Monday, 30 September 2019

SAID THE LETTERER TO THE BISHOP...


STRONTIUM DOG and related characters copyright REBELLION

Are you all sitting comfortably?  Good, then I'll begin.  Don't be fooled by the intro though, for 'tis no fairy tale I'm about to relate, but rather the complete and unvarnished truth.  When I began my full-time freelancing career in the world of comics way back in 1985, I was (depending on one's point of view) either lucky or unlucky enough to do so just as the old way of doing things was coming to an end.

Lucky perhaps, in that I had at least a taste of how things had been for decades, unlucky maybe, in that around two years later, it all changed for the worse.  What happened?  Robert Maxwell happened, that's what.  He purchased IPC's Youth Group from IPC, and from that point on, the decline of a once-proud comics industry accelerated in its head-on collision course with and to oblivion.  Robert Maxwell may not have started that decline, but he sure as hell did nothing to stop it.

Once upon a time, freelance contributors to IPC were paid on acceptance of their work.  Once you turned in your job, the editor began the process which resulted in their accounts department sending you a very welcome cheque. It usually took around a week to ten days, a fortnight at the very most.  Sometimes I hadn't even spent the previous one when the next one arrived.  I was in Heaven, but it wasn't to last.  As far as I know, editors could begin processing invoices through the accounts department almost immediately.  It certainly appeared to be the case. 

Once Maxwell was in charge though, contributors were paid on approval.  That meant an editor, if he was busy, might stick your recently returned job in his desk until he had time to 'approve' it, which could take a couple of weeks depending on his schedule or how concerned he was with making sure you were paid in a timely fashion.  But there were other problems, namely that Maxwell's accounts department felt that contributors having to wait 30 days to be reimbursed for each job was no great hardship.  To clarify, that was 30 days between each job, even ones submitted within a few days of each other - or even on the same day.

So if a contributor turned in three separate jobs over the course of a few days (or, as I said, even on the same day), the first might take a week to receive approval, which, added to the 30 days it took accounts to pay, meant that you could be waiting over 5 weeks to get paid for one job.  The second job might not get approved for yet another week or even longer, but even if they were all approved on the same day, it didn't seem to facilitate a speedier settlement.  Further complicating matters was that I believe there was a schedule as to when editors could submit invoices to accounts.  If so, I don't know the precise details, but let's just say they were told to send up invoices on the 30th of each month. (Or maybe their accounts department just wouldn't process invoices before that [or another] date, regardless of when they received them.) 

Either way, that meant that if you returned a job on the 29th, even if the editor submitted your invoice right away, if another job was returned on the 31st, payment for it wouldn't be processed until the following month - meaning that you could be waiting two months for that particular payment.  Even if three separate invoices were submitted to accounts at the same time, they'd process one that month, the second the month after, and the third the month after that.  This meant payment for a week's work could (and often did) be spread over three months.  They seemed to think that as long as they were paying you something every 30 days or so, they were fulfilling their obligations. However, when you add in the sheer incompetence of Maxwell's accounts department, not even that was ever certain.  And having to wait a month or more for £100 when you'd earned maybe £300 in one week on different jobs doesn't pay the bills.

Also, if you returned a job on the 1st of the month, your invoice might not go to accounts (or perhaps just not be processed by them) 'til the 30th (or whatever date it was), and then you had to wait another 30 days to be paid.  I can understand Maxwell wanting to keep his dosh in the bank for as long as possible in order to earn as much interest as he could, but he never gave a second thought to how that impacted on contributors.

It's all very complicated and maybe I don't (and never did) quite understand exactly what their method was, but I've tried to work out things logically and explain it all as best I can, however confusing it might sound.  Maybe it was one factor of their system more than another, maybe all factors were equally at fault, but regardless of the cause, there's no denying that the end result was far too many freelancers having to wait to get paid for far longer periods than under IPC's regime. There was certainly never any dispute that there was a problem - it was admitted in several letters to freelancers.  When I find them I'll add them to the post.  

Up until then, I'd never had an overdraft in my life, but because of the sporadic nature of payments, I had to open an overdraft facility at my bank in order to ensure that I had funds to return jobs.  (And eat, and pay the rent, etc.)  The bank eventually refused to give me overdrafts because, whenever I assured them that I'd been assured my payment would be in my bank account by a certain date, 9 times out of 10 it wasn't.  On one occasion I even had to ask an editor to 'phone my bank to assure them that the cheque (or bacs payment) would be in my account by a certain date, so that I could go into overdraft mode in order to return a job.  (It wasn't.)

Like I said, I have letters sent to all freelancers by editors, apologising for the ineptitude (my word, not theirs) of their accounts department, and page rates were even raised by way of compensation.  As I remarked when I detailed these events in a previous post, that merely resulted in us waiting for higher amounts of money that never came by the due date.

So why am I telling you all this again?  It's context for what I'm about to tell you next. Steve MacManus, then editor of 2000 A.D., once told me in the pre-Maxwell days, that, even though I was mailing my jobs in from Scotland, I was more reliable at meeting deadlines than some other lettering artists who returned their work in person.  I was very proud of this fact, and when my ability to maintain this eventually became threatened by tardy payments, I was extremely concerned.  My freelance work was my only source of income at that time, and I had no wife's wages to rely on to tide me over.

Here, due credit should be given to Alan McKenzie and Richard Burton (then on 2000 A.D.), who allowed me to use IPC's Red Star account to return jobs when my payments were overdue.  This wasn't something that could continue indefinitely however, so I bombarded Maxwell's accounts department with earnest entreaties to try and sort out their payment system.  I knew that unless things changed soon, my career was likely to take a downturn.

This now brings me to one David Bishop, and why my freelance work for Judge Dredd Megazine came to an abrupt end.  I was continually chasing payments and having to remind him that my ability to return jobs was dependent on being paid in a timely manner.  This was a genuine expression of concern on my part, not a threat to withhold jobs unless or until I was paid.  In other words, I feared that I might eventually find myself in the position of being unable to return jobs if I had no money, not that I'd be unwilling to.  This did not stop Mr. Bishop from later spreading his own disingenuous version of events.

He even had the temerity to say to me in a letter that my "continual inability to meet deadlines" was a "constant frustration" to him.  If it were true, I can see why he'd be frustrated, but he was confusing my continual expressions of concern about missing deadlines with the act itself.  I believe I missed a deadline on only one occasion, and that was due to illness.  I had 20 pages to return to him (not all the one job), but I contracted either Blepharitis or Conjuctivitis (forget which - I suffered from both on occasion) in my left eye and simply couldn't work.  I was supposed to have the pages in for a Friday if I recall correctly, but didn't manage to return them until Tuesday. Are letterers the only people who are not allowed to be ill? Furthermore, several of those pages were given to me only because he couldn't get anyone else to do them (all too busy apparently), so I was trying to do him a favour by helping him out.

Missing an occasional deadline can be less of a problem than it sounds, because editors usually always leave themselves some spare time with deadlines, in order to circumvent any difficulties caused by them not being met.  "I'll say Monday, but I don't actually need it 'til Thursday or Friday" was their way of thinking.  However, in the interests of full disclosure, I did tell Mr. Bishop that there was one job which wasn't a priority with me in returning, and that I'd send it back when I could.  Sounds bad, doesn't it?

Except for the fact that it was a job I was re-lettering for free out of the goodness of my heart, and which had already been published.  Here's what happened.  I think it was a Strontium Dog story that I'd been lettering, could've been some months before.  Due to one episode arriving too late to send to me (or maybe because it was more expedient), it was given to Johnny Aldrich to do.  I had lettered all the episodes up to that point, plus also the ones which followed in regard to that particular storyline.  Whenever the story came to be eventually reprinted by Titan Books, the episode by Mr. Aldrich would've stuck out like a sore thumb.  I therefore volunteered to re-letter the episode gratis so that it would be consistent with the others on either side of it.

There was no definite schedule as to when it would be reprinted and it had already appeared in the comic, so its immediate return was not essential.  I therefore told Mr. Bishop I'd return it at the earliest opportunity, but wouldn't be able to do so until I had my hands on some cold, hard dosh.  No threats to withhold it involved, contrary to Mr. Bishop's later spurious claim.  With hindsight, my offer to re-letter the strip was probably pointless, as the expense of re-shooting the negatives was unlikely to be approved by the higher-ups, but my heart was in the right place.  In the end, I returned it as it was, having become disillusioned by the editor's lack of good will.

If you haven't bailed out by now, I salute your fortitude, but we're in the final stretch now.  One day, my father did something thoroughly selfish and inconsiderate - he died.  I then had to look after my mother and ensure that she was coping, and try and make life easier for her my taking her breakfast up to her in bed, doing the shopping and keeping the house tidy. When a parent dies, it reminds you of your own mortality, and you tend to find such thoughts weighing on your mind.  I found it difficult to apply myself to anything with the same diligence as previously, and returned one job to Mr. Bishop in which I had ended every sentence (except for questions) with an exclamation mark.  Mr. Bishop wasn't happy. He certainly wasn't incandescent by any means, but it provided him with the opportunity to revel in his 'editorial authority', so he took it.

Now, before I continue, I should perhaps explain here that it was once a traditional practice in comics for all non-question sentences in comics to end with an exclamation mark - sometimes even several.  The reason being that full stops didn't always reproduce properly, resulting in confusion to the poor readers, who found themselves reading two or three sentences as one.  And so it was ordained that all statements should end with what those in the trade call a 'screamer'!  That tradition had abated in recent years, but I wanted you to understand the reasons behind my thinking in what transpired next.

Rather than have to double-check every sentence as I lettered, to save time I simply ended every statement with a screamer.  My heart wasn't in the job and I found it difficult to apply my full attention to it.  Questions still ended with question marks, but sentences that ended with full stops joined the ranks of those that concluded with a screamer.  At the end of the day, it really didn't make any difference to the meaning of the script. Readers would've been none the wiser.  Surely it was no big deal?  Mr. Bishop seemingly thought otherwise.  "It took Kevin Brighton (art assistant) two hours to go through the strip and white out the exclamation marks" he said.  Now, with all due respect to Kevin, if it took him two hours, he was ripping the piss!  It was a ten minute job at most.  It probably hadn't even taken me two hours to letter the full story, and it was done to my usual high standard (which by that time came naturally to me) - except for a few extra exclamation marks.  (Not more than one per full stop sentence though.)

Now, in regard to Mr. Bishop's editorial 'qualifications', I found myself unimpressed. Apparently he's also a writer, but not ever having read any of his stuff I can't say whether there's any merit to his work or not.  On the comics he edited though, it always struck me that he was filling the position of nothing more than 'traffic manager' and making sure they got sent to the printers on time.  Scripts he sent me often had spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and punctuation oversights. I corrected them all automatically, but informed him whenever I did so.  Never once did he ever take issue with me saving him the time or trouble of getting Kevin (or whoever) to fix what he should have spotted before he sent me the scripts (that was part of his job, after all).  In fact, there's no guarantee he'd have spotted them after I returned the jobs, even had I left them uncorrected.  (He's credited with 'discovering' new talent, but he'd have had to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to, as 2000 A.D. and the Megazine were the only real game in town when it came to UK action/adventure comics.  That's where talent naturally gravitated to.)

Anyway, I patiently listened to Mr. Bishop's pompous lecture, and had I simply said something like "Sorry, it won't happen again" it's more than likely it would've been the end of the matter.  However, let me tell you something about Mr. Bishop - his smug tone annoyed me.  He was enjoying finally finding fault with a strip I'd returned after all the times I'd found faults in the scripts he'd sent and was determined to rub my face in it.  Did I lose my temper?  Did I insult him or question his parentage?  No, I merely said "I don't know why you're making such a big fuss over such a trivial thing, Dave.  One mistake measured against all the times I've spotted and corrected yours, thereby saving Kevin having to do it, surely outweighs my uncharacteristic lapse in this one rare instance?  Gimme a break - my father's just died and I've got more important things to be concerned with!"  You could have heard the proverbial pin drop.  Mr. Bishop curtly informed me that he would no longer be availing himself of my services and hung up.

So there's gratitude for you!  And don't be fooled - it wasn't because I'd added a few extra screamers on what turned out to be my last job for him - it was because I ruffled his feathers by pointing out that he made far more errors as an editor than I ever had as a letterer.  His vindictive spite not only caused him to stop supplying me with work, but also prompted him to spread his not quite accurate version of events as to why.  Other letterers made mistakes that I'd sometimes had to fix (when I was down in London), some even lost artwork, but none were ever 'let go' because of it.

Well, there you have it!  The real reason why my freelancing career for what was by then know as Egmont ended.  Steve MacManus was kind enough to supply me with a contact number for the team producing Warhammer and one or two other publications, and I got quite a bit of work from them for another couple or so years, but I'd started to become disenchanted with the comics 'industry' by then.  For nearly 15 years I'd invested so much enthusiasm and hard work into the periodicals I worked on, only to find that, at the end of the day, it was all for naught and that my livelihood was in the hands of some jumped-up little pip-squeak who'd no appreciation or gratitude for all the work I'd put into making him look good (or at least adequate).

And friends... the story is true.  I know, because I was that soldier letterer.          

Friday, 27 September 2019

BABE OF THE DAY - LYNDA CARTER...



What I want to know is why the lovely LYNDA CARTER has never been a BOND Girl.  She has all the necessary qualifications - and then some.  In fact, it can be truly said that the woman is a wonder!

Thursday, 26 September 2019

CONAN JOINS THE SWAMP THING IN BEING UPGRADED (UPDATED)...


Copyright MARVEL COMICS.  Look at the edge on your right

If my memory hasn't deteriorated beyond reliability, it was on Monday, June 13th 1994 at The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall that I met BOB HOPE for the second time in my life (the first being at The Edinburgh Playhouse on Saturday, October 13th 1984).  That second occasion was also the night I bought CONAN CLASSIC #1 from the basement comics shop in The Virgin Megastore earlier in the day, along with a few other comics, which, ensconced in a bag, were carefully stuffed down the front of my trouser's waistband as I was photographed with the great man and his wife, DOLORES.

The thing about that issue of Conan (the last time MARVEL printed the Cimmerian's stories in colour before DARK HORSE acquired the copyright to them for a while) was that it wasn't cut 'square' (if such a thing can be said about an oblong comic).  On the mag's 'open' side, the cut ran at an angle, resulting in it being less wide at the bottom than the top by three millimetres.  I'd often wondered over the intervening years whether they'd all been cut like that, or if I'd just been unlucky enough to get one from a bad batch.

Well, now I know they weren't all similarly affected because, today, I acquired a duplicate issue and it's cut symmetrically, so I've now added it to my 11 issue collection of the title.  I'll still keep my original copy of course, as I had it on me when I again met Bob Hope, but more than 25 years after the fact, I now have one that fulfills my demands for near perfection.  What can I say?  I'm so happy!  Not that I really needed it as I have CTB #1 and about a dozen TRUE BELIEVER reprints of the tale (as well as other incarnations), but my original copy's imperfection always niggled me down through the years, so I'm finally able to lay that ghost to rest.

Copyright DC COMICS.  Hard to spot ripples on cover, but see the
portion of interior page below for damage right through the mag

But as comedian (allegedly) JIMMY CRICKET used to say - there's more.  Back in 1986, I bought The ROOTS Of The SWAMP THING #1 from AKA BOOKS & COMICS in The Virginia Galleries in Glasgow.  Thing is, every copy they'd received from their supplier (I was told) was water damaged at the base of the comic, running all the way through the issue.  Just like with Conan, I have the original issues, various previous reprints (and subsequent ones), but over the years, whenever I looked at the mag, the water damage bugged me.  Anyway, to cut a boring story short (though no less boring), last week I obtained a stain-free copy (along with the other four issues) and now have two sets of this particular series.  (Actually, I have three, because around a week before, I'd bought another set, but they weren't quite in the condition advertised.)

What can I say?  The 'collecting compulsion' is a powerful one, and is beyond resistance when it comes to upgrading inferior issues for better condition copies - finances permitting, of course.  Have any of you ever found yourselves in a similar situation, Criv-ites?  Tell the rest of us all about it in the comments section.

All pages are rippled and water-marked

Oh, go on then, seeing as how you insist.  Here (for the umpteenth time) is the photo taken on the evening of my second meeting with Bob Hope.  There's a bag of comics under that jacket, tucked into my waistband.  If I recall correctly, it included a back issue of F.O.O.M. (#4 I think), as well as Conan Classic #1 and others.  And here you thought I was just a fat b@st@rd, eh?

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

GEORGE HERRIMAN'S KRAZY KAT - GUEST POST BY BARRY PEARL...


Copyright relevant owner

Krazy Kat, by cartoonist George Herriman, featured a romantic cat and mouse relationship that introduced diversity for the first time in comics!  They are different colours too!  And Krazy was alternately male and then female.


Krazy Kat was a famous and important comic strip that ran from 1913 to 1944.  It first appeared in the New York Evening Journal.  The early Krazy Kat Sundays were printed only in black and white and appeared in a features page, in a non-colour section of the news­paper.  This was usually a section that included articles or editorial cartoons commenting on art, lifestyle, or news events of the day.  In early 1922, Hearst's New York American briefly experimented with a Saturday colour comics section that included a full, broadsheet-size Krazy Kat page.  It didn’t last long.  From 1935 to 1944, Krazy and Ignatz appeared in a tabloid-size comic section only in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and later, Baltimore.  These full-colour comics were found in a Saturday comics section, or in a second Sunday section supplementing the reg­ular full-size comics.


Krazy and Ignatz were introduced in an earlier strip, The Dingbat Family in 1910. The weird premise was always that Krazy loves a mouse, Ignatz, who is an ill-tempered, brick throwing mouse. 


The creativity reflected in the relationship and characterization of the characters had many readers thinking that comics should be regarded more seriously.  Despite the slapstick simplicity of the general premise, the detail combined with Herriman's visual and verbal creativity, made Krazy Kat one of the first comics to be widely praised as "serious" art.


Krazy was animated and brought to the movie theatres in 1916 and had many incarnations.  Now this is speculation, but I truly feel that Krazy influenced the creation of Felix the Cat, who reached the screens in 1919.  Felix was an inspiration for Disney’s Oswald the Rabbit and then Mickey Mouse.  If you look at their early incarnations they all look alike.  So Krazy played an important part in American culture.  (Feel free to disagree.)


Collected Krazys have appeared in many books, some of which (from my own personal collection) can be seen here.  The one marked “Early” is from the Dingbats.  Another one was hand water-coloured by Herriman.  Krazy Kat is definitely worth checking out.


HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS - BUT CAN A HEART BE SPREAD TOO THIN?


Images copyright MARVEL COMICS

I've sometimes wondered if, when a marriage ends and the former spouses each find someone else, whether either of them (or maybe even both) eventually grows to miss the other?  Imagine, after being married to someone else for years, that one (or both) of them finds their mind constantly dwelling on their erstwhile partner, and eventually the two reconcile and remarry.  Although they would initially be reminded of all the happy times they'd had the first time around (before it had all gone sour), after a while, would they then start to miss their second partner in the same way that they had their first?  See, I have this theory that we tend to miss the things we no longer have but once did, and the scenario I've just laid before you is analogous (to a degree) to one that is more pertinent to me than human relationships.

For example, I've told you before that I tend to miss every house I've ever lived in, and feel that I could live in any of them again if ever the opportunity were to present itself.  However, I'm smart enough to realise that, even if I were able to spend some time revisiting a particular part of my past in one house, I'd then start to miss either a previous or subsequent one.  While it would be great to watch DVDs of TV shows I'd watched during the 1960s in the relevant house, if I then watched shows that were first broadcast in the '70s while living in another from a different decade, I'd feel out of place, and the focus of my attention (obsession?) would shift.  One's past is comprised of different components, and to be happy (if you're a nostalgist), you need access to all those components equally, not just one at the expense of the others.


I'd love to be able to re-read my collection of ODHAMS PRESS POWER COMICS in the house I inhabited in the '60s when I first had them, but I know I'd miss not being able to read my MARVEL UK comics in my next house in the '70s - so to be completely satisfied, I'd need to own all my former residences and be able spend periods in each house in turn whenever the fancy took me.  I don't think that would work with former wives or partners though, would it?  Could one flit between one and the other(s) with any kind of ease, or would it be a total nightmare?  Not something I have to worry about never having been married, so thank goodness for small mercies.  (And I'm sure there are some women who think the same whenever my name is mentioned.)  The house thing is perplexing enough.

Okay, so what's the point of this post?  (Aside from filling up a bit of space on a blog, that is.)  Oo-er, dunno.  Tell you what, make one up yourselves, and if it's any good I'll steal credit for it.  I reserve the right to disclaim any that don't appeal to me though.  Any thoughts, you know where the comments section is.  I'm off to buy a Lottery ticket.  Well, how else will I be able to buy all those houses I want?      

Saturday, 21 September 2019

BARRY PEARL PRESENTS - U.S. COMICS AND CULTURE IN 1972 (BY ARTHUR ASA BERGER)...


Copyright MARVEL COMICS

Another guest post provided by the Bold-but-Bashful BARRY PEARL, Criv-ite chums.  Straight over to Barry to explain things in his short intro.

******

As a comic book “Discoverer” I enjoy finding new things, even if they are old.  In 1972, Arthur Berger discussed how comics were then being recognized as part of the American culture.

He is right that in 1972 comics were mostly ignored and there were few books about them, though  I very much disagree with his views on Spider-Man and one of my favorite Fantastic Four comics, “This Man, This Monster!”  I don’t think he got the “humanity” of the story.  I edited down the 4,000 words, eliminating his comments on comic strips, but the essence of his article about comic books remains.

******  

From “Side Saddle on the Golden Calf: 1972 Social Structure and Popular culture in America”.

COMICS AND CULTURE - Arthur Asa Berger, 1972.

…there were a few books on the comics.  There were also occasional articles in literary magazines and news magazines, but for the most part comics have been neglected.

There is a widespread misconception about who reads the funnies.  Many people assume that they are essentially a "lower class" phenome­non, and the essential reading fare of juveniles and quasi-illiterate adults.  This is wrong.  The funnies are read by all classes, but essentially by mid­dle and upper class families for the simple reason that middle and upper class people read more of everything.  Young people do read comic books in great numbers, as the following statistics demonstrate:

Age Percentage:

5-7 82%

8-10 92%

11-14 94%

18 60%

Youth are the primary readers of comics, though certain books such as Marvel Comics are now popular with high school and college students.  Readership figures for comic strips in newspapers run into the hundreds of millions each month.

The comforting thing about the comics is that we are always certain of the resolution of the adventure; we don't know the means by which it will be resolved, but we do know that "Tracy will win," for example. Thus, what the comics do is raise moderate levels of anxiety which they then satisfy.  We keep coming back for more, getting our daily emotional charge, but it is not intense enough to do much more than make us want to read the strip the following day.
.
Probably the most significant innovation in comic books is the devel­opment of humanized, occasionally neurotic, multi-dimensioned charac­ters, instead of the bland superheroes who were found in the comics of the "old days".  The Marvel Comics Group, which publishes The Amazing Spider Man, The Fantastic Four, and The Silver Surfer (among many many others) probably saved the comic book when it introduced this kind of "real" character.  Ben Grimm, one of the Fantastic Four, looks like a jigsaw puzzle and is often shown as angry and upset over his looks.  In this series women become pregnant and have babies, and frequently biting political comments are made, usually as asides, during the course of the adven­tures.

There has been an interesting change in the looks and character of Peter Parker, The Spider Man.  In the earliest issues he was shown as a rather "square" type of individual with thick glasses.  The whole strip actually was rather crudely drawn.  In current adventures he looks some­thing like Elvis Presley, rides a motorcycle and is always in the company of beautiful and sexy young women.  There are many Negroes in the strips along with much talk about drugs and other social problems.

The comic books have gained a new audience - high school and college students - have become "relevant," and now deal increasingly with social and political issues. Marvel Comics has an American Indian hero, Red Wolf, and two black heroes: The Falcon and The Black Panther, while Superman, Batman and Robin, and many other characters have be­come modernized and more realistic.  If there has been some kind of revo­lution in American culture, or in American youth culture, this revolution is reflected graphically in these comic books.


It has been argued by Lindsay and Lawrence Van Gelder, in an article appearing recently in New York magazine, that the comics have become "radicalized":

'. . . the recognition of the limits of powers among the superheroes, and beyond that their accelerating social consciousness, their deep­ening anxiety, the proliferation of their neuroses, their increasing involvement in issues with no clear solutions, and most of all, their burgeoning radicalization, have restored excitement, interest and merit to a once crippled industry.'

The changes that have taken place in these heroes are significant in many ways not directly related to the present social problems and con­flicts of American society. The diminution and humanization of the super­heroes suggests a new and emerging conception of the role in our culture.  We have, in effect, rejected the old version of the superhero as the strong father who rescues the weak and powerless from the forces of evil.  When one realizes that there isn't any superhero who can intervene at the last moment and straighten everything out, one is on the road to maturity.  The weakening of the powers of the superheroes reflects, correspondingly, a new sense of strength in our own abilities and capacities.  In addition, the comics generally show a new conception of the rela­tionship between the individual and society.  The old idea of the self-reliant "individualistic" hero who can do everything on his own, with no help from anyone else - who can save the world because he is a Superman, for example, has been replaced by a view of each one's fate being related to the fate of everyone else.  It is a much more complex and sophisticated view of man and society than we found in the "caped crusader" comics of the forties and fifties.

The subject of machines and technology is important, and one about which the comics have much to say.  There is a considerable difference in attitude, as far as science and technology are concerned, in the works of our elite artists and popular artists in extremes such as the novel and the comic book.  The dominant thrust of "high" literature has been a sense of revulsion against science and the machine.  For some reason our novelists and poets see science and technology almost invariably as a threat to humanity.  They recoil against the machine in panic.  Thus many contem­porary novels are dystopias, which see societies of the future as totali­tarian and antihuman.

This is due in part to a bias in our higher arts which have traditionally looked toward nature for a source of inspiration and wisdom.  The Fantas­tic Four reflects a much different attitude towards science and the ma­chine.  Although the various villains are able to use technology for their evil purposes, they are always defeated by heroes who are superior morally and technologically.  Rather than refusing to face the contemporary world and returning to the older and simpler days of the pastoral, many comics use science and technology as their subject matter.  The victories of the "good guys" (who now have faults of their own) may be, in part, an ex­pression of a fundamental optimism which is said to infuse American cul­ture.  The triumph of the heroes reflect an awareness of the potentialities for good and evil in machines and a faith in man's ability to control them - that is, a realism and an awareness of the moral dilemma posed by science and technology.

We can see this if we look at a Fantastic Four adventure entitled This Man . . . This Monster! (#51 June).  Here, a machine is given an entire page.  There is a sense of threat from the very size of the device, a "radical cube" which dwarfs the figures who are to use it, and from its function - sending people into "subspace".  But the purpose of the experiment with the radical cube is to gain information on the "space-time principle" which is needed to defend the human race and the earth, so the size of the machine be­comes of secondary importance.  The Fantastic Four are, in their own way, larger than life, so the cube becomes even less menacing.

The machine sends Reed Richards, the "leader" of the Fantastic Four, into subspace, which is represented by a rather magnificent full-page spread of worlds, galaxies and space. The presentation of landscape in The Fantastic Four is particularly interesting, with brilliant panoramas of gothic castles and modern super megalopolis.  The settings for the adven­tures tend to be extreme - either urban or primitive - however, urban ad­ventures tend to dominate, reflecting the readers' acceptance of the city as the environment for modern man.

It has been suggested that these comic books, and perhaps science fiction in general, play around with technological gadgetry but do not really exhibit the kind of thinking found in science or an understanding of what science is really about.  I'm not so sure such is always the case.  But what is at issue is not whether comic book science fiction writers under­stand science but how they and their public feel about it.  A radical cube may be bad science; however, it reflects an attitude about science and technology that is quite positive - though not worshipful.  Science can be manipulated by dedicated scientists or mad fiends.  Progress is a function of moral character as well as intelligence.

… the comics reflect a basic confidence in man's ability to dominate the forces of technology and industrialization.  For every fantastic monster or problem we find an ingenious solution and remark­able hero.  Despite the violence and terror in the comics, they display an underlying confidence about man's possibilities.  We may question, then, whether this really is an age of the antihero?  It may be for some elements in society, but it does not seem to be the case for millions of Americans who read comics - even though the heroes of Marvel Comics and their imitators are "flawed".

It should be obvious by now that clichés about comics being useless dribble cranked out by commercial hacks and fit only for wrapping garbage are not valid.  Nor were they ever valid.  The comic strip and comic book are art forms, and as such they have served people of genius as well as of mediocrity.  I would argue that though there have been only a handful of first-rate comic strip artists, the same can be said about novelists, poets and artists in every medium.

The fact is, comics are a distinctly American idiom and are one of the few things that we all have in common - one of the few things in our soci­ety that cuts across class barriers (for the most part), regional differences, ethnic distinctions - whatever you will - to give us a communality of experi­ence and of reference points.  There have been major changes in the fun­nies and the comics, just as there have been significant changes in Ameri­can society.  We have now become urbanized and industrialized, and our comic book heroes have taken on new personalities in the face of new functions which they serve.

There is more than meets the eye in the comics; the fact that increas­ingly large numbers of people are beginning to read them and study them is, strange as it may seem, a sign of intellectual sophistication and cultural maturity… thanks in part to the youthful rebellion and the various counter-culture movements, as well as a sudden curiosity about the significance of many everyday aspects of our daily life, we are beginning to mine our own treasures. It's about time.

******

And thanks once again to Barry for providing this article first posted over on Facebook.  Be sure to let him know what you think in the comments section.

Friday, 20 September 2019

RUMINATING REPOST - SUBTLETIES, SHADOWS, AND SHADES...



Hail, Criv-ites!  I was trawling through the archives earlier and saw this post, which is similar to my 'Plodding At Random Across The Plough' entry of a couple of days ago.  It reminded me of my tendency never to lay any subject to rest, but to recycle it again and again.  It's certainly along the same theme (and even includes a reminiscence repeated in my more recent post), but I think there's enough of a difference, a bit more detail, to stand another airing.  I trust you'll find something of value in it.

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I've lived in a lot of houses in my time.  By the age of 24 I was in our sixth house, which works out, on average, as four years per house.  But forget averages - I've only actually lived in a house for four years on two occasions, the other periods of tenancy ranging from as far apart as one and a half years to eleven years.

Anyone who's ever read Scots-born author KENNETH GRAHAME's classic book The WIND In The WILLOWS will no doubt be familiar with the fifth chapter, DULCE DOMUM, which (roughly) means 'home sweet home'.  In this episode, MOLE, while out on a ramble with RATTY one Winter's day, picks up the scent of his old home, long forgotten and neglected since he unwittingly abandoned it in pursuit of adventure one fine Spring morning many months before.



The chapter relates how Mole re-aquaints himself with many dear and familiar possessions and memories, and reminds him (and us) of the value of having an anchorage - a place to return to - in life, no matter how far and wide one may roam in the meantime.  As the author writes (and as Mole thinks): "...it was good to think he had this (Mole End) to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome."

Funny thing is, I feel that way about every house I've ever lived in.  If ever I'm walking along a street in which once resided, I almost find myself walking up the path to the front door and unconsciously putting my key in the lock.  If were lost enough in thought, it's no stretch of the imagination to envisage such a thing actually happening.  (Once, while out walking our dog Tara, I was passing a previous home when she turned in at the stairs as though we still lived there.  I almost followed. It's that kind of 'instinct' - or 'force of habit' that seems to dwell within me also.)

Or should I espy a former home lit up at night, I can 'see' (as though with x-ray eyes) my father, pipe in mouth, sat beside the fire, watching TV or reading his paper;  I can also see my mother, darning socks or busy in the kitchen with domestic chores, or my brother in our bedroom listening to records or reading comics. Furniture, ornaments, wallpaper - everything as it was.


Each house beckons to me, summons me to obey its call to 'come on home', regardless of however many years have elapsed since I actually lived there, almost as if I'd only just popped out to the shops or to visit a pal mere moments before - with such clarity that the intervening years since we vacated whichever house seem like only a dream that never really happened.

Even more bizarre is when I seem to see a younger version of myself beyond the gleam which radiates from behind the curtained windows, engrossed in some book, or sat at the dining-room table, doodling or building an AIRFIX kit.  On occas-ions such as this, it can be disconcerting to suddenly have the moment disrupted by the intrusion of a stranger looking out of the window, or entering or exiting through the front door.


Then, just like Mole and his chum Ratty as they stand mesmerised by a lit-up window, the bitter winds of reality catch the back of my neck and return me to the present - though usually unwillingly, and not without a strange, sad sense of loss and longing.

The past continually calls to me, but never more so than when I revisit the scenes of my youth, where shades of my younger self and family, and friends long departed to either the other side of the veil or the globe, yet inhabit these enchanted places from so many years ago.

If ghosts do exist, I wouldn't be surprised to find that they aren't only ghosts of the dead, but also of the living from an earlier time.  That would perhaps explain why the shadows of yesterday dance forever before me.

******

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy this one.

S.O.S. - SAVE OUR SPIDERS...?



What's your view on spiders crawling around your house?  I used to leave them be when I saw them up on the ceiling because they weren't doing any harm, but then there were a couple of instances where I saw one scuttling across the floor and I became concerned that I might inadvertently stand on one and kill it.  Since then, I capture them and let them out in the front or back garden, but I feel a bit guilty because I don't know what their chances of survival are.  Maybe they'd be better taking their chances with me?

What's your view on the matter, fellow Criv-ites?  Do you let spiders be, squish 'em, or release them into the 'wild'?  I saw a tiny one the other day that looked like it was wearing a blue and red costume with a mask on, so I gave it a bit of cheese and let it out the door.  (Hang on - maybe I only dreamt that.) 

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

PLODDING AT RANDOM ACROSS THE PLOUGH (PLOW TO U.S. READERS)...



Anyone who's read The WIND In The WILLOWS by KENNETH GRAHAME will surely be familiar with the chapter entitled DULCE DOMUM, in which MOLE and RATTY are returning home over the fields (after a day out with OTTER) one winter evening near Christmas.  Suddenly, Mole senses his own home which he'd 'abandoned' months before to stay with Ratty (come now, we won't be having any of that kind of innuendo - their relationship is purely platonic), and feels compelled to visit it again.  It's a very touching episode, and speaks about the importance of having one's own place to return to, and the comfort which can be derived from being able to reconnect with one's 'roots'.

I feel like that about every house I've ever lived in.  They call to me, plead with me to return for a visit and relive the memories associated with the times I stayed there during my childhood.  I've mentioned before that, whenever I'm in any of my former neighbourhoods, I almost feel that I could stroll up the pathway to whichever old home it happens to be, insert my key in the lock, and go inside to find everything as it was in 'my day'.  It's an instinct.  I recall that, late one dark night in '83 or '84, I was walking my dog TARA (not to be confused with her successor ZARA) along one of my old streets, when she turned in at the steps of the house we'd left several months before, glanced 'round to see if I'd caught up, and made to ascend the few steps leading up to the door.  Instinct (and memory) y'see.  She seemed slightly confused when I walked past and called her to my side.

Like I said, it feels like the most natural thing in the world to me to walk up the path to any of my former abodes as if I still inhabited them, presumably due to a similar 'instinct' to that which animals possess.  (At least, that was my defence in court when I was charged with several counts of attempted burglary.  Relax, I'm joking.  I just claimed it was a case of mistaken identity.)

Tonight, I again felt the 'summons' to revisit the house and area where I lived between 1965 and '72, and I was all ready to do so when I remembered how many changes had occurred in the last 30 years (which seems like only 3 or 4 to me).   The alterations had taken place incrementally over a prolonged period, until they eventually overwhelmed some aspects of the street and the surrounding environs, to such an extent that revisiting is not entirely the happy experience it used to be.  I want to visit the place as it was in my day, not the place it's since become, and which sours things for me to an extent.

So I resisted the call, and instead entered the past via the portal of modern technology - namely my computer.  I have large folders of photos (and some video footage) of how the area used to be in younger and better days when I lived there, and I found my 'virtual' visit almost as satisfying as my actual ones before the face of the landscape had been altered, in many ways, almost beyond recognition.

Any Criv-ites do this sort of thing, or am I the lone inmate in an asylum of my own construction?  ("Trapped... in a world he DID make!" would perhaps be the comicbook subtitle.)  Feel free to say I'm bonkers in the comments section - but be polite about it.  (You know what a sensitive soul I am.)

******

What's that - the title of this post?  It'a a line from the first paragraph of Dulce Domum.  Give it a read - you'll enjoy it.       
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