Tag Archives: gosh! comics

A League of their own

Now, get any group of comic book fans together and ask them which comic creator still living has had the greatest influence on the medium, and you’ll get a lot of different answers. My own answer would be Alan Moore. The only creator I can think of who’s had a comparable influence would be Stan Lee, but there’s a certain amount of dispute over the extent to which he “created” many of the characters credited to him.

Alan Moore, basically, has changed the face of comics. You may not know the name, but he was responsible for writing (among many other things) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and – most famously of all – Watchmen. The latter, along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, took the superhero genre in a darker, more adult direction from which it has never returned – although none of the imitators has had quite the same success as those two.

My personal favourite of his works is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,  which is rather more fun than some of the works for which he’s best known. The basic concept is that every character within the fictional universe of this comic is from a pre-existing work of fiction. In the first volume, for instance, Mina Murray (from Dracula), Allan Quartermain (from King Solomon’s Mines), Dr Jekyll, Captain Nemo and the Invisible Man form a team under the supervision of James Bond’s grandfather and foil a gang war between Fu Manchu and Professor Moriarty. In the second, they participate in the events of War of the Worlds with the assistance of Dr Moreau and the father of the Wolf of Kabul. You get the idea. The number of works alluded to is immense, and much of the fun of the series comes from looking through to see how many allusions you can spot. Many of these come from artist Kevin O’Neill, whose manic and highly-detailed panels overflow with incidental characters and background references.

So you may imagine my excitement when I heard that the newest volume was due to be published and, not only that, but Moore and O’Neill were doing a signing in London at Gosh! Comics. Gosh! is, to my mind, about the best comic shop in London. It emphasises unusual and indie stuff,  and judging by the calibre of some of the creators they’ve had in to do signings (Gilbert Shelton and Dave McKean among them), it seems to be pretty well-respected. It’s based in Bloomsbury, but is about to up sticks to Berwick Street in Soho.

Yesterday, Succubusface, Izzi and I went up to indulge our inner geek at the signing. As you might imagine, if you know anything about comics culture, the event was huge. Succubusface nobly arrived an hour early and bagged us a spot – even so, we were queued right around the building. The line snaked considerably further than that, and God only knows how long the last fans in the queue were waiting. We were in line for several hours, in fact. We’re just that cool.

Eventually we got in. Now, you read interviews with Alan Moore, he comes across as a very grumpy man. He’s had public fall-outs with movie studios and comics publishers alike and is not afraid to express his feelings – combined with the often eclectic and obscure nature of his comics, the impression one gets is that he’d be this huge intimidating monster who’d have you thrown out for saying that you’d even seen the movie of V for Vendetta. And Kevin O’Neill’s scratchy, intense style leads one (well, me at least) to expect some sort of insane, wide-eyed boho who talks only in a stream of consciousness and reserves the right to bite you at any time.

This is Alan Moore.

Actually, they were both lovely. Very obliging, very willing to chat – Succubusface had a brief discussion with O’Neill about researching his artwork. The overall impression I got was that while Moore has his disputes with a lot of the men-in-suits, he has plenty of time for his genuine fans. Which is awesome. We left thoroughly pleased with our signed purchases.

The volume I was there to get was Century: 1969. Century is, officially, the third volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, although in practical terms it’s actually the fourth (Black Dossier, basically a series of supplemental material for the League universe framed by a shortish story, was published before Century but is not counted). It’s being published in three parts and is, as the title implies, a story spanning the twentieth century. In the first part, 1910, the League – now consisting of Mina, Allan, Raffles the Gentleman Thief, Carnacki the Ghost-Finder and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando – attempts to foil an occult scheme by Aleister Crowley-analogue Oliver Haddo (of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Magician) and find themselves caught up in the events of The Threepenny Opera. In 1969, Haddo’s scheme resurfaces in Swinging London, where he has enlisted the help of Turner (from Performance) and Tom Riddle. Organised crime, the hippie movement, pop music and the occult clash, with the remains of the League and Jack Carter investigating the murder of Molesworth’s Fotherington-Tomas.

It’s been a long wait for this second part, but again, I feel it was worth it. Following Century, which often felt obscure to the point of self-indulgence in Yr. Humble Chronicler’s opinion, Century is a return to the kind of storytelling that made the first two volumes so enjoyable. While it’s not essential that you know that, e.g., this character is from The Long Firm or that character is from Round the Horne in order to understand the story, it adds immensely to your enjoyment if you do. Cameos abound, with such diverse personalities as the Second Doctor, Andy Capp and Dame Edna Everage all putting in background appearances.

The characters, particularly Mina, are developed and expanded in Moore’s usual thoughtful fashion – the implications of the characters’ extended lifespans (long story if you’ve not read the previous volumes) are considered in some detail, but without the irritating navel-gazing that bedevils many comics that try to be mature. There are lots of callbacks to previous episodes and, knowing Moore, plenty of elements that will become significant in the next.

The art, too, is up to Kevin O’Neill’s usual high standards. As I mentioned, his style is very weird, so much so that the Comics Code Authority banned it simply because they found it too freaky. 1969, which contains many psychedelic and generally bizarre sequences which allow him to unleash his full freakiness. I don’t think there’s another artist who could have done this quite as much justice as he.

Overall, it’s a worthy addition to the League canon, and I look forward to 2009 eagerly.

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Fully Booked

Right, chums, I think I’ve finally got the last of my Christmas shopping done. Hmm, that’s odd, I seem to recall having more money than that. Oh well.

I realise that many people here are not so fortunate – indeed, I myself have only got mine complete now as a result of a short-term change in my working hours. I feel I ought to do something to help. Here, therefore, are six of my favourite specialist bookshops for those obscure volumes that you can’t find anywhere else that make awesome presents if you know people of a literary bent and that.

I’m going to steer clear of second-hand and bargain bookshops, and also chains. So much as I’d love to, I can’t talk about Forbidden Planet or The Lamb, although both are excellent in their own way. I am also steering clear of those bookshops attached to museums, though these too are fine places for that specialist tome (The Cartoon Museum and the London Transport Museum both have excellent selections on their respective subjects) for the simple reason that they’d likely end up dominating the list. But do bear them in mind.

Anyway, without further ado…

1. Gosh! Comics

Specialises in: Graphic novels

Where is it? 39 Great Russell Street, WC1B

Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road or Holborn

There’s no shortage of comics shops in London, but to my mind Gosh! is the best. Comic shops have a tendency to be slightly grotty and a little intimidating to the novice. Gosh! is far more user-friendly, with less emphasis on mouldering racks of old Marvels and more on indie graphic novels, the kind of hip things that get reviewed in The Guardian. There’s also a superb selection of classic illustrated children’s books if you want something for the kids. An occasional treat for comic geeks like me is the signings they had – Hurricane Jack and I were once privileged to attend a signing by the great and hirstute Alan Moore. He’s really very friendly in real life.

http://www.goshlondon.com/

2. Motor Books

Specialises in: Car and other transport books

Where is it? 13-15 Cecil Court, WC2N

Nearest Tube: Leicester Square

Motor Books describes itself as “the world’s oldest motoring bookshop,” and it’s situated on the eminently bumble-able street of Cecil Court. It has a fantastic selection of books on all transport subjects, but as the name suggests, particularly specialises in those related to automobilia, arranged by category and marque. I’m no petrol-head, but even I was able to almost instantly find one of the books I was searching for. The staff are marvellous, and were able to pinpoint the second book right away. Given that both titles were fairly obscure, I must say I was most impressed.

http://www.motorbooks.co.uk/

3. Persephone

Specialises in: Obscure 20th century books by female novelists

Where is it? 59 Lambs Conduit Street

Nearest Tube: Russell Square or Holborn

Persephone is both bookshop and small-press publisher, publishing mainly female-authored books of the twentieth century that have been allowed to go out of print. Famed authors in their day now unjustly forgotten, lesser-known works by well-known writers and even cookbooks and diaries from bygone eras, all are liable to appear in the distinctive grey covers of Persephone. The bookshop has a real intimacy about it, and not just because it’s small. The staff are extremely knowledgeable and ready to provide advice (Yr. Humble Chronicler being less than familiar with between-the-wars women’s fiction). There’s a regular newsletter, too, and you get the feeling that Persephone is the sort of place that likes to nurture a regular customer base. Which is super.

http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/index.asp

4. Housman’s

Specialises in: Radical literature

Where is it? 5 Caledonian Road, King’s Cross

Nearest Tube: King’s Cross St Pancras

I suspect this is a shop whose time has definitely come, what with the Coalition working hard to piss everyone off simultaneously. Therefore, you may find this place just the ticket if you’re looking for an alternative. Opened in 1945 as an offshoot of the pacifist movement, it offers a massive selection of political literature, including books, pamphlets and zines. However, if you’re not a very political person, but you are a regular on this blog, you may also wish to examine their massive wall of London-based books. Up the workers, and so forth.

http://www.housmans.com/index.php

5. Gay’s The Word

Specialises in: LGBT books

Where is it? 66 Marchmont Street

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

Gay’s The Word proudly advertises itself as the only specialist gay and lesbian bookshop in London, and its selection is very impressive indeed – they cover the whole spectrum from light-hearted fiction to in-depth political tomes, not to mention a fine range of cards and magazines on queer topics. I was rather taken by Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition, as well as a couple of books on the history of gay London. Recommended to anyone with an interest in gender politics, regardless of orientation.

http://freespace.virgin.net/gays.theword/

6. The School of Life

Specialising in: Philosophy, life improvement, self-help… I’ll get back to you on that one.

Where is it? 70 Marchmont Street

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

The School of Life was founded by Alain de Botton. Not strictly a bookshop, it nevertheless does sell an excellent range of books on topics that are related to improving your life. How to enjoy work, how to be ethical, how to take advantage of the simple pleasures of life, how to make relationships work, how to be happy – anything relating to life that’s not easily categorised. The chances are that you’ll find three or four different books you’ll want yourself, along with a bunch for your friends. Bring money, is what I’m saying.

http://www.theschooloflife.com/

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Fantabulous Festive Facts

I don’t know about you, but I believe in keeping Christmas traditional. That is to say, spend the entire festive period in a food-and-alcohol-based stupor, slumped in front of the television watching Doctor Who at the family home while the sis screeches like a banshee.I was most pleased with the presents I received this year and, I hope, so were my folks. Londonwise, I was given the book Mother London by Michael Moorcock, which is one of the great London novels, and a history of Eel Pie Island in Twickenham. Eel Pie Island is one of the strangest places in London, if not the strangest, and I really need to write an entry about it one of these days.

The marvellous thing about working in London is that Christmas shopping is really easy. Bloomsbury and environs have an abundance of shops ideal for unique presents. The Ma’s present came from Persephone Books in Lamb’s Conduit Street. Persephone, which I have mentioned before in these pages, is an independent bookshop/publisher which specialises in excellent nineteenth and twentieth century books by female authors that have gone out of print. The Sis’ present came from the Bloomsbury branch of Waterstones, which has an extensive selection of history books. The Sis is a fan of historical stuff, you see. I ended up having a pleasant conversation about London history with the shop assistant. It’s nice to meet a shop assistant who really knows their stuff – the bro tells me he had a frustrating time with one of the staff at Waterstones in Richmond, whose spelling was so atrocious that she couldn’t find any of the books he was trying to find (searching on the system for Evlin War’s Vyle Bodys and Ernest Hemmingway’s A Farewell to Armes apparently drew a blank). The Bro’s present came from Gosh! Comics opposite the British Museum, which to my mind is one of the best comic shops in London if not the best, particularly if you’re looking for indie and classic stuff. The only present I couldn’t find in Bloomsbury was the Da’s, which was an antique Hornby Dublo (that’s “train set” to you) railway carriage – I found it on a model railway dealer’s stall in Tolworth.

But I’m sure you didn’t come here to read about me (although if you did, thanks!). Here, in lieu of something more London-based, are some Festive Facts I’ve accumulated over the years.

  • Thomas Nast's depiction of Merry Old Santa.Despite what they may want you to think, Coca-Cola did not invent the modern depiction of Santa Claus. Rather, the modern version of Santa Claus is an amalgam of many different winter gift-givers, dating back to Odin and the Tree-Father of Norse mythology. The tradition of leaving out carrots and hay for Odin’s flying horse in exchange for gifts was absorbed, along with many other Yule traditions, into the European version of the Christian festival of Christmas. The Christian Saint Nicholas (or Sinterklaas), a man famous for his generosity, came to be identified with this gift-giving tradition. In the nineteenth century, this gift-giver was merged with the Danish elf Tomte and the British Father Christmas. Contrary to popular belief, Father Christmas and Santa Claus are not quite the same person – Father Christmas was traditionally a personification of Christmas rather than a gift-giver (like Old Father Time or Old Father Thames). He was traditionally depicted as a huge man in fur-lined green robes – think the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol – although Yr. Humble Chronicler has seen Victorian pictures of him in red and blue robes. The various elements of the Christmas gift-giver were ultimately assembled in America as a result of immigration from all over Europe.
  • If any one man can be said to have created the modern Santa, that man is Thomas Nast. Nast was one of the great American cartoonists, who can also be credited with creating the Republican elephant, the Democratic donkey and the modern image of Uncle Sam among other potent symbols. His version of Santa, shown just above there, was drawn in 1863 for Harper’s Weekly. It incorporated elements of the jolly fat elf seen in the legends of Tomte and The Night Before Christmas with the larger-than-life Brian Blessed-esque Father Christmas and the white beard and red robes of Sinterklaas. While Haddon H. Sundblom’s Coca-Cola portrait of Santa is a fine piece of festive artwork, it’s just one of a number of Nast descendents. If one were to be cynical (which I never am, of course), one might point out that it’s a pretty fine piece of corporate brainwashing to make people associate the pleasant feelings of their childhood Christmases with the great taste of Coca-Cola. And yet even though I know this, I’ve got a glass of Coke at my elbow right now.
  • The Christmas tree is another pagan tradition absorbed into Christmas, originating with the story of Odin hanging from the bough of an oak tree. These pagan origins are acknowledged in Christian lore. Saint Boniface supposedly came across a bunch of pagans worshipping at an oak tree and, being a total buzzkill, he cut it down. He then found a pine sapling growing among the roots, which he took as a symbol of the rightness of Christian faith (I think if I was a pagan, I would have taken this as a sign that Odin can’t be cut down so easily, but there you go). The evergreen is a potent sign of everlasting life, which of course is very much a Christan thing. Contrary to popular belief, the Christmas tree was not introduced to Britain by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. In fact, it was introduced by King George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte. Victoria and Albert, however, did popularise the tree by being depicted around it in engravings published at the time.
  • The tradition of the Christmas turkey is, as you might imagine, an American custom. In medieval England, a peacock or boar was preferred. At some point between the medieval era and the nineteenth century, goose became the popular Christmas bird in Britain. Norfolk is the great poultry-farming region of Britain, and before the arrival of the railways the geese had to be physically walked from Norfolk to London. For this, the birds were fitted with dear little shoes to protect their feet. And no, I have no idea how one herds geese, which are not exactly pack animals nor especially docile (they are regarded by poultry farmers as being better than guard dogs).
  • A common observation made around Christmas time is that the mince pie – a favourite in Britain around Christmas – does not contain mince.  Stranger still, the spicy, fruity substance that fills the pie is known as “mincemeat.” In fact, in the medieval era, mincemeat did indeed contain minced meat. It was common for sweet and savoury substances to be mixed in the medieval banquet – for instance, sugary comfits were often used to decorate joints of meat. The spices were also believed to help preserve the meat. I’ve not come across this theory in any of my sources, but one might also suggest that if the meat had gone off, the fruit and spices would disguise the taste. In the nineteenth century, actual meat was removed from the recipe, but beef suet remained. Tastes changed, and eventually people realised that beef fat and fruit were totally gross together.

So, in conclusion, may I wish you a very happy remains-of-Christmas. I advise you to continue eating and drinking as much as possible – you can feel guilty about it in January.

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Shop-o-Rama

A thing that I like about WordPress is that it allows you to check where people who read this here blog have come from, and what they were looking for when they came here. John Snow is popular, as is 28 Days Later. One that’s come up in various different forms today is the question of things to do on a Sunday in London, which suggests that everyone else is as bored as me. If you’ve got kids, I suggest the Natural History Museum or London Zoo. If not, I suggest one of the markets or getting drunk.

I myself am currently at my ‘rents’ house, having been to Beaulieu in Hampshire yesterday with the da and the bro. Managed to pick up a rather nifty cane, which will join the others in my collection after I’ve done some restoration work. Unfortunately, this means that I am some distance from my computer at home, which includes my library of photos. Therefore, the entry I was going to write today is going to be deferred to Wednesday. Except I’m out to dinner with some former colleagues on Wednesday, so it’ll be put up on Tuesday. I wouldn’t want to disappoint my loyal readers, however, and I hope you’ll both enjoy this slightly-cobbled-together entry about a couple of shops I like. Pics to follow later.

Radio Days

I have to admit to being a sucker for retro. That’s why I have a collection of antique canes. That’s why I own a 1920s tailcoat, despite having literally no reason for wearing such a thing. Some guys like wearing rubber. Some like wearing women’s clothes. I like parading around dressed in clothes that were first fashionable no less than forty-five years ago.

Radio Days, therefore, is right up my street. Actually, that’s not quite correct – it’s right up Lower Marsh in Waterloo. This, like Marchmont Street in Bloomsbury, is just off the tourist routes, making it a rare example of a Central (ish) London street that’s quirky, but still serves the people who actually live there. It’s cool and arty without being self-consciously so. Radio Days, at the Southwark end, is the kind of shop that perfectly exemplifies this.

Part vintage fashion boutique and part antique shop, Radio Days is a treat for the enthusiast of the retro. The term “Aladdin’s cave” is massively overused, but nevertheless that’s the feeling you get from rummaging through the organised chaos of this place. Here’s a stack of 1960s magazines. There’s a rack of scarves and gloves. Yonder a display of 1940s nylons. Mid-century sunglasses rub metaphorical shoulders with stylish movie posters. There’s even a tin of old-fashioned sweets on the counter, which is a lovely touch. That’s just as you come in.

Then you get to the real meat of the shop – the clothing section. They carry a wide and eclectic selection of merchandise, much of which is helpfully labelled with the decade of origin. Everything is easy to find – much as I like the Stables Market in Camden, you really have to hunt for what you’re looking for. In Radio Days, if you want shoes they’ll be here. If you want underwear, it’ll be here. If I were a costume designer, or just looking for a fancy dress costume a cut above, Radio Days would be my first stop. Indeed, with the Old and Young Vics just down the road and the West End a short walk away, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do a lot of their business there.

Overall, it seems to be a shop run by people who know what they’re doing, for people who know what they’re looking for. This is reflected in the prices. While they aren’t the lowest in London, they’re very reasonable. You won’t get ripped off, a risk with vintage places. And there are bargains to be found – I once bought a 1940s evening cane there for £25, which is a fantastic price by any standards. If you’re into retro, for your home or your wardrobe, I would unhesitatingly suggest a visit here.

Gosh!

I’ve heard Gosh! Comics in Bloomsbury described as “the best comic shop in London,” and you know what? I agree. It’s easy to find, being practically opposite the British Museum on Russell Street. It’s not as large as the more-famous Forbidden Planet, but the selection of titles can’t be faulted.

Yr. Humble Chronicler is a fan of comics and, when I’m not writing blog entries, I’m a cartoonist of sorts. But the trouble with too many comic shops is that they tend to concentrate on the big boys – Marvel and DC in particular. Marvel are the owners of the Hulk, Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron man and many others, DC have Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman et al. It’s not that I dislike the work of these companies (although now the Marvel universe is ridiculously tangled in continuity and crossovers to the point at which no single title is remotely accessible to the newcomer), but their dominance of the market does nothing to help the stereotype that all comics are juvenile, macho rubbish full of spandex-clad berks beating each other up.

Gosh! Comics does stock the big boys, but the emphasis is on the more eclectic stuff – underground comix, indie graphic novels and collections of artwork. It’s a graphic art student’s wet dream with its selection of classic children’s picture books and offbeat work by lesser-known creators. It is, therefore, the perfect place to make new discoveries. There are a number of creators whose work I’ve only been introduced to because I saw them prominently displayed here (as opposed to stashed away on a shelf to one side, as is often the case).

The place also seems to be highly regarded among the professionals, given the calibre of people they have performing signings there. I was fortunate enough to attend a signing by the legendary Alan Moore. Nice bloke, as it happens. He even promised not to set fire to my office, which was good of him. I was at another by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli, purveyors of quality Victoriana such as Leviathan and Scarlet Traces. They’ve also had signings by Kevin O’Neill (distinguished for being banned under the Comics Code Authority for being too mental), Gilbert Shelton (creator of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers) and Joe Sacco (of the acclaimed Palestine and other documentary graphic novels).

If you’re a comics fan, and you’re considering visiting Forbidden Planet, I suggest a brief detour to Gosh!. I guarantee pleasant surprises.

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