All Known and Unknown Things (The Last War in Albion Part 103: The Not-End of Halo Jones)

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This is the fourth of five parts of The Last War in Albion Chapter Eleven, focusing on Alan Moore's The Ballad of Halo Jones. An omnibus of all five parts is available on Smashwords. If you are a Kickstarter backer or a Patreon backer at $2 or higher per week, instructions on how to get your complimentary copy have been sent to you.

The Ballad of Halo Jones is available in a collected edition that can be purchased in the US or in the UK.

Previously in The Last War in Albion: The third book of The Ballad of Halo Jones offered a portrayal of futuristic war grounded in the psychological horrors war inflicts on its combatants. 

"First, there is Brahma, the self-aware immensity, from whose thought-substance are created all known and unknown things." -Grant Morrison, 18 Days

It’s a shocking portrayal of post-traumatic stress, grounded in the same brutal social realism that saw Mills depicting Charley Bourne on the dole in 1933, and, for that matter, in a Britain where Thatcher’s had only recently gone to war with Argentina for some obscure islands as crushing unemployment sparked riots at home.

Figure 815: Halo Jones slowly drinks herself to death. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by Ian Gibson, from The Ballad of Halo Jones Book Three
in 2000 AD #451, 1986)
This parallel is, of course, in no way incidental. The Ballad of Halo Jones was, from the beginning, rooted in social commentary on Thatcher’s Britain. This was in many ways the point, the satirical tradition of 2000 AD being one of the things that endeared it to Moore in spite of the numerous frustrations. The Hoop was just another variation on the terraces of Moore’s childhood: a place built for poor people to die in with as little fuss as possible for the rest of the world. The callous disregard for the safety or well-being of its residents and the cruel farce that there might be any jobs for them anyway was, as with the best strips in 2000 AD, and indeed the best science fiction, nothing more or less than Moore looking outside his own window and describing what he saw from an oblique angle, an approach perfectly suited to Gibson’s brilliantly grotesque blend of realism and cartooning. And the focus on the economic realities continues to be at the heart of the strip in Book Three, which uses its prologue chapter to depict Halo’s decade-long downward spiral after leaving the Clara Pandy as a vicious cycle of unemployment and claustrophobia slowly leads her to a life of petty crime and alcoholism. It’s in this context that Halo’s enlistment in the military is shown, making it clear that this is an act of desperation - the only way out of the galaxy that Halo can find. In this regard, notably, Moore surpasses his model Charley’s War, which never really looked at the economic conditions that make the military an attractive career option, least of all tied that into its overall portrait of the horrors, both material and psychological, of war, and it is hardly surprising he considers Book Three the high point of The Ballad of Halo Jones.

Figure 816: "Nude Halo," by Ian
Gibson, 2013.
Book Three is also, however, the endpoint of The Ballad of Halo Jones. This was not the original plan; Moore and Gibson had at least some degree of an outline spanning nine books in total, although few details have emerged. Gibson has, in the thirty some-odd years since Book Three bowed, done a couple illustrations of Halo that have been speculated to reveal unused plot details, but these are not entirely reliable barometers: one suspects that his portrait of Halo as a scantily clad slave of some sort was not in keeping with Moore’s plans, and a nude illustration of her he did that was briefly to be sold as a print at the Bristol Comics Expo before hastily being withdrawn on the insistence of Rebellion (2000 AD’s latest owners) amidst some furious backpedaling on Gibson’s part about whether it was ever meant to be Halo (the convention certainly unambiguously sold it as such, and Gibson admits to naming the piece “nude Halo”) was, as Moore rather charitably put it, “quite the opposite of what the character was meant to be.” 

Moore, for his part, has suggested that Book Four would have involved Halo as “a female space pirate,” and that he intended to continue aging Halo through the books until, in the final book, she would be an old woman on “some planet that is right at the absolute edge of the universe where, beyond that, beyond some sort of spectacular lightshow, there is no space, no time.” Moore explains that “what would have happened is that Halo Jones, after spending some time with the rest of the immortals, would have tottered across the landing field, got into her spacecraft, and flown into the psychedelic lightshow, to finally get out.” The particulars, in any case, were never realized, and although Moore at the time of completing Book Three declined to rule out ever returning to the character, he has since hardened this position to an absolute refusal to work with 2000 AD’s owners, saying, in his most recent comments on the matter, that “I’ve cut me ties with all those things” and numbering Halo among the “comics work I am very very distanced from.” 

Figure 817: Alan Moore's final contribution to 2000 AD.
(From "Thargshead Revisited," in 2000 AD #500, 1986)
Despite this, it is not fair to say that Moore left IPC in a huff. Indeed, he returned thirty-four progs after the end of Book Three to do a one-page gag strip featuring Halo Jones for the magazine’s five hundredth issue, the last work he would end up doing for the company. A look at the dates offers a far more basic reason why he might not have hurried back to do The Ballad of Halo Jones Book Four: he didn’t have to. Two months after Book Three wrapped Watchmen started, and it quickly became clear that Moore was going to be making quite a lot of money off of it. (Indeed, the book would end up making Moore outright rich.) At every major step along the path of his ascension, Moore had taken the opportunity to downsize work where he found the pay to frustration ratio unsatisfying, and the start of Watchmen was no different - Moore ended Maxwell the Magic Cat around the same time, for instance. Simply put, Moore would surely have been asking himself about the merits of working for IPC rates even if he weren’t frustrated with the editorial experience on The Ballad of Halo Jones.

All the same, there was an ethical dimension to this. Watchmen wasn’t just better paying than 2000 AD work, it was, in his understanding at least, a creator-owned work on which he was given heavy editorial freedom. IPC, on the other hand, was an infamously conservative company with a poor track record in how its creative personnel was treated. Notably, their contracts gave no royalties for reprints, which meant that the collected editions of Moore’s comics - the format where Watchmen looked set to be an enduring source of income - gave him no royalties unless he wrote introductions for the volumes, which would get him a piddling 1%. This, combined with his frustrations with his editors, made it easy to understand why Book Four of Halo Jones was not a priority for Moore, not least because he was intending to move the story away from the editor-friendly war setting, a move that was surely going to provoke another flurry of editorial pressure to add more action sequences. 

Figure 818: Police attacking striking miners in what became known as
the Battle of Orgreave. (Photo by John Sturrock, 1984)
And indeed, this position rapidly hardened to an ethical redline for Moore. Moore’s position first became that he would not do more work on The Ballad of Halo Jones until he was given ownership of the property, and then, just to make sure his bluff wouldn’t be called, evolved into a refusal unless Judge Dredd were returned to Wagner, Mills, and Ezquerra, which was obviously never going to happen. This too is hardly surprising. Moore was well aware that his name sold books on its own merits, and IPC was profiting gamely on that fact without giving him any meaningful share of the money. This was flatly exploitative, and exploitative in a way that would have been acutely galling to Moore’s working class leftist sensibilities, especially as he looked out at a Britain where Thatcher had just a year earlier broken the back of the National Union of Mineworkers during a high profile strike. And this was hardly irrelevant to events at IPC. John Sanders, the head of the Youth Group at IPC when 2000 AD was started and later the managing director of IPC’s comics line, was virulently anti-union, complaining bitterly about “union’s smash and grab behavior” and praising Thatcher’s efforts to break the backs of unions. This sort of attitude would surely have been sickening to Moore, and once he had the financial security to not have to submit meekly to such exploitation he simply stopped doing so.

Figure 819: In hindsight, 2000 AD's treatment
of its writers as assembly line robots was not
quite the joke one might hope.
More surprising, perhaps, is why IPC (and, subsequently, Fleetway, who bought IPC’s comics division in 1987) didn’t make any significant effort to keep Moore on board. The reason is on the whole simple, however: that’s just not the sort of company IPC was. The idea of paying their creators more was completely alien to them. As Sanders put it, “we needed all rights because the Youth Group only made realistic profits by re-using material at no cost… my attitude was if you don’t want to work for us, there are plenty of other markets for you.” (This last claim sits at an odd juxtaposition with his claim, in the same interview, that “we had 50 per cent of the market, and [DC Thompson] had the other 50 per cent,” but then, when has the person explaining to an artist why they don’t deserve to be paid ever told the truth?) The reality, though was that the UK to US pipeline that DC was rapidly building was taking its toll on the magazine as major creator after major creator found their time occupied with American comics that paid more up front and offered royalties for reprints.

Figure 820: The start of Grant Morrison's first Future Shock. (From
"Hotel Harry Felix" in 2000 AD #463, 1986)
More broadly, IPC’s attitude was that it was 2000 AD and its associated characters that sold comics, not individual creators. This was perhaps obvious given that even providing credits for creators had been a fight (with, predictably, John Sanders being opposed), and when credits were provided creators were described as though they were interchangeable robots. The stars of 2000 AD were its fictitious editor Tharg the Mighty, Judge Dredd, Nemesis the Warlock, Rogue Trooper, Sam Slade, and the others - not the people who had created them. And so, perhaps unsurprisingly for a company whose modus operandi was to publish thinly veiled knockoffs of popular media, IPC’s attitude was largely that if Moore was going to be uppity, they’d just hire new people to write like Moore. And as luck would have it, they even had somebody on hand: Prog 463, in addition to featuring the twelfth installment of The Ballad of Halo Jones Book Three, featured the IPC debut of Grant Morrison on a Tharg’s Future Shock entitled “Hotel Harry Felix.” 

Figure 821: Grant Morrison's take on the love
between a man and an AI-enhanced machine, a
theme previously explored by Alan Moore. (Art
by Geoff Senior, from "Wheels of Fury" in 2000 AD
#481, 1986)
There is no way to reasonably deny the fact that Morrison’s short pieces for 2000 AD owe a heavy debt to Alan Moore. “Hotel Harry Felix,” features an alien life form that takes the form of thoughts and ideas, a concept Moore had already explored in “Eureka.” His second, “The Alteration,” is a two-pager featuring a man on the run who is caught by monsters and turns into one, only to have it turn out that he was actually a monster who had contracted “humanitis” and was being cured, a joke not entirely dissimilar to Moore’s two-page “Return of the Thing.” His fourth, “Some People Never Listen,” bears more than a passing resemblance to Moore’s “The Bounty Hunters.” His seventh, “Wheels of Fury,” featuring an AI car that turns into a jealous lover, is almost a straight reworking of the Moore/Gibbons “The Dating Game,” in which a city’s central computer becomes a jealous lover. “Fair Exchange” uses the same joke that concludes “D.R. and Quinch Have Fun on Earth” of a comedic misunderstanding in which an alien is presented with something that is secretly rude graffiti in its native language, while the two-part “Fruitcake and Veg” is a more or less straightforward repeat of the basic joke of D.R. & Quinch, including a section where the narrator reflects, “People say to me, ‘Mr. Sweet, what is it that makes yo commit senseless and irresponsible acts of wanton destruction? What made you become the deranged homicidal maniac we’ve come to know and love? Well it’s a fair question. So I always give them a fair answer. I say it’s my upbringing, I tell them society’s to blame… and then I blow ‘em up!” And the similarities continue right up to Morrison’s final Future Shock, “Big Trouble for Blast Barclay,” a Flash Gordon riff that echoes Moore’s “The Regrettable Ruse of Rocket Redglare,” and which even has the same artist, Mike White. All told, out of fifteen short pieces Morrison wrote for 2000 AD, around half have pronounced similarities with Moore’s work. [continued]

Comments

Jeff Heikkinen 1 year, 9 months ago

"in his understanding at least, [Watchmen was] a creator-owned work on which he was given heavy editorial freedom."

Seriously? I know Moore overestimated what rights he had regarding things like merchandising, but I can't imagine he was ever under any illusions that he *owned* Watchmen. Even in the unlikely event he ever entertained such a notion, surely a quick look at the legal text of the first issue would have dispelled it.

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Daru 1 year, 9 months ago

As a kid I remember somehow I found it fun that the 2000AD artists were displayed as robots, but now looking back it just seems like such an awful and disrespectful way to represent talent.

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Kit 1 year, 9 months ago

Your imagination could be expanded by reading more or less any interview Moore has ever given on the topic between 1985 and now.

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Kit 1 year, 9 months ago

(should be a reply to Jeff.)

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Carey 1 year, 9 months ago

The topless Halo Jones print and its story seems to be more pertinent than comes across in the brief mention from above: it even made the Guardian! http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/mar/21/halo-jones-topless-row-ian-gibson

The lack of respect from 2000ad's publishers wasn't only toward writers, but artists as well. The print appeared two months before the latest reprint edition of The Ballad of Halo Jones, the first to appear without a cover by Ian Gibson. Gibson had been growing increasingly vocal about the level of pay in comics and from Rebellion. I am fascinated by your revelation that royalties only came from writing an introduction to the volumes: was this from Titan publishing, or does it continue to today? Rebellion's justification of using a different cover artist was to try and reach out to a different audience.

Suffice to say, for all the unpleasantness regarding a topless Halo Jones, by that point selling prints was one of the few ways Gibson had of making money, as Rebellion, a company that had long profited from many of his works (he was the co-creator of Robo-Hunter as well as Halo Jones) were no longer interested in commissioning any more work from him, even for a reprint copy of his most famous creation. In that respect, I can well believe what started out as a print of a topless woman was changed to become a topless Halo Jones, as that would likely sell more.

In some respects, Moore should have congratulated Gibson for taking back control of his creation!

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Kit 1 year, 9 months ago

Having never seen that "final" 2000AD page, the last panel amusingly foreshadows the Nude Halo disagreement.

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Daibhid C 1 year, 9 months ago

Context, innit? Until just now, I thought of it as a bit of self deprecation by the creators themselves. Learning the background, and that Sanders really did see them as interchangeable content generators (and himself, presumably, as The Mighty Tharg) puts a different spin on it.

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Daru 1 year, 9 months ago

Oh yeah for sure, as a kid and a teen I thought they were unflattering, as you say self-deprecating self portraits. I guess as a creator myself, I can see how after a while it would cease to be a pleasure to be regarded as easily replaceable. I don't know how well I remember Tharg treating his staff.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

The running theme of "John Sanders is a massive cockgargler" in this chapter is one of my favorite aspects. Literally any time I went "man, I could really use an instance of someone at IPC saying something absolutely horrible right now," there he was, happy to provide.

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Jeff Heikkinen 1 year, 9 months ago

@Kit, perhaps that's true. It's not a topic I've researched in depth. A link to such an interview would be appreciated, if you've got one handy.

In any case, even if he did think that, I'd be inclined to look at that as straightforwardly a mistake. And not one I would expect someone of Moore's self-evident intelligence, not to mention knowledge of the history of his industry, to make. Notwithstanding the grifter thing Phil raised a few episodes ago, that's the sort of thing you get in writing. Period.

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Kit 1 year, 9 months ago

It really wasn't; the rights were (and still are) in writing to return to Moore & Gibbons a year after publication, which was expected at that point to be a year after #12 was published. No American comic had ever stayed in print permanently before, so DC still controlling the rights three decades later was unforeseen by any party involved.

You can find both Moore and Giordano describing the then-generous rights situation in the TCJ coverage of SDCC panels from 1985.

Moore (and, apparently but less vocally, Gibbons) believes it would have been appropriate to renegotiate in good faith when the situation changed.

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Jeff Heikkinen 1 year, 9 months ago

That *is* interesting. Most of what I know about creator's rights in comics, which (obviously) isn't a hell of a lot, has been learned in a post-Watchmen world. Apparently it was a game-changer in even more ways than I'd realized.

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Jeff Heikkinen 1 year, 9 months ago

Wait a minute, isn't that at least roughly the same arrangement DC has had with the Marston estate since probably before anyone involved in this discussion was born? That hadn't resulted in DC losing Wonder Woman despite being in effect for probably at least as long (as of 1987) as DC has had Watchmen as of now.

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elvwood 1 year, 9 months ago

I don't know the details of the WW agreement so this comment may be irrelevant, but there's a substantial difference between "if we stop using this character for a year you get the rights back" and "if this particular story goes out of print for a year you get the rights back". If the Marston estate had had the same deal, they would have got the rights back long ago!

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