Monday, 17 August 2015

The last post

Yes, this is going to be the last post on this blog, because - and there's no use beating around the bush here - I'm done with the increasingly thankless task of producing comics for a niche audience with little or no thanks for what I do, negligible financial reward and the endless fucking criticism of the usual moaning minnies who've gone out of their way to invade every area of the creative arts over the past twenty-plus years. There are many other reasons why I'm calling a halt, of course, and here are just a few of them...

1) Self-published books don't sell.
Sure, your friends and family might indulge you and buy a few copies, but once those are gone, shifting the rest of your stock is an uphill battle. An uphill battle that costs money, as well as the effort of trying to convince store owners to stock your work (usually they'll take a large percentage of the cover price just for the privilege of having a small stack of A5 comics on their counter) and the expense of promoting your work. What next? You're left with a stack of unsellable books that will rot away in your spare room. Well done. For the rest of your life, whenever you look at that stack of books, you will think 'I could have spent that money on something else'. Don't think it, do it. Life's too short for regrets.

2) Comics don't sell.
Ignore what a certain other blogger might tell you about British comics being alive and well (it's easy to say that when one of the few remaining 'big name' publishers is paying your wages), comics DO NOT SELL. People don't read much any more (16% of the UK population is functionally illiterate) and those that do don't read comics. In short, self-published books don't sell, self-published comics are even less likely to sell. All aboard the fail train! Ding ding! Next stop, the middle of nowhere!

3) Self-publishing is for losers.
I mean that in a nice way, of course. One of the main reasons people choose to self-publish is because the major publishing houses won't touch their work with their worst enemy's dick. I've read a lot of self-published comics in my time, naming no names, and it's a real struggle to think of more than a handful that weren't as dull as dishwater - or which I'd spend my own money on if I saw them in a shop. 

4) Drugs, LOLZ!
Sadly, a lot of self-published comic editors and writers seem to think it's still the late sixties or early seventies and that counter-cultural druggie 'humour' is the way to go. It isn't. Trust me, it really, REALLY isn't. So you've got a red, gold and green masthead? Wow, you must be feeling some serious rastaman vibrations. Shame the whole of your comic is full of insipid lookalike characters with big teeth grinning inanely whilst smoking a joint. Oh, so you've done a parody of the Bash Street Kids called the Hash Street Kids? Wow, you are so fucking hip. Cheech and Chong were shit as well. 'Weed makes you high and makes you tired!' Copy and paste for 32 pages, disappointment guaranteed.

5) Nobody gives a fuck about your sex fantasies.
So you want to sniff cocaine off Jodie Foster's foot? Nice. Keep it to yourself, though. Nobody wants to see that crap in a comic, it's just awkward and more than a little creepy.

6) This kind of thing.
Click on that link at your peril. In short, 'AREN'T I SHOCKING AND ICONOCLASTIC!' type comics that feature the usual shit-eating / rape / incest / arse-shagging shenanigans. 

7) Go cry, emo kid.
Yeah, those twee, cloying comics about slightly outsiderish people and their relationships, drawn in a predictable chibi anime style. Unreadable.

8) Even Alan Moore doesn't give a fuck about comics any more.
It's true, you know. So why should I?

9) The explosion of Viz clones in the late eighties and early nineties not only killed any remaining interest in Viz clones, it almost killed Viz as well.
You know the expression 'enough is as good as a feast'? Well, obviously the hordes of hacks who tried their hand at grabbing a slice of the Viz phenomenon had never heard that expression, otherwise they would have realised that boom leads to bust and a glut leads to boredom.
I'm as much to blame as anyone. Fuck, I even published my own Viz clone called Klam. The fact remains though, with the sole exception of Rob Filth's short-lived Filth, Viz NEVER had a decent competitor to keep it on its toes. Don't believe me? Check out the following blog posts from the excellent Two Headed Thingies blog...

A right load of shit 

Not great but kind of interesting  (at least it looked nice)

Tin cunt

This one will destroy you. Click at your peril.

So yeah, the main bulletin point to take away from this presentation is... no more comics from me. Thank you and goodnight. I'm off to enjoy the rest of my life free from eye-strain.


Tuesday, 28 July 2015

It's not right, but it's OKAY!

MY GOODNESS!! Lee James Turnock - the UK's Least Known Underground Cartoonist - returns with his latest entry into the world of ribald yocks & scathing, autobiographical humour!! ADULTS ONLY, children - despite the stunning, Roy Wilson-inspired cover! 

Only four bucks!
32 pages (saddle stitched)
 Colour cover / B&W interior
Sized to 5 ½” x 8” (perfect for sticking under your arm when you sneak off to your infidel meetings!)

And you can buy it right here!

Or if you're one of the handful of people in the UK who give a crap about my work, the Comix Company's UK store is here.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

John's Not Funny

Further to yesterday's post, I was reminded of the playground feeding frenzy caused in the late eighties when the BBC's popular science series QED broadcast a sensitive, thoughtful and nicely balanced documentary about a young Scottish lad called John Davidson who suffered from the neurological disorder known as Tourette's Syndrome. We all know what Tourette's is now, of course - or at least have a limited understanding of the condition, thanks to the 'best' efforts of the entertainments industry, who seem content to limit their portrayals of Tourette's sufferers to comic grotesques with coprolalia (a related but entirely different ailment) - but back in the eighties, it was quite a shock to hear phrases like 'fuck's sake, cunt' on television - even after the nine o'clock watershed - and John's Not Mad instantly became a must-see for thrill-seeking schoolchildren everywhere.

"Some of the time I just, when I feel bad, I just feel like killin' myself or somethin' like that; it feels so bad" - John Davidson, 1989.

My first encounter with the programme came courtesy of my psychotic sibling Ian, twenty-nine at the time and old enough to know better, who turned up at my parents' house brandishing a VHS cassette as if it was the holy grail, and describing the contents of the documentary in leering, sniggering, prurient tones. He insisted on watching it, but what unfolded on the screen was a thousand miles removed from the hilarity he'd promised us. Instead, what greeted us - as this Digital Fix review of the DVD (yes, there's a DVD) points out - was the sad tale of a bright sixteen year old growing up in an isolated, some might say stifling community, his life blighted by a psychological ailment that clearly caused him and his family considerable distress. To say that John was failed by a judgemental and cowardly society is an understatement - one teacher locked him in a cupboard, he was consigned to the remedial class, he was teased and bullied in the playground. Even his own grandmother is convinced that he's possessed by the devil, and therefore should be institutionalised. John's father doesn't appear in the documentary, refusing even to sit with them at mealtimes. Yet Ian, and to a lesser extent my mother (who borrowed the tape to show her employer, who returned it the following day telling her that she should be ashamed of laughing at one of society's unfortunates), laughed their heads off at every one of John's convulsions, every expulsion of half-chewed food or spittle, every yelp, every muttered or hollered obscenity. My father, taciturn as he usually was in those days, simply shifted uncomfortably in his chair, sighed, and when the sight of his wife and son chuckling at an intelligent but neurologically cursed teenager's daily struggle with the big bad world grew too much to bear, hid behind his newspaper.

Shortly after this, John's Not Mad exploded into a full-blown playground cult, on a par with Blue Peter's well-meaning coverage of Joey Deacon a few years before. I experienced the cult in all its ugly glory when one of the media studies classrooms was taken over by a pack of entirely unlikeable, guffawing sixth-formers armed with a tape of the show. Taking full advantage of the absence of teachers or other authority figures - this took place on a drama evening, when the school was running on a skeleton staff and the refectory was full of parents watching their offspring (myself included) performing in a variety of mercifully brief plays - the volume on the television was cranked high, and the room was crammed with the lonely, the bored and the curious. I'd like to say that the air was filled with laughter, but it wasn't laughter - not happy, healthy, cathartic laughter - just the joyless, sarcastic hurr hurr-ing of the humourless and debased, the prematurely cynical thrillseekers who no doubt get their jollies nowadays by 'daringly' disregarding morality and basic human decency, pissing themselves at bleeding-edge comedians who find paedophilia a fit topic for their excruciating humour, sending their friends pictures of Goatse and Tubgirl, leering at videos of bestiality on their mobile phones and boasting that 'I can take it'. The same kind of people who, at the time of John's Not Mad's original broadcast, could easily be imagined shuffling into darkened rooms for a communal wank over a snuff video.

The BBC caught up with John Davidson again in 2002, and the result was, surprisingly, a genuinely warm and frequently genuinely amusing programme. The 'Tourette's kid' had faced his condition with incredible fortitude, displaying a strength of character and a sense of humour that were almost superhuman. The effing and blinding were still there, but his outbursts were tempered with almost absurdist free-association comedy - when a social worker talks earnestly about Tourette's patients needing minders, John blurts "Arthur DALEY!" - a reference, of course, to the ITV series Minder. It's a moment Spike Milligan would have surely appreciated. Yet revisiting the original documentary decades later is a far from amusing experience. Whilst the dry, proper tones of Eleanor Bron on narration duties may provide the occasional chuckle, especially when she prefaces one of John's verbal volcanos with the delightfully quaint observation that 'John calls his teacher an effing idiot', and the unmistakeable sound of John blowing off at the dinner table ('pardon me') might surprise the viewer into laughter with its sheer incongruity, it's still a bleak, occasionally heartbreaking half-hour of television.

So how, exactly, has John's Not Mad become the stuff of legend, its depressing spectre frequently raised in otherwise moribund conversations by pub bores and blokey blokes? It's hard to say, but a large part of the blame must rest with the tiresome behaviour of an increasingly large segment of society - inflated and legitimized by the 'new lad' movement of the early nineties, and the legions of permanently sozzled, faux-bohemian media bores peering at the past through their Red Bull-tinted glasses and claiming to find things that clearly upset them at the time absolutely hilarious. In short, they're trapped in a permanent state of mental prepubescence. "Remember when the Blue Peter garden got vandalised? Fackin' pissed meself, mate. All them dead goldfish and Percy Thrower chuckin' a menty. Fackin' class. Worrabout when John Noakes started cryin' on that programme when he was talkin' about Shep dying? Fackin' loser! Hwa hwa hwa! Didjer see that episode o' Fam'ly Guy wiv the 9-11 jokes? Fackin' priceless! Whose round is it?"

Monday, 13 July 2015

Hell really is other people...

‘Hell is other people’, wrote Jean-Paul Sartre, except of course he wrote it in French. Beats me why he chose to do that, coming as he did from Hornchurch, but that’s intellectuals for you. If Sartre (real name Colin Piles) had known some of the people I’ve had the misfortune of sharing oxygen with over the years, I doubt if he’d have made such a sunny statement – in fact, he’d probably have instructed his publishers to change the title of Nausea to something less subtle, like Arseholes.

Case in point – the young lad I foolishly chose to sit next to on my first day of middle school back in September 1983. Blessed as he was with a face that bore an uncanny resemblance to a trod-on dog turd and the kind of body odour that could have knocked a bluebottle off a French offal cart at fifty paces, this boy (we’ll call him Rodney) could bore for Britain. His conversation was about as sparkling as half a glass of warm Tizer, and it was restricted to the following subjects – Star Wars (which he watched on video every weekend at his aunt’s house, of whom more later), Brookside (a Liverpool-based soap opera that he insisted was ‘briwyunt’ – in fact, nothing was ever ‘good’, ‘okay’ or ‘passable’ with Rodney, everything was either ‘crap’ or ‘briwyunt’), Everton FC and Duran Duran, a new romantic pop combo largely popular with girls, including his older sister. Within half an hour of him opening his mouth, the ground would be littered with the hind legs of donkeys and people would lose the will to live, walking like drunken zombies toward the nearest window and hurling themselves into the sweet relief of death’s embrace. Worse, he had a terrible stammer, which meant that not only was his conversation extremely dull, it took an eternity for him to get a sentence out.

Feeling sorry for someone who doesn’t appear to have many friends is a trap most people have fallen into at some stage or another, only to regret it almost immediately – you soon realise why these people don’t have many friends. Rodney had many undesirable character traits, such as pretending to hit you whilst making stupid ‘pshew’ sound effects as his grubby fist failed to connect, making an explosive ‘b’puh’ sound whenever he kicked a football (he claimed making a loud, saliva-spraying noise helped him kick the ball harder) and pissing the bed, but his absolute inability to cope with boredom – whilst remaining blissfully ignorant of the boredom he inflicted on other people – was the worst of the lot.

Some people are incapable of making their own entertainment, enjoying their own company or occupying their own time and minds, and Rodney was one of them. However much I begged and pleaded with my mother to tell him I’d gone out, was in the bath, off visiting non-existent relatives or dying of diphtheria when Rodney came knocking, she’d invariably feel sorry for him and let him in, shrugging off any protests on my part with ‘you spend too much time on your own’. The thought that maybe I liked being on my own never crossed her mind, and time after time my spirits sank to zero when I saw Rodney standing there, his shoulders stooped, the same sullen look on his face, expecting me to drop my plans for the day and fill his worthless, empty life with diversions.

I wasn’t a ‘normal’ kid, I admit it. My psychotic sibling Ian told me so often enough. I had no interest in rough and tumble games, war, cars, science fiction, weapons, fighting, sports or other ‘boy stuff’. I was more interested in the creative arts, all of which was lost on Rodney. Even watching any film that wasn’t Star Wars for the umpteenth time was a test of his patience. I tried playing him some of my dad’s old comedy records – Steptoe and Son, Morecambe and Wise, Monty Python – but he’d never actually listen. He’d just prattle on and on until he’d finished, then after a couple of seconds’ resentful silence he’d whine ‘this is boring’. I tried showing him some of my favourite films on video, but within about fifteen minutes (if he made it that far) he’d start fidgeting, squirming and writhing in his seat as if he had live snakes crawling up his arse. Eventually I’d snap and ask what his problem was, and predictable as ever, the answer would come back ‘this is boring’. Sometimes I’d try and ignore him completely, setting up my drawing equipment at the kitchen table, but that didn’t work – he’d just sit beside me and moan incessantly. ‘I don’t want to sit here and watch you drawing all day. It’s boring.’ I tried to accommodate the moaning twat, but there was (and still is) only so much I could take, and eventually I stood up and screamed ‘If you don’t like it here, there’s the fucking door’. He took the hint and slouched off home, but he’d be back the next day.

One of his other few friends was called Simeon, a nauseating, skinny kid with the kind of hairstyle you only ever see on children with fussy mothers who prefer using their flat hand and their own spit to a comb, and a voice like a dentist’s drill. Simeon was, to borrow a quote from the Young Ones, the classic example of an only child. He’d obviously been bullied into the ground at his junior school, as had Rodney, and when they joined forces a perfect storm occurred. They started looking for someone whose life they could make miserable, and the target they chose was a shy girl called Joanne who reminded me of Stephen King’s Carrie – only without the telekinetic powers, of course. If Joanne had been blessed with Carrie’s unique talents, I can’t help thinking that she’d have made Carrie’s temper tantrum at the prom look mild by comparison. Never mind the school gymnasium, she’d probably have burned the whole town to a crisp. Rodney and Simeon put her through so much shit it was unreal. At least twice, they’d recruit virtually the whole class – with very little trouble – to follow her after school to the nearby park, where she’d be battered with physical and verbal abuse, spat at, kicked while she was down and her belongings thrown into the nearest muddy puddle. One year, Simeon even sent her a hate mail Christmas card – the low-tech, 1980s equivalent of internet trolling – which reduced her to tears. Most of the lads in my class, many of whom had joined in the baiting and the spitting, were absolutely disgusted that anyone could do such a thing and made serious threats of violence to whoever had sent it, should they ever find out who it was. Rather conveniently, Simeon was off sick that day, but Rodney’s filthy smirk and obvious delight at Joanna’s distress made it clear to me who was behind this bit of anonymous bullying.

Simeon was almost morbidly obsessed with sex, despite virtually all his knowledge of the subject having been gleaned from an Ivor Biggun LP his parents owned. He and Rodney had wanking competitions in his bedroom, the pair of them ogling a medical textbook or the lingerie pages of a mail-order catalogue to see who’d come first. When Rodney told me about this, his unflushed toilet of a face crumpled in that combined smirk and sneer that could even have roused the Pope to a psychotic episode, I was disgusted. ‘Are you two queer?’ I asked. I could have guessed his response. ‘You’re boring’. I’d been circumcised at the age of nine, and when Simeon spotted that I was lacking in the foreskin department in the PE changing rooms, he started loudly taking the piss, and the rest of the deadheads – Ray Cutliff, Stuart Powell, Oliver Nixon – started joining in. ‘What were you looking at my knob for anyway?’, I asked. ‘Fancy me, do you?’ In that moment their fun was over. Sometimes a well-chosen phrase is all it takes to silence a baying mob.

Emboldened by his new friend, Rodney developed a rebellious streak, and since I was one of the few poor sods he chose to torment with his presence, I bore the brunt of it. I wasn’t alone – there was another girl in my class whose younger brother had an incurable illness, and Rodney took great delight in taunting her over the fact that her ‘gacky little brother’ (his words) wouldn’t make it to adulthood. He wasn’t one of the hard lads, not by any stretch of the imagination, but he was streetwise and knew a few dirty tricks. It wasn’t wise to mess with him because he could be a pretty nasty fighter. He started to become more and more of a pain in the arse, and even my mother – who’d been tolerant of him to that point – began to notice.

Christmas morning, 1984, and Rodney turned up on our doorstep, his face as long as a Grateful Dead guitar solo. ‘I didn’t get much for Christmas this year’ he moaned.
‘What do you want me to do about it?’ I replied, and slammed the door. My mother told me what I’d just done was cruel and callous, but I told her that if I’d let the sad, miserable git into the house, all he’d have done was sit and moan. There was no way he’d have kept still and silent as we watched Mary Poppins and the Two Ronnies or whatever. His own Christmas had been crap, now he was out to ruin someone else’s. Around the same time, I had a pirate VHS copy of the film Gremlins and Rodney invited himself round to watch it with me. At first, it was a relief to have found a film he didn’t whine and complain about – he sat through the first hour or so in rapt attention. Then one of the gremlins said a rude word (probably ‘bastard’) and all hell broke loose. Rodney had hysterics, bursting into his depressingly familiar honking laugh, his face as red as a beetroot. ‘Rewind it!’ he pleaded, ‘let’s hear it again’. I rewound it, but it wasn’t enough. He wanted to hear it again, and again, and again, and by the fifth or sixth time his laughter stopped sounding genuine and became more like the deliberate fake laughter of a giddy five-year-old trying to curry favour or focus the nearest grown-up’s attention on how much fun everything was. Then he lay on his back, his legs thrashing in the air as if he was pedalling an invisible bicycle, and omitted an ear-splitting falsetto ‘WHEEEEE!’ Something inside me snapped and I threw him out, slamming the door behind him. To this day, I daren’t watch Gremlins because I know that I won’t be able to concentrate on the overall quality of the film without imagining Rodney’s hyperventilating forced laughter superimposed over the black comedy antics.

On my twelfth birthday, my mother proposed to take me out for a meal at an American themed diner called Capone’s. It should have been a pleasant and memorable evening, but she invited Rodney along, insisting that ‘he’s a nice boy really’ and excusing his moronic behaviour as ‘just him getting a bit over-excited’. The three or four days before my birthday were distinguished by the customary drone of negative comments and impotent whining from the supposed ‘nice boy’. Why was I taking him to Capone’s and not MacDonald’s? Someone he knew had had a birthday party at MacDonald’s. ‘Proper’ restaurants were boring. Couldn’t we go to MacDonald’s instead? I told him in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t like the thought of coming to Capone’s with me, perhaps he should stay at home. On the evening of the meal, he was on what passed for his best behaviour, but he still insisted on following me to the toilet and trying to convince me to turn all the taps on and leave them running, block the toilets with paper, flush all the toilets at once and so on. He and his gang (especially Simeon) were endlessly fascinated with toilets, or ‘the bogs’ as they called them. They spent most of their break times and lunch hours at school hanging around ‘the bogs’ talking unbelievable amounts of bollocks and giving younger, weaker kids a hard time. The bus journey home was mercifully brief. He ran amok on the top deck of the bus, flicking V-signs out of the windows and spitting at pedestrians on the street below. My mother sat there smiling indulgently. I couldn’t work it out. If I’d behaved like that she’d have given me a pasting, and rightly so, but apparently nothing could shake her conviction that Rodney was ‘a nice boy’.

I say apparently nothing, because what happened next was a blessing in disguise. When we got off the bus, we were closer to Rodney’s house than our own, and he invited us in for a coffee. I wasn’t keen – I’d been to his house before and I knew what to expect – but my mother, gregarious to a fault, eagerly agreed, and what she saw became almost the sole topic of conversation at home for the next few weeks.

Rodney’s house was, not to put too fine a point on it, an absolutely appalling shithole. It was what the good people of Sunderland would have called a ‘claggy mat’ – the kind of place where you had to wipe your feet on the way out. What had once been quite a tasteful carpet was covered in black, sticky patches of God-knows-what and worn almost through to the floorboards in places. Every available worktop in the kitchen was piled high with laundry, a silent testament to Rodney’s unfortunate bed-wetting habit. Almost every surface in the living room was thick with dust and discarded chocolate wrappers, the walls were a deep shade of nicotine yellow and the furniture was so decrepit you’d have been ashamed to be seen throwing it on a bonfire. We endured an uncomfortable half hour of forced jollity before making our way home, and at last the scales were falling from my mother’s eyes. Suddenly Rodney was no longer a misunderstood ‘nice boy’, he was the enemy. She couldn’t believe that he actually seemed proud of his house, enough to invite people in for coffee. She hadn’t liked Rodney’s mum, who smoked four cigarettes in the time it took her to smoke just one. When he turned up on the doorstep with tiresome inevitability, she began at last to make excuses and turn him away. Her awakening had been a long time coming, but now it had happened, it was all the more welcome.

If she’d been looking for an excuse to give Rodney a long-overdue tongue lashing, she soon got one. Always in thrall to stronger personalities than his own, Rodney joined the ever-obnoxious Simeon in taunting me on my way to the shop where my mother had a part time job one lunch hour. Simeon’s parents had bought him a light plastic pair of chain sticks, similar to the ones used in kung-fu films. The smarmy little twat came running towards me, twirling his chain sticks, eventually wrapping them around my leg. I lost my balance and stumbled forward, getting the knees of my school trousers muddy. Rodney thought this was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.

When I turned up at the shop, my mother immediately asked why I was in such a state, and when I told her what had happened, she marched out of the shop, collared Simeon and Rodney and gave them a bollocking that lasted the best part of fifteen minutes. I don’t know exactly what she said to them, but I didn’t have any more trouble from them for a while – at least, not until Simeon started a rumour that I had AIDS, which resulted in the headmaster making a stern phone call to his parents that landed him in pretty hot water. Like most narcissists and sociopaths, Simeon refused to accept that he was in the wrong and blamed it all on me. Not long after that, one of the girls in my class stood up to him and a couple of blows were exchanged, after which Simeon ran home crying. Whatever shreds of playground credibility he had left were erased permanently after that little tantrum.

That summer, we had a big family party in the back garden for which my mother had borrowed a pile of records from a friend of the family. The day after the party, still slightly dizzy from the previous day’s excesses, she let Rodney in and sat him down with a drink. He made a beeline for the pile of records and went through them grumbling ‘Crap – crap – don’t know that one – crap – briwyunt – crap – briwyunt’ and so on. One of the records he dismissed as crap happened to be one of my dad’s favourites – I Know Him So Well, a song from the musical Chess performed by Barbara Dickson and Elaine Paige. My dad was in the room and he asked me to play it for him, so I put the disc on the turntable. No sooner had the record started playing than Rodney put his fingers in his ears and started bellowing ‘crap, crap, crap’ as loudly as he could. Most of the time, my dad was so laid back and easy going that everyone remembered with devastating clarity the rare occasions when he did lose his temper, and this was a doozy. He was out of his easy chair like a shot. He grabbed Rodney by the shoulder and hurled him out into the street, slamming the door. By the time he sat back down, he was already regaining his composure. ‘Little bleeder’s made me miss half the record now. Play it again for us.’ I was only too happy to oblige.

The last time Rodney visited my house for any length of time was on bonfire night the same year. His behaviour had improved and it looked as if he was finally growing up, and once again I’d felt sorry for the sad bastard. His parents weren’t the type to waste their beer and fags money on fireworks, and Rodney was reduced to a state of hopefully ingratiating Uriah Heep humility, wishing everyone ‘a safe and happy bonfire night’ in the hope that he’d get invited to one of their displays. It did the trick and I asked him along, only to realise far too late that I’d made the same mistake yet again. Instead of standing and watching the display with everyone else, he spent the whole evening rummaging through the boxes and tins of fireworks, playing with them, making pathetic ‘wheee’ and ‘booom’ noises and trying to dictate the running order. When my mother offered him a jacket potato, he just snatched it. Another evening ruined, but what happened at school the next day took the fucking biscuit. When I arrived in the playground, it quickly became clear that Rodney had been doing the rounds of his friends and anyone else who’d listen, calling ‘Turnock’s firework night’ a load of shit and whining that ‘the baked puh, puh, potato his muh, muh, mum gave me was raw’ – even though he’d scoffed it in record time. That was more than I could take. He’d riled me to violence once before and I’d landed one on him, and his response had been to slump down in a chair and sneer ‘was that supposed to hurt?’ I knew that if he was ever going to learn any permanent lesson that might actually do him some good, I’d have to make it count. I was nobody’s idea of a fighter and everyone knew damn well I wasn’t one of the so-called ‘hard kids’, but the scruffy cunt had dealt his last hand. Still not entirely sure if the confrontation was going to end with me getting a right kicking, I strode over to Rodney and punched him as hard as I could in the face. Thinking back, it still seems unreal. I’d never seen anyone collapse on the floor after just one punch before – it was rare to see it happen in films, even – but that’s exactly what happened. It must have been a very lucky punch, or I’d caught him off-balance, but he fell backwards and landed flat out, groaning and bawling. ‘Now stay out of my fucking life, you little cunt’, I spat, and walked away.

By the time we started at secondary school, Rodney and I were in different classes, but in the two or three weekly lessons we actually shared, I could tell he’d finally changed for the better and we became reasonably good friends. He never mentioned what had happened between us, and I was eager to forget it as well, simply because it had been so out of character for me. Eventually, though, curiosity did get the better of me and I asked him if he remembered the time I punched him in the face for slagging off my firework display.

He looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language. ‘No’, he replied, his mouth practically hanging open, ‘don’t remember that’.
The last I saw or heard of Rodney was on a Facebook page where he and his friends were exchanging less-than-hilarious stories about ‘getting lashed’ – jumping over walls only to find fifteen foot drops on the other side, playing ‘Whack-a-Mole’ with a mallet and unopened beer cans, projectile vomiting after a night on the tiles, that kind of thing. Predictably enough, he’d grown up to be the kind of person I always suspected he would – the kind who has to get plastered every night to block out the uneventful tedium of his life, effectively paying a large brewery to poison him on a regular basis in order to forget the numbing boredom of his miserable, dead-end job and the fact that he lives in a dreary provincial shithole from which he’ll never escape. It’s all he deserves.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

I think I've reached my Bottom

It's now twenty-five years since the first episode of Bottom was recorded (not broadcast) at the BBC. Hold that thought. Then go and put a bit of sellotape on the fridge.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Friday, 29 May 2015

Face dances

Monday, 30 March 2015

Crude cartoons + swearing = enormous profit

What with Russell Church hitting the headlines again for all the wrong reasons, I found myself thinking back to the early nineties, when the first issue of Zit hit the shelves. If you want to read more about Zithere's something to get you started.

The first issue of Zit came out in February 1991. At the time, there were already lots of Viz clones on the market, but this one stood out as the worst of the lot. In Chris Donald's autobiography Rude Kids, there are some interesting details on Church (who Donald pithily describes as 'a fucking arsehole'), who apparently thought crude cartoons plus swearing equalled enormous profit, recruited contributors with the promise of being part of 'the publishing success story of the nineties', and even sent a team of dolly birds to Newcastle city centre to hand out free copies of Zit - by the end of the day, the high street was littered with them. The expected sales phenomenon resolutely refused to happen, and Zit went bankrupt - only to rise again from the ashes in time for the next issue - several times over its decade-long run. But back to that first issue.

To say it was 'bad' would be an understatement. You know the baffling sensation you get when you read something that's clearly meant to be funny and entertaining, but misses by absolutely miles? If not, imagine reading Fred Basset for the very first time. Zit gave me that feeling, over and over again. It was hard to believe that someone, somewhere, had actually put time and money into producing something that so completely missed the point, that was so devoid of humour and originality, and which was so desperate to be the next Viz - despite having no understanding of what made Viz great in the first place. I actually wrote to the comic, giving them some hints on how to improve (little things like getting some original ideas, getting some decent artists, thinking up their own jokes and so on), and I got a sarcastic letter back which claimed that 'we are not a rip-off of Zit, we are an adult humour comic of which there are a few around, so there is bound to be some crossover at some point'. They also sent me a free copy of the latest issue. That makes sense - sending out free copies to people who hated the first one.

Zit was in the habit of publishing work by artists and writers and then not paying them - a pattern that continued throughout its life, and was taken up by Church's other ventures, including a short-lived lad's mag called Sorted (which contained articles on shoplifting and taking ecstasy). Church also took over the publishing of the official Boyzone fan magazine, only for the thing to fold after one issue - and after several fans had paid a £30 subscription fee. 

Now, though, it looks as if Church really is up Zit creek, and I can't help feeling his comeuppance is long overdue.

Forty-one today

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Six quick ones