Thank you again for your hospitality during my stay in Amsterdam; it almost makes me feel sorry to be back in London. I’m sad to say that the tulip bulbs you were kind enough to give me did not make it through customs, as I was suspected of using them to smuggle in anti-government propaganda. Let me tell you in confidence that the list of grievances I am currently nursing against them could not be concealed in anything so discreet as a tulip bulb, and would in fact have difficulty being compacted into a pumpkin.
That being said, our new leader Oliver Cromwell does appear to have had one or two bright ideas. I am particularly excited by his proposal to abolish Christmas, which will save me a fortune in presents and mince pies, and his plan to shut down the theatres, which should at last make it possible to hail a carriage in Drury Lane after ten thirty. It was also gratifying to see his invitation to the Jews to cease their wanderings and return from exile, although between you and me what with the Puritans in power exile seems like more fun.
Following our conversations I’ve also developed a renewed passion for my poetry. I had a burst of inspiration on the boat and composed fifteen stanzas on the virtues of oral hygiene and the role of frangipane in tooth decay. A passing seagull sadly ripped the notepaper from my hands, which as criticism goes is not the worst I’ve had to put up with.
I grow ever more convinced that the project that will make my name is just around the corner, if only I could work out what that expression means.
Yours in friendship,
For God’s sake stop beating yourself up. You’re young, you’re good-looking, and to my mind you’re the greatest English poet since Shakespeare. I know that compliment will mean more once the man’s been dead for more than forty years, but I do urge you to take it in the spirit with which it was meant.
As for new projects, what about the idea we discussed on your last night with us in Holland: six ordinary men and women blessed with extraordinary powers who unite in support of the Roundheads against the King? I know the concept of avengers assembling in this manner was old-fashioned back when the Greeks turned their hand to it, but I still think there’s value in a modern retelling.
I’ve enclosed another handful of tulips for you to enjoy, which I hope will get past the peculiar official customs of your equally peculiar customs officials.
Diederik Casper Comijks
My dear Diedi,
What a genius you are! Did I say genius? Forgive me old friend, I have perpetrated a gross slander against your intelligence and to my mind you would be well-advised to sue. If there is a term that can pay tribute to your mental acuity it certainly doesn’t exist in English. There might be one in Dutch but I wouldn’t have the throat musculature to do it justice.
How could I have forgotten our idea for an epic poem concerning a band of heroes – a league of individuals single-mindedly devoted to the cause of justice. It’s brilliant. I can hardly wait to get started. I have already been in touch with Frans Hals to see if he would be willing to do the illustrations (now that Van Dyck is dead I can think of nobody better suited to the task) and will enclose a draft as soon as I can scrabble one together.
This is the biggest thing to happen to me since Milton lost his eyesight.
Permit me to return the compliment! What a work of genius this is. Do I use the word genius? I stint. I calumniate. I damn with faint praise. My words are not up to the task of paying you homage, I who would be honoured to serve out my days as blotting paper to your preëminent quill.
You say you worry that your Coy Mistress character is two-dimensional and underdeveloped. I’d like some of whatever New World tuber you’ve been smoking! I’ve cast an eye over the latest illustrations and let me tell you she’s about as two-dimensional as the Swiss Alps. If they grew women like that here in the Netherlands, maybe we wouldn’t have such a reputation for being flat.
Can I also say how much I LOVE the character of the Lord Protector? Making him an exile from a distant land with eyes that can see into the souls of men is both flattering to Cromwell while staying on the right side of abject servility. Besides, you’ve imbued him with superhuman strength and given him the ability to jump tall cottages in a single bound – I don’t see how he could possibly object! I’m not convinced that the suit of armour with a giant letter C on the front is the most appropriate costume, though – how about throwing in a cape and a pair of bright red tights? I’ve also had one or two thoughts about the codpiece which I’ve scribbled down in the illustration overleaf.
Hals is insisting on my using his Laughing Cavalier character. He’s sent across some early sketches which aren’t bad, but I’m struggling to work out what his role could be within the team as a whole. I mean, is his superpower going to be that he laughs a lot? Can you imagine:
Among the stout companions did appear
The figure of the Laughing Cavalier
Who summoned forth an overwhelming draught
To fell his enemies whene’er he laughed,
Dispensing with each miserable cuckold
Who challenged him if he so much as chuckled,
And knocking all opponents to the floor
When he was prompted to a large guffaw.
Do you have any idea what Milton would say to that sort of garbage? He goes and writes a two-volume masterpiece on the Fall of Man and his ultimate redemption, and I babble on about a character who makes people dizzy when he giggles. I’d be a laughing stock (don’t you dare snigger at that).
No, I’m far keener on my new character: The Incredible Ruff. This is a guy with neckwear out to here, a good ten or twelve feet in diameter. He’s got a blade concealed in it somewhere, and it spins round at a cracking pace making him something like a cross between a dandelion and a mace and chain. Hals claims the concept is ridiculous and refuses to draw me a mock-up, which makes me want to laugh so hard it dislocates his jaw. Could you possibly have a word?
Yours in frustration,
PS Many thanks for your thoughts on the Lord Protector character, as well as your detailed annotations regarding the layout, size, shape and protuberance of his codpiece. Given the uncertain political situation I am increasingly worried about making such an obvious homage to Cromwell Senior. Do of course feel free to make use of the character in anything you do yourself – I shan’t object.
I’m sorry to hear you and Frans have been having difficulties. I went to speak to him in person this week, as per your last letter, and I must confess to also finding your behaviour somewhat unreasonable. He showed me some of the ideas that he’s been proposing for inclusion in your epic, and Andy, let me tell you some of them are choice nuggets of inspiration.
Not the man who carries the turquoise beacon, perhaps, there you might have a point, but the raven-haired woman with the lasso and armoured wristguards seems to me like a sure-fire winner. Also, what do you think about the man who dresses up as a bat? I was very struck by the power of the backstory – as you know, orphans are all the rage at the moment and I think you might be wise to slip it into the narrative somewhere if you can find room.
Diederik Casper Comijks
I must say I am disappointed. If you cannot see the difference between my timeless creations and Hals’s demented scrawlings then I suggest we cease our correspondence until such time as you regain your senses.
You must remember that this is a serious artform we’re discussing here, not some sort of childish pap. If I wanted to cater to an eternal audience of teenagers then I might as well have stuck with the sappy love sonnets and saccharine odes to happiness. Can’t you see I am striving towards a higher purpose? A man who dresses as a bat, indeed. The uneducated masses in Holland might see the appeal in such a frivolous creation but let me tell you the English are made of more serious stuff.
I increasingly feel that this project is altogether too advanced for its time and regret ever having confided my plans in such a philistine as yourself. The A. Marvell – D. C. Comijks partnership is regrettably at an end. I wish you, Chiroptera-Man, Turquoise Beacon, Wondrous Lady, and Lord Protector well.
Also, please stop sending me your damned tulip bulbs. They’re absolutely inedible and in powdered form make for terrible tea. You can keep them to yourself, and I hope they make you choke.
I have the pleasure to remain yours cordially,