Saturday, August 18, 2007

Fortean Mysteries

When I first came to the US in the late 1980s -- before I even moved to America -- I used to love the Weekly World News. It was like a little doorway into a world that worked on story logic. While a story here or there would be too far-fetched, there was a strange delight to wondering if some of the stories might be true, and one would occasionally run across things one had already seen in the Fortean Times or in the News Of the Weird. But mostly it felt like a joke -- one that you were in on, and that some people weren't -- "There are people who believe this," it seemed to be saying. "Be thankful you aren't one of them." It was a portrait of a cock-eyed, X-Files world.

It famously only existed because the owners of the National Enquirer had a black and white printing press and, after the Enquirer went colour, nothing to print on it.

I stopped reading it in about 1992, picked it up again in around 2000 when a friend got a job writing for it, and I had a wonderful time suggesting stories. I noticed they rewrote them to put jokes in, though -- weak, "don't take any of this seriously" jokes.

A few weeks ago I heard from my friend Bob Greenberger (who worked there) that the owners were closing it down.

So I picked up the final copy today, because I was passing a cash register and it was the last one after all. Even allowing for the probability that it was filled with articles they'd commissioned and hadn't run because they weren't very good, or that they were reprints, it... well, the whole tone of the thing felt wrong. The articles were just silly. It wasn't story logic any longer. A baby gets delivered in an avocado because the sperm donation got mixed with avocado sushi... There wasn't the feeling reading it that anyone could have believed it. Not children, not the stupid, not someone who'd been born and raised on Mars and this was the only thing they'd read. It was like the joke had become nobody could believe this stuff. And now nobody was buying it. It had a Sergio Aragones drawing though, and some comics...

I can't believe I'm sitting typing about the long-lost glory days of the Weekly World News. Probably, it was of its time anyway.

And truly I've always preferred the Fortean Times.


Summer ended yesterday. It rained and it was cold, and I went and brought the cats indoors -- Coconut and Princess had gone off and become garden-and-woods-dwellers, just coming back to be fed. Today they were wet and miserable and taking refuge in the gazebo, so they are in the Cat half of the house.

(The house has divided itself, post Cabal, neatly into Cat and Dog. The TV room is in the Cat half of the house, but I seem to wind up using the Slingboxes to watch TV in the Dog half of the house, because he worries more if I'm not there.)

I bought goldfish -- two medium-sized ones and five tiny ones, that would have simply been hoovered up and eaten by the big ones that died, and the tank looks bright and nice and occupied.


Bathroom reading has been the giant DC Comics PHANTOM STRANGER Showcase collection, much of which I'd never read, and my respect for Len Wein just went up (and it was high to begin with). The early Phantom Stranger stuff doesn't work particularly well -- he's a man in a coat who turns up. Then Bob Kanigher creates a sort of template for disaster, in which four teenagers (called The Teenagers) stumble into something that may be mystical or may just be Scooby Doo, and Dr Terry Thirteen -- the Ghost Breaker -- and the Phantom Stranger keep arguing over which is which, and occasionally Tala Princess of Evil turns up and tries to snog the Phantom Stranger, telling him to kiss her and come over to the dark sice, and he says things like "Never shall I submit to your hellish blandishments!" and he doesn't and then the mystery gets solved. It's possibly the worst recipe for a comic ever created. Slowly other writers -- Denny O'Neil and Gerry Conway -- sensibly drop the Teenagers, and edge Terry Thirteen into a back-up feature, and don't do quite as much of the "I am Tala, Mistress of the Dark! Snog me and come over to the Dark Side!" stuff. And then Len Wein comes in and in the space of an issue turns it all around, makes the Stranger the star of his own book, redeems the whole thing and pulls it together. And over the next twelve issues Len pretty much creates the whole Phantom Stranger character and his dynamic that we've got today (allowing for the barnacle encrustation that any character gets over thirty years of being in the funny books) and he even makes Tala cool. (And then I made her a waitress in Books of Magic.)


I'll be signing books in Beijing on Friday the 31st of August at 9:30am at the Harper Collins stand at the Book Fair.

At some point that same day (I don't have a time yet) I'll be doing a signing and a reading at -- Bookworm "Beijing’s premier English language lending library, bookshop, restaurant and events space".

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