Monday 27 January 2014

Vworp Vworp

We’re like a recursive occlusion.
- Gareth Kavanagh, Kasterborous Podkast, 14 April 2011

The distinguishing mark of true adventures, is that it is often no fun at all while they are actually happening.
- Kim Stanley Robinson

I turned on the bathroom light and stared at the extraordinary quantity of blood1 on the floor.  No doubt about it.  The flat was trying to kill me.

The third time I left Cardiff forever came twelve days after the first broadcast of The Parting of the Ways.  The back of the borrowed van was crammed with boxes stuffed with all the souvenirs I’d picked up like seaweed during the years life had been buffeting me around.  I’d drifted according to the tides of time,2 surviving one disaster after another by building up anecdotes instead of experience.  It had worked up until now.

I’d lived on Mackintosh Place for a couple of blurred years; slightly to the right of some original Mike McMahon art3 on one of Death Junction’s4 sticky, stingy tentacles.   An unnamed angel, trapped in a tower made of bone and sinew, had finally listened to my handwritten prayers and discovered that, yup, there’d been a problem with my tax code for nearly a decade.  This had ended in a piece of good fortune so unlikely that I would’ve been shouting at the television if anyone tried using it as a plot-twist in a drama.  I exchanged the backdated tax-refund for a handful of magic beans and then swapped those for a new life in a different country.  I’m fairly sure that the Doctor moved into my old flat the day after I left.5

The drive to the Arctic took a bit less than forever, but not by a huge amount.  Following a traumatic experience during my teenage years that involved a pigeon, a lorry and a change of clothes, I’d decided never to learn to drive.  As a result of this bloody-mindedness, I’d had to rope two blameless and long-suffering friends into helping me escape.  In the end it actually took three to get the job done.

The escape had been a leap of faith.  It was a life-changing move in the same way that a blindfolded long-jump off a cliff at midnight would be.  I’d done the barest amount of research, not much more than seeing how much of a run-up would be needed to really soar.  The first problem was that my professional qualification was from the University of Wales and so wasn’t recognised in this cold, northern land.  Partly because I’d spent a large part of the years since qualifying shouting at strangers in nightclubs and recording studios, I’d lost touch with old lecturers and work colleagues.  This made getting references and replacing certificates more uphill than it might otherwise have been.  The other six house-moves hadn’t helped either.  While I was waiting for the red tape to unwind, I took a job selling sensorite6 to pensioners in pubs.  I lasted two days before deciding I’d rather starve.8

In the end I didn’t starve, but instead managed to get part-time support work through an agency.  Often, I would finish at lunchtime, giving me the rest of the day free, and the rest of the week broke.  This was great until November, when winter arrived properly and I discovered that, not only was the flat impossible to heat but when the temperature dropped to below freezing, the pipes in one of the abandoned flats underneath me would burst, so there’d be no water, hot or otherwise.9 

In order to avoid becoming a statistic, I started spending afternoons in the warm pub round the corner from the local Forbidden Planet, where I’d nurse a drink and read.  I know this was November in 2005, because the complete Ninth Doctor boxset was a) that year’s big Christmas present and b) exactly the wrong shape to fit comfortably in my bag, which meant that I had to go back to the flat, huddle under a duvet and cheekily watch the bonus Doctor Who Confidential disc a month early.

Before making the escape leap, I’d decided that I’d need to have something along the lines of a hobby to keep me occupied.  After a disastrous encounter with a local amateur dramatic group who wouldn’t consider performing anything in English, I opted to have a third mid-life crisis and educate myself up to degree-level Doctor Who.10  The mid-to-long-term aim was to collect all the available Doctor Who DVDs.  Along the way, I planned to read all the academic texts I could, devour guidebooks and humour sites and generally immerse in the background of what makes the old wizard who he is.11 

One day, after an early finish, I was browsing through the Forbidden Planet shelves and came across a Doctor Who fanzine.  It had a cover by the phenomenal Adrian Salmon – I’d recently started buying Doctor Who Magazine again and his Time Team illustrations were easily one of the highlights - but it was the cover disc that really sold me.  Promising a full back-catalogue of previous issues, along with audio interviews and a bonus commentary on The Caves of Androzani, this was so much more professional than any fanzine I’d ever seen.13

Talking of comics, Doctor Who and pubs, this is probably the best time to introduce Gareth Kavanagh, one of the gentlemen involved with producing Black Scrolls.  Mr Kavanagh currently co-edits, along with Colin Brockhurst, a Doctor Who fanzine called Vworp Vworp.  Ostensibly, it’s this fanzine that this piece is actually about but I’ve managed to hide that well.  We’ll return to Vworp Vworp in two paragraphs.

The title “Great British Pub of the Year 2012” was awarded to the Lass O’Gowrie in Manchester.  The Lass was famous for stealing Russell T Davies’ watch in the 1990s and for being as likely to show episodes of classic television, or stage live theatre, as it was football matches.  From what I’ve read, and listened to, while researching this, the Lass O’Gowrie sounds as loved and as lovely as Cardiff’s finest pub, the Royal Oak – and that’s the image I’ve got of it: the Oak decorated with original comic art instead of the boxing posters and throwing the occasional mini-comics convention.  I’d love to have visited it, but that’s not going to happen now. 

By 2010, I’d survived five winters in the Wampa lair disguised as a flat.  Some mornings you wouldn’t be able to see out through the lair of ice coating the inside of the windows, on others you’d be woken by the police kicking someone’s door in.  It didn’t take long to learn to ignore the screams; the furtive scrabbling; the stains on the stairs (and sometimes splashed up the walls).  By this stage, I’d managed to get the references and paperwork sorted out, landed a better job and was working my way toward escaping the flat.  I was online now and had discovered both Facebook and online fandom, the Him had managed to get a joke into the manuscript of an academic study on the Doctor due to be published later in the year and, under the bed, the hidden collection of Doctor Who DVDs was growing.14

Vworp Vworp is a fanzine devoted to Doctor Who Magazine with its main emphasis on the comic strip.  To say that it pushes the concept of what a fanzine is does it a terrible disservice.  Vworp Vworp is a work of love and intelligence that puts the majority of licensed Doctor Who magazines to shame.  There’s no way that I can be critical of what is, for me, the greatest piece of non-official Doctor Who merchandise.  The second issue’s even better.

The first issue of Vworp Vworp had a print run of a thousand and included rub-down transfers.  Nine-hundred issues had a mash-up cover – artists from throughout the Doctor Who Magazine’s history running with their take on the wily magician’s different faces.  The other hundred were a limited variant, designed by original Doctor Who Comic15 editor, Dez Skinn in homage to the original look from back in the 1970s.  I’d managed to purchase a copy of the variant via an unorthodox route, due to the endless patience of one of the co-editors.  In order to keep the issue in decent condition, it was stored in the hard-backed envelope it had arrived in and hidden under the bed.

 Following the winter of 2010, I’d reached the conclusion I probably wasn’t going to survive another.  It had taken years but, in 2011, I was finally in the position to escape.  The flat had other plans: water would cut off for no reason; bulbs blew over and over again, no matter how often you replaced them; the electricity kept shutting off; the oven waved a little white flag, turned itself into a death-trap briefly and then stopped working altogether; a plug socket exploded in flames, scorching a black mark right up the wall.  And then, one night, I managed to break a glass in my sleep. 

Hearing some sort of noise, I woke with a start, got up nervously and wandered through the different rooms looking for the Wampa.  I turned on the bathroom light and stared at the extraordinary quantity of blood on the floor.  No doubt about it.  The flat was trying to kill me.

Following a trip to accident and emergency,17 I spent a week lying on the couch watching the full run of Cracker when I should’ve been packing.   I do remember listening to a Radio Free Skaro interview with Toby Hadoke, while I hobbled across the blood-stained carpet and filled boxes and boxes and boxes with forgotten books and DVDs that’d been watched once and then hidden.

It wasn’t until a week after I’d escaped, that I realised the Wampa had eaten my copy of Vworp Vworp. 

In the autumn of 2011, the Him and I started this blog.  With our gorgeous new flat, and no Wampa, life was good.  I bought a copy of Vworp Vworp’s second issue on 17 December.  I can say this with certainty because my breathless post’s still up on their Facebook group.  I finished work for Christmas around that time and so was able to give it the attention it deserved.  Once again, I’d managed to get the Doctor Who Magazine-tribute variant, but this time it went into the bookshelf along with the rest of the collection that I no longer needed to hide. 

Recently, I wrote the Doctor Who Appreciation Society a long piece about recursion, disguised as an autobiography of the Doctor in turn disguised as an article about promotional trailers.  With any sort of Howlaround, the longer you look at it, the more patterns you’ll see.  Apophenia18 can make you think these patterns mean something outside of your head but that misses the point totally.  In an infinite universe nothing’s connected.  The thing we forget is the majority of us aren’t living in an infinite universe.  Not really. 

A little over a week ago, Mr Kavanagh found a forgotten box of old Vworp Vworps in a cupboard, including the very last surviving copies of the first issue’s exquisite Dez Skinn variant cover.19

We exist in a universe that’s constructed of however many letters the local alphabet’s made up of.  We build worlds with words and then we live in those.  In these places, everything’s connected.

We’re like a recursive occlusion.   
We’re a magazine within a magazine within a magazine.
- Gareth Kavanagh, Kasterborous Podkast, 14 April 2011


The first person who can correctly say what connects Doctor Who Monthly #46 with both this blogpost’s illo and general content, will win the original illo artwork and a sense of warm satisfaction.20

Nothing to do with gloves.

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Easter Eggs/Swipes 

1.  “The Anatomy Lesson”, Swamp Thing #21, DC Comics, February 1984 (cover date). 

2.  “The Tides of Time”, Doctor Who Monthly #61-#67, Marvel, February to August 1982. 

3. “The Judge Child Quest”, Part 15, page 6, 2000 AD, Prog 170, July 1980. 

4.  “Floriana requiem”, You and Who: Contact Has Been Made, Volume 1, Miwk, 2013. 

5.  The Lodger, Doctor Who, BBC Wales, June 2010.  This is stretching the point.  I’m sure the exteriors of the house in The Lodger used to be a chum’s old flat – they certainly weren’t mine.  Still, if you’ve got this far without realising the narrator’s unreliable then I’ve got a planet to sell you. 

6.  We don’t do that joke anymore.7 

7.  Groo the Wanderer, (Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier et al), various publishers (mostly deceased), May 1982 onwards. 

8.  See the fifth footnote here for the full story. 

9.  You might well wonder why I stayed in a flat that wanted me dead.  Simple.  I’d used up all my magic beans. 

10.  It’s a colder decision than you’d expect.  Doctor Who’s fascinating as a concept, and its implications on society are astonishing but I’ve got a bit more objectivity than you might imagine.  Having said that, I do think there’s an argument to be made for the Doctor being... well… real.  That’s something we’ll talk about another day though. 

11.  This was partly triggered by finding The Seeds of Doom in a charity shop and partly by watching The Ark in Space with the Him.  I was intrigued by how we’d both reacted differently to the same stimulus and stunned to be allowed to share his viewing experience.  Since I’d been small my whole experience of Doctor Who was really limited to the books, the comics and the occasional episode on TV.  I was convinced that, apart from Tom Baker, most of Doctor Who was unwatchable nonsense unless viewed through the sneery contempt filter ably supplied by being in your twenties and invincible.  A lot of that ironic detachment was a safety feature – let’s not forget that Doctor Who was not something that was in any way cool.

One thing I’ve never filtered through ironic detachment is my love of comics.  As I’ve got older my reading habits have changed but I’d never decry an entire artform just because I felt it challenged either my social standing or maturity.  If you feel you have to do that then whatever’s wrong with you is much more serious than whatever I’ve got wrong with me.12

12.  Swiped from Alan Moore’s conversation with Dave Sim starting in Cerebus #217.  April 1997.  The full correspondence is reproduced here and comes highly recommended.

13.  I’d produced a few fanzines in my time – even ‘won’ an ‘award’ for one – and Black Scrolls looked like the sort of thing I’d had in my head but could never fund or reach.  This was, and is, a seriously impressive piece of work. 

14.  There was no guarantee that the Wampa wouldn’t come home while I was at work, so I hid the valuables and left disposable things like the TV in plain sight.  

15.  I’ve written a true and accurate two-part history of Doctor Who Comic for the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, so yes, that’s what it’s called.16

16.  Swiped from Lawrence Miles’ unofficial annotations to About Time III.

17.  Nurse: That’s a mess. 

Me:  Thanks. 

Nurse:  Can you feel that? 

Me:  Yeah. 

Nurse:  Really? 

Me:  Yeah. 

Nurse:  Hmmmm.  Can you move your toes? 

Me:  Yeah. 

Nurse:  Hmmm.  Are you sure you can feel that? 

Me:  Yeah. 

Nurse:  I don’t know.  I’d better get a doctor.  

Months later glass was still working its way out of my foot… 

18.  The Library Angel.  Lovely lady.  Have you met? 

19.  This is the bit where I break character and say that, yes, I’ve bought one.  On the whole, my life’s been great since I moved – I’ve been published, interviewed, help set up a podcast and encountered some terrific people because of the Him and the Doctor, and – although I’ve never met them – I think it’s safe to say that the co-editors of Vworp Vworp are among fandom’s finest. 

20.  Actual emotion experienced may differ from that advertised.


Colin Brockhurst said...

Lovely words. Thank you, I'm glad our work has given you some small pleasure...

Al said...

Me: Hours and hours of pleasure, Mr Brockhurst.

Thank you.