My 5 all-time favourite graphic novels (this week)

I happened to catch a list of ‘5 must-read graphic novels‘ on the Guardian website. As I’ve got older, I’ve finally been able to accept that all lists are essentially subjective, and to not get upset when one of my favourites gets omitted. But this list is more subject to change than most as there are still a huge amount of comics I haven’t got to reading yet…

David Barnett at the Guardian went with:

  • The Wicked + The Divine (Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie)
  • Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi)
  • Sandman (Neil Gaiman)
  • Watchmen (Alan Moore)
  • Captain Marvel (Kelly Sue De Connick)
  • Plus mentions of The Invisibles, and The Dark Knight Returns.

So in terms of the graphic novels which changed my life:


V for Vendetta: Amazon

Many years ago my uncle kindly gave me his comic collection, including a number of the British title Warrior. Like 2000AD it contained a number of different storylines, and V for Vendetta was an obvious standout due to the tone and subject. Since then it’s obviously been the subject of a film and an accompanying re-release. The addition of colour in the new editions doesn’t necessarily improve things – the stark beauty of what David Lloyd originally drew possibly worked better in black and white. But before Watchmen, From Hell, or Batman: The Killing Joke, this was my first encounter with the work of Alan Moore, and one of the first times I’d read something which tackled an adult theme.


The Death of Captain Marvel: Amazon

This was in the same comic collection donated to me. I’d never really been familiar with Captain Marvel, but that didn’t change the impact of a wonderfully written story and one which broke with the comic tradition of having a big battle and a happy ending.

It’s handled with a reasonably light touch, and the fact that assembled Marvel superheroes are in attendance to only feel the helplessness anyone encounters with the illness of a friend or loved one probably helped me cope with the same emotions when I went through similar circumstances in real life. And it also goes back to a time when I thought death in a comic book was more meaningful, before a wave of reincarnations established it more as a marketing gimmick.


Wolverine: Amazon

This graphic novel collects issues #1-4 of the Wolverine series which launched in 1982. What’s interesting to me is how one-dimensional Wolverine had been up to this point – this series really defined him in terms of a ‘failed samurai’ who aims to live as an honourable warrior within a code he’d set himself, but finds himself regularly failing due to circumstances.

It just about edges out The Longbow Hunter in my list, which similarly re-invented Green Arrow and Oliver Queen into my favourite superhero due to the more self-contained nature of the storyline, and the impact it had on me with my ongoing interest in Japanese and samurai culture.


Transmetropolitan:  Amazon

I actually got around to reading Transmetropolitan fairly recently, and I wish I’d discovered it earlier. The black humour and love/hate that journalist Spider Jerusalem has for the dystopian future city which fuels his muse is a fine inspiration for any writer. It’s easy to summarise it as ‘Hunter S Thompson meets William Gibson cyberpunk’ or something similar, but that means you’ve missed the fact that Spider doesn’t just blindly hate people and his surroundings – he’s caught between needing them and wanting to do what’s right to help them, and the fact humanity often disappoints him on an individual and group level.


Phonogram: Amazon

The most personally subjective choice in the list, but I make no apologies for picking the Kieron Gillen and Jame Mckelvie title which could have been written personally for me. It’s a modern fantasy in which music powers magic, and the music in this particular case is 90’s era Britpop, which fueled my teenage years. If you were caught up in a passion for the likes of Blur, Oasis, The Manics, Kenickie etc, then you’ll feel instantly at home, particularly with the digs at the likes of Shed Seven.

The fact that the magic element also gives it a compelling storyline makes it work as a narrative as well as a reminiscence of the last time I can remember one pop culture dominating my life, and the nation to the point of making national news. Given the way the internet encourages deep interest in niches, it’s probably the last time it’ll happen in the UK for a long while, as there really isn’t a mainstream anymore, and the main media channels are no longer the arbiters of interest they once were.


So that’s the list. Others which almost made it include Preacher, Watchmen, a handful of Batman graphic novels (The Dark Knight, The Killed Joke etc), Persepolis, Sandman, and most of the other titles which have widespread awareness and acclaim.


10 Albums which changed my life…

I was recently tagged in one of those ‘List 10 seminal albums which changed your life’ memes on Facebook. Instead of just replying on a social network which may or may not exist in the future, and just giving them more content to memorise, I figured I’d go into a little more detail here.

These aren’t all my favourite albums. Or those that contain my favourite singles of all time. Or what tells me I’ve listened to the most since 2007. But they’re what I believe had the biggest impact on me, blurred by the mists of time.


Otis Redding: ‘Otis Blue’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

My dad was a bit of a DJ and soul fan in his youth, so I associate classic soul with vinyl being carefully placed on his Sony record player. It was an early link between us, particularly as we both favoured the rawer sounds of Stax Atlantic over the superficial gloss of most Motown. And it’s a link that has lasted almost 40 years. I could have chosen Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Sam Cooke etc, but Otis Blue is probably the album that stands out most for me, because it’s Otis Redding, it’s got a range of styles and covers as well as original songs, and it’s got ‘Change Gonna Come’ and ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ rather than ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.


Suzanne Vega ‘Suzanne Vega’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

As a child, I was fascinated by ‘Marlene on the Wall’ without having a clue what the lyrics meant. As I got older, ‘The Queen and The Soldier’ remains one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs above the tragedy of love that I’ve heard. And it also opened my eyes and ears to the beauty of one person and a guitar, as well as sparking a love affair which is rekindled every time I hear a female singer/songwriter. In an alternate reality, a 20-something me is a struggling novelist in a New York loft with a beautiful songwriter girlfriend…


Metallica ‘Kill ‘Em All’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

I was 9 or 10 when Top of the Pops played the video of ‘One’ by Metallica. Four guys in a circle in a warehouse playing music with the weight of concrete, combined with a subject and lyrics which probably led to my interest in history and war poets. After a weekend of headbanging around the living room, I went out and ended up with their first album instead, which was fortunate in terms of chronology, and also contained some of the loudest, most enthusiastic thrash metal ever. Thus began my years of leather jackets, blank jeans, long hair and playing guitar.


Pantera ‘Cowboys From Hell’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

I bought this album on the first day a school friend took me into the local town centre to meet a group of metal fans who hung around together. It marked the first time I’d gone and joined a load of people by choice, my first real encounter with underage drinking, and my first real kiss with a teenage girlfriend, who left her mark by sitting on my then brand-new CD and cracking the case. The romance lasted a couple of weeks, my drinking became legal and virtually non-existent, but the album is still great. And now gets requested by my young son for Cowboys From Hell…


The Lemonheads ‘It’s a Shame About Ray’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

Just a brilliant album with no filler in 33 minutes which was learned by heart, sung in it’s entirety with my best friend at school as we’d walk home, and inspired various attempts at school bands which were great fun even if it didn’t lead to stardom. Led to going to gigs, discovering the earlier, punkier records, and eventually getting to interview founding and departed member Ben Deily, whose current band ‘Varsity Drag’ is also highly recommended.


Singles (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Spotify) (Amazon)

Not just an album with Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone, Screaming Trees, The Smashing Pumpkins, Mudhoney and Hendrix, but also some of their best songs (State of Love and Trust, Nearly Lost You and Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns). I’d heard most of them before on their own records (Ten, Nevermind, Siamese Dreams all could have made this list), but this album led to discovering The Replacements via Paul Westerberg, living near to Seattle for a year, and visiting the cinema which first opened the film. And swapping leather jackets for plaid shirts occasionally. Without this album, I might not have lived in America, met my now ex-girlfriend, and become a father to a wonderful son who loves some of the songs on the soundtrack.


The Charlatans ‘Up To Our Hips’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

The constant companion to my cousin on a family trip to Centre Parcs, only alternated with Credit to the Nation on the stereo. I’d fight for it against all the later albums, or anything by The Stone Roses or Oasis. It’s the organ playing by the late Rob Collins that does it. And the memory of causing all kinds of carnage on that holiday.


Kenickie ‘At The Club’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

Another compact slice of heaven, in this case pop-punk. At the age of 19/20 in the South East, the combination of the music, the Northern accents and the accompanying first year of student life up North were a potent combination. Ash were also my age, but could never really be described as glamorous – Kenickie could.


Max Richter ‘Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

In 2012 I wasn’t just trying to run a business on my own. For various reasons, it was also the year that I separated from my partner of more than 12 years, which meant leaving my young son in the family home to set up alone. So although my ex and I remained on good terms, I was left with a massive void throughout every waking hour.

I have no idea how I originally came to hear this album, or why as a non-classical music buff it’s become a regular companion to my day, but the mix of familiarity with one of the most famous pieces of classical music, along with the new twists and turns as it’s been re-assembled and composed definitely helped me to get through the last couple of years sat at a small desk in the corner of a largely empty room.


The Tallest Man on Earth ‘Shallow Grave’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

Proof that Suzanne Vega left a love of folk, along with the Irish influence of my family (e.g. Christy Moore), and the Swedish influence of my ex (Although actually her tastes were more mainstream pop, and I’ve been discovering Swedish and Scandinavian folk, punk etc due to the love she left me with for Swedish culture).

I still love unusual voices which carry emotion, rather than polished, professional and dull performances. And the whole album is pretty good, although The Gardener is the clear standout track. But really it’s a symbolic choice to cover all the new music I’ve heard over the last couple of years, and all the new music I intend to discover in the future, as I’m confident there will be a lot more defining moments and albums around. That’s what I intend anyway…..


Well, that’s how to turn a 5 minute Facebook meme into a 1200 word biography. So many songs and bands ended up being left out because although they made great music, they just didn’t happen to coincide with something happening or changing. I could have probably added in Guns n Roses ‘Appetite for Destruction’ or Skid Row’s ‘Skid Row’ as they accompanied my arrival at grammar school, my first guitar lessons and becoming a more rebellious teen. Or the likes of Therapy?, The Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, Blur etc for accompanying my teenage nights out and infatuations. But I did avoid the temptation to retro-fit perceived ‘classics’ in there.


This is cool – Robotic Jumper Making Loom

As with previous 3D printing technology I’ve mentioned, what makes this interesting is the price. OpenKnit is an open-source automated loom which can apparently be built for around £430, and makes you a new jumper in an hour.

There’s more details on Wired, and it still requires some human intervention, but we’re rapidly reaching the point where home fabrication could actually make sense in terms of costs as well as the fun of building something yourself and creating cool things – £430 plus raw materials is a fair amount, but considering the cost of clothing you’d soon recoup that type of investment if you’ve got a family to clothe.


Technology, regulations and innovations

Google has just released a video revealing their work on a drone delivery system, named Project Wing, which has been undergoing testing in Australia.

What struck me was that obviously Australia makes sense in terms of a testbed for large distances and potentially isolated customers, but also perhaps somewhere which isn’t tightening up regulations on drone flights as quickly as in the U.S and UK.

After all, in the U.S, the FAA has already banned the use of drones to deliver packages.

Meanwhile it’s likely Amazon will start actually delivering products via drones in India in the near future, according to reports.

Obviously there are safety implications in drone flights, along with other potential problems and hazards to overcome. But it seems that the response in the UK and U.S is rapidly becoming one in which governments and law enforcement agencies are undoubtedly increasing their drone usage all the time, but private companies and individuals are going to find themselves more and more restricted in what they can do.

That’s not only got implications for the innovation possible by those private concerns, but also how that feeds into advancements which governments might want to utilise. If India leads the way in drone deliveries, it’s going to lead the way in drone technology too.

In the meantime, I’ll be left waiting for a service which can deliver grilled steak tacos to my house every day for lunch.


Absolutely essential viewing: The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

I finally got around to watching the documentary, “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz’. It’s simply essential for anyone who cares about technology, the internet, access to information and the society of the future to watch. And it’s available to view for free on Youtube and other sites (embed below).

All the more tragic and inspiring to think of what he might have continued to achieve. And how the things he fought for are still so important to fight for now and in the future.


Sub £300 food 3D Printer looks interesting…

The Candy confectionery 3D Printer looks interesting. It’s still a Kickstarter project at the moment, but the proposed £299 ($499) price makes it well worth watching.


What’s interesting is that it has a nice and sleek design, which is quite a way from the existing Makerbot approach of ordering a kit and building it yourself to have a DIY industrial-style fabrication lab. That wouldn’t work as well in a kitchen environment, and it’s a sign that form is going to become an increasing partner to the function of a 3D Printer at the consumer level.

It’s being marketed as easy to use and simple, with a real focus on the benefits rather than the features. Again, that’s a sign of consumer marketing becoming part of 3D Printing, rather than it being cool simply because it’s cool tech.

And although consumer and pro-level 3D food printing is becoming relatively normal, the price is a lot less than existing products, at around half the price. At £299, it’s well within the range for a kitchen gadget for an enthusiastic cook or chef. That price is for backers, but even if you don’t get involved yet, it’ll retail at £359 ($599) assuming nothing changes by the 2015 shipping date.

Back in 2011, I got a little attention by claiming 2012 was the year of the 3D printer. And although I don’t think I was proved wildly wrong with regards to industrial use, examples in medicine and healthcare etc, as always when predicting mainstream technology adoption it’s easy to get caught up in early adopter enthusiasm and think ‘the mainstream’ will be right behind as quickly.

Having stumbled onto a 3D Printing area at the National Space Museum in Leicester last week, and listening to the variety of questions and various levels of familiarity, it’s definitely in the mainstream now, and it’s simply a case of 3D printer manufacturers showing the benefits rather than the features at these kinds of price points.


Nice Seth Godin talk from World Maker Faire

I don’t remember seeing this before, and it’s a typically inspirational talk from Seth Godin on ‘Art and Science and Making Things’ from the 2012 World Maker Faire.

Shame they didn’t have a microphone for people asking questions at the end, but well worth watching if you need a quick bit of encouragement to get making rather than recreating…


Treasure an age of individual beauty

Rather than mourning the loss of the classic canon of literature, music or film, we should be embracing an age where those interested can create and share their own ideals of beauty and art more easily.

Reading an article on the death of the novel by Will Self, followed by a reflection on Britpop and the anniversary of Blur’s Parklife, both seemed fueled by the end of gatekeepers rather than the end of great literature or music. It’s all too easy to mourn the loss of the past when you’re getting older.

The fact is that it’s never been easier or cheaper to immerse yourself in beautiful or thought-provoking art. Or to stumble across something thought provoking. And to find what speaks to you.

Although it’s best to look for yourself or get human recommendations rather than rely on the primitive suggestion attempts that big data is still providing. One day a data scientist will figure out that someone can like and loathe films by the same director or albums by the same band.


Book Snake by Alan Levine (Cogdog) on Flickr – CC License

Pinning Will Self’s term of a ‘serious novel’ down is difficult, but you could probably go by the standards of English teaching throughout the years. And while Jane Austen is justifiable as an example of a writer, I struggle to recall anything except boredom from studying her work.

Whereas George Orwell, Douglass Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller etc have stayed with me. And they’ve been joined by the likes of William Gibson. Re-reading some of his books recently (Pattern Recognition onwards), I still find myself utterly captivated by the way he weaves his otaku obsession with the detail of inanimate objects into his stories. He can open with the idea that jetlag means your soul isn’t capable of flight and is still traveling to catch up with you, and inspire an interest in researching Curta digital mechanical calculators.

At the same time, I also re-read Cory Doctorow’s Homeland. If the concepts of mass demonstrations, unlawful arrests and technology-based conspiracies doesn’t provoke some interesting thoughts, it also includes afterwords written by the likes of Aaron Swartz, and links to starting a Hackerspace, building 3D printers and more.

Given the current technological issues impacting on the world alongside economics and politics, there’s a ‘serious’ argument to be made. Or for those of a more historical bent, I remain fascinated with Hagakure – Book of the Samurai and Letters from a Stoic.

Not all novels, granted. But the breadth of mediums, formats and styles underlines my point. My serious reading comes from blogs, websites, eBooks, printed books, graphic novels, comics, cartoons and more.

Harp music in the library by Henk Kosters Flickr

Harp music in the library by Henk Kosters Flickr – CC License

But besides the delivery mechanism, what has changed is that it can be a completely individual and multifaceted canon. And one which I can explore and share. And by exploring, I can easily also find people who appreciate even just one of the same choices.

I’m still discovering music today from genres I loved, bought and obsessed about 20 years ago which I didn’t get to hear at the time due to the availability of American alternative music in Kent in the early 90s, or my limited budget to risk on metal bands I’d never get to sample on the radio. As much as friends could provide some recommendations, it’s amazing how much was shaped by watching specialist music shows on at 2am in the morning.

And I could never have had enough teenage friends to cope with my desire to listen to classic 60’s soul, 80’s hiphop, 90’s grunge and thrash metal, and a few folk and country songwriters, often in the space of an afternoon.

The internet hasn’t caused the end of mass youth trends. It’s simply accelerated the process started by television, radio and access to history which meant Britpop and Grunge in the UK largely led to questionable clothing and hairstyle choices rather than attempts to try and change the world. It also means I can create a playlist of songs that make me happy that includes Alphabeat, Jimmy Cliff and The Cure. And not only potentially meet other people that somehow arrived at a similar list, but even use it to find dates or love.

If the loss of mass consensus is the cost, I’m happy to pay it. And it”ll be interesting to see how that applies to politics, for example, as parties finally realise that for every one issue which I might align with, they have several that repel me. In the meantime, I’ll be exploring the history of pirates and vikings to share with my son, the latest marketing and technology news for work, and the most beautiful writing and music for myself.


UK smart heating alternative to Nest?

I probably ignore about 80% of the Kickstarter-based PR emails I get. Either they’re hugely irrelevant to any of the sites I run, or they’re ridiculously optimistic.

But I’ve been intrigued by Cosy. It’s a smart heating system which is controlled by an app, includes a thermostat/docking station which is portable, and has been developed just down the road from me in Cambridge.

It’s got a £20,000 goal to reach by April 14th, and so far more than £13,000 has been raised so there’s quite a way to go. It’ll be a shame if it doesn’t make it – almost every gadget I want or need is being produced in America, and is usually either unavailable in the UK or takes years to arrive.

I do wonder whether the relative lack of interest compared to earlier U.S based campaigns – is it a sign of the more jaded attitude people now have to Kickstarter campaigns, or is it a reflection on the fact it’s a UK based project? It’d be interesting to see Kickstarter campaign success/pledges by geography to see whether UK-based campaigns are at a disadvantage…


DPiP is back on April 10th, 2014

I’m pleased to say that Digital People in Peterborough has gone through a bit of a reboot, with the help of Jonathan and the wise move to ask Tia to volunteer in keeping us on track.

And to kick things off, we’ve got an event on Thursday, April 10th, 2014 at 7pm, at the Eco Innovation Centre on City Road in Peterborough, with Andy McGurk presenting plans for a new Digital Hub in Peterborough and asking for our input and feedback.


So if you’re in or around Peterborough, and have any involvement in the creative industries, development, design, blogging, eCommerce etc, or you want advice on how to start, come along and have a chat – we’re a pretty friendly and welcoming bunch…