Tuesday 31 January 2012


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 legendary 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, whenever 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 knowing 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 person.


For my first Alan Fennell story, click here.


Images copyright D.C. THOMSON & Co., Ltd

Once, in a world far away and now forgotten, there was an objective standard by which things were measured.  Alas, however, that was very 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, 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 sometimes be rewarded, but, all too often, so too is mediocrity.

In the world of political correctness in which we live 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 storytelling 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 fulfils 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?  Perhaps, 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, Grigg, Harrison, Law, Main, MartinMevinMillingtonNadal, Nixon, Parkinson, Petrie, Parlett, PatersonReid, 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


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



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 release, I was too busy lusting over the womanly 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 from there on I was hooked!  How could I not be, with simply 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 acquired the earlier issues, and it wasn't too long before I became a POWER COMICS junkie, buying all five weekly 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.  The three featured 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 nubile 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 (CORSON'S) at seeing this same FF story in COLLECTORS' ITEM CLASSICS #6 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, though 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


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 redundant 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 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 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 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 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 satisfied", not alienate them by implementing and enforcing ludicrous diktats. 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 fulfil 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 - 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 via the occasional letter and it very 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 then, 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 quick recap of the events of that snow-swept night only a Winter or two before. He still couldn't recall, 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 significance 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


Images copyright their respective owners

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 5 to 14.  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 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'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.  Embarrassed by their 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 give people what they're crying out for - good, old-fashioned, entertaining tales to divert attention from life's harsh realities and which will take readers on a rip-roaring, magic-carpet ride into worlds of fantasy and enchantment.

Remember... comicbooks once 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


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.)

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 doggie-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.)

What a poseur

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 living-room, switching on the tree lights so that she could watch them twinkling in the gloom.

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 comfortable 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 examining 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.

Zara as a pup

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 injection, 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 - it was by my side.

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



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


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.)  


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 hunger strike 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


November 15th, 1991.  A day I remember as if it were yesterday.  Better than yesterday in fact, because I can't actually recall 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


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 impatient 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 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 complete stranger stared out at me from the screen, and I was about to backspace 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 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 nostalgic 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 already got 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 been there for perhaps 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 enquiry - that 'Bob Billens' was a university student (just graduated) who worked in the library during 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 sniggering at the pomposity and pretensions of our library 'masters'.

I very quickly became discontented and suddenly quit the job, but our friendship continued. However, not too long 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 colleagues 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 above 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


"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 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 cartoonist 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


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 laser copy 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 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.

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