Monday, 30 September 2013

On Samsung, Bond, Boyd, and Teeth

So, I think we’re back and, as usual, I’m probably last to get updated name servers, those mysterious doodads that translate the www address you type into your browser into the real life address of the computers where websites live. I’ve been looking at a grey screen all weekend, waiting for the website to come live. Now it is, I’m left wondering what to say.

I wish I could say I had a busy weekend but I’ve been distracted by, among other things, the terrible news that Samsung are launching their cheapest Note 10.1 (2014 edition) in the UK at the price £479, or about £130 more than I’d hoped and considerably more than I could afford.

Another disappointment is the news that William Boyd’s new James Bond novel, Solo, might be a bit of a disappointment. If we’re to believe the early reviews, it’s probably the worst effort so far. It wouldn’t surprise me if it is, given that I’m a bit of a Bond purist. I will often reread all the original Bond books every year or so and then relive the disappointment of attempting the continuation novels. I’ve not enjoyed any of these new writers writing as Fleming. I thought Faulks’s effort the least objectionable despite the monkey pawed villain and the book being generally dismissed by the public. Deaver’s effort is as easy to ignore as he found it easy to ignore the canonical Bond, choosing instead to create something new and different and (sadly) popular. I couldn’t read any of the novels by Raymond Benson or John Gardner. The best was Kingsley Amis, though Colonel Sun was more Amis than Fleming. One book that I did enjoy but haven’t read it in many years was James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007 by John Pearson. Perhaps I should give that another go.

Having said all that, I don’t want to dismiss Boyd’s efforts until I’ve tried it, especially when reviewers customarily confuse the literary James Bond with the movie James Bond. Reading Amazon’s reader comments, I found this, typical of many:

Remember how Fleming would introduce a subject? M would mention a name and Bond, showing off, would fire back a couple or three facts about it in half a minute which was supposed to be useful, as if spat out by his card index system (no computers worth anything in 1960-70: I used the first, at Manchester, a KDF 9 in 1965 which needed punched cards). This Bond is more intelligent. He takes serious injuries unlike the original who is always unscathed, his looks just as handsome as before. This version even has a scar.

I don’t recall Fleming introducing a subject through M and then Bond rolling off all the facts. That was the movie Bond. Yet the bigger mistake is in believing that the literary Bond was ‘always unscathed’. The Bond of the novels was routinely battered, broken, and bruised. It was his defining characteristic. He spends nearly the entirety of Live and Let Die with a broken finger and Fleming is always commenting on his scars, including the scar on his face which has never made it onto screen. It’s Bond’s vulnerability that makes the books so great. The films have entirely different virtues.

Speaking of battered yet misunderstood heroes, I’m going to the dentist later today to make a long overdue appointment. I’d like to say it’s precautionary but life isn’t like that. A bit of tooth broke off last week and it needs fixing. As soon as it happened, I knew my Samsung dreams had come to an end given that my money will now probably go to fund my dentist’s next skiing holiday.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Server Upgrade

Just a brief note to say that the extremely good and tolerant people at Nativespace are upgrading their servers and that my blog will be moving to a new virtual home. In the process, the site might disappear. I’m not entirely sure when all this will happen (sometime at night, I’m told) but when it does, you might get error messages saying this blog doesn’t exist. I hope you’ll remember to come back and visit even if these messages carry on for a day, possibly even two or three. By then, I might have actually finished some of the countless cartoons on my table or even received a Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition) to review…

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Our Grand Theft Culture

I’ve played all the Grand Theft Auto games (yes, even the original) and I often thought the media reaction to them was largely misguided. Except in those very few people already on a psychological edge (in which case anything might trigger them), computer games do not make us overcome the deep taboos we have about violence. Characters like Keith Vaz might pop up on the news to play some cheap gesture politics but they're wrong to say that computer games make us more violent than the games I played as a child when buying a spud gun for a young boy was as normal as buying him a football.

Last week Grand Theft Auto 5 was finally released and I was surprised that the media were so outraged about a torture scene. I couldn't help but feel that the media again got it so very wrong. Only this time it’s because there’s much more about this game that deserves censure.

Having now seen and played GTA5, I have to admit that I’m worried. I’ve never seen such a well-crafted game so utterly ruined by unneeded sensationalism and a pervasive and deeply crass vulgarity. I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, though, of course, isn’t that what prudes usually say? So perhaps I am a prude. And if I am a prude, it’s because I worry about the intellectual, moral, and emotional development of any child spending hundreds of hours in such a bleak and twisted world.

Speaking to a teacher the other day, I discovered that her school had noticed a drop in attendance the day that GTA5 was released. She even told me that many of her students had already warned her that they wouldn’t be in because they wanted to spend their day in Los Santos (the game’s thinly disguised version of Los Angeles). Now, I’m not such a stickler for education that it bothered me that kids do that. I’d prefer it if our youth made choices on their own and learned to live with the consequences. School has become a way for the state to teach us to conform and real education happens despite of school, not because of it.

Yet GTA5 is making me question my own liberal attitudes towards censorship and ratings. But let me be clear. It’s not the violence that offends me as much as the quality of life portrayed in the game. So much about the game is needlessly graphic. Take a few examples which might sound trivial when taken separately when what I’m trying to condemn is the total overwhelming ethos of the game... Within minutes of my playing the game I was listening to a radio broadcast describing two women engaged in what is more politely described as ‘water sports’. Many of the incidents in the game are also highly sexualised: one mini-game involves closing pornographic pop ups as they appear on a computer screen. Outside the building was a huge poster advertising ‘cougars’ (a term for older women who enjoy the company of younger men). It depicts a middle aged woman on her hands and knees, her breasts drooping like giant teardrops. One of the main characters is introduced screwing a woman (from behind). Another side mission involves a motorbike chasing a car but it begins with a character telling your protagonist that ‘you’re only here to suck ****’. I haven’t even bothered going into the strip joints… And then there’s the music... Even the music seems deliberately chosen to offend. Previous games had great but sometimes eclectic music mixed in with the popular. It even had Philip Glass alongside rap and hip hop and hits from the 60s. That meant that you could always skip through the music to find something to your taste. Perhaps I’m just older. Perhaps I’ve fallen unlucky in that game has no music I like. Yet there’s a difference between music I dislike and music that makes me wince.

There are few lyrics less family-friendly than Nick Cave’s ‘Henry Lee’ (a favourite of mine) but it’s a song I don’t listen to often because that stuff gets inside your brain. The music in GTA5, however, is wall-to-wall ‘fuck you’ this and ‘motherfucker’ that. The gameplay mechanic means that you’re constantly switching between cars, all playing different radio stations, so it’s hard not to suddenly find yourself listening to something that makes you pause the game to change.

The dialogue surrounding the music is also depressingly lowbrow, deeply sexualised and informed by the worst kinds of pornography. I’ve seen the ads on TV and I’m surprised they found snippet of dialogue suitable to broadcast. Yet my complaint isn’t that these elements shouldn’t be in the game. My problem is that these elements have entirely taken over the game and aren’t executed with any degree of real humour or even sauciness. Grand Theft Auto used to be the thinking man’s Saint’s Row (a game that ripped off the GTA formula but with more of a juvenile need to cause offence) but now it has chosen to adopt that Saint’s Row sensibility. Playing the game is like being stuck in the mind of a 15 year old boy and it’s every bit as bad as that sounds.

Probably the worst elements of the game involve the game’s black protagonist, Franklin Clinton. My white liberal consciousness has trouble processing these segments of the game which portrays the black experience as being almost entirely negative, racist, and deeply prejudicial. As a white liberal I’m already troubled by any use of the ‘n’ word but I’m also troubled by my being troubled by the ‘n’ word. It annoys me when I can’t use it, for example, when talking about a certain Joseph Conrad short story. Yet here, the patois of the black characters is laced with racial epithets which quickly become overwhelming.

I’m not sure I’m successfully raising my argument above the usual kind of crap spouted by members of the 'National Viewers' and Listeners'Association'. I don’t mind some element of these things in games, even if those younger than the age rating get to see them. Yet Grand Theft Auto 5 feels like a large plug has just been opened and our higher order thinking is being drained from beneath. It’s rated 18 but it’s being played by every boy upwards of 13 year old and, no doubt, probably many more much younger. The idea of children hanging around with these virtual characters is only slightly less worrying than if they were hanging out on the street corner with real gangsters, grifters, and products of the federal prison system.

It’s hard for me to equate my love for Derek and Clive, Richard Prior, Larry David, and The Thick of It with my reaction to hearing the language in GTA5 except there is a difference. The former use it to expose some absurdity about the world. GTA5 uses it to make us think that this is what the world is like. And that’s the problem. Swearing is a vital part of our linguistic machine. It allows us access to areas of the emotional register that are hard to reach with normal language. The new GTA doesn’t have emotional registers. Every other word is ‘motherfucker’, with use of the ‘n’ word so prolific that it’s impossible to justify. I’m well past my eighteenth, twenty eighth, and even thirty eighth birthdays and I have played computer games all my life. I also have a fairly liberal attitude to most things but every bone in my body tells me that this game is wrong.

For me, GTA5 is a struggle to enjoy alone, entirely unplayable in polite company, and a constant disappointment. Perhaps it exposes my own limits, the places where my taboos begin. Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m getting old. Yet I hope my reaction to this is something that is shared by people of all ages because the game attempts to push back our cultural norms, degrades us as it tries to shock us. It doesn’t teach us what we are. By entertaining our youth, it is showing them the world they’ll create. And as much as I looked forward to playing this game, I don’t want to be part of that world. I don’t want to encourage the makers even as they become the richest among us by showing us the worst parts of ourselves.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013


It’s still only September yet it was impossible to get the brain working this dark morning. The weather forecast sunshine but not much light reached the ground here in the North West where the sky was a brown murk for most of the day. There was also no news about the Samsung Note 10.1 (2014 edition), not even a launch date despite it supposedly hitting stores today. I'm beginning to think it’s time to retire my high-tech banner and get things back to normal. The whole venture has been an unqualified disappointment. Not even a smartly worded letter from Samsung thanking me for my book and cartoon. There hasn’t even been an email from the Emir of Qatar confirming my million quid.

Today was meant to be a day of cartooning. No sooner had one competition come to an end than a friend sends me details of another. It’s not a bad thing and might get me working again. The cartoons that don’t make my final selection will end up here, providing I can get this unreliable brain of mine to start producing something funny. I wish I understood how it worked. As I’ve said before, sometimes the ideas just rush out and I can’t scribble them down quickly enough. Other times, it’s worse than pouring molasses.

To get my brain going, I took the day off and cycled to the local PC World where I played some more with the first generation Note. I’m pretty certain that I won’t be able to afford the new Note but there’s a slim chance I might be able to pick up the first generation in the next month. I have a birthday coming up, the chance of some paid work, plus I understand eBay prices for organ donors are at an all-time high… Anyway, my second play with the Note was better than the first. I still think the stylus is *far* too small for my fingers (to the point that I find it difficult to hold) but Sketchbook Pro was really fun to use, much more intuitive than the PC version, and I found I could draw with a high degree of precision. I’m sure there must be settings to get the pen sensitivity working with Photoshop but I got it working with Sketchbook and it was pretty damn good. Palm rejection also seemed to be working too. It’s still not the same as working on paper but that’s to be expected. However, having layers to work with should make for a different, perhaps even improved, workflow: sketch cartoons before using a new layer to do the inking. But that’s me figuring out the technicalities. I can’t allow myself to think like this. I need to draw cartoons, stop being distracted, and hope some work comes my way in the next month.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Running Postmen, Creeping Dog Owners, and Your Surprise Free Gift

Why have postmen started to run? It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed in the last few months but I’ve not been able to catch up with one long enough to find out why.

Our previous postman, Paul, was an old-school charmer who would walk fairly briskly but always take a moment to crack a joke and generally make your day feel a little brighter. He’d worked the round for about a decade before he disappeared last November and was replaced by a succession of nameless grey-haired postmen who literally jog walk the entire route. I tried to speak to one this morning and all he’d say is ‘good mo’ before he ran off. Can you believe that? I didn’t even get the full ‘good morning’.

I assume this ‘good mo’ing must be a new Royal Mail initiative. Perhaps the Royal Mail pay them more if they speed up, sack them if they slow down. Whatever the reason, it’s another of those small things that make the world colder, less inviting, and increases our alienation. In a few years, the Royal Mail will probably realise how they’ve damaged customer relations and they might encourage their postmen to start being friendly again. For now, I feel like I should meet the postmen at the gate because they treat walking up the path as such a huge inconvenience.


Speaking of the path, I need to build a man trap or some workable method of catching the swine who keeps allowing their dog to shit outside my front gate. Three times in the last month I’ve had to stride over the pile of excreted dog situated on the pavement right in front of the house. It’s a sign that we’re past summer. The nights are slowly drawing in and, once darkness falls, dog walkers head down our street to play their disgusting little game. As soon as I’ve finished writing this, I’ll have the pleasure of going out to shovel it up. If I knew who had done it, I’d go dump it in front of their house and see how they like it.

The scientific part of my mind won’t let it rest with not knowing. There has to be a way of working it out. The evidence should help me identify the breed of dog. I was wondering if stool width could provide an indication of the size of the dog and therefore the breed. I’ve searched on the internet for a chart of rectum widths of different breeds of dog. There isn’t one but there damn well should be.

So if you have a dog, I’d be grateful if you could grab a tape measure and leave the dimensions of its rectum in the comments. This is the first study of its kind and it will further humanity’s progress by helping men and women across the globe push the right stools through the right letterboxes.


Finally, behind my grumpiness, I’m hiding this bit of good news. This morning I had a remarkable stroke of good luck and I thought I’d share it with all of you who regularly read this blog. I’ve decided to buy each and every one of you a brand new Samsung Note 10.1 (2014 edition) tablet!

I know what you’re thinking but if you want to thank somebody, you really must thank Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar. According to the email I’ve just received from the Qatar Foundation, I’ve been awarded one million pounds. Obviously, the taxman will probably take a big bite out of that but I’m sure it will leave me pretty well off and I’d like to thank you all for your loyalty by buying you cutting edge technology. So, anybody who had read the blog more than four times in the last week (ten times over the past month) will get a free tablet, providing, of course, that the Qatar Foundation cough up the cash. I’m confident they will because they have an authentic Yahoo Hong Kong return email address, though the email came from an account at Poland’s University of Social Sciences and Humanities, which is where I assume the Sheikh is currently studying. Use the comments to state your preference: WiFi or 4G, 16/32 or 64 gigabytes, and whether you want it in black or white.

Since I’m also collecting dog data in the same comments, please label your comment either RECTUM or TABLET. I’d hate to get confused and send you a sample off the end of my shovel or push a brand new Note though the letterbox of some shit-shirking creep.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Postage and Toys

I hate missing a day because I know what happens. You think you can miss blogging for one day but then two days become three and then you’ve missed an entire week before you decide to make it a month.

I’ve written nothing of note today. Drawn nothing. My main achievement was posting off my graphic short story, though that didn’t go as I’d hoped. I wanted to track my envelope to make sure it arrives in London before Friday but it was £6 for the cheapest tracked mail option, £2 to send it recorded. Not a difficult choice to make but I’ll be filled with anxiety that my entry won’t make it on time. Not that I suppose I’ll know if it did… The winner is being announced in October but my nasty little scribble won’t even make the shortlist.

I’m just exhausted. I tried to work this afternoon, tried to string my thoughts into a cohesive whole, but I just couldn’t join the dots. Nothing connected. I’m still disappointed that Samsung never replied. Disappointed that there’s still no launch date for the Note 10.1 (2014 Edition). Disappointed that a work opportunity has still not come to fruition and that my slim chance of having enough to buy a Note gets slimmer by the day. I’m disappointed that The Guardian gave Stewart Lee a bad review and I didn’t have the energy to pen a defence. Most of all, I’m disappointed that this is going to be my day’s blog post. I can do better than this…

So in lieu of a really good blog post, here’s a link to a Youtube video which I found myself watching last night and couldn’t stop watching. It’s probably why I’m so tired today. This is one of series of videos about unusual toys and novelties made by Grand Illusions and are really one of the best things I've found on the web in a very long time. I have to warn you that once you start watching these, it’s hard to stop.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

I love Stephen King but he’s just so wrong about Kubrick

Doctor_SleepI notice that the BBC have interviewed Stephen King ahead of the publication of ‘Doctor Sleep' (great cover, by the way), his sequel to ‘The Shining’. There's a far better piece in The Guardian today, though it doesn't really add to the points I found interesting from the BBC interview. They came in the context of a brief chat with the now ubiquitous Will Gompertz when King explained how and why he dislikes the Kubrick film. Naturally, the BBC seemed to ignore this point entirely and punctuated King’s interview with clips from the Kubrick classic when they could have used clips from the 1997 mini-series adaptation of the book, starring Steven Weber and Rebecca De Mornay, which King himself has said he prefers. That they didn’t means they’re either lazy, indifferent, or implicitly stating where their own preferences lie.

King is of course bound to prefer the 1997 version given that he executively produced the series. It probably means that he’ll never admit that it was the kind of made-for-TV show you watch with mixed feelings about whether you can be bothered returning for the final episode. It is plodding, rather too gentle, and utterly faithful to the novel. He’s just as unlikely to ever admit that the series proves why he’s so wrong about Kubrick’s version.

Let me say that I really like King. He seems one of the good guys in a world filled with fakes, charlatans, and snake oil salesmen. I love listening to King talk, especially when he’s talking about the writing process and literature. However, I have occasionally found it difficult to get through his books. For me, his strict 2000 word a day policy sometimes translates into books that break down into 2000 word chunks, switching between characters in a way that hinders the forward momentum of the novel. He loves creating such full worlds of the characters that it sometimes gets in the way of narrative. On occasions, that huge vision works really well. I enjoyed ‘The Stand’ and ‘It’. Sometimes it works less well. I recently couldn’t make it through 1400+ pages of ‘Under the Dome’. I was sitting there desperate to know more about ‘the dome’ when King only wanted to give me endless backstory about minor characters. Eventually, I realised I didn’t care about ‘the dome’ or ‘the book’.

I seem to remember also struggling to get through ‘The Shining’ but that’s not why I prefer Kubrick’s version.

Kubrick’s film is the ultimate example of mercurial filmmaking: scavenging just enough from the novel but craftily layering it with the things that obsessed Kubrick. King says it’s too cold but that’s precisely why Kubrick made films and didn’t write novels. It’s intellectual horror, not the physical horror rooted in familiar themes that King enjoys. King says that Shelley Duvall is the most misogynistic representation of a woman ever put on film and that all she does is scream but, for me, Kubrick destroys her so ultimately (including in real life) that she eventually finds her deepest instincts for survival. King also says that Nicholson played the character as crazy from the beginning. I would agree, although, that’s why it’s intellectual horror. The supernatural elements are almost psychological in Kubrick’s version. The Overlook Hotel feels like being trapped in a warped mind. King says that Kubrick's version is 'a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones' but I think that's it's greatest virtue. King wants us believe that the family found horror on the mountain but I think Kubrick wants us to think they found horror within themselves and that message is far more potent.

I suppose it’s understandable the King doesn’t like the Kubrick version because his characters are all but missing from the film. Kubrick’s ‘Shining’ shines because of Kubrick. In a way, the BBC report just highlighted this discrepancy. Even as it tried to promote King’s writing, it was reminding us of how much poorer we all became when we lost Stanley Kubrick.


Other than deciding whether I’ll be trying ‘Doctor Sleep’ (Hey! a review copy would be great! Sorry... Little in-joke there between me and Samsung), I’ve had a busy twenty four hours. I drew a quick cartoon to celebrate the birthday of an architect and then, as I predicted, I ended up tinkering with my graphic short story ahead of sending it on Monday. I tinkered with it all day yesterday and until 3.30 this morning: more cleaning up the drawings, more crosshatching, adding a little more humour, smoothing the prose where it didn’t quite feel right on the ear, and then I changed the overall tint. Turns out that printing greyscale on my on Canon gives things a very slight brownish hint which was just the effect I’m after.

It means I slept late this morning but woke up to find a wonderful gift in my inbox. It was an interview with Sparks, in fact, possibly the best interview I’ve ever heard them give and nearly an hour long. I now intend to spend too much time on the internet seeing if Samsung have announced the price of the new Note 10.1 (2014) edition which, if rumours are correct, will be appearing in shops on Wednesday.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Word Heavy

I’ve been burning the midnight oil so much over this graphic short story that it feels like it's really taken it out on my body. This morning I ached across my shoulders for working on the tablet for too long. Even my jaw aches from clenching my teeth too much as I’ve been concentrating painting within the lines... I also feel a great sense of anti-climax and frustration.

At half past two this morning, I printing out the final copy and felt like it was finished. I’d post it here because I’d love to get feedback but my chances of winning are miniscule enough without my ruining them entirely by publishing it. A few days ago I thought it the best thing I’ve ever done. Printed out and spread out across the table, I now see so many things wrong with it and the whole thing feels like a disaster. Why couldn’t I have drawn it better? Is it too wordy? Too dark? Too negative? Too angry? Not funny enough?

The other day, Mike Lynch wrote about the ’10,000 hour rule’, which suggests that it takes 10 years of working 20 hours a week before you master any skill. I don’t know how many thousands of hours I’m into my 10,000 but this strip makes me feel like I’m much closer to the beginning than the end. I had intended to wait until Monday before I send it off but I now worry that this is going to annoy me so much that I’ll spend the weekend trying to fix everything that’s wrong with it and, in the process, probably ruin what little I have achieved. What I should do is forget it. I should go and post it and then lose myself for an afternoon pressing my nose up against the window of the local PCWorld and dream warm thoughts about the Note 10.1. Then I’ll come back and get back to drawing and submitting cartoons. I’ve not posted enough cartoons and this blog is also beginning to look word heavy.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Questions Raised About Strange Photo of David Cameron Asleep

Personally, I think it's been Photoshopped. Instagram via Popbitch. Yes, I know... Rushed job but I couldn't resist.


All Kinds of Swank

They stopped updating my iPad back when Jonathan Ive still had hair and the pecs under his tight figure hugging t-shirt weren’t made from vulcanised rubber. It means that my iOS is stuck in the low fives and the release of iOS 7 now makes me the last man on the planet supposedly stuck in skeumorphic hell. Skeumorphism, if you don’t know and (frankly) who does, is the trick computers typically use to make you think you’re interacting with a real object. A button might have a bevelled edge to give a sense of it standing proud of the screen. Skeumorphism is the theory that it makes sense that the corner of a page should peel back when you’re leafing through an ebook. It’s also that trick Apple use when they film their spokespeople whispering pretentiously against a white background and make you suspect they’re members of a strange Polynesian sect of bamboo worshippers awaiting the birth of the great coconut god.

iOS 7 does away with all of that for a clean flat aesthetic. It’s an interesting design concept with raises one important question: will I ever get a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition) tablet to review?

Personally, I don’t mind a bit of skeumorphism. In fact, I quite enjoy it. I get excited when I read that the Note recognises when you remove the stylus and plays a noise like a sword being drawn from its sheath. Will I ever get to hear that myself? I begin to worry that I won’t. It’s less than a week from the rumoured release date for the new Samsung’s Note 10.1 and I still can’t recommend it to the many thousands of you waiting on my judgement. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that Ines van Gennip, Samsung UK’s Marketing Director, hadn’t read my letter and that my cartoon and book have already been recycled and are now on their way to shops reconstituted as baby nappies.

It’s this kind of shabby treatment that could turn a man off Samsung and begin to look for a new object for his affections such as the new Wacom Cintiq Companion Hybrid. If I’m going to have unconsummated love for an electrical device then I could easily lust after one of these beauties. Except I’m not such a fickle lover. I have confessed my love for the Samsung Note 10.1 (2014 edition) and I refuse to look at another, even if that other does have a 13 inch display and 2048 levels of pen sensitivity!

I suppose you could say I’m struggling with the old Hilary Swank dilemma. Just when you decide that there’s room in your life for one toothy brunette film star along comes Amanda Peet. What’s a man to do? I had enough trouble justifying my wanting to see ‘The Core’ without my needing to come up with excuses to see ‘2012’ as well. There’s only so much bad science fiction I can profess to enjoy without things beginning to look suspicious.

For the moment, then, I remain a Samsung lover as I also remain a Swank man. I like her teeth. I suppose you could say there’s a bit of skeumorphism going on there as well. They make me feel like she’s more than a virtual presence up on the big screen. In an ideal world, both would think that such loyalty deserves rewarding.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Random Musings

Still no Samsung news, no sign of the postman squeezing a review Note 10.1 through my letterbox. Still no price of the tablet but the rumours I’ve been picking up on the web are to expect prices almost as painful as the postman squeezing Apple’s new iTesticles through my letterbox…

Did that joke work? Too needlessly vulgar? I don’t know. I’m already too busy to blog with real purpose. I’ve given myself this one last day of hard slog to get the strip finished. It’s now almost fully painted and almost entirely written. It’s just a matter of polishing it, making the text fit the space available and cleaning it all up. I also discovered last night, after about three long days of furious work colouring it in Photoshop that the strip probably looks best without colour, or, rather, with the colours muted or given a warm sepia tint.

Even if the finished result is a disaster, it’s been a learning process. It’s been a frantic few weeks and at times I’ve wondered if I’m insane even attempting this with my limited skill set. Wouldn’t my time have been better served doing something else like growing a beard?

Beards have become something I’ve been thinking about over the last few days. Beards have become vogue among a certain kind of modern hipster. I thought it might be a good trend. I’ve always thought genuine Grizzly Adams style beards reveal a certain approach to living which was essentially good. However, I don’t trust men who trim their beards and that’s the problem I see with the current fashion. It reveals some deep vanity in a person to spend hours in the mirror making those neat shapes with a beard trimmer. It’s the same with men who brush the hair from off their foreheads. It seems to say: admire my big forehead. In my experience: tricky blighters every one of them.

Beards are just one thing that puzzles me. There’s a great Larry David moment which summarises my average day. It’s in Season 7, Episode 4 of Curb Your Enthusiasm (the episode called ‘The Hot Towel’).  Larry is at a party for Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen on the occasion of their anniversary when Jeff and Suzie given them a gift in the form of a song by their daughter, Sammy. Queue a horrendous rendition of the Andy William’s classic ‘You're Just Too Good To Be True’. As the rest of the guests kindly look on, Larry looks around bemused. ‘This is the worst thing I’ve heard in my life’ he announces before he quickly brings the performance to an end.

That’s the state I exist in every day of my life. There are things that just don’t make sense and I’m surprised that I’m the only person these things bother.

For example, why does skimmed milk cost the same as semi-skimmed? From full to semi to skimmed: we’re getting a diminishing product. They’re taking something away so shouldn’t we be paying less for it?

It’s like reading newspaper articles when people leave comments below praising the genius of the writer when it’s the most plodding lump of quasi-journalistic twaddle that has ever been committed to print. It’s almost as unfathomable to me as social media.

Somebody asked me this morning how to get followers on Google+. I stared back at them blankly. I’ve never been able to attract any kind of following. Facebook, Twitter, Google+: they all have left me behind. It’s not out of a lack of friendliness, I hope, but rather a belief that the word ‘friend’ is sorely misused. It’s same with followers. I don’t want followers. People with followers tend to inflict great evil on the world and I’m including Justin Bieber in that generalisation. Readers has always been a good word but I can see why social networking companies had to find other terms to make their services sound special. Except I’m not interested in amassing a totally arbitrary number robots, fake followers, corporate shams, web marketing loons, with a small smattering of real people buried in the mix. Give me one true reader and I feel a reason to write this blog. Except, if you’ve got a beard, then we might have to rethink our terribly sordid relationship…

Monday, 16 September 2013

One of those mornings...

Stormy weather so I set out to buy milk and a few essentials from the nearest shop. Only I get there and discover they don’t have half the things on my list. I lick my finger and hold it to the breeze. It would be in my face going into town, behind me coming back. Decision made. I’ll head into town.

Ten minutes later, I’m in Morrison’s, another ten after that I’m in Tesco. The shopping is quickly done but an old smoker is fuming inches from my bike so I don’t bother packing my backpack and just set off with two bags of groceries balancing out my handle bars. I knew I looked ridiculous so I chose a quiet route home.

I climbed the hill really easy but at the end of it, found myself struggling through dozens of cars which have been parked down the road. A couple are moving away so I slip behind them. But this isn’t good. Soon I’m cycling with more cars behind me. I look over my shoulder and the guy behind is pointing at me and giving me a bad look. I know I shouldn’t be riding with bags on my handlebars and I know I look ridiculous but I didn’t expect there to be so much traffic on what’s normally a very quiet road.

The traffic then turns a bend, heading to the last bridge before my street. I know I’ll soon be able to escape this traffic but wonder if I should try cutting across to make the right turn.

Except it’s then that I notice the cars ahead of me. It’s then that I notice that I’m third in a funeral cortege. I was utterly horrified. I don’t think my two large Tesco shopping bags filled with assorted tangerines, pineapple juice, and red onions added to the solemnity.

It’s been that kind of morning.

I’ve been working until 3, sometimes 4am, trying to get this comic strip finished. It’s probably the best work I’ve ever done. The writing is 80% there but needs some tinkering. The inking is probably 99% done.

I thought that would be the end of it but I decided this morning to see if I can colour it. I’ve done a couple of panels and I think the colour improves it even more. It’s going to take days but I hope to make it before the deadline.


The Monday Pun

Postmodern Navel

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The blog post in which my Galaxy Note obsession gets real

Pic1I tried to outstay my welcome but Manchester’s shops were far too accommodating. Between Carphone Warehouse and PCWorld, I had enough of a hands-on with the first generation Samsung Note 10.1 to raise more questions about the second generation than I already had.

I’m now more intrigued to see how the new 2014 tablet has turned out. I read yesterday that Samsung have used a PenTile display in the new Note which some people claim produces brighter images, while other people claim it can diminish the resolution. I guess I’ll have to wait and see but the screen on the first generation Note 10.1 was bright and certainly felt clearer than my old iPad 1. The tablet was thinner than I expected, lighter too, and pretty snappy switching between apps, though, surprisingly, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the S-Pen. That might have been down to my mainly trialing it on a Carphone Warehouse display model which probably wasn’t set up to be as sensitive as I’d like it. The one in PCWorld did seem more responsive but it had more annoying salesmen loitering around and asking me if I was okay. It’s a bit of a shame because until I have chance to get it just right, I won’t know how good this tablet really is for my style of cartooning,

If I had one other complaint it was that the S-Pen was too small. It wasn’t ridiculously small – big, even, compared to the pens on every other tablet device – but I was a little shocked at how small it felt in my hand and I wouldn’t like to use it for drawing for long periods. I’m not exactly a giant (6’ 2”) but the pen felt just a little too small in my big hand. However, I see there’s a larger pen available to buy separately which would probably be my choice and since I carry pencils with me wherever I go, it’s wouldn’t exactly be an inconvenience.

Simply because I thought I’d be able to use it quicker than the others, I concentrated on using the Photoshop app which did prove problematic. I was particularly struggling with the palm detection. My clumsy fist was leaving all manner of marks in the bottom right hand side of the page, occasionally opening menus. However, Photoshop was remarkably easy to use, like a cut down version of the real thing, with all the key features in the same place.

I’m really not interested in talking about the other note taking apps, Jelly Bean’s features and Samsung’s extensions to its feature set, or even how easy it is to copy things from the screen (though pressing the pen’s button allows you to draw a lasso around any content you want to grab which is a pretty good trick). From the point of view of drawing cartoons (which I only did scribbling since, for the life of me, I couldn't master the zoom), I think the Note 10.1 is as perfect a device as I’ve ever seen. Ideally I would have liked to have tried doing a little true Photoshopping on it but so far it suggests that it might be ideally suited to cartooning. The sheen of the screen would take some getting used to. Cartridge paper has a resistance which is noticeably more than Bristol Board. Working on board, as I’m doing at the moment, is a real pleasure and it does affect the quality of the finished work. However the difference between Bristol Board and drawing on a tablet is so huge that, at first, I felt barely able to draw. Also, I did have problems trying to draw smaller detail but this could have been a Photoshop problem or down to the device sensitivity. Only at the end did I switch to one of the other drawing apps and they felt much smoother and I felt like I might have more control. Trying these apps is the main reason I’m now thinking of biking over to my local PCWorld next week. By then, I hope to have figured out how to zoom.

However, as it stands, I think I did enough yesterday to satisfy my itch for a short time but getting hands-on with the updated tablet will be what will convince me.

Pic2Other than my bouncing between high tech shops and trying to fit in with the gangster types who can obviously afford these things and not like a cartoonist who can’t, yesterday turned into a bit of an epic day. Waterstones was crowded with people there to gawp at Jo Nesbø, the Norwegian thriller writer. I managed to take a picture but the fuzziness proves how little I know how to use the phone camera. I got home anticipating an early night and ended up working until half three in the morning. I should never do that but I got so carried away with work that I didn’t realise the time. When I looked up, I realised I had to go to bed even if I didn’t want to go to bed. Of course, my brain was so switched on that I couldn’t sleep and then, when I did, I slept too long, meaning a today’s late and rather rushed blog.

Friday, 13 September 2013

My Letter to Samsung

I’m not here. I’m out. And I’ll be scuffing my heels as I go. Even now I’m probably standing in PCWorld in the Arndale Centre, Manchester, staring forlornly at a first generation Samsung Note, wondering what happened to all the optimism that was there at the start of the week. Five days on, I’ve still not heard from Samsung. No early morning knocks on the door from keen-limbed couriers with mysterious cartons. Not even a sniff of high-end electronic goods to which I could dedicate my attentions in five star reviews for the rest of the month.

It’s gutting, of course. I’m wondering about a protest march, a Kickstarter campaign, a hunger strike. Looking back, perhaps my letter lacked a little punch, some pizazz, a cheque written out for the sum of £400, but that was a mere oversight, I tell you.

However, I’ll push on through this disappointment. Next week I might rename the blog to some part of the body, if only I could think of one. The current banner is beginning to mock my delusions of significance, shallow though they were.

Ms. Ines van Gennip                                                                              9th September, 2013
Marketing Director UK & Ireland
Samsung House
1000, Hillswood Drive
Chertsey, Surrey KT16 0PS

Dear Ines (if I may),

I was sitting here doodling a cartoon (enclosed) when it suddenly struck me that you’re probably overworked down there at Samsung HQ. Oh, don’t deny it. With an exciting range of new electrical doodadary destined for the nation’s pimpled salesmen, you’ll be kept very busy in the coming months and in need of some light relief. And that’s where I hope I come in…

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is David Waywell and I am a writer, cartoonist, and blogger, though you might know me by my pen name, Stan Madeley. More significantly, I run the website ‘Samsung Beauty’, which, as our expensive new banner proclaims, is ‘the world’s only blog dedicated to Samsung owners, users, admirers, and people in charge of deciding which bloggers get a Galaxy Note 10.1 inch tablet (2014 edition) to review.’

You’re a canny operator, Ines, so I won’t try to sweet-talk you. I bet you’re already thinking this is one of those desperate attempts to get a free Galaxy Note 10.1 inch tablet (2014 edition) to review. But there you’d be wrong. Is it ‘desperate’ when a man dedicates his life to ensuring that the hard-working folk in Samsung’s UK marketing department are happy? I don’t mean on any deep metaphysical level because who then is truly happy? But as Ernest Hemingway once put it: ‘happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.’ It’s my belief that just because you have the intelligence to match your wit, beauty, and very evident humanity, there is no reason why you should suffer from the burden of your job. You do such good work on behalf of Samsung, as well as your charitable causes, you deserve a bit of a lift. I’m therefore enclosing a personalised copy of my last book with the guarantee it will make you snort with laughter and pop a spring back into your step. Feel free to share it around the office as a team building exercise, especially with your PA who I hear is one of the best and always passes on letters which are clearly well intentioned and full of the old joie de vivre, as they say over at Samsung France.

No doubt you’re touched by my generosity but please think nothing of it. I normally charge £399 (rrp) for my cartoons but I want you to have this one for nothing. The wellbeing of you and your team is more important to me than money! It must be so depressing sending review products to semi-articulate simpletons in the technology press who don’t appreciate your efforts or the genius of the Note 10.1 (2014 edition). What do technology journalists know about technology? They have a quick glance at the features, make a big fuss about the luxurious faux-leather back and then spend the rest of their time talking about quality the bezelling. You deserve more than a bit of racy talk about quality bezelling, Ines. Will they talk about the 1024 levels of sensitivity in the stylus with the perspicacity of a jobbing cartoonist? Will they really appreciate the reduced weight by using it to produce top quality work, week in and week out, as it would in the hands of a quality blogger? How many of them will use it in everyday situations, learn to love it in a way only a truly individual cartoonist and writer could come to love it? Will they even bother to give it a name? Would they ever call it ‘Ines’?

Yes, Ines! That’s right! If only I had a Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition) to review, I’d name it after you! Because how many of those gel-fringed prima donnas in the gadget press will road test the Note 10.1 (2014 edition) every day for the next five years and recommend it to their readers? And did I mention that my blog is read by trend setters and top of the line professionals?

Listen, I better leave it there before I resort to verse and then we’d all be sobbing into buckets. On behalf of myself and all the readers of ‘Samsung Beauty’, may I send you all our very best wishes and hope that you continue to dominate those swine at Apple. We also look forward to hearing from you, hopefully in the form of an environmentally friendly carton delivered by courier. There’s always somebody in, so no need to fret on that score!

Your friend, eager to hand out the five star reviews,

David Waywell (nee Stan Madeley)

Thursday, 12 September 2013



New Shoes

Creepy Wax Shoes

You might have noticed that I’ve joined Instagram. It seemed like a sensible thing to do, plus I finally have a good reason to embrace this powerful form of voodoo. You might already know about my love for all things Samsung, especially the people in Samsung who decide which bloggers get a 10.1 inch (2014 edition) tablet to review. (Though my cunning scheme doesn't appear to be working...) Well, today I started to pack a Samsung S2 phone. Yes, big news!

The S2 came my way because my sister has now upgraded to something more powerful. Her contract had come to an end and she had a spare phone. I’m just happy to have something running Android. I rooted it yesterday and finally broke O2’s mind-lock so I could use my old Vodafone sim card. Turned it on and all manner of spectacular things began to happen. I’d spent a quid for a day’s Pay as you Go mobile data before I even knew how to switch it over to Wi-Fi. The camera excites me but I’ll try to think of interesting things to do with it, possibly involving nudity in public places...

Such positive vibes are unusual but this cool weather has revitalised me. My work always suffers during the summer when the heat slows down my higher brain functions. I need the cooler weather of autumn and early spring. Winter too can also be productive but I have to remember to hit myself with plenty of artificial sunlight or risk running my brain into a black wall. But for the moment, I have enough endorphins and the weather is cool so I can wear my favourite item of clothing: a thick Peter Storm long sleeve sweater bought from Millets.

I attribute the reappearance of my sweater with yesterday’s productivity. I’ve drawn a few cartoons for the blog but my main effort has been the four page short story I’m attempting to illustrate and write. I’ve been stuck on the fourth page for weeks. Until yesterday I couldn’t think of a way to join the middle to the end. Now I’ve done that so it’s just a matter of putting in a few more hours with my Kuru Toga Roulette (the best pencil ever made and which makes drawing a pleasure) and then the inking begins.It can get pretty tedious but I find that I can get through four pages in the time it takes me to watch two entire series of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

I’m also getting together a collection of my best cartoons to send to various outlets. My intention is to keep plugging away, though I’m beginning to worry about posting too much of my work here. Does that constitute publication? I worry that it does, meaning everything I’ve ever posted here is already lost, hence my posting one of my less polished cartoons today.


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

I Wish Samsung Ran My Council

Listen. I need to talk seriously about a subject many of you will find appalling. I don’t mean ‘war crime’ appalling. I mean about as appalling as a serious incident on the High Street on a Saturday night but not involving car keys, eyeballs, or members of the Parachute Regiment.

Yes, that’s right. I want to talk about weekly bin collections.

Christ, I know. I know… Dark days and all that. And it’s tough for me too. Just remain calm and remember: deep breaths. This is only going to be a thousand words long and, if you squint, you might already be able to see daylight in the distance.

Easing myself into my dreams last night with a mental image of Rachel McAdams stroking the contoured lines of the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition) tablet, it suddenly struck me that Samsung should really be in the wheelie bin business.

Beautiful thought, isn’t it?

Now, it takes a special kind of depraved mind to go to sleep combining Rachel McAdams with wheelie bins but until I have a chance to move with Rachel to Samsung’s own island off the coast of South America, sometime around the year 2050, I will have to endure the misery of living in the St Helens area of Merseyside where wheelie bins are a business as serious as my idle fantasising.

Up here it's troll country. We don’t go in for any of that fancy ‘thinking’ in these parts. Reasoning is something you do by smelling the end of your finger and trolls, not being the brightest of beasts, spend a lot of time smelling their own fingers. Take, for example, the trolls in St Helens Council who squeeze out bad ideas like they’ve been fed nothing but slugs, fish oil, and polished ball bearings.

The council are currently introducing new arrangements for our refuse collection. They announced this via bright shiny stickers that appeared on our bins a fortnight ago and promptly stuck to every surface they came into contact with. I forget the exact words because I was blinded by our sticker for an entire day but I do recall mention of an ‘improved service’ as a friend helped peel away the sticker along with most of my eyebrows.

‘An improved service! Whoopee!’ we both cried and then began to examine the small print.

The council are now promising to empty our regular brown bin one week and then, seven days later, empty the green bin that contains all our garden waste. Each bin will be emptied twice a month and this is the improved service.

‘Whoopee,’ we both cried again and then we began to do the maths.

Currently the council empties our brown bin every week and the green bin every fortnight. That means they provide six bin collections per month. The new arrangements mean that we’ll have only four bin collections.

That wasn’t the kind of improvement I was expecting. In fact, I would have furrowed my eyebrows if I’d had any.

An improvement is going from a 1.4GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A9, A8 processor to a 1.9 GHz octa-core Samsung Exynos 5420 SoC processor, as Samsung have cleverly done with the new 2014 Note. An improvement is doubling the resolution, replacing a 1280×800 pixel display with one that has 2560x1600 pixels. An improvement is increasing the ergonomic design by adding a faux-leather back to the tablet design.

A thirty three percent drop in the number of bin collections is not what I’d call an improvement. It sounds like one of those ‘Apple improvements’ when subsequent models of iPad got heavier, battery life shortened, and you needed to stick a wire coat hanger up your sleeve just to get a half-decent Wi-Fi signal.

Yet the part that gnaws me to the bone isn’t the reduction in our services. All our councils have to make cuts and I understand the concept of austerity. But I do believe that if a government or council are forced to reduce a service, they shouldn’t lie about it. Just tell it to me straight, like a pear cider that’s made from 100% pears. I’m not an idiot. I know that six is bigger than four. In fact, if I had a Samsung Note (2014 edition) in front of me now, I would scribble that sum onto the screen, wait a fraction of a second for the cutting-edge handwriting recognition software to decrypt my scrawl and then an infinitesimally small space of time as it did the calculation. Instead I’m counting on my fingers and my curled pinky and ring finger show me that it’s a decrease of exactly two bin collections a month.

I detest bad news dressed up like some gormless ITV rhetoric promising the year’s best entertainment over shots of Simon Cowell and mad old men playing tunes on their armpits. It implies we’re too dumb to spot that we’re being lied to. A man could get angry at the way my council talks-up a cut. He could get angry that they’re wasting money providing expensive colour leaflets that promotes some lousy policy as revolutionary thinking. A man could get…

Oh hang on! They’ve drawn eyes on the bins to make them look like cheerful characters. Everything I’m saying must be wrong and life in St Helens is peachy!

Today more glossy leaflets arrived through the letterbox and, as you can see by the accompanying diagram, we now have a friendly cast of characters to cheer on.

In addition to our main brown bin, we have one irritatingly happy black plastic box dog for tins, one drunk single-but-has-joined-Friends-Reunited pink bag for plastic bottles, one so-studious-he-probably-reads-The-Telegraph blue bag for newspapers, a sweet little ‘kerbside caddy’ (probably from a broken home) for fetid and stinking food, and one green bin clearly on the game and ready to pleasure our garden waste. The ‘Red Bottom’ is just my addition to the leaflet so ignore it for a moment…

Now, at this point, you’re probably thinking: isn’t he getting a little too excited about the bins? ‘Hey! Burke Bevel,’ you shout. ‘Isn’t this what old people talk about? Soon you’ll be complaining about the low necklines of BBC newsreaders and wondering why the Queen hasn’t knighted George Alagiah.’

But isn’t this the stuff that really matters? Isn’t this the warning sound of the creaking rope that holds up the great bureaucratic chimp swing that will eventually collapse and bring about the end of western civilisation? We won’t pollute ourselves into oblivion. Our brains will simply evolve to the point where most of their functions will be given over to figuring out what we’re meant to do with egg shells and what day we put out the potato peels.

Take this final piece of troll logic as an example.

For years we’ve all been using our green bins for cardboard. Only we’re now told that the green bin is to be used only for garden waste. Of course, between October and March, nobody cuts their lawn or trims the hedge so under this brilliant new scheme our green bins will stand empty for about half the year.

Meanwhile, we are now told to squeeze two weeks of cardboard into a box sized approximately 60x40x30 centimetres. That will be fun. After two weeks, our green wheelie bin is usually so full of cardboard that we can’t close the lid. I’m going to have to buy an industrial strength press just to deal with a week of cardboard.

If the whole thing sounds like an utter mess, there’s only one man I hold responsible.

The name Barrie Grunewald might not mean much to you. It sounds like the name of a troll in Beowolf or some ancient Norse myth. In a way, I think it is. Barrie is my local council leader and resembles a troll in publicity photographs. I never did write to Barrie about the council’s lousy policies for cyclists but it now seems they have an equally absurd policy for recyclists. That’s where the ‘red bottom’ comes into play.

I would humbly like to suggest to Barrie that he takes all his council leaflets and sticks them… Well, I’ll let him figure out ‘what goes where’. I’ve even provided a helpful diagram to guide his hand. And if he’s angry or thinks I’m wrong, I’d simply point out that I’ve added a pair of cartoon eyes to my diagram. Cartoons eyes excuse every kind of stupidity, don’t they?

Monday, 9 September 2013

Dear Samsung

McAdamThe people in my local Post Office didn't notice the editor of the newest technology blog, ‘Samsung Beauty’, standing among them. Nor were they aware that Rachel McAdams figured so heavily in my thoughts or that she too was excited by my plan...

The queue was at least twenty pensioners deep so it left me running late today, plus I also smell of Werther's Originals. But isn’t that the kind of detail that we technology journalists crave? One point three inches of caramel toffee, wrapped in a golden polyethylene wrapper laser cut into perfect squares. The caramel itself was luxuriously smooth, with class-leading performance when worked between dentures...

Why I was at the Post Office will become apparent in the coming days but needless to say that I’m hoping that my £1.60 was wisely spent. You see, I’m trying to open high level negotiations with the people at Samsung about my doing a review of the Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) preferably in black. I say ‘preferably in black’ but realise that I didn’t specify that in my letter…

Damn me and these careless beginner mistakes! Not that I would complain about a tablet in white but if we’re going to establish our reputation as the premier Galaxy Note 10.1 inch (2014 Edition) website, then we need to get these fundamentals right. As right, perhaps, as the faux-leather back of the new Galaxy Note…

We are now in for a few nervous days, perhaps even weeks, as we wait to see what happens. Will Samsung reply? Will they forward the name 'Burke Bevel' to MI5 for inclusion in a list of agitators and political malcontents out to undermine the capitalist system through a cunning use of comedy begging?

Comedy begging? I like that phrase and I think I’ll make it my own. After all, I’m not ashamed of what I'm doing. What is technology journalism other than a form of high-level begging? There was a time when a product launch involved a warm buffet in a third rate hotel in the middle of Bradford. These days, companies pay for journalists to travel the world, play basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters before being taken on a helicopter flight to some star-studded product launch at Everest Base Camp. The only difference between technology journalists and myself is that I’m willing to put on some extra effort up front.

That effort comprised this morning’s bundle: a large brown jiffy bag containing two pages of tightly-written prose, a copy of my book (inscribed and signed), and one A4 sheet of expensive (and mounted) Bristol Board on which I spent a good part of yesterday drawing and then inking a cartoon. Will they appreciate the gift I’m giving them or will it end up in the bin?

I go cold at the thought of that particular cartoon ending up in a bin but I guess if I’m foolish enough to send these priceless things to people who might not appreciate them, then in all likelihood they’ll end up covered with filter coffee and chewing gum. I suppose that’s part of the fun. It shows what a truly valueless world we live in.

I suppose that’s why I do it. In fact, I don’t suppose. I knowingly give my work away to strangers because it raises interesting questions about the way we value the things around us. How much would it cost to walk into a shop and buy that hand-drawn cartoon? Is it vulgar to ask? What price on my labour, even if I put zero price on my talen? My nearest shop selling cartoon originals, the Cartoon Gallery in Chester, sell them for nearly £300 a piece or about the same price of the old Samsung Note 10.1. Is that too expensive or too cheap for a drawing? What price would I set mine for if I were selling? £10? £50? £100? Of course, there's no upper limit on what you can ask, just a limit on what people might pay. I’ve seen sellers asking many thousands for original drawings by artists such as R. Crumb and even more for Golden Age superhero illustrators such as Fred Ray. Jack Kirby originals are priced like vintage cars.

Of course, I’m not a Crumb or a Kirby. I’m just me. So what price my originality? A mass produced lump of consumer electronics or the totally original piece of artwork drawn with a Rotring and dip pen over the course of ten hours? Does that seem like a fair swap?

If only it were that easy… Is that cartoon enough to make them think I’m serious or too much so they think I’m mad? Should a man aspiring to road test a Samsung Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) tablet even think this way? What would Jason Bradbury do? What would Burke Bevelling do?

The Descent of Man

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Launch of Samsung Beauty

Well, the digital elves might be on zero hour contracts but they worked hard into the night and, if everything has gone to plan, you’ll have noticed that things look a little different around here. Yes, yes! Thank you but save the applause for the trial. Once ‘The Gadget Show’ comes after me, I’ll need you cheering in my corner.

Of course, if you’re reading this via an RSS feed, then you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about. Well, today I’m relaunching this blog as 'Samsung Beauty', the newest super-hip technology blog staffed by twenty somethings who look like Jesse Eisenberg but are usually called ‘Tom’. It also excites me to change my name, so please, from now on, I’d like to be known as ‘Burke Bevel’, IT journalist and freelance gadgeteer. I’ll be modelling myself largely on the great Jason Bradbury so my habitual scruffiness and intense introversion are things of the past. Burke Bevel is all about primal sexualised baldness, big glasses, and an even bigger personality made for popular television, or, failing that, Channel 5.

Hey guys! It’s me, your gadget guru, Burke Bevel here! And we’ve got an exciting show for you this week. I’ll be getting frisky with the 2014 edition of Samsung’s 10.1 inch Note, whilst Tom dresses like a pineapple in order to explain everything micro-USB. Plus we’ve got the usual tech news and competition in which you can win half a million quid’s worth of tech gear simply by leaving your name and address on our £10-a-second phone line and then we’ll be investigating the perils of £10-a-second phone lines and how scammers lure you in with the promise of ridiculous prizes.

See what I mean? I’m so happening and now that it’s frightening to think how fifteen minutes ago I was just fifteen minutes ago.

So, what can you expect this week on ‘Samsung Beauty’?

Well, there’ll be the usual mix of cartoons you won’t want to share on Twitter and essays you don’t read all the way to the end. However, everything will have increasingly irrational references to the Samsung Note 10.1 inch (2014 edition) tablet! It's a format I'm copying from popular technology websites such as ‘Gizmodo’, ‘Crave’, and ‘Trusted Reviews’ but with more emphasis on the nervous breakdown caused by a man’s unrequited love for unobtainable Samsung hardware.

By the end of the week, I’m hoping to have a hands-on review of the Note 10.1, depending on when they get the new model in stock at the local PC World and providing they don’t chase me off like they usually do once they realise I can’t afford to buy. I’m just hoping the short porcine manager with the attitude problem won't recognise me with my shaved head, big glasses and bright yellow dungarees…

Of course, there’ll also be the usual news, reviews, and tips about how to use a fantasy Samsung Note 10.1 inch (2014 edition) tablet and because it’s a fantasy tablet the tips will involve appearances from Rachel McAdams, Natalie Portman, and members of 1980s supergroup Bananarama.

What else can I say? If you’re interested in the Samsung Note 10.1 inch (2014 edition) tablet, then this is the place to be.

Laters tableters!

A Serious and Meaningful Cartoon About the Real Dangers of Solvent Abuse


Saturday, 7 September 2013

Dear Samsung: Please Take My Soul For A Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition!

NoteDoes whoring yourself out over the internet ever work?

Most mornings of the week I arrive at my desk to discover at least one email from a web marketing company offering to buy my soul. They don’t phrase it as succinctly as that. They talk about this great opportunity to fill my blog with high quality content written by their talented team of writers and ‘totally in the style of your blog’. It’s all bullshine, of course. They really mean they’d burden this blog with the same steamrollered prose as fills 99% of everything these days. They just want to use my smiling (ha!) internet presence to sell something to you without you noticing that I’m being paid to slip you a lie.

That doesn’t mean that lots of bloggers are immune to taking their shilling. Perhaps I’d even take it myself if they offered me enough, though my soul does come with a hefty price tag attached. It would take life-changing amounts (so that’s many thousands not hundreds of shillings) before I’d even consider sticking an ad for online gambling on my blog. Even then, I’d probably feel so guilty about the deception that I’d highlight the whole sordid business with large red arrows and write personal letters to every single one of you asking for your forgiveness.

Having said all that, I’d now like to sell my soul to Samsung but I don’t know how to go about it.

I’m beginning to seriously obsess about Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition and that’s never a good sign. It’s very rare that I really obsess over new technology. I pride myself on not desiring things. Despite my loving technology, technological abstinence has become one of the ways I’ve managed to keep writing, drawing and blogging. There hasn’t been a single Apple launch that excited me enough to want one of their products. My mobile phone (an old Sony Ericsson Cybershot) is about ten years old. I haven’t got a mobile contract, never bought anything with 3G or 4G, and I don’t really want to start now. There was a time, about a year or so ago, when I needed a better graphics card to help with my 3D animation work but that wasn’t twitchy as much as needy. The last time I felt this twitchy about a product was about the original Nintendo DS but, luckily, I had a job at the time and could satisfy my craving.

The problem this time is that the Samsung Note uses Wacom technology and there’s no word in the advertiser’s lexicon that gets me quite as excited as ‘Wacom’. Wacom make the graphic tablet I use (Bamboo), the graphic tablets I really should get (Intuos), and the graphic pen monitors I lust after (Cintiq). Microsoft also used Wacom tech in their pricier Surface tablet which was also lust worthy, especially after a video surfaced of Penny Arcade's artist, Mike Krahulik, using one.

The Surface tablets run closer to £1000 which takes them well into dream territory. The Samsung Note is cheaper and would fulfill all my needs. As much as I love using pen and ink, there are times in the day when that’s simply not possible. My logic then begins to run down this narrow and utterly immoral line of reasoning: a mobile tablet would allow me to work seamlessly at home and away, blog more often, and produce more graphic content. It would double my productivity, at the very least, and would surely pay for itself over a year…

Oh, get thee behind me… This kind of thinking will lead me to the madhouse unless I can get creative about my predicament.

So, my question is: how do I get Samsung to send me one of those Galaxy Note 10.1 inch beauties to review? I know this blatant kind of scheming works for some people. Things I’ve got free in my time as a blogger: one copy of a book of Clive James’s essays, a copy of ‘Hunger’ by the Norwegian Modernist writer Knut Hamsun, and a copy of a nameless book by a popular and multi-award winning blogger which was so appallingly bad that I quickly dumped it into a charity box and felt bad for inflicting such dross on a charity. (I won’t name the book but, if you’re interested, email me for details).

That’s a rather pitiful return, when you think about it, though none of those books came because I actively lobbied for freebies. This time I am and I'm aiming a little higher...

So, things to do in the next few days:

  • relaunch this blog as one of those technology blogs that always get exciting new products;

  • begin to act more like Brian Tong or shave my head and adopt ridiculous glasses like Jason Bradbury so Samsung begin to take notice;

  • promise them a five star review and constant plugging for the next five years;

  • get a large Samsung tattoo covering my buttocks (à la Cheryl Cole), which I also promise to flaunt in public over the next five years or until third arrest.

Hmm… Alternatively, perhaps those ads for online gambling aren’t such a bad idea...

A Buddhist Cartoon


Friday, 6 September 2013

A Quick Wine Cartoon

Wine cartoon

I’m slowly doing all the pencil work on a four page graphic short story so this doodle is all I've managed today. The more I look at it, the more I think it’s a lousy gag. I shouldn't really post it but I don’t have anything better. The weather has also changed. The heat and humidity has turned to warm rain and my brain has fallen into a resulting torpor. It doesn't help that web traffic has also dried up. Perhaps it’s because the schools are back. Perhaps it’s because it’s Friday and the entire population of Western civilization are trying to catch up with all the work they should have been doing for the past four days. I only hope numbers pick up when China and Japan wake in a few hours. Not only do we need them to kick start out economies, I need them to kick start my brain.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Blog Post in Which I Realise I’m Worth Less Than a Buttock

People who hang wet mackerel and seaweed among their wind chimes assure me that this might be the last hot day of the year. That promise is the only thing keeping me going. This sultry air puts me in fretful state of mind. Yesterday was a brutal day, depressingly quiet on the web, no emails from real people, no human contact, while visits to the blog continued to degrade my faith in humanity. ‘Animal Crossing porn’ might now be the single most depressing search term I think I’ve ever seen, though the day also saw rank upon file of people searching for news about Cheryl Cole’s bottom.

Here’s a depressing thought for you or, rather, for me... Nothing I will ever do in my life will mean as much to people as Cheryl Cole’s arse.

Think about that for a moment. Even one half of her behind means more to more people than my entire being as it exists over the entire course of my lifetime. Every single thing I write, draw, say, and do will be insignificant compared to just one of her unthinking buttocks. Anything my brain can create or has created is meaningless compared to this lump of skin, fat, and gluteal muscle now tattooed with something Microsoft normally include as a Windows background and which you immediately change to a picture of your dog.

I don’t know how I’m meant to function now that I’m aware of this depressing statistic. It’s like realising that you entertain fewer people than the Krankies with their freakish-old-woman-playing-a-schoolboy-who-sleeps-with-the-curly-haired-guy-in-the-celebrity-sweater act.

Hey! Hey! Hey! Snap out of it, you miserable hack! There are better things to write about this morning such as the new Samsung Note 10.1 inch tablet with Wacom stylus technology. Excuse me while I wipe the drool on my sleeve. I just need to figure out some new ingenious scheme which might help be buy one of these suckers. Samsung swinishly price their tablets reasonably for everybody except me. It’s clear victimisation. Ideally, I need to sell some cartoons but what’s the chance of that?

Of course, Cheryl Cole’s buttocks could afford to buy a Samsung Note 10.1 inch tablet, but how would it handle the stylus? That’s a question I bet you’ve failed to ask amid all this excitement. Mechanically it is possible, I suppose. You might argue that her bottom is perfectly adapted to handling a stylus, though I wouldn’t like to be the person using it next.

Speaking of the vulgar abuse of technology, I read last night that we can now apply for a one-way mission to Mars. I suspect it’s really one of those thin-out-the-species deals or some kind of Hugo Drax Moonraker scheme where all you super-bright types disappear behind the moon while the rest of us go toxic in the Apocalypse which is initially mistaken for a case of mass twerking or twerping. Either way, I’m up for it and I’ve filled in my application. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m tired of living in a world that wants to read Suzanne Moore. I don’t get anything anymore. I’m not on the left, the right, or even in the middle. I’m just lost. I also read in The Guardian today that there’s no end to David Walliam’s talent, in which case, a planet where culture comprises swirling dust storms and endless rocks seems infinitely preferable.

There’s a limited availability of these tickets but I guess the upside is that if you do win a place, you would be more significant to human culture than Cheryl Cole’s bottom, which, in this horribly bleak moment, feels like it’s the pinnacle of human ingenuity and accomplishment.

Okay, I have a cartoon strip to finish. Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Terror On the High Seas

You know that final shot of Jurassic Park when a T-Rex roars and a banner drifts down proclaiming the time ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth’? Well, I think I’ve thought of an idea for a sequel that brings it right up to date. We have a similar banner but it now reads ‘When Arseholes Ruled the Earth’ and instead of a dinosaur, we have a large CGI recreation of the soup-brained editor of Yachting Monthly magazine.

Of course, it needn’t be the editor of Yachting Monthly magazine. It could be any of the fiendish fuckers who miraculously achieve positions of prestige in this country of ours. Local councillors, civic planners, and the management at my local Tesco… Pick your fool of choice and I’m sure the CGI engineers at Industrial Light and Magic would be able to recreate them at a larger scale.

But you might wonder why I’m picking on the editor of Yachting Monthly magazine. I don’t know the man and couldn’t tell you his name. However, I have been reading Bill Stott’s blog post for September and it's a real white knuckler. Bill has been relieved of his freelancing duties providing cartoons for Yachting Monthly. As he himself explains:
the new thrusting young editor in this case [ of a sailing magazine which shall remain nameless, called Yachting Monthly] knew damned well he was doing wrong. He emailed to say how much he liked my work, and how it had really worked for the magazine but that he was letting me go because he was giving the slot to a cartoonist friend of his! Honest! Of course, in freelancing, there are no contracts. In editing, for some at least, it would appear that there are no principles.

I don’t know which shocks me more: that the editor is so brazen about hiring a friend or that he actually thinks it a good idea to drop Bill Stott. For a long time Yachting Monthly was Mike Peyton’s patch. Peyton has been described as the world’s greatest yachting cartoonist so it was only right that when he retired he was replaced by a cartoonist with an equally high profile. Bill Stott definitely has that. His signature is one I’ve recognised since I first started to take a studious interest in cartooning. If you’re unfamiliar with his cartoons, I suggest you check out his blog. His work has appeared pretty much everywhere that matters and most compilations of great British gag cartoons will usually include some of his more well-known panels.

supreme_beingUnlike many cartoonists who tread a very safe middle ground where the jokes follow established precedents, Stott’s work can occasionally wander into wonderfully surreal areas. I keep intending to write a long piece about why I adore his work and perhaps one day I’ll do that. Needless to say, if you read as many gag cartoons as I read, it’s hard to be surprised, yet Stott constantly surprises me.

There’s be an exhibition of his work along with that of Tony Husband, Chris Madden, and Bill Tidy at the Richard Goodall Gallery in Manchester this coming October and I’m really hoping they’ll let me in.

Bill Stott was also one of the founding members of the Professional Cartoonists Organisation, which makes his treatment all the more disgusting. Personally, I’m up for organising marches and protests against this shabby treatment. Would a lynch mob be too much? I’m not so sure. We need hairy bikers with grim attitudes and we need them now. At the very least, can’t we cartoonists block harbours and prevent yachts from sailing to make a point about that we don’t live in a country that tolerates this nepotistic crap? What kind of organisation is the PCO if they can't organise a riot mob? It also makes me wonder what the hell a company like IPCMedia are thinking giving editing duties to a nepotistic dunderhead who has clearly been hit over the head a few too many times by a swinging boom.

Monday, 2 September 2013

On The Wisdom of Crowds and The Instincts of Cowards

DunciadThey think themselves lions, stallions, perhaps the more imaginative among them unicorns or some rare form of tropical cuckoo, but the truth for anybody with the eyes to see it is that most politicians are pure bred mule. They are our ultimate beasts of burden. They carry our heaviest loads on the stoutest of legs because the political process has bred them that way. Crossing the stud Circumstance with the bitch Necessity we produce these strange snorting hybrids with small brains and hardened backs, able to move intractable loads over rough terrain. Yet they’re also cautious beasts. They move slowly on the hoof and even the best of them are rarely amenable to changing direction or choosing the hard trail over the easy.

It’s the nature of their existence that politicians want to be liked by their masters. The cycle of election and re-election encourages the characteristic moderation obvious in their species. The political system is inherently reactionary and this is one of the great benefits of our parliamentary democracy. No one government, in theory, can harm it enough within four years to destabilise the country.

The great irony, of course, is that this breeds a tendency towards caution that ensures that the majority of our politicians remain largely anonymous. They never get the fame they so obviously crave. We only remember those rare few with the red flash of devilment in their eyes. It’s the wilful and bold who catch our attention, those that relish the difficult decision and the principled defence. Those politicians we rightly remember as either great representatives of the state or twitching fools who led us ankle deep into our historic follies. Sometimes the separation between the two is hard to distinguish. Margaret Thatcher was, for some, our finest post-war Prime Minister because her convictions were stronger than those of the weak gents hanging around the old Tory Central Office. Others consider her a divisive ideologue whose policies continue to harm the country which has never truly recovered from the splits her policies deepened and spread.

Which brings us to Syria…

This side of a nuclear Tehran, no subject wears down the scratching post as quickly as Syria. You can trouble your skull until the bone flakes under yours nail but you’ll find no answer to the question ‘what do we do next?’ This ethnic civil war is as deathly and impenetrable as the darkest well of the deepest missile silo. Yet despite the complexity of the situation, it doesn’t stop newspapers from printing polls that boldly proclaim that the British public are against intervention in Syria by about two to one.

I’m never sure how to take these figures other than with an antacid. News reports present them as unquestioned statistics. The implication is that there is an innate wisdom of the crowd that politicians should heed. We’re reminded that the very same democratic process put them into power, so perhaps it’s no surprise that politicians never dismisses the numbers by pointing out the obvious truth that all polls are an exercise in canvassing the ignorant.

In 2008, a poll of 3000 UK teenagers revealed that a fifth of them thought that Sir Winston Churchill was a fictional character and 47% thought Richard the Lionheart was a figure from English myth. Presumably, nearly six years later, many of those teenagers are now adults able to express equally profound insights about a situation that has baffled most Middle East analysts.

This problem has long been held as one of the faults of democracy but as Winston Churchill said ‘democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.’ Of course, less often quoted was Churchill’s statement from 1919 when he wrote that ‘I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes’ which just goes to prove that even the wisest of us can be misguided at times.

I’m not saying I’m any more enlightened than the average teenager or the man routinely voted the greatest Briton of the twentieth century. I’m as stumped as anybody about what would make a suitable response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own people.

America argues that we must do something because genocide by nerve agents should never be tolerated by the international community. They conveniently forget that the West did nothing after Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds of Halabja in 1986, let along their use of chemical weapons throughout the Iran Iraq war in which America supported the Ba'athist regime. The only difference is this time they drew a line in the Syrian sand that Assad deliberately stepped across.

At the same time, we’ve seen the problems of limited involvement in the past. In the aftermath of 9/11, questions were asked about the Clinton administration’s limited response to the 1988 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Had Clinton been bolder, the critics argue, the horrors of the Twin Towers might not have occurred.

Then we have the examples of Iraq and Afghanistan, where American might was thrown at a problem and the whole thing quickly developed horns and a poisonous bite.

So we have three examples from recent history: of doing nothing, of doing very little, and going all in with troops on the ground. Somebody has to now choose which path to take.

The most likely outcome is that Obama will take Clinton’s line. America warships will stand off the coast, destroy a few bases and this whole exercise in saving face will have only cost them a few hundred million dollars in cruise missiles. Syria will protest but things will soon return to the potent state of twisted normality once Assad realises that he’s got away with a geopolitical slap on the wrist.

That, however, has almost become a secondary issue. Ignoring the rights and wrongs of action against Syria, what has the last week shown us about the political processes in the UK and US now that the Prime Minister asked Parliament to vote and the Commander in Chief has now passed the problem to Congress? Some claim that democracy has been served and that this is the end of conviction politics. But is that really what we expect of our leaders?

There is no evidence to suggest that the average Member of Parliament (or, indeed, member of Congress) is any more enlightened about Syria that any member of the public, albeit, one of the few who still buys a newspaper. Not every politician voting on Syria will have had a thought-through position on the crisis. Few will have studied the evidence. Our MPs voted on one issue but will have judged it on a thousand unrelated news stories. Some will have ignored the situation in the outskirts of Damascus and voted ‘no’ because they still remember Tony Blair’s dossier of WMDs. Some will have voted ‘no’ with an eye to their pay packets and the next election. Some might have voted ‘no’ simply to spite the Prime Minister. At the same time, some will have voted ‘yes’ because they believe in the politics of red lines in the sand or because of they have a munitions manufacturer in their constituency or because they get some twisted sexual gratification from the idea of it being in their power to launch cruise missile attacks and their new mistress will be impressed… At least two missed the vote because they didn’t hear the division bell ring.

My point is that what we saw last week might have been democracy in action but it was also a decision made less informed and based on the whims of people less qualified to judge. The result was shared indifference, an unclear moral position, and no single person standing up to say ‘this is what we will do and I take the responsibility for these actions’. To put it more succinctly: aren’t there some instances when it’s simply not acceptable to say that 51% of our country believes what you did to be a crime against humanity?

Syria is a gnarly problem but whatever the Prime Minister had decided it must surely have been superior to the current impotent display of political manoeuvring and point scoring. The term ‘conviction politics’ may have fallen out of favour but is this really the best alternative we have? There is nothing wrong with conviction pacifism as there might often be a reasoned case for action. Rightly or wrongly, Tony Blair acted out of his convictions and he was judged by those actions. Whether you agree with him or disagree with him, he acted as a Prime Minister should. Instead, Cameron and Miliband have created a situation in which no decision was taken. We threw a coin and decided to abide by the result. That is worse than appeasement. It’s abandoning principals in favour of a boorish yob neutrality borne out of ignorance. We would have been served just as well turning the debate into a glitzy ITV primetime show, completely with a telephone vote.

Our political system might be a democracy over the course of five years but it is run day-to-day as a constitutional monarchy in the same way that the United States America is a presidential system. Both Prime Ministers and Presidents are meant to make hard but informed decisions based on the best advice of experts and the evidence provided by the intelligence community. It is the role of voters to judge them on those decisions at the end of their terms is office. By placing the question before the House of Commons, David Cameron abdicated his responsibility for the most difficult decision of his Prime Ministership. His motivation for doing so was supposedly his belief in parliamentary democracy but it resembled shrewd politics. Had the Commons voted for military action, he could have moved forward with a mandate that absolved him of blame. In the case that they didn’t vote for action, he steps back, as he’s done, with a shrug of his shoulders and a clear conscience. In either case, he doesn’t have to stand by his decision.

David Cameron washed his hands of Syria the moment he knew he could no longer be blamed for choosing the wrong action or the wrong inaction. He is hoping that responsibility diluted is no responsibility at all and he might be proved right. It has played well with the country and won’t hurt him at the next election. But self-interest has always been one of the very few convictions he has as a politician. He is our affable, likable Prime Minister who loves the job he does so long as he doesn’t have to make any hard decisions. He’s a consummate politician, wanting to be loved by all and, for that reason, he’ll be ultimately remembered by few.