Thursday 29 November 2018


When I was a boy, from ages 7-10, I spent my summers at my great-uncle Andy's boys camp on Lake Ossipee, in New Hampshire. As an adult, I would visit my uncle Jack and aunt Jane at their cottage on the other part of the lake (it was Jane's family's cottage; they had met when Jack canoed past one day, a counselor with some young campers,
and spotted her on the shore.) For a few years I would always manage to visit in early September, when the lake was quiet, the nights were cool, and the pine needles were thick on the ground.

This is for Jack and Jane...

Pine needles fallen
Soft scent of past beneath my
Stepping silently home

Thursday 15 November 2018


Tuesday morning I appeared on Off The Ball radio in Ireland, where I often discuss NFL and other American sports, but this time it was to talk with hosts Ger Gilroy and Eoin Sheahan. You can listen (and watch) that conversation here. A lot of it touched on things I wrote last month in my article about the artist Steve Ditko,  "The Amazing Spider Man and the Incredible Ayn Rand" which appeared in the Autum 2018 issue of Jewish Quarterly (sadly no link to the complete article).

There's not a lot really to add, without tracing Stan's history within the comics industry, but the key point was the change in comics which the Marvel revolution brought about. Almost immediately, in one sense, as DC were fairly quick to update Batman and go 'relevant', famously, with Green Arrow, behind the scripting of Dennis O'Neil and artwork of Neal Adams. Stan started a move to more mature work which would accelerate -- often in graphic novel format -- at the point where the comics industry became more diffuse, and at least part of it began aiming at an adult market. Some of which were the now adult and prosperous kids who had read Marvels in the Sixties.

The feud between Stan and Ditko was in one sense the feud between the Sixties and the Fifties, between the traditional comics market and a new one, between teenagers and adolescents. Stan won, obviously.
And in the long run we now have major motion pictures whose sensibilities are very much still those of Lee in the late Sixties, very much still emotionally the same Spider Man and X Men or whatever.

Stan wasn't necessarily the best writer of comics--he had a tendency to flowery kind of amateur dramatic dialogue--O'Neil and Roy Thomas were the two most notable of the writers who began as understudies to Stan, O'Neil moving to Charlton and then to DC when editor Dick Giordano moved from Charlton.
But the tenor of their work was formed by the enthusiasm for story-telling and faith in the medium Stan Lee had. Lee was also a remarkable self (and Marvel) promoter, and being a devoted reader of Marvel in the Sixties was very much like being part of a club, an Our Gang mentality that was a link to that adolescent enjoyment. Plus his heart really was in the right place: that photo above comes from Stan's Soapbox, which appeared in the comics: that one was the famous screed against bigotry which has received a lot of attention now he's died.

I really was 15 when I bought my first comic, and I was right, it was Avengers 28. I was a scholarship student at the local prep school, I had read Crime & Punishment, Look Homeward Angel, No Exit and the like in my English classes (and more at home: that was probably the summer I read The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings in one week). I was playing football, and soon would be starting at defensive end (at 6-2 175) on a team with 19 and 20 year old post-grads. And I was pretty much addicted to comic books. For better or worse, it formed my next six years, probably depressed my grades, definitely made my coaches distrust my toughness, and certainly helped me resist full maturiosity. Thanks Stan.

Tuesday 13 November 2018


"The negotiations for our departure are now in the endgame," said Mrs Theresa May on the evening of 12 November, at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in The Guildhall, a suitable occasion to celebrate the kamikaze-like devotion to a display of the splendor of British (or English) sovereignty. It came a day after the ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the end of "the war to end all wars". The BBC Radio 4 Now Show was more perfectly ironic in describing the Remembrance Day ceremony as honoring the lives of hundreds of thousands of Englishmen who gave their lives in defense of Brussels.

But it was odd that May should choose a word recalling Samuel Beckett's play to describe the negotiations which would stretch until three in the morning that very morning, and which appear to offer very little to anyone. May's genius has been to divide her own party into three factions, one more than plagued Offshore Dave Cameron, which means that every aspect of the Brexit debate is now 'covered' by BBC by presenting all three sides of their national debate: that is, the Tory party: 'Irish Jake' Rees-Mogg and the errrggghhhh group of hard-line No Deal Brexiters; the Remoaners led by the latest opportunistic Johnson, JoJo, the one who gave Toby Young a job regulating university students, until someone noticed; and May's backers (the hapless Damien Green in the BBC Radio 4 Today knees-up I heard a few days ago) for whatever piecemeal 'deal' she manages to get in the end, hampered by the fact that Michel Barnier and the EU play chess while she plays Chequers. Put May, Mogg, Green and JoJo together and you could stage a production of Waiting For Go Now.

In Beckett, and much of Theatre of the Absurd, life is meaningless, and we cope with the existential anguish knowledge of that fact produces by engaging in rituals that create a sort of meaningful structure for our existence. As metaphors for May's Brexit Britain, you could much much worse.

Keeping that in mind, the endgame, as it were, of Endgame is instructive. Watch Clov's final speech again; you can find Michael Gambon's version here. "You cried for night - it falls. Now cry in darkness"