15 years ago we protested against the Iraq War…

Back in February 2003 people from all over the UK marched to protest the then proposed invasion of Iraq. About a million or two of us took to the streets in London on a cold later winter afternoon to march through the city to hear a number of speeches in Hyde Park and to show that we, as the people of this country, won’t stand for what was proposed being done in our name.

It was an amazing day. As the Channel 4 report says, there was a mix of people, and as a painfully ill Mo Molam pointed out, the war was indeed used as a recruitment tool plus as we know, from the war came ISIS not to mention an almost permanent state of war in Middle Eastern countries and radicalisation of the likes we’ve never seen.

Yet that march and those like it across the UK and the world, should have sparked a Golden Age of political involvement. Indeed it did have political consequences in that it helped along such divergent political events like the election of Barrack Obama to the Scottish independence movement as people tried shrugging off the old order to try to create a new, and better one. The facts are that for all our marching, speeches and protests it was for nothing. Tony Blair got his war thanks to enough Labour MP’s as well as Tory support, and we’re still there 15 years later.

As for the glorious mixture of people on those Stop The War marches, they’re all gone after the SWP & their ilk managed to take a broad, vibrant coalition from all political viewpoints and change it into one that served them. On that day 15 years ago in London I met people from Labour, Tory, Lib Dems, Greens and across the board. There were kids who knew exactly why they were there articulating themselves brilliantly and the general feeling of change was for many, lost.

But we marched to hear speeches and to be honest, most of us only heard these speeches on the TV news later because it took so long to get from Paddington to Hyde Park, and also because the sound was crap so you’d hear Tariq Ali through crackle while hoping the wind changed direction. The fact is most people wanted to hear George Galloway’s speech even though people like myself knew him to be a hypocrite at best, he could articulate what many of us thought that day. Thing is looking back, none of the speakers had much to lose. Galloway, Tony Benn and Tariq Ali were the main speakers and they were doing what was expected of them. Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t a big name back then and once he made his speech remained with Labour on their back benches rather than quit as many did. These folk didn’t put their entire career on the line as then Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy did.

The media savaged Kennedy. People in has party who wanted to go to war gunned for him after this. He stuck to his guns, voted against the war and in the 2005 election managed to grab a huge amount of support from people who saw Tory and Labour as two sides of the same coin. Kennedy’s actions were essential because there was an argument for invading Iraq along the lines of intervention in the Balkans in the 90’s. I sat with mates in the pub who were agonising over what to support because they knew (as we all did) that Saddam was a monster.  It was Kennedy’s rational argument for the law and decency that swung so many people to the cause. His subsequent treatment by his party and untimely death left a hole in UK politics that’s been replaced by people unfit to call themselves ‘liberals’.

I digress slightly…

Even if I’d had some sort of future knowledge o events I’d still have marched in 2003. It needed to be done and a line needed to be drawn. It didn’t work, but we needed to try because if we hadn’t tried we’d have failed everything, and everyone. The aftershocks of this can still be felt today with things like Brexit where people voted to leave to have their voice heard to the general distrust, even hatred, of mainstream politicians.

But still, for one cold day in February 2003 we felt the world was going to change for the positive. If only it had.

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Shoot to kill

There’s been yet another mass shooting in the US. Yet again people are asking for ‘prayers’ even though by now people should realise either god doesn’t exist or s/he is an utter fucking bastard. People there are having the same old debate about gun control/mental health and of course the usual suspects are saying ‘now is not the time’.

My only answer to this is this Tweet below from a girl who attended the school and who has lost friends in the mass shooting.

What will happen is some outrage for another week, maybe less, til the next mass shooting and the cycle goes on and on and on and on while this becomes normalised in a society that fetishes the gun.

Will it ever change? I don’t think so, or at least it won’t until one of these mass shootings gets close to someone in a position of power and seeing as a mass shooting happens in America once every 2.5 days then chances are that’ll happen eventually and even then they’ll still be asking for thoughts and prayers.

I despair as there’s solutions there from an actual healthcare system that’s a service not a business to gun control, but nothing will be done and in a few days we’ll have moved on before we’re outraged again and somewhere in America multiple coffins that are too small for adults will be ordered again…

A few words about the lack of comics at comic conventions

The other day I was out for lunch and had a wee chat with former UKCAC organiser Frank Plowright about a number of things but the state of comic conventions came up, in particular how over the last decade or so a ‘comic convention’ can often have little or nothing to do with comics outwith of film or TV related material. In effect the source material, and an entire medium is being relegated to feed the film/TV industry not to mention giving cosplayers something to do.

We’d both agreed that back in the distant past conventions where as much about hanging out with mates you may only see at cons or marts than it was about running a business, and indeed, I find it hard for people to get dewy-eyed about someone of the San Diego styled cons that have sprung up in the last decade as having attended some of these cons, it’s clear the organisers are looking only to capitalise on the current bubble we’re living in.

Which brings me to this article on Bleeding Cool. Titled Putting the Comics Back Into Comic Conventions, makes a crucial point early on.

Well, I understand “comic-cons” are now popping up everywhere, and this is my problem. Everyone thinks they will get rich doing this — well, unless you have money, great and loyal help, and luck, it just don’t work that way!

It doesn’t. I’ve done thousands of marts/cons over the decades as punter/trader/organiser and the one’s where it’s being run as a cash-grab are the ones that tend to be terrible. Then there’s the lack of comics at marts/cons. Now I get that the current bubble means both traders, organisers and punters will come into the scene but again for the last decade, comics have been relegated down the ranking behind the cosplayers and bubble tea sellers.

Then again the type of person going to cons have changed. Back in the day we’d work our tables then drink the bar dry and in the cases when Titan used to run a free bar at UKCAC, people would ensure Mike Lake would have a small heart attack at the bill. These events would in effect be 48 to 72 hour marathons and indeed even up to the mid 2000’s at the Bristol Expo’s there’d be folk in the bar til whatever hours in the morning. Part of this change in culture is down to the fact that the entire scene has grown so the core of British fandom isn’t effectively there for the comics or they just do buy into the culture we had in the 80’s to 2000’s.  Then again that drinking culture was uniquely British as Frank told me the story of how one A List American comic book writer from the 90’s found it incredible that we’d drink ourselves to death while running/attending conventions.

Change tough is good. I’m enjoying in my older age how several organisers are professional so you don’t have the sense they’re winging it, or even though these are operations which are run as full-time business’s there’s no sense that they’ve no love for the medium at all. There are organisers who could not give a fuck and are clearly just interested in charging silly money for punters and dealers in order to cash in while the bubble is still unburst.

But bubbles do burst. In my 35 years plus in the industry I’ve seen at least three come and go with the one constant being that if you’re selling comics and your con/mart is built round comics, and you’ve got a love of what you’re doing then you’ve got a better chance of riding the bad times out than someone just throwing an event into a poor venue and ramming it full of cosplayers. So I appreciate where things are and how things have changed but it’d be nice to introduce a new generation to how it used to be…

Scrapping the OBFA plays into the hands of sectarian bigots

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 (OBFA) was an act designed to deal with the very real problem of sectarianism in Scottish football. It has always been an act born out of knee-jerk politics and has been flawed since the start, but as the only piece of legislation that specifically targets sectarianism. It sent out a message that as a society, Scotland was done with supporting sectarianism or looking the other way to let things happen.

This week the first step to repeal the act in a private members bill from Labour MSP James Kelly was passed to repeal it. Now as said the act is flawed; it curtailed political expression as well as crack down on the offensive bigotry we see so often in Scottish football but nobody in favour of repeal has suggested an alternative. Actually, that isn’t true; the standard line is ‘education’ along with ‘use existing laws correctly’ but the problem with this is we know fine well this isn’t going to work because hate crimes need specific punitive legislation to deal with it.

Now the argument against it ranges from the hard left argument that it now gives the working class a voice which is astonishingly offensive as it assumes the working class are a mass of barely literate bigots who can only find release by chanting hate at each other. Then there’s the illiberal argument which is true but all hate crime legislation is illiberal so do we allow complete free speech which means anti-Semitism, racism, and all the stuff we don’t want in society to pass unchallenged. So do we single out hate speech or do we tell vulnerable minorities to deal with it as to crack down on it is illiberal? Then there’s the folk who are political opportunists and of course, the people who want the act gone so they can throw out vile bigotry at football matches unchallenged.

And this is the problem. When the act was passed an informed discussion never really happened, and now, on the verge of repeal, an informed discussion isn’t happening even though the majority of the public supports the act, and is clearly tired of sectarianism.

I’ll tell you what happens in the future. The act is repealed. An ‘incident’ will happen. Someone, or a few people, will be abused, hurt, even worse. Scotland’s politicians and media will demand ‘something’ must be done and nothing will end up getting done because Scotland’s politicians and media (on the whole) want to prolong the life of sectarianism, and don’t even expect the SFA or the clubs themselves to do anything serious because they don’t want to lose support. So we have a section of the left arguing themselves into a corner over this while a section of the left are drooling with the prospect of social division.

What would I do? I’m no expert but I’d engage an open debate on what sectarianism is. Define it. Engage with people and point out to them what they do causes offense and harm to people. Show them the effects of their bigotry. Give them support to change but if they don’t and carry on then have a punitive law to crack down on them. I’d give the SFA a kick up the arse so they work towards making Scotland better. I’d not glibly sit back and let things go unchallenged as Labour, Tories and a chunk of the establishment would like.

Most of all I find it repulsive that with everything going on right now, there’s a number of people who put as their number one priority fighting for the chance for people to chant about being up to their knees in ‘fenian blood’. When the worse does happen I don’t want to see these people demand ‘action’, I want to see them accepting responsibility for what they’ve done and maybe, just maybe, actually suggest a way to make things better.

In praise of the NHS in Scotland

The NHS is under attack. The UK’s once proud service which millions of us use every year has suffered decades of successive Westminster governments hacking away at it in order to open it up more for full privatisation. In Scotland, Tory, and a few Labour MSP’s sit in eager anticipation of someone photogenic dying on a trolley in a Scottish hospital so they can launch weeks of attacks on a service pushed to the limit but somehow managing to not fall apart. As a service the NHS in Scotland stands ahead of other services in the UK mainly because the Tories haven’t got their grubby hands on it.

This is not to have a go at the NHS in England. After all it saved my life. Twice. Since retuning to Scotland in November 2016 to mainly recuperate, but also to escape the collapse of the NHS in England,I’ve been a frequent user of the SNHS. I’ve praised the NHS back in Bristol who were amazing, but as the staff here have done the dull day-to-day stuff of helping me pull myself together rather than the lifesaving part it is only fair to give the staff the credit they deserve against a wave of shocking political opportunism from Ruth Davidson’s Tories (and we know exactly what as Tories they’d do here in Scotland)   and the empty dead-eyed vacuousness of Richard Leonard’s student politics.

Of course all parties throw around the NHS as a political weapon yet I don’t think folk here in Scotland quite understand just what is happening in England, and the possible consequences of letting what we have in a fairly well protected NHS in Scotland, slip. For the last 15 months I’ve been improving in health, returned to work, and yesterday (barring anything unexpected in my bloods) was confirmed to be in remission for cancer for a year so I’m past the first crucial marker and can start thinking of the future as my survival chances are now pretty much normal though my stroke recovery may well affect that.

That’s thanks to NHS staff who’ve poked, prodded, helped and in the case of the physios I’ve seen, get me walking again. There’s all the ancillary staff, plus the folk at MacMillan and the staff at The Beatson. All these people do an astonishing job in hard times and having to spend the winter listening to the likes of Ruth Davidson kick the NHS when she’d gladly rip its heart out is demoralising for me, so I’ve no idea how the staff feel.

I’d like to see like-minded parties come together and work out a long term plan to protect the NHS, especially with Brexit threatening to hurt Scotland so badly, but party politics come first it seems but I wish these people would remember that lives are saved, or made better, every day by people who work ridiculous hours for money that isn’t enough while being kicked (sometimes literally) by supposed allies and foes alike.

So thanks to the NHS. We need to all work together to preserve what we’ve got or frankly, people like me won’t be around to write blogs like this.

A word of appreciation for Elektra: Assassin

There’s a number of comics constantly spoken about as breaking new ground in the 1980’s and bringing a new audience into the world of comics. The same names come up; Watchmen, Maus, Dark Knight Returns, maybe Love and Rockets, Swamp Thing and Daredevil. One a few lists you’ll get possibly the most subversive comic published by the Big Two publishers in the 80’s; Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz‘s Elektra: Assassin.

Originally an eight issue mini series from Marvel’s Epic imprint (their creator owned or non-mainstream line) , Elektra: Assassin starred Frank Miller’s creation Elektra who he’d introduced and subsequently killed in his acclaimed Daredevil run. This though was something out of continuity is still some of the most brilliantly insane comics Marvel have ever published.

The story seems basic enough. Elektra is on the trail of The Beast, a demon whose end-goal is possessing the president of the United States and starting a nuclear war. In this task she’s aided and abetted by a SHIELD agent called Garrett who in the course of the series because more and more of a cyborg due to being blown and cut up.

Remember that in 1985/6 America was trapped in the presidency of Ronald Reagan while the baby boomer generation had started gaining power and influence over politics, culture and media. There was also a wave of comics where characters started waving big guns around as the 80’s Rambo culture seeped into comics with ultra-violent titles like The Punisher. All of this was thrown into the mix to create an ultra-violent satire on American politics, culture and superhero comics that doesn’t grow old or not relevant.

Elektra: Assassin is from that period prior to 911 where Frank Miller was one of the few creators who could take on the left and right of politics equally and find both lacking, while at the same time playing on the monsters created by both. It really is a comic that gives its all, and asks the reader to work to go with the inspired lunacy, not to mention genius, being paid out from page to page.

So if you want to see how exciting comics were in the 80’s as well as reading something that is a fantastic work of art, then Elektra: Assassin should be for you, assuming killer cyborgs and ninjas are to your taste of course…

Prez: The 1970’s DC Comic for 21st century politics

The 1970’s were a bizarre decade. Anything was up for grabs at a time of astonishing change and this change included DC Comics who were trying hard to stay relevant at a time when their competitor, Marvel Comics, so they called on Captain America co-creator Joe Simon to produce Prez, the story of America’s first teen president.

Along with artist Jerry Grandetti, the story of Prez Rickard, the first teen president, lasted four short issues (a fifth issue later appeared in Cancelled Comics Cavalcade) and one guest appearance in Supergirl’s ongoing comic. There have been revivals, most notably an issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, but these four issues are completely and utterly bizarre.

It should be noted that in 1973, Simon was 60 and being asked to write a strip about a teen hero at the fag-end of flower power when much of what previous generations had known was ripped apart and reformed. That said, had DC stuck say, a Steve Englehart or Denny O’Neill on it who were younger men it probably wouldn’t have this strangeness about it and although some of it is iffy (Prez’s friend and head of the FBI is the permanently bare-chested Native American called Eagle Free) there’s something curiously subversive to it all.

Of course the art by Jerry Grandetti helps give a constant weirdness to it all as in a few short issues Prez deals with the threat of multinationals, assassins and vampires in stories that only make sense in the strange, dreamy world Simon created for Prez. It’s this dreamlike quality Gaiman picked up on for Sandman, but in reading these stories for the first time in decades it strikes me that Simon is trying to give his version as a 60 year-old man of early 1970’s America and what teenagers would be up against which would be mainly industrialists like Boss Smiley.

There’s something not right about Prez. It feels like a satire but it also feels like it’s played straight, but it also plays as a parable, but at the same time a post-modern commentary on the hippies, but it also breaks the fourth wall. Basically it doesn’t behave in the way we would expect a comic to behave as it changes tone, even genres sometimes from one panel to another.

It doesn’t always work and to the eye of someone in 2017/8 it can look awful, and indeed, much of it has dated, but as an oddity it is simply astonishing, and when it works its something weird and subversive. There’s been a few attempts to revive the character but with no success. There is a collection available but it is really worth having the originals as these as this is a bizarre wonder from DC at a time when the world was leaving it behind and it was trying to keep up.