Posts Tagged ‘Comics’

Credo! Pat Mills on 40 Years of Thrillpower!

September 14, 2017

Pat Mills is one of the great creators of the British comics industry. In this video from 2000 AD on YouTube, he talks to host Tony Esmond about his career in the comics industry, politics and his determination to give readers working class heroes. The interview was at the 40 Years of Thrillpower convention earlier this year (2017).

Mills is best known as one of the creative forces who seriously upset the establishment with Action before going on to reoffend with 2000AD. Before then he started off writing for the 1970s children’s comics, like Corr! The experience of writing for them was not happy for him. He states that the people behind them had no particular interest in them and very much had a production-line mentality to their creation. He describes how one writer once asked him how many stories he could write in a day. When he said about one every two or three days, the other writer boasted that he wrote three in a day. And then went on to say, probably quite truthfully, that he was making more money than the prime minister. Mills states that the writers at IPC were able to do this because they wrote very much to a formula. He preferred the stories their competitors at DC Thompson produced. Although their comics were also stuck in the past, the stories were better crafted. He describes one strip about a man going around the country having adventures with a horse. As a concept, he says it wasn’t even at the level of afternoon television. But it was well done. The IPC comics, on the other hand, were soulless. It depressed him so much, that, when he and John Wagner, who also later went on to become one of the founders of 2000AD, were writing in a garden shed, he wrote all his scripts on a roll of wallpaper so they formed a continuous strip and he wouldn’t have to go back and read them all again.

British comics in this period were very much stuck in the past, even as British society changed. This was a time when the German experience of the war was appearing in the books of Sven Hassel, reflected in Action’s strip, Hellmann of Hammer Force. But yet Mills found it impossible to launch a strip whose hero was Black. This was to be a strip about a Black boxer. He was told that it wouldn’t work. People would not accept a Black hero. They’d accept a Black supporting character or friend. But as the central character, never. He also thought of introducing one about a Black football player, and that would have been even more controversial. There was a Black football player in one of the London clubs at the time, and he had been treated with racist abuse from the balconies.

Politics and satire have always been an important element of Mills’ work. He says that at one point he became dissatisfied writing for 2000AD, as the management were trying to shift the comic away from its traditional satirical stance, and this very much went against Mills’ own nature. He and Esmond discuss at one point Mills’ memory that, when they launched 2000AD, the management told him that they should imagine a future that they would actually live in. And now, he states, they’re living in it with Donald Trump’s presidency of the US, which Mills compares to the infamous Judge Cal. Cal was the mad Chief Judge in Judge Dredd, modelled on Caligula, who appointed his pet fish as a judge, called in the alien Kleggs to suppress any opposition in Mega City 1, and had another judge pickled. Perhaps we need to be very glad that NASA hasn’t made contact with intelligent aliens yet.

Mills remarks on how very many of the heroes of British literature, from Sherlock Holmes to John Buchan’s Hannay, have been members of the upper and upper middle classes. There are too many of them, and too few working class heroes. He’s been actively trying to redress this imbalance in his strips. It’s why Marshal Law, in his alter ego, used to be unemployed, but is now a hospital orderly. He’s not even a nurse.

He states that as he grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, he read many the authors that were around then, like Dennis Wheatley and John Buchan, all of whom were members of the upper classes. And with some of them, it was actually quite sinister. Buchan was a major propagandist for the First World War, in return for which he was rewarded with the governorship of Canada. And he did it very well. Later on in the video, in response to a question from the audience he remarks on how there is a very definite campaign in this country to suppress anything with an anti-war message. He was asked what the research was for his story in Charley’s War about the British invasion of Russia in 1918-19. He states that there were only two books he was able to get hold of at the time, but since then he got hold of a very good book, which is a much fuller description. This describes how the British officers sent in to overturn the Russian Revolution behaved like absolute animals. This episode has largely been airbrushed from British history. He contrasts with the British media’s refusal to publicise anti-war stories with that of our cousins across le manche. Attitudes there are much different, and Charley’s War, which ran in Battle and was about the experiences of a working-class Tommy in the First World War, is more popular in France even than Britain. This bias against anti-war stories is why you didn’t see Blackadder Goes Forth repeated in the centenary year of the War’s outbreak.

Mills is also critical of the way the indigenous mythology and legend of the British Isles has been suppressed in favour of myths from further south – Greece and Rome, and ancient Egypt. Mills’ background, like Kevin O’Neill, was Irish, and his family were very patriotic. He grew up knowing all about Michael Collins, and his middle name is Eamon after the first president of Eire, Eamon de Valera. Yet it wasn’t until he started researching the Irish, as well as the Scots and Welsh legends, that he learned about any of those stories, and was shocked. Why didn’t he know about the warpspasm – the ultra-berserker rage that transforms the Celtic hero Slaine as he goes into battle? He also talks about how, in legend, London was founded by the Trojans as New Troy, and briefly mentions his treatment of this in the story he is or was currently writing for the Slaine strip. He states he wanted to produce a barbarian strip that was set in this country, complete with its grey skies and rain.

Mills has a deep admiration for these Celtic legends, but remarks on how they differ considerably from the other mythological tales. They don’t share their structure. If you read the Norse tales or Beowulf, there’s a structure there. But the Irish – which he uses to include also the Scots and Welsh stories – read like they’re on acid. He’s particularly impressed with the Tain, otherwise known as the Tain Bo Cualnge, or in English, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, and recommends the translation by Kinsella. He’s also particularly interested in finding the bits that were suppressed by the Christian clergy who wrote them down in the Middle Ages. He gleefully quotes one clerical writer, who says that the stories contain much that is true, much that is false, some lies, and some devilish invention, and some which is only fit to be read by idiots. Yeah! he shouts, that’s me!

He has the same mischievous joy when telling how he came to be persuaded to write the Invasion strip, in which Britain was invaded by a thinly disguised Soviet Russia. The management asked him if he wanted to write it. He said he couldn’t get up much enthusiasm. They urged him to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. So he worked his way as best he could through that. He still wasn’t enthusiastic. Then they asked him if he’d like to write a scene with Maggie Thatcher being shot by the Russians on the steps of St. Paul’s. His response: Yeahhh!

He also talks about how the brutal education he received at a school run by the De Lazare order inspired him to write the Nemesis the Warlock strip. The Terminators, and to a lesser extent Judge Dredd, were modelled on them. They were fanatical, and were quite sinister. He remarks that if you go on the internet you can find all sorts of tales about them.

He also talks about an abortive crossover story planned for Marshal Law and Batman. Marshal Law was a bitterly satirical, extremely violent and very funny strip published in the 1990s about a superhero in the devastated San Francisco of the early 21st century, who hates other superheroes. The superheroes in the strip were created for a Vietnam-like war in South America, and have come back disillusioned and traumatized by the conflict. As a result, they form violent street gangs, and Marshal Law is recruited by the police to clean them up. It was a very dark comic that relentlessly parodied superhero comics from a left-wing, feminist perspective. When DC announced they wanted to make the crossover, Mills thought that they weren’t really serious. But they were. So he and O’Neill decided that for the cover, they’d have the Marshal standing on a pile of bodies of the different versions of Batman from all across the alternative Earths of the Multiverse. Then DC’s management changed, and their story policy did too, and the idea was dropped.

Mills also discusses the various ways comics have been launched, only to be merged with other comics. With 2000AD the comic was merged with Tornado and then Starlord. It was a very cynical policy, as from the first these comics were intended to fail, but by merging them with 2000AD and other comics, the management presented it as giving their readers something new, even though it wasn’t, and they felt it was an intrusion. He also responds to another question about which comic he felt folded before its time. The obvious answer to this was Action, which upset the establishment so much that it was banned, before being sanitized and relaunched. Mills said that they knew the comic was doomed. The new editor, who was given control of it had previously edited – and this is almost unbelievable – Bobo the Rabbit – and so didn’t know what he was doing. Mills said that before then they had skated over what was just about unacceptable and knew just how far you could go. Because this new editor hadn’t had that experience, he didn’t, and the comic folded.

The comic that he really feels shouldn’t have folded, and could still have carried on today, was Battle. As for which comic he’d now be working on instead of 2000AD, if it had proved more successful, these were the girls’ comics, like Misty. They vastly outsold the boys’ comics, but ultimately folded because ‘the boys took over the sandbox’. The video ends with his answer to the question, ‘What is his favourite strip, that he wrote for?’ He thinks for a moment, before replying Nemesis the Warlock to massive cheering.

It’s a very interesting perspective on the British comics industry by one of its masters. Regarding Slaine, Mills has said before in his introduction to the Titan book, Slaine the King: Special Edition, that the achievements of our ancestors, the Celtic peoples, has been rubbed out of history in favour of the ‘stern but fair proto-Thatcherite Romans, who built the roads and made the chariots run on time’. I think part of the problem is that the legends Mills draws on – that of Gaelic Ireland and Scotland, and Brythonic Wales – are those of the Celtic peoples, who were defeated by the expanding Anglo-Normans, who made a concerted attempt to suppress their culture. As for the very frank admiration for the Romans, that partly comes from the classics-based education offered by the British public schools.

As for the very staid attitude of British comics in the 1970s, this was a problem. It was actually a period of crisis, when many of the comics were folding because they hadn’t moved with the times. Mills’ idea for a strip about a Black boxer is clearly modelled on Mohammed Ali, the great African-American athlete of the ring. Everyone knew Ali, and he was universally admired, even by kids like me, who didn’t understand or know much about the racial politics behind Ali’s superstardom. Ali said that he wanted to give his people a hero.

Even so, the idea of having a sympathetic Black supporting character was an improvement. Roger Sabin, in his book Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art, published by Phaidon, notes just how racist British comics were in the 1960s. This was very controversial, as Black people naturally objected. Sabin cites one strip, in which the White hero uses two racial slurs for Blacks, and another abusive term for Gypsies. And showing the type of strips that appeared in the 1920s, there’s an illustration which shows the Black characters from a strip in one of D.C. Thompson’s comics, either the Dandy or Beano at the time. This was The Colony N*gs. Only they don’t use an asterisk to try to disguise the term.

As for his experiences with the monks running his school, unfortunately he’s not the only one, who suffered in this way. I’ve met a number of former Roman Catholics, who were turned off religion, and in some cases became bitterly against it, because of their experience being taught by monks and nuns. Several of Britain’s most beloved broadcasters from the Emerald Isle were also turned off religion because of this. Dave Allen, who regularly poked fun at religion, and particularly the Roman Catholic church, said that he became an atheist because of the cruelty and the way the priests tried to scare their young charges at his old school. And that mainstay of British radio, Terry Wogan, in a series he presented about Ireland and his life there, said exactly the same about the effect the hard attitude of the teachers at his old Roman Catholic school had on him.

The Roman Catholic church does not have the monopoly on the abuse of children, and I’ve heard some horrifying tales of the brutal behavior of some of the teaching staff – and prefects – in some of the British grammar schools. Dad has told me about the very harsh regime of some of the teachers at his old school – not Roman Catholic – in Somerset. He describes the teachers as sadists, and has a story about how one of the teachers, when one of the boys couldn’t answer a question, threw the lad out of window. Brutality seems to have been built into the British educational system, leaving mental scars and bitter memories.

I’ve very mixed feelings about the British force sent against revolutionary Russia. Perhaps if we’d succeeded, the forty million Soviet citizens butchered by Stalin would have been able to live out their lives, and the peoples of the Russian Federation free of the shadow of the KGB and gulags.

But that’s with hindsight. That’s not why British troops were sent in. The Bolsheviks were anti-democratic and determined to suppress all other parties and factions except their own, even when these were Socialist or anarchist, like the Mensheviks, the Trudoviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries the Left Communists, Anarcho-Communists and syndicalists. But we sent in troops because Britain and the rest of the capitalist world felt threatened by the emergence of a working class, aggressively socialist state. Britain had many commercial contacts with pre-Revolutionary Russia, and Lenin had argued in his pamphlet Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism that global capitalism depended on European imperial expansion. These nations enslaved and exploited developing nations like Russia. A socialist revolution in these countries threatened international capitalism, as it was here that the capitalist system was weakest. Hence the Bolshevik slogan, ‘Smash capitalism at its weakest link!’

Ordinary Russians, let alone the conquered nations of the Russian Empire, were oppressed and exploited. If you want an idea how much, and what ordinary Russians endured and struggled to overthrow, read Lionel Kochan’s book, The Russian Revolution, published by Paladin. This was the grotty system British troops were sent in to restore.

On a more positive note, one member of the audience in the video thanks Mills for encouraging him to read. The man says he was dyslexic, but it was the comics he consumed as a child that got him reading. He is now a teacher, who specializes in helping children with reading difficulties, and uses comics in his teaching.

This is really inspiring. Martin Barks in Comics, Ideology and Power, discusses how comics have always been regarded with suspicion and contempt by the establishment. They were regarded as rubbish, at best. At worst they were seen as positively subversive. I can remember how one of the text books we used in English at school included a piece of journalism roundly condemning comics as rubbish literature with bad artwork. And this was reprinted in the 1980s! My mother, on the other hand, was in favour of comics because they did get children reading, and used to encourage the parents of the children she taught to buy them when they asked her advice on how they could get their children to read if they wouldn’t read books. This shows how far comics have come, so that they are now respectable and admired.

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Vox Political: Arts Just for the Toffs?

January 24, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has a thought-provoking article on anti-working class bias in the arts. It follows James Blunt’s attack this week on Chris Bryant MP, in which Blunt accused the politicians of ‘classism’ and bias towards those from a privileged background. The article begins:

How many of you were on James Blunt’s side in his very public spat with Chris Bryant MP?
And now that Julie Walters has weighed in, saying Mr Bryant was right? What do you think now?

The Labour MP had claimed British culture was dominated by stars like Blunt and Eddie Redmayne, who benefited from a privileged background. Blunt took offence and they had a highly-publicised row about it.

But top actress Julie Walters agrees. Quoted in The Guardian‘s Weekend magazine, she said: “People like me wouldn’t have been able to go to college today. I could because I got a full grant. I don’t know how you get into it now. Kids write to me all the time and I think: I don’t know what to tell you.”

As Mike’s articles says, the actress and comedian is worried that the education and training required to get into drama is now too expensive for people from working class backgrounds.

Also in agreement is the great British comics creator, Pat Mills. Among the many comic strips produced by Mills and the other writers and artists with whom he worked, was ‘Charley’s War’, which ran in the war comic Battle. The hero was working class, British tommy thrown into the chaos and horror of the First World War. Unlike many other war strips, which showed plucky British heroes sticking it to the Hun, and returning home with nary a scratch on them in time for tea, ‘Charley’s War’ was grimly realistic. It was a profoundly anti-war strip, and has rightly been hailed as the best British comic strip. Mills states that the strip, however, is still resented by some because its hero was working-class, its creators came from working class backgrounds, and were strongly anti-establishment. He raises the question of whether such as strip would be possible today.

Barker Book

Mills and the 1970’s Comics Revolution

Mills has been working in comics since the 1970s. The comics he wrote for and helped create include Battle, Action, and 2000 AD. His wife is also comics artist, and he himself wrote for the girl’s comics. Many of Battle’s strips, apart from ‘Charley’s War’, gave unflinching portrayals of war and its horrors, such as that other Battle favourite, Darkie’s Mob. Action was banned following concerns about its violence. While most of the strips were largely based on the film and TV of the day, like Jaws (‘Hookjaw’), Dirty Harry (‘One-Eye Jack’) and so on, it also ran ‘Kids Rule UK’, about a violently dystopian future, in which law and order had broken down and society was dominated by violent teenage gangs. Mills and the other reprobates from the comics rumpus-room had intended it to reflect the youth culture of the times. It was originally going to be called ‘Boots’, after the footwear produced by Dr Martens, beloved of teenage tearaways and skinhead bovver boys. To stress how contemporary it was, the title was to include the year. So you’d have ‘Boots ’77’, which next year would change to ‘Boots ’78’. Action and its violence were too much for the authorities, and the strip effectively banned. Mills and co decided that from now on, all the violence should be in the interests of law and order. And as a response, they created the Fascist cop, Judge Dredd, who has been laying down in the law in Megacity 1 against perps, muties, Sovs, evil dictators and the undead Dark Judges ever since.

He helped spark a comics revolution. Martin Barker in his book, Comics, Ideology, Power and the Critics points to the way comics like Action and Battle transformed British comics. They introduced greater realism and psychological complexity, even ambiguity. Barker’s book is about how working class literature, from the cheap novels produced for ‘the democracy’ in the Victorian period, through the penny dreadfuls to today’s children’s comics, have always been intensely controversial. Amongst the most notorious were the horror comics, which were held to be corrupting Britain’s youth, and girls’ comics. These have been attacked by both feminists and non-feminists. Feminists have accused them of inculcating into girls traditional values, and sacrificing female friendship and solidarity and putting men first. Non-feminists have attacked them for encouraging girls to abandon traditional female occupations, like sewing and knitting. Barker showed that neither side was right. Given the pressure from both sides of the gender issue, I wonder if the creators of the comics ever felt like giving up. It certainly seemed that whatever they did, it would be wrong. I’m not actually surprised that in the end girls’ comics collapsed, and were replaced by the equally controversial girl’s magazines.

Dan Dare and the British Class System

If you want to see how much of a revolution in class terms ‘Charley’s War’ represented, think back to that great British comic strip, Dan Dare. ‘Dare’ is rightly regarded as a classic, not least because of the superb artwork. It was created by the Rev. Marcus Morris as a wholesome antidote to the American horror comics, and Dare is in many ways the quintessential British hero. He can be seen as an RAF air ace, projected into a future world of rockets and alien worlds. And like British society of the time, there is a very definite class bias. Dare himself is upper class, while his sidekick, Digby, is very much a working class character. While I respect Frank Hampson’s strip, there is very much a danger that the class system which permeated it will come back to inform other strips.

Julie Walters, Chumley-Warner and Upper Class Portrayal of the Proles

Julie Walters also makes the point that if the trend continues, it will result in middle and upper middle class people attempting to portray the working class, just like it used to be. My mother has a story of just how patronising and inflexible this was, and how intolerant BBC bosses were when told that their idea of how the lower orders behaved were when it was contradicted.

My mother grew up on one of Bristol’s council estates. One of her neighbours had a relative, who was an actress. She auditioned for a role as a working class lass with the Beeb. At the audition, she was told that as she was working class, she would be drinking tea out of a saucer. She tried to put the producer right, by telling him that working class people didn’t actually do that. No, said the man from the Beeb, working class people really did drink their tea from the saucer. The girl could not convince him otherwise, and didn’t get the job. I’ve also heard from Mum that she didn’t get acting work again after it, though I hope this is untrue. Harry Enfield’s character, Chumley-Warner, on the wireless-with-pictures, is a caricature. But the attitudes Enfield lampoons were very real.

And if we don’t watch out, they’re coming back.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/01/24/class-divide-in-the-arts-is-it-just-for-the-toffs/.

On the subject of James Blunt, Dead Ringers took the mick out of him years ago. This contained the lyric ‘And Morrissey is telling me James Blunt is rhyming slang’. Quite.

Here’s the sketch:

A Happy Cthulhu Christmas!

December 26, 2013

I’m a fan of the work of the horror/SF pulp writer, H.P. Lovecraft. I found this picture of Providence’s most famous son and his gruesome creations celebrating Christmas, or Yule, over at Steve Nile’s tumblr site, Arcane Images. Nile’s site is devoted to pictures and photos from Horror and Comics. And so for everyone, who’s read old Howard Philips’ chill prose about the Elder Gods and unhallowed tomes of occult lore, and wondered if their library had a copy of the Necronomicon, even if only the Olaus Wormius’ edition, here it is:

Cthulhu Christmas

Aya Shub-Niggurath! In his house in R’lyeh dead Cthulhu lies sleeping!

Or as the great Nigel Molesworth once said, ‘Dream on, dear child, and do not get the blood all over the bed.’

Resisting the Tories War on the Poor: Bring Back the Underground and Alternative Comics

December 24, 2013

As I’ve written in previous blog, one of the problems facing Left-wing opponents of the Coalition and its vile policies is how to get the message across, when the media are nearly all biased towards the Conservatives. One possibility may be to use comics and graphic novels, following the examples of the great underground and alternative comics that first appeared in the 1960s and ’70s, before expanding and changing, along with the rest of the comics world in the ’80s and ’90s. Two of the most famous examples of comics creators using the medium to make extremely serious political points were Brought to Light and Aargh in the 1980s. These were a response to atrocities committed by CIA-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua and the Thatcher government’s attempt to pass the now notorious Clause 28 respectively. This last piece of legislation was intended to prevent schools promoting homosexuality. Gays and libertarians were outraged by what they saw as the official promotion of homophobia, and feared that it would be followed by even more punitive legislation directed at gays themselves. Since Mrs Thatcher’s death, there has been some attempt to rehabilitate her regarding her attitude towards homosexuality. It’s been rightly observed that she did not personally hate gays, and that an attraction to one’s own sex was no obstacle to serving in her cabinet. Thatcher’s economic model was, however, Chile under the Fascist dictator General Pinochet, who was a personal friend of hers. At a time when homosexuality was far less tolerated than at present, there was a real fear that Thatcher would not only import Pinochet’s monetarism, but also follow him in destroying personal and political freedoms over here. Under the Right-wing totalitarianism Thatcher seemed ready to establish, gays would also be brutalised and persecuted, as well as other social and political groups the government deemed offensive or a threat. This was the background to the Fascist dystopia depicted in Moore’s and Lloyd’s comic strip and graphic novel, V for Vendetta.

Moore also contributed to Brought to Light, writing the strip ‘Shadowplay’, illustrated by the American comics artist Bill Sienkiewicz. ‘Shadowplay’ is a bitterly funny history of the way the CIA had backed Right-wing dictators and conspired to overthrow left-wing regimes, as well as engage in other, illegal and extremely unethical tactics across the world, as told in a sleazy bar by a cynical American eagle. It’s an example of the way comics, in the hands of good writers and artists, can be used to make deadly serious political points based on fact in a manner that it is entertaining as well as informative.

Shadowplay art

Art from ‘Shadowplay’ from Brought to Light, written by Alan Moore with art by Bill Sienkiewicz, showing the caricature-based artistic style used to make their point about the CIA infamous legacy of atrocity and human rights abuses.

Moore also contributed to Aargh!. This was a collection of strips, whose title was an acronym supposedly standing for ‘Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia’. Although it was a British response to Thatcher’s Clause 28, it followed a line of American underground gay comics from the 1970s, such as Harold Hedd, Barefootz and the lesbian comic, Dynamite Damsels, culminating in the anthology, Gay Comix, published by Kitchen Sink.

Aargh1

Page from Aargh!

The underground comics were largely a product of the 1960s Hippy counterculture, and much of their contents were based around drugs and sex. This is shown very much in the work of the best known of the underground comics creators, Robert Crumb, and Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, a comic about the weird adventures of a group of hippy drug freaks. In the 1970s a number of explicitly political underground comics appeared, including Slow Death Funnies, Edu-Comics and Anarchy Comics. Slow Death produced a number of issues, each devoted to a particular topic, such as the medical-industrial complex, nuclear power, the campaign against the Vietnam War and Greenpeace. As well as satirical strips, they also included facts and figures. Edu-Comics also produced a number of individual comics devoted to particular issues, such as All-Atomic Comics (1976) and Energy Comics (1980), which attacked the nuclear power industry.

Atomic Comics

Pages from All-Atomic Comics showing the mixture of satirical strip and factual contents.

Britain also had a number of political underground comics, such as the Optimist and Committed Comics. The Optimist appeared in 1976, and featured strips that discussed squatting, the dole, abortion and hypothermia amongst British pensioners.

Optimist

Cover from The Optimist.

Committed Comix, for its part, had strips discussing Northern Ireland, gay rights and the rise of the National Front.

Back to the Thirties

Back to the Thirties strip from Committed Comix, warning of the rise of the extreme Right-wing National Front.

These underground comics helped create a tradition of highly political comics that continued well into the 1990s, with titles such as Downside. This was a soap opera set in Thatcher’s Britain, which strongly criticised her government and its policies, and which ironically used quotes from her for each issue’s titles.

Downside Thatcher

Other comics in the 1980s devoted to particular contemporary issues include Strip AIDS, El Salvador: A House Divided and Palestine. Alan Moore also produced another political comic in consultation with an American conscientious objectors’ group, Real War Stories. This was intended to promote its anti-War message through presenting the reality of armed conflict, based on the experiences of real soldiers.

Apart from these Underground and alternative comics, mainstream comics also became far more adult with an increasing demand from their readers for them to include more mature themes and issues. One issue of Daredevil attempted to show the horrific effects of drugs on American schoolchildren, while another superhero comic, The Vigilante, dealt with child abuse. In Britain a range of comics were produced by Fleetway, aimed at readers over the age of 16. These included Crisis, and its strip, ‘Third World War’. This was about a pair of teenagers drafted in to serve the multinational food corporations as they exploited the Developing World.

Crisis Cover

Cover of Crisis.

Most of these new, adult strips didn’t last very long. The new emphasis on gritty realism and politics did not attract the younger readers, on whom the industry traditionally depended, and the comics industry in general suffered a massive collapse after the initial boom of the 1990s. Nevertheless, despite this decline, 2000 AD has survived. Many of its strips, including Judge Dredd, were sharply satirical. As the millennium approached, for example, the comic decided to celebrate the approaching year of its title with a satirical strip harking back to Mach 1, one of the very strips in the new comic. Mach 1 was based very much on the Six Million Dollar Man. Instead of bionics, however, Mach 1 owed his massively increased strength and speed to ‘compu-puncture hyperpower’. To help him control it, Mach 1 had a special computer implanted in his head which gave him advice. 2000 AD took this early strip, and reworked it into a strip satirising Tony Blair, the then current prime minister. He appeared as Blair 1, with his inbuilt computer advisor, Dr Spin. Two of the problems facing the fictional PM was how to support single mothers, as well as what should be done about the abandoned mines left through the closure of the mining industry by Major’s regime. Dr Spin’s advice is to solve these problems by combining them, so that the single mothers are then sent down the mines. A long line of them appear in characteristic miner’s gear, singing ‘Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go! We work all day for rubbish pay, thank you, Tonio!’ Other politicians skewered by the strip also included Chris Patten and Anne Widdicombe.

The 1980s also saw the appearance of Diceman, a comic in which the individual strips were adventure games that could be played by the reader, and whose narrative and ending depended on the choice they made as they progressed through the game. It was the graphic successor not only to similar, text-based games like The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, but also to the various ‘Have Your Own … Adventure’ books aimed at younger readers, which used comic strips as the format for similar adventure games. Diceman was a spin-off from 2000 AD, and many of the games were based on its strips and characters, including Slaine and Nemesis the Warlock. It also shared the satirical slant of its parent, and several of its games attacked the leaders of the British and American governments. Thus, Diceman ran the strips Thatcher: A Dole-Playing Game, and one in which the reader played Ronald Reagan. This was illustrated by that veteran of underground comics and political subversion, Hunt Emerson. These were humorous in tone. One of the problems presented to the reader in the Reagan strip is that, as the present, your popularity is falling. The way to regain popularity is to launch an investigation into your own family tree, in the hope that a suitably popular and glamorous ancestral link can be found. The reader thus spun the dice to decide, who the investigation would say Reagan was related to. The highest numbers produced the most popular relatives, who duly boosted your score as Ronald Reagan. The most popular of these was the Queen, followed by ‘a lot of Irishmen’. The lowest score, however, made you related to Bonzo, Reagan’s chimpanzee fellow star from his film, Bedtime for Bonzo. The strip also made extremely serious and alarming factual points, such as when it discussed some of the occasions in which mistakes and malfunctions had left the world a millimetre away from nuclear war. One of these, for example, was when a technician accidentally dropped a spanner down the shaft of a nuclear silo.

A number of alternative comics have also appeared in Britain, which also include a strongly political element. These include Pete Loveday’s Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man, whose hero is a hippy going from one weird experience to another. Like the Underground comics before it, much of the humour in this centres around the alternative culture and the various festivals that had appeared by the ’90s, and drugs. It also showed and satirised the demoralising experience of job hunting, government cuts to unemployment benefit at the Job Centre, and the callous attitude of hospital administrators, eager to get people out of their hospital beds as quickly as possible in order to accommodate the next person in the queue.

Russel Job Hunting

The reality of looking for a job, as depicted in Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man.

Russel DofE

Russell finds that Unemployment Benefits are being replaced by payment in kind. From Russell: Part 2.

Russel Hospital Admin

Apart from the political comics themselves, many contemporary British comics artists and writers entered the field through the Underground comics, including Brian Bolland, Angus McKie, Dave Gibbons, Bryan Talbot, Hunt Emerson and Steve Bell, known for his political cartoons in the Guardian and the Indepedent, like Maggie’s Farm. There are also a large number of younger comics artists and writers out there in the wider fan culture, many of whom have got around problems of finding a commercial publisher by publishing their work themselves. Comics are also no longer confined to print and hardcopy. A few artists have taken to the web to publish their work. There is thus a large pool of talent available to create such comics, and the developments in comics publishing over the last couple of decades means that a political comic attacking the governments’ welfare policies could be published independently, or on-line and so get around the problem of finding a commercial publisher that way. Graphic novels have established comics as a medium in which serious issues can be discussed, and the growth of comics and their readership has meant that Waterstone’s now has a section devoted to comics and graphic novels. I also believe that Forbidden Planet would also be willing to stock such a comic. As well as conventional, mainstream comics like Batman, Superman, Spiderman and so on, Forbidden Planet has also stocked the independent, alternative and underground comics, including some of the very political work published by Knockabout. It might even be worth some of the comics companies republishing some of the old satirical strips. Margaret Thatcher has passed away, but her shadow still looms large over the British political landscape, with politicians on both the Right and the Left presenting themselves as her political heir and successor. It would thus be a timely reminder of how much suffering she caused in her day. And some of the issues discussed in the British undergrounds are still all too relevant. The references in The Optimist to pensioners suffering from hypothermia is, tragically, one of these. There was shock a few months ago when it was revealed just how many tens of thousands of senior citizens had died of the cold the previous winter.

Rather than a comic, published in serial instalments, I think the best way of using the comic strip to satirise and attack the government would be a graphic novel, or anthology, dedicated to the issue of poverty and the Coalition’s war on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, like Brought to Light, Aargh! and the others in the 1980s and 1990s. The harshness of the government’s policies and the immense suffering they have created, such as the very many disabled people, who have committed suicide after being found fit for work by ATOS, surely warrant a similar treatment to the issues graphic novels explored and publicised in those decades. I am not saying that such a graphic novel or comic would be sufficiently influential to persuade the public to vote Cameron, Clegg and the others out. Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye and one of the creators of British satirical puppet show, Spitting Image, was once asked on Radio 4 whether he thought satire could change anything. He answered, ‘No’, and pointing out that no matter how viciously Spitting Image caricatured and attacked Mrs Thatcher and her government, people still kept voting for her. Nevertheless, if told with wit and style, such a graphic novel or comic might still reach and affect some people, who would otherwise find politics boring and help change the minds of those, who would otherwise quietly accept the Right-wing media’s misleading reporting and views of these issues. If even some people change their mind as a result, or are encouraged to vote against the government or become politically active against their policies, then such a graphic novel or comic will have succeeded.

A political comic attacking the government and its welfare policies would doubtless be extremely controversial. This is nothing new. The underground comics were notoriously controversial, and in the 1970s were the subjects of a series of obscenity cases in America that decimated the underground scene. Their counterparts over this side of the pond were similarly attacked. I remember that back in the ’70s and ’80s Knockabout always seemed to be raided by the police. Martin Barker in his book, Comics: Ideology, Power & the Critics, has also pointed out how mainstream children’s comics have also been the frequent target of official disapproval. Many of these were on the grounds that they were cheap rubbish that kept children away from reading proper literature, or that they indoctrinated their younger readers with the wrong values, either from the subversive Left or capitalist right. Barker wrote the book while Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister, and popular literature, particularly comics, was coming under increasing attack. In the postscript to the book Barker makes a passionate defence of comics in the face of growing demands for censorship. Although comics and graphic novels are now better accepted than they were in the 1980s, his comments are still relevant today.

‘In this book I have worked hard at being the analyst. Assessing and weighing, investigating and evaluating. Not above a bit of anger when I find bad theory and empirical misrepresentation, but basically cool. Perhaps every now and then a bit of laughter or passion when something I really love comes up before my eyes, but most of the time outside it all. This is, of course, not true at all. I live in this damned country at this damned time and comics are part of my and my children’s lives. And I now say passionately: let us have as many of the things as we possibly can. In the face of the capital-calculating machine called Thatcherism which used morality like murderers use shotguns, all the little things like comics matter. Little by little, the cohorts of the ‘competitive-minded’ seek to shut down, enclose, militarise our imaginations. Comics prise open the bars just a little. Dreaming, eh? Give that chap a ‘short, sharp shock’! I am quite willing to say passionately: all those in whom humanity remains prized about the ‘laws of the market’ have no business (you own none, you have none) helping to block the dreaming that people manage to do. Imagination, fantasy, call it what-you-will, is not some fixed drum which, filled with the wrong stuff, will then be unavailable for other purposes. For heaven’s sake, let us have dreamers; or we will have hell. My defence of the comics is, to me, in the end a defence of the right to imagine.’ (p. 301). He then proceeds to attack comics’ left-wing critics for their censorship, which they share with Thatcher.

Comics and graphic novels have a long tradition of highlighting social and political problems, and satirising and attacking repressive governments and exploitative organisations and corporations. This tradition provides a fertile ground for attacking the present, repressive, exploitative government, and I’m sure there are plenty of talented and enthusiastic young comics writers and artists willing to do this. Such a graphic novel may not be successful, but it would be worth trying, and might, just might, help change a few minds.

On the subject of the way comics in the 1980s began to tackle serious, adult issues, here is an edition of the 1980s documentary series, Signals from 1989, I found on youtube. Entitled ‘The Day Comics Grew Up’, it features interviews with Alan Moore, Archie Goodwin, John Byrne, Tom Veitch and Jim Baikie, amongst other writers and artists, talking about their work and the demand for comics to include such mature, serious subjects.

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Sources

Martin Barker, Comics: Ideology, Power & the Critics (Manchester: Manchester University Press 1989).

Pete Loveday, Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man (London: John Brown Publishing 1991).

Pete Loveday, Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man, Part 2 (London: John Brown Publishing 1993).

Roger Sabin, Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art (London: Phaidon 1996).

The World Moves Towards the Metalzoic: American Military Wants Robot Cheetahs

December 12, 2013

Metalzoic Cover

I found this interesting little snippet over on Youtube. It’s a CNN report on the US military’s programme to develop robot warriors and vehicles. DARPA has already produced the four-legged robot vehicle, Big Dog, to carry trooper’s equipment in the battlefield. It’s been commented that Big Dog moves remarkably like a real animal, and its attempts to right itself when someone attempts to knock it over is indeed very eerily like that of a biological creature.

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It reminded me very strongly of this creature, a robot sabre-toothed lion, from the 1980s 2000 AD strip, Metalzoic.

Metalzoic Lion.

Beginning in Prog 483, Metalzoic was a strip about a group of primitive robotic humanoids, the Mekaka, attempting to survive in a far future world dominated by robots. Written by that pillar of the British comics industry, Pat Mills, and drawn by Kevin O’Neill, the strip had originally been published by DC Comics across the Atlantic. It was set in the far future, after the collapse of the Earth’s magnetic field in the 24th century had wiped out most of the animal life on Earth. These had been replaced by their robot counterparts, who had been given the ability to reproduce, so that almost the planet’s entire ecology was robotic. The far-future world envisaged by the strip was very much like that of Earth’s prehistory. The robotic humanoids, the Robosapiens were the robot counterparts of early humans. Apart from robot sabre-toothed cats, there were also robotic sharks, giraffes and mammoths. These machine creatures were based on or shared features with contemporary machines. The robot sharks looked somewhat like submarines, the giraffes based on cranes and the robot mammoths bore more than a little similarity to trucks. The robosapiens’ leader was the violent and brutal Armageddon, who was leading them on a mission to find and kill the Godbeast. This was the leader of a herd of robot mammoths, which carried the master programme guiding and controlling robot evolution on Earth. Armageddon succeeded in killing the Godbeast, and taking from it the master programme. This allowed Armageddon and his tribe to become the dominant creatures on Earth.

Metalzoic Cast.

Following the geological time charts, Metalzoic had its own showing the evolutionary epochs leading up to and including the Metalzoic, including the Humanic, the Necromic, and the Robocene.

Metalzoic timeline

With Darpa’s proposed development of robot animals, and eventually, humanoid robot warriors, it seems we are not quite in the strip’s Humanic period. This was the period where humans were still dominant, but robots were commonplace and some, built to colonise other world, had been given the ability to reproduce themselves. Nevertheless, that may become a reality in the next few decades. Other documentaries have shown a robot factory in Japan, where the robots are busy making other robots. Nevertheless, the machine ecology of Metalzoic is still a long way off. It’s a disturbing thought that the robotic world Mills and O’Neill created for entertainment way back in the ’80s may become a reality due to humanity’s desire to find ever more efficient ways of murdering people.

In Search of Moebius’

September 30, 2013

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After Alan Moore on V for Vendetta, more comic book stuff. Last year, 2012, saw the passing of Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, one of the great auteurs of French, and indeed, world comics. Originally broadcast on BBC 4, I found it on Youtube. It traces the career and work of Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, from his from his modest background, as the child of a single parent following his mother’s divorce. He describes the shock he experienced at art school, when he encountered the better-off, and more polished bourgeois students. He never completed his training, as in his third year his mother married a Mexican, and he went with his mother to live in Mexico. The ancient country’s open landscape of deserts strongly influenced his later work. Back in France he launched the Western comic, Blueberry, scripted by Jean-Michel Charlier.

He then moved on to become one of Les Humanoides Associes, with Bernard Farkas, Philippe Druillet, and others who founded Metal Hurlant. Metal Hurlant was the French original of ‘Heavy Metal’, one of the first adult comics. Heavy Metal was later filmed as a cartoon of the same title. It comprised several individual stories based on the strips in the original comic. The ‘Taarna’ sequence in the movie was based on Moebius ‘Arzach’ strip. He was asked by the Chilean director, Alejandro Jodorowsky, to work on his abortive film version of Dune, providing concept drawings alongside Chris Foss and H.R. Giger. When the film fell through due to budget problems and the reluctance of the major cinema chains in America to screen it, Moebius then went back to comics. He continued to work with Jodorowsky, and together they produced the strips Arzach and The Incal.

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One of the classic images from Arzach.

He returned to the cinema to work once more with Giger and Foss on Alien, where amongst other things he designed the spacesuits worn by the crew of the Nostromo. Back in comics, he and Dan O’Bannon, one of the writers of Alien, created the Long Tomorrow strip, a future ‘noir’ story about a private detective. The vast city depicted in the strip influenced the design of the great metropolis in Ridley Scott’s ‘future noir’, Blade Runner. In 1987 Moebius went to America to work with the mighty Stan ‘the Man’ Lee on the Silver Surfer comic book, Parable. This strip met a mixed reception. Several of the comics’ creators speaking in
the film thought that it was largely well received by the Marvel comics readership.

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Others said that comics fans are quite conservative, and didn’t really like Moebius’ distinctively continental style of story-telling. Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, was quite critical of the attitude of the American comics industry towards their European cousins. He felt that, although they were impressed with their work and wanted them to work on their comics, they nevertheless did not want them to work in their characteristic manner. Instead, they wanted to fix them so that they conformed to American conventions. Moebius himself was quite content to work on the superhero strip, but the others talking were much less than enthusiastic about the genre. Mike Mignola credited Moebius with inspiring him to leave superheroes behind. Jodorowsky was highly critical about superheroes, and went on to express his complete contempt for them and America. In the 1990s, Moebius once again returned to the cinema to provide the designs for Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element.

The film also touched briefly on his divorce and remarriage. His former partner on Metal Hurlant, Philippe Druillet, noted that wives of comic book artists are all strong women. While the artist simply wants to draw, they’re the ones, who are interested in percentages and the financial side. He believed that they had to be, as comic artists are all really children, who need a mother to protect them.

The film’s talking heads comprise a veritable gallery of some of the leading figures in American and French comics, including Smilin’ Stan Lee, the founder of Marvel, Jamie Lee, the artist on Marvel’s X-Men, Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, Jodorowsky, Druillet and Moebius himself. In contrast to his bizarre heroes and galaxy-spanning quests, Moebius himself comes across as a quiet, affable man, though one of speakers said that they would be afraid of Moebius the man. The documentary gives a fascinating insight into the life and career of one of the great figures of Science Fiction comics. R.I.P., big man.

Warning: Metal Hurlant was one of the very first adult comics, and inspired similar magazines in America and Britain, such as Epic Illustrated and Warrior, in which Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta first appeared. These comics explored issues around sex, and so a few of the drawings contain sex and nudity.

The movie can also be seen on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNas99oEXBU.

Alan Moore on ‘V for Vendetta’

September 28, 2013

Mike over on Vox Political is, if you hadn’t already guessed, a long term comics fan. He’s blogged several times on the very disturbing parallels between the current financial crisis and the authoritarian, exploitative Coalition government, and the Fascist Britain portrayed in his graphic novel, V for Vendetta. I found the video below on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX7ehbE1vc0. It was originally broadcast on either BBC 3 or 4 in their documentary series, Comics Britannia. Moore here talks about how it came out of his activities with Rock against Racism, and states that like a lot of Science Fiction it was really about what is happening now, not the future. He makes very plain his anarchism and antipathy to leaders. He also says that he wanted to explore the morality of violence and states that he did not want to write it so that because he, Moore, was an Anarchist, it was therefore all right for the Anarchist hero to use violence.

He also wanted to portray the Fascists in the novel as ordinary people, some of whom may even have been likable. The Nazis, he points out, were not monsters from space and did not suddenly arrive from the pit of hell. This is, unfortunately, entirely accurate. Hannah Arendt in her description of the trial of Adolf Eichmann talked about the ‘banality of evil’. Primo Levi, the noted Italian author and holocaust survivor, said of the concentration camp guards that they were no different from the rest of humanity. In his words, ‘they had our faces’. Moore points out that the Nazis included the butchers, teachers and street-sweepers, many whom simply went along with what was going on, or they believed in the ideology. It’s a point which needs to be made. There’s a lot of complete rubbish written about Nazi Germany. Since the book The Morning of the Magicians appeared in the 1960s there has been a slew of books portraying Hitler as a literally demonic force, an evil black magician in touch with malign occult entities. He wasn’t. The Nazis were a product of the racial, geopolitical and eugenic theories then current in Europe and America at the time. There were brought to power by the financial collapse of 1929, the political disintegration and factionalism of the Weimar Republic, and the fear of global Communism and Soviet totalitarianism, although this last has been disputed by some historians. Hitler had read and taken some of his ideas about evolution from the pamphlets produced by the leaders of bizarre, Neo-pagan groups, like Lanz Von Liebenfels and Guido Von List. Their ultimate influence on Nazism was minimal and they were suppressed under Nazis. Some of their ideas survived in Himmler’s SS. For a proper understanding of this aspect of Nazism, see The Occult Roots of Nazism, by Nicholas Goodrick Clarke (London: I.B. Tauris & Co, 1992).

The most horrific aspect of the Nazis and other totalitarian butchers is that they were not literal demons or crazed alien machine creatures, like Dr. Who’s Daleks, but ordinary people. That needs to be accepted if we really wish to understand the immense evil they did as part of the dark side of the human psyche.

This is Alan Moore, talking about his work on V for Vendetta.

Revealed: ConDem ‘vendetta’ against citizens it believes are livestock

September 16, 2013

This is another highly thought-provoking piece from Mike detailing the similarity between the Condem regime and the fictional, Fascist Future in Alan Moore’s graphic novel and movie, ‘V for Vendetta’. The parallels include the involve of Big Business in an autocratic regime, deliberately racist policies aimed at racial minorities, gay men and women, and the use of humans for medical experimentation. All of this occurred under Fascist regimes, and particularly and most notoriously under Hitler’s Third Reich. It is also happening in Greece today, and coming back in Hungary under the Fidesz and Jobbik parties.

Much of ”V’ for Vendetta’ also reflects the time it was written: the era of Reagan and Thatcher. Both of these back extreme, Right-wing dictatorships, particularly in South America. Thatcher’s Conservative party also had extensive link with the Far Right, both at home and abroad, as extensively documented by the parapolitical magazine, Lobster. It was also the period when the use of Nazi scientists by post-War American administrations, and the knowledge they brought with them was also being increasingly uncovered and the subject of controversy. The most famous of these were the rocket scientists brought to America under ‘Operation Paperclip’. It also included medical information acquired from the human experimentation in the concentration camps, some of which had been used for teaching purposes in British medicine. FOI releases later revealed the extent of human experimentation by American scientists and doctors in the post-War period.

In Britain the prospect of anarchy and social disintegration in the 1970s saw the formation of extreme Right-wing paramilitary groups, formed to seize power and clamp down on Left-wing unrest. Francis Wheen’s book on paranoia in the 1970s, ‘Strange Days Indeed’ shows how widely this fear of a left-wing takeover was in establishment circles. The Times, for example, demanded the formation of a coalition government of national unity, formed from the middle of the road of the three main parties. Other members of the establishment openly supported the formation of the Right-wing paramilitaries and their plans to seize power. The 1970s had also seen the rapid rise of the National Front to the position where, by the end of the decade, to many people it looked set to take over from the Liberals as Britain’s third political party. This made the Fascist future described in Moore’s comic strip extremely plausible. It was Science Fiction as ‘the literature of warning’ of an all-too possible future.

Vox Political

It has been rumoured that V for Vendetta ‘Guy Fawkes’ masks are to be banned from large-scale public demonstrations in the UK.

They have already been banned in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

The masks were adopted by the loosely-affiliated protesters Anonymous as a clear indication of members’ feelings towards a Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government whose actions, they believe, have been increasingly fascist.

These people have a point.

Has anyone read V for Vendetta lately? An early chapter, ‘Victims’, provides the historical background to the fascist Britain of the story – and provides very disturbing parallels with the current government and its policies.

In the story, there is a recession and a nuclear war. Fortunately, in real life we have managed to avoid the war (so far) but the recession of 2007 onwards has caused severe hardship for many, with average wages cut by nine per cent (in real terms)…

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Zarjaz! New Children’s Laureate Backs the Four-Colour Funnies!

June 5, 2013

Britain’s new children’s laureate, the Black writer Malorie Blackman, was on breakfast TV this morning talking about her views, work and desire to encourage more children to read. She came across as an extremely intelligent and dynamic ambassador for literature for children. She said she wanted every child in the UK to get a library card. This is undoubtedly, obviously a good thing – libraries are an essential for any civilised society, and encouraging them to use them is a major step in encouraging children not only to read, but to enjoy litaracy and learning. Another of her ideas is to set up a scheme whereby children can be encouraged to produce a piece of art, poetry, drama or music inspired by something they’ve read, and shown on the web. What cheered me the most, however, was that she defended comics as a means for getting children, particularly boys to read. The two BBC hosts, Bill Turnbull and Susannah Reed, asked her about the way boys stop reading. Blackman stated it was because they had so many other things competing for their attention, and that they were also reading for exams. She was keen to encourage boys to keep on reading, and remarked that comics and graphic novels were some of the things boys did continue to read. She and Susannah Reed particularly noted that the graphic novels V for Vendetta and Watchmen contained the type of gritty issues Blackman’s works also discussed.

I fully support her comments about the power of comics to get people reading. Much of the literature I read when I was a child consisted of the four-colour funnies and their British equivalents – a lot of Marvel comics, but also British mags like Action, Battle, their predecessor, Valiant, and the humour comics Whizzer and Chips, Cheeky, the Dandy and the Beano, and, of course, the mighty 2000 AD. They gave me access to a world of fun, adventure and wonder. They also had an educational value. Marvel’s Thor obviously drew on Norse mythology, which encouraged me to read more about that. The heroes of many of Marvel’s strips were scientists: Peter Parker of Spiderman, Bruce Banner of the Incredible Hulk, and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. Their adventures were science fictional. They travelled to alternative dimensions, or different worlds in far-flung galaxies, and this did help encourage my own early interest in science, astronomy and space. I first heard of the Planck Constant in the pages of Hulk Comic. This was in a series of adventures in which the mighty green one shrunk until he was smaller than the above smallest unit of measurement, and so fell through the fabric of the universe onto a world in a subatomic universe. Many comics contained adaptations of classic SF and Fantasy stories, such as Conan. These encouraged their readers to seek out and read the original books. They also encourage a form of artistic appreciation, as people recognised and looked for the work of their favourite artists. Barry Windsor-Smith, who drew many of the Conan strips, is one of the very best known, as is Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko in Marvel. Over this side of the Pond the great comic book artists include Brian Bolland, Kevin O’Neill, Steve Moore, Mike McMahon, Dave Gibbons and Glen Fabry, as well as the Spanish artist Carlos Ezquerra, to name only a few. The comics world just about encircles the planet, and their readers also have a taste for exploring the pictorial, fictional worlds of other nations and cultures. The great French comic artist and author, Moebius, aka Jean Giraud, was also read and received high acclaim amongst anglo-phone comics fans, and there is an English language version of the French SF comic anthology, Metal Hurlant, which he helped found. This interest in other cultures’ comics helped launch Japanese Manga comics in America and Europe.

Now I have to say that I never got on with V for Vendetta nor Watchmen. I didn’t really like the gritty realism of which they were apart, and stopped reading comics in the ’90s as they seemed a bit too bleak and grim. I far prefered lighter adventure material. The moral assumptions behind Watchmen, or at least the Watchmen film, are also highly questionable. A few years ago the Conservative Neo-Thomist philosopher, Edward Feser, strongly criticsed the morality in Watchmen and showed that it actually didn’t make a lot of sense. Nevertheless, the two novel’s writer, Alan Moore, is still one of the finest working today and has done much to raise comics to the level of a respected literary medium. Comics can do a brilliant job of entertaining, amusing, provoking and stimulating children’s – and adult’s minds. Blackman is right in that they do encourage children, especially boys, to read. And so her comments are not only welcome, they are, as the great green editor of 2000 AD would say, ‘Zarjaz!’. I recommend her for enrolment in the Squax dek Thargo (Friends of Tharg) for her appreciation of thrill-power.