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Friday, July 12, 2013

Comic Cuts - 12 July 2013

We went to see Phill Jupitus at the Arts Centre last Saturday. This is the first time we've seen him live, although we follow many of the shows he appears on. I'm not sure what we were expecting from an evening with Jupitus... perhaps something whimsically surreal along the lines of Eddy Izzard. What we got was actually a note-perfect impersonation of Izzard and an evening of comedy that was unexpected and thoroughly enjoyable.

The stage was bare but for a microphone and an easel with a board on it: "Good Evening". This was changed, shortly before Jupitus was due to come on to read: "Vernon Herschel-Harley / Actor/bon viveur / Salishbury, Wiltshire / 1899-Last Thursday".

And it was in the guise of silver-haired Herschel-Harley that Jupitus limped onto on the stage, leaning heavily on a walking stick and clutching a pipe. With only the briefest introduction he barked "Question!" at the audience and waited as the audience paused, wondering what to do. Eventually, someone muttered a question... "How did you die?"

At which point Jupitus took us on the surreal journey of sexual sadomasochism that ended Herschel-Harley's life. 

Involving an audience—untrained amateurs that we are—means the show has the potential to fall flat on its face. Thankfully the Colchester crowd caught on reasonably quickly and allowed each character to fly off into whimsical and delightful surreality in their answers. We met three over the course of a (lengthy, value-for-money) evening: after Herschel-Harley shuffled from the stage, on came Kurt Schiffer / Korvettenkapitan U42-B / Hamburg, Deutschland / 1903-1945, the son of a baker who refused to involve himself in the war after finding Hitler too insufferable at their regular Book Club meetings; and finally we met the late Phill Jupitus / Beloved Entertainer, whose hologram explained how he died in 2052.

Occasionally the answers to a question were brief and to the point, Jupitus knowing where there wasn't any comedy gold to be mined, but another question would send him on a journey that sometimes surprised even him: Michael Winner's origins as a half-human/half-squirrel with an obsession for the forbidden redheaded fruit or being fired from a U-boat at a Narwahl... even he had to stifle laughter at some of these wilder moments.

So a big thumbs up for Phill Jupitus. I hope he'll bring some other characters to Colchester in the future.

The Boys' World book has passed a crucial stage... I've just about finished my first pass on the introduction. Writers have different methods of getting words down on paper. Mine I've compared in the past to dérive, the psychogeography first conducted by situationists in the 1950s. In my case I'll keep writing until I hit a name, then research that name as best I can, occasionally discovering other names that need researching and so on and so forth. So today I was trying to figure out when Clifford Makins left Eagle, which somehow led to me discovering that Christine Bernard, the horror anthologist, died in France in 2000. Rather than psychogeography's aesthetic choices, mine are usually based on a lack of knowledge. It's rather distracting—knowing when Christine Bernard died isn't going to help the book in any way—and sometimes I wish I had more self-control, but every now and then this kind of mining at the coal face will turn up connections that I wouldn't have known existed.

If I'm writing a short introduction, the first pass is generally the version that, with a bit of tightening and maybe a little rewriting, will go off to the publisher. In these comic introductions, most of which run to 20,000 words or so, there tends to be a lot more revision required. I'm often researching as I go along and letters are fired off to various people along the way. There may be a gap or some placeholder text inserted while I wait for an answer—and with the summer now upon us, it can sometimes take a week or two to get a reply. I may remember something and go back and stick in a one-line note to myself that I'll expand on as I take my second pass. And now that I know the general shape of the piece, I will begin inserting additional bits of information about authors, artists and strips now that I can see where they will be most relevant. That's when the kitchen sink tends to be thrown in if I'm not too careful.

On Wednesday I started what should be the last round of research and while I'm waiting on some of the replies, I will probably start thinking about the look of the book, maybe taking some inspiration from Boys' World itself. One thing I'm likely to be doing is including a detailed plot synopsis of every single comic strip storyline that appeared. Normally I would try to weave these into the run of the introduction but, just for a change, I thought I'd give each strip their own short section. Making each book slightly different keeps them interesting for me to write and hopefully a more interesting read.

I meant to post the photo of the final giraffe last week but it completely slipped my mind. I have to jump through a few hoops to get the photos off my camera and it was only when Mel opened up the camera card on her computer to sort out the Phill Jupitus pics that I realised I still hadn't posted the Firstsite giraffe. This is the last of 17 giraffes dotted around the town centre, plus Mel photographed a couple that were located close to where she works. So we've photographed 19 of them... and, frankly, that's enough. I think they're wonderful. As art they are interesting and I hope they'll raise a lot for charity when they're sold; as a delightful, colourful surprise to see around town they're priceless and I must confess that I'm going to miss them.

Over the weekend we'll take a brief look at the career of western writer Henry John Keevil and... um... something else. And then we'll have... er... something next week.

Answer to 'What Would YOU Do?': The travellers removed the tyre from one of the truck's rear wheels. Then they tied one end of their rope to the tyreless wheel and the other to a tree at the top of the slope. Starting the engine, the driver put the truck into reverse gear. As the rear wheels turned the rope wound itself round the wheel, so hauling the truck up the slope. It was then a simple matter to replace the tyre and continue the journey.

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