Posts Tagged ‘Pat Mills’

Awesome! Robot Band Compressorhead Has a Singer At Last

February 25, 2018

As readers of this blog will have gathered, I’ve an interest in robots and robots as musicians. Compressorhead are an all-robot band from Germany, who play Hard Rock and Heavy Metal music. They started as purely musicians without a singer, but have at last built one. He’s called ‘Mega-Wattson’. The robot rolls around on caterpillar tracks, has a structure where a human’s eyes would be that resembles sunglasses, and, as a singer, has a massive mouth full of teeth. Oh yes, and he has a Mohican that raises and goes down in emphasis to what he’s singing. The band also sports a new guitarist and backing vocalist, ‘Hellga Tarr’. Her name seems to me to be a pun on ‘Hell Guitar’. She is very definitely female, as they’ve given her a waist and plastic boobs.

The song’s Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’, and it’s dedicated to Lemmy!

Here’s the clip from YouTube:

This does, however, remind me of piece from the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, in which the ‘Meknificent Seven’ of robot warriors for truth and justice discuss their favourite bands. It ends with Hammerstein saying that everything was rubbish after Led Zeppelin.

It’s from A.B.C. Warriors: The Volgan War – Volume 3, by Pat Mills and Clint Langley. I don’t agree that everything after Led Zeppelin was rubbish. And this is pure rock and roll. Rock on!

And one of the comments is also funny. One of them suggested that after this, there’ll be Cyborgs banging around down in the mosh pit.

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Roger Dean and Nemesis the Warlock’s Gooney Birds

January 11, 2018

Long time readers of 2000 AD may remember the Gooney Birds. These were vast, predatory metal birds evolved from Concorde, that appeared in the second Nemesis the Warlock story, ‘Killerwatt’, back in Prog 178, when one of them attacked a train carrying the strip’s villain, Torquemada, as it passed overland.

Looking through the Sciencefictiongallery tumblr site, which shows pieces of classic and not so classic SF art, I came across this similar piccie by Roger Dean on the page for the 5th February 2014.

It isn’t quite the same thing. Dean’s picture is of a Blackbird spy plane, rather than Concorde, but the idea’s the same. The crowd at 2000 AD took some of their inspiration from the popular culture around them, including pop music. It was why the revived Dan Dare was made to look rather like Ziggy Stardust. The two earliest Nemesis the Warlock stories, ‘Terror Tube’ and ‘Killerwatt’, were published as part of a ‘Comic Rock’ series of strips, which were explicitly inspired by the pop music of the time. In the case of ‘Terror Tube’, this was the Jam’s ‘Going Underground’. In fact, the story had its origin in Mills and O’Neill wishing to stick two fingers up to the comic’s editor, Kevin Gosnell. Gosnell had censored a chase scene in the ‘Robusters’ strip on the grounds that it was too long. So when he was away on holiday, Mills and O’Neill created a story, ‘Terror Tube’, that was just one long chase. As the strip itself acknowledged in its titles, the second Nemesis story, ‘Killerwatt’, was suggested by the album ‘Killerwatts’.

Roger Dean is known for the superb artwork he did for various record sleeves. So you’re left wondering whether Dean’s depiction of the Blackbird spy plane as swooping bird of prey served as the inspiration for the Gooney Birds in the Nemesis the Warlock story, or if it was just an idea that was going around at the time, and which different artists had independently. Either way, ‘Killerwatt’ and its predecessor, ‘Terror Tube’, blew my teenage mind with their depiction of a ravaged, far-future Earth, populated by weird creatures and under the malign heel of Torquemada and Terminators. They provided a solid basis for the Nemesis the Warlock strip proper when this later appeared, and helped to make it one of 2000 AD’s most popular strips.

Torquemada: 2000 AD’s ‘Ultimate Fascist’ and a Prediction of the Rise of the Brextremists, Kippers and Trump

December 31, 2017

As you’ve probably gather from reading my previous posts about art robot Kevin O’Neill, I was and am a big fan of the ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strip that ran in 2000 AD from 1980 through the 1990s. The villain of the piece was Torquemada, the former chief of the Tube police on an Earth thousands of years in the future. Outraged by the interbreeding between humans and their alien subjects, Torquemada overthrew the last, debauched emperor, founding an order of viciously genocidal knights, the Terminators. The construction of the linked White and Black Hole bypasses, giving Earth instant access to the Galaxy, also created terrible temporal catastrophes, resulting in creatures from even further into the future appearing in the present. These included the terrible gooney birds, giant predatory Concorde aircraft, which fed on the trains and anything else that travelled over Earth’s devastated surface. Torquemada and his Terminators blamed these disasters on aliens, killed human scientists and engineers, leading humanity into a new Dark Age. The Human race retreated underground, where the Terminators told them they would be safe from the terrible aliens threatening them. Terra was renamed ‘Termight’ – ‘Mighty Terra’, though Mills also gave it the name because the underground society resembled a massive termites’ nest. And Torquemada set up a corrupt, Fascistic, quasi-feudal society, which also included Orwellian elements from the classic 1984.

Pitched against Torquemada was the hero, Nemesis, an alien warlock. Horned and hooved, with magical powers, he resembled the Devil, and at one point, in conversation with his mad, cruel uncle Baal, he explicitly states that his powers are satanic. Nemesis is also the head of Credo, a human resistance movement dedicated to overthrowing Torquemada and restoring freedom and interspecies tolerance to Earth. Also resisting humanity’s aggressive expansion and extermination of other intelligent races were the Cabal, an alliance of various alien worlds.

The strip was possibly one of the weirdest 2000 AD had run, and was too weird for editor Kevin Gosnell, who hated it. But it was massively popular, at one point even rivalling the mighty Judge Dredd. Torquemada became British comics’ most popular villain, winning that category in the Eagle Award four years in a row. He was so popular that in the end I heard that they stopped submitting or accepting the character, in order to let others have a chance.

Torquemada speaks on the radio, in the strip that launched the character and Nemesis, ‘Going Underground’.

Looking back, I have mixed feelings about the strip. I still like it, but I’m not entirely comfortable with a hero, who has explicitly satanic characteristics, nor the villains, who are very much in the style of medieval Christian crusaders. Mills and O’Neill had had the misfortune to suffer brutal Roman Catholic education, and Mills states that where he grew up, everyone involved in the Roman Catholic establishment was corrupt. Everyone. They poured everything they hated about the bigotry and cruelty they had seen and experienced into the strip.

From a historians’ perspective, it’s not actually fair on the Roman Catholic church. Yes, medieval Christianity persecuted Jews, heretics and witches, and warred against Islam. But the great age of witch-hunting was in the 17th century, and cut across faith boundaries. Prof. Ronald Hutton, a History lecturer at Bristol Uni, who has studied the history of witchcraft and its modern revival – see his book Triumph of the Moon – has pointed out that the German Protestant states killed more witches than the Roman Catholics. And those accused of witchcraft in Italy had far better legal protection in the 16th century than those in Henry VIII’s England. You had a right to a lawyer and proper legal representation. If you couldn’t afford one, the court would appoint one for you. Torture was either outlawed, or very strictly regulated. There was a period of 50 years when the Holy Office was actually shut, because there were so few heretics and witches to hunt down.

As for the equation between medieval Roman Catholicism and Fascism, a graduate student, who taught medieval studies got annoyed at this glib stereotype. it kept being repeated by their students, and was historically wrong. This student came from a Protestant background, but was more or less a secular atheist, although one who appreciated the best of medieval Christian literature.

Underneath the personal experiences of Mills and O’Neill, the strip’s depiction of a future feudal society was also influenced by Protestant anti-Catholic polemic, and the theories of the 19th century French liberal, anti-Christian writer, Charles Michelet. It was Michelet, who first proposed that the witch-hunts were an attempt by patriarchal Christianity to wipe out an indigenous, matriarchal folk paganism. It’s a view that has strongly influenced feminist ecopaganism, although academic scholars like Hutton, and very many pagans have now rejected it as historically untrue.

The robes and masks worn by the Terminators recalled not only those worn by Spanish Catholic penitents during the Easter Day processions, but also the Klan, who are an Protestant organisation, which hates Roman Catholics as well Jews and Blacks.

There’s also the influence of John Wyndham’s classic SF novel, The Chrysalids. This is set in Labrador centuries in the future, after a nuclear war has devastated much of the world, except for a few isolated spots of civilisation. Society has regressed to that of 17th century Puritanism. The survivors are waging a war to restore and maintain the original form of their crops, animals and themselves. Mutants, including humans, are examined and destroyed at birth. As with the Terminators, their clothing is embroidered with religious symbols. In this case a cross. Just as Torquemada denounces aliens as ‘deviants’, so do the leaders of this puritanical regime describe human mutants. And like the pro-alien humans in Nemesis, a woman bearing a mutant child is suspected and punished for her perceived sexual deviancy.

In fact, the underlying anti-religious, anti-Christian elements in the strip didn’t bother me at the time. Mike and myself went to an Anglican church school here in Bristol, though the teaching staff also included people from other Christian denominations such as Methodism and Roman Catholicism. They had a real horror of sectarian bigotry and violence, sharpened by the war in Northern Ireland, and were keenly aware that Christians had done terrible things in the name of religion. I can remember hearing a poem on this subject, The Devil Carried a Crucifix, regularly being recited at school assembly, and the headmaster and school chaplain preaching explicitly against bigotry. At the same time, racial prejudice was also condemned. I can remember one poem, which denounced the colour bar in one of its lines, repeatedly turning up in the end of year services held at the church to which the school was attached.

I also have Roman Catholic relatives and neighbours, who were great people. They were committed to their face, but also bitterly opposed to sectarian bigotry and violence. And the Roman Catholic clergy serving my bit of Bristol were decent men and women, though some of those in other areas were much more sectarian. I’ve Protestant friends, who went on to study RE at a Roman Catholic college. Their experience was not Mills’ and O’Neill’s, though I also had relatives, who were estranged from the Church because they had suffered the same kind of strict, and violently repressive Roman Catholic education that they had.

But Torquemada and the Terminators were far from being a veiled comment on atrocities committed by medieval Roman Catholicism. Torquemada modelled himself on Tomas de Torquemada, the leader of the Spanish Inquisition, whose bloody work he so much admired. But he also explicitly styled himself as the supreme Fascist. By fostering humanity’s hatred of aliens, he hoped to unite the human race so that they didn’t fight each other over differences in colour. But the character was also supposed to be the reincarnation of every persecuting bigot in European and American history. In one story, Torquemada becomes seriously ill, breaking out in vast, festering boils, because Nemesis’ lost son, Thoth, has used the tunnels dug by the Tube engineers to channel away the destructive energies of the White and Black Hole bypasses, to travel backwards in time to kill Torquemada’s previous incarnations. These include Adolf Hitler, natch, one of the notoriously murderous American cavalry officers, responsible for the butchery of innocent indigenous Americans in the Indian Wars, and finally Torquemada himself. Torquemada therefore travelled back in time to confront his former incarnation, and save himself from Thoth.

This was followed by another story, in which Torquemada himself travelled forward to the 20th century. Infected with time energy, Torquemada caused temporal disruptions and catastrophes in the London of the present. He found himself a job as a rack-renting landlord, before founding a Fascist political party. Using Brits’ fears that these disasters were caused by aliens, he became a successful politician and was elected to Number 10.

And one of Torque’s previous incarnations, recovered by Brother Mikron, his pet superscientist, using advanced technological hypnotic regression, was very familiar to British readers with an awareness of the history of Fascism in their country.

Torquemada as Hitler, and very Mosley-esque British Far Right politician. From Prog 524, 30th May 1987.

In the above page, Brother Mikron recovers Torquemada’s past incarnation as Hitler, but only after encountering a later incarnation, in which Torquemada was Sir Edwin Munday, the British prime minister, and leader of the New Empire Party. Munday/Torquemada goes off an a rant on public television, shouting

‘I’ll solve the youth problem! We’ll make our children respectable again! – with compulsory short back and sides! The return of National Service! Order and discipline’.

His name clearly recalls that of the far right, anti-immigration Monday Club in the Tory party, which was at the centre of continuing scandals during the 70s and 80s over the racism of some of its members, the most notorious of whom was Thatcher’s cabinet minister, Norman Tebbit. As a member of the aristocracy, Munday also draws on Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists and later Fascist movements.

Mosley unfurling his Fascist banner in the ’30s.

The rhetoric about youth is also very much that of the Tories around Maggie Thatcher, who really didn’t like long-haired liberals, hippies, punks and the other youth movements, who had sprung up at the time. They were calling for the return of National Service to stop the rise in youth crime and delinquency.

And this is now very much the attitude of the Kippers and Brextremists over here, who really do hanker after the old days of the British Empire, with all its pomp and authoritarianism. The last thing that incarnation of Torquemada says is

‘We’ll make our country great again!’

This is also based on the rhetoric of the Tories at the time, in which Thatcher was credited with turning around Britain’s decline and restoring her to her glory. In the general election that year, the Tory party election broadcasts showed old footage of Spitfires and Hurricanes racing around the sky shooting down Nazi planes, while an overexcited actor exclaimed ‘It’s great – to be great again!’

No, she didn’t make us great. She wrecked our economy and welfare state, and sold everything off to foreign firms, all the while ranting hypocritically about how she represented true British patriotism.

But it also recalls Trump’s rhetoric last year, during his election campaign. When he announced ‘We’ll make America great again!’ And he’s gone on to use the same neoliberalism as Reagan, Thatcher, and successive Democrat and New Labour leaders, backed with racist rhetoric and legislation supported by White supremacists.

Torquemada was one of 2000 AD’s greatest comments on sectarian bigotry and racism, with Torquemada as its very explicit symbol. Even after three decades, it’s central message about the nature of Fascism, imperialism and colonialism, and the western hankering for its return, remains acutely relevant.

Tharg’s Tribute to Kevin O’Neill: When the Comics Code Banned His Art

December 30, 2017

Yesterday in one of the posts I mentioned the dictatorial grip the Comics Code Authority had over American comics from the 1950s to the mid-1980s. The Code was sent up to reassure and protect the American public after the moral panic over Horror comics in the 1950s. This spread to comics as a whole, which were seen as subversive, morally corrupting and un-American. This included bizarre accusations of Fascism and deviant sexuality aimed at those stalwarts of popular American culture, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. The scare decimated the American comics industry, and nearly caused its total collapse.

The Code was set up to ensure that all comics were suitable for a child of seven to read. Its officials were unelected, and in many cases had right-wing views that showed absolutely no understanding of popular politics or culture. It was supposed to be a voluntary organisation, and there were comics creators who worked outside and often against the code. Like Robert Crumb and the underground scene, or the independents Like Dave Sim and Cerebus the Aardvark. In practice, however, those comics were well outside the mainstream, and were only available in head shops and specialist comics stores like Forbidden Planet and the late, lamented Forever People in Bristol.

I discussed how the Code rejected one issue of the Green Lantern Corps, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Kevin O’Neill, on the grounds that O’Neill’s artwork was too grotesque and disturbing for children. This was ironic, as he had been delighting children and adults with his monstrous aliens, mutants, robots and equally grotesque humans for years in the pages of 2000 AD. He was and remains one of comicdom’s favourite artists, and while the other artists who worked on the Nemesis the Warlock strip added the considerable talents to the tale of the Warlock and his foe, the human ‘Ultimate Fascist’ Grand Master Torquemada, I think much of the strip’s initial popularity came from his superb, bizarre artwork.

2000 AD duly paid tribute to him and his censorship by the Comics Code in their anniversary issue, Prog 500, published on 14 December 1986. In it, Tharg took a walk through the contents of his mind, reviewing the comic’s history and revisiting some of the characters that didn’t work. At the end he comes to Kevin O’Neill, who appears as a stunted, crazed sadist. O’Neill admonishes him for censoring the most extreme piece of violence in the strip. Tharg tries to reassure him by reminding him that he won the ‘ultimate accolade’ for which other comics creators all envy him: the day the Comics Code banned his art as totally unsuitable for children. To which O’Neill replies ‘Hmmph. You won’t get around me by flattery’. Unsatisfied, O’Neill then calls down Torquemade, who promptly beats Tharg up.

The different sections of that strip were written and drawn by the different artists and writers, who worked on the comic, so there were different credit cards for them for each section. That section ends with the credits reading ‘Script Therapy: Pat Mills. Art Therapy: Kev O’Neill. Letters: Steve Potter’. Which suggests that the letterer was the only sane one there.

Here’s a few panels.

The real O’Neill is, however, quite different from his portrayal in the strip. It’s been pointed out several times that the fans, who’ve met him, are often surprised that he doesn’t dress in black and silver like the Terminators. And the other rumours about him are also totally untrue. Like he only works at night using a quill pen in the light of candles, and has an occult temple in his basement. I met him at UKCAC 90 in Reading, where I queued with Mike to have him draw a character on the blank badges we’d been given for our fave artists to draw on. O’Neill at the time was a wearing a ‘Solidarity for Nicaragua’ T-shirt, which a left-wing friend of mine at college also wore. He also was wearing a brown leather jacket, and his facial features at the time reminded me a bit of John Hurt. He was affable, enthusiastic, full of nervous energy and completely unthreatening. If you seem him now at comic conventions or footage of them on YouTube, or the occasional interview for television, he’s obviously older and balder, as effects so many of us eventually. He comes across as genial and entertaining British gent, completely unlike the berserk monstrosities that rampage across his strips down the years. Even when he’s telling the stories about how he and Pat Mills went as far as they could in savaging American superhero comics and right-wing, superpatriotic American politics in the violent and nihilistic Marshal Law. Actors, writers and artists aren’t their creations. Fortunately.

Robohunter: 2000 AD’s Warning about Crazed Robots?

December 29, 2017

Now for something a bit lighter. What struck me watching Six Robots and Us on BBC 2 last night, was how similar the real robots given to the six families to help them with their problems resembled the demented machines drawn by art robot Ian Gibson for 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. Written by script droid John Wagner, who was Pat Mills’ partner in crime behind Judge Dredd, ‘Robohunter’ was about a future private detective, Sam Slade, who specialised in hunting down rogue robots. In his first adventure, Slade is sent to Verdus, a planet colonised by robots ready for eventual human occupation. But the robots have developed so rapidly, that they now exceed humans in strength and intelligence. Programmed to regard humans as their superiors, they simply don’t recognise the inferior organic beings that turn up as humans, and so incarcerate as experimental animals in concentration camps.

‘Robohunter’ was one of my favourite strips in 2000 AD. It was Science Fiction, but had the wit and style of an old-fashioned hardboiled detective thriller from the thirties or forties. Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ was something like a futuristic Sam Spade. Which meant that he was frequently being beaten up by the villains, before fighting his way out with a few laconic witticisms. And the robots drawn by Gibson were imaginative and convincing, with the same type of cartoony features as the robots used in Six Robots and Us.

And like very many of the other strips in 2000 AD, ‘Robohunter’ was also sharply satirical. Here’s Wagner’s and Gibson’s take on the British parliament, from the collected strips Robo-Hunter: Verdus, by John Wagner, Ian Gibson, Jose Luis Ferrer and Jose Casanovas, published by Rebellion/ 2000 AD.

Okay, so the robots sent to the families weren’t demented killing machines intent on enslaving us. In fact the Shopbot sent to a supermarket in Glasgow offered people hugs. One of the store workers observed shrewdly that he had nothing against the machine, as long as it didn’t put human employees out of a job. Quite.

And some of them actually didn’t work very well. The Carebot sent in to look after a lady with MS, thus allowing her husband some time away from looking after her, actually couldn’t physically help her. It could only remind her and her husband when she needed to take her medicine and to call him on the mobile if there was something wrong. Unfortunately, it used the internet, and so the moment the husband was out of wifi range, the connection went down and it was more or less useless.

So they’re not quite like the robots in ‘Robohunter’ just yet. But we have been warned!

Art Robot O’Neill’s Twisted Take on Christmas

December 29, 2017

Kevin O’Neill is one of the great British comic artists, who came out of 2000 AD in the 1970s. His grotesque and nightmarish depictions of aliens, mutants and robots have been delighting and traumatising readers for decades. With writer Pat Mills, he created the Nemesis the Warlock strip, and has drawn the art for a number of classic comics, including Marshal Law and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The last has been turned into a film with Sean Connery as Alan Quatermaine. This weird vision of the Christmas season is the wrap-around cover for 2000 AD 398, for the 29th December 1984. As you can see, it shows a monstrous Santa Claus, a chimney with jaw pursuing a flying Christmas turkey, snowmen fighting, and two houses trying to burn each other down with their chimneys. Oh yes, and the mechanical reindeer that’s part of Santa’s sleigh looks anything but jolly. Though he is red-nosed.

O’Neill’s artwork was considered so grotesque and revolting that it was banned by the Comics Code. The Comics Code were an unelected body of censors set up following the scare about Horror comics that devastated the industry in the 1950s. They were charged with making sure that American comics were good, wholesome fun, and were suitable for children. I can remember Mike telling me that American comics at the time worked to be suitable for a child of seven to read. It was supposed to be a voluntary code, meaning that its decision were not legally binding, and there were comics published far outside, and often deliberately against their control: the underground comics, like Robert Crumb, and the independents, like Cerebus the Aardvark. In practice, however, the Code had a near total grip dictating what comics could or could not publish. If a comic did not have their seal of approval, then the vast majority of newsagents and mainstream retailers simply wouldn’t sell it.

This whole system collapsed in the 1980s, as a new generation of fans objected to censorship and being told what they could or could not read in their favourite literature. The result was the emergence of adult comics ‘for mature readers’, like Marshal Law. But this was not before there were a few casualties. O’Neill was one of them.

He was the artist for a story in DC’s Green Lantern Corps, written by Alan Moore, who had also been one of the script robots working on 2000 AD. In the story, the Corps visit a planet which has been overrun by demons. The Code rejected it.

Moore rang them up, and asked if they would pass it if he made a few suggested changes. No, they told him. He tried again, suggesting taking out another incident in the strip. No, they still wouldn’t pass it. So Moore asked him what was wrong with the strip, that they didn’t want to pass it.

‘O’Neill’s artwork’, the faceless censors replied. ‘It is totally unsuitable for children’.

In the end, I think DC did go ahead and publish the story, but it appeared without the Comics Code approval badge on its cover.

I really like O’Neill’s art, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it is grotesque and disturbing. I can remember reading an interview with another British comics great, Dave Gibbons, who drew the Rogue Trooper strip in 2000 AD, where he said that a fan had told him at a comics convention that O’Neill’s artwork gave him nightmares. He could only dispel these by looking at Gibbons’ smooth art.

2000 AD later paid homage to the incident in one of their anniversary issues, where Tharg walked around various characters and art and script droids in his head. O’Neill is depicted as a crazed, stunted brat drinking at of a can marked ‘Bile’. During their brief conversation, Tharg describes O’Neill’s ban by the Comics Code as his great accolade.

It says something about American culture at the time that O’Neill’s art was considered too grim and upsetting for children across the Pond, but he had been published in 2000 AD for years and was one of the comic’s cult artists.

As for the nightmarish vision of Christmas, this strangely harks back to the type of humour the Victorians themselves like to put on their Christmas cards. There was a brief piece about Christmas cards on the One Show about a week ago, where they mentioned that the first Christmas cards showed scenes of anthropomorphised Christmas food or other items hunting each other over a wintry background. Art robot O’Neill’s weird, crazed interpretation of the festive season harks back to that, although its direct inspiration was probably the iconoclastic punk ethos that ran through 2000 AD.

Here’s the two pictures. Enjoy, and don’t have nightmares!

Radio 4 Programme Next Week Asking ‘Where Are All the Working Class Writers?’

November 15, 2017

Next Thursday, 23rd November 2017, at 11.30 in the morning, Radio 4 are broadcasting a programme, Where Are All the Working-Class Writers? by the writer Kit de Waal. The blurb for the programme on page 137 of the Radio Times runs

Birmingham-raised writer Kit de Waal published her first novel in 2016, aged 55. She used part of the advance to set up a scholarship in an attempt to improve working-class representation in the arts. She talks to writers, agents and publishers about barriers for writers from working-class backgrounds.

More information about her and the programme is in another piece on the opposite page, 135. This states

“I never expected to be a writer,” says Kit de Waal in this thoughtful exploration of class and writing. “I was working class, I was the daughter of immigrants. People like me weren’t even expected to go to university. ” De Waal did go to university, but at 51; she’d left school at 16. She knows that her background and – and how it influences the stories she tellls – makers her an oddity in literary circles. As she speaks to writers, agents and publishers to find out why this is, it becomes clear that class is an intrinsic part of the under-representation question, overlapping with race and gender. She gleans erudite contributions – take Tim Lott’s description of working-class writing as “the literary equivalent of soul music”, as he asks, “who’s making the soul music?’ Who’s making the rock ‘n’ roll?’

This is an issues that the great British comics writer, Pat Mills, raised in some of the interviews I posted up on here. Mills, who created the classic anti-war strip, Charley’s War, and wrote and created many of the classic characters in the SF comic, 2000 AD, has said that he felt angry that there were no working class characters in comics and very few in mainstream literature. Worse, there was an attitude amongst the media that was determined to exclude them. He has described how he was working on a story for Dr. Who in the 1980s, which was to have a working-class spaceship captain. This was rejected by the script editor, who really didn’t like the idea.

As for popular music, I was told by a friend of mine a little while ago that this was another traditional working class area that was being taken over by the middle classes. Most of the stars now in the charts, or at least at the time, were graduates of university courses in music or the performing arts. The pub rock scene, which emerged in the ’70s and which the launched the careers of many of the great working class bands of the ’70s and ’80s is now very much disappearing.

Once upon a time, back in the 1980s and 1990s, Private Eye’s literary column took a somewhat similar view of the contemporary literary scene. The reviewer back then was acutely critical of the snobbishness and cliquishness of literature and the publishing industry. The Eye believed and very strongly argued that British literature was dominated by a small clique of writers, who were largely vastly overhyped, to the exclusion of better writers and aspiring authors, who were rejected out of hand. They gave as an example of this a conversation they’d heard about with one of the editors of Granta. When the editor was asked about a piece submitted by one aspiring author, they responded by asking what colour the enveloped it was send in was. This, the Eye’s reviewer went on, showed precisely what the attitude towards outside submissions at the magazine was. It was geared entirely towards people within the literary clique. Those outside were automatically rejected, manuscript unread.

The Eye wasn’t particularly interested in the class aspects of this question. Which isn’t surprising, as Richard Ingrams, the former editor pointed out during a talk one year at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that the magazine’s founders – himself, Willie Rushton, Peter Cook and so on, were all middle-class and privately educated. The Eye’s reviewer said several times that there was no reason why working class writers should be particularly promoted over others. They also made the occasional sneering comments directed at left-wing authors stressing their very working class roots that they were ‘prolier than thou’. I think they may even have made a comment about ‘Prole-lit’ for a type of very stereotypical ‘working class’ literature.

But they also attacked authors, who seemed to be published solely on snob value, because they were members of the aristocracy or the upper-middle classes, rather than because their writing had any intrinsic merit. Regarding one such author, the Eye’s reviewer said that any miner, who ever picked up a pen to write a sonnet, was of far more interest and value than them. They also savaged authors from the upper classes, who struck them as having a particularly patronising attitude to the lower orders, who read her books. There’s one review, which takes Jilly Cooper to task for this, whether the reviewer writing as her, sends her up by describing her readers as ‘pawps’ as an example of the class snobbishness in her novels. I’ve never read Cooper, so can’t really say whether this attitude is entirely fair or not, or, if it is, whether Cooper is any worse than many other authors.

I think that in more recent years the Eye’s literary column lost a little of that fierce opposition to the cliquishness of the literary scene, and particularly the London literary milieu. It still attacks and parodies overhyped, bad writing, but this seems part of a simple attack on overrated, mediocre literature. This now includes the works of the stars of reality TV shows and vapid, but inexplicably popular, bloggers and vloggers on the Net. But working class representation in writing, and other areas of the arts is a genuine part of the wider issues of access and exclusivity. Whether the Net will have an impact here, in popularising the work of working class writers, who would otherwise remain unpublished if left to the world of traditional literary agents and publishers, remains to be seen.

Radio 4 Programme on British Invasion of Russia to Overthrow Russian Revolution

October 13, 2017

Also on Radio 4 next week, on Friday, 20th October 2017 at 11.00 am., is a programme on the British invasion of Russia. This followed the Bolshevik coup of 1917, and was intended to overthrow the new Communist regime. The blurb for the programme in the Radio Times states

The story of a little-known war that took place a century ago along the frozen rivers of the Russian Arctic and transformed Russia’s relations with the West for decades to come. After the October Revolution, thousands of foreign troops under British command fought Russians on Russian soil for more than 18 months. Lucy Ash meets the 93-year-old son of General Edmund Ironside, who wrote at the time that he was in charge of “a tiny army of not very first class troops” stranded in the icy vastness of Russia “in the midst of a bitter civil war”. (Page 139).

Again, there’s a bit more information on the facing page, 138, written by Tom Goulding. This reads

The UK’s relationship with Russia has always seemed cold – coloured by by decades of menacing but empty rhetoric on both sides. so it’s often overlooked that just under 100 years ago a real and bloody conflict took place between Britain and the Bolsheviks in the frozen Arctic. Journalist Lucy Ash investigates this infamous incursion of British boots on Russian soil by speaking to the 93-year-old son of Edmund Ironside, the general who led Churchill’s crusade to put down the fledgling Bolshevik state. The intervention was a disaster, and the resulting mistrust between the two countries looms large to this day.

With 20/20 hindsight, it could be said that it’s a pity that the invasion didn’t succeed. The Bolsheviks were authoritarians from the start. They suppressed the other political parties and organisations, including left-wing and socialist groups such as the Mensheviks, Trudoviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. Strict discipline was reintroduced, and the Bolsheviks reinstated the same proprietors and managers to manage the factories and other industrial concerns that they’d nationalised, against the desires of the anarchists, syndicalists and Left Communists, who wished to create a genuine worker’s state with worker’s control of industry. These were also suppressed, and their leaders and members arrested.

And if Bolshevik rule had been overturned, the Nazis may never have come to power as there would not have been a Communist threat that they could claim to be protecting Germany and the upper and middle classes from. And Stalin would not have come to power, to kill and imprison something like 30 million Soviet citizens – although some estimates put the death toll higher at 45 million – in the gulags and purges.

On the other hand, the Whites were also extremely brutal and oppressive. They, like the Bolsheviks during the Civil War, also held out the prospect of restoring democracy. However, the leader of one of the White counter-revolutionary bands was a maniac, who I think believed himself to be Jesus Christ or Buddha – or both. This butcher used to throw cold water over his prisoners’ naked bodies in the depths of the Russia winter so that they froze to death, and snap pieces of their bodies. Tony Greenstein in a recent blog post describes how the Zionist leaders approached another anti-Semitic White General, Petlyura, about sending Jews from Russia to Palestine. The Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov vividly describes the outbreak of anti-Semitic violence during the Civil War in the Ukraine in his classic, The White Guard, adapted from his play, The Days of the Turbins. He mentions the lynching of Jews by the peasants, and one of the characters killed by the mob in this way is a Jewish man, whose only crime was to have left his home to try to buy food and medicine for his family.

And if you read accounts of the Russian Revolution, it’s very clear why the peoples of the Russian Empire rose up, even if they mostly didn’t support Lenin and the Bolsheviks: they were pushed to the end of their tether through losing a war for which the ordinary squaddies were poorly treated and equipped, and by social conditions of horrendous poverty and near starvation in industry and the countryside. Russia was beset by strikes, and their were hundreds of peasant uprisings that occurred one after the other in the Russian countryside.

As for the British invasion, it seems to me it had two objectives. These were to keep the Russians in the War, fighting the Germans and Austrians, and to overthrow the Bolshevik state as a threat to capitalism. I dare say that it was accompanied with claims that it was about defending democracy, but as it wasn’t until the ’20s that all men got the vote regardless of property qualifications, and women finally gained the suffrage, such claims are probably rather specious.

Pat Mills, in one of the interviews I put up a few weeks ago, mentioned that he wrote a story for the First World War strip, Charlie’s War, in the comic Battle, which dealt with the British invasion of Russia. Mills is very left-wing, and says in the interview that the British officers ‘behaved like animals’. Which I don’t doubt they did, considering the stupid brutality they later unleashed in Ireland during their Revolution, though this was mostly done by the auxiliary units, the Black and Tans, rather than the regular army.

Pat Mills and Anti-Racism and Anti-Nazism in British and American Comics

September 22, 2017

This week I’ve put up a number of articles about a couple of interviews I’ve found on YouTube with the long-time British comics creator, Pat Mills. Mills was one of the recidivist offenders, who revitalized a moribund British comics industry in the 1970s with a succession of groundbreaking new magazines the war comic, Battle, Action, and, of course, the mighty 2000AD. Mills is of Irish heritage and distinctly left-wing, so that his sympathies are always with the poor and the persecuted against the establishment, and there was more than a little element of subversion in his strips. Judge Dredd from the first was meant to be a symbol of the Fascistic elements in modern American policing, and J.D. is as much villain as he is hero. The mutant heroes of the Strontium Dog strip are second-class citizens in a future Britain which barely tolerates them. They can only live in ghettoes, and the only work they can do by law is bounty hunting. It’s an explicit comment on racism and anti-Semitism. Nemesis the Warlock was a similar attack on religious bigotry, set as it was in a devastated Earth of the far future, ruled by Tomas de Torquemada and his terminators. They were a military order of warriors, who had whipped up fear and hatred of intelligent aliens and embarked on a series of holy wars to exterminate them across the Galaxy. This was partly based on the medieval inquisition in Roman Catholic Europe, with elements of modern Fascism. For example, the robes adopted by the Terminators recalled Ku Klux Klan costumes.

Comics at the time were increasingly focused on the issue of racism and persecution, particularly in the case of Marvel Comic’s X-Men. The mutants in this strip, like those of Johnny Alpha’s nuclear-scarred Britain, were also persecuted. One of the recurring villains in the strip were the Sentinels, a race of giant robots created to hunt down and kill robots by the stock mad scientist in the belief that this would preserve humanity from the threat to their survival the super-powered mutants – Homo Superior – represented. Another of Mighty Marvel’s villains was the Hate Monger, dedicated to whipping up bigotry and strife. This character also wore a costume based on the Klan, and was revealed as Hitler, or a clone of him.

The American comics industry was founded by German Jews, who brought with them their former homeland’s tradition of telling a story through a series of pictures derived from Wilhelm Busch. I think many of them had also seen combat fighting against Nazism in the army during the War. It’s therefore not hard to see in strips such as the X-Men a metaphorical treatment of the persecution of the Jewish people, as well as other outsider groups. As well as being a metaphor for racism, the X-Men also had an large following of gay young people, possibly because the social hostility shown in the strips towards its mutant heroes mirrored their own experiences as marginalized outsiders.

And concerns over the threat of Fascism were also seen in other British comics. The British version of the Captain Britain strip, written by Dave Thorpe and then Alan Moore, was set in an alternative Britain in which a deranged, mutant aristocrat, Mad Jim Jaspers, had created a biomechanical creature to hunt down and exterminate all mutants. At the same time, he had encouraged a Fascist dictatorship to seize power, which then began the process of persecuting and exterminating mutants.

This was succeeded by Moore’s V for Vendetta in the adult comic, Warrior, which featured an anonymous guerilla, V, fighting a personal war against the Fascist authorities of a near-future Britain. It was filmed with Hugo Weaving as ‘V’, Natalie Portman as his companion, Evie, with Stephen Fry as a gay TV host and John Hurt as the dictator. Moore himself dislikes the movie, partly because the contract he signed with the studio meant that the character is now their property. But it is a powerful film, which accurately shows certain aspects of Nazism, such as the use of concentration camp inmates for medical experimentation.

Pat Mills also says in the interviews I posted about earlier this week that the strip Charley’s War was subversive in that it was anti-war strip in a war comic. Mills is disappointed by the way the strip wasn’t included in an exhibition on comics and subversion, and notes that in this, the centenary years of the First World War, there seems to be a deliberate policy amongst the British broadcasters of not showing anything with an anti-war content, such as Blackadder Goes Forth. Radio 4 have made shows about the great stage play and film, Oh, What a Lovely War!, but it wasn’t that long ago that Michael Gove, the Tory minister for education, opened his mouth to say that children were getting an entirely wrong view of the War based on Blackadder. Mike naturally wrote a very sharp reply to that piece of nonsense.

But there were other strips in Battle, which also rose out of the mass of the usual gung-ho stories of courageous British squaddies winning against brutal and stupid Germans, and which did shock with their realism. Darkie’s Mob, which was about a mysterious commander, who takes over a failing British unit trapped behind Japanese lines in Burma was one of these. Another I remember which particularly shocked me was a short piece in Battle, in which British soldiers are fighting their way through Germany. I think it was a stand-alone strip, rather than part of a continuing storyline. The story ended when the squaddies reach a group of emaciated figures standing behind barbed wire, the inmates of one of the death camps. This was clearly about the Holocaust, and what it was really like, rather than the usual glamorous war stories, and I remember being shocked by the starved bodies of the inmates. As I doubtless was supposed to.

Battle, Action, 2000AD and Warrior were part of a trend that had emerged in American comics in the late 1960s, when they turned from simple escapism to dealing with real issues – such as racism and feminism. British comics up to the launch of Battle and Action had tended to avoid explicit politics, and in some cases had actually been very racist. And this tradition of commenting and attacking racism and bigotry continues in American comics today, and in 2000AD, now sadly nearly all that’s remaining of the British comics industry.

These are the type of strips, which Mike and I grew up reading, along with so many others of our age group. And they reflected the very real anxieties of the time. Left-wingers were worried about the rise of Maggie Thatcher, her links to the hard right and the violence and political threat posed by the BNP/NF. In the original comic strip version of V for Vendetta, the Fascists seize power in Britain after devastating nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union over the crisis in Poland. To many of us, the threat of nuclear annihilation in Maggie’s and Reagan’s New Cold War was only too real.

In his talk to the Socialist Workers’ Party, Mills reads out a letter he received from the CEO of a school, a former punk, who states that everything he learned about Fascism, he got from Judge Dredd; everything about racism, from Strontium Dog, and everything about feminism from Halo Jones. And he now considered it the most subversive thing he could do was to help produce open-minded, critical young people. And it isn’t just racism. When Thatcher tried to criminalise positive teaching of homosexuality in school – that it is perfectly natural – the British comics industry responded with the anti-homophobia anthology AWRGH!, whose initials stood for Artists and Writers Against Rampant Government Homophobia. Comics in the 1980s and ’90s sold much more than they do now, and so they made a very large number of young people aware and alert to these issues. It partly explains why British society has broadly become more tolerant, despite continuing bigotry in some areas. Like the right-wing of the Tories and UKIP.

This is also why I found Mills’ story of how the Board of Deputies of British Jews complained about a story in Crisis utterly amazing. Crisis was another adult comic, which dealt explicitly with contemporary issues of western imperialism, the power of the multinationals and the exploitation of the Developing World. The comic had featured a story about the beating of a Palestinian protester in Gaza, based on a real event told to Mills by a Palestinian. The Board complained because the lad’s broken body, left lying in the road, looked to them a bit like a swastika. As Mills himself said, it wasn’t there because comics creators aren’t that clever. But I was left amazed at the thought that anybody could accuse anyone in mainstream British comics at the time of racism or anti-Semitism, given how radical and anti-racist so many of them were.

It’s also why the accusation by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism earlier this year against Mike is so outrageous. I’ve blogged before in Mike’s defence pointing out that he very definitely is not racist and not anti-Semitic, having both Black and Jewish friends and participating at College in a performance commemorating the victims of the Shoah. Mike read these comics, with the anti-racist and anti-bigotry message which they strove to impart to their readers. I realize that no doubt there were many people who read them, without really taking the anti-racist, anti-bigotry subtext onboard, but even so many people in the comics milieu were and are liberal in their attitudes towards tolerance of minority and marginalized groups.

But the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the rest of the Zionist lobby have no qualms about smearing genuine anti-racists, and people who have written about and denounced anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and persecution, like Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone and Tony Greenstein. And there is the real danger that by doing so, not only will they libel and smear decent people, but trivialize real anti-Semitism in doing so.

I’ve blogged earlier this evening about the fine job Richard Coughlan did in producing his videos debunking Holocaust denial. But British and American comics and their creators, like Pat Mills, Alan Moore and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the creators of the X-Men, and that strip’s writers and artists since, have also contributed greatly to attacking racism and bigotry in the strips they produced.

Republicans Try to Block RT from Being Shown in US

September 22, 2017

The Republicans are up to their tricks again, trying to stop American audiences from taking their news from alternative sources and so getting a clearer, different picture from that the corporate media wishes to impose. In this report by Samira Khan from RTUK, Republican Senator John McCaine and one of his colleagues are trying to pass a bill, which would allow American network providers to avoid having to carry RT – Russia Today – in the US. The ostensible reason is that Russia is using the broadcaster, which is owned by the Russian state, to influence American politics. There’s a clip in the programme of various Republicans in Congress debating and complaining that too many Americans are getting their views from RT.

The programme notes that there are three other state-owned foreign broadcasters in the US. These are France 24, Al-Jazeera, which is owned by Qatar, and, of course, the Beeb. None of these will be subject to the McCaine’s and Graham’s bill.

I’m very much aware that RT is owned by Russia, which since the Second World War has been America’s ideological and geopolitical opponent. And, despite the Fall of Communism and the introduction of capitalism, Russia still is in geopolitical opposition to America. But the claims that Russia is interfering in US politics is pure rubbish.

This twaddle ultimately comes from Hillary Clinton and her attempts to blame everyone else for her failure and corruption at the elections. She claimed that the leaked emails from the Democratic National Convention, which showed how corrupt she was in her dealings with corporate backers, and how she and Debbie Wasserman Schultz unfairly manipulated the internal electoral process within the party to stop Bernie Sanders coming to power, came from the Russians. They weren’t. They came from disgruntled members of her own party.

As for the accusation that Russia was influencing US politics, there’s no evidence that they were doing so unduly, or at least, no more than they had been. And as William S. Blum has pointed out on his Anti-Empire Report, that’s a lot less than America has interfered in other countries. He has a whole list of the countries, in which America has interfered in their politics and elections, not counting those, which the US has actively invaded or organized or backed coups to overthrow liberal and left-wing, but not necessarily Marxist or even Socialist governments. And there are pages and pages on this in Blum’s book.

This is just another attempt by the political establishment to try and shut down alternative media, and stop the American people from finding out what their country is really doing. Not just around the world, but also to them. Thanks to both the establishment Democrats and the Republicans’ promotion of corporate interests, as Pat Mills observed in one of his talks on politics and comics, there are pockets of America which are like the Third World. And this is White America, never mind Blacks, who still remain much poorer.

The corporate establishment is panicking, both in America and over here in Blighty, because people are no longer buying the right-wing propaganda churned out by Fox News and MSNBC, or by a supine BBC over here, which has turned its news into a kind of British TASS for Conservatives. (TASS was the Soviet state news agency before the collapse of Communism). They’re taking their news from alternative sources, like the Real News Network, RT, Democracy Now!, The Young Turks, Secular Talk, the David Pakman Show, Sam Seder’s Majority Report in the US, RTUK over here, media commentators like Chunky Mark the Artist Taxi Driver, and a whole plethora of bloggers and vloggers. And they’re getting worried.

It’s why establishment journos in the press and on the Beeb are whining about how the decline of their sector of news gathering and publication means that there will no longer be a consensus view that broadly unites people of all shades of political opinion. What this actually translates into is a panic that they won’t be able to shape public opinion like they could. They argue this means that opinions are becoming increasingly polarized and oppositional. It also means that they’re afraid that they can’t shape public opinion for the benefit of their corporate proprietors like they used to, and without influence and declining sales they could see all that lucrative advertising money that keeps so many of them going, drying up.

And the giants of the internet are also panicking. It’s why Google is so keen to demonetize ‘controversial’ material on YouTube. The excuse is that they’re doing so to stop racist, Alt Right, Nazi and Islamist propaganda appearing on the platform. But as so much of what is demonetized extends to left-wing news outlets, like David Pakman, Sam Seder and Democracy Now!, this excuse is very spurious and flimsy indeed. Google has said it wants to prioritise corporate content. It’s therefore just another big corporation trying to silence the critics of the corporate capitalism that’s destroying the planet and impoverishing everyone in the world except the super-rich 1 per cent.

It’s also why Facebook has also changed its policy, so that bloggers like Mike over at Vox Political also find it hard to reach their audience.

People the world over aren’t buying the corporate, establishment propaganda. They are turning to alternative media, which includes Russia Today, to find out about what’s really going on. And the corporate media is terrified. Hence this wretched bill. And I’ve no doubt that if this gets through Congress, the Tories will try something similar over here. After all, RT is also over here, as is the Iranian state broadcaster, PressTV, and they also tell the British public facts and information that they really don’t want people to see. Like George Galloway talking about the oppression of the Palestinians in Israel, and western militarism and imperialism in eastern Europe and the Middle East.