The Great Gran'pappy of All Dirges (The Last War in Albion Part 94: Not the World Cup)

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This is the sixth of eleven parts of The Last War in Albion Chapter Ten, focusing on Alan Moore's Bojeffries Saga. An omnibus of all eleven 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 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: The Bojeffries Saga was hardly the only minor work of Moore's early career.

"A dirge... space-trucker talk for a hard luck story. And this was the great gran'pappy of all dirges." - Alan Moore, "The Killer in the Cab"

Figure 715: Alan Moore's cartoons alongside
his glossary of trucker slang. (From The BJ and
the Bear Annual 1982)
For instance, in 1981 before Warrior had even launched, when his career consisted of The Stars My Degradation, Maxwell the Magic Cat, his Doctor Who work, and his earliest Future Shocks, Moore had a gig writing and illustrating text pieces for Grandreams’s 1982 BJ and the Bear Annual. BJ and the Bear was an American television series about a trucker (BJ) who drove around the country with his pet chimpanzee (Bear) that debuted with a pilot movie in October of 1978 and wrapped up in May of 1981 forty-eight episodes later. Its British 1982 Annual was, in other words, a marginal piece of cultural ephemera even when it was printed at the end of 1981. It did, however, contain a three page illustrated glossary of trucker slang compiled by Alan Moore that helpfully informed readers that “keep your nose between the ditches and Smokey out of your britches” meant “drive safely,” a piece that got recycled a year later for the 1983 Dukes of Hazzard Annual. The BJ and the Bear Annual also featured a three page illustrated account of various stories about monkeys, such as the story of how some villagers from Eelberdale, in the Hargesia region of Somalia, fought a pitched two-day battle with attacking monkeys, resulting in injuries to six villagers and the death of three hundred and sixty-three monkeys, and the story of a couple of chimpanzees attacking police in Tarzana California, a town that sprung up around a ranch owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which Moore ends by fondly musing on how “right there, in the home of the Lord of the Jungle, the apes of Tarzana struck a blow for animal liberation!”

Figure 716: Illustration to Moore's "Sawdust
Memories."
These stories are also instances of Moore’s early career dabbling in straight prose writing - a sideline from comics writing that exists across his career. This is not the first instance of this to emerge in the War - several of Moore’s contributions to The Daredevils also fall under this umbrella. And these are not the only examples. For instance, in 1984 Moore contributed a short story, “Sawdust Memories,” to the magazine Knave. The story is, aside from not being a comic, largely typical of Moore - its premise concerns a bar, Tuckers, that is “the only West-end niterie catering exclusively to the puppet fraternity,” a premise with no shortage of mirrors and parallels across his career. Similarly typical is the litany of references. The story features numerous jokes and allusions to various puppet shows - for instance, the bar was founded by and named after Tex Tucker, the sheriff character in the Gerry Anderson show Four Feather Falls

Figure 717: Football is not necessarily the most
natural subject for Moore. (1982)
All of these pieces are interesting not just for their content, however, but because of the way in which they are compelling reminders of the material culture that Moore emerged from. The trucker annuals, for instance, fit into a long tradition of British annuals, inexpensive things to be gifted at Christmas, and a close cousin of the summer specials that Moore first discovered Mick Anglo’s Marvelman in. Knave is a longstanding British softcore porn mag - one that Neil Gaiman also submitted to early in his career. They are marginal works, to be sure, but the psychochronographic territory on which they exist is nevertheless as deep as that of any major work. Indeed, even the most preposterously marginal-seeming of Moore’s early works can provide an extended and nuanced insight into the larger culture. For instance,  in between the BJ and the Bear and Dukes of Hazzard Annuals came a three-page contribution to Marvel UK’s Not the World Cup: The Official Souvenir Brochure. The piece envisions a television interview between Ted Drinkproblem and “the controversial star player of the Republic of Santa Mafiosa, Ricardo del Wolverine,” who shares a variety of helpful football tips such as how best to foul opposing players. (“Many beginnairs assume that eet iz best to foul the pairson ‘oo ‘az the futbaal. Not so. Eet iz far bettair to creepul the smallest and weakest playair, whether ‘ee ‘az the baal or not,” del Wolverine explains, before advising that it’s best to hit the player with a four-by-two and, if necessary, finish him off with an industrial rock drill while the ref isn’t looking.) The piece ends in a blaze of bewildering homoeroticism as del Wolverine demonstrates in detail how to go about kissing your teammates, working his way up the host’s arm while singing Barry Manilow’s “Feelings.” It is, to say the least, not Moore’s finest work, although the suggestion that scoring goals is best accomplished by calmly showing the goalkeeper a photograph of his family being menaced by a mobster with a tommy gun is a pretty good gag. 

But regardless of its quality, Not the World Cup highlights the cultural importance of football, a sport whose history in many ways is literally and directly the history of class relations in Britain. The notion of a ballgame involving one’s feet originates in numerous cultures, but the specifically British game dates back to at least the 9th century, where a version is referenced in the Historia Brittonum, which also provides the earliest reference to King Arthur. Originally played as a Shrovetide festivity in which neighboring towns and villages would attempt to drag an inflated pig’s bladder across the open space between the towns, with the objective being to get the ball into the neighboring town. The game had few rules - teams could be of unlimited size, and the allowed means of moving the ball were apparently anything that did not result in murder or manslaughter - but was nevertheless a recognizable antecedent to the modern game. The game survived numerous attempts to ban it over the centuries, generally on variations of the principle that it was inappropriate for poor people to have that much fun. Eventually and inevitably, however, the game was co-opted and codified by rich people, with public schools gradually codifying a set of rules until, in 1848, at an eight hour meeting of representatives from various schools, a set of organized rules now known as the Cambridge rules were written down. These formed much of the basis for the rules created fifteen years later by the nascent Football Association. 

Figure 718: Edmund Creswell and the 1872 Royal Engineers.
Over time, the Football Association’s control over the sport grew. In 1872, they organized the first edition of the FA Cup, which the Wanderers won in an upset victory over the Royal Engineers after Engineers player Edmund Creswell broke his collarbone, effectively reducing the team to ten men as the concept of substitutions had not yet been introduced to the rules.  The popularity of this event led to virtually all of the clubs in England wanting to join, and by extension agreeing to the FA-dictated ruleset. But while the FA had regulatory control over the game, the game continued to enjoy popularity among the working class, due largely to the fact that the basic requirements for playing it were little more than an open space and a ball, objects which even the most deprived areas of Britain could scrounge up. In 1822, a northern club, Blackburn Rovers, reached the final of the FA Cup for the first time, and in 1885 the Football Association finally caved to the inevitable and allowed for professional players, a move that benefitted clubs in working class areas, where amateur players had difficulties balancing the game with their workdays, a challenge not shared by the posh public schoolboy amateurs of the southern clubs. 

Figure 719: Marvel's Not the World Cup.
As the game spread across the world over the course of the 20th century, this dualism whereby a wealthy elite regulates (and ultimately profits from) the game while the working class provides the bulk of the players was mirrored wherever the game sprouted, which eventually became enough countries that, in 1904, FIFA, an international version of the Football Association, was founded in Paris, and, in 1930, organized the first World Cup. The 1982 edition of this tournament was played in Spain, with England maintaining their general record of limping pathetically out of the competition, this time going out in the second round after a pair of 0-0 draws with West Germany and Spain. But the fact of England’s mediocrity at yet another sport they’d invented did not detract from the event’s popularity, with no end of souvenir merchandise being produced, including Marvel UK’s humorous Not the World Cup

More to the point, football, in England, consists of a hierarchy of numerous leagues, starting from what was in 1982 the Football League First Division, but is now the FA-independent Premier League, and continuing down through what are now twenty-four tiers, with four hundred and eighty separate leagues and divisions containing around seven thousand teams running from the Premier League, with internationally recognized icons like Manchester United and Chelsea, all the way down to the Mid-Sussex Football League Division Eleven, where the Scayne’s Hill Reserves fight it out with Crawley United for the possibility of promotion to the twenty-third tier of the pyramid, the Mid-Sussex Football League Division Ten. The sheer size of this structure, with a football team for every seven square miles, or one for every 7500 people, means that football is woven into the basic cultural fabric of the country. Like The Beano and The Dandy, English football is just something you have, like rickets. 

Figure 720: The first appearance of Roy of the
Rovers
 in Tiger.
And so, of course, this was always reflected in the country’s comics, with football comics being a staple of the British comics magazine for virtually the entire history of the industry. The iconic example of the genre is Roy of the Rovers, an IPC strip originating in Tiger in 1954, before spinning off to headline its own comic in 1976. It chronicled the adventures of Roy Race, a lifelong football fan who made his debut for his beloved Melchester Rovers, rather improbably, in a European Cup final after an injury to the team’s regular striker, scoring the winning goal. This provided a template for decades of subsequent stories, which generally featured similarly improbable and heroic victories won with nothing more than good old-fashioned British sportsmanship and grit. Indeed, the importance of football to the national culture is crucial to understanding why, of the numerous violent and over the top strips in Action, it was Look Out for Lefty (originally drawn by Moore’s Not the World Cup artist, Barrie Mitchell) that, for most of the magazine’s glory days, attracted the most controversy - because unlike the sympathetic Nazi of Hellman of Hammer Force or the continual explosions of red mist offered by Hook Jaw, Look Out for Lefty offered a sympathetic portrayal of working class violence grounded firmly in the material realities of working class, and, more to the point, in the real spectre of football hooliganism, which had left Leeds United facing a ban on European competition after their fans rioted during and after their defeat by Bayern Munich in the 1975 European Cup final less than a year before Action made its debut.

Figure 721: Blake's engraving of a portrait of William
Cowper. 
So even though his contribution to Not the World Cup is not particularly good, and even though it is clearly not a strip Moore was particularly enthused about, it was nevertheless a work that is situated deep in the specifically British comics industry that Moore both grew up reading the products of and sought employment in. This industry, it is important to recall, was the sole industry he aspired to work in when he started out, and while it’s clear he’d spent time thinking about the idea of working in American comics, Len Wein’s fateful phone call in May 1983 was still sufficiently out of left field that his initial reaction was to assume the caller “was David Lloyd doing a funny voice.” The career that Moore imagined was much closer to the one implied by a writer who dashes off glossaries of trucker lingo and humor strips about football in amidst the Future Shocks and puppet fiction for skin mags, and perhaps by things like his pair of fumetti for Scream - a career in which the opportunity to write Skizz for 2000 AD would be a highlight and not a footnote, and one that is perhaps perfectly embodied by a 1980 photo of Moore inking a Roscoe Moscow strip hunched over an old Ottoman because the heat had gone off in his upstairs office. That was the sort of career enjoyed by his mentor, Steve Moore, after all - a career Moore later described in Unearthing thusly: “the days grind forward measured in worn-out typewriter ribbons. In 1974, he lands a gig at Thorpe & Porter’s House of Hammer, scripts The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, captions oozing his still-burgeoning obsession with Cathay. 1975, he’s writing endless children’s annuals, documenting the Sex Secrets of Bankok for a soft-core relaunch of Tit Bits, ducking furtively behind the mystifying pseudonym of Pedro Henry. When the work is thin, down to the Croxley onion-skin, he’ll work a day or two for Bram Stokes at the relocated Dark They Were and Golden Eyed along the faintly miserable defile of St. Anne’s Court.” And while one might be tempted to argue that a writer of Alan Moore’s skill and caliber was never going to be confined to such meager grounds, one might also recall Moore’s description of Blake in Felpham: “their cottage, once the early beatific ozone rush is gone from the sea air, is damp and poorly humid. Mildewed pointillism bleeds into the stipple of his miniatures. Angry at his subservience to a lesser writer, to a lesser man, he comes to loath the thing that he depends upon. Hayley, his patron, is a self-inflated mediocrity and yet so generous. The work, the fine commissions, portrait cameos of poets. He can see them, funeral processions of giant phantoms on the Sussex shore. Milton and Dante, Chaucer, William Cowper lost and broken, shying at the bar of his own lunacy. A lesson there. His drawing paper cockles with the damp. He put a brave face on it all, one of the only faces he has left.”

This vision is not some mere alternate history of a world where there never was a War, where Moore’s Scottish devil had no great master whose career he could illustrate, where a Hampshire journalist never gets a vital lesson in writing comic scripts, and where a boy from Essex and games journalist from Bath don’t have a comics industry waiting to receive the next British genius with open arms. Rather, it is a career that happened alongside the familiar narrative of Moore’s chain of successes from 1979 to 1986 - a career that consists of nothing more or less than the sum total of works that don’t fit into the tale of Moore’s relentless march to success, and even some, like much of his 2000 AD work, that do. [continued]

Comments

Daibhid C 1 year, 10 months ago

It's amazing how many people I've heard of wrote for Knave. Neil Gaiman once explained on his blog (in the contect of Alan Moore, in fact) that his first sale was to a "respectable" magazine, which paid him £80 and never used it. His second was to a porn mag which paid him £200 and it appeared in the next issue. Who would you rather work for?

I love how the illustration from "Sawdust Memories" blacks out Florence from Magic Roundabout's eyes, presumably so she can't be identified...

The description of the cultural importance of football jumps between "English" and "British". But for cultural purposes, Scottish football is exactly the same, only different in almost all the details.

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Daru 1 year, 10 months ago

I've never been a football fan, but as a Scottish kid I have glorious memories of my father helping me in the 70's, duck under wooden turnstiles to go and see (without paying) the Heart of Midlothian Football Club (or just Hearts) in Edinburgh. What grabbed me was the overall sensory experience of shouting & singing crowds, guys running on a pitch, chart music on the tannoys, meat pies and bovril at half time. I liked those things but didn't give two hoots about the game.

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Daru 1 year, 10 months ago

"Originally played as a Shrovetide festivity in which neighboring towns and villages would attempt to drag an inflated pig’s bladder across the open space between the towns, with the objective being to get the ball into the neighboring town."

In the Scottish Borders towns they have in many of them a summer community event called 'Common Ridings' (see: http://returntotheridings.co.uk/). They usually involve lots of horses and songs with the horses being ridden round the town boundaries as a kind of 'beating the bounds' - kind of funnily reminiscent of the Song of the Terraces.

In the town of Jedburgh, not far from the border, they have a pretty wild form of early football game that still survives. The town sits on a high hill and as described above the game has little rules and is played between the 'Uppies' and the 'Downies' - those at the top and bottom of the town.

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Daibhid C 1 year, 10 months ago

"The thing about football, the important thing about football, is that it's not just about football." -Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett

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John Peacock 1 year, 10 months ago

I used to know someone who worked for a different top shelf magazine - I forget which once, Penthouse, I think. He said that in order to get proper advertisers, the magazine needed some kind of sensible content, but as it wasn't mission critical, what that content was was left up to the whim of the editor, which in this case favoured classic cars. So, on any given month, you could find, amongst the gynaecological pictorials, exhaustive and lovingly photographed essays on Bugattis, Aston Martins and so forth.

The designer in question ended up in children's books, where I think he was a lot happier.

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BerserkRL 1 year, 10 months ago

Alan Moore's bear-in-the-air cartoon startles me, since I had a similar-looking (but more cyborgised -- and of course less well-drawn) bear-in-the-air in a comic book I wrote in 1977.

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