Ready, steady, go … some Tuesday Therapy for the new year

The calendar is flipped, the clock is ticking. Welcome to 2012.

Back in the year just gone, Lisa Hannett was canvassing for inspirational sayings of a writerly bent for her Tuesday Therapy. I came up with a mere word, which Lisa has just published at her blog.

Here, gathered sweaty and very non-new yearly limp around the water cooler — not much vim and vigour in the high 30s, I’m afraid, new year or no — the word, perseverance, sparked a discussion about the subtle difference between it and persistence; a degree of resistance to be overcome in one, an inner spring of tenacity in the other. It probably comes down to how you approach your writing challenges. The main point being, that you keep going.

Of course, what I *could* and possibly *should* have sent Lisa was my favourite quote — I don’t know why it didn’t jump immediately to mind, it wasn’t even outrageously hot at the time; and yes, I am also shite at witty rejoinders. So here’s a bonus Tuesday Therapy and a rather timely one for this time of year, all those blank squares on the calendar, scribbled resolutions and what not:

sandman's death

It is Neil Gaiman’s Death and a wonderful saying that I’ve taken to heart, ever since I first saw the motif on a t-shirt. It speaks for itself.

Tick, tock.

Gaiman’s Batman and two Kings: 20th Century Ghosts and American Vampire

A quick round-up of some recommended recent catch-up reading:

batman caped crusader

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (DC, 2009), written by Neil Gaiman, pencilled by Andy Kubert. Batman has always been my favourite superhero. There were others I enjoyed, but it was the Bat who’s stayed with me since the 1970s when I scoured the secondhand book stores for the Murray Comics’ collected issues of Batman and Detective. There’s something about him: the peak — maybe a little over the peak — of human excellence, but human. Using intelligence as much as brawn — the detective bit gets lost too often these days — and battling with that famous crime-fighting obsession. The battle between Bruce Wayne and Batman — who’s the real disguise here? It’s all so Gothic …

Gaiman tackles a bunch of this stuff in this tale, anchored around a funeral for Batman at which he is a ghostly observer and some of his greatest foes provide requiems. Catwoman features, naturally, another simply human (even with uber athleticism and kitty affinity) character with the most simple of motivations: she’s just a thief with a desire for a keen, bloodless getaway. The unresolved sexual tension is front and centre here.

Kurbert has risen to Gaiman’s challenge of capturing some great styles of past artists in the mini-stories. It’s a superbly realised tribute to the Dark Knight. The deluxe issue contains four other Gaiman Batman-universe stories, but for me, anchored in the black-and-white art of the ’70s, these don’t fly as high as the core collection. My pick would probably be the Poison Ivy origin story — a lovely, morally ambiguous villain — though the art isn’t quite to my taste.

American Vampire

American Vampire (Vertigo, 2010), Scott Snyder and Stephen King, drawn by Rafael Albuquerque. Stephen King weighs into the bloodsucker graphic novel ouvre in Snyder’s project about, well, an American vampire born in the outlaw times of the Wild West. The aim was to put the nasty back into the vampire genre and it succeeds well, givin’ them crusty ol’ Euro-vamps a taste of American independence. It casts the vampire as villain and gives the law back its star: not as camp as the film Billy the Kid vs Dracula, and with an air of old-fashioned values being dusted off. Vampires, vengeance, six-shooters: it’s entertaining stuff. Compare and contrast to the excellent Vamps, a 1996 Vertigo graphic novel penned by Elaine Lee, which tells the tale of a group of female biker vampires wanting to break free.

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

20th Century Ghosts (William Morrow, 2005), Joe Hill. Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, and he’s learnt a lot from his old man. Namely, character and voice. This collection of short stories is hugely entertaining, a real tour de force of style, most (but not all) using supernatural elements to put the pressure on. ‘Best New Horror’ is a gripping opening with its clever meta elements and ‘Abraham’s Boys’ visits vampire lore in an intriguing fashion. ‘The Cape’ is deliciously nasty, others hit the melancholy mark, one had me laughing out loud. A very few left me unsatisfied, belonging to the vignette camp whereby there is meagre beginning, mostly middle and no real end, but always the characters are spot-on. I still can’t believe it took me this long to get to this collection …

Amanda Palmer does Australia Day in Sydney, 2011

Amanda Fucking Palmer just keeps getting better.

AFP, of Dresden Dolls fame and now carving out a solo career, held court at a packed Sydney Opera House on Wednesday night. It was a precursor to her Down Under tour. But this was special.

For starters, there was an Aussie touch on stage: a Hills hoist and a barbie and an Esky of VB: the booze was rightfully derided as being piss poor, but the cartons did make a fetching backdrop, used as they were to spell out a mighty AFP.

There was a striking voice and piano courtesy of the Melbourne duo The Jane Austen Argument (playing support on AFP’s tour), and rollicking Gypsy-ish fun with Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. The latter provided backing for AFP on a bunch of numbers during the night, showing a high degree of charm, humour and flexibility — one member played piano accordion, sax, organ and electric guitar. And there was a big-screen appearance from Meow Meow and, in the flesh, Kim Boekbinder (also touring with AFP, and author of the gorgeous New Orleans themed tune Big Easy).

And then there was Neil Gaiman, who read a yarn he penned to accompany Amanda’s Who Killed… book, the project that brought them together, and then a poem he’d penned in Hyde Park for Australia Day about our lost megafauna, and then a poem for Amanda.

And then of course there was AFP herself, cavorting with the crowd in her Union Jack corset like a charming and chaotic ringmaster, set list forsaken, band slightly shaken, snags cooked on a barbie, smoochings in the crowd and, in essence, damned good fun.

There were tunes from her new album and some crowd favourites, some silly fun ones and some that were somewhat more serious, and others simply beautiful: a ballad called The Drover’s Boy, just reminding us that the colonisation of this continent that was being celebrated that day had come at a cost to the indigenous inhabitants, and then the concert closer, Nick Cave’s The Ship Song, sung from the balcony.

A raucous encore featuring an all-in rendition of Map of Tasmania and Oasis, complete with glittering gogo dancers, sent the crowd buzzing out the doors after three hours of musical mayhem. The bridge arced over the harbour, mist hugged the skyscrapers, the black-clad tide disappeared into the Sydney streets.

And not an Oi Oi Oi to be heard.

Gaiman on story, Aussie fantasy on the hit list

A quick post from the wonderful Guardian, still one of my favourite book sites, in which Neil Gaiman weighs in anew on the Lit/Genre divide, and a commentator finds much to recommend in eastern fantasy, Aussie style, thanks to Lian Hearn and Alison Goodman. Great stuff on a cool day.

In other bookish news, a crime novel has won the Miles Franklin, and the Ditmar awards are now open for submissions.