Things of minor import

The Lagaan Box set has had its price reduced to Rs 999. Half of its initial cost. Well, what are you waiting for?

Slightly old news: Virgin Comics closes shop. Sort of. They claim there are plans to relocate to Los Angeles to be “closer to Hollywood”. Personally I think it was the mediocrity and the hype that did them in. Most of the comics I read were a confused mess. I doubt the writers involved even knew who their intended audience was. On one hand, they insisted on the strong authentic Indian experience, hyped up the reliance on Indian mythology, and came up with lumps of derivative storytelling that had more in common with fantasy cliches. Have you tried reading Ramayan 3392 AD or Devi? One was a puerile fantasy story that made the characters we know “edgy”. The other was a Witchblade rip-off, with Indian police inspectors wearing trenchcoats and skyscraper-ridden towns called Sitapur. The Sadhu, another series is described by some unknown user on Wikipedia as “comparable to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman“, which made me laugh out aloud. At the end of the day, Virgin comics was basically packaging superhero stories coated with a thin Indianised veneer and decked up with a lot of Photoshop filters. The irony is that the unavailability of the releases in non-metros in India. I have yet to see issues in any major bookstores in Hyderabad. ( MR had some second-hand copies, last I checked.)

Currently reading Zot!: The Complete Black and White Collection: 1987-1991 by Scott McCloud. Zot was a comic book published in the 80’s, written and drawn by McCloud before he took on the task of writing his trilogy of comic-book treatises. In a way, it’s a brave venture, bringing the series back in print after you’ve preached to the choir about various aspects of sequential storytelling – in the introduction, McCloud says the same thing, about his nervousness at laying bare the follies of youth before readers who are accustomed to seeing him as a comics guru. I have just begun the book, and it does not disappoint. There are glitches, obviously, but the overall package is a sturdy little relic. McCloud is vocal about the manga influence on this early work, and it shows in the pacing, the panel layouts and the action sequences. The storyline deals with a superhero from a comicbook universe arriving on “our” world, the work playing against the innocent Silver Age sensibilities of the character against mundane, real-world elements of the latter.

Two-morrows publishing, the folks who bring out really cool books and magazines on comics and comic creators, are having a sale on their site. Magazines like Rough Cut, Write Now and Comic Book Artist are on sale for 2$ each ( a 71% discount!), while the book section has upto 50% discountson them. Good stuff, wish the shipping charges to India wouldn’t be so high…

On a similar note, Top Shelf Comix have their annual $3 sale, where a number of bestselling graphic novels are offered at that price and quite a few others have discounts on them as well.


War and Pieces

If, for any particular reason, you want to stop reading Fables, issue 75 would be a good place to hop off. Because this issue is what it was all leading to. All that build-up, all the peripheral characters, the sidetracked storylines, everything comes together in ‘War and Pieces’, the three-issue storyline that concludes in #75. This is how Bill Willingham would have ended the series had Fables not become the bestselling, spinoff-producing behemoth that it has become . The story will continue, but will it be the same? I really, really hope so. On top of it, James Jean, cover artist extraordinaire – the man responsible for establishing the classical, definitive look of the Fables comic – is bowing out to pursue a career in fine arts. Issue 82 is his last.

The short-term consequence of this is the abandonment of all hope I had of owning an original Jean Fables cover. In the long run, I foresee the end of the five-year Eisner award winning streak that the series has had for Best Cover Artist. Unless they get someone worthy enough to fill Jean’s shoes. The problem is that regular cover artists like Adam Hughes and Brian Bolland, both of whom I adore completely, lack that otherworldly painted style that Jean brought to Fables. Tara McPherson, for instance, who painted that Frau Totenkinder story in 1001 Nights of Snowfall has that special spark. So does Sam Weber, who’s done some amazing work for Vertigo’s House of Mystery, with Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges. Ah, well, we shall see who editor Shelley Bond goes with, the official announcement should be out soon.

And in more news, All Star Batman and Robin #10 was recalled from retailers by DC. Here’s why.



I have stopped buying CDs. They clutter up the house and I end up listening to the ripped mp3s anyway while the actual discs gather dust in the living room. To assuage a bit of the illegal-downloading guilt, I got myself an eMusic account. 11.99$ per month for 30 tracks, and they have a huge selection of electronic music AND almost all new Indian bands put up their music there. This month, I downloaded Shaa’ir and Func’s album Light Tribe, S&F being the most hyped Indian band EVER ( except maybe Raghu Dixit, whose album I didn’t enjoy at all ). These guys are mentioned in some way or the other in every Rolling Stone India issue, and one of their tracks featured in a free CD that came with the magazine two months ago. They even ended up making an appearance in ‘Rock On’. Shaa’ir is Randolph Correia, the lead guitarist for Pentagram and Func is Monica Dogra, and together they make for an amazing package, Func’s vocals and Correia’s grooves meshing perfectly in the electronica-fuelled tracks.

Smoke a.k.a Dhruv/Ashutosh’s Smoke Signals was the second legit download album of the month. I loved the few songs I heard for movies like Bombay Boys and Snip!, as well as random RSJ albums, and recently, there was this animated video on one of the music channels that featured a song called ‘Summertime Rocks’ from this new album, with guest vocals by Kailash Kher. The rest of ‘Smoke Signals’, as I found out, was not bad at all! The overall mood of the album is really Indian, but with a very eclectic soundscape. ‘Yaad Tumhari’, a thumri by Shubha Joshi, is a pure classical number at first, but then a subtle rock guitar riff plays in the background, along with a very very soft percussion track that never overpowers the tabla. But that’s followed by ‘On and On’, a funkily mixed rendition of Mahalaxmi Iyer’s vocals chanting a shloka – the vocals are heavily processed, and the carnatic violin sounds like a mad combination of an electric guitar and a phat synthline as the song progresses. The rest of the songs are similarly unpredictable. Rags Khote singing Bangla in a French accent in ‘You’re So Beautiful’. The African-sounding ‘The Final Frontier’. The very unlullabylike ‘Lullaby’.

Both the albums, incidentally, have been released by Blue Frog records based out of Mumbai. The company grew out of a live club, and now has its own sound labs, a music production house, and A&R services. I believe Dhruv & Ashutosh run it, or are at least major stakeholders in it. The site looks well-designed, and so far, in addition to S&F and Smoke, the label has brought out albums by John McLaughlin, Sanjay Divecha and Vivek Rajagopalan. They do sell CDs online, as well as mp3 tracks and also have a licenseable audio library for use by corporates.

Of course, the No-CDs policy does not apply to Rahman albums, hoo-ah!


Nihilanth 2008

Part of the aftermath of every quiz I conduct is the proliferation of questions-that-should-have-been. I kid you not, it’s almost like Nature unburdens herself with a deluge of quiz-worthy information just to spit in your eye and rub it in about how much your quiz sucked and how better it would have been had you just read this bit of news one week ago, or if only you thought of that particular theme topic, or…

Ah well, the trick is to ignore all of the self-loathing and move on in life. As far as I am concerned, I just finished a quiz, and it went well, according to the organisers and quite a few of the participants. It was the Entertainment quiz for Nihilanth 2008, organised by IIT Bombay. Nihilanth, for those who came in late, is an inter-IIT-IIM quiz festival that has been around since 2002. In theory an annual event, it suffers from frequent lapses in its agenda; not without reason – the selection of venue and time of the year in which to conduct the fest is a humongously complicated process that involves blood sacrifices under the full moon, tactical maneuvers fought with eldritch weapons and followed by much lamentation of women. Uh, complicated process, don’t bother. But doing a Nihilanth quiz has always been fun. The first one was my first ever professional outing as a QM, one that brought me into contact with quite a few interesting people, set in motion a frenzied quiz-outings across institutes throughout the country and also ensured a steady supply of Sino-Japanese-Korean content into my hard drive. This one had zero effect on hard drive, but was fun all the same.

What surprised me the most this time when I entered the hall was the number of familiar faces in attendance. Quizzing folks I remembered meeting from quite-a-few-years-ago and who I was pretty sure would be off the college circuit by now. Then I realised the bulk of them were ex-IITians who were now IIMians. The Prelims went by without a hiccup, and because there was a lunch break before the finals, I got some time to polish up the slides for the Finals, sat back and read Warren Ellis’s Thunderbolts until the quiz began at 2. Apart from a bit of confusion in the middle of the finals where some of the videos did not show up on the projection screen – I had to exit the presentation, which in turn crashed Powerpoint and forced me to reboot the laptop – the finals went pretty much on time and in synch with whatever expectations I had. A long visual connect in the middle caused an incredible upset in the rankings because the IIM Kozhikode team ( which included LVC veteran Shamanth ) cracked it early on. IIM Indore maintained their lead throughout the quiz. Quite a few teams from IIMA were in the finals, and I believe one of them came third. Because there was a bit of time left and also because IITM weren’t anywhere around, I snuck in my second long visual connect as well. I had put it on hold the day before because udupendra told me there was something similar asked in this year’s Saarang, the kind of information that forces hasty rearrangement of slides and much heart-burn.

The trip was pretty hectic because I wanted to be back early on Sunday, and the only other quiz I managed to attend was Shamanth’s Lone Wolf quiz. That officially makes him the first quizmaster+participant in Nihilanth history. Scheduled to begin at 7 PM, it began at around 11 PM, not for any fault of the organisers, apparently there was a clash of venues with another event. This brought back good memories of late-night ( or early-morning, depending on how you look at it) quizzes of yore, but my biological clock just could not handle the sleep-cycle shift and I crashed at around 2:30 AM.

Hold on a second, you ask. Wasn’t I supposed to be off quizzing? Well, yes I was. I guess this stint officially ends my sabbatical. Oh yes, world, I am back. ( You can be Mozart, if you want.)