Click on the above pic to visit our sister site Bear Alley Books

Friday, February 06, 2015

Comic Cuts - 6 February 2015

I'm writing this early—Thursday morning rather than Thursday evening—because we're heading out tonight to see Stewart Lee on stage at Colchester's Mercury Theatre. I'm a long-time fan  of both Lee and of his former partner Richard Herring (see Comic Cuts passim) who we will be seeing later this month. At last! My chance to get copies of the Fist of Fun DVDs signed! I only had the first series when Herring was on his We're All Going To Die tour, so I've just the one lonely signature. Fingers crossed, I may now get the set. You'll just have to wait until next week to find out what happened.

I didn't manage to get much done over the weekend beyond setting up the World of Wonder galleries, so I've only had three full days to work on the new book since my last CC column. That said, I'm very pleased with the way it is coming together. The introduction was running to around 6,200 words at the latest count and I made the decision that breaking it up into smaller chunks to spread throughout the book was probably a bad move. On an aesthetic level it broke up the rhythm of the text. On a practical level, it was impossible to precisely match images to where characters were mentioned in the text as there were (a) portions of text that were purely biographical and (b) too many characters to illustrate. I think I've achieved a reasonable balance that will mean newcomers will get a sense of his work throughout his career and old hands might find one or two things that are new to them.

The bulk of the book is made up of illustrations from the pages of Look and Learn, Bible Story, Ranger, Once Upon a Time, Speed & Power and World of Wonder. Some are taken from original artwork wherever possible; most I've rescanned and re-cleaned—which is why the book has taken so long to put together! Personally I think the end results will justify the time put in.

As well as writing the next bit of the introduction, I've also done a few more layouts; I'm now 14 pages in and happy with the way those pages look. Things will speed up once I've got beyond the introductory material. If I get a good tail wind, the book should be out in about a month. As long as I don't take too many evenings off.

Back in 2011, Colchester saw some changes that have had a profound effect on the town... and few of them for the better. Many years before, we learned that the main central bus station was to be moved and the bribe was that we would get (a) a "visual arts centre" at the site of the old bus station and (b) a nice new bus station with shops and a cafe, although it would be further away from the shops.

In the end we got a £25½ million white elephant and the area set aside for the bus station was used for council offices; the bus station... well, it isn't a bus station. It's a road with some bus stops, very little shelter and no toilets.

But to turn back to the "visual arts centre", or "firstsite" as it is now known—little 'f' despite it being a name. I wonder how much that bit of useless branding cost. Two words slammed together, "first" and "site", neither of which contain any information about the location or function of the building. Compare: "Colchester Zoo"... "firstsite".

It was a year late opening and, frankly, it wasn't worth the effort or the extra £9 million it cost. The content has been wholly uninspiring and it attracts very few visitors. The exhibits are rubbish, film showings go wrong (a recent Shakespeare play had to be cancelled because of technical problems) and the schedules are a mess. I particularly like the note on the "What's On" page of their website which informs readers that "Talks, debates and symposia at firstsite offer a great opportunity to engage with contemporary art in new ways" and also that "There are no further talks and debates for the current season"... that season extending from 5 December 2014 to 31 December 2017!

This sudden rant was inspired by a report in the local paper the other day that even the guy in charge of the building thinks they've got it all wrong. I'll post the article below from which you'll see that the new guy who has had two years to fix things is still blaming the previous director for his eighteen month tenure during which "the gallery ... lost its way".

How screwed were things in the first eighteen months that they couldn't be fixed in two years? Wow! Hope that first guy never gets to work here again and the new guy really needs to pull his socks up.

Anyway, enough of that. Let's have some interesting illustrations. I think I found these on eBay and they've cleaned up a treat. What's most interesting is that the first two are, I believe, by Mick Anglo, of Marvelman fame. The second one has his familiar "Mick Anglo London" signature which doesn't necessarily mean that he was the man with his brush to the page, but it's a possibility.

The other identifiable artist is Wilding, who drew the final cover below, about whom I'll be writing more over the weekend.

Things may be quiet next week as I plug away at the book. If I get a chance I'll put together a gallery or two... we're getting close to episode 100!


  1. Hi Steve,
    And even the newspaper spells "firstsite" with a capital "F"..... and don't get me started on beginning a sentence with "and". Ha ha ha
    Dave Taylor

  2. I noticed the same thing. I think we can safely assume that the branding of "firstsite" with its lower-case 'f' hasn't worked. And the report refers to it constantly as a gallery whereas all the pre-publicity described it as a "visual arts centre". I think the space would be better used as a gallery - hanging paintings that people might like to look at - rather than the modern artsy-fartsy debacle it has turned into. And, yes, I'm aware that I've started two sentences with "and". I'm doing it for comic effect.