No Matter Where You Go

Getting back, obliquely, to the subject of my current obsession and potential work project, I found myself losing far too much time the other day on eBay, looking for old fanzines and comics news magazines, and remembering just how exciting it was for me to discover such things existed, lo those many years ago.

I’m likely misremembering, but I’m pretty sure the first one I found was Speakeasy, a snarky, British magazine that felt as close to British music tabloids like NME and Melody Maker for the comic book industry as it was possible to get. It was a discovery that blew my little teenage mind for all manner of reasons, and not just because it suggested the existence of a complete culture to comics out there that threatened to offer the little outsider teen that I was a sense of belonging and validity that I had failed to find anywhere else.

Speakeasy was something that let me know that you could love comics but also feel frustrated by them; that it was okay — that it was necessary — to be critical about even your favorite characters and creators, and just as importantly, that you could be critical in such a way that was amusing and, perhaps, creative in its own right.

(This was before I’d really started reading Melody Maker or NME, so I hadn’t realized how much Speakeasy owed to them; it seemed more creative and essential in that particular vacuum, I admit.)

Speakeasy folded in the early ’90s — maybe 1991? I can’t remember — and I moved on to the American comics press, becoming a devotee of the weekly Comic Buyer’s Guide newspaper, which also felt like a revelation: not only were news stories treated as news stories, but there were also op-ed columns, humor cartoons and, at the time, a letter column where creators themselves would write in! It felt like a further glimpse into the world behind the curtain, but a confirmation that there was a world there to be found. I was entranced, and jealous; I wanted to be there.

It’s only now, writing this, that I realize that I got there, that my career now is working in the contemporary version of those magazines and newspapers. It’s something that makes me feel unexpectedly happy, and proud. It took a few years and a few misadventures and wrong turns along the way, but I got to where I was supposed to be, without even knowing it.

My Left is Right

I’ve been in therapy for a number of years, and it’s been good for me in ways that I’m not sure I could have even imagined back when I first started; I’ve not only learned a lot about myself — which is kind of the point, isn’t it? — but I’ve undone a lot of learned behaviors that weren’t particularly good for me, including plenty I wasn’t even aware of beforehand.

I say all this not to congratulate me on a job well done, but because in the last few days, I’ve recognized something new in my head that I’ll have to add to the list of things to talk about: my seeming inability to let myself do something just because it seems fun. Or, specifically, the fact that — since stopping work on the THR newsletter at the end of January, I haven’t really done anything in terms of image making, despite the fact that I want to, because I feel like I don’t have a “reason” to do it.

When I write it out like that — really, when I stop to think about it for even a second — I realize how genuinely nuts it seems. Simply wanting to do it should be reason enough, and if I were talking to anyone else, I’d make that argument to them in, I suspect, an exasperated tone; when it comes to my own dumb brain, however, I have this strange wall that I hit where my brain says, but if there’s no specific purpose for you to fuck around with Pixelmator and come up with images, then what’s the point you should do something more productive instead.

The upshot of this is that I’m finding myself craving an excuse to just make marks and strange pictures again, like I did last year when I attempted to make something every weekday for here. But even then, there was this “point” to doing so, to fulfill some entirely random mission statement that I’d invented. Perhaps that’s my solution, to just give myself permission by giving myself fictional goals to attain. That seems to make sense, right?

Go Ask Alice

Part of doing the job that I do requires, if not obsession per se, then at least obsessive thinking, I suspect. It’s not enough to simply have a casual interest in a topic if you’re going to write about it in any kind of depth, you have to have a level of curiosity that goes far beyond the norm.

(This isn’t the case when it comes to, say, short news pieces or project announcements; in those circumstances, you can pretty much get away with saying simply here are the facts and moving on quickly. In fact, in some cases, having too much curiosity can get in the way of writing those pieces, not least because you end up asking questions that can’t be answered, or at least not easily.)

I’ve been thinking about this lately as I start researching a potential future project — one I really hope will come off, but right now only exists as a potential, exciting, future maybe something — and find myself utterly absorbed by it, looking up various avenues to finding out more information and spending hours going down rabbit holes that aren’t even the research I need as much as the research necessary to get to what I need.

I spent an hour or so this morning looking for sources for a couple of particular pieces of information that I think are likely out there and necessary for what I want, only to end up on eBay looking to see if I could find cheap and/or remaindered versions of a book I read more than a decade ago that my brain told me might have something I need in there. I’ve pulled books that I haven’t looked at in years out of shelves in the hope that, perhaps, there’s something to be found in there, too. And don’t start me on the magazines I feel like I need to look for.

All of this, again, isn’t really the research I need as much as the beginning of searching for that research. But it’s already overwhelmed me, in the most exciting way. I’m on the hunt.

Don’t Ask, Just Buy It

One of the stranger things to consider upon realizing that you’re a middle aged comic book fan is that you have likely been reading the adventures of a particular character or group of characters for a number of decades. Just think about that for a second; it’s not only that superheroes are one of the only forms of serialized media in which the same characters are omnipresent for that length of time — serialized prose isn’t really a thing anymore, and even so, stories didn’t last for that long, and even TV soap operas tend to change out characters as actors leave to do other things — but the fact that, if you’re anything like me, you’ve actually been reading stories about the same “person” on at least a semi-regular basis for more than thirty years at this point. That’s just surreal, to me.

I started thinking about this the other day, upon discovering a copy of Superman #1 in the collection; this being comics, I should specify that I mean the mid-1980s Superman #1, by John Byrne and Terry Austin. I was, I think, 12 when this came out — I think it was released late in ’86, but it might have been ’87 — and I still remember the thrill I felt in finding a copy in a local newsagents: the first issue of a Superman comic? Surely this had to be a big deal, and how could I fail to pass it up?!? (I was young, so the naivety can be excused, I hope.)

It wasn’t the first American Superman comic I’d bought for myself — there was an issue of Action Comics I remember from years before; it had the Justice League and the Teen Titans in it, so it too triggered the “this has to be a big deal” fever — but it was the one that led me to buy every subsequent issue I could get my hands on, as well as copies of Action and Adventures of Superman, for a number of years following, through until at least the early ’90s and Superman’s death and rebirth.

Even after that, I’d revisit him on something approaching a regular basis, even going so far as to pick up all the books every month between 2000 and, I think, 2003 or 2004 — and then again, starting in 2006 and going through to 2010 or so. In an odd way, I’ve spent more time with Superman across the years than with some real life, actually-alive, friends. I can’t work out if that’s a good thing or simply a weird thing, but I feel like I should at least be recognized as one of Superman’s Pals in the same way that Jimmy Olsen is.

Ding Dong

Reading about the death of Prince Phillip today — something that, with the best will in the world, can hardly be described as a tragedy; he was 99 years old and had been in poor health for a number of years, with recent photographs of him genuinely looking as if he was rotting already — I find myself remembering the strange way the world felt when Princess Diana died, more than two decades ago.

I’m far from a monarchist; if I’m honest, I don’t really have any strong feelings about the British Royal Family — nor, indeed, the royal family of any country — one way or another. It’s a ridiculous concept that doesn’t make much sense to me, but I could and have said the same about countless other things, so it very much falls into the “eh, whatever,” category for me despite others’ very strong feelings on the matter.

Despite this, I remember feeling very unnerved by things about Diana Spencer died. It wasn’t her death that upset me, as much as it was the strange calm that descended upon the city I was living in the aftermath; I remember with surprising clarity walking through the streets in the afternoon after her death was announced, and it being supernaturally quiet, with newspaper pages floating along the sidewalks as if I was walking in some kind of shitty movie.

There really was a feeling of, if not genuine grieving, then a depressed loss in the days that followed, as if some kind of existential shift had occurred; it wasn’t anything that made sense, especially for those of us who didn’t buy into the hastily constructed myth of the “people’s princess,” a phrase as meaningless as it seemed on first listen. It was a very strange thing to be surrounded by, this manufactured grief, and something that felt unnatural and alienating in ways that still don’t really feel explainable now.

I wonder if that’s the mood in the U.K. right now, or if everyone is instead moving on to more sensible responses — like, to be honest, almost anything of actual importance at all, really.

List, Head, The Whole Shebang

I’ve been particularly lucky when it’s come to my writing career — not only in the types of writing work I’ve been lucky to get, but also the outlets I’ve been fortunate enough to write for. For whatever reason — I think it’s some mixture of skill and good luck, personally; a small amount of the former and a lot of the latter, if you ask me — I’ve managed to write for mainstream outlets like The Hollywood ReporterWiredTime and many more across the years, making sure that anything close to a bucket list of places to write for has been kept relatively minimum.

That said, there still is a bucket list.

Some of the list is literally impossible — either outlets that no longer exist at all (1980s official fanzine Marvel Age, for example) or exist in the format that I initially fell in love with them, like Entertainment Weekly, which I’m not even sure has a print component at all anymore. Others are simply unlikely, because of personal experience. (There are multiple outlets I’ve pitched to on more than one occasion, with no luck or even a response; such is life.)

The one thing tying them all together is the fact that each of the outlets I still dream of writing for are ones that I was in love with as a reader, long before I thought about becoming a writer myself. I can remember poring over copies of Wired in the library of my old art school, for example, or picking up (far too expensive) copies of Entertainment Weekly in the U.K. even though they referred to things I didn’t really have any first hand knowledge of. Marvel Age was the first time I’d seen writing about comics, when I discovered it at age 11; each one seemed to be a window into something new.

Given all of that, it’s understandable that I’d want to be part of that even now that I’ve seen (and been) behind the curtain myself. All I need now is a time machine and even more good luck to make it happen.

If Knowledge Hangs Around Your Neck

I found myself rewatching If… and O Lucky Man for the first time in decades recently, and the experience left me particularly nostalgic for the first time I saw the two movies, way back in the 1990s.

Watching them now, I still found all manner of things to enjoy, not least the sly surrealist humor that’s thread through both movies to greater or lesser extents. (If… is the angrier of the two, and O Lucky Man the more broadly comedic in its satire, but the two share the same DNA just as the share the same actors, directors, and characters — although, of course, neither is actually a sequel to the other.) Lindsay Anderson’s meandering direction remains a thrill, as well, feeling as if it’s ahead of its time in terms of later European directors.

This time around, though, I saw both as movies, as opposed to… whatever they were the first time out, for me. Back then, you see, they were more than just films; they had some power that I can’t explain even now, with years of hindsight.

Both movies came from the era that inspired Britpop, which was the dominant culture in my life at the time; but, as opposed to the self-conscious irony that was the underlying theory for Britpop in general, If… and O Lucky Man are heartfelt almost to a fault, sincere in their arguments even as they try to make jokes about the situation their characters are in — and that sincerity was something that I found particularly affecting, at the time.

In terms of subject matter and targets, they paralleled other things that I was into at the time — Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles most of all, unsurprisingly; Morrison has talked about their love for both of the movies, which was one of the things that drew me to them in general — and acted as a signpost that there was more out there than people keeping subjects at arm’s length or more interested in style points than actual points.

If… and O Lucky Man introduced me to things like Terry Southern, Lavinia Greenlaw, Deborah Levy and more, art that made my world bigger. (Not bad for movies more than a quarter century old even when I discovered them.) I feel as if I need more of that, even now.

Nibble Away at Your Window Display

I’m not entirely sure this is true, but I feel as if I started existing on the internet somewhere around 1997 or 1998; I can remember dial-up, and I can remember sitting in the computer room of the art school I went to, logging on to see whatever the hell was actually on the internet at that point.

More than that, though, I remember getting my first computer — an iMac, colored “Bondi-Blue,” if I’m remembering the name correctly — and that bringing the internet to me at home, if I was able to convince everyone to stay off the phone for an appreciable amount of time. I remember all-too-clearly that I would spend far too much time looking at the nascent comics internet of that period, which was a million miles away from the area that I now make my living from, and I’m curious just how much we’ve lost from those days in the rush to whatever internet we’re in now.

(Man, remember “Web 2.0,” when social media went mainstream?)

The olden comics internet was infinitely more fannish in its existence; it was dominated by the hardcore fan sharing their hardcore fannish theories and thoughts with a void, almost certainly in colored text with a colored background and a hit counter at the bottom to add that particular element of authenticity.

But it was, despite all of this, fun — there were these long, long screeds about why certain characters mattered or were cool, theories about the history of a certain idea or publisher or creator, and everything felt as if it was being shared in the sense of, if not friendship, then at least community. There wasn’t really any gatekeeping as audiences would recognize it today, because… being into comics and comic culture was still subculture enough that any attention was still deemed a good thing, perhaps…?

I remember cutting and pasting massive essays into documents and printing them out, to pore over them obsessively at my leisure. It feels miles away from what’s out there now, with everything monetized and commodified, and I can’t help but feel nostalgic about what used to be, even as I wish I was contributing more to the monetization and commodification, so that I could earn a living.