ELC1993: Saint Sinner

Saint Sinner #1-7 by Elaine Lee, Max Douglas, Larry Brown and others, published by Marvel Comics.

This book is part of Marvel’s Razorline — basically super-hero concepts from Clive Barker expanded into a line of four continuing series. I approached this series with a bit of trepidation after having read far too many Barker-based comics while doing the Epic Comics blog. They were all pretty… awful? Yeah. Pretty awful.

(Oh, Here’s an explanation of what this blog series is.)

This series is from 1993, so the first issue has to have some sort of gimmick. This one has an embossed cardboard cover and metallic inks. It’s hard to say from the snap up there, but it’s really elaborate: It looks like they’ve used many different metallic inks, but that may be due to how it’s printed and patterned… It’s the most interesting use of metallic inks and embossing I can remember seeing from this era. (I mean, I haven’t seen that many — just the ones Epic Comics were doing for its Hard Hitters launches, and they basically looked like “they told us to use metallic inks somewhere, so I put a splotch down there. Done.”

Anyway, let’s read the first three pages…

Well, the first page said to listen to N.W.O. from the Ministry album, so I put the album on. I’m very suggestible.

So… the concept is basically that we have a protagonist that’s possessed by a demon, and among many other people he kills while possessed is the woman above, who turns out to be an angel. Who then possessed him, too. Which means that you have three personalities in one body. And he has super-powers (he can age/evolve/de-age things.)

That’s not really a bad concept, as supernatural super-hero concepts go?

So we get these different voices using different lettering (poor Janice Chiang) yapping at each other incessantly. There’s… a lot of dialogue. Trialogue? That’s a word now.

The book is just plain abstruse. Above you apparently have some inter-dimensional hi-jinx where… one of them dies? If you’re able to tell that from the artwork, you’re better at interpreting lines than I am.

OH DEER. We get a previous from one of the other Razorline books, Hyperkind. I’m glad I’m not reading that one — it looks like a migraine put down on paper.

With the second issue, the artwork becomes a bit more easy to read, at least.

And there’s interesting effects like that blurry guy. He’s blurry because he can go between er dimensions and stuff, you see.

Ah, I see: There’s a consulting editor, Michael Smith, involved with this line of comics. He’s overseeing this from the Clive Barker side, if I interpret this correctly…

The angel tries explaining things to the human on terms the human can understand: By giving a Three’s Company analogue.

And then a film noir thing.

At this point in the series, I’m kinda intrigued. There’s just so much going on, and while I’m pretty sure that none of it is actually going anywhere, I’m hoping that Lee will be doing something interesting here other than just adding more and more stuff. It’s a very dense read.

Oooh! An ad with artwork by Gary Baseman. Stylish.

The editor explains that the first issue shipped late… because of problems with the cover on the first issue, which was very complicated to make. So I guess I was right to be impressed.

Marvel would go bankrupt a couple of years after this, but before that happened, they reduced the staff significantly. I seem to remember somebody writing that they had 30 editors on staff, and they fired all but six.

And looking at these lists of editors in every issue, you have to wonder whether they perhaps had a… few too many editors at the time? I guess Potts and DeFalco didn’t actually work on this book, but the other three sounds like they were involved.

The “being dense” thing… Here’s a typical example: Our protagonist (with three people in his head (the normal thought balloons, the wacky letters captions (the demon), and the light-blue script-ey captions (the angel))), and then the wavey captions (those are prayers), and then the captions with yellow background (the thoughts from the tree (!) that the protagonist is evolving and growing and accidentally gives a real brain)…

And we haven’t heard or seen from the tree before this page, and we’ll not hear or see it again after this page.

It’s a lot. It’s a lot for one single page. There’s a lot of these pages.

Is it too much? It’s exhausting, anyway.

And then… we get a crossover with Ectokid, and this issue continues the storyline from an issue there instead of the previous issue of this series. So the normal Marvel shenanigans.

The artwork continues to change and becomes more legible. Probably because Richard Pace takes over the pencils.

We get an example of what Barker actually contributed to these series. It doesn’t really seem like it was extensive.

Lee explains a bit about why she’s doing this series.

And then…

We get a new art team! The editor explained (in the previous issue) that the penciller had just submitted something to Marvel, and he’d snapped him up.

It’s pretty wild… everybody looks like they… have leprosy? I love it.

It’s unhinged. Probably the weirdest artwork Marvel had published?

I mean, look at it. LOOK AT IT! It’s wonderful. Look at that pose the running cop has.

And while it’s expressionistic, the storytelling is a lot clearer than with the previous team. I wonder whether Larry Brown went on to do something else; I want to see where he’s going with this style.

And they’re selling subscriptions to the book, even if it’s going to be cancelled the next issue (which, surely, they had to know when the next-to-last issue went to press).

The final two issues (a two-parter) is all about living and not wanting to or not, and our protagonist substitutes a dying baby with a living one… and… stuff… it’s pretty weird.

Yeah, exactly.

And then it’s over. The end. Absolutely none of the plot strands that had been building were resolved.

But that’s a nice final page.

The editor explains that the series is cancelled for low sales, and the reason was the current glut of comics. (Which was the result of Image Comics shenanigans, and Marvel responding by launching dozens and dozens of new series.) By the end, thousands of US comics shops would close their doors.

It sounds like the other Razorline series would continue, but they were all cancelled a couple of months later.

And there was a Saint Sinner coda?

The final Razorline release was the one-shot Ektokid Unleashed (Oct. 1994), written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, with artwork by penciler Hector Gomez and inker John Strangeland. It included a prose short story by Elaine Lee about another Razorline character, Saint Sinner.

This series has never been reprinted or collected, and it would be a hard sell, as it just… stops.

There’s a series of Youtube reviews of this series. It’s really, really boring — it’s a guy recounting the plot of the issue, and if there’s one thing I hate more than retelling a plot, it’s listening to somebody retelling a plot.

I tried googling Larry Brown, but I was unable to find anything about him, or whether he continued working in comics, or dropped out after these two impressive issues.

Emacs Screensaving Redux

Yesterday, I tweaked my toy Emacs screensaver to display images, and discovered that that was very slow indeed.

Today I started actually benchmarking this stuff instead of just guessing what was taking all that time, and surprise, surprise, the problem wasn’t where I thought it was at all.

Instead it was in the xelb library, where it would do a pessimal conversion of strings into bytes. With a three-line patch, it now takes 0.06s to convert one of these xcb:PutImage objects into a byte array, where it previously would take 0.8s.

Look!

Now it almost looks like it’s doing the images that way on purpose and not because that’s how fast it can go!

I really like the xelb library: It’s very clearly structured and is written in a very correct way. But I’m guessing that nobody has tried using it for something as wacky as this before.

I’ve now sent a patch to the maintainer.

More Emacs Screensaver Fun

As I’m no doubt you all remember *cough* *cough* I hacked up an Emacs-based screensaver the other year because XScreenSaver twaddles the DPMS too much. (Yes really! I mean probably! I didn’t actually look at the source code.)

My er solution used a transparent X frame to catch the mouse/keyboard so that it knew when to wake up, but did the display in Emacs itself. (Which I used to display album covers in an Emacs buffer.) This turned out to work, like, 90% of the time, but sometimes the display would just stop updating… probably because of confusion as to what was on top: Emacs or the transparent frame?

So today I finally sat down and poked around in the xelb source code to see how you put a bitmap into a window, and… it’s easy? You just basically send a xcb:PutImage message to the X server with the image data.

Easy peasy. Just look how fast it is!

OK, that’s painful to watch, right? Why not just blop it all onto the screen at once? Because if I use a width/height in the XPutImage message that’s bigger than 255, the X server just says “nuh-uh”. And that’s even after enabling big requests with:

(xcb:+request+reply x (make-instance 'xcb:bigreq:Enable))

As expected, there’s zero hits on that Google thing for this stuff, because… well… nobody does this stuff. But on the off chance they have done this… does anybody know of how to make it possible to blob over larger bitmaps into a window?

The source code is on Microsoft Github, if anybody wants to poke around…

But if it has to be done in a bitwise fashion, I can probably speed it up: It’s implemented in the most naive, slow fashion possibly. The stuff that converts a PPM image into the 255×255 32-bit blocks is what takes all the time, really, but I didn’t want to spend time doing something clever about that if there was a way to un-blockify the transfer.

So… anybody know? *crosses finger*

Hm… well, if I randomise the placement of the tiles, it’s at least a bit more fun, I guess:

Yeah, OK, I have to reimplement that…

[edit: My benchmarking was way off — the thing that takes most of the time is the xcb:PutImage transfer itself. I guess the xcb library doesn’t really … like sending off (what?) 30MB worth of data over the network connection. There’s a xcb:shm:PutImage, where you just stash the data in memory somewhere, and then out the memory location into the message, and the X server will peek into the process’ memory… I think… but I have no idea how to get the memory location on the Lisp side of Emacs.]

ELC1997: BrainBanx

BrainBanx #1-6 by Elaine Lee, Temujin and others, published by DC/Helix.

After a couple of less than totally thrilling series, I’m having high hopes for this series: The best Lee comics I’ve read have been science fiction, and this is science fiction… so there!

(Oh, Here’s an explanation of what this blog series is.)

I’ve switched to a new camera (a Sony), so I’m not sure whether these shots of the comics will be totally out of focus or blurro or just plain bad… Let’s read the first three pages and find out.

Uhm… it’s partly out of focus? Hm… perhaps I should up the f? Anyway, as you may not be able to tell from the slightly blurry speech bubbles, this is… a lot! We start of with an infodump about a guy telepathically existing in that red-headed woman’s brain, because she’s a secret agent and… he’s her… er… uhm… inside guy? So I guess that’s, like, er, better than him just talking via a walkie-talkie or something? Probably?

Temujin’s artwork is quite something. I’m not sure whether it’s totally out of control or pure genius. These layouts are so out there. I mean — that guy’s chin up there? That shouldn’t work, and yet it totally does when reading this page. (We’re being dropped into a flashback, or perhaps really the-guy-in-her-head showing her what had happened… So the dreamy loss of orientation is a part of the story.

Here’s another example — she’s talking to that (possibly) skeezy guy, and being shown a previous encounter more or less at the same time. I love it! It’s such a condensed way of showing the reader all they need to know without hitting them over the head with it.

It’s also a bit exhausting, especially since there’s some characters that are insane, and some that are telepathic…

Oh, I should definitely decrease the aperture size and just rely on the stabiliser in this camera, I think. Sorree!

Oh, what’s the story about? I… don’t even want to try to start explaining that much, because it’s such a rich world, and while it may seem from the above that we get a lot of information dumped on us, it’s always interesting. Basically, it’s about a secret agent that’s investigating a genetic research laboratory. Well, that sounds straightforward enough.

In Starstruck, Lee has these extensive (and very entertaining) text pieces, so I was wondering whether she’d do the same here. But this is all we get, where she talks, in a very straightforward manner, and the world of BrainBanx. Laid out like that, it does remove some of the mystery, I think.

Temujin experiments with a bunch of different rendering styles, which makes perfect sense for a book like this.

Hm. Well, on this two-page spread, on the left we have our heroine being (semi-)raped by a cat-man. Like, every heroine has to undergo sexual assault? It’s a cliché I didn’t expect from this book. But um the right-hand page we have our heroine invading the mind of that blonde woman, which is also a violation (read the snakey text for an explanation).

The juxtaposition is very knowing.

Lee explains that some speech balloons were left off a page, and says that there’s a lot of overlays. And, yeah, it does look like a very complex job — so many colour holds (drawings in colour only) that sometimes intersect with the black lines and sometimes now.

Oh, right, Lee had researched voodoo for that Ragman series for DC. Never waste research.

I love the style Temujin uses inside that guy’s head.

Lee explains that she doesn’t like “as you know, Bob” dialogue.

Mark Pennington does the inks on (most of the pages of) the final issue. It’s not a good fit — he makes the faces look very odd and amateurish.

And we end with a drawing dedicated to Lou Stathis, probably most known for editing Heavy Metal in the early 80s, I think? Oh, right, he’d just died, and he worked for DC at the time.

Well, anyway, I really loved reading this book. There’s such a lot going on — a bewildering number of characters and different intrigues, but somehow they’re all distinct. The rendering helps a lot. The only two people I (sometimes) had difficulty with keeping apart were the two people in the agent’s head, which seems oddly appropriate.

It’s a slightly exhausting read, but hugely entertaining and quite interesting.

The series has, unfortunately, never been reprinted or collected. But you can pick up the issues very, very cheaply:

Which I guess means that it wasn’t a very popular series. I’m not able to find a single review of the series on teh internets either.

Now that’s unpopular.

June Music

Music I’ve bought in June.

It’s a good mix of stuff… old and new. And new stuff from old favourites like Aksak Maboul:

Hm. Well, there’s not actually that much new stuff from new people this month, is there? Last month we had Irreversible Intanglements and Yves Tumor, but this month we have a 1984 album by Can Can:

I had that album on mp3, but I re-bought it on vinyl (an unplayed copy from the US!), and it sounds ever so much better. It’s one of those forgotten new wave gems…

Speaking of which, I’ve been reading John Lydon’s autobiography:

It’s fascinating — reading it is just like listening to Lydon speak, which is a lot of fun. But over five hundred pages, it’s a bit… much? Especially since he has a tendency to be all oblique, and just assumes that everybody knows the history of the Sex Pistols already, so he just talks about what he thinks about the proceedings, without really saying, like… what happened? Just a typical example: He mentions that they didn’t want to sign with Virgin because the others thought they were hippies… and then four pages later, Virgin releases the album, and… there’s nothing about how that happened.

So it’s like sitting in a bar with an interesting guy talking at you for hours and hours, but you can’t get a word in with any followup questions.

I’m just halfway through, but I think I’m reaching my limit. Pub’s closed!