Posts Tagged ‘Pat Mills’

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

January 7, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 1, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 29, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tokyo Bans Sale of Comics ‘Subversive of the Social Order’ to Children

August 28, 2021

It seems to me that there’s a real war going on in ostensibly democratic countries against freedom of speech and conscience. I don’t think this is confined to either the left or right either. In Britain we have had a successions of governments that have been determined to limit the right to public protest from David Cameron to Johnson with his wretched Criminal Justice Bill. And before then there was Tony Blair and his attempts to control what was being said about him and his coterie on state broadcasting, just as Berlusconi was doing to the Italian state media. John Kampfner wrote a rather good book about it, Freedom for Sale, a few years ago, arguing that governments from Blair to Putin were trying to bargain with their peoples. They got material prosperity in return for severe infringements on their ability to protest against their governments. Well, Blair was wretched, but he did at least tackle poverty with no little success. Cameron, Tweezer and Johnson are simply increasing it.

On the other side of the political aisle, the right are complaining about the imposition of curbs on free speech as part of the campaign against hate crime and the ‘cancel culture’. Some of this is exaggerated. Zelo Street demolished some of the claims Toby Young, Douglas Murray and the rest were making about right-wingers being prevented from speaking at universities by giving the precise statistics. These showed that, while it had happened, the percentage of speakers cancelled was minute. But I do think they have a point. For example, it should be accepted that trans people should not despised, persecuted or suffer discrimination. But I think there are legitimate issues and questions voiced by gender critical feminists about trans activism and that there are spaces that should only be reserved for ‘cis’ women. But to some people, simply voicing what to many people are reasonable questions and criticisms constitute hate speech. There are similar problems regarding the reporting and discussion of racial issues. Nobody should want to empower real bigots and Fascists, but it does seem that legislation put in place to protect minorities from real hate has now expanded into Orwellian thoughtcrime.

And these attempts to limit freedom of speech have got into what is permissible in comics. One of the astonishing snippets I found while flicking through Paul Gravett’s Comics Art yesterday, was that in 2011 Tokyo municipality expanded its ban on the sale of certain comics (manga) and animated movies (anime) to children under 18 by including materials ‘excessively disruptive of the social order’. (Page 72). I realise that Japan is a very conservative society. The right-wing Liberal Democratic party were in power for fifty years or so after the end of World War II. The country is very Confucian in that one respects one’s elders and superiors. Gender roles are very traditional, as are conceptions of nationality. I don’t know if it’s still the case now, but under Japanese law at one time a person could only be a Japanese citizen if both their parents were ethnic Japanese. I gather that there are ways you can become a naturalised citizen, but it’s extremely difficult. It’s also supposed to be a very conformist society, in which children are taught at school that ‘the nail that stands up must be hammered down’. But this attack on comics is extreme.

Such attacks on the four-colour funnies and related media haven’t been restricted by Japan by any means. In the 1950s there was a moral panic in America and the United States against comics, one of the major figures in which was the Austrian psychiatrist, Dr Frederic Wertham. Wertham was one of a number of left-wing, emigre intellectuals who believed that popular culture had assisted the Nazis into power. He believed that American youth was being corrupted into crime and sexual deviancy by comics. He accused Superman of being a Nazi, despite the fact that the character’s only similarity to Nietzsche’s superman is the name, and that the Man of Steel’s creators were American Jews. Batman and Robin were an idealised homosexual couple, an accusation that has continued to plague attempts to reintroduce Robin in the strips. Oh yes, and Wonder Woman was a sado-masochist feminist lesbian. I doubt any of these accusations would have been recognised by the kids who actually bought and read the strips. But Wertham’s denunciations were taken up by a variety of groups, from the religious right to the Communist party and led to the passing of laws across America banning or restricting the sale of comics to children. The ban led to the collapse of particular comic genres, specifically the horror and true crime comics, which were particular targets of the legislators’ ire. It also affected the SF comics, because some of them strayed into politically dubious areas. The superhero comics survived, not because they were the most popular, but because they were the type of comics least affected by the new regulations.

One of the SF comics singled out for censorship was a story in which an astronaut from Earth travels to a world populated entirely by robots. His face hidden in his spacesuit, he tells the robots that they’re being considered as candidates for joining a galactic federation. Shades of Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets by a slightly different name here. However, the robots are divided into two types, blue and orange, and there is hatred and conflict between them. At the end of the story, the astronaut informs them that they have been rejected because of these divisions. It was only when the people of Earth rejected their differences and united, that real progress was made, he states at the end of the story. In the last panel he removes his helmet, and reveals that he’s Black.

Shock horror! An anti-racist message! This was too much for one New York judge, who wanted the strip banned on religious grounds. He believed that God had only given speech to humanity, and hated the idea of talking robots. But the underlying issue is obviously its attack on racism at a time when Jim Crow was still very much in force. Eventually the judge had to back down, and the issue degenerated into a fight between the publisher, EC, and the authorities over how many beads of sweat they could show on the Earthman.

Well, at least there were comics creators in America prepared to deal with the issue. Pat Mills, the creator of zarjaz British comic 2000 AD, says in his book about British comics and his career in them, Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! that even in the late 1960s, the policeman heroes in British comics were making quite racist comments about Blacks. Part of what made 2000 AD’s predecessor, Action, so controversial was that Mills and the other creators there had been determined to make it as relevant as possible to contemporary British youth culture and deal with the issues and stories affecting and demanded by the young readership of the time. It was originally going to be called ‘Boots’, after Dr Martens’ distinctively rebellious footwear, followed by the years. So ‘Boots 1977′, Boots 1978’ and so on. But this was too much for the publishers, and the name Action settled on instead. In the end, the comic only lasted a couple of years because it was so controversial, with the major criticism that it was far too violent. 2000 AD was its successor, but here, unlike Action, the violence would be done in support of the law. This led to Judge Dredd, who was deliberately designed as a Fascist cop. The strip’s founding artist, Carlos Ezquerra, was Spanish, and so incorporated into Dredd’s uniform the style of the Fascists then making life a misery in Franco’s Spain, the helmet, the shoulder pads and the eagle badge. And I don’t think it’s an accident that the light reflected in Dredd’s visor looks like ‘SS’. Dredd was thus partly a comment by Mills and Wagner on some of the authoritarian trends in contemporary policing. Other strips tackled issues of racism and religious bigotry – Strontium Dog and Nemesis the Warlock, for example, and sexism, like The Ballad of Halo Jones. There was also a strong anti-war message in the ABC Warriors. Mainstream American comics had been tackling some of these issues for a decade or so previously. There were issues of Spiderman, for example, that tackled racism, and the Blaxploitation craze of the 1970s led to the appearance of Black superheroes like Powerman, Brother Voodoo and the Black Panther. Since then, and particularly since the collapse of the Comics Code Authority in the 1990s, comics have become an accepted and critically respected medium for the discussion of political and social issues. This has reached the point where Conservative and more traditional fans and comics creators believe that the medium and related forms of popular culture, such as SF and Fantasy film and television has become too politicised. In their opinion, contemporary comics writers and artists are too concerned with pushing overt messages about racism, sexism and gay rights at the expense of creating good, likeable characters and engaging plots and stories.

Martin Barker describes how comics have always been the subject of suspicion by the left and the right, going back to the Bloods and Penny Dreadfuls of Victorian Britain, and the cheap, popular novels being read by ‘the democracy’ in his Comics, Ideology and Power. Girls’ comics seem to me to have come in for a particular bashing. They were attacked by conservatives for being too radical and challenging traditional female roles. The left attacked them for being too conservative and not teaching girls their proper, traditional place. Barker shows how these attacks were way off, tearing to pieces specific criticisms of various strips. He argues that children actually subtly negotiate the content of the comics they read. They accept only those elements of the strips which appeal to them and ignore the rest. They do not simply accept everything they read. Barker’s final chapter is a passionate attack on those, who were trying to censor comics at the time he was writing. This included Thatcher and the Tories, but he was also angry at his own camp, the left. Brent and Lambeth councils were also leading an attack on popular literature through their zeal to purge their municipal libraries of anything they considered racist.

And they attack on popular literature has carried on. I remember the furore at the beginning of this century against the Harry Potter books. American Evangelical Christians accused J.K. Rowling of leading children into Satanism and the occult. Well, I admit I’ve only seen the films, not read the books, but I must have missed that one. It’s always seemed to me that the Harry Potter books actually were part of a long tradition of supernatural fantasy in children’s literature going right back to E. Nesbitt and beyond, and including The Worst Witch and Gobbelino the Witch’s Cat. Their attacks on Potter contrast with the Pope’s, who praised them and J.K. Rowling for encouraging children’s imaginations. There was also a rabbi, who wrote a piece praising Potter as a kind of model for Jews.

I’m not a free speech absolutist. I believe the promotion of certain opinions should be outlawed. Obvious examples include anything that encourages the sexual abuse of children or real hatred and violence towards minorities. I have no problem with the law banning the incitement to racial hatred. This was introduced in the 1920s or ’30s with the aim of combating the rise of real Fascism in the form of Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, Arnold Leese’s The Britons and other violent, deeply racist and anti-Semitic outfits. I also believe that parents have every right to exercise concern and control about what their children read or listen to, or are taught at school regarding certain highly controversial issues.

But I am afraid that the rules against certain types of hate are being used to silence perfectly reasonable criticism. One of the quotes that my accusers have cited to show that I am an evil anti-Semite is a statement where I say that every state and ideology should be open to discussion and criticism, even Israel and Zionism. There is absolutely nothing anti-Semitic in that. Even the wretched I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism states that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic only if it is applied solely to Israel. But that sentence makes it very clear that I don’t single out Israel and Zionism for especial criticism. I simply state that they should not be above it. But to the anti-Semitism hunters, this is obviously too much.

I am very much afraid that freedom of speech, discussion and conscience and true liberty of the press is under attack. The Conservatives want to close down any view that isn’t their own, all while arguing they’re simply standing up for free speech against the censorious ‘woke’ left. And there are forces on the left trying to close down reasonable debate and criticism under the guise of protecting people from hate.

We have to be careful, and defending freedom of speech and publication from attacks, whether by left-wing councils like Brent and Lambeth in the 1980s, or right-wing local authorities like Tokyo and its law of 2011.

This should not be a partisan issue, but should stretch across the political spectrum. But my fear is that it won’t. And as both sides struggle to establish the kind of censorship they want, real freedom of expression will die.

Radio 4 Programme Next Saturday on Working-Class Heroes

August 18, 2020

Also according to next week’s Radio Times, Saturday’s edition of Archive on 4, 22nd August 2020, is ‘Working-Class Heroes’. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

Danny Leigh revisits the settings of three 1960s British kitchen-sink dramas: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning; A Taste of Honey; and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. In Nottingham, Salford and Blackpool he finds out from contemporary working-class communities how people relate to the films today.

I can’t say that any of the above flicks really appeal to me. I’ve always preferred fantasy and escapism to social realism. But there is an issue here in that film, TV and literature is dominated by middle class heroes to the exclusion of the working class. It’s something the great British comics writers, Pat Mills, set out to correct in the strips he created. One of these was the long-running anti-war story, ‘Charlie’s War’, in Battle, whose hero was very definitely an ordinary working-class Tommy. I put up a video from YouTube of Mills talking about comics and working- and middle class heroes to the comrades of the Socialist Party, formerly the Socialist Workers’ Party, a little while ago. It’s very interesting and well-worth watching, if you’re interested in this aspect of popular culture. When asked which of his creations he identifies with, Mills replies ‘Rojaws’, the crude, vulgar, subversive sewer droid, who gets on the nerves of his mate Hammerstein, a patriotic war droid, in the strips Robusters and ABC Warriors. Which also shows that you can combine hilarious fantasy and SF with working class protagonists.

The programme ‘Archive on 4: Working Class Heroes’, is on Radio 4 at 8.00 pm.

Legendary Comics Creator Announces that He Will Vote Labour

November 22, 2019

Today’s I for 22nd November 2019 has this report by Jasmine Andersson that the great comics writer and artist, Alan Moore, has declared that he’s going to vote Labour. The article runs

The comic book writer Alan Moore has revealed that he will cast his vote for the first time in nearly 40 years – for the Labour Party.

The 66-year-old, known for creating Watchmen and V for Vendetta, said he plans to vote for the party in order to make his mark in “unprecedented times”.

He has called the Labour manifesto “the most encouraging set of proposals that I’ve ever seen from any major British party”.

In an open letter on Twitter, Mr Moore wrote: “Here’s something you don’t see every day, an internet-averse anarchist announcing on social media that he’ll be voting Labour in the December elections,. but these are unprecedented times. I’ve voted only one my life.”

Moore was one of a new generation of British and American comics creators, who emerged in the late 70s and early 80s. They took comics seriously as a medium, and brought a sharp intelligence to them, pushing the boundaries of what was previously seen as trivial children’s literature to explore adult themes and issues, such as power, morality and responsibility, gender and sexuality, and racism, gay identity and alienation. I’ve mixed feelings about Moore, as he was one of the creators behind the move towards darker, grittier interpretations of comic book superheroes like Batman. He has said now that he considers his graphic novel, Batman – The Killing Joke to be his worst work. This portrayed Batman as an angry, psychotic vigilante, who was merely the opposite side of the coin to the Joker. Moore now regrets how that destroyed the innocence of the character and other, similar superheroes. It was the increasingly dark, rather sordid tone of comics in the 90s that put me off reading them, with a few exceptions.

Moore, and other leading comics creators from that time, like Neil Gaiman and Pat Mills, are still well worth listening to for their considerable insights into the craft of storytelling and the literature of the fantastic. Moore and Mills have been particularly outspoken about the exploitation of working people and oppression of minorities by the right, and big corporations. Moore’s V for Vendetta, which first appeared in the adult comic, Warrior, was very much a reflection of Thatcher’s Britain, when many on the Left feared that the Leaderene with her connections to the Far Right would turn the country into a Fascist dictatorship.

It’s no secret that Moore’s an anarchist. But I’m delighted that Corbyn and the Labour party have impressed him so much that he has decided that they stand for the real, radical change that Britain needs to the point where he’s going to vote for them. Just as I hope that others will also do likewise, and throw off the justifiable cynicism and apathy that stops so many from voting due to the stranglehold of Thatcherism across the political spectrum.

Thatcherism’s out of date by forty years. It’s time it was thrown out, and a real party committed to the British people elected. One that brings them the radical change Moore and so many others feel we most desperately need.

Robot Heavy Metal Band Sing ‘Ace of Spades’

October 6, 2019

More robotics now. I’ve put up a number of pieces about the German all-robot heavy metal band, Compressorhead. I found this video on YouTube yesterday of them playing Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’. They’ve done it before, but this time they’ve got a robot singer for the vocals. As he was in the late 80s SF movie, Hardware, about a war robot going berserk in a devastated future, I feel the late, great Lemmy would have loved it. It even begins with a dedication to him.

The whole style of the piece reminded me of the old ‘Robusters’ strip in 2000AD. In one story, the two heroes, Rojaws and Hammerstein, go to ‘Greasy Gracie’s’, a robot cafe and nightclub. There, as the robotic clientele drink their pints of oil – what else? – other robots dance the light fantastic while a robot band plays hits like ‘I Am Your Automatic Lover’. A few years ago, writer Pat Mills revisited this story. In this version, the two are still helping robots flee Earth and human oppression. However, the strip also draws on the Black experience during slavery and segregation. The Black slaves on the plantations developed the Cakewalk dance as a parody of the airs and graces put on by the White overlords as a piece of very conscious social satire. So robots, the slaves of the future, parody humans by mimicking them dancing. Thus Rojaws and Hammerstein climb onto the stage to perform ‘We Ain’t Got a Barrel of Money’ before the joint is raid by the human police. One of the characters, a robot resistance leader, is a blind bluesman.

‘Greasy Gracie’s’, from ABC Warriors: Return to Robusters, Pat Mills writer, Clint Langley, artist, Annie Parkhouse, letters, (Oxford: Rebellion 2016).

Fortunately for human artists, robots aren’t so intelligent yet that they can actually write songs, except through programmes written for them to produce music like particular artists. But in Compressorhead, Mills’, O’Neil’s – who was the first artist on the ‘Robusters Strip’ – and Clint Langley’s vision of a robot nightclub is coming close to reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radio 4 Serialising Ian McEwan’s Robot Book Next Week

April 23, 2019

I don’t belieeeve it! As the great Victor Meldrew used to say. Next week, according to the Radio Times for 27th April – 3rd May 2019, Radio 4 is serialising Ian McEwan’s latest literary offering, Machines Like Me, about a love triangle between a man, his wife and the android he has bought. It’s in ten parts, Monday to Fridays at 12.04 pm, and read by Anton Lesser.

I’ve already put up two posts about the book, which has only just been published. McEwan’s novel is one of a long-line of SF stories about humans falling in love, or pursuing sexual relationships with the humanoid robots they have built, such as Asimov’s ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’. Genre science fiction writers have explored the issues of machine consciousness and its philosophical and ethical issues, from highbrow authors like Poland’s Stanislaw Lem, to comic book writers like Pat Mills in 2000AD’s ‘ABC Warriors’. The issue I have with McEwan’s book, and other literary authors that are planning similar works of fiction, is that while genre science fiction is still looked down on somewhat by the literary elite, McEwan’s book is going to receive immediate acclaim as proper literature.

Now Radio 4 has serialised a number of great works of SF, including Robert Silverberg’s masterwork Dying Inside, and has, like some of the other channels, Radio 3 and Radio 4 Extra, put on SF plays. Not so long ago there was a series of these, with the title Dangerous Visions. SF buffs will recognise this as the title of the groundbreaking SF anthology edited by Harlan Ellison, that ushered in the SF New Wave over in America. But despite the achievements of genre SF authors, there is still this feeling that it hasn’t quite won critical respectability in the elevated literary circles that support McEwan, Jeanette Winterson, Kazuo Ishiguro and the other regular literary award winners, who are writing or preparing to write books about robots and AI.

As I’ve said, I feel very strongly that if McEwan and co. win literary awards for their SF works, like Machines Like Me, then those awards should have the decency to drop some of the snobbishness and include genre SF authors. Whose latest works I hope the Beeb will also serialise the moment they come out.

Zarjaz! Rebellion to Open Studio for 2000AD Films

November 26, 2018

Here’s a piece of good news for the Squaxx dek Thargo, the Friends of Tharg, editor of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. According to today’s I, 26th November 2018, Rebellion, the comic’s current owners, have bought a film studio and plan to make movies based on 2000AD characters. The article, on page 2, says

A disused printing factory in Oxfordshire is to be converted into a major film studio. The site in Didcot has been purchased by Judge Dredd publisher Rebellion to film adaptations from its 2000 AD comic strips. The media company based in Oxford hopes to create 500 jobs and attract outside contractors.

Judge Dredd, the toughest lawman of the dystopian nightmare of Megacity 1, has been filmed twice, once as Judge Dredd in the 1990s, starring Sylvester Stallone as Dredd, and then six years ago in 2012, as Dredd, with Karl Urban in the starring role. The Stallone version was a flop and widely criticized. The Dredd film was acclaimed by fans and critics, but still didn’t do very well. Two possible reasons are that Dredd is very much a British take on the weird absurdities of American culture, and so doesn’t appeal very much to an American audience. The other problem is that Dredd is very much an ambiguous hero. He’s very much a comment on Fascism, and was initially suggested by co-creator Pat Mills as a satire of American Fascistic policing. The strip has a very strong satirical element, but nevertheless it means that the reader is expected to identify at least partly with a Fascist, though recognizing just how dreadful Megacity 1 and its justice system is. It nevertheless requires some intellectual tight rope walking, though it’s one that Dredd fans have shown themselves more than capable of doing. Except some of the really hardcore fans, who see Dredd as a role model. In interviews Mills has wondered where these people live. Did they have their own weird chapterhouse somewhere?

Other 2000AD strips that looked like they were going to make the transition from the printed page to the screen, albeit the small one of television, were Strontium Dog and Dan Dare. Dare, of course, was the Pilot of Future, created by Marcus Morris for the Eagle, and superbly drawn by Franks Hampson and Bellamy. He was revived for 2000 AD when it was launched in the 1970s, where he was intended to be the lead strip before losing this to Dredd. The strip was then revived again for the Eagle, when this was relaunched in the 1980s. As I remember, Edward Norton was to star as Dare.

Strontium Dog came from 2000 AD’s companion SF comic, StarLord, and was the tale of Johnny Alpha, a mutant bounty hunter, his norm partner, the Viking Wulf, and the Gronk, a cowardly alien that suffered from a lisp and a serious heart condition, but who could eat metal. It was set in a future, where the Earth had been devastated by a nuclear war. Mutants were a barely tolerated minority, forced to live in ghettos after rising in rebellion against an extermination campaign against them by Alpha’s bigoted father, Nelson Bunker Kreelman. Alpha and his fellow muties worked as bounty hunters, the only job they could legally do, hunting down the galaxy’s crims and villains.

Back in the 1990s the comic’s then publishers tried to negotiate a series of deals with Hollywood for the translation on their heroes on to the big screen. These were largely unsuccessful, and intensely controversial. In one deal, the rights for one character was sold for only a pound, over the heads of the creators. They weren’t consulted, and naturally felt very angry and bitter about the deal.

This time, it all looks a lot more optimistic. I’d like to see more 2000 AD characters come to life, on either the big screen or TV. Apart from Dredd, it’d good to see Strontium Dog and Dare be realized for screen at last. Other strips I think should be adapted are Slaine, the ABC Warriors and The Ballad of Halo Jones. Slaine, a Celtic warrior strip set in the period before rising sea levels separated Britain, Ireland and Europe, and based on Celtic myths, legends and folklore, is very much set in Britain and Ireland. It could therefore be filmed using some of the megalithic remains, hillforts and ancient barrows as locations, in both the UK and Eire. The ABC Warriors, robotic soldiers fighting injustice, as well as the Volgan Republic, on Earth and Mars, would possibly be a little more difficult to make. It would require both CGI and robotics engineers to create the Warriors. But nevertheless, it could be done. There was a very good recreation of an ABC Warrior in the 1990s Judge Dredd movie, although this didn’t do much more than run amok killing the judges. It was a genuine machine, however, rather than either a man in a costume or animation, either with a model or by computer graphics. And the 1980s SF movie Hardware, which ripped off the ‘Shock!’ tale from 2000AD, showed that it was possible to create a very convincing robot character on a low budget.

The Ballad of Halo Jones might be more problematic, but for different reasons. The strip told the story of a young woman, who managed to escape the floating slum of an ocean colony to go to New York. She then signed on as a waitress aboard a space liner, before joining the army to fight in a galactic war. It was one of the comic’s favourite strips in the 1980s, and for some of its male readers it was their first exposure to something with a feminist message. According to Neil Gaiman, the strip’s creator, Alan Moore, had Jones’ whole life plotted out, but the story ended with Jones’ killing of the Terran leader, General Cannibal, on the high-gravity planet Moab. There was a dispute over the ownership of the strip and pay between Moore and IPC. Moore felt he was treated badly by the comics company, and left for DC, never to return to 2000 AD’s pages. Halo Jones was turned into a stage play by one of the northern theatres, and I don’t doubt that even after a space of thirty years after she first appeared, Jones would still be very popular. But for it to be properly adapted for film or television, it would have to be done involving the character’s creators, Moore and Ian Gibson. Just as the cinematic treatment of the other characters should involve their creators. And this might be difficult, given that Moore understandably feels cheated of the ownership of his characters after the film treatments of Watchmen and V For Vendetta.

I hope that there will be no problems getting the other 2000 AD creators on board, and that we can soon look forward to some of the comics many great strips finally getting on to the big screen.

Splundig vur thrig, as the Mighty One would say.

Video of Three Military Robots

October 23, 2018

This is another video I round on robots that are currently under development on YouTube, put up by the channel Inventions World. Of the three, one is Russian and the other two are American.

The first robot is shown is the Russian, Fyodor, now being developed by Rogozin. It’s anthropomorphic, and is shown firing two guns simultaneously from its hands on a shooting range, driving a car and performing a variety of very human-style exercises, like press-ups. The company says that it was taught to fire guns to give it instant decision-making skills. And how to drive a car to make it autonomous. Although it can move and act on its own, it can also mirror the movements of a human operator wearing a mechanical suit. The company states that people shouldn’t be alarmed, as they are building AI, not the Terminator.

The next is CART, a tracked robot which looks like nothing so much as a gun and other equipment, possibly sensors, on top of a tank’s chassis and caterpillar tracks. It seems to be one of a series of such robots, designed for the American Marine corps. The explanatory text on the screen is flashed up a little too quickly to read everything, but it seems intended to provide support for the human troopers by providing extra power and also carrying their equipment for them. Among the other, similar robots which appear is a much smaller unit about the size of a human foot, seen trundling about.

The final robot is another designed by Boston Dynamics, which has already built a man-like robot and a series of very dog-like, four-legged robots, if I remember correctly. This machine is roughly humanoid. Very roughly. It has four limbs, roughly corresponding to arms and legs. Except the legs end in wheels and the arms in rubber grips, or end effectors. Instead of a head, it has a square box and the limbs look like they’ve been put on backwards. It’s shown picking up a crate in a say which reminds me of a human doing it backward, bending over to pick it up behind him. But if his legs were also put on back to front. It’s also shown spinning around, leaping into the area and scooting across the test area with one wheel on the ground and another going up a ramp.

Actually, what the Fyodor robot brings to my mind isn’t so much Schwarzenegger and the Terminator movies, but Hammerstein and his military robots from 2000AD’s ‘ABC Warriors’ strip. The operation of the machine by a human wearing a special suite also reminds me of a story in the ‘Hulk’ comic strip waaaay back in the 1970s. In this story, the Hulk’s alter ego, Banner, found himself inside a secret military base in which robots very similar to Fyodor were being developed. They were also controlled by human operators. Masquerading as the base’s psychiatrist, Banner meets one squaddie, who comes in for a session. The man is a robot operator, and tells Banner how he feels dehumanized through operating the robot. Banner’s appalled and decides to sabotage the robots to prevent further psychological damage. He’s discovered, of course, threatened or attacked, made angry, and the Hulk and mayhem inevitably follow.

That story is very definitely a product of the ’70s and the period of liberal self-doubt and criticism following the Vietnam War, Nixon and possibly the CIA’s murky actions around the world, like the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. The Hulk always was something of a countercultural hero. He was born when Banner, a nuclear scientist, got caught with the full force of the gamma radiation coming off a nuclear test saving Rick, a teenager, who had strayed into the test zone. Rick was an alienated, nihilistic youth, who seems to have been modelled on James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. Banner pulls him out of his car, and throws him into the safety trench, but gets caught by the explosion before he himself could get in. Banner himself was very much a square. He was one of the scientists running the nuclear tests, and his girlfriend was the daughter of the army commander in charge of them. But the Hulk was very firmly in the sights of the commander, and the strip was based around Banner trying to run away from him while finding a cure for his new condition. Thus the Hulk would find himself fighting a series of running battles against the army, complete with tanks. The Ang Lee film of the Hulk that came out in the 1990s was a flop, and it did take liberties with the Hulk’s origin, as big screen adaptations often do with their source material. But it did get right the antagonism between the great green one and the army. The battles between the two reminded me very much of their depictions in the strip. The battle between the Hulk and his father, who now had the power to take on the properties of whatever he was in contact with was also staged and shot very much like similar fights also appeared in the comic, so that watching the film I felt once again a bit like I had when I was a boy reading it.

As for the CART and related robots, they remind me of the tracked robot the army sends in to defuse bombs. And research on autonomous killing vehicles like them were begun a very long time ago. The Germans in the Second World War developed small robots, remotely operated which also moved on caterpillar tracks. These carried bombs, and the operators were supposed to send them against Allied troops, who would then be killed when they exploded. Also, according to the robotics scientist Kevin Warwick of Reading University, the Americans developed an automatic killer robot consisting of a jeep with a machine gun in the 1950s. See his book, March of the Machines.

Despite the Russians’ assurances that they aren’t building the Terminator, Warwick is genuinely afraid that the robots will eventually take over and subjugate humanity. And he’s not alone. When one company a few years ago somewhere said that they were considering making war robots, there was an outcry from scientists around the world very much concerned about the immense dangers of such machines.

Hammerstein and his metallic mates in ‘ABC Warriors’ have personalities and a conscience, with the exception of two: Blackblood and Mekquake. These robots have none of the intelligence and humanity of their fictional counterparts. And without them, the fears of the opponents of such machines are entirely justified. Critics have made the point that humans are needed on the battle to make ethical decisions that robots can’t or find difficult. Like not killing civilians, although you wouldn’t guess that from the horrific atrocities committed by real, biological flesh and blood troopers.

The robots shown here are very impressive technologically, but I’d rather have their fictional counterparts created by Mills and O’Neill. They were fighting machines, but they had a higher purpose behind their violence and havoc:

Increase the peace!