Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category

A Rock Legend Passes – Meat Loaf Dies Aged 74

January 21, 2022

One of the big stories today, which isn’t about the military build-up around Ukraine and Boris Johnson and his wretched parties, has been the death of Meat Loaf. One of the things that surprised me in the news items about him was that he was in 65 or so films. I was aware that he played Eddie, a zombie in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’d also seen him as a man suffering from testicular cancer who joins the underground boxers in the 1990s film Fight Club, based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk. But I wasn’t aware of any others, and certainly not that he’d been in so many.

He’s best known, however, for Bat Out Of Hell, which is now a Rock classic. I can remember the exciting amongst the rockers and metal freaks I was at school with when it came out. It even got played at a school assembly by one of the teachers. He wasn’t disapproving, just using it to illustrate some point about different moods in music. Bat Out Of Hell, in contrast to other, more soothing pieces, was pure, raw aggression. It was, but not violence. It was loud, fast, melodic rock. His co-writer, Jim Steinman, appeared on a Beeb rockumentary a few years ago. The interviewer commented on the operatic quality of the piece. Steinman agreed, and said that it was because he was listening to a lot of opera at the time.

Bat Out Of Hell came out just as the Satanism scare was beginning, and the real-life modern witch-hunters went to absurd lengths to claim that there was a terrible Satanic conspiracy to corrupt American youth. Dungeons and Dragons was supposed to include real spells and was turning young people to crime, sex, and suicide. I’ve friends who were into it, and that very definitely wasn’t the case. D&D was an imaginary Tolkienesque world of goblins, orcs, giants and wizards, but these were the staple characters of children’s fantasy. For the vast majority of youngsters, it was just a great way to spend a couple of evening with your friends. Rock music was particularly singled out for condemnation. Now there are metal bands, which I think genuinely are aggressively anti-Christian. But for many, it’s just theatre, as Satanic as a Hammer Horror flick. Bat Out Of Hell got some of this, because the album cover showed a motorcycle erupting out of a grave watched by a demon. This was occult imagery. It is, but again, it’s fantasy occult imagery. You could and can see pretty much the same kind of imagery on any genre horror, fantasy or sword and sorcery paperback. And there’s absolutely no mention of the occult or the Devil in the track itself. I bought the sheet music awhile ago and I’ve played it. What it tells me is that Meat Loaf liked the dark imagery of rock, and had a taste for awesome motorbikes. As for groups labelled Satanic, back in the ’90s the accusation was levelled at the American band Ossuary. Or it was until they issued a statement explaining that they were all good children of the Roman Catholic church, and their songs attacked the preachers who were bringing the church into disrepute. Then someone had the idea of checking with their parish priest, who confirmed what they said.

But to me, one of the most memorable of Meat Loaf’s appearances on British TV was when he outwitted Clive Anderson. Anderson had his own chat show, Clive Anderson Talks Back, in which he made light banter poking fun at his guests. Sometimes he went too far, and offended them. He did that to the Bee Gees. There’s a clip of them walking off, one by one, after he told them their music was rubbish. Anderson was left with his mouth hanging open, looking pleadingly at them. Finally only one was left, and as he turned to go, Anderson said to him, ‘You’re not going as well, are you?’ ‘Sorry,’ the pop musician replied, ‘but I don’t do lone interviews.’ That never happened to Meat Loaf, but he did think of a getting a few chuckles from his name. ‘What should I call you – Meat? Mr Loaf? What do your children call you?’ Meat Loaf had answer to that: ‘Mostly they call me ‘Dad’.’ as Jazz Club would say on the Fast Show ‘Grrreat.’

Farewell, Big Guy. You will be missed, and rock is poorer without you.

The sheet music for the album Bat Out Of Hell, which was written and composed by Steinman, arranged for piano with guitar tablature and lyrics, has been published by International Music Publications Ltd. Apart from the title track, it has ‘You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night), Heaven Can Wait, All Revved Up With No place to Go, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, Paradise by Dashboard Light and For Crying Out Loud’.

The cover image was dreamed up by Steinman, and painted by fantasy artist and comics legend Richard Corben.

Way back in the ’90s there was a slew of tribute bands – the Bootleg Beatles, Elton Jack and so on. Meat Loaf did not escape. His was called ‘Fat Out Of Hell’.

May he, like Elvis, keep ’em rocking.

Children’s Literature and Non-Binary Indoctrination

January 19, 2022

One of the issues that concerns the opponents of the trans ideology is the massive expansion of the number of people identifying as trans or non-binary. Before the emergence of the trans craze a few years ago, there were relatively few trans people coming forward each year for treatment and these were mainly men. Now the number has dramatically increased and the majority of those now identifying as members of the opposite sex are young women. For writers and researchers like Abigail Shrier, this indicates that this is not a natural development but a social phenomenon, comparable to the growth of anorexia amongst girls and young women in the 1970s.

At the same time the number of young Americans declaring themselves to be gay has also expanded. Whereas the number of gay people in a population across the world was about 6 per cent, 3 per cent gay men, 3 per cent lesbian women, it’s now increased in the younger generation to 30 per cent. The gay American Conservative YouTuber, Matt Walsh, and Arielle Scarcella, a lesbian critic of the trans ideology on YouTube, have made videos about this. Walsh put it down to the ideological promotion of gayness by the woke, while Scarcella in her video considered that it was due to a massive mental health crisis amongst America’s kids. I think this is quite likely. The present generation of young people are facing worse lives and lower living conditions than their parents due to the Thatcherism and Reaganomics the previous generations embraced. The welfare net is being destroyed, right to work legislation in America has decimated the unions as has similar legislation over here, wages have stagnated while the cost of living is rising. Youngsters are encouraged to go for a college education, but the fees and costs are now exorbitant so that many will be saddled with debt for life. When I was at Bristol uni doing the Ph.D. ten years ago, i heard of American students saying that because of the money they were spending on their education, they would never be able to own property. Thatcher sold Brits the dream of owning their own homes when she sold off the council houses. That dream has turned sour, so that there is a massive housing crisis, not least due to the prohibition on building further council housing and a lack of genuine affordable housing. The pressures of the Covid lockdown, the isolation it has caused as well as job insecurity and further poverty, as the furlough cut incomes to 80 per cent of what they were and people are naturally worried about whether their jobs and businesses will survive, has increased this pressure. It’s no surprise that the medical authorities in Britain are reporting an alarming increase in anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

It also seems to me to be quite likely that these pressures might lead some people to obsess over their sexuality, especially if gayness is presented as a positive, attractive identity. One of the gay critics of the trans movement a while ago commented on the adoption of the ‘queer’ identity by straight people. He felt that it was being taken up by them, even though they weren’t really gay, because they were allies and wanted to be part of the LGBTQ community. I wonder if something similar is going on with the people, who now identify of gay. In some parts of contemporary popular culture, gay people are depicted as virtuous victims of straight persecution. See the Batwoman tv series, for example, and the type of ‘SJW’ comics denounced by right-wingers like Ethan van Sciver of Comicsgate infamy. The positive depiction of gays in comics and popular culture in itself isn’t unreasonable. It’s no doubt much better now, but I remember the vicious homophobia of the 1980s. I am also not suggesting that people can choose the sexuality. What I am suggesting is that, in the absence of other ways to express their pain and distress, some young people may become convinced they’re gay as that’s the only way to respond to the terrible pressures put on them. It’s the only way they feel they can respond to their sense of persecution by a hostile, social and economic environment.

But I also believe that ideological indoctrination also plays a part. James Lindsay has shown that the Queer Theory underpinning the modern trans movement is not about helping gay and trans people deal with their problems or find a place in existing bourgeois capitalist society. Rather it’s about increasing their mental problems in order to create unstable, angry personalities susceptible to radical Marxist indoctrination. And even if this is not the aim, popular culture does seem to be playing a part.

Clive Simpson is a gay, anti-trans YouTuber. He posted a disturbing video a few days ago about a little American girl, Chloe, who has now decided that she’s non-binary and wishes to be known as Clarke, with the corresponding changes in gender expression. This came after her mother was reading a book to her, which was intended to explain non-binary people. It said that some people are boys, some are girls, and some don’t believe they’re either boys or girls. The child said that was her, and that was how she felt.

Simpson cites a medical paper on the development of children’s sexual identities. It states that they usually develop it by age three, but it may not become fixed until they are seven. So some children’s gender identity is rather fluid until it naturally settles down. The book the mother was reading from was aimed at 4-8 year olds.

If the paper is correct, then the mother may have intentionally done immense harm to her daughter’s psycho-sexual development. What might have been merely a passing phase that many children go through has now been turned into a permanent identity, with the sense of alienation from society and one’s own biology this may bring.

I can understand the mother wishing to teach her daughter the same liberal values she holds, but it appears from this that teaching children about such issues so young may harm the child’s own psychology.

It would be much better if this was left later to an age when the child could understand it without it undermining their own gender identity.

History Debunked Questions Johnson’s Britishness

January 12, 2022

Oh ho! This is very amusing. The Tory party has always positioned itself, at least since the 19th century, as the party of Britishness. If you listen to its supporters and propaganda, it’s the party of the British constitution and the union, protecting our ancient liberties and defending our great nation from plots and attacks by evil foreigners. Historically this largely meant the French, but today means the EU and Scots Nationalists. Under Maggie Thatcher this nationalism became particularly shrill. The 1987 Tory election broadcast showed Spitfires zooming about the sky while an excited voice told us that ‘We were born free. It’s our fundamental right’ and ended with ‘It’s great, to be great again!’ Political theorists who’ve read, or at least heard of Rousseau could correct the first statement. At the beginning of his book, The Social Contract, which became one of the founding texts of the French Revolution, Rousseau said: ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains.’ Which is probably not something Thatcher wanted said about her government. As for being ‘great again’, this was the period when Thatcher was selling our state industries off to foreign investors, destroying trade unions, cutting unemployment and other welfare benefits and trying to find ways to get people to take out private medical insurance instead of relying on the NHS. She would have liked to have privatised that, but was prevented by a massive cabinet rebellion. At the same time she was using her ‘strong state’ against striking miners and anyone else she thought was an evil Commie subversive while at the same time propping up truly evil Fascist dictators abroad. Like the brute General Pinochet, responsible for the murder and torture of 30,000 people in his native Chile. The country’s present grinding poverty and crumbling infrastructure are all a result of her policies. The identification of the Conservative party with Britishness was so loud and crass that, reviewing the election broadcast on Radio 4’s The News Quiz, the late, much-missed humourist Alan Coren referred to the planes as ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’. I also remember one of the Observer’s columnists referring to the Tories as ‘the patriotic party’.

But now aspersions have been cast on the Britishness of the Tories’ leader and current head of the country, Boris Johnson. Simon Webb of the History Debunked YouTube channel put up a piece yesterday asking ‘How British Is Boris Johnson?’ This speculated that Johnson carries on the way does because, quite simply, he isn’t really British. He was born in New York, and is of mixed Turkish and American ancestry. He is also part Jewish, which is one reason why I’m not going to put the video up here. One of the elements of the genuine anti-Semitic conspiracies is the allegation that Jews aren’t really patriotic citizens because of their international connections and foreign ancestry and relatives. They have frequently been accused of being ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ with no real connection or loyalty to the gentile peoples among which they settle. It’s a poisonous allegation that has resulted in the murder of countless innocents and encouraged the formation and growth of Fascist organisations and parties like the Nazis. The vast majority of British Jews are as British as everyone else. And before the Second World War, the vast majority of Jews wished to remain in the countries of their birth, to be accepted as patriotic fellow citizens by their gentile countrymen. It’s why the leaders of the British Jewish community during the First World War actually opposed the Balfour Declaration. They did not want the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine nor anywhere else, as it could lead to the accusation that their loyalties were divided. And they weren’t. They were, and wanted to be seen as, patriotic Brits.

But there is a kind of irony in Boris Johnson, a pukka old Etonian, and true-blue Tory being accused of not being British enough.

And I think Webb has a point, though not in the sense he means. At the heart of the right-wing ranting and suspicion about the ‘globalists’, supposedly plotting to create an evil, Satanic one-world Communist state, there’s an element of truth. Regardless of their nationality or ancestry, it appears to me that the global superrich really are forming a separate international class whose loyalty is primarily to themselves and not to the people below them, even if these people are of the same nationality. You can see that in the way the Tory grandees and those like them move their capital around the world, investing in countries on the other side of the world while making pay and conditions worse over here and cutting benefits. As far as I know, Jacob Rees-Mogg is thoroughly British in his ancestry. He also projects a caricatured, right-wing image of Britishness very much like his nickname of ‘Lord Snooty’. He also backed Brexit, which was supposed to be another patriotic gesture in which Britain took back her sovereignty.

In fact Brexit has wreaked massive harm to our economy, disastrously cutting British firms off from continental markets and suppliers. The deals we’ve made, or are trying to make, with the Americans, Australians and New Zealanders are to our disadvantage, whatever the Tory mouthpieces say to the contrary. And the response of Rees-Mogg and the superrich like him amply demonstrate where their loyalties lie. Even before Brexit, Mogg had invested in companies in the far east. And when he was urging everyone to vote to leave the EU, he was moving his own financial interests to Eire. This was to pick up on all the EU business he would otherwise have lost if they’d remained centred in Britain. Which is, to me, another example of Tory hypocrisy.

Back in the 19th century Disraeli declared in his books Coningsby and Sybil that Britain was divided into two nations, the rich and poor, who had no knowledge or connection with each other, and demanded that this should be remedied. They’ve been talking about ‘One Nation’ Toryism every since. This is done by leaders like John Major, Michael Howard, David Cameron and so on, and is supposed to show that they are from that branch of the party that still has some paternalistic regard for those below them. The same people talk, or used to talk, about ‘caring Conservativism’. This is all the while doing what Tories always do – cut benefits, wages, and employment conditions and make it easier to sack people. All while manipulating the stats to persuade people that this is actually working and that they’re somehow better off.

Tony Benn in one of his books said something about the British ruling class regarding the lower orders as indeed like a foreign nation. Thinking about the Britannia Unchained mob, he had a point. This was the book written by a group of Tory MPs, including the smirking insult to decency, Priti Patel, that said that for Britain to compete in the global market, British workers must endure the same terrible conditions and wages as those elsewhere in the world, like India. A similar view was put forward by a former Lib Dem MP for Taunton Deane in Somerset. I’ve forgotten who he was, but I do remember his appearance on the local news. Introducing him, the interviewer stated that he came from a family of colonial administrators and governors. This strongly suggests to me that, deep down, he regarded British people of all colours in the same way his family had regarded the Africans and other indigenous peoples they governed.

And going back back to the 1920s, George Bernard Shaw attacked the Tory claim that they and the rich represented Britain and her interests in his book The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism by pointing out that the rich spent much of their time and money abroad, and preferred to invest in firms in the colonies using cheap indigenous labour. And this still remains absolutely true. One of the problems with Britain’s banking system is that its investment banks are geared to putting money into commonwealth rather than domestic industries.

At a fundamental level, Boris Johnson and the rest of the Tory elite really don’t have any connection to the Brits below them. It’s not because of their ancestry. In my view, they’re the same whether they’re completely British by descent. It’s because they are part, and see themselves as part of an international industrial and political class, who move their businesses and investments from one country to another without concern for how this affects their fellow countrymen. All the while trying to deceive the rest of us by yelling about their Britishness and British values.

Johnson and the Tories aren’t British patriots, except at the crude level of repeating nationalist slogan and anti-immigrant attitudes. Ordinary Brits are foreigners to them, like the low-waged workers in other countries they also seek to exploit.

Study Finds Gaelic-Speaking Ulster Protestant Soldiers in First World War

January 7, 2022

After the fuss over Colston’s statue, with the right claiming the acquittal of the four chiefly responsible is a terrible travesty of justice that threatens British history, here’s a story about Ulster history which I hope is far more positive. A few weeks ago one of the left-wing papers – I think it may have been the Independent – reported that researchers had gone through the records of soldiers from Protestant west Belfast, who had volunteered for service before the First World War. They found that 70+ of the men were Gaelgheoir, Gaelic-speaking. The claim was made by Turas, a group set up to encourage Protestants to learn the Erse language.

This is truly amazing, if true. Irish Gaelic is a beautiful language with a long and great literature. This includes the great myths and legends of the Irish Gaels, like the Lebor Gabala, the ‘Book of Conquests’ and its stories about the ancient Celtic gods, the Tuatha de Danaan, or tribes of the earth goddess Danu. This was one of the sources 2000AD writer and creator Pat Mills drew on when for the Celtic warrior strip, ‘Slaine’, he created with his then-wife Angela, now Angela Kincaid, a successful children’s illustrator. But because of its association with Irish nationalism, there’s considerable hostility to it amongst the Ulster loyalist community. There was bitter opposition a few years ago amongst Loyalist politicos to a move by Sinn Fein to have Gaelic taught in Ulster schools. Long before that, at the time of the nationalist agitation before World War I, speaking Gaelic to a policeman could get you arrested. This opposition also led to hilarious mistakes. A little while ago Private Eye reported some Ulster politicos raised a furore against the slogan on a bus. This was in Gaelic, they claimed, as so was part of some nationalist attack on Protestant Ulster identity. In fact it was a tourist bus and the language was French.

The British did try to ban the Gaelic language along with the rest of the Gaelic culture in Ireland in the 16th and 17th century onwards as part of the long-running centuries of conflict between the Anglo-Normans and Irish. But I was taught when studying the history of European contacts with the outside world, that there was a period in the 16th and 17th century when Britain was careful not include religion as a uniform cause for hostility to the Gaels because some of the clans were Protestant. I’d be very interested indeed if any examples of Protestant literature in Gaelic has survived.

Hopefully this discovery may bring Protestants and Roman Catholics, Loyalists and Nationalists to an understanding that Irish identity and history is far more complex than generally realised. Historians and archaeologists of medieval Ireland have pointed out that Gaelic speech could extend far into the territories of the English Pale. Anglo-Norman lords often spoke Gaelic themselves, and one Gaelic bard spoke openly about is own mercenary attitude to the two ethnicities. He stated quite clearly he played and composed poems for both Gaels and Normans so long as they paid him. If he was performing for a Gaelic chieftain, he’d sing about how the Irish would ultimately be victorious and push the Anglo-Norman foreigner back into the sea. If he was performing for a Norman lord, he’d sing about how the Anglo-Normans would ultimately sweep the Gaels into the sea.

I hope this discovery will bring the people of Northern Ireland closer together, create greater respect between the two communities and show that Ulster can also be a multilingual community, speaking both English and Erse, regardless of religious affiliation.

For further information on medieval Ireland and English colonisation in the Middle Ages, see the chapters on Ireland in Medieval Frontier Societies, edited by Robert Bartlett and Angus Mackay (Oxford: Clarendon 1989).

China Reinforcing Army with War Robots Along Border with India

January 1, 2022

More robot news, but this time it’s really sinister with very grave implications not just for the Indo-Chinese region, but for the survival of the human race. Because the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has just posted military robots along the Tibet border to reinforce its human personnel.

This chilling video comes from Gravitas, part of the WION, World Is One network. I started getting their reports on YouTube on my mobile. I don’t know who WION is, but the accent and the concentration on south Asia, India, Pakistan and the surrounding countries, suggests that they’re Indian. They’re interesting, as they present the news from a different national perspective. Nearly a week ago they posted a report about a special forces unit in the American army in Syria acting as a death squad through drone strikes that also killed innocent civilians as well as soldiers. It’s the kind of news al-Jazeera reports, and gets labelled as Islamist propaganda by an outraged American right for doing so. There were calls a few years ago to ban al-Jazeera in America, and I wonder how long WION and Gravitas will go on before they’re faced with similar opposition.

According to this report, China has stationed 88 ‘Sharp Claws’ war robots and 120 ‘Mule-200’ robots along the frontier. The human soldiers had trouble adjusting to the high altitude in Tibet. The Sharp Claws are true robot weapons. They consist of a machine gun mounted on tank tracks with a camera so they can see where they’re going. At the moment they’re operated remotely by a soldier, but Beijing would like to make them autonomous. The Mule 200s are transport vehicles intended to carry supplies like ammunition. Beijing is also keen to develop other autonomous robots. The army wants to develop land-based robots, the navy robot subs and their air force intelligent drones. The Chinese government roped a number of private firms into developing them, including TenCent, Waowei, and at least three others, who were all declared robot champions. The UN is concerned about the increasing use of autonomous robots, and tried to set up an international treaty to restrict them. But this failed due to lack of support from the main countries producing them, a tactic that has worked to Beijing’s advantage.

Back in the ’90s many scientists were extremely worried about the real possibility of a robot takeover. Kevin Warwick, the robotics professor at Reading University, begins his book March of the Machines, with a description of life in 2050. The machines really have taken over. Humanity has been largely wiped out, and the remaining humans are lobotomised, neutered slaves used by the machines for work in environments they cannot operate in, and in fighting those human communities that have remained free. When one company reported they were developing war robots for real, they were met with an angry response from many leading scientists telling them not to, because it would pose a real threat to the human race. Warwick was deeply depressed at the threat, and only recovered through exploring the possibility of augmenting humanity through cyborgisation. A few months ago Panorama posted a documentary, ‘Are You Worried Yet, Human?’, about China’s use of robotics and AI to control and monitor its population. And in one test, warplanes were remotely piloted, not by humans, but by a computer. This successfully shot down a piloted warplane.

This looks all too much like the scenario behind the Terminator movies, and we’re in big trouble if someone develops something like Skynet for real. As Isaac Arthur says in a video about robot rebellion in one of his Science and Futurism videos, ‘Keep them stupid, keep them dumb, else you’re under Skynet’s thumb’. Quite.

We don’t need these machines. They are a real threat to the human race. Robots operate through machine logic and programming. They don’t have the moral judgement of humans, although there has been precious little of that shown in wars. And perhaps this is why China, a totalitarian state committing genocide against the Uighurs in Sinjiang, is using them.

If we must have war robots, let them be moral, intelligent, humanoid machines like Hammerstein of the long-running 2000AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’. A robot soldier, who fights for peace, democracy and justice against the tyrants of Earth and Mars. We need robot soldiers like him, not automatic mechanical killers, and far fewer wars and conflicts.

As Hammerstein says in the comics ‘Increase the peace’. Until we have robot warriors like him, the UN is right. Autonomous war robots need to be strictly controlled, no matter who has them.

History Debunked on the Comparative Lack of Interest in British Asian History

December 17, 2021

This is a related video to the one I put up from Simon Webb’s History Debunked this afternoon, which discussed how the Beeb had race-swapped the characters in their adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days. Phileas Fogg’s servant, Passepartout, is now Black, but the leading lady, who is Indian in the book, is now White. ‘Cause you can’t have two non-White leads apparently. Or Blacks must be given preference over Asians when it comes to casting non-White roles. In this video Webb discusses the case of Hsien Fan Sun, a Chinese gent who worked as a librarian at the court of James II. If Sun had been Black, then knowledge of him would have been promoted as it has been about Mary Seacole and John Blank, the Black trumpeter at the Tudor court. But he isn’t, because he’s Chinese. It’s another example of how, to Webb, diversity means primarily Black people. Which left me wondering why this should be so.

Racism to and Enslavement of Asian Indentured Workers

Asians have suffered their share of western racism and enslavement. During the infamous ‘coolie trade’, Asian workers from India and China were recruited as indentured labourers to work on plantations in the Caribbean, Fiji and elsewhere to replace the Black slaves, who had been emancipated. They worked in horrendous conditions, which in many cases were worse than those endured by the Black slaves. The system was widely denounced by Indian nationalists and humanitarians, including the Anglican Church and leading politicos, as ‘A New System of Slavery’. Which is the title of an excellent book on it by Hugh Tinker, published by one of the Indian presses. There were riots against the coolie trade in India and China, and the British authorities were also keen to stamp out the enslavement of Asians. The Indian police raided warehouses where Indians were being forcibly confined after they had been kidnapped, or tricked into signing indenture papers. It was such a scandal that the government issued a series of regulations demanding that Asian labourers should have access to an interpreter and understand the terms and conditions of the contract, that there should be a minimum level of acceptable living conditions aboard ships, children should be with women rather than left with the men, and a minimum number of women should emigrate with the male workers. There should also be opportunities for correspondence home and the remittance of money. I think the Britiish government first discussed the recruitment of the Chinese in particular in 1816 or so. They wanted replacements for the Black slaves, and the Chinese were decided upon because they were hardworking and less likely to complain or rebel. The prejudice against Chinese workers continued into the 20th century, when the early Labour party at one meeting denounced the government’s ‘Chinese slavery’ and put up a picture of a Chinese man. There were anti-Chinese riots in 1909, although this was caused by British firms sacking their White employees and replacing them with Chinese during an industrial dispute.

The Asian Presence in British and European History

There isn’t a total lack of interest in the Asian presence in British history. The book Under the Imperial Carpet, whose editors were Asian, also discussed Asian British history. Before the present set of ethnic minority MPs were elected in the ’70s and ’80s, Britain had BAME MPs. Webb put up a video about an Indian rajah, who became a Conservative MP in the 19th century. Other Asians became Liberal and even Communist MPs later in the early 20th. I’m not entirely surprised by the presence of Sun at James II’s court. This was the age when Europe was expanding, not just across the Atlantic, but also into Asia. The Jesuits were establishing missions in China, and scientific and technical knowledge flowed back and forth. I think the Chinese were impressed by European clockmaking, while Europeans were impressed by the Chinese skill at making automatons. By the following century upper class Europeans were consuming tea, Chinese porcelain, decorating their homes with wallpaper and furniture with Chinese art and motifs. Chinese literature was also being translated into European languages. The great religious sceptic, David Hume, read at least one Chinese novel. What impressed him was not how different it was, but how it was comprehensible, given the difference between Chinese and European culture.

Asian Stars on British Television

There are and have been Asian actors and presenters on British TV. I’ve mentioned Anita Rani, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Adil Ray in my previous post. But before them there was David Yip way back in the ’70s, who starred as The Chinese Detective. Dino Shafeek and Andy Ho appeared as the Indian and Burmese staff in the comedy It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum. The classical Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar gained widespread popularity among the Hippy crowd through his friendship with Beatle George Harrison. He’s said since that this wasn’t altogether beneficial, as you should approach classical Indian music with the same attitude you approach western classical music, rather than listen to it like pop. And were any number of western groups taking over oriental instruments, like sitars, and rhythms. This in turn led to the rise of World Music, a genre that encompasses music and its performers from across continents, and which includes both traditional and more modern forms.

And there is an interest in recovering an Asian, as well as Black British past. The Black rights and history organisation with whom I briefly corresponded when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was the Black and Asian Studies Association. Researchers on Islam in Britain, when I was studying the religion at College in the 1980s, were particularly interested in the discovery of tombs with inscription in Arabic dating from the 17th century in Yorkshire. A more recent programme on the Barbary Pirates on Radio 4 in the early part of this century suggested instead that they may have been the graves of indigenous White Brits, who had been captured by the north African pirates and forcibly converted to Islam before either escaping or being ransomed. And a year or so ago there was a programme on Radio 3 about the Muslim servant of one of the ministers responsible for carrying through the Reformation over here. There have also been history books written about ‘The Muslim Discovery of Europe’. With the rise of capitalism, the stock exchange and the nascent consumer culture in the 18th century came popular ballads celebrating how people of all races and creeds, Jew, Christian and Turk, were all united in the peaceful work of making money. I don’t think there’s any shortage of material. My great-grandfather was a docker, and I can remember my grandmother telling me about the lascar and Chinese sailors that came into Bristol docks. But in general Webb is right: as a rule diversity means Blacks rather than Asians. Why is this?

Blacks More Determined than Asians to Be A Part of Mainstream British Culture?

I think some of it may be that Blacks have a greater determination to be a conspicuous part of western culture than Asians. Blacks have certainly formed a large part of the British and American entertainment industries since White youth started tuning into Jazz in the 1920s. There were Black screen actors, although quite often the roles they were given were demeaning before Sidney Poitier revolutionised the portrayal of Blacks on screen, paving the way for contemporary Black leading men. But then, so did Bruce Lee and stars of Chinese martial arts cinema like Jackie Chan and Jet Li. And some of us still remember the TV adaptations of the Chinese classics The Water Margin and Monkey, the latter based on Wu Cheng-en’s epic novel.

I wonder if some of it may be that some Asian cultures are more inward looking, and likely to look more toward their homelands and its culture for their roots and identity than Britain. Please note: I am certainly not suggesting that they are somehow less British than the rest of us. But I can remember coming across an academic, ethnographic study British Asians entitled The Myth of Return. This probably took its title from the initial conviction among many Asian immigrants that they were coming here only to make enough money so that they could afford to retire back to their home countries in comfort. This aspiration certainly wasn’t confined to them. Many Black West Indians also shared it, as did the Irish correspondent to the Groan whose letter began, ‘Sir, I am an Irishman, who came to Britain to make enough money to go back to Ireland again.’ In the ’70s there was a difference in integration between Muslim and Christian Pakistanis. Both groups were equally Pakistani in their culture at home, but the Christians were far more integrated into wider British culture. For example, their children mixed at school with the White children. By contrast ethnographers found that the Muslims took their children straight to school and straight back, and really didn’t allow them to share the same afterschool activities as their White classmates. This might explain why there were Islamist segregationists, who wanted there to be self-governing Muslim enclaves in Britain and Belgium, with Arabic as the official language, governed by shariah law. I hasten to add that things are rather different now. There was a Big Iftar around the country, a giant feast marking the end of Ramadan, celebrated by the Muslim community, who also invited their non-Muslim neighbours to partake. And polls have shown that only five percent of British Muslims want shariah law. But I think the Asian community may be more likely to get their entertainment from their ancestral countries through the Internet, satellite TV and video and DVD.

Asians More Culturally Confident?

I also wonder if part of the answer is that Asians, and specifically Indians and Chinese, may be more culturally confident than western Blacks. India and China were highly advanced, literate civilisations with histories going back millennia. A glance through books on the history of inventions and mathematics shows any number of works and innovations by Arab, Persian, Indian and Chinese scholars. The first instance of plastic surgery, for example, comes from 8-9th century India, when one of the leading surgeons repaired the nose of a Indian princes. Muslim mathematicians and scientists studied astronomy, alchemy, medicine. And the Chinese had printing – though not with movable type, that was definitely Gutenberg’s invention – gunpowder, rockets, paper money and toilet paper, to name but a few. Sometimes this cultural confidence has formed the basis for humour. One of the characters on Goodness, Gracious Me – or was it the Kumars at No. 42? was a father, who was excessively proud of his home country’s achievements. He shouted out ‘India!’ every time various inventions were mentioned. I also remember one episode of Lovejoy in which the dodgy antique dealer was in negotiations with a Hong Kong businessman. This man was also conscious of how his country had led the world in science and invention for centuries, to the point where he believed the Chinese had more or less invented everything. At one point this is too much for his interpreter, who says to him, ‘Oh no, Mr -, I don’t think we invented motorcycles’.

Black African Cultures Less Well-Known and Admired

This is in contrast to Africa, whose great civilisations and monuments are less appreciated. Ancient Egypt has been claimed as Black civilisation by the Afro-Centrists, but this is controversial and they could well be wrong. Nubia and Meroe in what is now the Sudan died out centuries ago. Christian Nubia was conquered by the Muslims. It’s predecessors in the Sudan unfortunately spoke languages that are now extinct. The Nubians took over the culture and alphabet of the Ancient Egyptians. Frustratingly, we can read their inscriptions but have no idea what they mean until the appearance of a Rosetta Stone that will give us the key to translating them. Abyssinia was a literate, Christian empire while the Kiswahili were also an advanced Islamic civilisation. As was Mali and other states in northwest Africa. But I think these have been seen as the exceptions rather than the rule. Although many of the civilisations of north and Saharan Africa were capable of building large structures, like house and mosques from mud brick, I suspect the popular image of Africa remains that of mud huts. And until the introduction of Islam and Christianity on the continent, many of these peoples were illiterate. The result has been that the attitude of many western scholars towards African civilisation was wholly negative. The book Colour and Colour Prejudice, by the last British governor of Ghana, has page after page of quotes from various western scholars, almost all of whom declare that African culture is worthless and that the continent’s people have discovered nothing. Obvious this has been and is being challenged by Black activists and scholars.

Blacks and Affirmative Action

Much of the promotion of Blacks as a specific group has come from concern at the poor conditions of the Black community in America and Britain. Other groups have also suffered racism. I can remember one of my uncles telling me with disgust about the horrible ‘jokes’ the other White workers played on an Indian comrade. As a rule, I think Blacks are at the bottom of the racial hierarchy when it comes to academic performance and employment. Above them, but still disadvantaged, are Muslims. Indians are about the same level as Whites, or just below, while Chinese actually outperform us. Black history as a specific subject in schools is being promoted as the solution to the problems of the Black community. If Black people were aware of their achievements and presence in American and British history, then they would develop the self-respect and confidence to perform better at school, and challenge the racism that still sees them as outsiders and foreigners. Unfortunately, this has led to Black activists claiming the credit for Blacks for scientific achievements that came from others. I think the entertainment industry is part of this drive for Black empowerment too. I have a feeling that some of roles created for Black performers are intended to provide positive images of Blacks as just as urbane and middle class as everyone else. Or proper, respectable working class. I’ve no doubt its done to challenge the negative racist stereotypes Whites may hold, while at the same time hold up positive role models to the Black community. To show that Black people also live in families with fathers, where the parents are respectable, upstanding citizens who work to support their children and give them the best life they can. I’m not aware that family breakdown is the same issue in Asian communities as it is amongst Blacks and the White poor, so some of the issues that have led to a specific emphasis on Blacks in diversity may simply not be as pressing. It thus seems to me that, in general, Asians may be so much more confident in their culture that they don’t see the same urgency in establishing and insisting on their historic presence in Europe.

Blacks More Vociferous and Forceful in Attacking Racism

I also think it may also come from Blacks complaining the most forcefully about racism. One of the key events in the introduction of positive discrimination in Britain were the 1980s/81 race riots, where Black communities in Bristol, Brixton in London and Toxteth erupted in rioting. It led to various official reports, which recommended affirmative action programmes to give greater opportunities to Blacks, as was being done at the same time in America. There have been protests in the Asian community, and interethnic violence between Asians and Whites, along with Asian anti-racist activism. But I don’t recall the Asians rioting in the same way Black Brits did. And the protests held by Britain’s Muslims seem to be about specifically Islamic issues, like the publication of the Satanic Verses, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and general Islamophobia, rather than issues like employment or education although those have also been present. As a result, I think it’s probably true that Asians are less represented than Blacks in moves for ethnic diversity, although it should be stressed that they aren’t completely absent.

But these are just my ideas based on my own impressions. I may be wrong, and there may be other factors involved. I’d be interested to know what others think about it.

As an example of a TV series with an Asian leading man, here’s the titles to the Chinese Detective, starring David Yip, which I found on Robert Telfer’s channel on YouTube. Since then we’ve had Luther, starring the awesome Idris Elba as a Black detective. I like Elba – I think he’s a great actor, who could easily play Bond. I haven’t watched Luther, however, as the crimes he investigates all seem too grim and ‘orrible, like the serial killers tracked by Linda La Plante’s heroines. But perhaps it might be time once again for an Asian detective.

Six Robot Animals from Festo Robotics

December 17, 2021

Here’s another fascinating little video about robots. It’s not just humanoid robots that the cybernetics companies are developing, quite apart from the machines that aren’t intended to resemble people, like the industrial robotic arms. They’ve also been developing robot animals. Boston Robotics did it with their ‘Big Dog’ robots, which were intended as carriers for the American army. The project eventually failed because the noise from the machines’ electric motors would have been too loud for the stealth needed on combat missions. The machines, however, do strongly resemble dogs. Festo Robotics have taken this further and developed robotic versions of various animals, as this video from Inventions World on YouTube shows. The machines are a flying fox; jellyfish; a wheelbot, that can curl up and roll along before uncurling itself to walk on crab-like feet, somewhat like the robots that Obi Wan Kenobi and his teacher first encounter aboard the Trade Federation’s craft in the first Star Wars prequel, the Phantom Menace; a bird; butterflies; and a kangaroo. Well, actually the last one is more like a wallaby. It’s not as large as an Australian kangaroo. But this one clearly has some intelligence, as the video shows a young woman telling it turn round and move to a different place by pointing. I think she’s able to control it through a device wrapped around one of her arms.

These are amazing machines, beautiful and graceful. I wonder what a whole ecology of such robots would be like. There have been attempts to depict such an environment. There was a short-lived strip in 2000 AD, ‘Metalzoic’, set in the far future when humanity had been ousted as the dominant creature on Earth by robots with the ability to reproduce. There was thus a whole ecology of robot animals, and the strip followed the adventures of a group of robot cave people as they sought out the God-Beast, a robot mammoth which contained the master programme controlling this mechanical world. And a few years before that, Valiant ran a story in their ‘Spider’ strip, in which the brooding genius and his minions were forced into fighting another evil genius, who had created his own synthetic robotic environment on his secret island. ‘The Spider’ was a British strip that had zilch to do with Marvel’s Spiderman. According to the Bronze Age of Blogs, now sadly closed down, ‘The Spider’ was a criminal mastermind, who had decided to fight other criminals because they were too stupid or otherwise beneath him. You wouldn’t know it from reading the strip, as until art robot Kevin O’Neil introduced it in 2000 AD, artists, writers and letterers weren’t credited in British comics, but the writer on the strip was Joe Siegel, one of the co-creators of Superman! These machines would also have delighted the Futurists, although I fear they had a darker, more violent purpose for them. One of their manifestoes called for the creation of biomechanical animals to train boys in war. I’d rather have such creatures made for the sheer delight of their invention and their graceful beauty. The bird in particular reminds me of one of the characters in M. John Harrison’s science fantasy novel, The Pastel City, who makes robot birds. As a result, his castle is surround by flocks of them. Perhaps as the technology advances we might expect similar robots along with the other robotic toys now available.

Cartoonist Kayfabe Look at the Art and Career of ‘American Hero’ Steve Ditko

December 10, 2021

More comics stuff, and a rather longer video than usual at 1hr 9minutes, but the subject deserves it. Steve Ditko is one of the great, legendary figures of American comics. He’s probably best known for creating Spiderman and the occult hero Dr. Strange with Stan ‘the Man’ Lee for Marvel. But as this video shows, Ditko worked for many other American comics companies – DC, Charlton, Dale and EC among them as well as self-publishing his personal works. In the video, the Kayfabers Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg go through the volume Ditko Unleashed: An American Hero, which accompanied an exhibition of the great man’s work. The book’s bilingual in English and Spanish, which suggests that the exhibition may have been in Spain. The volume not only describes Ditko’s career, but gives plentiful illustrations of his art.

Ditko, like Kirby, came from a blue-collar, working class background. He went into art school to study cartooning, as he wanted to be a comics artist. His career was uneven, working for a number of different publishers and in a variety of different genres – monster, science fiction, horror as well as the superheroes for which is he is best known. He also worked with some of the great names in American comics. At times he inked the awesome Jack Kirby, at other times he was inked by Frank Miller, the artist and writer chiefly responsible for turning Daredevil into one of Marvel’s leading heroes. I think he may also have been inked by John Byrne, one of the major artists behind the New X-Men. He was admired by many of these new artists. The epic Jim Starlin, in one edition of his Warlock comic, ‘One Thousand Clowns’, dedicated it to Ditko for showing us a new reality. Starlin’s art was rather more naturalistic, but he also used the same floating paths and mystic portals in his work. He also went through several hard times in his career. At one point he moved away to New York to recover from tuberculosis, then, as in Britain, a major killer. There were also years when he struggled, as many others did, to get work. He also worked on a number of merchandising tie-ins, like Micronauts and Rom: the SpaceKnight, which were intended to promote toy figures. I read the comics, which were excellent without having any interest in buying the toys, which might indicate they were too successful. Like the adverts for Cinzano Bianco wine with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. Everyone enjoyed them and they’re still fondly remembered by peeps of a certain vintage, but the people watching the ads couldn’t remember the brand of booze and so didn’t buy it. Ditko, like Kirby, broke off from Marvel for a time, before he returned, working on the above tie-ins along with the robotic superhero Machine Man.

Ditko, Politics and Morality

Unlike Stan Lee, who was a liberal, Ditko was very Conservative, a follower of Objectivism, the philosophy of supercapitalist ideologue Ayn Rand. He also had very black and white views on morality, which were expressed in his personal creations, Mr. A and The Question. He believed that heroes should be heroes, their morals pure and uncompromised. True to his ideals, he turned down work when the characters he was being asked to depict didn’t live up to them. A few years ago Jonathan Ross made a documentary for BBC 4 or one of the other channels searching for Ditko. One of those interviewed was Brit comics titan Alan Moore, who described meeting Ditko at Ditko’s home. He says that Ditko had a very narrow, inflexible view of morality, telling Moore, like one of his characters, that there were only two ways, a right way and a wrong way. Ditko’s politics are very definitely not mine, and I’m very much aware that in the real world, things are very often never a case of black and white but more shades or grey and motives can be less pure than we’d like. But after the comics industry went through a phase in which they tried to make their heroes darker – Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the foremost – and it was difficult telling the heroes from the villains, it’s refreshing to have someone who believes in old fashioned heroics.

The Kayfabers believe that if he were working today, Ditko would be cancelled or at least severely annoy and alienate 50 per cent of his audience. I think the first is certainly true. There has always been a left-wing message in American comics and an awareness of social issues. In the late 1960s into the 1970s both Marvel and DC tackled issues like racism and the rise of the feminist movement. As a response to the latter, Marvel created the Valkyrie, original a woman scientist who revolted against the patriarchy after having the credit for her discoveries stolen by her male colleagues. The Hulk comic also questioned American militarism, while Captain America, in disgust at Watergate and the contemporary corruption of American politics, renounced his patriotic monicker to become Nomad. Of course it wasn’t long before he rediscovered his faith in the rightness of the American way and put his uniform back on. However, Lee has also said in an interview that he was careful not to make the message too shrill so that it alienated readers that didn’t share his politics. Now many Conservative and moderate left comics creators and fans believe that in many strips, the political message has become too overt at the expense of traditional qualities like plotting, characterisation, dialogue and sheer fantasy. This was the motive behind Comicsgate a few years ago, when a number of comics creators, like Ethan van Sciver, broke away from the main comics companies of DC and Marvel to set up on their own.

Heroism and Its Absence in Modern Genre Film and Literature

One of the problems Az of Heels vs. Babyface and The Critical Drinker is that many of today’s pop culture heroes actually don’t act like heroes. For example, in one episode of Batwoman reviewed by Az, he comments critically on the way Batwoman treats the villain, a woman who has murdered several innocents. When Batwoman confronts her, she tells Batwoman that she’s killed so many people out of rage at her persecution as a lesbian. As a result, Batwoman, a lesbian herself, lets her go. This is simply immoral. The persecution of otherwise perfectly decent people because they’re attracted to the opposite sex is wrong, but it doesn’t justify the murder of innocents. Whatever political views real policemen and women have, they still have to act impartially and arrest those, who break the law and especially those who commit terrible crimes like mass murder.

The Critical Drinker put up a whole video about the failure of contemporary SF heroes to live up to the standards of true heroism with the latest Star Trek iterations as a case in point. He contrasted these were the high standards of professionalism demanded of the captain and crew in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation. In that series, the characters knew the importance of duty and respecting the command hierarchy even if they disagreed with it. At the same time, Picard and the other senior officers demanded and got the best from their crew. Several of the episodes involved leading characters learning the difficulties of command. There is one episode where one of the characters is training for promotion. Part this training involves trying to find ways to prevent a warp core breach that will destroy the Enterprise. The problem is insolvable until nearly every option has been tried except the one the prospective leader has been consciously trying to avoid: they have to send Jordi into the warp core to fix it, a command which will result in his death. But it’s unavoidable, and both characters know their duty is to their ship. The would-be commander has to give the order, which Jordi calmly accepts. And a hard lesson is learned. Instead, the crew of the new Trek franchises are grossly unprofessional. They bicker over there personal relationships in front of a superior officer, react badly to the stressful conditions they should, as crew aboard a quasi-military spacecraft, be trained to deal with and try to undermine their superior officers. Case in point: one sequence where Kirk and Spock attempt to beat the living daylights out of each other. Yeah, I’m aware that it happened in an episode or two of the original Trek, like the classic ‘Amok Time’, but there were extenuating circumstances. I like Star Trek and have got a couple of the recent Trek films on DVD. But I think the Drinker has a point, even if it comes from a jaundiced, booze-soaked mind. I think we need a few more heroes who are genuinely heroic in the old fashioned sense, even if the social views they hold may be those of the left.

Stylistic Strong Points

But Ditko’s own career also had its contradictions. At one point he was working on BDSM/ fetish comics, and there were certainly questions raised about the spectacular and surreal effects in several of his strips. Many of his characters, like Dr Strange, enter strange realms in which roads float apparently in mid-air, and doors and portals appear leading to elsewhere, like the mobile holes in many a cartoon strip. Strange shoots beams of light and conjures up strange geometrical figures in his incantations. These effects resemble the entoptic imagery seen when people start to hallucinate after using mind-altering drugs. Which led to the obvious question: was Ditko also on ’em. Ditko was too straitlaced to use recreational chemicals, and answered ‘No’. It all came from within, from his own unaided imagination. Which says to me that Ditko had an awesome imagination on his own, and that the really great, creative people don’t need drugs.

I can’t say that I was ever a fan of Ditko, as his artistic style with Marvel seemed rather too simple. I really admired those artists who were rather less stylised and more detailed and naturalistic. Nevertheless, this video shows that Ditko was a master of his art. The Kayfabers point out that he’s great at cityscapes and portraying fluid action sequences in which the characters are constantly in motion. In some of the strips, Ditko also used colour washes to enhance his line art, and the result is stunning. There are also a couple of strips where Ditko’s inkers were beginning to use computers to add inks and colour to his pencils, which are also very striking.

The Kayfabers also think that some of the pictures come from the private collections of people who acquired them less than legally. There is a black market in comics art, and Ditko was a victim along with many others. They won’t name names, of course, because they don’t want to get writs from m’learned friends. But they also state they’re just glad that someone, somewhere has preserved these pictures that would otherwise have been lost. Ditko also suffered into inadvertently giving people his autograph, thus cheating himself of money. He didn’t give autographs. However, if someone wrote to him asking for his autograph, they’d get a polite reply for Ditko saying ‘No’. Which he’d sign. People cottoned on to this, and exploited it.

Comics and Other Genre Artists True Artistic Innovators Deserving Academic Respect

The Kayfabers also lament that Ditko and that other American comics legend, Jack Kirby, weren’t more articulate. If they had been able to use the kind of language critics and intellectuals use about art, they could easily have been up there with Warhol and the Factory. But they were working artists, who had to grind out their strips to make a buck, and so didn’t have time to mix with people in art galleries. I completely agree. It’s been my opinion for a very long time that the truly great, innovative art exploring new visions, directions and tools is that of the space, science fiction and fantasy artists, including book illustrators and comics artists. And there are others who feel the same. I can remember watching one video about comics, in which one of the speakers said he felt angry seeing the work of artists hung in art galleries, who had based their work on comic artists. He felt that the original comics artists should have got the money and their work hung instead. Way back in the ’90s I tried to get one of the art magazines to accept an article in which I argued this point, and showed the stylistic similarities between respect fine artists like H.R. Giger and those of the Soviet austere school and such comics greats as Kirby and the British master of aliens, robots and the grotesque, Kevin O’Neil. Unfortunately, it was turned down because it would have been too expensive to run. But the point remains. And it'[s shown in Ditko’s art. There’s a panel in which the exhibition shows a clear influence on one of Ditko’s weird geometrical designs in a portal in Dr. Strange with a painting from the Russian avant-garde artist Vassily Kandinsky. The two debate whether there is a genuine influence there, before concluding that their probably is. I can easily believe it. Many comics artists have their own heroes and influences in fine art as well as other great illustrators of the past. Way back at the comics festival UKCAC ’90 I remember going to a talk by Charles Vess, who talked about the great artists and illustrators he admired. I can well believe that Ditko absorbed and incorporated ideas from fine art as well as cartooning and illustration, and that his own work pushed these ideas forward into new directions.

The book goes up to 2016, nearly the end of Ditko’s life. He died only a few years ago. Wossy in his quest to find the great man managed to track him down to an advertising agency in the Big Apple. Ditko agreed to meet Woss and the other host, but it all had to be off-camera. The programme concluded with Wossy stating that when they met Ditko he was very sweet, gave them lots of copies of his work, but they couldn’t repeat what he said to them. And so walked off into the New York crowd.

Well, RIP Steve Ditko, one of the greats of American founders. The book and the video by the Kayfabers are a great overview of one of the creators of some of the most iconic modern American superheroes.

Cartoonist Kayfabe on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ‘Panic Fables’

December 8, 2021

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a Chilean-French film director and comics creator. He was responsible for a number of very bizarre Surrealist films, such as Holy Mountain, one of which features a battle between the Incas and invading conquistadors as enacted by frogs in period costumes. In the 1970s he tried to make a film version of Frank Herbert’s classic Dune, which would have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, his son, Brontis, as Paul Atreides, and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha. Concept art was by H.R. Giger, Salvador Dali, Chris Foss and legendary French comics artist, Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud. Dali would also have played the Emperor of the Universe. However, the great Surrealist stipulated that he would only act for half an hour. So Jodorowsky planned to make a robotic Dali to play the Emperor for the rest of the film. The film was, however, abandoned when the producers stopped funding due to mounting costs. Jodorowsky and Moebius weren’t dismayed, and used the material they had already produced for the film as the basis for their comic book, The Incal. Although it was never made, Jodorowsky’s Dune has influenced a number of later SF movies and a film version of The Incal is now underway.

In this video, hosts Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg look through Panic Fables, produced when Jodorowsky was living in Mexico. Jodorowsky had been teaching mime at university, but was now blacklisted. He could no longer teach or make films. He therefore turned his creative talents into comics. Panic Fables describe themselves as teaching initiatory wisdom. This doesn’t surprise me, as I go the impression that Jodorowsky has a very strong interest in esoteric mysticism. However, this doesn’t impress one of the Kayfabers. He’s from Pittsburgh, and so when someone talks about mystic knowledge, it seems to him to be all about separating the rich from their money. The pair are nevertheless impressed by Jodorowsky’s creativity, commenting on his drawing style and unique use of colour in the strips. They also wonder what American influences may have reached Jodorowsky from north of the border, as it was published at the same time the first underground comics were beginning in America, and both Jodorowsky’s work and the undergrounds mark a radical departure from contemporary comics.

Panic Fables are obscure much less well-known than Jodorowsky’s films or his comics with Moebius, The Incal and then The Metabarons. But the video about them give an insight into his considerable creativity during this period, when the Mexican authorities were trying to close him down.

Private Eye on the Massive Failure of the Pepper Commercial Robot in Japan

December 1, 2021

I found this highly amusing little snippet in Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column in their edition for the 6-18 August 2021. It’s report from the Japan Times about a Japanese company suspending manufacture and recalling thousands of their robots due to malfunctions and poor performance. The article runs

“We have suspended production of our Pepper robot,” a spokeswoman for Softbank Group Corp told reporters in Minato (Tokyo), “the AI robot, home companion and store assistant that we first marketed in 2014. We are in discussions with our French robotics unit about potential job reductions.”

Over the past seven years, 27,000 Pepper robots have been produced, and marketed as the world’s first AI robots, but many were sacked by the companies that bought them for inappropriate behaviour. “We bought one for our flagship Edinburgh store,” said a spokesman for Margiotta grocery chain, “but fired it because it kept telling customers ‘to look in the alcohol section’ when they asked it where things were.” Funeral director Osamu Funaki bought a Pepper robot to recite sutras during ceremonies, but sacked it after repeated malfunctions, lamenting “what if it refuses to operate in the middle of a ceremony? It would be such a disaster.” A Japanese nursing home purchased three Pepper androids to lead community singalongs, but dismissed them for repeatedly breaking down.

“Pepper did a lot of harm to genuine robotics research by giving an often false impression of a bright cognitive being that could hold conversations,” Professor Noel Sharkey observed. “But it was mostly remote-controlled with a human conversing through its speakers. I’m happy to see an end to it.”

This is less the ruthlessly efficient killing machines of The Terminator franchise or the similarly murderous androids of the early Tom Baker Dr. Who story, ‘The Robots of Death’ or any number of other stories in which the machines rise up to exterminate their human masters. It isn’t like Judge Dredd’s Megacity One, where automation and the use of robots has created a 95 per cent unemployment rate. No, it’s the Sirius Cybernetics Company from the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, whose products are so uniformly terrible that the complaints division now covers the major land masses of three whole planets, as this clip from the Beeb TV series on Michael Snow’s channel on YouTube explains:

As for the robots being sacked, for comics readers of a certain age this sounds like they suffered the same fate as those poor machines that were sent down to be ripped apart by the frightening, but also frighteningly stupid demolition robot Mekquake in the ‘Robusters’ and ‘ABC Warriors’ strips in 2000 AD. Mekquake was always being frustrated at not being able to destroy the strips’ two heroes, Rojaws, a foul-mouthed sewer droid, and Hammerstein, an old war robot, who continually outwitted him. But if robots keep being manufactured with the same spectacular flaws as the Pepper robot, it probably won’t be long before someone invents a Mekquake-style machine to take care of them. Oh, by crikey, yes, as the thuggish old machine used to say!

Rojaws and Hammerstein prepare to meet Mekquake for the last time. From ABC Warriors – Return to Robusters, by Pat Mills and Clint Langley, (Rebellion: 2015, 2016).

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