Things Other Boys Like

Saturday 12th December 2015.

I watch the new film documentary Future Shock! – The Story of 2000AD, via iTunes’s streaming service. It’s paid and official, but it’s still a format I access with reluctance. I’d seek out a London cinema screening, but there doesn’t seem to be one.

I was an avid reader of 2000AD comic during its first ten years, though Dad initially ordered it from the village newsagent for himself. The first issue in 1977 resurrected his 1950s comic hero, Dan Dare, and came with a free Space Frisbee. Once I was old enough to share his copy, I enjoyed the highly imaginative artwork, and the witty left-leaning satire of stories like Judge Dredd. This was all instinctive, though: I was too young to really know what left-wing meant, or indeed what satire meant. As far as I was concerned they were just entertaining and exciting tales, close in tone to my beloved Tintin and Asterix, and an anecdote to American superheroes and Star Wars. I had already filed away the latter under Things Other Boys Like (and I still do).

I remember the Judge Dredd saga that naughtily used mutant versions of Ronald McDonald and the Jolly Green Giant as villains. As a result, the comic found itself on the sticky end of legal action. Watching this film, I finally discover what sort of people were behind it such childhood pleasures. Most of the comic creators interviewed are gentle and soft-spoken gentlemen of a certain vintage. One is Alan Grant, who lived in a Suffolk village and was a friend of Dad’s for a while. I visited Mr Grant myself as a teen, and remember him lending me a book on quantum theory, In Search Of Schrodinger’s Cat.

In the film, the original editor of 2000AD, Pat Mills, comes across as a veritable force of nature. Despite his years he is still full of energy, still ranting away against authority as if it were 1977. The story goes that the comic’s publishers wanted a new sci-fi weekly to cash in on the late 70s success of Star Wars. Mills, meanwhile, wanted to give Britain’s kids action-packed adventures of rebellion and anti-fascism, but had fallen foul of the censor with his previous comic, Action. For him, science fiction was a compromise. As with much sci-fi, the comic used ideas about the future to say things about the present day.

I think it took me a while to realise that Judge Dredd was a satire on fascism. Despite this, the helmet-wearing Dredd was still a character you were meant to root for, in the same way you were meant to root for vigilante anti-heroes like Dirty Harry. I stopped reading the comic in the late 80s, when it became increasingly violent – or so I thought. This documentary points out that it was always rather gory from the start. So perhaps it was me who changed. I certainly missed out on a phase in the 1990s where 2000AD apparently became so laddish, it published adverts featuring women pulling dim expressions, with the caption, ‘2000AD. She doesn’t get it. She never will.’ The editor responsible appears in the new film, and says he now regrets those adverts.

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Monday 14th December 2015.

Last session for the term with my college dyspraxia mentor, Katie W, at Senate House. I admit to her that I’ve let procrastination creep into my essay schedule, though some of it is not my fault. The freelance review took longer than I thought, because I had to revise it for that particular readership. It’s useful to remember that a review for a magazine is also a negotiation, between an opinion of the material, and an idea of what the reader wants.

I wonder what’s behind my struggling with this new essay. Possibly because it’s the first essay of the MA, so it’s all new. Another theory is it’s to do with my creeping uncertainty about whether I’m doing the right thing with the MA. Yet the moment I began, I felt a surge of relief that I hadn’t taken a year out. To have left it for over a year would have been even harder. So at least that was a right decision. And yet the reluctance this week is overwhelming.

I’m not drastically behind: just a couple of days. But I need to pick up the slack over the Xmas & New Year break. The deadline is January 4th, the word count 5000. I’ve done about 3000 words this week. It’s a mess, but a mess is still a start.

In terms of research, I have a huge pile of handwritten notes, with further piles of books on the floor, and a few JSTOR e-texts on my computer. Yet the worry remains that I’ve missed some perfect book out there. How do proper writers get over the worry that they’ve missed something? Sheer ego? No: sheer deadline.

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Tuesday 15th December 2015.

I’m writing a letter back to an American reader. She asks me if I have a best friend. By which she means, someone to whom I pour out the cares of a hard day, perhaps over the phone. I tell her there is no such person. One reason is that I’m naturally aloof and detached (there might some element of dyspraxia in this mix). Another is that I’m grateful to have a range of friends and acquaintances, and I like to see as many of them as I can. That is, when I’m not feeling so aloof. But it could also be that I just don’t feel confident at making phone calls, not if it’s purely for a chat (my mother being the only exception). I prefer full presence company, or messages.

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Thursday 17th December 2015.

To the Viktor Wynd Museum in Hackney, to give one more guided tour. A huge amount of people – it’s remarkable how they seek it out. Quite pleased that I can update my speech on the Mervyn Peake display, with the news that a new film of Gormenghast is in the pipeline, scripted by Neil Gaiman. Barnabas, who works behind the bar, recognises the Caravaggio painting on the cover of my TLS. He turns out to be something of a Caravaggio fan, and tells me of the masterpieces he sought out in the churches of Rome. Many of them are extremely dimly lit, even allowing for the whole chiaroscuro effect.

* * *

In the evening, I sit in the Barbican Cinema Café and write out my Christmas cards. I try to cut the list down to the people I’ve felt particularly fond of or grateful to within the last year. That great phrase that used to mark the excommunication of a friend, ‘they’re no longer on my Christmas list’ – how anachronistic that now is. Many people no longer bother with cards full stop. This may be because they count their affection in pixels, or because of the pricy postage costs, or because of the waste (though it’s not as if cards are difficult to recycle). I send cards because it makes me happy: that should be reason enough.

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Friday 18th December 2015.

Petulance in the newsagent. I decide not to buy one particular magazine purely because it carries a writer who unfollowed me on Twitter.

Private Eye‘s Christmas issue has its usual ‘log rolling’ feature at the back. This is where they examine all the Books of the Year articles in British newspapers, and highlight how many of them appear to be the brazen returning of favours. Either that, or friends cosily scratching each other’s hardbacks. I always thought this overlooks how some friendships are often forged because of an admiration for a body of work. Still, I do enjoy the description of male Elena Ferrante fans, unfair as it is: ‘like sweaty chaps sneaking into the back of a zumba class for yummy mummies’.

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