Reduced to a Singularity

Now I see why I wasn’t able to find a print copy of that scheduled Singularity graphic novel I heard about back in 2009. There’s very little info around about this adaptation but as far as I can tell it has only been released digitally, via the publisher’s website and some comic portals, like PlayStation Digital Comics.

I quick flick through the Flash preview has whet my appetite. Like nearly every comic adaptation, this one tells the story of the shadowy events immediately prior to the game, which occurred off the Russian Peninsula and unravel time itself. There’s a Sunday morning serial feel to its pulp visuals by Tom Mandrake. I’m not familiar with the creative studio Twistory – they’ve partnered with Image Comics to release this, but it looks sound enough to be worth a physical release. If I do get hold of the full digital comic, I’ll give Singularity the full works (hoping to avoid a paradox as I do).

She’s just a Cybergirl

For the past month I have been embroiled in a wondrous chase. A chase so thrilling it feels as though I’ve left the physical part of me behind every time I tune into its hyperactive frequency.

A city, a futuristic metropolis materialises all around me. High-speed vehicles zip this way and that overhead and law enforcement patrols cruise the skyways for in search of troublemakers. Here, down in the grimy low levels things are no less busy, with the streets and back alleys teeming with the homeless, the forgotten and those who scrap a living on the suffering of others. Cleaner bots, gangsters and unlucky merchants fill these streets. Suddenly an android hurtles past disappearing into the gloom of a neighbouring alley. And all at once the sound of sirens can be heard drawing closer and closer. The deathtroopers are approaching…

That’s one instance of how three consecutive songs from Janelle Monáe’s first EP, The Chase, make me feel. Honestly, how can it have taken me this long to discover her transcendent sci-fi music when it’s practically been staring me in the face for months?

Comprising soul, R&B, rap, pop, jazz, dub, funk, dance and a whole blend of other genres that I can’t classify, it would be an understatement to say that her EP and debut album, The ArchAndroid, weren’t meteoric in scope. Yet Monáe navigates and combines these genres with profound skill and purpose. What spurred me to purchase her music was hearing the song ‘Tightrope’ during Edger Wright’s New Year’s Day show on BBC 6 Music. An immediately chatty dance track, I was sold one that alone.

What I didn’t realise was just how deep her emotional touch would be with the breadth of her stupendous sounds. Tunes like ‘Many Moons’, ‘Faster’ and ‘Oh, Maker’ took me on an astral hike like never before. Impossible to resist, these tracks just send my body into overdrive. Even when confined to the drudgery of my commute and expected behaviour on public transport, a brilliant tableau of imagery is flowing in my mind’s eye as Monáe’s music and messages engulf my senses. And this isn’t your usual ‘girl meets boy and falls in love’ lyrics. She manages to express serious social commentary on race, segregation and war through a conceptual allegory which forms the basis for her image. As Tony Renner says, Monáe’s albums are to be listened to in their entirety if you wish to experience the full impact of her art.

Which brings me to the thing that makes Monáe even more special to me: her sci-fi styling. There are few musicians I’m aware of that could pull off the Blade Runner-esque transience that she as accomplished.

And it comes as even more of a surprise, and indeed a huge delight, that it should be a black female artist. Her persona goes against the grain of many of her female peers, who, even if they are intelligent enough to challenge social hegemonies, prefer to conform to the stereotype of ‘hip hop honeys’ which the world seems to feel is their role in life. (Her music contains what been coined as ‘Afrofuturism’.)

Getting back to the sci-fi presentation, it’s so well realised that I couldn’t help but be drawn in. I recall spying her album cover briefly in a print advert last year and thinking nothing of it – I judged it purely the one Isaac Asimov-like image. How foolish I was.

Janelle Monáe is a contemporary visionary.

She inhabits her alter ego of Cindi Mayweather, an android who has fallen in love with a human, Anthony Greendown, in this hash postmodern world, where many of today inequalities still exist. As a result of her affection, she is now on the run from the Wolfmasters and their merciless band of bounty hunters in a city built on social stratification.

Monáe has formed this as part of an overall concept series, called Metropolis, which is comprised of four suites (so far Suite I: The Chase and Suites II and III: The ArchAndroid). In the linear notes of each CD, you can read a brief synopsis which sets up the musical journey you are about to experience. With her lyrical expressions about cybergirls, cold wars and neon valleys, depictions of sci-fi classics bubble up in my brain.

I hear social uprisings, resistance against oppression and that unsolvable conundrum of ‘why’ midway through ArchAndroid. Then, ‘Mushrooms & Roses’ and ‘Wondaland’ take me on an altogether more dreamy escape that feels like discovering a little sanctuary inhabited by those that have fled from the evils of the world. To use a more direct example (lyrics from ‘Many Moons’): “And when the world treats you wrong, just come with us and we’ll take you home…” makes me think of the moment when David is temporarily rescued by a group of outlawed mechas in Steven Spielburg’s Artificial Intelligence.

If you’re interested in finding out more about this pioneering artist, Rockaliser Baby has made some great observations on her and the conceptual direction, BBC Introducing did an early spotlight in 2009, and LaShawn Wanak has more insightful words on the music itself, its influences and how it makes her feel. io9 also spoke to Monáe about more of her sci-fi inspirations.

What I have experienced this month is a euphoric rhapsody of style and substance that’s about as frequent in life as a comet’s orbit. Janelle Monáe is a woman after my own heart. She connects with me on so many levels, be it her exciting blend of musical styles or her science fiction imagery, that I relish the thought of waking up to join her on the run once again. It would take some seriously malicious rewiring for me to resist the call of her future endeavours. All I really want to do now is share her spectacular music with others so we might immerse ourselves in Metropolis together.

On the Web: Creative Zen Katamari Ball

Creative Zen – Katamari music ball
I found this wacky promotional wallpaper last year, though can’t remember where exactly. A clumsy assortment of speakers, keyboards, drums, TVs, records, hi-fis and even Jukeboxes, bouncing behind the MP3 user is so Katamari Damacy. The image was taken outside the Temple Bar, Dublin. Hey, just roll with it.

Zen: An Honest Man

The fact the word ‘Zen’ precedes the name of my blog is no coincidence. For me, it’s as much about the symbolism of me striving to achieve spiritual oneness as it is about me leaving a useful record of my exploits behind to encourage others. Okay, so don’t actually follow Buddhist teachings and my blog hasn’t been loaded with salient moral teachings, but I do feel I’ve expressed some poignant messages that people feel in life, and readers hopefully feel enriched in some small way by relating to what I’ve written – all through my desire to communicate and chronicle using this weblog medium.

So while I ponder whether writing about comics and TV could ever really be classified as ‘using your skills for good’, Zen has now taken on another meaning.

Zen is the name of a new BBC drama series based on Michael Dibdin’s books about the life of Italian detective Aurelio Zen. It stars Rufus Swell and Caterina Murino and was filmed on location in Rome. Presenting playful genre twists, romantic scenery and a direct lexical connection, how could I pass this up?

An interesting new series that harkens back to the honourable 1960s male leads of old. You can read more of my thoughts on Zen at Platform Online.

This show is now part of a pattern of fabulous Sunday night television. The BBC produced some truly amazing stuff last year, so here’s hoping the rest of 2011 will be just as good.

Sleep little baby, don’t you wake…

A friend of mine was vetting her frustration today at having a really terrible week – broken car, unless film footage and deadlines next week terrible. I recommended she take a Riviera holiday in jest – seriously, I wish I could jet of to the Italian Riviera on a whim – but her comments also got me thinking about a fantastic piece of advice my A Level English teacher Miss Geary gave me.

I can’t remember exactly who she was paraphrasing, but this wonderful quote from English novelist and poet D. H. Lawrence sums it up: “If tonight my soul may find her peace in sleep, and sink in good oblivion, and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.”

In other words, we can face and solve our problems more readily if we rest before returning to them anew. When you’ve had a really bad week and mum’s not around to give you some TLC, sleep is the safest bet.

Incidentally, if you’re interested in more quotes about sleep (er… because who wouldn’t), and other subjects for that matter, check out the site I sourced this quote from: Finest Quotes.

Image: hime

In Praise of Bob Rafei

Something Jason Rubin wrote in the endnotes of the Iron Saints TPB about artists bringing ideas to life and improving them reminded of one particular artist whose work I’ve been thoroughly in love with long before I knew these pieces all came from the same man. That man is Bob Rafei.

His colourful concept art has helped to shape Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter and Uncharted, during his time at world-class game developer Naughty Dog. I’ve been exposed to his artwork through dozens of magazines and guidebooks over the years, which have all helped to cement these characters in the upper echelons of my gaming heroes. Rafei brings banks of spirit and lurid style to every project he’s worked on.

The distinctive look of the characters and creatures in the Jak and Daxter series are my personal favourite. You could throw almost all of Rafei’s illustrations, especially the master prints of the heroes/villains, into silhouette and they would still exude an insuppressible amount of personality. There’s a Disney-like brilliance to his work on Jak and Daxter that makes it feel as timeless as the studio’s classic animated features (I’ve always felt a connection between Aladdin and Jak). There aren’t many other artists whose work springs to mind so readily when I think of video game heroes. Mr Rafei, I salute you.

Images: Bob Rafei

Behind the Ink of EA Comics

Here’s something cool, comic book fans. Creative director Scott Baumann, “conceived and managed all business, strategic and creative aspects” of Electronic Arts’ new comic book imprint, EA Comics. You can see a full portfolio of work on the project at

EA Comics was formed in late 2009. The comics are funded and managed by EA while IDW handle publishing and distribution. EA have already had several of their game adaptations published by the likes of WildStorm, Image and Dark Horse. Presently, only Army of Two and Dragon Age have been released under the EA Comics brand, so it will be interesting to see if future EA game adaptations are all published through their new division.

Future Perfect

One fantasy that never ceases to permeate my mind is imagining what the distant future will be like. There’s the desolate vision of future London, something which I relish the thought of exploring – although the reality may turn out to be less bearable thanks to mutated savages and barely enough electricity for warm showers.

The more optimistic vision, and many more moons away, is a world transformed into a jigsaw of urban sprawl. Masses of skyscrapers squeezed amongst one another making up towering mega-cities that engulf whole continents. Thousands of hovercars speed through the airways like lines of tiny ants. And cruising space is as commonplace as dropping by the high street for doughnuts.
It’s this vision that Insomniac Games’ GDC 2006 trailer for Ratchet & Clank conjures so excellently in my mind. Metropolis, the setting for this futurescape, is alive like never before. This particular setting holds strong sentimental value for me, as a complex urban city is the height of sci-fi and part of why the original game captured my heart. So to see it all re-imagined back then in such crystalline detail, with the hectic activity of Fifth Element and a cavalcade of environmental sounds, was a privilege.