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.

The closest thing we have to a documentary about Action

Action is the legendary British comic that was essentially the precursor of 2000AD thus cementing its history as one of the most influential comics ever published in the UK. With 2000AD being 40 this year, and Action celebrating its 40th anniversary last year we’re getting further and further away from an important piece of comics history.

Imagine then my joy at stumbling across a number of videos on You Tube with interviews from Jack Adrian, Ramon Sola and Pat Mills. It looks as if an Action documentary was being made but these tantalising wee snippets are all we have of it which is a shame as it really is a piece of comics history which needed documenting like this.With Titan Comics publishing new Hook Jaw comics it seems relevant to document this now for the next generations. I’ve included in this blog all the clips I could find but if anyone finds or knows more feel free to point it out on the comments.

What I thought of Hook Jaw #1

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I loved Action when I was a kid.and like any sensible child I lapped up the gory thrills of Hook Jaw, the star of the comic which happened to be a vicious man-eating shark. Writer Pat Mills managed to capture young minds easily and now in the last days of 2016 comes Si Spurrier and Conor Boyle’s revamp courtesy of Titan Comics and their tale of a group of scientists held hostage by some pretty crap Somalian pirates.

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These pirates are essentially just fodder for a rescuing group of American navy SEALS and of course, Hook Jaw, whose presence is teased for much of this first issue.

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And all this first issue is really is about Spurrier setting up a cast of mainly disposable characters who’ll be eaten, or horribly killed by the gang of sharks who by the end of the first issue have already started chomping through a disposable cast of Navy SEALS.

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Hook Jaw is a gloriously fun revamp of a character mainly middle aged men look back at fondly. It isn’t too complex, but this doesn’t matter as its all about the creeping menace and of course, a giant man-eating shark that doesn’t give a fuck about who it eats. Welcome back Hook Jaw!

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…..

Why you need to read Charley’s War

It’s 100 years since the start of World War One and there’s ceremonies commemorating it flooding the TV and the news. Most of these programmes discuss the dead soldiers who died but the pomp and glamour of royalty from across Europe mixing with political leaders seems somewhat inappropriate when it was royalty and political leaders who sent millions from all sides to their deaths.

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Charley’s War by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun isn’t just the finest comic you’ll ever read about the life of soldiers in WW1, but it’s one of the finest comics ever. It’s a fantastic work of art which although it appeared in a children’s comic (Battle Picture Weekly) initially, that doesn’t mean this is childish. Far from it. You’ll be hard pushed to get a more realistic vision of the war than this comic and for me as a kid, it provided me with an education in regards WW1 and pushed me into a library to find out more.

Charley’s War is sad, tragic, horrible, but still finds time to be funny and yes, even a wee bit heroic but not in the sense that Charley storms the Hun with a gun in each hand type of heroism, but small acts of heroism and humanity. The fact that Mills fills even a passing character with some level of realism which makes them human is astonishing, We may not like them, or we root for them but they feel real and that’s astonishing in a genre like war comics which was, and still is rooted in jingoism and bland heroics.

It’s also the first time I understand what Shell Shock was, or understood the trauma of war which was brilliantly drawn by the late Joe Colquhoun.

Mills and Colquhoun didn’t shirk on the horror or it’s affects on the soldiers, including the lead character Charley as can be seen in this scene which is still disturbing to me decades after I first read it.

So as you sit down to watch the services, or read how royalty and political leaders lay down wreaths in their finest clothes, think about the actual cost to human life on the Allied and German sides. Think about how some politicians and academics are whitewashing WW1 to be a glorious and needed war when what it did was set up another World War which ended millions more lives.

Charley’s War is available is a series of collected editions from Titan Books, and I suggest getting them not just as an antidote for some of the jingoism being displayed by some, but so you get to read one of the finest war comics, and finest comic strips ever.

My Top 20 SF Films-15-Rollerball

I’ve recently dived into doing ”best of’ lists, so as I’ve explained, I’ve decided to do my top 20 SF films. This is my personal list, so feel free to disagree with it and of course, you’ll be horribly wrong.

Previously at # 20, The Matrix19, Seconds, 18A Boy and His Dog17Sunshine and 16, Dark Star.

At #15 it’s the sport to end all wars, it’s the fantastic Rollerball.

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Rollerball tells the story of the far-future (well, in 1975 it was) of 2018 where corporations have become so dominant that they control the world. Hah, as if corporations would become so powerful that they’d supplant everything democratic!

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Anyhow, a new sport, Rollerball, has replaced wars as the way to become dominant for a corporation, plus it helps the controlling companies show the people that individual effort is utterly pointless. Entering into this is James Caan’s character, Jonathan E, the most well known player in the game. E has become so successful the corporation owning his team, Houston, can no longer reward him so wanting him retired they offer him an easy way out which he refuses. Not wanting E to become a hero to the people the corporations change the rules of Rollerball to become even more brutal so they can force E out one way or another….

Rollerball is a odd animal. It’s a highly intelligent commentary upon where the writer, William Harrison, saw America and the world heading while being a pretty brutal action film that doesn’t at all glamourise any of it’s violence as it shows it in all it’s sickening reality. Norman Jewison’s direction is crisp and clear, though although the film sticks to the shiny, glossy vision of the future common of a lot of SF films of the era, it shows the realities of what is a dystopian future which hasn’t involved a nuclear war or some great cataclysmic event. This is something even today filmmakers find it hard to do but in 2013 as i write this the idea of a future where corporations suppress and control the people of the world is more real, not to mention more scary than nuclear war and that’s bloody scary.

The pace of the film is slow compared to 2013 sensibilities, but this works for the film as it slowly burns to the final game and the brutal outcome of that game. Ignore the dreadful sequel, watch this as it’s still a brilliantly smart bit of SF that’s vastly better than the majority of it’s peers.

It also influenced Pat Mills to rip it off as Death Game 1999 for Action, a weekly comic published in the 1970’s. That’s worth a mention as it follows the same themes as the film, but everything is even more cynical and brutal. It’s great fun!

Next time, bring some LSD…..