Kid-With-Knife Is Behind You With An AK-47 (The Last War in Albion Part 39: D.R. & Quinch)

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Coming a day early due to the nature of this week's extra post, this is the fifth 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 D.R. & Quinch featured juvenile delinquency and massive amounts of destruction played for countercultural laughs.

"Kid-With-Knife is behind you with an AK-47." -Kieron Gillen, Phonogram: The Singles Club

Figure 290: Northampton School for Boys, from which Moore
was expelled for dealing acid. Moore notes that he declined
to rat out his accomplice, who he says went on to become
a police officer.
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.  “He had written to all of the colleges and schools that I might have thought of applying to and told them that they should under no circumstances accept me as a pupil because it would be a corrupting influence upon the morals of the other students. I believe that he did at one point in the letter refer to me as sociopathic, which I think was rather harsh.” 

It is difficult not to find certain parallels between Moore’s wry interview humor in 2005 and the opening gag of “D.R. & Quinch Have Fun on Earth,” where Quinch explains that “my psychiatrist says I’m a psychotic deviant. But that doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, right?” Similarly, in another interview, Moore describes how “I was just convinced I must get my revenge upon society, no matter what” for being kicked out, making it clear that his animosity was for “the government, it was the structure of everything.” Although this is delivered with similar humor (Moore encourages the interview to “try to picture, if you will, a little 17-year-old Alan sitting there, kind of staring, hallucinating”), the similarity between it and D.R. and Quinch’s worldview is striking. And more to the point, understandable - the result of Moore’s headmaster’s aggression against him was his consignment to a seeming lifetime of jobs “that didn’t give a damn who they employed,” essentially ripping away all his seeming prospects and future over, in effect, one transgression. 

In other words, for all that D.R. and Quinch are self-evidently irredeemable sociopaths, it’s in no way surprising that Moore would find the pair broadly sympathetic simply because they are irredeemable sociopaths who hate the right people. More to the point, the nature of the humor within D.R. & Quinch becomes more subtle and complex when taken in this light. The complex game of what is said, and what is deliberately unsaid, whether by author or character, becomes altogether more complex. The structure of any given joke within D.R. & Quinch is based, in effect, on the audience’s ability to recognize the layers of irony in place and to in turn recognize themselves as the sort of people clever enough to see the real joke beneath the surface language. This goes hand in hand with the sense of being angry at the right people that the strip (and 2000 AD at large) fosters: if you’re clever enough to get the joke, you’re also clever enough to know who the world’s assholes are and to appreciate the fantasy of shooting them with a ZZ-50 Mono-Nucleic Pulveriser, as one strip would have it.

Figure 291: Chrysoprasia is (at first) not entirely well-adapted
to Quinch's violent tendencies. (From "D.R. & Quinch Go Girl
Crazy," written by Alan Moore, art by Alan Davis, in 2000 AD
#353, 1984)
The problem, however, is that, as Moore put it, “they were originally supposed to be a one-off” story, and were never designed for ongoing adventures. There is really only one joke to the characters, and Moore knew it. Even by the third D.R. & Quinch strip, the premise of the strip was drifting. Where the first two stories had been about reveling in comedy violence against the Man, the third strip, “D.R. & Quinch Go Girl Crazy,” takes an entirely different approach. In this case, the story is focused on Quinch’s discovery that D.R. has fallen for a girl named Chrysoprasia. Chrysoprasia is a clean cut, perfectly nice girl, or, as Quinch puts it, “a worthless, simpering zombie,” and, accordingly, D.R. has opted to clean up his act and stop hanging out with Quinch. Accordingly, Quinch sets out to get his friend back by showing Chrysoprasia how horrible a person her boyfriend actually is. The central gag at the rough halfway point of the strip is that the result is not, in fact, that she leaves D.R., but that she redubs herself Crazy Chryssie and becomes as sociopathically violent as D.R. and Quinch, crashing the play she and D.R. were meant to perform in while shouting “grab your ankles and prepare to eat photon oblivion, you incredibly boring old people!”

Figure 292: Later calling herself
"Crazy Chryssie," Chyrsoprasia
eventually got the hang of
sociopathy. (From "D.R. & Quinch
Go Girl Crazy," written by Alan
Moore, art by Alan Davis, in
2000 AD #354,1984)
Certainly the strip is funny, but its denouement, in which Waldo shamelessly and without hesitation sells out Chryssie and lets her go to prison to protect Quinch, rather takes the air out of the joke. Indeed, it marks a real turning point in D.R. & Quinch, in that it’s the first point where D.R. and Quinch get revenge on someone who is portrayed as basically sympathetic. That this is also the first substantive female character in the story makes the ugliness of this even more pronounced. It’s a fundamentally different sort of humor. In many ways the twist, in which Chrysoprasia turns delinquent, highlights the fundamental shift involved. In the first two strips the sort of gag that opens “D.R. & Quinch Go Girl Crazy,” where Quinch explains that his mother “says I’m emotionally deprived with accordant behavioural aberrations. This means that I like stealing things and destroying vehicles and terrorising people who have never done me any harm whatsoever. This is why everybody hates me, and that’s why I’m emotionally deprived,” is the norm. In that sort of gag there’s a careful balance of knowledge. Quinch may be oblivious to the irony involved in his words, but he’s not wrong as such. D.R. and Quinch are, in this sort of joke, possibly oblivious or liars, but they’re still basically allied with the strip’s implied author.

But once Quinch gets caught flatfooted by Chryssie’s heel turn this dissolves. The strip is no longer going along with D.R. and Quinch’s antics with an eyebrow raised at the ironic excess. Instead D.R. and Quinch have become fallible characters in a narrative that expects them to overcome adversity, and, more disturbingly, characters with interiority who the audience is meant to empathize with in subtle and complex ways. This is, in most circumstances, a sign of a more mature story, but in this case it’s a step towards the disintegration of the basic premise of the strip. The joke that binds the whole thing together has been removed. This is understandable - there really aren’t that many more variations on it to be had after the first two strips - but it also reveals the fact that there’s not actually a lot more potential in the characters.

Figure 293: The third cliffhanger of "D.R. & Quinch Get Drafted,"
although memorable, is largely a repeat of the second cliffhanger,
only with Chryssie in place of Pulger. (Written by Alan Moore,
art by Alan Davis, in 2000 AD #357, 1984)
In many ways this problem is highlighted perfectly by the fourth D.R. & Quinch story, “D.R. & Quinch Get Drafted.” The idea of this story is straightforward and compelling enough, and largely does what it says on the tin - the pair get drafted into the Ghoyogian war that they started two strips earlier. There is, within this, a substantial and quality idea. Pitting the anarchic and ironic violence of D.R. & Quinch against the banal violence of an actual war is clever and, more to the point, very much worth doing. But stretched over five separate installments the subversive cleverness largely found itself lost in the mix. Tellingly, parts two and three end with essentially identical cliffhangers: D.R. & Quinch run into a supporting character from a past story on Ghoyogia. First they find themselves thrown in jail with Pulger, the violent ex-grunt who D.R and Quinch manipulated into setting off the war back in “D.R. & Quinch Go Straight,” and then they find themselves sharing an escape tunnel with Chryssie. 

Figure 294: Raccoons in the dead of the night.
What’s really revealing about these two gags is that they are devoid of any substance besides the iconography of D.R. & Quinch itself. Instead of humor based on the strip and reader indulging in a shared recognition of the irony involved, the strip and reader are now indulging in a shared memory of past D.R. & Quinch strips. The humor comes not from substance but from reference - from a nostalgia for the great D.R. & Quinch strips of, if not old, at least of a month or so ago. It’s not even that the jokes don’t work, but merely that they are visibly the jokes of a strip that has run its course. It is tempting to recall Moore’s later criticism of DC Comics’ predilection for creating stories that repurpose concepts originally developed by Moore as resembling them “going through my trashcan like raccoons in the dead of the night,” except to note that Moore is not grabbing quarter-century old ideas but stuff from just a few weeks earlier in the very same magazine. Given Moore’s sense of the creative bankruptcy involved in the former, the latter must have been a depressing experience.

Figure 295: Quinch's mother arrives to save
the day. (From "D.R. & Quinch Get Drafted,"
written by Alan Moore, art by Alan Davis, in
2000 AD #359, 1984)
None of this is to say that “D.R. & Quinch Get Drafted” is a failure, even in terms of its subversive and satirical messages. For all the messiness there are moments of real charm. The moment where D.R. scoffs at the low quality of weaponry on display and, in doing so, impresses the draft office with his seeming dedication to war is truly charming, if self-evidently repurposed from Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 pacifist hit “Alice’s Restaurant.” And the strip’s denouement, in which a standoff between Ghyogians and the space marines from which D.R. and Quinch have gone AWOL, in which D.R., Quinch, Pulger, and Chryssie are, predictably, caught in the middle is resolved when Quinch’s very wealthy mother descends from a spaceship, casually crushing the two opposing armies, and rescues her “dummy-dumplings,” inviting him and his friends “inside my cosy inter-cosmic mega-palace” to “have a nice cup of tea and a scone.” The ridiculous deus ex machina (or, at least, giant alien ex machina) is a self-consciously lousy and arbitrary resolution that breaks the inherent deadlock in a contrast between D.R. & Quinch’s fun, satirical violence and the awful and cruel violence of war. Instead of trying to balance them out, Moore simply introduces a ludicrous device that highlights exactly how stupid and pointless war is - a point he reiterates with D.R.’s final monologue, where he talks about how “as the mega-palace drifted among the stars, I thought about war and rich people and all the utterly fantastic things that had, like, happened to me. All at once I understood why it is that men fight each other. I suddenly saw the answer to all this senseless violence that afflicts us! But, like, I didn’t write it down or anything… and, like, y’know how it is - next morning I had totally forgotten what it was, man.” It’s withering and funny, and while it doesn’t balance out the staleness of the four strips worth of buildup, it is, at the very least, quite good on its own merits.

The final ongoing D.R. & Quinch strip, “D.R. & Quinch Go to  Hollywood,” presents an even larger problem. More than one critic has identified it as the pinnacle of D.R. & Quinch, and not without reason. It’s a gleefully over the top parody of the world of Hollywood in which D.R. and Quinch come into possession of the last script of Torquetto Jubbli, a formerly brilliant and acclaimed screenwriter who is back from ten years of writers block, or at least would have been if he hadn’t dropped dead in front of D.R. & Quinch. Despite the screenplay being completely illegible (D.R. is fairly certain that the third word of the title is “oranges,” and the line “close the curtains, Geoffrey, I’m amphibious” definitely appears at the end, but the remaining 51,100 pages of the screenplay are utterly unreadable), D.R. & Quinch are able to browbeat and con their way into production, helped by the fact that their star, a not-actually-remotely veiled Marlon Brando, is, as his manager explains, “totally unable to read or write,” a secret that has been successfully kept because “no one can understand a word he says anyway.” 

Figure 296: Marlon fails to mind the oranges. (From "D.R. &
Quinch Go to Hollywood," written by Alan Moore, art by Alan
Davis, in 2000 AD #366, 1984)
Despite this, his apparently moving performance of the script, which he renders as “Uhguh dmnuh yuh, buh rudduh mnugh. Whuvuh suh thuh zuh furruh shunduhluh! Muzwuh ruh, huh? Yuh… Yuh… Abuh Luh Vuhruhduh? Vuhruhduh, huh? Sgucuh Nuh Juhnuh! Uhmuh Puh Rhunu… buh nuh thuh pyuhnuh… Uhnuh ruh cuhduh, duh fuhmuh whuh. Nuh muh… nuh muh…,” causes the film to be immediately greenlit, leading D.R. to, when asked what the film is like, “be brief and honest,” saying simply, “it’s a disaster movie, man.” This proves largely prophetic, as during filming Marlon fails to read the twelve meter high flourescent signs placed around the pyramid of sixteen thousand oranges reading “Danger! Do not touch these monstrously hazardous citrus fruits, man,” and, despite his manager’s plaintive cry to “mind the oranges, Marlon,” takes one to eat, leading him to be crushed to death under several hundred tons of oranges. In his honor, D.R. names the film “Mind the Oranges, Marlon,” and it proceeds to become a massive cult hit that nets D.R. & Quinch a spectacular sum of money. 

Figure 297: Part of the humor of "D.R. &
Quinch Go to Hollywood" depends on the
sight gag of the iconic pair's new outfits.
(Written by Alan Moore, art by Alan Davis,
in 2000 AD #364, 1984)
The strip marks a significant change in the nature of D.R. & Quinch in several regards. The sociopathic tendencies of the pair are significantly ratcheted down. They’re not even in the midst of some elaborately violent scheme when they get distracted by Hollywood - they meet Torquetto Jubbli in a bus depot, and in this instance are portrayed more as laconic conmen than hyper-violent juvenile delinquents. Their approach to getting the movie made is on one level not that different from their elaborate con in “D.R. & Quinch Go Straight,” but there’s still a sizable distinction to be made. In “D.R. & Quinch Go Straight” the pair pretend to be reformed versions of themselves. In “D.R. & Quinch go to Hollywood,” on the other hand, they dress in somewhat elaborate costumes (the sight gag of D.R. with a monocle and beret is, admittedly, brilliant) and fake their way to a social role. The trick to doing so, D.R. explains in narration, is “to impress people with your good taste and forceful personality,” and so he orders “fifteen emperor lobsters,” which are all to be “wearing little knitted waistcoats… in Prussian blue,” and then explodes with rage when the coats are cerulean blue. 

It’s an entertaining satire, but this sort of blending in through ludicrous exaggeration is not a tactic that is a natural fit with D.R. & Quinch’s approach to things at any point prior to this in the narrative. The reason for this is simple enough, which is that “D.R. & Quinch go to Hollywood” is not really in the same vein as the other D.R. & Quinch stories at all, and instead appropriates its structure and sense of humor from another source entirely. While the other D.R. & Quinch stories are subversions of the longstanding British comic tradition of juvenile delinquients, “D.R. & Quinch go to Hollywood” is at heart an execution of a style of comedy drawn from MAD Magazine.

The specific style in question dates to MAD #4, from 1953, and from the acclaimed story “Superduperman,” although following the success of that story it became the house style for MAD. Still, “Superduperman” is a known influence for Moore, who has credited it as an influence for both Marvelman and Watchmen, and as such is as good a vehicle to describe the style as any. In many ways “Superduperman” reflects the style of short story that Moore characterized as a “list story” when writing Future Shocks for 2000 AD. Its structure is in effect a frame for going through a bunch of parodied aspects of Superman and, later, Captain Marvel. [continued]

Comments

Carey 2 years, 11 months ago

One thing that does need saying regarding D.R. and Quinch is just how indebted the strip is to Alan Davis, and how I seriously doubt it would work without his art. Davis has the ability (especially this early in his career) to balance realism with pure cartooning, and this is very much in evidence in the panels you selected.

He shared with Dave Gibbons the ability to adhere to the detail required from Moore's scripts: the central joke of the land mass spelling out expletives in the first D.R. and Quinch story is foreshadowed by Davis adding all the land mass shaped lettering throughout the strip without them either dominating, being obscured or simply looking like an artistic fudge. The gun made of soap in D.R. and Quinch Get Drafted is similarly delineated-- it genuinely looked like it was carved from soap (something bloody hard to draw, and I can say that from experience)! In a lesser artist's hands it would likely look like a gun, or soap, but the ability to draw such an abstract concept benefited Moore immensely. By D.R. and Quinch Go To Hollywood you really got the idea that Moore could write what he liked and Davis would be up to the challenge. All the while drawing Captain Britain in a more realistic style, and Marvelman in a yet more photographically realistic style.

Something that should be raised in the Last War is how Moore was incredibly lucky with his artistic collaborators, while Morrison was never always as fortunate. Moore had Davies, Gibson, Gibbons, Bissette, Totleben and Bolland drawing his DC work. For all that Morrison had Yeowell and McKean* as collaborators, he also had Truog, Case and Porter-- all reasonable artists but not even approaching the same league as Moore's collaborators here. Even Moore's lesser efforts at DC, such as the Tales of the Green Lanterns or the Vigilante, had art from people such as Kevin O'Neill and Jim Baike.


*Although some would say McKean was as much a hindrance to Arkham Asylum as anything. Dreamlike art accompanying dreamlike narrative rarely works in my opinion. I've always found Arkham Asylum lacking contrast. But I think I'm getting way ahead of the narrative here.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 11 months ago

And Quitely, an artist I've never been sure about. I mean, he's good, but sometimes I think people confuse "this looks different from anything else" with "this is better than anything else".

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BerserkRL 2 years, 11 months ago

Moore notes that he declined to rat out his accomplice, who he says went on to become a police officer.

So, an argument for ratting out, then.

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 11 months ago

A pleasure to read, and the sternest lesson surely in the sociopathic headteacher (who should have been first against the wall, etc).

Slightly confused at the sequential critiques that it's run out of ideas by referencing itself (I blink and think of Mr Moffat?) and then that it's gone wrong by doing something different. I still find 'Hollywood' hilarious, and after the punchline that extremely rich kids can afford to be the counter-culture and literally get taken out of wars, where else more excessive could have been appropriate?

Besides which, he was right. Prussian blue is, like, totally more stylish than cerulean blue, man.

I was reading 2000AD weekly at the time, so I wasn't very familiar with the thinner, unistory US reprint series except from occasional forays into comic shops, but something occurs to me about them. As most of them were really naffly coloured in a way that lost all the black and white subtleties in a limited but garish range, just as Moore was writing (as Carey says) in the knowledge of Davis' talent, his scripting the distinction between two similar but distinct (and one, like, clearly totally superior) shades of blue could also be a landmine sight-gag for the inevitable reprint colorist [sic] who would splat everything in indistinguishable Air Force Blue.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 11 months ago

Well, the critique is based in a large part on the assumption that Moore, when writing in 2000 AD, is trying to emulate the satirical tradition that first drew him to the magazine. To me (and perhaps more importantly to Moore) the series steadily goes from being biting satire with a point to being cheerily socially irresponsible humor not entirely unlike The OC and Stiggs.

But more on this next week, as it happens.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 11 months ago

Solid chunk on Davis to come next week, and even more in the chapter that'll start after that, which isn't quite done yet, but is shaping up to be quite a monster.

I admit, I'm not convinced that the list of Moore collaborators is without exception stellar. In many cases, their work with Moore is their sole major work. Often, I suspect, what looks like Moore getting better artists is more accurately described as Moore being better at getting top notch work out of his artists. This is probably something I'll expand on at some length with From Hell, since Eddie Campbell just did that big companion volume where he talks about Moore's scripts, although with the whole of the Killing Joke script floating around, that could end up being a place to talk about it too. Not like there's a ton else to say about that comic.

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

"Mind the Oranges, Marlon!"

My mid-teens rally cry...

Seriously, Alan Davis is simply *amazing*.

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