The weird world of romance comics

I got a batch of old DC, Marvel and Charlton romance comics the other day and they’re simply insane in their simplistic old-fashioned sexism, or worse, when the creators were trying to be ‘progressive’ in the 60’s and 70’s.

These titles sold hundreds of thousands of copies every month yet they’re now highly collectable thanks to having some work from fine creators like Wally Wood, Jim Steranko, John Romita and Stan Lee who must have churned out thousands of stories where men were men, women knew their place and love always won. What’s bizarre is that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created the genre in 1947, but don’t expect a billion dollar film franchise for Millie the Model anytime soon.

Think of this; when Jack and Stan were carving themselves what would be the Marvel Universe they’d sell thousands upon thousands of glorious stuff like this.

And it’s the Marvel romance comics of the 60’s and 70’s I’m drawn to like some masochistic butterfly which isn’t to say that DC didn’t knock out a few gems.

But it’s the Marvel stuff created by then middle aged men trying hard to tell stories which teenage girls could lap up that’s the prime choice.

This stuff is generally awful, but there’s an ironic joy in these tales of romance which are often beautifully drawn, but it really is the cries for contemporary relevance that makes these stories so fantastically shite, yet great at the same time.

By the mid-70’s romance comics were dead, more or less. The rise of the superhero meant Marvel and DC concentrated on that genre and the days of both main publishers printing a variety of comics of all genres were on the way out. However these now highly collectable relics contain some work that needs better appreciation from comics historians and the fact that this genre is often disregarded or skimmed over in various histories of comics is a tragedy. Especially as even low grade copies of these comics fetch high prices.

So seek these comics out. If you’re any sort of fan of the medium you may not be exposing yourself to great stories but you’ll find some amazing art, and you can ironically enjoy them to your hearts content…

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How the Momo Challenge showed the failure of the media

This week, something called ‘the Momo challenge’ caused panic across the UK thanks to an utterly irresponsible article in the Herald, which was then picked up like loose change across the UK’s media, which then seems to have prompted another worldwide panic. That’s right, I say another because last summer this was a thing and was thoroughly debunked by the online horror community. Here’s the splendid Reignbot outlining just how much of a pile of crap it all was.

And here’s Know Your Meme doing the same now in full updated detail. All of this information was online before the Herald article hit, but this didn’t stop loads and loads of parents being worried about something that doesn’t exist because it’s a myth, a meme or a Creepypasta or whatever your generation wants to call it.

What’s horrendous in all of this is that kids are killing themselves not because of a horrific sculpture by a Japanese artist but because of their mental health, and in among all this media-driven panic children’s mental health barely got a sniff.with media instead using the twin bogeymen of Momo and social media to drive fear into kids. Kids and teenagers however have some great coping systems so with the help of no irresponsible adults, they’ve been doing wonders to make something that is a disturbing image into something nice and fun.

Of course the media won’t learn its lesson and will carry on spreading these stories, as will parents who can’t even Google to see what’s going on so next time round there’s a moral panic more kids will be needlessly scared all because the media in its drive for clicks and views can’t engage some critical thinking to factcheck these stories, not until the panic is in full bloom at least.

We should expect more from the media, and from parents easily to panic, but thank fuck the online generation took this into their own hands to detoxify and debunk because the established figures of authority weren’t doing it.

A word of appreciation for Absolute Beginners

Back in 1986 the director Julien Temple directed the film adaptation of Absolute Beginners; originally a book about life in London one summer in 1958.  It helped bankrupt one British studio, Goldcrest, and was instantly declared such a bomb that it’s rarely spoken about apart from ‘5 worst films ever’ type clickbait articles online., however the theme song by David Bowie is the only thing to really survive.

Part of the hate the film produced was the decision to turn the book into a musical, not to mention the charisma-free relationship between the two miscast leads (Patsy Kensit and Eddie O’Connell) and the fact the book was toned down. The film also has little sense of pace & the tone flits from weird British comedy to intense racial politics on a penny, plus those musical numbers stop the film dead even if some (like the Ray Davis one) are actually superb.

In short it deserves the reputation for being a mess and in places it is pretty awful, but, there’s one of the best opening shots you’ll see in a film as Temple guides the camera in one shot giving us a guided tour of the recreation of 50’s Soho.  There’s the production design which stands up as being part faithful, part idealised and of course some of the musical numbers are great. When the film clicks, I get what the filmmakers were trying to do and sure, the sometimes clunking acting, or the black hole of the central relationship comes back to punch you in the face in regards the bad side but something comes along shortly after to make you pine as to what it could have been, especially at the end during the Notting Hill race riots.

As a film it doesn’t deserve the hate its built up as there’s clearly far, far worse out there, but certain films become punching bags and Absolute Beginners is one of them. The film’s one big positive legacy though remains the theme song which is one of the greatest themes a film could have, which seeing as it came at a time in the 80’s when David Bowie wasn’t exactly at the top of his game (to say the least) for him to pull out a song which seriously gets better every time it’s heard is nothing short of genius.

When I saw Bowie perform the song at Glastonbury in 2000, it was nothing short of perfect. Standing there in a crowd of people transfixed hearing and seeing people moved by a song from a film that’s a third shit, a third weird genius and third all over the place and is now mainly forgotten is not an experience ever to be forgot.

So give the film another chance, or if you’ve never seen it watch it for what it is which is an ambitious, weird oddity with a brilliant opening, some great moments and one of the best songs of all time.

Have a look…

You all have to experience ‘Interface’

Ever since YouTube arrived over a decade ago there’s been a rise of sometimes astonishing creativity and in the case of Interface, there’s  so much creativity on display that it can be a bit overwhelming.

Interface is the product of the mind of Unami, whomever that may well be, and it’s set in Canada, and it draws from things as diverse as David Cronenberg, Twin Peaks, Philip K Dick and William Burroughs. It has a wonderfully dreamy/nightmareish tone that flips on a penny and is best experienced late at night.

The first episode is below, the rest are here. I implore you to try it out.

Another Halloween tale…

A few years ago I told a wee Halloween story from my youth and promised to tell the story of the time I saw a UFO. This isn’t that story but it’s another wee Halloween story, this time from my time living in Nottingham in the early 1990’s and of either a drug-induced hallucination or a close shave with someone, or something.

Back in the early 90’s, Nottingham was an up and coming city. It was also a young city in terms of population but a very, very old city with many areas 5-10 years away from any sort of gentrification. For folk into the ‘alternative’ cultures available at the time, the city was a dream where one could indulge themselves to their heart’s delight, or indeed, any other part of the body that pumped blood.To aid with this, one would spend an evening at Rock City which back then, was somewhat of a free for all on certain nights, so nights would be drunken, druggy and messy. It wasn’t uncommon to leave Rock City attached to a larger crew after closing to end up in someone’s house to wake up hours later on the couch/floor/bed/wherever.

Basically just what you should be doing in your early 20’s.

One late autumnal Saturday night I headed down to Rock City having little to do after having done a comic mart that afternoon, so I went to see who was there. It was, as you’d expect, a messy night and various people were there doing various things in what was a fun night which when it came to 2am, most of us didn’t want to stop. One chap on the fringes of the scene invited a bunch of us back to his in Hyson Green which was near where I lived. From here on in I need to make clear names have either been lost to memory, or changed to protect the innocent.

The chap’s name was Brian, and he lived in a squat in an old Victorian house off the Mansfield Road. It was a fair walk from Rock City, so we headed off with the promise of drugs, beer and spare rooms to fiddle around with others in. To get to his place meant walking by the old Church Cemetery which even in daylight was a fucking gnarly place to walk by.

One of the other lads, Dennis and his girlfriend Denise weren’t too keen on Brian’s suggestion we dive in and drop some MDMA which he had on him. In fact myself, another girl Amy and her friends weren’t too keen on playing the Goth cliché to this extreme, so we convinced Brian to take us to his place as by now most of us were sobering up and it was cold, dank and wet as we hung around outside a cemetery arguing whether you want to go in it at 3am.

Eventually we hit Gregory Boulevard, which meant I was nearly home, but we trudged further up the road til we went past the Asda in Hyson Green, and entered a large house on a dark street off a main road. We got into a sparsely furnished living room but with just enough seats if people sat on various knees,and so it was that finally the booze and drugs were broken out of Brian’s secret stash. One of the other lads, Bruce, wanted to know if we’d wake anyone up but Brian said nobody else was in the house that weekend and in fact we could crash in the spare rooms, of which there was a few. as we discovered upon playing around in the dark old house which looked as if it’d been in a sorry state for some decades.

It was Bruce who found the basement. The stairs down to it looked like this.

The main difference being there was an electricity meter on the wall, and the steps led down to a large cellar. See, Nottingham is very, very old and as a city is riddled with underground cellars,caves and catacombs with many lost in time. This wasn’t the worst I’ve seen in terms of creepy chills but when you’re in a strange house on drugs and pissed the mind plays tricks and I’m sure things were moving down there in the darkened haze. I thought not to mention it in case I scared Amy who by now had linked up with me for a variety of reasons, but partly I presume to have some sort of protection from an increasingly sketchy Brian who was a changed man on MDMA.

As the night progressed and Brian became odder (not nasty, just odd) he insisted people crash in the house overnight, but it was bare, empty and cold not to mention when Amy and myself checked out one of the rooms it looked as if the mattress was overdue a letter from the Queen congratulating it for getting to the age it clearly was. Upon going back downstairs I suggested we leave and go back to mine which wasn’t too far away but it had things like bedding, warmth and a lack of an increasingly sketchy Goth who was now insisting we go downstairs to ‘check it out, man’.

It was Denis who was the first out the door. He’d humoured Brian and went down towards the cellar and who as we were coming downstairs, was making a sharp exit out, with the others closely behind them. Myself and Amy had Brian in front of us telling us to stay and chill, not to worry and yeah he was the only person in the house as I heard the door to the cellar rattle behind me followed by shuffling sounds on stone steps behind wood. Neither myself or Amy were keen on finding out what was coming up behind us, so pushing Brian aside we walked out into the vague daylight of a wet Sunday morning and made our way as quickly as I could with someone in high heel boots in tow.

As we hit the main road I glanced back to see Brian still standing at the open door and Amy was sure, positive even with the drugs and booze in her system, something was standing behind him that didn’t quite look right.

We ran as quickly as we good onto the well lit main road, and hastily walked to mine where we promptly got to bed and slept as soon as heads hit the pillow sleeping til the late afternoon of that Sunday. We didn’t actually talk about what happened til the next day when Amy asked if I minded going back to hers to grab some clothes so she could stay at mine for a bit and we spoke about it to her flatmate. She also vaguely knew Brian as someone on the fringes of the scene and in fact nearly went back to his squat until she felt something was wrong, and decided against it. That night we went into town to the Salutation to see who was there from Saturday night (in those pre-mobile days one’s social life was infinitely more random) but ended up in the Trip to Jerusalem after being told by the staff that’s where folk went.

So we met with people and told those not in the know what had happened. Denis was adamant he saw something, and I totally believed Amy saw something and I’m sure I saw something but we were all drunk, on drugs in a weird old house occupied by a weirder Goth. Basically we tried rationalising it and anyhow, next time we’d go to Rock City we’d probably see Brian.

Except we didn’t. The autumn turned to winter and while Amy went home to Liverpool for two weeks I bummed around Nottingham for a bit, before spending Christmas in Leicester and coming back for the New Year’s Eve all nighter at Rock City where I’d arranged to go with friends. It wasn’t a great night. One couple split up because both though they were shagging other people, which was true and both knew it, but the lie broke down that evening, while I was loaded with flu missing Amy who I’d now not see til the middle of January as I’d arranged to go down to Bristol and London for a bit to help a pair of friends out with a big comic con that was coming up so that night in the squat started to fade into memory as Brian passed also into local folklore, and seeing as he had no real mates, people stopped mentioning his name.

Then one afternoon shortly after my birthday in February I’d taken Amy into town for lunch and a trip to Selectadisc, while I sneaked off for a wee bit of comics retailing. We’d arranged to meet in the pub so I got there before here, bought a couple of drinks and sat down to read some comics while I waited for her to spend what money I’d given her on records. When she came in she looked whiter than usual for a Goth, and sat down to tell me that she’d seen Brian in Selectadisc but had tried to ignore him before he made eye contact and said hello. She asked how he was and what he was up to, so he said he was there to sell records as he was broke which was why we’d not seen him in ages. She also said he looked awful and that he’d clearly taken a kicking at some point recently but she said her goodbyes, and that she was off to meet me.

We thought his problem was drugs, serious drugs, and we’d probably not see much of him again. Except that night at mine as Amy was drawing the curtains she was sure she saw Brian standing over the road. I said I’d have a look when I dumped the rubbish downstairs in the bin, and he was nowhere near the front of the house but as I went round the back something was moving around which was too heavy for a cat or a fox, too heavy for the skinny Brian and anyhow, it had a shape in the neon streetlights that made me leg it quickly back up to our wee flat and lock the doors double behind me. Whether my imagination was playing with me or not, I wasn’t going to hang around too long to  see if things were in fact there and real.

That was the last time I saw Brian, or indeed, that something which seemed to follow him like something out of Poe or Lovecraft. I’d split with Amy in the messy aftermath of Glastonbury 1991 so there was nothing in Nottingham for me, and I thought moving back to Leicester was a good idea.

And I thought nothing of that night since except one time a year or so later where I took the bus to Glasgow, it passed through Nottingham and I swear I saw Brian sitting begging at the bus station with sad, dead eyes not to mention the suggestion of something just out the corner of my eye when I looked at him.

Next time I tell a story like this I promise it’ll be one of the UFO stories sitting in my memory bank…

Why don’t superheroes have daft sidekicks anymore?

Back in the day superheroes had daft sidekicks like this.

Or like this:

Or like this:

Those are the Martian Manhunter’s Zook, Captain Marvel’s Mr. Tawky Tawney, and Supergirl’s pet cat, Streaky. They were fun, stupid and silly. They reflected the fact readers were mainly young kids but they also realised that the concept of superheroes are essentially, daft, as if you can have a Superman why not then a Supercat?

It was fun, innocent times as the readership grew up and rather let this sillyness remain it was purged, so superheroes became dark, cats were no longer super-strong and sidekicks or groups like the Teen Titans became crammed full of murderers and psychopaths because of ‘darkness’.

The fact is when the main audience for superhero comics were late teens to 60 plus in age, the urge to read daft, simple things which are fun is lesser. Partly because of the urge to make a childish genre ‘dark and mature’ but mainly because these people don’t want to be seen as being kids and since the industry listens to these people more than they should we end up with grimness upon grimness. With one big exception, Squirrel Girl’s Tippy-Toe.

I miss the days where most superhero comics were silly, and I find the endless piss-coloured stream of grimdark superheroes tedious but I can dream of the days of flying cats and talking tigers thinking it to be better than grim, moody murderers.