The great Bill Shankley* once made a famous comment about football**. “Some people” he opined, “think that football is a matter of life and death. Well they’re wrong. It’s much more important than that.”
And for a lot of people, for an awful lot of people, that is absolutely true.
It isn’t true of me, however. It’s not that I’m not sporty, it’s just that footie isn’t my game. I much prefer the stylised warfare that is cricket (test or twenty/twenty) or the pretty much actual warfare that is rugby (union or league – I’m a rugby whore, I don’t care which). Most of all, I love to run***.
More than any of that though, I love comics.
Like I said, Shankley was, for me at least, wrong about football. And he’d’ve been wrong if he’d made that famous comment about any of the sports I do love. I mean, yes, I cheer for my rugby team (Leeds Rhinos being the one I follow most closely) but I don’t get all that upset when they lose****.
If he’d said that about comics though, well, then he’d have had a point.
Comics are special. And my relationship with them is very much the same as the relationships that some of my more sport oriented friends have with their chosen sport. What’s more, the more I think about my comics friends, the analogy between sport and comics continues to hold.
For a start, we all tend to have favourite “teams”. I’ve been in so many comics shops, so many times over the years to hear the same discussions about “Marvel Vs. DC” or “I’m a Dark Horse guy”, or “it has to be Vertigo”. Some of us can be fiercely, fiercely loyal to those teams, buying vast quantities of books we know won’t be very good because “we need to have the set”*****.
We all have our favourite players too. I once worked with a guy who worshiped the very ground that Eric Cantonna****** walked on. This is not a kid we’re talking about you understand, but a full grown man. He was a little older than me, and he had posters of Cantonna all over his office, in his house, he even had a sticker showing the great man’s portrait on the windscreen of his car. Again, nobody thought this odd. It seems to me that this is not really any different from my collection of Sandman and Death posters.
“But hang on, Regie,” I hear you cry, “that’s all well and good, and we’re all jolly impressed with your sporting analogy. But, y’know, so what?”
And you have a point.
Given the right motivation, I could alter the analogy and say that comics were like a religion – after all, the vast majority of us make a trip to a special location every week to pursue our interests, we have a special day (delivery day!), we have sites around the world that hold particular significance (San Diego, New York, Bristol…) and so on, and so on. Hell, if I wanted to extend the analogy further I could set up a pantheon of “saints” (Gaiman, Ennis, Ellis, et al) and perhaps even deities (I dunno, Siegel, Shuster, Kane, Lee?). You local comics pimp would be the priest (delivering, as they do, the good word to the masses…) and so on and so on and so on.
It’s rather fun, this analogy game, innit?
And bear with me, because I’m in danger of reaching a point.
This whole train of thought set out from my mind station on its journey to the great city of insight (what? It’s about time I moved from analogy to metaphor, don’t you think?) as the result of a chance comment texted to me by Phil Barnett, a young acquaintance who is possessed of something approaching genius*******. Forbidden Planet, he suggested, is the Hamleys of comics********.
This struck me as nothing short of genius, because it goes right to a central truth that too many people, both inside and outside comics, overlook. The whole point of this little excursion into allegory and metaphor was to underline the point, inspired by Phil’s comment that frankly, comics are perfectly normal. The oft derided and ridiculed********* aspects of “fandom”, the devotion, the desire to evangelise, the tendency to wear clothing inspired by the characters and stories we love?
And so, by and large, are the people who read them.
We’re not strange. We’re not odd, or freaky, or geeky. Well, no more than the general population, anyway. That’s why the allegory game works. That’s why there are so many parallels between things in comics, and things in the rest of the world.
And that matters to me at the moment, because that’s not how we’re regarded by a large section of the rest of the world. As I work to “teach comics” to my students in preparation for the comics section of their media exams, I’m aware that some of them do think that there’s something terminally uncool about comics, and the people who read them. I’m grateful that Phil reminded me that the problem is with them, and not with me.
*Regarded by many as the greatest football manager in history. If you don’t already know that, then you probably will never care, so this may well be one of the most pointless footnotes ever…
**I mean proper football of course, not the silly American version which is basically rugby, but played in suits of armour and made easier by allowing the ball to be thrown forwards…
***And a bit of advanced warning here – I’m hoping to have another crack at the London Marathon next year, and if I do I’ll be abusing my position around here and tapping you all for some sponsorship. It’ll be in a good cause though.
****And obviously I don’t get upset at all when my cricket team loses. I support Yorkshire and England, and if I got upset every time they lost I’d be in a state of perpetual and inconsolable grief.
*****Over in Comic Effect, Jim Kingman is wondering where all the fanboys have gone, and I’ll concede that there are less of them than there used to be, and those that still exist are slightly less extreme than they were back in the day. But they still exist every bit as much as the football fan who never misses a home game. The only difference is that the majority of the population don’t, for some reason, think that the football fan is strange in any way…
******Note to Americans and young people. Eric Cantonna is a French footballer who used to play for Manchester United. He was quite good, apparently.
*******Seriously. This is a kid who has already pitched a Batman story idea in person to a senior DC figure – a story idea which I should say has received no small measure of acclaim…
********Wow, these footnote asterisks are getting out of hand, aren’t they. I may well have to find a more compact way of doing this.
Anyway. For those of you unfortunate enough to reside outside of these British Isles (or Ireland, I think there’s a Forbidden Planet in Dublin) Forbidden Planet is a large UK chain of comics stores. Hamleys is perhaps the finest toy shop in the world.
*********Yes, I know, these words mean basically the same thing. Think of it as emphasis.
HUMPHREY LYTTLETON R.I.P.
You might not’ve known Humph. To have known him you needed to have been a Jazzfan or a devotee of Radio 4’s “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue”.
Clue was Radio 4’s flagship comedy panel game, and the funniest thing in broadcasting. Outrageously silly and utterly deadpan, Humph ruled for more than thirty years. He was the master of innuendo, getting away with the sort of smut that would have most comedians banned. I guess there won’t be another series now, but some of the best stuff is available on CD. Go and check it out – I promise you’ll love it.
He was also one of the greatest jazz trumpeters in history. He was described variously as “the best trumpet player in England” (by no less than Louis Armstrong) and “that cat from England who swings his ass off”. His “Bad Penny Blues” was, in 1957, the first jazz record to hit the UK charts. Nearly fifty years later he charted again, this time playing with Radiohead.
He was from an unlikely background considering where he ended up. Educated at Eton, and serving with the Guards before taking up his Jazz and broadcasting career this witty, slightly aristocratic, brilliant old man has been joy and an inspiration to so many people in so many ways.
It was my great pleasure and privillage to see him live with the “Clue” team, only a couple of weeks ago. He even serenaded the audience with a Trumpet solo (accompanied by the whole audience on kazoo, which means in a very real sense, I’ve played with Humph…). I’m very, very glad I had a chance to do that.
The world just became a little duller.
So, as Humph might’ve put it, as the hamster of time runs around the wheel of fate, and the lorry driver of doom makes a mental note to scrape it off later, I say, goodbye Humph, we’ll miss you. See you sometime on Mornington Crescent.