Sunday, 30 March 2014

Saying Happy Birthday to Batman With Some Rare Brian Bolland Art

Batman is 75 *exactly* today, according to geek news hub Bleeding Cool, which has been looking at old copyright entries at the US Library of Congress.

Why is he so many people's favourite superhero? (He is mine.) I'd argue it's because he *doesn't* have superpowers. He's one of us. Plus, you know, chicks dig the car. Is it no coincidence that Batman and the similarly 'human' Iron Man have the two most successful movie franchises? Discuss.

There are a fair few Batman graphic novels on the shelves at Withnail Books, though three which always disappear fast if I ever have copies are Year OneThe Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke (not least because I recommend them to customers asking where to start).

The last of these has been dismissed as 'just another Batman story' by its writer, the legendary bearded contrarian Alan Moore, but it is of course far more than that, a brief but devastating tale which continues to influence the 'modern' Batman on the page and on screen - there's more than a flavour of it in Christopher Nolan's second Bat-film, for example.

Brian Bolland's exquisitely precise art is an equally important part of The Killing Joke's longevity: he draws an arguably definitive Batman and a hands-down, no-argument-brooked definitive Joker.

As a birthday treat then, here's a bumper selection of some familiar, and some not-so familiar Bolland art, as shared by lucky fans showing off their collections of originals at the endlessly browsable There are convention sketches, private commissions (comicartfans is a great place to see pieces like this, which would otherwise never see the light of day) and original Killing Joke pages, some in preliminary form. It's all great stuff.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Are these the best ever images of Frankenstein's Creature?

There have been hundreds of editions of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (to give it its full title). The first to feature an illustration of the Creature was, I believe, the third edition, which had this as a frontispiece:

Since then, The Creature has taken many forms, especially on screen. Here's the fabulously named Charles Stanton Ogle as the Monster in the first film adaptation, from 1910:

Boris Karloff's flat head and bolted neck is still the visual image that comes to mind for most people (sorry Robert DeNiro), though for my money, you have to go back to the page to find the best representations of the Creature. Bernie Wrightson's version deserves an honourable mention, but best of all is Barry Moser's. His beautifully horrible illustrations for the Pennyroyal Press edition are breathtaking, in my humble opinion. Prepare to take out a mortgage if you want a copy of the original fine press version, though there is a somewhat more affordable paperback edition (a copy of which came, and swiftly went, from the Little Shop). The paperback does not contain these colour illustrations of the Creature, however... They really are the stuff of nightmares.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Withnail and I News Round-Up: Here Hare Beer, Screening at Crow Crag and the Amazing Wall O' Withnail

Readers of the Withnail Books Facebook Page may have seen mention of some or all of the following, but for blog followers and casual googlers, here's a selection of Withnail-related items of note from the last couple of months or so.

The breaking news is that Picnic Cinema have announced the dates for the 2014 screenings of a certain film in the courtyard of Uncle Monty's cottage itself, Crow Crag (aka Sleddale Hall, near Shap, not far from Penrith). There are three nights this year: July 3, 4 and 5. The details are here, though you'll have to subscribe to be informed when the tickets actually go on sale... and when they do, with only 300 in total, they will probably disappear within 24 hours. This amazing event is now in its third year, and its popularity looks like it will continue to grow exponentially. If you have no bloody idea what I'm on about, you can have a read of this, and watch a video of last year's event here.

No doubt more than 'a few ales' will be consumed at Crow Crag this summer, and the top choice has to be Eden Brewery's new Withn'Ales. Yes, Withnail and I-inspired beer has arrived:

As you can see from the ABVs, these are serious beers for serious drinkers! That 9.1% is not a typo. And having tried them, I can confirm that they are indeed a far superior drink to meths. For me, Here Hare Beer wins on taste, and name. RLF, in case you were wondering, stands for Ronson Lighter Fluid (or Really Lovely Framboise). The Eden Brewery's website is currently under construction, but you can follow them on Facebook. The Withn'Ales are available locally (try the Moo Bar in Penrith) and via mail order, I believe.

Last, but certainly not least, feast your eyes on the Wall O' Withnail:

A US-based Withnail fan has taken it upon themselves to collect examples of the vintage items seen in the background in the film. For example, a Wood & Sons coffee pot seen in Withnail's kitchen...

... or the Black and White Whisky Dogs seen in the Crow:

For more (much more) click on over to the Wall O' Withnail blog. This truly wonderful endeavour has rightly already been tweeted about by Richard E. Grant, and even received the seal of approval from Bruce Robinson himself: in a move which practically defines the term 'a class act', he sent the blogger a signed Withnail poster, on which he also wrote 'You are quite possibly insane.' (You can see it here.)

I am simultaneously jealous that I didn't have the same idea earlier, and relieved that I didn't have the same idea earlier, as if I had, I would be the one currently searching for obscure items on eBay. Though I have discovered that the Jesse Tait 'Spanish Garden' design crockery, as seen amongst the 'matter' in Withnail's kitchen, is the same design I grew up eating off every day.

Wall O' is still searching for many items, so please help if you can. A possible avenue of enquiry would be to hunt down and pick the brains/memories of the original film's production designer Michael Pickwoad, Art Director Henry Harris or even the prop buyer Leith Boler. One of these people might remember which prop houses, if any, were used to supply set decoration. You never know, they could be worth a visit. For example, when the makers of  the 'creation of Doctor Who' docudrama An Adventure in Time and Space were busy recreating the original Tardis control room set, they went to a London prop house with some reference photos from the first episode. They were especially keen to find as close a match as possible to the brass columns which appeared either side of the doors. "What, those ones over there?" said the bloke at the prop house, pointing to the very same columns they had hired out to the BBC back in 1963. So they hired them again...

So, who knows what 'original' Withnail items are sitting around in prop stores as I type...

Alas, I don't have any examples of, let alone actual original vintage Withnail props, though the Little Shop does feature a mini shrine to the film, pictured at the top of this post. The sacred object is the 'With Nail', a lovely old nail found lying on the floor during a pilgrimage to Crow Crag/Sleddale Hall, back in the days when it was in a sad, semi-derelict state (it's now a privately owned house, of course). Here it is in close-up. Chin chin!