A Passing Thought

I’m struggling with an idea that popped into my head a few weeks back, when thinking about work stuff. Namely: did the comic industry secretly peak in the late 1980s and we didn’t notice?

There are, of course, any number of things to truly appreciate about the comics industry today that didn’t exist back then — things like webcomics, the success and scale of the manga audience and how disconnected it is from what used to be called the “mainstream” of superhero comics, crowdfunding and how creates an opportunity for work that wouldn’t otherwise be funded — and I don’t mean to discount those things fully, nor ignore the shift in publishing opportunities provided by the bookstore market. And yet…

And yet, I think about the number of independent publishers of the late ‘80s that just don’t exist anymore; I think about a breadth of subject matter that I feel isn’t really published inside the “official” publishing industry for the most part, and how the bigger publishers were ultimately more willing to experiment on a regular basis in a way that they just don’t anymore. It’s not just that no-one could really imagine DC publishing Angel Love today, it’s that there’s nothing at Marvel even approaching the attitude of Epic, no Harrier Comics or Eclipse or anything even close to it.

All of this was in my head as I saw someone on BlueSky complaining that, without that 1990s mainstay Wizard Magazine, there’s no central hub of fandom to pull readers to more obscure works, and I got to thinking, remember when there was Speakeasy magazine, or The Comics Journal covered everything and believed that readers would be as curious about Don Rosa as they were Steve Gerber?

I’m romanticizing the past, of course, ignoring the patience for mediocrity and homogeneous creative talent for the most part in doing so, but… there’s something in there that sticks around in my head as if it’s some secret truth. Did comics have their heyday decades ago, and it’s taken me this long to notice?

Good News/Let-Down

The dog is… fine, perhaps…? He’s old, and he’s got old dog things wrong with him, which is how it was more or less explained to me, but anything more serious has thankfully, inexplicably, been avoided despite the blood test that sent alarm bells ringing last week. There was another blood test done to check this, and he had his belly shaved and some radiography done as well just in case. It’s been “looked into,” and he’s… okay…?

I found out via phone call. I’d spent the days before his appointment with an increasing sense of doom and foreboding, as if I knew definitively that this was the beginning of the end (if not the end of the end), and I’d been told that I’d get a call with updates during the appointment when I’d dropped him off that morning. Before it came, I’d look at the phone, accusatorially, daring it to ring and give me the bad news: come on, just do it. Just tell me.

But instead, the call was a surprisingly happy doctor giving me the good news. I remember thinking at the time, she sounds happier and more relieved than I am with some sense of wonderment. I couldn’t tell if I was surprised by the seeming lack of professionalism or touched by how much she cared more; all things considered, it’s a nice thing to have to call a draw in.

Even more surprising was how it felt afterwards: an unexpected sense of anti-climax that all it took was one phone call and everything was done, bar a follow-up appointment. I’d spent days thinking the worst, feeling the worst, and it was suddenly just gone. I was happy, I was relieved, but also, there was this very clear feeling of, Is that it? Am I just supposed to move on now? I try, and instead, I write this to exorcise those feelings and share how it actually feels.

“Dressed up Pretentiously”

It’s pretentious to say, “Oh, this came to me in a dream,” but this actually did: I had a dream wherein there were new editions of Eddie Campbell’s various Alec books, all newly re-sized and consistent. This was what the cover of How to be an Artist looked like in the dream. Maybe my subconsciousness is trying to will new editions of Alec into the world.

A Dog In This Fight

Last week was one that taught me the value of that whole, “don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched” nonsense. You’ll remember, dear reader, that I’d shared my experience about taking the dog to the vet after his dental surgery a couple weeks back…? On the Tuesday of last week, he had his follow-up appointment, which proved to be a scary, difficult proposition: his weight had fallen significantly because he still wasn’t eating enough, and he wasn’t shitting well, either, The vet and I talked options while the dog sat there and shook in quiet terror; a plan of action was devised, blood was taken for tests, and we parted with everyone having a sense of what to do (as well as, on my end, no small amount of medication to give the dog).

Turns out, the dog had a sense of what to do, himself. Immediately following the appointment, he started eating well again. Even before I’d started giving him the medicine, his appetite miraculously returned, and his shits returned to normal. Across the next two days, I watched as he inexplicably returned to normal in seemingly every way. Had the vet visit scared him straight…? I didn’t really care: he was eating again, he was shitting again. Everything was good. On Thursday night, I told Chloe that I felt that I could stop worrying about him for the first time since his surgery, two weeks earlier. I felt a physical sense of relief.

This, of course, was my mistake.

On Friday, I heard from the vet that the blood work was back and it was not good. It wasn’t necessarily bad, either; it was mostly inexplicable, with the potential for things to be very bad: his liver numbers had rocketed through the roof, and they had no explanation why: as I was told, it could be entirely benign and the result of his not eating and being irritated post-surgery, or it could be cancer that they’d never noticed before. Either was a possibility, equally likely, as were all manner of things in between: gallstones, post-surgery infection, a testing error…

New plans were drawn up, for a new appointment later this week. I was advised that it could get expensive (again!) and that there may need to be end of life conversations. I immediately felt guilt, as if my saying that I could let go of my worry was the cause of it all.

This Year’s Migration

I’m back to thinking about Career Goals, for some reason. (There is a reason, but it’s not a particularly exciting one; I had a meeting at work that got me thinking about such matters, a thought process both compounded and extended by reading a particularly well-written story at an outlet I’d once wanted to write for, reminding me of that aspiration for the first time in some years.) These days, for the most part, I find myself buried in the day-to-day of it all, giving little thought for the most part about the bigger things. There’ll be time for that later, I think to myself, although that’s not really the case.

And yet, here I am. I’m a remarkably lucky person, when I think of my career to date, and how I’ve managed to survive as a writer for the past nearly two decades at this point. I think it’s… 17 years now that I’ve just been a writer, as opposed to moonlighting from another job? Something like that; maybe 16. I’ve written for all kinds of places, some far better than I deserve, and I currently have an actual staff position doing what I love to do. That’s rare, and very much appreciated on a daily basis.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t still some goals remaining, because there are: outlets I’d still like my name to appear as a byline, or stories that I’d very much want to write once I can make sense of the best way to do that. Of course I have those; if I didn’t, I’m not sure I’d keep going with the excitement and hunger that I somehow still have. Better yet, my current position gives me new goals when and where I least expect them, and challenges me to come up with things that I’d never thought of on my own. As tiring as it can be, it’s also a trip, in the best way.

I was thinking to myself yesterday, about how lucky I am to be able to write for a living, and then my thoughts turned to that phrase itself: that I write for a living in the sense of, “it’s what pays my bills and pays my rent, so that I can stay alive,” but also in that other sense, at the same time: that I write to make sense of the world, to find a space and way to live and navigate everything that comes my way.

My career goal is one that I’ve already achieved, ultimately: to make a career out of the thing I not only know how to do, but can’t not do. I write.

Who Knew?

I’m getting around to this later than intended, for the simple reason that I forgot. In the immediate aftermath of San Diego Comic-Con, there was a lot to take care of, not least of which was a sense of exhaustion that meant that I was able to take care of the most immediate business on any given day for a week or so before settling down to simply feel tired and watch TV for the night. (On the plus side, I enjoyed both the Wham! documentary and the series about the background of American Gladiators, so it wasn’t a complete loss. At some point, I’m also going to sing the praises of the extraordinary second season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, as well.)

Nevertheless, this year’s San Diego Comic-Con left me with the realization that I’m actually pretty good as a panel moderator, something that I’d never previously felt comfortable or confident enough to actually admit out loud. It was a strange and welcome realization, if one that I still feel uncomfortable sharing because of humility and being Scottish, and yet…

Don’t misunderstand; I’ve been moderating panels at conventions for years, and I knew I was that bad at it even before SDCC this year. The thing is, I’d convinced myself that I was good at doing a particular kind of panel — one that’s somewhat freewheeling and conversational — and that I’d suck doing anything more structured or official… and then I got asked to do two structured and official panels.

To my surprise, I didn’t suck at them. In fact, I actually… enjoyed doing both, even with the added complications of having official announcements to make at one (and giveaways to the audience that I had to declare, as well!) and slideshows and/or multimedia components at both. The two “other” panels, the ones that pushed me outside of my comfort zone, definitely required parts of my brain that I’m not so used to using when moderating — being more professional, less playful, sure, but also having to think about schedules and objectives in a way that was more akin to interviewing than moderating, for me — but I came away from both with that sense of, Did I do okay? I think that went well? Did that really go well? in somewhat mild disbelief.

I wasn’t entirely alone, at least in the sense of thinking things went well; both panels were complimented afterwards, with the publishers attached to each asking if I’d do it again at future conventions. It’s nice to know that you don’t screw up, for sure; it’s also nice to know that you can do more than you thought, and that you might actually be good at it, as well. If there was one good thing to take away from San Diego Comic-Con this year, I’m happy for it to be that.

Sense-Surrounded by Pies and Books

Beyond the new Blur album, much of my walking about out in the real world recently has been soundtracked by the first three albums by Super Furry Animals, a firm 1990s favorite that I’ve been revisiting with no small sense of wonderment.

This was a band who, after a fun but uneven first album — 1996’s Fuzzy Logic, at turns fueled by Prog Rock, folk, and the confused directionless Britpop zeitgeist of the time — immediately reinvented itself with a single made from a discarded B-side and quickly became part of my musical and spiritual identity for a good five or six years afterwards. Listening back to all this stuff now is a weirdly, strongly nostalgic experience where specific lines or guitar licks feel like sense memories is the strangest of ways.

The discarded B-side was “The Man Don’t Give A Fuck,” built around a looped sample of a single line from Steely Dan’s “Showbiz Kids” — “You know they don’t give a fuck about anybody else” — that is repurposed as an anthem against cultural and societal oppressors that feels relentless and undeniable. It fed into the next album, Radiator, released a year or so after Fuzzy Logic but sounding like almost an entirely different band: one more comfortable in their own skins and happier being more esoteric and angry even as the hooks and the catchiness in every track only increased.

There are lines throughout Radiator that I can tell now pushed my head in certain directions at an impressionable time, listening back now: the nervy contrarian attitude of things like “Why do you do/What they tell you?” sure, but also the humor and silliness of “Marie Curie was Polish born, but French bred/Ha! French bread!” in the same song. That’s also the song that says, entirely seriously, “I live my life in a quest for information,” which to this day feels like a key to everything in my head.

All of this against music that reached outside my traditional musical interests of the era and retired my head to some degree: there are echoes and influences of dance music, of Can, and Arthur Lee and Love, and Sun-Ra and mariachi music and all of it felt like a puzzle to track down and work out at the time. Radiator came out in the same year as Primal Scream’s similarly restless, inspirational Vanishing Point, and the two together were endlessly important in pushing me out of my comfort zone.

What’s been so rewarding about revisiting this stuff (and their third album, Guerilla, which is sonically even more diverse) is that, thankfully, it still sounds as fresh, as catchy, and wonderfully, as fun as it did when I first heard it, a quarter century or so ago. It’s not the same as stepping back into my own history, but it’s at least a sign that not everything I was thinking back then was the product of an eager, impressionable, and naive mind that should’ve known better.