Previously in The Last War in Albion: The short-lived Fleetway magazine Revolver saw one of Neil Gaiman’s few publications with the company, which he generally eschewed due to the feeling that it was a poor investment for his career.
Has time worn so thin? Have men grown so small? Are all the Seven Cities sleeping? Does only one beloved thing remain in the wreckage of a world that once was Rama? -Grant Morrison, Vimanarama
This was, in its own way, on display with his story for the Revolver Horror Special, “Feeders and Eaters.” The story itself is a minor work—a nine pager that wraps the disquieting central image of someone being slowly cannibalized while still living into a basic frame story, told moodily by Gaiman’s Miracleman collaborator Mark Buckingham. But the version in the Revolver Horror Special is one of three separate versions of the story that Gaiman has written and sold in his career. Six years later Gaiman revisited the idea for Ellen Datlow’s anthology Off Limits: Tales of Alien Sex, this time calling it “Eaten (Scenes from a Moving Picture)” and reconstructing it as “an outline for a pornographic horror film I’d never make.” Much of the plot is different this time, although the focus on sex as consumption remains, as does an image of someone exposing their hand to reveal that “her fingers look like ribs, or chicken wings, well-chewed and rescued from a garbage can—dry bones with scraps of flesh and cartilage.” In 2002 he revisited the story again, this time for Stephen Jones’s anthology Keep Out the Night. This version was a direct adaptation of the comic, although it recycled language from “Eaten (Scenes from a Moving Picture)” in its description of a hand where “most of the flesh had been picked from the bones, chewed like chicken wings, leaving only dried morsels of meat, scraps and crumbs, and little else.” Across the three versions the story saw print in ten separate anthologies, including two Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror collection and two of Gaiman’s own short story anthologies, as well as getting a television adaptation as part of Sky Arts’ Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories anthology, an impressive spread of moneymaking opportunities that decisively fulfilled Gaiman’s stated goal of not writing one-offs.
The other major strip in Revolver, at least in terms of the War, was Rogan Gosh, an effort by Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy, who had previously created Paradax, one of the primary inspirations on Morrison’s creation of Zenith. Milligan was another of the War’s minor combatants—he got his start in 1978 in Sounds running the strip The Electric Hoax along with McCarthy (It was their slot on the comics page that Moore took over in March 1979 for Roscoe Moscow) before settling into a career writing for 2000 AD with a series of Future Shocks followed by the original strip Bad Company) alongside his independent work in Strange Days. McCarthy, meanwhile, wielded a gonzo and often psychedelic style, and Rogan Gosh saw the pair leaning fully into this tendency with a psychedelic vision quest that jumped freely throughout multiple timelines. It opens with Rudyard Kipling, racked with guilt following the suicide of his manservant after the two were caught in flagrante delicto, seeking the services of “a rare breed called Karmanaughts, who could relieve a man of the curses of his sins, or as the Hindus say, his karma.” A few pages in, however, the scene shifts to a present-day setting in the Star of the East Indian restaurant in Stoke. As the comic ensues each of these timelines is revealed to be the dream of the other, while the psychedelic adventures the characters embark upon suggest yet other adventures.
The comic is a triumph of psychedelia—Morrison listed it as one of their all-time top superhero comics, saying that “Milligan’s probably the best literary writer to have ever done superhero stuff, and McCarthy is a hidden gem, our Salvador Dalí.” It’s easy to see Rogan Gosh as an influence on Morrison’s Flex Mentallo, especially when Rogan Gosh settles in its final pages on being about a depressed young man’s dying thoughts after slitting his wrists. There were few British comics in the 80s and 90s as completely unlike anything else as Rogan Gosh, and the strip stands out in that regard.
And yet there is something fundamentally unpleasant about the whole project. There is much to be said for the comic’s focus on Indian culture—a prominent part of 1980s Britain that was largely ignored by the comics of the time. But there is something tokenizing and crass about Rogan Gosh’s engagement with Indian culture and Hinduism. The bad signs start on the first page, when Kipling journeys to “Jadoo Gher, the Magic House a den of opium in the teeming heart of Lahore.” The name comes from Kipling’s own Kim, where it is the name of the Masonic Lodge in Lahore, giving a clear sense of how deep Milligan’s research is, or, more accurately, isn’t. This suspicion is only confirmed by a later chain of cringeworthy Indian food metaphors. “A delicately spiced sneer marinates the face of Raju Dhawan… his soul hardened as if slowly baked in a clay tandoor over heated charcoal for a thousand and one nights… his tongue a phial sauce of vitriolic vindalooese… life for Raju has always seemed just so much chana masala cast indifferently upon a chapati of cold and greasy aspect… Raju—shrewder than the shrewdest mulligatawny—was throwing away his life at a murghish curry house! … Who would think that fate would bind the destinies of Raju and Dean, closer than the coiled filigrees of the tightest onion bhajee?” Not only is this genuinely terrible, large portions of it are outright meaningless. Mulligatawny is a soup typically made from lentils, and it is unclear why it would be described as “shrewd,” just as it is unclear why a curry house would be chickenish. One suspects that Milligan has simply grabbed an Indian takeaway menu and thrown words together, attempting to make sense when he was confident what a dish was, but otherwise more or less at random. More broadly, it is difficult not to notice that Rogan Gosh is a story about white people, with Hinduism and Indian culture existing mostly as a tool for facilitating their transformations of consciousness,
A similar sense of unease comes from Brendan McCarthy’s essay “Amar Chitra! Zoom! Zoom! Zoom!” in Revolver #2, in which he attempts to give an overview of Indian comics based on little more than his discovering a few wandering around the Southall market. “Most Indian comics are artistically naive,” McCarthy sneers, “usually crudely derivative styles taken from the syndicated American strips (especially The Phantom) that are so popular throughout the Third World,” which is apparently a place with homogenous taste. It’s an arrogantly dismissive account—he describes Indian comics as little more than teaching tools for Hindu mythology—that is nevertheless positioned as a praiseful introduction to an underacknowledged area of comics. “If this first look at Indian comics helps the process [of finding them a new audience] along, then I’m all for it,” writes McCarthy as though he’s not just spent a page and a half dismissing them.
Of course, it’s worth acknowledging that this is, in a real sense, Milligan and McCarthy repeating the longstanding errors of the psychedelic and mystical traditions, which have always involved the fetishistic appropriation of non-European cultures. Rogan Gosh is particularly crass and graceless about it, but this is nothing that Timothy Leary, Aleister Crowley, and others hadn’t done before. (One might also point to Purple Days in Revolver, which saw acclaimed music journalist Charles Shaar Murray offer a more elaborate imagining of Jimi Hendrix’s spiritual relationship with his indigenous heritage than a white British journalist really ought to write.) Expansion and transformation of consciousness was always something that was grounded in dubiously accurate appropriations of Hinduism, Buddhism, and indigenous religions; Moore and Morrison both engage in it to varying degrees across their careers and the results are often brilliant and dubious in equal measures. It doesn’t make Rogan Gosh anything less of a revelatory and groundbreaking comic; just a markedly less pleasant one.
Rogan Gosh was one of two major strips Milligan contributed to the late 80s/early 90s British scene. The other was Johnny Nemo, done with Brett Ewins in Deadline. Originally appearing in Strange Days alongside Paradax, Johnny Nemo was a noir style private investigator in the futuristic world of New London, an over the top cyberpunk world characterized by the same sort of satirical excesses as Judge Dredd’s Mega-City One. The result was essentially a 2000 AD comic that was allowed to be naughty. Nemo was a cynical bastad of a protagonist—as he put it in the first installment in Deadline, “New London’s dangerous, decadent, and disgustingly violent. But that’s why I like it. It suits my personality.”
In practice the strip swung from a pleasantly satirical bite to a more ill-advised and harmful style of humor. One strip, “Cogito, Ergo Buggered,” sees Nemo hit with a “brain bomb” that causes him to philosophize uncontrollably. (A trap laid by “Eddie Plato, the philosophical assassin,” who claims to have been hired “by a group of judges, press barons, and necrophiliacs.” After his efforts to clear his head through mindless violence and the mss slaughter of innocents, where he’s finally able to purge the brain bomb by watching the entire two hundred year run of EastEnders at “hyperfast subliminal level.” It’s a charming, fun bit of comics. In this regard it’s very much unlike “The Immaculate Misconception,” which sees Nemo hired to protect the virginity of the alien “Princess Dania” on the night before her royal wedding. Dania spends the entire strip trying to get Nemo to sleep with her, leading to an end of comic reveal that Dania successfully copped off with one of Nemo’s friends while he was distracted and that her species changes gender once they lose their virginity. What ensues are a series of transphobic gags that make Morrison’s missteps in this regard look positively sweet and charming by comparison.
Deadline, the magazine that Johnny Nemo published in, was one of the cornerstones of this British comics renaissance. Created by Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon, Deadline stood out from the other magazines of the era by dint of not being purely a comics magazine, but instead combined comics with interviews and articles. The first issue featured interviews with comedian Dave Allen, Jah Wobble, Red Dwarf actor Danny John-Jules, the band House of Love, and Brian Bolland, while later issues featured an interview with Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz about Big Numbers, an interview with Who Framed Roger Rabbit director Robert Zemeckis, Lemmy of Motörhead fame, Nine Inch Nails, and a bevy of others. This was a magazine that combined comics with the wider range of popular culture, and one that had a savvy sense of what’s cool.
The comics side of the magazine was a similarly brash. With two artists overseeing the magazine it is perhaps unsurprising that its best instincts came in the artists who worked for the magazine—a mixture of up and comers like Philip Bond and Al Columbia alongside hidden gems of the British scene like D’Israeli and Shaky Kane. But the writing side had its prominent contributors too, with the magazine providing Warren Ellis with his first professional credit, a macabre piece called “United We Fall,” written as a suicide note from within a future dystopia. It’s clumsy and has way too many ideas in it (Margaret Thatcher preserved as a batty racist 160 year old Prime Minister, accidental alien genocide, pollution, biological warfare, and a few others), but the seeds of what he’d become are still visible, both in deft pen portraits of atrocity like “those bastards were clapping and cheering, and some of them were black, but they clapped away because they thought of themselves as white… until the soldiers appeared behind them” and in more ominous lines like “Yesterday we had giant hailstones. My neighbour had her head crushed by one. She was only fourteen. I’d had sex with her once or twice.”
By far the most notable strip in Deadline, however, was Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett’s Tank Girl. Indeed, Tank Girl is by some margin the most enduring cultural remnant of the entire late 80s/early 90s comics renaissance—a bona fide pop culture phenomenon. The reasons for this are obvious at first glance—the comic is an explosion of raw, anarchic style. The house style of this era of British comics was by and large rough-hewn and transgressive—vivid and expressionistic art was favored over the tidy style that had characterized previous generation stars like Bolland and Gibbons. (Even Steve Dillon, a veteran of that previous era, roughed up his style a bit in Deadline.) And within that style there was nobody more accomplished than Hewlett. His art had an unkempt wildness that seemed to burst with color despite being in black and white. It was punk, to be sure, but more than that it was simply explosively weird, vibrant, and cool.
This was helped by the world that Martin and Hewlett crafted—a far future Australia in which “kangaroos had moved on from destroying crops to snogging farmers and burning their kids.” The first strip sees an angry gang of kangaroos attacking a barbecue before Tank Girl launches counterattack in an attempt to claim a bounty on the head of Rocky Deadhead, the kangaroo gang’s leader. After a chase they find themselves atop a mesa where they share a laugh, snog, and then Tank Girl shoots Rocky in the face and drags him away for the bounty. All of this is framed in a gleefully over the top manner. The kangaroos have dialogue like “Sup the beer, snog the bitches, and burn that fat guy!” and “We’re nasty and we smell!” Tank Girl simply runs over everyone, kangaroo and barby guest alike, failing to hear their screams because she’s got her music on too loud. And at another point she muses on why she can hear whatever the kangaroo leader says, concluding, “must be something to do with comics and all that crap!” It’s gleeful, over the top, and unimaginably fun.
It was also perfectly timed. [continued]