Posts Tagged ‘comics’

It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time when going to comics cons was an important, regular, and ever-present part of my life. My year’s calendar was, if not planned around it, then at least the dates were written in as soon as I knew them.

Partly of course this was because for a dozen years I, together with Dave Gibbons, ran the hypotheticals panel, which so many people were so kind about over the years.

I haven’t been to a comics con for some years, now. Oh, there are lots of different reasons for that, including but not limited to my occasionally-referred-to pretty much complete nervous breakdown earlier this decade,

But I do have to admit that the past year or so, I’ve started feeling an ‘itch’… and a growing wish… to immerse myself once again in that culture.

Why now?

No bloody idea at all. But it’s there, it’s definitely there.

An easy get-out would be to give credit to/blame (delete as appropriate) to the fantastic comics now being produced; so many incredibly good comics are being created by supremely talented artists and writers.

It’d be easy… but inaccurate.

Because there were as many very good comics being created and released and talked about and promoted last year. And as many the year before as well. And the year before that.

One of the best comics of the past few years – Kieron Gillen’s and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine – is wrapping up now after five years or so. It didn’t suddenly become good in the past year. I didn’t suddenly discover it in the past year. It was superb from the very first issue, and kept being good. And their earlier collaborations were also very good indeed.

Greg Rucka’s and Michael Lark’s Lazarus started in 2013 and has been flat out amazing since the very first issue. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal has been going since 2006, when I was still attending comics cons. It’s still going, and it’s still incredibly good.

And yet the last time I went to a comics con, actually took part – either to do something there or just as a paying punter – was 2012, the year of the final hypotheticals panel.

So, what’s changed?

I’m not sure.

OK, I mean, yes, all right; I’ve changed, to a certain extent. As alluded to above, there’s a chunk of 2011 – 2016, very roughly, in which I wasn’t.… well, take your pick. I wasn’t well, I wasn’t ‘me’, I wasn’t that together, I wasn’t… well.

And the thought of being in a large crowd – and thankfully, comics cons are much busier these days than they were when I started going – wasn’t something that much attracted me, It still doesn’t, to a large extent.

Bu that’s not it. Because although I’m ‘better’ than I used to be, I’m not ‘better’ than I was a year ago, or 18 months ago.

So why now?

Perhaps it’s social media. Yes, that thing so often referred to disparagingly, has led to me seeing in real time how much fun people are having at events in which I used to have so much fun. I get to see video clips of people I know having a blast.

Maybe that’s something, because the only reports you used to get back in the day were – at best – decent reviews after the event of con reports, and they were so much a part of the con experience that even I wrote some.

And one at least that people seemed to like.

There are half a dozen UK comics cons these days; from the very small to the enormous, but there are a couple of in London, and one in Leeds, the wonderful Thought Bubble, that I’m starting to get itchy feet for.

We’re coming up to the end of 2019, and next year will be 20 years since the very first hypotheticals panel. I doubt Dave and I will do anything publicly to mark the occasion, although we’ve not discussed it, to be fair.

But if I’m going to return to comics cons, to get my feet wet again, that seems as good a reason as any to do it.

huh. 20 years. I really ought to do something to celebrate. I wonder what.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow…

With more details about the tv adaptation of The Sandman, and having listened to an interview with Neil about how it’s planned to bring it to the small screen, it seems as good a time as any to do this.

I’d always planned to redo this at some point, as – as I’ve mentioned before – we all change through our lives, and it’s never a bad idea to revisit opinions you’ve expressed to see whether or how you’ve changed, and whether or how your views and answers have.

It started when I was reminded of a question I was asked when I did an #askbudgie hashtag on Twitter. Possibly knowing of my friendship with Neil Gaiman, I was asked

If you were one of The Endless, which one would you be?

My answer at the time was, as far as I recall, entirely truthful. 

I think like most people, I feel like different aspects of each of The Endless at different times… As a general rule though, I don’t ever really feel like a character created by someone else. I’m more of a self-made person who has a healthy disrespect for my creator.

I think it still applies, in the main. But only in the main, self-deprecation and all. 

But, just for fun, why not, budgie…?

So, what do each of The Endless mean to me? What elements of them do I recognise in my own character? Or at least, do I have anything to say about the concepts?

(At this point it occurs to me that some reading may not have the slightest clue what I’m talking about. OK, very quick explanation. Neil Gaiman wrote a book entitled Sandman, in which he created The Endless, seven characters that embody universal aspects. So, Destruction does not represent destruction; Destruction is destruction. Dream is the concept of dream, and rules over a realm of dreams, which is where we go when we sleep.)

OK then.

Destiny
I actively dislike the idea of people having a ‘destiny’ or a ‘destined fate’, set in stone long ago, and with an unchanging end, even if the journey isn’t planned. And no, this isn’t a claim for ‘free will’, unfettered and unreserved. I’m a product of my own life and experiences. I’m the sum of my own experiences, for good or ill. I could, I suppose, choose to do lots of things that I wouldn’t normally do, that would astonish poeple who know me. That I don’t do them, because ‘that’s not me’… is that a conscious decision not to do it? Or am I merely acting on social and life learned programming? A bit of both, surely.

I once heard some philosophy students discussing ‘free will’, and when learned habit supersedes it. Is it truly an expression of free will to, say, flush the toilet, or to turn off the light when you leave a room?

If it’s inconceivable to you to do Thing X, can you ever claim that you’re exercising free will when you don’t do Thing X?

So, individuals have some say in their own decisions, but habits and societal constructs restrain many from actions which other societies might encourage. And freedom of action does not mean freedom from the consequences of those actions, anyway. But no, I’ve never thought that my life, nor my eventual end was destined to be whatever it ends up.  

Fiction enjoys the concept of a couple being destined to meet, or there being a ‘soulmate’ for everyone. Given the above, it won’t surprise you that I have nothing but mockery for such concepts.

Death
Ashkenazi Jews are traditionally named after those who have died, so you grow up knowing that you were named for someone who’d died.

So, yeah, I was aware of the concept of death from a very, very early age. (In my case, I was named after my mother’s maternal grandmother, Leah.)

On the other hand, I can’t remember the first person I heard of who’d died; not celebrities, but someone I knew, or a relative of a friend. Certainly – while I was still very young – I learned that this friend or that friend had ‘lost’ a grandparent.

And while I never knew my dad’s parents, my maternal grandfather died when I was 17, my grandmother when I was 19. On neither occasion, though, was death was a foreign concept by then; I’d already been to ‘the grounds’ (a colloquialism for a Jewish cemetery), and had attended funerals or stonesettings from the age of about 14 or 15.

There used to be a convention in Judaism, by the way, that you didn’t go to the grounds while your parents were alive; largely, that’s been abandoned now, for the better I’d argue. No one’s first funeral should be for your parent.

As for what happens after death… I have no idea. Not a clue what happens to you ‘after you die’; to you, I mean. Not your body, not your remains, but to you, as a concept. If I had to guess, I’d say… nothing. My own preferred option is, also… nothing. Your body stops, you stop, you.. end, and the world goes on without you, goes on quite well in almost all cases.

It’s one of the things I do like about my religion. Yes, ok, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but basically it comes down to ‘we don’t know what happens after you die… and what’s more, we can’t ever know what happens.’

I like that.

I choose to think nothing at all happens. I can’t know, obviously, but that’s what I choose to believe. Nothing happens. To you, again. Your relatives, and friends and loved ones will miss you, of course. Of course.

But life goes on.

Your work might continue to matter, especially creative works, but you? Nope. You’re gone. And life goes on.

As it should do.

Dream
I rarely remember dreams; nightmares, yes, but dreams of the less unpleasant, less horrifying, less nightmare-y, type, no.

Occasionally, yes, of course. But only very rarely. And even then, they’re the ‘puzzling’, mystifying type, not the genuinely ‘nice’ kind of dreams.

I have no idea whether I never have nice dreams, or whether I merely never remember them. I’n not sure which would be better, and which worse.

However, I wish I did remember nice dreams. I wish I did occasionally wake up, and think ‘oh, that was nice…’

Instead of waking up covered in sweat, heart racing, suddenly shocked back to reality. (Why yes, I do sleep alone, why do you ask?)

It’s the nightmares I remember, clearly and in detail. Yeah, I’d rather not, to be honest. 

Destruction
While nature destroys tangibly on a daily basis, the destruction of intangibles, like hope, and wishes, and rights, and democracy around the world, does far more damage in every time frame (short-, medium- and long-term).

It’s a constant amazement and continually impressive to me just how people survive such destructions, and what’s more some thrive in resistance to it. Their bravery and determination is a never ending source of inspiration to others. I use the word ‘others’ advisedly; their bravery doesn’t inspire me, which says more about me than them, and nothing good.

What has struck me more and more over the years is that destruction doesn’t have to be complete to achieve its aim. What’s almost worse to me – as a concept – than unfettered destruction is when destruction stops short of absolute, when something is permanently maimed, damaged for all time without complete extermination.

Complete destruction at least allows for the cauterisation of a wound, perhaps. Stopping short, allowing a faint ember of hope that will forever be denied? That is when destruction becomes malicious, becomes cruel. And that can move me to tears. 

Desire
I read some beautiful writings about desire earlier today and it reminded me once again that it’s something I don’t understand properly, and never will. Desire is overwhelming. It’s neither a want nor a wish, but a need.

I’m genuinely in awe of people who are that open, that honest and that authentic to admit their desire for a person (or people), or a lifestyle. And equally in awe of people who admit to others, especially to those who desire them, that they are both desireable and desired. 

I don’t understand it properly.

I can, just about, understand the desire for others, both physically and otherwise. But a desire for me? Again, either physically or otherwise, but especially physically? No. I not only don’t understand it, but I’m always mistrustful when I’m told it exists. And that mistrust is seldom wrong, in my experience.

Oh, I understand it in theory, how it’s written about, how it’s overwhelming, and more than once have written about it convincingly enough to fool people.

But the true idea, the concept of being desired, properly…. physically or otherwise? The idea of being desired to the point of monopolising someone’s thoughts and dreams and wants?

That must be wonderful to experience. It must be fantastic to be a part of. It must be great to enjoy and revel in.

I bet.

Despair
The flip side of desire, and I’m equally in awe of people who are that open about Despair as well.

Again, I don’t think I truly understand it. But in a wholly different way than when it comes to desire. For what others describe as ‘despair’, true despair, I regard as… Tuesday.

And that’s not wholly an exaggeration. A small one, maybe, but not really. It’s not the despair of thinking nothing can ever get better, but the certain knowledge that it won’t, the utter and complete knowledge based on life experiences and your own past.I’d never suggest that what people go through isn’t despair, merely that from the outside, you never, never, know the truth about someone else’s despair.

Delight/Delirium
What was once delight is now delirium, at least in The Endless. The latter is more appropriate for the 21st century. It’s impossible not to be at least slightly delirious if you’re attempting to truly understand global politics nowadays. Global politics? Hell, any politics. I mentioned on Twitter the other day the old line about “if you’re not confused, you don’t understand the situation.”

The comedian Mark Watson chipped in with a suggestion that surely that applies to the entire human condition; it’s a fair observation. Politics was never simple, but now too many regard you as delirious if you try to acknowledge complexity, let alone highlight it.

Here are The Endless, drawn by Bevis Musson, in the order they’re written about above.

Something else tomorrow..

Housekeeping: Got caught up with a load of tech stuff yesterday – all too complicated and boring to go into here, and would involve lots of whinging – so skipped posting yesterday. The tech issues – and my irritation – have both continued today, so I’m pulling out an ‘in case of emergency, break glass’ post.
 


 
Maybe because I’m getting older, maybe because I tend to like being in structured environments, but I like knowing what ‘the rules’ are. And having those rules applied fairly, sensibly and rationally.

Possibly, that explains why I always so enjoyed both Warren Ellis’s various Forums over the year – The warren Ellis Forum, The Engine, and Whitechapel – and what was my online ‘home’ for the first few years of my online life: CompuServe’s Comics/Animations Forum. You knew the rules, you saw them applied fairly, and I liked that.

I also liked the community that built up there. I wrote in detail about why I liked those place here.

I also like traditions, the ‘it’s May, so it’s…’, or it’s “February, so it’s…”

And even leaving aside the birthdays thing, my own year these days tends to have four of those:

  • if it’s January, then it’s this

  • if it’s February, then it’s this

  • if it’s August, then it’s this

  • if it’s the end of November, it’s this

One tradition that stretches back to CompuServe’s Comics/Animations Forum, which I haven’t done since I left the Forum, is the ‘draft’. For a start, the sports ‘draft’ is, if not uniquely American, very much not a UK thing. We don’t do it over here. So I was fascinated at first and then faintly bemused by the whole concept thereafter.

But the Comics/Animation Forum ran a draft, every April, a couple of ‘drafts’ in fact, to coincide with the start of the Baseball season over the pond.

The idea was fairly simple: everyone got to select ten heroes (and then, in a second draft, ten villains) that fit a theme that you’ve chosen, but have not disclosed. You pick one hero a day, but if someone else has beaten you to it, tough, you have to choose another one.

Digging out from old notes, here were the rules for the 2002 Drafts.
 

Rules for 2002 drafts

It’s time once again for the Annual Super-hero Draft.

Usual rules in effect: You are drafting a team of super-heroes (along the lines of a Rotisserie Baseball league). There will be 10 rounds (hence 10 heroes), one per day.

In fairness to those with limited access, rounds will only take place on weekdays and will be posted at roughly 10am East Coast time, my access permitting.

If you miss any round you can catch up by posting more than one pick at once.

Characters will be drafted on a first-come-first-served basis.

No duplicates are allowed (parallel universe versions are duplicates, successors are not—even where they started out parallel and became successors by retcon).

You may release already drafted characters at any time, at which point they become fair game.

The heroes draft much contain heroes, the villain draft must contain villains. This is the superhero draft; so try to keep it to superheroes. If someone wants to run a “really cool anti-heroes” draft or a “real world heroic people” draft, go right ahead.

If a team misses five rounds in a row without notifying the Commissioner, he will presume that the team has dropped out, and the team-members will be released.

The Commissioner’s decisions may be appealed once. If you disagree with a ruling, you may state your case and the Commissioner may reconsider, but he will not be drawn into an argument…final rulings are just that.

The Commissioner

 
What sort of themes did people come up with? Well, over the years there were themes such as “heroes that started out as villains”, “second generation heroes”, “heroes that wear flags as part of their costumes”, “villains that are relatives of heroes”, etc.

Now I’m not a sporty person, but this seemed fun and silly, and needed some thought if you wanted to do it properly… so I took part most years.

Here’s some I did over the years: Obviously, I’m revealing the theme upfront here – in the originals, I only revealed at the end, as the format required. So what follows below is effectively the final reveal.
 


 

OK, you can call Team Budgie’s drafts this year Small Heroes, since they’re named for the “Rabbi” David Small books by Harry Kemmelman.

  • The first novel is entitled “Friday the Rabbi Slept Late”, so I drafted The Sleeper.
  • As I said when picking my second round draft, Wally West (The Flash) at one time needed food and calories all the time because his metabolism burned them up so fast. That seemed to fit with the second in the series, “Saturday The Rabbi went Hungry”.
  • The third novel was “Sunday The Rabbi stayed home”. Who feels “more at home” every day of his life than The Human Target?
  • The fourth novel caused me some problems. I couldn’t see anyone that fitted “Monday The Rabbi Took Off” until as I said, I realised that Superman was available.
  • I originally tagged Wolverine for my fifth pick, “Tuesday The Rabbi Saw Red”, as in “seeing red”, i.e. being angry. Once that idea had bitten the dust, I realised that Cyclops was an even better choice, since he quite literally “sees red”.
  • My sixth pick was easy. “Wednesday The Rabbi Got Wet”. Does anyone need to know why I chose Fathom from the Elementals?
  • “Thursday The Rabbi Walked Out”. Well, so did The Envoy (David Harstein) walking out on The Four Aces in the Wild Cards Universe, not reappearing for 30 years and even then, under a fake identity. He was my seventh round pick.
  • Now things got a tad harder. My eighth round pick had to link to “Someday The Rabbi Will Leave”. Who leaves more often than Access, crossing between the DC and Marvel Universes like we cross the road?
  • The ninth round drove me nuts until I remembered the ultimate scene from CAMELOT 3000. Then Sir Percival became the obvious link to “One Fine Day The Rabbi Bought A Cross.
  • My final draft pick had to link to “The Day The Rabbi Resigned”. I couldn’t really think of anyone that was an “obvious” pick, until I realised that the new Robin (Tim Drake) has a new costume, complete with a new design of the letter ‘R’ on his costume. If that’s not a ‘re-sign’-ing matter, I don’t know what is…

I thangew.

Or another year:

  • Wally West, as The Flash dashes around everywhere: Dasher
  • Barry Allen was the fastest man alive, someone who knew how to do a Quick-Step: Dancer
  • Venus is a goddess of love: Cupid
  • And Luke Cage‘s “Sweet Christmas!” gives us: Father Christmas
  • There you go, people, Santa and his Reindeer.

When it came to the villains that year, by the way, I cheated… and used the same theme. Of course I cheated – they’ve villains!

  • Spiral, from the X-Men, did her magic by dancing: Dancer
  • From Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, Thunderhead: Donner (or Donder)
  • Electro is as close to Lightning as I could get: Blitzen
  • The Purple Man. OK, purple is close to red. I’m colour blind. Sue me: Rudolph
  • And it has to be the Grinch who is the counterpart to: Father Christmas
  • There you go, people, Santa and his Reindeer… again.

In other years, I used the titles of Sandman collections, the titles of the events in the Decathalon, the Bill of Rights, even the first ten verses of Genesis, Chapter One…

So why am I boring you with this? telling you about this?

Because on a day when I’m pissed of about tech, and with myself over not being able to get it working properly, I don’t think it does any harm to miss the silliness of such things, the community that both thought this was fun, and took part, and also admired the thought put into something entirely silly.

So, yeah, basically I miss CompuServe.
 
 
More silliness tomorrow, since it’ll be Saturday.

55 plus 29: Comics art

Posted: 15 September 2019 in 55 plus, comics
Tags: , ,

For no reason other than ‘why not?’, some scans of comics art I’ve collected over the years, and some I’ve collected on my then much younger son Philip’s behalf.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My ex-wife was a huge Mickey Mouse nut. Mike Collins was nice enough to have some fun for her…

 

 

 

 

 

  

Mike Collins – whose work you’ll see elsewhere on this page, kindly did a portrait shot of Phil, aged 10. Mike was the artist on Doctor Who and did something just a bit special. (He’s also still storyboarding for the show… a man of very many talents.)
 

 
 
When Phil was a young lad, he had to have a couple of very painful operations on his hand… and carried his arm in a sling for a while.
 

Some comics artists were kind enough to cheer him up with a little protect I entitled #leftarmincast…
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
And just to round it up, not exactly art that was drawn for me, but art about me? No. Art in which I feature? Again, no.

But art nonetheless.

Now, something else tomorrow…

A very long time ago, I wrote some comics: three stories in Trailer Park of Terror, and one issue of X-Men Unlimited. Well, half of an issue.

Well, that’s quite not fair, to me. I’ve written more comics stories, including a graphic novel; Those stories, however, were the stories that were published.


Actually, here’s a quick ‘story behind the stories’ tale.

In the latter story, I got to write some X-Men characters, which was fun. And I’m still pleased with the story, even though there was an… incident involving the final panel.

At the time, Juggernaut was trying to be a good guy, and Cyclops was headmaster of Xavier’s school. The story explained how Juggernaut ended up on staff; there’s more to it than that, including Wolverine ‘testing’ Juggernaut’s temper, in every sense of the word. The tale ended up with Cyclops and Juggernaut shaking hands.

Just that, with appropriate word balloons.

Except that’s not what saw print.

Why it didn’t see print wasn’t my fault, nor the artist’s – the incredibly talented Travel Foreman, who made my writing look good. It was a… mistake… by Marvel.

When I got the pencils through, from Marvel, there were individual panels where I was grinning like a loon.

Not only because of the quality of the art, and how Travel had precisely got what I’d intended to convey when writing the script, but also because he’d drawn some additional things into the panel, things that were so obviously gags that they would be (and were) removed when it was inked and coloured: the occasional humorous word balloon, for example.

The reason I know they were removed was because they were removed; both the inked and coloured pages I saw didn’t have the silly stuff in them.

And one of the bits of silliness ‘gags’ was a sparkly heart behind the final panel, which was a shot of a handshake between Scott Summers and Cain Marko.

Here’s the unlettered, but inked and coloured panel, as sent to me by Marvel:

So all was well and good.

And then the comic came out… and the final panel, as it saw print?

Hrm. Yes. Neither Travel nor I were, as you’ll appreciate, exactly overjoyed at the re-appearance of that damned heart….

And more than one reviewer said that they loved the story, but ug, that last panel…

In the interests of fairness, though, I have to say that Stephanie Moore, the editor on that book, was an utter delight to work with throughout and I can only imagine that someone else in production had a complete brainfart when they put that damned heart back in…

You know, I don’t have many “behind the scenes” stories about my short career in comics (for obvious reasons), but I think you’ll agree that’s a doozy…

(As for why they are shaking with their left hands, well, that’s partly mine, and partly Travel’s fault. The panel description was ambiguous at best, as I recall, and Travel drew it with them shaking hands right-handed. it was only afterwards that we realised that the panel had to be flipped in order for the word balloons to be able to be read in the right order…)

I’m still quite happy with the opening page though.


Anyway, back to the main thread of this post.

There are loads of comics characters that I’d have loved to have written stories for.

Sometimes, I’ll admit, it’s because I wanted to write “a Batman story” or “a Superman story”. Which is absolutely the wrong way to approach it. Unless you’re hired to write them, obviously. As a general rule, if I have a story to write, the idea comes first then ‘who needs to be in this story’.

But sometimes it’s been me accepting my own fun challenge: “can I write a story that’s absolutely a Batman story or a Superman or a Captain America or a Fantastic Four story that doesn’t betray the basic tenets of the character… but that DC or Marvel would never in a million years publish?

(Odd that I’ve never, however, managed to come up with an idea for Batman that would qualify for both, to my satisfaction, but it’s surprisingly easy to do it for Superman. I wonder if it’s because in order to do so, it’s easier to come up with a workable story in which Superman’s circumstances are ostensibly permanently changed than it is for Batman.)

I’ve written some just for fun; never been submitted; occasionally I’ve referred to them as examples that’d never go anywhere, but mostly, just for fun.

But here are two WFH/licensed characters I’d actually want to pitch stories for. (No detailed story ideas in what follows, for all sorts of reasons, including, I guess, legal.)

Nightwing
While in no way at all denigrating the fantastic work done by the creators of some fantastic comics over the decades with Dick Grayson, I think I’ve only rarely enjoyed comics where he’s the lead character.

Mainly because no one seems to know what to do with him. An obvious step when taking over a book or a character is to change things. Well, writer after writer has changed where he lives, what aspect of his character on which to concentrate, who his friends are, and – so I understand in the latest iteration – his name and personal history. After being shot in the head, he’s come to, groggy about the details, thrown away much of what previously mattered to him, and now goes by Ric Grayson.

As the ‘role’ of Robin has been taken on by first one character then another, then another, DC took the decision to make each of those who’ve worn the ‘R’ specialise in one thing or another. Tim Drake was almost as good a detective as Batman, but nowhere near as accomplished in other spheres. Damien Wayne is almost as good a fighter as Batman, but… Jason Todd was almost as, perhaps more, ruthless as Batman but…

And Dick Grayson retrospectively became the superlative athlete (understandable given his in story background), who could fight quite well, and was a better-than-ok detective.

That never made sense to me. He was the first trained by Batman, and Wayne would have tried his damndest to give him every skill at the best level.

There’s an old one-shot (done as an issue in the Titans Solo run, as I recall) in which Batman is captured by a bad guy… and Dick Grayson finds him… by being smart, by being clever, by being… a detective. Another issue – early after Tim Drake was introduced – had Grayson training Drake in how to observe. Just that: how to… notice things.

I can get that DC want to keep Batman the best (in the Batman circle of books, anyway) at everything, but with due respect to the others who’ve worn the Robin outfit, the Dick Grayson I’d want to write would perforce inherently acknowledge Batman’s superior skills in most things, sure, but would go out of his way to train himself so that no one else would easily make that mistake.

I’d want to write a Nightwing who combines all the skills he learned, and just do the job differently. He could effectively be a clone of Batman, but he chooses not to. Using all the skills but just presenting in a different way to the observer. For the past however long it’s been, he’s not had that choice.

Modesty Blaise
Yeah, the big one, the single character I’ve wanted to write since I first read her stories. Also the single character over whom a superbly talented writer friend of mine – a lovely, kind woman – would cold-bloodedly, and with forensic skill, maim me in order to deservedly get the job herself.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see new, clever, fun stories about Modesty Blaise, Willie Garvin, Steve and Diana, Sir Gerald… and I’m sure KellySue would write far better stories than I could even dream of. (If you’ve not read her work, you’re missing out. I’d unreservedly recommend Bitch Planet and Pretty Deadly without hesitation.)

But gods yes, would I love to have the chance to write the characters, to create a gloriously depraved yet entirely logically consistent set of bad guys for her and Willie Gavin to encounter, fight, and defeat.

There’s so much unexplored history there, so much you could delve into while telling a ‘current’ story, so many ways you could who just who the characters are and why they matter, to each other and to the reader. and, my heavens, I’d love to write the relationship between Willie Garvin and his Princess.

Besides, hopefully, we’d get more Jamie McKelvie art to salivate over, and that’s never a bad thing.

Oddly, I saw the kitsch 1960s Modesty Blaise movie was on telly the other night. Its’ unremittingly awful 99.4% of the time, but I’d quite forgotten that at one point Monica Vitti dresses up as Modesty from the strip: black outfit, chignon, bow, quiver. She looked fantastic in the classic outfit.

It genuinely made me sad all over again that they’d not, that they’ve never, made that movie.

And that they probably never will. (I’ve not seen the Tarantino My Name Is Modesty movie, which is a kind of prequel, taking place before she meets Willie Gavin, nor the 1982 Modesty Blaise US tv pilot, where both Modesty and Willie are… Americans. Yeah… No.)

 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

(For part 1 of ‘one-offs’, about individual television episodes I will rewatch whenever they’re shown, click here)

I mentioned last week that even in ‘baddie of the week’ tv shows, in every medical drama, in every sitcom, an individual episode will stand out for some reason; the guest star will knock it out of the park, the writing on that episode will particularly impress, the specific plot will reward rewatching.

The same, of course, applies to long running comic books, which are also serialised drama/fiction. And as with tv, there are too many, far far too many, for me to list all of them, the individual issues that mattered to me, that I’ll dig out and reread every so often. Picking ten isn’t meant to imply that they’re ‘better’ than the others; it just means they’re the ten that sprung to mind when writing, ok?

But here are ten. Of course with some series, there are multiple issues, but as with Part 1, I’ll limit it here to one issue per series, in some case per character.

Oh, and where I can, I’ll list the creative teams. Apologies upfront to any I don’t know at the time of writing; I’ll slot them in if I discover them later.

OK then.

Iron Man: “Star Hunter” (Vol 1, issue 237)
Writer: David Michelinie, Bob Layton; Penciler: Jackson Guice; Inker: Bob Layton; Colourist: Bob Sharen; Letterer: Janice Chiang
I love this issue. Everything about it. The plot is sharp and clever, a one character issue in which Tony Stark (Iron Man… oh shit, you didn’t know? Oops.) investigates why satellites have been going offline and discovers the real story behind SDI: an artificial creature, created specifically as a satellite killer, designed to adapt to whatever circumstances it finds itself in. The art flies off the page, the captions and thought balloons aren’t intrusive and make sense given the circumstances – most of the issue is silent, the station’s in vaccuum – and the final couple of pages linger in your brain long after you’ve put down the issue. In them, Iron Man kills the creature, after introducing an atmosphere into the satellite… and he gets the shock of his life when the dying creature speaks. When Iron Man asks why the creature tried to kill him… and did kill its creators, the answer is simple… and still chilling: “It was what I was created to do.” It’s rare that I can look back, decades after an issue saw print, and can remember almost panel for panel what happened in a story. Iron Man #237 is one such story.

 
 
The Flash: “Shot In The Dark” (Vol 2, issue 30)
Writer: William Messner-Loebs; Penciller: Greg Larocque; Inker: Larry Mahlstedt; Colourer: Carl Gafford)
Wally West is at the cinema on a date, watching a movie when he notices everyone has frozen around him, as has the movie; he feels something in the back of his neck, the pressure slowly increasing. He reaches behind him and disovers it’s a bullet. Another almost silent issue, but this time not because of a lack of oxygen, but because the entire issue (bar the first couple of pages) takes place in about a tenth of a second. I’ve now seen this kind of thing done any number of times on the tv show, and in movies, but this was back in the late 1980s and it was the first time I’d seen it done in a comic book. West had automatically flipped into ‘Flash Time’ the moment his body felt the bullet touch it, and it took a moment or two – subjective time – for his brain to catch up with his body. The issue is great at handling the physics of momentum, and how it feels to be in that state, and how the slightest relaxtion – when he realises what’s going on – means someone could die, almost does, if he is blasé about it. Great writing, great art, really nice colours.
 
 

Sandman: “Men of Good Fortune” (Issue 13)
Writer: Neil Gaiman; Penciller: Michael Zulli; Inker: Steve Parkhouse; Colourer: Robbie Busch; Letterer: Todd Klein
Despite the official title of this story being “Men of Good Fortune”, I find it impossible to think of this by any other title than “The Hob Gadling story”. This was one of the few Sandman stories that I immediately reread the moment I had finished it. The story is deceptively simple: a ‘common’ man announces to his friends that he won’t die… in 1389. That’s all, that he simply won’t have it. As luck (and a Neil Gaiman script) would have it, Morpheus and Death are in the ale house when he makes his statement and Death agrees to forsake him. Dream does not inform him of it directly, but merely says that he will meet Gadling “one hundred years hence” at the same spot. After a hundred years, they meet. And a hundred years later. And another hundred years… You see the best and worst of humanity summed up in a single character, the highs and lows a man can be brought to. The final panel sums up a relationship. over 600 years in the making, in eleven elegant words. Gaiman excels himself in this story and Gadling remains my favourite character in the entire Sandman saga. Todd Klein also seems to do that little bit extra in this book…

 
 

X-Men: “Elegy” (Issue #138)
Writer: Chris Claremont, John Byrne; Penciler: John Byrne; Inker: Terry Austin; Colourist: Glynis Wein; Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
This is the epitome of how you do a ‘what you may have missed’ or ‘what has come before’ or even ‘Previously…’. Anyway, it’s a catchup issue. The issue after the Dark Phoenix Saga ends, with the death of Jean Grey, the conceit of the story is that it’s her funeral… and the entire story is done as a reverie of Scott Summers at funeral. From his meeting with Jean – as it was in continuity then, anyway – through various adventures, various teams, and various identities. And takes it through to her death. No, stop sniggering, you at the back. No one at that time expected her to come back. Repeatedly. But it’s a great lesson on how to tell a story – because it is still a story being told – catchup or not. There’s a personal element to me liking this issue as well. It’s one of two things that got me back into comics after some teenagerly absent years. (and maybe that’s an entry all on its own…) Claremont’s script is great, and Byrne and Austin deliver. Wein’s colours are usually ignored when this issue is talked about, and they shoudn’t be; they help set the tone throughout.
 
 

The Incredible Hulk “He’s Back” (Issue #372)
Writer: Peter David; Penciller: Dale Keown; Inker: Bob McLeod; Colourist: Glynis Oliver; Letterer: Joe Rosen
Peter David’s long run on The Hulk, though with the very occasional ‘blip’, remains one of my favourite long runs on any comic by any creator. David is, I’m sure, sick of reminding people that it wasn’t he who came up with the idea of the Hulk being a multiple personality (it was Bill Mantlo’s, for the record), but it was certainly Peter David who took the idea and ran with it. And despite the later retcon by other writers, the eventual amalgamation of the “Green Hulk”, “Bruce Banner” and the “Grey Hulk” into an integrated personality was, for my money, the best issue David wrote, with the possible exception of the final issue, but it’d be cheating to include that one. There’s just nothing wrong with this book. The final panel “I’m home…” is worth the price of admission on its own.

 
 

Moon Knight “Scarlet” (Issue 5)
Writer: Warren Ellis; Art: Declan Shalvey; Colourist: Jordie Bellaire
I loved Warren and Declan’s short run on Moon Knight, treating the character as a sort of half-urban myth/half-consulting detective. In this issue, however – a story that is, by their own admission, Ellis’ and Shalvery’s take on The Raid – Moon Knight knows there’s an abducted young child in an abandoned hotel; the only way to get her back is to wade through 20 or so mob guys, all of whom will quite happily kill anyone who comes to rescue the child. So Moon Knight goes in to rescue the child. It’s a 20 page fight issue, floor by floor. It’s gorgeous, brutal, and the injuries are forensically accomplished, and portrayed. Not my normal ‘preferred’ style of story, but somehow this one always gets me. Glorious use of the medium and each page is wonderful. Huh. I just realised. Another, pretty much, silent issue.
 
 

Fantastic Four “This Man, This Monster” (Issue #51)
Writer: Stan Lee; Art: Jack Kirby; Co-plotters: Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Wow, this one’s going back to stone age… How the hell do you follow a three parter that introduces Galactus and the Silver Surfer in which you save the planet? Stan Lee and Jack Kirby deliver a masterclass in early Marvel, let alone early Fantastic Four. A simple, elegant, story, beautifully and stylishly executed: someone steals The Thing’s powers and goes off to the FF’s HQ, thinking Reed Richards does it for the glory. Learns he doesn’t and sacrifices his life in the Negative Zone to save Richards. At its heart, it’s the story of a man’s redemption from a life of selfishness, by the most selfless act one can perform. And as for Ben Grimm? Delighted to no longer look like The Thing, he goes to a woman he like and turns back into The Thing just as she was about to see the ‘real’ him. It’s cleverly written, wonderfully draw, and it’s a perfect synergy of their individual talents. Just great.

 
 

Kurt Busiek’s Astro City “Dinner At Eight” (vol 1, Issue #6)
Writer: Kurt Busiek; Artist: Brent Eric Anderson; Colourist: Steve Buccellato; Letterer: Richard Starkings/Comicraft
For a series that asks, better than any other book, to my mind, the ‘what would it actually be like if super powered, and supernatural, ‘people’, good and bad, existed in ‘real life?’ question, this is an odd one… because it subverts that entirely. This isn’t about normal people reacting to super-powered characters in their midst, but the reverse, super-powered people doing – or trying to do, anyway – something… ‘normal’. This issue is, basically, ‘what if Superman went on a date with Wonder Woman?’, but in their civilian identities. (That might seem disparaging to Samaritan and Winged Wonder; it’s not intended to be; the super-man and super-woman characters start from those archetypes, and very, very quickly move away from it.) I love this issue. Everything about it just… works. The guilt both feel about taking some time away from crime fighting is obvious and understandable, despite promises from their comrades to step in. They can’t… relax. And they know it. and they know the other can’t, and they understand it. As always with Astro City, it’s a delightful character study.

 
 

Holy Terror
Writer: Alan Brennert; Artist: Norm Breyfogle; Letterer: Bill Oakley; Colorist: Lovern Kindzierski
A bookshelf edition, and an Elseworlds title at that, but it’s within the ‘rules’ I set up for myself – a single issue – so there. Holy Terror is my favourite Elseworlds book. Now, in case that sounds like “faint praise that damns”, it isn’t meant to at all. It’s one of my favourite all time comic books. It starts from the premise that Cromwell remained in power in the UK and that England won the War of Independence with The Colonies. America is in effect would now be called a Fundamentalist Christian State. Bruce Wayne is a novice priest who finds out that his parents weren’t killed by a common mugger as he had always believed but were executed by the State. He becomes The Batman in order to find out why and who ordered it. It’s a superb book with many twists in it, including a wonderful sub-plot throughout about The Green Man, someone rumoured to be an alien… and it’s not who you think it is. Written by Alan Brennert, whose work never disappoints, with art by the wonderful Norm Breyfogle.

 
 

The Wicked and the Divine: (Issue #1)
Writer: Kieron Gillen; Artist: Jamie McKelvie; Colourist: Matthew Wilson; Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Where the hell do you start with a book like WicDiv, as it’s known to its fans? At the start, obviously. Which start, though? And that’s a question that in order for me to answer it in any way that even came close to making sense, you’d have had to have already read the book. Every 90 years, twelve gods are re-incarnated; they live as gods for a maximum of two years. A wonderful concept, expertly delivered… with wonderful scripts, beautiful art, clever stories, and twists and turns of the best kind: those you don’t see coming but in retrospect seem if not invitable then at least perfectly sensible. So, why am I choosing the first issue? Because nothing makes sense – literally in two cases – without having read and understood the first issue. Add to that the commencement of one of the best ‘normal person interacts with the abnormal’ storylines I’ve ever read, and a shock ending that still gut punches you even though you know it’s coming… Both Gillen and McKelvie are doing the best work of their already sparkling careers, and it’s been a pleasure being along for the ride. Special call out for the covers, which have both been original and stylish.


Final note: while writing this entry, I had so much fun, reliving the stories, the sheer talent shown throughout, and I thought… y’know what, maybe at the end of the run, I’ll do another ten… it’ll be equally as easy and as much fun.

And then I deleted the entry in error and had to rewrite the whole thing from scratch. It was less fun after that. So, there may well be another ten at the end, but don’t hold your breath.


If you’ve been paying attention, you know what’s coming tomorrow. See you then.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

I was thinking about Amateur Press Associations today. I received a thick white envelope through the post and it reminded me that for some years, that meant one thing: Comicopia. As far as I know Comicopia is still running, though it’s been a while since I’ve been in contact with many of the then members. 

One section of Comicopia I always enjoyed was by the Canadian artist Gabriel Morrissette;  his sections were full of little sketches and drawings, revealing the full insanity that’s inherent in a comic book artist. 

One three panel gag, illustrating the effect Jack Kirby’s art had on him, has stuck with me. In the first panel, a child is looking at an unopened comic book. The boy then opens the book and there’s a small explosion. The final panel has the kid’s white eyes looking out of a smoke blackened face, singed hair smoking above it.

Have to say that was pretty much the affect on me when I saw US comic books for the first time. Because the first comics I read weren’t US super-hero comic books. They were weekly British comics, mostly black and white, or black white and red to be precise: comics like The Beano, TV21, Scorcher (including Billy’s Boots), Whizzer and Chips etc.

(It’s worth remembering at this point that the only accurate answer to the question Whatever happened to WHIZZER & CHIPS, BUSTER, WHOOPEE! and all the other great British comics? is My mother threw them away.)

Despite me enjoying those British comics, there was no real feeling of loss if I didn’t read them. I had plenty of other things to read, and only rarely –  with certain strips  – did a story continue from one week to another. Most of the strips were just gags surrounded by a setup for the gag on one side and a set up for the next gag on the other.

And then there was Look-in.

Now, I have no idea of the readership of this blog, but I’d put good money down on the table that not one in twenty UK readers has a clue what I’m talking about and not one in five hundred US readers does.

Look-in was ostensibly a television listings magazine for children; indeed, on the final two pages of the weekly publication there were listings for childrens’ shows being broadcast the following week. Importantly though, there were also adaptations of popular kids’ and ‘family’ television programmes of the time, continuing over several weeks. I come across some of these stories on the web every so often, and I’m usually impressed at how well much of the art still stands up today. The stories? Hmm, well, I’m less impressed with them these days. For more about Look-in, check out Lew Stringer’s blog. You might want to start here

Yet even with Look-in, there was something missing, something that just wasn’t there.

In the early 1970s – yes, I am very old – one week when I was ill, my father picked up some comics for me for me to read. I’ve no idea why he chose the comics he did; if he bought me comics, it was usually one or more of the aforementioned British weeklies. But no, this time he picked up a British reprint of an American comic book featuring this character named Spider-Man. I’d never seen anything like it, and I didn’t know what the hell it was, but I wanted more; I needed more. Of course, being seven years old in the 1970s – see, I told you I was old – it wasn’t immediately apparent how to get more. 

Skip forward a couple of months and I’m at Heathrow Airport. No, I wasn’t running away or anything; it’s not that kind of story. We were off on holiday as a family, and, waiting to board, my parents took me and my brothers to the news kiosk to get something to read on the plane. I still recall the thrill when I saw  real US comic books. Not the British reprints in black and white, but the actual comic books. So I bought the two whose covers most interested me.

Which ones? These:

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Yeah, I know – part of the reason I read comics today is because of characters like Grotesk and Brother Voodoo. Frightening, isn’t it?

Thanks to parents who, despite the comment above, actively supported my comics reading, I then got the Marvel Treasury Editions, then the regular British reprints, including X-Men, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Spider-Man… (There was also a brief flirtation with 2000AD but the less said about that, the better – it’s embarrassing all around.)

Now all of the above begs a question: What about DC?

Well the truth is that I wasn’t interested in DC Comics… because I’d hardly seen any. Until, at a friend’s house, I came across Batman: From the 30s to the 70s, a selection of black and white reprints of Batman tales. (It was some time before it actually occurred to me that the originals had been in colour.) He didn’t have the companion volume for Superman, so I didn’t get to read Superman for some years afterwards – and when I did, I was slightly disappointed. The Batman always did (and still does) struck me as a far more interesting character to read, and to write.

But for the moment, I was far more concerned with Marvel Comics.

And I devoured the comics. I guess that at some point I realised that these comics were written and drawn by people. After all, the Marvel comics had those funky credits. Nevertheless, I can’t, unlike others I know, pinpoint the exact moment I started realising that the comics I really enjoyed tended to be written by the same people or drawn by the same artist.

When I hit my teenage years, I sort of drifted from comics a bit. Oh I still read the occasional one here and there, but like many of my friends, comics just didn’t play a large part in my life.

A friend of mine, Regie Rigby, will, if you ply him with enough drink, tell the story about how I’m responsible for getting him back into comics (it involves a letter I wrote being printed in an issue of Batman) and I know that Dave Gibbons has written publicly about what got him back into comics – a Gene Colan cover of Green Lantern. With me, though, it was something different entirely. Well, two different somethings really. The first was catching up with an old school friend, the other was getting stood up on a date.

When I came home at the end of my first term (semester) from uni, I went to a friend’s house to play catch-up. We’d gone to different universities, and hadn’t seen each other for several months. While there, he asked a fateful question: “You used to like the X-Men, didn’t you?” and asking that, he tossed over an issue.

Uncanny X-Men #138.

  

I discovered later that the book was a couple of years old by the time I saw it, but after being away from comics for a while, the effect upon me was astonishing. The cover just hit me between the eyes. I didn’t know what to look at next: Who were all these characters? These weren’t my X-Men. What were all these covers in the background? What an amazing “Win a Toys ‘R’ Us Shopping Spree” banner! No, maybe not that last.

And Cyclops? Leaving the X-Men? Impossible. I had to read more. And what I found, when I cracked it open, was something that so many comics promise to be, but aren’t: the perfect jumping on point for a new reader.

Because, of course, Uncanny X-Men #138 is a ‘what has gone before’ issue, summing up the history of the X-Men thus far in 22 pages. Not only was I hungry for more story after having read the issue, I was incredibly impressed by the art. Hard to believe there was a time when I’d never seen John Byrne art before, isn’t it? Even harder to remember a time when John Byrne’s art was good.

That might have been it, though. I might have never bought more comics, except for getting stood up a couple of weeks later when I returned to Manchester.

We’d arranged to meet on a specific street corner in Manchester, just outside the City Centre. And she never showed. After an hour or so, when I finally gave up – hey, I was optimistic back then, ok? – I headed back to my halls of residence, passing, on the way, a small shopping precinct that I’d never previously noticed. I wandered in, out of curiosity, and discovered The Holy Grail: a comics shop.

A shop that just sold comics. Extraordinary! I had to be dreaming, but no, when I walked in, all I could see were… comics. The window display was.. comics. Lining the wall were… comics. And on the shelves… comics. Comics, comics, comics. As far as the eye could see. I’d never seen so many comic books in one place. OK, I exaggerate slightly, but not by much. I remember standing there in disbelief. And then as if in a daze, slowly, picking up half a dozen comics (probably the last time I left a comic shop with so few purchases.)

I went back the following day, having read the comics I’d purchased. And the next day. And it was on the third visit that my life changed. They were unloading the latest delivery. And it suddenly occurred to me that the books, different issues, that these new deliveries appeared… every… week…

Oh dear.

It’s an axiom that every comic book is someone’s first.

You’ve just read about some of mine.

Why not take a moment to wallow in nostalgia and remember yours..?