Friday, May 31, 2024

Comic Cuts — 31 May 2024

Back to the grindstone after a nice few days off, with Monday and Tuesday taken up chiefly with writing an introduction to a German collection of various Don Lawrence strips. It should be quite a book as it includes Don's run on Olac the Gladiator and Maroc the Mighty as well as various fill-ins and illustrations. There's a third volume in the works, so I'm hoping that I'll get involved in that one, too.

They're particularly nice volumes, hardback, and a nice hefty size. The first one was an expanded version of the Don Lawrence Scrapbook, which came out in a slightly abridged version as an Illustrators Special a few years back. I think it's near to selling out, at which point I'll recover my copyright on the material and put out a version under the Bear Alley Books imprint.

Wednesday involved scanning some artwork, doing some clean-up so that my introduction had some illustrations; catching up on some e-mails; reading a bit of a new book that I've got myself involved in; packing up two boxes with some old books that we no longer want; going for two walks; chatting to my Mum for an hour; catching up on Red Eye, the ITV thriller that isn't quite as good as Hijack but still has me hooked; watch half an episode of Columbo; and read another chapter of the book I've been enjoying for the  past few weeks, Becky Chambers' The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which Mel recommended to me.

I don't get much of a chance to read novels these days, but I'm trying to make sure I read a little bit each evening before bed so that I can get through more books this year than I did last year — I think I only read half a dozen books for pleasure last year; this year I'm already on my fifth book (plus another five or six for work), so I've definitely upped the pace. I'm nowhere near what I used to read when I was 12 or 13 and borrowing books from our local library on Tuesday evening, reading them Wednesday / Thursday and replacing them Thursday evening, reading those on Friday / Saturday and visiting the library again Saturday afternoon to borrow more! I think I must have read 90% of the total works of Arthur C. Clarke during the summer holiday of 1974 along with dozens of other books.

Back in those days I had access to two libraries: the little local library at Broomfield and the much larger Chelmsford Library. At Broomfield Library you were allowed two books out at a time on your children's ticket; thankfully — and I suspect because the staff saw me struggling to find new books to read in the children's section — I was given an adult ticket which opened up the whole of the library to me and I could now take out four books at a time.

I also had a ticket for Chelmsford Library at the Civic Centre, a neo-Georgian building built in 1935, which was a warren of book shelves, wonderful to explore. There was a whole room (first floor, left) dedicated to children's books where I discovered The Magnet and Billy Bunter through the Howard Baker reprints at age 12. I mention this because it led to my first bit of "literary" research when I wrote to the publisher trying to track down a volume missing from the library (it contained part of a serial by George E. Rochester that I had only partly read thanks to it being split over a couple of volumes); I also took the opportunity to ask such searching questions as "Is The Gem like The Magnet?" and one or two others.

And I got a reply, scrawled over my letter in green ink. It was a few years before I started corresponding with W. O. G. Lofts, the story paper researcher, and realised that he had replied on Baker's behalf. You couldn't mistake Bill's terrible handwriting for anyone else's.

Baker wasn't the first author I wrote to. I was already a member of the Lone Pine Club, which I must have joined at either 9 or 10. It was for fans of Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine adventures. I know it must have been around that age because the newsletters were full of news about a new book, Where's my Girl?, and that came out in 1972. Indeed, I had a hardback copy of the book, probably for Christmas that year.

I still have a copy, although it's the Girls Gone By paperback reprint from a few years ago... I've just checked the date and it was 2005 — nearly twenty years ago! Time flies, eh?

I used to head into Chelmsford Library almost daily as it was a short walk up the road from school and you could look out of the windows onto the bus station to see when your bus arrived on cold or rainy days. There was plenty of space to park a bike during the summer.

No more... the bus station has shrunk and is now dominated by flats, and the Civic Centre stopped being a library in the 1980s. We were promised the building would become an art gallery, a restaurant and be filled with artistic and creative endeavors. But actually the council used it for council tax payments when they opened Chelmsford Central Library in 1988. Admittedly it was a nice, modern building, airy compared to the old building, but what it gained in light and space, it lost in atmosphere. The old library still had a card filing system that you could use to track down reference books in obscure corners of the Dewey Decimal system.

The new place was all white shelves and some of the reference books I used regularly had disappeared. (I was doing publisher indexes for Dragonby Press and used Whitaker's Cumulative Book Index and the English Catalogue of Books constantly.) And I was now living just around the corner from the old library, which meant I could just run round and look something up as necessary. The new library was just far enough away that you had to plan a trip, lock up the flat, and trudge the quarter of a mile or so to get there.

(This is turning into an "And another thing..." column.)

And, when I worked at Hoffmans (also just around the corner), I could nip into the library at lunchtime, which I couldn't do later on because we only had half an hour.

(I'm going to stop now before I become too emotional.)

I'm waiting on a proof of the next Bear Alley book, so hopefully I'll have some actual news next week.

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