Category Archives: ongoing saga

This Is How My Day Panned Out

…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. He’d recorded some audio about it, ostensibly for us to use on MOMBcast, about the issues he’d had.

This wasn’t a straightforward situation. David understood that we might not want to touch the story with a bargepole. We’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 shouldn’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 David’s commentary, and we were golden.

However, not being a rabble-rouser by nature – I know, right? – I was still a little twitchy about the post.

So then I get a tweet from an account that I didn’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.

I’m not a naturally suspicious person, but in the past I’ve experienced the dodgy side of the comic industry, and if you’ve heard David’s story from Sunday you’ll understand why there was a slither of uncertainty about that tweet – while the jury is out on MCM’s policy-makers, there are clearly some quite bullish characters working for them.

And, y’know, I’m a pretty cantankerous fuck – you’d have to go pretty far back to find an “old friend” who didn’t very deliberately choose to be that way.

 

Meanwhile, JM DeMatteis – a writer whose work I have admired for decades – 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, I’ve written a story specifically about that. It’s called “The Obvious Ethical Question”, and it’s about killing Hitler – you can read it here.

So anyway, I do this thing sometimes, which is almost like self-promoting, except… no, it’s basically exactly like self-promoting. If I’m following someone, and it’s someone I think is awesome, and they mention something which relates somehow to something I’ve written that I like, I’ll tell them about it. It’s kind of shilling, but it’s also sufficiently similar to how Twitter is supposed to work that I don’t feel too weird about it. I don’t ask for or expect a retweet – that isn’t the point of talking to people person-to-person – and I don’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 that I don’t even take it personally if they don’t read it or respond.

But the truth is, I don’t think, in the half dozen times I’ve done this, I’ve had a writer who didn’t at least take an interest. And of course, when I linked Mr DeMatteis to my time-travel story – not the only one I’ve written, as it happens – 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 didn’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 I’m failing to produce, 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 – 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 Williams – side-note: This was when I started my long love of that artist’s work, too – 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 but funny art by Mark Badger, and a New York setting and cast straight out of Neil Simon. I’m blagging the Neil Simon thing – I only really know Biloxi Blues and Radio Days – but Woody Allen would have been too easy a throw, and doesn’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 didn’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 doesn’t fit the story I’m telling, but that might include the amazing Spider-Man and JLA stories that the man worked on, though I’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 didn’t come easy to a teenage boy in the pre-Deadline Magazine eighties, is that DeMatteis was the writer who truly blew my mind first. I learned from him something that I’m sure is a gross oversimplification that he’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 friend’s house. I’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 I’d had who liked comics – and computer games, for that matter – 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, too – I have a specific memory of reading Mike Grell’s The Longbow Hunters in his bedroom.

We’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 you’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 weren’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. That’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 was – for only the second time ever – 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 I’m not exactly sure – whatever the case, the food I ate there was absolutely amazing, and not quite like anything I’d eaten since.

 

SO ANYWAY, I wrote to the author of the suspicious tweet. Because I just don’t care, me. I was a little nervous that I was giving some nefarious underworld figures who make their millions off running exploitative conventions 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 default – YEAH THANKS XBOX LIVE.

It was a bit of a surprise when the friend that I hadn’t talked to in over twenty years emailed me back. He’d read the post about David Wynne’s Expo exploits, and then had spotted my surname somewhere – it’s one of those surnames that catches the eye – and that’d triggered off a desire to communicate. We confirmed that we are who we thought we were, and now there’s a “so where did you end up?” email sitting in my inbox, waiting for 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, it’s almost weirder that we didn’t bump into each other before now. After all, for the last two years I’ve been co-host of the best podcast about comics recorded in Southampton on a Thursday night, and that’s halfway famous.

And I’ve been following Mr DeMatteis for a little while, now. I was going to have a conversation with him eventually – that’s just the way Twitter works.

I don’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, it’s a great thing. And if two of those cool things intersect in an unexpected way, that’s noteworthy.

 

If when you get home to tell your wife about both, she’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 religions – we call the ones that are that small and one-issue cults, mind - out of less immediate and bewildering a cluster of emotional reactions.

 

Basically, what I’m trying to tell you is that it turned out to be a pretty interesting day.

SO COOL IT ACTUALLY CAUSES PAIN

This morning, I did my post-departure pocket-check (keys/wallet/phone) in the style of an urban dance-off, to Ira Glass by Adam WarRock.

Little scruffy old guy, not quite body-popping on his own in a doorway.

Oh, and a few days back an only just awake Wife One was treated to me doing an improvised interpretive dance performance to a Regina Spektor song, that incorporated sign language. I do not know any sign language.

Possibly offensive little dancey guy, face gurning for validation.

Admit it, you want me so much right now.

Thought Bubble 2010 – A MOMBcast Adventure 01

We’re en route to Leeds, which is really a very, very long way away, in a car or on foot – from where we are from.

Which is Southampton, where we record MOMBcast.

Actually, as I type, we are just leaving Peterborough train station. This is significant for me for two reasons – first, I didn’t realise that the train stopped in Peterborough, and second, Peterborough is where I grew up, and where my sister and her family still live.

Third, it’s a bit of a dive, but a dive with a clearer identity and a nicer retail quarter in it’s city center than we have in Southampton.

If you’ve ever been to Peterborough, the notion that somewhere might have a less clear identity than it is probably a little hard to swallow, so you’re just going to have to trust me on this.

So, anyway, just gone through Peterborough, and that means we’re about an hour and a quarter from Leeds, and that means we’re more than halfway through our half-day journey, and not that long away from our hotel rooms.

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Twitter Joke Trial – Template Email

Some of you may be following the case of Paul Chambers, and the #twitterjoketrial, and feel just as upset about the findings against him yesterday. Paul’s life has essentially been ruined because of a single tweet that he sent in jest, and it has potential ramifications for the rest of us that are, frankly, worrying to say the least.

There are already a couple of ways to show solidarity with Mr Chambers, but it has been suggested that politically and societally speaking, nothing shows actual investment in a cause, and a desire to state your case, as well as a letter or email to one’s MP. A million tweets are as easy to ignore as one tweet, if you aren’t engaged with the media, but even a few dozen messages in an actual politician’s inbox are much harder to ignore, and carry a greater weight in the real world.

My friend Steev Bishop – steevbishop on Twitter – has written to his MP, and has allowed me to use his letter as a basis for my own. He’s also allowed me to share it with the rest of you, so you can use it too (disclaimer: My cousin George London did this already on Facebook, but I hate Facebook. I actually want to blow Facebook up). If you care about this case, you should copy and paste the following message into an email, and mail it to your own MP – you can find them by putting your postcode in here: http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/.

BTW, this site makes it easy to find your MP and write to them in one go: www.writetothem.com

(If you don’t care about this case because you don’t really know anything about it, but do care about freedom of expression, you should read up at some of the links that Steev put at the end of his message, down there at the bottom.)

If you want to make changes to the mail, you should of course feel free to. At this point I should mention that from “Also of considerable concern…” to “…with the support and respect of the people.” was all me. Your MP will only act or respond if you are in their constituency, so you should give your address/contact details at the end, as you would a normal letter. (Yes, I had to check that myself. I am an idiot.)

[edited to fix date of appeal being heard. My mistake, not Steev's, sorry! Also, to add "Write To Them" link]

Dear MP,

I am motivated to write to you in the wake of a man getting a criminal record this week for making a flippant remark on the social networking website, Twitter.

In January this year Paul Chambers made an innocuous, arch comment in frustration when he found out his local airport was closed and he couldn’t travel to Belfast to visit a young woman he was anxious to meet as their friendship had flourished online.

He said: “Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week… otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”

This comment was intended for Twitter users who had chosen to follow him but was published openly on the service for all to view. If they could find it amongst the thousands of tweets (messages on Twitter) posted every minute.

By chance, a few days later, the airport’s duty manager found this tweet and notified airport security. In turn they notified the police and Paul Chambers was arrested. This was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service who, after ruling out the Criminal Law Act 1977, deemed parts 127(1)(A) and (3) of the Communications Act 2003 were infringed and this then became a matter for Doncaster Crown Court.

In May 2010 Paul Chambers was found guilty of sending a menacing message via a public telecommunications network. The appeal was heard on 11th November and rejected. Paul Chambers has been fined and worse has been given a criminal record. He has lost two jobs and will now find it harder to get another.

While his life has now been made far worse for broadcasting a facetious comment any one of us could make and not actually mean it, we now have a dangerous, documented precedent set limiting our freedom of expression.

We have a CPS and a judge that appears to have robotically adjudicated without the application of context and without considering the existence of the many facets of humour that the British are renown for: irony, sarcasm, hyperbole, sub-text, subversion and more I cannot think of. We also have an Act of Parliament that allows the prosecution of an individual without the burden of proving intent.

Do we now live in a United Kingdom where we cannot speak freely? Do we now live in a United Kingdom where not only must we be overly nervous of causing offence when engaging with humour we now must be cautious of prosecution?

Judge Jacqueline Davies determined the message contained “obvious menace” and that “anyone in this country in the present climate of terrorist threats, especially at airports, could not be unaware of the possible consequences”.

“Anyone in this country” is quite an assumption to make, but then “anyone” could make such a comment but expect people to understand the context in which it was made.

Also of considerable concern to me is that the record shows at various points in this case that the police have made statements and behaved in ways that clearly suggest that they did not believe that there was ever any intended menace, or that Paul Chamber’s comments were intended as anything other than a joke, and that their testimony, and reticence in treating this case as a credible threat has been summarily ignored by the Judge’s ruling and closing statements.

If we are to take the stance that we must ever be vigilant to the threat of terror, particularly in the “current climate”, we should be chilled that so many of the resources meant to be being used to keep us safe and secure are being spent instead on chasing spurious convictions, against the protests and better judgement of our police. Not only do such rulings erode at our rights, and at the parts of our national identity that we can actually be proud of, they also make it far harder for the police, our legal system and our government to do their jobs, with the support and respect of the people.

I believe the judgement was wrong. I believe the judge acted too sensitively to the climate of fear stirred by terrorist alerts and did not fairly consider the context and the method of communication used. I believe we have a CPS incorrectly prosecuting and a broken Act able to target anybody with a clunking fist. I believe if somebody did more than just their job and realised the situation was ridiculous this never would have got as far as it did.

Freedom of expression died a little this week (on Armistice Day of all days) and the terrorists we are so determined to defeat have limited our liberty yet again without lifting a finger. I am saddened and ashamed by this and I implore you to ensure that if the Paul Chambers decision cannot be challenged that nobody else falls foul to such short-sightedness.

Yours sincerely,

[Your name goes here]

[Your address goes here]

Further reading:

Report from The Guardian website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/11/twitter-joke-tria l-appeal-verdict

Key blog post from David Allen Green, a lawyer working pro bono for Paul Chambers: http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2010/09/appeal-of-paul-cha mbers.html

Other posts from David Allen Green:

http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2010/05/paul-chambers-bad-joke-and-bad. html

http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2010/05/paul-chambers-disgraceful-and-i lliberal.html

http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2010/09/why-paul-chambers-case-matters. html