Let me tell you about comics…

adrian

Guest blog from Adrian Reynolds who will be mentoring writers/artists throughout Dawn of the Unread. Adrian is also working on his own comic, Dad Town.

Let me tell you about comics…

About drawings like I’d never seen before, put together in the print room of the university where my dad worked, where I’d sometimes be left while he did dad things. The drawings were by Hunt Emerson, some of the words by the poet who worked alongside him, known in the underground comics they created as Viridian Hugh. I was 7 or 8. Loved Hunt’s art in titles like Large Cow Comix in ways that spoke to something I didn’t know was there, that the likes of Beano and Dandy had never done for me. Hugh was once stopped by the police, breathalysed. When he asked to see the crystals he was told had turned green the cops instead charged him with possession of an offensive weapon in the form of a hose in the boot of his car. Hugh wasn’t just Viridian, he was black, and this was Birmingham in the 1970s.

Let me tell you about comics…

About being sick one visit to Devon Nan a year or two later, and having the consolation of a big box of old DC comics that an uncle had collected. The Justice League of America featured Superman and Batman, both of them kind of familiar to me (Batman had appeared in a Scooby Doo episode that haunted me). So who were the Justice Society of America, who had their own versions of those costumed characters and many more? I didn’t get it then, am still not sure I get it now, and it’s all woven into a fever dream of smudged ink, time-travelling Nazis, ads for x-ray glasses and being administered to by my gran, who kept a mangle in the back garden, whose party trick was smoking two cigarettes at the same time, and who probably didn’t feed me Hostess Fruit Pies. Fag ash Lil.

Let me tell you about comics…

About the pony-riding holiday I somehow ended up on as a bashful 12 year old, sharing a wonky caravan propped up by slate tiles with a 14 year-old who trimmed his sideburns. About the first copy of 2000AD I came across, still early doors with its 4th issue. The electricity of reading Judge Dredd, a cop more brutal than the ones who’d stopped Hugh, but in Mega City One that was OK. A cover screaming the question Who Is The Terror Baron Of Dinosaur City? A broken-nosed lorry driver called Bill Savage fighting for the Free European Army to reclaim his country from an invasion by Russian stand-ins the Volgans.

Let me tell you about comics…

About black and white British reprints of classic Marvel stories. We think of them just for the superheroes, but there was a time they had vampires, barbarians, kung fu fighting, and an existentialist duck. Marvel too did a Star Wars adaptation that added a giant green rabbit to the cast, and art by Howard Chaykin, a wiseass Jewish New Yorker whose square-jawed heroes were riffs on their sharp-suited artist. Never mind The Simpsons and Comic Book Guy, think of Jim Steranko, who led one life in the Mad Men days of advertising, another as a Vegas escapologist, and came over to Marvel to reinvent a moribund title called Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, long before he became Samuel L Jackson, and before they called eyepatches iconic.

Let me tell you about comics…

About men and women undertaking to tell long and multifaceted stories themselves, issue by issue, with no certainty that they’ll get an audience, and with not even a thought that the payoff will be a film deal and a presence in high street bookstores. People like Dave Sim (Cerebus) and Carla Speed McNeil (Finder) whose uncategorisable creations are too rich, too multifaceted for a world where most people don’t know about what comics can do, and even if they do are for the most part satisfied by the latest chapters in the endless superhero soap operas.

Let me tell you about comics…

About Alan Moore breaking all the rules on Swamp Thing, turning a second-string bog monster into something as human, as humane, as any work in any artform I’d ever known. And doing it with werewolves and serial killers and references that got me scurrying after Bruce Chatwin and accepting that comics could be whatever you wanted them to be. And saying things that noone else was saying, and only realising years later when a girlfriend couldn’t get past a few pages of League of Extraordinary Gentleman for its depiction of rape that maybe some things shouldn’t be said. Or if they can be, that women like Posy Simmonds, Roberta Gregory, and Julie Doucet should be saying them, if that’s what they’re moved to do.

Let me tell you about comics…

About Dwayne McDuffie, an African American man who didn’t see the faces of his family and friends in the comics he read. And founded Milestone Comics with the breakout character Static Shock under the DC umbrella to appeal to young boys and girls from every background – and was dismissed by many as racist for the attempt, sometimes by the editors who never quite got round to hiring him when they found out what colour he was.

Let me tell you about comics…

About laughing and playing, and seeing what happens when an artist turns your words into beauty. About taking words out, because the pictures say more. About what comics can become online, what crowdfunding allows creators to do if they connect with audiences. About words and pictures being able to convey anything, anything at all, and sometimes not even needing the words.

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One thought on “Let me tell you about comics…

  1. Pingback: Chapter 3: The Gotham Fool | Dawn of the Unread

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