It's ten years since Beowulf Cartoon was published by Writers Forum & Visual Associations. Dedicated to the memory of Bob Cobbing 1920-2002 (who couldn't resist a good birthday) and Bill Griffiths 1948-2007 (friendly ghost stalking UK's contemporary poetry scene).
Germaine Greer, in a Guardian article written 2007, on projected making of movie adapted from Richard Neville's memoir
Hippie Hippie Shake, comments --
"As one of the
least talented people on the London scene in the 60s, it was probably inevitable
that Neville would be constantly revisiting it in search of the fame and fortune
that continue to elude him. Felix Dennis, being now worth something like £385m,
doesn't find it necessary to remind people at every turn that he was one of the
heroes of the Oz trial a third of a century ago. He is also far too smart to let
Neville [...] exploit his hippie past, and they wouldn't try. The real geniuses
being dead, deranged or sunk in obscurity, the attentions of the flesh-eating
bacteria turn to me."
Howard Jacobson's recent television documentary Rebels of
Oz celebrates with affection sheer Aussie brilliance of imports Germaine
Greer, Barry Humphries, Clive James and the late Robert Hughes. Oz
magazine enjoys only brief cameo appearance.
At a July 14th event in the British Library (BL
supported on this occasion by Eccles Centre for American Studies); and as part of its ongoing
Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK exhibition; public debate
was organised on Monday night by the show's curators; ostensibly to spotlight 'Robert
Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and Friends: From the Comics Underground to the
Courtroom' -- discussing influence and use of American counterculture
in British comics during the early Seventies.
Self-proclaimed cultural infidel Charles Shaar
Murray -- a 'Schoolkids Issue' Oz veteran himself -- mc'd Comics
Unmasked's 'Underground' evening (his website post as host is here with filmed documentation of the evening*).
Reprinting of Shelton and Crumb
drawings in Nasty Tales number one provoked a second high-profile
obscenity trial, two years after Oz found itself in the dock at the Old
Bailey for publishing Crumb's cartoons. For sensitive little hippy souls growing up with Rupert Bear stories, there was always ambivalence in 'Schoolkids Issue'
montage of Alfred Bestall's representational détournment as collaged wirh US underground cartoonist R.Crumb's drawing (Robert Hughes celebrates
Crumb's genius in 2005 Guardian article here). Comics Unmasked's most critical detractor, the celebrated arts writer, critic, and broadcaster Waldemar Januszczak, writing for the Sunday Times (mirror blog here), is perhaps the only contrarian among UK liberal arts media commentariat.
Cultural ambivalence has not gone
away. It is possible to argue a passing of forty-five years has not reduced the juxtapositional
impact of satirical North American adult comix form with traditional Rupert
Bear iconography. Small girls and grown women (including former English hippy chicks of the 1960s and early '70's - now
grandmothers themselves) have always enjoyed a particular asexual engagement with Rupert Bear
and chums. These anthropomorphic children's icons from "Nutwood" are perennial. Represented in newer media formats and seemingly just as popular with new generations of young not-so-sensitive male geeks.
With "Nutwood'"s visual culture globalized in moving image through 1990's Canadian animation company Nelvana's North American produced telecasts; its earlier vibrant paraliterary form as print, is reproduced here by graphics Eye journal through a 1959 Rupert Bear page
unit analysis. Providing evidence of early modernist mass visual culture in the UK. Side-stepping "art and anarchy" in a dance of water colour illustration.
The imagery has raced into social media and 21st century podcast locations -- a cartoon secondary
world speeds even further away from Sixties, Seventies & Eighties (Oz magazine & Nasty Tales' loan of R. Crumb's hippie hippie shake comix; Beatle Paul McCartney's and Python Terry Jones's nostalgic enthusiasms) - through the Nineties, Noughties and Twentyteens (Crumb holds-and-folds copy of 'Schoolkids Issue' Oz in a British museum 2014) -- flying into timeless working class picture-pastorals. When We Were Very Young at Disneyland. Winnie the Pooh in Latin. Black magic grimoire spells of John Dee and Aleister Crowley. White magic words and pictures of Milne and Shepard. Pretend poetry. Poetry betrayed every day. * Extended British Library footage, including Shaar Murray's interviews with cartoonists Crumb and Shelton, is available here.
Felix Dennis died this month - June 22nd 2014 (Social Reality Earthtime).
For those who knew Mr. Dennis it is impossible to forget him.
This is Mike Weller's third Felix Dennis blogspot feature in three years. But this post is something of a wake. A celebration of pretend poetry. The first mention of Felix, eighth paragraph down, is here. The second, a 'Warped Sci Fi Pieces" minimovie appearance, is here. Felix makes cameo appearance 'Ballad for Jeff Nuttall' (Veer's beat generation ballads).
From Hong Kung-Fuey to his own faux-British silicon shire Kiplingesque poetry: Felix Dennis accumulated wealth by mining niche pop culture subject matter into printed magazines - from comix to computers. Well, maybe not comics. His plan to sell Mike Weller as Britain's answer to R.Crumb after The Firm was a non-starter: "Captain" Stelling was a one shot cartoon fiction and Weller had no plans to do more comic books with Union Jack banners across them. A projected "Illustrated Bob Dylan Songbook" drawn up by OZ /Cozmic Comicsgraphic artists and cartoonists didn't work either. Have you ever tried to be like Bob Dylan. No question mark.
It would take eighties generation English and Scottish working class cartoonists and writers to rejuvenate Alfred Harmsworth's old line of comic papers into successful modernity and USA export. Felix was a larger than life figure himself. A match for Fleetway's fictional Sexton Blake, Battler Britton, newer Megacity anti-hero, Judge Dredd, and Misty comic for girls of the Kate Bush generation.
Felix, the old bugger, managed to get a comic title for himself in the end, by acquiring Viz from Newcastle's Donald brothers after they'd already established their humorous brew.
Scheduled to appear at British Library's Comics Unmasked conference evening with Robert Crumb and others involved in 1970's Oz and Nasty Tales obscenity trials on July 14th - Felix's absence cannot be happily filled. Neither can Mick Farren's and Edward Barker'sfor that matter. Hail and farewell, Felix...
'Lucky Trees', along with 'Lullaby of Smegland', 'Warped Sci-Fi Pieces' form part of (Site Under Construction). Dennis is inspiration for Weller's Cap Stelling characters Mr White/Lawrie Libb.
Felix is immortalized in April 2014's 'Zine Tales' by montaging old 1970's "Folders full of Mick" pencil sketches with up-to-date lettered ink comments.
Felix Dennis was a product of lower middle class south London suburbia with an absent father. In his younger days he was known to talk himself up as coming "from London's tough East End" - a conceit later inspiring 1930s Jewish author-publisher character Eddie
Mogul in Mike Weller's Space Opera and Slow Fiction.
Not a fan of modernist poetry (although he did follow Sophie Robinson on Twitter): experimental and linguistically innovative writing were an anathema to him.
As a gambling man, Dennis never beat a path by walking Johnny Cash's traditional ballad line. He wasn't going to lose by playing the foolish game of love. Falling for someone, giving all of his love, taking the chance it may be unrequited, or worse, accepted as an act of faith and then twisted by bitter betrayal.
He adored John Donne. Felix Dennis had impeccable taste in poetry.
And he could never be accused of composing pretend epithalamia.
Thanks to William Rowe, Carol Watts, Sean Bonney - and particularly Frances Kruk, plus techie team at Birkbeck College London, for making Ween Film an exhibited moving image reality at London Poetry Festival's visual werx & audio cinematic loop 17-18 May 2014. Aplausos! https://vimeo.com/95954822