Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Has my entire life been a process of playing catch-up?
When I first read comic books, Stan Lee talked about Roy Thomas and Irving Forbush and the Bullpen as if I ought to know who they were. When I started to get copies of FOOM27 magazine there were interviews with the second-generation of comic book writers—your Steve Gerbers and Tony Isabellas and Don McGregors. They seemed to speak to me from a different world. They may not have quite remembered the Second World War but they were products of the years straight afterwards; when radio was still a thing; when Elvis and the Beatles and Star Trek were fresh and new; the first Golden Age of TV. They had bought Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four when they first came out; some of them were old enough to remember the original Captain America. 
We talk about how "the boomers" put the culture of their youth on a pedestal and how popular culture is consuming itself; but we have forgotten that it always did. Today's old people are shocked that today's young people have not heard of the Beatles; but yesterday's old people brought up yesterday's young people to believe that they were very unfortunate to have missed the Second World War. Kids in 1970s playgrounds still sang songs about Hitler and every second TV show and every third comic was about how us English beat the Germans (on our own, with no help from anyone else). It was assumed that we knew names like Vera Lynn and Arthur Askey and could sing We'll Meet Blue Birds Over The White Cliffs of Dover because they were the songs which our parents grew up with. It is an immutable law of the universe that the favourite song of anyone over the age of 55 has always been It's A Long Way To Tipperary. 
TV propelled everything into the present tense. Victorian times and Medieval times and Roman times are just collectively the Olden Days irrevocably lost. But the 1950s and 1960s we can watch repeats of. I don't think that it is tragic that I can't nip out and watch an 1850s Music Hall Act, any more than I think it is tragic that I missed the first night of Euripides. But the discovery that the BBC deliberately wiped an entire season of Morecambe and Wise feels like a loss, a theft, a tragedy; not merely a pair of old vaudeville stars retreating into the past.
Comic books are the most ephemeral of all art forms. They are sold in newsagents and news-stands and what the Americans bafflingly call drug-stores; and yet somehow I felt, even at the age of eight, that I had missed out by not having read the comics of the sixties and fifties and the forties and the thirties and that it ought to be possible to catch up, to become, like the writers and the artists, someone who grew up with the Adventures of Captain Marvel... 
Marvel Comics were frozen in the 60s, children's TV was frozen in the 50s; and the Beano was frozen in some strange interwar utopia of milkmen's horses and sausage suppers. 
By being born at the wrong time I had just barely missed Dan Dare, William Hartnell, Flash Gordon, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Conan the Barbarian, taking a dime to the drug store, the Beatles, Elvis, In Town Tonight, rationing, national service, hippies. If I consume sufficient media I will eventually catch up. That is what I am still doing when I task myself to read all the golden age comics on Marvel Unlimited and when I try to watch all the black and white Doctor Who stories, including the ones which no longer exist. 
Proper books are not like that. There are a huge number of proper books in the library and I am happy to nibble like an epicurean. Last year I happened to have a go at On The Road and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and found I didn't care for the taste. I am still munching my way through Julian Barnes. I start each year with Salman Rushdie; something tells me I ought to sniff Alisdair Grey. Some day it might feel right to go back to Joyce; I fully expect to die without finishing Tristram Shandy. 
There are still new comics coming out; far more than I could possibly read. I have tried taking the line that the only comics worth reading are the old ones, but that only works for so long. So as well as catching up with the things that I missed out on through being born too late I am trying to keep up with the things I missed out on through being born too early. 
The line between "doing a thing because you love it"; "doing a thing because you used to love it" and "doing a thing because it is the kind of thing you do" can be quite grey and fuzzy.  
This is why I unapologetically listen to so much live folk music, even though some people think I am mad and some people are quite cross about it. It has not yet become a pursuit. When Jon Boden starts on The Rose in June (all eighteen verses) I know exactly what I came for. 
I wasted so much of my life playing games. Some people are happy to say: "I did the Thing at one time in my life. I played games, collected Pokemon cards, injected heroin, listened to hip hop. Then I stopped doing the Thing. Now I do a different Thing." Some people deprecate the Thing they used to do; but that is probably only the old deprecating the young. I used to play role-playing games, but I'm all better now. But I feel that that would be a betrayal of who I used to be. I would rather be the old guy of nearly forty who turns up for Dungeons & Dragons sessions than the old guy of fifty who used to be a gamer but now says it was all a waste of time. 
I am told that Alan Moore will not go into a comic shop any more; will not look at the comic books on display, many of which he would like; most of which are more or less consciously influenced by his work. He says it hurts too much.
Some kinds of alcoholics are not allowed to have even a little small drink. It is too dangerous for them. One whisky does no harm, but one whisky will lead to another and another and another and undo decades of not drinking whisky. 
I hardly read newspapers, particularly not since the election; particularly not on subjects I am interested in. Long essays in the Guardian about Stan Lee or Tolkien or the Bible make me frightened or sad; either because they are wrong or (more rarely) because they make me think "I could have written that." I am a little frightened and a little sad when I hear about a new role-playing game which sounds like the kind of thing I might be interested in. Like the kind of thing I might have once been interested in. 

Hello. I'm Andrew. I used to play RPGs but I've been clean for ten years. 

If you are enjoying my essays, please consider supporting me on Patreon (by pledging $1 for each essay)

Patreon supporters have access to the full e-book version of this essay, with additional material. 

Alternatively  please buy me a "coffee" (by dropping £3 in the tip jar)

No comments: