Stuff by me:

My TAFF Report
An account of my first visit to the USA and of my experiences at the 1984 Worldcon

A history of SF fandom in the UK, 1930-1980

British Fanzine Bibliography
A bibliography of British SF fanzines, as researched and compiled by Peter Roberts, Vince Clarke, and me.

Free ebooks Volumes exploring fanhistory, faan fiction, etc.


15 Dec 2023

In the previous entry I referred to "retcon (itself a word whose meaning has, ironically, been retconned)", and it occurs to me that not everyone will know what I mean by that. OK, so retcon is short for 'retroactive continuity' and its very first appearance was in the letter column of the DC comic book ALL-STAR SQUADRON #18 (February 1983 - though on sale three months prior to this):

R.T. is Roy Thomas and the term as originally conceived referred to continuity inserts that added to existing story continuity without disrupting it, and very useful it was, too. Unfortunately, thanks to misuse over the years it's now understood to mean entirely the opposite, ie. something that overwrites and changes existing continuity. 'Retcon' has also since been used in a movie as the name of a fictional memory-wiping drug.

29 Dec 2022

The first arch-villain Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster devised to challenge their hero was a bald, middle-aged scientific genius. No, not Lex Luthor - he came later and originally had a full head of red hair - but the Ultra-Humanite (real name never revealed). He's described as "a foe who gained from a scientific experiment the most agile and learned brain on Earth...a foe who seeks to dominate the world!" Ultra-Humanite appeared in almost a third of ACTION COMICS' first twenty-one issues. However, it's not his first four in issues #13, 14, 17, & 19 (June - Dec 1939) that concern us here but his final two in issues #20 & 21 (Jan & Feb 1940). Because in those issues the character changes their gender.

ACTION COMICS #20 opens with a vacationing Clark Kent visiting a movie studio and saving actress Dolores Winters from a would-be assassin. In return for him saving her life she agrees to be interviewed by him at home. However, when Clark turns up at her Hollywood mansion the following day she has her butler turn him away. The day after that she announces her retirement, and throws a big farewell party on her yacht that same evening. It turns out this is a ruse to get the cream of Hollywood together in one place so she can hold them to ransom - though rather than releasing everyone she plans on killing them all when the ransom is paid. Superman stops her, of course, and discovers the reason behind her sudden turn to crime. She's actually the Ultra-Humanite, and survived her apparent death during their previous meeting thanks to a brain transplant:

Having assistants capable of performing such an operation and then fully recovering overnight with no visible sign any surgery has been performed is pretty impressive. The 'scientific experiment' which gave Ultra super-intelligence could also have rendered their brain resilient enough, I suppose, but what of Dolores Winters's flesh? Anyway, the villain escapes and next shows up the following issue where she seduces a male scientist, intending to steal the atomic disintegrator he's invented.

Once again she's thwarted by Superman, apparently leaping to her death in a volcano at the end of the story. Four decades will pass until she next appears in a comicbook story.

In the intervening years, DC Comics consigns its Golden Age characters to Earth-2 in a parallel universe, its then current day tales now taking place on Earth-1 which has the Justice League of America where Earth-2 had the earlier Justice Society of America. However, since Superman and Batman had been members of the JSA it was eventually decided that their pre-Silver Age adventures must also have taken place on Earth-2. In ACTION COMICS #484 (June 1978) writer Cary Bates relates the story of the Earth-2 Superman's wedding to his Lois Lane. No date is given for this event, but as drawn by artist Curt Swan it clearly occurs in the early 1950s. This spawns the series 'Mr & Mrs Superman', and the instalment in SUPERMAN FAMILY #201 (May-June 1980) finally sees the return of Ultra-Humanite in a story written by E. Nelson Bridwell and illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger:

She's still Dolores Winters, and even given the elastic nature of comicbook time has to have been for several years. Having kidnapped Bruce Wayne she now plans on transferring her brain into his body. She doesn't succeed, of course, but the following year writer Gerry Conway picks up the baton in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #195 (Oct 1981) and has Ultra-Humanite appear in the present day, now in the mutated body of a giant white ape. In his version of events, the character has had their brain transplanted in many different bodies, both male and female, in the intervening years and this is supposedly their final form. Beauty has now become the beast, and this is the version of Ultra-Humanite that DC will most often return to in subsequent years. It's not too hard to see why, particularly given that great George Perez design, but everything from Bridwell's story onwards is a retcon (itself a word whose meaning has, ironically, been retconned) which served to bury how revolutionary Siegel and Shuster's character was.

There's nothing in Siegel and Shuster's tales to indicate they intended the brain transplant to be anything other than a one-off or that Ultra-Humanite is in any way unhappy with her new body. Later writers have suggested Ultra chose a female body because men typically underestimate women, or that hers was the only body available for some reason, or that Dolores Winters was kidnapped in error. None of these hold water. As she states (emphasis mine):

"My assistants, finding my body, revived me via adrenalin. However, it was clear that my recovery could be only temporary. And so, following my instructions, they kidnapped Dolores Winters yesterday, and placed my brain in her young vital body."

So it's quite clear this was a *choice* and not a mistake. Middle-aged scientist Ultra-Humanite *wanted* to be a beautiful young woman. Given how abruptly Ultra-Humanite disappeared after all the work put into establishing an arch-nemesis for Superman, you have to wonder if maybe the character had become too transgressive for editors of the time.

Cleveland SF fans Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster ushered in the age of the superhero when they created Superman, something for which they're rightly celebrated. They also created one of - if not the - first transgender characters in comics. That's something for which they also deserve to be celebrated.

(artwork copyright DC Comics)

10 Dec 2021

Several days ago, in response to a post elsewhere about the recent film version of 'West Side Story', I suggested the above half in jest. But only half. Because actually, if you think about it, a musical version of the forbidden romance of Barda and Scott Free based on 'West Side Story' is not at all a bad idea, with Apokolips and New Genesis replacing the Sharks and the Jets. And though they'd have to do some digital de-aging on her in close-ups, the obvious person to play Barda, someone who has the height, the acting chops, and the singing skill, is Hannah Waddingham. (see Ted Lasso) - (artwork by Jack Kirby, copyright DC Comics)

17 Jan 2020

I was in town yesterday and took a bunch of photos of Amazon's temporary takeover of Piccadilly Circus Underground station to advertise their forthcoming 'Picard' TV series. Note big video screen in first photo, which was showing the trailer on a loop. And, yes, all those small ads on the escalator walls were also for the show.

There were also a whole load of ST-themed announcements. If memory serves (I should've taken notes) these included:

"Please allow passengers to disembark from the starship before attempting to board."
"Please take care when using the escalators, lifts, or transporters."

And in the entrance hall the voice of Patrick Stewart himself urged you to exit the space station safely.

This beat the stunt Amazon pulled on the New York Subway a few years ago for 'Man In The High Castle'. All that fascist imagery did not go down well.

10 June 2019

Back in February, I spoke at the University of Westminster in the vast hall pictured above at a conference on - of all things - duplicator technology. Recently the organisers uploaded a short video distilled from the two days of proceedings. I appear around the 8.50 mark:

8 December 2018

I was on a bus yesterday when I saw this. I'd always assumed UPS vans had a low centre of gravity and weighed a fair bit, but perhaps not. I can't tell whether it's been stopped from tipping over entirely by the car on the other side despite that car not sustaining much damage as a result, or if that one has been placed there to stop a complete tip over.

1 October 2018

On 29th September, along with Pat Charnock and Dave Langford, I attended the opening of the Gestetner exhibition in an upstairs room at Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham. This was opened by the mayor, the grandson of the founder was in attendance, and it included material loaned or donated by us. The exhibition runs until the end of January 2019 and is well worth visiting. Below are a selection from the photos I took on the day.

Bruce Castle Museum

Pat Charnock

Jonathan Gestetner, Oscar Mac-Fall

Viewing fannish fanzines

More fannish fanzines

Mint guides and stylii

Non-mint neo-cyclostyle

The company in-house magazine

A close-up

The 200 series duper from my cellar

Me examining it (photo Dave Langford)

The room

Some videos:


9 April 2016

Earlier today since I was riding the Jubilee Line on the London Underground anyway, I stepped off at Canary Wharf and took the following photo on the platform:

Why did I do this? Well yesterday I got to see the first trailer for the movie STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE, which will be released in December. One scene in that trailer takes place inside what is presumably the Death Star. However, it was instantly recognizable to me (and many others) as Canary Wharf. Below are two stills from that trailer so you can see for yourself:

In the second picture note in particular the way they've concealed the hanging signs and the structures they've devised to drop over the stone seats with the big underground signs. These are particularly clever because as well as doing their job of concealing they also fit in with the general design aesthetic of that universe, too.

So now I can claim to have visited a Star Wars set.

20 March 2016

It seems to me that Marvel missed a trick by not turning the Kree-Skrull War into a trilogy, because as it stands it could greatly benefit from both a prelude volume and a follow-up volume. The case for the former is simple and the contents obvious. When the Kree-Skrull War was written in 1971 (45 years ago, remember) the Marvel universe was barely a decade old and readers could be assumed to have a reasonable grasp of it. This is not such a safe assumption to make now that universe is closing in on 60 years old. So a volume that includes the salient tales would be very helpful for those not steeped in that history. I give you:

Vol 1 - The Road to Kree-Skrull War:

THOR #146 - #149: The first four Inhumans back-ups
AMAZING ADVENTURES #5 - #8: the Inhumans stories

These are, as I say, obvious. In fact it's a bit surprising this volume doesn't already exist. These are the stories that set up the Kree-Skrull War and they also introduce new readers to the Kree, the Skrulls, their rivalry, the Sentry, Captain Marvel, Ronan, Carol Danvers, the Super Skrull, and the Inhumans. The AMAZING ADVENTURES stories are also a direct prequel to Kree-Skrull War and feed into it. (For reasons discussed later, AMAZING ADVENTURES #9 & 10 should definitely *not* be included.)

Because Kree-Skrull War wasn't originally conceived as a story to be collected in a single volume, it ends untidily with the fate of Clint Barton still in question. So, naturally, any 'aftermath' collection would have to start with the following tale in AVENGERS #98 - 100 in order to resolve this. But what else would make up such a volume? Here's my suggestion:

Vol 3 - Kree-Skrull War: Aftermath:

AVENGERS #98 - 100

The first ILLUMINATI selection is the one shot done for 'Road to Civil War' that shows the formation of the group in response to Kree-Skrull War; the second covers their attempt to warn off the Skrulls. The FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL features the war continuing on the moon by means of single combat between a Kree and a Skrull and also features the wedding of Black Bolt and Medusa. The Watcher declares a tie and hopes, naively, that this is now the end of the war. The X-MEN ANNUAL is the one selection here that might have people scratching their heads but it is in fact the *perfect* epilogue to the saga. In Kree-Skrull War, the Supreme Intelligence makes a big deal of the fact that both Kree and Skrulls are evolutionary dead ends who can develop no further. The final page of the X-MEN ANNUAL reveals why this is so, picking up that thread and so tying the whole thing together.

The only possible addition to the contents for this volume I might make is the addition, between the annuals, of the sequence from FANTASTIC FOUR #257 (and 2 pages from the previous issue) showing the destruction of the Kree homeworld and the death of Princess Anelle.

Which brings us to the Inhumans. When the Inhumans movie comes out a few years from now Marvel will undoubtedly release a pile of Inhumans comics collections to complement it. This is good, except there's a problem with the Inhumans run from AMAZING ADVENTURES as it stands, which is supposed to lead into AVENGERS #95. Marvel acknowledged this at the time, issue #10 finishing: "..a tale now on sale in the unlikely, uncanny pages of AVENGERS #95! We'll fill in the rough gaps between those two sagas at some near-future date!"

This never happened, and now never will, with the result that when these tales are collected with AVENGERS #95 - as they have been and should be - it makes for a very unsatisfactory reading experience. Black Bolt's young companion Joey is abducted in AMAZING ADVENTURES #10 yet is by his side in AVENGERS #95. Also, what happened to Medusa, Gorgon & Karnak? If you move AVENGERS #95 so that it occurs before AMAZING ADVENTURES #9 & 10 rather than after them these problems go away. Now it reads so that it's seeing Triton in AVENGERS #95 rather than Medusa in AMAZING ADVENTURES #9 that restores Black Bolt's memory, and when he leaves Attilan at the end of AVENGERS #95 it's to retrieve the trio he now knows is looking for him. The only problem this reordering creates is that we now don't know how Black Bolt got his costume back. But then we don't need to - these things are regularly handwaved away as something that happened between issues. AMAZING ADVENTURES #9 & 10 now require a few minor changes to dialogue and captions to smooth over the reordering, but I believe this is worth doing. (Personally I'd also drop the page in #10 where Joey gets abducted, too.) There are three pages needing this in #9, to whit:

Before on page 8:

After on page 8:

Before on page 11:
After on page 11:

Before on page 18:

After on page 18:

There are also only two pages requiring minor alterations in wording in #10, thus:

Before on page 4:

After on page 4:

Before on page 16:

After on page 16:

19 March 2016

So I traded in my collection of Frank Miller Daredevils for the recently published deluxe hardback collection of same and noticed a surprising omission: WHAT IF? #35. The story follows on from DAREDEVIL #181 and is titled 'What If Elektra Had Lived?'. Its splash page is even a witty call back to the splash page in that issue. I can only imagine Marvel believes it shouldn't be included because it's tonally wrong for the collection, but I disagree. In fact I'd run it directly between issues #181 and #182, which is where it both fits and belongs. When these issues are read that way, as I recently reread them, its presence deepens and helps explain Matt Murdock's breakdown in #182. Of course, I also usually reread this sequence with Miller's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #15 slotted in before DAREDEVIL #181, since then we see how the Punisher ended up in prison alongside Bullseye. Given that the second season of the Netflix Daredevil series dropped today, featuring both Elektra and the Punisher, it occurs to me that a useful collection to offer now would consist of the following:

DAREDEVIL #168 - first Elektra
WHAT IF? #35
DAREDEVIL #182 - #184

Why would Marvel offer such a collection when they've so recently published their (almost) complete Frank Miller DAREDEVIL? Well, they wouldn't. At least not as a printed collection. But what about a digital one? Seems to me that any number of collections could be assembled to tie-in with specific events that only come together in digital form. Many of Marvel's Big Events could benefit from a 'Road To' collection (see above). If properly curated by someone who knows their Marvel comics history these could be both transient *and* profitable.

16 March 2015

Occasionally, I'll read something that makes me do a double take. As a long time SF fanzine fan, these comic panels did that for me:

ATOM #1 (Dec'97): Superhero or fanartist?

Then there's this one:

FLASH #218 (Oct/Nov'72): Hal Jordan is a fanzine fan?

And this one:

ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #11 (Jun'93): 80.000+ streets in London, and he chooses that one?

16 March 2014

While THEN: THE ARCHIVE has had new material added on a fairly regular basis, it's been a while since I last updated this part of my site. Four years, in fact. This blog is where I post the occasional comics-related post. Like this one.

In the mighty effort he has put in to securing the photo collections of old SF fans before they get lost, as all too many have, my buddy Peter Weston has also hoovered up quite a few pictures from the early days of US fandom. Since our interests lie mainly with the history of UK fandom we haven't really made much use of these as yet. I was looking through them again earlier and thought comics fans might get a kick out of the two below, which come from the collection of the late E.J. 'Ted' Carnell. First there's this one taken during the 1939 Worldcon in New York:

L-to-R: Jack Darrow, Julius Schwartz, Conrad Ruppert, William Dellenback
(previously misidentified as Don Wollheim), Julius Unger.

And then there's this one (clean up by David Hathaway-Price):

Superman's Julius Schwartz, Edmond Hamilton, & Mort Weisinger

close-up of newspaper

Both are undated, and not being a fashion expert I don't know if they date from the 1930s or the 1940s, though I'd guess the latter. Can anyone confirm this? Do Weisinger's white-topped shoes tell us anything? It might be possible to date the second one very accurately if the edition of the newspaper Weisinger is holding could be identified. A long shot, but stranger things have happened.

UPDATE: The guy on the far left of the first photo has been identified to me as Jack Darrow, and on going through Ted's photos again I found one of Ruppert and so can positively ID him as the guy on the far right. I also found another photo with Julie Schwartz in it I'd somehow missed. Since he has more hair in this one, I'm guessing this is the earliest of the three. According to the caption, the photo was taken outside the offices of THRILLING WONDER in July 1937:

L-to-R rear: Jack Williamson, L. Sprague de Camp, Dr. John Clark, Frank Belknap Long, Mort Weisinger,
Edmond Hamilton, Otis Adelbert Kline... L-to-R front: Otto Binder, Manly Wade Wellman, Julius Schwartz

UPDATE 2: Going through J Michael Rosenblum's photos - as supplied by his son Howard - while looking for something else entirely I came across yet another photo of Schwartz from, I'm guessing, the early 1940s.

L-to-R: Oswald Train, Lloyd Eshbach, Julius Schwartz

Other early photos of American SF pros and fans can be found elsewhere on this site:

16 January 2010

At some point, someone will tell the story of the final days of the Third Reich in the Marvel Universe. Whether they will take the time and trouble to research what has already been established over the years for that period is another matter. Here, in 13 pages taken from a bunch of different comics is what we know to date. If you know of something significant I've missed please let me know.

16 January 2010

With the move to a new website I figured it was time to move my very occasional blog here, too. Previously called FRIDGE MAGNET - a name made up on the spur of the moment when I first had something I wanted to post - I'm taking this opportunity to retitle it. I found the new name in one of my old apazines along with an explanation of why it would be a good one for me to use. I agreed with my earlier self, so here it is. Why BRASH NEON should be appropriate is left as an exercise for the reader.


8 March 2009 * link

I've been a Londoner more than half my life now and in that time I've gotten to know the city pretty well, but there are still....


1) When flying in from the US, airliners routinely land on the River Thames:

2) Charing Cross has cobbled streets, medieval houses, and is surrounded by woods:

3) Despite Ireland, the Irish Sea, Wales, and a fair chunk of England lying between them, you can smell the Atlantic from the docks:

Incidentally, if you're wondering how the character shown covered ten miles in three minutes, well being a vampire he did it by turning into a bat and flying there.

Images copyright DC Comics and Marvel Comics. More geographical insights as I uncover them.

6 April 2007 * link

This is, I suppose, a blog. I had no intention of ever starting one, honest. It all began when someone asked see this illo by Neil (see item below), who gave permission to post it saying he'd quite like to see it again himself. I've had a website for years, though I rarely update it, so I had somewhere to post it. Only it didn't seem right to just post it bare without at least a little bit of explanatory text to provide context. Then, of course, it struck me that the combined illo'n'text really needed to be embedded in some sort of larger format rather than just standing alone. Fire up a text editor, type out some vanilla HTML, and in not much time at all there was the skeleton of this page. Having created it it seemed a shame not to add in a sidebar with a few links and, well, here we are.

This is somewhere to post the occasional thing I want to point others to. I don't see it as something I'll be adding posts to very often, but if I do I'll probably spruce up the design a bit.


A few days ago, in a comment thread on the Nielsen Hayden's MAKING LIGHT, Neil Gaiman wrote that:

I'm pretty sure my first published illustration was a Watchmen gag in an Avedon Carol fanzine, unless my memory has gone...
This caught my attention because:
Neil -- That very illo has been pinned to my office notice board - about a foot from where I'm sitting - for years. You dated it, too - 29/9/86. I used to keep a diary back then, but a quick look at the appropriate page has no mention of you at all. Seems I spent the day visiting various museums with Stu Shiffman, over from the US. We used to see you pretty often back then so I suppose we could've all met up at a pub afterwards. Strange that my diary doesn't mention it if we did, though. The thing is, I was there when you drew that picture, and it was either in a pub or at a con. The nearest entry I can find that mentions you is a week earlier at UKCAC '86, the only comics con Avedon and I ever attended. Perhaps you drew it there and misdated it? Curious.
Rereading my diary from that period for the first time since I wrote the entries, that was quite a socially busy and interesting few weeks. Much more hectic than the more sedate social life I enjoy these days. Neil replied to my comment thus:
Rob -- I remember meeting Stu with you, so my guess is that it was done in the pub that evening. I'm pretty sure I didn't do it at UKCAC. I interviewed Alan and Dave about Watchmen there, though. In a suit, as befitting the occasion.
This is probably what happened, and when the drawing was done. Anyway, one of those reading the thread asked to see the cartoon, Neil was happy for it to be posted, so here it is, two decades after it was drawn. And it occurs to me that if it gets linked to it will be seen by many more people than the maybe couple of hundred who saw it in its original fanzine appearance.


Avedon Carol * Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden * Roz Kaveney * Neil Gaiman *