Acid Bombs From Little Hatches (The Last War in Albion Part 38: D.R. & Quinch, O.C. & Stiggs, Juvenile Delinquency)


This is the fourth of six parts of Chapter Six of The Last War in Albion, covering Alan Moore's work on Skizz and D.R. & Quinch  for 2000 AD. An ebook omnibus of all six parts, sans images, is available in ebook form from AmazonAmazon UK, and Smashwords  for $2.99. If you enjoy the project, please consider buying a copy of the omnibus to help ensure its continuation. The Last War in Albion now also has an imageblog on Tumblr

The stories discussed in this chapter are available in the collections Skizz and The Complete D.R. & Quinch.

Previously in The Last War in Albion: Alan Moore's first recurring feature for 2000 AD, Skizz, was a mixed success, but his second, D.R. & Quinch, featuring an anarchic and psychotic pair of alien delinquents, was an altogether more popular endeavor.

"He dropped acid bombs from little hatches in the base of his testicles." - Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan

Figure 284: Randall Schwab Jr. discovering the Uzi left
for a wedding present.
The second major influence is the National Lampoon’s recurring feature O.C. and Stiggs, an influence that D.R. & Quinch largely wears on its sleeve, or, at least, in its title. Like D.R. & QuinchO.C. and Stiggs tells the story of two socially maladapted college students and their mayhem-causing adventures. For instance, at the start of their most iconic adventure, The Utterly Monstrous, Mind-Roasting Summer of O.C. and Stiggs, which took up the entire October 1982 issue of the National Lampoon, the narrator, O.C., describes “the small inconvenience of having to attend the wedding reception of Schwab's sister, Lenora, a totally white-skinned harpist and ballet deviate with nostrils that look like old-fashioned key holes, who never appears anywhere without a ribbon on her somewhere, usually on her head, and usually four or five of them.” He goes on to explain that “because Lenora was so artistic and withdrawn and delicate, and totally unable to function anyplace where there were any people or any windows or anything else that might suck her into a connection with the world, me and Stiggs got her an Uzi submachine gun for a wedding present, with a twenty-round clip and a detachable stock.” This turns out to be a prime example of starting as one means to go on. 

Once again, the obvious difference is in the sort of technology, although if one is being honest the presence of submachine guns already puts O.C. and Stiggs in a class closer to D.R. & Quinch than Dennis the Menace. But on the whole, O.C. and Stiggs takes a markedly different approach than D.R. & Quinch. Where D.R. and Quinch revel fairly purely in the destruction they cause, largely seeing it as an end in itself, O.C. and Stiggs are visibly motivated by an outright hatred for the people they harass. When D.R. and Quinch take revenge on someone it is inevitably because that person has done something terrible to them like kick them out of school or say mean things about them at a legal hearing. More often, however, they simply cause destruction for its own sake. O.C. and Stiggs, on the other hand, are arbitrarily malicious towards people. For instance, they describe the main target of their antics, Randall Schwab Jr., as “the most uncoordinated, whining, unacceptable goon in existence. Me and Stiggs have been torturing him and his family for over half of our lives. This is for two simple reasons: 1) he lives close to us, 2) he has an enormous head.” It is not, of course, that expelling them from school for their hidden cache of weapons is a good reason for D.R. and Quinch to take revenge on Dean Fusk, but there is at least a certain internal logic to it. O.C. and Stiggs, on the other hand, seem wholly capricious in their targets and antics. D.R. and Quinch either cause entirely purposeless, untargeted destruction, or they get back at people who have attempted to stand in the way of their doing that. O.C. and Stiggs just pick people they don’t like very much and torment them.

Figure 285: The sort of subtle racial humor typical of O.C. and
On top of that, O.C. and Stiggs has a rather nastier edge to its humor. They indulge in sexist, racist, and homophobic behavior at considerable length, describing characters as “the Sluts de Box Car” and “two totally maladjusted nymphos,” and describing things like a tuxedo store that’s “a 100 percent Negro operation, limited exclusively to colors, substances, and textures alluring to Negroes only,” neighboring “a filthy ethnic barbershop,” or, at one point, deciding to reenact bits of The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin, declaring that “Barney had to be Nigger Jim on our voyage, so we made him wear lots of black goo,” while “Stiggs refused to be Tom Sawyer, who, he said, was a homo pantywaist.” This results in an encounter with “some Indian cops sleeping in the bushes” who “wanted our beer, so we told them that the Negro owned the beer and he was making us drink it because he was afraid he would become an alcoholic if he drank alone. By the time they processed this in their highly mystical and alcoholic Indian minds, however, we had drifted out of range, so they resumed sleeping.” Certainly some of the humor is in precisely how awful all of these things are to say and in the degree to which O.C. and Stiggs 

Moore, unsurprisingly, does not go in for deliberate offensiveness of this sort. More to the point, where the central joke of O.C. and Stiggs is just how utterly horrible the main characters are as people, D.R. & Quinch is on the whole more sympathetic to its protagonists. As Moore puts it, “a lot of people identify with these two ugly acne-ridden alien individuals who find no greater fun in life than going around and bombing expensive foreign restaurants,” and with good reason: D.R. and Quinch are terribly fun. They are, at their core, sci-fi iterations of the anarchic youth Action foregrounded during its heyday in strips like Look out for Lefty and Kids Rule OK. It’s a strip about joyfully dealing outsized retribution to the established social order, and as such fits perfectly into 2000 AD in a way that Skizz, with its odd tension between its two goals, never quite could.

Figure 286: D.R. and Quinch blow up several emergent
life forms on Earth. (From "D.R. & Quinch Have Fun on
Earth," written by Alan Moore, art by Alan Davis, in
2000 AD #317, 1983)
Fueling this bite is Moore’s use of an unreliable narrator. A key part of the humor in D.R. & Quinch is the fact that what D.R. and Quinch say in their narration is not to be completely trusted. This is made clear in the first panel of the first story, when Quinch says, “I like guns and starting fights. My psychiatrist says I’m a psychotic deviant. But that doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, right?” The entire joke, of course, is that this is precisely what being a psychotic deviant who likes guns and starting fights means. And this sort of humor continues throughout the comic. When, for instance, Quinch describes how “we pulled over in the late pre-cambrian and checked out all the stuff that was starting to wriggle about in the radioactive mud. It was incredibly disgusting. But then, like D.R. said, ‘that’s life’,” the line is funny because D.R. is being more accurate than the narration recognizes: D.R. and Quinch are, at that point in the strip, literally examining and occasionally shooting the earliest forms of life on Earth. 

Figure 287: Much of the humor
of "D.R. & Quinch Have Fun on
Earth" comes from the various
historical events they turn out to
secretly be responsible for. (From
"D.R. & Quinch Have Fun on Earth,"
written by Alan Moore, art by Alan
Davis, in 2000 AD #317, 1983)
Of particular creative note is the fact that Moore is able to generate a subtly different sort of humor from the narration of each of his characters. “D.R. & Quinch Have Fun on Earth” is narrated by Quinch, and in it, as noted, the humor stems largely from Quinch’s earnest obliviousness to his own malevolence. The humor is largely down to the fact that Quinch honestly does not appear to have any understanding of the fact that he is an absolutely horrible person. But as a result, the reader is only ahead of Quinch on a moment-to-moment basis. That is to say, whenever Quinch comments on a given incident such as when “we tried to grab a couple of their planes with the tractor beam, to look at while we were cruising just off of Bermuda. But they were, like, really inferior merchandise, and they, like, fell to bits,” the reader understands that Moore is giving a fictitious explanation of the Bermuda Triangle even though Quinch does not. But when, at the end of the story, it turns out that the shape that D.R. and Quinch bombed the continents into provides an insult against Dean Fusk, this is not set up. The reader knows more than Quinch describes about any given thing, but Quinch’s tendency towards a simple, episodic narrative obscures the overall arc of things.

The pair’s second story, “D.R. & Quinch Go Straight,” has the same basic plot of “D.R. & Quinch Have Fun on Earth.” D.R. and Quinch are punished by an authority figure (a judge this time), and take elaborate revenge. In this case the plot is lifted more directly from The Utterly Monstrous, Mind-Roasting Summer of O.C. and Stiggs, specifically the incident towards the end of the story in which O.C. and Stiggs take elaborate revenge on one of their nemeses by opening a drug rehab clinic next door to his house, and the side character of Pulger, a “distressed war veteran” with an “alarmingly volatile condition” as “a result of his experiences during the recently-ended Ghoyogi Slime Jungle Wars,” which, in practice, means that he is the sort of person who, when invited “for a quiet holiday out in the suburbs,” asks for “a quad-engine Strato-Chopper and thirty air-to-ground warpedos for his personal use” - a character who is fairly clearly based on Howard Sponson, who O.C. describes as “Vietnam vet with roasted brains. He guards pot plantations and helps us out when we need stuff like Israeli machine guns and air-to-ground missiles.” But more important than the plot is the way in which the style of narration changes.

Figure 288: A major plot point in the second D.R. &
 story is the construction of Massacre House
right next door to the pair's nemesis... (From "D.R.
& Quinch Go Straight," written by Alan Moore, art by
Alan Davis, in 2000 AD #350, 1984)
“D.R. & Quinch Go Straight” is narrated by D.R. instead of by Quinch, and has a substantially different style. Where Quinch’s narration comes in from the start and presents the entire story as, in effect, an essay that some comic artist has drawn pictures to accompany (there is in fact no dialogue to speak of in “D.R. & Quinch Have Fun on Earth”), D.R. merely provides commentary on the story, not even directly addressing the reader until page three. More to the point, where the humor in “D.R. & Quinch Have Fun on Earth” largely derives from the fact that Quinch does not fully understand what is happening or the implications of it, “D.R. & Quinch Go Straight” largely depends on the fact that D.R. has a clear scheme in mind from the outset, and that he is repeatedly lying. So when he declares that he “forgot that I had arranged a visit by the Ghoyogian Diplomatic Party” and that “I suppose I should have told Pulger about the Ghoyogian visit in advance,” the humor is that the reader can see clearly (and has in fact been able to see since the end of the previous installment of the story) that this is going to end with Pulger and his fellow violent ex-servicemen proceeding to unleash a massive and comical spree of destruction against the visiting Ghoyogians in such a way as to cause a pleasant amount of horrifying property damage on the actually perfectly reasonable Judge Thorkwung. Where Quinch appears largely naive about his horrible nature, D.R. positively revels in it, admitting things like that “had I suspected then the truly horrifying suffering and amazing loss of life that would be caused by our well-meaning enterprise… I’d have done it anyway. Only more so.” It’s a similar sort of humor to that of Quinch’s narration, but with the emphasis subtly shifted so as to freshen the material. Instead of being unaware of the implications of what he’s saying, D.R. is hyper-aware of them and communicating primarily through the subtext.

Figure 289: A plot point that is nearly identical to one
from The Utterly Monstrous, Mind-Roasting Summer of
O.C. and Stiggs
Also important, of course, is the material itself. The anarchic glee that D.R. and Quinch builds its humor out of is an ideology that must surely have appealed to Alan Moore. The detail that the two lead characters have been kicked out of school makes this one of the earliest of relatively few instances in Moore’s career where one is compelled to read a story at least partially autobiographically. Moore, after all, was himself kicked out of school, and, if not under similar circumstances to those of D.R. and Quinch (he was only caught dealing acid, as opposed to harboring an extensive stash of high energy weapons), at least under a similar rhetoric. “The headmaster who had dealt with my expulsion had, I think, taken me rather personally,” Moore explains. [continued]


Carey 6 years, 10 months ago

Another possible influence to the cadence and style of the narration to D.R. and Quinch is undoubtedly Malcolm McDowell's narration for Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. This clip shows the sing son naifness which contrasts with the events that follow:

I'd also suggest Dennis Potter's Briimstone and Treacle, but am unsure of its influence in this regard as the sing song narration was more a feature in the original banned tv version, which Moore couldn't have seen at this point. The film, of course, would have a huge influence in Moore's writing in the next couple of years.

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Jesse 6 years, 10 months ago

"Certainly some of the humor is in precisely how awful all of these things are to say and in the degree to which O.C. and Stiggs..."

The degree to which they what? DON'T LEAVE US HANGING!

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BerserkRL 6 years, 10 months ago

The missing text is hidden in an Easter Egg somewhere on the Internet. Good luck!

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Alan 6 years, 10 months ago

So O.C. and Stiggs are basically the Ur-Beavis and Ur-Butthead. Interesting. As best I can recall, the "humor" of the magazine is watered down for the Altman film. I don't recall any obvious racism or homophobia that jumped out at me (certainly not in comparison to the rather vile examples described above). I suppose there was probably sexism, but the film was practically marketed as a teen sex comedy. Also, I'm almost positive that there was some tacked on explanation of why the two were completely justified (at least in their own minds) in their vendetta against Schwab. Something to do with Schwab having, through some act of greed, bringing about either the ruin or death of some friend of theirs. I dunno. Does anyone remember this incredibly bland film better than I do?

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BerserkRL 6 years, 10 months ago

According to Wikipedia, "the original magazine characters were destructive, malevolent teenagers, whereas the main characters of the movie were not ."

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Jesse 6 years, 10 months ago

The best redemptive reading for the movie is to view it as Altman trying to do to the '80s teen-comedy genre what he had earlier done to the war flick, the western, the film noir, etc.

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Iain Coleman 6 years, 10 months ago

Found it!

"...have 15 million dollars in a Nigerian bank account which they need your help to transfer out of the country."

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Alan 6 years, 10 months ago

I also seem to recall a lot of fourth-wall breaking which was mildly innovative at the time.

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Daru 5 years, 11 months ago

Ah, I was a massive (and still am) fan of DR & Quinch when they came out, I read them over and over. Brilliant fun.

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