Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

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Pedro Pelo Marco (Me!) — Brazil Comes to Seoul

Here is a fun project I participated in last year, but it only recently hit the airwaves—one of Brazil’s most popular travel programs, Pedro Pelo Mundo (Pedro Around the World).

Pedro Korea

Host Pedro Andrade and his wonderful team came to Korea last summer, where they met with a whole bunch of experts in food, fashion, tattoos, and more, to talk about what makes Korea so fascinating. And they were nice enough to ask me to be one of their guests, too.

Pedro Mark Hongdae

So we walked around Hongdae and talked about music (K-pop and other genres), and plenty of other things about Korea. It was a lot of fun.

Mark Pedro 2

Unfortunately, the full show is not online, so you can’t enjoy it all. But you can get a taste of it here, with a segment on the Cheonggyecheon.

Comics (and scifi?) come of age in 2017

Legion

Okay, superheroes and science-fiction media franchises have been big business for around a decade now. So many superhero movies are getting released all the time, I know we’re getting sick of it all. But having just finished watching the Legion TV series, I think it’s safe to say the genre has really taken a major step forward, at least in terms in TV and the movies — at last, superhero media are becoming templates for telling all types of stories, light, serious, mainstream, and weird, like the comic books that inspired them.

When it comes to TV and movies, so much of superhero storytelling has long seemed, well, just bad. Even as a 7-year-old, watching the original Superman movie, the concept of spinning the planet Earth backwards to reverse time seemed pretty sketchy. Hollywood’s approach to superheroes, like scifi or fantasy in general, wasn’t very smart or respectful of the genre … and certainly not very good as scifi or fantasy.

But then in 2000 came the first X-Man movie, and its relative quality was a big surprise, followed by X-Men 2 and the first Spider-Man movies. Nevertheless, in terms of sophistication, tone, etc., most comics book movies and sci-fi movies were decades behind the mainstream culture (let alone the cutting edge) in writing and drawing.

Christopher Nolan’s Batman films were a big step forward and got all sorts of praise; but, really, they were mostly just updating the superhero movie to about the point of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns miniseries (which came out in 1986!). Yes, they were progress, but still 25 years or so behind the comics (and then the Superman V. Batman movie went right back to that same well for more ideas).

Batman Superman

And even Nolan’s “serious” movies like Inception and Interstellar were pretty sketchy in terms of sci-fi — “the power of love” helping the hero cut through space-time to save the day? In 2014? Really?

Anyhow, so Marvel begins to kick butt once they took over their own production with the first Iron Man movie. People were generally pretty impressed and the film got lots of great reviews, peaking with the Avengers, but people soon grew tired with the noisy, meaninglessness of it all.

But it looks like Marvel was keeping an eye out on popular opinion, and took steps to stay ahead of the curve. And rather than doing so by emphasizing special effects and bombast, they’ve instead chosen to focus more on finding interesting voices to tell those stories. Choosing oddballs like James Gunn (who came from Troma Studios) and Scott Derrickson (who did a Hellraiser movie) was a sign of a new set of priorities.

This year, that approach to superheroes really got a lot more interesting, with the much-praised Logan movie, and now with the Legion TV series.

I really loved Legion in particular  because I so vividly remember reading those Chris Claremont-Bill Sienkiewicz issues of New Mutants that inspired the TV show. Back in the mid-1980s, coming across art like Sienkiewicz in mainstream comics was really mind-blowing. Collages, mixed media, and furious scribbles of jagged ink defined Sienkiewicz’s art, and I went crazy for it.

BS-NewMutants

Combining those classic comics with Noah Hawley (Fargo) was a masterstroke. As Bill Simmons said of the 30 For 30 documentary series he devised for ESPN: If you hire brilliant people, get out of the way and let them be brilliant.

BS-NM-David

To be honest, I was a bit ambivalent after the opening episode of Legion. I thought it was a bit precious, like it was trying too hard. I was worried that once the story got going, it was going to revert into something more traditionally superhero-y, with cheap, TV-level special effects. Was I ever wrong. Throughout the first season of Legion, the storytelling remained vibrant and creative, based on the characters rather than mindless action.

Factor in other good examples, like Arrival (a decent, if flawed, attempt to bringing Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” to the big screen) and perhaps Blade Runner 2049, and it is looking like this is a very good time to be a fan of scifi movies.

large_Arrival-Poster-2016

Of course, there will still be plenty of dumb scifi and superheroes coming our way. 95% of everything is junk, as the saying goes. But it is nice to think that the best stuff is getting better, really pushing the boundaries of TV and film — even if it took a generation for those media to catch up to the comics.

Getting closer…

Sorry for the extended radio silence. A new job and the usual life stuff makes it harder to find the time to say much worthwhile. However, that could be changing soon.

First up: Pop Goes Korea update. Yes, I’m actually making progress. In fact, there’s just one more chapter to update – unfortunately, it’s the music chapter, which definitely is going to require the biggest update. But that’s okay. It’s all pretty fun stuff to write about. Oh, and I’m hoping to add a couple of Q&As, just to add some other people’s thoughts and experiences to my overview of the Korean entertainment and media scene.

Of course, even when the writing and editing is done, I’m going to have to figure out e-book publishing on all those online stores (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.). That might take a bit of figuring out. But hopefully it won’t take too much longer.

In other writing news, my publisher tells me that my new novel is supposed to be ready and in the world in June. So that’s pretty exciting, too. I was lucky enough to meet the cover artist, Eric Belisle, in Tokyo a few weeks ago, and in addition to being a fun and fascinating guy, Eric also came up with a couple of fun changes to the cover based on our chat. I’ve seen an early version and I’m pretty happy with it.

So, it looks like the next few months could be fun and productive for me. I hope you enjoy the results!

Picture this

Okay, so the revamp of Pop Goes Korea is taking a lot longer than I anticipated. Sorry about that. But I will try to have the new edition up as an e-book before too long, so people needing it for this semester at university will have time to read.

On the plus side, one reason it is going slow is because I am happy with the new material and all the good feedback I’ve gotten from people. It’s been a pretty crazy 8-9 years for Korean pop culture since the book was published, and there’s a lot to cover.

In the meantime, here are some more fun pics from around Seoul. A nice sunset from up high in Myeongdong.

myeongdong-sunset-170105

And a shot from down on the streets below (well, Euljiro, but later that same night).

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I used to live right here in Donggyo-dong, back when this park was a train track. I remember the day they pulled up the tracks and started digging down to build the airport express line. It took forever for the city to finish the train line, and then for years this land was just derelict. But now, it is quite a nice park.

donggyo-dong-park

Here is an image from Sangil-dong, where developers are tearing down nearly all the old apartment blocks. Coming soon, towering apartments, 25 stories high or more.

sangil-teardown-2017

And here’s a fun one from a nearby forest, when the air cleared up and it was a nice 10 degree day in January.

Sangil-forest-Jan2017

Begin 2017 with Fortitude

Happy New Year, all. And what better way to kick off the new year with a teaser of season 2 for Fortitude, that freaky, frightening and brilliant series set in northernmost Norway.

There’s also a fun little website promoting the series, posing as a Fortitude tourism campaign. Visit Fortitude! “You’ll feel so at home you’ll never leave~”

The actual series is supposed to begin airing at the end of January. Seriously, season 1 was one of my favorite TV shows in ages. Really smart and really scary. I highly recommend checking it out.

Oh, and have a great 2017.

 

2016 is winding down

Another year is nearly done, and once again I find my life strangely in flux. There’s a new job about to begin in January — in a totally new part of town I’ve never really hung out in before. I think it is a really good-looking job, but I will miss working in the old, run-down Euljiro part of town. It had a lot of ramshackle beauty.

Euljiro3ga-night

Meanwhile, I’m still at work on POP GOES KOREA, 2nd Edition. So much has gone on with Korea’s entertainment scene since the first edition, revising it is turning into a bigger task than I envisioned back in October. But I’m still hoping to get it done in time for the start of the next semester’s classes (for students who might need it as a resource).

Oh, because the weather is so cold at the moment, here are a couple of photos of Okinawa from a recent trip there. Sunny, warm Okinawa…

Okinawa1

Come on in, enjoy the nice warm water. But btw, here is a small list of the local critters that might maim or kill you…

Okinawa2

Oh, but here’s something from the sea that we killed first. Justice!

Okinawa4

 

Death of a Ladies’ Man

ladiesman

I just heard that Leonard Cohen has died. I’m usually not one for mourning celebrities, but Leonard was a big one for me. I’ve been listening to his music pretty obsessively since high school, when I’m Your Man was a big hit back in 1988.

It took me a while to get the point of his music, to be honest. The Toronto radio and music-TV programs really flogged I’m Your Man when it came out, and I couldn’t understand what was so special about the old guy with the lousy voice and the sparse, synth production style. But there was a girl (of course) that I liked at the time who loved Leonard, so hanging out with her in the art room meant listening to his music. She alternated between I’m Your Man and The Best of Leonard Cohen, which I found more accessible. Gradually I became a fan.

LC-best

And not long after becoming a fan, I became a rather obsessive fan. I read and re-read The Favorite Game and Beautiful Losers. I bought every Leonard Cohen album I could find and listened to them all to death. I got all excited when his music turned up on movie soundtracks, like Pump Up the Volume and Natural Born Killers (or McCabe and Mrs. Miller). Finally, I crossed over to the dark side and learned to love Death of a Ladies’ Man. Even stranger—it became my favorite Leonard album.  And “Death of a Ladies’ Man” is still my favorite song (sadly, it doesn’t seem to be online anywhere).

I’m happy to say I was able to see him in concert twice over the years, once in 1993 in Philadelphia and again in 2009 in Barcelona. The Barcelona show was pretty amazing, as it was in a big arena with 15,000 people or so.

LC1

Some other favorite Leonard-related notes:

  • After the Philadelphia concert, I managed to briefly meet him behind the concert hall. There were a hundred people or so waiting for him by the exit, but he left the building through a different doorway, right where I was standing, so I got to shake his hand and exchange a couple of words before he was mobbed.
  • Oh, and at the Philadelphia concert, he spent most of the show hunched over the microphone, stiff and tired-looking, like he was a broken down old man. But as soon as the concert was over, he skipped off the stage, full of life. It was just an affectation. Funny, though.
  •  My friend Carter set up a Usenet discussion board for Leonard, way back in 1994-ish. Pre-World Wide Web! (Well, almost)
  • Hanging out in the old Norihaneun Saramdeul bar in Shinchon with a friend and his new girlfriend who were tripping hard on LSD.  The bar was empty that night and it had a surprising good Leonard collection, so we started listening to one Leonard song after another. When the owner played “Where Is My Gypsy Wife Tonight,” my friend and the girl started laughing uncontrollably.


“Hallelujah” can kiss my ass, though. Wow, did people crush the life out of that song. Anyhow, at least his last album was really good. It’s nice to know he went out on such a strong note.

People often talk about how depressing Leonard’s music is, but I never felt that way. His mix of longing, beauty, religion and the profane always delighted me, and his lyrics were endlessly fascinating and meaningful. I’m going to miss him.

LC

Another book finished (for now) and other updates

I had to stay up late last night doing the last bit of editing and revising, but I’m so happy to say that I’ve finally finished the draft of my new novel. 92,500 words, now in the hands of the publisher. Yay~

No idea what the publisher will think of it. Heavy revisions needed? Just kill it outright? Who knows? This is the time when my writerly neuroses tend to peak. Hopefully it won’t be that much of a mess. To be honest, there are some sections in it that I’m actually happy with.

And now, time for a victorious coffee break…

mark-hanyak

Pop Goes out of print, and other changes

Pop Goes Korea_cover_small_

Hard to believe that POP GOES KOREA is nearly a decade old already, having rolled off the presses in December 2008. It’s been a fun run and I really appreciate everyone who has bought a copy. But now, I’ve just been informed by Running Press Books that they are letting the book go out of print.

Cue sad voices…

You should still be able to buy physical copies of the book on Amazon and other online retailers for a while, as the remaining copies slowly trickle out. But the e-book copy will apparently disappear in just 2-3 weeks.

However, I don’t plan on letting the e-book disappear for long. It’s a bit early to say anything too detailed, but hopefully I’ll have something else available online by the end of the year. That’s my hope anyhow.

Again, thanks to all who read or bought my book. And I’ll be back again soon.

Talking music on the radio

My good friend Shawn left Korea last year after seven years there, most of that spent immersed in the local indie music scene. Since moving to Hamilton, Ontario (that would be Canada), he’s had a weekly radio show about Korean indie music on McMaster University radio, CFMU.

As I am currently visiting family nearby, Shawn invited me to join him on last week’s show. It was good fun. For an hour, I shared some of my favorite Korean music, and we chatted a bit about music things. You can listen to the results on Mixcloud. (I also briefly wrote about it over on the Korea Gig Guide).

 

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