Sunday 30 September 2018

The People's Walk For Wildlife 2018

Last weekend Sarah and I, along with around 10,000 others, headed for that there London town to take part in the People's Walk For Wildlife. This was an event organised by the naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham to highlight the plight of the UK's environment and wildlife.

We all gathered at Reformer's Tree in Hyde Park in the pouring rain  -  typically, it had been a beautiful, sunny week and only rained at the weekend. But did the weather, er, dampen our spirits? No! ( Well, not too much. ) Here's Sarah sheltering under a tree with her mascot Tufty. He didn't mind the rain...
 Whilst waiting for the actual walk to begin there were talks from various naturalists, including Chris Packham and, crucially, many young people like the activist and blogger "Birdgirl" who represent the younger generation who need to be involved in any environmental movement. Even Billy Bragg turned up! Billy sang a few songs ( including one with the notorious non-singer Chris Packham ) and it was great to see him there  -  I've been a fan of his since buying his first mini-album "Life's A Riot With Spy vs Spy" waaay back in 1983, and I haven't seen him play live for probably 30 years, so it was about time! Below are Chris and Billy doing an altered version of Between The Wars, here calling for an end to this country's "war on wildlife"...

There were all sorts of people at the walk: environmental groups, families, couples, hunt saboteurs, young and old, people from all walks of life, many waving banners or wearing costumes. The biggest problem with this gathering was the lack of ethnic minorities. This was something that Chris highlighted, saying that we need to engage everyone to get the message across. It's obviously an uphill struggle and the more people from all backgrounds and cultures involved the better.

At around 1pm we headed off en masse out of Hyde Park and down Park Lane. As we walked through central London we played birdsong which we'd downloaded to our phones and it was a strange but wonderful thing to hear this lovely sound reverberating around the hotels, shops and office blocks. During my lifetime we've lost 44 million birds in this country due to destruction of habitats which is a truly frightening statistic...

As we walked down Pall Mall, through Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square, the rain eased off slightly  -  which was good  -  and we got loads of attention from the public  -  which was great! The walk ended at Richmond Terrace where we stopped to hear some more speeches and to see Chris and his young "ministers" deliver their People's Manifesto For Wildlife to Number 10 Downing Street.

( The photo above isn't mine. I "borrowed" it from the environmental campaigner Mark Avery  -  please see his website here for more. I thought it was a great pic which shows the sheer amount of people involved far better than my photos. )

Apparently the Secretary of State for the Environment, the odious Michael Gove, had been invited to speak to the crowd. He had originally agreed but, at the last minute and to the surprise of no one, said he wasn't available. Chris and his friends delivered the Manifesto to Gove's office... but, a week later, he still hasn't acknowledged receipt of the document. This is obviously disappointing, especially during the week of the Conservative party conference, when a positive mention from Mr Gove for the Manifesto could have been very useful. Anyway, this positive, peaceful and inspiring event was hopefully just the start of something big, as people came together to try and make the world a better place for our wildlife and for ourselves...

Saturday 15 September 2018

Blade Runner by Sean Phillips

Here's the signed Blade Runner print I bought from the wonderful Sean Phillips at NICE Convention a couple of weeks back. Isn't it a beauty?

Check out Sean's website below for more amazing artwork:

Sunday 9 September 2018

NICE Convention 2018 featuring Don McGregor and old bloggers united

Using my customary lightning-fast, razor-sharp blogging skills I'm going to share some thoughts and pics from an event a whole week ago. Yep, there's no flies on this blogger!
Said event was NICE Comic-Con 2018 in sunny Bedford. As can be seen in the image above there were many talented comic creators in Bedford last weekend but the big draw for me was the legendary Don McGregor, one of the true greats of the Bronze Age of comics.

Don was part of an early 70s renaissance in the comic book industry  -  along with other such talented writers as Steve Engelhart, Marv Wolfman, Steve Gerber and Doug Moench he pushed the boundaries of what mainstream comic writing could be and do. It was a time of experimentation when adult themes and more sophisticated story-telling ideas began to creep into comics, building on groundwork laid by the likes of Lee / Kirby, Steranko and Eisner but with a younger, more modern sensibility. Don's work was unabashedly sentimental and romantic but still with a sharp, questioning aspect and an overwhelming love of language and words. In fact, gushing torrents of words, flooding the pages, competing for space with the art of Gene Colan, P. Craig Russell, Billy Graham and Don's other great collaborators. Don did come under criticism for this, with many feeling the words to pictures balance of "perfect" comic book story-telling was tipped unfairly in his balance, but I personally loved his style. As I said, it was an experimental era and this was Don's style... a style that could often seem verbose and overwrought... but... but... every word, every single word was ripped from Don's heart and dropped bleeding onto the page. No filter, no excuses, he gave his all to his readers and asked you to join him for the ride. Pretentious? Maybe. But it made for some glorious comic books!

Anyway, back to last Sunday... 
James and I took the two and a half hour trek to Bedford ( a lovely morning drive up over the Cotswolds and down through Banbury and Milton Keynes ) and to the venue itself, the Bedford Corn Exchange. This was an impressive 19th century building, in very good repair, near to the river Great Ouse in the heart of the city.

The convention itself could be described as "compact and bijou" -  and with very little in terms of cosplay or assorted media distractions, this was really about the comic artists and writers. Which is absolutely fine by me but I would have welcomed just a few more actual comics vendors, with most of the sellers on display dealing in modern stuff which I couldn't really care less about. ( I did manage to get a few issues of Master Of Kung Fu and a nice Batman #210 from 1968. )
But, apart from that, the other major draw of this con was ( finally ) meeting up with a couple of my old blog buddies. Soon after we arrived we hooked up with the man behind the wonderful
Bronze Age Of Blogs, the mega-cool Pete Doree. Pete was there to support his childhood friend, the highly-talented artist Sean Phillips... and to interview Don McGregor! luckily, Pete also had a bit of time to spare for old bloggers so we went for a drink and a chat in the coffee shop next door to the venue. It was great to catch up with Pete after following his excellent blog for so many years and we had a good old chin-wag about all things comic-book. James was probably bored out of his skull but he hid it well. After a while we headed back into the Corn Exchange for another look around, a chat with a few other punters and then it was Don time!

Here's Don ( on the left ) being interviewed by Sean Phillips ( centre ) and Pete...

Well, I say "interviewed" but the guys didn't have a chance to ask many questions! Don McGregor in full flight is like a runaway verbal express train. For a guy in his 70s who had been in attendance at the con all weekend Don was still full of passion and conviction as he told us tales of the comic book industry, from the hilarious story of his first meeting with the legendary publisher Jim Warren to his struggles with the conservative Marvel editorial staff. Of course, a lot of the talk was about the Black Panther, the African king super hero that Don inherited from Stan 'n' Jack and turned into one of the most compelling, human characters in comics. And who is now, of course, belatedly world-famous as part of the MCU, with the majority of the characters and situations in his block-busting movie stemming from the mind of guess who? Yep, that's right... Dauntless Don.

After the panel ( and after much queuing because Don gives everybody as much time as he can ) we finally got to meet the great man properly. ( I've been Facebook "friends" with Don for a number of years and we've had a few online conversations but that doesn't really count. ) Unsurprisingly, Don was an absolute delight to meet. After I babbled about being a fan for 40-plus years and introduced Don to James, Don proceeded to tell us more of his hair-raising stories of life in the comic book industry and in New York  -  and I lapped it all up! He told us of sneaking around Harlem late at night with the late artist Billy Graham, finding ( literally ) underground movie-houses that were run like speakeasies and showed old cowboy movies; he told us the background of the photo below  -  Don jumping off a wall outside the New York Public Library  -  and how so many of the old buildings seemed to disappear virtually overnight to be replaced by corporate monstrosities. 

This is from his short story collection, Dragonflame & Other Bedtime Nightmares, which Don kindly signed for me, as well as my copy of Amazing Adventures #29 ( see above ), the first issue of his ground-breaking KIllraven strip that I ever bought. Don was interested to hear what I thought about reading the Killraven stories at the age of 8 and the Dragonflame stories in my early teens. I told him I was always reading above my expected reading age!
( Oh yeah... Paul McCartney's feet, you ask? Apparently, the lady who took the above photo of Dapper Don missed his feet out of the frame, so he cut a photo of Macca's feet out of a magazine and pasted it on. Pete said he always thought Don looked too tall in that photo... )

All too soon our time with the Dauntless One was up ( Don was understandably starting to flag by this point and he had more people to speak to ) but it was such a great experience to talk to such a warm, friendly and unbelievably energetic man. You can see from the grins on our faces how much James and I were enjoying ourselves! I'll leave the last words to Don: ( Thumps fist on table ) "If I'm going to tell a Black Panther story, I'm going to tell the best damned Black Panther story I can!"

But that wasn't all! Oh, no. I also managed to catch up with another old blog buddy and Facebook friend, Mighty Joe Ackerman aka Joe Bloke. Some of you reading ( if anyone is still reading! ) may remember Joe's late, lamented blog Grantbridge Street & Other Misadventures, which was one of my go-to sources for comic artwork and, er, "fit birds" ( Joe's words not mine! ) for many a year and is sorely missed. We'd been at the con for a few hours and I was beginning to think I wouldn't get a chance to meet Joe but then he appeared like a bolt out of the blue and we were off and running!

( Here we are being rather silly. ) Just like with meeting Pete it was a joy to catch up with someone who I've only known via t'internet and who turns out to be solid gold, as if we were old ( real world ) friends reunited. We had a great time, swapping stories of blogging and comic books ( what else is there to talk about? ) and all three of us headed to the local Subway as the con wound down, where we were met by Joe's lovely better half, Mary, for more chat and laughs. It was a lovely, chilled ending to a great day out. My only regret is that I'd hoped for Joe and Pete to meet but that didn't quite work out. Maybe next time. 
I'll leave you with a few shots of Bedford itself  -  a pretty cool place!


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