Posts Tagged ‘Strontium Dog’

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.

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Mike Smeared Again by Fake Anti-Semitism Accusers for Comic Strip

November 3, 2018

The Blairites and the Israel lobby must be getting the jitters about Mike and his forthcoming hearing to clear his name in the Labour party. And it looks like they’re absolutely terrified that he’ll get the money he needs to sue the newspapers and individuals that started the smears for libel. So they’ve decided to smear him again.

In a piece he put up on Thursday, Mike explains how he was told by a friend through email that a bunch of clowns calling themselves JVLWatch were on twitter. They were targeting those, who had contributed to his crowdfunding campaign to raise money for his libel case by misrepresenting a strip Mike created and wrote for his small press comic, Violent. Violent was Mike’s tribute to Action, the 1970s comic that drew outrage for its violent, gory content and ended up being banned. Its creators then went on to produce the mighty 2000AD. The strip JVLWatch cited as proof that Mike’s a Nazi is his satirical strip, ‘Hardboiled Hitler’. In this strip, Der Fuehrer is given superpowers similar to those of captain America. But while Cap’s powers are acquired decently, Hitler instead steals the syringe containing the supersoldier serum, and injects it into himself in a disgusting toilet.

Mike makes the point that he wrote the strip to satirise Adolf and Nazism, and to warn people about the dangers of their return. The Sun and the Sunday Times also tried to use the strip to show that Mike was a Nazi, and their case was dismissed out of hand by IPSO. As for Hitler punching through gas clouds to justify Aryan supremacy and the extermination of Jews, as JVLWatch claim, this is nothing of the sort. Yes, the strip shows Hitler surrounded by clouds of poisonous gas, but it’s the type coming from the Fuehrer’s bottom. Hitler suffered from meteorism – chronic flatulence. Apparently when he was in full rant, the noises from his rear end sounded off like cannonades. This is obviously not the image the Nazis want to present of their Aryan messiah. And so it is definitely one of the images Mike was determined to show in the strip, to present him as a kind of Fascist ‘Barry Fartpants’. And so Mike included in his piece about the accusation this image:

The caption for it on Mike’s blog is:

—Extreme flatulence: According to JVLWatch, this is a sign that Hitler is being portrayed as a superhero. How many superheroes do YOU know who have the farts?

Well, there is one: Mr. Methane, a man who turns up in superhero costume and makes his living breaking wind in supposedly funny and amusing ways. Like the original Le Petomane in 19th century France, who could fart the tune of the Marseillaise, ending with the fall of the Bastille. But he’s the only one.

For further information, go see Mike’s blog, where you can read the defence he gave to IPSO, and a story from the strip to show this mocks Hitler as a clumsy, posturing clown.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/11/01/fake-anti-semitism-accusers-are-fabricating-hate-to-turn-opinion-against-the-innocent/

Now I’ve some interest in the ‘Hardboiled Hitler’ strip, because I studied the rise of Fascist and Communist regimes as part of my history degree at College in the 1980s. Mike asked me for bits of historical information about Hitler and his squalid, murderous band.

And I confirm that Mike’s intention was always to satirise and humiliate the Nazi leader. He very definitely had no intention whatsoever of making him appear glamorous, or glorifying the Nazi regime.

And the literary style Mike is using to satirise Hitler is called ‘mock heroic’. It’s been used in British literature since at least the 18th century. In it, you give the objects of your ire a heroic treatment in order to show up their failings and paltry character. Which Mike has done here admirably.

I can also remember talking to Mike about the serious issues of the Nazi regime. At that stage, I don’t think Mike had any firm ideas regarding the story, but he was determined that if it did cover issues like the Death Camps, these would be presented absolutely straight. They would be written as grim as possible, with every sympathy going to the Nazis’ victims. Because the systematic slaughter of innocents, Jews, Blacks, or anyone else, is never, ever a laughing matter. He made it very clear to me that if he did show that aspect of the Nazi regime, it would be to shock readers with the terrible reality, to make the point that Nazism, although a suitable subject for satire and comedy, was also absolutely horrific. To make the point that the Nazis deserve to be sneered and laughed at, but the danger they represent should never be underestimated.

I should also point out here that the British comics milieu, as it is now, is very definitely not racist. Certainly not the parts I’ve seen. Mike and I grew up reading Marvel Comics, enjoying the creations of Stan ‘the Man’ Lee, ‘Jolly’ Jack Kirby and others. The American comics industry was the creation of American Jews, as shown in the book about the origins of the superhero strip, Men of Tomorrow. The creators of Superman, for example, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were both Jewish. As is Stan, and Jack Kirby. The Jewish background of Superman’s creators may explain why the Nazis hated the Man of Steel. They attacked him as a Jewish plot to destroy Aryan culture. The last thing Hitler wanted was a guy with superpowers, devised by two Jewish blokes, flying around defending Truth, Justice and the American Way, and particularly not Democracy. If you want to see something of the background in which many of the creators of the American comics industry grew up, try Will Eisner’s A Contract with God and Other Tenement Tales.

American comics often explicitly dealt with racism and prejudice. In one episode of the Superman radio series, the Man of Tomorrow went into action against the Klan. The episode was praised by civil rights and Jewish groups, including the NAACP – National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. In the 1970s both DC and Marvel characters went out, exploring the contemporary racial issues around them. New, Black characters were created. In Marvel, these were the Falcon, Brother Voodoo, Powerman, alias Luke Cage, hero for hire, and the X-Men’s Storm. In fact the X-Men can be read as a reflection of the position of racial and sexual minorities in America. They’re a persecuted underground of people, set apart from normal society, like people from ethnic minorities and gays.

And these stories would deal explicitly with the horrors the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews, and would still like to do. I can remember reading one comic, in which the transhuman Nazi villains Armin Zola and his buddies were trying to create the Cosmic Cube. This was an object that gave its possessor godlike powers over the entire cosmos. They were using humans, wired up into a computer, to perform the calculations needed to create the artifact. However, the calculations were so difficult, they burned out the brains of the unwilling human components, leaving them mindless, drooling idiots. And so the people they were using in this grotesque experiment were Jews. The strip featured the attempts of the story’s heroine to save to her lover, Yusuf Tov, from this fate. And tragically, she’s unsuccessful.

I’m very much aware that this is a science fictional treatment of the Nazis, and that objects like the Cosmic Cube don’t exist. And Nazis themselves don’t look like Arnim Zola, who had upgraded himself through high technology so that he was now a TV with arms, legs and an aerial where his head should be. But it made the point that the Nazis had absolute contempt for human life, and regarded Jews as worthy only of exploitation and murder.

And on this side of the Atlantic, there was Pat Mills and the recidivists of 2000AD, the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. Many of the strips there had a very definite anti-racist content. ‘Strontium Dog’ was set in a future Britain devastated by nuclear war. The Strontium Dogs of the title were mutant bounty hunters, named after Strontium 90, one of the products of nuclear fallout. These were deformed men and women, who were forced to live in ghettos. By law, bounty hunting was the only job they could do. And when they travelled anywhere around the galaxy, it was very definitely in steerage. The strip’s hero was Johnny Alpha, his norm partner Wulf, and their alien friend, the Gronk. One story in the 1980s was about the attempts by Nelson Bunker Kreelman, Alpha’s father, to exterminate Britain’s mutants while trying to hide the fact that his son was one of them. It’s definitely not hard to see that the strip was an anti-racist metaphor.

As was ‘Nemesis the Warlock’, set in a far future where Earth was under the control of the Terminators, a Klan-like outfit led by their Grandmaster, Tomas de Torquemada. They were a pseudo-religious order, who had led humanity into a new Dark Age, and were rabidly against all forms of alien life. Their leader took his name from his own hero, the head of the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century.

Mike was given considerable assistance with Violent by many professional comics writers and artists, many of whom have worked for the mighty 2000AD. They’re great people, immensely talented, and if they had thought for a single minute that Mike’s strip was a genuine glorification of the Nazis, they wouldn’t have touched it or him with a bargepole.

As for the group which made these despicable allegations, their name reveals what they’re really terrified of: left-wing, Israel-critical Jews, and Jewish Corbyn supporters. Like Jewish Voice for Labour. And here we get into real racism and anti-Semitism. As I’ve also blogged about ad nauseam, the Israel lobby hate with a venomous passion self-respecting Torah-observant and secular Jews, who criticize Israel and support Corbyn. Because they give the lie to their propaganda that Zionism, Israel and Jewry are identical. And so they do everything they can to smear them as self-hating, anti-Semitic and use foul language against them, including wishing that they had died in the Holocaust. Tony Greenstein has made the point that Zionism is a Jewish form of anti-Semitism, because it holds that gentiles and Jews are fundamentally incompatible and that gentiles will always hate Jews. Hence their contempt for diaspora Jews, who wish to remain in their parents’ homelands, and who regard Israel with contempt for its colonialist maltreatment of the indigenous Arabs.

It is not Mike and his fellow comics professionals who are at fault here. It is the shabby people of JVLWatch, who had behind internet anonymity to smear and revile decent, anti-racist people and their campaign for a better, more inclusive, tolerant Britain.

Refuting Anti-Semitism Smears with the Reasonableness Test: Part 1

May 25, 2018

In this post, I intend to critique and refute one of the arguments used by lawyers for the Israel lobby to support the anti-Semitism smears. This is that a comment may be fairly considered as anti-Semitic, even if this is denied by the person who made it, simply because somebody else may consider it as such. This is the argument used by the prosecution lawyers against the Black anti-racist and anti-Nazi activist, Marc Wadsworth in his trial by the Labour party. Wadsworth has a long history of defending Black civil rights. He also was instrumental in changing the law on racial harassment in concert with the Board of Deputies of British Jews after a spate of attacks on Jews following the election of the BNP’s Derek Beacon to a place on one of the London councils in the 1990s. He is in no way any kind of anti-Semite. But he is left-wing, and so Ruth Smeeth, a Blairite and supporter of Israel, accused him of anti-Semitism when he remarked on her passing information to a Telegraph journalist at a press conference. Smeeth immediately whined that this was anti-Semitic, as it was accusing her of being part of a conspiracy. Just like Nazis accuse Jews conspiring to enslave gentiles. In fact, Wadsworth’s comment made no reference to Judaism at all, and he didn’t even know she was Jewish. He states that his lawyers at the trial refuted every one of the prosecution’s arguments. Until they took a call from their lawyers, who advised them that they could still win if they claimed that another person could consider it anti-Semitic.

In many parts of the law it sometimes does come down to the question of whether a person would consider that the issue in question is the case. But there’s a proviso. It has to be a reasonable person. And in many cases where the anti-Semitism argument is used, the parallels between real Nazi doctrines or symbolism are so tenuous, that they have less similarity to what a reasonable person would be live, than with the barking mad ideas of conspiracy theorists and rumour-mongers.

Let’s take the symbolism the Board of Deputies of British Jews claimed to find in the position of a fallen Palestinian protester in a story in the 1990s comic, Crisis. Created by Pat Mills and a group of three Jews, the story was about Israel’s maltreatment and brutalisation of the Palestinians. In it, a member of the IDF beats up a Palestinian protester, breaking his limbs so that he lies awkwardly on the ground. Pat Mills is the creator of 2000 AD, and one of the major forces behind Action and the war comic, Battle. As readers of 2000AD will know, Mills is very left-wing, and a firm and very vocal opponent of racism. This is a very clear subtext in the strips Nemesis the Warlock, where a future human empire wages a war of extermination against aliens based on no more than racial prejudice, and Strontium Dog. This is set in a future where mutants are second-class citizens, forced to live in ghettos and forbidden to pursue any job other than bounty hunter. And I’ve said before that it was in the pages of Battle that I first encountered stories dealing with the Holocaust and the concentration camps. This was simply a story where a British squaddie fights his way to one of the camps and sees the emaciated inmates through the barbed wire. I can remember myself being shocked by the prisoners skeletal, emaciated appearance. As I was supposed to. The comic couldn’t show anything too explicit, but what it showed was enough. Enough to show that the Nazis weren’t just responsible for an horrific war that claimed 40 million European lives, but also for scarcely imaginable horrors perpetrated against Jews, and other racial and political minorities and dissidents. And their should be no doubt also that Mills’ co-creators on the Crisis strip were decent, self-respecting Jews, and not self-hating anti-Semites either.

But the Board ignored all this. They claimed the scene was anti-Semitic, because the position made by the Palestinian’s fallen body looked like a swastika.

This is clearly bonkers. It’s the view of someone, who has spent so long looking for anti-Semitic and Nazi imagery, that they’re finding it wherever they look. In this instance, it did the Board no good because Robert Maxwell, the comic’s publisher, stood up to the Board and told them where they could go. But the ruling that something is anti-Semitic, if someone else considers it is, makes future decisions like Maxwell’s much more problematic.

Self-described anti-racists finding what they want to find in popular culture, and making stupid claims of racism, aren’t confined to Jews and anti-Semitism. Way back in the 1990s one Black academic made a similar claim about the film Aliens. This was the sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic Alien. Directed by James Cameron, this had Ripley join a team of Space Marines as they went to wipe out the Aliens, who had attacked and killed the colonists on their planet. Moving through the Aliens’ nest, Ripley finds the Alien queen, laying her eggs which will hatch the next generation of face-huggers.

It was a straightforward SF/Horror yarn. But not according to this academic. She declared that it was a metaphor for Reagan’s America. The Alien Queen represented Black American ‘welfare queens’, who were a threat to White society and conservative values by threatening to drown everybody else with the children they brought into the world. It’s quite a bizarre theory, as nowhere in the film is there any explicit or even implicit comment about race. Except that the Marines themselves are thoroughly multicultural, with a Black sergeant, and a tough, Hispanic female squaddie, Vasquez. And the only feature the Aliens have in common with Black people is their colour. In every other respect they’re vastly different. But it shows how some people’s determination to find a political or racial subtext in a movie leads them to see things that aren’t there.

Continued in Part Two.

The BDJ’s Attempted Accusation of Anti-Semitism in Pat Mills’ ‘Crisis’

April 3, 2018

Pat Mills is the creator of 2000 AD, the Galaxy’s greatest comic, and the co-creator of many of the favourite characters in modern British comics, like Judge Dredd and Slaine, as well as the creator of the anti-war comic strip, Charley’s War, in the British war comic, Battle. Crisis was an explicitly political strip Mills’ launched in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Its ‘Third World War’ strip tackled the politics of food and the exploitation of the Developing World. Mills was also not afraid to tackle other controversial subjects. He was contacted by Amnesty International to do a story about the oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis. He did, and inevitably the Board of Deputies of British Jews complained about anti-Semitism.

Mills is absolutely no kind of racist or anti-Semite, as you can tell by reading his strips. Many of them tackled racism and bigotry. The mutant heroes of Strontium Dog, for example, were forbidden by law to pursue any other job except bounty hunter, and were kept isolated from the non-mutated rest of humanity in ghettoes. And under the dictator Nelson Bunker Kreelman, there was an organised campaign by the British authorities to wipe them out. The Nemesis the Warlock strip was also a metaphorical treatment of racial and religious persecution. The villain of this strip, Torquemada, named after the head of the Spanish Inquisition, was the grand master of a feudal order thousands of years in Earth’s future, who were dedicated to exterminating all intelligent alien life. The treatment of the issues were metaphorical, but they had their basis in their bigotry and intolerance that has marred human history.

Mills describes the incident on page 155 of his book Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD and Judge Dredd: The Secret History:

There were many more ordinary hero stories I would have loved to have produced. Eventually, Amnesty commissioned me to write an Amnesty issue of Crisis. And there were also plans for me [to] do something with Campaign Against Arms Trade. For Amnesty, I wrote about the death penalty in South Africa and Palestinian youth in the Gaza Strip. Both were illustrated by Sean Phillips. One Palestinian kid was so beaten up by the Israeli forces, Sean showed him lying there with his legs and arms a twisted angles.

When it appeared, the watchdog organisation, the Jewish Board of Deputies, complained to Robert Maxwell that this kid’s limbs were in the shape of a swastika. No concern about the kid himself. Or no interest in the story: a damning indictment of the brutality of the Israeli forces. It was like the Board were looking at faces in the fire and seeing what they wanted to see. But they couldn’t try their usual anti-Semitic allegations, which often successfully shuts us all up, because the three key organisers on the project were Jewish. Sara Selwood, Dan Green and Igor Goldkind. They couldn’t all be dismissed as self-haters. Surprisingly, Robert Maxwell, of all people, and hardly a self-hater either, told the Board to get lost. I can get behind his response.

This is the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which is now backing the fake anti-Semitism smears against Corbyn, and which, along with the Jewish Labour Movement, is now moaning about how he’s not really serious about tackling anti-Semitism. Because instead of meeting them, he went off to spend a Passover seder with Jewdas, a left-wing Jewish religious group instead. Which to me shows how pompous and arrogant they are, in claiming that they alone speak for the British Jewish community, when there are many other Jewish groups like Jewdas, who have put their full support behind the Labour leader.

Mills also goes on to describe how he also tackled other controversial topics in the strip, such as the British suppression of the Mau Mau in Kenya. Drawn by John Hicklenton, one of the artists who drew Nemesis the Warlock, the strip was so horrifying that the staid printers threatened not to print it. ‘But’, writes Mills, ‘we got it through and I’m proud to have shed light on at least one aspect of our country’s evil colonial past.’ (pp.155-6).

This would have been very controversial when it appeared, especially as many of the documents were still classified until only a decade or so ago. The British army’s repression of the Mao Mao was indeed horrific, with internment, torture, mutilation and massacre. There’s a book about it, Africa’s Secret Gulags, and a few years ago a group of former Kenyan internees won a court case against the British government for what they had suffered at the hands of the army. This is one of a number of areas where comics in the 1980s did tackle contemporary politics, and stood up for the poor, marginalised and oppressed in Thatcher’s Britain.

I’m not sure Mills would have been so lucky with the strip on Palestine today, though. As we’ve seen, the Israel Lobby now has absolutely no qualms about smearing whole masses of decent, self-respecting Jews as self-hating anti-Semites, as well as respectable, sincerely anti-racist non-Jews. This is utterly despicable, and it’s disgraceful that the Board should be a willing party to such foul libels.

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.

Pat Mills Talks to Sasha Simic of the SWP about the Politics of 2000AD

September 15, 2017

This comes from the Socialist Workers’ Party, an organization of which I am not a member and which I don’t support. But this is another really great video, in which one of the great creators of the British comics for over forty years talks about politics, social class, the role of capitalism and women and feminism, not just in 2000AD, but also in comics and publishing generally, and the media.

Mills was speaking as part of annual four day convention the Socialist Workers hold on Marxism. Simic introduces himself as the person, who gets the annual geek slot. As well as a member of the party, he’s also a convener of USDAW. And he’s very happy in this, the centenary of the Russian Revolution, to have on Pat Mills.

Mills starts by saying that as he was growing up in the 50s and 60s, he read the same books everyone else did – John Buchan, Ian Fleming, Dennis Wheatley, Sherlock Holmes and the Scarlet Pimpernel. But there was something about it that made him angry, and it was only looking back on it that he came to realise that what infuriated him was the fact that these were all authors from the upper and middle classes, who created heroes from those class backgrounds. He makes the point that these were good writers, but that some of their work was very sinister the more you go into it. Like John Buchan. Buchan was the major propagandist of the First World War. Mills says that Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s infamous spin doctor, had nothing on him. He promoted the First world War, for which he was rewarded with the governorship of Canada.
He states that he doesn’t want to go too far into it as he’ll start ranting. Nevertheless, he’s glad to be able to talk to the people at the SWP’s convention, as it means they have a similar opinion to him, and he doesn’t have to censor himself.

He makes the point that there are very, very few working class heroes, and believes this is quite deliberate. It’s to deprive working people of a strong role. When the working people do appear, it’s as loyal batmen, or sidekicks, and there is an element of parody there. And it’s not just in comics and literature. In the 1980s he was contacted by the producers of Dr. Who to do a story. He wanted to have a working class spaceship captain. He was told by the script editor that they couldn’t. They also didn’t like his idea to have a working class family. It was only by looking back on where this hatred of the heroes of traditional literature came from, that he came to realise that it wasn’t just that he didn’t want to have any generals in his work.

He also talks about how it’s easier to get away with subversion in comics, as comics are treated as a trivial form of literature, which nobody really cares about. The profit motive also helps. So long as it’s making money, comics companies don’t care what’s going on. And this explains how he was able to get away with some of the things he did in Battle. He states that the way he works is by pretending to write something mainstream and inoffensive, and then subvert it from within. An example of that is Charley’s War in Battle. This looks like an ordinary war strip, but in fact was very anti-war. Even so, there were times when he had to be careful and know when to give up. One of these was about a story he wanted to run about the entry of the Americans into the War. In this story, a group of White American squaddies are members of the Klan, and try to lynch a Black soldier. Charley wades in to help the Black guy. The management rejected the story on the grounds that they didn’t want anything too controversial. Mills decided to draw in his horns and bite his tongue at that point, because he had a bigger story lined up about the British invasion of Russian in 1919, when we sent in 20-30,000 men. It was, he says, our Vietnam, and has been whitewashed out of the history books.

He also makes the point that subversion was also present in the girls’ comics. Even more so, as there was a psychological angle that wasn’t present in the boys’. For example, there was one story called ‘Ella in Easy Street’, where a young girl reacts against her aspirational family. They want to get on, and so the father has two jobs, and the mother is similarly working very hard to support their aspirations. But Ella herself is unhappy, as it’s destroying what they are as a family. And so she sets out to sabotage their yuppie dream. Mills says that it’s not all one-dimensional – he looks at the situation from both sides, pro and con, but the story makes the point that there are things that are more important that materialism and social advancement, like family, comradeship. He says that such a story could not be published now. It’s rather like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, where the hero, in the end, throws the race as a way of giving the system the finger.

Mills reminds his audience just how massive girls’ comics were in the ’70s. They were bigger, much bigger, than the boys’. 2000AD sold 200,000 copies a week in its prime. But Tammy, one of the girls’ comics, sold 260,000. This is really surprising, as women read much more than we men. These comics have all disappeared. This, he says, is because the boys’ took over the sandpit. He has been trying to revive them, and so a couple of stories from Misty have been republished in an album.

This gets him onto the issue of reaching the audience, who really need it. In the case of the stories from Misty, this has meant that there are two serials on sale, both of which are very good, but in a book costing £17 – odd. The only people going to read that are the mothers of the present generation of girls, perhaps. To reach the girls, it needs to be set at a lower price they can afford. This is also a problem with the political material. If you write something subversive, it will receive glowing reviews but be bought by people, who already agree with you. He wants his message to get further out, and not to become a coffee table book for north London.

He talks about the way British comics have grown up with their readership, and the advantages and disadvantages this has brought. British comics has, with the exception of 2000AD, more or less disappeared, and the readership of that comic is in its 30s and 40s. People have put this down to demographics and the rise of computer games, saying that this was inevitable. It wasn’t. It was our fault, says Mills. We fumbled it. Games workshop still have young people amongst their audience, while the French also have computer games across the Channel, but their children are reading comics.

Mills goes on to say that it’s easier writing for adults. Writing for 9 and 10 year olds is much harder, because if they don’t like a story, they’ll say. He says to his audience that they may think the same way, but they’re much too polite to say it at conventions. And they had to respond to their young readers as well, as the kids voted on it every week. They’d tell you if they thought it was a bad story, even if you thought it was the best one so far, and asked yourself what was wrong with the little sh*ts.

He also talks about how difficult it is to break into comics. He has friends, who have been trying for decades to get into 2000AD, and have been unsuccessful. His advice to people trying to do so is: don’t bother. There’s nothing wrong with you, it’s 2000AD. And this also effects text publishing. All the publishers have now been bought up, so that HarperCollins have the fingers in everything, such as Hodder and Stoughton. And their politics aren’t ours.

The way round this is to get into web publishing. Here he digresses and talks about pulp fiction, which is a close relative of comics. He was talking to a guy at a convention, who writes pulp fiction and puts it on the net. It only costs a few pence. The man writes about a zombie apocalypse, but – and this is true, as he’s seen the payment slips – he’s pulling in £3,000 a month. Mills says that this is important as well. He wants to get his material out there, but he also wants to eat. This shows you how you can make money publishing it yourself. Later on in the video, after the questions and the comments from the audience, he goes further into this. He mentions some of the web publishers, one of which is subsidiary of Amazon, which will allow people to publish their own work. He also talks about self-publishing and chapbooks. He found out about these while writing Defoe, his story about Leveller zombie killer in an alternative 17th century England. Chapbooks were so called because they were cheap books, the cheap literature of the masses. And this is what comics should go back to. He says that everyone should produce comics, in the same way that everyone can also make music by picking up an instrument and playing a few chords.

He also praises some of the other subversive literature people have self-produced. Like one piece satirizing the British army’s recruitment posters. ‘Join the army’, it says, ‘- like prison, but with more fighting’. Mills is fairly sure he knows who wrote that as well. It was another guy he met at a convention, who was probably responsible for the anti-war film on YouTube Action Man: Battlefield Casualties. He enormously admires this film, and is envious of the people, who made it.

He also talks about some of the fan letters he’s had. One was from the CEO of a school, he talks about the way reading 2000AD opened up his mind and changed his moral compass. The man says that everything he learned about Fascism, he learned from Judge Dredd, everything about racism from Strontium Dog, and feminism from Halo Jones. He and his headmaster, whom he names, were both punks and he’s now opened a school in Doncaster. The most subversive thing you can do now is to try to create an open-minded and questioning generation of young people. The letter is signed, yours, from a company director, but not an evil one, and then the gentleman’s name.

He concludes this part of the talk by describing the career of James Clarke, a member of the Socialist Labour Party, the Communist Party, a lion tamer and conscientious objector. During the War he ran escape lines for British squaddies in France. And people say that pacifists are cowards, Mills jokes. How much braver can you be than sticking your head in a lion’s mouth. He wrote a pamphlet defending a group of comrades, who tried to start the revolution by following the example of the Irish Nationalists and blow things up with a bomb. The pamphlet argued that this was wrong, and that if the working class wanted to gain power, they should concentrate on confronting capitalism through direct action. He also wrote poetry. Mills describes Clark as being a kind of Scots Tom Baker. One of these is a biting satire of Kipling’s If. The poem begins by asking if the reader can wake up every morning at 5 O’clock, or 4.30, and then labour at their machines, and see their wives and children suffer deprivation while those, who haven’t earned it take it all the profits, and describes the backbreaking grind of hard working life for the capitalist class in several stanzas. It ends with the statement that if you can do all that, and still be complacent, then go out, buy a gun and blow your brains out.

Clearly, I don’t recommend any actually do this, but it is a witty and funny response to Kipling’s poem. I found it hugely funny, and I do think it’s a great response to what was voted Britain’s favourite poem by the Beeb’s viewers and readers a few years ago. Can you imagine the sheer Tory rage that would erupt if someone dared to recite it on television!

Many of the comments are from people thanking Mills for opening their eyes and for writing such great stories. They include a man, who describes how Mills’ works are on his shelf next to his copy of Das Kapital. Another man describes how he used to buy 2000AD just after going to church on Sunday. So after listening to some very boring sermons, he came back from Baptist chapel to read all this subversion. One young woman says that the zines – the small press magazines, that appeared in the 1990s – seem to be still around, as she has seen them at punk concerts. Another young woman says that although comics are seen as a boys’ thing, when she goes into Forbidden Planet near her, there are always three girls in there and two boys. She also talks about how many young women read Japanese manga. Mills states in reply that manga stories generally are light and frothy, and so not the kind of stories he wants to write. But as for women in comics, he says that he spoken several times to students on graphic novel courses, and each time about 75 per cent of them have been women, which is good.

He also talks about Crisis and Action. The Third World War strip in Crisis was about the politics of food, and was set in a world where food production was dominated by a vast multinational formed by the merger of two of today’s megacorporations. Mills states that when the strip covered what was going on in South America, that was acceptable. However, at one point he moved the story to Brixton, finding a Black co-writer to help with the story. At that point, the White Guardian-reading liberals started to be uncomfortable with it. There was also a story in which Britain leaves the EU. This results in the rise of a Fascist dictatorship, and the EU responds by invading Britain. Mills says that he’s been trying to get Crisis relaunched, but the company are stringing him along with excuses, probably because it’s easier than arguing with him.

Mills obviously did the right thing by finding a Black co-writer. Marvel suffered a barrage of criticism with some of their attempts to launch a series of Black superheroes, like the Black Panther as part of the Blaxploitation wave of the 1970s. The Black Panther was particularly criticized. The creators were old, White dudes, who didn’t understand urban Black culture, even if the comics themselves were sincere in presenting a sympathetic view of Black Americans and combating racism.

He also talks briefly about Action, and the controversy that caused. What really upset Mary Whitehouse and the rest was ‘Kid’s Rule UK’, a strip in which a disease killed everyone over 16, and Britain was inhabited solely by warring street gangs. Mills used to take the same train from where he was living at the time with Mary Whitehouse. He said he was editing a Hookjaw script at the time, and notice Whitehouse over the other side of the carriage looking daggers at him. So he put in more carnage and more arms and legs being bitten off.

One of the most interesting questions is about the politics and morality of Judge Dredd. Dredd is a fascist, and in one of the strips it seemed to take the side of authority over subversion with no irony. This was in a story about the punks taking over Megacity 1. At the end of the strip, Dredd gets hold of the leader, and makes him say, ‘I’m a dirty punk.’ Mills actually agrees with the speaker, and says that there are people, who take Dredd as a role-model. He’s had letters from them, which he doesn’t like. He doesn’t know what these people do. Perhaps they have their own chapterhouse somewhere. He went cold inside when he heard about the story. It wasn’t one of his. It was by John Wagner, who isn’t at all political, but is very cynical, so this has some of the same effects of politics. But 75 per cent of Dredd comes from Mills. Mills states that it’s a flawed character, and that can be seen in why the two Dredd films never did well at the box office. Dredd was based on a particular teacher at his old school, as was Torquemada, the Grand Master of Termight, a genocidally racist Fascist military feudal order ruling Earth thousands of years in the future. They were both two sides of the same coin. That was why he enjoyed humiliating Torquemada. But it isn’t done with Dredd. Yet it could have been different, and there could be instances where people have their revenge on Dredd without losing the power of the character. He states that it was because Chopper did this in the story ‘Unamerican Graffiti’, that this became the favourite Dredd story of all time.

It’s a fascinating insight into the politics of the comics industry. The zines and other self-published small magazines he describes were a product of the Punk scene, where people did start putting together their own fanzines in their bedrooms. It was part of the mass creativity that punk at its height unleashed. As for the web comics, he talks about a couple that he finds particularly impressive, including those by the author of the dystopian science fiction story Y – the Last Man, set in a future in which all the men in the world have been killed by another disease. A number of my friends used to publish their own small press magazines in the 1990s, as did Mike. Mike started his own, small press comic, Violent, as an homage to Action when it was that comics anniversary. Mike was helped by some of the artists and writers from 2000AD, and so some of the tales are very professional. But probably not for delicate, gentle souls.

Amongst SF fandom, chapbooks are small books which another publishes himself. And they have been the route some professionally published authors have taken into print. Stephen Baxter is one of them. I think his Xelee stories first appeared in a chapbook he sold at one of the SF conventions.

Looking back at Kids Rule UK, this was my least favourite strip in Action. I was bullied at school, and so the idea of a Britain, where everything had broken down and there was nothing but bullying and juvenile violence really scared me. Action took many of its strips from the popular culture of the time. Hookjaw was basically Jaws. One-Eyed Jack seemed based very much on the type of hard-boiled American cop shows, if not actually Dirty Harry. One of the SF movies of the late sixties was about an America in which teenagers had seized power, and put all the adults in concentration camps were they were force-fed LSD. One of the four Star Trek stories that were banned on British television until the 1980s was ‘Miri’. In this tale, Kirk, Spock and the others beam down to a planet occupied entirely by children, as all the ‘grups’ – the adults – have been killed by disease. Kids Rule UK seems very much in the same vein as these stories.

Mills’ story about Dr. Who not wanting to show a working class family, let alone a spaceship captain, shows how far the series has come when it was relaunched by Russell T. Davis. Christopher Eccleston basically played the Doctor as northern and working class, wile Rose Tyler’s family and friends were ordinary people in a London tower block. As for not wanting to show a working class spaceship captain, that probably comes from very ingrained class attitudes in the aviation industry. A friend of mine trained as a pilot. When he was studying, their tutor told the class that the British exam included a question no other country in the world required, and which was particularly difficult. He stated that it was put there to weed out people from working or lower middle class backgrounds, as they would fail and not be able to retake the exam, as their competitors from the upper classes could.

It’s great to hear Mills encourage people try to produce their own work, and not be disheartened if they are rejected by mainstream publishers. I’m also saddened by the absence of any comics for children. They offered me when I was a lad an escape into a whole world of fun and imagination. And at their best, they do encourage children to take an interest in real issues like racism, sexism, bigotry and exploitation. I hope some way can be found to reverse their disappearance.

Zarjaz! Documentary about 2000 AD!

September 25, 2016

Borag Thungg, Earthlets! As the Mighty Tharg used to say. I found over at Moria, the Science Fiction Film and Television database, a review of the 2014 documentary Future Shock! The Story of 2000 AD, directed by Paul Goodwin, and made by Stanton Media/Deviant Films. The film tells the story of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, and the crew of recidivist cultural deviants, who responsible, amongst other offences, for bringing the world Judge Dredd, Mega-City 1’s toughest lawman. Among those speaking in the movie are the mighty comics creators Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill, Brian Bolland, Neil Gaiman, Carlos Ezquerra, John Wagner, Dave Gibbon, Bryan Talbot, Alan Grant, Grant Morrison, Cam Kennedy and Karl Urban, who played Dredd in the movie of the same name a few years ago.

The Moria review sets the origins of the comic in the context of Britain in the late 70s and early 80s, when Margaret Thatcher was in power, unemployment was at three million and the National Front was on the march. 2000 AD appeared following the cancellation of Action, a previous comic that had been banned after parents’ concerns that it was too violent. The team assembled to produce the new comic were partly drawn from those responsible for Action, like Mills, and the new comic definitely had a subversive edge. It was partly reacting against the old Fleetway children’s comics, whose stories were very safe. It takes its title from a series of unrelated bizarre stories, ‘Tharg’s Future Shocks’. As I recall, the strip in which these stories were first announced set the tone by showing a jaded, spoiled sprog, defiantly unimpressed with the previous offerings from British comics, who is then taken by Tharg to see the terrible and dangerous visions that the Future Shock strips will introduce. This is too much for the enfant terrible, and the traumatised brat is led away to received much-needed medical care, while Tharg urges them to ‘treat him gently’. An example of the strong subversive theme running through the comic is Dredd himself. Dredd was deliberately intended to be something of an ambivalent hero, a parody of Fascistic US policing. The Moria review notes that the more extreme Dredd became, the more popular he was, to the point where Carlos Ezquerra didn’t want to continue drawing the character after producing the original design. This probably shouldn’t be too surprising, as Ezquerra had as his inspiration for Dredd’s uniform that of Franco’s Fascists with their helmets and shoulder pads, though the review doesn’t mention this. John Wagner, Dredd’s creator, was always insistent that the character should never take off his helmet and show his face, as he was the symbol of the faceless police state.

The review discusses 2000 AD’s role as the first British comic to credit the artists and writers, and how this led to a brain drain as their leading creators were then lured off by the big American comic firms like Vertigo. I don’t think 2000 AD were quite the first. I think a few years before then the war comic, Battle, had also started to credit the people creating the strips. It also covers the magazine’s drop in quality and popularity in the 1990s, and then it’s revival under Matt Smith. It notes that all of the creators interviewed saw the comic as edgy, subversive and individualistic. This is certainly born out by some of the comments made in the movie’s trailer, which is also included in the review. This features the various writers and illustrators remarking on the comic and what they intended to achieve with it. Several of them, such as one by Pat Mills, are along the lines that the comics company really didn’t know what was about to hit them.

I don’t think they did. 2000 AD was never as controversial as Action, but nevertheless there were concerns occasionally that the comic was too violent. It did, however, produce some of the greatest comic strips that are still going thirty years later, like the ABC Warriors, Slaine, Nemesis the Warlock, Strontium Dog, The Ballad of Halo Jones, and, of course, Judge Dredd. The future’s ultimate cop was hailed at the time by the space fact magazine, New Voyager, as the Dan Dare for the 1980s. High praise indeed!

The review also talks about the three films or so have that were released based on the comic. These include the two Judge Dredd films, Judge Dredd, which appeared in the 1990s with Sylvester Stallone playing Dredd; and Dredd, which came out a couple of years ago, with Karl Urban in the title role. They also include Richard Stanley’s Hardware, which was taken uncredited from Shok!, a short story told by Dredd’s mechanical friend, Walter the Wobot. 2000 AD took the film’s producers to court in plagiarism case, and won. The film’s producers were forced to credit the 2000 AD strip, though I think Stanley still maintains that he didn’t steal the idea from 2000 AD. Of the two Dredd films, the first is considered a disaster, while the second was a hit with both audiences and the strip’s creators, who praise the movie in the film. Stanley’s Hardware is also a classic of low budget SF film-making, and has rightly received wide praise. It was made in 1989, but still looks good a quarter of a century and more later, and its relatively high quality of design and production makes it appear that it had a bigger budget than it actually had. Stanley’s career as a cinema director I think ended after he was sacked from directing the 1990s remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau. This was at least partly the result of the utterly bizarre behaviour of Marlon Brando, who took the part of Moreau. There’s also a film about the making of that movie, which shows just how bonkers and extremely difficult to work with Brando was, to the point where filming at time degenerated something close to farce. it’s a pity, as Stanley was and is a talented film-maker with fresh, interesting concepts. If things were ideal, he and 2000 AD would ideally make their peace, and he should produce a film based on some of the comics’ other strips. But this ain’t an ideal world, and so that very definitely won’t happen.

I don’t know if the documentary is available on YouTube, and I don’t recall having seen it on the shelves of HMV, but it might be worth checking out your local comics shop, like Forbidden Planet.

The Moria review can be read at: http://moria.co.nz/sciencefiction/future-shock-the-story-of-2000ad-2014.htm

Increase the Peace: Criticism of the Iraq Invasion in 2000 AD’s ABC Warriors

April 18, 2015

Borag Thungg, Earthlets! As the mighty Tharg used to say.

I’ve posted a number of pieces about satire and social criticism in comics, particularly the British SF comic, 2000 AD. Mike over at Vox Political posted a piece on the very pointed comment about the effect of sanctions and workfare in the Judge Dredd strip. And it’s been released that after the elections are safely over, Megacity I’s hardest lawman will go up against a corrupt politician fomenting hatred against immigrants after a series of terrorist attacks. This politician’s name: Bilious Barrage. And he bears a striking resemblance to a certain head of an anti-EU, anti-immigration party.

Bilious Barage

Bilious Barrage: Mega-City 1’st anti-immigration politician and leading candidate for a place in the Iso-Cubes.

2000 AD has always had a very strong strain of satire and social comment. The Strontium Dog strip, about the mutant bounty hunter, Johnny Alpha, used the character’s mutation to criticise racism and the British class system. This included a story in which the king of Britain, Clarkie II, in order to reach out to all his subjects, marries a mutant from the Milton Keynes ghetto, Vera Duckworth. Who, as her name suggests, was blessed with a duck’s bill.

Strontium Clarkie Duckworth

Johnny Alpha with his highness King Clarkie II and Vera Duckworth, as drawn by Carlos Ezquerra.

This was partly based on Prince Charles, and his concern in the 1980s to help Britain’s unemployed created by Maggie Thatcher’s recession.

Real political figures also made their way into 2000 AD’s strip, like Ronald Reagan. The then-president of America featured in a story in which he had been kidnapped by time-travelling aliens, who wish to use him as a hostage in their campaign to break free from human domination.

Strontium Reagan Red

A kidnapped Ronald Reagan menaced by the mutant vampire, Durham Red, from the Strontium Dog strip.

The Second Gulf War and the Iraq invasion has also been criticised in its turn in the three volumes of collected ABC Warriors’ strips, The Volgan War, scripted by the strips’ creator, Pat Mills, and drawn with almost photo-real precision by Clint Langley.

The ABC Warriors are a kind of ‘Meknificent Seven’, a group of ex-war robots, led by the morally upright Hammerstein, dedicated to protecting justice and defending the weak and innocent in a violent and corrupt galaxy. The strip itself is a kind of spin-off from the Ro-Busters strip, about a group of robots sent in to rescue humans from disasters where the situation was too dangerous to risk human lives.

Hammerstein and the other robots were built to fight in the Volgan Wars. The Volgan Republic was a disguised version of the Soviet Union, which was shown conquering Britain in the early 2000 AD strip, Invasion. The treatment of the Volgan Wars in the ABC Warriors is permeated with a very strong anti-war message. Robots are expendable slaves, and their human officers have no respect for their lives or the pain they suffer, so long as they achieve their objectives and win medals for them.

This was part of the strip from its very beginning in the late ’70s and early 1980s. And it’s still the same now in the 21st Century. In Vol. 2 of the Volgan Wars series, the Warriors are shown talking about how they suffer from survivor’s guilt.

Steelhorn says ‘The hardest thing when I got back was humans slapping me on the back and saying ‘Great job Steelhorn!’

To which Mongrol, another Warrior replies, ‘They wanted it to be a good war so that they could sleep at night.’

Hammerstein adds ‘But we know it wasn’t a good war. There’s no such thing as a good war.’

In this post-Iraq Invasion reworking of the strip, the aggressors are the West. The world has passed peak oil, and so America and her allies have invaded the Volgan Empire – Russia – in order to get their hands on its oil reserves.

ABC Tipping Point Oil

The above panels show the Volkhan, the supreme Volgan war robot, stating this in his speech to the massed Volgan war machines.

‘Remember! The world has passed the tipping point! The oil is finally running out! It’s why the ABC criminals have invaded our country! To steal our oil!’

‘Only Volgograd stands in the way of their advance to the Caspian oilfields! If Volgograd falls, Mother Russia falls!’

The American officers leading the invasion are very much aware that the rationale for the war – that they are liberating the Russian people – is a sham, and note privately that it should be a public scandal.

In one scene, Blackblood, one of the Volgan robots, reads out an entry confirming this from the diary of a captured American officer.

ABC Volgan War Reasons

The entry reads

“This terrible war is a set-up to steal the Volgan’s oil and make money for robot weapons manufacturers Like Howard Quartz. The general public should be told what is really going on.”

The Volgans are presented as sadistic killers, who have absolutely no qualms about committing atrocities such as the mass murder of innocent civilians. Blackblood is one of the most treacherous and brutal, who takes his name because he drinks the oil of the other robots he and his soldiers have killed. In order to avenge such atrocities, the allies have established the Knights Martial, an order of robot knights, to try war crimes and bring those responsible to justice.

Their role was originally intended to be solely confined to Volgan war criminals. The Knights have, however, broken their programming and gone beyond that. They are now judging allied generals for the atrocities they have committed, as shown when Deadlok, the order’s Grand Master, puts an American ABC general on trial.

Clearly, the ABC Warriors are meant as fictional entertainment, but the social comment and political satire in the strip makes it acutely relevant. The volumes on the Volgan War were published five or six years ago in 2009 and 10. The present, however, seems to be catching up very fast with the future envisioned by the writer Pat Mills, and the strips’ artists. In his introduction to the second volume, Pat Mills discusses the emergence of real autonomous war machines, including the PackBot.

A robot called the PackBot is used in Iraq to locate and blow up enemy bombs, also blowing itself up in the process at a cost of $150,000 per robot. it can only be a matter of time before indestructible machines like Hammerstein will carry out these same tasks. A Pentagon spokesman has stated, “Robot’s don’t get hungry. They’re not afraid. They don’t forget their orders. They don’t care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes.” That sounds very much like the ABC Warriors.

The singularity, the point of no return, could well be soon. This is the time when robots become so intelligent, they are able to build ever more intelligent and powerful versions of themselves without reference to humans. When that moment arrives, the Warriors’ adventures may be seen as closer to science fact than science fiction and the truth may be even stranger than the fiction depicted in this second volume of The Volgan Wars.

I’m afraid that the future depicted in the ABC Warriors may become all too real very soon. The current events in the Ukraine strike me very much as an attempt by the West to create a pro-western government in the former Soviet state, partly in order to get their hands on its immensely fertile agricultural soil and partly for its vast mineral reserves, including oil. And, of course, it’s only a short distance away from the major oil reserves around the Caspian Sea and Azerbaijan. Something like the Volgan War could easily become a horrific reality.

The ABC Warrior’s value isn’t just in its realistic depiction of a future war and the possible machines built to fight it, but in the human and trans-human moral cost of such a conflict. Like much of the best Science Fiction in all media, whether literature, film and television or comics, the ABC Warrior’s brings a critical satirical eye to contemporary politicians, who have manufactured wars and sacrificed human lives in furtherance of their personal and geopolitical ambitions.

And that really is zarjaz, as Tharg the Mighty also used to say.

Splundig vur thrigg.

Sneck! Mutant Bounty Hunter In Radio 4 High Culture Shock!

April 7, 2015

Strontium Dog

Mutant Bounty Hunter Johnny Alpha, AKA Strontium Dog, from 2000 AD, drawn by Carlos Ezquerra

I’ve published a few pieces recently about comics, and particularly 2000 AD. Last week it was reported that Judge Dredd was going to be taking on Nigel Farage in the form of a hate-mongering politico, Bilious Barrage, in Mega-City 1. Now in today’s Radio Times there’s also news that another favourite from 2000 AD will get a mention on radio: Johnny Alpha, the mutant bounty hunter and hero of the strip Strontium Dog. He’s due to get an appearance on a programme about a new cycle of poems about the element, from which he and the other Search/Destroy Agents took their name The (Half) Life of Strontium.

The blurb in the Radio Times says Strontium is the 38th element in the Periodic Table and was discovered in 1792 by miners in the Scottish village of Strontian. Robert Crawford’s new suite of poems elaborates on the connections between the village in Argyll, the bomb that dropped on Nagasaki and the mutant bounty hunter, Strontium Dog.

The programme’s on at 4.30 pm. on Radio 4 on Sunday, 12th April.

The strip took its name from Strontium 90, one of the radioactive elements in nuclear fall-out. The Strontium Dogs were mutants, who were legally prevented from holding any other jobs on Earth except as bounty hunters because of their mutations. The strip combined detective adventures in a kind of future galactic Wild West, as the strip’s hero, Johnny Alpha, and his norm partner Wulf Sternhammer, roamed space bringing criminals to justice.

Alpha took his name from the alpha particles emitted by his mutant eyes. In the strip these gave him X-ray vision and the power to read minds. In practice they’re very weak. You can block them with a sheet of paper. Not that science fact necessarily gets in the way of a good tale. 2000 AD generally had a strong satirical edge, and wasn’t averse to tackling serious issues. In Strontium Dog the strips’ creators used the mutant hero and his deformed friends and enemies to explore issues of racism, prejudice and the British class system.

Alpha’s father was a ruthless right-wing politicians, Nelson Bunker Kreelman, who was determined to carry out a policy of mass murder to cleanse an irradiated Britain of its mutant population. Alpha’s own mutation was carefully hidden in order to safeguard his father’s reputation. In the event, Alpha rebels against his father, and leads a mutant revolt from one of the ancient symbols of British identity, Stonehenge.

The mutant’s victory is limited, however. Although they are tolerated, their opportunities are very limited. They are segregated into mutant ghettos, and are very much second-class citizens. When Alpha and Wulf travel, they are forced to find accommodation in the hold or in the second class cabins, as mutants very definitely may not travel first class with ordinary humans. And the discovery of mutant relatives, especially offspring, is still a major source of shame for respectable middle class Brits.

In one strip, the king of Britain, Clarkie II, attempts to bridge the divide between norm and mutant by marrying a young mutant lady with a duck’s bill from the Milton Keynes mutant ghetto. This is a step too far for his subjects, and the idealistic king is hounded, forced to abdicate, and flee into space.

It’s a slightly irreverent, but also curiously sympathetic look at Prince Charles’ actions at the time. This was before his marriage with Lady Di fell apart, and the Prince was still popular with many Brits. He also appeared to be genuinely and deeply concerned with the plight of his poorer subjects as Maggie’s recession threw millions out of work. And so the strip’s creators, Aaln Grant and Carlos Ezquerra, were able to present a fantastic version of the Prince of Wales showing his social concerns in the future. In this case, it was marrying well out of his class with a mutant girl from the wrong side of the tracks.

And what Crawford’s poem also shows us, is that apart from great literature, the major figures of British arts also started off like the rest of us: reading and enjoying the four-colour funny papers. They’ve now grown up, and Dredd, Alpha and the rest are heading upmarket alongside . At least on the radio.

Reagan Dog

Never afraid to treat authority with the amusement it deserves: Strontium Dog and his partner, Durham Red, rescue a Ronald Reagan kidnapped by time-travelling aliens.