Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Birth of Death by Jim Starlin

The Birth of Death
by Jim Starlin
from Star*Reach No. 1, April 1974

Although by 1974 he was regularly working for Marvel Comics, Jim Starlin nonetheless found time ro contribute a number of memorable black and white strips and color covers to the indie sf comic Star*Reach. 

This entry, from the inaugural issue of Star*Reach, is fully as 'cosmic' as any of Starlin's simultaneous work on Captain Marvel and Warlock for Marvel, as well as displaying an equally impressive level of draftsmanship.....for example, just how long did it take Starlin to draw each of the tiny outlined 'blebs' that make up the intricate stippling effect on the panel in the lower left-corner of page 4 ?!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book Review: Albion ! Albion !

Book Review: 'Albion ! Albion !' by Dick Morland

3 / 5 Stars

'Dick Morland' was one of several pseudonyms used by the British author Reginald Hill (1936 – 2012). Hill was a prolific author of crime fiction, with his ‘Dalziel and Pascoe’ series of novels his best-known works. He did write novels in other genres, including thrillers, suspense, and sf – of which ‘Albion ! Albion !’ is an example.

‘Albion ! Albion !’ first was published in the UK in 1974; this Faber and Faber paperback (221 pp) was issued in 1986.

The novel is set in a near-future (i.e., the early 1990s) UK. Morland posits that the economic travails of the 70s have, in the 80s, led to further breakdown of the social order, leading to ever more violent battles between small armies of football hooligans, the retreat of law and order, and the rise of a new class of politicians whose allegiance is to the football Clubs of their districts. By the early 90s, England’s increasingly enfeebled legal and political systems have been entirely overthrown, and the nation is divided into four quadrants.

Each quadrant is governed by a different soccer Club: these are the United, City, Wanderers, and Athletic. Senior fans who came of age in the 70s and 80s are in charge of the Clubs, and rely on loose teams of hardcore hooligans, christened ‘Strikers’, to maintain order via brutal beatings..... and, frequently, murder........

Most of the cities of England are trash-strewn wastelands where no one ventures out after dark, save those with a penchant for mayhem. The rest of Europe has severed all ties with England, and, along with the US, look upon Britain as a sort of bizarre experiment in populism gone terribly wrong.

As ‘Albion ! Albion !’ opens, a young journalist named Whitey Singleton, who lives as a British expatriate in the US, is aboard a jet liner traveling from Tokyo to the Sudan. Singleton devotes many of his columns and essays to criticizing the state of affairs in his birthplace, hoping to persuade the US and the European Union to intervene and restore law and order to England.

Unfortunately for Whitey, his plane is hijacked and diverted to Heathrow. There he is recognized by the Athletic Strikers, who have little respect for his criticism of their social order. Whitey is placed under arrest, beaten up, and sent to prison.

With the realization that his American citizenship and journalist’s credentials do little to deter the actions of the Club, Whitey recognizes that he will have to act on his own to escape the prison and find some means of leaving England. This decision will force him to make alliances with the very people his columns have railed against. But as Whitey Singleton is to discover, his allies have their own plans for him……..and, as it turns out, the future of England………..

As a near-future sf novel with an offbeat, imaginative premise, by and large ‘Albion ! Albion !’ succeeds.

The initial chapters of the novel are the best, as the reader shares Whitey’s disbelief and bemusement in coming to grips with the bastardized, ‘hoolie-meets-droog ‘ civilization that rules England. Somewhat inevitably for a narrative written by a crime novelist, the middle chapters tend to belabor various political intrigues taking place among the Clubs, and there are quite a few contrived twists and turns and double-double-crosses. Things do regain potency in the final chapters, including some passages that prefigure the real-life disasters (i.e., Bradford and Hillsborough) that beset the UK soccer scene in the 80s.

Those with a fondness for ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and other visions of a dystopian future UK are going to want to have their copy of ‘Albion ! Albion !’.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Roy of the Rovers: The 1970s

Roy of the Rovers: The 1970s
Titan Books (UK) June 2009

Leave it to the Brits to produce a comic book about....soccer ?!

But a comic about soccer it was.....Roy of the Rovers began print in 1954 as a serial comic in the boy's magazine Tiger, before becoming its own comic book title in 1976. 

The series ceased publication in 2001, but it remains an indelible feature of British popular culture of the 19th century.

This large trade paperback from Titan Books compiles the two- to four- page episodes from the 'Roy of the Rovers' comic book, published by Fleetway on a weekly basis from the inaugural issue of September 25, 1976, to June 2, 1979. While credits are not printed in the strips nor in this compilation, the scripts apparently were written mainly by Tom Tully, and the art was done by David Sque.

[The book's content was derived from scans of those 1970s - era pages, so the reproduction of the comics is not hi-fidelity.]

Also reproduced are selected advertisements and articles appearing in the comic book.

For American readers, at least, some of these features border on the surreal....take for example this group photo of 'Elton's Lads', with Elton John and Rod Stewart posing in the front, and Bill Oddie - one of the cast in the great 70s UK TV comedy The Goodies - standing in the back....!

Roy Race played the striker position for the fictional team of Melchester. In addition to the intense action on the soccer field, additional drama was generated from Roy's conflicts with referees, management, and teammates. 

Social issues also intruded into Roy's world of good sportsmanship; several episodes dealt with the effects hooliganism was having on the action on and off the pitch:

Some stories can be seen as an acknowledgement of the increasingly fractious state of society throughout Europe. For example, in one episode, bad behavior by a player from the Swedish 'Zalmo' squad triggers some 'aggro' on the pitch....... but Roy's innately British sense of fair play and sportsmanship defuse the situation, and draw grudging admiration from a disbelieving police:

All in all, even if you're not a particularly ardent fan of soccer / football, 'Roy of the Rovers: The 1970s' is an interesting look at the UK of that era....and for some Brits of certain age groups, I imagine the advertisements will bring on some degree of nostalgia......?!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Fix by Pepe Moreno

'The Fix' by Pepe Moreno
Epic Illustrated No. 30, June 1985

Another offbeat tale from Pepe Moreno...this one features some black humor regarding the 'fix'.........

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: Hoolies

Book Review: 'Hoolies' by Gary Bushell

4 / 5 Stars

‘Hoolies’ (289 pp) was published in 2010 by John Blake Publishing Ltd (UK).

Bushell (b. 1955) first began writing in the 1970s, for the ‘Socialist Worker’ newspaper, and the rock magazine ‘Sounds’, before branching out into multiple roles as a member of the punk band ‘Gonads’, a manager for the band ‘Cockney Rejects’, and stints as a late-night TV show host, newspaper columnist, and author of crime novels. A full listing of his endeavors can be accessed at his website.

‘Hoolies’ is misleadingly subtitled ‘True Stories of Britain’s Biggest Street Battles’. Only a fraction of the book’s content deals with actual battles involving ‘hooligans’; the bulk of ‘Hoolies’ is in fact a history of music, and pop culture, in Britain from the mid-70s to the early-90s.

The book’s chapters are organized in a loosely chronological order, and recount the rise of the ‘Teds’ in the 1950s, moving on to the Mods in the 60s, the Punks in the 70s, and New Romantics in the 80s. 

Like most rock critics of his era (i.e., the late 70s – early 80s), Bushell wrote not to inform readers about music, but rather, to impress them with his matchless erudition regarding obscure bands, obscure sub-sub-sub categories of music, and – last but not least – his Profound Observations On Society. 

I suspect most American readers of ‘Hoolies’ are going to be nonplussed by Bushell’s meticulous recitations of bands, music halls, fashion, and personalities…..all related in a sort of faux-UK Hipster argot that can make the book a real chore to wade through at times. 

Some idea of Bushell’s writing style is communicated in this (my own) pastiche:

Later that August, I caught the Snotty Youth’s first on-stage gig when they appeared at the Ridgely Pub, a dire hole in the East End. Showing up for support were members of the Hamish Street suedeheads, led by ‘Pilchard’ Watt-Evens, Micky G., Daft Donald, Jeff Symes, and the ever-beloved ‘Shrimps’ Comberly. Despite audio troubles, a truly hellish khazi, and continuous streams of remarks from some truculent Skinheads looking to start a ruck, the abrasive, withering music of the Youth left even the most dedicated, oh-so-bored posers impressed.

US readers also will have to endure Bushell's tendency throughout the text to continuously insert self - references to his status as a fighter against racism, fascism, an ardent supporter of the working class against rapacious capitalism, etc., etc. Whether Bushell's posturings reflect a deeply-held moral solidarity with the Oppressed Proletariat, or were simply contrived efforts at Radical Chic, will be up to the reader to determine.

Where ‘Hoolies’ will appeal to U.S. readers is in its 'insider', I-was-there coverage of the music movements of the 70s and 80. Where else will you learn that, if you went to the Blitz Club in Covent Garden in 1979, you would see among the patrons such future MTV stalwarts as: Helen Folasade Adu, aka Sade; the late Steve Strange of the group 'Visage'; Stuart Leslie Goddard, aka Adam Ant; Midge Ure of 'Ultravox'; 'Boy' George O’Dowd; and the members of (what would become) Spandau Ballet ?

‘Hoolies’ is also of value for providing information on a host of bands that are (likely) new and unexplored to U.S. readers. 

For example, I’d never heard of the punk band Sham69, but after listening to their great song ‘Hurry Up Harry’, I have begun searching out their other works. Throughout the pages of ‘Hoolies’, Bushell describes a whole ecology of underground bands from the late 70s to early 90s: Secret Affair, Purple Hearts, the Killermeters, Bad Manners, Selector, the Blood, Crass, Peter Hooton's 'Farm'….Not all are worth listening too, but one can spend hours looking up these bands on the web. 

The tales of street fighting, when they do make their rare appearances, are entertaining; possibly the best in the book is the ‘Battle of Waterloo’ brawl that took place in 1992 at the eponymous rail station. 

A coalition of communists and Marxists (or, as Bushell piously refers to them, ‘anti-fascists’), hoping to force the cancellation of a major skinhead concert, attacked and badly beat a smaller force of skinheads, after which the communists loitered around the station grounds in poses of triumph. 

But what the commies didn’t know was that the small force of bruised skinheads was but a sacrificial lure.....and trainloads of football hooligans would soon be arriving.........!

The penultimate chapter in 'Hoolies', titled 'Blowing in the Wind: Youth Cult Politics' is probably the best in the book. In this chapter, an older and wiser Bushell looks back on the youthful idealism that permeated many of the movements in fashion, music, and politics of the 70s and 80s, and comes to conclusions heavily tinged with cynicism.

Summing up, 'Hoolies', despite giving only marginal attention to street battles per se, is a worthwhile overview of a very creative and entertaining era in British popular culture. If you are over 40, and remember the 70s and 80s with fondness, then this book is worth getting.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Heavy Metal magazine May 1985

'Heavy Metal' magazine May 1985

May, 1985. In heavy rotation on FM radio, and on MTV, is 'Don't You (Forget About Me)' by Simple Minds.

The latest issue of Heavy Metal magazine features a front cover by Liberatore, and a back cover by Michael Uman.

The Dossier section has a number of noteworthy columns. 

Leading off is a (disappointingly brief) interview with William Gibson, with a photograph of the author - at that time fast becoming a sf rock star - in which he looks very much like the British musician Thomas Dolby.....Gibson makes a remarkably accurate prediction in the final sentence of the interview.


Thomas Dolby

 Lou Stathis switches from 'rok' criticism to coverage of underground comix. But he stays as pretentious as ever.

The Video column features some films that are quite obscure.... I have never heard of any of these............'Fleshburn' ?! 'Night of the Bloody Apes' ?!

The remaining Dossier contents runs the gamut of sf and comic reviews, to an encounter with a Dominatrix (!) that in all likelihood was fabricated. But you be the judge.

Among the comic / graphic art content in this May issue of Heavy Metal : the next installment in Charles Burns's 'El Borbah: Bone Voyage' is posted below.....