Sunday, 21 October 2012

Alice in Sunderland

I have read this work and maybe ought to get a copy: a verbal and visual feast. Every possible format is used. You never know what you will see next when you turn the page. One page gives the definite impression of history spread out across the page and would be appropriate for time travel fiction.

The author/artist interviewed a local Community Artist and reproduces the interview as a comic strip. A lot of information is imparted about Carroll and Alice. The work could be studied in detail instead of just read through once.

Having surveyed a lot of history, the author concludes that North East England is rich precisely because of its many historical waves of invasion and immigration and suddenly presents an unexpected but powerful and welcome statement of anti-racism.

Lastly, this work is not fiction so it should be described as a "graphic documentary," not a "graphic novel."

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Script Writing

If a comic book is a faithful adaptation of Alice so that the dialogue in the comic is taken directly from Carroll and if, further, some large panels are almost entirely visual in content with many pictorial details but no speech balloons and minimal or even no captions, then it is obvious that the artist has had a lot of work to do but what have the script writers, in this case, Leah Moore and John Reppion, done?

Almost everything. It is they, not the artist, who have been responsible for the transition or translation from prose narrative to sequential art story telling. They have had to read the text, visualise some of its scenes in far greater detail than the words can possibly convey, then describe their agreed visualisation to the artist in a long, detailed script. For the dialogue, they have had to select and edit since an entire text cannot be reproduced in speech balloons or captions. An enormous task, comparable to directing a film.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

From Comics To Books

Having read science fiction, Jet Ace Logan as well as Dan Dare, in children's comics, I saw adult paperback novels with spacemen and robots on the covers and did not know whether I would like them. Eventually, I bought The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester and The Caves Of Steel by Isaac Asimov in WH Smith's in Penrith, Cumberland (now Cumbria) in 1962. I wanted to get two books by different authors so I did not buy Earth Is Room Enough by Asimov.

In Chapter 2 of the Asimov novel that I did get, the viewpoint character meets Robot Daneel Olivaw for the first time. No one could have suspected that decades later in readers' time and millennia later in fictitious time, Olivaw would still be around after the Rise and Fall of the Galactic Empire. I also did not suspect that another American sf author, Poul Anderson, was meanwhile writing an even longer and much better account of the rise and fall of an interstellar empire.

We also never suspected that, as well as reading prose sf, some of us would still be reading comics fifty years later. Authors who, like us, grew up with the characters have written substantial sequels to the adventures of several of the characters who already existed then.

The Courtyard And Fashion Beast

It is my policy to buy and read any comic written by Alan Moore. I bought The Courtyard and am buying Fashion Beast although these are not comics written by Alan Moore. They are comics written by Antony Johnston, the first based on a prose short story by Alan Moore, the second based on a film script by Alan Moore. The Courtyard was successful. I am not yet sure about Fashion Beast.

Moore wrote a four part sequel to The Courtyard, The Neonomicon. This series reached a very high degree of horror in issue no 3. There were two surprises in no 4, the change of tone and the (to me) unexpected end of the series. The monster that had been subtly introduced in no 3, seen by the characters but not by us, then seen by the heroine but with her glasses off in the last panel, was no longer a mystery and kind of a Sea Thing. One fan told me that the way the story would end was clear from the first page.

We look forward to more Extraordinary Gentlemen but will there also be more Neonomicon?

Dan Dare

2000 AD, a revived Eagle, Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis have all revived Dan Dare in different forms but have any of them done it right? (Maybe Grant wasn't trying to do Dare, just to make a point about power politics?)

I get the feeling that there is nothing left to do with the character. A plan of the original creators was to get him into films. He would have been there before Star Trek and Star Wars. (Another sf series that was meant to be filmed but wasn't was James Blish's Cities In Flight.)

The first Dan Dare story started with the premise that the Moon and Mars had already been visited in the twentieth century. The first story was about the first trip to Venus and the first conflict with the Mekon. (A story in the revived Eagle had the Mekon saying, "Even my escape craft has an escape craft!" Neat.)

There followed some stories set in the inner and outer Solar Systems, then a long trilogy:

(i) an extrasolar alien, a "Krypt," arrives on Earth;
(ii) Dan, Digby and others make the first human interstellar crossing to help the peaceful Krypts against the war-like Phants;
(iii) they return to find that the Mekon has conquered Earth in their absence.

Usually in Eagle, one story ended and another began without any indication of how much time had elapsed between or, more generally, how they were related chronologically but this "trilogy" was a single long sequence. I started looking at the pictures, not yet reading, somewhere in (ii).

Dan encountered a Scottish clan McWho, thus a pre-Doctor Who use of the word "Who" as a surname. After the second conflict with the Mekon, there were some more interstellar journeys. Dan went to Terra Nova to try to find his father but was interrupted by a long paper strike. I would like to know more about what happened in subsequent adventures of this original Dare.

There was an eight page Dare story in each Eagle Annual and sometimes also a separate Dan Dare Annual. A story about an attempted terrorist attack on the Olympics when they were held on Venus was particularly exciting as some of the athletes had to run across the field to the bewilderment of the audience to prevent an explosion. One story in an Annual backtracked to the first meeting between Dan and Digby.

Comics And Comic Books

In those days, British comics differed from American comic books in every respect:

weekly, not monthly;
fewer, larger, unstapled pages;
a comic strip, not a single picture, on the front;
black and white alternating with coloured pages inside;
several one-page serials about continuing characters instead of two or three complete stories about a single character (thus, we read one episode of Dan Dare in each issue of Eagle but three stories about Superman in each issue of Superman);
no shared universe or cross overs;
heroes but no superheroes;
less well known characters, except maybe Dare;
an Annual was a hard back book, not a thicker comic.

Having said that, one exception was Marvelman, a low quality black and white superhero book imitating the Captain Marvel reprints which it had replaced. An early issue of John Constantine:Hellblazer showed Constantine reminiscing about childhood seaside holidays. Appropriately, a montage of memories showed some other British comic and a Marvelman cover. This was doubly appropriate because Alan Moore had created Constantine and re-created Marvelman.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Eagle II

The Eagle was launched in April 1950, just one year and three months after my birth so it had been established for a few years before I became aware of it. Effectively, it had always been there like Superman who was launched ten years and six months before my birth.

One of the Scottish comic creators (I forget which) said that he and his contemporaries had, at the time, grown out of comics because, "We were starting to have girl friends and Dan Dare wasn't getting organised with Professor Peabody."

I wasn't getting organised yet either but it was noticeable that nothing was done with the Prof. She became neither our hero's fiancee nor a character in her own right and simply stopped appearing.

Digby wanted "a bob's worth of fish and chips" so they had a World Government and an Interplanetary Space Fleet but had had neither decimalisation nor inflation of the pound. But they did live in the early twenty first century, like us. Earlier flights to the Moon, misnamed "Lunar," and Mars had occurred in the late twentieth century. The idea of a spaceman having a batman is nonsense from the word go.

A scene of commuters in a bus included a bald green "treen" from Venus wearing a suit and reading a newspaper - an interplanetary immigrant. It is to be hoped that he was not suspected of Mekon loyalty.

The Eagle

I started getting the Eagle in the early 1950's before I could read. I remember being asked what comic I wanted and saying "the Eagle" without knowing how I knew there was such a comic. I must have heard the name but knew nothing about it. I answered the question because I had been asked it.

I liked "cowboys" (Westerns) but realised very early that I preferred men in spacesuits (science fiction). Why? When Dan and Digby returned to the Solar System after ten years to find that their old enemy the Mekon had conquered Earth in their absence, that was my first encounter with the Mekon.

I read the Eagle until the first or second year of secondary school. It had three companion comics, as well as imitators. The companion comics were:

the Robin, for pre-school children;
the Swift, for primary school pupils;
Girl, for secondary school girls.

I borrowed someone else's copies of the Swift. For a while, it featured a couple of space cadet type characters and we thought they might cross over with Dare but they didn't.

The Western, "Riders of the Range," was better than cowboy strips in other comics. It featured historical events and characters. When Pat Garrett killed William Bonney (Billy the Kid), his deputies were Jeff Arnold and Luke, the continuing fictitious characters of the series. When Custer was killed at Little Big Horn, Jeff and Luke were two of his scouts who were elsewhere that day. Sitting Bull was shown joining Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show so Buffalo Bill, meanwhile the title character of a series in a rival British comic, appeared in a single panel of "Riders of the Range." There was also a story line about the outlaw Sam Bass.

Meanwhile, a rival comic featured "Billy the Kid" not as the historical outlaw but as a masked hero whose secret identity was William Bonney, thus modeled on the American comic book tradition of superheroes, masked avengers and costumed adventurers.

At secondary school, another pupil warned me, "The Eagle is a good comic but don't believe anything you read in it. I've heard the Editor is a Communist." In fact, he was a Church of England vicar and the earliest concept for Dan Dare had been as an RAF chaplain. The Eagle was so named because in an Anglican church, the Bible rests on a lectern in the shape of an eagle, the symbol of St John, as if in flight with the book on its wings.

Another regular character was "Luck of the Legion," a British man in the French Foreign Legion. I was concerned when a Marist Brother at my second primary school said dismissively that the strip was "lies." I was being indoctrinated that telling lies was seriously sinful and began to doubt the difference between lies and fiction.

The rules of my secondary school included "Comics and other childish papers are discouraged in boys over twelve." What did they know?

At home and at school, I was guilt tripped about reading:

comics instead of books;
about other religions instead of just about Catholicism;
science fiction instead of something else;
instead of doing something else.

Monday, 15 October 2012

The Boys III

Needless to say, Garth Ennis' The Boys is not ending as I would have guessed. There is still one issue to go but the big showdown between Butcher and Hughie is complete. Cleverly, Garth had them both physically incapacitated so that all that they were able to do for an entire issue was talk to each other. (Other comics showdowns end up as one big fight, of course.)

Butcher, supremely manipulative, got Hughie to do what he wanted by claiming to have committed just about the worst crime possible. And we did not know that he would not have done it.

We also see supreme manipulation going on with the other guys, the company that had been running the superheroes. Garth knows exactly how bad people can be to each other. 

The advertised cover of the concluding issue shows a final end for superheroes. Will that issue also have a happy ending for Hughie and Annie or will Garth give us something else? I really don't know.