I hope you all manage to have a wonderful break wherever you are and whoever you’re with… and good luck with 2019 :)
I surprised myself last night by shedding a tear when I heard that Stan Lee had died aged 95. Although, thinking about it, I really shouldn’t have been surprised. To a great many people of my generation, he wasn’t just a guy that wrote comics, he was a father-figure who helped shape the people we would grow up to become.
This isn’t really aimed at my friends who used to read comics (or still do) - they know all of this already, and a whole lot more. This is aimed at the people who only knew Stan as the face of Marvel Comics or the man behind Spider-Man. And it’s especially aimed at the people that think that comics are ‘just for kids’.
I started reading Marvel comics when I was 11, just when I got to the age where I started thinking about the bigger things in life, and have no doubt that they helped shape my moral compass. Stan’s stories weren’t just about people in funny costumes fighting each other - they were about standing up for the underdog, fighting intolerance and doing the right thing even when it’s difficult.
One of his famous lines, ’With great power comes great responsibility’, makes me pretty sure that Donald Trump never read comics. But Stan wasn’t content with making sure his stories had a strong moral backbone, he actually wrote frequent editorials, Stan’s Soapbox, where he would hammer the point home e.g:
‘Let's lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them - to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater - one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen - people he’s never known with equal intensity with equal venom.
Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race - to despise an entire nation - to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill out hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God – a God who calls us ALL - His children.’
I certainly didn’t get that sort of moral guidance from my own father :)
Plus, I passively absorbed an incredible amount of knowledge from those stories: physics, biology, geography, mythology… Who knew learning could be so much fun? Comics fuelled my imagination and acted as a gateway drug to reading ‘real’ books, both fantasy and factual.
If all you know of Stan’s comics are the Marvel movies you’ve seen at the cinema, then I’m not sure how well this stuff comes across. Reading Spider-Man as a teenager was like being involved in a decade-long soap opera, watching the characters interact and develop - there’s no way that can be condensed into a 2 hour movie. You simply don’t care enough what happens to someone you only met an hour ago…
Sure, Stan was sometimes happy to take too much responsibility for his part in creating these characters - both Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko did far more than they’re credited for in the mainstream press - but there’s no denying it was his vision that powered the characters and gave them the human touch.
I met him twice, both at book signings, and he seemed like such a nice, genuinely enthusiastic guy. Although I was just another in a long line of kids waiting to get his autograph, he took his time to make everyone feel special, like he was really pleased to meet us. And I didn’t just meet Stan - it was through comics that I met some of my best friends who I’ve grown up with ever since.
So perhaps I shouldn’t feel so sad - after all, he lived to 95 years old, was happily married for 69 years (his wife died last year, also 95) and was one of the most read authors in the world. His characters have created a mythology for the modern age that will outlast us all… not a bad legacy.
So Rest In Peace, Stan - you’ve earned it.
About 50 years ago the first British comics Fanzine was published and David Hathaway-Price decided that this was an event that needed celebrating. So he asked some his friends who had been involved in the fan scene over the years (myself included) if we'd be interested in contributing to a commemorative fanzine.
I'm sure he was surprised (and terrified) by the scale of the response! Fanscene has just been released and checks in at massive 328 pages. It's a wonderful mix of articles, personal reminiscences, new or unpublished artwork and strips - basically a great big wallow in nostalgia for anybody that grew up loving comics in the 70s & 80s.
I contributed an article about my memories of publishing my own fanzine (Apocalypse) and also supplied three unpublished strips from back in the day, including my unfinished, illustrated version of 2112 by Rush.
I can't recommend this highly enough for anyone who has an interest in British comics (or even just a collection of great artwork) and since it's completely free, there really is no excuse not to download a copy right now.
This year seems to have gone by quicker than ever... Globally things still seem pretty grim, but I hope you've managed to have a good year and that 2018 is better for all of us
New Year's Resolution: update the blog more frequently :)
I was cleaning out a cupboard this weekend when I came across this painting I did of Bowie that I'd completely forgotten about - it bought a little tear to my eye...
Years ago, I made an album, then, apart from giving a few handmade CDs to close friends, forgot all about it...
But then I found the files and uploaded them to Soundcloud so everyone can listen.
It's all instrumental electronica, so you don't have to worry about my singing voice. If that sounds like your sort of thing, here's a link.
ps. the song titles are all related to the Final Fantasy series of video games...
Wow - 2016 was a bit of a rollercoaster wasn’t it? I hope you managed to get through it without being too traumatised and that 2017 is much better for all of us, and the world in general. And I hope you manage to have a wonderful Christmas break.
You might have heard of the new(ish) video game called No Man's Sky recently released on the PS4. It's unique selling point is that no two players will ever see the same game - you get to explore an enormous galaxy of literally billions of planets and everybody starts from a different point within that galaxy.
There's been some controversy over the actual game itself i.e. whether just flying a spaceship from planet to planet actually counts as real gameplay, but there's no denying how beautiful it all looks and what an amazing technical feat it is. The designers of game clearly have a love of classic Science Fiction book covers (like these...) which has resulted in some truly beautiful alien landscapes to explore.
Here's an article on Eurogamer detailing some of the artists the game's designers drew inspiration from. I've been enjoying it immensely from a visual perspective - so here's a few screenshots of my adventures.
There's some cool looking spaceships...
Strange alien planets to explore...
Plenty of alien outposts and strange temples to visit...
And of course you get to fly a spaceship
I got a great new USB cable the other day...
Now that's not normally the sort of thing I get that excited about or that I'd bother sharing with you, but this one is really clever. It's one of the micro USB ones - basically most things that aren't made by Apple use these, so despite being an Apple fanboy, I do have numerous Kindles, Playstation controllers, bluetooth speakers etc that all need charging with one of these.
All my other USB cables have a right way and a wrong way of being plugged in at both ends - so the chances of getting it right first time are pretty remote (especially in a poorly lit room).
The great thing about this cable is that both ends are reversible, so it doesn't matter which way either of them goes in... it just works first time, every time. Quite why USB cables weren't designed like this in the first place, I don't really know... It's also very well made, a nice quality braided red cable so it stands out from all the other tangle of black one, gold plated ends and it's extra long.
So if you'd like one less thing in your life to be frustrating, check it out on here on Amazon.
Yesterday an old friend (Hi Mark) asked if I'd still got copies of some work we did together on a project called Weird about 20 years ago (20 years... wow, that went fast)
Weird was a 'edutainment CD-ROM' - a sort of cross between a video game and an interactive book about weird stuff. You explored a strange environment, clicking on anything that looked interesting to reveal a video interview, narrated slideshow or just a text based story.
I dug through my old backup discs and was surprised to find I could still open them and access all the files - I had to do a bit of file conversion (who remembers PICT files) and was surprised at how small there were: 640 x 480. Even phones have MUCH bigger screens today :)
Anyway, the process bought back a lot of happy memories so thought I'd present some of the weird and wonderful work I found.