What I thought of Glasgow Comic Con 2017

I’ve attended more comic conventions and marts as an ordinary punter rather than a dealer or publisher in the last three months than I have for the last 35 years.The latest is the Glasgow Comic Con (GCC) which is a well established con having started in 2011 and seemingly growing every year.

I’ve discussed often on this blog the state of British conventions and how they split into two; the San Diego multimedia type and the one where comics are still the primary focus. GCC falls firmly in the latter type which is good as the former comes with issues which I’m not going to spend too much time on but the main one is that there doesn’t seem to be much love for the comics medium itself at these shows. This cannot be said of GCC where creators ranging from small press to established creators rub shoulders, and they do rub shoulders as the venue (Royal Concert Hall) is simply impractical as the convention has simply outgrown it.

Take the dealers room. Not a huge selection of dealers but getting through the aisles was a chore, especially if you’re disabled as I am or if you’re in a wheelchair. Now this wasn’t anything as bad as the Bristol Comics Expo in 2014 which was frankly, fucking recklessly planned on part of the organisers but put it like this; I had more people bump into me nearly knocking me over in a day than I did during the week I was at Glastonbury. Now I don’t know if they can find a hotel, and I don’t know what the place is like since the refurbishment, but the Central Hotel did us right when we organised Glasgow’s first comic convention 32 years ago. Whether it can be got for the right price is another matter but I can’t see the current venue being practical in the long term.

This aside, the convention is astonishingly professionally run. Far too many cons have staff who seem to have no skills in actually dealing with people, but this wasn’t the case here as a one-day con fairly rattled through a programme of talks featuring 2000AD creators such as Pat Mills and Fraser Irving, not to mention signings from John Wagner, Jamie McKelvie and Keiron Gillen.

The small press row/room endured the usual sub-superhero nonsense or elves (bloody elves!) I’ve been seeing in small press rooms going back decades but there was enough originality not to mention talent on display to suggest some of the folk there have a career in an industry which is utterly unforgiving and brutal. Look though to Gillen and McKelvie. I remember the Bristol con in the early 2000’s where they launched Phonogram as a sharp injection of thrilling originality from two talents who were ahead of the game. it was a breath of fresh air to see creators try hard to make something new and that for me is your gold standard if you’re an aspiring creator in the 21st century. Superheroes and fantasy are genres where you wade through them but if you do use those genres make it personal and most of all, good!

Highlight of the day was former UKCAC organiser Frank Plowright interviewing Pat Mills about all the things Pat likes talking about, though I must say Pat was very chilled when mid-90’s 2000AD was brought up.

Overall this is a nice medium sized one-day event that’s grown out of the venue and the one day and we need comics conventions that are still about comics, rather than media or cosplay. Let the megacons soak up that market and it’s nice to know all these years after a load of us kicked off Glasgow’s comic marts/cons in the 80’s that they’re still going strong today.

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Happy birthday 2000AD

40 years ago this week I had in my hands the first issue of a new weekly boy’s adventure comic called 2000AD. It had a shite free gift as was the way with comics back then.

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The first issue featured Flesh!, a story about time-travellers coming from the future to harvest dinosaurs to help feed the future population’s desire for meat which was eagerly lapped up by me who’d lapped up the gore-soaked pages of Action. Excitement had been built up for some time as after all, Action had been neutered, and thanks to some gloriously cheesy adverts I was dying to get my hands on 2000AD.

It may look cheesy to jaded 21st century eyes but this was brilliant and along with thousands of other kids we enjoyed the first issue, and looked forward to the second which promised a new strip called Judge Dredd which surely couldn’t be as fun as Flesh! or as bizarre as the revamped Dan Dare which was no longer tired and old, but a bit disco.Whatever it was, it looked like no other comic out there in 1977.

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Of course Judge Dredd was an instant favourite as what boy wouldn’t love an ultra-violent fascist as a role model?

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1977 was a transformational year for the UK as the Queen’s silver jubilee rubbed against the growth of the Punk movement, while in the background Thatcherism bubbled away Sauron-like waiting for its moment to strike. Thanks to Pat Mills (who acted as father and midwife to 2000AD) Punk was very much written into the DNA of 2000AD and new, younger artists like Mick McMahon epitomised that new ethic.

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The Golden Age of 2000AD lasted years. For me the first 500 issues are brimming with creativity and I can’t think of a comic ever published that was so consistent in what was still basically children’s comics.

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Yet as I got older I drifted from 2000AD, especially in the 1990’s when the comic published some utter shite like Mark Millar’s Robo-Hunter. Possibly some of the worst comics I’ve ever read. In the 90’s the comics seemed burdened with bad editorial decisions or more realistically, the editors in the latter part of the 1990’s didn’t have a clue how to do their jobs hence why the comic came close to extinction.

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Yet it was saved thanks to Rebellion who cleared out the baggage, stripped the comic back to something it was previously and was left facing the 21st century looking positive. 2000ad2000 So happy birthday 2000AD. You’ve seen me through most of my life and in your own way have helped shape it and all the bad days are hopefully behind you now, and here’s hoping for another 40 years of thrills.

40 years ago Action changed the face of comics forever

In the year 1976 British weekly comics were stuck in a rut. Roy was still of the Rovers, Commando Comics killed more Nazis than the Allies and Russians did in WW2, Billy still had his Boots, and the Boy’s Adventure Comic needed something to drag it kicking and screaming into the 1970’s. Publisher IPC had tried something different in 1975 when they let Pat Mills and John Wagner loose to create a new war comic called Battle Picture Weekly. More visceral than the 1950’s style of war comic published for decades in the UK, Battle sparked something in kids that read it, and with strips like Major Easy, Darkies War, Johnny Red and probably the finest comic strip published in British comics, Charley’s War, Battle made a name for itself but it was just a taster for what was to come.

In 1976 saw the next creation from the mind of Pat Mills. On Valentines Day 1976 Action was published for the first time and it’s effect on kids all across the UK was extraordinary.Myself, I never got on the bandwagon til the second issue because it had a cool picture of a shark on it and I nagged my mum to buy it for me as it had an iron-on transfer.

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I utterly LOVED that transfer. I also loved the fact that the cover stars were a tough looking bloke threatening to kick your face in by leaping off the cover and a shark called Hook Jaw that did things like this…

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To a horror film obsessed child this was gold dust. I could read violent, gory fun every single week for only seven pence an issue and the creators seemed to be talking to kids like me. Sure American superhero comics were fun, and the odd issue of Creepy or Eerie managed to sate my prepubescent urge for violence and gore but Action had a sense of humour decidedly British plus it seemed like the creators didn’t give a fuck about upsetting people. In that time just before Punk broke this was a revelation, especially to people far, far outwith the London bubble that Punk existed in at the time.

Imagine seeing this cover. You’d be insane not to buy it with your pocket money or pester your folks to buy it for you!

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For 36 glorious issues Action gave us the adventures of Dredger, a British secret agent that wasn’t bred on the fields of Eton; Death Game 1999, a Rollerball rip-off (all of Action’s strips were ”dead cribs” meaning the basic idea was lifted from a film of the time) given a outrageously more violent twist; Look Out For Lefty, a football strip unlike any other previously in British comics; Blackjack, a story about a boxer which is the first time a British comic had a black character as a lead; and of course Hook Jaw.

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Kids had found a Boy’s Adventure Comic that spoke to them in 1976. They owned it. Kids like me owned it. Kids like me ran out to the shops to buy it and read it first every week. I still read some of the other titles IPC and DC Thompson produced, but Action was something special and we knew it. Today with the internet it’s impossible to not find something that speaks to you, but in 1976 that wasn’t the case. Action was seismic. It changed everything, shook up the industry in the UK, proved Pat Mills was a genius and set the ground for IPC to commission a new science fiction comic called 2000AD that’d cash in on the projected SF boom that’d come from some film causing a buzz in America called Star Wars. If they got a good year out of it then they’d be happy. 39 years later 2000AD is still going strong.

Yet 2000AD would never have existed were it not for Action, nor would it have happened had Action not been banned with #36, though some copies of #37 were printed and indeed, one sold recently for £2555!

Once the likes of Mary Whitehouse had trained their eyes on Action and declared it morally bankrupt the game was up. Our comic was taken from us and although after a hiatus of a few months the comic did return it wasn’t the same. Dredger was a bit less course. Lefty was a bit nicer. Hook Jaw even ate people off-panel and only ever ate bad people. Everything kids like me loved was gone. Action limped on for a while before it was eventually absorbed into Battle, but by this point most people didn’t care.

Action’s legacy though is enormous. It gave birth to 2000AD. It pushed British comics on, and injected a rebellious Punk attitude into comics not to mention those that read those comics. It made us consider other things we’d never thought of before while enjoying heaps of violence and gore but it also showed to kids the power of the establishment in censoring something that threatened them. After all you can’t have kids reading comics that question authority that they can buy from anywhere? No, much nicer to go back to nice heroes.

2000AD managed to hide much of it’s rebelliousness in it’s SF settings, so it was ignored til it was too late to do anything about it. Action in that sense acts like a herald proclaiming the greater thing to come. Reading it today four decades on many of the strips don’t hold up. The scripting is clunky, not to mention flat, but when it shines, dear, god, it shines bright still. Hook Jaw especially is simply demented reading, even today nothing comes close to it.

I’d recommend searching out Martin Barker’s excellent book, Action – The Story of a Violent Comic for the comic’s history. Back issues are easy enough to come by, but complete runs of the essential 36 issues plus a summer special are harder to collect. Do so though because this is a vital bit of British comics history. For me it makes me feel like a wee boy enjoying the thrill of Hook Jaw devouring his next victim for the first time over and over again…..

My top 20 Comic Book films-7-Dredd

I did my top 20 horror and SF films last year, and found doing the lists to be more fun than expected, so in a massive bit of logic here’s my top 20 films adapted or inspired from comics. I need to point out I mean comics, not ‘superhero comics’ which is a lazy, and incorrect way to describe a wonderfully varied medium and it’d also cut out some bloody good films!

Previously, in this list at #20, X Men19The Crow18Heavy Metal, 17, Spider Man ,16The Avengers, 15Danger: Diabolik, 14The Dark Knight Trilogy , 13A History of Violence12Kick Ass , 11,Spider Man 2 , 10, Barbarella9, Batman Returns and 8, X Men 2.

The streets of Mega City One are a hard place in Dredd.

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This is the second attempt to bring John Wagner and Carlos Esquerra’s strip from 2000AD onto the screen and the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd film, which frankly, isn’t bad if you ignore Stallone as soon as he takes his helmet off. Thankfully no helmets of any shape or description come of Dredd’s head in this film, though heads do suffer a number of various injuries in the film.

Thankfully Karl Urban isn’t as vain as Stallone so he keeps the helmet on and does a virtually perfect job as Dredd, though the problem is that the film doesn’t have the satire on modern society that Wagner and other writers, chiefly Pat Mills and Alan grant, have filled the strip with over the years. In fact, Dredd feels in places a little bit like a John Carpenter action film which is a compliment, but again there’s none of the humour you’d see there. The first Judge Dredd film may have been mainly bollocks, but it at least captured the sense of fun of the comics and of course, the production design was vastly superior to Dredd, but that film had the money to spend, even if the script was awful.

The lack of humour and satire in Dredd aside, the film works perfectly as a Carpenter-esque stripped down action film with Judge Dredd and his rookie Judge Anderson trapped in a Cityblock (a skyscraper holding millions of people) fighting to get to the top and stop an evil drug lord. That’s the plot. It’s thin but it’s enough to hold down the film and get it to do what it needs to which is introduce a stripped down Judge Dredd for an international audience and it, mainly, works.

Sadly although it did well in the UK and some other parts of the world, the Americans went in their droves not to see this which is a pity considering the frankly awful action films that do well there.

Anyhow, it’s unlikely we’ll see a sequel, or indeed any future film featuring Judge Dredd, so enjoy this one.

Next up, have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?

My top 20 Comic Book films-13-A History of Violence

I did my top 20 horror and SF films last year, and found doing the lists to be more fun than expected, so in a massive bit of logic here’s my top 20 films adapted or inspired from comics. I need to point out I mean comics, not ‘superhero comics’ which is a lazy, and incorrect way to describe a wonderfully varied medium and it’d also cut out some bloody good films!

Previously, in this list at #20, X Men19The Crow18Heavy Metal, 17, Spider Man ,16The Avengers, 15Danger: Diabolik and 14, The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Number 13 is unlucky for some in David Cronenberg’s adaption of A History of Violence, based upon John Wagner and Vince Locke’s comic of the same name.

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A History of Violence is a hard film to watch if you’re the sort of person who believes violence solves nothing, or the person who thinks violence is a short cut to making things work. As a film it forces you, the viewer, to think and consider your own opinions so unlike a lot of films on this list where good and evil are drawn in large sweeping strokes, A History of Violence tells it’s story in small movements with the occasional sharp explosion of violence.

It’s an astounding film with any number of fantastic performances, especially from Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello as the couple central to the entire story, with a special word for a blinding Ed Harris performance. Also, Cronenberg is at the height of his game here as he makes events unfold with an increasing cold horror which is simply splendid. I’ve not went into plot, because frankly, this is a film best seen with as little prior knowledge as possible but be warned, it is brutal and it is violent but it’s a hugely rewarding film not to mention one which shows comics can inspire films which aren’t men in rubber outfits hitting each other.

On the subject of men in outfits hitting each other, next time it’s a kicking and a half..