For Stan

I knew this post was coming for a while. In fact, different versions of this post remain unwritten or in the recycle bin on my laptop. When Steve Ditko died a few months ago, I tried to write a post to commemorate his incredible impact on my life and the comic book industry. How his drawings and embrace of the weird left my imagination on fire and paper cuts on my fingers from flicking through comic book pages. But I didn’t know how to find the right words to do him justice. So I left it.

And now Stan Lee has died at the age of 95, and I’m sat in front of my screen again. And trying to think of the words to surmise his impact on comic books, entertainment, pop culture, me, thousands of other avid fans. No one has done so much for comics, and no one ever will. And this time, I don’t think I can delete this post. It has to be written, even if the words don’t quite fit.

Stan was the co-creator of the Avengers, Spider-Man, X-Men, Black Panther, Doctor Strange and so many more that if I kept going this page would stretch into oblivion. He was part of Marvel before it even took that name, before it was Atlas and when it was just Timely. He was installed as interim editor at 19 in 1941. And from there, particularly in the 1960s, he began to create terrific characters. Characters that would transcend time and space.

One of my favourite stories surrounding Stan centred around the Comics Code of America. In the 1950s, a belief started to form that comic books influence juvenile delinquency (sound familiar?), and thus the Comics Code was amended to ban excessive violence, nudity and all other sorts of naughty activity. Horror comics were effectively neutered with the prohibition of blood and gore, and books were not permitted to have “terror” and “horror” in their titles.

These rulings strangled the comics industry.  Marvel, then Atlas, came under extreme pressure due to their own emphasis on westerns and horror books. This new clamp on creativity was leading Stan to consider packing up the typewriter and leaving the industry.

It was his late wife, Jo, who convinced him to stay. She told him to write whatever he liked. I didn’t matter, they’d only fire him from the place he didn’t want to be at anymore. With this advice, Stan created a book, Fantastic Four #1. And from there came a renaissance of super heroes created by Stan and his fabulous artistic partners, from Jack Kirby to Larry Lieber and Steve Ditko.

I once saw a great video featurin Stan and the filmmaker Kevin Smith. They’re improvising a scene during an interview at San Diego Comic Con, and Stan just keeps giggling and cracking up. He seemed to have an incredibly youthful mind and voice, even in his later years. When he spoke in that famous voice, the words flowed out of his mouth with exuberance.

His characters were all flawed. Spider-Man was just human. Iron Man was a genius, but arrogant. Thor was hidden inside the body of the cane-bound Donald Blake. Bruce Banner couldn’t let his anger envelop him otherwise he would become the destructive Hulk. These flaws made the characters endearing and made us think that these brave heroes might not be able to make it through to the next issue. It also told us that despite our flaws, we had the power to become heroes ourselves. Why do you think that meant so much to the kid whose hands shook and who couldn’t ride a bike?

When I was a child, I would end up spending a lot of time on my own, and I loved to read. One day, I discovered Marvel comics. I saw epic stories featuring colourful heroes defying evil, and that sent me on a journey of discovery that I still follow at the age of 21. When I look around my bedroom, I see comics. Hundreds of them. A few of them were written by Stan himself, but my point is that every single one of them originated from one man’s mind, and the influence that those books have had on my imagination and my life is immeasurable. Without Stan, I wouldn’t have become a writer. I wouldn’t have gone to university and met some of the closest friends I’ve ever had. And I wouldn’t be sat here, struggling to see this computer screen because my eyes are welling up, trying to write something poignant enough to do this man justice. I know I’m not doing enough.

Stan gave a lonely little boy a whole universe to play with – and the thing is, I know it’s not just me feeling like this. His work has created a sense of giddiness and excitement in people for generations, since 1941, and I love the idea that thanks to the profits from the Marvel films (in excess of US$10 billion), it can do the same for generations to come.

Stan gave thousands – possibly millions – of boys and girls that very same universe, and it is up to us creators to keep expanding it without forgetting the original big bang that put us on this path.

I started this piece saying that I didn’t know if I could find the right words to honour Stan Lee. And to be honest, I still don’t think I have. Because the truth is, I don’t think it’s possible. I’m not good enough to do that. What words are there that can truly encapsulate the man? Seismic? Momentous? Mind-blowing?

Actually, I think there is a word. One glorious, magical word.

Excelsior!

Rest in Peace, Stan.

Will

Later…

So, Third Year. The year where everything gets serious. Where your work suddenly becomes important and should be given a lot of attention. I should probably get to it then. Yeah…

My work ethic is terrible. This is evident as Mason asked me to write this post weeks ago. For some reason, even if it’s doing something I love, I can never build up the energy to do it. I have a feature length script, a dissertation, a monologue and a script report to write. And yet I can’t bring myself to get started. I can sit down in front of my laptop to start writing, and yet my mind will wander away from the task at hand. This is all well and good until you spend 15+ hours in the library to write the end of a script. That’s an example I made up. It didn’t actually happen. Honest.

When it comes to writing, nothing makes me happier. Except when it doesn’t. My low self-esteem and sometimes crippling doubt often lead to me questioning myself. Am I a good writer? Have I wasted my life? Am I a failure? This doesn’t help my motivation. I can be in these slumps for a couple of days. And then I’ll watch a brilliant film\TV show, or I’ll think of an idea that I just can’t wait to put down on paper, and my passion will return. And then I’ll sit down in front of my laptop and the cycle will begin anew.

This blog post isn’t a ‘how to avoid procrastination’ guide. If I knew how to be more productive, I wouldn’t have to write this, and I could go back to calling giraffes bastards. Hopefully, over this next year, my resolve and motivation will increase, and I can write a more cheerful post. I’ll get back to you on that.

Will

“Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.” – Christopher Parker

To Chester

Like most days, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed. Inside the trending box, it read ‘Chester Bennington’. For the few that don’t know, Chester Bennington is the lead singer for rock band Linkin Park. Whenever I see a celebrity’s name on that list, I get a bit nervous as to why so many people are talking about them. For Chester though, I didn’t get that same feeling. Maybe it’s due to his age or some other reason, but I thought, “Everything’s fine.” And then my Twitter feed refreshed, and the hashtags started.

And my breath caught for a second.

I just stared at the screen for about a minute, trying to wrap my head around it. I couldn’t believe that Chester was dead, and that he had killed himself. I mentioned earlier the amount of celebrity deaths we’ve endured, but this one hit me harder than any other. And it took me a while to figure out why. For a large portion of my life, music didn’t mean much to me. I listened to some stuff in the car that my parents listened to, but that was about it. But when I went to college, my friend Alex introduced me to Linkin Park. And from there, my music taste expanded to what it is today. Linkin Park helped me to find a huge part of my life,which I am indebted to Chester for. There have been other celebrity deaths that have shaken me, from actor Robin Williams to comic artist Steve Dillon, because both of their industries are something that I am deeply invested in. But Chester and Linkin Park threw me into rock music. If it weren’t for them or Alex, then a lot of what I’ve discovered about myself might still be hidden.

I’m sorry, Chester. I’m sorry that you felt like the only way to take away your unimaginable pain was to end your life. But know that there are millions of people who were affected by your work. Your voice was unreal, and sends shivers down my spine every time I listen to it. There are people who were brought away from the edge by your music. There are people whose lives were saved by your music. I don’t think there’s a higher accomplishment.

There’s a Wonder Years lyric which reads “I’m sure there ain’t a Heaven, but that don’t mean I don’t like to picture you there.” And at moments like these, they stick with me. I’m an Atheist, so I don’t believe in any religion. If I did, I think there would be a space for Chester in Valhalla.

Thank you.

Will

“And the Sun will set for you”. – “Shadow of the Day”, Linkin Park

 

My Disability and Me

A couple of months ago, Mason popped up on Facebook and asked: “how does your disability affect you?” This made me think, as I had never really thought about it.

I have mild Dyspraxia, a disorder which affects hand-eye co-ordination. This means that my balance, handwriting, drawing and other such activities have been skewed.  I was first diagnosed when I was about 7, when my teacher realised that I was as clumsy as a one-legged horse on Strictly Come Dancing on ice.

When I pondered Mason’s question, I realised that my Dyspraxia had a bigger effect on me when I was growing up. My failure at sport and dodgy handwriting often led to bullying and name-calling. And I had them all, including “retard” and “spastic”. This and me feeling like I wasn’t good at anything led to a huge decline in confidence and self-esteem. Another thing that happened was that I would give up a lot. I know people who have Dyspraxia who have become good at sport, defying the odds to prove themselves. I tried to do that. I started tennis and even became good at it. But for the most part, I just stopped. I’m still just as bad at most sports as I ever was. For a while, I used my disability as an excuse to not get involved. The only thing I kept doing was writing. The use of a computer helped with that, as I often felt that I couldn’t write things down as quickly as I wanted. The way I described it was that my hands couldn’t keep up with my mind. I also found that being friends with people like Mason has made me learn to not make my disability define who I am. I have never once known Mason to complain about his wheelchair, he just gets on with it.

As I grew older, I’ve put less emphasis on my Dyspraxia. People stop caring as much about how physical you can be, and with the help of a computer I can write as much as I want.  The one thing that I have started doing as I’ve grown older, and Mason’s question helped me do this, was wonder how much my Dyspraxia impacts me. When I do something clumsy, I think “was that me just being clumsy, or was it part of my disorder?Or, are they one and the same?” The great thing about university is the fact that difference isn’t really a huge problem. When I got my laptop out in middle school and college, I felt like it immediately created a difference between myself and the rest of the class. Now I feel like it’s not even thought about.

So in answer to Mason’s question, I suppose it’s “it doesn’t anymore.” Every child with a disability feels like an outsider. I’m not trying to draw sympathy to myself in this, my Dyspraxia is very mild. I suppose I have two messages with this. To those that don’t have disabilities, I say this: be considerate with your words and actions toward those that do. And to those that do have disabilities, just know that it doesn’t have to be your defining feature. You don’t have to be known as “the kid with *Insert disability here*”. Choose your own label.

Will

“There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more.” – Robert M. Hensel

“Friends!”

Mason recently posted an article about friendship, and I wanted to give my input. For me, friendship means a lot, maybe more than it does for other people.

In my opinion, a friend is someone who makes life easier, be it in a large or small way. Whether it’s by making you laugh or encouraging you to cry, they just make life better. In a different way, though, I see it as an investment. If I put time and effort into a friendship, I always hate seeing that time lost when the friendship is broken. Losing a friend is always heartbreaking for me, as it negates those shared experiences. It’s painful and miserable, which is why I try and avoid doing it.

One thing I’ve learned since being at uni is that your friend doesn’t have to be constantly present for that relationship to remain strong. Mason and I haven’t seen each other in months, but our friendship is still as strong as it was when we would meet every morning. I think it shows how strong a friendship is when it can be maintained without constant communication.

Friendships are important to me because for a long time I didn’t have any. Until Year 11, there weren’t many people that I would call friends. I slowly became part of a group where I realised that some of those people could be firm friends, and they have remained so. The members of that group know who they are, and should know my affection for them. I’ve made some incredible friends, especially in the last five years.  It is also crucial to realise who among your circle are actual friends, and who are almost superficial. Making those mistakes can hurt you in the end. So, I try to hang on to the true friends purely because I know what it’s like not to have any.

Now, talking of friends, I wanted to shine a spotlight on Mason. Over the six years of our friendship, I’ve realised how strong our relationship is. It is based heavily on humour and the several cock-ups we’ve made. Just sitting on his doorstep (because we’d locked ourselves out) giggling improves my day massively. He is one of the few friends I have that I see more as a brother, given how similar and close we are. From upside-down wheelchairs to vandalising common room posters, we’ve made several memories as the disastrous duo. Here’s to several more, pal!

So, if you want to take something away from this post, it’s that finding friends might be hard, but once it’s done, life becomes easier. Keep them close, because it’s difficult to get them back when they’re gone.

Will

“Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.” – Euripides

 

Writer’s Block: The Sequel

Since Mason has gone on a soul searching mission (or something, I wasn’t really listening), he asked me to write a few posts in his absence. This was a bit daunting for me. This whole year, I have been suffering from a debilitating case of writer’s block. I’ve meant to start writing my own scripts for university, but have been incapable of finding an idea. So Mason decided I write a post about it, as a true cop out.

To me, writer’s block is something I get every time I get given an assignment. For the last couple of months, I’ve had a void of motivation. I love writing, but there is nothing scarier than creating a story. But it is something that you have to deal with as a writer. If you let it get the best of you, you will never finish a script. So, I’ve compiled a short list of methods that can help you shift an idea.

The first is an exercise that was taught to me by one of my lecturers. Think of a four letter word. Any four letter word. Not that one, get your mind out of the gutter! Next, think of four words, each one having the same first letter as each letter of the first word you thought of. The weirder the better. Then see if you can make some sort of sentence or phrase out of those words. Finally, see if you can think of a story from that. It’ll most likely be a strange and brief concept, and it may never go further than that phrase. But it’s forcing your brain to start processing the story. You may start thinking of characters and action sequences. I’ve used this several times as a warm-up before a writing session, and it really does help.

The second tip is something that also gets the mind working. Go for a walk. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a place you visited before or a totally new area. When you’re a writer, you should see everything from a different angle. See how you can make a story from the couple arguing. From the old timer putting their shopping away. Keep your eyes and ears on, because the real world is brilliant. How about getting the train or bus somewhere? Every person you see has a story to tell. See if you can give them a story just by watching them. Mason and I have spent a lot of time people watching, and have decided whether we like that person from a few seconds of visual cues. But they can give some great character ideas. The second week of uni, we went to Blackpool, and were given the task to find something that gives you inspiration for a story. I looked everywhere, from the location to the people to the seagulls. One of those things can be the pebble that is thrown into a pond, subsequently creating large ripples that will follow you to the final full stop.

The third tip is something quite simple: start writing. Can you see how to untie a tricky knot by just looking at it? No, you have to start pulling at it before you can unravel it. Your first few paragraphs may be pointless and unintelligible, but it can help you focus and straighten up. If you can’t figure out how to start a script, leave it till last. Work on a particular scene. Write the ending, then work your way backwards.  Writing does not necessarily have to be linear. It can take ages, working at it from several approaches. Personally, I hate endings. Sometimes I just want to write a thousand pages, rather than try and wrap the story up. So I will write nearly the whole script, then wait for days whilst I figure out the perfect end. The mountain isn’t going to move by looking at it, you have to start climbing. Yes, you may get stuck, but that summit will also keep you down until you conquer it.

Please note that there are many ways in which writer’s block can be broken. It is a horrible feeling, but it is possible to defeat. Mason has had it, I’ve had it, it’s normal. But just do something, don’t let it beat you.

That’s all for today, I will continue posting on this page for a while until the prodigal son returns. After all, I am the captain now.

Will.

“Don’t waste time waiting for inspiration. Begin, and inspiration will find you.”

― H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Play Pretend

So, I was in a taxi from my flat in Preston to the train station to visit my sister in Carlisle. ‘Where are you going to?’ He asked.

‘Carlisle,’ I replied.

‘Going on a trip?’

‘No, I live there. I’m visiting home.’

Now, I have a confession to make. I do not live in Carlisle. I live in Somerset, about 6 hours away.

‘So are you a student?’

‘Yes.’

‘What do you study?’

‘History.’

I don’t study History. I do Scriptwriting. But for some reason, I decided to lie. For no apparent reason, I came up with a new life-one I hadn’t lived. For the entire trip after that, I was thinking about how easily I did that. But it’s because conversations with strangers make me so awkward that I say weird things. And strangers always want to have conversations with me. I hate them. Maybe I just have one of those faces.

When I was on the train to Carlisle, I sat down next to a South African man. When I say sat, I mean I tried to cling on to my seat whilst he took up one and a half of them. At first I didn’t hear him, I had earphones in. That’s normally a sign that I don’t want to talk to you. Soon, he started tapping my shoulder and asking me questions. But then he started asking me about my life. I was fine with that until he started talking about which university each one of his family members go to. I tried to act interested, but there’s only so much of the man’s personal life I can take.

I’m not an antisocial person (I think). I’m British. When we go into a shop, we comment on the weather. When someone drops something, we applaud.  But I like talking to people when I have an opportunity to leave. Most of the time I’m cornered in a small place, like a taxi. Especially when they ask a question where there’s a long answer. So I lie. Lying is easier. I’m a writer. Coming up with a story is fun.

There isn’t much of a moral here. People say that the truth comes out. But that’s not entirely correct. Everyone lies, whether to protect someone or themselves. It can kill, but it can also save lives.

I just wanted to mention a few of the things I go through on a regular basis. University is a jumble of strange experiences.

Will