Tuesday, 11 January 2022

UndergRound Up of the Year, Part 1....

Agent Rob, the man (really!) who fell to earth....

Covid 19 + COP26 = FLOP21, the year that sucked from end to end, a gruelling, endless, featureless grind, 12 months of tedious 'long collarbone', a bone-breaking, rib-cracking, lung-puncturing, physio-requiring 365 days that saw Agent Rob tumble into middle age with a resounding bang! Still, one shall overcome and as per years gone by you can expect (mostly) glowing reviews peppered with the occasional brisk/bitter dismissal of huge creative endeavours – here's looking at you, The Blandalorian! - that are obviously infinitely better than anything a failed Agent could ever hope to achieve. (But, y'know, that's the internet for you - you get what you don't pay for.) So read on to see what provided last year's escapism (from what exactly, our laughably comfortable Western lives, pandemic or no, or our guilt, our shame in knowing that our entire lifetime is a vast cultural, climate and consumer disaster). Anyway, that's more than enough off-putting 'blah blah blah' from Rob, so on with the show....

Dud 'n' Pete....

Firstly the last thing Agent Rob expected in mid-2021 was to get pulled into the comedy orbit of not only Peter Cook but also Dudley Moore (with whom Rob was admittedly quite suddenly smitten, this club-footed, working class piano prodigy) all courtesy of a chance charity purchase of William Cook's thoroughly engrossing One Leg Too Few. This prompted a swift delve into their somewhat sprawling back catalogue, given much of their highly influential 60's TV output (audio aside) is lost/destroyed and much of what followed, bearing in mind the duo had no Pythonesque budding business acumen to call upon, scattered to the four (sheets to the) winds. Still, there's plenty enough floating around to delight, from Moore's solo venture 30 is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia to The Wrong Box, to Cook's solo venture The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, to the mighty Bedazzled (of course!), to the howling and beleaguered The Hound of the Baskervilles, to the (drunken) debauchery of Derek and Clive, Agent Rob really only drawing the line north of Arthur and Get The Horn. Well, what are you waiting for, jump right in....

Dune know whattah mean, yeah, yeah....

The only big screen (ad)venture Rob undertook (late) this year was to go forth and see the new Dune, a self-consciously epic and FX laden tale full of dusty visuals and precious little story of interest, the cast of dull characters sleepwalking through the dry plot with no one really doing any acting (except for Jason Momoa.... who, to be honest, really just plays himself). If it wasn't for an exceptional amount of obligatory 'bangy noises' around the mid-point there's no doubt Rob'd have left the desert for good and gone off to visit the sandman instead....


There's no doubt that Film Four takes the acting gong yet again this year, (still) serving up a tremendous variety of striking and immersive world cinema – Blade of the Immortal, Savage, Woman at War, Fire Will Come, Border, Why Don't You Just Die! – and (perhaps) lesser-known contemporary indie (often American) gems hiding in the left-field - My Fiend Dahmer, American Woman, American Animals, Come To Daddy, The Old Man and The Gun, A Bigger Splash, Youth, Snowpiercer, Anthropoid – as well as the usual treat of seldom and oft-seen older-ish joys – Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, How To Get Ahead In Advertising (AKA Withnail 2), The Riddle of the SandsTrack of the Cat, The Ladykillers, The Straight Story, Escape From New YorkPi – and those irrepressible cult classics such as Wim Wenders' absorbing cinematic trio of The American Friend, The Wings of Desire and Paris, Texas....


Talking Pictures TV also managed to unearth plenty of vintage rarities and oddities, Villain, Tom Jones, The Dead of Night, To The Devil a Daughter, The Night of The Demon, The Assassination Bureau, Black Sunday, Personal Services, Foul Play (Dudley Moore debuts!), Brighton Rock, The Quiller Memorandum, Bank Holiday, Vampire Circus and The Man Who Fell To Earth – while TCM offered up the likes of The Thing, PerformancePoint Blank, Play Misty For Me, ShampooFrankenstein, The King of Comedy, No Country For Old MenThe Big Sleep, Dirty Harry and ITV4 stuck to its six guns, blasting out a regular (and reliable) dose of manly action every evening ie. pretty much anything on celluloid Clint Eastwood's squinted near as well as Copland, Death Wish, The Nice Guys, Airplane! and The Fugitive....


Jodie Whittaker's Doctor Who returned for (who honestly gives a) FLUX, which found the entire yawniverse under threat from some galactic mess that, given world leaders were (supposedly) discussing the very fate of the ground we walk on (most of the time!) at COP26, was off to a shaky enough start. Things improved over the course – expect to see Vinder, Bel and Karvanista spinning off via Big Finish very soon – once Chris Chibnall slowed the story down following a brain-busting opening episode and began (trying his best) to tie all the disparate story threads together.... only to climax with another head-scratching final episode that struggled to get the Timelord back on track. Still, all credit to him for trying to think outside the (blue) box (and serving up a decent NYE special with Eve of the Daleks). Here's to Braw favourite June Sarpong hopefully picking up the sonic screwdriver for the show's 60th anniversary in 2023....

Here's Looking Glass at you, kid....

Well 'Swash me Solomons!' if there wasn't a digital pandemic of reality television streaming from our screens in 2021 (with much more to come!), from (overly) familiar panel shows – even the horrible, hateful Never Mind The Buzzcocks was dredged up! - to makeovers, to bakeovers, to walkovers, from celebrity castles to mental health island, to the glut of formula homespun hobby competitions + tiresome comedian du jour (though thankfully no one's had a go at actual comic book comics yet!)....

Thankfully there was an antidote, of which there's no denying that HBO's (Whathefu-didIjust?!) Watchmen was Rob's telly event of the year, a take-no-prisoners plot tease tour-de-force that made the DC comic sequel look (well, read) like a children's book by comparison. More on that next time....

Brooke-Taylor, Cleese, MacDonald, Chapman and Feldman

There were other televisual treats in the shape of the sinking ships of The Terror, the stately stiff upper drama of The Night Manager (from another Braw fave Suzanna Bier) the 'equal not a prequel' laughs of At Last The 1948 Show and the sharp-suited writing of MAD MEN (thanks MISSING!)....

A shame as it is to sharpen the stakes but by contrast the third series of What We Do In The Shadows completely missed the mark, descending into mirthless and cacophanus shouting matches nearly every episode, thereby (grave) robbing it of much of its humour and charm. With a fourth series in development Rob has to admit it's more likely better the sun came up on this undead delight. Who's to say if the similarly themed and agreeably quirky Wellington Paranormal will suffer the same lifeless fate.... And the less said about Fargo's forgettable fourth season (from painfully slow burn to complete and utter fizzle) the better....

The Book of Boba Fett. Bedtime viewing.... Yawn....

Di$ney continued to give the (vocal) majority of Star Wars fans exactly what they wanted with the second series of The Mandalorian, making use of no creative juices whatsoever - Baby Yoda was eventually saddled with the clunky and dull name of Grogu - deriving all their big buzz and excitement from simply digging up and teasing well-established/worn characters while plopping them into the same old familiar environments (and thus once more hiding the absolute paucity of fresh ideas on show). Of course, fans are slave-one-ishly looking backward to new seasons of The Book of Boba Fett, '(bl)Andor, Asoka and Obi Wank Enobi, where - would you believe it?! - he'll likely take on Darth Vader once again in what will be a dream come true for people with absolutely no imagination universe-wide....


With Glasgow's MISSING Records but a stone's throw from Rob's (UnderGroundhog) day job there was plenty of 'physical' media on offer over the course of the year('s worth of careful browsing). Whether that's some lovely/laughably affordable Kris Kristofferson, Monty Python or Pete 'n' Dud vinyl or the gold to be mined in their 3 DVDS for £1 section....


....which managed an exceptionally healthy yield of the wonderful one-two world cinema punch of Manon Des Sources and Jean De Florette, The Edukators, Arthur, Derek and Clive Get The Horn, Last Days, Made In Britain and MAD MEN amongst others, all looking spanking on Sony's highly recommended/affordable one-two home cinema punch Blu-Ray/DVD BDPS range....


FOPP in Union Street was also open (some of the time) and able to cater for more recent DVD nourishment, including the near-perfect Parasite, the Jerry-baiting Jo Jo Rabbit, the fine The Farewell and the delightfully boozy and poignant Another Round (which, truth be told, wasn't nearly as good as the Mads Mikkelsen starring Riders of Justice, a hardy revenge tale that had a clear enough head to walk a fine, steady line between silly and serious, making it the actual hard act to swallow as far as Rob's concerned)....


And, seeing as everybody likes a happy ending (other than the happy fact that this blog is ending!) then take heart that Rob's vintage VHS/DVD combo, earmarked for the dump alongside countless redundant cables, chargers and BT hubs, was duly packed up and shipped to VideOdyssey in Liverpool after a workmate spotted this story. There, try and keep that happy thought in your head until Part 2, where we'll delve into music, books and comics....

Derek and Clive - Squatter and the Ant

Monday, 22 November 2021

You Seen The Set, Part Five: Indiana Jones.... Five!


Now the nights are really drawin' in (without any actual 'comic drawin' goin' on at Braw Towers) it's time to turn back the clocks, a little more than an hour, to July, to a happier time (ie. before the unsustainable infrastructure of Western society began its inevitable, slow collapse) to set the scene, er, for another instalment of 'you seen the set', following on from Agent Rob's successful stints for JAWS, Cheers, ahm, John Squire and, uhm, the cultra-obscure sitcom Naeturvaktin. Of course, the main difference here is that this turn around the set actually came to see Rob....





Yep, imagine the surprise/delight when he emerged from Glasgow Queen Street Station low-level, blinking into the early morning sunlight of the 7th of July to find that none other than New York City had taken up residence in Glasgow for the purposes of filming for Indiana Jones 5 (which, y'know, he hopes will echo director James Mangold's 'Logan' and simply be called 'Indiana Jones')....





It was obvious that Di$ney would attempt to wring every last buck out the franchise and evidently wouldn't let it lie without digging up Indy, or, indeed Harrison Ford, for a fifth crack of the whip. With The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but a bad memory for most – tho Rob quite likes it actually, it apes the one-two structure of The Last Crusade nicely, Steven Spielberg's steady hand/cam providing a visual consistency as it flips (and flops?) from Indy and dad to Indy and son for a satisfying enough conclusion. Starts with a nuclear explosion and ends with a nuclear family as Rob always says.... A shame then that the script really needed an extra draft or two while a duff CGI stretch through the jungle is a near turn off. Still, haters can take heart as there's no doubt that this fourth entry in the franchise will be knowingly referenced and retconned (as per The Last Jedi) to satisfy the ever-vocal meatheads who lurk online.... (Still, it could be far worse given there were rumours of a Chris Pratt reboot!)




Seeing double....

Here be spoilers? Not really, but you can perhaps join the dots – much like the motion capture ones stuck on Ford's face when filming in Yorkshire, presumably allowing for a bit of 'young school' Nazi bashing to flesh out the plot – to get some idea of what's going on. Not that events in Glasgow revealed much, merely a chase involving Ford('s stunt double) on a horse and (an in person) Boyd Holbrook on a motorbike during a parade welcoming returning astronauts....





Meanwhile Phoebe Waller-Bridge – surely not playing Indy's daughter?! - got up to some antics on another NYC street....





The former scenes were shot principally on St. Vincent Street, with several adjoining roads similarly decked out (and closed for 3-ish weeks) for authenticity (and vehicle/lighting, etc storage purposes). The latter, Waller-Bridge, scenes were shot in the Trongate area of the city over the course of a week, with Parnie Street and surroundings closed for a more modest, but still impressive, transformation....

In-joke #1, The Cantina 

In-joke #2, Ford's Liquors

Agent Rob jumps for joy!

No relation to R. Miller Est. 1975

Unfortunately star Harrison Ford didn't make the trip north of the border for filming as he was recovering from an injury to his shoulder he picked up rehearsing a fight scene – hopefully in those flashbacks as, well, at 78 years of age (going on 80 if the film's mooted release in 2023 is true) it's fairly obvious that Indy should be swapping his action-packed days for pipe and slippers....



No sooner had Indy gone and packed up his troubles (and his numerous flags) than Batman decided to muscle in on the action, entertaining the crowds by taking his Batbike for an endless spin around George Square, three Gotham Police cars in perpetual hot pursuit....



Absolutely no spoilers this time of course, given it's a DC "Entertainment" (in the absolute loosest sense of the word) film - 'Why so serious?!' and deadly dull! - and therefore it's pretty much spoiled already, oho ho ho....

INDIANA JONES | Official Franchise Trailer | Paramount Movies

Saturday, 9 October 2021

A Chronicle of Doom....


At last the 1986 show! There's nothing like taking a trip across the dimensions to the (Agent Johnny) 'Millerverse', stepping outside of time and space as we know it, slipping into 'the comfort zone' to chunter contentedly while sipping a beer - the days of reckless swilling long since gone! - one eye on the 'one-eyed god' and another on the doomsday clock (the third on some slick and suited business-type indulging in the smart death of those twin terrors Facebook and Instagram for the duration of the journey).... 


And that's exactly how it was several 'Saturndays' ago in September, Agent Rob braving public transport to make the trip through to see (a hugely galvanised and not in the least bit rusty) John G. Miller at Ice Station Lima, a pleasantly plateaud(?) afternoon of television and music, the volume pitch perfect for conversations about Bob Dylan, Infinity Magazine, The Time Tunnel, (talking on the telephone to) The Lines and - would you believe it! - the notion of perhaps consolidating and collating countless 'comics-in-progress' in order to (finally) shape up a new Braw Book (or two.... or three....). Who can tell if time will indeed tell....


Sights: The Phantom Empire, Dick Tracy

Sounds: Bob Dylan - Live 1966: Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship - Blows Against The Empire: The Lines - Nerve Pylon

Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship - Mau Mau (Amerikon)

Saturday, 5 June 2021

A Chronicle of Doom....

J for Julie Christie shining like a star....

A for Andromeda. A also, of course, for Agents Rob and Johnny. B for Ballard Heights to I for Ice Station Zebra. C for (A) Chronicle of Doom. L for loooooooong overdue - can it honestly be two years?! - and (finally, thankfully!) S for Scockrail (who did everything in their power to cancel and delay the necessary trains needed to make this vital visit eventually happen)....


They say that abstinence makes the heart grow fonder and it wasn't very long before Rob banished his mounting 'intrepidation' - Agent Johnny might be even more painfully slo-mo than ever before, but was on sparkling form having definitely landed sunnyside up in Slateford 'after the flood' - and was duly dispatched to the local Postie Office 'fer to buy' some swill to help the 'dafternoon' drift by that little bit more smoothly, our two Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. chuntering (al)most contentedly, feeling like days of old.... as opposed to these (quite suddenly just) feeling old days....

The 'ungoing' John Stark: Secret Agent comic was discussed at length, Rob offering 'fer to draw' any script that Johnny cared 'fer to think up', given that, at 67(!), the copious 'aches and pains' - cue much grumbling about both being (un)fairly 'f*kt in' - are putting (un)paid to any comic drawin', but, y'know, there's nothing wrong with (dis)gracefully retirin' into the sunset....

HBO's (somewhat inspired) Looking Glass character

Topics of conversation included everything from the A for Andromeda tv show and Anthology book (pictured above above above), Philip K. Dick, Infinity Magazine (pictured above above), Vampire Circus and everything Watchmen-shaped, with Doomsday Clock, Before Watchmen and the HBO series (pictured above) bringing us full circle and face to face. Round that off, the seconds ticking away, with Johnny reminiscing about seeing Pink Floyd in '71(!) and Grateful Dead in '81 and you have a mighty fine encounter, one worth writing up 'fer to blog'. Here's hoping there's another of these swell swilled dreamy daze soon.... 

Sounds: Two From The Vault by Grateful Dead....

Grateful Dead - Death Don't Have No Mercy

Saturday, 1 May 2021

UndergRound Up of the Year, Part 2....

The Mummy returns! Agent Rob back from the undead!

Welcome back (no) one and all for Part 2 of Braw's UndergRound Up of the Year, Agent Rob's much delayed (ultimately should-very-unwell-have-been-cancelled mis-) guide to 2020. “An equal not a sequel”, as Braw favourite John Cleese said of (the then absolutely critically mauled to pieces) Fierce Creatures. (Indeed, here's hoping Mr Cleese spent his lockdown working on the second part of his autobiography with that same ethic in mind, as opposed to wasting his twilight talents gleefully twatting the endless hordes of Twitter trolls to one side....) Will it again be a tale of two brackets? With films hitting home box office while television mostly struck out, let's see how music, books and comics fare (fair?) as it's 'seconds out' for (underg)round two(-oh-two-oh)....

The Orb this week.... are just the medicine, man....

There's no doubt that music saved Agent Rob's (underGroundhog) day these past12/13 months. Thanks in part to Dr Alex Paterson – didya know it's actually Duncan Alexander Robert Paterson? - and co(horts) there was plentiful prescriptions on offer, be it the time to take a long bath in the loopy 90's ambient throwback of Chocolate Hills' rather wonderful 'Pail of Air' (why not an actual Orb?) album or a moment to drift off into (inner) space thanks to The Orb's surprisingly timely 'Abolition of The Royal Familia', an album that cannily tapped into the lockdown vibe* while very much following the (free)formula of 2018's 'NSOOB' only bigger and better, eschewing the latter's rather flabby and shapeless midsection for something agreeably phat and dubby around the middle, languid and agreeably unhurried, cushioned by much tasty and tinkly ambient noodling.

*....and not only was there that slice of prescient action, but the Royal Familia 'Guillotine Remixes' album somehow managed to drop on the very day that the Duke of Edinburgh passed away. Uncanny....


Duende India Collective - Escapology (Epically Orb Mix)

As if that wasn't enough, Agent Rob also booked a trip on Auntie Aubrey's third set of The Orb remix 'Excursions Beyond the Call of Duty' at the very end of the year, wallowing in a (surprisingly) solid selection of knob, er, twiddling and, um, tweaking. That's 'ambientertainment' for yer....

"And we stare straight into nothing, but we call it all the same"

There's no denying that being cooped up at home or office in 2020 inspired Rob to hit the (mental) road, roaring off into the brainset(?) to the sounds of The War On Drugs and their particular brand of widescreen cosmic US radio rock.... and to a lesser extent there was fellow acolyte Kurt Vile's slightly patchier, slacker take on the genre with Mac De Marco's wholly slacker take bringing up the rear view. While Rob finally got around to (WODrugs influencer) Bruce Springsteen's raw and pointed 'Nebraska', it was the granddaddy of them all Bob Dylan who graced us with his simple, shimmering (and ultimately transcendent) 'Murder Most Foul' from his 'Rough and Rowdy Ways' album....

27 years.... Quite an eye opener....

Elsewhere Thousand Yard Stare delivered their first album in 27 years, the spiky 'Panglossium Momentum', while Cornershop took a little less time to produce more of their spritely, wry and slyly political agit-pop on 'England is A Garden'. Team Crippled Black Phoenix motoriked on too, releasing the accomplished – that's really Rob's way of saying he's still not quite worked out if he really likes it yet - 'Ellengaest', while Capitol K served up more of his worldly homegrown organic techno on the tasty 'Birdtrapper' and an unexpected winter salvation came in the shape of Wu-Tang Clan's chilly, first post-Ol' Dirty release, '8 Diagrams'....

Bang! Ace shot through the bleeding heart....

The most momentous, er, moment in the musical calendar was without a doubt the 19th of August 2020, the day that Agent Rob, after a two and half year break (having had his heart broken by Sam Sweet's 'Hadley Lee Lightcap' book, a vivid, lyrical account of simply scraping by as a member of the band Acetone*) finally plucked up the courage to again delve into their warm, wistful and pretty much perfectly formed body of recorded work.... all the, ahem, 'hits', as it were.... And here's a fairly freaky full circle of sorts given that, unbeknownst to Rob until he took to researching(!?)/typing this article, Pitchfork wrote in their review of the (highly recommended) 'Acetone 1992-2001' compilation, “But if Acetone are not a name that gets dropped with any regularity these days, a survey of the contemporary indie-rock landscape reveals a number of artists striving for a similar zen state. From the slow-dissolve soundscapes of the War on Drugs to the window-gazing ruminations of Kurt Vile to the lysergic twang of Mac DeMarco, there’s a healthy appetite today for patient, clock-stopping music that, if only for a moment, can pull us out of a world where 24/7 news tickers and obsessive-compulsive feed-refreshing set the pace of modern life.” Now howzabout that? Uncanny again....

*if only one person discovers the wonders of applying a daily dose of Acetone to their life then this entire blog will have been worth it....


The old roads best travelled....

With Boobs of Doom taking something of a hiatus in 2020 – only four albums, c'mon! - following on from 2019's dozen doses album extravaganza, it was over to fellow Scot Fordell Research Unit to up the release ante on Bandcamp. Pick of his bunch (so far) has to be 'Old Roads', with track 1, the epic sweep and swoosh of 'Funeral Rites For Mahler' getting the earth moving under Agent Rob's feet every time. (His tumbling CCTV soundtrack 'Etches of Pain' album on Invisible City Records comes highly recommended too....)

We've actually made it quite far this time around without mentioning Poland (until now!) but here's a fascinating (vinyl) cut salvaged (along with several colourful others) from the 'Archives of the Eastern Bloc'. What you're looking at is actually a record.... and not only that, it is in fact a Hawkwind record…. Silver Machine AKA Srebrna Maszyna.... (and, deemed top billing, there's Popcorn AKA Prazona Kukurydza by, er, Hot Buter)....

Not a bunch of DIIVs....

How do you make gig of the year in 2020? Easy.... you are Agent Rob's ONLY gig of the year. Lucky for DIIV they were just ahead of the Covid curve – Rob recalls thinking of the growing pandemic and raising a wry eyebrow when the support band's singer announced, “your country is sick!” Luckier still the band've cleaned up their act considerably since their last visit to Glasgow, a performance that was as wan and as hollow as frontman Zachary Cole Smith's smack sharpened cheekbones. (That it was at the frankly dire SWG3 venue didn't help matters much either as every band struggles against the dud acoustics, muddy sound and lack of any discernible atmosphere.) Placing saucer-eyed Gollum-cum-guitarist Andrew Bailey centre stage – he never missed a note/beat, mind! - the band powered through deep cuts from their 'Deceiver' album (with older tracks from their previous lp 'Is the Is Are' sounding sparse and half-formed by comparison), delivering a genuine (finally) coming of age performance. Here's hoping they spent 2020's lockdown wisely and have only been cooking up new tunes....

Don't be a mug and support live music....

Of course, with gigging strictly off the menu, totally down the pan and quite frankly up the spout the whole (live) music industry has been thrown into crisis (by way of the wolves). If anyone reading this has not done so then please consider heading over to make purchases/donations at #wemakeevents – some nice mugs and tote bags to be had, perfect for Rob's middle-aging demographic – or Save Our Venues, where you might pick up a nice t-shirt you can wear without embarrassment (while you, er, half-heartedly mow the somewhat neglected, mostly moss ridden lawn)....

"Yes he did, he does, he really did like it." (pic. Tom Sheehan)

As we seamlessly segue from music to books singer Tim Burgess cropped up with his autobiography, shedding more light on the decidedly dark death of The Charlatan's keyboardist Rob 'The (90s) Hammond King' Collins, – 25 years ago this June! - with some additional bleakness to round out the grim details courtesy(?!) of the Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm documentary....

Second Crumbling.... Ian Browned off with Reni circa '95....

Meanwhile Simon Spence did his best to get under the prickly skin of those perpetual enigmas The Stone Roses in his War & Peace biography. If anything it got Agent Rob back listening to their startling debut - such a considered, spacious sound and genuinely unmatched song dynamics – as well as hopping online to unearth the 'Schroeder Mixes' of 'Second Coming', seemingly 90% finished before John Squire's coke habit buried the songs under two years of over and over and overdubbed guitars. The updated edition even covers their initially well-intentioned but ultimately well-flogged – official iPhone covers, really?! - 2014 reunion....

Leaf it out, Ian!

However, in contrast to Tim Burgess embracing the lockdown online via his Twitter Listening Parties – still not enough to tempt Rob onto that life-vacuum however – and releasing his 'I Love The New Sky', a charming album of quirky alt-pop, fellow Mancunian singer Ian Brown planted his feet firmly in the disbeliever camp with his 'plandemic' protest song 'Little Seed Big Tree', diverting enough in the swaggering spring sunshine of 2020, but harder to say it was rooted in any sort of reality come the year's decidedly sticky end....


If Rob was pushed and shoved to pick a book of the year it'd have to be Robert Silverberg's Nightwings, a short, well realised and wholly immersive Science Fiction (with a decent dash of the fantastical) novel. Of course, H. G. Wells couldn't fail with his excellent The Invisible Man (surely ripe material for the best Studio Ghibli animation never made), as elsewhere Emily St. John Mandell took us on a pre-pandemic ride with her Station Eleven (thus sparing us Agent Rob's Unearthly Science Fiction outtake about the 'last Mars bar man'....), the Strugatsky brothers entranced with the sprawling, immersive The Doomed City while JG Ballard predicted the rise of English nationalism, foretelling the build up to Brexit, his canny fingers on the quickening pulse for what was his final novel, Kingdom Come....


Any excuse....

Lawrence Durrell's TUNC, with it's 70's setting but dense 50's literature stylings often suffocating the telling, still impressed with it's strange SF-esque plot, while Tom Baker tackled his Fourth Doctor (Who) in the enjoyable (salvaged from a never made film of) Scratchman. It's inevitable that the towering 1984 by George Orwell should rear it's ugly, impassive head – Big Brother really is watching you – prompting Agent Rob's inevitable retreat into the comforting primordial stew of Ballard's The Drowned World - with such an affecting, poetic conclusion - before finishing right back where he started with a third book by (his favourite author of 'straight fiction') William Boyd, the epic The New Confessions, a beginning fitting for the end....

And Rob's favourite sentence of the year is from Michael Moorcock's bracing boy's own adventure omnibus A Nomad of the Time Streams, taken from book two, The Steel Tsar, “His smile was a soft, deceiving thing lying upon the pitted surface of his head like a red slug.”....


The most curious book (discovery) of the year has to be a copy of Space-Travel Stories, a 1969 Moscow publication 'for the 9th form of the secondary school', Compiled by L. Fomin and designed and (nicely) illustrated by B. Trofimov. All the (translated) stories therein are adapted and it features Asimov's Little Lost Robot and John Wyndham's Meteor among lesser/completely unknown others....





Nothing like holding a book in your hands and knowing it's quite likely the only copy in existence anywhere. Bonus points surely have to be awarded to this completely obscure Russian publication for allowing the word 'bisexual' to slip undetected into the 'vocabulary' at the back....


With From Hell (in color) finally wrapped up for good this year Agent Rob turned his attention to Alan 'The Original Writer' Moore's early 80's work on Miracle/Marvelman, fighting his way through the initial stodge of the wordy Warrior tales into the truly creative enlightenment, but no less boggy let's be honest, of the Olympus/Eclipse era. Still no word from 'The House Of Mouse/Ideas' on Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham concluding their proposed 90's stint on the book tho....


With a little cash to splash (just in time before the crash) Agent Rob said 'Hiya!' to his local comic shop and duly order a copy/doorstop of this wonderful, evocative 1970's comic-cum-magazine as previously spied bending the shelves at Ice Station Zebra. Needless to say, with it's wonderful comic strips and fascinating articles it was a fung kung smash hit (on the wallet)....


Aha, and we're back on Polish soil again, Agent Rob swiping his dictionary to make a start at the collected tales of the lewd and crude Jez Jerzy, the Poles very own underground/overground comic strip sensation – it did make the leap into film in an agreeably vulgar 2010 adaptation....


Another drawing discovery was the stunning work of German Peter Knorr, illustrator of several eye-popping children's books, wholly immersive affairs with gentle narratives, invitingly quaint environments and recurring characters inhabiting each warm and wonderfully-realised scene – highly recommended purchases (as the tiny online galleries do not do the sheer attention to detail justice)....


If all that wasn't enough to break your continental fast how about some lovely chunky and stylish illustrations (courtesy of Jan Baranowicz) from Waldemar Bonsels 'Pszczolka Maja I jej przydogy' (otherwise known as 'Maja the Bee'), an 1981 KatowicePoland again!! - children's book that caused quite a buzz when Agent Rob unearthed it in the Eastern (housing) Bloc 'Archives of Doom'....





Tytus, Romek i A'tomek and creator....

Polish comics had a sad loss this year (January 2021) with the passing (at the ripe old age of 97, mind) of Henryk Chmielewski, the creator/writer/illustrator of 'Tytus, Romek I A'tomek', a strip that ran for over 40 years across countless books and publications, seeping into the national consciousness in all that time (Tytus gracing MediaMarkt's promotions only last year). Although not the slickest of comic strips – the art has a somewhat clunky, innocent charm, eandearingly simple – there's no denying that this Jadek (grandfather) of Polish comics acheived an incredible artistic lifetime's, er, achievement.... 


And so 2020 proved to be a year that pulled no punches - obviously sincere Braw sympathies to those of you reading who have been affected by Covid-19 - and the pop-culture punches suckered more than most given we lost a plethora of icons, among them a James Bond, (THE James Bond!) two (UK) Avengers (and some time iconic Bond Girls), a Python, a Goodie, Emperor Ming (THE Merciless), a (US) Avenger, a Supervillain (THE Supervillain) and (clocking in/out at 104!) Spartacus himself....


Maybe 2021 will be the year that Braw Books finally gets back to doing what we do best – although you'd be forgiven for thinking that's NOT publishing the finest (and funniest) underground comics (collections) in Scotland (and, let's be honest, elsewhere)....


Plans are still afoot for the long awaited/delayed/drawn out John Stark: Secret Agent comic – Agent Johnny even predicted the pandemic with his canny 'Lockdown' story (title) on his 2018 cover (although the script itself, later drawn by a drunken Agent Rob in Poland(!), didn't appear until the summer of 2020 when John, er, actually remembered creating it, um....). Beyond that (which is just about beyond us!) who knows.... Hopefully we'll (soon) see some blogs delving into the existing range of Braw Books as well as the return of regulars such as Sketch Sunday, Philip K. Dick and From The Vault (and the associated drift of Eclectic Dreamzzz). We did provide a handy users guid to the revamped Life In The Buckfast Lane tho....

In the meantime – and it is particularly mean, this relentless forward charge to oblivion – there's always an occasion to download our fantastic and free Braw Books PDF sampler here>>

Congratulations! You have reached the end of 2020 (and, indeed, already made it 1/3 of the way through 2021)! All that remains to say is to 'keep well' (in preference to the wholly misguided 'stay safe' nonsense that peppered the pandemic promos here in the UK) and we'll see you after a short summer break (following on from Agent Rob's completely unwarranted winter one....
 
And last, but never least, our Braw pick of the year? Well, this 1963 film certainly gave this weary old RIDE fan a bit of an unexpected surprise....

Billy Liar - Twisterella