Five card designs. I do my own every year. It's always a chore to think up another Christmas design, as nearly everything you can think of has been done a million times already. I try to avoid penguins wearing scarfs.
What would it be like, I wonder, to have the omniscient ability to observe the inner workings of a modern American city? To see every level of a decaying, crime-ridden, urban metropolis in exact detail, from the streets, right up through every social level to the mayor's office itself. Wonder no longer, because HBO's TV series, The Wire delivers this ability.
Through four series, The Wire, has placed a microscope on crime, education, poverty, greed, and the political system, while simultaneously showing us exactly how these disparate pieces fit into the larger widescreen picture. Starting small, The Wire has expanded outwards with each series, until it has presented us with an epic, multilayered narrative, interweaving a teeming cast of street people, police, drug dealers, children, teachers and politicians. The thriving drug trade, the dying dockside industries, the collapsing education system, policing, and politics, have all come under the show's scrutiny.
The first series cleverly paralleled the structure and bureaucracy of the drug trade with the police force investigating it. Unlike any other crime show I can think of, The Wire shows us, time and time again, how investigations are stalled, even shut down for short-term political gain. Many of the police characters appear to have no interest in solving crimes. Crime detection is secondary to career advancement, and The Wire shows us exactly how this situation has come about.
The Wire is particularly good at showing just how interconnected people's lives are. Nothing happens in isolation. Small events in a character's life can ripple out to cause major changes across the social boundaries. The show's great strength lies in its ability to balance the small details of each character's story, against the huge unfolding narrative that contains it, without ever losing its place.
All reviews of The Wire come filled with superlatives, and the show is often lazily compared with the novels of Balzac, whose stories are similarly socially realistic and expansive. The reason critics have to reach so far into the past and into another medium for comparisons, is that there has never been anything on television quite as ambitious and brilliantly realised as The Wire. That being the case, it's shameful that the show is so little seen. Contrary to what you might think, The Wire is not difficult to watch, it bursts with tragedy, sorrow and the darkest humour. The Wire is an all too very human story, universal to us all. Catch The Wire.
Recently I've been enjoying Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May detective novels. I'm a big crime/mystery novel fan, and as I find that this is one of those areas of fiction that American's tend to do best, I was pleased to find an English author who wasn't, as many do, aping the US style. Fowler wonderfully mashes together genuine English themes and ideas, mixing the arcane mythologies of London with an Ealing comedy movie feel. The fantastical elements of the novel's storylines never tip over into the supernatural, but still manage to summon up a very particular eerie London atmosphere, where the past is always pressing on the present and the dead are not gone, but merely out of sight. The malign influences of the streets and landscape of urban London play a big part in the novels, much like they do in the writings of Peter Ackroyd or Iain Sinclair: authors who clearly influence Fowler.
The novels concern the Met's Peculiar Crime's Unit, led by London's longest serving detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May: two elderly men who should have retired years ago, but somehow remain on the force, despite having been policemen since the war. This would stretch credibility in a realistic novel, but in the world of Bryant and May, such things seem more than probable. The stories include a series of murder's by a faceless phantom at the Palace Theatre (during the blitz), and the killing of various vacuous celebrities by a masked highwayman (in the present day). In each case, the strange psychological architecture and history of London, plays a part, influencing, and perhaps even possessing the novel's characters. The novels do vary in quality, but they are all entertainingly readable. I recommend the two best of the series: Full Dark House and Ten Second Staircase.
I don't watch much TV, but what I do watch tends, these days to be from the US: just a handful of shows, which include The Shield, The Wire, Lost, and Deadwood. My latest favourite is John From Cincinnati, David Milch's follow-up to Deadwood. John From Cincinnati is a wonderful show, sadly already cancelled after a mere ten episodes. This doesn't surprise me, as this show, a strange mixture of family drama, surfing, and mysticism, is often difficult to follow and offers no easy answers to its mysterious questions.
In a sense, John From Cincinnati, is a familiar idea: a dysfunctional family is visited by a strange, stranger, who proceeds by his influence to correct the ills of the family. As the series progresses, this benign influence begins to extend, not only to the surrounding community, but out, it is hinted, to the rest of the planet as well.
The mysterious John Monad, with his comically expressive face, described by another character as "A tall drink of water with a poodle hair cut," appears apparently from nowhere, doesn't know how to shake hands or cross a road safely, but is able to produce out of his previously empty pocket, a roll of money, a credit card (with unlimited credit on it), and a phone (with infinite minutes). Strange things happen during his visit: a man begins to levitate, a dead bird returns to life, a brain-damaged boy is healed. John is not able to talk directly about himself or the events he puts into motion. He can only repeat back in variations what others have said to him, creating much Johnspeak: quotable and oft-repeated phrases which he's obliged to fall back on.
Not for the casual viewer, John From Cincinnati demands concerted attention. It is often annoyingly inscrutable, but it is also amusing, tender, and heartrending. The innocent John, contrasts sharply with the very fallible humans who make up the rest of the extended cast, enhancing the otherworldly quality that the character has. This strange white figure has already, at least in my mind, become an iconic TV character. It's sad that we'll never see him again.
My business card design. I print these out from my own printer on card, and then draw a little doodle on the back of each one, so that each person who receives them gets their own tiny piece of Darryl art.
Well the first Super-Sam and John-of-the-Night comic strip has been a success. Now all I have to do is sit down and draw one every week (which I've no doubt I can do). The best approach would be to do a number of them all at once, and so get way ahead of the deadline. This will leave me with plenty of time to work on other projects. If the strip is popular, there is the chance that Forbidden Planet (who are a publisher as well as a retail chain), will want to put it out in book form. This would, of course, thrill me no end, but one thing at a time. Baby steps. Baby steps.
For me it would be so wonderful if I could just work from home, and never have to do any care work again. My failing as an artist has always been in the area of self-promotion, not the quality of my work. Let's hope I can change this now. What I must do is make sure I stay in contact with other like-minded artists, and not drift out of the scene, as I did before. I'm planning to go to the Leeds Thought Bubble event on the tenth of November, and a number of people I know should be there. Will you?
British Artist Darryl Cunningham is a cartoonist. He is the writer and artist on Supercrash (aka The Age Of Selfishness), Psychiatric Tales, Science Tales, and Uncle Bob Adventures.
I'm always available for commissions.
Read all about me in this interview.