There were comics!
You had the Beano and the Dandy and the Topper and the rest them. But the one for me was the Beezer, delivered every Thursday morning. The other ones had strips which seemed somehow dated, even then, what with Desperate Dan, Korky the Cat, Lord Snooty and the like. Maybe it was also their size, since many were tabloid compared to my favourite comic’s A3 expansiveness.
I don’t recall Ginger so much, but inside Smiffy was the prototype for a later Joey Ramone, while The Numskulls had a certain whiff of French Existentialism about them as they ranged about their owner’s interior cranium causing him all sorts of uncertain sensations and psychological meanderings. Beryl the Peril and Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and Roger the Dodger, apart from possessing great-sounding rock n roll names, were the perfect role models for all British ten year old children. Admittedly, these were from the Beano. As was The Bash Street Kids, forerunners of all those sixties’ American garage bands like ? and the Mysterions, 13th Floor Elevators, Strawberry Alarm Clock and so on. Maybe even MC5 and The Stooges!
As a matter of fact, you can probably point to the Dundee-based publishers for all my later reprobate behaviour. They were the ones to blame. For sure.
Later, when I was more grownup, on Saturday mornings there was SPIDERMAN (replete with Dr Strange and Iron Man – oh, perfect comic-strip heaven!) which I would pick up from the newsagents when I went in to do my paper round, along with the half-crown weekly pay. Did I love Saturday mornings! No school, money – and, best of all, Spidey! I had to include him in my fiction…
I first met Gee at the village recreation ground one cold spring day. I was behind some bushes with the other two members of my newly formed band, swigging back Carafino wine, getting drunk and forgetting. Gee was sitting on the American swing – the same one where my brother had died twelve years earlier – reading a Spiderman comic and looking like an adolescent cherub, with big Da Vinci eyes and smooth skin turned rubicund by the chill wind.
Drunk and suddenly not forgetting, but raging at the thought of my brother’s useless death and my useless life, I ran through the bushes, intending to practise some bitter Zen on the holy-looking fool reading those Stan Lee stories in nothing but a thin black Harrington jacket and rolled-up Levis. I was angry with him for profaning my brother’s memory. I took hold of the wooden bench and gave it a massive push. He just managed to sort of leap off with a push off his buttocks, but when he landed on the ground his Doc Marten’s skidded and he went arse-over-tit. It looked dead funny, actually. But he wasn’t laughing. Neither was I.
‘What you do that for!’
‘Sorry. I couldn’t help it. Here.’
I went across to him with a punctured can of Watneys held forward as a token of friendship. As he went to take it I jumped forward, snatched his comic away from him, and ran back to Vin and Tazz, who were waiting for me. Tazz set fire to the comic with a match and flung the flaming pages into the cold spring air and, whooping and laughing, generally had a good drunken time at the stranger’s expense.
All the time I was watching Gee, at the crooked smile on his pale angelic face; and I grew calmer, felt almost guilty.
‘You had read it?’
‘Well not to worry,’ I said. ‘Got to keep warm on a day like this. And you can always get another. Here.’
This time there was no more Zen on my part and the big four-pint can of Watneys swapped hands.
‘Are you a skinhead?’
‘You look like a hairy.’
‘I am a hairy. This is Vin and Tazz. You got the wine, Vin?’
The only black person in the village came up to us holding the litre bottle of red Carafino wine.
‘Sorry about your comic.’
‘That’s all right. I know how it ends. Iron Man – ’
‘Walks off into the sunset.’
‘You read Stan Lee, too?’
‘I thought everyone did.’
‘Who’s your favourite?’
‘Bollocks,’ said Tazz, wiping snot from his nose with a long multi-coloured scarf. ‘Silver Surfer, by far.’
‘Yeah, I like him. Where d’you live?’ Gee asked me.
‘Next village. Widmer End.’
‘Ah yeah. On the new estate.’
‘No. In the old part.’
‘They’ve really mucked up the Park.’
‘Yeah, I know. It’s just one big housing estate now.’
‘There’s a bit left. Vin here lives down Northern Dene.’
‘I’ve seen you walking into town.’
‘Saving my beer money.’
Gee took a big glug from the wine bottle’s neck and nearly choked.
‘What d’you all get up to then?’ he asked, spluttering.
‘We’re in a band,’ I told him.
‘What sort of band?’
‘A bit like Stray or Deep Purple.’
‘Never heard of them. What’re you called?’
‘Sounds all right. Does it mean anything?’
‘Of its time. What d’you listen to then?’
‘Pop. Reggae. Ska.’ He started humming a Skatalites tune I’d never previously heard, before breaking into a rendition of the Dave and Ansell Collins song that was evidently still popular in places that I would never dare visit. ‘I am the magnificent W Oh Oh Oh…’
‘That rubbish,’ I said, though mindful of his lovely, tuneful voice. ‘What d’you do at the weekends?’
‘Oh I dunno, nothing really. I used to ride my bike but I’m fed up with that. I usually go to Newlands disco in the afternoon.’
‘I wouldn’t go there.’
‘You’d get your head kicked in.’
‘Exactly.’ I looked at him sceptically, and tried one more time; something about this boy’s nonchalant style and obvious enthusiasm for music and the world of Marvel comics, his evident frustration with the everyday world of his village, his evident good looks, had captivated me. ‘You ever heard of King Crimson?’
‘My sister’s got one of their records, as it happens. The one with a big ugly pink face on it. And other stuff that’s a bit weird, too. But I like some of it.’
‘You look like a skin, but you don’t sound like one.’
‘I’m not. Not really. I just wear the clothes.’
‘You want to come to our practice?’
(Death and the Dead, 2018)