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Friday, August 23, 2019

Comic Cuts -23 August 2019

Today's Comic Cuts has a soundtrack. Click on the play button and read on...

Forty years ago today, SeaCon '79 opened at the Metropole Hotel in Brighton. My first ever convention. My memories of those five days are mostly that I was hungry for the last three because I spent almost all my money in the dealer's room on days one and two. And I had a bag of books stolen on the second day.

I attended quite a few talks and at one of them Arthur C. Clarke sat next to me and I didn't notice as the talk had already started and I was concentrating on that. It was only when it ended and people started crowding towards my seat that I realised who was sat next to me. I credit Clarke above all others for getting me into science fiction, his stories appearing in each issue of Speed & Power where I devoured them. I had read SF before—I'd definitely read Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, quite a few of John Creasey's Dr Palfrey novels, and some of the James Blish Star Trek novelisations... I was a fan of the TV show and other SF shows on television, particularly The Champions and Thunderbirds—but discovering Clarke shortly before my 12th birthday, turned me into a rabid SF reader.

I spent the summer of '74 reading everything by Clarke at our local library and the "big" library (as I called it) in Chelmsford, and once I'd run out of Clarke, discovered Asimov and others via Clarks book shop and the second hand bookstall at Chelmsford market. Over the next couple of years I became a member of the British Fantasy Society and the British SF Association, but wasn't particularly active. The World SF Convention, however, was too big an event to miss... my chance to meet some of my favourite authors. Sadly, I don't really remember much about meeting even the people who autographed my convention book. Clarke was gracious but about to be surrounded so had no time to answer questions; Alfred Bester I remember because he found Theodore Sturgeon's odd symbol ("move on to the next question," Sturgeon explained) pretentious, so he made up one of his own. But I met Hal Clement and Larry Niven, two of my favourite authors of hard SF, and I have no recollection at all. Mind you, what sort of conversation could this 17-year-old schoolboy have had with them or, say, John Brunner, who had his first novel published when he was 17, or Robert Silverberg, then celebrating 25 years as a published author.

What I do remember is attending Lionel Fanthorpe's talk on writing for Badger Books, Bob Shaw's serious scientific lecture and watching the American audience members listening for the first time to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which was playing in a small room to an overpacked audience on rotation. The cassette tape must have been worn out by the end. I also remember the generosity of people like Gay Haldeman (wife of Joe Haldeman), who kept me fed at one of the parties after I confessed that I hadn't eaten anything all day to preserve what little cash I had left. Every plate of nibbles that came round came to me first!

I mentioned last week that, during our internet blackout, I'd taken the opportunity to finish scanning family photographs that my Mum has. I also kept the scanner busy with a few boxes of old film magazines that had been living in boxes ever since we moved. Unfortunately, because there was no way (at that point) for me to upload new items for sale on Ebay, I very quickly ran out of space to pile them up.

While I was digging around I re-discovered some books that had been missing for a decade. They went onto the wrong shelf when we moved in and had another layer of books stacked in front of them... and that's where they've been ever since. The books are old Digit Books from the early 1960s, including a number of war novels that I believe are all by the same author, namely Macgregor Urquhart. He has quite a distinctive style and a number of tricks to speed up the writing process, including large chunks of dialogue and the use of sound effects.

The sound effects aren't unique to Urquhart as his editor also began using them on occasion, and this had me foxed when I first spotted it some years ago. However, as I had time to study the books a bit harder, it became possible to distinguish between the two and I'm now confident that I've separated out the works of the two authors – at least as far as the books I own go. I need to study a bigger pool of Digit originals before I can be confident that I've found them all.

I also need to find my copies of Combat Library (the text story library rather than the picture library), as Urquhart was a contributor under pseudonyms.

I mention this because I played around with producing a podcast about a week into our blackout, and used Urquhart as a subject. It will probably never see the light of day because it was unplanned, under-rehearsed and would have benefited from having access to the internet so I could check some facts. Still, I had a fun afternoon discovering how long I could talk without going "...er..." or "...um..." (not long) and how often I begin a sentence by saying "So...".

I scanned some of the vast pile of scans I'd accumulated when I was researching The Trials of Hank Janson so that I have them easily accessible on the computer when I come to eventually write my book Caught in the Act (working title) about events that led up to the revamping of the Obscene Publications Act. I did start writing a couple of bits: about the early career of Gerald G. Swan and the story of how American pulps were imported into the UK in the 1920 and 1930s, and what problems this caused.

I also started writing up some notes on Paul Renin, the romance author who had more destruction order issued against his books than any other author in the early 1950s (1,134 orders against 105 different titles) and revised an old essay on the earliest obscene publications trial aimed at a paperback publisher, which dates back to 1931.

I've since been taking a look at the growing popularity of nude photography in the 1930s and at the lives of some famous photographers of the era, from Roye to George Harrison Marks.

Some might have taken the opportunity to sort out the garden. I read some dirty books so old they can barely be classified as raunchy, and looked at "art" photographs of nudes which today wouldn't shock a maiden aunt. Each to their own.

I'm taking a quick look at The Boys below the pic. Look away now if you don't like spoilers.

Based on the Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson comic book, The Boys is an 8-part Amazon Prime serial, already renewed for a second season. It's set in a world where a number of real-life superheroes exist, the most famous of whom have been bought together by Vought International as the group The Seven, led by Homelander, an all-American hero, dressed in red, white and blue and topped off with a stars and stripes cape. He's also arrogant, egotistical and brutal.

His ex, Queen Maeve, despises him and has grown disillusioned with endless rounds of publicity events and corporate schmoozing. Others are just as screwed up: A-Train jacks himself up on Compound-V to keep his edge; The Deep is an ignorant rapist and Translucent a boorish pervert; newcomer Starlight doesn't know what she is letting herself in for when she joins the team following the retirement of Lamplighter.

Hughie Campbell's girlfriend dies when she steps into the path of speedster A-Train, who has been attending a bank robbery. He turns down the $45,000 offered as compensation by Vought and is found by Billy Butcher, who has his own reasons for hating the "Supes", blaming Homelander for the rape of his wife who went missing eight years earlier, her family believing she has committed suicide.

Butcher gathers together a small team—the 'Boys' of the title—to take down the Seven. They capture Translucent, whose invulnerable skin makes him impossible to kill... until they put C-4 up his backside. Translucent reveals to Hughie that A-Train was really with his girlfriend, not on a mission; Hughie detonates the C-4 when Translucent tries to escape.

Within minutes of starting the first episode you'll realise that the series is not fettered by good taste. Turning Hughie's girlfriend into a cloud of blood and meat and leaving him holding her hands... that's the point you either turn off or hunker down for one of the darkest, bloodiest, sweariest, funniest superhero tales ever told. There isn't a single character in the show, bar a few in supporting roles, that you'd call nice. Nearly everyone has their own self-centred agenda, even Hughie who is the "innocent abroad" character caught between a desire for revenge and his romantic interest in Starlight. By the end of the series, you might be seeing a few of them in a (maybe only slightly) different light. Fast-paced, crude and bloody, this won't be for everyone, but given the mood I've been in these past few weeks, it was just the tonic I needed.

(* I don't often post music, but I picked up the new Big Big Train album, Grand Tour, just before the internet went dark on us and it has been the joyous soundtrack to my internet-free days. It's their best album since English Electric and well-worth a listen if you don't know the band. 'Alive' is one of my favourite tracks on the album, although 'Voyager' has it beaten to top spot. If you like what you hear, give English Electric or The Underfall Yard a try.)

1 comment:

  1. I was there in 79 too. What a fantastic weekend. My first con, I was a few years older but grew up reading many of the authors whose autograph I collected in my convention booklet. Still got it somewhere.

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