Between The Frames

by Tom Alexander in


This is a test book knocked up in a couple of hours to try out some ideas for an experimental comic. All the artwork used is from the Steve Ditko Comics Weblog (apart from the pencil scrawls on pages 7-8, which are all mine). 

There isn't any story here, but the idea of cutout panels is interesting. I liked the notion of giving things new contexts on the other side of the page, or using holes to reframe stories.

There's also an explicit use of frames like those in a gallery. The idea of connectivity between them has a kind of sinister power all of its own. They are  disparate characters, thrown together by circumstances beyond their control, particularly when talking about portraits by different artists from different places and regions. A collection making connections by being placed together has potential. I'm not sure what the communication between a Warhol, a Vermeer and a Kandinsky would consist of, but it's interesting to speculate on. 

The other thing I like is the page just of text from word balloons. Blambot.com  really can't compare to that lettering done by hand. Unfortunately it seems to be a dead art form. 

Link to the Ditko website from which the comic book artwork was taken:

http://ditko.blogspot.co.uk/1990/01/series-of-ditkos-work-from-1957-to-1959.html?m=1


Authorland

by Tom Alexander in


Buy from Amazon UK, Amazon US or your 'local' Amazon by searching the Kindle Store.

Buy from Amazon UK, Amazon US or your 'local' Amazon by searching the Kindle Store.

Fiction

128 pages, approx.

£1.99 / €2.60 / $2.99 from Amazon Kindle stores

Tilda Fitzgerald and Robert Madison are strangers with a common goal. Each of them wants a quiet, uneventful journey to Haiti aboard the steamer Chantilly Lace. Standing in their way are dipsomaniacs, OCD clean freaks and violent white supremacists – and that's just the members of the ship's crew.

Things go from bad to worse when the ship is thrown off course, forcing the disparate group of stragglers to band together in order to stay alive. Little do they know that a powerful figure is lurking in the shadows, toying with their fates in ways they can barely comprehend. As their adventure continues, they face incredible danger, meet unbelievable peril and spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about pineapples.

A pacey mixture of action and comedy, "Authorland" is a metaphysical ripping yarn about the nature of stories and those who tell them.

Background

"Authorland" was written for the International 3 Day Novel competition, the masochistic writing marathon. That draft was shortlisted, but didn't win. This draft has been re-worked and polished a bit. I originally published it under the name "Dave Frek", for some reason.

A couple of years on, I still think it's a good read. It knows its own flaws and by the end, makes virtues of them.


Swiss Army Joke

by Tom Alexander


Have been working on the #swissarmyjoke for two months now. It features includes nine (9) setups for a single punchline.

Just like a real Swiss Army Knife, the #swissarmyjoke is flexible for all situations, but I will concede that some of the setups have more obvious uses than others.

But you never know when you might need the comedy equivalent of that thing you use to get stones out of horses' hooves! #swissarmyjoke

 

What did one magician say to the other? #swissarmyjoke

What did one prostitute say to the other? #swissarmyjoke

What did one skateboarder say to the other? #swissarmyjoke

What did one bridge player say to the other? #swissarmyjoke

What did one maker of sugared breakfast cereals say to the other? #swissarmyjoke

What did one New Zealand tank say to the other? #swissarmyjoke

What did one close friend of the Bristol musician born Adrian Thaws say to the other regarding their mutual acquaintance? #swissarmyjoke

What did one politician say to the other when asked what the best part of the 1987 Tory party conference magic show was? #swissarmyjoke

What did one out-of-touch South African who had only ever known the band's name written down say to the other when asking about the state of Marc Bolan's music career? #swissarmyjoke

 

You can win a free #swissarmyjoke licence by creating a new setup (Non-exclusive, nontransferable. No cash alternative). 


The Knife Salesman

by Tom Alexander in


I wasn't in the market for a knife, but he convinced me.

First, he showed me how sharp it was. He sliced off one of his fingers just as swiftly as he might chop a carrot in two. I was surprised by his actions, startled by the spurting blood, but intrigued by his patter. He then proved the blade's sturdiness and… pointiness? (I'm not expert in these things) by stabbing himself in the stomach.

"As you can see," he said, "the construction is so strong you can make multiple intrusions." This he demonstrated by stabbing himself five or six more times in rapid succession. He was just about to illustrate the keenness of the blade by slitting his own throat that I told him there was no need and that I would take one. He smiled and we went to do the deal.

Now I've got this knife sitting on the desk in front of me.

I wonder what I'll use it for.


I Am A Philistine

by Tom Alexander


I am a philistine.

I went to the opera with a friend. I had never been before, but I know that people's first reaction to opera tends to be one of two things. They either love it instantly or they do not. The second group may learn to appreciate it, but they will never truly love it.

I know this because I have seen "Pretty Woman".

I am a philistine.

I enjoyed the opera, but it didn't elicit the tingle - that electric feeling on the back of your neck when you encounter a work of art that excites you on a primal, uncontrollable level.

La Boheme didn't get the tingle, but the next day, something else did.

The theme song to "Duck Tales".

I am a philistine.


One Moment In Time

by Tom Alexander


After the of the , it became clear what she had to do. With the of a , she turned to face the .

me,” she .

But as soon as she said it, she no longer meant it.

The moment was gone.


One Moment In Time is a small piece of javascript literature exploring the transience of ideas. The embedded code reads the current date and time and modifies the text on the page accordingly.

With every second that passes, a new version of One Moment In Time is written. After a minute, another part of the story shifts and similar variations occur at the hour, day, month and year marks. This is based on a simple array of words, arranged in a particular order. Not particularly complicated, but I suppose you could say the same for everything ever written.

The use of time is one of the few areas where electronic literature can properly extend beyond the printed word. Hopefully, the ideas in OMIT will be used for a larger piece, perhaps combining with geolocation to shape the text according to where and when it is read.

The version of OMIT on this page is its most primitive form, without the controls for altering date and time, which were originally envisaged as part of the project. After some experimentation, I found that interaction was a distraction and ran contrary to the spirit of the piece.


Rodents

by Tom Alexander in


On the early morning train, nobody talks much. A few people read books, some apply makeup or sip coffee from paper cups. Most of us just play with our rodents.

The lady in her suit preens the luxurious fur of her pure-bred chinchilla, caressing it gently with one immaculately manicured finger. Next to her, a teenager holds a rat that's seen better days. It's missing one eye and a piece of its tail, but no-one passes judgement because who hasn't accidentally dropped theirs at least once? Even if you keep it in one of those little rubber outfits, you still might drop it down the loo. Anyway, it's clear from the way he whispers at the rat that it's well looked after. He murmurs sweet nothings and tickles the rat's frayed ears with such love that it feels invasive to watch them.

The guy standing at the end of the carriage has a brand new ferret, so big that he has to hold it with both hands. He ostentatiously flicks its nipples with his thumbs, causing the ferret to emit shrieks of terrible delight. Nobody complains, because nobody ever complains and we all just pretend we can't hear them. It's funny how things go. A few years ago, everyone wanted to go smaller - dormice and pygmy hamsters were all the rage - but now things are swinging back the other way. The ferret seems a step too far to me, though. You might as well carry a badger around with you.

I'm checking them all out because I'm due for an upgrade next month. As much as my little gerbil's done me well, I'm keen to move on to something new. Of course, there's always the issue of what to do with him when the shiny new critter arrives. I suppose I'll pass him on to Mum. She says she doesn't want one, but she'll come around. Everyone does eventually.

I do worry that she'll neglect him, though. I don't want to end up finding the gerbil in a drawer one day, dusty and motionless. That makes me wonder - do I really need to upgrade? I mean, the gerb's served me well and he looks like he's got a few more years in him yet. I could save a bit of cash on my monthly bill.

There's a distinct change in timbre from the cacophony at the end of the carriage. Everyone turns and looks and we see that the guy has dropped the ferret down his trousers. He stifles painful whimpers as the creature nips at his skin, making his clothes ruffle and pulsate as if they have a life of their own.

All logic and loyalty goes out the window.

I want one.


Insight

by Tom Alexander in


Do you ever get those instant flashes of insight, where all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place? I had one the other day while washing up. I looked into my flatmate’s cereal bowl and what I saw wasn’t a few cornflakes in a puddle of milk, but smashed seashells in brine. Suddenly I understood why it took so long to get into the bathroom every morning, why my washing always took at least five days to dry and what was really making those strange gurgling noises that echo through the house at all hours. I wiped my hands, walked upstairs and asked him point-blank if he was a mer-man.

He said nothing and by the next morning he had moved out. I wish I’d made it clearer that I wasn’t judging him and that I was ok with whatever it was he was, but I suppose it’s too late. Trying to rent his room is proving to be a real pain.

Damp.


Why Microsoft Word must Die

by Tom Alexander


It’s Saturday night and I’m reading articles about Microsoft Word. I don’t have the strong hatred for Word that some do (for me it’s more of a general dissatisfaction, rather than a ideological objection) but I can see the point of this screed by Charles Stross.

The thing is, though, that I still haven’t found anything better on Mac. Pages is a dead end, LibreOffice is unMac and there doesn’t seem anything else that really crunches long documents. I think the search is probably going to continue for some time.


Crackle

by Tom Alexander


After a day spent walking around several floors of an office building, I could feel the massive buildup of static electricity that had built up between my leg hairs and the cheap polyester trousers I had bought. By the time 5 o’clock rolled around, my calves were positively crackling as I made my easy to the swanky lift with its mirrored doors and brushed metal buttons. As keen as I was to get home, my finger held midway towards the call button.
There was an instinctive hesitation and I felt the inevitability of what was about to happen. Like the buzz in the air before a thunderstorm, I knew the lightning bolt was about to strike and I pondered how best to mark the occasion. I considered blasphemy or a foolhardy claim of which I was felt sure that I could be struck down dead.
In the end, though, there was just one word that came to mind. I whispered it as I completed the connection between my organic capacitor and the conductive surface of the elevator button.
“Shazam!”


Kal

by Tom Alexander


So, I made this short film a while ago with Roddie Bell. It was supposed to be a knock-it-out-quickly thing, but ended up taking a lot longer than I thought. Thanks to Roddie for his performance and his patience. I really need to look in to getting someone to shoot things for me. I honestly don’t give a shit about cinematography and it really shows.


I think I can fix 3D cinema

by Tom Alexander


I’ve just been to see World War Z and in terms of the film itself, it wasn’t as bad as I feared. What made it so difficult to watch, however, was the 3D effect used on the film. I tend to avoid 3D films because I wear glasses and having two pairs on at a time just feels ridiculous. Added to which, there’s some sort of conflict between the lenses and the whole experience isn’t that pleasurable.

As the plot of World War Z doesn’t require that much attention, I spent most of the film trying to figure out exactly what the problem is with 3D cinema in the modern era. This is what I’ve come up with.

Note: This is all based on live-action 3D. Not all of them may apply to animation, particularly computer-animated films.

Problem: Eyes and Cameras focus differently

We all see things in 3D all the time, so why do 3D films feel so wrong? In terms of live action films, I think the problem is to do with the physical properties of cinema cameras. While my eyes do have apertures (we call them irises) they don’t produce such shallow depth of field that things closer to and further away from the object of attention appear blurred. This is a visual disparity that the brain has to overcome with every single shot and adds to the feeling of unreality. This problem is exacerbated by the trend toward shallow depth of field, with a particularly narrow area of sharpness, surrounded by fuzziness front and back.

Possible solution: Deep focus

Orson Welles used it to great effect on Citizen Kane, so why can’t it be put into effect more often in modern cinema? Surely it’s possible to get the whole field of vision in focus? If not, can’t this be an area where CGI is used in order to fake it? It would probably take the effects industry a while to unlearn all the tricks it’s been using for the past few years. In an attempt at authenticity, visual effects houses spend a lot of time and energy trying to replicate the physical flaws in cameras that we as viewers understand as part of the language of cinema. Just have a look at the amount of lens flare in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek for an example. Making things look clear and in focus should be a walk in the park. 

Problem: Tight framing

This is something that affects film generally, in that more and more films are shot like television programmes. Close-ups are getting closer and faces fill the frame, often cutting off the hair and chin during dialogue. This is disconcerting enough when every pore on an actor’s face occupies a square inch of screen, but it becomes even more problematic with 3D. These “missing” pieces aren’t just out of frame, but out of reality. Their disappearance makes the literal image we’re seeing unreal - a floating rectangle of flesh, hovering in front of us - but also throw the mental compensation processes that parse visual information. The brain is already using those processes to translate a series of still images into motion and also deal with the incongruity of camera optics seen in three dimensions through our own eyes. Adding disappearing information just confuses it further. This is mental energy that should be dedicated to immersion, plot and action, but instead is used just trying to process the scene on its most basic level. It’s not just in close ups, either. Long and mid-shots become more difficult to process when limbs disappear into the void.

Solution: Move back

Pull the camera back. Use more of the screen and more space for full bodies. Even full heads would be a start. I’m of the opinion that 3D would work better if it more closely reflected our own experience. I don’t think many of us have experience of making love to a giant, so at least getting back to arm’s length might be an idea. 

Problem: Pop-out

To my mind, a lot of the problems with current 3d films are that they calibrate the majority of their 3D in the wrong direction and fling as many elements out of the screen as possible. The fundamental problem with the “pop out” philosophy is that the pieces are going to be incomplete. The most successful 3D elements in World War Z were whenever a helicopter was on screen, simply because it was a complete element that could plausibly be suspended in mid air. These are the things you want to pop out, not 2/3rds of Brad Pitt’s beard.

Solution: Add depth

Rather than trying bring incomplete elements out of the screen, 3D should be used to add depth to the frame, making the viewer want to lean forward and dive in rather than be pressed back in their seat. I will confess that I don’t know how well this would work. It’s one of those things that might get proved wrong straight away when you see it in action, but I feel like a few good things whooshing out at the viewer would be more effective than hundreds of half-baked ones. 

Problem: Add-on 3D

Some films are shot in 2D and then are handed to a specialist company who adds in the 3D effect. If you’ve ever seen a film that looks like it was a series of 2D flat layers at different depths, that was probably converted to “3D” in post production.

Solution: Stop doing this

It’s a bad idea to add any intrinsic process after the film is shot. Yes, you can add visual effects and special effects after a film is shot, but adding something inherent in the nature of the film afterwards just never works. Dubbed subtitled film… wrong. Colourised black and white films… wrong. Stop doing it. It doesn’t work.

Problem: Crappy glasses

Watching World War Z was extremely uncomfortable. The post-production 3D was part of it, but the main issue was with the glasses. The Empire Leicester Square is a good cinema and the glasses weren’t the usual plasticky ones that I’ve had at the Peckham Plex. As it turned out, these fancy glasses were really heavy, with a bridge and pads that seemed designed for six year olds. Everyone I went with complained about them and had divots in the sides of their noses afterwards.

Solution: Better glasses

For all their faults, the old red-blue cardboard glasses were at least light. There’s got to be a half-way house between them and the half-pound Cyclops visors we got at the Empire, surely?

Problem: The Wrong Films

Fundamentally, though, the main problem with current 3D cinema is that the wrong films are given the 3D treatment. Budgetary issues, either with filming in 3D or the large amount of post-production required to fake the process, means the monetary investment needed is considerable. This means that the only contenders for the extra dimension are blockbusters - megabudget, effects heavy action films. The problem is that these types of films are perhaps the type least suited to 3D. The entire ethos of the modern blockbuster is to throw as many elements around the screen as fast as possible - confusing at the best of times, but exponentially worse when one adds poorly implemented 3D into the mix. As well as the complex onscreen kinetics, the rhythm of blockbuster editing means that no shot can last more than a few seconds, meaning that the brain has to reorient itself continually on a constant basis, separating the viewer not just from the story (which is often a secondary consideration) but also the experience (which is seen as the main selling point and trumps all other aesthetic and artistic considerations). Rather than being the missing ingredient for the hectic blockbuster, 3D actually works against the rhythm and pace of the action film, taking away from the experience rather than enhancing it.

Solution: Art house 3D

It needs people with visual panache, but who aren’t tied to a particular way of seeing things. It needs reinvention and Michael Bay or James Cameron aren’t the people to do it. (I will confess that I haven’t seen The Hobbit and having had these thoughts I might now go and have a look, even though they sound boring as hell. Still, I will admit that Peter Jackson might just be the man to get 3D done right.)

This isn’t to say that the new wave of 3D needs to be static stage plays. Dredd was one of the few films I wished I had seen in 3D. It felt like it had been made with 3D in mind, using care and attention to make the most of the technique. I felt while watching it that the the slow-mo sequences would actually benefit from the extra dimension and it’s the first time in the modern generation of 3D that I’ve felt anything like that. 

Perhaps it’s going to take an entirely new aesthetic and mindset to truly make the best of 3D cinema. Just as silent stars fell by the wayside with the introduction of sound, perhaps 3D will mean that a new generation of film-makers can expand the language of cinema in ways not previously imagined. I suspect it’s going to take a while for the technology to trickle down to the people who can really play with it and make something interesting. By that time, however, I wonder if the studios might have given up, consigning 3D back into the closet for another few decades before giving it another go. Perhaps they’ll scrap the cameras and sell them for cheap, leading to the sort of junk-store technological take up that lead to the birth of dance music. The question then would be a question of exhibition. Studies have shown that people who buy 3D TVs don’t consume a lot of 3D content. People might put on their glasses for a couple of hours in a dark cinema, but don’t seem that keen to do it in their own homes. 3D seems linked to the cinema and this is the aspect that might halt any meaningful development of an arthouse 3D movement. Of course, there’s plenty of people watching crappy 3D movies as it stands, so maybe there’s no need for a reinvention. It seems a shame, though, because for all it’s faults, there’s something about 3D cinema that keeps people coming back, whether they buy tickets or run studios. The question is whether it’s really the next step in the evolution of moving images, or if it’s just another boondoggle along the lines of Smell-O-Vision and RumbleRama.