The night before my operation, escapism was courtesy the Movies into Manga festival at the Barbican, where I saw Tezuka's bizarre but entertaining 1984 TV special Bagi - the Monster of Mighty Nature, an early igniter of the 'furry' movement (though as curator Helen McCarthy said, it wasn't the originator as some have claimed). Anyway, it was very enjoyable, as was the small Tezuka display in the foyer. A shame there was no original artwork to examine, but the high quality colour prints were fantastic.
A couple of quick links... some great quotes and soundbites from the No to Age-banding campaign, and.. oh, that's it for now, I need a sit down and a cup of tea.
"My feeling was that the reason we didn't have weekly comics any more was nothing to do with people not wanting them or children not liking them, it was much more to do with a failed business model and, rightly or wrongly, I didn't see that there was anything we could do about that until the Internet came along."
This is part of NWN's roadshow and takes place at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art on Friday 24 October 2008. You can learn more about the event here, and you can download their entire programme of events as a PDF from this page here.
Let's gather them so far... Garen's A-Z of Comic Strip Characters (12 Jul - 6 August); Jonathon's A-Z of Comics Characters (7 Aug - 1 Sep); Mitz's Inevitable A-Z of Comic and Cartoon Villains (19 Aug - currently up to V) and now Dave's A-Z of Anthropomorphic Animals. Fabulous.
An event to be celebrated is the publication of issue 15 of the Jack Kirby Quarterly, edited by Chrissie Harper and published by Dez Skinn's Quality Communications. Chrissie produced the first issue of JKQ in September 1993 - fifteen years ago, and its present incarnation lives up to its publisher's name - quality. The articles are all deeply fascinating and come from writers including Paul Gravett, Kevin Eastman, Marv Wolfman and many from Chrissie too, including some fantastic interviews with Jack Kirby himself, and quite a moving one with his wife, Roz, not long after Jack's passing. Of course it's stuffed full of 'King' Kirby's effortless-looking artwork, much of it very rare, and photographs too. The whole design of the magazine is lovely.
I'm not hugely familiar with the work of Kirby, though I find his work (and output rate) astonishing. When I was into super-hero comics, aged 11 to 13 or so, I was hooked on DC comics (especially the New Teen Titans), whereas Kirby is mostly connected with Marvel, though he did work for DC, and others, too. Actually, to suggest Kirby 'did work for Marvel' is rather ludicrous - he practically created the Marvel universe!
Today I find super-heroes somewhat ridiculous, though I think that's mainly because they are written into a world that is a bit too realistic for people in skin-tight spandex (especially the female characters, who seem to come from the mind of a drooling 14-year old boy). The super-hero comics of yesterday were of a much larger-than-life 'other world', and worked better for that in all their zany glory, and there is no doubt Kirby was a master - if not the master. Despite my lack of Kirby knowledge, I found JKQ 15 to be hugely absorbing. This is a publication bubbling with positive creativity, celebrating inspiration and imagination - the good stuff of comics, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. Get your copy here.
Yesterday I received the latest issue of The DFC (no.16) . Now, I'm never going to be able to give a fair and unbiased review of this new weekly kids' comic - I've been involved with it for two years - but I really think this is growing and developing into a fantastic title. Whatever your tastes, there will be something in The DFC that you'll enjoy, and there's a bewildering variety of art and story styles on offer, from cartoony and fun to serious and adventure-filled. I've enjoyed a handful of both, and there's always new stories coming, so it's well worth keeping up with.
Friday's issue had a great page with all the covers on... I know it's an advert, but I'm going to reproduce it here anyway. Click the picture for a closer look, and click here to go and see those back issues.
My mum always told me that she liked the first half of 'Gareth', but not the second, and the second half of 'Darren', but not the first, so she put the two together to come up with Garen (this was 1969). Very recently my aunt told me a different story, that my mum scrambled the letters of her own name (Margaret Anne) and picked out five, producing Garen. Whichever story is true (I think the first) - she made the name up.
I like my name. It's got five letters to match my surname and has a pleasing stamp. Up until I got on the Internet, I thought it was pretty much unique, though someone told me early on that Elvis Presley's twin brother was called Garen (actually his second name and not the same spelling, Jesse Garon Presely, he was sadly still-born).
When I did get on to the internet (in 1997) I found there were other Garens out there and I experienced something of the feeling that all Johns, Daves and Mikes must constantly have... that my name is shared. Most Garens the world over have an Armenian surname, and this does seem to be where its roots lie, although a number of more recent baby-name websites declare it as French, and that it comes from the word 'guard' (erm, which is garde). A friend of mine who recently had a baby, owned a mammoth book of 40,000 baby names, including Garen, of which it said it was English. I can't help but wonder if they got that from typing the name into Google and coming up with my website and looking at where I lived!
I do know of another Garen native to the British Isles. In the late 1990s I did some illustration work assisting comic artist Tony O'Donnell, and when he had a son around that time, he and his wife decided they liked the name Garen, so it became his too. He's not named "after me", as such (I've only actually met Tony once in person), but I feel honoured, all the same, that my name was the origin.
Update: I have since done a little research into the first name Garen, and here are some stats - from 1837-2005 there were 46 Garen births registered in England, Wales and Scotland; the first was in 1952; there were 4 in the 50s, 8 in the 60s (including me), 12 in the 70s, 7 in the 80s and 11 in the 90s. 33 were in England, 11 in Wales, and 2 in Scotland; 10 of those belonged to people with a non-UK heritage (going by surname), of which 5 were Armenian (the others Turkish, Arabian, Latin American, Punjabi and Hindu).
Garen is one of those names people never believe the first time they hear it, so I've always got the script ready to say "it's like Darren but with a G instead of a D", though sometimes I won't bother, and will endure being called Darren, Gary, Gareth or Geraint and on one amusing occasion, Garden. One chap I worked with for a few months even took to calling me Dave because my name just did not compute in his world. The most common mis-spelling is to give it two rs, and it is still sometimes mis-spelt by friends and even family. If I say my own name, Garen Ewing, too quickly, people tend to think my name is that of automobile-songster and pop-pilot, Gary Numan.
One popular use of the name Garen appears to be for fantasy characters in online fiction, as it lends itself to that random interlocking of syllable parts that I know so well from my role-playing game days when I did much the same thing (ah, Dorin Sharpesword, where are you now?) In fact, at the time of writing, the number one Google return is for Garen Muln, a human male Jedi master who "lived during the final decades of the Galactic Republic". Number two is for Garen Boyajian, a Canadian actor (with an Armenian surname) whose "dedication, drive and defiant pursuit of superstardom" I immediately support due to our invisible unusual-name bond (coincidentally, he also works to help raise awareness for Ewing's Sarcoma). As for me, I come in at number four, just after Tarot mistress, Nancy Garen (but I'm not counting the surname). I've seen one female Garen - Garen Thomas, an African-American children's editor and author.
Despite being one of those names you'll never find on a name-key-ring display in a tacky gift shop, there are a couple of places called Garen. It's the name of a ghost-town to be found on Highway 61 south of Forest Lake, Minnesota, founded in the 1890s. What I find intriguing about this place is that it was born of flame (a cattle-train stop built to placate the local farmers who were the victims of fires started by sparks from passing trains) and it pretty much died by flame (when the old school building burnt down in the 1930s, leaving only a roadside tavern into the 1940s). Garen is also a small town just outside Lindern, Germany ('garen' means 'cook' in German, apparently).
So there you go... though the name has a Western Armenian heritage, in my case my mum just made it up in 1969. Well... you do keep asking!
You can read another blog post about names right here.
Fantomah, 'mystery woman of the jungle' and 'the most remarkable woman ever known', was the Ayesha-like creation of 1930s comic artist, Fletcher Hanks. She's one of the most astonishing comic heroes to grace the pulps. After watching various evil-doers set their nefarious plans in motion she soon decides enough is enough and transforms her beautiful Jean Harlow visage into the form of an angry blue skull. She flies effortlessly on 'concentrated-thought waves' to confront her opponents, sometimes as just a terrible floating head, giving them fair warning to cease before she dishes out her justice.
Fletcher Hanks was brought to the attention of the wider public thanks to Paul Karasik, when Fantagraphics published his collection of Hanks' strips in the 2007 volume 'I Shall Destroy All the Civilised Planets'. The other main strip Hanks produced was Stardust the Super Wizard, resembling (but pre-dating) Mick Anglo's Marvelman and with powers that are a cross between Superman's and a dose of occult black magic - with tales just as inventive and bizarre as Fantomah's.
Looking for further information on Hanks reveals that he is a fairly mysterious character. Most of the currently available biographical information comes from his son, Fletcher Hanks Jr., after Karasik visited him at his home, wondering at first if he had discovered the artist himself still alive. Judging by dates given on the internet (the main sources being Lambiek and Wikipedia) that would be truly amazing, as they provide a birth date of 1879. I wondered about this date and decided to do a little research on ancestry.com to see what I could dig up.
In his interview with Karasik, and in other places, Hanks Jr. has said his father was an abusive alcoholic who left the family for good in 1930, much to the relief, apparently, of his wife and children. The 1930 U.S. census (which was taken on April 14th) shows the family still together in Talbot County, Maryland, with Hanks described as an 'artist'. Also living with them is Hanks' 75-year old widowed father. While being careful to remember that such family stories should always be taken as just one person's point of view, one can't help but wonder what led the elder Fletcher Hanks to go down this dark path. What was his own childhood like? Did he struggle as an artist? (He wasn't a great artist, though his strip work has an attractive if crude quality, and he must have been frustrated at not being able to turn his talent into riches). What happened in 1930? Perhaps his father died in that year, and that freed him of his responsibility to a family he couldn't support during the lean years of the Great Depression. Who knows? Most of the comic strips available seem to have been produced from 1939-41, though Karasik has since discovered at least one as late as 1945.
In fact, since the publication of 'I Shall Destroy All the Civilised Planets' last year, a whole load of 'new' Hanks strips have surfaced, enough to warrant a second volume, 'You Shall Die By Your Own Creation' (for publication in 2009). I did write to Paul to find out if he was aware of the Hanks facts I had discovered (certain he would be), and indeed he was - which hopefully means he's researched even further into Hanks' life and will be presenting a more comprehensive biography in the new book, which I eagerly await. (I did go and update the Wikipedia entry though).
According to his son (who died earlier this year and whose own life story is pretty amazing in itself), Fletcher Hanks' body was discovered frozen to a park bench in New York, not in 1970 as some internet sites proclaim, but in February 1976 according to the record. Not a bad age (89) for an alcoholic, but not a pleasant end, if true.
I couldn't resist drawing Fantomah, and may do a Stardust to accompany her soon.
Now, two things connected with Philip Pullman. Firstly, he gave a terrific overview and argument against the proposal to age-band books at the Society of Authors' Conference at Robinson College in Cambridge this last weekend, and you can read his well-reasoned address right here.
Secondly, my brother is taking him to task for repeating the tired old criticism of saying David Lindsay's classic science-fiction novel, A Voyage to Arcturus, is a badly written work of genius. Go and read his learned opinion right here.