Pen & Pixel Album Cover Art (mainly the 90’s)

Pen & Pixel is a Houston, Texas-based graphics design firm that specializes in musical album covers, especially for gangsta hip hop artists in the Southern US. For a long time it was the house design firm for the famous No Limit Records label.Pen & Pixel is famous for its identifiable design vernacular of gaudy 3D- and effects-laden text like album titles and rapper stage names which are often “studded” with diamonds or made to look like marble through heavily layered PhotoShop-filtered graphics. These typically overlay a scene depicting the album artist ostentatiously surrounded by women, liquor, gold- and diamond-coated material effects, and other signifiers of a gangster lifestyle.

 The company’s CD cover art usually includes paraphernalia associated with wealth like luxury cars, helicopters, candlesticks, dollar bills, and women. Such displays often contrast said wealth against the woes of poverty amin New Orleans and the American south. Beyond materialism, common themes discussed in the company’s oeuvre include: death, violence, criminal guilt, manhood, persecution (especially by police), and urban paranoia.

(source –  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pen_&_Pixel)

Post Apocalypse XXVI – Toyah and Post Apocalyptic Skater Chic in ‘Rebel Run’ and ‘Love is the Law’ (1983)

Looking for all the world like she had rocked up in some Italian Post Apocalypse ‘epic’ (The New Barbarians, 2019 After the Fall of New York, Exterminators of the Year 3000 etc), this is Toyah, in 1983, promoting her single ‘Rebel Run’ and the accompanying album ‘Love is the Law’. The lyrics to ‘Rebel Run’ voicing typical preoccupations of the time, being so close to 1984, which in popular culture was indelibly linked with the titular George Orwell book of Totalitarian rule. Here is a sample of the lyrics;

Praying to the silent man A new day dawns Behind acetylene tanks A dog’s lament Wakes the new age But falls in splintered fragments Around his cage Like everyone said there’d be So much more to nineteen eighty-four Rebel run Don’t shoot your gun Rebel run Run run run Now get down And stay down You’ve gotta learn To kiss the ground 

and here is the video in all its Chromkey glory. I have no idea why she is a post apocalyptic Skater Warrior, the video sheds no further light on the matter.

Review – The Walking Dead 115 (image/Skybound 2013)

10 years is a real achievement for any comic title, and The Walking Dead is a true against-the-odds success story. This is in no small part down to a strong story and great art (from both Tony Moore in the early days  & then the phenomenally consistent run from Charlie Adlard for the past 9 years). The TV series that it spawned is arguably more successful and certainly better known to the general public, but it all started 10 years ago with Rick Grimes in a shoot out, then waking up in a hospital bed…

However, I would argue that issue 115 is not a great choice to mark the anniversary. First of all, the montage cover – which tries to give a cinematic sheen to proceedings – is wrong. Why mess around with a cover format (that being a single image, pertaining to the events in the issue itself, regardless of how tenuous that link is) that has worked so well for 10 years? It is part of the character of the comic. That is not to say the cover is particularly bad – it is not – but it is not classic TWD. I thought that would be worth celebrating?

The story in issue 115 is ‘chapter 1 of 12’, as it proclaims on the cover. So don’t get too excited, as this is typical Kirkman ‘calm before the storm’ writing. So you get lots and lots of talking, where Major Characters get to extrapolate and vent and where the plot is set up for the next issue where things generally turn a bit nastier. Rick makes a rousing speech to the armies of the 3 communities, across a double page spread. Rick turns up outside Negans community and gives another speech / threat / warning. Negan counters (with words). That’s your lot. As a ‘jumping on point’ it doesn’t work as we get no real idea of the motivations behind this ‘All Out War’. For me it was The Walking Dead and its most turgid and banal. There used to be a time when even the slow-burn issues held an interest, but now they seem to parody the tropes of this comic (the Rick as the True Leader trope, the Rick as Saviour trope) and the conversation can border on banality (though there was 1 funny piece about a tiger and a bathtub).

In summary, it felt like a bit of a flat way to mark 10 years. I am sure that things will pick up over the next few weeks (they always do). But when the comic falls flat nowadays, it falls flat hard. Shame.

Random musings

Carl is starting to look really grown up now. I guess it must have happened in the last 2 or 3 issues? He doesn’t look like a little boy any more.

Who was the guy that Negan dragged out in the last scene? Any clue?

Father Gabriel in one panel, Eugene in a small cameo role – it’s just like 2009 again!

The art, with Stefano Guadiano, on inks, looked smoother and fuller. I liked it a lot.

Post Apocalypse XXV – Gary Numan is Max Rockatansky-ish in Warriors (1983)

Back in 1983, clearly as taken with Mad Max II as I was, and obviously having much more money than my poor teenage self, Gary Numan decided to pay homage to Max himself by looking a lot like him on his single ‘Warriors’;

and he looked rather good too (he would have been perfect in one of the Italian post Apocalypse efforts). A brief reminder, dear reader, of the source of inspiration here;

But don’t expect any ‘Wild Boys‘ style homage in the video for the single. Oh no –  this is something else, and your mileage may vary (I lasted less than 30 seconds…)
 

Review – The Walking Dead #114 (image/skybound, 2013)

Needless to say – Spoilers…

As this is the one before ‘All Out War’, you would be supremely optimistic, and no doubt prone to disappointment, if you expected earth shattering events in this issue. This issue simply wrapped up the foreplay before we head out into all out combat.

Good things –
Jesus getting the upper hand on Negan. That was a very sweet moment.
Adlard’s art at times was superb. The way he staged the attack on Negan and The Saviors was very cool.

Bad things –
the cavalry arrived in the form of Jesus, but I think the arrival of an attack Tiger really pushes this story into the realms of parody.
Another bloody scene where someone tells Rick he is the Messiah / the one true God / the man who will save mankind. Please, change the record.

All in all this was relatively entertaining fare. it had to tread water to an extent because (hopefully) there will be lots of twists and turns in the forthcoming ‘All Out War’ arc.

Review – The Walking Dead 113 (image / Skybound, 2013)

Needless to say, this review contains spoilers for issue 113…

Though it is not something I have covered on this blog, if you are a fan / follower of The Walking Dead comic book then you will no doubt be aware of another ‘event; coming up in a matter of weeks. Maybe event fatigue has set in, maybe this title does not generate the same excitement in me as before, but, for whatever reason, I have not made mention of ‘All Out War’ until now. The event title is self-explanatory, so I do not need to go into any great detail. Go and google it and you will get the teaser images, the cover art (new artist doing covers alert!) and the teaser interviews by Kirkman. The lead-up to these things can be the very best thing about The Walking Dead (and I am thinking of the Prison siege way back in 2007/2008), and so it proves with issue 113. In a series of increasingly tense scenes, there is now no way back for the Negan and Rick-led groups. War looks inevitable in The Walking Dead (and not just because we are being told that in the media).

Issue 113 kicks off with Jesus/Paul & Aaron heading out on their mission toward the Savior outpost. If you remember, this was the one that Dwight told Ezekiel of. Very quickly we learn that this has somehow not worked well, as Jesus stares in horror or disbelief and exclaims ‘oh damn’. Has Dwight, or Ezekiel, proved to be working against Rick?

We then cut away to the brutal and brilliant focal point for this month. After the failed attack on The Saviors, Negan wants his revenge. Things escalate very quickly, and the relationships between the core characters come to the fore – Rick and Negan, Rick and Carl, Negan and Carl, Andrea and Rick. What is interesting is that it’s Carl and Andrea, at different times, trying to protect Rick, a reversal of the usual dynamic. Andreas insistence that ‘we don’t die’ is (maybe) a foreshadowing of something dreadful to come later, but for now, her intent and desperation are all too obvious. Carl, meanwhile, is fearless and deadly, almost killing Negan, and doing something far worse to the resident bad guy in the process. By the end of the issue we are at a familiar junction – Negan, with Lucille in hand, preparing to use his tried and trusted method of dispatch. It is a fantastic cliffhanger, with Rick in the firing line, but with Carl and Andrea still a threat to the leader of The Saviors. And we may yet have the cavalry appear in the form of Jesus and Aaron. It is breathless stuff, I found myself turning to pages at a furious pace, the fantastic layout and art from Charlie Adlard propelling the action. It gives a good reminder of how great this artist is at fight and battle scenes, as you get the sense of pace, the smell of fear and desperation, the struggle.

A top notch issue, a reminder why this title, when on its best form, is peerless.

A couple of points;

There surely has to be a point during the ‘All Out War’ event where either Rick or Negan die. They cannot keep dancing around like boxers squaring each other up and one of them NOT land the knockout punch. Negan is an entertaining villain (and I would say the most entertaining presence in issue 113), but it is getting close to the point that his potency as the man you love to hate is lost because of too much familiarity. I just hope there is a suitable and satisfying conclusion to this, because 12 issues of ‘All Out War’ spread over 6 months is a long time (or ample time if you are feeling generous) to tell a tale.

There is a physical attack on Andrea that seems unnecessarily brutal and lasts too long. Or should I say, lingers too long on her beating and physical distress. It seemed gratuitous. I understand it was important to show her peril and the outcome of that, but the depiction of the violence was a bit too much.

Finally, I expect (or rather, hope) that we shall see the body count increase next issue – it teased and teased imminent death in #113 that if we don’t get some pay off next month then this issue will have felt like a prelude to an empty promise. Some deaths need to occur to bring matters to a head, and the inevitable violent resolution to all this.

Take it or leave it (1981)

Tricky, a British musical treasure in his own right, summed up the early 80’s musical landscape perfectly, when he stated that The Specials & Madness were his generations Beatles & The Stones. They were also mine, as a pre-pubescent just getting the first rush from music. His comparison does not hold up to too much scrutiny (The Beatles & The Rolling Stones worldwide success and cultural impact are unmatched and never likely to be equalled). But in an era where there were other bands loosely affiliated post-punk, it is arguably Madness & The Specials who have the edge, having that star power, the presence, the tunes, over The Beat or The Selector or many of the other 2-Tone / sort-of-mod-sort-of-skinhead bands that emerged in their wake.
Following the success of their first 2 albums and a string of singles that, while never getting to number 1, regularly made the top 10, plus a strong visual identity boosted by their effective use of music videos, Madness did something that many great bands had done before – they made the band movie.

The Specials had their own movie (of sorts) out in 1981, called ‘Dance Craze’ (a celebration of the 2-Tone / Ska revival scene, the film was largely concert footage, including Madness). Madness were going to do a film that was more personal and all about Madness. Self-funding to the tune of 20,000 quid per band member, plus cash from their label, Stiff, they were unencumbered by expectations from movie studios or financiers. ‘Take it or leave it’ is a film about the origins of Madness, how they came to be, covering a relatively short period of time (1976 to the then present 1981).

The film covers the difficult early beginnings of the band, as wannabe pub band ‘The Invaders’, with their out of tune and out of sync takes on rock n roll standards. As the band comes together you get a feel for the trials and tribulations of bands as they search for the right configuration of players and personalities until the ‘chemistry’ is achieved. As far as the acting goes, it is safe to say that if you are uncomfortable with naturalistic performances this is one you need to miss. Or go in with an open mind.

There are varying degrees of nasally London accents, some of the time mumbling into their chests, and one or two of the actors are clearly embarrassed at the whole process. But i think this adds to the charm. Mike Barson (aka Monsieur Barso), the keyboard player and de facto leader and driving force comes across as belligerent and hard work. Apparently his characteristics were exaggerated for the film but it’s to his credit that he is willing to portray himself in an unflattering light. Suggs comes across as a bit cheeky, Lee as a bit of a loose cannon and a bit dodgy, Bedders looks and sounds about 12 and you are rooting for Chrissy, if only for the fact that he has a wife and baby in a flat to look after (in another bit of artistic licence, there was actually no baby, only a wife in Chrissy’s life at the time.)

There is some footage of the Dublin Castle venue, a crap fight with some skins (probably to put to bed any discusion that they were a band for bonehead-type skins), and some great scenes that are a validation of the fashion of that subculture and era (Harrington Jackets, Ben Sherman, Doc Marten Boots, that green bomber jacket that Woody loved to wear).

Personally, the big pay off is the footage of them playing live, when you get to see Madness at their jittery, bouncing best. All that pent-up, awkward energy, channelled into 3 minute mash-ups of ska and new wave and jerky, jumping bodies, it’s a reminder of why Madness were such a potent visual and audio force over 30 years ago. Their early years are where their potential was still being brought out, their youth and energy undimmed, and ‘Take it or leave it’ (thankfully) captures them before they started maturing into a better songwriting band, but with that maturity went some of the early teeth bared, fist clenched punk attitude.

As a document of how a thousand bands try to strive and evolve, it captures the frustrations and funny moments well. As a British social document, it gives some insight into a subculture in early 80s britain, as well as brief glimpses into life on the dole and the struggle of working class young men trying to achieve something more, something better. As a British film it has that early 80’s glom and greyness about it, that captures a mood and a time. As a portrayal of a well loved British band, it’s an honest and entertaining 90 minutes. When they finally emerge as Madness, and you hear ‘Bed and Breakfast Man’ or ‘One Step Beyond’ you will be reminded of why you loved them first time around.

Subbaculture Zine Issue 1

The Subbaculture site expands its horizons and pays respect to the true source of the blogging phenomena…

Out now, on a limited print run, is the first issue of the Subbaculture Zine. A proper zine (i.e. one you can hold in your hands), A5 size, packed with informative articles and enough visual style to put proper magazines to shame, it can be ordered here;

http://subbaculture.co.uk/3301-2/

I highly recommend the Richard Allen / Skinhead / NEL article, and the piece on 2 Tone graphics. Good quality paper and printing as well, which for those of us who remember xeroxed music, science fiction or horror zines of the 80’s will be a bit of a culture shock. Highly recommended, as is the site;

http://subbaculture.co.uk/