footage of its author, Bill Nighy, actually bent over his laptop typing the article before I believed he’d written it himself. Only, unbeknownst to me (and I’d imagine that large number of people who know and enjoy Bill Nighy’s work but don’t know much about the man), Bill Nighy suffers from a condition known as ‘Dupuytren's Contracture’ which means that some of his fingers are permanently bent. As is the case with too many Guardian readers who only seem to take pleasure in finding offense in everyone and everything, one clown jumped to the conclusion that my ‘bent over the laptop’ quip was taken as a mocking insult about Bill Nighy’s disability.

It always interests me this question as to whether insult inferred means that insult was intended. Recently, Sergio Garcia made a remark about Tiger Woods and ‘fried chicken’. I was talking about with this with friends and nobody could understand why ‘fried chicken’ was considered offensive until we’d Googled it and discovered it has connotations to slavery in the American South when chicken was a staple food of the poor. Now, if Sergio Garcia did understand the significance then the insult was intended. If he didn’t, then was there an insult and should he need to apologise? Some would still say yes. All I know is that I’m still pissed that somebody could believe I’d make a joke about Bill Nighy’s hands. An apology is needed but I know it’s not me who damn well needs to make one.

Perhaps any moral philosophers out there can answer that for me but what was particularly galling about last night’s exchange was that it had happened when I’d been in a rare good mood.  I’d just finished watching my first viewing of an illegally downloaded copy of Stewart Lee’s ‘If You Prefer A Milder Comedian Please Ask For One’ which I’d managed to snag from a Bitorrent site without contributing to an Irish donkey sanctuary…

Okay, I didn’t illegally download it but the running joke in the show is Lee’s paranoid belief that all his viewers are guilty of copyright theft. On his website, he even asks that they donate money to a donkey sanctuary… Luckily, the show was on the Paramount Comedy channel a few nights ago so the donkeys will have to go hungry for another week.

However, the reason I mention Stewart Lee isn’t just because I watched him last night. It’s because he is the chink in my armour, the lump of Kryptonite that looks like KD Lang on steroids (after she’d let herself go)...

Whenever I leave a snarling comment on celebrity articles I usually find that I’m pretty much alone in believing the encroachment of celebrity into all forms of journalism a sad sign of the times. People get quite irate that I could attack their favourite celebrity who they’re quite happy to fawn over. ‘Oh Bill! Wonderful article,’ they gushed yesterday. Last week it was ‘Great piece of writing Elton’ and the week before was Russell Brand winning plaudits for his horrendous abuse of the English language. Thankfully, the people who attack me for attacking their favourite celebrities don’t know my secret. Because when I say that I don’t want to read celebrities, I actually mean that I don’t want to read celebrities except when its Stewart Lee.

Lee often writes for The Guardian, usually when David Mitchell is ‘away’. I never read Mitchell on principal. But Lee ticks too many of my boxes and that probably makes me a hypocrite of the highest order. He's the only stand-up comedian that I actually enjoy watching. His act isn't about gags it's about the structure. He makes stand-up look like the art form it is and makes me wish I had the confidence to get up on stage and try it for myself. I thought I was alone in despising Michael McIntyre until I heard Lee on the subject. He was possibly the first person I heard who shared my view about Russell Brand’s prose, though Lee prefers to the direct line of attack. His pithy verdict of a Russell Brand article in the New Statesman was ‘1500 words of pro-religious, over-written wank’. The only thing he probably got wrong there is the exact word count.

I'm least comfortable when he talks about political correctness, which he believes in but fails to address the hypocrisy you see in many politically correct people whose words often disguise the worst kind of bigot. There is at least something honest about a misogynistic or racist arsehole. It’s those that hide their hatred behind a pretence that make me go cold. They're the people that usually commit the worst crimes once the putsches begin.

So, I wonder, if Stewart Lee were in my shoes, would he issue an apology had he written the Nighy remark? Would he stop complaining about celebrity journalists? Would he abandon The Guardian and start reading The Independent instead? We he even waste his time writing this blog?

I notice that he’s touring with his new show ‘Much A-Stew About Nothing’ and I recommend anybody who loves truly great comedy to go see him. He’s coming up to Liverpool in October. If I have any money left after the Ralph Steadman exhibition, I should go myself and produce some heckling in the form of a prolonged Q&A. Only being one of the top Guardianistas, he’d probably punch me in the nose and demand more money for his bloody donkeys.

The Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa cartoon

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Muppet Porn

Muppet Porn

Why Britain Needs Its Own Daily Show

Imagine. It’s 11pm and your supper remains uneaten because a Paxman-less Newsnight has just finished putting its driest spin on current affairs and you wonder if such a boring world will even bother to wake up in the morning. You flip over to BBC1 to catch the credits of a programme that’s just starting. A sonorous voice announces the date and the title of the show. Your host is sitting at a familiar desk as the camera swoops in. A live audience applauds. The host smiles, does a characteristic scribble on a paper, and enters into a fast paced rundown of the day’s news.

‘The G8 is taking place over here in Belfast this week. You might have noticed, what with all the curfews and the tendency of the police to bludgeon anybody with collar length hair or smelling of student. But the big question on everybody’s lips is: will the Big Dog get some? That’s right. Vladimir Putin is in town and the newly divorced President of Russia ain’t here to sign no damn trade agreements with the West. Not unless that trade agreement has a 36 inch bust and likes to wrestle naked in caviar. The Russian embassy have already been forced to deny rumours they’ve hired a pink limo with en-suite judo mat but Putin was seen boarding his plane wearing white polyester bell bottoms, a lime green shirt and enough cologne to subdue a Caucasus. Let’s go over to the the President's hotel where our correspondent has a view of the penthouse apartment. And you’re already wearing your gas mask, I see…’

Well, that’s my attempt to imagine how it might sound but is it any wonder that interest in politics is at an all-time low and governments act as though they are beyond criticism when we haven’t got a daily satirical show to stoke a fire under political debate? The One Show doesn’t count and I don’t mean satire as represented by the endless variations on Mock the Week who rotate guests like most people rotate their socks. We need satire that has more moral conviction than the simple wish for Russell Howard to sell more DVDs. It’s not as though we need look far for a model. Good ideas are routinely ripped off so why not steal everything from America where The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is currently running for its eighteenth gloriously successful year?

The Daily Show first appeared as on Comedy Central back in 1996 but it only attained the crown as the best satirical show in the business once Jon Stewart joined in 1999. It’s under Stewart that the show became more politically focussed and achieved its popular appeal as much by setting the news agenda as merely responding to it. Regular contributors have become stars in their own right: Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell being perhaps the most famous, but current regulars such as John Oliver and Samantha Bee deserve and will undoubtedly get wider appreciation.

Here in the UK, we do have our own long running satirical show in the form of Have I Got News For You but that often feels like the BBC’s pusillanimous nod to satirical undercurrents that have always been so rich in this country. Compared to The Daily Show, the Beeb’s best offering lacks ambition and bite and feels too conventional and safe.

The popularity of web satire such as ‘The Onion’ and ‘The Daily Mash’ suggests that there is a big appetite for satire out there. The fact that so many of us go to extreme lengths to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report which follows it, despite neither being available in the UK, is surely a sign that there are plenty of people who want hard-edged daily satire that doesn’t have its roots in the establishment. We might bemoan the fact that Jon Stewart’s humour never found a true home on satellite channels here in the UK but the show’s attention to American domestic issues does make it difficult to follow, even for those of us who make the effort to read the backstory. Yet that shouldn’t invalidate the fact that we’re desperate for that scabrous tone that is sorely lacking in this country since the demise of Spitting Image.

We need a daily satirical show for an adult audience. If the powers that be think the original Daily Show is too American then give us one of our own: edgy, opinionated, and not hosted by either Jonathan Ross or Graham Norton. I personally think The Daily Show with Stewart Lee has a ring to it. So why can’t it happen?

A slightly edited (the G8 is in Belfast, not London which, like the idiot I am, I originally stated) and less contentious piece that the one I submitted to The Guardian’s Comment is Free and which this time wasn't ignored but rejected outright. I’m taking that as positive encouragement. You might say that I’m honing in on my target like some guided munition. This time we nearly hit the target but took out a church next door to the target.

 

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Honorary Member

Tribe cartoon

A Bag of XBones: How Can So Many Bright People Make So Many Dumb Mistakes?

Asked to describe a ‘geek’, you might say we tend to be bespectacled, thin necked, and have a terrible taste in sweaters. If you wanted to abbreviate that even further, you might simply point at Bill Gates.

It’s definitely a fair description of the founder of Microsoft. One of the few memorable quotes attributed to Gates is the one where he confesses that ‘I am a geek’, though that shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. It’s why those of us who are proudly geek have always identified more with Gates than we ever did with Steve Jobs. Jobs was a man loved by marketing graduates. Those of us whose interest lay in computer code: we admired Gates who had a profound understanding of technology. He is our Henry Ford and though he will sometimes be vilified, his reputation will endure as one of the century’s geniuses, the ultimate geek who made it big.

All of which makes it so strange that his company, Microsoft, seem to have had it in for us geeks recently.

Steve BallmerThings seemed to start going wrong when a jock took over. Gates met Steve Ballmer at Harvard where the latter was studying mathematics and economics. Ballmer doesn’t look like a geek. He managed the Harvard football team and resembles Peter Boyle playing young Frankenstein’s monster in the Mel Brooks’s classic. Ballmer is loud, domineering, gets very excited, and sweats so profusely that it would come as no surprise if we learned that he wears a jockstrap to product launches. Ballmer doesn’t look like a man who would ever really understand geek passions. He doesn’t even look like he’s ever played a computer game in his life. His business is the hard sell and nobody sells harder than Ballmer.

Given the difference between the old and current CEOs of Microsoft, perhaps industry analysts shouldn’t have been so surprised when the company announced their new Xbox One a few weeks ago and almost completely sidestepped the issues that make us geeks so very excited. The launch made big promises about how the Xbox One would be a new way of watching TV, of adding content to (surprise surprise) NFL and basketball. Many of us watching the presentation were left feeling suitably confused. Since when do we, the Xbox’s core audience, care about new ways to schedule our TV viewing? It is many years since gaming replaced TV as our leisure activity of choice and most of us probably consume what little TV we do watch via other methods such as the BBC iPlayer or Netflix.

Given such a dismal initial launch, Microsoft had plenty to prove to gamers at yesterday’s E3 presentation and things certainly began reasonably well. Before a single casual jacket/crazy t-shirt combination could bring their hyperbole to the stage, we were given a preview of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the first game in the franchise based around an open world environment. We whooped loudly as we saw an example of real time weather as a dust storm rolled in followed by a slew of great next-generation graphics and gameplay. The only key fact missing from this exciting glimpse of the future was mention that the game isn’t actually an Xbox exclusive. Many in the audience were undoubtedly already thinking how much they’ll enjoy playing an even better looking Phantom Pain on Sony’s rival PS4.

Because make no mistake: that was very much the elephant in the E3 room. The question we all asked before the conference began was: could Microsoft change the consensus that had formed around the opinion that the Xbox One is already dead in the water?

As soon as their machine had been announced and previously leaked specifications confirmed, it became apparent that Microsoft had made a big mistake. The process of designing a new console takes years but Microsoft had designed their machine based on the reality of three or four years ago when the price of memory was too prohibitive to throw 8GB of fast GDDR5 chips into a home console. Sony had gambled that by the time their console came to launch, the faster memory would be affordable so they built a machine whose architecture could exploit that extra performance. Although the two machines are almost indistinguishable from each other (effectively being miniaturised PCs), Microsoft Xbox One runs on considerably slower DDR3 memory. When ID Software founder and hero to true geeks everywhere, John Carmack, recently tweeted that ‘Sony made wise engineering choices’, his pronouncement also sounded like that of the old Grail knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Microsoft had chosen… poorly. It was clear to everybody watching that Microsoft’s plans to dominate our living rooms were about to crumble into dust.

Even if Microsoft’s plans don’t fail entirely, they are looking more fragile than ever. At every stage, with every decision, Microsoft have managed to paint themselves as the repressive forces of corporate greed standing in the way of people enjoying games in the way that they’ve always enjoyed games. Marketed as a way to increase the computational power of every Xbox One, ‘the cloud’ is one of the big new features of the machine that Microsoft has been eager to push. They promise that it will allow games to offload processing to networked machines, harnessing supercomputers to create persistent worlds filled with artificial intelligence like we’ve never before seen. It is good marketing, even if the technical reality of the claims have yet to be tested, but it became obvious, fairly quickly, that the persistent online connection was also a way of limiting the use and distribution of their software. In short: individual discs could be tracked and tied to one user account. It would mean the end to the second hand market in games as we know it and we wouldn’t even be allowed to share discs among friends, or at least, not quite as easily as we’ll have done in the past.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, the E3 presentation did nothing to allay these fears and actually made things look even worse as it loaded even more unwanted weight onto their already sinking platform. When the price tag of $499 dollars (or £429) was announced, foreheads were slapped around the world and forums immediately filled with obscenities suggesting what Microsoft could do with their new console. I imagine the pain wasn’t particularly ‘phantom’ in the Microsoft boardroom, eight hours later, when Sony revealed that they would be asking £349 for their more powerful console.

Compared to the way that Microsoft had proceded without listening to their core audience, Sony had been listening to the geeks. They’d been watching the online communities where Microsoft’s draconian licensing system had come under ferocious attack. It took very little effort on Sony’s behalf to portray themselves as the good guys, announcing that their machine won’t require an internet connection in order to play games and that those games could be loaned to friends or sold second hand, something that Microsoft has been working so hard to prevent. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Sony dislikes the business plans that Microsoft are adopting but, at this moment of time, it certainly suits them to maintain the pretence that they are happy to carry on with the old ways of doing things.

People have forecast the fall of Microsoft before but never have they seemed so determined to destroy their reputation and alienate a market. Microsoft has a history of making big mistakes from the much lampooned Zune music player to the design flaw in the early Xbox 360’s that saw the widespread failure of the conductive paste that held heat-sinks onto the graphics chips, leading to hundreds of thousands of consoles to overheat and suffer from the now notorious ‘Red Ring of Death’. Windows Vista was a nasty surprise for anybody who had got used to the relatively stable Windows XP but even that was nowhere near the scale of the stupidity which saw them replace the almost perfect Windows 7 with almost completely imperfect Windows 8.

Yet compared to those mistakes, the launch of the Xbox One looks likely to become the new benchmark for corporate overthinking and greed. It’s as though the love of technology, which lay at the heart of the company under Gates, has been lost. In its place, we have spin, marketing, and this big forceful push into our living rooms embodied by Ballmer. It’s an example of what happens when marketing replaces good design at the core of a business model. Yet it’s baffling to think that such intelligent folk could take the credit they’d amassed by producing the best of the previous generation of consoles (despite its flaws) and completely squander it in a matter of weeks. Not only are they attempting to bring in so many unwanted innovations with the Xbox One (or as it’s now being called the ‘Xbone’), they have chosen this time to impose draconian usage restrictions. They have also patented technologies that are hostile to the user, such as the ability to use the Kinect camera to count the number of people watching a movie, so the system can shut down until additional licenses have been brought. It all points to a company with the single intention of screwing more money out of their customers.

Are they really so dumb?

Well, it’s feasible that they know what they’re doing and are playing some different game. Yet you do have to wonder otherwise when the E3 showcase launch was beset with technical problems and then consider that name: ‘Xbox One’. Had nobody in a company that boasts some of the brightest and most-well-paid people of their generation not thought to brainstorm the ways that the ‘Xbox One’ name might be corrupted? It wouldn’t have taken long before somebody would have spotted that is easily abbreviates to ‘Xbone’ and that ‘Xboning’ and ‘Xboner’ might quickly enter into common usage.

The mistakes that Microsoft have made seem obvious with hindsight but they should have been equally obvious with any reasonable degree of foresight. They are the kind of dumb business decisions we’ve come to expect from the company, though they’re also the kind of mistakes they get away with making. In the operating system market, there’s still no real rival to Windows. Linux is remains largely for the enthusiast and Apple’s OSX is restricted to their overpriced technology. In the console arena where there are rivals, Microsoft might be about to learn a hard lesson. Sony made mistakes of their own in the previous generation, primarily in putting too many resources into creating the cell architecture which proved difficult to programme. Now they have learned their lesson and they are keeping things simple. It’s the first lesson of business and lies at the heart of Apple’s success. After all these years, Microsoft still doesn’t seem to understand simplicity. They soon will. Things are about to turn really simple for them really fast: they have a console that few of us want to buy.

Another article (albeit perhaps too long) written in my ever-dwindling hope to get something accepted by Comment is Free in The Guardian. Alas, this disappeared into their inbox and that's all I heard. They did, however, publish an article about a lesbian who married a bloke and now wonders if she's really a lesbian. I'd hesitate to call it without the full facts but I'd guess that marrying a bloke is the last thing a lesbian should to if she wishes to retain her lesbian status. I often wonder, myself, if I should become a lesbian to get an article printed in Comment is Free in The Guardian...