Laydeez enn gennelmen! Please be seated for tonight’s presentation. Refreshments are available from the kiosk. Smoking is permitted in the auditorium because this is the 1970s and we are all going to live forever. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you, this is the 1970s. This is the Bronze Age. And this? This is the Preamble to The Planet of the Apes. (Again.) Cher on The Planet of the Apes. Yes, Really.
Anyway, this… 1. Being A Very Special And Very Personal Note From I, The Author, To You, the Reader (or Sorry, But There’s Nothing for You Here.)
Hello. The bulk of what follows was written in an attempt to write something. 2014 was a difficult year writing-wise, personally speaking, hence the large gaps between posts, the often stilted content, the unconvincing feints at seriousness and the occasional veer into fully fledged nonsense. No change there then! Oh, my! Looking back I don’t remember much of it but I remember having trouble doing it. Very much how I imagine I will feel about life when on my death-bed. Anyway, at one point things got so bad I wrote the following. I just started writing it to see what fell out. At worst, I figured, I’d use it as an entry in The Savage Critics annual Christmas tradition of my putting up a post about Planet of the Apes Weekly and then failing to follow through. (This failure to follow through would have been a lot handier in my drinking days, but there you go. That’s right, a joke about self-soiling – Happy New Year!) When I read it back I was not only surprised at its awfulness (I’ve edited it extensively since then; still awful, but hopefully less so) but also by the weird attempt I was apparently making to contextualise a certain time. I realise now why I was doing that but that reason was hidden from me back then. But, um, I don’t know, as I say, I’ve messed about with it and thrown it up. Largely because I think I need to lighten up about this whole writing about comics thing and I think putting up something this inane will help. I don’t know. I do know that “thrown it up” is pretty apt. So this one’s for me and, no, it doesn’t work; I’m particularly fond of the bit where I excoriate comedians for lazy stereotyping of the 1970s and then do the exact same thing in very short order. But in return for this I will write about Planet of the Apes Weekly. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon and for what will feel like the rest of my life.
2.What Went Before (or Previously on Middle Aged Public Nervous Breakdown Theatre):
In 2012 a bloke at work lent me his collection of Planet of the Apes Weeklies. I promised to get right on that and write about them for The Savage Critics. I patently failed to do so. The year is now 2015…
Now read on...
3. The 1970s (or “And I Only Am Escaped Alone To Tell Thee…”)
The 1970s! Space hoppers, Spangles and white dog shit! As only the most hatefully predictable stand-up comedian will tell you. Also, perhaps, other things. I don’t know about this bit, I don’t know if I need to tell you about the 1970s, or more specifically 1974, the year in which Planet of the Apes Weekly was launched. I did think maybe a few words of explication might be necessary because of a conversation I recently had with “Gil”, my under-10 spawn. Now, I realise most of you might have more of a grasp on the 1970s than a small child, so if you are au fait with the 1970s or could, frankly, not give a shit please do feel free to entertain yourselves in some other fashion. After all there is a rumour going around that this is a comics blog rather than my personal forum for tearful elderly reminiscences. On reflection then I’m not going to go on about the 1970s, nor 1974 in particular. You have The Internet as well, so you don’t need me to tell you that in 1974 the crew of Skylab returned to mother Earth, a WW2 Japanese soldier surrendered having missed the news about the war ending in 1945, Stephen King published Carrie and the Irish began their UK mainland bombing campaign. In 2015 space is full of junk, nobody surrenders anymore because the wars don’t end, Stephen King is a much wealthier writer and the Irish and the English are both mostly behaving in an adult fashion (at the time this went to press at least). So, a bit of a mixed bag progress wise. On balance Stephen King seems to have come out best from the last 40 or so years. So, well done there, Stephen King.
4. Intermittent Television (or The Beast That Shouted “Crackerjack!” At The Heart of the Living Room!)
Anyway, back at the bit where I try and strike up some cheap emotional connection with you like it’s the back matter of an Image book: me and the kid are talking and I’m trying to explain to him how in the past not only would I not have been able to ‘freeze’ the ‘streaming’ SpongeBob episode while I went and did my ‘business’ , but if it had ended before I had returned (having flushed and then washed my hands; I place particular stress on that part to him) I would have been unable to watch the episode by selecting it from a ‘cache’ of ‘stored’ programmes via the use of a ‘handset’. I would have had to wait for the programme to be repeated at some uncertain point in the future, probably at teatime because children’s programming was on only at specific points in the schedule, rather than running 24/7 on an array of dedicated channels. As for that handset, well, since there were only three channels most of the buttons wouldn’t have been there, and, anyway, the handset itself in all likelihood wasn’t there; thus sadistically requiring people to actually get out of the chair, travel across the length of the room to the television itself and thereupon physically turn a dial or press a button set into the fascia of the crate sized behemoth; the bulk of which was not screen and the screen of which displayed only fuzzy pictures, allegedly in colour but certainly fond of lurching up and off the side of the screen like an aunt startled by a flasher. In the 1970s, I stress, all this was state of the art. However, I note that such picture quality is now used in movies as shorthand for the presence of a malefic supernatural force. Which is how I also like to think of the ‘70s. This Television then, the notional one I’m using as an example, would squat in a front room, a room heated by a real gas fire with real flames; the danger of which would also be real, and so it would likely have a kind of portable metal mesh screen set in front of it to avoid real children getting too close and receiving real burns. The room’s walls would be adorned with wallpaper the thickness of today’s carpets while the carpet would be thicker than a bear’s pelt . It would have been on just such an apparatus as that Television in just such a room as that just described that the Planet of the Apes TV show would have been aired by the commercial UK TV channel ITV on Sunday 13th October 1974. (I looked it up.)
5. Second-Hand Treasures (or The Unfeasibly Long Half-Life of Comic Books)
It would be this very show it has taken me so very, very long to mention and its audience of thrilled children that the comic (can you remember back that far?) was aimed at. One such thrilled child would have been me, age 4. Now, as important as it is to me that you think I’m bloody super I am not going to pretend to have read Planet of the Apes Weekly when it came out. I doubt my reading skills at age 4 were all that, brah. I would have read it later and I would have read it from the second hand book shop in the market in the centre of town. This is where your Mum would get most of your comics because even back then your Mum was just doing the best with what she had, just trying to give her magical little boy the best she could despite paltry wages earned at exhaustive cost. And this magical little boy would grow up and repay her in the coin of resentment and ingratitude because, kids! (Did you enjoy the distancing language I unconsciously employed there?) Certainly when I was a child I thought like a child but when I became a man I kept all my childish things inside my head for later, because being a grown-up isn’t, surprisingly, all it is cracked up to be. And one of those things retained in my head is an abiding enjoyment of Planet of the Apes…and at that point I noticed…I was alone. At some point “Gil” had wandered off and was playing virtual murder on his X-Box360. Thinking back, the point of his prudent departure was probably where I seemed to start addressing an invisible audience of two bored people on The Internet. It may well be a bad thing to lose your audience but it is a worse thing not to know at which point it happened. Hello? Oh, I’ll go on.
6. Thunder Underground (or “It was The Boogeyman.”)
What I’m saying is there wasn’t much television back then and what there was you made a date to catch because it wouldn’t wait for you and you’d never know if it it’d be back again. Also, brace yourselves, there was no Internet. In truth I think the lack of the latter was hardly felt as people were quite openly racist, misogynistic and homophobic right to each other’s faces; arguing about meaningless shit until violence erupted was no problem either since everyone drank booze like someone was going to snatch it away; pornography was everywhere anyway in the form of savaged jazz mags badly hidden in bushes and your uncle’s airing cupboard, so men of all ages were still able to achieve physical satisfaction while avoiding interacting with real women; in the 1970s life itself was the Internet. On the upside kids spent a lot more time outdoors but life loves balance so they also spent a lot more time never being seen again and dying in quarries. So much so that Donald “Death has come to your little town, Sheriff.” Pleasance was hired to scare them out of such activities. Of course there were worse things than those happening to kids out there in the 1970s but people didn’t like to talk about it much. Surprisingly, ignoring it and hoping it went away turned out to be a terrible idea of truly titanic proportions. Witness the last couple of years of our news sheepishly revealing the fact that both the light entertainment industry and the ruling elite have been treating the children of Britain as a big old Paedo pick’n’mix for the last four decades at least. Imagine a world where the very people entrusted with the entertainment and, yes, the very care of the most vulnerable in society just get stuck in like pigs; it’s easy if you try. Imagine a world in which David Peace’s Nineteen Seventy Four undersold the situation; don’t bother, you’re sat in it. Shit, that got dark quick. Look, I'm not angry; just disappointed (I am angry; I'm fucking livid).In 1974 had I written myself into a hole like that I'd have then had to exercise some serious literary muscles to get you all back on-side but it's 2015, and so with a wave of The Internet I instantly salve all wounds:
7. News From The Future (or Invasion of the Format Snatchers)
In summation then: there weren’t many distractions for kids in the ‘70s but amongst their limited number we can count comics (!!!) and Television. One thing which combined both was Planet of the Apes Weekly. It’s unfortunate that while in the past there was no shortage of children there was a very definite shortage of distractions, and so the need for cheap entertainment for the sedation of offspring was at a premium. This is where comics came in. Cheap and plentiful they were back there, back then, in the 1970s. There were two kinds of comics: home-grown and imported. I lie; there were three kinds of comics: home-grown, imported and mongrels. Home-grown adventure comics were effectively black and white, gender segregated and sedately content to pimp the increasingly archaic values of the previous generation. (i.e. before Pat Mills et al. happened) Imported genre comics came from The Americas and were suffused with the glamour of bubble gum, nylons, gun crime, Howdy Doody and Television. Yes, that list is supposed to be a bit anachronistic. Like their star spangled land of origin the yank mags were more colourful and vibrant because America was where The Future was happening, and the comics which landed on our shores felt very much like vulgar intrusions from The Future. Yes, in the 1970s everyone in Britain knew America was where The Future was happening. Here in the science fictional year of 2015 of course those very comics look as fresh and progressive as a white man in a suit drunkenly pinching his secretary’s bum. And then there were the mongrels, of which Planet of the Apes Weekly was one. These curs of the comic book world took their content from American sources, reprinted it in black & white to avoid over stimulating the easily excited British audience and chopped it up so several “episodes” of different series could be bodged into one comic . This made a lot more sense than you might think. In Britain, see, comics were weekly, (mostly) B&W anthologies and someone in Marvel’s Mighty Marketing Department had obviously read their Jack Finney, so when they set out to infiltrate the British market they did it via imitation. (Also, it was flattering, I guess.)
8. Nearly There (or The Secret Origin (Not Really) of the Direct Market.)
The American source in this case was the magazine format Planet of the Apes which was already B&W, so that worked out okay, but in America books were monthly which meant an inescapable content deficiency loomed over the project. Never more innovative than when cutting corners, Marvel hacked the yank stuff up into chunks, with only that chunk rather than the whole strip appearing in a single weekly issue. British kids then had their comics beefed up with behind the scenes articles (also from the American magazine) and backup strips. Once we get past the novelty of reading about the adaptations and the Mike Ploog brains-in-jars stuff these back-ups will be the most interesting thing about Planet of the Apes Weekly. Should you ever chance upon a physical copy of Planet of the Apes weekly, or indeed any 1970s British weekly comic, the chances are high that on the cover (front or back) in a top corner will be a surname in biro. This is where the newsagent would put your name were you to answer the call printed in every issue of your top weekly funny paper to place an order with your newsagent (“Never Miss An Issue!”). This was a kind of Palaeolithic version of having a pull list with a comics shop. True or not, I like to think that the 21st Century’s sexy rebels of Comics Retailing, like Brian “Two Shops” Hibbs, evolved directly from small men with brilliantined comb-overs and braised faces who could spin on a penny when the bell above their door tinkled announcing the entry of an all too likely larcenous child. And so, there in 1974 in a cramped den of cigarette packets and serried sweet jars somewhere in there, usually at ground level and braced between puzzle magazines and the sexy lure of Look-In, lurked Planet of the Apes Weekly. Let’s reach down now and take a look at issue 1…
NEXT TIME: Cold dead hands, marabunta ants, and somewhere in there I'll probably say, “To be fair, George Tuska had his moments. But few of them are on these pages.” It’s all in the first real instalment of Planet of the COMICS!!! Yes, it is coming and I shit you not, kids!