Posts Tagged ‘2000 AD’

Happy Yule! Horrific Christmas Art from 2000 AD’s Kevin O’Neill

December 26, 2022

Happy Boxing Day everyone! I hope you all had a great Christmas Day yesterday, and are enjoying the seasonal holidays. Or at least, as close as anyone comes to enjoying anything in this Tory-inflicted Winter of Discontent. I’m a big fan of the comics artist Kevin O’Neill, who sadly passed away earlier this year. O’Neill drew a number of favourite strips, including ‘Robusters’ and ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ for 2000 AD, and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for DC. His speciality was robots and aliens, and he was able to draw the most amazing, grotesque and horrific creatures. This was particularly shown in his art for Nemesis the Warlock, which was set in a far-future dark age where Earth was ruled by the Terminators, a religious order which regarded aliens as demons and was intent on their extermination. But it was also shown in many of his other strips, such as the edition of DC’s Green Lantern Corps which the Comics Code refused to pass. The Comics Code were the industry’s censors, set up in the 1950s to reassure American parents that the comics they approved were good, wholesome fare for American youth. The Code refused to pass that issue of the Corps not for any particular reason of the script, but because O’Neill’s artwork was ‘completely unsuitable for children.’ O’Neill had been cheerily turning out such art for British kids in 2000 AD for years by then with no apparent complaint. Well, there was the lad who supposedly told Dave Gibbons, another giant of British comics, that O’Neill’s art gave him nightmares which he could only dispel by looking at his. I think O’Neill consider his rejection by the censors something of an accolade. It’s certainly presented as such in his conversation with Tharg in a celebratory strip 2000 AD ran for Prog 500.

O’Neill also drew the front and back covers for one of 2000 AD’s Christmas issues. This portrayed Santa Claus and the other Christmas features as horrific, including the Christmas turkey and fireplace hung with stockings as rampaging grotesque monsters. It sort of followed in a long tradition of such comic art. One of the children’s humour comics did a feature on the seven ghostly wonders of Britain, in which famous British landmarks became spooky monsters. One of these was ‘Cheddar George’, in which the Somerset cave system became a twisted face with open, ravenous maw.

So, here for your enjoyment, this festive season are the covers drawn by O’Neill. RIP, big man – may your art continue to fascinate, amuse and inspire kids for generations to come. And to everyone else, please – don’t have nightmares.

And here’s the piece from Prog 500 in which Tharg and O’Neill discuss O’Neill’s moment of glory from the Comics Code.

Sketch of June Whitfield

November 29, 2022

No list or depiction of the great female comic actors of the late 20th and early 21st century would be complete without June Whitfield. She had a long, brilliant career starring in many of the favourite comedy series on British radio and television. She was Eth, the girlfriend of the utterly gormless Ron Glum in both the radio and TV versions of The Glums. And for a long time in the 1970s she played one half of the titular couple in the Beeb sitcom Terry and June, with Terry Scott playing her husband. This was a rather safe, conventional sitcom that went on just a little too long and was eventually overtaken by the new, fresher ideas and comics of the 1980s. 2000 AD had a dig at it in a ‘Future Shock’, which seemed to owe something also to the SF movie Harrison Bergeron. This was set in a dystopia in which everyone had to be exactly the same, so that all the married couples were called Terry and June. After it finished, I think its name was deliberately spoofed by the gay sitcom starring Julian Clary on Channel 4, Terry and Julian. Then in the ’90s she returned to the small screen as the confused grandmother in Absolutely Fabulous, with Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as the endlessly partying fashionistas Edina and Patsy and Julie Sawalha as Saunders’ screen daughter. She also continued to appear on the radio in series such as Radio 2’s satirical The News Huddlines with Roy Hudd. Even before Ab Fab Whitfield had appeared in some slightly risque material. In 1971 or so she and Frankie Howerd released a spoof of Serge Gainsbourg’s Je T’aime. This had Whitfield panting and whispering enticements while Howerd tried to put her off with cries of ‘Oh, give over! I’m trying to get some sleep. Oh, no, now you’ve taken over all the bedclothes’ and so on. It’s tame stuff and is available on YouTube if you want to hear it. But it was too much for the Beeb at the time, who banned it along with the original. Ah, how times have changed!

Sketch of Comics Creators Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

November 23, 2022

This is for all the comics fans out there. It’s a sketch of the comics writer, Alan Moore, with the artist Kevin O’Neill. It’s based on a photo of the two that was published last week on one of the comics sites that reported the sad death of O’Neill. Moore began his career in comics with the strip ‘The Stars My Degradation’ in Sounds, which he wrote and drew under the pseudonym Kurt Vile. This was a satire of the American superhero comics of the time. He also created ‘Laser Eraser and Pressbutton’, about a future female assassin and her companion, the psychotic cyborg Axel Pressbutton, which was revived in the 1980s as one of the strips in the adult comic Warrior. From there he progressed to writing Captain Britain in Marvel UK, as well as the eccentric genius, ‘Abelard Snazz – the Man with the High-Rise Head’ and a number of stories for ‘Tharg’s Future Shocks’ and ‘Time Twisters’ in 2000 AD. He was then poached by DC Comics over in the states, writing Swamp Thing and later The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This last strip was illustrated by O’Neill, and was about a Victorian superhero group made up of Alan Quartermain, Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde, the Invisible Man, Dorian Grey and Captain Nemo and the Nautilus. This was later filmed with Sean Connery playing Quatermain. Moore and O’Neill were also responsible for the edition of the Green Lantern Corps that the American Comics Code refused to pass as suitable for children. When Moore asked what was wrong with it, and if he could change anything to get it passed, they told him, ‘No.’ It was O’Neill’s artwork. That was totally unsuitable for wholesome American youth. By this time, O’Neill and his art had already appeared for years in British comics like 2000 AD. Moore also wrote ‘V for Vendetta’, which originally appeared in Warrior. This was about a masked vigilante, whose real identity is never revealed, and his female companion Evie, attempting to bring down the corrupt, brutal government in a future Fascist Britain. It was later filmed with Hugo Weaving as ‘V’ and Natalie Portman as Evie, with the dictator played by John Hurt. It was this film that launched the Guy Fawkes mask as the symbol of the hackers’ group Anonymous and universal protest across the world.

O’Neill launched a number of favourite strips in 2000 AD, where his particular strengths were drawing robots and aliens. He co-created with writer Pat Mills, ‘Robusters’, about a robot disaster squad, ‘ABC Warriors’, about a group of war robots fighting tyranny, injustice and the Volgans, and ‘Nemesis the Warlock’, about an alien sorcerer fighting the evil Terminators, a xenophobic human military order determined to exterminate all intelligent aliens. He and Mills also created a short-lived strip for DC, Metalzoic, about a group of robot apemen on a far-future Earth, where robots had evolved to become the dominant creatures and formed an entire ecology of robot animals – mammoths, sharks, lions, giraffes and so on. He and Mills also created the violent and nihilistic anti-superhero strip, Marshal Law, set in a devastated future San Francisco. This was about a superpowered policeman who was employed to fight violent and criminal superhero gangs, formed by former soldiers left traumatised by a war in Central America. Alan Moore has also praised O’Neill’s depiction of humans. O’Neill is also very good at depicting grotesques, and Moore believed he was the greatest artist of that kind of human life since Hogarth. High praise indeed! O’Neill also illustrated strips for other comics, as well writing a number of SF fanzines. As an artist, I think his work transcends the medium and is itself great art, like the other comics artist Jack Kirby, comparable to H.R. Giger, the man who created the Alien and the Russian artists of the austere style. O’Neill was a real character at conventions, with many funny anecdotes and his death is a real loss to British and American comics.

2000AD and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Artist Kevin O’Neill Dies Aged 69

November 9, 2022

I was saddened to learn of the death on Monday of Kevin O’Neill, one of the great British comics artists behind many of the favourite strips in 2000AD over here and DC Comics and other publishers in America. O’Neill was the co-creator, with writer Pat Mills, of the Robusters, ABC Warriors and Nemesis the Warlock strips in 2000 AD, the galaxy’s greatest comic. Robusters was about a robot disaster squad, led by Hammerstein, an old war droid, and Rojaws, a foul-mouthed sewer robot, who formed a kind of double act. The squad was owned by the dictatorial Howard Quartz, alias ‘Mr 10 Per Cent’, because after some kind of disaster, only ten per cent of him – his brain – was still human, housed in a robot body. The penalty for failure or simply upsetting the boss was destruction, and the pair were always on the verge of being pulled apart by the sadistic but thick robot bulldozer, Mekquake. ABC Warriors was a continuation of Hammerstein’s adventures, first in a world war against the Volgan Republic, and then on Mars and a far future Earth, as the leader of an elite squad of robots dedicated to fighting evil. Nemesis the Warlock was a weird sword and sorcery strip set in the far future. The surface of the Earth had become a devastated wasteland and humanity had retreated underground. Renamed Termight, short for ‘Mighty Terra’, it was a medieval society ruled by an evil order of warriors, the Terminators, that hated and feared intelligent alien. Led by their Grand Master, Torquemada, Earth regarded such aliens as demonic and waged a war of extermination against them. O’Neill’s art, which is angular and geometric, was suitably Gothic and horrific, creating a nightmare variety of alien creatures. His art was so horrific, in fact, that later, when he was working on the Green Lantern Corps, a superhero comic for DC, it put the wind up the Comics Code Authority. This had been founded in the 1950s during the moral panic over comics. It was supposed to judge whether or not a comic was suitable to be read by children. Although it was supposedly voluntary, in fact all children’s comics had to be submitted to the Authority as otherwise the mainstream newsagents over there wouldn’t carry them. The writer, Alan Moore, who also created the cult strip about a future Fascist Britain, V For Vendetta, took the unusual step of contacting the Authority. Would the comic get approved if various changes were made? No, they replied. It wasn’t the strip’s story; it was the artwork. It was totally unsuitable for children. This became something of a source of pride and amusement to O’Neill and the other creators at 2000 AD. So grim was his art that rumours started circulating that he had an occult temple in his basement and drew only at night. These were completely false. On the other hand, a fan once told his fellow 2000 AD artist, Dave Gibbons, that O’Neill’s art gave him nightmares which he could only cure by looking a Gibbons. When O’Neill wasn’t traumatising people with his serious strips, he made them laugh with Dash Descent, a parody of the old Flash Gordon serials. He also drew the Tharg’s Future Shocks strip which a court later ruled had been plagiarised by the film maker Richard Stanley for the film Hardware. This was set in a decaying city in which a scavenger in the radiation deserts finds and brings back the remains of an experimental war robot, the B.A.A.L. His artist girlfriends reassembles it and it then goes off on a frenzy of killing. Hardware is a cult film, which stands up even now, three decades after it was made. Highlights include cameo appearances by Lemmy, as a water taxi driver, and the voice of Iggy Pop as a radio announcer. It’s just a pity Stanley didn’t work out a deal with 2000 AD first. He also contributed in other, minor ways to the comic. He created the look of Tharg, the comic’s alien editor from the star Betelgeuse, and introduced the credit cards telling readers who the writer, artist and letterer were, quite against the publisher’s policy. But this allowed the people, who actually created the strips, to gain the proper recognition and respect for their work.

O’Neill left 2000 AD for work with the American comics companies. He and writer Pat Mills created Metalzoic for DC. This was another robot strip, set on a far future Earth where an ecology of robot animals had developed and taken over, and followed the adventures of a tribe of robot ape men and the human woman they had rescued. It still is one of my favourite strips, but sadly flopped, though it was later reprinted in 2000 AD. O’Neill was far more successful with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, written by Alan Moore. This had the idea that the great figures of 19th and early 20th century SF, Fantasy and Horror – Alan Quatermaine, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll/Mr Hyde, Captain Nemo and Dorian Grey – had formed a kind of superhero group. It was filmed with Sean Connery as Quatermaine. Back to causing gleeful mayhem, O’Neill and Mills created the violent, nihilistic Marshal Law. This was an adult comic set in a near future San Francisco. Devastated by an earthquake, the city was renamed San Futuro, and plagued by warring superhero gangs. The superheroes had been created to fight in a war in South America. As a result, many of the survivors had returned to America mentally and physically scarred, some turning to violent crime. Law was the member of a small anti-superhero squad, moved by a deep hatred of superheroes. He uttered phrases like ‘They say I hate superheroes. They’re wrong. Hatred is far too bland a word for the way I feel about them’ and ‘I’m hunting heroes. I haven’t found any yet’. Mills hates superheroes and has very left-wing politics and poured that into the strip. It commented on recent developments in genetic engineering and the patenting of GMOs, insane CIA plans to overthrow Fidel Castro and other South American left-wing regimes and how America trained the sadistic torturers for the continent’s Fascist dictators. There was also an overt feminist critique of the genre and the fictional glamorisation of the real horrors of war. The Marshal’s opponents were vicious parodies of various superheroes. Despite its grim premise, it was a hilarious strip, although the humour was pitch-black. It was too much for one publisher, however, and moved from one to another. It has now been collected into a single album, although sadly without the crossover strip featuring the Marshal fighting Pinhead from Hellraiser.

Outside of comics, O’Neill apparently published his own fanzine, Just Imagine: The Journal of Film and Television Special Effects. I also remember him being credited in Starlog for designing the aliens in the Disney film, Return to Witch Mountain.

I met O’Neill extremely briefly at the UKCAC 90 comics convention, 32 years ago. From what I can remember, he was a short, slightly built chap in a T-shirt championing solidarity with Nicaragua, whose left-wing regime was under attack by the brutal Contras funded by Reagan and Thatcher. He was drawing people’s favourite characters for them on badges supplied by the convention’s organisers. But he was an amazing artist, producing very high-quality drawings in a blur of speed. There are a series of videos of him speaking at various comics conventions about Nemesis, Marshal Law and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where he appears as short, jolly fellow with a great sense of humour, chortling over the daft incidents he’s experienced during his career.

In a separate interview, also on YouTube, Alan Moore commented on his art, praising him as one of the greatest British artists of all time. Moore remarks that O’Neill’s celebrated for his robots and aliens, but not for his humans. But Moore considers that he is brilliant depicter of humans as grotesques, and in that sense is one of the best artists since Hogarth. It sounds like something that should go in Private Eye’s ‘Pseud’s Corner’, but in my opinion it’s absolutely correct. Particularly as Hogarth produced sequential art himself as the kind of precursor of comics. I strongly believe that comics artists, or at least the very best, are insufficiently appreciated. I think they can be as good as serious fine artists. Way back in the 90s I submitted a piece to one of the art magazines arguing that comics artists like O’Neill and Jack Kirby were artists, whose styles meant that they should receive the same appreciation as those of the Soviet austere style, Francis Bacon and H.R. Giger. The Nemesis the Warlock strip had scenes of pure body horror. In one of the two precursor strips that launched the character, Killerwatt, Nemesis and Torquemada chase each other down the teleport wires, in which people are transported electrically similar to the telephone. At one point they have to cross the Sea of Dead Souls, a nightmare morass caused when a gooney bird, a massive mechanical bird, sat on the wires. Those unfortunate enough to be there when it happened are turned into a mass of hugely distorted body parts, such as giant feet with eyes. It resembles the scene of the ‘shunt’ in the 80s horror movie, Society, where members of America’s elite class are portrayed as predators who can twist and distort their bodies into any shape whatsoever. The Shunt is an orgy in which they melt down into a similar morass of bodies to feed off tramps and other members of the lower orders. Society’s a great film if you like that kind of ‘orror, but came out a few years after Mills and O’Neill got there first.

There have been a number of great obituaries for him at Bleedingcool and on 2000 AD’s website. These give the reactions and messages of grief and appreciation from the other comics creators. The 2000 AD page gives a full potted biography and examples of his truly amazing artwork.

RIP great man. May your art continue to shock, amaze, amuse and inspire.

Kevin O’Neill 1953 – 2022

https://bleedingcool.com/comics/kevin-oneill-the-man-the-comics-code-tried-to-ban-has-died-at-69/

In Memoriam: Comic Artist Kevin O’Neill 1953 – 2022

Study Finds Gaelic-Speaking Ulster Protestant Soldiers in First World War

January 7, 2022

After the fuss over Colston’s statue, with the right claiming the acquittal of the four chiefly responsible is a terrible travesty of justice that threatens British history, here’s a story about Ulster history which I hope is far more positive. A few weeks ago one of the left-wing papers – I think it may have been the Independent – reported that researchers had gone through the records of soldiers from Protestant west Belfast, who had volunteered for service before the First World War. They found that 70+ of the men were Gaelgheoir, Gaelic-speaking. The claim was made by Turas, a group set up to encourage Protestants to learn the Erse language.

This is truly amazing, if true. Irish Gaelic is a beautiful language with a long and great literature. This includes the great myths and legends of the Irish Gaels, like the Lebor Gabala, the ‘Book of Conquests’ and its stories about the ancient Celtic gods, the Tuatha de Danaan, or tribes of the earth goddess Danu. This was one of the sources 2000AD writer and creator Pat Mills drew on when for the Celtic warrior strip, ‘Slaine’, he created with his then-wife Angela, now Angela Kincaid, a successful children’s illustrator. But because of its association with Irish nationalism, there’s considerable hostility to it amongst the Ulster loyalist community. There was bitter opposition a few years ago amongst Loyalist politicos to a move by Sinn Fein to have Gaelic taught in Ulster schools. Long before that, at the time of the nationalist agitation before World War I, speaking Gaelic to a policeman could get you arrested. This opposition also led to hilarious mistakes. A little while ago Private Eye reported some Ulster politicos raised a furore against the slogan on a bus. This was in Gaelic, they claimed, as so was part of some nationalist attack on Protestant Ulster identity. In fact it was a tourist bus and the language was French.

The British did try to ban the Gaelic language along with the rest of the Gaelic culture in Ireland in the 16th and 17th century onwards as part of the long-running centuries of conflict between the Anglo-Normans and Irish. But I was taught when studying the history of European contacts with the outside world, that there was a period in the 16th and 17th century when Britain was careful not include religion as a uniform cause for hostility to the Gaels because some of the clans were Protestant. I’d be very interested indeed if any examples of Protestant literature in Gaelic has survived.

Hopefully this discovery may bring Protestants and Roman Catholics, Loyalists and Nationalists to an understanding that Irish identity and history is far more complex than generally realised. Historians and archaeologists of medieval Ireland have pointed out that Gaelic speech could extend far into the territories of the English Pale. Anglo-Norman lords often spoke Gaelic themselves, and one Gaelic bard spoke openly about is own mercenary attitude to the two ethnicities. He stated quite clearly he played and composed poems for both Gaels and Normans so long as they paid him. If he was performing for a Gaelic chieftain, he’d sing about how the Irish would ultimately be victorious and push the Anglo-Norman foreigner back into the sea. If he was performing for a Norman lord, he’d sing about how the Anglo-Normans would ultimately sweep the Gaels into the sea.

I hope this discovery will bring the people of Northern Ireland closer together, create greater respect between the two communities and show that Ulster can also be a multilingual community, speaking both English and Erse, regardless of religious affiliation.

For further information on medieval Ireland and English colonisation in the Middle Ages, see the chapters on Ireland in Medieval Frontier Societies, edited by Robert Bartlett and Angus Mackay (Oxford: Clarendon 1989).

China Reinforcing Army with War Robots Along Border with India

January 1, 2022

More robot news, but this time it’s really sinister with very grave implications not just for the Indo-Chinese region, but for the survival of the human race. Because the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has just posted military robots along the Tibet border to reinforce its human personnel.

This chilling video comes from Gravitas, part of the WION, World Is One network. I started getting their reports on YouTube on my mobile. I don’t know who WION is, but the accent and the concentration on south Asia, India, Pakistan and the surrounding countries, suggests that they’re Indian. They’re interesting, as they present the news from a different national perspective. Nearly a week ago they posted a report about a special forces unit in the American army in Syria acting as a death squad through drone strikes that also killed innocent civilians as well as soldiers. It’s the kind of news al-Jazeera reports, and gets labelled as Islamist propaganda by an outraged American right for doing so. There were calls a few years ago to ban al-Jazeera in America, and I wonder how long WION and Gravitas will go on before they’re faced with similar opposition.

According to this report, China has stationed 88 ‘Sharp Claws’ war robots and 120 ‘Mule-200’ robots along the frontier. The human soldiers had trouble adjusting to the high altitude in Tibet. The Sharp Claws are true robot weapons. They consist of a machine gun mounted on tank tracks with a camera so they can see where they’re going. At the moment they’re operated remotely by a soldier, but Beijing would like to make them autonomous. The Mule 200s are transport vehicles intended to carry supplies like ammunition. Beijing is also keen to develop other autonomous robots. The army wants to develop land-based robots, the navy robot subs and their air force intelligent drones. The Chinese government roped a number of private firms into developing them, including TenCent, Waowei, and at least three others, who were all declared robot champions. The UN is concerned about the increasing use of autonomous robots, and tried to set up an international treaty to restrict them. But this failed due to lack of support from the main countries producing them, a tactic that has worked to Beijing’s advantage.

Back in the ’90s many scientists were extremely worried about the real possibility of a robot takeover. Kevin Warwick, the robotics professor at Reading University, begins his book March of the Machines, with a description of life in 2050. The machines really have taken over. Humanity has been largely wiped out, and the remaining humans are lobotomised, neutered slaves used by the machines for work in environments they cannot operate in, and in fighting those human communities that have remained free. When one company reported they were developing war robots for real, they were met with an angry response from many leading scientists telling them not to, because it would pose a real threat to the human race. Warwick was deeply depressed at the threat, and only recovered through exploring the possibility of augmenting humanity through cyborgisation. A few months ago Panorama posted a documentary, ‘Are You Worried Yet, Human?’, about China’s use of robotics and AI to control and monitor its population. And in one test, warplanes were remotely piloted, not by humans, but by a computer. This successfully shot down a piloted warplane.

This looks all too much like the scenario behind the Terminator movies, and we’re in big trouble if someone develops something like Skynet for real. As Isaac Arthur says in a video about robot rebellion in one of his Science and Futurism videos, ‘Keep them stupid, keep them dumb, else you’re under Skynet’s thumb’. Quite.

We don’t need these machines. They are a real threat to the human race. Robots operate through machine logic and programming. They don’t have the moral judgement of humans, although there has been precious little of that shown in wars. And perhaps this is why China, a totalitarian state committing genocide against the Uighurs in Sinjiang, is using them.

If we must have war robots, let them be moral, intelligent, humanoid machines like Hammerstein of the long-running 2000AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’. A robot soldier, who fights for peace, democracy and justice against the tyrants of Earth and Mars. We need robot soldiers like him, not automatic mechanical killers, and far fewer wars and conflicts.

As Hammerstein says in the comics ‘Increase the peace’. Until we have robot warriors like him, the UN is right. Autonomous war robots need to be strictly controlled, no matter who has them.

Six Robot Animals from Festo Robotics

December 17, 2021

Here’s another fascinating little video about robots. It’s not just humanoid robots that the cybernetics companies are developing, quite apart from the machines that aren’t intended to resemble people, like the industrial robotic arms. They’ve also been developing robot animals. Boston Robotics did it with their ‘Big Dog’ robots, which were intended as carriers for the American army. The project eventually failed because the noise from the machines’ electric motors would have been too loud for the stealth needed on combat missions. The machines, however, do strongly resemble dogs. Festo Robotics have taken this further and developed robotic versions of various animals, as this video from Inventions World on YouTube shows. The machines are a flying fox; jellyfish; a wheelbot, that can curl up and roll along before uncurling itself to walk on crab-like feet, somewhat like the robots that Obi Wan Kenobi and his teacher first encounter aboard the Trade Federation’s craft in the first Star Wars prequel, the Phantom Menace; a bird; butterflies; and a kangaroo. Well, actually the last one is more like a wallaby. It’s not as large as an Australian kangaroo. But this one clearly has some intelligence, as the video shows a young woman telling it turn round and move to a different place by pointing. I think she’s able to control it through a device wrapped around one of her arms.

These are amazing machines, beautiful and graceful. I wonder what a whole ecology of such robots would be like. There have been attempts to depict such an environment. There was a short-lived strip in 2000 AD, ‘Metalzoic’, set in the far future when humanity had been ousted as the dominant creature on Earth by robots with the ability to reproduce. There was thus a whole ecology of robot animals, and the strip followed the adventures of a group of robot cave people as they sought out the God-Beast, a robot mammoth which contained the master programme controlling this mechanical world. And a few years before that, Valiant ran a story in their ‘Spider’ strip, in which the brooding genius and his minions were forced into fighting another evil genius, who had created his own synthetic robotic environment on his secret island. ‘The Spider’ was a British strip that had zilch to do with Marvel’s Spiderman. According to the Bronze Age of Blogs, now sadly closed down, ‘The Spider’ was a criminal mastermind, who had decided to fight other criminals because they were too stupid or otherwise beneath him. You wouldn’t know it from reading the strip, as until art robot Kevin O’Neil introduced it in 2000 AD, artists, writers and letterers weren’t credited in British comics, but the writer on the strip was Joe Siegel, one of the co-creators of Superman! These machines would also have delighted the Futurists, although I fear they had a darker, more violent purpose for them. One of their manifestoes called for the creation of biomechanical animals to train boys in war. I’d rather have such creatures made for the sheer delight of their invention and their graceful beauty. The bird in particular reminds me of one of the characters in M. John Harrison’s science fantasy novel, The Pastel City, who makes robot birds. As a result, his castle is surround by flocks of them. Perhaps as the technology advances we might expect similar robots along with the other robotic toys now available.

Private Eye on the Massive Failure of the Pepper Commercial Robot in Japan

December 1, 2021

I found this highly amusing little snippet in Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column in their edition for the 6-18 August 2021. It’s report from the Japan Times about a Japanese company suspending manufacture and recalling thousands of their robots due to malfunctions and poor performance. The article runs

“We have suspended production of our Pepper robot,” a spokeswoman for Softbank Group Corp told reporters in Minato (Tokyo), “the AI robot, home companion and store assistant that we first marketed in 2014. We are in discussions with our French robotics unit about potential job reductions.”

Over the past seven years, 27,000 Pepper robots have been produced, and marketed as the world’s first AI robots, but many were sacked by the companies that bought them for inappropriate behaviour. “We bought one for our flagship Edinburgh store,” said a spokesman for Margiotta grocery chain, “but fired it because it kept telling customers ‘to look in the alcohol section’ when they asked it where things were.” Funeral director Osamu Funaki bought a Pepper robot to recite sutras during ceremonies, but sacked it after repeated malfunctions, lamenting “what if it refuses to operate in the middle of a ceremony? It would be such a disaster.” A Japanese nursing home purchased three Pepper androids to lead community singalongs, but dismissed them for repeatedly breaking down.

“Pepper did a lot of harm to genuine robotics research by giving an often false impression of a bright cognitive being that could hold conversations,” Professor Noel Sharkey observed. “But it was mostly remote-controlled with a human conversing through its speakers. I’m happy to see an end to it.”

This is less the ruthlessly efficient killing machines of The Terminator franchise or the similarly murderous androids of the early Tom Baker Dr. Who story, ‘The Robots of Death’ or any number of other stories in which the machines rise up to exterminate their human masters. It isn’t like Judge Dredd’s Megacity One, where automation and the use of robots has created a 95 per cent unemployment rate. No, it’s the Sirius Cybernetics Company from the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, whose products are so uniformly terrible that the complaints division now covers the major land masses of three whole planets, as this clip from the Beeb TV series on Michael Snow’s channel on YouTube explains:

As for the robots being sacked, for comics readers of a certain age this sounds like they suffered the same fate as those poor machines that were sent down to be ripped apart by the frightening, but also frighteningly stupid demolition robot Mekquake in the ‘Robusters’ and ‘ABC Warriors’ strips in 2000 AD. Mekquake was always being frustrated at not being able to destroy the strips’ two heroes, Rojaws, a foul-mouthed sewer droid, and Hammerstein, an old war robot, who continually outwitted him. But if robots keep being manufactured with the same spectacular flaws as the Pepper robot, it probably won’t be long before someone invents a Mekquake-style machine to take care of them. Oh, by crikey, yes, as the thuggish old machine used to say!

Rojaws and Hammerstein prepare to meet Mekquake for the last time. From ABC Warriors – Return to Robusters, by Pat Mills and Clint Langley, (Rebellion: 2015, 2016).

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Cartoonist Kayfabe Look at Punk Artist Raymond Pettibon

November 18, 2021

Cartoonist Kayfabe are a pair of comics creators, Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg, who make video talking about comics and great comics artists on YouTube. In the video below they go through a couple of collections of work by Raymond Pettibon, a radical Punk artist, who created posters, zines and fliers for a number of bands, particularly Black Flag, in which his brother played. His work has a very raw, outsider style, though the Kayfaber’s state that he’s the only outsider artist you could take in to art school and still be taken seriously by the professors. His more recent work goes off into politics, particularly savage criticism of the Gulf War and Iraq invasion since 2003.And far from being underground or marginal, Pettibon’s work now goes for exorbitant prices. They mention one of his pieces going for $820,000.

His work itself includes Christian imagery, which the Kayfaber’s feel is based on the notorious Christian comics Jack Chick was putting out in the 1980s. I remember those from College, where several friends of mine in the Christian Union were into them. I despise them. They were extremely right-wing, venomously anti-Catholic and very much in the hellfire and damnation style of preaching. In my experience, this does the very opposite of persuade people to accept Christianity. I come from an Anglican family, but my mother told me that for a time she and her mother – my gran – attended the local Baptist church. This was because the local Anglican priest was all about scaring people with the terrors of hell and my grandmother, who was certainly no religious sceptic, didn’t agree with it. Some of Pettibon’s art is also sexually explicit, so be careful where you’re viewing it. He also did an iconic page for the Hernandez’ brothers’ Love and Rockets.

I thought I’d put the video up here as I’ve talked in the past about the underground political comix of the 1960s and their successors in the left-leaning comics of the ’80s and ’90, like Crisis and its strip, ‘Third World War’, produced by the 2000 AD crowd. I thought this might be of interest to those who share a similar curiosity about the underground press, and who may also want that style of comics revived.

Satanic Murderer Linked to Neo-Nazi Order of the Nine Angles

October 29, 2021

This is interesting. According to an article in today’s Evening Standard, Danyal Hussein, the murderer of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, was on an internet group run by a Nazi Satanist connected to the Order of the Nine Angles. The article, entitled ‘Danyal Hussein: Calls to ban Nazi-occultist group after Satanist murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman’ runs

‘Campaigners have renewed a call to ban a UK-based Nazi-occultist group following the Satanist murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman.

Killer Danyal Hussein, 19, was jailed for life on Thursday for the murder of the sisters as part of a twisted demonic pact to win the lottery.

Hussein is believed to have been influenced by a black magic practitioner called EA Koetting, who promotes his work to more than 80,000 followers on YouTube.

Since his Old Bailey trial, it has emerged that Hussein was an active member of online forum Becoming A Living God, set up by Koetting.

The American author has associated himself with a group called Order of Nine Angles (O9A) and its US branch, Tempel ov Blood, which has been linked to a string of recent terrorism cases in Britain.

As Hussein was jailed for life for the sisters’ murders, Nick Lowles, chief executive of anti-fascism campaign group Hope Not Hate, said: “Danyal Hussein was influenced by a man associated with the Order of Nine Angles before he launched his attack.

“This is yet another reason why the Government must move to ban this Nazi-occultist group.

“Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman had their lives stolen by this murderer, and the ideology which propelled him. Their families’ lives have been devastated.

“The Order of Nines Angles’ appearance in the story of these horrendous murders is shocking but shouldn’t be surprising.

“We have been warning of their promotion of terrorism and sexual violence, and called on ministers to act by banning the group.

“The Order of Nine Angles is determined to promote and inspire terrorism. They must be banned.”

Last week, Facebook announced that it had removed Koetting’s page and Instagram account for violating its Dangerous Individuals and Organisations policies, and YouTube said a review is under way. The PA news agency has previously contacted Koetting for a response.’

A few months ago when Danyal Hussein was arrested and charged with the murder, History Debunked put up a video suggesting that it was caused by Hussein’s own belief, as a Muslim, in the djinn. He stated that in his experience, it was very common amongst British Muslims and he had overheard Muslim students in his class discussing how one of their female relatives was being tormented by one of these spirits. That is why a murder, like something from the Middle Ages when people believed witches like Faust sold their souls to the Devil, and practiced human sacrifice, had returned to Britain.

Hussein did believe in the djinn, but it’s a bizarre twist that he was in fact motivated in this horrific act by a neo-Nazi. This might explain why the murder victims were two Black women, however. The Order of the Nine Angles is mentioned in Nicolas Goodrick-Clarkes book on contemporary Nazi occultism, The Black Sun. They sound absolutely bonkers, as if someone combined Norse mythology with a bit of crude Jungian theorising after reading the 2000 AD strip, Nemesis the Warlock, and thought that Torquemada was a good role model. The nine angles supposedly refer to the nine levels of Yggdrasil, the world-tree connecting the nine world in Viking myth. These are inhabited by acausal beings. The Order rejects the Theory of Relativity for the same reason the original Nazis did: Einstein was Jewish. After conquering the world and subjugating the non-White races, they aim to develop interstellar space travel and are eagerly awaiting the emergence of the future galactic emperor, Vindictus. Or something like that. The Nemesis the Warlock strip was set in a far future galaxy in which humans lived underground in a totalitarian hell. Earth was renamed Termight, and ruled over by Torquemada, grandmaster of the Terminators, a military order dedicated to exterminating all intelligent alien life. Creators Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill based it on the cruelty and corruption they had experienced in their communities growing up as Roman Catholics, though bigotry, hypocrisy and intolerance certainly aren’t confined to any one religion. They’re found right across all human ideologies and religions as part of the human condition. Mills and O’Neill were making metaphorical statements about racism in wider British society and particularly at the National Front, which was then on the rise. The strip was launched after a series of racist murders and the rise of anti-racist youth groups to oppose it like Rock Against Racism. But the Order of the Nine Angles with its cult of Vindictus does sound like its creators read ‘Nemesis’ and thought Termight was cool, as against the real fans of the strip, who knew it lampooned such Nazi prats. I have to say, though, that I don’t think anyone in the Order of the Nine Angles has read the strip or been influenced by it. It just seems to me that Mills’ and O’Neill’s creation, which still retains a cult following amongst comics fans, was all too accurate in its depiction of the mentality of these psychopathic nutters.

As for Hussein, it’s ironic that a man of colour was influenced by a Nazi, who would no doubt have looked down on him personally because of his race. And it shows that the motives behind his murder is much more complex than simple explanations that it was all down to Islamic superstition and immigration.