thanks to everyone who entered PlanetSlade's competition to win one of Fantastic Voyage’s new Crime & Punishment double CDs. All the entries are now in, the draw's been made, and we have our winners.
I asked you to tell me whether Frankie Baker killed her pimp boyfriend in (a) St Louis, (b) St Lucia, or (c) St Leonards. The answer of course was (a), and that's the option most of you chose. The three winning entrants are:
Joe Offer of Applegate, California, and;
Margaret Schneider of University City, Missouri.
Congratulations to those three worthies, whose prizes are already in the mail. The discs comprise a fine selection of what the label calls “bloody ballads, prison moans and chain gang blues”, featuring tracks from Johnny Cash, Leadbelly, The Everly Brothers, Woody Guthrie, Billie Holiday, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Paul Robeson, Sonny Boy Williamson and many more. Full details appear on Fantastic Voyage’s own site.
Letters to Planet Slade: September 2012
July 28, 2012. Roger Kettle, who wrote Andy Capp’s Mirror strip from 1998-2010, writes:
“Paul, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your history of Andy Capp and tribute to the genius of Reg Smythe.
“Back in the nineties, I had the great pleasure of having lunch with Reg and he was the most modest, charming and entertaining company you could ever imagine. He even indulged me in my starry-eyed questions about his work - I had grown up with his wonderful strip and it had been a huge influence on my own career. A gent and a genius.
“Shortly after Reg's death, Ken Layson, the cartoon editor at The Mirror, asked me if I'd be interested in trying to write Andy Capp. I remember answering that if I managed to get ONE strip published, I'd be delighted. As it turned out, I ended up writing Andy Capp for over ten years and I am extremely proud of that. It was never a question of emulating Reg's work but trying to keep the spirit of the strip alive and I hope I did that.
Because I write two other daily strips of my own creation, the workload was always going to be difficult to handle and, after a decade of writing 1,000 strips a year, I reluctantly asked to be replaced as Andy's writer. While this probably saved my sanity, I still miss that Novocastrian old bugger!
“I've never felt that Reg Smythe got the credit he deserved for creating the worldwide comic phenomenon that is Andy Capp. Well done, Paul, for putting that to rights with your splendid essay.”
The two other strips Roger mentions are The Daily Star’s Beau Peep and The Mirror’s A Man Called Horace, both of which he produces with artist Andrew Christine.
Paul Slade replies: Thanks for that, Roger, and I'm delighted you enjoyed the piece.
I’ve been a fan of cartooning as a medium all my life, and felt for many years that I'd like to write a really substantial piece explaining just how under-rated Reg Smythe is and encouraging people to look again at the remarkable strip he created. I've had some wonderful feedback from the piece, which suggests it may have gone some way towards achieving that.
We have you, Ken Layson and Roger Mahoney to thank for the fact that Andy wasn't simply shut down when Reg died. I think you and Roger did a wonderful job of continuing the strip's tradition while acknowledging just enough of the modern world to prevent Andy becoming a museum piece. That's a tricky line to walk, but I think you negotiated it very well - just as Lawrence Goldsmith and Sean Garnett are doing today.
And speaking of Sean...
“I'd just like to say what a fantastic essay you wrote on Andy Capp. I read every word and found myself gripped, particularly by the account of Reg Smythe's early days.
“You certainly put a shift in to come up with all that detail. I've flagged it up on Andy’s Twitter page and Lawrence put it on Facebook too. I think he may even be speaking to the syndication people at some point to see if it can somehow be shared with a wider audience.”
Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much, Sean. I'm very pleased you and Lawrence thought I did the subject justice. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised to discover just how many Andy Capp fans there are out there (on both sides of the Atlantic) and I’ve heard from quite a few of them who wanted to share their favourite Andy stories or just recall a cherished strip.
This particular article made July 2012 break all PlanetSlade’s previous traffic records with ease. Then I added a single-page version which Longform.org was kind enough to recommend, and that made August 2012 busier still. The combined effect has been to increase PlanetSlade’s average monthly visits by about 28% and the average number of unique visitors per month by just over 40%. They’re by far the biggest figures the site’s had in its three year history, and that’s very gratifying.
That boost has come largely from people who’ve read the piece passing its URL around, so I’m always grateful for help like your Twitter and Facebook plugs.
“I've now read your very comprehensive history on Andy Capp. I can honestly say I have never seen so much useful information all in one place.
“This must surely make your website one of the main scources of reference for all things Andy Capp. I'm sure the Americans will soak it up! Perhaps as a Sunday newspaper feature?
“I'm very pleased to have been given the opportunity to add my small contribution. Thanks, Paul.”
Paul Slade replies: And thank you, Roger. I think that makes it a full house!
“I’m just back in the office after a holiday, and have had great fun reading your Andy Capp essay. A fine piece of work – congratulations.
“I will have to read it more carefully and add a link on our website, as it contains a huge amount of new material. This is the sort of cartoon scholarship that usually appears only in the USA, and I’m very pleased to find it here.”
Paul Slade replies: I’d love a link to the essay on the BCA site, Nick, so that would be great. I hope people will also use the link I’ve added in your letter to investigate the wealth of Reg Smythe’s original art you have on view there.
“A really cracking read. I am sure Hartlepudlians all over the world, will love this. With your permission, I will forward it to some locals in far off places. Perhaps a mention on my Andy Capp page too if that's OK with you?”
Paul Slade replies: Thanks, Stan – and thanks again for your help when I was researching the piece too. I’d love to have a link to the article on your Andy Capp page, and please do feel free to pass the link on to anyone you think might be interested too. It’s the town’s story just as much as it is Reg and Andy’s really.
“I am in the middle of reading your essay on Andy Capp, and I just wanted to say thank you. I draw a comic called Happy Hour, I have dealt with the rejections that follow a comic about drinking and I always said to myself, ‘Well, Andy Capp does it’. But, for the longest time, that was my only opinion of Andy Capp: I thought he was a drunk.
“Your essay has really opened my eyes, and I am upset I can’t get a whole set of Andy Capp's strips and really scour the history Reg gave us. I also hope your writing helps to bring some much-deserved attention Andy's way.
“If you are interested in reading my comic, it's called Happy Hour, and it's online Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. But I am not here to self promote. I just wanted to write and let you know this article has had a great effect on me thus far.”
Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for getting in touch, Jim, and I’m pleased you’re enjoying the article. You were too modest to include a link to Happy Hour in your letter, so I’m going to add one here instead.
Webcomics are interesting, because it turns out that the daily comic strip is a form that’s perfectly suited to the internet. One of the things to emerge from my interview with Sean and Lawrence, Andy’s current writing team, was that The Mirror’s executives have recently started to value Andy more for precisely that reason.
“The strips are doing well on the website now,” Lawrence Goldsmith told me in April. “They’re being displayed much better, and they’re pulling in quite a bit of traffic. The web editor says it’s absolutely vital that the strips and the puzzles and the horoscopes are updated every day, because that brings people back. The casual viewer looking through a news website comes and goes, but people come back every day for their Perishers or their Andy Capp. That’s very valuable for a website, because it increases the advertising revenue.”
July 29, 2012: Jim Kohl adds:
“I finished the entire essay, and I thought it was brilliant. I really enjoyed what I learned, and have a much deeper appreciation for the character and Reg as a whole.
“I appreciate you including a link to my work. That means a lot to me. If you are still friendly with Sean and Lawrence and you don't mind forwarding them my link, I'd love to hear what they think of my work. I'm even toying with a week of strips that mention Andy Capp. But we'll see ... maybe my characters can just visit his bar.”
“Regarding your Andy Capp story, in particular page 9 and footnote 71. I distinctly recall, though could not possibly try to date, the cup-handle incident you mention being used in a strip in the Mirror.
“Flo brings Andy breakfast in bed on a tray.
“Thought balloon: ‘That flippin' woman! If it isn't one thing it's another’.
“Andy shouts: ‘Florrie!’ She enters, worried: ‘What’s up?’
“Andy replies: ‘What’s up? What’s up? Me cup handle's round the wrong way! That’s what’s up!’
Flo then gives the reader one of those magnificently drawn ‘Well what can anyone do?’ looks. I have just found this strip in The Andy Capp Spring Collection on page 31. Does anyone else remember it?”
Paul Slade replies: You're dead right, Michael. I've just dug out my own copy of The Andy Capp Spring Collection (published in 1960) and there it is.
That cartoon slipped my mind when I came across the Reg & Vera story Ken Layson tells in my article, and so I relied on using the much later Jack & Andy strip for my comparison instead. Yours offers a much closer parallel to the real couple’s behaviour, so I’m grateful for the chance to set the record straight here.
While we’re on the subject of corrections, there’s a couple of other small errors I should clear up too. On page 1 of the piece, I say Andy is “known as Andre Chapeau in France”, a piece of information I took on trust from one of the published sources I used in researching the essay. A Metafilter poster called Elgilito rightly took me to task for this, saying: “I see this little tidbit repeated everywhere but it's false”. In France, he adds, Andy is actually called Andy Capp, as this scan of one of his French books shows.
It’s a fair cop, and I’ve corrected the mistake now, using only those names I’ve actually seen for myself on the covers of Andy’s various foreign collections. Incidentally, I’d still love to speak with a translator who’s worked on Andy one day. I’d be fascinated to know how they deal with Andy and Flo’s particular accent and all the class implications that carries in the English strip.
Finally, over on the Mudcat board, Bainbo pointed out my claim on page 11 of the article that James Bolam is a Tynesider. “I know the rest of the country won't care,” he writes. “But it's of major significance in this tribal corner of North East England. James Bolam, although he seems to go to great lengths not to acknowledge it, is from Sunderland, and therefore a Wearsider, not a Tynesider.”
I’m going to let that one stand, as correcting it in the article would require an extra paragraph spelling out that Sunderland and Newcastle are only about 11 miles apart and that people in the rest of the UK often use “Tyneside” as a generic term for the whole region. I did know that James Bolam came from Sunderland, because I came across that fact somewhere in my research, but my ignorance as a lifelong Southerner stopped me appreciating the importance of this distinction. I’m very happy to give Bainbo his due here.
Message board round-up
You’ll find the sources for all our latest blurbs (“Incoming items indicate...”) below. Sometimes there’s quite an interesting discussion attached.
Beau Peep Notice Board (Camel Dung)
The Cartoonists’ Forum
The Comics Curmudgeon
The Comics Journal
Andy Capp’s Facebook page