50 years of a man on the Moon

50 years ago Neil Armstrong and Buzz Adrin walked on the Moon making them the first human beings to ever set foot on a body other than the Earth. Since the end of the Apollo programme there’s been occasional teases that maybe we’ll go back and beyond but til now humanity has been having to deal with the fact manned space travel is not a politically popular thing due to the cost. But with private companies moving in, not to mention a genuine international move towards working together to push us off Earth to the Moon it looks as if this time we may actually go back.

As I grew up in the wake of the landing and pushed on by things like Booke Bond’s Race into Space card set as well as science fiction made me think that by the time I turned into a teenager in the 80’s that we’d have bases on the Moon, maybe Mars, and pushing into the solar system. We didn’t.

earthrise

So here we are looking back at what three men (Mike Collins being the man who went to the Moon but never set foot on it) and tens of thousands of scientists, astronomers, engineers, and just about every profession you can imagine did to  put man on the Moon.

onesmallstep

One major memory of my childhood wasn’t the landing itself as I was too young, though I do remember some other landings. No, it was 1979’s The Space Movie which I adored.

We now have YouTube and the enormous resource that it has become so we get access to glorious documentaries like this.

Or the great James Burke presenting this tenth anniversary programme.

Life and history changed then. We should have become an outward, space-faring race that cared for its home planet instead of what we did become however there’s a spark of hope with the genuine joy and awe of this 50th anniversary.

I won’t be alive by the 100th anniversary but I hope humanity looks back at this one as a turning point as we reached to the Moon and beyond.

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The second greatest thing Buzz Aldrin has ever done.

Buzz Adrin is rightfully famous for being the second person to step foot on the Moon. For years though he’s had to suffer various conspiracy wankers trying to deny him, and indeed humanity, the nature of his feat.

With the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing coming, here’s a reminder of the second greatest thing Buzz ever did. Confronted by yet another Moon landing denier he acts like most of us would act if we’d had most of our lives dealing with these type of people.

Good on you Buzz!

What I thought of Hey Kids! Comics!

The other day at work I was waiting to grab myself a coffee when I was standing behind someone with an Iron Man mug. I recognised the design to having being inspired by Steve Ditko’s version of the Iron Man armour. In those seconds I stood there watching my cup fill I wondered just how much income Ditko lost over the decades because he was ripped off by an industry which still sees the creator as a minor part of what is a sausage machine grinding out product and associated merchandising.

Then I got home and the last issue of Howard Chaykin’s Hey Kids! Comics! was sitting there to be read and it ended up being just the scream of primal rage for creators shafted by the industry.

Hey Kids! Comics! draws its title from the innocent blurb American newstands used to lure children into buy in decades past.

Thing is as one gets older you hear more about how the Marvel Bullpen wasn’t making Jack jolly, or how creators would be dumped in the gutter, and that’s where the comic opens as the analogue for Jerry Siegel (who along with co-creator Joe Schuster was royally shafted by National/DC over the rights and profits from Superman) living virtually as a down and out as he joins the crowds at the opening of the Superman (called Powerhouse here) musical.  

From this grim, bleak opening Chaykin tells the history of comics through three people, Ted Whitman, Ray Clarke, and Benita Heindel who travel down the decades from the 40s til their deaths in the early years of the 21st century when comics as an industry has transformed into a billion dollar one, but has remained a breeding ground for bastards and con-artists. Though to be fair the amount of actual gangsters in the industry has fallen of late.

Using these analogues, Chaykin tells a lot of those stories you only hear in convention bars, or the occasional critical book on the industry and some of the incidents in these five issues are familiar ones to those of us who know bits of the industry’s history so things like Mort Weisinger’s legendary cruelty through to Stan Lee sitting the the office waiting for Jack Kirby’s work to turn up because his creative role was at best, minimal. This book is not for those who see the industry on a purely surface level or those who canonise the superhero as the pinnacle of the medium.

But Hey Kids! Comics! for all the cynicism, bitterness, hate and bile recounted in these stories has a love for the medium as the core of the book. It just says that people involved in the industry were crooks, racists and bastards but the industry itself is full of people who believe there’s a future for the medium beyond superhero stories. This is a book for those of us who love the medium but want to deal with the awfulness of the history of the industry at the same time so it makes an often harsh read as after all, we want to cling onto our childhood heroes. This comic will see people many see as heroes being portrayed as somewhat less than that (the fact issue five came out not long after Stan Lee’s death adds an extra thrill to it) but these stories are an essential part of the history of the industry. They need to be told because if they don’t the next Steve Ditko is going to see his work made into mugs to help make corporations money while they get fuck all.

The early days of comic collecting

I watched the video below featuring some names which will be unfamiliar to around 95% (at least)  of people reading comics today. It’s an often interesting, sometimes dull to be honest, chat about the early days of comic collecting but it is an amazingly crucial bit of comics history which could get lost in this age of cosplay and billion dollar ‘franchises’ which in the US, and the UK, has seen nothing of the appreciation that around the world has for the medium til fairly recently.Certainly back in the 60’s, the idea of collecting comics was like stamp collecting, trainspotting, coin collecting and wanking were childish things that would be put away upon entering adulthood, but as we know all these things are done by adults and seen as respectable.

Comics still were treated with contempt. Early comics fandom on both sides of the Atlantic tried to attach themselves to science fiction fandom but it was on the whole, treated with contempt for years which is why in the 60s comics fandom as an entirely different thing from SF fandom became a clear, identifiable thing.

The early history of British fandom sees this Cain and Abel relationship, and even after comics started having their own conventions 50 years ago in the UK, they still would often piggyback SF being it conventions or bookshops, andif you wanted to buy comics you’d have to scour cities to find them often in newsagents cum dirty old man bookshops of the type that no longer exists in the corporate worlds of the 21st century high street.

So I love the fact that this verbal history of early comic collecting exists as nature is taking its course and there’s not going to be much left of those generations up til the 80’s when comics finally became mainstream. Once we’re gone all these stories will be lost and I know for a fact I’m not the only person who thinks along these lines.In fact one of the attendees of the first British comic con in Birmingham in 1968 spoke to me on Facebook a while back about doing something to document the comics industry in the UK, and I need to get my arse in gear to help him with that.

History matters not only so the work of so many of us in building comics to where it is today goes recognised, but mainly to let fans of today know they’re just a small piece in an ongoing story that’ll never end. Sure things change, but they’re just having the torch passed on but we need to know where we came from otherwise people won’t know the history, and what it took to get us to the stage where we are today.

The legacy of Stan Lee

Now that Stan Lee’s death has sunk in, the conversation turns to his legacy which considering that some of his obituaries are crediting him with the likes of Captain America, the time for this to be made clear is now.

The first thing to be said is that Lee’s position in comics is unquestioned. Without Lee, comics today would be very, very different and as for Marvel, they’d have went bust without Lee’s work in the 60’s. There also isn’t any question that Stan Lee helped create iconic characters now worth billions or that his dialogue helped sell Marvel Comics, or that he was a very nice man as anyone who met him can testify to.

No, the issue lies with ownership. Stan was always the publishers nephew and an exceptional companyman for Marvel even during the times he wasn’t welcome in the 90’s in the company he helped build.Stan claimed ownership of everything to the point where it became a joke in recent years.that Stan would have claimed credit for the Bible if he was around.

The issue of ownership is important because  while Stan was alive he never gave people like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko the credit they deserved. Sure, he’d give them credit for being great artists but never actually the credit they wanted, and because when Stan was interviewed especially after the 70s, it’d be no more than a promo film for Stan/Marvel, journalism failed. Except one time when Jonathan Ross interviewed him.

One of the reasons Lee’s claims to have essentially thought all the Marvel characters up and then gave them to an artist to fill out is nonsense, is partly because we can look at Lee’s post and pre peak-Marvel output and see how thin it is creatively. She-Hulk amounts to Lee’s one lasting post Jack Kirby/Ditko/etc creation. The main reason is the weight of evidence from not only co-creators but those staff who worked at Marvel, not to mention artists who came in after the peak 63-66 period of Marvel.

The site Comic Book Historians has an excellent listing of Stan’s, well, bravado and liberal application of what he created, and it’s pretty damning. Also in the week of Stan’s death, Howard Chaykin’s splendid history of comics, Hey Kids! Comics. released it’s fourth issue…

This issue deals largely with its version of Stan Lee. Its pretty brutal in places. Funky Flashman levels of brutal.It’s also essential reading as Chaykin’s comic is a telling of all those stories creators tell each other that never hit the history books…

So what’s Stan’s legacy? Is he a jocular grandad who built a universe from an amazing spurt of creativity over six years or was he always the companyman working to ensure the creations now worth billions stayed safe with the company? Was he someone who could make a wee boy’s year by signing a Hulk comic for him or was he someone who didn’t especially care about giving his co-creators the credit they deserved?

Fact is, it’s all of the above. Stan’s legacy is going to be a complex, and probably messy one. The truth is comics wouldn’t be the same without him, but the truth is also he wasn’t the creator he made himself out to be and that complexity is going to make some people reappraise Stan, but that’s probably a good thing. If it gets the names of Stan’s co-workers out there and helps give a more accurate picture of Marvel’s Silver Age before all the men and women involved pass away then that’s a good thing and that can be Stan’s legacy.

How to draw comics the Marvel way

How to draw comics the Marvel way is probably the best ‘how to’ book for beginners to learn to draw comics, and not just superhero comics Produced by Stan Lee and John Buscema, it’s a step-by-step guide to well, draw comics the Marvel way.

Back in the late 80’s a companion video was released featuring Lee and Buscema. Stan was just coming out of his Funky Flashman phase while Buscema was nearing the end of his career but his talent as one of comics true greats is clear. The video is a relic of the time but it’s still one of the best guides out there, plus Stan’s wig is amazing.

100 years later the streets are lined with the dead

A century ago today the Great War as it was known then, and World War One as it’s known now, came to an end. Four years of bloody conflict saw millions die. For generations their deaths were remembered not as glorious sacrifices with many surviving soldiers refusing to wear the poppy, the symbol used for remembrance ceremonies because they couldn’t face living with the lies that took them to war. Today the act of remembrance itself is drifting away to be replaced by a triumphalist mix of British exceptionalism and imperialism that helps resurrect the lies that saw millions join up in 1914 only to die in blood, mud and shit somewhere on a battlefield.

A generation lost for nothing. They didn’t die fighting for survival as in the Second World War; they died for Britain’s imperialism and after the war to end all wars, many wanted nothing to do with fighting.

Those are the ones who came back. Millions didn’t. The street where you live could be full of those boys and men who died during that war. We’re all familiar with the stone cenotaph’s that are in virtually every British city, town and village, but do you know the names of those who died where you live?

Thanks to the website, A Street Near You, you can look and put names to buildings, assuming those buildings still stand after a century.There’s people like this near me.

Second Lieutenant Walter Daniel John Tull
Middlesex Regiment
Date of death: 25/03/1918 (aged 29)
Son of the late Daniel Tull; brother of Edward Tull-Warnock, of 419, St. Vincent St., Glasgow. Former professional footballer with Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town, he was also previously a FA Amateur Cup Winner with Clapton FC. He played more than a hundred first team games for Northampton Town before the First World War intervened.

But most are sad wee memorials for people who died decades too young.

Private Joseph Ayton
Seaforth Highlanders
Date of death: 16/04/1918 (aged 19)
Son of Jane Ayton, of 51, Dorset St., Glasgow, and the late George Ayton.

Private Robert Hardie
Highland Light Infantry
Date of death: 25/09/1915 (aged 19)
Brother of Mrs. Elizabeth Porter, of 135, North St., Whiteinch, Scotstoun, Glasgow.

With these people you have an idea of a life led, family and even community as it is entirely possible these boys know each other living streets away from each other. There’s the cases of people who don’t even have a first name which may well be lost in history.

Gunner Donaldson
Royal Field Artillery
Date of death: 16/05/1917 (aged 24)
Son of James C. Donaldson, of 89, North St., Anderston, Glasgow.

There’s around 30-40 names in a five minute walking distance of where I live. In all those names only one has a face to go along with the name. That’s the man below.

Second Lieutenant William George Teacher (HU 118927) Second Lieutenant William George Teacher. Unit: DCompany, 15th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry. Death: 14 May 1916 Killed in action Western Front Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205389533

Second Lieutenant William George Teacher
Highland Light Infantry
Date of death: 14/05/1916 (aged 22)
Son of William Curtis Teacher and Eliza Rowena Teacher, of Kilarden, Dowanhill Gardens, Glasgow.

There’s a bit of information about William. We even know where he’s buried. We know he died at the height of the war. We know his death was utterly and totally pointless and seeing as most men who fought in the war didn’t have the vote, they were unable to change their future or current circumstances. Many of those conscripted were fearful of being shot or suffering the dreaded white feather which bullied men and boys into joining up.

And here we are in 2018 with the sound of Rule Britannia bouncing down the streets of the Cenotaph in London. There’s annual outrage at footballers refusing to wear a poppy because of what Britain did to their countries in the past, and Remembrance Day becomes a celebration of war, imperialism and exceptionalism for many. Meanwhile soldiers die in our streets a century on because now, as then, men (and now women) are thrown to the wolves once the British state has done with them.

We seem to have turned full circle. Imperialist songs play their tunes of glorying war as the very act of being a pacifist is again seen as ‘traitorous’. Flags are flown triumphantly while men and women die in overseas wars of conquest and their comrades return to be abandoned by the very state which sold them a lie. Of course the people who sent them to war, or bullied them to war, have their descendants today doing the same things only slightly differently.

100 years on the streets are lined with the dead and we’ve remembered little and learned nothing from their deaths. We’ve let past generations down for what? That’s what I’ll be thinking about today, not selling war as a price we have to pay because most of the time, it isn’t.