I just came back from London. Mostly talking to game and comics people in connection with a book I wrote a while ago (Killing Monsters) and a book I'm contemplating starting (a sort of sequel to Men of Tomorrow), but also squeezing in some research on The Undressing of America, because London is where Bernarr and Mary Macfadden met, and the seeds of confessional, exhibitionistic, and voyeuristic media were planted.
Places change when I change: that is, what's in my head changes how a place looks to me. I've been to London many times, starting when I was 14, and it's always been a slightly different city. This time it was a city shaped by this book. I stood in front of the office building on the Strand where Macfadden and his bride had run the magazines that affected so much in our cultural landscape, and everything I saw seemed to reference them.
Joggers carrying on Macfadden's crusade for physical fitness. Women dressed in jeans and t-shirts referring back to his war against corsets and constricting dresses. Cheap magazines and comic books in the newsagents' still bearing witness to his role in the birth of independent publishing. (I dropped in on a comics convention at the Excel Centre.) The seeds of True Story magazine sending up shoots everywhere as celebrity gossip and tabloid journalism. (I popped into a shop with my friend Rachel to buy something to eat, and within seconds she'd vanished from sight; I found her at the magazine rack, where some headline about Cheryl Cole had screamed at her.) And even public pornography: a guy in a pub with a tabloid open to the bare-breasted woman on Page 3.
I was looking at a place I'd looked at many times and not seeing much of anything new on the surface. But this time I could look through it—a city suddenly transparent—to see strange figures of a century ago, building and shaping it.