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 any
who concern us), only that there's another story about the legendary writer
and editor to tell, which I promised to relate a good many months ago.

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 on the
possibility of Alan ever having
passed me in his car on the way
to the bowling alley as I made
my way home reading a copy of
TV CENTURY 21, and whether
he might've seen me, turned to his
wife and friends and said: "Look,
that kid's reading my comic." One
of the main roads to the bowling alley went right past the bottom of my
street and it was the route to the main shopping centre (where the bowling
alley was situated) along which I'd often have walked. (Not the road
obviously, but the pavement.)

I was much struck by the notion of perhaps having been in such fleeting
close proximity to the editor of my then-favourite comic without ever having
known it, and Alan, being the kind soul that 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 that one normally reserves for close 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
humiliated; 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 a
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
only by whether people like it or not 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 storytelling in general, or
children’s comics in particular.

 Contrariwise, Ken H. Harrison, for example, has a fantastically
fluid art stlyle 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
artists 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 Bave,
BaxendaleBrown, Griggs, Harrison, Law, Main, Martin, Mevin,
MillingtonNadal, Nixon, Parkinson, Parlett, Paterson, Petrie,
Reid, 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...

 

One of my very favourite
comics from the past is one that
regular readers of this humble
blog will doubtless have noticed
me refer to before - FANTASTIC.
This worthy weekly was published
by ODHAMS PRESS, the debut
issue being cover-dated February
18th, 1967. At the time of its
release, I was too busy lusting over
the feminine charms of SUSAN
STORM in the pages of WHAM!
to pay much heed to the arrival of
this new paper, but my mother
bought me a later issue from a
newsagent's kiosk on our way
home from shopping one day.
 
The issue in question was #7
(cover-dated April 1st) - and I
was hooked! How could I not be,
with stories like THOR - "THE
THUNDER GOD AND THE
THUG!" X-MEN - "TRAPPED:
ONE X-MAN!", IRON MAN -
"VERSUS KALA, QUEEN OF
THE NETHERWORLD!", along-
side the superb adventures of THE
MISSING LINK for good measure?
I soon acquired 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 early
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
perhaps they're pronounced the
same, who knows?) 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 that "massively" is redundant in that last
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
town when I see a teddy bear through the glass frontage and decide to buy
it for someone. I make enquiries inside and am told that 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 £10 for the one I want. "It's not for sale!", I'm told again.
"Can't you use one of the other teddies for display?", 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 teddy from a shelf at the back
of the shop and exchange 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 attention 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
requests." (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 policy 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 situation.
They're turning money away, instead of grabbing it and saying:
"Thanks very much, do call again!" Their mission should be to sell every-
thing they've got as quickly as possible, and furnish their dispalys 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 incon-
venienced, can we? That would never do. Not even when some cold,
hard cash is at stake.

Charities are run (or so I've
always thought) for the bene-
fit of 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 has likewise
gone to a good home), thus adding £13 to the funds for the charity's cause.
Money 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. 

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 making our way 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
sounds of childish merriment which emanated 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 well-aware at the time just how much the scene
echoed a similar one in THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS.)

If memory serves, at the time of the above-related 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 to
myself 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, one day, on a short
visit home with his 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 I had, and because
he found it funny.

Strange, isn't it? Sometimes, moments (or things) that we regard
as having, in some indefinable way, bonded us together - whether it
be with friends, brothers, sisters, or lovers - and which we imagine to be
fondly-remembered shared points in our mutual histories and experiences,
turn out to be an entirely one-sided affair, having far more significance
to one of us than the other.

It brings to mind occasions when I would 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 understand, with an insight and clarity that only time can
bring, the disappointment etched on his face and no doubt in his heart.
(Of course, such moments sometimes also happened vice versa.) 
 
I 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. Sad to consider, don't you think?

******

(Note to US & foreign readers: BIFFO THE BEAR was - and occasionally
still is - a character in the famous British comic, THE BEANO - published
weekly by D.C. THOMSON & Co., Ltd since 1938 and still going strong.)

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*t! 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
comicbboks (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 forever.
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 itself
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-had-
once-been-fans' were married and
wanted to write about subjects
of which they knew and had
experience; that reflected their
lives and those of their friends.
Embarrassed by their roots and
origins as ephemeral 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 childhood 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 giive 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.)

******

Don't miss the entertaining discussion currently under way on the
same topic (more or less) over on JIM SHOOTER's excellent blog at:
http://www.jimshooter.com/ - tell them Kid sent you. 

Saturday, 21 January 2012

ONE LAST WALK...


Zara Thustrasia

When I was much younger than I am now (a child in fact), I subscribed
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 notion 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 can 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.
(Whenever I heard her, I'd go down the stairs and carry her up.)

She had cauda equina, a condition which 'fused' the nerves in her spine
together, sometimes making it difficult for her to walk. I had noticed it was
getting worse and mentioned it to the vet when Zara was getting her yearly
booster jags. "Och, she'll be fine for years yet!", he'd said. A mere seven
days or so later, she could hardly walk at all, 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 was saying she was in fine form.
"A lot can change in a week!", he muttered. X-rays revealed that she had
also developed some 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 would 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 had hoped that Zara might see another
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 called
the vet and then carried Zara
up to my room, placing 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
would be better to put her to
sleep. Still clinging to some
forlorn hope, I said that if there
were any alternative options
 regardless of expense, I'd
prefer to explore them first.

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

I had to sign for the lethal injection, which the vet then went out to his car
to fetch. When he came back, he said: "Her circulatory system is 'down',
so I'm going to have to inject 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 and was determined to be with her to the end. It was the
least I could do - she had always been there for me. "No, I'll stay", I replied.

The vet administered the injection and 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 injection,
then perhaps something could have 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 had no choice but to fetch another lethal 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 had arranged with him to have her privately cremated in a place
called 'Elysium Fields', but it couldn't be done 'til 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 hadn't realised that
the process takes about
two hours, so we sat in
a town cafe until it was
time to collect Zara's
ashes. I was struck by
how warm they were
and for how long they
remained so - as if, in
some strange way, life
itself still lingered. It
was four years before I
finally scattered them
in the back garden,
where her spirit probably runs around snapping at wasps to this day.

In fact, 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 they
were in, and took her for one last walk around the places she had known
and loved when she was alive. I don't know if anyone noticed me taking a
carrier bag on a lead for a stroll - I'd no doubt have got a few strange looks
if they had, but it was something that 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 out, but I wish I knew what caused it in the first place. Anyway, business as usual.)  

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 I
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 the photos which
captured the momentous moment, but also an audio recording of the inter-
change between MR MARVEL and myself. I wanted to preserve the
encounter for posterity.

It's excruciating to listen to, mainly because of the simpering, snivelling,
grovelling, crawling, ingratiating, manner in which I engage with Stan. It's
probably the most embarrassing example of 'brown-nosing' you'll ever hear
- if I was prepared to let you hear it (but I'm not). 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 UK were going to bring out,
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...

 
 
I was looking for some biographical information on a well-known
comicbook artist a couple of days back, and duly typed his name (or so I
thought) into the search box at the top of the screen. Being the impatient
kind, 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 incredibly similar to that of
the artist, and, in my haste, I had
unconsciously 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 total
stranger stared out at me from the
screen, and I was about to back-
space to the previous page when
something 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 himself 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, generate a little work.)

What struck me, however, was
just how old he looked, which is
why I hadn't recognised him at
first glance. Being the nostalgic
sort, I couldn't stop my mind
from rewinding back through the
years to when I'd 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 some way
of making it seem interesting
before we reach the end of the
story.

Starting in February of 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 who worked under them, and
to boasting about the extent of their overdrafts. (As banks only give money
to those who have money, they considered it some sort of status symbol to
be accorded the 'honour' of owing loads of dosh.) They really were a tedious
bunch of pretentious, insufferable poseurs.

I'd only been at the library for
perhaps a couple of months,
when a fellow worker one day
exclaimed,"You sound just like
Bob Billens...", before going
on to explain - in response to
my predictable enquiry - that
'Bob Billens' was someone who
worked in the library during the
Summer months.

Anyway, before too 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 about the
new SUPERMAN movie with CHRISTOPHER REEVE (which at that time
was still only a few months old). We also indulged in a fair amount of secret
sniggering at the pomposity and pretensions of our library 'masters'.

I eventually grew discontented
and quit the job, but our friendship
continued. However, shortly after,
Bob and his wife (in a pre-planned
career move) 'upped-sticks' and re-
located 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 turned up -
with no word from him in the weeks
or months that followed - it became
clear that there was little likelihood of him ever getting in touch again. Not
being one to impose myself on people, I didn't pursue the matter, although
I found it slightly puzzling.

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
colleagues down South. He'd
once 'hinted' as much on a brief
visit home, when he looked at me
and said, "I dread to think what
the folks at work would say if they
could see 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. (You
can 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 librarians he had so often
claimed to despise and regularly
heaped scorn upon is not 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 'Big Rosa' would want to
send you her regards.)

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 me 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!"

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!"

Still, despite their faults, they're not too bad for a young cartoonist
who was finding his way in the world and would eventually freelance
for the largest publishing company on the planet at that time. 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...



And 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 a scan again 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 some
of the detail clearer, but it gains in some ways and loses in others.


Below is the subject of the opening picture, a couple of years later with
a different hairstyle. 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.

FRED FLINTSTONE'S FABULOUSLY FANTASTIC FAMILY FLIVVER...



Here's yet another superb classic collectable from the early days of
my cherubic-faced childhood. I was about three or four when I first got
my original one, but it will doubtless come as no surprise to you when I
say that, once again, I've had the above replacement for more years
than I ever had its predecessor - even 'though it sure doesn't feel like
it. Anyway, what you're looking at is a FLINTSTONE FLIVVER,
produced by MARX TOYS in the early 1960s.


There were at least two versions of this terrific toy: friction-
drive and battery-operated(The batteries didn't go in the car,
but in a 'remote control' unit attached by a cord. No infra-red gizmos
in those days.) The photos I've seen of the latter version had a different
FRED figure, made of tin, in the driving seat, but I daresay it's possible
that some had the same plastic figure as the friction-drive version in the
photo above. Also, the battery one had 'Flintstone Flivver' printed
along each side of the car, whereas the friction one usually didn't -
although I believe I've seen photos of ones that did.


In an effort to bring you the best of both worlds, I've graciously bestowed
upon you photos of the friction drive Flivver, and the box for its battery-
operated counterpart. Also pictured (below) is someone else's flivver and
its original box. I sure hope you appreciate my unselfish generosity to you.
Once again, this is a highly desirable collectable, and could easily set you
back a couple of hundred pounds for a pristine condition model - if
you could ever find one that is.



Now tell me - do I spoil you, or what?