And it’s over – So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish

Well, the day I have been dreading for several weeks has come to pass: I’ve been living under the cloud of imminent redundancy, and as the termination date has crept closer and closer I felt increasingly bad. It isn’t just the practical side of things – having to look for a new job, the crushing feeling of not getting posts you are well suited to, the way it saps your morale and sense of self worth, the worry about being able to pay your bills – it’s the emotional side. Not just that it fuels the wee black voice, there’s also a sense of loss: having drinks with some of my colleagues yesterday was very odd, I’ve worked next to some for thirteen and a half years, I’ve known them since before some of their children were born and it is very peculiar to think we’re not going to be part of each other’s daily lives anymore, quite upsetting. We’ll see each other from time to time, but it won’t be as it was before.

Always hard moving on, even when it is by choice, when it is forced on you it makes it harder. Here’s a copy of my final post from the Forbidden Planet Blog:

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Richard has already taken his final bow on the blog (see here), and now it’s my turn. Truth be told I have been putting this off all week, and here I am typing it now, on my last day at FPI. Quite emotional, as you can imagine; I’m trying to persuade colleagues in the Edinburgh store, beneath which the Blogcave lurks, deep under Edinburgh’s ancient Old Town, right above the haunted undercity, that they should play the sad piano music from the end of the old Hulk TV show as I walk out for the last time tonight.

Thirteen and a half years: I started the blog when I began working on the webstore for Forbidden Planet International, looking after the graphic novels and books. I had pitched the idea to Kenny of using a blog so we could highlight some of the titles we sold in the stores and online, celebrate them, draw reader’s attention to them, recommend books, use it for announcing news, not just our own but news and events from others in the comics community, to give them an added voice (especially in pre-Twitter days). To his and FPI’s credit they agreed and also supported the idea that we would keep the blog pretty non-commercial – of course we’d trumpet our store events and offers, we’d link reviews to the webstore where you could buy the graphic novel we were reviewing, but that was about it, it was left mostly as a space to celebrate comics, science fiction, fantasy, horror and animation, all our geek loves. I think Kenny saw it as a nice way to give something back to the comics community, and that’s a nice way to think of it.

As time went by more contributors came onboard, allowing us not only to cover more, but also to take in a more diverse range of tastes. Richard continued from the sort of recommendations and reviews he had done when he worked in our Nostalgia & Comics store in Birmignham – it was something we had in common as I too had organised mini-reviews and staff recommendations in my old bookstore, and I knew that A) readers loved those personal recommendations and B) it often gave a new creator a chance to be spotted by readers. To be honest, as time went on Richard was less a reviewer and more a co-editor with me; I can’t imagine having run the FP blog this long without his help, as well as his articles and reviews, and while we all reviewed numerous small press works, Richard was king on those, writing up on so many small press comickers that it often felt like they saw us as “their” site, which frankly we loved.

Then Our Man In Belgium, Wim, provided us with Our Continental Correspondent columns, bringing European works and comics trends to the Anglophone audience. I think any of us who truly love the medium are in awe of the status of the Franco-Belgian comics market, where bande dessinee is seen as “the ninth art”, a respected status those of us in the UK, Canada, America and other countries could only dream of (although that has changed a lot – look at Mary and Bryan Talbot’s Costa Award win for instance – and is still changing for the better here). Wim not only brought us news and reviews of European comics, from new talents and revered veterans, he did it the way I hope everyone on the blog did, with their own personality and passion for the medium (I think we all used our own voices, kept it personal, never a house style or corporate tone, and I think that’s another reason readers liked it).

I learned a lot more about European comics through editing Wim’s posts, and it only sharpened my hunger to see more of these works translated and published in English. And, rather wonderfully, that sometimes happened because of his pieces, especially his Translation, Please columns where he would champion some astonishing new comics work he’d seen in French, Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian, and highlight why this was an author and a book Brit and North American publishers should be looking at and thinking of buying English language rights to. Several publishers told us they looked specifically for those European publishers and creators on their trips to continental conventions on the back of reading about them through Wim’s columns, and several ended up making deals and translating those books. I call that a pretty good result.

More people joined us through the years, some for a short time, others longer, but all added to a plurality of voices and tastes and subjects covered. My old Irish chum from our days on The Alien Online (early SF & comics review site some of you may recall fondly) Pádraig contributed some long, thoughtful interviews, not least with the mighty Alan Moore, Zainab brought a new perspective with her own tastes and an eye for creators and titles that were not as well-represented as they should be, especially women and ethnic creators (an increasingly happening area in comics coverage, I am glad to see, but Zee was doing it well ahead of the curve and continues to do it now), Nicola, then working at our Glasgow store (now a Grande Fromage at the Glasgow Comic Con) brought an impassioned fangirl rush to her picks from the week’s new releases (and got me reading some I would otherwise have walked past).

Matt Badham would do us some great pieces and some cracking interviews, which, in what I thought was a nice touch of solidarity and cooperation, would be published by ourselves and John Freeman’s Down the Tubes at the same time. There was something nice about that – not competition, working together, all part of the bigger community. Hannah Chapman wrote some great pieces on the Indy scene and on women in comics and webcomics, now she’s a creator and pushing the splendid Avery Hill comics. Malachy from our Belfast store and my book group chum Misti joined me in my eternal love of good science fiction and fantasy, so we could cover more of the prose side of geekdom as well as the graphic, Stephen, under his Garth Cremona pen-name, was our resident movie fiend, and another Irish chum, James Bacon, would contribute not just reviews but all sorts of interesting articles, from a gallery exhibition of comic art to some science fiction stage plays and reporting from San Diego Comic Con (along the way also chatting to local comic store owners in California and getting their views).

And that’s not counting everyone – a lot of others would contribute when they could (remember most of us were doing all of this in our own free time), and then we had numerous guest blogs. That was something I always wanted – when we ran our guest Best of the Year posts each December we would have a different writer, artist, editor, publisher, reviewer every single day in December, picking their favourites, before the blog crew chose their own; it meant we got a wider net, more reading tastes, that works we hadn’t seen or had time for got shout outs. Most sites would have a Best of the Year article around December, but I don’t think anyone did it quite the way we did with so many diferent guests getting a chance to shout out their faves.

Similarly our guest posts gave creators free reign to use the blog as a platform to talk directly to the readers about their work. We had reviews, previews and interviews, but it seemed to me there was something missing – reviews are our opinion, in interviews creators only get to answer the questions put to them… Why not have a feature where we removed ourselves from it and gave the slot entirely to them, to talk about their new work in their own words, in any way they wanted to. It gave readers some insight into the creation process, what elements of the story meant to the creator and why they worked the way they did, and at the same time served to highlight their new work and interest readers.

I remember one year we did a whole themed Director’s Commentary run with not just the winner but all shortlist nominees for Myriad’s First Graphic Novel prize, after one of the judges, Bryan Talbot, commented on the high standard of all of them, so we arranged to let each and every one of them do a guest spot about their entries. I know I am biased, but I think that was a damned good use of the platform we had to share. After the debacle of the all-male creator Angouleme shortlist a few years back a whole bunch of women writers, artists and publishers did a coperative guest spot with each highlighting women in the medium.

We loved being able to use the blog for something like that and other things, and as we’ve been seeing with certain sad groups attacking women, LGBT and ethnic creators virulently, it’s important those with a decent platform use it to defend diversity: more diverse voices means more intersting and unusual reading for us, which is a win-win situation. And, simply, it is the proper and decent thing to do; comics and scifidom are communities, and communities support and celebrate one another, and when we do that, we all win. Many are continuing that push, and all power to them; the blog here may be going quiet, but those of us who worked on it still have your back in the comics and SF community.

We’d all love to have done more, to turn the blog into a virtual journal, perhaps. But we all had work and life and other commitments, and we were all doing most of our reading, viewing and writing in our own time, after the day job. That’s a lot of hours of our own time, and always there would be more good stuff out there that we just couldn’t get time to cover. In a way though, that is a sign of how much comics, especially in the UK, has changed even just in those thirteen and a half years of the blog’s existence. When we started we had a pretty vibrant small press scene, with a couple of yearly events like Caption and then Thought Bubble celebrating them, and just a handful of UK graphic novel publishers, like Cape, or veterans like Knockabout. But then more events – mainstream and small press-friendly, from tiny local, small town events to European style comic art festivals like the Lakes were added to the calendar, and the already thriving small press scene got bigger, better, more diverse and interesting.

And the number of Indy publishers also grew in the UK: Myriad, Blank Slate (run by our own Kenny), SelfMadeHero, Soaring Penguin, Avery Hill, Nobrow and more. And many of those bloomed over those following years: suddenly UK comickers went from thinking why don’t we have our own Drawn & Quarterly, Top Shelf or Fantagraphics here to having those and seeing them prosper and reach new audiences. Just last month I chaired events with SelfMadeHero and Nobrow authors at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the largest literary festival on Planet Earth, and there were our Indy comics presses strutting their funky literary stuff, alongside small press creators given their own comic fair on opening day. We also saw some of those new Indy publishers here translating European comics for an English language audience, and then, oh so gloriously, taking their UK titles to European festivals and seeing them picked up for translation there. Wow. So many good changes over those years.

I’m honoured we got to be a small part of those changes, that we got to enjoy reading those works, and had a megaphone to shout out those creators and publishers and watch others pick them up, other sites like Broken Frontier coming along and adding their voices to this flowering of talent and creation. It has been a remarkable time for comics, especially in the UK. And it still is; if anything it is just getting better and better, and I hope very much that lending our voices to the chorus helped those creators and publishers, and I know more than a few readers who have told us over the years they only knew about a new work because of one of our articles, that they picked up a book they would never have seen otherwise. That, my comics chums, is a very, very nice feeling when you hear that.

(I’d like to think this is Richard and I going out in a blaze of six-gun glory, but fear we are more Pooch and Sunlounger than Butch and Sundance, and no, I don’t know which of us is which)

And… well, there’s more, but I have already gone on far longer than I intended to. I meant this to be shorter, pithier, but I am writing it on my last day here as it comes into my head, and I think I’m going on so long because I am reluctant to finish, because it is my last FP Blog post. Like David Tennant’s Doctor “I don’t want to go.” But go we must, things change, and let’s face it, thirteen and a half years is a pretty good innings for a comic blog. It has been a pleasure to be able to cover so many fine writers and artists, to celebrate the success of new publishers and watch comics culture flourishing as never before, from small press and Indy to the maintream, covering every subject from adventures to gender to health to science to poetry and more, and quite wonderful to have been a small part of that. I’m sad to leave the blog, to leave FP, the thought of not seeing colleagues I have worked years beside is, naturally, upsetting. But mostly I am proud of what we did, with few resources and a bunch of book and comics readers working away in our own time simply because we loved good reading.

So long, and thanks for all the fish. And always, always know where your towel is.

And keep reading. Always keep reading.

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And there it is, the last post after thirteen and a half years. I think we did a lot within our constraints and I’m pleased we helped a lot of writers, artists and new publishers to get noticed. But it’s over, and I’m looking for new work, still. So any publishers out there, bookseller for hire with decades of literary knowledge, passion for promoting good reading, huge range of experience in highlighting good authors through events, reviews, interviews, social media and literary festivals. I’m also house-trained.

Ten years of the Woolamaloo

Just realised I totally missed my own tenth anniversary – the Woolamaloo Gazette traces its roots back to a satirical email spoof newsletter I sent out at college parodying current events and culture in the early 90s (when the internet was still the internet and not even the web yet) and the name stuck when I started blogging in early April, 2003. I was just looking back through that month’s posts and I see multiple discussions of books, from history to science fiction, from Richard Morgan’s then brand new novel to a chat with Iain Banks who  at the time had just told me his next book was non fiction, a book about whisky (and for once he was delighted to do the research needed for his writing!), there was a lot of movie talk, discussion about work and a large chunk of satirical posts about then current political events. Ten years of the Blog They Couldn’t Hang – and oh boy, did some rather unpleasant people (who I still think had their own agendas for their nasty actions) try to hang it and me, but it backfired on them in spectacular fashion, and deservedly so (with no small amount of thanks to many people who supported me during that upsetting period). So over ten years of the Woolamaloo Gazette as a blog and over twenty since I first coined the name for those satirical newsheets I emailed around the college and to friends in other institutions. Feels odd but also a little satisfying.

Change over

You might have noticed a big change in the old Woolamaloo Gazette – it’s now moved over to a full Word Press set up and since WP does things a bit different behind the scenes from Blogger, when it imported the several years worth of posts from the original Woolamaloo blog (which has been going for a good, long while now, after all) it’s more than probable that some things like some links, video and photography emebeds that were fine in the old platform may not work properly in this new one, so if you see some odd looking setting on older posts, that’s why – if it was a link, photo or video you really wanted to see let me know and I will have a look and see if I can update it to work on the new Woolamaloo platform. Many thanks to Darren T for the invaluable help in moving everything over.

Blogging meme

Normally I’m not mad on memes, those pesky little things that go round blogs and seem to be the web equivalent of the supposedly funny jokes or pictures that used to get faxed from office to office. And I got tagged twice with this same meme, as Ariel tagged me at the FPI blog for it and Big Dumb Object tagged me here at the Woolamaloo, no fair! But since this particular meme was to do with blogging I decided I’d take part; I considered being lazy and just repeating the tip I added for the FPI blog – don’t be afraid to voice your own opinion, regardless if it flies in the face of many other opinions, as long as you can defend your reasons for it. But then I decided I’d go for another tip, a nice simple one, and add it to the previous ones on the list:

-Start Copy-

It’s very simple. When this is passed on to you, copy the whole thing, skim the list and put a * star beside those that you like. (Check out especially the * starred ones.)

Add the next number (1. 2. 3. 4. 5., etc.) and write your own blogging tip for other bloggers. Try to make your tip general.

After that, tag 10 other people. Link love some friends! Just think- if 10 people start this, the 10 people pass it onto another 10 people, you have 100 links already!

1. Look, read, and learn. ***** -http://www.neonscent.com

2. Be, EXCELLENT to each other. ****** -http://www.bushmackel.com

3. Don’t let money change ya! **** -http://www.therandomforest.info

4. Always reply to your comments. ***** -http://chattiekat.com

5. Link liberally — it keeps you and your friends afloat in the Sea of Technorati. ****
-http://chipsquips.com

6. Don’t give up – persistance is fertile. *** -http://www.velcro-city.co.uk

7. Give link credit where credit is due.*** -http://www.sfsignal.com

8. Follow your own path. Do anything you want to, it’s your blog. **
-http://www.bigdumbobject.co.uk

9. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can blog today. Backlogs are the primary cause of Bloggers’ Block. * -http://www.thegenrefiles.com

10. Don’t be afraid of giving an honest opinion when you post, even if it is different from most others, as long as you can explain your position and give a decent reason for it. http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/

11. Using some visual material can really make a post look more attractive – pictures, photographs, video embeds and so on, and also help break up larger posts, such as interviews and reviews to make them more readable instead of offering a huge chunk of unbroken text. Just bare in mind not to over-use pics and to keep them relevant to the article. And cute kitty pics are always popular 🙂 http://www.woolamaloo.org.uk

-End Copy-

 

After adding my tip I’m supposed to tag up to another ten victims to pass this on to, which since I already had to do this over on the FPI blog is pushing it a bit, but anyway, here are a few more potential victims: Padraig, Katie, Von and Moggy, Dan Goldman, Hal Duncan, the Silvereel.

 

Welcome to Woolamaloo!

Welcome to the all-new Blog-edition of the Woolamaloo Gazette (established 1992). Begun as an email version of a newspaper the Woolamaloo Gazette allowed me to take sideswipes at stories from the media, to lampoon those who deserve it and to satirise current events, all while also hopefully making people think at the same time. For this new Blog style Gazette I will probably create a mixture of the traditional Gazette-style ‘news’ feature – which will be obvious by the bold banner headline for the piece – and the normal Blog-type meanderings, ramblings, rumblings, fumblings and occassional alcoholic rants.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION CALLED IN TO INVESTIGATE MYSTERY ASIAN PLAGUE

The WHO – not affiliated with Doctor Who – have been called in to track and monitor the spread of a mysterious new plague which is believed to have begun in the ground zero of the Far East. This new virus, which produces pneumonia like symptoms in victims, has been dubbed SATS, or Stressed and Tested Sickness. Constant stress brought on by rigorous academic exams systems is blamed for the creation of SATS. The extreme stress placed on a person by examinations which may determine their whole future causes the body’s white blood count to drop, leaving the body open to infections of all sort. Young people are especially at risk but with the widespread introduction of standardised interviews and psychometric testing, employers are now fuelling outbreaks of SATS amongst adults.

So far doctors have been powerless to halt the spread of SATS. Indeed, with so many doctors having to sit so many exams the medical profession is thought to be one of most at-risk professions, after civil servants. Your ever-thoughtful Gazette reporter decided to see if he could find some relief for his readers through holistic medicine. We approached Marjory Greenbum of the Happy Herbal Hospital. She told us that the disease was merely a symptom of the way modern society runs and as such could not be cured without major societal change. In the meantime she suggested some ways to use natural remedies to alleviate the suffering cause by SATS. These include yoga, massage, long holidays and recreational sex and/or drugs.