Friday, May 11, 2007


A mid-afternoon post, in a break with all the traditions this country holds dear, because I'm going down to Bristol a bit later and I'm weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of taking my laptop down with me. On the one hand, I'm really having a problem lately with internet addiction (my only vice), and it would doubtless do me a lot of good to go cold turkey and not stay up all night chatting and playing. On the other hand, well, I'm having a problem lately with internet addiction and I really want to take my laptop with me. It's not a very well-reasoned argument, but it's one that I'm finding very persuasive just at the moment.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Greece is the word

Or at least, it's the word people are using more than any other today in response to questions like "Where is this year's world othello championship going to be held?". I'd really love to qualify for it, I've never been to that part of the world before. Not that I have any real chance of qualifying, but you never know.

Also in the news, I've ordered some new packs of cards over the internet. 48 of them, a big box that the makers presumably intended people to sell individually in shops rather than use for memorising themselves. But my old ones, that I've had since 2004 or even earlier, are getting a bit tatty and inclined to stick together, and now's the time to switch to new ones if I want to be comfortable with them before the competitions in July. It takes a bit of adjustment, and a bit of dropping the slippery new cards all over the floor and cursing.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

And this is the real post

As you know (everyone reading this remembers everything I've ever posted on here before, right?), I'm going to Bristol for the comic expo this weekend. Ravinder's also coming to film, and, keen to make the experience in some way relevant to my memory stuff (I keep telling him that nothing in my life is, but he insists), he asked if any of the guests there created any of the various comic characters in my list of images. As it happens, they did, and now it seems Kurt Busiek has agreed to have a chat with me on film about it.

Kurt Busiek. THE Kurt Busiek! What the heck am I going to say to Kurt Busiek? Well, actually, I know exactly what I'm going to say to him. It will involve tongue-tied stammering and not being able to form a coherent sentence. Possibly shoving my copy of Marvels or Thunderbolts #1 at him and hoping he'll appreciate that I want an autograph. I mean, by all accounts he's a very nice guy, a lifelong devoted superhero comic fan who became one of the world's most talented and popular writers. We could theoretically talk at great length about comics, except that he's totally my hero and idol and I'm wildly unworthy of actually meeting him. Seriously, Kurt Busiek!

Rampaging Hulk

This is a bonus post, the one I was going to do last week but couldn't upload the pictures to Photobucket. It's not my real blog entry for tonight about the latest Zoomynews. But enjoy it anyway!

I think it's time this blog had a change of pace. Too much waffling lately about what I've been up to, not nearly enough pretending to be clever and knowledgeable about comics. So inspired by Lew Stringer's wonderful blog, here's a little treatise on the subject of Marvel UK's late-seventies comic, "Rampage". I didn't read it at the time it came out (I was born in 1976, it launched in 1977), but I’ve found quite a lot of them at car boot sales over the years.

In those days, before the Transformers comic showed the world that Marvel's British offices could produce their own material that was much better than the American stuff, British Marvel comics consisted of black-and-white reprints of years-old American comics. Rampage specialised in the adventures of the Defenders, a great favourite team of mine. It reprinted a complete issue of Defenders, 22 pages, every week, which was excessively long by the standards of British comics, which usually consisted of a series of six-page stories. And Rampage also had back-up strips, of course (nobody then believed British readers would touch a comic with only one story in it) - you could also read a quarter to a third of an American issue of Iron Man and Nova in every issue. Well worth 10p of anyone's pocket money.

What I like about Rampage is the covers. They used the same line art as the American comics, but re-coloured and re-lettered. Sometimes with the same words as the American version, sometimes subtly different. They seem to have been reluctant to use so many words on Rampage. For example, the speech bubbles on the cover of Defenders #30 go:

Hulk: NO! Hulk can't fight GAS!
Nighthawk: We haven't a CHANCE! Can't get PAST these choking FUMES!
Doctor Strange: We're facing our most INCREDIBLE foe -- and he may DESTROY US ALL!

Whereas on Rampage #30, they say:

Hulk: Hulk can't fight GAS!
Nighthawk: NO WAY can we pass those choking FUMES!
Doctor Strange: We're facing our deadliest foe -- and he may DESTROY US ALL!

Incidentally, the deadly foe was a tap-dancing super-villain called Tapping Tommy. On the other hand, the reprint of Defenders #2, which had no speech bubbles on the original cover, is enhanced by the bad guy shouting "Surfer! Hulk! Namor! None of you will survive the WRATH of the WARRIOR WIZARD!"

Occasionally, the re-lettering required some intelligence. They fixed the problem with Defenders #27, which showed Dr Strange intoning "The Baddoon WOMEN are far more SAVAGE than their men! Unless I strike swiftly, HULK and VALKYRIE are DOOMED!" This rather gave away what was supposed to be a surprise plot twist in the NEXT month's issue, that the lizard creatures the Defenders were fighting were in fact the females of the Baddoon species they'd been tangling with for some time. The Rampage version replaces Doc's faux pas with "The LIZARD CREATURES have risen from the MARSH!"

This, however, is the most interesting of the Rampage covers. Here's Defenders #17, published in 1974:

And here's Rampage #16, from 1978:

Notice that the Hulk's role has been strikingly diminished as it crossed the Atlantic. Now, the Hulk ("Marvel's TV Sensation", as they liked to call him in those days), was the only reason a lot of people read Defenders in the first place. A couple of later Defenders covers claimed he was in an issue where in fact he didn't appear at all. There's no way the UK Marvel people decided to re-draw the cover to make the Hulk less significant. They must have got hold of the original American art, which must have been altered before the American Defenders comic hit the newsstands to make the Hulk MORE prominent and sell more copies! And they would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for those meddling Brits.

Another funny thing about Rampage is the issues of Defenders it chose to reprint. The earliest one I've got is Rampage #3, containing Defenders #2. So either the first two Rampages each only contained half of Defenders #1 (which wasn't double-sized) or they reprinted one of the three issues of Marvel Feature which introduced the team before they got their own series. I have no idea which. Rampage then reprinted a complete Defenders story every week, but skipped Defenders #9 and #10, which were part of a crossover story with Avengers (to get the whole story, you had to read an issue of Defenders, then an issue of Avengers, then the next Defenders and so on). Maybe Marvel UK repeated the whole crossover somewhere else, maybe they just didn't bother with it, I don't know. So from that point on, Rampage’s issue numbers were one behind Defenders.

However, as well as the Defenders comic in America, there was also ‘Giant Size Defenders’, part of Marvel’s experiment with longer, more expensive, quarterly comics. They didn’t catch on, and their only lasting legacy is the existence of a comic called “Giant Size Man-Thing”, but there were also five less innuendo-worthy Giant Size Defenders comics too. The first of these consisted of reprinted stories with a perfunctory framing sequence, so it’s understandable that Rampage chose not to reprint it. The second was a weird story involving the Son of Satan that’s in a very different style to the usual Defenders stuff, and I think I would have skipped it too if I’d been in charge of Rampage. But they also skipped #3 and #4, the first of which, although self-contained and having no bearing on the long-term plot, was absolutely brilliant, and the second containing a very significant moment (Nighthawk’s love interest has her arm blown off in an explosion, which is a very unusually graphic kind of injury for seventies comics) which is referenced repeatedly in future issues, but which Rampage readers never got to see. Rampage finally gave in and reprinted GSD #5, which was an integral part of a long storyline – they split it over two weekly issues and changed the cover blurb from “A complete Defenders story every week!” to “A book-length Defenders story every week!”

But then they unfathomably skipped Normal-Size Defenders #26, another part of that extended plotline, albeit one that consisted almost entirely of unnecessary filler. You can cut it out and still follow the story with no problems, but why would you want to?

Rampage kept on reprinting Defenders for quite some time, even after the American comic was a long way past its best, but finally gave in to popular demand and switched to reprinting Hulk and X-Men stories instead. Shame, really, because if I’d been a comics fan at the time, Rampage would have been my favourite.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Asking only workman's wages, I come looking for a job

So, the time has come when I need to find a job again. Well, not need, technically, but definitely should before my brain and body completely atrophy. I was going to get in touch with the agency today, but I remembered I was going to give blood, and that's scary enough without being stressed by job-hunting, so I've left that till tomorrow. Then I get the delights of trying to persuade them to put me forward for a job at the same level as the one I had last time, rather than a level above. Agencies never want to do that. They assume everyone has high-flying career aspirations rather than just wanting a semi-senior number-cruncher position that pays enough to live on. I'm sure I can't be the only accountant who doesn't want to become a financial director some day (they're always posh and almost always completely useless, so I don't think I'd be qualified).

Anyway, giving blood was fun. I filled in a form detailing all the diseases I haven't got, all the disease-infected people I haven't had sex with and so on, got talked through the whole procedure at staggering length, had a needle stuck in my finger and a drop of blood dropped into a test tube of green stuff. It did what it's supposed to, so then I went into the other room to lie down and have a whole lot more precious blood drained out of me.

The nurse put one of those inflatable squeezy things around my upper arm, and poked around at my elbow for quite some time, looking for a vein. "Hmm," he said, "there's one there, but it's quite deep. John, have you got a second?"

Another nurse in a swankier uniform came over, did the same thing with the squeezy inflatable thingy, poked my elbow and said "Hmm, there's one there, but it's quite deep." Exact same inflection, too. They must teach them to say that in nurse school. It seems my veins aren't in the same place as other people's, but the more important nurse found one on the side that worked fine. So it was just a matter of sticking another sharp thing into me, connecting it up to a scary-looking tube (which I tried not to look at too closely), lying around until it had finished, lying around for another fifteen minutes to make sure I didn't collapse or anything, commiserating with original nurse, who's a Sheffield Wednesday fan, about the terrible performances of our respective teams this season, having a cup of orange squash and a couple of biscuits and going home. Safe in the knowledge that I've done a Good Deed for the day. I can just hear my dad saying "You'll get your reward in heaven, old boy." I don't know why he always said that, since he wasn't religious in the slightest, but he did.

Since I don't think I've been quite boastful enough yet tonight, can I just talk about my othello game against Imre on Saturday? I've been looking at it with WZebra, on its highest setting, and it reckons I played just about as close to a perfect game as I ever have. I was a couple of discs ahead all the way through and just kept that lead, playing the good move every time. A couple of mistakes in the endgame, but he didn't find the line to punish me for them. I'm seriously happy with this game.

Also today (for a day when I've done nothing, it's been busy, hasn't it?) I won a set of dominoes in a tombola in the shopping centre. Woo.

Monday, May 07, 2007


Wow, I'm tired. For one thing I've been getting up earlier and going to bed later than usual all weekend, for another, organising a memory competition is very nearly as tiring as competing in one. I'm knackered, to use the technical term. Despite that, though, Sunday was tremendous fun all round. Everything ran more or less smoothly and almost perfectly to schedule, we finished on time without too much trouble, there were no major disasters and really only one minor one (an unshuffled pack found its way into the speed cards event). Three entirely new recruits to the world of 'memory sports' who all seemed to have a good time and be planning to come back for more. Lots of entertaining memory talk at the pub both at lunchtime and afterwards. Two different film crews chasing people around with cameras and just adding to the sense of fun. A horribly noisy location that everyone in attendance was too polite to complain about. I started the day waking up at 5am, and finished it getting back to the hotel a bit before midnight after going for a curry with Charlie (possibly the greatest conversationalist in the world of memory, who I hadn't seen since 2004) and Jenny. I was even persuaded to have a go at the speed cards myself, and did 29.93 seconds in the second attempt, only to mess up the recall. Drat. Ah well, next competition is the British Championship down in Shropshire (which I must try to find on a map some time) on July 14th. I need to get back in training.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Not a blog post

I should be posting about the Cambridge championship, which went really well, but it's twenty to midnight and this hotel unreasonably expects you to vacate the premises by ten in the morning and I'm drunk, so I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.