Smoking Is The New Smoking


I’ve a couple of cartoons I like a lot in the current Phoenix. This is my favourite of the ones they didn’t use. You always feel like you’ve done a better quality cartoon if you don’t need any words.

I assume you’ve all come to terms with this story by now. Yes processed meat definitely definitely causes cancer, but… that’s OK for some reason. You can frame it in more or less scary ways. A few years ago I heard one researcher put it this way: “There is no safe dosage for smoked or chemically preserved meat.” In other words, even the smallest amount increases your risk of cancer.

Which is terrifying. It’s only when you look at the actual figures that you get some perspective. I don’t remember them precisely, but the gist was that processed meats take the very small chance you have of contracting bowel cancer, and increase that by a small percentage. So yes, cutting processed meats out of your diet will decrease your risk of getting bowel cancer, but it reduces it from very small to very slightly not as small.

Or put it in another way: Among the reasons for and against meats, be they ethical, environmental, or nutritional, this makes bugger all difference.

The cartoon I admit doesn’t convey all the subtlety of that.

In other cartoon news – there’s something big coming up. I don’t want to talk about it much yet because, well, I guess I’m superstitious. Also, because I can’t really get my head around it yet. More deals when I calm down!

That wasn’t even going to be my big news. Last night I drew the first comic strip I did for far too long. It’s for the Phoenix Christmas annual, and damn I like it. I was already fully excited by that, so now I don’t know where I am.


Club Senseless Iguana
Not actually a comic that was in the attic because those haven't been scanned so far, but the nearest thing I have to hand... Click for bigger view.

It’s a job I have been quite literally putting off for years. No, decades. Clearing up the attic. There’s little in there except the debris of my and my brother’s respective childhoods. Children’s storybooks, school exercise books, diaries, chemicals, that sort of thing. Many of the comic strips we drew as kids too. Stuff now in a state of considerable disorganisation. I mean considerable. At some point a bird built a huge nest in the middle of it.

I hope it was a bird.

Stuff that is either worthless or priceless, depending on your viewpoint and/or mood. So I’m not cleaning out so much as cleaning and putting back in. It’s an archival exercise really – finding out what’s here, categorizing it in case anyone ever, you know, actually wants it for something, and securing it from further depredations by moisture and lifeforms.

Repairing the damage these did in the past is a big part of it too. Many of the books are slightly foxed, and thoroughly badgered. It’s amazing how many ways paper can go wrong, particularly the fungoid ways. I’m now familiar with an enormous variety of moulds, smuts, blights and ergots. If I spontaneously disintegrate into a puddle of decay, you’ll know why. Then there are the ones that have been mined by bookworms. Actually that’s a misnomer, there’s no such thing as a bookworm. The holes are made by woodworm, for whom paper must be literally fast food, a sort of habitable cheeseburger. And behold, keep turning the pages and you reach the  mummified bodies of fat little worms, starved to death with their mouths full.

Vitamin tree deficiency.

Paddywackery – or, How Comics Changed My Life

The local shop I mentioned is a goldmine. Today I found that they sell a thing called paddywack. As a dog food. What the…?

It turns out the original meaning of “paddywack” is the large ligament that runs down the back of a grazing animal’s neck. The word is from the Old English paxwax, meaning something like “hair grow”. Because longer hair grows along the neck ridge of some animals, perhaps? By being highly elastic, this ligament makes it easier for the beast to raise its head. When dried, it makes a chewy treat for dogs.

So a whole other meaning for a word I thought of merely as a mild ethnic slur – that at least was my impression since childhood, when a strip of the same name in the British Comic Cheeky Weekly used to encourage readers to send in their Irish jokes. The whole comic indeed was packed with race and gender stereotype gags – and what’s worse, pointlessly awful puns. Such were the 1970s; vertiginous now to see that stuff again.

I didn’t find most of this funny even as a child. And yet, I liked the comic. It had a vivacity you didn’t see before, it messed with conventions and introduced elements of metafiction. Each issue had a single framing story, with characters commenting on the other strips, even moving in and out of them. And I guess it helped that it featured a sexy crossing guard called Lily Pop; I was getting to that sort of age. If Barry Cryer had written a kids’ comic – albeit on a bad day – it might have come out something like this.

Now that I look this stuff up I’m reminded that Cheeky Weekly had an even weirder progenitor, Krazy comic. I don’t think most of the strips in Krazy worked really. As the name suggests it was self-consciously way-out and wacky, and kids are quite sensitive to straining for effect. What compensated were the interstitial gags packed into it – comments between panels or as background graffiti, flick-book animations in corners. It was aiming I think to be something like a junior Mad magazine.

And I think this in turn may have been partly inspired by the comic that influenced me the most – Sparky. It was not an outstanding example perhaps, but it had one thing that really got me: the flat-out metafiction of a strip about the people who supposedly created the comic. They were in it… But making it… In it… The contradictions beguiled my mind. My own first comic strip, started I think while I was still 11, was pretty much a straight rip-off of this idea, and it must be at least partly responsible for a lifelong fascination with philosophical concepts like self-referentiality, recursion and nested realities. My mature (?) comic strip work rarely resisted opportunities to tell stories within stories – or indeed, stories within each other. My first long strip, which was also my degree dissertation, took place within a reality that only existed in the mind of God – but within which, God existed.

Come on, I was in college.

Well that turned into an unexpected ramble; from doggy treats to comic theology. It seems though that in the process I’ve accidentally written a response to this lovely blog post by Lisa “SwearyLady” McInerney. Yeah, comics were an important early influence in my life. For me it’s Gödel, Escher, Bach, and The Sparky People.