Friday, February 27, 2009

Artist Corner: Cyril Rolando

Ashamed to have missed a Friday so shamelessly, I appear once again with a new treat and hopefully a Friday will never be spared a good art interview. *grin* So for today I have Cyril Rolando otherwise known as AquaSixio on DeviantArt in my virtual chair. The man of the hour is French and still an undiscovered diamond, but I wish him some great professional realization.

Harry Markov: First of all thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. Your art has an enchanting and quirky quality, which sets it apart from everything else I have seen so far. So I would like to know what created this bright individual. What attracted you to art? What can you say was the first encounter with the art form to inspire you to become an artist?

Cyril Rolando: In 2003, my brother drew on oekaki board and I was curious to see how it worked. I didn’t know how to draw on traditional support, but I had a good sense for the color setting and intuition for the composition. My beginning was hard, but I am a persevering person and after months people started calling me an « artist » to mark my progress. But I don’t think myself as an artist.

HM: Which artist so far has had an exceptional influence on your work?

CR: It's not an original influence, but Tim Burton and Hayao Miyazaki are both the roots of my own world. I like the absurdity, the creativity and the enchanting universes, where colors bring more emotions than thousand smiles or a million tears. Miyazaki's team is really impressive.

HM: Can you talk a bit about yourself? I attempted a trip to your website, but as I see it is under construction for the time being. Who is Cyril? A freelance artist or perhaps you have a day job and in that case, how does painting fit in your life?

CR: My website is finally done. It gathers my drawings, old and new pieces. I'm uncomfortable speaking about me, but I know accepting to be interviewed, I can't escape from this part. I'm 24, I live in Paris and I started drawing five years ago, when I was a psychology student. I'm a freelance artist, who draws for fun with color and shares his point of view on the world. In my life, I am psychologist and I work with autistic children.

HM: I noticed that you keep varying the number of pieces you keep on your DA profile, which leads me to believe that there is much more of your work hidden somewhere. Will it be revealed soon enough on your website?

CR: Five years of drawings represent around 200 digital pieces. I don't really want to "hide " my works, but many of these pieces are quite... ridiculous (form and content). They aren't hidden, but available on my website. I want to see interesting artworks in my DA gallery, representative of who I am.

HM: Now looking through your art I won’t label you as a fantasy artist, because there is quite the diversity of pieces, but still I have to say that most of what you do is surreal. Do you have affection towards fantasy to draw ideas from and what attracts you to the otherworldly?

CR: I dislike the concept of a label for everything. I think the "fantasy" style don't reflect the soul of my world. On the other side, surreal art is not my cup of tea. It's an interesting question because I've never found a word (English or French) which could describe my "style" but reading "otherworldy" I think now I get it.

HM: Though I think this is kind of racist, I attribute the fact that your work so far as exhibited ideas and viewpoints so different from most artists to you being French. And I mean that in a positive way. What do you use for an inspiration in the country of culture?

CR: Er, hard question. I think I am proud to be French because this country inspires me many symbols (revolution, human rights, romantic love, culture of art, gastronomy...) but I don't want to promote France through my drawings. Overall being French doesn't improve my use of English, unfortunately.

HM: Most of your work involves animals and I have to wonder where this love for the animal kingdom comes from? Also do animals carry some sort of hidden symbols?

CR: Lately, I’m listening to the new song of Joshua called "". This is the kind of song I would write. I think humans are proud, mistrustful and self-centered. I want to hand over to the animals, to critic or play human roles. They don't carry hidden symbols; this is just a return to innocence, a naive vision of the world. This is a return to childhood, where animals can speak, dreams become reality and imagination rules the world.

HM: Other favorites of mine illustrate a small child with a head piece on its head, which makes it look like an arrow has pierced its head. “The Secret Garden” is personal favorite of mine and over all I am interested who is that child?

CR: Two years ago, I wanted to share parts of my life, point of view on love, sadness, happiness, and discouragement... all these emotions accompanying me everywhere. When I had to stage myself in my drawings, this boy, full of symbols, allowed me to play in the world I used to dream. The arrow represents a kind of pain, but without the arrow I can't travel in this world. It's like a key or a costume to join the fancy-dress ball. So, if you aren’t labeled as „otherworldly " you can't enter!

HM: Most naturally I would like to ask: Which was your favor
ite piece to paint? And in that line of thought which one gave you the hardest time? What is the hardest aspect in painting for you?

CR: My favorite is "SAVE OUR SOULS"[first one posted on the left], because of the presence of many symbols describing the reality of my life, work, and personal quest. The piece which has given me the hardest time is "MONKEYS ARE SWINGING "[browse the site in year under 2006]. I was unable to fix the mistakes (perspective/anatomic/colors). I felt really discouraged after 38 hours of fighting. I want to see emotions in my pieces, in my opinion this is the hardest aspect in painting, because you could easily get a cliché or kitsch emo pictures.

HM: An exciting moment for me is the art itself. Each piece seems like it’s done digitally and yet there is this hint of brushwork applied. What are the tools you most commonly use and how long usually does it take to create a piece from start to finish?

CR: I feel the same as you, and I am really interested when artists add a step by step of their drawing to reflect the slow evolution. I do add my work-in-progress to show how strange blurred strokes could turn into a face or a tree. I did a lot of tutorials for explaining my approach.

HM: Are there any genres, styles or techniques you would like to experiment with?

CR: I am really impressed by janaschi's works, I will try to understand how she works and try to adjust it to my style / limits.

HM: I also have to wonder what your current projects are. What can we expect?

CR: Any project. I can work as a psychologist in the daytime and being an artist by night. I will keep on drawing illustrations and making tutorials to explain how I work. If a studio wants to work on my world, I would be glad to share my ideas/story/scenario, but it's not the case, for the moment.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

“Inkheart” by Cornelia Funke

Title: “Inkheart”
Author: Cornelia Funke
Series: Inkworld Series, Book 1
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 534
Publisher: The Chicken House

This story is about the bookbinder Mo and his daughter Meggie, whose lives become an adventure one day. Mo is not an ordinary bookbinder. He has the magic talent to read aloud and call different objects or people from the books he reads. However this gift is too bitter since Mo has managed to read out the cruelest villain called Capricorn from a book called “Inkheart”, but also send Meggie’s mother to take Capricorn’s place in the story. The story picks up when Capricorn has adjusted himself to the new world and kidnaps Mo to use his talent for monstrous and criminal purposes.

Classification & Literary Class: “Inkheart” came as a rather generous present from my beloved friend Blogger Bellezza, who insisted I get my own copy. Thanks to her now I do and will cherish it. This is so to say my initiation in modern YA fantasy literature and I still can’t believe this is a rather new bestseller from the year 2003. It sounds like an already settled in classic to me like “Alice in Wonderland”. As everybody knows I really can’t continue a review unless I label the novel as a certain nuance of urban fantasy and in this case the right is fully mine, since pretty much we have extraordinary tales happen in an alternative and exact photo copy of Earth. But since this is a Young Adult title you can’t go without the typical Bildungsroman elements aka a coming of age story.

As far as age goes “Inkheart” is originally meant for the audience 10-15 year olds, but for the people, who regularly indulge their inner child it is like any other good read, exciting. There was a certain kind of joy reading this book that left you in that pure innocent state of being an excited small child. Skillful illustrations and excerpts from famous published works that act as summaries only strengthen the experience, while Funke enchants with her magnificent style and prose. 500 pages passed like nothing I have ever read.

Characters & Depth: Staying true to the age group, Funke approaches her characters in a more simplistic manner, though it is safe to say that characters don’t become two dimensional cardboard cutouts. It is also safe to assume that Meggie is the main protagonist and we see about two thirds of the story through her eyes. The curious thing with her character is that she experiences and learns about the world through the endless volumes of books she reads. Her inquisitive and curious nature has introduced her to the great woes and tribulations of heroes and introduced her to the dark side of the world, but books always sheltered her from really living the bad, so as the story progresses Meggie accepts the challenges throw at her and matures. This is an almost untraceable transition that feels so natural.

The rest of the characters are more like overall symptoms. Mo shows a bit less character growth, but is a positive constant father figure, whose devotion to his daughter is inspirational and endearing enough to stay a constant favorite to young readers alike. Dustfinger is the antihero so to say, who has dubious morals and betrays the protagonists for a chance to return to his own world. In the end though he has a change of heart and does the right thing. He is the embodiment of the idea “it’s never too late to do the right thing”. Meggie’s aunt Elinor is the archetype of all book addicts. Her devotion to books surpasses the need to be around people and she is numb towards the joys of life with people. As the story ends we see staggering 180 degree change as she begins to long to be amongst people like she never before had. Her character in my opinion is a reminder that it is too dangerous and lonesome to shut yourself only in the world of imagination.

Worldbuilding & Believability: Main worldbuilding here gravitates around the ability of Mortimer to read things and people out of and in books. This is like Newton’s third law of physics, perhaps the only one I know, that for every effect or force there is an equal counter effect or force. This equality in exchange from one plain to another is the key here. Whenever Mo has to read something out from a title, there is a price that has to be made and nobody knows what can disappear. This keeps the tension and the stakes high, plus the idea is quite cool. Many times I have had moments with novels, when I found myself wishing things out, but for better or for worse with no effect.

The second part of this gift is that it can be controlled. It works with any written word and as the book suggests a skillful writer can derail a current story and change its course or create a new one just as easily. The suggestion of ultimate power or creative freedom is mind boggling, but as shown quite risky and to be used with caution. “Inkheart” is a lesson in moderation and the ageless “With power comes great responsibility”, but done in a very entertaining and possibly most original manner.

The Verdict: To be honest I never expected that YA would be in my taste range. I still wouldn’t be comfortable with the genre as a whole, but the Inkworld series is one that must be read. For me experiencing something new every time is a way to keep out of the rut or fall into clichés, so if you are someone to enjoy a bit of diversity pick this one up. I will also be watching the movie soon enough.

Monday, February 23, 2009

WATCHMEN - Awesome....

In light of the new movie coming out in May 2009 I decided to do a bit of reading and get acquainted with the “Watchmen” miniseries. To be honest it was a long slow read, but in retrospect I had the best time with a serialized graphic novel in my entire life. No wonder people keep repeating “most celebrated of all times”, plus I almost regret having to read it from my computer screen.

I and “Watchmen” started on the wrong foot. Being from a generation, where comic book heroes look like Wonder Woman or Colossus. Seeing heroes represented as simple masked vigilantes with no inkling of powers and already middle-aged and disbanded and looking so ordinary doesn’t feel so good. But issue after issue I liked seeing behind the smoke and mirror tricks the public sees and get behind the scenes so to say. The team Moore, Higgins and Gibbons break the cliché and pretty much create a different brand of comic book hero genre. Another aspect to pay attention to is the name Moore, which you might have heard even though you can’t connect in an instant. It has its own gravitational field you can’t ignore and then again there is the artwork. I have to be truthful to my tastes that I never got used to it. Fat lines and more flat colors, grim and kind of noir look doesn’t appeal to me, but yet it had a powerful effect on reading experience and when art and story collaborate great things happen.

And then again “Watchmen” is not about the story itself, but rather a lesson or exercise in the art of storytelling. The comic book format though treated lightly and with some sort of sarcasm by mainstreamers has the best capacity to accommodate a surprising quantity of symbols both visual and in content and the structure itself. I had to do some reading to check whether what I thought I found out has relevance. There is nothing worse than a dimwit know-it-all mess up a beloved classic. I confirmed my ideas, helped me develop them and got more than what I bargained for.

“Watchmen” is the sort of work that has to be reread with extra care, patience and fervor to be decoded and grasped fully. I for one don’t have the habit, so I missed some elements, but what I learned was fantastic and most satisfying. Moore poses the question whether in a world where super heroes are realistic and ask ourselves whether we would be better off without them. The Watchmen are almost all past their prime, retired, share a nihilistic viewpoint and are more are less self centered, swallowed in their own problems. As Moore said it himself he simply deconstructs the super hero myth so that readers can reflect upon its significance.

What engaged me more in the series happened to be the small touches like the yellow smiley face with the spot of blood above the eye, which is the most recognizable symbol in the whole series. I view it as the downfall of masked vigilantes in the large sense. Another interesting touch happens to be the motif of having a story within the story. “Tales of the Black Freighter” is a fictional comic book pirate series and one of its stories “Marooned” is being read by a black teen in “Watchmen”. This is a genius move to underline the main story in “Watchmen”, when Ozymandias attempts to save the world from a full out nuclear war on the back of thousands of dead people including his former teammates, the same way the young mariner in “Marooned” uses the corpses of his fellow shipmates to escape his island prison and in the process goes insane. The world and back story are also provided in the end of every issue apart from the last one with excerpts from books, letters and notes written by the characters or for them.

There is far more going on in “Watchmen” that meets the eye and in any case I would recommend this to everyone or anyone. It has this quality of awesomeness, the ultimate conspiracy and the most tension filled exposition.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

“Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi

Title: “Old Man’s War”
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: Sci-Fi
Pages: 320 pages
Publisher: Tor Books

Summary: John Perry is 75 years old, when he joins the Colonial Defense Force. In the future in order to keep Earth exist, peaceful and complacent a new military force has emerged, independent from Earth with the single mission to protect it. This is a mysterious institution that colonizes the universe to make sure humans keep on living and it’s happy to enlist everyone, only if they are of 75 years or old. Perry only can wonder, how he would perform professional soldier’s duties, but as the story progresses science makes all seem possible. What follows is space travel, dangerous missions, forming new friendships and losing dear people, a career in military and of course making it through another day. It is one heck of a journey Perry meets with his humor and optimism.

Classification & Literary Class: I had the vague idea that it would be around the end of February that I would have the chance to post something about the Sci-Fi Experience event I participate in. “Old Man’s War” came highly recommended by none other by two of the most devoted fantasy fans, who by the way happen to have broad tastes. This has to say something about the novel itself, since the genre tag says military sci-fi. The novel is divided into three parts, which respectively cover Perry’s training, his first missions and his climb on the military ladder.

True and devoted sci-fi fans with intimate novels can discuss the strengths and weaknesses as a military sci-fi novel and its relation to tradition and other similar titles. I am not an expert and don’t know the first thing about the native tropes or scenarios, but as a reader I found “Old Man’s War” to be a delightful and humorous read. The first half, around 160 pages, carries the story with the most successful jokes I have yet to read in a novel. Scalzi has given John Perry the ability to crack jokes at any time. This works positive in the first part to keep the spirits lifted before the story picks momentum. It also serves as an ingenious way to keep the introduction to the world and its technology and rules interesting without turning into tedious info dumps. People, who don’t enjoy sci-fi for its trend to get lost in space gadgetry and physics, can safely grab the book and enjoy it as it breaks the ice between the reader and the genre.

Characters & Depth: John Perry is perhaps the most likeable man in the universe and for one I wished he could exist. Women would find him as perfect husband material, children would want a father like him, young men to be like him and everybody else would be elated to have him as an acquaintance. John Perry is a fun, positive, smart and shows incentive and decidedness when needed. The man has gotten luck on his side too, which helped him survive barely and all with perfect timing. This makes him perfect soldier material as takes on hurdle after hurdle.

I have to note that “Old Man’s War” is as an interconnected series of vignettes that record the protagonist’s military life, his missions and his personal recollections and interactions. It is a sort of journal without the novel having been written as one, which wouldn’t have worked at all, if the protagonist wasn’t likeable and had no charisma. “Old Man’s War” has this voyeuristic quality in the sense of we see a person’s life and we watch how he transforms in his new environment, pushes through each day, handles loss, deals with nostalgia, survives and wins battles, celebrates victory.

This is what John Scalzi writes about, at least for me: human nature, ties between people, war, its role and military life. However this can’t be achieved without a supporting cast. Military life is life like no other, whether you like it or not. Pressure and knowledge it can end suddenly speed up everything from forming friendships, to feeling attached, to living and bearing loss. Faces keep changing, people that are decent and talented or generally good die, because life in war is uncompromising. Such are the rules and everyone must abide. Each death is heroic in its own way and serves to Scalzi’s bigger scheme of ideas. Every character so far serves a purpose and never fails to show depth and strength. Those who survive only strengthen their bonds and reflect upon their new and altered lives. Life’s value is something that can’t be wrapped up in words, but it can be shown by actions and “Old Man’s War” is full of them. No more needs to be said.
Worldbuilding & Believability: I believe, and I am ready to take a beating and booing, that fantasy and sci-fi are kind of like twin siblings that have simply drifted into different directions. Fantasy relies on its mythological races and magic. Sci-fi relies on its technology and extraterrestrial life forms. In both cases Scalzi rocks. I am not known to have affection towards physics or electronic blueprints and know-how, so I had some difficult moments in the beginning to digest the conversation about how this and that worked. Thankfully those count on the fingers on one hand. Otherwise the ideas behind space travel, weapons, the way to turn a 75 year old into a fighting machine are beyond interesting and I leave them for you to discover, since that is one great part of the reading experience.

So far sci-fi has been populated with largely humanoid alien species. Star-Trek, Star Wars, The Hainish Cycle and even the Alien movies feature extraterrestrials that are bi-pedal have hands, hand-shaped claws and really go for the homo-sapiens look. Scalzi states that nobody really knows about what can be expected in outer space, how life can evolve in a totally different environment. Looks can be deceiving and no highly evolved rational species needs to be in the mold of humans.

The Verdict: A really strong title. It was something different for me, since I am not fond of the military as a topic or space for that matter, but it is undeniable that the writing is up for the challenge to make you read it. I suppose it would be an overkill, but I can recommend this to anyone, who likes speculative fiction… It has enough appeal to make people cross genre borders and forget about literary snobbism.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"The Dead Kid" by Darrel Schweitzer

Author: Darrel Schweitzer
Title: “The Dead Kid”
Anthology: "The Living Dead" [Title Post]
Position: 8
Length: 12 pages

Author Info: Darrell Schweitzer is the author of the novels The Shattered Goddess and The Mask of the Sorcerer, as well as numerous short stories, which have been collected in Transients, Nightscapes, Refugees from an Imaginary Country, and Necromancies and Netherworlds. Well-known as an editor and critic, he co-edited the magazine Weird Tales for several years, and is currently co-editing anthologies with Martin H. Greenberg for DAW Books, such as The Secret History of Vampires.

Summary: The story develops in the summer of 1957, when two brothers David and Albert make a strange connection to a dead boy. It all begins with a dare and a trip to bad boy’s Luke Bradley’s fort in the outskirts of Rednor, Pennsylvania, where both boys see a dead boy in a box. After their first meeting the boys are changed and have a connection with the corpse and are later to liberate him and let him have a good time.

Favorite Snip: We carried the dead kid between us. We took him back across the golf course, under the bushes, to our special places. We showed him the secret signs. Then we took him into town. We showed him the storefronts, Wayne Toy Town where I bought models, where there were always neat displays of miniature battlefields or of monsters in the windows. We showed him where the pet store was and the ice cream store, and where you got comic books.
Albert sat down on the merry-go-round in the playground, holding the dead kid’s box securely beside him. I pushed them around slowly. Metal creaked.
We stood in front of our school for a while, and Albert and the dead kid were holding hands, but it seemed natural and right.

Analysis: “The Dead Kid” is one of the most bizarre short stories I have encountered so far and not much of a typical zombie tale. I think I can classify it as zombie tale for teens in love with horror with a moral. Aesop oughta be real proud. But if you do look for the background and reason, why Schweitzer wrote this story, it is to give closure to one killed boy in real life, who never had the chance to experience life or get a happy ending.

“The Dead Kid” is maybe a message meant for minors about peer pressure being a negative force in one’s development and how somewhere someone loves you for who you are. But in a twisted kind of way. Unlike other zombies this dead kid doesn’t seem from the flesh eating ones. Perhaps he is a vegan or I guess mad scientist zombies are flawed in that department and it with the two brothers have a great time together in the ending, which is even endearing.

The strongest trait in the story and the factor that turns into the most disturbing 12 pages to read in your life, is the yet again proved maxima: “Children are cruel.” Yes, kids are cuddly and laugh and are the sunshine in your life, but you don’t remember grade school and high school very fondly. Yes, kids from your childhood formed packs and stalked you ready to pounce and make you feel miserable. In “The Dead Kid” we revisit the dare devil dominative bully to see how a bunch of 12 year olds defile a walking body pretty much in the same fashion sunny days, a magnifying glass and insects make one great blast. As much as I never would want to admit that a modern kid these days can go as far, it is pretty plausible child violence to get out of hand.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dollhouse: Joss Whedon’s return to Godhood?

To answer my question: inconclusive...

Perhaps I judge too harshly, when I compare “Dollhouse” pilot episode to the ill fated and well forgotten “Bionic Woman”, which failed to complete a season. The latter had the misfortune to be caught between the punches during the writers’ strike, but still had it been something worth watching “Bionic Woman” would have triumphed. I hope Dollhouse” vastly improve with further episodes.

But I have a good reason for comparison or should I say reasons only after this first taste. First, both shows are more on the sci-fi side with the modified human being trope in the middle. Second, both have a premise, which can arouse interest and perhaps make a decent watch. Third, so far no convincing execution that screams ‘Watch Me’.

For the people with tendency to miss things, such as myself usually, Joss Whedon takes the old “corporation/government [your pick] has super modified units fit to perform any daring task in a kind of mindless way” for a spin. So you get to play Barbie with people, which is like a fetish for so many control freaks. The twist here is that you don’t just slap the clothes for a certain role, but also matching personality and physical attributes. Fun, huh? But of course your secretly created super agents need a super hideout, which is a human dollhouse with all the luxury in the world from yoga/Pilates classes and masseuses.

I like this concept, because it is well founded in society. Nowadays people don’t trust each other. You never know who somebody really is. Identity can be easily faked and every action harbors and ulterior motive. I am positive that “Dollhouse” can make a good comic book series, if it fails as a TV shows and here are the things that make me look with the critical eye.

1. I never thought I would see Eliza Dushku in high heels, a skirt that practically says “I mark the line between the ass and thighs” and dancing to Lady Gaga. This was a joke. However I dare to hypothesize that Echo’s character will be harder to connect or relate to, because in every episode she will be playing a different person. I know Dusku to be an expert on mentally unstable characters way back in Buffy, but playing practically schizophrenic will be a tough role. So far although her face a great sight for me, her performance is not as engaging.

2. Joss Whedon falls into a cliché. For Echo to start and remember her life she needs to witness something unsettling and stumbling in during a brainwashing procedure on a new girl. So she just happens to see the dazzling lights from an all glass room and follows and simply goes in through an unlocked door. Now not to argue with Whedon, but during an incriminating brainwashing procedure doors ought to be locked to prevent something like that or at least the high tech house show that someone is coming. Duh!

3. I am not really sure where this will go… With “Buffy” you knew apocalypses were on the menu. With “Battlestar Gallactica” you also had an idea what was going to be the main vibe. With “Supernatural” you figured two dudes would be killing stuff. So far I have never seen a series that is as ambiguous as this one apart from “Lost”, whose purpose was to make you feel lost.

I am going to keep watching and see whether I will just figure my time is better spent somewhere else or not. So far watchable.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Official Promo Trailer for "Hater" by David Moody and First Chapters

REMAIN CALM DO NOT PANIC TAKE SHELTER WAIT FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS THE SITUATION IS UNDER CONTROL Society is rocked by a sudden increase in the number of violent assaults on individuals. Christened 'Haters' by the media, the attackers strike without warning, killing all who cross their path. The assaults are brutal, remorseless and extreme: within seconds, normally rational, self-controlled people become frenzied, vicious killers. There are no apparent links as a hundred random attacks become a thousand, then hundreds of thousands. Everyone, irrespective of gender, age, race or any other difference, has the potential to become a victim - or a Hater. People are afraid to go to work, afraid to leave their homes and, increasingly, afraid that at any moment their friends, even their closest family, could turn on them with ultra violent intent. Waking up each morning, no matter how well defended, everyone must now consider the fact that by the end of the day, they might be dead. Or perhaps worse, become a killer themselves. As the status quo shifts, ATTACK FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER becomes the order of the day... only, the answers might be much different than what you expect....

In the tradition of H. G. Wells and Richard Matheson, Hater is one man’s story of his place in a world gone mad— a world infected with fear, violence, and HATE.

Sounds majorly interesting right? The good people at MacMillan asked me to promote a bit and I can hardly resist spreading the news, so although somewhat belated here is the video that has circulated the Internet for some time. Also make sure to check David Moody's YouTube chanel. As an additional treat I have the first two chapters from the novel.

SIMMONS, REGIONAL MANAGER FOR a chain of main street discount stores, slipped his change into his pocket then neatly folded his newspaper in half and tucked it under his arm. He quickly glanced at his watch before leaving the shop and rejoining the faceless mass of shoppers and office workers crowding the city center sidewalks outside. He checked through his date book in his head as he walked. Weekly sales meeting at ten, business review with Jack Staynes at eleven, lunch with a supplier at one-thirty...

He stopped walking when he saw her. At first she was just another face on the street, nondescript and unimposing and as irrelevant to him as the rest of them were. But there was something different about this particular woman, something which made him feel uneasy. In a split second she was gone again, swallowed up by the crowds. He looked around for her anxiously, desperate to find her among the constantly weaving mass of figures which scurried busily around him. There she was. Through a momentary gap in the bodies he could see her coming toward him. No more than five feet tall, hunched forward and wearing a faded red raincoat. Her wiry gray-white hair was held in place under a clear plastic rain hood and she stared ahead through the thick lenses of her wide-rimmed glasses. She had to be eighty if she was a day, he thought as he looked into her wrinkled, liver-spotted face, so why was she such a threat? He had to act quickly before she disappeared again. He couldn’t risk losing her. For the first time he made direct eye contact with her and he knew immediately that he had to do it. He had no choice. He had to do it and he had to do it right now.

Dropping his newspaper, briefcase, and umbrella Simmons pushed his way through the crowd then reached out and grabbed hold of her by the wide lapels of her raincoat. Before she could react to what was happening he spun her around through almost a complete turn and threw her back toward the building he’d just left. Her frail body was light and she virtually flew across the footpath, her feet barely touching the ground before she smashed up against the thick safety-glass shop window and bounced back into the street. Stunned with pain and surprise she lay face down on the cold, rain-soaked pavement, too shocked to move. Simmons pushed his way back toward her, barging through a small crowd of concerned shoppers who had stopped to help. Ignoring their angry protests he dragged her to her feet and shoved her toward the shop window again, her head whipping back on her shoulders as she clattered against the glass for the second time.

“What the hell are you doing, you idiot?!” an appalled bystander yelled, grabbing hold of Simmons’s coat sleeve and pulling him back. Simmons twisted and squirmed free from the man’s grip. He tripped and landed on his hands and knees in the gutter. She was still on her feet just ahead of him. He could see her through the legs of the other people crowding around her.
Oblivious to the howls and screams of protest ringing in his ears, Simmons quickly stood up, pausing only to pick up his umbrella from the edge of the footpath and to push his wire-framed glasses back up the bridge of his nose. Holding the umbrella out in front of him like a bayonet rifle he ran at the woman again.

“Please...” she begged as he sunk the sharp metal tip of the umbrella deep into her gut and then yanked it out again. She slumped back against the window, clutching the wound as the stunned and disbelieving crowd quickly engulfed Simmons. Through the confusion he watched as her legs gave way and she collapsed heavily to the ground, blood oozing out of the deep hole in her side.

“Maniac,” someone spat in his ear. Simmons spun around and stared at the owner of the voice.
Jesus Christ, another one! This one was just like the old woman. And there’s another, and another...and they were all around him now. He stared helplessly into the sea of angry faces which surrounded him. They were all the same. Every last one of them had suddenly become a threat to him. He knew there were too many of them but he had to fight. In desperation he screwed his hand into a fist and swung it into the nearest face. As a teenage boy recoiled from the sudden impact and dropped to the ground a horde of uniformed figures weaved through the crowd and wrestled Simmons to the ground.

LUNATIC. BLOODY HELL, I’VE seen some things happen in this town before but never anything like that. That was disgusting. That made me feel sick. Christ, he came out of nowhere and she didn’t stand a chance, poor old woman. He’s in the middle of the crowd now. He’s outnumbered fifty to one and yet he’s still trying to fight. This place is full of crazy people. Fortunately for that woman it’s also full of police officers. There are two of them down with her now, trying to stop the bleeding. Three more have got to the guy who did it and they’re dragging him away.

Damn, it’s three minutes to nine. I’m going to be late for work again but I can’t move. I’m stuck in this bloody crowd. There are people bunched up tight all around me and I can’t go backward or forward. I’ll have to wait until they start to shift, however long that takes. There are more police officers arriving now trying to clear the scene. It’s pathetic really, you’d think they’d show some respect but people are all the same. First sign of trouble on the street and everyone stops to watch the freak show.

We’re finally starting to move. I can still see that guy being bundled toward a police van on the other side of the street. He’s kicking and screaming and crying like a bloody baby. Looks like he’s lost it completely. The noise he’s making you’d think he was the one who’d been attacked.

I know I’m a lazy bastard. I know I should try harder but I just can’t be bothered. I’m not stupid but I sometimes find it difficult to give a shit. I should have run across Millennium Square to get to the office just now but it was too much effort so early in the morning. I walked and I finally got here just after quarter past nine. I tried to sneak in but it was inevitable that someone was going to see me. It had to be Tina Murray though, didn’t it? My sour-faced, slave-driving, unforgiving bitch of a supervisor. She’s standing behind me now, watching me work. She thinks I don’t know she’s there. I really can’t stand her. In fact I can’t think of anyone I like less than Tina. I’m not a violent man—I don’t like confrontation and I find the very idea of punching a woman offensive—but there are times here when I’d happily smack her in the mouth.

“You owe me fifteen minutes,” she sneers in her horrible, whining voice. I push myself back on my chair and slowly turn around to face her. I force myself to smile although all I want to do is spit. She stands in front of me, arms folded, chewing gum and scowling.
“Morning, Tina,” I reply, trying to stay calm and not give her the satisfaction of knowing just how much she bugs me. “How are you today?”
“You can either take the time off your lunch hour or stay late tonight,” she snaps. “It’s up to you how you make it up.”

I know I’m only making things worse for myself but I can’t help it. I should just keep my mouth shut and accept that I’m in the wrong but I can’t stand the thought of this vile woman thinking she’s in control. I know I’m not helping the situation but I just can’t stop myself. I have to say something.
“What about yesterday morning?” I ask. I force myself to look into her harsh, scowling face again. She’s not at all happy. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other and chews her gum even harder and faster. Her jaw moves in a frantic circular motion. She looks like a cow chewing the cud. Fucking heifer.
“What about yesterday morning?” she spits.
“Well,” I explain, trying hard not to sound like I’m patronizing her, “if you remember I was twenty minutes early yesterday and I started working as soon as I got here. If I’m going to make up your fifteen minutes for today, can I claim back my twenty minutes for yesterday? Or shall we just call it quits and I’ll let you off the five minutes?”
“Don’t be stupid. You know it doesn’t work like that.”
“Maybe it should.”

Bloody hell, now she’s really annoyed. Her face is flushed red and I can see the veins on her neck bulging. It was a stupid and pointless comment to make but I’m right, aren’t I? Why should the council, the city government, have it all their own way? Tina’s staring at me now and her silence is making me feel really uncomfortable. I should have just kept my mouth closed. I let her win the face-off and I turn back around to sign on to my computer again.

“Either take it off your lunch hour or work late,” she says over her shoulder as she walks away. “I don’t care what you do, just make sure you make up the time you owe.”
And she’s off. Conversation’s over and I don’t get any chance to respond or to try and get the last word. Bitch.

Tina makes my skin crawl but I find myself staring at her rather than at my computer screen. She’s back at her desk now and Barry Penny, the office manager, has suddenly appeared. Her body language has completely changed now that she’s speaking to someone who’s higher up the council pecking order than she is. She’s smiling and laughing at his pathetic jokes and generally trying to see how far she can crawl up his backside.

I can’t help thinking about what I’ve just seen happen outside. Christ, I wish I had that bloke’s umbrella. I know exactly where I’d shove it.

Sometimes having such a dull and monotonous job is an advantage. This stuff is way beneath me and I don’t really have to think about what I’m doing. I can do my work on autopilot and the time passes quickly. It’s been like that so far this morning. Job satisfaction is nonexistent but at least the day isn’t dragging.

I’ve been working here for almost eight months now (it feels longer) and I’ve worked for the council for the last three-and-a half years. In that time I’ve worked my way through more departments than most long-serving council staff manage in their entire careers. I keep getting transferred. I served time in the pest control, refuse collection, and street lamp maintenance departments before I ended up here in the Parking Fine Processing office or PFP as the council likes to call it. They have an irritating habit of trying to reduce as many department names and job titles down to sets of initials as they can. Before I was transferred here I’d been told that the PFP was a dumping ground for underperformers and, as soon as I arrived, I realized it was true. In most of the places I’ve worked I’ve either liked the job but not the people or the other way around. Here I have problems with both. This place is a breeding ground for trouble. This is where those motorists who’ve been unlucky (or stupid) enough to get wheel-clamped, caught on camera violating a traffic rule, or given a ticket by a parking warden come to shout and scream and dispute their fines. I used to have sympathy with them and I believed their stories. Eight months here has changed me. Now I don’t believe anything that anyone tells me.

“Did you see that bloke this morning?” a voice asks from behind the computer on my left. It’s Kieran Smyth. I like Kieran. Like most of us he’s wasted here. He’s got brains and he could make something of himself if he tried. He was studying law at university but took a holiday job here last summer and never went back to class. Told me he got used to having the money and couldn’t cope without it. He buys an incredible amount of stuff. Every day he seems to come back from lunch with bags of clothes, books, DVDs, and CDs. I’m just jealous because I struggle to scrape together enough money to buy food, never mind anything else. Kieran spends most of his day talking to his mate Daryl Evans who sits on my right. They talk through me and over me but very rarely to me. It doesn’t bother me though. Their conversations are as boring as hell and the only thing I have in common with them is that the three of us all work within the same small section of the same small office. What does annoy me, if I’m honest, is the fact that they both seem to be able to get away with not doing very much for large chunks of the working day. Maybe it’s because they’re friendly with Tina outside work and they go out drinking together. Christ, I only have to cough and she’s up out of her seat wanting to know what I’m doing and why I’ve stopped working.

“What bloke?” Daryl shouts back.
“Out on the street on the way to work.”
“Which street?”
“The high street, just outside Cartwrights.”
“Didn’t see anything.”
“You must have.”
“I didn’t. I didn’t walk past Cartwrights. I came the other way this morning.”
“There was this bloke,” Kieran explains regardless, “you should have seen him. He went absolutely fucking mental.”
“What are you on about?”
“Honest, mate, he was wild. You ask Bob Rawlings up in Archives. He saw it. He reckons he practically killed her.”
“Killed who?”
“I don’t know, just some old woman. No word of a lie, he just started laying into her for no reason. Stabbed her with a bloody umbrella I heard!”
“Now you’re taking the piss...”
“I’m serious.”
“No way!”
“You go and ask Bob...”
I usually ignore these quick-fire conversations (most of the time I don’t have a clue what they’re talking about) but today I can actually add something because I was there. It’s pathetic, I know, but the fact that I seem to know more about what happened than either Kieran or Daryl makes me feel smug and superior.
“He’s right,” I say, looking up from my screen.
“Did you see it then?” Kieran asks. I lean back on my seat in self-satisfaction.
“Happened right in front of me. He might even have gone for me if I’d been a few seconds earlier.”
“So what was it all about?” Daryl asks. “Is what he’s saying right?”
I quickly look over at Tina. She’s got her head buried in a pile of papers. It’s safe to keep talking.
“I saw the old girl first,” I tell them. “I nearly tripped over her. She came flying past me and smashed up against the window by the side door of Cartwrights. I thought it must be a group of kids trying to get her bag off her or something like that. Couldn’t believe it when I saw him. He just looked like a normal bloke. Suit, tie, glasses...”
“So why did he do it? What had she done to him?”
“No idea. Bloody hell, mood he was in I wasn’t about to ask him.”
“And he just went for her?” Daryl mumbles, sounding like he doesn’t believe a word I’m saying. I nod and glance from side to side at both of them.
“Never seen anything like it,” I continue. “He ran at her and stabbed her with an umbrella. It was gross. It went right into her belly. There was blood all over her coat and...”
Tina’s looking up now. I look down and start typing, trying to remember what it was I was doing.
“Then what?” Kieran hisses.
“Idiot turned on the rest of the crowd. Started hitting out at the people around him. Then the police turned up,” I explain, still looking at my screen but not actually doing anything. “They dragged him away and shoved him in the back of a van.”
The conversation stops again. Murray’s on the move. For a moment the only sound I can hear is the clicking of three computer keyboards as we pretend to work. After looking around the room and staring at me in particular she leaves the office and Kieran and Daryl immediately stop inputting.
“So was there something wrong with him?” Daryl asks pointlessly.
“Of course there was something wrong with him,” I answer. Christ, this guy’s an idiot at times. “Do you think he’d stab an old lady with an umbrella if there wasn’t anything wrong with him?”
“But did he say anything? Was he screaming or shouting or...?”
I wonder whether it’s even worth answering his half-asked question.
“Both,” I grunt.
“Was he drunk or on drugs or...?”
“I don’t know,” I say, beginning to get annoyed. I stop and think for a second before speaking again. In my head I can still see the expression on the man’s face. “He looked absolutely fucking terrified,” I tell them. “He looked like he was the one who was being attacked.”

THERE’S A GIRL WHO sits on the other side of the office called Jennifer Reynolds. I don’t know her very well. I don’t have much to do with her from day to day. In fact I’ve only spoken to her a handful of times since I was transferred into the PFP. She’s not here today and I hate it when she’s out. When Jennifer Reynolds isn’t here her duties get shared between the rest of us, and the job I have to cover today is the worst job of all—Reception. The postal address of the PFP isn’t actively broadcast but it’s on some of the correspondence we send out and it’s in the phone book and it doesn’t take much for the general public to find out where we are. We get a lot of visitors, too many in my opinion. If someone comes here it’s almost always because they’ve been fined or clamped. They’ve probably already tried to get the fine overturned or the clamp removed and, by the time they reach us, coming to argue their case in person is often the only option they have left. So those people who do turn up here are likely to already be seriously pissed off. Shouting, screaming, and threatening behavior isn’t unusual. The first place these people reach is Reception, and the first person they get to scream at, shout at, or threaten is the poor sod sitting behind the desk.

So here I am, sitting alone at the Reception desk, staring at the tatty bronzed-glass entrance door, watching anxiously for any visitors. I hate this. It’s like sitting in a dentist’s waiting room. I’m constantly watching the clock on the wall. It’s hung just above a large bulletin board covered with unread and unhelpful council posters and notices. Just to the left of the bulletin board, equally unread and unhelpful, is a small sign which warns the public against intimidating or attacking council staff. The fact that it’s there doesn’t make me feel any safer. There’s a personal-attack alarm stuck under the desk but that doesn’t make me feel any better either.
It’s four thirty-eight. Twenty-two minutes to go then I’m finished for the day.

I’m sure Tina enjoys making me come out here. It’s always me who ends up covering for Jennifer. Being out on Reception is a form of torture. You’re not allowed to bring any paperwork out here with you (something about protecting confidential data) and the lack of any distractions makes the time drag painfully slowly. So far this afternoon I’ve only had to deal with two phone calls, and they were just personal calls for members of staff.
Four thirty-nine.
Come on clock, speed up.

Four fifty-four.
Almost there. I’m watching the clock all the time now, willing the hands to move around quickly so that I can get out of here. I’m already rehearsing my escape from the office in my head. I just have to shut down my computer and grab my coat from the cloakroom, then I’ll sprint to the station. If I can get away quickly enough I might manage to catch the early train and that’ll get me back home for...

Damn. Bloody phone’s ringing again. I hate the way it rings. It grates like an off-key alarm clock and the noise goes right through me. I pick it up and cringe at the thought of what might be waiting for me at the other end of the line.
“Good afternoon, PFP, Danny McCoyne speaking,” I mumble quickly. I’ve learned to answer the phone quietly and at speed. It makes it difficult for the caller to take your name.
“Can I speak to Mr. Fitzpatrick in Payroll please?” a heavily accented female voice asks. Thank God for that—this isn’t a screaming member of the public with a complaint, it’s just a wrong number. I relax. We get a few calls for Payroll most days. Their extensions are similar to ours. You’d think someone would do something about it. Anyway I’m relieved. The last thing I want is a problem at four fifty-five.
“You’ve come through to the wrong department,” I explain. “You’ve dialed 2300 instead of 3200. I’ll try and transfer you. If you get cut off just dial 1000 and that’ll take you through to the main exchange...”
I’m suddenly distracted and my voice trails away as the front door flies open. I instinctively move back in my chair, trying to put as much distance as possible between me and whoever it is who’s about to come storming into the building. I finish the phone call and allow myself to relax slightly when I see the front wheels of a child’s stroller being forced through the door. The stroller is jammed in the doorway and I get up to help. A short, rain-soaked woman in a green and purple jacket enters Reception. As well as the child in the stroller (which is hidden from view by a heavy plastic rain cover) two more small children follow her inside. The bedraggled family stands in the middle of the Reception area and drips water onto the grubby marble-effect floor. The woman seems harassed and is preoccupied with her kids. She snaps at the tallest child, telling him that “Mummy has a problem to sort out with this man, then we’ll get you back home for something to eat.”
She takes off her hood and I can see that she’s in her late thirties or early forties. She’s plain looking and her large, round, rain-splashed glasses are steaming up. Her face is flushed red and there are dribbles of rainwater dripping off the end of her nose. She doesn’t make eye contact with me. She slams her handbag down on the desk and begins searching through it. She stops for a moment to lift the rain cover (which is also beginning to steam up with condensation) and checks on her baby, who seems to be sleeping. She returns her attention to the contents of her handbag and I make my way back around to the other side of the counter.

“Can I help you?” I ask cautiously, deciding that it’s about time I offered. She glares at me over the rim of her glasses. This woman has an attitude, I can sense it. She’s making me feel uncomfortable. I know I’m in for a hard time.
“Wait a minute,” she snaps, talking to me as if I’m one of her kids. She takes a packet of tissues out of her bag and passes one to one of the children at her feet who keeps wiping his nose on the back of his sleeve. “Blow,” she orders sternly, shoving the tissue into the middle of the kid’s face. The child doesn’t argue.
I glance up at the clock. Four fifty-seven. Doesn’t look like I’ll be getting the early train home tonight.
“I parked my car at Leftbank Place for five minutes while I took my eldest son to the toilet,” she begins as she repacks her bag. No time for niceties, she’s straight into her complaint. “In those five minutes my car was clamped. Now I know that I shouldn’t have been parked there, but it was only for five minutes and I was only there because it was absolutely necessary. I want to speak to someone who has the authority to sort this out and I want to speak to them now. I want that clamp removed from my car so I can get my children home.”

I clear my throat and get ready to try and respond. Suddenly my mouth is dry and my tongue feels twice its normal size. It had to be Leftbank Place, didn’t it. It’s an area of waste ground just ten minutes walk from our office. Sometimes it feels like just about every other car that’s clamped in this town is clamped at Leftbank Place. The enforcement team who cover that area are notorious. Someone told me they’re on some kind of performance-related pay scheme—the more cars they clamp each week, the more they get paid. I don’t know whether or not that’s true but it doesn’t help me now. I know I have no choice but to give this woman a stock response from procedures. I also know that she’s not going to like it.

“Madam,” I begin, tensing up in anticipation of her reaction, “Leftbank Place is a strictly no-parking area. The council...”
She doesn’t give me a chance to get any further.
“I’ll tell you about the council,” she yells, her voice suddenly uncomfortably loud. “This bloody council needs to spend less time clamping people and more time making sure that public amenities are in proper working order. The only reason I had to park at bloody Leftbank Place was because the public toilets in Millennium Square have been vandalized! My son has a bowel condition. I didn’t have any choice. He couldn’t wait any longer.”
“There must have been other toilets...” I begin to say, instantly regretting having opened my mouth. Christ I hate this job. I wish I was back dealing with rubbish collections, rat infestations, or even broken street lamps again. My biggest problem is that it sounds like this woman has been genuinely hard done by and I’d probably have done exactly the same as she did if I’d been out with my kids. It sounds like she’s got a fair point and there’s nothing I’d like to do more than call off the clampers but I don’t have the authority. My options now are bleak; follow procedures and get yelled at again by this lady or get yelled at by Tina Murray if I don’t do things by the book. Chances are I’m going to cop it from both of them. Before she can react to my stupid comment I try and cover it up. “I understand what you’re saying, Madam, but...”
“Do you?” she screams, this time loud enough to wake the baby in the stroller who starts to whimper and moan. “Do you really? I don’t think you do, because if you did understand you’d be on the phone to someone right now getting that bloody clamp removed from my car so that I can get my children home. They’re cold, they’re hungry and...”
“I need to just...”
“I don’t want excuses, I want this dealt with.”
She’s not going to listen. This is pointless. She isn’t even going to give me a chance.
“I suggest you go and speak to your superiors and find someone who’s prepared to take responsibility for this shoddy mess and come and sort it out. I was forced to park at Leftbank Place because of this council’s inefficiency. I have a son who has a medical condition and I needed to get him to the toilet urgently. If the council had done their job properly in the first place and had made sure the public toilets were in full working order then I wouldn’t have been parked there, I wouldn’t have been clamped, and I wouldn’t be standing here now talking to someone who clearly can’t or won’t do anything to help me. I need to speak to someone who’s a little higher up the chain of command than the receptionist so why don’t you do us both a favor and go and find someone who is actually prepared to do something before my son needs to use the toilet again.”
Patronizing bitch. I stand and stare at her, feeling myself getting angrier and angrier. But there’s nothing I can do...
“Well?” she snaps.
“Just give me a minute, madam,” I stammer. I turn and storm back into the office and walk straight into Tina coming the other way.
“What are you doing in here, Danny?” she asks, her tone of voice as patronizing as the woman outside. “If you’re in here, who’s manning Reception?”
She knows full well there’s no one out there. I try and explain but I know it’s pointless.
“I’ve got a lady out in Reception who...”
“You should have telephoned through if you needed help,” she interrupts. “You know the rules, you’ve been here long enough now. There should always be someone at the Reception desk and you should always telephone through if you have a problem.”
“There is someone at the Reception desk,” I sigh, “and she’s having a real go at me so can I tell you what her problem is please?”
She looks up at the clock. Damn, it’s gone five. I’ll probably be stuck at the station until six now.
“Make it quick,” she sneers, making it sound as if she’s doing me a favor.
“This lady has been clamped because she parked at Leftbank Place...”
“Tough! You can’t park at Leftbank Place. There are bloody big signs up everywhere telling you not to park at Leftbank Place.”
This isn’t getting any easier.
“I know that, you know that, and she knows that. That’s not the issue.”
“What do you mean, that’s not the issue?”
I pause before speaking again. I know I’m going to have a battle convincing Tina that this lady has a genuine case. For a moment I consider giving up and taking my chances outside in Reception again.
“This lady tells me she parked at Leftbank Place because she needed to take her son to the toilet.”
“What kind of an excuse is that?”
“She needed to take him to the toilet because he has a medical condition and because the public toilets in Millennium Square have been vandalized.”
“That’s not our problem...”
“No, but her argument is that it is the council’s problem. She’s demanding we get the clamp removed. Won’t go anywhere until it’s done.”
“She can’t go anywhere,” Tina laughs to herself. “We’ll get the clamp removed when she pays the fine.”
I’m not surprised by her response, just disappointed. I want to go home. I don’t want to go out there and get yelled at again. What annoys me most of all is that we both know the longer this lady stands her ground and makes a noise in Reception, the more chance there is that the clamp will be removed. I can’t stand all this bullshit and pretense. I can’t help but say something.
“Come on, Tina, give me a break. You know as well as I do that if she shouts long enough we’ll let her off.”
She looks at me, chews her gum, and shrugs her shoulders.
“That’s as may be, but we have to try and take the fee from the client first. You know the procedure. We have to...”
There’s no point listening to any more of this rubbish. I can’t be bothered.
“I know the bloody procedure,” I sigh as I turn my back on her and trudge back toward Reception. I wonder whether I should just keep going? Should I walk straight past the woman and her kids and just leave the building and the job behind?
I open the door and she turns around to glare at me. The expression on her face is pure evil.
I take a deep breath.
“I’ve had a word with my supervisor,” I begin dejectedly, knowing what’s coming next. “We can get the clamp removed, but we must insist on payment of the charge indicated on the signs displayed at Leftbank Place. We can’t...”

And she’s off. She explodes again, shouting and yelling at me. The force, velocity, and ferocity of her outburst is remarkable. It’s an incredible (but not at all unexpected) rant and I have no defense. I can’t argue because I happen to think she has a valid case. If she’d just shut up for a second I might be able to...oh, what’s the use? I don’t know why I bother. The more she shouts at me the less I’m inclined to listen. I’ve given up trying to follow what she’s saying now. Her words have just become a constant stream of noise. I’ll wait for her to take a breath.
“Madam,” I interrupt quickly as she pauses to inhale. I hold my hand up in front of me to make it clear that it’s my turn to speak. “I’ll go and get my supervisor.”

I walk away, ignoring the muttered comments I can hear about “speaking to the organ grinder, not the monkey.” I’m long past caring. As I reach for the office door Tina pulls it open from the other side and barges past me. She stops just long enough to hiss a few venomous words in my direction.
“Well handled,” she sneers sarcastically. “You’re bloody useless, you are. I could hear her shouting from my desk. Now, what’s her name?”
“Don’t know,” I admit, cringing at the fact that I haven’t even managed to establish the most basic of details.
“Bloody useless,” she sneers again before fixing a false smile on her foul face and marching over to the bedraggled woman and her children. “My name’s Tina Murray,” she says. “How can I help you?”
I lean against the office door and watch the predictable charade being played out. Tina listens to the complaint, points out to the lady that she really shouldn’t have been parked at Leftbank Place, then makes a phone call to “see what she can do.” Ten minutes later and the clamp is removed. Tina looks fantastic and I look like an idiot. I knew it would happen like that.

Five thirty-two.
I run to the station and reach the platform just in time to see the next train leave.

Artist Corner: Timothy Lantz

This time I think I did it like one should do an interview. On the unluckiest day of all Friday the 13th I present you a man, who is not afraid of bad publicity, because of the accursed day and a man, who has been making readers scream of joy, whenever they pick up a book. I think it's pretty obvious that he is Timothy Lantz and that I have him here for your delight. Hear the answers of the guy that makes the coolest cover art ever.

Harry Markov: First of all, thank you for accepting my invitation. I am excited to have you here on my virtual chair and sharing your trade secrets. So let’s begin with the obvious questions. What inspired you to become an artist? For that matter why did you choose digital art for the better part of your portfolio?

Timothy Lantz: I was just one of those kids, the ones who are always drawing or creating things. I have a healthy imagination, which I fuel by reading comic books, watching television and going to the movies.

On some level, I suppose it is really a desire to be a storyteller and to share some of the great tales that are forever spinning around in the back of my mind which lead me to where I am now.

Over the years, I’ve always sought ways to share my creative vision, whether through traditional art, writing, or role-playing it’s just a part of who I am. Combine this with my love for technology and communication and going digital was a natural evolution for me. The digital tools (and photoshop in particular) have become a very natural medium for me. My familiarity and comfort with them affords a kind of relaxed state, where I have the freedom to just create and learn without frustration.

HM: Via your biography page I know that your major influence has been the Symbolism movement. Can you explain what the specific traits of this movement are that shaped your work?

TL: What I find most inspiring about the symbolists was their rebel attitude. At a time when the majority of artists’ work seemed to be centered around the themes of religion and Christianity, along comes this group of individuals who decided to strike out on their own path. They shared a love of mythology and storytelling and other non-traditional views and they defied what was generally accepted to just create works around their own passions.

HM: You have a degree in art education and are a professional illustrator. You work on the cover art for several publishers, DC comics and illustrate for fantasy magazines. How did you launch your career and managed to land such assignments?

TL: My career as a professional illustrator really started with the publication of the Archeon Tarot. Up until that time I had been a graphic designer and a web programmer, and my artwork was just something of a hobby. I was in the midst of a lot of life-changing events, prior to that… graduating college, moving, finding a new job, getting married… once that kind of settled down, I found myself in a place not unlike my childhood, where life had become kind of secure with the day to day concerns taken care of. This allowed me a great deal of freedom to just go back to the process of creating and experimenting. It was really here were I started exploring digital art, and that lead to the creation of the Archeon Tarot.

Once people saw my work on that, I began receiving other illustration offers and it has continued to pick up steam from there.

HM: The next question is probably obvious too. Since we are all fantasy or sci-fi fans on these blogs, we all had different reasons to love the genre. What in particular hooked you to do fantasy pieces?

TL: I think the fantasy genre allows for storytelling on a primal or basic level, one which the audience can come at from a shared experience. There are certain symbols or tropes which are universal and allow you to convey your meaning but at the same time, there’s this broad canvas where you are free to just dream and create and add details which can enrich the whole experience into something far greater than a simple allegory.

HM: It is clear that you use Photoshop for most of your work, but the base is always a photo of a female model. Do you do the photography yourself and if you do how do you find and interact with the models?

TL: I wouldn’t say the basis is always a female model, but that’s going to be what most people are familiar with simply because I’ve done so many book cover illustrations recently. I do love working in that genre though, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of amazing models who have really brought those images to life. As for the photography, since the publication of the Archeon Tarot, I’ve relied exclusively on my own model photography.

I recruit my models from among my friends and other artists that I have worked with and additionally from talent recruitment sites like

HM: Is it easy to manipulate the pictures and how long does it take for a picture from start to finish? Consequently what are the tricky parts in digital art that may trouble beginner artists?

TL: I wouldn’t say that it’s easy. There is a tendency to see digital art as a kind of shortcut or automated process, but it simply isn’t true. The computer is a tool, no different than a paintbrush or ink pen, it’s what the artist does with the tool that makes the difference.

That being said, there is a lot of sub-standard work out there. People will run an image through a filter and declare it art. I think in the long run though, the audience knows when something is worthy of appreciation. This holds true for any creative endeavor. Ultimately, a work is judged on whether or not it speaks to the viewer in some way, not on how it was produced.

My advice for beginning digital artists is the same as it would be for any traditional media artist… practice, practice, practice. The more you work at it, the better you will become.

HM: Next I would like to ask you about your work in the comic book sphere. I bet that you use your illustration skills for DC comics, but what does that involve cover art or some additional tasks?

TL: My work for DC Comics has so far been limited to just the Vs. Collectible Card Game. I worked on three cards for the World’s Finest expansion set and another three for the Legends expansion set.

HM: Since we are all book lovers and one of the things we admire is the amazing cover art some of the novels have. Your work is also breathtaking. What’s the whole mechanism to making one? Does the publishing house specifically instruct you what to do or do they let you take the initiative first and consent or not?

TL: Each publisher is different. It really comes down to the art director for each project and their established work flow. My experiences have ranged from being told to “just make something cool”, to a very detailed step-by-step outline of what the image was supposed to contain. For my tastes, I prefer somewhere in the middle. I like to have a rough starting idea and maybe some details of what the image should contain and then just go from there. The best art directors will work with you and help you to achieve a better image.

HM: You are also responsible for a tarot deck already available on the market for quite some time. What triggered the idea to make one and how long did it took to complete it? Any additional comments will be appreciated.

TL: The tarot was something I discovered in middle school, as a result of my involvement with role-playing and reading comics and such. Immediately, I was drawn in by the images and the symbolism of it all.

My own deck was a result of my desire for a project and some fortunate internet surfing. Upon seeing the work of another artist whose take on the tarot didn’t fit with my vision, I decided to make one for myself. Honestly, I never expected it to grow beyond an afternoon’s indulgence; however the feedback I received from friends and family was so strong that I continued to pursue it.

Within a short time I had completed a number of cards and a good friend of mine convinced me I should try and get it published. She really did the legwork and basically dropped the submission materials in my lap. So, with nothing to lose, I took a chance and was fortunate enough to land a publisher interested in my deck.

It took me a full year to complete the deck once I was under contract.

HM: Looking by some of your series such as the muses, I see you draw inspiration from literature. Is the written word a constant well of inspiration and where do you seek ideas for your work usually?

TL: I have a lot of influences, literary and otherwise. I look at work from classical painters and modern masters all with equal eye. I listen to heavy metal and get lost in the lyrics. Movies and television shows fill my mind with their plots and characterizations. All of this and more somehow distills through my brain and ends up in my work.

HM: From all that you have done in your career so far, which is the piece you liked most or enjoyed most completing?

TL: I have a few favorites. My Silver Banshee illustration for World’s Finest is one of them. I was just really excited with how that turned out as she’s been a favorite character of mine for a long time.

HM:I understand that you also do commission work. Do you get a lot of requests and how do you decide whether or not to take up a job? What are your criteria?

TL: These days I rarely do personal commissions. Between my professional work and my own projects I have little time to devote to other works. That being said, occasionally I’ll get a request from a model who would like to work with me and if I can find the time, I’ll set up a shoot.

HM: Have you ever dealt with some sort of art theft? It is a common threat that accompanies artists these days and I would like to hear your experience with the problem.

TL: I haven’t really experienced a problem with this but I have friends who have been through some nightmares over it. It seems to me that a lot of the theft occurs when you’re working on licensed properties or popular characters and things of that nature.

The anonymous aspect of the internet kind of facilitates this to a degree, but it’s also quite adept at catching those who are doing something wrong. Unfortunately, I think it’s also easy for people to be caught up in a kind of witch hunt too. That’s life in the information age though.

HM:The year 2008 had a nice schedule of appearances for you and can you share how they went? Did you meet a lot of fans? Also will your fans in America have the chance to see you this year as well?

TL: I’ve been doing shows and appearances since the Fall of 2005 and I love it. The reception of my work has been great and I’ve met so many people and made so many friends while being out there at the cons and galleries.

I really love the travel aspect too. I’ve been to a lot of great cities the past four years and I’m looking forward to seeing more.

I’ll be finalizing my plans for this year soon, and they will be posted on the website.

HM: Last but not least what does the future hold for Timothy Lantz? Can you share some of your projects?

TL: I have a few commercial projects scheduled for the Spring and I’m working on a couple of projects of my own which I hope to announce in more detail later this year.

As for what’s upcoming, there will be two books out soon, Amazon Ink by Lori Devoti, published by Pocket Books/Juno and A Flash of Hex by Jes Battis, published by Ace.

Thank you Timothy. So you see things are looking up for the Artist Corner.

© All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner. The artwork in this post has been used according to the rules listed by the artist or at least I think I have.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

“Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer”

Title: “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer”
Running time: 90 min
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Rated: R – [horror violence and gore, not to mention language]
Cast: Trevor Matthews, Robert, Englund, Rachel Skarsten
Director: John Knautz

To the attention of all hack/slash horror-comedy movies: If you loved “From Dusk till Dawn” and still watch it for nostalgic reasons, there is a new movie in town. “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer”. Now if you stop at other review spots for movies, you will certainly read a far better description of what’s so good about it, but I will say it in the simplest most understandable way “It Rocked!”.

If you have paid attention to my complaints about the movie industry, you would have noticed that watching a movie is like playing tag in a mine field: “Tag! You’re…BOOM!” and your brains are scattered to fertilize the land. I am quite uncomfortable with what to expect and when you can’t trust even high profile Oscar products, then the situation is really miserable. But fear not, for B movies are coming out of the shade with the promise NOT to suck. Or at least I hope so. “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer” doesn’t woo you with a mysterious, misleading and pretentious title. It’s plain and simple and you get what you see. The movie poster is a 1000 word summary of the whole movie.

Jack Brooks (Trevor Matthews) is a plumber with anger management issues after his parents have been eaten by a forest troll when he was a small boy, who has to deal with the sudden transformation of his science teacher at night school (Robert Englund) in a monster that spreads this makeover procedure among students. As we all know Robert Englund is an institution in the horror industry, giving nightmares to people back in his Nightmare on Elm Street movies. I never expected him to be hilarious and so skilled with physical comedy and he definitely gave one hell of an over the top performance to keep me laughing. The lead male also did pretty well as a neurotic individual, though the name Trevor Matthews doesn’t ring any particular bells.

Gore and violence is pretty much what you got back with “From Dusk till Dawn”, but with even less special effects. There was no animation or CGI. I think that rubber and synthetic slime doesn’t scare anybody, but I certainly loved it for the entertainment value. Makes me wonder why we and the movie industry wanted special effects at all. It seems we can do pretty well with what we can model.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hulk vs. Wolverine/Thor

You can never go wrong with superheroes and I am talking not that much about content than about action. I don’t particularly like Hulk as a character, but hey I won’t miss 80 minutes of combined action with Wolverine and Thor. I think Marvel did a great with this little project, because with comic book characters I think fans form two fractions. The first is all about weapons, black ops, combat and missions, which is represented pretty much by Wolverine and then there are of course the mystics, magic, dimensions and gods, which are respectfully represented by Thor. So basically there is something for everybody. As it turns out I like both so enjoyed everything.

“Hulk vs. Wolverine” is the funnier short film. We start with Wolverine chasing a beast known to the U.S military as the Hulk and without information whatsoever in the Canadian wilderness. This part is pretty grim though. People have died in a small town then there is the first fight between both superheroes, which makes them vulnerable to capture by Team X, who still want to make Wolverine a weapon and the Hulk as well. What ensues when both of them are free in the enemy base is quite funny. The animation, since it has been taken by the Japanese animation studio Madhouse, carries that funny slapstick feel with certain highlighted moments to make you chuckle. Plus I always liked Wolverine’s attitude to dangerous situations, but the comedy star was definitely Deadpool. I don’t know him as a character to be sure whether it is part of his design, but in this film he was retarded funny. All in all good show.

“Hulk vs. Thor” is more serious, because Thor is more serious. In this one Loki decides that he will kick his brother’s ass one way or another, so he kidnaps Bruce Banner, separates him from the Hulk and uses the great beast to destroy Asgard, while Odin is sleeping and the evil forces are fighting. But without Bruce inside the beast and also dead to top it off, the Hulk can’t be stopped and you see Thor getting pulverized along everything on Asgard. There are a lot of spells, rituals and a trip to the underworld involved, which all made it quite pleasurable. My only discontent was that 1] Bruce Banner as a human is annoying and like a canary that has learned one phrase “You don’t know what you have done!” and 2] Thor didn’t act as a god of thunder. If he knew the Hulk to be extra dangerous, just nuke him from distance to wear him down and then play all valiant. In the whole film I saw him use the hammer to call his powers like twice and one time was to teleport. In my mind gods are fond of showcase their talents.

All in all, I would have to say, grab a bowl of popcorn and chocolate and have a fun time with these two, if you still haven’t.

“Quondam” by Jayel Gibson

Title: “Quondam”
Author: Jayel Gibson
Series: Book 4, Ancient Mirror Tales series
Genre: Heroic Fantasy
Pages: 328
Publisher: Synergy Books

Summary: A murderous queen:
Bound in mortal flesh by an angry god, a once ethereal nymph murders Quondam’s king and seizes the throne. All who do not bow before her die in the agony that is dragons’ breath. But, there is threat of a challenger to this brutal reign, a legend’s promised savior. Fearful, Queen Karid has the suspect captured, condemned and sentenced to an eternity alone.

A condemned dragonspawn:
Born of man and magick, cursed at birth by his terrified mother, a young
Dragonspawn is branded a demon, a threat to Quondam’s queen, and sentenced to a millennium of solitude. His only freedom now found in dreams, he searches among a universe of sleepers for a woman born beneath the sign of the dragon, a woman believed to hold the key to his release.

And the woman thrust between them:
Her family and homeland destroyed by an otherworldly assassin’s fire, Cwen of Aaradan, niece of the Dragon Queen, escapes through a mysterious portal into Quondam. There, Cwen discovers her fate and an imprisoned dragonspawn’s are intertwined in ways that will drag her, heartbroken and vengeful, into the midst of a devastating war.

With the help of an elder wizard, and the sorceresses B’rma and N’dia, the dragonspawn and Cwen of Aaradan embark on an epic journey to undo the folly of a god, stop the mad nymph queen, and return peace and magick to a war torn world.

Classification & Literary Class: I never imagined I would read a novel from this subgenre of fantasy and it not be published before the transition towards urban fiction. Heroic Fantasy is simple enough, uses elements from High Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery genres, but within its simplicity lays the greatest trap. Have a protagonist of royal blood on a quest to save his land from an evil usurper sounds like easy enough to get right, but not few have managed to screw it up. My greatest concern was whether this would pull through or sink into cliché.

Thankfully it didn’t. But first there a couple of things I would like to mention. Even though “Quondam” is already a number four in this series, there is no cause for concern. It is self contained and can be read as a standalone. I find Heroic fantasy, because it translates direct life into a story. Fighting battle, purging evil, suffering defeats and then earning victories until you take the throne. It’s all an allusion of our life path until you find your own spot under the sun and come into your own right.

However it all works well in theory and can hardly be achieved these days. Again I say, thankfully Gibson manages to avoid the obvious tropes and clichés. The quest for justice is refreshed with slight moderations here and there, but keeping the spirit of the genre, so that fans can find the good old thrills as well as something new. Gibson pays attention to the ups and downs, shows euphoria at the victory over small foes and the crisis of heart, when nothing is certain as well as asking all those fundamental questions beneath the magic, magic creatures and battles with swords. The plot’s driving force instead of being the legends and prophecies falls on the characters, which lead to some interesting turns. The prose isn’t the best in the world, but it stays true to the tone of the genre and conveys the medieval feel. The strength here is that “Quondam” tells an adventurous story and the same time speaks to the reader through his/her own experiences.

Characters & Depth: I won’t get in great detail about characters here. I found all to my fancy. Some play greater part in the happening, some do not, but when you look at them, you can’t say that they are two dimensional. They interact between each other; they have their own goals and questions of their own to answer, prove something to themselves and set doubts to rest. There is diversity in tempers and worldviews, which also enhances the story and raises interest. Best of all like real people they make mistakes; they lie and do things before thinking driven by deep emotions. Of course each character stands for an idea and a human archetype. The protagonist D’raekn portrays the man on a crossroad, while Cwen is the woman with hollow heart, devastated by life. What’s not to like. Plus the authenticity is spot on. The line that stuck with me goes like this: “Why am I surrounded by the dimwitted?” You know the modern expression and you see how smoothly it is translated into the time and spirit of the novel.

Now I know that people are already fed up with love and romance being thrown everywhere, so to the people, who are already irritated not a single relationship in a novel these days looks real, I say “Here it is done decent.” Gibson does it the way it naturally happens. Two people meet and interact, become friends, then friends with benefits and before they know it and can admit to themselves they are in deep love. There is not a love at first sight or manic possessive behavior that leads to bickering. Love is a bumpy ride with no road map to show you the short cuts to happiness. I think “Quondam” does this idea justice.

Worldbuilding & Believability: Since this is a Heroic fantasy you will get a lot from the same tropes. I am talking about enchanted weapons, cryptic artifacts left with no apparent purpose, special gifts that must be gathered on a typical quest. You can’t escape from these things, even if you want to. But a lot more can be expected. Quondam as a world offers different magical races that play a vital part in the legend to free the land from evil. There are omens, curses and blessings that have set the turmoil in motion, which also tie every element to another. The world is organic and it interacts with the story, both remaining flexible. With one word, it’s not that bad.

The Verdict: The greatest compliment that can be said for “Quondam” is that it’s not predictable the way most books are. And I am not talking about the ending itself, I am talking about the way the characters will reach the ending. For there were some interesting turns and that is a good enough reason to recommend it. Other than this the pacing was right. It built steadily to the climax and the story had me totally oblivious to the technicalities and if there were small details that I didn’t like they faded in the bigger picture. The novel is worth the shot.
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