The Rattling Skull – 4

I moved house Tuesday before last. Twelve hours of lugging around boxes, mostly full of books, and, of course, comics.

My back still hurts a little.

I tell you what, there’s something more than a little mentally unwell about us comic collector types. Ten bloody longboxes. Among them, most of the individual issues of Preacher, a fair chunk of Transmetropolitan, several issues of Tom Strong, lots of Hellboy… even though I have all of them in trades. Which means I lugged those bastards out of our flat, onto a lorry, off the lorry, and up a flight of stairs to the new flat for no logical reason. They sit at the back of a cupboard now, completely inaccessible, laughing at me derisively.

The other day, while (still!) unpacking, moving furniture around, and generally trying to get the new place to look like a home rather than a (very small) disorganised warehouse, I had to stop and rearrange my shelves- because I could no longer bear the fact that my hardcover of Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales Volume 1 was on a different shelf from the rest of the ABC books, and even more distressingly, Batman Black And White Vol. 1 was at the other end of the shelf from volumes 2 and 3.

In the end I wound up spending a good forty minutes shuffling around books, just to satisfy my own weird sense of order. My comics being out of order just made me too uncomfortable to ignore it- meanwhile, I can’t see across my front room because of the great wobbly piles of boxes full of CDs and DVDs. And bear in mind, when it comes to film, I’m the kind of guy who has multiple favourite directors and can recite their filmographies; and as for music, well, I spent seven years or so of my life plugging away in bands trying to make it as a musician. But the comics come first. I can’t find the phono-leads to connect up the stereo? Pffft, that can wait- the Batman books are out of order.

(I tell you, though, this move has just eaten me alive. Near enough three weeks of my life have disappeared into this endeavour. My webcomic, MINDHACK, hasn’t updated in over a fortnight, for example. And yes, I am mighty proud of myself for having got through three columns before allowing myself to mention my ugly little baby; if you wish to see it and marvel at how awful it is (actually, more than a few people seem to like it, so what do I know?) you can do that at mindhackcomic.com – the language is truly foul at times, as is the violence, so be aware of what you’re getting into before you make with the clicky.)

I don’t know where the madness began. I always marvel at forum threads, blogposts or podcast interviews where creators and fans recount, often in great detail, the exact circumstances of how they became interested in comics. They’ll talk about the first comic they ever read, tell you what issue of what title it was, and where they got it.

Me, so far as I can remember, I’ve always been in to comics. As a young kid I was, like most boys of my generation, heavily into He-Man. But I distinctly remember being just as enamoured with the little dinky comics that came with the action figures as I was with the figures themselves. I have Superman comics, bought at the newsagent, dated 1982; I was only born in ’79. I remember, at that age, being fascinated by the way Curt Swan drew the musculature on Superman’s chest- I thought that swift, curved line that delineated the divide between old Kal-El’s pecs was a part of the symbol. To be clear: this is a pre-literate memory. I did not yet recognise the symbol on Superman’s chest as a letter s. Admittedly, I learned to read very late, but you get my point.

My mother claims not to like comics- she says she just doesn’t enjoy them on a technical level, that the juxtaposition of words and images doesn’t work for her (this doesn’t extend to MY comics, of course, which she rightly considers to be masterpieces that transcend the restrictions of their form… *cough*). My father used to say much the same thing. And yet, for people who didn’t like comics, both their homes seemed to have an awful lot of comics in them as I was growing up. Whether it was Raymond Briggs’s Father Christmas, or collections of Steve Bell’s If…, or even big glossy books about pop art and alternative culture that would feature excerpts from works by Jack Kirby or Robert Crumb; there seemed to be a lot of stuff knocking about that, while my parents may not have thought of them as comics, most definitely were as far as I was concerned. I suppose it was inevitable that this combination of the literary and the visual would hook me; my mother was a librarian, my father an art teacher. Mum, as well as being a disgustingly talented and able painter, is also a connoisseur of genre fiction; dad was a master draughtsman. Both, despite being artists, instilled in me at an early age the idea that writing novels is probably the greatest thing a human being can aspire to. It seems obvious, from a cod-psychologist standpoint, that this is where it all stems from.

But.

My mum tells a story, when trying embarrass me in company: I was very, very small, barely able to talk- that age when children are only just about able to communicate with you, and will scribble masterpieces in crayon that, if you squint really hard could be a person or possibly cow or maybe, just maybe, a choo choo train. Well, at that age I was surprising nursery school carers by being able to pick colours pretty accurately- when I did a scribble that was meant to be Superman or Spider-Man you could tell because there’d be a lot of blue and red, and if they were fighting the Green Goblin then there’d be some purple and green in there too. One day mum, after realising she’d not seen me for ten minutes or so, found me in my bedroom, making pictures of Superman on the wall with plasticine. A series of them, in a row; which I then patiently explained to her depicted Supes going from a standing position, to running, and then flight.

Or, to put it another way, I’ve been making sequential art since before I can remember, let alone appreciating it. Which, worryingly, rather suggests something a little more, well, in-born. Makes me wonder if perhaps this obsession is in fact a genetic disorder, some kind of chemical imbalance in the brain perhaps.

I mean, there has to be some reason why I can’t bring myself to throw away my issues of Punisher 2099.

Anyway. See you next time. Hopefully with something resembling coherence. Perhaps I’ll finally get around to talking about Unknown Soldier.

‘Till then, look after yourselves. Toodle-ooh.

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