Warriors in the Vale of Entuthon-Benython (The Last War in Albion Part 6: Captain Clyde and Scotland)
This is one of several ideas I have for how to make a profit off of The Last War in Albion, and so this is not some “pay money or I’ll terminate the project” thing. But equally, if none of the ideas to get this to be a source of income work out it’s ultimately not a project I’ll be able to devote much time to. So, you know, buying the digital single of this and future chapters is an effective way of helping make sure this project remains viable.
Right now this is an experiment, and the cover art is thus rudimentary. If it goes even remotely well I’ll get some proper cover art and probably make some other bits of fine-tuning for future chapters, and this will be a thing that happens every five or six entries. If it only sells two copies then we’ll sigh and never speak of this again. But for now, if you’re enjoying the project, please pick up the digital single of Chapters One and Two, and keep buying future singles as they come out. It is, I hope, a small and reasonable price to pay to help give work like this the support it needs to happen.
Either way, as ever, thanks for reading. – Philosophizin’ Phil Sandifer
PREVIOUSLY IN THE LAST WAR IN ALBION: The time is 1979. Grant Morrison, a 17-year-old Scotsman, has begun to write and draw comics for the short-lived but well-meaning attempt at an adult comics magazine Near Myths. These comics, like Near Myths itself, are heavily indebted to the literary new wave movement in science fiction and fantasy, a movement that was spearheaded, in the UK, by writers like J.G. Ballard and Michael Moorcock who played heavily with the blending of genres and images from different types of stories. This, in turn, can be related to an older eschatological conception of the collapse of time and identity found in writers like William Blake. But this is not the only comics work Grant Morrison is up to…
|Figure 39: Fusion #7, featuring Captain|
Clyde on the cover (1985)
Regardless of his reasons for abandoning art, the Captain Clyde strips and Starblazer issue are interesting both for providing the last major glimpses of Morrison’s vision of himself as a writer-artist in the Bryan Talbot mould and for providing the remaining body of Morrison’s work that carries no influence whatsoever from Alan Moore. Of these Captain Clyde provides some particular difficulties, namely that only two installments of the strip are even remotely easily accessed, although the Mitchell Library in Glasgow is believed to have copies of the newspapers that covered it. Nevertheless, at least some conclusions can be drawn. Starblazer, on the other hand, is in a somewhat more ironic position. It is somewhat easier to acquire because of a dedicated community of fans who preserve and scan such comics (much how Near Myths survives), but is considerably less talked about. Captain Clyde is easier to simply link to the existing material, which consists of a 1985 interview in the fanzine Fusion #7 that focused on Captain Clydeunearthed in 2013 by Deep Space Transmissions, and illustrated with several clips from the comic. Beyond that, there is only really Grant Morrison’s own description of the character in Supergods that is remotely easy to access regarding this character. (Some full runs are known to exist in private hands, but they have not been scanned or widely disseminated)
|Figure 40: The Govan Press is still published today.|
Captain Clyde was a gimmick of a strip for the local newspaper The Govan Press, a local paper for an ex-burgh of Glasgow that had been around since 1851. (The paper – Govan itself dates back to the 5th or 6th century.) Grant Morrison, recommended by his local political agitator of a father, was asked to provide a comic strip, specifically a superhero local to Glasgow. The editors, Colin Tough, apparently wanted something in the style of the 1960s Adam West Batman series that had been popular in the UK a decade earlier and still rerun on ITV as schedule filler, but did not care enough to actually edit or enforce this desire on Grant Morrison. Morrison instead took a lightly satirical angle on the source material, writing the exploits of Chris Melville, an unemployed lout of a young Scottish man who comes “into direct contact with the ancient magic of Britain’s pagan countryside,” as Morrison writes about it in Supergods, and becomes the eponymous Captain Clyde.
|Figure 41: The lurid camp of the Adam West Batman series|
proved to have an oddly enduring appeal.
This reflects an oddity of Captain Clyde and of Grant Morrison’s early work – a quirk that makes him distinctive within his generation of British comics writers. Morrison is Scottish. This is a part of his identity in the same way that Alan Moore’s Northampton roots shape his interests and career. Captain Clyde, in particular, reflects that fact. The discussion of “Britain’s pagan countryside” evokes the classic horror film The Wicker Man, made in 1973 and, in fact, rereleased in 1979 in America to considerable acclaim, and also run occasionally on ITV in the late 1970s. The Wicker Man was set on a fictional Scottish island called Summerisle, difficult to access from the mainland. A police officer comes to Summerisle to investigate a disappearance, and finds himself caught up in a sinister mystery set within the initially charming-seeming rural village. The police officer is a devout Christian, creating initial tension with the island’s adherence to old pagan practices, and as the film unfolds the pagan celebrations take a sinister turn that amounts to a nipple-heavy version of 1960s classic The Prisoner’s take on vacation destinations. Ultimately, the police officer is burnt alive in the eponymous wicker man by the villainous Lord Summerisle, played with relish by Christopher Lee, while the villagers cheerily sing an old folk song, “Summer is Icumun In.” As Morrison put it in 2013, “in Scotland, we’re pretty weird.”
|Figure 42: Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker|
The Wicker Man fit into an entire history of 1970s countryside horror that included the early Tom Baker era of Doctor Who, children’s horror serial Children of the Stones, and a wealth of other period horror. These stories typically meshed the pagan history of Britain with the modern day, suggesting a lurking horror or power in the lost pagan lore. This, however, raises the question of what this lost pagan lore is. This, in turn, requires a general history of Great Britain. Great Britain generally refers to the largest island of the United Kingdom, which contains the individual countries (but not sovereign states) of England, Scotland, and Wales. England is the most populous of these, and in essence consists of the territory seized and held by the Norman William the Conquerer, who invaded Britain in 1066, and previously populated largely by Anglo-Saxon population that dominated mainland Europe. Wales and Scotland consist of territory that at least initially held out against English rule.
|Figure 43: Scotland for the geographically challenged.|
English rule consisted not only of the racial distinction between the Norman English and the Celtic Scots, but between the largely Christian (and previously Norse) population of England and the Celtic pagan tradition of both Scotland and Wales. These populations were not less Christian by any measure, but they had a different flavor of Christianity that, by British self-mythology, ought be considered an entirely distinct church from the Roman Catholic church, although this claim is historically dubious. The suppressed Celtic religions, however, took on a mythic standing for the eventual material suppression of the Scottish and Welsh populations as the Norman English flexed their political and military muscle over the island. By the end of the 16th century all of Wales was annexed to England, and in the early 18th century Scotland was fully unified with England under Queen Anne, having previously been hastily cobbled together in a sort of political shotgun marriage in 1603 when King James VI of Scotland further acquired the title of James I of England following the death of Queen Elizabeth, last of the Tudor monarchs, becoming first of the Scottish Stewarts. Anne herself was the last of the Stewart monarchs, and was succeeded by the German George I. This sequence of events did not go down entirely well with all portions of the legendarily, nay, stereotypically feisty Scottish population – as Morrison joked in a convention Q&A, “my fucking country… my country has been ruled by the fucking English for five hundred years, so don’t tokenise me, okay?!,” a self-conscious overreaction that served as a loving parody of certain flavors of Scottish identity.
|Figure 44: Atkinson Grimshaw’s “Shipping on the Clyde”|
The long and short of it is that both Scotland and Wales maintained a sense of cultural independence after their forced mergers, but culturally, politically, and economically they were both treated as second class citizens of the newborn Great Britain (later the United Kingdom following the 19th century appendage of Ireland, which broke up partially in the early 20th century when Ireland split off, followed by the counter-secession of Northern Ireland in 1922). Scotland largely fared better than Wales; in the mid-18th century Edinburgh, the capital, was the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment, contributing major thinkers like David Hume and Adam Smith to the world. Capitalism was literally invented by the Scottish, as, in many ways, was the industrial revolution, which led to a 19th century boom in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city.
|Figure 45: The club crest of Rangers|
F.C., the traditional club of Protestant
Scots and conservative voters.
Glasgow is the more industrial city to Edinburgh’s more upper class sheen. Situated on the River Clyde with easy shipping access to the Atlantic Ocean through the Firth of Clyde, it was a center not just of industrial money but of labour-focused politics. It is in Glasgow that Scotland’s two major football teams, Celtic F.C. and Rangers F.C. play. Their rivalry, known as the Old Firm, both had a heyday in European soccer, with Celtic winning the European Cup along with both Scottish cups and a league cup in 1967, but carries with it a deeply unpleasant racial and religious dimension – Rangers F.C. have had to take active measures to crack down on the singing of sectarian chants like “Billy Boys,” a song that boasts that “we are the Billy Boys, hullo, hullo. You’ll know us by our noise. We’re up to our knees in fenian blood, surrender or you’ll die.” Fenian, in this case, refers to Irish nationalists, and explains why, in 2006, Rangers were forced by footballing authorities to explicitly forbid singing of the song.
|Figure 46: Tom Baker’s Doctor Who in mildly outlandish|
Scottish garb from Terror of the Zygons (1975)
The cultural successes of Glasgow and Edinburgh did not disguise the degree to which Scotland was widely treated as a bit of a cultural punchline by the politically more powerful England. Doctor Who sent it up in the 1976 story Terror of the Zygons, in which the Loch Ness Monster is, predictably, revealed as an alien cyborg. Three years earlier, The Wicker Man made unsettling horror out of the otherwise seemingly innocuous practices of maypole rituals and folk music. And then there’s 1979, the year a seventeen-year-old Grant Morrison started Captain Clyde for a local paper in the outskirts of Glasgow, and two further small papers in syndication – one in Renfrew, six miles west of Glasgow, and another in Clydebank, which, as its name suggests, abuts Glasgow on the River Clyde.
The strip took the superficial glitz of superhero comics filtered through the requested Adam West Batman series, but situated it in the working class realities of late-20th century Scotitsh life. Begun in 1979, the first year of the Thatcher government, Captain Clyde started as a lightly satirical roman a clef, with Chris Melville fitting Grant Morrison’s self-description of himself at the time as “a dole casualty, another of Thatcher’s victims, a statistic,” only simultaneously living the should-be glitzy life of the superhero. By Morrison’s own admission, though, he got bored fast. He was paid £4 a week for the strip, less than Alan Moore was getting for his far simpler-to-draw weekly Maxwell the Magic Cat strips at basically the same time. He eventually got a raise to £6. Nobody ever wrote in about the strip, seemingly leading Morrison to attempt increasingly outlandish plots in a bid to get a reaction out of anybody. The strip came to contain “baby-eating demons and murderous skull-faced horrors,” and Morrison was eventually sacked three years into the strip by a new editor at The Govan Press after the strip was dropped in both of the other papers. The reasons for his sacking are not entirely difficult to surmise – Morrison himself notes that it was surely a welcome development for “traumatized readers who could once more consult the TV listings without being assaulted by satanic imagery and blasted skeletons,” an assessment it is difficult, conceptually, to disagree with.
|Figure 47: Tony O’Donnell’s cover to|
Grant Morrison’s never-finished sci-fi
epic Abraxas (1987)
Due both to the rarity of the material and the considerable excesses of Morrison’s style, it is difficult to get much of a sense of Captain Clyde beyond the sense that it was particularly creative juvenilia. On three separate occasions when talking about the strip Morrison has mentioned a story where Melville goes to the dentist and his teeth break the drill, though this story is not among the strips that can be found. Past that, details are difficult to pin down with any precision. As mentioned, the existing clippings come from a 1985 fanzine interview with Morrison conducted by Tony O’Donnell, a minor British comics artist who peaked with some work for Marvel UK on Ghostbusters.
These consist of four complete strips and twelve smaller excerpts from strips. The first strip appears to be from the earliest days of the strip – a plot that O’Donnell describes summarises as Melville being “offered the powers of Earth and Fire by the earth goddess Elen – If he could defeat her champion, Magna.” This, Morrison explains in response, is because of “an interest in ley lines and earth magic and all that pseudo mystical, hippy shit,” marking the first documented instance of Morrison’s fascination with magic and the occult. Morrison reiterates this in Supergods, using the story of his uncle giving him the Aleister Crowley/Frieda Harris Thoth Tarot for his nineteenth birthday, which got him into magic as a bridge between his discussion of Chris Claremont’s run on the X-Men and his own Captain Clyde work. [continued]