The Brain – Your Body’s Attic Space

Modified version of an image originally upload...
That's Where I Left My Keys

So I’m working through the wreckage of my past, found dumped in a dozen broken cardboard boxes. This is a fascinating process for me because basically I have no memory. I’m not an amnesia victim, I’ve never had a traumatic brain injury. Well you know, as far as I can say. I just don’t remember things much. This leads to strange revelations, like coming across a comic strip that I have no recollection of seeing before, but which was quite clearly written and drawn by me. The old made new. What’s especially great is if one of these actually makes me laugh.

It’s all right to laugh at your own jokes when you don’t remember being the person who made them.

God my drawing used to be awful though. Stupid I know, but it gets me down. I know I am not by any means a good artist now; my drawing is merely adequate to the task, but I don’t mind that. And it’s not the fact that I wasn’t any good as a child. Why would I be? What’s depressing is that I thought I was.

Seems I really was a fairly bright kid though. I came across a Mensa entrance test that I’d taken but never submitted. Yeah, I considered applying to Mensa once. But then I figured, it’s a club that admits the smartest two percent of the population. Why slum it?

Also there was the small matter of a fee. I looked through it again. Some questions seemed pretty damn difficult even to adult me. In fact I’m not sure if I’d do any better now than I would’ve at fourteen.

Which is also depressing.

I thought I would reproduce one of the questions here. I think I know what the answer is meant to be, but I’m not completely sure there isn’t more than one solution:

In my aquarium I have all together in the same tank (1) garpa fish, which will eat both tennel fish and eels, (2) tennel fish, which eat eels, and (3) eels, which will feed on the dead bodies of garpa fish. The tennel fish can swim much too fast to be caught by the garpa fish, even in a tank. If no other food is given, which will be the last kind (or kinds) of fish left alive in the tank?

  1. Eels.
  2. Garpa fish and tennel fish.
  3. Tennel fish.
  4. Garpa fish.
  5. Tennel fish and eels.

Answer that, and you might be Mensa material. Though do bear in mind that the word means ‘table’.



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.

Cosmography Humour

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.

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