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The Full Lid
25th September 2020

Hi everyone! 

Welcome, my friends, to The Full Lid, your Friday at Five dose of pop culture enthusiasm, career notes, reviews and anything else that I've enjoyed this week. I'm on deadline this week so buckle up because there's a lot of this and it moves fast. 

But not so fast you can't grab a few moments of joy, thanks to this week's interstitials curated by close friend of The Lid and writer-who-has-written-for-Emmy-award-winning-Dark-Crystal-Age-Of-Resistance-plus-many-other-amazing-projects-so-is-totes-an-Emmy-winner-in-my-book-YAY-CONGRATS! Margaret Dunlap!

Shall we?

Contents

The Old Drift
And It Snowed
Camp Cretaceous
Giga
Signal Boost
Where You Can Find Me This Week
Signing Off / Playing Out

The Old Drift


Editor's note: This review is intentionally spoiler free.


I've been thinking a lot about genre recently. Specifically what happens when ignore it, or tell it to sit politely in a corner with a biscuit while we tell stories larger than it. You'll see that thread in each of the pieces this week. Giga is a story about what society looks like after its ended and which bonds truly matter. Camp Cretaceous is an externalization of adolescent trauma, given literal teeth. And It Snowed is a story about family, wrapped up in a semi-slow motion apocalyptic heist. 

And The Old Drift is the story of the stories that make up a country and a history, across the personal, national and societal levels. Comedy, romance, horror, crime, science fiction. It's almost a fire hose worth of concepts, conceits and glittering moments of invention and prose that approach overwhelming even as they impress.

But in Serpell's hands, each of these stories and genre shifts presents more like the progression of a elaborate, interwoven symphony. The tale starts with a simple melody: a Victorian photographer entranced in equal proportion by the brave new worlds of his profession and of his newly chosen home. He's cheery and unconcerned with the complexities of life in a way that's both profoundly familiar (David Copperfield as science fiction Chosen One) and deeply unsettling and annoying. This isn't his land, even though as time goes by he treats it like exactly that. That subtlest of cuts, that differentiation between character and reader is what Serpell uses to expand the novel out into a swelling crescendo across decades and genres.

The themes develop and interweave; three families pinballing off one another as the years pass. In their interactions and trajectories Serpell finds moments of grace and horror. Many of the former are provided by a pun-happy Mosquito chorus who don't so much ground the book as gleefully comment on it. The latter come from the complex, untidy humanity of the protagonists, building the future they think they want even as the ground of the present shifts beneath their feet. It makes for some remarkable sequences, and the section exploring the Zambian Space Agency alone, drawn from fact, more than justifies time spent with the book.

But justification isn't something we should be talking about with art. What we should be talking about instead is that this is a novel that's African to its core. To quote Tade Thompson, "as African book of unarguable universality ... something specifically Zambian and generally African at the same time". 

Unlike its photographer protagonist, you the reader keep the world at a respectful distance for the first few chapters. Like him, you're drawn into it and its cast of people building lives, building a country and building a future. In turn, that future provides us with that rarest of commodities in 2020: hope. Not for a return to the status quo but to the arrival of something better. A future born not of the stereotypes of the past, but one born of humanity.

Complicated, untidy, brilliant, chaotic and happening all the time everywhere so much. It may not be the future some readers were expecting and it's almost certainly not the "genre" you had in mind, but it's doors are wide and welcomingly open and trust me, what's inside is absolutely worth the journey.

The Old Drift is written by Namwali Serpell and is available now. This week it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. We recommend the Portal Bookshop for all your bookish needs.
Margaret Dunlap's Things That Bring Me Joy: Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Josie Lawrence and Caroline Quentin

 
At the height of Whose Line's US popularity, it was basically the Ryan and Colin show with musical interludes by Wayne Brady. Not to take anything away from those talented improvisers, but for my money, the most consistently electric duo in the cast was Josie Lawrence and Caroline Quentin. This is one of my favorite bits, possibly due to Quentin's utter disdain for the quality of the material she's being given. When life hands you idiocy, acknowledge it, then turn it into comedy gold.

And It Snowed

Sam and Luke have a problem and they're trying to solve it by causing another problem. The London-based twins are... encouraged to steal an artifact from a local collector to appease the crime lord they've annoyed. Just two tiny problems:
  • The artefact they are stealing is a snowglobe of London that directly impacts the city's weather.
  • It's previous owner is Jack Frost. Yes. That Jack Frost. and he's very possessive of his stuff.
What ensues is a frantic chase across an ever-snowier London as Sam and Luke are caught between a Jack and (in the case of the person who hired them to steal the globe) a hard case.

I regret nothing. NOTHING.


Editor's note: *sigh* End of the month folks, let him have this one...


Author Nick Bryant excels at plot and character on the bounce and that's exactly what you get with And It Snowed. The first few pages teach us Sam is confidence personified and Luke has laconic older brother energy. We learn their dynamic as it's shattered, and that Bryant is great at writing action. There's something of It Follows to this, the storm isolating the twins from everyone but each other and their implacable, relentless foe. There's the same sense of the inevitable, the same weight to Jack's movements. Also the same personal crucible as the twins slowly realize who they've become and how they got there. It's character and plot in lockstep, some of the tightest, most character driven work by Bryant.
But, like I always say, comics are a team sport and Bryant is part of a hell of a team. Robert Ahmad's style has a little of Bruce Timm to it: fluid and expressive but with bones of steel. Look at the angle too, especially in the panels above. The downward angle to make Sam seem small. The tall ceiling to tell us her employer likes the finer things in life. Every page, every panel has Ahmad's steady hand bringing it to life, grounded and realistic but fluid and a touch noir.

DC Hopkins' lettering gives a solid sense of character and place. The scenes where it really is just Sam and Luke alone in the snow absolutely focus in on the characters' fragility and terror. This is just one story in the big city. But this is the oddest and most important one and their mix of expression and speed, calm and motion really drives that home.

And It Snowed is the third in a loose trilogy of stories written because Nick thought they'd look cool in black and white. He's right. This urban fantasy one-off is smart enough to not tell you everything and grounded enough to explore that everything has a price, even winning.

Subtle and smart, engrossing and surprising, And It Snowed is great and crowdfunding now.
Margaret Dunlap's Things That Bring Me Joy: Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Josie Lawrence and Caroline Quentin - The Sequel 

 
I could fill this edition of Alasdair's newsletter with old Whose Line clips, but I won't. I will, however, add one more. Caroline and Josie again, this time turning an improvised love song on the audience-generated topic of "beached whale" into a surprisingly touching lesbian anthem. Their love is, indeed, bigger than a whale, and yours can be too.

Camp Cretaceous


Editor's note: spoilers


Camp Cretaceous' first season arrived on Netflix last week. It's not only better than you expect, it's substantially better than the movie it happens just to the left of.

The series follows a group of children who are the first to test out Jurassic World's summer camp. Dairus Bowman (Paul-Mikél Williams) is a dinosaur fantastic and quietly grieving. Ben Pincus (Sean Giambrone) is a quiet, sensitive kid who is perpetually terrified. Yaz Fadoula (Kausar Mohammed) is a future track star who scored a spot because Jurassic World are her sponsor. Brooklynn (Jenna Ortega) scored her spot because she's an influencer with a massive following. Kenji Kon (Ryan Potter) got his because his family are rich. Finally, Sammy Gutierrez (Raini Rodriguez) is the daughter of the main beef supplier for the island.

The idea is simple; the kids will get glad-handed, word will spread about how great the park is, camp counsellors Roxie (an excellent Jamella Jamil) and Dave (Glen Powell going 850 percent 'BRUH!') will get promoted and everyone goes home happy.

Literally none of those things happen. Which is why the series is so good.

The writers and actors alike elevate the kids from their thumbnails instantly. Williams' Darius is fragile, unsure, and kind of angry about that. Potter's Kenji talks all the time so he can't hear himself think. Ortega's Brooklynn is slowly realizing she and her fans have a toxic relationship. Rodriguez's Sammy is so cheery and bluff that you know she's hiding something from the moment she arrives. Even Giambrone's Ben is revealed to have hidden depths and, in the seventh episode, gets the clear highlight of the season. You'll know it when you see it, trust me.

The group are fractious, cautious, thrown together and Kenji and Darius especially are a really interesting look at how kids sometimes become friends despite having no idea why. Likewise Sammy's evolution over the series and, best of all, the fact no one's okay all the time.

The series never, once, forgets these characters are children. They argue. They make terrible decisions. They keep trying. They never leave anyone behind. Even at the end of the series they may not quite be friends but they're certainly a team.
The sheer strength of the character dynamic and acting is more than enough to hold the show together but it's also blessed with a writers room that have a clear love for the franchise they're orbiting.  Episode 3, 'The Cattle Drive' is an early highlight as the kids get involved in putting the dinosaurs back in their night paddocks. It of course goes absolutely wrong. But the direction by Zesung Kang and script by Rick Williams not only evolves the kids' relationships but reminds us, constantly, of how majestic the dinosaurs are and how inconceivably dangerous the park is. It's both an early warning and a season highlight.

Because as the series progresses, Jurassic World begins happening and things go even more sideways. The kids, left alone owing to an understandable decision by the counselors, find themselves fleeing across the park, encountering the I-Rex, witnessing Masrani's crash and being menaced by a flock of pteranodon. The action is constant and inventive with my favorites being a beat with a death slide and the sequence shown above.

Taken from Episode 6 "Welcome to Jurassic World" directed by Michael Mullen and scripted by Zack Stentz it's a moment of grace that reminds you of the beauty of these animals. The kids are sideswiped by that awe, and so is the audience, a welcome breather in the constant rollercoaster of the final episodes. And also a subtle reminder that despite what certain people say, there is more to this franchise than running and screaming. That's really, truly borne out by the way the season finishes. No spoilers here, but let's just say the kids are alright. They're going to need to be.

Camp Cretaceous is ambitious, clever, action packed and does things you will never see coming. It's a high watermark not just for western animation but for the often-troubled franchise of which it's a part.

Clever, ambitious, and with a surprising spread of light and dark moments, it's available on Netflix now.
Margaret Dunlap's Things That Bring Me Joy: Snoop Dogg on Family Feud
 
When I worked on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, people would ask me if there was a traditional TV show that I thought did a really good job with their YouTube channel. (Yes, this is an actual question I was asked on more than one occasion. I'd give more context, but do you really need it? I didn't think so). My answer was always Family Feud, a channel that distilled the show down to the two things we all watched it for: wack-a-doo answers to simple questions and down to the wire victories. This clip contains both, and makes me laugh so hard I stop breathing. Is Steve Harvey my favorite comedian? No. Is he a blindingly good host for this show? Yes.

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Giga

Editor's note: spoilers


We meet Evan Calhoun on the worst day of his life. He doesn't know it when it starts, but it is. Evan is a student in an order dedicated to tending to the Giga, the vast mechs that served the gods and then fell silent. Once warriors, now settlements, the Giga are tended by the humans who live inside their vast frames. Evan has some theories about that, but when a friend makes a terrible choice, Evan's world begins to end and end very fast.

Five years later, Evan finds something impossible. A Giga. One that has apparently been murdered...

Alex Paknadel's script, ably sensitivity read by Danny Lore, trusts you from start. The world is the story is the characters is the world here and everywhere you look there's information for you to de-code. I especially like the entrance hall the first scene takes place in, seemingly the mouth cavity of a Giga complete with visible eyes, now windows, in the background. Later, in the story's 'present day' Evan's wheelchair is a subtler and equally impressive beat, clearly assembled from salvaged materials with skill and care.

This is a world where everything matters and everything has a place. Paknadel trusts us to find some of those places ourselves and tells us a story with expertly timed pacing and concepts. Evan and Mayra, his reluctant partner, are quickly established as a fun/reluctant double act and Evan's past history, and that of his broken world, is all right there on the page but never in exposition. The sort of worldbuilding that reflects itself: organic, crowded, untidy.
But as ever, the scripts are just part of the equation in comics. Rosh's colors are king here, beautiful contrasts of verdant lush life and a little rust. Aditya Bidikar's lettering work is also extraordinary, especially in this sequence towards the end where everyone comes together. Rosh's deep jungle colors, Bidikar's urgent lettering as John Lê, artist and co-creator gives us a brief glimpse at a piece of technology as fascinating as it is scavenged in the middle of an impossibly dangerous situation. It's painfully human and relatable and ends the book with a slight hint of the Gold Rush and everything that will follow. Something very large has happened and large does not always mean good. Evan has just stumbled acroases his own diamond mine. Now everyone's going to want a piece. 

Giga feels like one of those books which is a blueprint for what comics are becoming. Like Quarter Killer it's inclusive without being performative. Like And it Snowed it uses a fantasy situation to explore character. Giga's voice and style is as unique as it is engrossing. This is good science fiction, good comics and a world I want to spend more time in, even if Evan isn't so sure himself.

Giga is excellent and releases in October. Thanks to Vault for hooking me up with a preview copy. If you want it -- and if you love mechs, you want Giga -- contact your local store and ask them to pre-order it before September 28th. You can do that via my excellent local comic store here, your local comic store here or the cuddliest arm of Jeff Bezos' crushing inferiority complex here.
Margaret Dunlap's Things That Bring Me Joy: The Acropolis is Quite Interesting
 
Like Stephen Fry, this clip leaves me without words. 

Want More?

Signal Boost


Art

Books

Games

  • Ichiko brings details of an amazing looking Filipino cooking game.
  • Dominique Dickey brings news of Trial, an RPG about race and the criminal justice system.

Editor's note: *grabby hands*

Ghosts

The Conde Nast Can Pound Sand Desk

Movies

People

Podcasts

That's this week's Signal Boost, folks. If you have a project you'd like to see here get in touch.

Where You Can Find Me This Week

Twitch

  • Playing Windbound on Sunday we completed Chapter Two, killed a gigantic lizard/panther thing AND got our boat pretty severely beaten up by a crab. Exciting times on the high seas!
  • Mona and Spindle make a very good choice, a very bad climb and have a very nasty surprise this week in A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by Ursula Vernon.

Podcasts

PseudoPod 722:  Teeth – Part 2

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Signing Off / Playing Out


Thanks for reading, folks! The week continues at warp speed for me but hopefully yours is slowing to impulse.

TFL will return next week. The Team KennerStuart Instagram continues to be peppered with quotes, cuddly toys and occasionally noir headphones and while heaven sometimes closes, the Twitters are always open. Even on Christmas.

In the meantime...
  • Catch me on Twitch over at Rusty Quill from 8pm to 10pm BST tonight with Friday Fright Night and a reading of J. Sheridan Le Fanu's excellent Carmilla.
  • On Sunday at 10am (ish) BST we'll either be playing Windbound or GOOSE CRIMES! MESS WITH THE HONKS YOU GET THE BONKS! TWO! PLAYER! CO-OP!
  • Then next Wednesday at 10pm it's back to A Wizards Guide to Defensive Baking!
  • AND THEN followed by Friday, October 2nd back at Rusty Quill for the second part of Carmilla. Which is my birthday weekend! 
Follow the EA Twitch channel for notifications. And maybe subscribe? If you're an Amazon Prime user you can support the channel for no cost! It takes just a couple of minutes; find all the details here.

This work is produced for free. If you like what you read please consider dropping something in the tip jar. Thank you :). Likewise, with my birthday coming up if you're feeling gifty, my wish list is here and thank you again:)

Playing us out this week is this clip, officially doing a majestic. Know what else it's doing? 


Editor's note: It is also doing a lot of swearing from the start, just FYI...

telling you that this is a Full Lid.
Copyright Alasdair Stuart © 2020 -- All rights reserved

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Agathon Towers · Cheapside Road · Reading, Berkshire RG1 7AG · United Kingdom

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