Only Dreaming In His Tank (The Last War in Albion Part 89: The Bojeffries Saga)

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This is the first of a currently unknown number of parts of The Last War in Albion Chapter Ten, focusing on Alan Moore's Bojeffries Saga. An omnibus will be available as soon as possible.

The Bojeffries Saga is available in a collected edition that can be purchased in the US or in the UK.

Previously in The Last War in Albion: In Warrior, the doomed but influential comics magazine published by Dez Skinn, Alan Moore got his first two regular strips as a writer, and in the process established himself as the most striking and vibrant voice in British comics. The first was V for Vendetta, his anarchist dystopian sci-fi noir with David Lloyd, and the second was Marvelman, his postmodern reinvention of a half-forgotten British superhero comic. 

"He's only dreaming in his tank. Anyway, now that you've chosen to stay and take part in our little experiment, you may be wondering how much of what you're about to experience is real." - Grant Morrison, Multiversity: Ultra Comics

Figure 677: Hunt Emerson's "Stir Crazy" was one of several humor strips
published over the course of Warrior. (From Warrior #8, 1982)
There is, however, one more detail of Moore’s engagement with Warrior to cover - a pair of two-part stories published under the title The Bojeffries Saga. These are in many ways something of a curious footnote to Moore’s Warrior-era career. They constitute a total of twenty-four pages of comics, and are arguably most notable for being the answer to the mildly challenging trivia question “alongside V for Vendetta and Marvelman, what’s the third series Alan Moore created for Warrior.” Much of this is down to the fact that The Bojeffries Saga is markedly out of keeping with the general tone of Warrior. This is often ascribed to the fact that it is overtly a comedy, as opposed to an action-heavy adventure strip, but this does not really capture the full story. From the start, comedy was a part of Warrior - the first issue, in fact, featured a two-page comedic bit by Steve Moore and Dave Gibbons called “A True Story?” and firmly in the mould of Tharg’s Future Shocks from 2000 AD, and other overtly comedic stories like Hunt Emerson’s “Stir Crazy” and Laser Eraser and Pressbutton always had a consciously humorous streak to it, especially on the occasions when it was replaced with a Zirk strip. Nor can The Bojeffries Saga’s status as a comedy explain its marginal status within Moore’s overall career. Yes, Moore’s serious work is generally the material that attracts the most critical attention, but it’s hardly as if D.R. & Quinch, to take the most obvious example, is a relatively ignored and minor part of Moore’s career - indeed, if anything Moore’s ultra-violent alien miscreants get somewhat more attention than they deserve, despite clearly being a comedy.

Figure 678: A slave revolt in the Ninth Dimension. (From
"A True Story?," written by Steve Moore, at by Dave Gibbons,
in Warrior #1, 1982)
But what D.R. & Quinch and most of the other comedy in Warrior has in common that sets they apart from The Bojeffries Saga is that they are all comedic versions of the action-adventure strips that are Warrior and 2000 AD’s bread and butter. “A True Story?”, for example, is the tale of a cartoonist who, as he ponders the idea of a time loop, is sucked into a dimensional portal in his teacup by Grongad, Tyrant of the Ninth Dimension, where he’s tasked with saving Grongad from a slave revolt, a task he fails at utterly. The now freed slaves are perfectly happy to send him back, except that they send him back to the precise moment Grongad took him from, which, as he observes, means that he’ll be stuck in a time loop, a fact confirmed by the last panel, a repeat of the one right before the cartoonist was abducted. It’s funny, but crucially, it’s a funny strip about a slave revolt in the Ninth Dimension.

Figure 679: Glinda Bojeffries takes offence. (From "The Rentman Cometh,"
written by Alan Moore, art by Steve Parkhouse, in Warrior #12, 1983)
The Bojeffries Saga is markedly different. Yes, its cast includes a werewolf, a vampire, a Lovecraftian horror, and a woman who claims to be able to “arm-wrestle against the gravity-pull of a black hole” because she’s “infinitely powerful,” a statement that, given the rest of the family, is not entirely outside the realm of plausibility. But this cast of supernatural characters is dropped into an aggressively mundane setting where the joke is often based upon the sheer irrelevancy of their supernatural power. Glinda Bojeffries, for instance - the infinitely powerful woman - is never shown using any of her power, instead complaining about how men are sexually intimidated by her “because their fragile male egos don’t like the thought of me being infinitely superior to them in every detail” and yelling furiously at them for any perceived slight, such as her furious reaction upon being called “young lady” by one character, to which she angrily points out, “I have thoughts and feelings too, you know” before accusing him of finding “the idea of a female who can cause nuclear explosions by squinting up one eye threatening to your manhood” and boasting that she “can create a uni-cellular life-form using only the ingredients found in malt vinegar” and slamming the door in his face.

Figure 680: A strange approach to introducing
The Bojeffries Saga.
Certainly figuring out how best to present The Bojeffries Saga to his readers was an obvious challenge for Dez Skinn. By the time of its debut in Warrior #12, it was clear that Moore was the breakout star of the magazine, and so the debut of a new strip by him was an obvious thing to put on the cover of the issue. But the two taglines given to it on the cover are inscrutable choices, to say the least. The first, “a soap opera of the paranormal,” is at least a reasonable description of it, and one Moore uses internally for the second installment of the story in Warrior #13, but it rather crucially withholds just how much emphasis should be put on the “soap opera” part. (It is worth noting that in the British context, this phrase would have evoked more than just the usual associations with ongoing and slightly tawdry drama. As a genre, British soap operas are largely associated with the working class, with the country’s two most popular soaps at the time of Warrior #12 being Coronation Street, a show about the people living on a terraced street outside Manchester that had been running since 1960, and Emmerdale Farm, a 1972-debuting show set in the Yorkshire Dales.) The other description, which proclaims that The Bojeffries Saga “makes Monty Python look like a comedy,” is simply baffling. For one thing, the claim, when actually looked at, would appear to suggest a contrast between Monty Python and The Bojeffries Saga whereby the former is funny and the latter isn’t. For another, however, Monty Python is markedly far from the sort of comedy offered by The Bojeffries Saga. 

Figure 681: The Black Knight sequence of Monty Python and the Holy Grail
featured Graham Chapman's King Arthur trying and failing to convince John
Cleese's Black Knight that he is unlikely to prevail in a swordfight given his
rapidly increasing number of amputations.
It is not that there are no similarities between Monty Python and The Bojeffries Saga. There absolutely are; not least, as Lance Parkin observes, the fact that Trevor Inchmale, a minor character in the first Bojeffries Saga story, is the sort of character that Monty Python member Michael Palin made his career playing. And more broadly, both fit into a coherent tradition of British comedy - a tradition that Brian Eno, interviewed by Alan Moore, proclaimed to be the country’s “great export” - and have attendant similarities from that. Nevertheless, the differences are both fundamental and revealing. The five British members of Monty Python all had Oxbridge educations, with Michael Palin and Terry Jones both attending Oxford, while Graham Chapman, John Cleese, and Eric Idle all came up through the Cambridge Footlights theater club. (The sixth member, Terry Gilliam, was an American expatriate, but attended a private liberal arts school and worked in advertising before leaving the country.) And while Monty Python’s comedy is often described as “anarchic,” its default mode is still basically to find comedy in the travails of a sane and reasonable man in the face of ridiculous absurdity. This is, after all, the basic structure of most of the troupe’s most famous moments, both on their television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, in sketches like “Dead Parrot” or “The Spanish Inquisition,” and in their films, such as the Black Knight sequence of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The sense of the anarchic tended to come less from the content of individual sketches and more from the way in which they were assembled to make episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, with the troupe employing the Spike Milligan-honed technique of cutting sketches off seemingly midway, combining this with Terry Gilliam’s surrealist collage-based animations to link the sketches. 

Figure 682: The first page of The Bojeffries Saga, introducing
Trevor  Inchmale. (Written by  Alan Moore, art by Steve
Parkhouse, from "The  Rentman Cometh" in  Warrior #12, 1982)
But none of this is particularly close to The Bojeffries Saga, which has no particularly avant garde structural techniques, and which is not especially concerned with the travails of sane and reasonable people. Even the first installment, a story in two parts entitled, respectively, “The Rentman Cometh” and “One of Our Rentmen is Missing,” and which comes the closest to tackling the Pythonesque structure of a sane man desperately railing against a lunatic world, ultimately lands far from that. The basic setup - a rentman attempts to investigate a house in seeming arrears only to discover a rabbit hole of impossible weirdness that culminates in him being transformed into a bowl of petunias by a senile Lovecraftian horror - is certainly in the same vein as what might be called the archetypal Monty Python sketch, but this obscures as much as it reveals. Trevor Inchmale, the rentman in question, is ultimately portrayed as being just as ridiculous as the Bojeffries family. Indeed, it is arguably Inchmale, more than any other character in the first story, who is the butt of the jokes. The story’s opening gag is a series of wide panels in which he is depicted biking down a street, thinking to himself, “‘Call me Inchmale.’ ‘Rentman!’ ‘Rent is My Business.’ ‘The Rentman Cometh.’ ‘The Old Rentaroonie.’ ‘Rent Asunder!’” A caption box helpfully explains: “There are many interesting ways in which to spend your mortal existence. Trevor Inchmale favours inventing titles for his forthcoming autobiography.” This sets the tone for a story in which the joke is not so much the absurd set of circumstances that Inchmale faces as it is Inchmale’s fundamental deficiency in being able to make any sense of them, watching, for instance, as Raoul, the werewolf, returns home as a wolf and simply assuming the Bojeffries are guilty of “keeping of pets without council permission.” The story is largely a farce, with increasingly absurd consequences emerging from humorous misunderstandings on the part of a character who can be relied upon to, regardless of the situation, be a complete idiot. 

Figure 683: Steve Parkhouse depicts Glinda Bojeffries snuggling up
to a somewhat alarmed Lenny Henry in the Tundra Press collection of
The Bojeffries Saga.
A potentially more accurate antecedent to The Bojeffries Saga within the history of British comedy is The Young Ones, a BBC Two sitcom that debuted in 1982, the year before The Bojeffries Saga launched. While Moore himself has never cited it as an inspiration, comedian Lenny Henry, when writing the introduction for the 1992 Tundra Publishing collection of The Bojeffries Saga, described the strip as “bringing an anarchy and weirdness to comics similar to the kick up the ass that The Young Ones brought to television.” And while there are still obvious differences - most blatantly that The Young Ones features no overtly supernatural elements (although it’s certainly not a strictly speaking “realistic” series either, with characters routinely doing things like surviving decapitations) - this is, on the whole, probably a more reasonable comparison than Monty Python, if only because The Young Ones is, like The Bojeffries Saga, at heart a show about a bunch of weirdos living together, albeit in this case a couple of University students and not a set of supernatural creatures. 

But in some ways more relevant than the subject matter is simply the attitude of The Young Ones. The show emerged out of the alternative comedy scene that formed around London comedy club the Comedy Store (and subsequently at the Comic Strip, a club formed when several prominent alternative comics split from the Comedy Store) more or less contemporaneously with the War, and, more broadly, and which shared the post-punk aesthetic of most British counterculture of the period. The style was explicitly political, formed in conscious opposition to the dominant mode of British stand-up comedy at the time, taking particular umbrage with the tendency towards overtly racist and sexist humor. But more than that, alternative comedy was based on a fundamental transition in the basic style and structure of comedy. Instead of focusing on comedy’s roots in the old music hall tradition, alternative comics were generally writer-performers who worked outside of the old-fashioned “joke” structure and focused exclusively on originally composed material instead of classic and well-worn gags. 

Figure 684: Alexei Sayle in The Young Ones.
But for all that Monty Python, as a troupe of writer-performers, marked an important antecedent to alternative comedy, the new movement was least in part defined by contrast to the Oxbridge-dominated tradition of comedy that preceded it. Indeed, Alexei Sayle, the MC at the Comedy Store when the alternative comedy scene was forming, and one of its most prominent members, cites a 1984 episode of The Young Ones that featured appearances from several comedians who came up through the Cambridge Footlights group a generation after Cleese and Chapman did, as the “turning point” in the alternative comedy scene, at which it started moving towards the political center and away from the radical political ideas that he’d envisioned for it.

Figure 685: Demented class-war ravings.
Sayle’s shock is not entirely fair (and it should be stressed that Sayle is clearly poking fun at his own political intransigence as much as he’s offering a serious history of the alternative comedy scene, describing how, upon turning up at the studio to discover the guest stars, he “railed at the writers,” saying, “The whole point of what we were doing was surely to challenge the smug hegemony of the Oxford, Cambridge, public-schoolboy comedy network, as well as destroying the old-school working men's club racists,” to which, in his telling, the writers replied “that was just you, we never subscribed to your demented class-war ravings”). [continued]

Comments

Jordan Murphy 2 years ago

I think the onscreen appearance of God (dressed as a Vegas lounge act) smiting people, a vampire, and a portal to Narnia all count as overtly supernatural elements on the Young Ones. They're all one-off jokes, of course.

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phuzz 2 years ago

Now I'm going to have to go off and see how many Young Ones episodes are on youtube, so thanks for that.

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Jordan Murphy 2 years ago

If you have Hulu Plus, the entire series is on there.

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Tony Morris 2 years ago

Could it be that part of the reason for The Bojeffries Saga's "marginal status" is because it was out of print for two decades between the Tundra edition in the early 90s and the Top Shelf collection in 2013?

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years ago

I find it rather disappointing that in picking apart "makes Monty Python look like a comedy", you completely miss the connection between it and the actual tagline for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which the writers clearly had in mind when devising that statement -- said tagline being "makes Ben Hur look like an epic".

Now, you may still say that said statement is irretrievably muddled, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have its point clearly in mind.

Similarly, you completely gloss over the crucial "bowl of petunias" reference; had he been turned into a falling whale, would you have gotten it, then?

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Shane Cubis 2 years ago

The vampire is Harry the Bastard in disguise, but you're otherwise spot-on. There are also the beheaded Elizabethan ghosts, one of whom loses his head in the lap of a farting woman.

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Shane Cubis 2 years ago

Can I also say that, in the tradition of Blur's Charmless Man, I would have liked to have been Alexei Sayle, but then nature didn't make me that way.

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BerserkRL 1 year, 12 months ago

The "Stir Crazy" strip reminds me of this: https://funnytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2005/11/200511232.jpg

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BerserkRL 1 year, 12 months ago

In addition, the self-deprecating nature of both "makes X look like Y" lines is surely deliberate. Mad magazine used to do something similar in the States.

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timber-munki 1 year, 12 months ago

I think it's a circular arguement - one of the reasons it was out of print was it's lack of popularity, especially in the US. I see it very much in the vein of The Beano and other British childrens comics which really have no equivalent in the US, the American Dennis The (allegedly, although I've never seen any evidence to warrant) Menace is just weak sauce and Archie is too concerned with the mundane.

Given that Moore hasn't fallen out with Parkhouse there'd be little reason for him to veto any publication (in fact the Knockabut/Top Shelf collection contains a new stroy)

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Daru 1 year, 12 months ago

I love me Alexei Sayle, his show Alexei Sayle's Stuff was was brilliantly surreal, acerbic and funny show. I have always enjoyed how he was a little bit of a misfit within the Alternative Comedy scene.

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encyclops 1 year, 12 months ago

The episode Sayle is talking about is surely "Bambi," and the comedians must be Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, and Emma Thompson. Along with series co-writer and (from what little I understand) avowed leftist Ben Elton, they played a quiz show team from "Footlights College," unbelievably posh and utterly clueless. They cheerfully bribe the quizmaster, who despite being friends with our boys has no intention of letting them win: "of course not -- the posh kids win, they always do." Eventually Vyvyan declares "I'm completely bloody sick of this" and obliterates the Footlights team with a grenade.

It's a strange episode to cite as a turning point toward the political center, but who am I to argue with the chanteur of "Doctor Marten's Boots"?

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Spoilers Below 1 year, 12 months ago

That episode is genius

The relevant clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3HvchF49AM

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