Will Swear For Food
In keeping with this month’s theme I accuse four comic books of being guilty of promoting in me an inspiration to write.
I’m hard pressed to choose a formative moment from a collection of Marvel comics spanning over three decades. If I had to pin down the first germinating shoots of a writer’s awareness it would have been around Jim Shooter’s tenure on “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”. Jim’s legacy at Marvel is allegedly controversial; but to a small boy back in The Eighties reading the adventures of Captain America, The Vision, Scarlet Witch, Thor, Iron Man et al. the sudden improvement in quality and scope was mind blowing.
Gone was the villain a week formula and in came storylines that took over a year of real time to resolve, character arcs that involved spousal abuse, racism and even rape. I credit Jim Shooter for allowing comics to grow up about the same time I was ready to.
Unlike their American counterparts, there was always something slightly disquieting about UK comic books. Something challenging that jarred at the certainty of childhood. For example, in “2000AD” you had Nemesis the Warlock, whose grotesquely angular lines and alien morality were a far cry from the clear cut worlds of Marvel and DC. And of course, there was Judge Dredd a celebration of right wing, bully-boy authority. But that was before the maelstrom of my teenage years ripped down the walls of childish certainty; it was also before “Deadline Magazine”.
“Deadline” ran from 1988 to 1995 and did unto my vision of comic books what Punk wrought upon the blundering pomposity of Prog Rock. “Deadline” held nothing but disdain for superheroes and their black and white moral certitudes. Between its covers, comic strips had to vie with Indie Music and counter culture articles just to be noticed. It was a heady read for a young man trying to cobble together some sense of self from the world around him. “Deadline” was equal parts dangerous, subversive and sexy—as epitomised by Jamie Hewlett’s “Tank Girl” (yes, the guy who draws Gorrillaz). I hoped the mere act of reading (and being seen reading “Deadline”) would mean I was dangerous, subversive and sexy too
Still, despite a Marvel upbringing and an unabashed pride in the defiantly unique UK comic book scene I am a “DC: Vertigo” reader through and through. I love and collect this so called “mature reader” imprint with a devotion my Marvel-centric younger self would perceive as a betrayal. With such jaw breakingly magnificent series as “Hellblazer”, “Y – the Last Man”, “Lucifer”, “100 Bullets” and Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” to choose from I will single out Warren Ellis “Transmetroplitan” as my Vertigo zenith.
I remember precisely where I was when I read the first issue of “Transmetroplitan”. It was 1997; my friend and I ran a comic store called “Pandemonium”. Issue 1 flopped out of the latest stock consignment but never made it to our shelves. Warren Ellis would approve when I say it grabbed me by the balls. Think Hunter S.Thompson reporting on a Blade Runner dystopia and then shoot me with a bowel disruptor for cheapening the funniest, most insightful and well written comic series of the last decade with such an overused and clunky comparison. Transmet’s protagonist Spider Jerusalem should be a hero to all writers. His volatile satire and hard earned investigative reportage puts the tiny amount of hours I have bum in seat and fingers on the keyboard to shame … and he’s just a work of fiction, for Pete’s sake!
Finally, I want to include Terry Moore’s series “Strangers in Paradise” in this list, mainly because the concluding issue made me cry my guts out. But this is a sensible website about writerly things so you expect something a little more substantial than this author’s confession to being something of a wuss.
The truth is if I explain “Strangers in Paradise” as a romantic soap opera that helped me understand women characters like nothing before it, I fear the dangerous chic I was trying to cultivate reading “Deadline magazine” might be revoked. But, Terry Moore’s female voice and sublime portrayal of the feminine made me realise my written portrayal of women was nothing short of a crime. His character arcs evolved organically and reflected the complex and difficult lives of real women I saw all around me. Whereas my female protagonists were nothing but teenage fan-boy, wish fulfillment fodder.
“Strangers in Paradise” was a study of love and a masterpiece.