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This and that

I had never thought I would be so enchanted by someone mutilating books. ( link via Eddie Campbell)

Had the most awesome experience last night when I saw, for the first time, a 20-minute video of Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts performing along with singer Mai Yamane live in Tokyo. Must have been the best audiovisual experience for me since Bjork: Live at Royal Opera House. There are videos of the Seatbelts floating around on youtube, but I had resisted watching them, bad audio-visual quality being part of the reason. Yamane, by the way, is the singer most associated with Ms Kanno’s compositions, her distinctive voice the hallmark of tracks like ‘The Real Folk Blues’ ( WHAT? You haven’t heard it? Go check out my mixtape already. Track 13, to be precise), ‘See You Space Cowboy’ and my personal favourite, ‘Rain’.

SQUEE moment 1: Yoko Kanno, dressed in a red trenchcoat and black top and shorts starts dancing to ‘Tank!’, the Cowboy Bebop theme, as the saxophone soloist goes wild.

SQUEE moment 2: Mai Yamane and Yoko Kanno start doing a bizarre robotic dance during ‘Want It All Back’, coordinating each other’s movements and adding to the fun of the song.

SQUEE moment(s) 3: Ms Kanno plays a plethora of Cowboy Bebop tunes on the piano, each tune effortlessly flowing into the other.

All in all, an amazing video. You can download it from most bit-torrent sites around, if you are interested.

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Which reminds me, demonoid.com has been down for more than 48 hours now. Even Wired.com takes notice and talks about possible litigation by CRAI ( the Canadian version of the RIAA ), so fingers crossed.

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Reading Barry Lyga’s Adventures of Fan Boy and Goth Girl, something that I had been on the look out for since I read the preview chapter. ( Hmm, I wonder how I got to the site in the first place…Neil Gaiman linked to it? Possibly. ) Lyga wrote some bad comics – a couple of Warrior Nun Areala in the dark-and-speculatory nineties, and this is his first novel. Falls squarely into the YA category, and managed to get my complete attention by mentioning the words “Giant Size X-Men #1 in mint condition” in the second paragraph. As it turns out, the Fan Boy in the book is the narrator and the book namedrops Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Promethea and Swamp Thing. Seems there’s also a guest appearance by Brian Michael Bendis, heh. And oh, I am “reading” the audiobook, because the actual thing isn’t really available in India.

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Stuff read in The First Two Weeks

Lady Snowblood vol 1-4, Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura – I started reading this on December 31st, at Delhi airport, and finished them sometime in the middle of Jan 1st. The movie is a cleaned-up version of the books, with minor changes to the way the revenge saga plays out. How I wish it were Goseki Kojima illustrating the books, instead of Kamimura.

Mahabharata volume 1 and 2, Ramesh Menon – Easily the best version of the Mahabharata I’ve read so far ( counting the Point-of-view tales, like Yagnaseni and Samraj, this is the twelfth). Ample quantities of sex and violence, goosepimply moments and a splendid attention to detail, that brings together all the short tales one associates with the Mahabharata. And all this, of course, without any of the Wankery of the recent Ramayana-rewwritten-as-fantasy series. I shudder to think that Ashok Banker is actually writing a version of this. And people will actually read it. Gah! I am at the last stage of the Ashwamedha Parva, which will end with Krishna’s death and Dwaraka’s destruction. The whole post-War phase of the Mahabharata is extremely depressing. I have set it aside for sometime.

Siva – The Siva Purana retold, Ramesh Menon – Because the Mahabharata was so good, and because I could not carry the thick volumes with me on my trip to Bangalore and Calcutta, I ended up buying this relatively-thin hardcover, also by Ramesh Menon, from Bookworm. Retells mostly familiar stories from the Indian tradition, but suffers from a lack of cohesive storytelling. The different-narrators-telling-stories-to-saints format of chapters does not work, and the first person narrative of the Siva-Parvati love story made me cringe. Ample amounts of sex and violence here too, one chapter being dedicated entirely to Siva and Sati’s lovemaking on their first night. ( Need I tell you how much a day and a night of Siva measures up to normal Kali Yuga time?) The problem with trying to narrate the Siva Purana, or any of the other Puranas is two-fold – one, you are trying to narrate different versions of the same story, based on different sources ( for instance, the birth and subsequent elephant-headization of Ganesha), and two, you are effectively saying that your god is the best, and is the supreme manifestation and all the other gods are minor players in the storyline, which effectively negates all other mythological tales other than yours.

But inspite of all those gripes, I still had fun reading the Siva Purana, so there.

Princess Diaries 7: Seventh Heaven: Bought this one in Delhi on December 31st, and nearly got into a fight with a teenage girl at the store, when both of us noticed a copy of Volume 8 on the shelves ( called Princess Diaries: After Eight, and as it turned out later was released on December 26th). But then I noticed the price (399, goddarnit), and magnanimously asked her to buy it. Her mother refused to pay so much for the book, poor thing, and she left it where it originally was. Well, I didn’t buy it either, so there! But the seventh book rocked, as always. This series will forever be one of my ‘crack’ pleasures – a quick read, and a euphoric feeling after completing every volume.

Junji Ito’s Museum of Horror Volumes 1 and 2 – Read volume 2 first. Found volume 1 at Blossom on Saturday, and read it that very night. Exceptional!

Curt Swan: A Life in Comics, a book I picked up by chance at MR Book stall and finished the same day. Did I tell you how much I love Curt Swan? He used to be The Definitive Superman artist for me for quite some time, until John Byrne took over. I like Byrne’s version a lot, mostly because of the positive changes it brought in. The book features a ton of artwork from various Curt Swan works, mostly Superman and Legion of Superheroes, and interviews with almost everybody who had worked with him. Alan Moore’s interview was fascinating because he brings out both the positive and negative points about Mr Swan’s work. The most interesting is the one with Jim Shooter, who started writing for DC comics when he was just 13 years old, and used to send in his submissions as stick figures, instead of a script – and those figures would be translated to actual artwork by Curt Swan.

Pride of Baghdad, Brian K Vaughn and Niko Henrichon. Chandru got this for me from Landmark, Chennai. One of the first reads this year. Bloody brilliant!

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall, Bill Willingham and tonnes of artists. Also courtesy Chandru. Loved the framing sequence, though the last line was a little unnecessary, methinks. All of the individual stories were extremely well-told. James Jean’s Flycatcher story was the best of all. James Jean! James Jean!!! Squeeeeeeee!

Ancestral Vices, Tom Sharpe – My first Sharpe in quite sometime. Not as hilarious as Indecent Exposure or the Wilt books were, but I’m getting into the groove. Yeah, baby!

Usagi Yojimbo volumes 8-17, Stan Sakai. Finished this lot in a night and half a day. These were far, far better than I thought they would be. Stan Sakai brings Japanese history to life using anthropomorphic rabbits, dogs, moles, bats and cats ( neko ninja! komura ninja! mogura ninja! ). The artwork is black and white, a lot of Sergio Aragones influences prevail, especially in the fight scenes – Sakai was the letterer for Aragones’ Groo, after all. The best thing about this book is the way it manages to be all-ages inspite of telling stories with primarily adult sensibilities.

And yesterday, I got The Complete Conan Chronicles by Robert E Howard in the mail. 925 pages of mindblowing coolness. I know what I am going to read the next couple of days.

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Landmark, Mumbai, and a crib about bookstores

Since I’ve been flying around the country quite a bit (urm, planes, not newly developed wings), I have been able to find time to catch up on a bit of reading. And buying. Reread Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors on the Kanpur trip. Also started a Diana Wynne-Jones collection of short stories just after that got over. And graphic novels, loads of them.

Landmark, Mumbai was a revelation. I had been hearing raves about it from oceansandearth and suku. The former gave me a near-apoplexy by mentioning that not only did the place have Samurai Executioner volumes 8 and 9, which yours truly had been searching for high and low, it also had volumes 14 and 15 of Blade of the Immortal, of which I had read volumes 1-13 in white-heat some time ago. And indeed, when I landed up there, the collection sent a rush of blood to my head. It had all that, and much more. Is anyone looking for volumes of Akira? What about David Lloyd’s latest original GN Kickback? Complete runs of Fables TPBs, Y The Last Man, Flash Gordon collections, Promethea – basically whatever mainstream comics has to offer. Even the first two volumes of the Koike/Kojima release Path of the Assassin, which is just being released by Dark Horse.

But hold on a second, no discounts. Wankers. Just went ahead and bought some bare necessities, Samurai Executioner and BotI included. Glared at the hardcover edition of The Complete Conan by Robert E Howard. Wankers. I will just have to pick up the softcover version the next time I am in Blossom. My patience has run out.

It pains me extremely to realise that nowhere in Hyderabad can I buy new books with a 20% discount, like I used to in Bangalore. It’s partly a blessing, because most of my book-buying is now confined to second-hand books ONLY while in this city. And boy oh boy, Best-Frankfurt-MR do manage to throw up surprises every now and then, like the original Tideland novel by Mitch Cullin for just 50 Rs, and a beautiful fairy tale book called Wingless which I picked up the other day just because it has illustrations by Atanu Roy. I do frequent the bigger bookshops – Odyssey and Walden – every now and then, but that’s just to check up on the latest releases. If I like anything, I buy them at 20% discount the next time I am at Bookworm or Blossom. Both Odyssey and Walden have these “Sales” twice every year, in which they sell all their stock at a grand 10% off. Phoeey! Walden does one better. It takes out the worst books of the lot, the marketting manuals that were out of anyone’s radar eight years ago, Java 1.2 API guides, Windows 98 tutorials, and tags them with “special prices” – which we customers are supposed to drool over and buy immediately. They are selling unsold hardcover copies of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince at 15% off – well after the paperback has been released. Morons.

Count your blessings, Bangalore-dwellers. For all the cribs I have against your city, there are certain things that make me gnash my teeth and wish I were still in that office on Museum Road. Ah, to be able to drop in at Blossom every day at lunchtime.

Did you know that Barefoot Gen, the seminal manga on the horrors of Hiroshima, and considered to be one of the inspirations behind Grave of the Fireflies is now available in an Indian edition? Yes, and quite well-priced at 250 Rs, also comes with an introduction by Anand Patwardhan.

Marjane Satrapi’s Chicken and Plums is also available at most bookshops, though the cost price of 600 is somewhat off-putting. I will just wait for a Bangalore trip to pick it up.

Volumes 5-8 of Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha are available quite freely in the market now. ( How freely? Even a backwaters bookshop like Odyssey, Hyderabad has them on display. The last time I asked them if they had Buddha, one of the salesmen pointed me to the “religion” section. Bah! ) Prices also seem to have come down quite a bit. 295 per book, and if you buy them from places that offer a discount, you get them for REALLY cheap. I ought to be peeved that I spent almost twice the money on the first four volumes, but this lowered price makes me quite glad because more people will pick up this superb series, which deserves hosannahs and praise and our eternal gratitude to Osamu Tezuka for creating it all. Highly recommended, folks. Storytelling does not get better than this.

I tried watching Nacho Libre the other night, but fell asleep midway. Is it just me, or is Jack Black trying too hard?

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New books

Best Book Stall has another sale going on right now, at YMCA Secunderabad, and I happened to drop in about 5 days into the sale. Much astounded at the clearance sale section which occupied one side of the huge hall – you could select any 5 books for hundred rupees, ten books for one hundred and fifty. A cursory search yielded gems like hardcover editions of Robert Silverberg’s Valentine Pontifex AND Lord Valentine’s Castle. Volume 3 of Brian Lumley’s Necroscope, assorted parts of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, two Patricia Highsmith novels, Tim Dorsey’s Cadillac Beach, which I am looking forward to reading – I hugely enjoyed Hammerhead Ranch Motel. El Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate, Gregory McDonald’s Son Of Fletch, and I hate to say that I haven’t gotten around to reading any of the Fletch novels yet. John Berendt’s Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil which, to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have picked up had it not been for the price. And interestingly, found this out-of-print book called Mrs Coverlet’s Magicians by Mary Nash. I don’t really remember where I had heard of this book – probably while amazon-surfing some day….

The rest of the sale yielded some great finds too. Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish, which I read immediately, and which, like I expected, has very little in common with Tim Burton’s movie except for the broad theme in general, and the ending. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which I also finished immediately. An illustrated 1946 hardcover of Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, (John Tenniel’s drawings, of course!) I had resisted buying this for quite a long time. An illustrated unabridged version of The Three Musketeers, and the only children’s book William Faulkner ever wrote, called The Wishing Tree. The Encyclopaedia of the Occult, which seemed much comprehensive when I browsed it on the spot, and a book on the early Warner Brothers’ directors. Yukio Mishima’s Sound of Waves, a love story set in Japan, which I had been hearing good things about ( seems it has been adapted to film some five times). Two Shel Silverstein hardcovers – When The Sidewalk Ends and A Light In The Attic. An interesting children’s book called The Philadelphia Chickens – this came with a free CD that had songs sung by folks like Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep and Laura Linney.

Also picked up quite a few random books on music criticism. Had to go there again later, because I ran out of cash.

Spent the long weekend peacefully completing four volumes of Buddha. Can’t wait to get my paws on the remaining four – and I now understand that the term “Godfather of Manga” is one not easily bestowed on a person. Do yourselves a favour and try reading Buddha if you can. Scans are not available online, as far as I know. The storytelling alternates between cartoony goofiness and gut-wrenching realism between pages, and goddamnit, why is so less Tezuka available on eBay?

Which reminds me, I won a lot of 18 comics that included a signed first edition of Craig Thompson’s Goodbye Chunky Rice, a signed copy of Slow News Day by Andi Watson, and Matt Madden’s One Faraway Beach, also signed. Loads of other stuff too, and all for 22.5$, woo hoo!

And there was also the package I received from mikester, containing multiple copies of Solo, each signed by Sergio Aragones, and a trade paperback of Fanboy, that has a sketch by Aragones inside. Why multiple copies of Solo? Because there are rabid Aragones fans in Delhi, Bombay and Kolkata, and it just didn’t seem fair for me to have a copy and them not having it. Now, now, is my halo showing?

What is Solo, you ask? Oh, well, you don’t, but let me tell you anyways. It’s a series published bimonthly by DC comics, with 48 pages and no adds, and correspondingly has a higher price point of 4.99$ per issue. What really sets Solo apart is that every issue is done by one artist, who is given free reign to do whatsoever s/he wants with DC characters. I believe the series has been cancelled after twelve issues, but each of the artists who have contributed so far are legends in their own right – Paul Pope, Tim Sale, Howard Chaykin, Mike Allred, Ted Kristiansen, Richard Corben, and on issue 11, Sergio Aragones. Coincidence department: I bought the first 10 issues issues of Solo from a comicbook fan at a dollar each just two days before Mike mentioned that Mr Aragones was signing at his bookshop.

I had to play a game this weekend – one of these insane urges to trounce virtual meat that crop up from time to time – so I began Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Excellent gameplay, which was kind of expected when I found out that the game was produced by Tigon games, a company founded by Vin Diesel himself ( I remember asking a question about this company in some quiz or the other when it was launched). Currently midway through the game, and enthused enough about gaming to install Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend, the latest TR game. Graphics are superb, but the camera angles are killing me. Is it time to pick up a controller?

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A Day Of Debauchery

Last Wednesday, as I began my day in the office with a customary cup of hot lemon tea in the pantry, my phone rang. I was a little grouchy at that time, and the Bangalore number did not sound familiar, so when the voice at the other end said a cheerful “Hi! How you doing?”, I growled “Who is this?” with that edge in my voice reserved for telemarketeers and credit card companies. The mean-I-am-the-Goddamn-Beatzo tone of voice. A minute later, I was regretting the tone, I could have mumbled shameful monosyllables of apology the whole day long.

The person calling me up had just said “There is a shipment of a thousand new comics that have come in, should I hold them for you?”

Bangalore. Weekend. Plans had not been made, but if you had asked me that morning to describe the weekend that was coming up, I would have sighed contentedly and talked about catching up on sleep and horror anthologies and DVDs and Tom-Yum-Goong ( Yes, YES, the latest Tony Jaa-Prachya Pinkaew movie has been released in Hyderabad, yeehaw!), the kind of lazed two-day reprieve one looks forward to with half-closed eyes and a contemplative smile. One phone call had thrown my plans out of the window – how much more Motorola-ad-ish could my life get? After wildly considering booking flight tickets ( I had to slap myself a couple of times to come out of this corporate “flights-will-save-time” mood), made some phone calls and found out that there were not one, not two, but three quizzes happening on Sunday. Ok, technically two quizzes, because I wasn’t allowed to participate in the Metaquizziks Anniversary quiz, bah! So, Wednesday evening, I had return tickets from Sharma Travels, the folks who have gotten so used to selling me Bangalore tickets that they waive the twenty rupees service charge for the return journey. Regular customer, baby, regular customer.

Two days passed by in a flash.

On Saturday morning, I was in Bangalore, doing the same things I do whenever I reach the city on Saturday mornings. Checklist: coffee at a hotel on Anand Rao Circle whose name I can never remember, walk down Racecourse Road until I spy an auto with a digital meter, go to Anil Kumble circle, walk to my old office, brush and freshen up, walk to India Coffee House, have a scrambled eggs on toast and a coffee, walk to Bookworm right next door, say hi to the folks there, pick up books I had reserved the last time, reserve books that I will in all likelihood pick up the next trip, walk down Church Street to Magazines, then go to Planet M, and then to the Brigade Road outlet of Bookworm – oh, hold on, I got carried away, this was not about the daily routine, this was about what happened this Saturday.

So after India Coffee House, I went to Bookworm and picked up two books that I had reserved, an Iain M Banks Against A Dark Background, and Cliff McNish’s The Doomspell Trilogy. Walked over to Magazines, where the comics were supposed to have arrived. It was exactly 10:01 AM by my watch. I had told Amjad that I would be there at 10 Am on Saturday. I won, wheeeee!

The shop was closed.

Frustration. Impatience. Much growling of inner beast. Walked to Planet M, which was supposed to open at 11, it seems. Double Grr. Walked back to Magazines, just in time to see them opening the shop – the first magazine I saw when the shop opened was an issue of Art in America, with the cover story being “Female artists in comics”. What an omen. The price was 249 Rs, and I hastily put it back. Then, of course, he got the comics out. One basket. Two baskets. Three. By the time the fourth was out, I was gibbering and flapping around in a pool of saliva. Watchmen issues. Complete Greg Rucka runs on Wonder Woman. Batman# 407, the last Year One issue. Long Geoff Johns runs on Flash and Willingham runs on Robin. Most of Batman: War Games. ( I didn’t like that so much when I read it, but it’s always fun to own new Batman issues). I remembered to call up a friend about the loot. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey, how soon can you come to Magazines?
Him: Will take me about an hour and a half.
Me: What if I tell you that Watchmen issues are available at Magazines right now?
Him: ( scary sounds on the other end of the phone) I am coming. Be right there. Bye. *click*

So he came, after I had completed my first pass at the lot, and after the speechlessness and the obligatory swoon, he proceeded to create his own pile ( of comics, I mean, not saliva ). The interiors of Magazines appeared rather bright that day, because there were beaming faces all around. We sat and made a third pass after a coffee break, and by the time the billing was complete, it was three o’clock and the pile of 1000 was short by about 300. A quick trip to Bookworm, where we deposited our bags, then to the nearby momo joint for a late, late lunch. The plan was to go to National Market and check up on fresh stock. As we walked out, I remembered that autos are not allowed into MG Road between 2 and 7, so we walked down Church Street again. Hit Blossom or not hit Blossom? Ok, hit Blossom. Walk up to the comics section, and find a pile of 80’s stuff which my friend pounces on. I saunter over to the other side of the rack, and take out a couple of Amar Chitra Kathas. Hey, these are in pretty good condition. No reprints and no staples, either, and no binding holes on the edges. And, gulp, they seem to be in order, too.

An hour later, we are at the billing counter, I am holding 101 ACK copies, my friend about 60, and assorted DC issues, and both of us are about to do the tandava right then and there, yo.

National Market gave me the first seasons of Rome and The X-Files, three seasons of The Family Guy, Eli Roth’s Hostel ( am pretty sure it’s not a release version of the DVD, but I want to see it! Will buy the release version later.), and The Blair Witch Project. Came back to Bookworm, I had fought with my conscience enough to pick up this book called Warner Bros Animation Art, which featured not just the history of Warner Bros animation, but also a list of the limited edition cel prints released by Warner Bros. The sight of those signed and numbered historical artifacts make me tear up, I tell you.

The Day of Debauchery ended, like all other Saturdays at Bangalore, with a dinner at Mei Ying. But not before we ran up to this new second-hand bookshop that had opened next door, and taken a look at their collection, and added a couple more Amar Chitra Kathas and Batmans to our pile. What. A. Day.

And to think I still haven’t seen Tom-Yum-Goong on the screen. But that shall be remedied in a couple of hours, heh heh.

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