This editorial, “Strange Maven’s Diary,” originally appeared in Strangehaven issue #17, April 2005.
Well, it’s another year and as per usual, it’s another editorial feature comprising little more than a list of lame excuses and apologies for the extended period between the last issue of Strangehaven and this one your hold in your hands.
In fact, I’ve often considered renaming this column “Excuses, Excuses, Excuses” or even “Moan, Moan, Moan” but then I think that this must surely be positively the last time that fate can be so unkind as to throw up so many hurdles between me and the drawing board as to delay the current issue as long as the previous ones.
I’ve also seriously considered deliberately avoiding any mention of the length of time between issues in a sly effort to mislead future comic historians (or anyone that hasn’t been paying close attention) that Strangehaven was in fact produced in a regular and timely manner.
It has been drawn to my attention that by constantly referring to the delays that disrupt my intended schedule, it merely enhances my reputation for slow and unreliable production (after all, you don’t often read editorials by Charles Burns or Daniel Clowes as to why the new Black Hole or Eightball has been so long in the making). Whereas in fact, what I am trying to do is demonstrate the difficulty I have in trying to find time to produce new work, heroically struggling against cruel fate, eyes set firmly ahead despite constant and continuous distraction. That is, rather than simply being slow.
But I’ve also been told by a number of readers that this editorial is their favourite part of the whole magazine. Which is a backhanded compliment if ever there was one. And quite honestly, if I wasn’t grumbling on about the way lady luck continues to derail my best efforts to catch up with myself, I don’t know what the hell I would be writing about. The bloody weather, probably (twelve consecutive days of snow, then, a week and a half later, summer. Welcome to England).
Which, in my usual long-winded style, is my way of laying the ground for this issue’s list of lame excuses and apologies.
The plan was, you see, was to move my studio/office/library to a new purpose-built space within the grounds of Abiogenesis Towers, thus increasing efficiency and improving working conditions. I allowed a couple of weeks to get settled in and put up a few new shelves and whatnot, but for one reason or another (more shelves to put up than expected, for one) it was somewhere nearer to three months before I was able to take up residence.
One of the less intrusive diversions was that throughout last summer I was asked to do a number of interviews, and a surprising large number were requests for face-to-face chats rather than the current fashion for e-mail interviews. A self-publisher will always find it difficult to resolve the conundrum of balancing time spent creating and time given over to promoting one’s work, but when publicity comes-a-calling, it’s hard to turn it away from your doorstep. So I took time off to air my views to local paper The Essex Chronicle (a fine double-page spread by Matt Adams), arts magazine The Map, and quite possibly the crowing glory of my career so far, a full page feature for The Official Chelsea Football Club Magazine. I also recorded a video segment for Headpress TV which is yet to air, as well as a number of interviews for foreign websites, as Strangehaven stretches its tentacles throughout continental Europe.
A very much less welcome distraction during that period was when my girlfriend’s family’s jewellery shop was robbed by two unpleasant characters, on what turned out to be the hottest day of 2004. It also happened that my the girlfriend and I were both there at the time, with the the girlfriend holding both intruders at bay (one claiming that he was armed with a knife) until they made their escape shortly after I appeared from a back room, but not until we had somehow ripped the string vest from the back of one of the thieves as he tried to escape. Hopefully DNA evidence from the vest will help convict him.
Meanwhile, a somewhat bruised the girlfriend was commended by the insurance company for her bravery in preventing the raiders from getting away with a much bigger haul. Of course, common sense in the cold light of day dictates that you should just stand back and let the insurance company cover any losses, but instinct and adrenalin kicks in and you tend to fight for what is yours. There’s no time for rational thought.
For my pains, I damaged the little finger of my drawing hand, an injury sustained by attempting to grimly hang onto to the string vest. Of course, after such an event (which could have turned out much worse), priorities are reconsidered and changes are made to lifestyle and routine. None of these considerations, I must admit, have had a positive effect on Strangehaven’s production schedule.
When the opportunity finally arose to spend some time in my newly furnished studio in order to start working on this issue, my problems really began. A product recall meant that all of my new power supply socket extensions had to be removed and replaced just after I had installed them.
At the same time, my computer started playing up. Now, I know what you’re thinking. I always have computer problems. Let’s face it, everyone has computer problems. I mean, if your PC didn’t crash every so often you’d think there was something wrong with it. But this wasn’t just a software fault. It wasn’t even a virus. Nope, it was a full-scale, motherboard and processor hardware meltdown. Of course, at first the problem was intermittent, and after several complete hard drive reformats and software reinstallations, the problems kept recurring. The primary problem being that the machine tended to reboot at will and ultimately, to not start at all. With all my text files, business files and artwork scans held hostage on hard drive D, this was somewhat of a concern.
So I called in an “expert” who tried the exact same remedies as I did, then declared that my computer was knackered. And charged me thirty quid for his trouble. Thanks.
So the purchase of another processor, motherboard, memory and power supply was sanctioned, and oh, and what the hell, a new case and graphics card to go with it. It’s now all reassembled and working just fine thanks to the help of my techie whiz pal Steve, and access to my scans and text files for Strangehaven #17 was re-established, but it was yet another frustrating setback.
Okay, now let’s backtrack a little to when the PC first started misbehaving. After attending police interviews and identity parades (and by “identity parade” I mean looking at crudely digitised full-face monochrome mugshots from a DVD presented in such a way that it would be difficult to recognise your own mother, god only knows how anyone ever gets convicted) in order to attempt to finger the culprits of the jewellery shop raid, the girlfriend and I scuttled off to Elveden Forest for a much-needed break. After which, I had to negotiate the infamous Christmas run-in, which included the usual card and gift shenanigans, the obligatory show-your face parties, and more relevantly, my attending the London Winter Comic Festival (sadly the last one for the present).
Now, with all that out of the way, you would think that I had a clear run to be able to just bloody sit down and draw.
But that’s the time when the phone rings and this dog breeder tells us that the all-white puppy Bulldog that the girlfriend so desperately wanted, is actually available after all, and when did we want to collect her?
Now, those of you who work from home, please forgive me for stating the bleeding obvious, but there are those who have the luxury of going out to a place of work every day and who really don’t appreciate it.
On the face of it, working from home sounds like an idyll. And actually, it probably is, despite the fact that it’s very difficult to remain motivated and disciplined enough to maintain a high number of working hours in any given day. The problem is that if you have a spouse or partner that goes out to work, being at home for most of the day means that by default you become a virtual househusband/housewife (houseperson?).
Because you are at home all day (and therefore, not actually really “working”) you do tend to be saddled with, shall we say, a fair share of household chores. This includes any number of things, and if your spouse doesn’t drive, includes a whole lot more, including attending to young offspring (none here thank you very much) and/or pets.
So when Babs, the latest member of our growing family arrived, and despite various futile protestations, many of the new duties (primarily feeding, walking, pee mopping and poop scooping) fell to the incumbent artist of the house to perform in addition to his regular tasks. Regular visits to the veterinarians ensued, including vaccination jabs and medication for a number of puppy complaints, plus extensive patronage of the local pet superstore for pet food, treats, toys, training pads, collars and further assorted pet ephemera.
Of course, our six-year old male whippet Billy Whizz was extremely excited to be introduced to his new doggy pal who just happened to be a young female, but his happiness has been, er… cut short after another visit to the vet for him to be relieved of his accessories. It’s sure to bring water to the eyes of all males reading this, but it’s something I’m told had to be done both for heath reasons and as a safeguard against a sudden influx of Bulldog/Whippet crossbreeds (that hypothetically could be called ‘Bullets’ I suppose, in the wake of the current trend of ‘Labradoodles’ and suchlike.)
All of which has meant that recently I’ve spent more time being Barbara Woodhouse than being Wally Wood.
There’s a message here to any of you reading this who have fantasies at making a living from self-publishing comics, or indeed, setting up and running your own business of whatever kind, and who also are in a marriage or long-term relationship. Concentrate one major life change at a time. Forget about pets or babies for the moment, and make sure that your partner understands this. Get them to say “yes, I promise” and if necessary, get them to sign a simple contract or agreement stating as much, preferably drawn up by a professional solicitor.
I mean, I have lost count of how many of those property development shows I have watched where a couple give up their jobs and/or sell their only home, buy a crumbling ruin of a house in a highly optimistic and improbable dream of becoming property millionaires overnight, despite having no experience, skills or, apparently, even common sense. And then a few months into the project, they announce that they are having a baby. No, really. You just watch all those repeats of Sarah Beeny’s shows on the Home & Leisure channel.
Anyway, running your own business is bloody hard enough without having to contend with two dogs and a military macaw, let alone babies. Not that I’m against babies in theory, but please plan ahead and have them at a convenient time for yourselves.
Another thing that the self-employed have to contend with is illness. There’s no cover when you’re ill, and the self-employed are rarely able to take days off when sickness strikes. But when it does, the bills still come in, even when you’re not earning anything. There’s no maternity leave, no paid holidays.
Here at Abiogenesis HQ, there’s no fill-in artist ready to leap in when I’m on my sickbed. When a migraine strikes, and I’m vomiting into the toilet every 20 minutes for 12 hours, Abiogenesis is closed for business without warning. So whether brought upon me as a physical manifestation due to mental anguish from the unfortunate happenstance detailed above, or just nature doing its random thing, I was struck down with an aforementioned migraine (thankfully a much rarer occurrence these days) sandwiched between a heavy head cold type thing and, more worryingly, the discovery of Helicobacter Pylori in my digestive system.
Fortunately, these days, this unpleasant little bacterium, closely associated with stomach and duodenal ulcers, is ostensibly curable (in non-smokers particularly, according to the locum at my doctor’s surgery), thanks to combination therapy of antibiotics and acid inhibitors. So, in fair exchange for the abdominal pain and gastric disorders I’ve been enjoying, I’ve now had to contend with an interesting assortment of side effects from the new miracle drugs. The label on a bottle of aspirin is enough to put the willies up you, I know, but listed possible side effects from taking one of the antibiotics include:
Sickness, vomiting, stomach pain, indigestion or diarrhoea; numbness or ‘pins and needles,’ headache, joint pain, muscle pain, jaundice and other liver and gall-bladder disorders; rare cases of kidney failure; allergic reactions including breathing difficulties, fainting and swelling of the face and throat which may require emergency treatment; rashes, itchy skin and more rarely severe illnesses like Stevens-Johnson syndrome or toxic epidermal necrolysis.
Wait, I’m not finished yet; a funny taste in the mouth, a change in the sense of taste and smell; discolouration of the teeth (which, apparently, in most cases can be removed by professional dental cleaning); swollen tongue and sore mouth; and hearing loss, which is “usually” reversible.
Also, some reports of dizziness, loss of bearings, ‘ringing’ in the ears, difficulty sleeping, hallucinations, nightmares, confusion, change in sense of reality and panicking. Changes in heart rhythm, inflammation of the pancreas and convulsions. And, wait for it, mood and behavioural disorder, which in severe cases may require hospitalisation. My girlfriend helpfully asks, “How will I know if it’s the tablets or not?”
The other two medicines are less extensive in their list of possible side effects, but the combination of all three have undoubtedly had an effect on my ability to work at full speed. It’s difficult to blame chronic tiredness and my headaches solely down to just the tablets, but I’m certainly sleeping less well. Also, my digestive system was severely tested during the first week, which I guess is par for the “course.”
And it may be that the medication has caused a form of dermatitis that has made the skin on my hands and feet unusually reptile-like, resulting in the tips of my fingers and thumbs drying up and cracking making it incredibly painful for me to type. Or, it could be just down to cleaning up all that puppy pee.
Still, I’m now hopefully on the mend, and should be feeling better once I’ve finished all the drugs, although my most recent blood test shows mild anaemia.
In the midst of all this, I found time to put together something for my most ardent fans who attended the London Festival last November, namely a limited edition mini-comic showcasing a project that I started and abandoned before I started Strangehaven all those years ago. There should be a little bit more about it elsewhere in this magazine.
And I think that’s probably most of it. I haven’t been making a list or anything, it’s just what’s come to mind while I’ve been writing this, so I’ve probably forgotten something that happened over the past ten months or so that is even funnier. Anyhow, I just hope you’ll just all be bloody grateful that Strangehaven #17 is finally out, and just wonder how I actually managed to get it completed at all, rather than fussing about how long it’s been since the last one.
And next time I write this column, I’ll try to write about something different. But I’m not promising . . .
[PHOTOS TO COME]
Engineers fail to repair the abiogenesis computer system.
Some Geese enjoying the evening sunshine at Elveden Forest.
The real reason that Strangehaven #17 is so late. Babs at 4 months.
My new chum, Mr. Helicobacter Pylori.