Wednesday Web: Recordjunkie

We’ve been seeing quite a few great sites of late, and it’s inspired us to write again, if only for Wednesday Web.

Recordjunkie.com is a simple idea. It lists, and breaksdown the list, of great record shops around the world. It’s seems this is more important now than ever. In the past, great record stores depended on an international network and was tied to mail order and later online purchases. Great stores like Amoeba in LA or Rough Trade in London were known around the world.

Not saying that Recordjunkie will start a revolution. But it’s a solid idea and should be supported. You can read people’s store reviews as well.

It’s still in Beta, so hopefully more functionality will go with it. All we know is that every holiday we take from now on, we will be checking in with this site first.

recordjunkie.com

Steven Moffat – a writer let loose

If you’ve never watched Doctor Who before, this Easter is the time to start. And not because of the event of a new actor playing the Doctor, but for the return of Steven Moffat – my favourite TV writer of 21 years – to our screens.

Steven Moffat and the best storytelling plot device there is

I myself only started watching Doctor Who for one reason, and that was Moffat (he wrote at least one episode a season since the show was revived in 2005).

It all started with Press Gang in 1989. Press Gang was Moffat‘s first ever writing job. The producer thought the pilot was the best ever first script she had ever read. It was a teen drama/comedy about a bunch of high-schoolers who ran a student newspaper. It also had the neat trick that the Office repeated years later that had a great love story boiling away in the background.

I could go on and on about Press Gang, and the slew of awards it won. But there was one really important point about Press Gang that informs all of Moffat‘s work ever since – it was SMART. Playing around with flashbacks, red herrings and plot twists, it confounded my expectations and got my 9 year old mind whirling – and it’s never stopped.

I bought the DVDs for Press Gang in my twenties, the only kids show I’ve ever bought on DVD. It’s amazing how much of it has stuck in my mind. Long joke pieces, amazing moments – and the characters. My boyhood crush on Lynda Day has led to a life long troubles with smart, bossy, feisty women.

At the time, I didn’t know the man behind the show was Steven Moffat. Turns out he wrote every single word of every single episode.

Moffat fell off my radar until the comedy Coupling (there were a couple of unsuccessful shows that were never shown in Australia). Relationships between men and women, sexual politics and failed encounters – expertly dissected with wit and typically mind bending plot twists (odd for a sit com yet never feels out of place).

It was my perfect show for those crazy early 20s. Again, every episode was written by Moffat. And it was around this time I made the connection between the two shows.

He’s always alluded to his love of Doctor Who and science fiction in his work, but has mainly worked in comedies and dramas set in our time, with largely ordinary people. He did write a Doctor Who sketch for Comic Relief one year, but he became the real thing when he wrote one of the most acclaimed episodes of the new series’ first year – The Empty Child. Then there’s Blink – largely regarded the single greatest episode ever – and there’s about 400 of them.

And now he’s taken over Doctor Who completely, and I’m so excited for him. It’s seeing the dreams come true for someone I’ve known for decades. And I’m so excited to see what he brings. The man never treads water. He’s always trying something new – even his failures fail on ideas, it never drifts into lazy writing.

I’ve learnt a lot from Moffat over the years. Being smart is the big one. Looking at things from every angle. And girls. So much about girls. His deep, deep obsession with sex, love and romance should readdress Russell T Davies‘s campness (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Moffat wrote other great shows (and has another one, a 21st century take on Sherlock Holmes, out this year, and the screenplay for Spielberg/Jackson’s Tintin movie). Everything is worth exploring, if you’re the TV exploring type.

If not, and you have one hour to spare, I suggest next weekend’s Doctor Who. A great writer will be let loose on prime time. With big crazy ideas for a big audience. It’s going to be something you’ll remember for at least 21 years.

Zot! – and boundless optimism in a horrible world

My favourite comic book in the world is Zot! (the exclamation is part of the title). I came across this image in an article and decided to write about it…

Zot and Jenny - everything summed up in one panel

It was originally printed in the late 80s, but I discovered it in the 90s, after I had become obsessed by comic books. I started as most young boys did on super-hero stuff, and slowly graduated to the indie world, black and whites and more mature stuff.

At he heart of Zot! is our man Zot, the mash-up of so many 40s and 50s sci-fi, square-jawed future heroes, and Jenny, our everyday high school girl. Zot is a superhero, and comes from a world of flying cars, robots, talking monkeys and everything that was exciting and optimistic about early sci-fi. Jenny’s life is coloured by real world issues of sex, homosexuality, violence and teenage malaise.

(If it sounds a bit like Doctor Who, well, that’s what drew me to Doctor Who in the first place)

The 80s was a time when comics were growing up. More people are discovering the era that spawned Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, and Zot! is also a key text. Whereas the former two upped the violence and grittiness (sometimes ironically described as ‘realness’), Zot! presented the optimistic take on life’s hard issues.

Zot has a crazy uncle (a bit like Back to the Future‘s Professor) who creates a portal to ‘our’ world. Here he meets Jenny, and throw her eyes we see Zot’s world – this awesome, lost future we once dreamed of – and we see our world through Zot’s eyes.

What happened to us? Why did we lose that dream?

It’s central to the story. Jenny’s world seems unexciting, and full of problems. Broken families, hateful people – who doesn’t want to escape as a teenager? Zot’s world is a potent metaphor for escapist fiction itself. I think creator Scott McCloud had this in mind. We can live our dreams in these stories. And kids being allowed to read about superheroes is important.

The comics were released in two acts, and it’s the second, 16 issue run that is the groundbreaking stuff – and fully collected in a beautiful paperback edition. At one point, Zot is stuck in ‘our’ world, and what you basically have is a high school teen drama where one guy is a 50s superhero guy with jetboots.

There wasn’t many issues, and every one of them is great. But there are a few that really broke the mold.

One issue deals with homosexuality and a character’s (Terry’s) coming out. We are in her mind for an issue, and at one point, reduced to tears, another character asks the question we all want to ask – “What have they done to you?”. It won many awards.

Another deals with teen sex, and it’s pretty much Zot and Jenny talking about sex for one whole issue. In a super-hero comic! No super villians. No plot twists. Just two worlds colliding in words, on paper. It also won many awards.

The panel above, the inspiration for this rant, ended up on the cover of the collected edition. Rightly so, because it’s come to sum up the whole series. These two worlds, and these two people, meeting in a kiss.

It’s not the panel above, but my favourite moment in the whole series comes in the very last issue. Jenny’s had enough and has packed all her bags to run away into Zot’s world forever. And Zot refuses to leave her world. The stand off, what they say, and what eventually happens – it’s a perfect ending.

When I wonder if liking sci fi and fiction in general is a waste of time, I think of this scene.

When I wonder if anything about life is exciting at all, I think of this scene.

But of course, what really inspires me about Zot!, to this day, is the optimism. We are going to be alright, right? People are inherently good. Inventions are awesome. Life is hard but we survive. It was something great to learn as a kid, and something I still revisit.

Scott McCloud went on to write Understanding Comics, another revered text in some circles, and it’s his last work of fiction of note. He is currently working on another, and I can’t wait. I’ve loved all his work, but that’s a story for another time.

Scott McCloud’s website – http://scottmccloud.com