Hello. Good to be back. Sorry for the delay.
The honest truth seems to be that my life, my laptop, and the internet in general just don’t seem to want me to post new columns.
The last couple of weeks have been a pretty much perfect storm of work pressures, hardware failures, software failures and other petty annoyances all of which have conspired to keep me off the information super-highway and thus prevented me from updating the column.
I’ll do better, I really will.
Of course, as a result, time is what I’ve mostly been thinking about lately – specifically my lack of it, but also the way time is used in comics.
As long standing readers may recall, I wasn’t really allowed to read comics as a kid. Indeed, most science fiction and fantasy was strongly discouraged as “rubbish” by my Mother, who I think was concerned that over exposure to such things would rot my brain.* In the absence of superheroes, Judge Dredd and Star Wars Weekly, I got my Sci-Fi Fix by watching Doctor Who and Star Trek at my Grandma’s house**, and it was the tine travel elements of both shows that really captured my imagination.***
Perhaps it’s because my own time management is so bad – the idea that I might be able to finish something in my own time and then go back to just before the deadline and hand it in on time was (and is) hugely attractive. But there’s more to it than that. The basic premise of City on the Edge of Forever – that you might be able to go back in time and change history for better or for worse became more of an obsession than a fascination. You could possibly psycho-analyse the hell out of that, but that isn’t the point? Given the chance, who wouldn’t?
Characters travelling through time have been something of a SF staple, in all media of course, and it would be a foolish internet pundit indeed who tried to suggest that the concept had always been well handled. In fact, I’ll pre-empt some comment and flag up 1991’s execrable DC Universe “crossover event” Armageddon 2001 as the perfect example of how time travel stories can be so bad as to be almost unreadable.*****
But poor execution doesn’t actually make the concept a duffer – far from it, and, just as I’d like to see more space based stories******, I’d also like to see more stories that explore the implications and nature of time travel. Again, this might be the educator in me, but there is a real opportunity here to get some of the scientific theory out to a non science audience – apart from anything else, some of the science surrounding space/time theory is so damn weird it’s somewhat stranger than your average wordsmith could come up with, even if they thought about it all night wearing their deluxe thinking cap.
Because playing with time is perhaps the very essence of a story. If you mess with time, then you mess with reality, and as soon as you start to do that you’re faced with a very interesting story indeed, if you’ve got the guts to tell it. Indeed, if you’ve got the guts, and the talent to tell it, you’ve got one hell of a story indeed.
Some thirty or so years ago Bryan Talbot******* wrote the series that absolutely proves my point. The Adventures of Luther Arkwright tell of a man who can hop between times and realities, and upon who’s fate hangs the fate not only of the world, but of many worlds.
Talbot’s vision was huge. The Adventures of Luther Arkwright span a plethora of interlinked worlds and realities. A war is being waged across these worlds, but only Arkwright can step between them and take in the big picture. His story, which started in a small way in the pages of Brainstorm Comix is truly truly epic in its scope but intimate in its detail. Talbot weaves a complex story of conflict and intrigue in gloriously detailed black and white line drawing******** that looks as groundbreaking today as it did back in the mid seventies.*********
In fact, as of now, it looks even better. October marked the thirtieth anniversary of the beginning of the first serialisation of Arkwright in the comic Near Myths.********** The latest Dark Horse edition of this epic tale – recognised by many as the first UK Graphic Novel – features pages that have been digitally re-mastered and are now clearer than they have ever been. So, now you can marvel even more at the astonishing line-work and see even more detail.
A clear case of time improving all things?
Possibly. I hope to be interviewing Talbot over the next few days. If I get the chance, I’ll ask him.
If there’s time…
*In the light of my subsequent career I can’t help thinking that she might well have been right…
**Because they too were discouraged at home. Grandparents can have such a wonderful undermining influence on parental discipline, can’t they?
***If you’re wondering what Star Trek has to do with time travel, you should know that “City on the Edge of Forever”**** was the first episode I remember seeing, and I spent a lot of time subsequently watching Trek and wondering when they were going to get on with some more time travel…
****And if you haven’t seen that episode, go and find it. Now. Honestly. It’s an amazing piece of work. If you’re in the US you can watch it legally on You Tube, and I honestly can’t imagine why you wouldn’t…
*****And if you’re thinking “he’s slagged this story off before – surely it can’t be that bad!”, let me know. I’ve been contemplating offloading this turkey onto e-bay for some time now and have only refrained from doing so because I’m convinced it wouldn’t sell. If it turns out there’s a market for this stuff…
******That’s real space based stories, not the sort of scientifically illiterate tosh that so often passes for Sci-Fi these days…
*******A writer/artist I have long held is one of the very few giants remaining in the world of western comics – hell, of comics in general. I can’t understand why there are no statues to him yet.
********Some of the finest, most intricate work he’s ever done, if I’m honest…
*********You see, the thing about Talbot is that he wasn’t just ahead of his time thirty years ago, he’s still ahead of his time. And I don’t just mean that the stuff he’s doing now is ahead of it’s time (although it is – we’ve talked about Alice in Sunderland here before, so you already know how innovative that is) but the stuff he was doing in the seventies is still ahead of it’s time – even if the time is now!
**********And yes, I know I said his first appearance was in Brainstorm, and so it was, but that was a one off. The serialisation that became to story we know as The Adventures of Luther Arkwright began in Near Myths in October 1978.