Tuesday, 31 January 2012

MY OTHER ALAN FENNELL STORY...


Alan Fennell and unidentified Thunderbirds pilot.
Photo by Roger Elliott

No, that doesn't mean there's another ALAN FENNELL (well, not
one who concerns us), only that there's another story about the legen-
dary writer and editor to tell, which I promised to relate a good many
months ago.  (I always get around to things eventually.)

During the course of one of several telephone conversations I had with
Alan (may even have been the first one) in the mid-'90s, he mentioned
that he used to come to my home town in the '60s to a tenpin bowling alley
situated just along the road from where I then lived.  (In fact, my father
used to work there, although I can't remember if he still did in 1965.)

Apparently, Alan's wife had friends or relatives in Scotland and, when-
ever they visited them, they would take the opportunity to come along to
the bowling alley in question.  This led me to wonder aloud to Alan about
the following 'what if?' scenario, which perhaps isn't as far-fetched
or as unlikely as it may at first seem.
 
The actual bowling alley
Basically, I speculated as to whether
Alan might ever have passed me in his
car on his way to the bowling alley as I
made my way home reading TV21, seen
me, and said to his wife and friends:  "Hey,
that kid's reading my comic."  (A road to
the alley ran past the foot of my street
and was a regular route of mine.)

I was struck by the notion of perhaps being in close (but fleeting)
proximity to the editor of my then-favourite comic without ever know-
ing it, and Alan, being the kind soul he was, indulged my flight of fancy
by pretending (I assume) to be as fascinated by the idea as I was.

Not long after, Alan dropped me a letter containing a photocopy
of a chocolate Dalek recipe I remembered seeing (and which had
once resided for years in my mother's cookbook) in an early issue
of TV21 (# 28).  This is part of what he said in his letter:

Go on - make some.  You know you want to
"Take a look at the
photograph above.  [The
recipe.]  Dear Roy Castle
was one of the nicest people
I have had the privilege to
be associated with - and I
remember this photo set-up
and the lunches we had
whilst promoting the
Doctor Who and the
Daleks film.

So, I'm grateful to
you for reminding me
of those days - and even
the bowling alley!"

******

I never met Alan face-to-face ('though he may have passed me in
his car), and I didn't know he had died 'til a year or two after the fact
- but somehow his not being around any more at times fills me with
the kind of sadness normally reserved for friends and relatives.

He really was that nice a man.

******

For my first Alan Fennell story, click here.

KID KLASSICS: CALLING A SPADE A BLOODY SHOVEL DEPT...



 Once, in a world far away and now forgotten, there was an
objective standard by which things were measured.  Alas, however,
that was long ago.  Today we live in an age of dumbing down.  Exams
made easier so that more students pass; participants in a primary school
race all being awarded prizes so that no-one is disappointed or feels hu-
miliated;  people being given jobs on the basis of so-called positive
discrimination rather than ability or merit.

There are no longer winners or losers;  there is no longer good or
bad, right or wrong, black or white - or at least that's the way it often
seems in this 'bright new world' of the 21st century.  Excellence may
still be rewarded, but so also, all too often, is mediocrity.

  
In the world of political correctness we live in today, everything
is valued as being of equal worth.  That’s why a pile of bricks or half
sheep in a glass case are now accorded the same artistic legitimacy
as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or Rembrandt and Constable paintings.
What utter tosh.  To claim that the measure of a thing’s worth is defined
by whether people like it is ridiculous.  Appreciation is no indication of
quality or craftsmanship.  Other criteria must also be brought to bear.

I can quite understand the natural reservations of those in any
working 'community’ to make critical comment (at least publicly) on
the merits of one another’s work;  there is a professional courtesy at play
which prevents them from doing so.  In some ways that’s a good thing, but
let’s be honest – it also allows those of lesser or no ability to infiltrate the
ranks, simply because it’s not regarded as ‘good form’ to point out the
failings or inadequacies of others, or to unmask the impostors.

One of the reasons why the standard of children's literacy, as an
example, is so appalling today is that everything created for them is
aimed at their level.  That’s why many of them never progress to a higher
one – they aren't enticed or encouraged or motivated to.  If you give them
nothing but inferior quality, that’s what they learn to appreciate.  But what
if children like it?  Children have the capacity to like whatever is put in
front of them, but that's no excuse for giving them substandard fare.


Without wishing to offend anyone, there are certain strips in the
current incarnation of The Dandy which simply don’t measure up to
an objective standard.  And don't be misled by those who claim there
isn't one.  It's that kind of woolly thinking that has resulted in unmade
beds on display in art galleries.  Also, there are some art styles which
do not readily lend themselves to the medium of sequential story-
telling in general, or children’s comics in particular.

Contrariwise, Ken H. Harrison, for example, has a fantastically
fluid art style and brilliantly clear sense of storytelling that fulfills
the highest standard expected of a comic strip.  He is the only artist to
draw The Broons and Oor Wullie who has even come near - or is on -
the same level as Dudley D. Watkins, talent-wise.  There are some
who don’t even come close, judging by the standard of the work they
submit.  Could they do better?  Who knows?  But what they
are doing just doesn’t cut it.


And before I'm subjected to the same old tired, predictable and
erroneous accusations of envy, bitterness, etc., etc., I’m merely speaking
as a comics consumer, not a former professional comics contributor.  I am
not comparing those whose work I dislike against any level of artistic ability
I perceive, pretend, imagine, wish, or delude myself I may have, but rather
the recognized 'greats' of yesteryear and today.  Artists of the calibre of
BaveBaxendaleBrown, Griggs, Harrison, Law, Main, Martin,
MevinMillingtonNadal, Nixon, Parkinson, Parlett, Paterson,
PetrieReid, Ritchie, Sutherland, Titcombe, Watkins, and a
whole host of others far too numerous to mention.
   
Today we live in an age where the utmost quality is no longer the
main consideration - or even a  requirement.  In short, anything goes.
Unfortunately, one of the first things to go was a regard for standards.
We can only hope that it's due to make its return sometime soon.

******

(First posted September 16th, 2011.) 

Monday, 30 January 2012

HOW TO GET STARTED IN COMICS AND LAST THE COURSE...



The answer is simple.  Be good at what you do.  Try and be at
least as good as the very best, or even better if you can be.  And don't
be deterred when those who aren't very good at what they do seem to
get the breaks and you don't.  That sometimes happens when editors who
aren't very good at what they do (and there's a lot of them) try and be
different for the sake of it, or simply act out of expediency or
desperation.

And if or when you do get the breaks, don't ever think that you
can't or don't need to be better than you are.  There's always someone
behind you looking to take your place.  And remember...even if you've
got a lot of talent, you also often need a lot of luck.  This might not
seem fair, especially as those with little (or no) talent who got there
before you only seem to have required a little luck, but that's
sometimes the way the cookie crumbles.

Finally, whatever you do, when you see some talentless hack
get his work published, don't be tempted to think that if he can get
by with drawing badly rendered, incomprehensible, splodgy, childish
scribbles, that you can too.  Never take the easy route, even if it seems
to be what's in vogue at the time.  Tastes change, but talent is forever.
So, work at being talented, not popular.  That'll take care of
itself.

And if you do make it, don't forget that you're in a minority
niche market in which the majority of the population have little
interest, so don't become a smug, arrogant prat towards those outside
of your little 'club'.  Remember that some people may have higher
and more lucrative aspirations.  (And may well have achieved
them for all you know.)
  
Now there's some truly smart advice.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

PRESENTING A PERSONAL PERUSAL OF A 'POWER PACK' PUBLICATION...


Images copyright MARVEL COMICS, excepting The MISSING LINK page 

One of my very favourite
comics from the past is one that
regular readers of this humble
blog will likely have noticed me
mention before - FANTASTIC.
This worthy weekly was published
by ODHAMS PRESS, the debut
issue being cover-dated February
18th, 1967.  At the time of its re-
lease, I was too busy lusting over
the charms of SUSAN STORM in
the pages of WHAM! to pay much
heed to the arrival of this new mag,
but my mother bought me a later
issue from a newsagent's kiosk
on our way home from the
shops one afternoon.

The issue in question was #7
(cover-dated April 1st) - and I
was hooked!  How could I not be,
with stunning stories like THOR -
"The THUNDER GOD And The
THUG!" X-MEN - "TRAPPED:
ONE X-MAN!", IRON MAN -
"Versus KALA, QUEEN Of The
NETHERWORLD!", alongside the
superb adventures of The MISSING
LINK for good measure?  I soon ac-
quired the earlier issues, and it wasn't
too long before I became a POWER
COMICS junkie, buying all five
publications regularly. (Wham!,
SMASH!, POW!Fantastic,
and TERRIFIC.) 

Fantastic had 40 pages
per issue, but not even that
could accommodate the above
tales in their entirety, so only
the first halves of the Thor and
X-Men stories were presented,
the remainder of these particular
adventures being completed the
following week.  These classic
LEE/KIRBY/HECK MARVEL
epics were printed in black and
white, but that - and the fact
that some characters' names
were changed from their
American originals - didn't
seem to spoil the readers'
enjoyment one whit.

For example, The BLACK
WIDOW's name of NATASHA
was altered to NATASIA (though
I think that both are pronounced
the same way) and The RED
GHOST's moniker was changed
(for reasons that later became
obvious to me) to The APE
MASTER.  I can still remember
my astonishment in a shop one
day at seeing this same FF story
in an issue of COLLECTORS'
ITEM CLASSICS after I had
already read it in WHAM! and
being bewildered at the altered
appellation of the baddie.  How
was it possible, I wondered?

Nowadays, of course, I can
see that the amended lettering
in the British reprints is readily
discernible, although it wasn't
quite so apparent to me back
when I was a lickle kidlet.
(Okay, I was 8 - but that's
still 'lickle' in my book.)

Anyway, I have very fond
memories of Fantastic #7, so
I thought I'd kindly share a few
pages with you here.  Remember,
if you enjoy them half as much
as me, then I'll have enjoyed
them twice as much as you.
(Profound, or what?)  Doh!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

CHARITY BEGINS...WHERE, EXACTLY...?



Have you ever encountered such startling levels of stupidity as to
make you want to wring your hands in sheer frustration and despair -
or even the necks of po-faced, petty perpetrators of moronic madness
on a massively-monumental scale?  (Yes, I know "massively" is redun-
dant in that sentence, but I'm waxing lyrical.)  Here is such a tale.

So, I'm walking past a charity shop in the main shopping centre
of my town when I see a teddy bear through the glass frontage and
decide to buy it for someone I know.  I ask inside and am told it's not
for sale - it's a display item only.  At the back of the shop are various
other teddies of diverse shapes and sizes sitting on a low shelf, which
are for sale. "Can't you sell me the teddy I want and replace it
with one of the others?" I enquire.  In short, "No!"

"Why not?" I ask politely.  "Because it's for display only, not
for sale!" comes the reply.  The shop's most expensive teddy is only
£3, so I offer them a tenner for the one I want.  "It's not for sale!"
I'm told again.  "But can't you use one of the other bears for dis-
play?" I again venture.  "No!" I'm told.

I'll give you the abridged version of events, otherwise we'll be here
all week.  In short, over the course of several days, I speak to assistant
managers, managers, supervisors at head office, blah, blah, blah, and ask
why it's so bloody difficult to purchase a teddy from them and swell their
coffers by a tenner - more than three times the amount they're asking
for one of Ted's even bigger-sized pals.  This is what I'm told:

1)  "Our staff aren't trained to rearrange the displays."  (Can you
believe this cr*p?  Not trained to take one ted from a shelf at the back
of the shop and swap it for one near the front?  Gimme a break.)

2)  "We want our displays to look their very best to entice people
into the shop."  (Fine, but what's the point of enticing them in if you're
then going to refuse to sell them the very item that caught their atten-
tion and which they want to buy?  Isn't the raison d'etre of the
charity to raise money?)

3)  "Our staff are too busy to accommodate individual customer re-
quests."  (I pass this shop practically every day.  It's in a remote corner
of the shopping centre and as quiet as the tomb.  I don't think I've ever
seen more than two customers in the place since it opened last year,
and the staff sit around looking bored for most of the time.)

4)  "It's our policy.  If we make an exception for you, we'd have
to do it for everyone."  (Well, then it wouldn't be an exception, would
it?  But we'll let that loopy lapse in logic pass.)  I thought it was their pol-
icy to raise money for charity, by selling items that people donate for that
very purpose - not to try and win the 'window display of the year' award
and deter folks from spending cash by refusing to take it from them
in exchange for that which they wish to purchase.)

I'm on my soapbox now, but consider the absurdity of the situ-
ation.  They're turning money away, instead of grabbing it and
saying:  "Thanks very much, do call again!"  Their mission should be to
sell everything they've got as quickly as possible, and then replenish their
displays from fresh donations - not say "I can't sell you the item you want
because it'll mess up our display and we'll have to start again."  No, we
can't have them inconvenienced, can we?  That would never do.
Not even when some cold, hard cash is at stake.

Charities are run (so I've
always thought) to benefit
the recipients of said
charities, not the organisers,
and the best way to facilitate
that is to (in the words of the
song) "keep the customer sat-
isfied", not alienate them by
implementing and enforcing
ludicrous dictats.  They're
there to make money for the
less fortunate, not refuse it
on the grounds that moving
one soft toy into the position
of another is "against policy'"
or is beyond the abilities (or
inclination) of the staff.

In the end, I got Ted, who now sits proudly in the living room of the
person for whom he was purchased.  I also bought the other one (which
likewise went to a good home), thereby adding £13 to the charity's funds.
Cash I had to practically force on them by kicking up a fuss and reminding
them that such places exist to help others less fortunate, not to fulfill the
ambitions of those who want to rule over their own private fiefdoms in
a self-indulgent attempt to satisfy their feelings of self-importance.

Rant over.

******

(Incidentally, I should perhaps add that I had previously seen items in
the window with 'sold' signs on them, and I subsequently discovered that
display items could be sold, but had to remain in the window display until
it was changed, which was usually every fortnight.  The shop still operates
this way today, so why I was never told that I could pay for Ted and
collect him later at the end of his service remains a mystery.)

Friday, 27 January 2012

"BIFFO THE BEAR IS AN EASTER EGG WITH LEGS..."


Biffo the Bear - he's a good egg

One wintry, snow-clouded night in the late '70s (I think), myself
and a friend were heading home after visiting a mutual acquaintance.  As
we were passing a block of flats, a motion at one of the windows on the first
floor caught our attention and we stopped to observe what was happening.
A parent, in the act of putting his child to bed for the night, was writing on
the condensation on the inside of the glass pane as the infant bounced
excitedly up and down in the background.  (We could just see the
top of the head, popping into view every few seconds.)

We stood transfixed, trying to decipher the reversed writing
(accompanied by an oval-shaped figure) as, word by word, it took
form before us - "Biffo...the...Bear...is...an...Easter...egg...with...legs!"
We fell about laughing at the silliness of the proposition, and, judging by
the sound of muffled merriment emanating from within, the youngster
was equally amused.  Then the snow and the wind caught us on the nape
of our necks and propelled us, much cheered by our diversion, in the
direction of home and the promise of our own warm beds awaiting
us at journey's end.  (I was reminded at the time of a similar
scene in The WIND In The WILLOWS.)

If memory serves, at the time of this incident my friend was
home on leave from the Navy, having joined not long before.  (Or,
if memory fails to serve, he joined not long after.)  We kept in touch by
the occasional letter and it soon became almost a custom for each of us to
finish our episodic epistles with the slogan "Biffo the Bear is an Easter egg
with legs!"  I could neither read nor write the catchphrase without images
of the night in question springing to mind, and having a hearty chuckle at
the memory.  Naturally, I assumed that my friend viewed the occurrence
through the same nostalgia-tinted spectacles as myself.  It was one of
those shared moments that neither of us were likely to forget.

Or so I thought.  Imagine my surprise when, on a short visit back
home with his new wife a year or two later, my friend enquired of me
whence the slogan that we so freely bandied about between ourselves
had originated.  "Don't you remember?" I asked, somewhat puzzled by
his lack of recollection.  He didn't, so I gave him a recap of the events
of that snow-swept night a Winter or two before.  He still couldn't
remember, and explained that he only used the phrase because
did, and because he found it funny.

Odd, isn't it?  Sometimes, moments (or things) that folk regard
as having, in some indefinable way, bonded them together - whether
it be with friends, brothers, sisters, or lovers - and which they imagine
to be fondly-recalled points in their mutual histories and experiences,
turn out to be entirely one-sided affairs, having far more signifi-
cance to one of them than the other.

It reminds me of times when I'd hear my father recount to my
mother an obviously cherished moment from their past, followed by
the expectant words "Don't you remember, dear?" - only to be met by
a blank stare, a bewildered shake of the head, and a disheartening "No!"
I suddenly comprehend, with an insight and clarity that only time can
bring, the disappointment etched on his face and no doubt in his
heart.  (Such moments also happened in reverse, of course.)

I sometimes wonder how many friendships, relationships, or
acquaintanceships survive only on the ghost of a memory of some
past event that one of the parties involved has long-since forgotten
- if, indeed, they ever remembered in the first place.  Kind of sad
to consider, don't you think?

******

(Note to overseas readers:  BIFFO The BEAR was - and
occasionally still is - a character in the famous U.K. comic, The
BEANO - published weekly by D.C. THOMSON since 1938
and still going strong-ish.)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

WHAT'S WRONG WITH AMERICAN COMICBOOKS THESE DAYS? LEMME TELL YOU...


What's wrong with modern-day American comicbooks?  Well, it's
obvious, isn't it?  They're sh*te!  You don't need me to tell you that. But
why are they like that, you may wonder.  One word:  Adults. Yep.  Adults
are/is the problem.  (You can sort out the grammar for yourselves.)

Once upon a time, comics
were produced for a readership
of kids from about five to fourteen.
There were a few older people who
read them as well, of course, but most
of them tended to have no friends and
smelt a little odd.  What's more, the
readership constantly renewed itself;
once you grew too old for comics
(usually when you discovered girls,
Melvin), another batch of kids were
right behind you, ready to take
your place in the scheme
of things.

Then MARVEL COMICS hit
the scene and things changed for-
ever.  Suddenly comics were cool, not to mention interesting.  The comics
buying public couldn't get enough of them, and, what's more, were reluctant
to give up on them even when the siren call of the opposite sex first made it-
self heard in the hearts, minds and loins of pimply-faced males everywhere.
So they continued to read and collect them well past the age that former
generations of readers had traditionally abandoned them for other
pursuits, even into adulthood.

This created a problem.  No grown-up wants
to be associated with childish interests, so the
readership expected  - nay, demanded - that
their comics grow up with them and reflect
their 'adult' tastes and sensibilities.  Also, some
of the fans became writers and were only too
happy to oblige, being of a like-minded opinion.
On top of that, they  wanted to be seen not as
purveyors of simple kiddie-fare, but as creators
of an artform that was socially 'relevant'
and worthy of serious consideration.

That's when the decline set
in.  Eventually, characters like
SUPERMAN and SPIDER-MAN
got married (no, not to each other)
because the 'creators-who'd- once-
been-fans' were married and wanted
to write about subjects of which they
had experience;  that reflected their
lives and those of their friends.  Em-
barrassed by their origins as ephem-
eral amusement for children, comics
became too serious (to say nothing
of pretentious) in their quest to be
regarded as 'legitimate' literature.
Add to that the direct sales market
and the ever-increasing cost of
what had once been the cheapest
form of entertainment available, and whatever remained of any child-
hood or young teenage readership simply dissipated over time.

That's the 'Reader's Digest ' account, but
you get the gist.  So what's the solution?  Simple.
Publishers need to get back to producing mass-
marketed, inexpensive comics for children (and
those who keep the spirit of childhood alive within
them).  Forget fancy and expensive paper, socially
relevant themes, 'arty-farty', clear as mud, photo-
realistic artwork.  Simply give people what they're
crying out for - good, old-fashioned, entertaining
tales that diverts attention from life's harsh realities
and takes readers on a rip-roaring, magic-carpet
ride into worlds of fantasy and enchantment.

Remember...comicbooks sold in their millions when the above recipe
was the order of the day.  Something to consider perhaps?


(The above covers represent, to me, examples of
when comics were more-or-less at their best.)

Saturday, 21 January 2012

ONE LAST WALK...


Zara Thustrasia

When I was much younger than I am now (a child in fact), I sub-
scribed to the notion of 'best' friends.  There's an irony in the concept
of course, because a best friend isn't someone who is necessarily 'better'
than other friends, but is instead merely one whom we like more than the
rest.  Over the years, I'm sure I've been a better friend to some people
than those they'd regard as their 'best' pal, but I'm never going to be
eligible for the position.  (Not that I'd want or even try to be.)

What a poseur
So I long ago abandoned
the idea of best friends - as
far as people go.  However,
anyone who has ever had a
dog will know that the only
species on the planet fit to
qualify for such an accolade
is the canine one.  Dogs are
always genuinely glad to see
us, never bear a grudge for
however many times we've
scolded them over some
doggy-misdemeanour, and
their chief delight in life is
to lie at our feet or by our
side and simply bask in the
 pleasure of our company.

My dog passed on to the great 'Kennel Club in the sky' over thirteen
years ago.  ZARA was her name;  a black and gold German Shepherd
of the most placid temperament imaginable.  She lived for twelve years,
seven months, and I still remember the sound of her, near the end of her
days, trying to drag herself up the stairs to my room simply to be with
me.  (When I heard her, I'd go downstairs and carry her up.)

She had cauda equina, a condition which 'fused' the nerves in
her spine together, making it difficult for her to walk.  I'd noticed it
was getting worse and mentioned it to the vet when Zara was getting her
annual booster jags.  "She'll be fine for years yet!" he'd said.  Seven or so
days later, she could hardly walk, so I took her back and the first thing he
said on sight of her was:  "That dog should be put to sleep!"  I reminded
him that only a week before, he'd said she was in fine form.  "A lot can
change in a week!" he muttered.  X-rays revealed that she'd also
developed internal tumours, for which nothing could be done.

I explained that, as long as she wasn't in any pain, putting her to
sleep wasn't an option I was prepared to consider at that time.  He gave
her a course of tablets, but said that they'd only be of short-term benefit.
A fortnight later, for the first time, she had difficulty breathing.  It was the
night of November 25th, 1998 and I'd hoped Zara might see one more
Christmas at the very least.  I fetched the Christmas tree down from the
attic and put it up in the livingroom, switching on the tree lights so
that she could watch them twinkling in the gloom.

Zara as a pup
When morning came, I rang
the vet and then carried Zara
up to my room, and placed her
on my bed to make her as com-
fortable as possible.  When the
vet arrived, Zara lifted her head
to look at him - then looked at
me, licked my hand, and
laid down her head with a sigh -
almost of relief.  After examin-
ing her, the vet confirmed it'd
be better to put her to sleep.
Still clinging to some forlorn
hope, I said that if there were
any other options, regardless
of expense, I'd prefer to
explore them first.

He shook his head sadly.  "No, it's time" he said.

I signed for the lethal injection, which the vet then went out to his
car to fetch.  When he returned, he said:  "Her circulatory system is
'down', so I'll have to inject it straight into her heart.  It isn't going to be
pleasant - you might want to leave the room."  I was holding Zara's paw
and stroking her head, determined to be with her to the end.  It was the
least I could do - she'd always been there for me.  "I'll stay" I said.

The vet administered the injection, stood back and watched.  After
a while, he said:  "I'm sorry, this has never happened before - she won't
die."  Consumed with guilt, I protested that if she could resist a lethal in-
jection, maybe something could've been done for her after all.  "No, she's
got a strong heart, but she needs more than that to survive" he replied.
Finally, he'd no choice but to fetch another injection to administer.  Zara
eventually breathed her last, to the sounds of 'Walking In The Air'
from a wind-up Snowman doing its slow, circular dance close by.

I then had to help the vet put Zara in a bag and carry her out to
his car.  I'd arranged with him to have her privately cremated in a
place called 'Elysium Fields', but it couldn't be done until after the
weekend.  On the appointed day, a friend, who was a minister, ran me
through, and Zara was laid out on display before me.  She looked like
she was sleeping, but she was frozen solid.  I stroked her fur for one
last time, before my friend said a few words and read a poem
over her, and she was then taken off to be 'attended' to.

Having fun in the back garden
I didn't know that the
process would take two
hours, so we sat in a cafe
until it was time to collect
her ashes.  I was struck
by how long they retained
their warmth - as if, in
some strange way, life itself
yet lingered.  Four years
later, I finally scattered
them in the back garden,
where her spirit probably
runs around snapping at
wasps to this day.

I probably shouldn't divulge this, but on the day I scattered her
ashes, I first looped her lead through the handle of the bag that the box
was in, and took her for one last walk around the places she'd known and
loved when she was alive.  I don't know whether anyone noticed me taking
a carrier bag on a lead for a stroll - I'd have got some strange looks if they
had, but it was something I felt compelled to do.  If you've ever had a dog,
you'll understand;  if not, you'll think I'm completely bonkers.  (Not that
I was dragging the bag behind me, mind you - it was by my side.)

 Two best friends - in one last walk together.
What could be more fitting?

******

ZARA THUSTRASIA ROBSON

May 3rd, 1986 - November 26th, 1998

******

 "Well!  I've seen men go to courageous death
In the air, on sea, on land!
But only a dog would spend his breath
In a kiss for his murderer's hand.

And if there's no heaven for love like that,
For such four-legged fealty - well!
If I have any choice, I tell you flat,
I'll take my chance in hell."

From "Rags" - by Edmund Vance Cooke. 

Thursday, 19 January 2012

FELLOW BLOGGERS - CAN YOU HELP?



I've noticed recently that I'm having trouble going back into the
comments section of one or two blogs to read follow-up remarks.
When I try, the page I'm on either freezes, or, if I do get back into
the comments section, all I see is an enlarged white comments
box which fills most of the page and is frozen in place.

In other words, I can leave a comment on my first visit, but
I can't read it or any responses on subsequent visits - although I
can leave new comments on other posts on the same blog.

Can anyone hazard a guess as to what the problem might be?

******

(UPDATE:  The problem now seems to have sorted itself,
but I wish I knew what caused it in the first place. Anyway,
  back to business as usual, I hope you'll be glad to hear.)  

24 HOUR BLACKOUT? BAH, HUMBUG!


Yup...it's an upside down world!

I notice that some sites (Wikipedia for one) made themselves unavailable
for 24 hours in protest at the proposed copyright clampdown on the internet
that the U.S. government are considering at the moment. Seems to me akin
to going on hungerstrike to protest about food restrictions - or taking a
vow of silence to protest about threats to freedom of speech. Go figure.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

THE DAY STAN LEE CALLED ME A FOOL...



November 15th, 1991.  A day I remember as if it were yesterday.
Better than yesterday in fact, because I can't actually remember what
did a mere 24 hours ago.  But that's by-the-by.  That day, more than
20 years ago, is etched in my memory because it's the day I met the
legendary STAN LEE.  Who could forget a day like that?

I prepared in advance.  I made sure there was film in my trusty
RICOH MIRAI, and I mic'd up with a SONY recording WALKMAN
before setting off to meet the great man.  I not only have photos of the
momentous moment, but also an audio recording of the interchange
between Mr. MARVEL and myself.  I wanted to preserve the
encounter for posterity.

It's excruciating to listen to because of the simpering, snivelling,
grovelling, crawling, ingratiating, manner in which I engage with Stan.
It's the most embarrassing example of 'brown-nosing' you'd ever hear
- if I was prepared to let you hear it.  All I can say in my defence is
that, hey - it was Stan Lee.  You'd have been the same.


During the course of events, I asked Stan to sign a few books I'd
taken along for the purpose.  Not one, but a few, so there's no doubt
I was chancing my arm.  As Stan signed away, I apologised for being
so greedy.  "Not at all...I love it, I love it, you fool!", he said in the
most affable manner imaginable, with a twinkle in his eye and a
broad grin upon his beaming countenance.

We chatted about other things - about SAM ROSEN and ART
SIMEK, some new mags that MARVEL U.K. were going to publish,
and mainly how thrilled I was to actually meet him.  But I was never
so thrilled as when Stan (The Man) Lee called me a fool in such a
friendly fashion as to make it seem like a compliment.

And you know what?  From him it was.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

SUPERMAN, 'BOB BILLENS', AND ME...


Images copyright DC COMICS

I was looking for some biographical information on a well-known
comics artist a couple of days back, and duly entered his name (or so
I thought) into the search box at the top of the screen.  Being the impa-
tient type, I picked the first one on the proffered list and hit the key -
only to discover that it wasn't the individual I was looking for.

My mistake, but - many
years ago - I had a friend whose
name was very similar to that of
the artist, and, in my haste, I'd un-
consciously typed his name - Bob
Billens - instead of the intended
Bob Billings.  (Names changed to
protect the guilty, but they really
are that similar.)  The face of what
appeared to be a complete stranger
stared out at me from the screen,
and I was about to backspace to
the previous page when some-
thing made me look again
more closely.

Wonder of wonders!
It was the actual former friend of nearly half my life ago, apparently
doing very well in the world - if his self-penned many fine words in tribute
to him and his achievements can be taken at face value.  Not that it matters
much - he was always his own biggest fan.  And anyway, what's a blog for
if not to blow one's own trumpet?  (And, in his case, try and generate
a few freelance employment opportunities.)

What struck me, however,
was just how old he looked,
which is why I hadn't recognised
him at first glance.  Being the nos-
talgic sort, I just couldn't stop my
mind from rewinding back through
the many years to when I first met
'Bob', sometime in 1979.  As I have
to fill this blog with something, I
may as well tell you about it now.
Hopefully, I'll contrive a way of
making it seem at least vaguely
interesting before we reach
the end of the story.

Starting in February 1979,
I worked in my local Central
Library for about six or seven months.  Quite a few of the 'head' librarians
were given to looking down their noses at those working 'under' them, and
boasting about the extent of their overdrafts.  (As banks only give money
to those who've got money, they considered it some sort of status sym-
bol to be accorded the 'honour' of owing loads of dosh.)  They really
were a tedious bunch of pretentious, insufferable poseurs.

I'd been there for per-
haps only a couple of months
when a female colleague one day
exclaimed:  "You sound just like
Bob Billens...", before explaining -
 in response to my predictable en-
quiry - that 'Bob Billens' was a uni-
versity student (just graduated)
 who worked in the library dur-
ing the Summer months.

Anyway, before long, I got
to meet Bob Billens, and - sure
enough - he did sound a little
like me.  Amazingly, he was also
a dyed-in-the-wool comicbook
geek like myself, and we soon hit
it off - talking comics and swapping opinions on what we thought of the new
SUPERMAN movie with CHRISTOPHER REEVE (which was then still
only a few months old).  We also indulged in a fair amount of secret snig-
gering at the pomposity and pretensions of our library 'masters'.

I soon grew discontented
and quit the job, but our friend-
ship continued.  However, shortly
afterwards, Bob and his wife (in a pre-
planned career move) 'upped-sticks'
and relocated to England.  We kept in
touch for a few years until, gradually,
 his new life claimed him completely
and his already steadily-waning
inclination to maintain contact
finally evaporated.

When shot-on-location
photos of Superman IV he'd
taken and promised to send never
arrived - with no word from him in
the weeks or months that followed -
it became clear he'd no intention of getting in touch again.  Not being
one to impose myself on people, I didn't pursue the matter, even
'though I found it slightly puzzling given our common interest.

Perhaps he'd simply concluded that, being hundreds of miles distant,
I could serve no further possible practical purpose in his day-to-day life
(especially after I'd given him my highly collectable SUPERMAN The
MOVIE poster) and was therefore surplus to requirements.

Also, I probably just didn't
measure up to his 'sophisticated'
new circle of posh friends and col-
leagues down South.  He'd actually
once 'hinted' as much on a brief visit
home, when he gave me an odd look
and said, "I dread to think what the
folks at work would say if they saw
you."  He tried to say it in a 'jokey'
way, but was obviously embarrassed by what he considered my lack of
sartorial elegance and less than fashionable appearance.  (Judge for
yourselves from the photo.  I think I look rather saintly.)

The irony of him becoming
the same kind of status-seeking,
social-climbing snooty snob as
the former library colleagues he'd
so often claimed to despise and
regularly heaped scorn upon isn't
lost on me.  It would be on him
'though, but that's usually the
way of such things.

That reminds me - I really must
track down a replacement for that
Superman movie poster one day.
One that doesn't look quite so old
and as tired as Bob Billens.

(And 'Bob' - if by some remote
chance you ever happen to read this - I'm sure you'd like to know that 'Big
Rosa' sends you her regards.  I can't speak for anyone else 'though.)

******

And no doubt you'll all be pleased to know that I've now
obtained a replacement poster of the one I originally bought
way back in January 1979 in the ABC Cinema in Glasgow.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

STOP HORSIN' AROUND...


"Er, I've changed my mind.  I'll take the first ones you showed me!"

"Seek and you shall find" is a very old saying from centuries ago.
It also happens to be a very true saying, because I sought and found
the four illustrations which I lay before you now.  I drew them either in
1983 or '84 (perhaps even as early as '82) for an equestrian publication
of some kind.  The person who commissioned my services was someone
for whom I drew newspaper ads to publicise his SONY hi-fi business,
and he asked me to produce the illos for some mag or programme
pertaining to a horse-riding event he was sponsoring or involved
with in some way.  I didn't care - dosh is dosh after all.

"I said you should have bought the hay from Cameron's!"

The inking is a bit heavy, but I was experimenting with different
styles at the time.  It would've been nice to have seen the published
result, but I never did - so I've no idea what size they were printed
or whether they were effective as ads once they were incorporated
into whatever body of text accompanied them.

"Looks like he wants his oats again - better nip 'round to Somerville's!"

Still, despite their faults, they're not too bad for a young cartoon-
ist yet finding his way in the world and who'd soon be freelancing
for what was then the largest publishing company on the planet.  So,
altogether now, let's hear you at the back - "Oh, they can't take
that away from me..."  Nosirree!
    
"Look, is this going to take long?"

I'll post any more as I find them.  Stay tuned.

Monday, 9 January 2012

KID'S KOMIC KAVALCADE OF KONTINUING KARICATURES...



Here we are again with some more artwork
from the forgotten files of yours truly.  As you
can see, the above caricature comes from 1997,
and is a scan of a colour photocopy of the original
coloured acrylic inks version.  Below is another
scan of a photocopy of the original black and
white pen drawing.  


The scan below is of a lasercopy of the
original pencil drawing, which had a slightly
softer look to it.  I enhanced the scan to make
the detail clearer, but it gains in some ways
and loses in others.


Below is the subject of the first picture,
a couple of years later with a different hair-
style.  Who knows, maybe she'll be on The
ANTIQUES ROADSHOW in fifty years,
being told the originals are worth a fortune?
(Excuse me, it's time for my medicine -
I'm hallucinating again.)


Tune in again in the near future to see what
 other items of interest might be on display.
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