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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Tripping - UK 2006 thoughts

As I mentioned, I spent a few weeks in the UK recently. First time I'd been there. Quite an interesting contrast to Toronto, where hardly anything is more than a few decades old (and those things that are older don't really fit). I liked the place overall, and wouldn't mind returning with some more time to do things and some more concrete plans (I pretty much played it by ear this time around, between family obligations that dominated a fair bit of time). June also seems to be a good time to visit, beating most of the tourist rush from North America, and with some great weather (I could have done with a little less sunlight, though. No one warns you about that unrelenting London sun. Does it never rain there?).

Might as well start with the comics stuff. I made it to three comic shops while I was there. The first two (Nostalgia and Comics in Birmingham and Gosh in London) were really good shops, but didn't offer much in the way of stuff that wasn't readily available locally (except those softcover Marvel Masterworks, more on those on the Kirby Weblog soon). Still, really good selection of graphic novels and such in both, very well organized. The third shop, 30th Century Comics in London (near Putney Bridge) was the one where I actually found stuff to buy, thanks to their good selection of actual British comics. In particular, I bought about a dozen issues of COMMANDO from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s, and could easily have picked up a few dozen more of those and the other digest sized "picture library" series if I wasn't reluctant to drag those around. I also picked a few of the Alan Class published black and white reprints of American comics from the 1970s, one with a Kirby monster cover from Marvel, one with a Ditko sci-fi cover from Charlton. More one those in the future on other weblogs (for those interested in the Alan Class book, the store had Class's file copies for sale, each with a signed certificate. I kind of thought they were overpriced, and only picked up unsigned issues, but if that's your thing there it is). I also picked up a few issues of COMICS FORUM, a UK fanzine from the 1990s, and a copy of CHARLTON SPOTLIGHT #1 (which for some reason I never could find before). Anyway, good store, with a lot of other UK published comics (a lot of the hardcover Annuals), as well as a good selection of the usual American comics.

I'm led to believe that the best source for issues of COMMANDO and the like are "boot sales" (which I guess are some sort of combination of what we call flea markets or garage sales). I saw signs for a few of them at various places, but I didn't manage to make it to any.

I also checked out the comics available on newstands and bookstores. Some pretty good graphic novel sections in the chain stores I saw. The newstands also had some UK versions of American comics, in the format of triple sized monthly books, usually with two consecutive chapters of a storyline from about two or three years ago and one older reprint (the FANTASTIC FOUR book, for example, reprints a pair of issues from the recent Mark Waid written run with a Kirby/Lee reprint in the back). Kind of unusual, I guess most people really interested in that stuff would either get the US issues or the tradepaperbacks, but it's good that the casual fans are getting exposed to some of the Kirby and Ditko stuff. I also kept an eye open for current issues of COMMANDO, and finally found some on my last Friday there. A WH Smith store had one set of the most recent releases (they release four every two weeks). So I picked up a pair.

Surprisingly, the comics were actually a very minor part of my time there (although they did make up a good percentage of my shopping budget). I really enjoyed just walking around London and Birmingham, with a lot to see in both places. Very confusing to figure them out, though. Someone should really tell them that if they're ever invaded by the Germans or Russians or French or Canadians, poor signage isn't really going to slow down the invasion force. Well, maybe the Canadians.... The bus tour of London is also a nice way to see the city. I didn't get to see nearly as many of the museums as I would have liked, but I did really like the British Museum (with the Rosetta Stone as their current big display piece). The Natural History Museum was also really good, in particular the massive dinosaur section featuring a big robot T. Rex. My favourite was probably the Royal Air Force Museum in London (the one in Cosford is nice, as well, but it's more on post-WWII planes and my interest is mostly stuff from before jet planes). Some really great displays in the main buildings on the history of flight and the RAF in the wars, and then a building devoted to the Battle of Britain. A really nice presentation, including a 15 minute film and lots of displays on various aspects of the era.

Well, there was a lot more, but that's enough for now. I might post a few pictures later on.

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