So Many Ways To Communicate What You Want To Say

It’s not often that I think about my past life in a call center — and, honestly, on the rare occasions that I do, I tend to remember the period where I’d worked my way up the ladder and was writing the call scripts and meeting with clients. (It was very strange, looking back; I had an office to myself and everything. I wore ironed shirts with buttons and collars and everything every single day!) The time that I spent actually on the phone, making the calls, tends to fade into the background, for whatever reason.

That’s a shame, really, because I actually liked my time on the phones. Sure, I wasn’t entirely convinced about that at the time, and there were certainly days when it felt as if just the opposite was true, but… of course there were; it was a job, and there’s no such thing as a job that you don’t occasionally hate, because that’s literally how jobs work. (I’ve been doing what is pretty much my dream job for the last decade-plus and there are still times where I feel as if I’m dragging myself to the desk, so take from that what you will.)

Nonetheless, there was something genuinely great about talking to so many different people on a regular basis, even in such a regimented situation. Every now and then, you’d stumble upon a funny, or surprising, or educational, conversation that you never could have imagined, and your day would end up being significantly better as a result. It could be a slog, sure — we’d have hourly numbers to hit, in terms of dials and conversations — but, every so often, it could be a bit of a genuine joy, as well. Such things can happen.

All of this came to mind today when I had to deal with someone on the phone as part of a customer service thing — I was the customer, I should probably clarify, given the above — and I found myself quietly marveling at how well it was going, how wonderfully the person I was talking to was handling the entire thing. If there’s one thing that working in a call center does, it’s making you appreciative for people who work in call centers; this particular guy was so great, so helpful, that I almost asked to be transferred to his manager to demand that he gets a raise.

Instead, I wrote this. Look, there’s a reason I left call center work to become a writer.

Brand New Thing

Well, it seems to have gone live now, but the logo design thing I was talking about on Monday was redoing the logo for Shelfdust, the comic criticism site run by Steve Morris that I occasionally contribute to.

Steve made a somewhat open call for a new logo this weekend, which prompted Chloe to put my name forward publicly; as she put it, she did this because I’m bad at tooting my own horn. The two of us talked, which led me to putting together three proposals for him to choose from:

He went for the first, which was my favorite — and also one that I kind of arrived at by mistake. It started as a color version —

— the colors were placeholders, but I wondered how/if the image would work in black and white, which brought me onto the 45-degree lined version above, which is just much stronger, I think.

When Steve picked his favorite, he asked for one simple change, which was a smart one — he wanted the colors inverted.

I’m not sure it reads as well, but I’m also not sure that it doesn’t — I can see benefits for both versions, and so I was happy when he said that he planned to use both variants in future.

We also came up with banners.

The logo’s already in use, far sooner than I expected, but the whole thing was a joy from surprise start to speedy finish, not least of all because doing stuff with Steve is always a pleasure. But look at me, putting that art degree to use again…!

But No-One Seemed To Notice Me

I’ve written here before about my love for doing the graphics for the weekly THR newsletter; this far out from working there on a regular basis, I’m beginning to think that it might have been one of my favorite parts of the gig, to be honest. I’ve also written here about missing the opportunity to just… make pictures that it provided me every week, and the fact that I’d not really found the mental space to be able to do that for myself, for some reason.

I mention all of this because, this weekend, a series of strange and unusual circumstances occurred that resulted in me working on logo proposals for something — I’m being purposefully vague for the purposes of (a) not jinxing anything, and (b) I’m not sure if I can even say anything about it at this point. It’s far from anything resembling a done deal right now; I’m basically just helping out a friend, and they could utterly hate everything I sent them, and yet… it was something that I found particularly pleasurable to do.

(This despite the nerves that I felt upon being pretty much pushed into the situation, and thinking to myself, oh my God, I haven’t made an actual logo for anything in years, how many years, maybe it’s been since I was at art school, no surely not, that can’t be right, oh my God on something approaching a repeating loop.)

There’s a lesson to be found here about using different parts of your brain to solve different tasks, and the way in which that can feel like a break even though you’re still being officially “productive.” There’s also some kind of lesson to be found about my need to be productive in order to make images, but that’s a whole other kettle of unhealthy fish that we’ll ignore right now. More than anything, though, I find myself excited at the prospect of one of the logo suggestions being chosen, and the possibility that more such things could be down the line for me at some point. Fingers are crossed…!

No, You Are

I’ve been thinking about the contrarian view lately. Not a particular contrarian view, I feel the need to point out, but the idea of the contrarian view in and of itself.

I used to be a proud contrarian; I didn’t intend to be, or at least, that’s not how I found myself setting out on any specific intellectual or critical journey. But there were points — especially when I was first starting out to write online inside the comics internet, as it was then known — where I found myself entirely at odds with the general consensus, and as such feeling at once ostracized from and at odds with the majority of my peers.

It was a lonely place to be, and one that I initially struggled with before I became more convinced by my personal opinions and became, instead, a contrarian. Oh, I became so happy in that role, smacking down the mass thinking more from self-righteous zeal than anything else; looking back, I’m embarrassed about how convinced in the value of contrarianism for its own sake I became, how utterly sure I was that simply disagreeing with people for the sake of disagreement had an inherent value.

That embarrassment shouldn’t be taken as the sign of any kind of revelation about the value of going along with the crowd, mind you; despite an upbringing that seemed quietly centered around the idea of never really drawing attention to yourself and keeping out of trouble, I never really bought into the idea of group think, so I’m far from making any kind of argument against disagreeing with people, even if I blush at the memory of half of the fights I got into online for no reason beyond arguing.

In other words, I’ve finally — after too many years, let’s be honest — come around to the simple and straightforward idea of simply having the courage of your convictions and sticking to your guns on the things that matter, no matter who else agrees. Think of it as targeted contrarianism, perhaps, or using old skills and muscles for something a little more worthwhile.

After all, sometimes, it’s still a little fun to argue about things, if you pick your battles.

With Your Best Shot

It strikes me just now that I didn’t write anything here about the fact that I had my first vaccine shot last week; somehow, it slipped my mind after the fact despite utterly dominating my every thought — well, every third thought, perhaps — before it happened.

The problem wasn’t just that I’m afraid of needles and was nervous about the actual act of getting the shot itself, although I couldn’t pretend that wasn’t a factor; I was getting quietly obsessed over the question of just when I’d be able to get the shot at all. I’d talk to friends and acquaintances, and the subject would come up; I’d see others making announcements of their vaccines on social media, and every time, I’d think to myself, I’m in my mid-40s, shouldn’t I be getting this by now?

The irony was that I was too healthy. I’d filled in the state questionnaire, only to find that I was in too good a shape to be viable for the first waves of vaccines, leaving me impatient and decrying my absence of chronic health problems in something approaching jest. (But only approaching, I confess.) Finally, I got the nod midway through last week: I’d receive the first shot that Friday.

My anxiety about the actual shot then truly kicked in. I’m not someone who has a true phobia of needles, just someone squeamish enough about pain that the idea of being stabbed makes me uncomfortable, but that was enough to leave me in a nervous, talkative state as I sat down for the actual event, making nervous jokes about how I’d have to look away when it happened or else I’d look like I was having an allergic reaction. The medics in question patiently put up with me nonetheless, and the whole thing was over in almost no time. All that worry for something so small, in the end.

I’ve already scheduled my second shot, for a month from now; I’ve already told people I’m Team Moderna as if it’s a fandom, not a vaccine. I’ve already moved on from all the nerves and worry, somehow. No wonder I forgot to write about it here.

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.