Friday, 24 October 2014

Cumhuriyet

Cumhuriyet
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's latest court case against newspaper cartoonist Musa Kart began yesterday. Erdogan's lawsuit was initially dismissed, though he later appealed and Kart now faces up to nine years in prison if convicted. The charge relates to Kart's cartoon of Erdogan published in Cumhuriyet on 1st February.

Following a previous lawsuit in 2005, Kart was fined for depicting Erdogan as a cat. Erdogan has also filed lawsuits against Michael Dickinson, who portrayed him as a dog in two 2006 collages (Best In Show and Good Boy).

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Same Sky

Same Sky
Same Sky
Military and police officers have prevented the sale of three t-shirt designs at the National Book Fair in Bangkok. The t-shirts were being sold at the Same Sky journal's booth at Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, though Same Sky editor Thanapol Eawsakul was told to withdraw them from sale.

One of the shirts depicts a tree whose branches form the Thai words 'absolute monarchy' and whose extensive roots form the Thai words 'constitutional monarchy'. This design was previously used as the cover illustration for an issue of Same Sky (volume 9, number 1; 2011), and that issue was also notable as it included Thai translations of some WikiLeaks cables relating to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

Another shirt depicts the logo of the Steven Spielberg film The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which has been modified with the Thai words 'The Lost World of absolute monarchy'. The third shirt features an emoticon known in Thailand as Mr Grateful, with his mouth zipped shut. (This emoticon is sometimes used to parody the emotional responses of Thai royalists.)

Same Sky has faced several previous legal problems. Thanapol was detained by the military, following the coup earlier this year. Same Sky was banned in 2005 due to its interview with Sulak Sivaraksa, though the interview was later reprinted. The journal distributed VCDs of the 'Tak Bai incident' in 2004, although Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared that the VCDs were illegal.

The three Same Sky t-shirts are not the only clothing designs banned by the military. In June this year, soldiers in Chiang Mai prevented market traders from selling t-shirts featuring an illustration of a red buffalo standing on a cockroach. (UDD supporters are sometimes dismissed as buffalos, and the Democrat Party has been nicknamed 'the cockroach party'.)

On 19th November 2010, following continued unrest after the Black May massacre, Prayuth Chan-ocha (the current Prime Minister) issued an order banning any merchandise that might cause political conflict. As a result, several vendors were arrested for selling flip-flops bearing images of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Abhisit himself had not been not consulted on the order, and he publicly criticised it; Prayuth rescinded it a week later.

Monday, 13 October 2014

More Fool Me

More Fool Me
More Fool Me: A Memoir is the third volume of Stephen Fry's autobiography, after Moab Is My Washpot and The Fry Chronicles. Moab remains one of my favourite books, and Fry is always an engaging, candid, and witty writer, though More Fool Me is surprisingly disappointing.

The Fry Chronicles explored "the C-words that have dominated my life", from college to comedy, though More Fool Me is largely concerned with a single c-word: cocaine. Thus, there are recollections of nights at the Groucho club with Damien Hirst et al., and revelations of snorting coke at the Houses of Parliament. (Unlike Will Self, who took heroin while covering John Major's 1997 election campaign, Fry's drug habit wasn't exposed at the time.) There are moments of banality ("unexpected item in the bagging area again") and condescension ("The chances are that you have not been as lucky with the material things in life as I have"). The anecdotes are juicy, of course, though there is more gossip and less introspection than in previous volumes.

Moab Is My Washpot covered Fry's childhood and adolescence, and The Fry Chronicles dealt with his early adulthood, though More Fool Me spans only six years. It also contains substantially less new material than the previous books, as it begins with a completely un-necessary recap of the events covered in the earlier volumes, "to fill in the newcomers on the subject of La Vie Fryesque", and it ends with a long, verbatim extract from Fry's 1993 diary. The recap and diary seem too much like padding, and they take up half of the book's contents.

Friday, 10 October 2014

BFI Film Classics
Dr Strangelove

Dr Strangelove
Peter Kramer has written a BFI Film Classics book on the making of Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove. (He has also written monographs on 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange, and he co-edited Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives.)

Like Kramer's previous works, the book benefits from his research at the Stanley Kubrick Archive. Other BFI Film Classics include The Exorcist by Mark Kermode, The Birds by Camille Paglia, Citizen Kane by Laura Mulvey, Cat People by Kim Newman, Annie Hall by Peter Cowie, and Double Indemnity by Richard Schickel.

Pierrot Le Fou

Pierrot Le Fou
Bangkok's Alliance Francaise will screen Jean-Luc Godard's New Wave classic Pierrot Le Fou on 15th October. The screening seems to pre-empt the World Film Festival of Bangkok, which will show Pierrot Le Fou the following week. (Alliance Francaise last showed the film in 2010 as part of The Godard Week.)

Ugetsu

Ugetsu
Bangkok's Japan Foundation will screen Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu this evening. Ugetsu, one of the greatest of all Japanese films, was previously shown at the Foundation last year.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

1001 Movies
You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
The 2014 edition of Steven Jay Schneider's 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die has been published. Like last year's tenth anniversary edition, it's been revised by Ian Haydn Smith. After the substantial changes made last time, this year's list follows the pattern of previous editions (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), substituting only a handful of very recent films.

This year's thirteen new entries are: The Wolf Of Wall Street, Gravity, Twelve Years A Slave, A Touch Of Sin, American Hustle, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, The Great Beauty, The Act Of Killing, Wadjda, Blancanieves, and Nostalgia For The Light. The thirteen deletions are: Argo, Les Miserables, Skyfall, Bridesmaids, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Le Havre, Shame, The King's Speech, Of Gods & Men, No Country For Old Men, Little Miss Sunshine, The Departed, and Inglourious Basterds.

PDF

Comics: A Global History

Comics: A Global History
Comics: A Global History, 1968 To The Present (by Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner) is one of the few books to offer an international history of comic art. Most surveys have focused exclusively on either American comics or Japanese manga, though Comics: A Global History covers the US, Japan, and Europe. So, while it's not quite global in scope, it's more inclusive than previous books on the subject.

The authors begin their history in 1968, which they describe as "a watershed year in which a number of comics creators in Japan, America and Europe began to aggressively demonstrate that comics could be more than an ephemeral vehicle for children's entertainment". (That year marked the birth of the alternative comix movement.) The introduction summarises 1950s and 1960s comic history, a useful extension of the book's chronology.

The key artists and comics of the post-war era (Robert Crumb's Zap, Alan Moore's Watchmen, "God of Manga" Osamu Tezuka) are all included, as are the major international forms of comic art ("bande dessinee, manga, fumetti, tebeos, historietas, komiks") and their more literary sub-genres ("fumetti d'autore" and "bande dessinee romanesque"). Various manga formats and styles ("gekiga", "akahon", "kashihon", "shojo", "shonen", "seinen", "josei", and "watakushi") are explored, though the classifications are a little bewildering, as the authors recognise: "Categories diversified... The distinctions were blurry at times, and the terminology was fluid."

Aside from the major comic markets, the book also finds space for some less familiar territories, such as a brief history and taxonomy of South Korean "manhwa" (sub-divided into "ddakji", "sun-jung", and "myongnang"). Roger Sabin's Comics, Comix, & Graphic Novels and Maurice Horn's World Encyclopedia Of Comics (both of which cover the entire history of comics) are still essential reading, though Comics: A Global History is a unique international study of modern comics.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Fifty Years Of Illustration

Fifty Years Of Illustration
Fifty Years Of Illustration, by Lawrence Zeegen and Caroline Roberts, profiles influential illustrators and graphic artists since the 1960s. The five chapters all cover different decades, though the emphasis is on contemporary examples, with the final chapter (the 2000s) being twice as long as the others. (Curiously, although Zeegen and Roberts are named as co-authors on the cover and title page, the text is credited solely to Zeegen, and Roberts is merely listed as one of four picture researchers.)

Each artist has either a single-page entry or a double-page spread, with a capsule biography and examples of key works. Some notable entries include Milton Glaser (one of America's most celebrated graphic designers), Robert Crumb (the comic-strip artist who created the alternative Zap Comix), Gerald Scarfe (the Sunday Times cartoonist), Fritz Eichenberg (an engraver, and author of the excellent The Art Of The Print), and Shepard Fairey (the street artist whose Hope poster became a symbol of Barack Obama's election campaign).

While the glossy, colour photographs are impressive, the text is less substantial. Each chapter begins with an overview of the decade in design, contextualised with details of contemporaneous news events. In the final chapter, for example, we learn that "on 26 January 2001 an earthquake hit Gujarat in India killing around 20,000 people". These news summaries seem like padding, and they're irrelevant in a book about illustration.

The bibliography is another weak point: only eighteen books are listed, five of which were written by Zeegen himself. All of the works cited were published in the last two decades, thus classic texts such as A History Of Graphic Design (Philip Meggs) and History Of The Poster (Josef and Shizuko Muller-Brockmann) aren't included. Also, two children's history books are listed (!), though I have no idea why.

In his introduction, Zeegen recognises that the book's fifty-year time-frame is "a mere slice of the discipline's rich heritage". Illustration: A Visual History, by Steven Heller and Seymour Chwast (who has an entry in Fifty Years Of Illustration) covers illustration from the Victorian era onwards, and is therefore more highly recommended as an introduction to illustration. A History Of Book Illustration, by David Bland, is the most comprehensive book on the subject.

The book's publisher, Laurence King, has produced definitive histories of various artistic disciplines, including A World History Of Art, A World History Of Architecture, A History Of Interior Design, Graphic Design: A New History, History Of Modern Design, and Photography: A Cultural History. Fifty Years Of Illustration is less ambitious, though it is useful as a sourcebook of modern and contemporary illustration.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Innovators

The Innovators
The Innovators is Walter Isaacson's (potted) history of computing and the internet. Each chapter explores a particular aspect of digital technology: the computer, video games, the internet, the PC, the web, etc. (though not social media). Isaacson's focus is on the gestation and birth of each innovation, and the primary innovators responsible, rather than a comprehensive survey of every subsequent development.

Therefore, this is a book about pioneers and their inventions. They include Alan Turing (who theorised a Logical Computing Machine), Steve Russell (creator of Spacewar, the first graphical computer game), Nolan Bushnell (who popularised video games with Pong), Bill Gates (co-founder of Microsoft), Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple), Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the world wide web), and Larry Page (co-founder of Google). The book also recognises the extensive contributions made by women in what is often perceived as a male-dominated field.

Isaacson has interviewed many of the pioneers he profiles (all of the living ones, it seems), and his list of sources includes practically every major figure in digital culture. (He interviewed Steve Jobs extensively for his acclaimed biography in 2011; in The Innovators, he states plainly what he merely implied in the biography: that Jobs "filched the [GUI] concept from Xerox".) A History Of The Internet & The Digital Future, by Johnny Ryan, covers broadly the same territory as The Innovators, though Isaacson's book benefits from its author's unrivalled access to the key players involved.

The Innovators (subtitled: How A Group Of Hackers, Geniuses, & Geeks Created The Digital Revolution) might not be "the standard history of the digital revolution", as its dust jacket predicts. But it's surely the most authoritative history of the eureka moments that transformed computing.