Graphic storytelling is some of the best

I’ve been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my dad’s lap as he held the newspaper out in front of us both and got me to read sections out loud. Then he asked how my whistling practice was going as I was determined to learn to whistle like my grandad.

I would get in trouble so often for having the light on in my room, reading a book when I should be going to sleep. So I would turn the light off and hide under the covers with a torch, marvelling at the adventures of Stig of the Dump or Runaway Ralph and his toy motorbike.

As I grew older, my tastes developed, but I’ve always enjoyed Speculative Fiction the most. I went through a huge horror phase, then science-fiction and fantasy. I discovered The Lord of the Rings and The Belgariad, Ringworld and Neuromancer.

runawayralph.jpg neuromancer.jpg
Runaway Ralph by Beverley Cleary and Neuromancer by William Gibson

Then I discovered comics. For most people that have never read comics beyond the funny pages in the newspaper, the concept is one firmly entrenched with childhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the best writers today are working, at least in part, with graphic novels. And many of them are absolutely, definitely not for kids.

People like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis. These are writers of an incredible calibre and they turn out stories of such depth and complexity that it often takes the graphic medium to fully realise them.

The one that is often credited with really turning around the comic book industry and proving that comics were for adults too is Watchmen by Alan Moore (illustrated by the very talented Dave Gibbons).

Watchmen trade paperback edition

This is a book that first started as a twelve issue mini-series from DC Comics in 1986 and was subsequently collected into a graphic novel omnibus edition, usually called a trade paperback. That novel has since won a Hugo Award (the only graphic novel to have done so) and was included in Time magazine’s 100 Best English Language Novels since 1923, again the only graphic novel in that list.

Recently I got the urge to read this book again and I was again astounded at the depth of the story. Moore manages to weave together so many plotlines and devices with such ease that the story becomes far more than the sum of its parts. It is basically an alternate history of the United States, set in 1985, yet it still resonates today. It portrays superheroes as real people, with fears and neuroses, one of the first comics to tackle that angle. It really is the seminal graphic novel and if you’ve ever wondered why seemingly normal grown ups are drawn to reading comics, this will answer all your questions. I won’t say any more about the story as it’s best discovered for yourself.

There is now going to be a film made of the book, which is a horrible thought. This is a comic book and does things that only comics can do and should be left that way. Alan Moore himself:

I had to tell him [Terry Gilliam, when he was first involved with a film version] that, frankly, I didn’t think it was filmable. I didn’t design it to show off the similarities between cinema and comics, which are there, but in my opinion are fairly unremarkable. It was designed to show off the things that comics could do that cinema and literature couldn’t.

Moore has also said:

My book is a comic book. Not a movie, not a novel. A comic book. It’s been made in a certain way, and designed to be read a certain way: in an armchair, nice and cozy next to a fire, with a steaming cup of coffee.

Of course, I’ll go and see the film and I imagine I’ll be very disappointed. But it won’t spoil for me one of the greatest books ever written. Go out and give it a go yourself, then discover some of the other fantastic stories available as graphic novels. I would suggest Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Garth Ennis’s Preacher series as good places to start after Watchmen.

Unfortunate marketing typo… or is it?

A friend of mine showed me this over the weekend.


It looks, at first glance, just like a regular NSW parking ticket. These were on a bunch of cars near where my friend parked apparently. On closer inspection, after the outrage has subsided, the victim realises that it’s actually a glossy flyer for a new Sydney nightclub cunningly disguised as a parking ticket. Pretty good way to make sure it’s read, at least briefly.

Other than the irritation of more wasted paper and unsolicited advertising, it could be passed off as irrelevant and thrown away. However, something about it caught my friend’s eye. Have a closer look at the information supplied:


That’s right, you’re invited to Sydney’s Sexist Friday Night Out. Oh, what a difference an ‘e’ can make. Especially at a nightclub.

You’d think that after going to all this effort and potentially getting busted for reproducing a NSW penalty notice, the least they could do was proofread the thing. Or perhaps they did and this is not a typo, just a refreshingly honest advertisement. But I doubt it.

Definitions of the Devil

Ambrose Bierce. What a guy. Born Ambrose Gwinnet Bierce on the 24th June, 1842. There’s a name we don’t see enough of any more – Gwinnet. I must have a chat with my wife and see if we can name our first born son Gwinnet. It’ll toughen him up in school if nothing else.

Ambrose Gwinnet Bierce

Ambrose Bierce became known as Bitter Bierce and developed a powerful reputation. It was said that he could make or break a writer’s career with a single review, the strike of his pen a blessing or a deadly curse. His father was a weird soul. Ambrose was the tenth of thirteen children, all christened with a name beginning with A; Abigail, Amelia, Ann, Addison, Aurelius, Augustus, Almeda, Andrew, Albert, Ambrose, Arthur, Adelia and Aurelia (in order of birth).

He wrote short stories, many based on the horrors of war that he had witnessed, and quickly became recognised for his skill and style. His Collected Works were published in twelve volumes in 1909.

Arguably his most famous work, and certainly my favourite, was The Cynic’s Word Book. Published originally as an infrequent newspaper column, it was collected into a book for the first time in 1906. This book made up the entire seventh volume of his Collected Works and is better known as The Devil’s Dictionary. More on that in a second.

Bierce left this world in a strange way indeed. No one knows exactly how or when he left, as he vanished without a trace sometime after Xmas, 1913. In his seventies, he left Washington to tour the battlefields of the Civil War and made it as far as Chihuahua, Chihuahua. No, I didn’t type it twice for fun. Chihuahua, the town, is the capital of the Mexican state Chihuahua. Surely a dream location for Paris Hilton. A letter from there dated December 26th, 1913 is his last known missive. It would seem that there was possibly something prophetic about Bierce’s death/disappearance. In one of his last letters, he postulated a possible end:

“Good-bye — if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico — ah, that is euthanasia.”

Did he finish his life up against a Mexican wall?

But back to The Devil’s Dictionary. The brevity and acerbic wit of Bierce’s style was well suited to this endeavour. He would take everyday words and write the new, satirical, often far more accurate definition. As a cynic and an atheist, he was well placed to use his free-thinking mind to redefine such words as:

Abstainer – A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially from inactivity in the affairs of others.


Christian – One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.

I’ll leave this post with a few more of my favourites. If you want to see them all, the entire dictionary is reproduced at

Dance – To leap about to the sound of tittering music, preferably with arms about your neighbor’s wife or daughter. There are many kinds of dances, but all those requiring the participation of the two sexes have two characteristics in common: they are conspicuously innocent, and warmly loved by the vicious.

Faith – Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.

Freemasons – An order with secret rites, grotesque ceremonies and fantastic costumes, which, originating in the reign of Charles II, among working artisans of London, has been joined successively by the dead of past centuries in unbroken retrogression until now it embraces all the generations of man on the hither side of Adam and is drumming up distinguished recruits among the pre-Creational inhabitants of Chaos and Formless Void. The order was founded at different times by Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, Cyrus, Solomon, Zoroaster, Confucious, Thothmes, and Buddha. Its emblems and symbols have been found in the Catacombs of Paris and Rome, on the stones of the Parthenon and the Chinese Great Wall, among the temples of Karnak and Palmyra and in the Egyptian Pyramids — always by a Freemason.

Honorable – Afflicted with an impediment in one’s reach. In legislative bodies it is customary to mention all members as honorable; as, “the honorable gentleman is a scurvy cur.”

Humanity – The human race, collectively, exclusive of the anthropoid poets.

Justice – A commodity which is a more or less adulterated condition the State sells to the citizen as a reward for his allegiance, taxes and personal service.

Logic – The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding.

Love – A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder. This disease, like caries and many other ailments, is prevalent only among civilized races living under artificial conditions; barbarous nations breathing pure air and eating simple food enjoy immunity from its ravages. It is sometimes fatal, but more frequently to the physician than to the patient.

Marriage – The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.

Pantheism – The doctrine that everything is God, in contradistinction to the doctrine that God is everything.

Realism – The art of depicting nature as it is seen by toads. The charm suffusing a landscape painted by a mole, or a story written by a measuring-worm.

Saint – A dead sinner revised and edited.

Vote – The instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.

Zeal – A certain nervous disorder afflicting the young and inexperienced.

Ah, I could go on with these all day. Go to the dictionary, linked above, and enjoy yourself. I will, however, leave you with my personal absolute favourite Devil’s Dictionary definition:

Pray – To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

No ego here

Personalised licence plates on cars are things that usually really annoy me. You often have these souped up cars driven by boy racers that still live at home with their mum. They’re about nineteen years old, still on their P-plates and driving forty thousand dollars worth of car. Just one example of today’s easy credit mentality. Their number plates usually say things like UNV-ME (sure we do, little man) and DOMIN8TOR (you wish). They often try to convince everyone that they’re sex gods with plates like PL4YER and LUV M4CHNE. There’s nothing like a personalised plate to make spelling optional. Obviously, something like M45TRB8TOR would be more accurate. You also get the female equivalent with plates like PMS 24-7 and S3XY.

Sometimes it’s as simple as people doing the equivalent of sewing a name tag into their underpants with plates like W4YNE or K8TE.

Then there’s the people that celebrate their profession with things like PRO5PER for the corporate high achiever in his BMW or SP4RKY for the proud electrician’s ute.

There are also the plain funny or clever, like NGGA PLZ, I 8A BABY and the truly Australian L8R M8. Every one of these is a real number plate incidentally (except M45TRB8TOR , sadly).

Why am I bringing this up at all? Well, I was driving home from a Kung Fu class this morning and pulled up at the lights behind a car that had probably the most honest personalised plate I’ve ever seen:

Fat Cow

You have to respect that. Drop in a comment if you’ve seen any good ones in your time.

God, the ultimate child abuser

You have to respect a good name. John Shelby Spong is a good name. Mr Spong is a retired Episcopal bishop and has recently written a book that should have all free thinking folk dancing for joy. The book is called Jesus for the Non-Religious. The publishers originally wanted to call it Freeing Jesus from the Shackles of Religion. It’s hard to decide which is the better title really.

John Shelby Spong
John Shelby Spong – great names, great ideas (for a believer)

The basic thrust of the book is rather heretical to Christians, but awfully refreshing to those with a critical mind. Spong posits a number of things, but essentially that all the supernatural aspects accredited to the life of Jesus are fictional additions, tacked onto the cult of Christianity decades after the death of Jesus himself. Among the things that Spong denies are that Jesus was born of a virgin, that there were any miracles or that he rose from the dead. In other words, all the really meaty stuff on which modern Christianity is based.

We get a couple of fantastic quotes from Spong with regard to this latest book. For example, he does not believe that god sent Jesus to die for the sins of humans. That would make a victim of Jesus and god “the ultimate child abuser”. He suggests that the central message of Jesus, whoever or whatever he may have been, was for everyone to live lives full of love and compassion. What a blasphemer.

Naturally, there are those that are gunning after Spong for his book. One of those is Mark Thompson, president of the Anglican Church League, an evangelical lobby group. All right, we already know he has a bias, to say the least, but his comment is priceless. He accuses Spong of “defacing the only portrait of Jesus that makes any real sense.”

Right, so the idea of Jesus having magical powers, being born from a virgin and subsequently dying only to be reborn and ascend to heaven makes sense? More sense apparently than a decent bloke who tried to convince people to be nice to each other? Thompson goes on to say that “One cannot imagine anyone willing to be martyred for Spong’s Jesus.” Isn’t that a good thing? The idea of martyrdom is what leads idiots to strap bombs to themselves and blow up discos or fly planes into buildings. Surely rather less of that in the world is worth aspiring to.

Spong himself gets this week’s Word Quote of the Week, however. Rarely do we find a turn of phrase as expressive and succinct as this one. When questioned about the derision his views attract, Spong said that he was used to it and likened it to being “gummed to death by a herd of clacking geese.” I’m not sure that geese herd, but let’s not let pedantics get in the way of a damn fine insult.

Learn more about Spong at Wikipedia.

Spong, because I wanted to say it just one more time.