Sunday, 4 June 2017

If rain makes Britain great, then Manchester is Greater

I didn't want to write this.


My usual thing is picking up some old British comic and mocking it from my smug, high-minded, 21st century libtard perspective.

The last time I had to write about something serious it was because cartoonists were attacked. Which came within my purview.

Now, I know you don't need some idiot blogger telling you that terrorism is bad. Or even that you feel it more when it happens close to you. You are a human.

I mean, probably. I don't know. I could set a Captcha here to test you, but I'm willing to trust.

Anyway, the attack in Paris in January 2015 was specifically against artists. Which felt personal. 

Then on the 22nd of May 2017 a suicide bomber walked into a music venue in Manchester and killed 22 people.

Now that really felt personal.

I was born in Manchester and spent almost all of my life here. I love this city and have studied its amazing history.

Also: a friend of mine works at the Manchester Arena and was alarmingly close to the blast, escaping with nothing more than cuts.

I really like that guy. He makes awesome cosplay weapons.

So why not write about it?

Two things: This is a comics blog.
Should I crowbar in a link to the comics history of Manchester and say it's relevant? Seems a bit naff.

And everyone else wants to seem like they care. No, I mean it, really care. So what if I do?

However I do care. Enough to want to scream at people. And out of all the things I do, this is the platform with the largest audience.

(Brilliant 80s comic Oink! was conceived by people mostly from the Manchester area, including Marc Riley and Tony Husband)

On the day after the attack, here was my response on the Facebooks: 
Yep. I'm old enough that I primarily use Facebook. And I've now given you my real name. And left in the number of likes and shares, desperately hoping they'll impress you, internet stranger.

(Marc Riley created Harry the Head and Dr Mooney (he's completely looney) but is best known as a DJ for Radio 1 (as Lard,co-presenter with Mark Radcliffe) and now 6 Music and can be seen with Bowie and Viz here)

Manchester's history is truly impressive. 

(Tony Husband is probably best known for creating Yobs for Private Eye but was also responsible for Horace "Ugly Face" Watkins and the weekly cartoon in the free paper we used to get)

The character of this city is built on standing up to authority and protecting the weak.

(Current Beano artist Kev F Sutherland lives here and runs comic art masterclasses for schools. He also performs regularly as The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre)

It's where Engels wrote his treatise on the conditions of the working class, Emmeline Pankhurst began the suffrage movement and Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange.
(The cartoonist Adam Caldwell recorded four years of his life here in his web comic "The Everyday". In at least one he drew himself in my regular comic shop, talking to my friends. The very shop where I bought the printed issues of The Everyday)

It's where the industrial revolution began. Something which changed the world forever. It's also where Rutherford split the atom and Babbage built the first computer. We're also quite proud of graphene.
(In the Marvel Universe, the Manchester Gods appeared in the Arthurian realm of Otherworld demanding that realm should change and modernize. Camelot and Avalon had remained stuck millennia behind the Britain it was meant to represent. They created various sites of mystical power across the UK, in Manchester it is at the Hacienda and in Northampton it's in Alan Moore's greenhouse)

During the American Civil War the people of Manchester stood opposed to slavery and in favour of emancipation, in spite of knowing that it would drive up the cost of cotton, the main resource on which the city depended. Abraham Lincoln himself wrote a letter to the people here which can be read on his statue in Lincoln Square today.

(In the DC Universe Manchester Black is a cocky little gobshite who is the leader of a superhero team called The Elite. Intended as a commentary on The Authority they stood opposed to Superman and his "old fashioned" method of superheroing.)

In 1819 fifteen people were killed and hundreds more injured at a political rally the became known as Peterloo. It inspired Shelley to write "The Masque of Anarchy" and cartoonist George Cruikshank to create a pamphlet called "The Political House That Jack Built".

(It sold over a hundred thousand copies and was created using a new printing technique which combined wood (used for printing images) and metal (for text) presses which saved costs and enabled a much wider distribution. For the first time in history words and pictures appeared on paper together)

1996 an IRA bomb took out a sizeable chunk of Manchester town centre without stopping us getting on with our lives. We got a much nicer Arndale Centre out of it. I still miss the Corn Exchange, mind. There's a plaque on this defiant post box.
(There was a Manchester-based artist working for DC comics at the time whose work on the latest issue of Robin was being posted back to New York (imagine a time when we relied on the postal service for such things!) and got delayed due to being in that post box. There was an editorial in DC comics of the time about it. However I can't find any record of it now and am cruelly separated from my 90s collection at the moment so can't look it up. If anyone knows who the artist was, please tell me in the comments)

A spirit of defiance is what binds this city. 
While the Bee has become the symbol associate with the recent tragedy - there's an amazing amount of beautiful graffiti art that's popped up around town incorporating it and everywhere I go I see tattoos and t-shirts - I prefer to stick with my choice of Manchester's patron saint: Maharajah to elephant.

Seen here in a painting by Heywood Hardy called "The Disputed Toll", Maharajah was walked from Edinburgh to Belle Vue zoo after an altercation on the train he was meant to ride there in.

I won't go through his whole story here but it is fascinating. Suffice to say stories of his journey became legendary, particularly what happened at that toll gate, and he was given a hero's welcome and declared Mancunian.
In 2015 the artist Oliver East recreated the walk Maharajah took and produced a graphic novel of his journey called "Take Me back to Manchester". I haven't read it yet because I've been working on my own version of the story. You can find his work here.

Thank you for everything Manchester. We love you.

I didn't even mention the music or the sport. 

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Pepe the Frog is dead

Rest in peace, Pepe the Frog, a character I knew barely anything about.

Our story begins in 2005, a bizarre lost time when Myspace was a thing. And it was on that ancient parchment that an American cartoonist called Matt Furie first published a strip created in Microsoft Paint called Playtime, Furie developed the strip and refined it into a webcomic with the name Boy's Club.
It's a humour strip about four flat-sharing anthropomorphic animals. I can best describe it as stoner humour. The type of jokes you'd get on an Adult Swim cartoon of the same period. 12oz Mouse, say or Assie McGee.
Anyway, Pepe sort-of becomes the breakout character.
In particular there was one strip with Pepe piddling with his pants down that caught fire.
That "Feels good man" was the image of Pedro that took on a life of its own after being shared on certain websites. Myspace, Gaia Online and in particular (drum roll) 4chan. The original being obscure enough he soon gained the name "Feel Good Frog" for easy identification.

Many users started putting Pepe in posts to suggest mood and he very quickly became a (dramatic chord) MEME!
Sure enough there came variants on the meme such as a variant with the mouth inverted to be... Feels Bad Frog.
From there Pepe was put into all kinds of scenarios and moods to suit the posters' whims. Soon, Feels Good and Feels Bad were joined by other variants, including Angry Pepe, Sad Frog, Smug Frog and Well Meme'd.

Webcomics have been particularly susceptible to being twisted and "meme'd" in this way. Obviously. it's much easier to share images posted online to other sources and when one hits with the zeitgeist it can catch fire. Sometimes literally as with the This is Fine Dog.
This image from KC Green's Gunshow (also the origin of Dickbutt) became widely shared from 2014 onwards because it fitted in with a feeling of general malaise in Western society. Something was deeply wrong and we were all pretending it wasn't. Here's the full strip for context.
There came a point, however, when Pepe was co-opted by those with a more sinister agenda.
As the image became more popular, being used by such figures as Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry, so the need to subvert it further grew.

4chan users started selling "rare" Pepe images, highlighting the absurdity of calling any art "rare" in the internet age.

Then in September 2016 the world's media noticed how Pepe had become a symbol of the then-new wave of political activist we'd come to know as the alt-right.
Trump supporters started using it, especially after a 4chan user called Sean Lewandowski was ejected from a Hillary Clinton rally after shouting "Pepe!" during a pause in her speech after mentioning the alt-right (he also managed to namecheck before being removed).

Clinton's own website posted a piece that called Pepe "a symbol associated with white supremacy" and after Hillary herself called the alt-right a "basket of deplorables" this image appeared: 
Using the poster from The Expendables, its intention was to make various figures associated with the alt-right look like heroes. There you can see the Trump-ified version of Pepe as well as Donald Trump Jr who was so chuffed to be included he posted it on his Instagram.
The Anti-Defamation League categorised Pepe as a hate symbol and he was suddenly everywhere. 

Pepe's creator, Furie, has not been terribly impressed by this turn of events. A character from an apolitical humour strip becoming something akin to a swastika is not what he wanted.

Last Saturday was Free Comic Book Day (the most wonderful time of the year) and among the pile I collected from my friendly neighbourhood comics shop (honestly, I remember when there were four comics available at this thing, now there are too many to carry) was Fantagraphics' World's Greatest Cartoonists.
I was delighted to see this. Fantagraphics are pioneers of comics and cartoons as art. As well as curating classic cartoons in the perfect form (their Peanuts collections are among the favourite things I own) the continue to publish works by today's best artists. I picked this up being delighted by the promise of a strip by Jason as well as reading other strips by creators I didn't yet know. 

It seems all the work in this one-off comic was commissioned especially for Free Comic Book Day and featured a delightful range of styles. 

Then came to single page by Matt Furie. It seems the best way to fight the growing monster of Pepe was to kill him off in no uncertain terms. Here, presented in full is the Boy's Club wake for Pepe. 
And that's it. No more Pepe.

In the commentary at the end of the book Furie says: "Boy's Club is about friendship. We are all going to die so remember to treat your friends nicely and give them lots of hugs."

Amen to that.

RIP Pepe 2005-2017

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Doctor Who: The dream crossovers

This might well be the nerdiest thing I ever write...

As I have established, I love a good crossover. When characters from different pop culture franchises meet. The weirder the better. I've just read a story where Batman meets Top Cat for example.

I love comics. Obviously. I'm also a huge fan of science fiction in other media and this is largely because of my childhood love of Doctor Who.

I love The Doctor. A hero who thinks his way out of trouble rather than fights. Except when the writer prefers him to fight.

And I've read his adventures in comics since I was a child.

One of the earliest I read was a crossover with alien robot bounty hunter freelance peacekeeping agent Death's Head, who spent a year bouncing around the Marvel UK titles for publicity purposes

Along the way he met Dragon's Claw, Transformers and the Fantastic Four before settling down in the Marvel 616 universe. So The Doctor is technically part of the Marvel Comics multiverse.

In 1993 he interacted with cast members of Eastenders in a Children in Need Special we don't speak of.

There are other minor crossovers. It's strongly implied in the TV show that the universe is shared with The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, for example. And Michael Moorcock put his character Jerry Cornelius into his Who novel The Coming of the Terraphiles. The strip in Doctor Who Magazine has occasionally put characters like Captain Britain or Steed and Mrs Peel into background details but the only full-on crossover so far (not including crossovers with spin-off shows and strips) has been with Star Trek in IDW's rather fun 2012 comic Assimilation Squared in which the Eleventh Doctor, with Amy and Rory, arrives on board the Enterprise D in the middle of a Dixon Hill holodeck story believing they are in 1930s Chicago.

The story plays out with the Doctor and the Next Generation crew encountering a collaboration between the Borg and the Cybermen which leads to a flashback featuring the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker model) teaming up with Kirk's Original Series crew. I love that kind of stuff.

Anyway, with that in mind I've been thinking about which other properties and character's I'd like to see Doctor Who cross over with. So I've devised a list, using every Doctor and trying to keep the crossover reasonably contemporaneous. Some of them are a bit of a stretch but it's fairly in keeping. I've outlined some story ideas along the way. I've also tried to avoid the super-obvious, so no Blake's Seven or Sherlock.

The First Doctor (William Hartnell)


Steptoe and Son

My reasoning here is entirely based on rag-and-bone-man (I'm only human after all). My pitch would be a story set before the first episode (a time rarely explored, there's only that one Telos novella that's set then I think) when the Doctor is looking for a place to lay low. He reasons that he'd be unmolested in a junkyard but picks one owned by a squabbling father and son. I imagine a scene where Harold start hitting on granddaughter Susan and the Doctor tells him to back off, calling him a "dirty old man" much to Albert's amusement. Then Susan reveals her actual age and shocks Harold. A plan is hatched to take the "police box" to another junkyard on Totter's Lane.

The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton)


The Prisoner

Touching down in a mysterious village which the Tardis navigational controls cannot identify (is something keeping it off the maps?), the Doctor and Jamie are cut off from their vehicle by a weird possibly-sentient bubble. Worried they may never leave they team up with a moody village native who also seems very keen to escape. The stranger has been investigating other strange goings on and suspects other villagers, including the ruling "Number Two" are somehow being mind-controlled. The Doctor discovers that there are Macra in the sea nearby!

The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee)


Scooby Doo

Yeah, that's right. Nobody more embodies the spirit of belief in rationalism over superstition than the Doctor and no-one loves putting on a mask to trick people more than the Master. This one writes itself. I want a fake-out scene with someone wearing a mask of the Master too. There would also be a scene with Jo Grant grooving out with Shaggy.

The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker)


Hammer's Dracula

Now Tom Baker was the Doctor for long enough that we could use different eras for different styles of story-telling but my own preference is the season of Gothic horror. Along with Leela the Doctor investigates a series of brutal murders in 19th century Europe. Along the way they encounter a whole world of horrors, including a patchwork creature that reminds him of Morbius and thing known as "The Reptile"!

The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison)



Yep. Now, I'm no fan of the TV sitcom ALF (it's utterly terrible) but the Marvel comic spin-off was really good fun (y'know, for kids). It was, at heart about a family. And no other Doctor had a family. I'm imagining an attempt to take ALF to his home planet before it was destroyed. And the attempt is thwarted by Cybermen who try to destroy the Tardis with a massive weapon which Adric takes control of and flies it into Melmac instead.

K9 and Company


Metal Mickey

I mean Metal Mickey is even worse than ALF albeit a similar premise however in my story they team up with all the early 80s rubbish robots. The Green Cross Code robot, the one from the Goodies, Timothy Claypole's cleaning robot, Evil Edna, 7 Zark 7, the vending machine from A Grand Day Out. Who knows?

The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker)


Red Dwarf

Now the Sixth Doctor's TV stories were full of super-violent satire but his comic-strip self was also accompanied by a shape-shifting penguin called Frobisher. The Doctor arrives on Red Dwarf during Rimmer's holo-virus induced insanity and Frobisher convinces him that he is the real Mr Flibble. After curing him Frobisher contracts some of the symptons and the crew find themselves at the mercy of another polymorph. At the end Rimmer's mind is wiped so he does not know aliens exist.

The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy)


The Pink Windmill Show

Now, hear me out. I love the McCoy era of Who but fans always focus on the dark, manipulative schemer part of his tenure. At the start it was an attempt to take the show back to being kids show with a guy who could juggle and play spoons. For once we should embrace that. Also it's easy to forget just how great Rod Hull was and the whole weird world he built up through various TV shows. I sincerely want a story where the Rani teams up with Grotbags to attack the Doctor and Emu. Mel would be there too, obviously, and there would be a song and dance routine that resolves the story. Roger Langridge should draw it.

The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann)


The X-Files

Okay, this is an obvious one. The 1996 TV movie tried very hard to ape the style of the show that was omnipotent in the 90s, so why not go with it? It would be 90s Mulder and Scully, I want to see Fox hitting on Dr Grace Hollway in way that makes it obvious that she's a substitute for Dana, while Scully pretends she doesn't care. And also pretends she doesn't find the Doctor sexy. Also Tooms is being used by the Nestene or something. It doesn't matter. The real story is the relationship stuff.

The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston)



This was one of the trickier ones. But imagine this: The Doctor and Rose are dragged to a mysterious island whereupon the Tardis loses all power (like in Planet of the Daleks) due to some strange magnetic disturbance. They encounter a group of people who are also trapped on the island and also have no idea what's going on. Ultimately the Doctor discovers the whole thing is a TV show run by the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe. There he discovers that the reason none of the people of island know what is happening is because none of the writers do either. Imagine some weird meta-textual commentary on TV storytelling. Like the Mojoverse.

This is the first show that has no official comic book or comic strip, so instead I picked some fan art from the brilliant Chip Zdarsky.

The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant)



A no-brainer, this. The sexy adventure-loving time lord chances upon the sexy adventure loving Mal and his crew. Thirty-something fangirls explode with delight. Story doesn't really matter but Donna is instant BFFs with Kayleigh.




A new threat to Los Angeles is in the form of an alien virus that will spread worldwide within... 24 hours! Only Jack Bauer and Captain Jack Harkness can stop it, with or without a team of Welsh investigators. There's a scene where Jack B tortures Jack H to reveal his full knowledge. He resists until death. Jack B walks out of the room and apologises to Gwen: "I'm sorry you had to see that". Gwen knows he'll just come back so shrugs it off.

The Sarah Jane Adventures


Grange Hill

Now, this one is not really contemporaneous, but taking advantage of the nature of the medium we could have a story where the kids find a rupture in time in their school that leads them to the classic era of Grange Hill. The timey-wimey stuff could bring in characters from different eras but I'd like to bring in the idea the Mr Bronson is a time-displaced Jagaroth, scattered through different time periods by the accident on Scaroth's ship. However he has no memory of who he is. He is Laurence Scarman in 1911. He is a school headmaster in 1963. He is Dr Summers in.. I dunno... the 70s? UNIT time is problematic. He is a school headmaster in 1985. He is Dr Darwin King in 1999. He is Rhos in 10,000,00 Ad and Mergrave and Lowe in other future times. He also may be... Hitler!?

The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith)


How I Met Your Mother


None of you were expecting that were you?

But consider this: No other show has worked as hard at playing with the time narrative as this. And Steven Moffat loves playing with time narratives. Go back to Press Gang or Coupling and you'll see that. I'm seeing a story that jumps about in time all over the place. Maybe the Doctor is moving that yellow umbrella all over New York at different times along with a mop and a fez. In comics terms expect a story like that time Mr Fantastic fought Dr Doom through time and you had to read the story twice, once in page order, then following the footnotes. This could be a massively confusing mess which would be true to both sources.

Also this has no comic strip equivalent either so here's a strip from my friend Paul Savage.

The Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi)


Rick and Morty

Oh Yeah! Wubbalubbadubdub! The perfect contemporary clash. There are Doctor analogues in the Rick and Morty comics but never mind that. This actual grandfatherly version of the Doctor is the perfect opponent to Rick. And I definitely want them to fight rather than team up. I don't even know whose side I'd be on. I feel like Bill and Morty would just make friends and stay out of it. Bill would probably try to get Morty help for his obvious mental problems,

That's your lot. Any comments or suggestions are gratefully received. Let me know what you would do.