â€¦So today was an interesting one. Midway through the day I heard from David Wynne about a weird and unpleasant day he had at MCM Expo yesterday. Heâ€™d recorded some audio about it, ostensibly for us to use on MOMBcast, about the issues heâ€™d had.
This wasnâ€™t a straightforward situation. David understood that we might not want to touch the story with a bargepole. Weâ€™re not a particularly serious site, and while David was badly mistreated by staff at MCM, the truth is crusading journalism is something that requires more diligence than we can normally pull together between us Monkeys. David is a friend of MOMB, and we want to support him, but at the same time throwing in on a fight between a creator and a pretty well-established and corporate convention is something that shouldnâ€™t be undertaken lightly.
Anyway, after a bit of discussion we found a way that we could give David a podium without showing any real bravery on our part. A bit of craven back-footing on a blog-post hosting Davidâ€™s commentary, and we were golden.
However, not being a rabble-rouser by natureÂ â€“ I know, right?Â â€“ I was still a little twitchy about the post.
So then I get a tweet from an account that I didnâ€™t recognise, but one apparently belonging to a convention organiser, asking me to send them an email, because an old friend wanted to say hello.
Iâ€™m not a naturallyÂ suspicious person, but in the past Iâ€™ve experienced the dodgy side of the comic industry, and if youâ€™ve heard Davidâ€™s story from Sunday youâ€™ll understand why there was a slither of uncertainty about that tweetÂ â€“ while the jury is out on MCMâ€™s policy-makers, there are clearly some quite bullish characters working for them.
And, yâ€™know, Iâ€™m a pretty cantankerous fuck – youâ€™d have to go pretty far back to find an â€œold friendâ€ who didnâ€™t very deliberately choose to be that way.
Meanwhile, JM DeMatteisÂ â€“ a writer whose work I have admired for decadesÂ â€“ was tweeting about a Stephen King time-travel story, related to JFK. I have my own take on time-travel stories, and how they pertain to the big historical travesties. In fact, Iâ€™ve written a story specifically about that. Itâ€™s called â€œThe Obvious Ethical Questionâ€, and itâ€™s about killing HitlerÂ â€“ you can read it here.
So anyway, I do this thing sometimes, which is almost like self-promoting, exceptâ€¦ no, itâ€™s basically exactly like self-promoting. If Iâ€™m following someone, and itâ€™s someone I think is awesome, and they mention something which relates somehow to something Iâ€™ve written that I like, Iâ€™ll tell them about it. Itâ€™s kind of shilling, but itâ€™s also sufficiently similar to how Twitter is supposed to work that I donâ€™t feel too weird about it. I donâ€™t ask for or expect a retweetÂ â€“ that isnâ€™t the point of talking to people person-to-personÂ â€“ and I donâ€™t really hope for a critique. Actually, so many writers have to adopt a personal policy on not looking at civilian stories out of self-preservation thatÂ I donâ€™t even take it personally if they donâ€™t read it or respond.
But the truth is, I donâ€™t think, in the half dozen times Iâ€™ve done this, Iâ€™ve had a writer who didnâ€™t at least take an interest. And of course, when I linked Mr DeMatteis to my time-travel storyÂ â€“ not the only one Iâ€™ve written, as it happensÂ â€“ he was very kind indeed.
I took the opportunity to tell him how huge an impact he has had on me, in terms of how I read and write, but also in how I look at the world. Actually, I didnâ€™t tell him most of that. I just told him the non-creepy bit, about my writing. We talked a little about writing, and though I already know the basic reasons why Iâ€™m failing to produce,Â I still absorbed his advice.
The thing is, where most people learned that comics could be more than just iterative spandex power fantasies or visceral genre fiction from people like Alan Moore and Frank Miller, or Eisner or Pekar or later on Neil Gaiman and the rest of the Vertigo crew, the first works that really opened my eyes to what was possible in the medium were both written by JM DeMatteis and published out of Epic, the auteur arm of Marvel.
One was Blood â€“ a beautiful and poetic four-part series about love and loss and sacrifice and vampires, fluid and evocative, if occasionally, looking back, a little obscure. The whole thing was painted by Kent WilliamsÂ â€“ side-note: This was when I started my long love of that artistâ€™s work, tooÂ â€“ and amazed me in the way that the writer managed to juggle the mythic and ambiguous elements of the setting and story with what felt to me like totally natural dialogue, and believable and broken characters.
The other was Greenberg The Vampire, one of a line of one-off graphic novels that Marvel published during that period. This was something else again, with expressionistic butÂ funny art by Mark Badger, and a New York setting and cast straight out of Neil Simon. Iâ€™m blagging the Neil Simon thingÂ â€“ I only really know Biloxi Blues and Radio DaysÂ â€“ but Woody Allen would have been too easy a throw, and doesnâ€™t tell the whole story. As in Blood, the characterisation in Greenberg felt totally real to me, but this time we were dealing with absurd but authentic family drama. If you ignored the fact that he was a vampire, Greenberg was just a normal everyman writer-protagonist, with the sort of ridiculous Jewish family that any first-generation immigrant can relate to, but that didnâ€™t to my knowledge exist anywhere else in comics.
(This is all without mentioning Brooklyn Dreams, which I know for a fact broke my heart again and again when I read it, but doesnâ€™t fit the story Iâ€™m telling, but that might include the amazing Spider-Man and JLA stories that the man worked on, though Iâ€™m not entirely sure of the timing.)
The upshot of all this is, when I discovered prestige format comics, adult situations in comics, and basically all these other mind-blowing things that didnâ€™t come easy to a teenage boy in the pre-Deadline Magazine eighties, is that DeMatteis was the writer who truly blew myÂ mind first. I learned from him something that Iâ€™m sure is a gross oversimplification that heâ€™d dispute; that if you could make an idea work, no matter how rooted in reality, in surreality, in the mundane or in the totally out there, you could put it in a comic.
And the place where most of these discoveries happened were round at a friendâ€™s house. Iâ€™d been reading comics scavenged and scraped from various second-hand sources since I was a very small child, but this particular friend was the first Iâ€™d had who liked comicsÂ â€“ and computer games, for that matterÂ â€“ as much as I did. And though we discovered our first comic shop at around the same time, he had a little more freedom to get there than I did, so he had a shitload more comics than I did. He was, back then, discovering all sorts of cool books, tooÂ â€“ I have a specific memory of reading Mike Grellâ€™s The Longbow Hunters in his bedroom.
Weâ€™d sit around for hours in near silence reading comics or later on playing computer games, and then chatting about them. Basically, I think if youâ€™re a particular sort of geek, this is the sort of ideal relationship you spend your entire life remembering but hardly ever quite getting again in quite the way you did when you were a kid, and werenâ€™t totally obsessed with girls.
Then I moved away, and though we kept touch for a long while, another move made that harder, and then I think he was off to university, and I lost contact. Thatâ€™s around twenty years ago. But thinking about JM DeMatteis comics always takes me back that far.
A quick aside before we get onto the really cool part is that while I was getting potentially suspicious tweets, taking my place in unfolding controversy, and talking to one of my writing gods, my wife wasÂ â€“ for only the second time everÂ â€“ deciding to make a chicken biryani for dinner. The last time it had been tasty, if a little dry, but significantly, it gave me a sense memory of the food that the mother of my comic-reading friend had always made, when I had stayed for dinner. I believe the family was from Pakistan, though Iâ€™m not exactly sureÂ â€“ whatever the case, the food I ate there was absolutely amazing, and not quite like anything Iâ€™d eaten since.
SO ANYWAY, I wrote to the author of the suspicious tweet. Because I just donâ€™t care, me. I was a little nervous that I was giving some nefarious underworld figures who make their millions off running exploitative conventionsÂ my actual email address, but then realised that due to one buy-out or another, the email addresses that I used to use to keep myself insulated are now tied into some pretty public and mission critical services I use by defaultÂ â€“ YEAH THANKS XBOX LIVE.
It was a bit of a surprise when the friend that I hadnâ€™t talked to in over twenty years emailed me back. Heâ€™d read the post about David Wynneâ€™s Expo exploits, and then had spotted my surnameÂ somewhere â€“ itâ€™s one of those surnames that catches the eyeÂ â€“ and thatâ€™d triggered off a desire to communicate. We confirmed that we are who we thought we were, and now thereâ€™s a â€œso where did you end up?â€ email sitting in my inbox, waiting forÂ a reply.
None of which is weird, really, you know? With all of the different ways of bumping into people that technology has allowed us, plus the fact that he now lives back where we used to and my sister is in the same town, or the fact that we both still read comics and there are only so many communal places for all those people to end up in this country, itâ€™s almost weirder that we didnâ€™t bump into each other before now. After all, for the last two years Iâ€™ve been co-host of the best podcast about comics recorded in Southampton on a Thursday night, and thatâ€™s halfway famous.
And Iâ€™ve been following Mr DeMatteis for a little while, now. I was going to have a conversation with him eventuallyÂ â€“ thatâ€™s just the way Twitter works.
I donâ€™t really believe in coincidence, or happenstance, or any of that stuff. I do believe that our brains are pattern recognition machines, and that makes it easy for us to believe almost anything. But what I do think is, any time in your thirties that you remember something cool about your teens, itâ€™s a great thing. And if two of those cool things intersect in an unexpected way, thatâ€™s noteworthy.
If when you get home to tell your wife about both, sheâ€™s totally nailed, on her second try, a meal that sends you right back to that same time and place, well, more spiritually minded people than I have built whole religionsÂ â€“ we call the ones that are that small and one-issue cults, mindÂ – out of less immediate and bewildering a cluster of emotional reactions.
Basically, what Iâ€™m trying to tell you is that it turned out to be a pretty interesting day.