• The Book that compliments TAROT OF THE ZIRKUS MÄGI •
"A crescent moon, tipped knife-sharp at each end, floated against an indigo background dotted with six-pointed stars. It was concealed in part behind the folds of a painted velvet curtain which was being drawn open by a disembodied hand adorned with a ring on every finger and loop bracelets that seemed to defy gravity. Half nestled in the hollow lunar curvature, half spilling out across the sea of stars, the words ZIRKUS MÄGI danced across the banner in gold-twisted letters. Counterbalancing the planet in the opposite corner of the canvas, a nearly-naked feminine figure levitated in the blue void, wreathed in spheres of glowing energy. Cranch recognized her immediately as Moondo, the World Goddess of the Taro. That was when he knew that he had come Home at last.
"For Cranch, paused at the gateway in a mixture of exhaustion and elation, the striped canvas surrounding the compound acted much the same as a stripper’s veils twining with enticing seductiveness, revealing and concealing at the same time. Beyond and above its magical border a tent bearing but a single peak, midnight blue and dotted with stars, was still taking shape against grey skies. The smell was thick now. Cranch took a deep breath, as deep as his lungs would allow, and stepped from one world into the next."
I staggered around the house in kind of a stupor for the rest of the day. Thanks, Aloi! -- the Smart Ass in me, the guy that I wear as a shield when words fail, would say "Well, she obviously has excellent taste" -- but the little kid in me who still believes that I can't do anything right is still trying to figure out what the hell happened to the axis of the Earth yesterday...
Folks who dislike movies that have any kind of twinkle in their eye, who believe that everything belongs in its proper place — that’s right, the purists among you — are likely to be more than a little bit put off by last year’s action import from China, Tai Chi Zero. Me? I thought it was an absolute unalloyed GAS!
It’s STEAMPUNK! It’s MARTIAL ARTS! What an insanely great combination!
— And this high-speed blender of a movie doesn’t stop there. It borrows as heavily from the conventions of silent film (including the silent movie practice of announcing the names of the characters and the actors playing them,via title cards, as they make their entrance into the story) as it does from those of Japanese Anime, comic books and, yes, computer games.
Sometimes the movie even feels and sounds like a food processor in action. WHIRRRRRRRRR! It tingles and vibrates with life. It is almost supremely silly — in exactly the right Monty Python meets Jules Verne meets Kung Fu kind of way. You might be one of those Graham Chapman types who respond to the picture by shaking your stick at it and saying, “Stop that! It’s silly!” — or you might be a duck and dive right in.
Call me a duck. Well, this ain’t Duck Soup Productions for nothing.
If its action scenes are a bit too much made up of fast shots and quick edits (and they are) and the story is dead simple (and it is)… it’s no accident, it’s a choice. If you’re looking for Akira Kurasawa or even Bruce Lee, look elsewhere. Tai Chi Zero is a pure Pop Culture bubblegum smack-down, the movie equivalent of the most likable Village Idiot you ever met.
The film revels in its own contradictions. It uses every ultra-modern computer enhanced trick in the book to tell the story of an isolated Chinese town, so steeped in tradition that it’s less than welcoming to even the most well-meaning of outsiders, which is being Menaced by Modernity in the form of a Railroad company whose masters are not above using steam-powered Giant Robots to clear the way for the laying of its tracks. The message — and it’s a good one — seems to be that Tradition and Modernity can find a happy middle ground when Wisdom and Harmony prevail (as they do in the hearts of the filmmakers); but Humankind is such a rapacious breed that Wisdom and Harmony are seldom to be found in our playbooks.
One of the best aspects of the picture, story-wise, is that everyone in it, including the villains, has a point. Everyone is right, from their own point of view. The chief villain is a badly conflicted fellow whose mind is made up for him by the impulsiveness of the heroes. We’re all on the same side; in the end, we just disagree on the details.
There’s an appealing little love story nestled in the midst of this: the hero is a good-hearted dope with a lot of natural ability but no skill, while the heroine is all refinement with a lousy taste in men.
Simplistic, yes. Too ornate, too busy? That’s your call. This is a movie that just wants to give you a lot to look at, a lot to smile about, and a lot of reasons to stomp the floor. The follow-up, Tai Chi Hero, is on its way to my mailbox as I type this. I can hardly wait!
There’s nothing like spending a solid week as a slave to Forces Outside Oneself to make one come out the other end full of piss and vinegar, ready and rarin’ to go. On the other hand, I have so many projects in the works that I’m immediately brought up short, chin in hand, wondering where is the best place to begin.
The best place to begin is simply to blow off some steam and clear away all the little things that lie in your path. So expect a lot of posts over the next day or two.
Stress is when you’re stuck on the highway just about fifty minutes in advance of a wedding that you have to attend, because you foolishly promised to be there. You’ve already been on the road for three and a half bloody hours and now you’re caught in a traffic jam on 495 that’s keeping travel down to a stately five miles an hour (or less) and you just noticed a sign telling you that the town you’re trying to get to is 38 miles away. Oh, and you forgot to bring your tranquilizers with you and don’t have anything to wash them down with anyhow.
That kind of stress doesn’t let up when the traffic jam suddenly evaporates just as mysteriously as it started — because now you’re so late that you’ve got to floor it and zip down the highway at dizzying speeds, hoping to heaven that there aren’t any Pigs about.
(“Pigs” is the ‘60s derogatory hippy term for “cops,” and I must say it is an accurate sort of insult. After the events of last year — especially after one of Those Bastards dragged me out of my house in the middle of the night, physically and verbally assaulted me in the hospital, and more, all for my having committed the Heinous Sin of calling the State Help Line — the notion that The Police Are Our Friends is well and truly banished from my system, and I will never think of them as anything other than Pigs ever again)
The wedding was reached just in the nick of time, and yes, as one of my friends pointed out, it is a Nice Thing to get all of us old buddies under the same roof at the same time for the first time in something like sixteen years — but let’s face it, you don’t exactly get Quality Time with your friends at a bloomin’ wedding, innit?
For me — and I suspect that I am not alone in this — a wedding, ANY wedding (so BC, don’t take this personally fer crine out loud) is just about the only ceremony under the sun that is worse than a Funeral.
After all, sadness and mourning are emotions that I can share in, empathize with and understand — but Happiness is quite another animal thank you very much. The best I can manage is, “I’m really genuinely glad that you are happy. Now get it the hell out of my face.”
Well, I went, I saw, I Did My Bit, and then with four quats stuck alone in the house on a blazing hot day and knowing that it would be seven in the evening before I got back to them even without attending the reception — an event that features even less Quality Time with your friends than the wedding did — I climbed back into the car and did the whole thing over again — sans traffic jam this time.
But it was on the way down that I made my vow: Never Again. Never Again will I go anywhere that far away unless I can get there and back the same day by train. It’s too stressful, it’s too lonely, it’s eight wasted hours out of one’s life that could have been spent in other, much better ways. So… I hope that folks enjoyed seeing me, for the precious god damn little that is worth — ‘cuz it Ain’t Happening Again.
Heading Home, I made one very much needed bathroom stop just south of the New Hampshire border. Unfortunately I made it at the State Liquor Store.
So long as I was a disinterested observer, all was fine: and what I observed was a huge parking lot only a third full — yet still there were traffic jams at the bathroom and a really impressively large number of people coming out of that place with, literally, shopping carts full of booze. I have to wonder if Maine is receiving kickbacks from NH. If not, then the state is Really Missing Out in its otherwise strenuous efforts to exploit and bleed alcoholics for all they can get out of them.
Inside — the prices and selection were really not All That Great. I searched in vain for a nice bottle of Sangria (a delicious summer drink) and found none, least of all the Spanish Yago that used to be Best of Breed. The whiskies were all lots more money than I wanted to spend. Just to Consciously and Deliberately be a Bad Boy, I settled on a small bottle of a better grade of vodka than what I am used to, at about a buck less than what you have to spend in Maine for the crap stuff.
The first night was not bad at all. I was able to drink like a normal person, just kick back and mellow out and let the stress of the day melt away.
But I don’t want to think about the next couple of days, except to remember them as “reasons why I can’t do that anymore.”
Wednesday was the first day that found me both completely sober and suffering no ill after effects from the binge. Which was a good thing, because early that morning it was back behind the wheel of the car and back to the Dreaded Commute in order to fill in for three days as freelance typesetter for a local publisher.
As I’ve written here before, if I have to become a Day Laborer, this is the Camp to be assigned to — but typesetting is not unskilled labour. When mixed with a Bad Commute it is Dead Exhausting, leaving me drained and unable to do anything but Feed the Quats, Clean Up After the Quats, and then veg out for an hour in front of the telly.
It’s No Kind of a Life, just working to make Someone Else’s Dream Come True and sleeping and nothing more. But for me, on top of few days that came before, it did act as a kind of stiffener. There’s the kind of life that I’ve been living during this past week, and then there’s the kind of life that I want to live, trying to make my own god damn dreams come true and not being a Slave to everyone else’s expectations.
After finally getting a good night’s sleep, rising when I was ready and not at the behest of an alarm, I am feeling a good deal more refreshed than I have in a long while, not to mention relieved that something I have literally been dreading for a year and a half is finally behind me.
The chains of various sorts are off, and I am ready to go!
Yesterday I took my Flipcam out of mothballs to prepare for the weekend wedding that I have to attend (might as well shoot some footage for them if I can; don’t know why else I should be there). While searching for the instructions to refresh my memory on its use, I came across the two notebooks that I mostly filled last year during three stays in detox and the subsequent months in two Intensive Outpatient Programs: one for substance abuse and the other for mental health.
The books are full of unpleasant reading. The first stay was five days long, and I spent much of that time unconscious. It wasn’t until the second stay that my NP told me I’d been in such intense withdrawal that they kept me pretty well doped up most of the time. That second stay was eleven days, and that number appalls me… to think that my pussyquats were left alone all that time barring visits from my kind neighbors twice a day to feed them.
The third stay was just under a week, and it was during that time that my anti-depression medication was changed. As the Prozac wore off and the Welbutrin stubbornly refused to kick in, I found myself doing things like sitting by the telephones wondering if I could strangle myself with the metal cord, or sitting on the floor at the end of the hall sobbing my eyes out.
“Nighttime is the saddest time @ 4 East,” I wrote, and on the same page: “A sign of how disorienting this place is: H_____, who @ 8:00 PM thought it was morning.”
The pages are decked out with graveyards, pumpkins, skulls and black quats… which doesn’t mean anything because I just like drawing those things, and will always fall back on them if nothing else comes to mind. What’s more telling is that the quats in some pictures are shedding copious tears. One of them is standing behind a gravestone bearing my name and the words “Loser - Failure - Accomplished Nothing.”
On one page I wrote: “The longer I stay here the more confused I become. I just want to go home, and I don’t even care anymore about whether or not I have a job.” The fact is, losing that job was about the best thing that happened to me. Had I stayed on working in that Concentration Camp for a boss right out of H.P. Lovecraft, I have no doubt that there would have been a fourth stay, perhaps even a fifth or sixth… or perhaps not. When I look back on last year, it is clear to me that I was heading for a fatality, and getting close to it — and I didn’t give a good god damn.
My dislike for AA and its shallow methodology, its sloganism, was already apparent: one note reads, “Tuesday Night AA Meeting: “MEETING MAKERS MAKE IT!” — EXCEPT for the ones YOU JUST TOLD ME ABOUT who are DEAD!” And this: “It’s distressing to me that even for [my NP], AA is the only game in town for recovering alcoholics. It simply doesn’t work for me, not in the dozen or so meetings I’ve attended. It’s still a GROUP — and GROUPS are all the same to me. No one talks to me and I don’t talk to them. I have tried four different meetings in W________, and none of the other ones are held @ times that I can attend. Most have a lot of the same people.”
This was before my diagnosis of Asperger’s made it obvious why the social solutions are not the right ones for me.
As I go through the pages I can’t help but wonder how the others that I met during my three stays are faring, and how many more are living in that world — which resembles nothing so much as a zombie movie — as I type this. There seems to be no shortage of customers.
It’s probably a good thing to look at these notebooks every now and then, to remind myself of how far I have come, of where I was and what a sad, sub-functional state I was in; but at the same time it hurts like a punch in the face.
It's kind of disturbing to me to note that my latest book, Quirk Volume 1: Pulp Friction, has been something like 28 years in the making! The very first story included in the volume, "Knight's Gambit," was begun in the early '80s and never completed until more than a decade later. But those original 20-something pages of story and art from the first version were so primitive compared to what I'm capable of now that I knew they would have to be re-written and re-drawn for this book. And so, the first 16 pages of "Knight's Gambit" are all-new work, the next few pages that follow are a mix of new work and individual panels from the original version, and the climactic final third are the unaltered finished pages from the mid-'90s! It's kind of a Fronkonsteen Monster of a story that way, but I think that actually adds a layer of interest, and shows graphically how Things Change and -- we hope! -- get better over time.
"A-Muck Time" is a big story for the Quirkiverse! It's not just a sly parody of both Star Trek and Superman -- it's also the first official Origin Story given to any of the regular cast... specifically, it's all about Sludge -- that sentient glob of goo from the disgustingly moist planet Grundge. I had a lot of fun making it back when Quirk made his first appearance on the internet as a weekly web comic, way, way back in the '90s. I hope you'll have fun reading it!
You can also download the free comic from the new QUIRK page that's accessible by the tabs at the top of this blog. That's where you'll find the YouTube video trailer for the series (check it out if you haven't already!), and links to order the book from its own dedicated online shop or from Amazon, B&N and a variety of other on and offline retailers (as it becomes available from them).
As for me, I'm going to take a slight break this afternoon... but not for long! I have plans in store for more new books than you can shake a stick at (although why anyone would want to shake a stick at anything is anyone's guess), and Time's a' Wastin'!
Quirk will be back before the end of the year with Volume 2: Termination Alley, along with Volume 2 of Tinsel*Town, a new fantasy/SF/action/adventure novel called See Them Dance, the new Tarot of the Zirkus Magi (already getting a lot of advance support, thanks to you all!) that compliments STD, a non-fiction book called Bookman, about a genuine American eccentric and folk artist, and our first-ever children's book, illustrated by the late Barbara Thornsjo, titled Under The Rooster Weathervane. And that's just what I have left to do in 2013! Next year will see lots more. Stay with me here! I need all the help I can get!
And thank you. In the last month and a half this site has shot past the 50,000 hits mark and reached nearly 65,000 hits. That is amazing to me, and I'm grateful to you all for stopping by.
Into any television programme that runs for any length of time a stinker episode or three must fall — and as I work my way through a second viewing of the revived Doctor Who, it’s frustrating to note that while David Tennant is growing on me (although he is still my least favorite of the three “modern” Doctors), the series itself isn’t doing him any favors: especially in Season Three, which just seems to be ripe and rife with Stinker Episodes.
After a good start with the introduction of Martha Jones and her subsequent near-hookup with William Shakespeare, suddenly the season nosedives, and five whole episodes later it has not regained any ground.
It’s all gone very very Eric Saward / John Nathan-Turner — and as that was my least favorite era of the original series, maybe you can understand my dissatisfaction with this run. Saward was a horrible script editor, not to put too fine a point on it, and although Peter Davison was laboring manfully to bring us his Doctor, he was lumbered with some really just godawful scripts — and that’s precisely what happens here in Season Three to poor David Tennant.
“Gridlock” was bad enough. Aside from the funnish Welsh Cat-man, the only good thing about it was seeing the Macra again — and even that wasn’t much good. What are the Macra even doing there? How did they get there? What is their reason for being in this story? The Macra themselves cannot tell you, as they are simply Giant Brainless Crustaceans. So I have to look at it from the writer’s point of view, and it boils down to just two things: we put the Macra in there, on the one hand, just because some of the fans would go “Ooooh! Macra!” and on the other hand because it allows us to get away with a Dirty Joke: Yes, boys and girls, New York City has a bad case of The Crabs.
Oh, and then we get the Face of Bo. Again. Why do we get the Face of Bo? I will tell you why. We get the Face of Bo because they spent about a gajillion pounds on creating the Face of Bo prop all the way back in Season One, and Russell T. Davies is justifying the expense by sticking it (rather carelessly and wantonly) into every subsequent season. I would tell Russell T. Davies where to put the Face of Bo at this point — except that he might just like it.
But if “Gridlock” was bad (and it was), the Dalek two-parter that followed it was even worse. The two words that come to mind are “lamentable” and “excreble.”
Bad enough that the Brits seem to think that everyone in N’Yawk runs around with an unbelievably exaggerated and farcical Brooklyn accent. But a working theater with a direct-access entry to the public sewer in its prop room? When has that ever happened? Humanized pigs or pigified humans as Dalek slaves? We are expected to feel Pathos at the plight of a half-transformed human pig — instead you want to point your finger at the screen, cover your mouth and chortle.
The Dalek Master Plan in this episode seems interesting enough, until you remember that Daleks hold humans in such contempt that not even the most forward-thinking and liberal Dalek would ever conceive of tainting their Master Race with human DNA. And, I’m sorry, the creature that ultimately results from this unholy union is just… well… stupid.
How does the Doctor survive the lightning blast that he absorbs atop the Empire State building? Lesser things have killed him in the past. Sure he’s got two hearts — but all that means is that he has two hearts to have a Heart Attack with after the lightning strike. Instead, he takes a little nap and wakes up a few minutes later just Perfectly Fine and Chipper and ready to carry on with the plot. The goose-stepping human Daleks are kind of low camp, and their sudden turn to rebelliousness just in time to pull the Doctor’s ass out of the fire is just too too Deus Ex Machina. And then, or course, they all have to be killed off because they’d simply cause too much Continuity Havoc if even one remained alive.
I cannot respect any writer who has so little respect for me.
Next up, “The Lazarus Experiment.” Okay, at least it doesn’t stink on ice the way the Dalek two-parter did, but it’s so bloody generic. It’s not Doctor Who. It could be Warehouse 13 or Torchwood or Star Trek: The Next Regurgitation. It could be “Insert Name of SyFy Network Program Here.” It’s nice that we get to meet Martha Jones’s family, and that long-time Who scripter Mark Gatiss (he started with the Big Finish audio dramas) gets a chance to act, but, meh…
“42”? Aside from having an incomprehensible title, it’s merely The Doctor Does Alien. When you’re trying to recover from Lousy Crap like “Gridlock” and “Evolution of the Daleks,” this bit of generic boredom is not going to help you.
That’s as far as I’ve gotten, but there is More to Dread coming up: I didn’t like Davies’s reintroduction of The Master the first time through (The Master as a kind of Donald Trump filtered through Iggy Pop? I don’t think so), I can’t imagine a second viewing is going to make me like it any better.
About the only thing keeping me going at this point is the knowledge that Stephen Moffat’s absolutely brilliant “Blink” is coming up. That episode, all by itself, makes up for an awful lot. It’s not just brilliant Doctor Who: it’s one of the most outstanding hours to come from any TV drama, ever, in any genre. And it blazes the way to Moffat taking over from Davies as the show runner, which is the best thing that happened to Doctor Who in some considerable time.