Saturday, June 23, 2007

Highley memorable

I haven't really hyped the UK Memory Championship here before, as far as I can remember, and today seems like a good time, since Phil's just announced the prizes they 'hope' to provide. It's in Highley, Shropshire, and I'm still not entirely sure where that is. But I was hoping to go there on the Severn Valley Railway (I did miss going to the Butterley steam railway place on father's day this year), only to find it's been washed away in the floods the other day. I'm not sure if that's a bad omen or not. Anyway, the first prize is flights, accommodation and entry to the WMC in Bahrain, which is nice. I did say a while ago that if I ended up with a free trip I'd give it to someone else, if I had the money to pay my own way, so if I do end up winning, I'll check my bank balance and see what I can do. There's a bottle of champagne for the winner too! I don't like champagne, but I've always wanted to spray it around in celebration. Hopefully I'll get the chance. July 14th, mark it in your calendars!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Bill Mantlo

If you happen to be passing a comic shop this weekend, go in and pick up a copy of Mantlo: A Life In Comics. It's a magazine/book/something all about Bill Mantlo, one of my all-time favourite writers of superhero comics. Even if you're not a fan, buying the book is a good thing - Mantlo was knocked down and nearly killed by a hit-and-run driver fifteen years ago, suffered permanent brain damage and all the proceeds from the book are going to the costs of his care.

Bill Mantlo, if you look at his work objectively, was never the greatest writer in the world. His dialogue is much too long-winded and stilted, and his stories are often more miserable and depressing than most people are happy with. Characters, when they're not being summarily killed off, will often spend pages lamenting about their own shortcomings and anxieties. None of the comics he wrote is hailed today as a landmark in the history of superheroics. But what he did do is write a heck of a lot - nowadays when a writer misses his deadline, the comic just comes out late. The publishers don't seem to care any more. In the seventies and eighties, if a Marvel writer didn't turn in a script on time, the editor called Bill Mantlo. He seemed to have an endless capacity for producing superhero stories that were always readable, and often exciting, funny and clever too. And his run on Alpha Flight was something that really struck a chord with me and played a big part in making me a comic fan today.

Picture the scene - it's the late eighties, or early nineties, I can't remember exactly which, I'm a young teenager and my comic experience has been limited to Transformers and whatever series had been the backup strip in Transformers. And a Spider-Man annual or summer special here and there. One day in WH Smith I found one of the paperback collections of the Marvel Universe handbooks, profiles of Marvel's characters from the Abomination to the Circus of Crime (it was only volume 1). Alpha Flight were in it, and they sounded like fun. A bit later, I can't remember exactly how or why, I ended up with a catalogue from the Nostalgia and Comics shop in Birmingham (or somewhere like that) and decided to order the latest issue of Alpha Flight, to see what it was like.

Actually, I didn't like it all that much. It was the penultimate issue of Fabian Nicieza's run, and that was the kind of comic you really had to sit down and study to make any sense of. Or I did, anyway. But I could see it had potential, stuck with it, and kept with it through the start of Scott Lobdell's run, which was a completely different style, still not a classic, but again compelling to a superhero-comic-newcomer. But after a year or so of this, I discovered the existence of back issues, and the wonders of the Bill Mantlo issues of Alpha Flight. And THAT was the kind of thing I'd been looking for!

For a couple of years, my aim in life was to collect the entirety of Mantlo's run on Alpha Flight - thirty-something issues of death, misery, characters recapping the events of the last twenty issues every time they opened their mouths and un-put-downably compelling stories. Yes, I also liked John Byrne's acclaimed original run on the series, but Mantlo's stories struck a chord with teenage me like nothing ever before. I got my brother reading and collecting them too, forced them on my best friend in return for having Judge Dredd forced on me, read them out of sequence, one or two at a time with months in between. I liked them a lot.

So this book describes a pretty significant person in my life. He wrote a lot of other great stuff, as I've discovered since - Spider-Man, Micronauts, Cloak and Dagger, many many more. A lot of them are long out of print and never collected, but I'm hopeful that one day we'll see a lot more graphic novels of his classic works. When it comes to people I admire in comics, the five people I wouldn't be the same without are Simon Furman for those wonderful Transformers comics that hooked me since the age of eight, Tony Isabella for an obscure Marvel Team-Up comic that found its way into a Spidey summer special and showed me that superhero comics could be something very much more than hero-fights-villain (it chronicled the supervillain Blacklash suffering a nervous breakdown), Kurt Busiek for dragging me back into comics in the late nineties when Alpha Flight had been cancelled and I'd given up on finding a new series that wasn't terrible, Alan Moore for just writing such amazingly, staggeringly good comics, and Bill Mantlo for those thirty-odd issues of Alpha Flight. Go out there and check it out!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

No, I don't think I will

I think I'd be better off not splashing out on two German trips in two months, all in all. I'll stay at home this weekend and practice for the UK championship (three weeks and a bit to go! Woo! Even though I still don't really like the one-day events!).


Sorry I didn’t post anything last night, I had a headache and went for a lie down at around eight o’clock, and didn’t wake up till two in the morning. And at that point there wasn’t much motivation to get up just to write a blog entry. I tell you, working for a living is much more tiring than sitting at home on one’s fat backside all day. Who would have thought it? So as a bonus, I’m writing from the office on my lunch break.

Anyway, I still haven’t decided whether to go to Germany for Sunday’s competition. On the one hand, I can’t really claim it would be good practice for the bigger championships coming up next month – it’s just speed numbers, speed binary and speed cards plus four disciplines in German – but it’s still a fun social thing, getting to hang out with the German memory contingent and see what everybody’s up to nowadays. Although I’ll get to do that on a bigger scale anyway in a month at the German national championship.

I don’t have a problem justifying to myself the expense of travelling to Munich for a weekend just to hang out with German memorisers for a day – I probably should, but I’ve got seriously reckless when it comes to spending my non-hard-earned cash these last few months. The main reason not to go is work, because I’ve only been here a week, I’ve already taken an afternoon off to go to an interview for a better job (and I feel terribly guilty about that), and I feel like I should at least try to give the impression that I’m taking the job seriously.

Hmm, sitting here typing this right now, that doesn’t seem like a compelling reason not to go. Well, I’ll think about it and make up my mind tonight. Assuming I manage to do my regularly scheduled blog post, maybe I’ll even tell you about it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Why don't you get a job?

Thanks to the people who were going to remind me about the interview tomorrow, but I forgot to tell you that they changed it and made it today instead. It was funny - I knew it was in the same business park as Nord Anglia where I used to work, but I didn't realise it was in what used to be their Leapfrog nurseries head office before they closed it down and moved it all into the new place! I've been in that building plenty of times while they were still gradually relocating! In fact, when I got that job I had my interview in that very building (but not in the same room, which I was kind of hoping for).

Anyway, I think it more or less went well. They're interviewing loads and loads of people, according to the agency, but I seemed to make a good impression on the guys who were interviewing me. Or at least at the end of the interview they were still taking in ways that suggested they hadn't written me off as completely unsuitable. Although they mentioned (without being asked, I'm not that bad at interviews) that the work hours are 8:45 to 6:00, which seems a bit long. And it's only 20 days holiday a year, when 25 is normal for that kind of position. Still, perhaps I shouldn't complain about the job before I've even got on the second-interview shortlist. And it's still a great job, I'd be in charge of the whole accounts department, involved with every aspect of the bean-counting business, with three, count 'em, three underlings, and reporting directly to the really big bosses. So I still want it.

I probably won't get it, though.

Monday, June 18, 2007

To all the anonymice out there

I'm fairly certain the plural of anonymous is anonymice. 'Anonymouses' doesn't look right. Anyway, I seem to be getting quite a few comments on the blog just lately, which is great - there was a period when nobody was commenting at all, which makes me feel alone and unloved - but I would appreciate it if you'd put your name on the comments when you do! You don't have to use your real name if for some reason you don't want me to know who you are, just pick an alias and use it consistently. That way when I read my comments I can think to myself "ah, that Herbert Etheridge and his habit of mis-spelling the word 'a' every time he uses it...", rather than just feeling like I'm being shouted at by some unseen stranger in the shadows. I see the Zoomy's-Thing-comment-posting community as a friendly, social kind of gathering where everybody knows your name and we're all friends.

Of course, I would probably get more friendly comments if I made the kind of blog post with some kind of interesting and informative content, wouldn't I? Well, maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Aww, Sundays suck again

I'd forgotten that 'oh, I've got to go back to the office tomorrow morning' feeling that comes up on Sunday nights. That's the thing about weekends being special, it also means that they end. And I didn't get round to typing up my othello transcripts. Or ironing shirts.

Anyway I find myself without anything fun in my brain to write about tonight. So I'll just discuss the memory training I'm doing at the moment. The plan, and I've more or less stuck to it so far, is to do a speed numbers practice when I get home every evening, trying to memorise 468 digits in five minutes with somewhere close to good recall. I think I'm getting closer, but whether I'll be confident with it before the world championship, I don't know. I also do three packs of cards in an evening, and then if I'm not bored with memory, a bit of spoken numbers. I should really add binaries to the list too, but I do like to do other stuff with my evenings too.

Which reminds me, the South German championship is on Sunday and I still haven't decided whether to go or not. It does mean taking the day off work, and I don't get paid for days off on my temp contract, but then I don't really care about getting paid anyway. I think I'll see how this interview goes on Wednesday and then decide at the last moment.