A DEATH IN THE FAMILY. KIND OF.
STANLEY MORGAN: 1929 - 2018
I’ll take a vague stab in the dark that you’ve never crossed paths with Stan.
It was very much a time and a place thing. Stanley Morgan was a writer. He wrote many books but he is best known for a series featuring Russ Tobin. Russ was just a guy from the North West of England trying his best to get by and, across eighteen books (I think), pretty much slept his way around the world like some working class James Bond with a brilliant sense of humour.
I was maybe 14 (1982/83) when I discovered him in a used bookshop called (I think) Bridge Books in my old hometown. It was packed to the roof with all kinds of treasure for about 10p a copy and run by some guy who looked like he had eaten nothing but acid since 1960.
Technically speaking, it wasn’t me that made the discovery - that would have been my good buddy John because my mission in that shop was Ed McBain books, Conan books, old airport paperback copies of MAD and anything I could lay my hands on that was vaguely occult-like. They were good times. You could get a lot of books every week for not much money, but this find by John was a serious game changer.
It was this:
By the end of the week we had both read it, fallen head over heels in love with the idea of being Russ Tobin and over the next few weeks, we pounded the hell out of those bookshop shelves looking for more. Some were easy to come by, some were like gold-dust and in the days before the internet, it was impossible to know how many titles there actually were but we kept looking all the same.
I think John made the final discovery some ten years later (long after we should have given up) in another abandoned Welsh bookshop but by then it was too late. We had both been long sunk by the Tobin boat. I even made a career out of it. When I ran out of things to do or be back home, I just did what Russ had done and moved to London to see what would happen next.
Now there’s a truth I’ve never said out loud before.
It’s not right that a man (ie: me) should take on board the traits of a fictional character but it’s probably what I’ve done my whole life when there have been precious other resources for figuring out how to grow up and who to be.
Actually, there’s no ‘probably’ about it. For good or ill, I figured Tobin was a nice guy - somebody I wanted to be like when I grew up and… I don’t know if I made it or not.
Anyway, fast forward twenty years or so to 2004/2005. I discovered somebody had created a fan-site for Stanley Morgan, Russ Tobin and all of his other creations. It was a real blast to discover his fans were a million strong out there (well, quite a few anyway) so I dropped Stan a note through the site to say more or less what I’ve just said above and to thank him for his work because damnit, Russ Tobin got me through some real bad times at home. He made me laugh. He gave me something attainable to be that wasn’t plastered in greasepaint. He brought John and me closer together in a massive dumb-ass book hunting competition that never really ended. You know… things that fucking matter.
I’ve probably left out a lot of other reasons too but some things are still sacred around here.
When I saw Stan was writing another Tobin book, I guess I must have offered to design the cover for him because that’s exactly what I did. We chatted back and forth and I came up with some covers that were dead-ringers for the classic Mayflower series. Come the print-day, they didn’t get used because he didn't want his new book to be ‘tainted as soft-porn’ as all of his Mayfower releases were by reviewers in the past. He wanted to go more ‘comic’ - so that’s what he did with an illustration. Totally cool. I was just stoked to be talking about this stuff when I’d never really expected him to reply in the first place.
I have copy of that book - Tobin Goes Cuckoo - right here on the shelf not three feet from my hands. It’s dedicated to me in both biro ink and type.
Fourteen year old me would have gone insane overnight if he had known such things were possible back in 1983.
As it is, fifty year old me just shed a tear and plugged the hole with a cigarette (I believe those are Russ Tobin’s fault too) for the loss of somebody I didn’t really know at all, yet managed to have more input into the man I came to be than both of my parents.
Like Chris Cornell, I didn’t know I felt like this until it happened and now I feel like a part of me has ended too - maybe that’s how these things work. I know it’s just an emotional reaction and it won’t last forever but you know what… if one of my books ever means as much to somebody as Stanley Morgan’s did to me, I’ll take that as a major win.
Thanks Stan. You changed a world.