“For a long time I stayed in bed very late.” — Marcel Proust I remember with a kind of spiritual / intellectual ‘wince’ the boredom of the papers on Sunday. The comics. The last page, if you still hoped for some relief (it was, after all, ‘the last page’), featured Val (Prince Valiant), Radish, Laredo Crocket & maybe The Potts … (& some puzzles, Chucklers, I never did). Radish I remember with some affection. Though did I feel it then? Rarely. In it a couple — or a threesome? — engaged in intellectual problems thought to typify their late-middle-aged, maybe almost ‘battler’ status. There was no action in these comics — & in this instance, invariably, the old lady, her hair worn (like Val ‘s) in a bun (Val sported, when I think about it, a curious Cleopatra cut), dried a dish or waved an admonishing finger—& hoped or worried that — say — money, which she hoped would arrive, would arrive — & pay their bills. The bloke, though he did hardly anything (& nothing that didn’t go wrong) — read the paper, bottled beer — or carried his device, a manly hammer — tightened a val- ve that needed loosening — & while he talked over his shoulder she wiped up & talked back. (As fair to call this “intellectual” as “abstract”, I think.) Maybe it would happen, maybe it wouldn’t, whatever ‘it’ was & one rarely knew. In these comics long-foreshadowed action — maybe because it took so long & was uneventful — like tension ‘going away’ rather than definitively ending — did not seem like action, & maybe Radish held some microscopic fascination — how I think of it now — because, in a pasture out the window he grazed, the ‘wild’ or trump card we hoped might one day be played — in a rescue of narrativity, surreal but consequential. Radish, the last of the comics on this last page, took its name from the badly drawn, sway-backed horse suspended leit motif, incendiary loose-cannon narrative device — available, should its creators feel (as I did) the need for it. In fact weeks would go by in which we did not catch sight of the beast — & then we did — leading his contemplative (not to say intellectual) life, truly a Life of Riley, munching, chewing, raising his tail. Was he their unconscious? their libido? The Potts’ id? “Val,” Prince Valiant’s flaxen-haired betrothed would say, “Val, stick it to me.” But she never did — though she admired him, as I never could, while he practised his archery, sharpened his sword, ‘had moods’. Was this maybe muscular Christianity avant la lettre? or a puritan paganism? Val never promised the violently insurrectionary the way Radish did, or even the intellectual far-fetchedness & ‘possibility’ of the horse — who had a rumoured history as a one-time winner: hopes hoped of him had some basis. Val on the other hand, had done nothing — text- book stuff, dutifully, text-book battles, text-book dispensing of justice, text-book falconry. There was no melodrama. Val did everything in orderly fashion. He would never even grow bored with himself, bored enough to come bursting through the door, cigar in his mouth, gun in improbable hoof, announcing He-haww! The Drinks are on me, as the horse would … or would in the comics I desired. Was the strip named after the horse, as I imagined? Then who were The Potts? Or Wally & the Major? Why, of the comics on the other page, was the one I understood least the most intriguing — the modern one, temporal miles from Val but geographic miles from me (I assumed it was America, though almost too literate — which made it, then, socio-economic miles from me, too)? where what they did was sit, & amble around, in an airy open-planned lounge or den — & maybe read the comix, or Sunday papers or a magazine. The heroine hoped she would not be bored, & father — handsome, quizzical, sporty dresser — made dry remarks — as did mom — another intellectual? The young girl (eighteen? twenty-two?) wore Prince Val’s hair-do, better than Val did, & torreador pants & maybe lounged on her spine, oblique & petulant — & hoped her boredom would end: like me she hated the comics … & Sundays … an attractive young bourgeoise — while I remained, like Radish before me, a ‘dark horse’ — yet, like the girl, soon to grow fiercely intellectual.
A gay, light-hearted bastard, ERN MALLEY cuts a moodily romantic figure within the dun Australian literary scene, his name inevitably conjuring perhaps that best known image of him, bow-tie askew, grinning cheerfully, at the wheel of his 1958 Jaguar sports car, El Cid. It is this image that also carries in its train the stories of later suffering-the affairs, the women, the bad teeth-and, speaking of teeth, the beautiful poems wrenched from the teeth of despair & written on the wrist of happiness “where happiness happens to like its poems written best” (in his inordinate phrase).
As reported on Cordite News Explosion: “… despite our initial glee at receiving ten new poems by Ern Malley himself, we are humbled and disappointed to announce that three of these poems – namely Escape Clause, A Fool To Care and Prospect of KB as a Young Critic – were in fact written by Ken Bolton. .”