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52 weeks, 52 things


Way back when, before I owned a computer, and well before I started worrying about interaction, and agency, and ergodic literature (although, unbeknownst to my 18 year old self, I was always after ergodic literature. Wish I’d known that back then), I read comics. Lots of comics. For a while anyway, then I grew out of the X-Men, and turned my back on Batman, and for a while all I read was Cerebus The Aardvark (and The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and V for Vendetta, but they were limited series, and didn’t represent an ongoing commitment)

It’s snowing again now. That seems appropriate.

Anyway, in those days there was no Amazon, and Grimsby didn’t even have a comic shop to speak of. Reprints and American issues would turn up in some newsagents, but for the most part, buying comics meant a monthly trip to Lincoln, 36 miles away, and a tiny shop in a narrow arcade called, as I recall, Worlds of Wonder. I remember one trip (did I really travel 36 miles to buy Cerebus? I suppose so) vividly. We had a non-comic buying friend with us, and I was trying to recommend something for him to buy. Which, after a while, I did. Something with a painted cover, atmospheric illustrations, and horror throughout. I’d never heard of the writer though, and so I passed on buying it. I thought he’d like it though, and for all I know he did. I remember reading the comic on the train home (or was I driving, I can’t say), and liking it. I didn’t buy the next issue though, or the one after. It took until issue 8 for me to shell out money for a copy, and for the next two years, in the absence of eBay, I hunted down first printings of The Sandman issues 1 to 7.

The Sandman followed me through my undergraduate career. The first thing I did when I got to Bristol in 1992 was to find a comic shop and place a regular order. I resisted buying the hardback collections until one arrived ‘in mysterious circumstances’, and owning one, and a first edition at that, I had to buy them all (and my ongoing thanks to Alexis Liosatos, who remembered my addiction one afternoon in Bristol, and pointed out a first printing of ‘Season of Mists’, which finally completed the set in 2001). As John Clute observes, “I am a book collector. There is no twelve-step“. Then it ended, the final issues emerging as I graduated, or just afterward, and I bought (or was bought) the final collections, and they remain on my shelves today, alongside almost everything else Gaiman and McKean have produced in the meantime.

Last week I had a strange day. Two of my external examiners resigned (nothing personal; both cited health reasons, and although both notified within 45 minutes of each other, suggesting a conspiracy, there was none), and an hour later, writing was going nowhere. I despaired of banging my head against the office wall, and left the house, and walked for a while, on the way finding a second hand bookshop of the kind that disappears the next morning, in which I immediately found four books I needed but hadn’t bought yet. I returned home in better spirits and browsed online bookshops for a while, before ordering something I’d coveted since the end of last year, the book collecting imp nagging at me.

absolute sandman.jpg
This morning, The Absolute Sandman arrived. Recoloured, oversized and bound in leather inside a solid slipcase, and it weighs enough to be used to press death’s head moths between sheets of tissue paper. And for a couple of hours, I was 22 again, reading a monthly comic that nudged the possibilities of the medium, and showed a way forward and, in its own way, pointed the way to where I sit now. It suggested things, ways of telling stories, and it was always, explicitly, ergodic in its relationship with its reader, requiring and rewarding effort and reading around the subject. A copy of Brewer’s Phrase and Fable was essential deskside reference, and like Gene Wolfe’s “Book of the New Sun”, it changed the way I read. Zadie Smith suggests that “the ideal reader steps up to the plate of the writer’s style so that together writer and reader might hit the ball out of the park“, Gene Wolfe identifies good literature as “that which can be read with pleasure by an educated reader and re-read with increased pleasure“. I’m far from the ideal reader of The Sandman, who actually is, I suspect, Neil Gaiman himself, but it sustained my desire for story for years, and continues to delight.

For now, though, responsibility beckons, and I’m going to get on with writing chapter 2. Which is now chapter 9. That has nothing to do with The Sandman, except that once that’s done, I’m going to start reading it again from the beginning.


2 comments for “Absolutely”

  1. Ergodic THIS

    Posted by Andy | February 9, 2007, 2:10 pm
  2. I think what everyone’s missing here is that ergodic is an anagram both of “rice dog” and “eric god”. Perhaps of more interest to Andy is that it can also be made into “cider go”. Hmmm… appropriate.

    Posted by bonzo | February 9, 2007, 4:16 pm

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