Category: Comics (Page 1 of 5)

One Of The Perils Of Getting Older Is That Many Things End Up Reminding You Of Other Things, Which Leads To This Sort Of Post

Over the weekend, I was on a train, and saw two young-ish chaps talking quite excitedly. They were twenty years old at most, and they were chatting as they passed what looked like a glossy magazine back and forth.

If you’re thinking it might have been a … let’s say ‘gentlemen’s leisure interest periodical’, then I’m sorry to disappoint you; it was, as I saw when they sat quite close to me, a glossy rulebook or other supplement for a role-playing (or tabletop miniature combat) game, and their excitement and interest seemed to stem from the implications of this on their chosen game – I could hear them saying things like ‘magic attacks’ and ‘stats’, which rather reminded me of my teen years.

It probably won’t surprise longtime blog readers to know that I was what is now known as ‘a nerd’, though back in those days you were more likely to be labelled a ‘square’ or ‘boffin’. But we all know what that means – probably wearing glasses, not physically confident, not very good at talking to girls, and so likely to have solitary (or at least indoor) hobbies such as playing Dungeons & Dragons or computer games, or reading books or comics. And of course there were quite a few of us at school, as well as all the others who weren’t like that.

Strangely enough – on a mathematical basis if nothing else – my school’s equivalent of the cheerleaders and jocks so often shown in American films seems to have been known as ‘the popular kids’. I say ‘strangely’ because the school year I was in had so many ‘factions’ in it (why, even the secretary in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off refers to “the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads” at Bueller’s school), that if you took out my group of friends, the other groups such as the gothic kids and the very studious kids, and the various loners, there were probably only about fifteen of the so-called ‘popular kids’, and none of us really gave a monkey’s about them and what they did, so I have no idea where the presumed ‘popularity’ came from.

It’s not like we ever took a vote on it or anything… though maybe it was an early example of the kind of ‘implied consensus’ or ‘silent majority’ that you often come across in later life. Returning to a film that was out at the time (and whilst it may seem lazy to refer to 1980s films, they were the cultural backdrop of the time, and I think we tend to try to find something that mirrors our own experiences in films and other stories), there’s a nice exchange in The Breakfast Club which may touch on the truth of this:

THE PRINCESS
Your friends […] look up to us.
THE GEEK (LAUGHING)
You’re so conceited, Claire. You’re so conceited.

… I never actually heard the ‘school dynamic’ verbalised like this, but I hope I would have responded in this fashion, as my circle of friend didn’t look up to the ‘popular kids’. We were too busy worrying that playing Daley Thompson’s Decathlon on our ZX Spectrum computers would, as legend had it, kill the keyboard before its natural expiry date.

Anyway, when I saw the two chaps on the train at the weekend, I looked at them with a mixture of recognition and almost-pity; I say ‘almost’ because I was genuinely happy with my life in my teen years, even if the things that made me happy were incomprehensible – or risible – to other people: I was more concerned about whether I’d get my D&D character to Level 5 than whether I’d get to home base (no, not the shop) with a girl (and one of those events certainly seemed much more probable than the other during that era of my life). So I can’t honestly look back on that period, and the way I led my life, in such a way that I pity those who seem to be treading the same path.

Yes, I could have shouted to the chaps on the train, “for the love of God, shave off the wispy beards and get some contact lenses and spend more money on cool clothes than 20-sided dice, and maybe you’ll get to touch a boob this year”, but they seemed pleasant and happy enough, and besides it’s possible that they were both total hits with the ladies (or gents, I don’t want to presuppose too much), and that I’m just projecting.

But after I’d thought about this sort of thing a bit, and both wallowed in nostalgia and cringed at the recollection of the clothes and large aviator-style glasses I wore, it occurred to me that there are often articles in papers and magazines nowadays with headings such as ‘The Geeks Inherit The Earth’, talking about how the rise of the internet, and the information age, has meant that many of my pasty cohorts have become very successful in their chosen fields, with the financial rewards attached to that. The heads of IT firms, founders of websites, creators of best-selling computer games and apps, and even the directors of films, are shown to have had classically nerdy formative years – and whilst some of them have made their way in the world by appealing to nerds alone, many of them work in fields with wider audiences.

It’s intellectually amusing to see large crowds of people getting excited about seeing films like Watchmen and Avengers Assemble, when I was reading the source comics twenty-odd years ago, and whilst there’s a slight frisson of ‘Hah! I was right all along!’, I can’t get too triumphant about it – possibly because having that kind of teenagehood doesn’t necessarily prepare you for being the victor, and maybe because of that sense of loving something niche that gets a little soured when it breaks through to a larger market (which of us hasn’t either been or known someone who talks up a band, but the minute they get big, starts talking about them ‘selling out’?). More than anything else, though, I think it’s because the stuff I was into back then, like the stuff I’m into now, was a genuine interest, and wasn’t on my list of ‘Likes’ to impress other people: it was stuff I was actually into.

Which, it strikes me, is probably why there are fewer bold claims of triumph from the swots and nerds and squares; whilst the people who were concerned about looking cool as teenagers are keen to claim they were right all along, when offered the chance to write a book, Bill Gates writes about future technology and the like. Whilst the ‘popular kids’ at school spent a lot of time (and, I’ll wager, their parents’ money) on their outfits for the ‘5th year social’ (aka what would now probably be called a Prom), I was reading and re-reading Batman Year One, and not bothering about what anyone might think about this.

I think that’s why the articles you see about the Rise Of The Nerds will tend to be written in the third person plural – that is, not written by the geeks in question; because they’re still out there, doing their thing – coding, writing, rolling dice or whatever. But the chances are it’s indoors.

They say the best revenge is living well, but I suspect many of those who were made to feel somehow ‘geeky’ will be living well albeit unseen by those who may have ostracised them in the past. Except for those of us who decide to post about it on the internet, of course.

I Am Not Dead

… and nor is this blog, I assure you.

So, apologies to regular readers for the hiatus in updates – consider this, if you will, my summer holiday – and there will be a return to regular blogging soon.

After all, if I didn’t post my idiotic and fleeting notions here, they’d just be lost to time and memory, and that simply would not do.

Thanks to those of you who’ve been so sweet as to send me a message asking if I’m okay – I assure you I most definitely am – it’s just proving difficult to find time to blog in recent weeks. But that may change soon, and who knows what nonsensical thought-posting, its hour come round at last, slouches out of bedlam to be typed? BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

I Have No Mic, And I Must Speak

Back in the 1980s, my family went to stay with some relatives for New Year’s Eve. I don’t remember much of the festivities itself, but one thing I do remember – for reasons that will become clear – is that nearby, about five minutes walk away in fact, was a comic shop.

Now, I’d been reading comics for a while, but my ‘local’ shop in Sheffield wasn’t very local at all – it was a couple of bus rides away, and of course that kind of travel ate into the potential spending money (this was after Sheffield’s insanely cheap bus fares had been abolished – boo! A flat fare of 2p was a fab thing to a cash-starved kid), so I tended to walk there with my friend Simon. Which took about an hour there and an hour back, so you can see why a shorter walk was so appealing.

This comic shop – I don’t think it’s there any more – had a pretty decent selection of recent comics, and also, as was often the case back then, also sold a lot of paperbacks (mainly SF, fantasy and horror), which you could then sell back to them for half the price in credit. So, being a bookish child and having a bit of Christmas money, I bought myself a book and a comic: All The Sounds Of Fear by Harlan Ellison, and the Warrior Summer Special (both pictured). Small pressies to myself, as it were.

I think I can, without fear of exaggeration, state that it was the greatest couple of pounds I ever spent, and that the combined effect of the two did strange things to my brain for which I will always be grateful.

The Warrior comic featured some stories by Alan Moore, whose work I was already starting to look out for (from the cover-date of that comic, I guess I was something like 12, and was just learning that certain names recurred on the credits of things I liked), and other writers as well, all of which made it a pretty heady brew, and then when I started to read the Ellison, my noggin was permanently bent out of shape.

If you’ve never read anything by Harlan Ellison… well, obviously, I think you should, but there’s a fair chance you don’t recognise the name, especially in the UK; this is pretty odd really, given that he is one of the most-recognised writers ever, but he tends to fly under the radar for a lot of people. Still, have you seen that original Star Trek episode with Joan Collins in? He wrote the screenplay for that? Seen The Terminator? Yeah, he provided (ahem) ‘inspiration’ for that. What about Babylon 5? He consulted on that, and the new version of The Twilight Zone and heaps of other stuff – and that’s just his filmed work, his short stories are allegedly among the most reprinted in the English Language. So yes, I think you should read his stuff – it often has futurist backdrops, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s science fiction. Cos it isn’t.

Anyway, I read the collection of stories in All The Sounds Of Fear, and whatever else that new year brought, it certainly opened with me having a new and strange outlook on just what the written word, when combined with imagination, could do. It’s probably very much one of the reasons that I started writing – not because I sought to emulate his work, or anything so straightforward, but rather because it suggested there was a place in the world for writing down the more spiky and awkward of ideas, if you could do it. And that’s why I cite him as my favourite writer, when asked – it sounds wilfully obscure to most people, but I like to think it’s actually the truth.

Jump forward many years (past 1986, incidentally, when The Singing Detective made me realise just how unlimited the medium of TV could be), to last Friday night, on London’s Southbank; it was raining, and England were playing a World Cup match, and that’s why there was a limited turnout at the screening of Dreams With Sharp Teeth, a film about Harlan Ellison.

There were probably about 30 of us, plus screenwriter and friend of Harlan Ellison James Moran and the film’s director, Erik Nelson, but the limited numbers weren’t any kind of damper on the event – the film was funny and smart and showed HE in what looks like a fairly balanced light. Yes, there were scenes where he was a bit short-tempered, but there were others where he spoke about writing and literature with a passion, and when he read sections from his stories the talent was painfully evident. So yes, it was a good film.

Afterwards, Messrs Moran and Nelson asked the audience to come nearer the front, as they were going to do a link-up to LA, where they’d ask Harlan some questions. I moved down as requested, and indeed got a front-row seat, which I was pretty pleased about. They linked up okay, and asked him a few questions, and then they asked if anyone in the audience had any questions. There was a pause, and then I realised that my hand was up, and they were nodding towards me.

I’ll freely admit I was quite nervous about asking my question, not because I was speaking in front of a small crowd (as anyone who knows me will be aware, I’m a hopeless attention-seeker), but rather because this was probably likely to be my only actual interaction with Harlan Ellison, whose work I’ve enjoyed for over a quarter of a century. If there’s anyone whose work you admire, imagine how you’d feel in a similar situation. Yep, there you go, now you get it.

Anyway, with both the film and my own personal ‘history with HE’ (recounted above at length – and you probably just thought it was the usual self-indulgent rambling, but hopefully now it reveals itself as the vital backstory it was intended to be) in mind, I asked my question, which came out in a slightly gabbled and nervous way, and sounded something like this:

“We see you in the film speaking to college students, and a couple of people in the film say that your work should be taught in schools – what, do you think, would be the ideal age for people to first read your work? When would you most want to get hold of their fragile minds? Teenagers? Ten? Eight? One?”

As those of you who can read will probably note, this is actually a series of questions, mainly because I was gabbling to fill the gap caused by the satellite delay, and I didn’t actually have a microphone, so it was a bit uncertain to me whether Harlan could actually hear any of what I was saying. But he’d heard some of it, it seems, because he asked “Was that a question, or a diatribe?”

Erik then summarised the question, and Harlan answered it, giving a solid and considered answer – but then again, I probably would say that, as he seemed to suggest that the age of 14 or so was about right, thus making me ahead of my time as a child – and I was suitably pleased, on a number of levels.

And as the second – and only other – question was about the long-delayed third volume of Dangerous Visions, which is decades past its due date, and HE tends to get a bit fed up with being asked about (and showed as much on this occasion), I think that I probably did all right, all things considered.

Apologies for length here, but I was really rather chuffed about it, and wanted to record the event in what, I guess, is probably the closest thing I have to a diary. Given that I’ve met Alan Moore a couple of times, and that Dennis Potter has been dead for a number of years, I guess I’ve completed my interaction with the people whose work remoulded my thinking in the 1980s, which feels oddly satisfying.

One final point: if you want to see a terrific example of HE’s writing, read the short story I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream, from which the title of this post derives. The title’s remarkable enough, but the story itself… well, to say “it lingers in the mind” is several kinds of understatement.

Two Comic Covers From 1984

Normally, I’d suggest plagiarism, but these were both drawn by the same chap (Brian Bolland), so I’ll just chalk it up to a similar approach taken to both the pieces of work.

No criticism here at all, by the way; Bolland’s an absolute master of comic art: if you want clean lines, he’s yer artist. And I particularly like the way that the design plays on the left-to-right approach to reading, drawing the eye across the image to make you wonder just who or what is firing at the characters.

Anyway, this slight coincidence freaked out my 13-year-old self, so I thought I’d share it.

Previous Price: 75p. New Price: 0p.

Back in May 2009 I gave a resounding thumbs-up to the first issue of the comic The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross.

This week, it’s been made available online for free in PDF format, so you can have a look at it and see if I was way off the mark or not.

In the months since its release, another ten or so issues have been published, and I feel they’ve fleshed out the underlying ‘mythology’ rather well, including a number of historic figures such as Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling and even Joseph Goebells.

It’s currently one of the comics I look forward to most each month, so I’d urge you to have a look at the freebie first issue and see if it’s your kind of thing.

Proving That, Even In The Far-Flung Future, Intelligence Will Not Equate With Social Skills…

… in the 25th Century, Brainiac 5 demonstrates his contempt for those members of the Legion Of Super-Heroes too stupid to figure out how to make their own flight-rings.

Go on, Brainy! Flick them the rods!

Perhaps I Should Just Re-jig This Blog To Make It About Pointing Out Similarities And Be Done With It

On the left, an image from a current Marvel comic, relating to their latest cross-over story, Siege.

On the right, the cover for a DVD of a performance of The Wall which took place in Berlin, with a logo dating back to when the concert took place in 1990.

Hmm.

I rather hope it’s a pre-established icon or image which is being re-used here, so do let me know if you know better.

First ‘Book Twins’ Of 2010…

… though I doubt they’ll be the last.

For the record, I have no objection to Brad Meltzer’s work – I really enjoyed The Tenth Justice – it’s the derivative book design I have a beef with. Though judging from his comics work, Brad and I clearly differ in our fondness for Red Tornado. Ah well, tis but a small matter.

A Well-Known Joke Amongst Comic Readers, But One Which Deserves A Wider Audience, I Think…

It’s almost impossible to conclude somebody didn’t giggle when they suggested the title of this comic to the folks at Marvel.

Probably a good job that search engines didn’t exist at the time. How many innocent comic readers* would have been made to look like a filthmaniac by their Internet History?

*Possibly a contradiction in terms, mind you. I’ve been to enough shops and conventions to know. Oh by jiminy yes.

If You Saw The British Comedy Awards At The Weekend…

… you may, like me, have been wondering who did the rather clever depictions of comedians as superheroes.

Wonder no more: Jon Haward did some of them, and jolly well too, I think you’ll agree.

More images, in the form of screengrabs, here.

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