At the moment it feels like there’s some kind of celebrity Reckoning with Muhammad Ali taking his place alongside Prince, Victoria Wood, David Bowie, Terry Wogan, et al. But there’s a lot simpler explanation: we’re witnessing the deaths of the first generation of stars from the Golden Age of Television. Now that we live in an era of 24/7 television broadcast across 1000’s of channels, they’ll be breaking news of a ‘celeb’ dying every second once the Reality TV Generation start to kick it.
But Muhammad Ali was a proper celebrity. A courageous, charismatic, outspoken individual whose tongue was as powerful as his fists. We have two links with Ali in our comic. The first is with Brian Clough, the equally charismatic and outspoken football manager. Clough features in Issue 5: Booked where he becomes fused with Lord Byron to become Byron Clough – a hybrid with more rattle than a Brewers Fayre.
In 1970 Clough was manager of ‘them lot’ down the A52, but he was also gaining a reputation for his verve and wit as a TV football pundit. The ever so quotable Clough was compared with Ali, and so the boxer recorded a special message for Old Big ‘Ead which you can see above. Clough’s response? ‘I want to fight him.’
A more explicit link with Muhammad Ali came in Issue 9: Bendigo versus Nottingham. Here, Al Needham, the writer of the issue – and someone also renowned for his gobbiness – explains how a comic featuring the boxer inspired the narrative of his story. The below extract was originally published as an embedded essay within the comic.
“The Lord Mayor of Nottingham is reading a DC comic published in the spring of 1978, where some alien mentalist started on planet Earth and said that if their planet’s champion battered ours in a fight, he would blow it up. Superman offered to sort it out, but Ali chelped off at Superman and said that he wasn’t from round here, so they agreed to have a preliminary scrap on Horrible Alien’s home planet – which had a red sun, so Superman wouldn’t be able to throw trains around and that.
Ali proceeded to give Superman a right panning, but the youth from Krypton managed to stay upright for ages until the ref stopped the fight on a technical knockout. Ali then went on to mash up the alien champion in four rounds, so they got a mard-on and decided to destroy Earth anyway. Luckily, Superman – disguised as Ali’s trainer – got his powers back and gave them a proper seeing-to, which is why you’re reading this today.
On the cover, we see a ton of famous people of the era at ringside, including the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Columbo, Donny and Marie Osmond, Wonder Woman, the Jackson Five, John Wayne, Andy Warhol, Kurt Vonnegut, Racquel Welch, Richie Cunningham, Jimmy Carter, Batman and Pele. We didn’t have time to do our own cover, but it would have featured Brian Clough, Jesse Boot, Su Pollard, Lord Byron, DH Lawrence, Robin Hood, Arthur Seaton, Alvin Stardust, the 1978 Nottingham Forest squad, Paper Lace, the Fat Slags, and assorted randoms about town who we owed a favour. And the Fish Man.”
Dawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.
- Best Muhammad Ali quotes – (edition.cnn.com)
- Damned rebellion of football’s eccentric answer to Muhammad Ali (next.ft.com)
- Al Needham’s website (maycontainnotts.wordpress.com)
- Rikki Marr’s website (hawkandmouse.com)
- Bendigo vs Nottingham (dawnoftheunread.com)
- The story behind Superman vs Muhammad Ali comic (gizmodo.com)
- How to make a comic with Al Needham and Rikki Marr (youtube.com)