Posts Tagged ‘Social Class’

Pat Mills Going Underground on Class and Politics on Comics

September 19, 2017

This is another video to add to the two others I’ve posted in which Pat Mills, one of the great creators of modern British comics, talks about industry and the political dimension to his work. In this video, he talks to Afshin Rattansi of RTUK’s Going Underground.

Mills starts by talking about how, when he first got into comics, he was frustrated and it was only when he started to look back on it and analyze it that he realized he was annoyed by the lack of working class role models in comics. They were all members of the upper middle classes. It’s why in 2000 AD he wanted to include working class characters and heroes, and why he liked Jeeves in the Jeeves and Wooster books, because here was a working class character, who makes a complete mockery of his master. But what brought home to him how the system is so completely opposed to working class heroes was his attempt working on a story for Dr. Who. He wanted to include a working class spaceship captain. The spaceship itself was to be a kind of abattoir in space, and he based the captain’s character on a real person, the captain of dredger. This would have made it realistic, and the captain of such a vessel would not have been like Richard Todd. But he was told by the script editor that this was unacceptable, and he could not have a working class spaceship captain.

When Rattansi asks him whether this censorship is internal or imposed from outside, he remarks that it’s a good question, and he believes it to be a bit of both. In the case of anti-war stories, it’s imposed from outside. That was brought home to him when he was involved in an exhibition on anarchy and comics. He wanted to include Charley’s War, the anti-war strip from Battle, as there was nothing more anarchist than that. But this was refused, just as the centenary of the outbreak of the First World. It was why TV never showed any of the great anti-war programmes and films about it, like Blackadder Goes Forth or the Monocled Mutineer.

He also comments on the massive influence the American military exerts over the film and TV industry. The Pentagon and the armed forces, including the CIA, have acted as advisors on 500 films and 800 TV programmes, from Meet the Parents to the Incredible Hulk and Iron Man. Mills has said that he has always disliked superheroes as he feels that they are corporate characters, standing for the values of the system. They are there to show people that you can’t be heroic unless you’re a tycoon or an arms manufacturer, who goes out at night to beat up members of the working class. He doesn’t think the military were involved in the last Judge Dredd film, as that was made by an independent, which is probably why it was so good. Rattansi replies that Dredd is still upper middle class, as he’s a member of the judiciary. Mills states in turn that he’s a footsoldier, and that part of the attraction of the character is that he’s also partly a villain. Villains are often more interesting to watch than heroes, who can be quite boring.

He also talks about an incident in which the Board of the Deputies of British Jews objected to one of the strips in Crisis. This was based on a real situation, which Mills had heard about from talking to a Palestinian. In the story, the IDF caught and beat up a Palestinian boy in protest, leaving lying on the ground with all his limbs broken. The Board complained because they thought the lad’s body had been deliberately arranged so that it resembled a swastika. Well, replied Mills, it wasn’t, as comics writers and artists aren’t that clever to sneak those kind of subliminal messages in. And what left him dismayed was the Board was not concerned about what was going on Israel, and which is still going on in Gaza. The incident was also somewhat ironic, in that the Board complained to the comic’s publishers, which at that time was Robert Maxwell, the corrupt thief of the Mirror pension fund. The Board’s complaint fell on deaf ears, and Cap’n Bob ‘told them to get knotted’.

Mills also observes in the interview that they were able to get away with much more in 2000AD as it wasn’t real, it was science fiction. Things are all right if they occur In A Galaxy Far, Far Away. But as soon as it’s real people, the censorship is imposed.

It’s always interesting hearing Mills’ views on comics and the subversion he put into his stories. He also told the story about the Beeb’s rejection of a working class spaceship captain for Dr. Who before, at the conference on Marxism organized by the Socialist Workers’ Party. The producers of Going Underground in the clip state that they contacted the Beeb to check the story, but the BBC had not replied by the time the programme was broadcast.

Mills is wrong in claiming at Jeeves is working class. He isn’t. He’s upper middle. Butlers are ‘a gentleman’s gentleman’, and Jeeves himself makes it very clear in one of the episodes of Jeeves and Wooster that he ‘and the working class are barely on speaking terms’. This is when the Fascist leader, Spode, tries to recruit him, saying that his wretched band need working class people like him. Nevertheless, the broad point remains true: Jeeves is an attractive character for the same reason another fictional butler is, Crichton, in the Admirable Crichton. He’s a servant, who is more knowledgible, intelligent and capable than his master.

I’ve commented in previous blog posts that I think the reason that the authorities don’t want to see any anti-War material broadcast during the centenary of the First World War, is because we still have ambitions of being an imperial power, backing the Americans in their wars around the world and particularly in the Middle East. The Beeb would also probably argue that to broadcast such material as Blackadder would be ‘disrespectful’, or some other spurious excuse.

I was aware that the American military was influencing Hollywood as advisors, but I had not idea how extensive it was. Back in the 1990s the American army advised the director Paul Verhoeven on his adaptation of Starship Troopers. This was an adaptation of the book by Robert Heinlein, who really did believe that only those, who had served in the armed forces should have the right to vote. It’s a notoriously militaristic book, and provoked a very anti-military response from a range of other SF writers, including Harry Harrison, who wrote Bill the Galactic Hero to send up Heinlein. Verhoeven wasn’t impressed with Heinlein’s militarism either. He’s Dutch, and grew up during the Nazi occupation. Thus, while the film can be enjoyed as a straightforward adventure, it also contains a very strong element of satire, such as modelling the uniforms on those of the Nazis.

I was disappointed to hear that the army had collaborated with the producers of The Hulk, as this comic was genuinely countercultural. In the comic, Banner becomes the Hulk after being exposed to the nuclear blast of an atomic bomb test saving Rick, a teenager, who has wandered into test zone. Rick is a classic disaffected teenager with more than a little similarity to the alienated kids played by James Dean. In the 1970s the comic was very firmly anti-military. The Hulk fought the army across America. Banner’s personal enemy was the general in charge of the forces sent to tackle the force, who was also the father of his girlfriend. And while the Hulk was a raging behemoth, what he really wanted was to be left alone. Some of the subversive character of the Hulk came across in Ang Lee’s film, which I actually like, even though no-one else does. But it’s still disappointing to read that the American armed forces were involved.

There’s a touch of irony to Mills speaking on the programme, as ‘Going Underground’ was the first of the two ‘Comic Rock’ strips to appear in 2000AD, the other being ‘Killerwatt’, which introduced Nemesis the Warlock and his struggle against Torquemada, the Fascist grand master of Termight, Earth in the far future. The story, set in the underground maze of rapid transit tunnels within Earth’s vast subterranean network of cities, took it’s title from the track by The Jam.

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