Thursday, 30 June 2011

My Life as a Comic Character

Back in the late Eighties and early Nineties, when I was working in Comic Showcase, I got to meet a lot of established and rising stars of comics. One of the loveliest people I met was the artist Paul Johnson. I remember going round to Paul’s flat in Borehamwood in 1990 to interview him for a magazine when he asked if I would pose for him, as he worked from photographs. Flattered, I obliged and the results appeared in the Hellraiser/Nightbreed: Jihad two-parter written by Dan Chichester (above and below). That was the start of a long “working” relationship and close friendship with Paul, posing for a whole range of comics, which spanned seven years. Those sessions were always lots of fun and often involved copious beers and holding brooms or toy guns, as if being attacked by some monster, or dangling off stepladders in awkward and uncomfortable positions, while Paul got the right shot. But he was always an excellent director, explaining the story and getting the best emotive reactions.
I wasn’t the only one who modelled for Paul, and if fact nearly everyone I knew back then posed at some point including Woodrow Phoenix, Ilya, my old boss Art Young, Dick Hansom, my other old boss Paul Hudson, my ex-girlfriend Yasmin. You name it, we’re all in there!
We were generously “paid” with free beer all evening, a meal out after the session and a page of artwork. More than fair compensation!
Below: Books of Magic #4 (1991)
Written by Neil Gaiman, this introduced the young spectacled apprentice wizard, and his owl, to the world. No, not Harry Potter, but Tim Hunter. This came out a whole six years before Mr Potter appeared on the scene, yet no court case has arisen. Warner Bros. own DC Comics, as well as the HP movie and merchandising franchise, so it would be a bit like suing themselves, so that’s probably why it’s all played down! Anyway, I played the older, evil Tim Hunter killing all the DC magical heroes in the future. Mwhahaha! Ahem. Paul very kindly gave me the page below as payment for posing (I suspect I got the better part of that deal).
Below: The Invisibles #16 (January 1996)
In this story I played Dane McGowan (aka Jack Frost), the angry and confused Invisibles neophyte who finds his way and becomes a potent force in the team. This issue was a turning point for the character as he cuts his hair and returns home after a year's adventuring.

It’s well documented that Grant Morrison adopted the persona of The Invisibles' leader King Mob (or vice versa?) and that bizarre things began to befall him. In an equally strangely prescient moment I ended up suffering from alopecia areata and cut my hair short and dyed it blonde in an effort to hide the damage, three years after posing for this. Just like Dane. This was something I would never even considered previously. Life imitating art, or art dictating my destiny? If the latter, a quick appeal to Grant: Can you write a story where I become a multimillionaire global adventurer? Ta!
I also appeared as Dane in the “sequel” to this issue, Liverpool, in Invisibles #21 (June 1996) below:
OK, OK! I'll stop going on about my hair!
Below: Tharg's Terror Tales: The Devil You Know (1995)
This strip appeared in 200AD Prog 936 and was written by another friend, the wonderful Nick Abadzis. Here I play a cross between two of Harry Enfield's characters: Tim Nice But Dim and Tory Boy. Basically, I'm a Conservative twat you gets his comeuppance underneath a tube train. If only real world politics was so simple.
Below: Janus, PSI 2000 AD Progs 1024-1031 (1997)
I played 17-year-old Judge Mookie in this short story written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar. Interestingly, Helen Craven, who plays the bald Judge Janus here, took over my roll as assistant editor at Vertigo UK (but that's a long story for another time).
This is me playing Fulcanelli in Dick Foreman and Paul's unpublished Vertigo miniseries. I seem to recall having to hang upside down, half off a bed, for this shot. Not only was I posing for one of the main characters, but I was also the assistant editor on the book, plus Paul's then-partner, Ellie was the letterer. How's that nepotism for you? More on this series in a future blog.
Paul eventually gave up on comics and became a well-respected acupuncturist. Our loss was medicine's gain!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Jeff Lint's The Caterer

I first came across Jeff Lint’s The Caterer comic when trawling through the endless mish mash of bargain comics in Notting Hill’s infamous Comic & Book Exchange in the summer of 1996.
Above: The cover to The Caterer #3 by Brandon Sienkel

Initially, it looked just like the other endless crappy Seventies' comics out there, but after surruptisously opening the bag (this was verboten in the shop) I flicked through and had my mind blown. The seemingly random “dialogue”, long rambling monologues, and erractic plotting gave the comic a surreal and disturbing quality. It was like a William Burroughs’ comic mashed-up with Vinnie Colletta and Herb Trimpe at a Temazepam party.

I bought that issue (#7) and read, and reread it, trying to decipher the hidden meaning and depth behind all this talk of goats, "stillness" and hallucinations. Lint was definitely trying to tell me something, I just wasn’t sure what it was. Alan Moore described the series as "the holy barnacle of failure" and that's a fair assessment. It was certainly ahead of its time. In fact I think it still is. Actually, I'm not sure if time will ever be able to catch up with it.
Above: The initial reaction to most The Caterer stories is WTF?!

I tried hunting down other issues of The Caterer in Gosh, Forbidden Planet and Comic Showcase, but bizarrely no one had heard of it and eventually I gave up trying. Around 2001 I had a massive clean out of my comic collection and got rid of a whole load of titles, including The Caterer #7 (a rash move that still haunts me to this day). So I was delighted when in 2008, Floating World Comics reprinted The Caterer #3. This was possible even more disturbing that #7 and I’ve since spent long hours anlaysing the meaning behind the chief protaganist Jack Marsden’s off-colour and enigmatic remarks.
Above: Unusually, for American comics, the cover, pencils and inks were done by 
the same artist, Brandon Sienkel.

It was through this reprint that I discovered more about the insane genius that was Jeff Lint. Apparently there was a biography written by Sci-Fi novelist Steve Ayett in 2005. I picked that up and devoured every page (click here to buy it on Amazon).
It was incredible that here was a man who had been at all the key pivotal points of popular fiction, yet history had chosen to ignore, like a smelly tramp muttering to himself at the back of the bus. Lint not only wrote pulp fiction and comics, but also scripted an unfilmed episode of the classic Star Trek (which gave rise to the classic catchphrase, "Flirting with McCoy") and a Hawkwind-eque concept album, The Energy Draining Church Bazaar  by The Unofficial Smile Group. Yet Lint’s obscurity makes Thomas Pychon and J.D. Salinger look like a publicity hungry gloryhounds on I’m A Celebrity...

So I was delighted that—15 years after first stumbling across the work of Lint—last Sunday I managed to see the world premire of Lint: The Movie in Brighton. The film was made and presented by Aylett and it stars a plethora of pop culture pundits such as Alan Moore and Stewart Lee along with famous Lint fans such as Robin Ince and Josie Long. The documentary is a fascinating insight into the enigma that is Lint and I urge everyone to see it. While it’s fair to say that it perhaps could be 15-20 mins shorter, it’s also fair to say that if you have even the slightest interest in science-fiction, comics and popular culture then you owe it to yourself to see this film

As smirking Jack Marsden says, “Stick with me. Stick with me. Stick with me.”
Above: A panel from The Caterer #9 when Jack Marsden visits a Disneyland cypher and machine guns down every costumed character mercilessly. The ensuing law suit from Disney meant the death of Lint's publisher, Pearl Comics—who filed for bankruptcy in 1976—and this was the last issue of The Caterer ever created.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Comics Launch Pad

Last weekend I went up to Birmingham to talk at the Ingural Comics Launch Pad event. This excellent one day seminar is the first of it's kind in the UK and is long, long overdue. There were talks and workshops from a whole range of writers artists, editors and the like, including Tony Lee, Emma Vieceli and many more.

 Me, the lovely and obscenely talented Simon Gane, and the very affiable DC editor, Joey Cavalieri

My talk was on Being a Competitive Creative in a Global Market and was a look at how creatives can behave and act in ways that make them desirable to editors. Considering I was up against Al Davison teaching fight coreography in comics, Klaus Janson, and Mike Carey talking about writing, I had a reasonable and enthusiastic crowd of 15-20 people!

We had a whole room devoted to the Comic Book Alliance—promoting the organisation and our forthcoming Spirit of Hope charity anthology. It was great to see the team of GM Jordan, Eva and Grant Perkins and the rest of the CBA crew working hard there! I spent the afternoon going through people's scripts with them, which was a doubled-edged sword as it meant that I got to help out some very talented writers, but at the expense of not seeing a single panel. Again! Sigh. One day I'll go to a show as a punter and just enjoy it! This is what the astute Bryan Talbot did over the weekend.

 Me and my old mates John & Rachel McCrea. I love the way Rachel is looking to escape and someone's failing to give me bunny ears!

I was really impressed with the venue, the organisation and the feedback was all very positive. The question now, is how to up the game for next year? Kudos to James, Shane and Andy as ever. Already regretting that I can't make Birmingham Comicon on 27 August.

Me and Dr Bryan Talbot. We share a common love of red wine and black shirts. 
Which makes us sound like we're Oswald Mosely fans, which we're not, I assure you!

Monday, 13 June 2011

From the WTF? Files

One of the things I love about living in Brighton is stuff like this:
A work colleague, James Holywell, snapped this in a shop called Sixtyseven in Seven Dials. Actually, I have conflicting emotions about it. While I think it's a nice piece of work that perfectly blends sex and comics, the sad fanboy part of me still screams inside, "But they cut up all those comics"! Even if they were some trashy Avengers comics from the Eighties/Nineties. A no-prize to anyone who can name some of the comics used and who actually made this!

Friday, 3 June 2011

Superhero Sex Video and Forthcoming Appearances

On Thursday 5th May I did a talk for one of the Catalyst Club's Brighton Festival specials, Sex, Death, Hell and Superheroes. I was preceeded Hayley Campbell's talk on From Hell and horror comics. This was the same talk as we did at The Last Tuesday Society.
Unfortunately, there were a few technical hitches (at 3:05) which meant we had to restart, and some of my intended images mysteriously disappeared, but the audience was very generous and forgiving. The whole event was filmed by Tim Pieracchi who very kindly edited out the worst bits and has given me permission to show it here in all its bumbling glory. Grab a cuppa settle down and enjoy 45mins of spandex sex talk.

A quick disclaimer: Apologies for any historical inaccuracies in the above clip which were caused completely by me being nervous and befuddled due to the presentation going tits up just after I'd started!

Rather embarrasingly I hold the dubious honour of having done the most talks at the eight year-old Catalyst Club (everything from Fifties Men's Magazines, The Great Cannabis Conspiricy, and The History of Ecstasy, to Indian Comics, John Willie, and Why Reunions are Not a Good Idea, and many more besides). Basically, it means they just can't shut me up! It happens on the first Thursday of every month. Check out the website and come along next time you're in Brighton!

Other forthcoming appearances where I'll be talking include:
The Catalyst Club: The Japanese Edition
Thursday 23 June, 7.30 to 11pm
The Festival Hub, Outside Moshi Moshi, Bartholomew Square, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1JS
I'm doing a brief talk on Osamu Tezuka: The God of Manga as part of the Brighton Japan Festival. There's a week of events based around Japanese pop culture including lots on Manga and Anime.

Comics and Conflict at the Imperial War museum
19 August 2011, 10am to 5pm
I'll be giving a brief talk about war comics as part of the museum's Children’s Literature Festival. Comics and Conflicts is conference that explores the ways in which comics around the world represent and articulate the experience and impact of war and conflict. Speakers include Pat Mills writer of Charley’s War; Garth Ennis writer of Battlefields; Mikkel Sommer writer and illustrator of Obsolete; Francesca Cassavetti who has republished her mother's wartime diary as a comic and Martin Barker and Roger Sabin who'll be talking about the depiction of war in the Guardian’s comic strip Doonesbury. Admission £30/students £15 (includes tea & coffee and entrance to the exhibition). Suitable for 16 years+

Other comics-related events happening at IWM include:
In Conversation with Pat Mills
19 August 2011, 4pm Author Pat Mills has been a pioneer and major contributor to British comics since the 1970s.  He co-created Battle Picture Weekly in 1975 and returned to the title in 1979 to write the ground-breaking serialised strip of Charley’s War.  Pat will be talking about the creation ofCharley’s War and the research that he and the late illustrator Joe Colquhoun undertook throughout the run of the comic. Admission £6.(Free to Comic and Conflict Conference ticket-holders) Suitable for 16 years+

In Conversation with Garth Ennis
20 August 2011, 3pm A rare opportunity to meet the author of Unknown SoldierWar is HellEnemy AceWar Stories and Battlefields. New Yorker Garth Ennis has been a major contributor to British and American comic books since 1989, following the publication of his strip Troubled Souls about the conflict in 1980s Ireland. Admission £6. Suitable for ages 16 years+