HAMMERSTEIN vs. THE US PRESIDENT

Hammerstein by Clint Langley

Great cover by Clint on the latest 2000AD.  And my favorite episode of “Return to Earth” follows shortly thereafter, which shows the United Kingdom in a less than flattering light.

If the idea of Britain as the bad guys seems a bit strange, it’s largely down to how unfamiliar that is in the pages of popular fiction, because they are generally written by conservative writers. Although in the pages of fact things are finally starting to change, even if they still have a long way to go.

Consider for instance, Cruel Britannia by Ian Cobain, published by Portobello Books, which relates the British torture of Nazi POWs during and after World War Two. It describes “the horrifying interrogation methods that belie our proud boast that we fought a clean war.” (tinyurl.com/9ju64mj)

And the excellent Unpatriotic History of the Second World War by James Heartfield (Zero Books). It describes how British officers pushed in front of their men to escape at Dunkirk.  It relates the Allied policy of taking no prisoners when fighting against the Japanese.  It talks about the British responsibility for the Bengal famine in which 1.5 million to 4 million people died.  It was not a natural thing, “the cause of the famine was an order from Churchill to starve the Bengalis, the order was called the Rice Denial policy.”

Actually, I think it’s patriotic to finally recognize that Britain is no different to any other country and is not morally superior – which is certainly what I was taught at school.  Or rather lied to at school.  I can remember being told how evil the Mau Mau freedom fighters in Kenya were. Ditto freedom fighters in Aden, Malaya and Cyprus. Anyone who challenges Britain and stop it stealing their wealth must – by definition – be evil.

No wonder the UK was known in other countries as Perfidious Albion.  We have carefully whitewashed over the darkness of our appalling history and we still today have jingoistic reporting of Prince Harry, after his recent shenanigans, as an intrepid hero in Afghanistan  – “Prince vows to fight on after deadly gun battle” –  which is nothing short of an old school, Imperialist Ripping Yarn designed to boost army recruitment, along with the Action Man toys owned by the MOD. I don’t know about his current tour, but an army officer told me the Prince was very well protected on his previous heroic tour.

So nothing’s really changed from the days of Kipling, Henty and all the other justifiers of Empire.  We still have the White Man’s Burden which I satirised – with co-writer Alan Mitchell – in Black Man’s Burden in Crisis. Powerfully illustrated by the late John Hicklenton, it showed the other side of the Tarzan coin with images from the British massacres of the Kenyans during the Mau Mau rebellion.  The printers were so appalled, they tried to stop it being published.  Britain just doesn’t do things like that. Or rather, it rarely gets found out.  This is a foreign edition, I’m afraid as – to date – it has never been reprinted by a British publisher, although I live in hope.

So look out for an upcoming episode of the ABC Warriors where a British Prime Minister (Old Etonian and Bullingdon Boy) and the descendant of  a Mau Mau leader fight to the death in a globally televised Rollerball-style Tournaphon.  They have both trained for months for a series of pentathlon-style contests, which viewers phone in and vote for, concluding with a single combat event.  War has just been banned by the United Nations so this is the way conflicts between leaders are resolved in the future.

Imagine such a scenario in real life and who might win.  Blair versus Saddam Hussein. Bush versus Bin Laden. Obama versus Assad  Ahmadinejad versus Netanyahu. Cameron versus Gaddafi.  Single combat is less absurd than mass-slaughter. Why should squaddies be sent to do their dirty work? How heroic would our leaders be if they had to do the fighting themselves?  I think they’d try a whole lot harder for peace if their own lives were on the line.The fact that it seems bizarre, ridiculous and science fiction to us, is a measure of how brainwashed we are to the logic and inevitability of war.  Yet surprisingly General Smedley Butler, America’s most decorated soldier, once talked in not dissimilar terms. He suggested that the only people who should vote for war  should be those who would be called upon to do the fighting and the dying.  “Only those who would be called upon to risk their lives for their country should have the privilege of voting to determine whether the nation should go to war.” How ridiculous. Surely Blair and Bush and Obama’s way is superior?  The fact we don’t hear much today about Butler – who stopped an attempt by American corporations to stage a fascist coup in the US – is a measure of  his importance and the inconvenient truths he related about war and the arms industry.

Do check out the Tournaphon – it’s a great catharsis!

DREDD: HE IS THE LAW!

A few years back, a publisher at Random House asked me to write a sample chapter for a proposed book that my agent – a big comic book fan – felt I should write.  It was to be called:

THE COMIC REVOLUTION

Judge Dredd, 2000AD, Battle and Action

My book would have covered my personal recollections of how those comics were created and what a bizarre world comic publishing was back then. The sample chapter I wrote was about Judge Dredd, which would have been Chapter 12 in the book.  Although editorial liked it and green lit the project, it was turned down by their marketing department, who felt there wasn’t enough interest in comics.  

Today, especially with the new Dredd movie just out, all that’s changed. There seems to be more interest in comics and their origins than ever. So I thought it was time to dust the chapter off, update and extend it in light of the new film, and present it here as the introductory piece to my new blog. If you missed them, here are PART ONE: THE KILLING MACHINE, PART TWO: THE LAWMAN OF THE FUTURE, PART THREE: BETTER DREDD THAN DEAD, PART FOUR: JUDGEMENT DAY, PART FIVE: EXIT WOUNDS, PART SIX: IN THE SHADOW OF THE JUDGE?,  PART SEVEN: DREDD AND DARKIE’S MOB and PART EIGHT: TORQUEMADA – THE SWINGING MONK.

PART NINE:  HE IS THE LAW!

He was incorruptible, totally dedicated, an excellent and patient teacher, driven by religious zeal, with a fanatical love of the Lord which suggested to me Dredd’s similar love of the Law. Hence an early Dredd episode, where Dredd sits reading a giant volume on the Law in his spare time.

I looked him up online. At first I came across a De La Salle Brother called Brother James Carragher currently banged up for 14 years for past crimes against children, having previously done a 7 year stretch for the same. That took me aback. Abuse was endemic at my school, but surely not that bad? Fortunately, it turned out to be a different Brother James who taught me. There are so many ‘Christian’ Brothers these days whose appalling crimes have finally caught up with them, it can be confusing. But mine died recently and was called Brother James Ryan.

He wore a long black robe, Himmler-style, steel-rimmed spectacles, and had aesthetic, angular features and was as scary as Brother Solomon, from whom he took over as Prefect of Discipline.

One day he entered my classroom to find a thirteen year old boy talking. A great kid with a surly punk attitude to life. Seething with a chilling cold anger (that I would later draw on for the scene in the Cursed Earth when Dredd razes the town of Repentance to the ground), Brother James sent another boy to fetch a size ten plimsoll from the cloak room. Then, in full view of the rest of us, he went to work on his victim who was the younger brother of our English teacher. So no favouritism there. All are equal in the eyes of the Law.  He raised the slipper high above his head and took a spin-bowler’s long run-up towards his bent-over victim whom he had carefully positioned at the far end of the raised wooden dais.  His shoes thundered noisily across the bare floorboards, his black robes flapped wildly around him, before he administered a savage blow to the boy’s posterior, raising a cloud of dust at the point of impact. Returning to his starting point, he took several more high-speed, bowler’s run-ups to his victim, thrashing him without mercy, before the poor  kid collapsed in a heap on the ground, whereupon – as we watched, quaking in fear – he stood over him and rained more ferocious blows down onto his crouched and cringing, sobbing form.

We should have gone to our classmate’s defence, and given this out-of-control bully what he richly deserved, but we were kids: the De La Salle Brothers relied on such terror tactics to subdue us, and how often do the citizens of Mega-City rise up against the Judges? They are the Law!

I have my notes from an earlier verson of the Friends Revisited site (before it was sanitised) which confirm these memories of my school.  One old boy said James was responsible for severe beatings (plural) he would not wish on anyone.  Another described him as “totally detached with a stand-offish manner, never accepting any excuse for anything.” Does that remind you of anyone…? That’s exactly how I saw Dredd.  They also said he liked cricket. Though never leaving an impression on my backside, James undoubtedly left a deep impression on my mind. He was my Judge Dredd, a figure to inspire fear, an exponent of summary “justice”, an administrator of draconian punishment I would never forget.

A De La Salle Brother described him in his obituary in 2011 as “Timid and shy by nature.”

In fiction, we need these figures to inspire fear – Darth Vader, Batman, Judge Dredd, Marshal Law – but that fear has to be real, otherwise it’s off the peg, out of a bottle: fake.  When Dredd enters a room, we want to feel that fear.

But mixed in with that fear, I felt admiration, too. For a great teacher in an otherwise great school with an excellent academic record that counts Brian Eno (in the year above me) and Richard Ayoade amongst its old boys.  And it’s the same for Dredd: we fear and yet admire him. Significantly, it is the powerful but flawed teachers I remember from my youth. The normal teachers I barely remember and I think this tells us something about the charisma of evil and how attractive larger-than-life characters like James and Solomon can be. You have only to look at the newspapers this week to see this.

How far you see Dredd as good or evil depends on your perspective and which interpretation of Dredd – the relatively heroic figure of the Cursed Earth or the Lawman of Mega-City – resonates with you.  There are inherent contradictions in his character and hence why I chose my teacher with his own contradictions as my role model for my Dredd.

Taking a holiday break now but hope to get back shortly to conclude the Dredd chapter soon with my thoughts on the Cursed Earth, the secrets of the unpublished Thargshead Revisited strips, and why Marvel comics editor, Margaret Clark], once presented me with a gold business card holder and cards inscribed, “Pat Mills. Artist Therapy always available.”  See you soon!

END OF PART NINE

TORQUEMADA – THE SWINGING MONK

A few years back, a publisher at Random House asked me to write a sample chapter for a proposed book that my agent – a big comic book fan – felt I should write.  It was to be called:

THE COMIC REVOLUTION

Judge Dredd, 2000AD, Battle and Action

My book would have covered my personal recollections of how those comics were created and what a bizarre world comic publishing was back then. The sample chapter I wrote was about Judge Dredd, which would have been Chapter 12 in the book.  Although editorial liked it and green lit the project, it was turned down by their marketing department, who felt there wasn’t enough interest in comics.  

Today, especially with the new Dredd movie just out, all that’s changed. There seems to be more interest in comics and their origins than ever. So I thought it was time to dust the chapter off, update and extend it in light of the new film, and present it here as the introductory piece to my new blog. If you missed them, here are PART ONE: THE KILLING MACHINE, PART TWO: THE LAWMAN OF THE FUTURE, PART THREE: BETTER DREDD THAN DEAD, PART FOUR: JUDGEMENT DAY, PART FIVE: EXIT WOUNDS, PART SIX: IN THE SHADOW OF THE JUDGE? and PART SEVEN: DREDD AND DARKIE’S MOB.

PART EIGHT: TORQUEMADA – THE SWINGING MONK

Frank Plowright, journalist and organiser of UK comic conventions, once interviewed me about Nemesis the Warlock and said how he envied Nemesis co-creator Kevin O’Neill and I our Catholic childhood because it clearly influenced and inspired our work. I hadn’t realised it showed, but of course it does – big time – and especially on Torquemada, the Warlock’s greatest enemy, so I need to digress a little here and talk about the Grand Master as well as Mega City’s finest.

The principal source of my inspiration was the De La Salle Brothers who taught me at my old school, St. Joseph’s College, Ipswich in Suffolk.

They were like cops, or Batman-style avengers: black-robed, fanatical figures.  They were incorruptible, stern, driven by some higher power, and I was awe-struck by them.  I imagined them sleeping in some kind of vampire-like hive: rather like John Hicklenton imagined Dredd slept in a cryotube.  They appeared to have no lives outside their job and no interest in sex, having taken strict vows of chastity.  Hence Torquemada’s famous words (once scrawled on the Berlin Wall):  “Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!” The smallest infraction of discipline and you would be punished severely. Dirty shoes? The cane. Talking? The cane. Smoking? The cane. You don’t mess with these guys. They are the Law!

My older brother, Terry, was less impressed. His cynicism was a great inspiration to me. (He was thrown out of the altar boys for frying onions on the charcoal in the incense thurifer, which made our church smell like a transport cafe.)  He told me he’d discovered that behind the scenes, the Brothers ate posh food, drank wine and smoked and watched telly. Wine? Fags? TV?  No!  Surely not! They weren’t ordinary human beings. They must exist on a strict diet of bread and water, accompanied by constant prayer, before self-flagellation, then suspending themselves, like bats, from the rafters of the Hive to sleep, before, suitably refreshed, going out to do more “good work”.

I saw them in fantasy comic-book terms, like the cartoon strips in the movie, The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys. “Good work” was Torquemada’s euphemism for his genocidal onslaught on the Galaxy. Already, I was creating the future basis of my evil monks in Nemesis the Warlock. I guess such comic book fantasies are common amongst kids. Graham Linehan, co-creator of Father Ted, told Kevin O’Neill that he used to day-dream about Nemesis flying down in his Blitzspear to rescue him from his school playground.

I know the feeling. I could have used some rescuing myself. But there was only the classic Dan Dare in my day and he was a signed-up member of the establishment, originally a space chaplain, so he wouldn’t have listened to my complaints. And this is an important point.  Eagle was a middle-class comic, thoroughly approved of by parents and schools and created by a vicar – the Reverend Marcus Morris. (A colourful character in his own right).  2000AD was a comic of the streets, and loathed by the middle-classes. I wanted all my heroes in the Comic Revolution – in Battle, Action and 2000AD – to defy, fight, expose and challenge the evils of the establishment. That’s why I had a rule never to feature officers as heroes in my comics.  So even today I write Defoe, The Last Leveller – the last survivor of Britain’s first revolutionaries – up against the evils of the ruling class.  Because it is so important for readers to have their role models, too, who are fighting on their side. Even if the Blitzspear never actually managed to land in Graham’s school playground.

Brother Solomon was primarily my role model for Torquemada and Brother James the basis for Dredd. Brother Solomon rejoiced in the wonderful title “Prefect of Discipline” and was responsible for administering corporal punishment. Errant boys would appear before him in a room set aside for the purpose and present him with tickets detailing their crime.  He would read their offences, hear their excuses and then pronounce and carry out sentence, inevitably guilty as charged. This required them to prostrate themselves over a desk for a classic caning. He was judge, jury and executioner.  He was a figure of fear and yet I also admired him because he gave us the most brilliant musical appreciation classes.  He brought his friend Peter Katin, an internationally famous pianist, to play concerts in the school hall and as a result I have a love of classical music which I value to this day.

Brother Solomon AKA Mike Mercado, The Swinging Monk

Then he suddenly disappeared in mid-term with no official explanation why, although we all knew the reason: although us day boys were subject to his canings, it was the boarders who had to endure far worse. Brother James wrote a glowing tribute to all Solomon’s “good work” in the school magazine that year. But rumours were rife he’d gone to a De La Salle establishment in Jersey, which we believed was a reformatory for Brothers who messed with kids.  We would joke about ship-wrecked sailors staggering up onto the rocky coast of Jersey only to see all these monks descending on them so they would hurriedly turn and flee back into the sea. We needed such trench humour to survive.

In fact, Solomon went on to teach at St. Joseph’s College, Beulah Hill – presumably as part of the Catholic policy at that time of moving abusers to another parish or school when there were complaints. A Beulah Hill old boy angrily relates online that “as if there weren’t enough very strange, totally weird, ‘Christian’ Brothers, they brought in Brother Solomon.”  He was unaware that Solomon had just been thrown out of my school. He characterized him as perverted, debauched, detestable, monstrous, evil, and brutal.  Other posts on the site are in a similar vein. Brother Solomon’s predilection for schoolboys had not ended when he left my school.  Distinguished poet Paul Wilkins, in his book Truths of the Unremembered Things wrote about Solomon’s sexual assaults on him and his verses makes for chilling reading. In 1965 Solomon was eventually dismissed from the school and the De La Salle order and went into show-business to become a pop pianist, calling himself Mike Mercado: The Swinging Monk. He had a couple of minor hits. That’s a toupee in the photo, of course; he was actually bald. His smile reminds me of how Torquemada was sometimes depicted, leering at the readers with a similar knowing grin.

Kevin and I made Torquemada as warped and perverted as we could possibly get away with and we got away with a lot. Torque might preach against ‘deviants’ but he was quite a deviant himself, mirroring the hypocrisy of these De La Salle monks who were preaching strict moral codes, which at least three I knew never adhered to.

I hope this doesn’t shatter anyone’s illusions about the Grand Master? Creating characters is not just about having a vivid imagination or drawing on movies or books. All great fictional heroes and villains are based on someone, whether the writer chooses to admit it or not. I think if you’re going to create villains they should be genuinely evil; I’ve no time for pantomime villains. I’m sure that this is why Torquemada regularly won awards as comic’s favourite villain, because readers sensed he was real. And yet at the same time I mocked him, and enjoyed humiliating and defeating him, so no one could admire the terror that he stood for, that was inspired by the terror I had escaped. Nemesis the Warlock was my catharsis, my poetry (Kevin’s original Nemesis serials will be reprinted next year in a special colour edition, based on his Eagle comics version).

The writer above describes the De La Salle Brothers as “very strange, totally weird.”  Which makes them perfect material for a science fiction comic where I was looking for very strange, totally weird characters.  And amongst the Brothers was Brother James, part hero, part villain, and my role-model for Judge Dredd.

END OF PART EIGHT