BREAKFAST OF THE VANITIES – Brats Bizarre recalled in Comic Heroes

The other night I had an e-mail from an American comic journalist asking me for British fanzine information about Jack Kirby.  I was baffled why he should contact me of all people.  My comic Gods are Tardi, Druillet, Caza, Ledroit, Bilal, Gal and similar European artists, and I know little about the origins of modern day superheroes.  So I gently explained this to him, but he insisted that maybe I could get in touch with my friends who, he was sure, would have the information on Jack Kirby he was after.  Of course I knew they wouldn’t – superheroes are not a subject often discussed in my social circle, unless it’s a negative view of them as in Marshal Law or Brats Bizarre.

Maybe because of this e-mail exchange, or maybe because I’ve been proofreading the deluxe collected edition of Marshal Law (due out next April from DC Comics), but I had the most extraordinary nightmare that night.  In it, a group of superheroes, splendidly cloaked and jazzled, were rushing down to breakfast, running on one leg towards me, in full “Crisis” mode, with mandatory gritted teeth and clenched fists.  Crying out “Aiee!” as they leapt through the air to seize a packet of cornflakes, desperately diving for the fridge to grab the milk, heroically helping themselves to toast, and then hurling themselves at the cooker to scramble eggs.

Mercifully, that’s all I can remember; I woke up with a start and couldn’t understand why I found this dream so disturbing.     Then I realised it was because someone was missing: a cereal killer.  Marshal Law.  He would have shoved those heroes’ heads in toasters, fried their asses and turned this Breakfast of the Vanities into a Bonfire of the Vanities.  Now that would have made for a most satisfying dream.

Okay, it’s easy to criticise, but how would I interpret superheroes if an editor foolishly let me loose on the genre?  Brats Bizarre – which appeared in Toxic!, brilliantly illustrated by Duke Mighten and co-written with Tony Skinner – gives you some idea.  Living in a sentient house run by their dubious butler Bates, they indulged in every imaginable teenage excess.  I’ve written about them in a recent issue of Comic Heroes and the images here show their very different attitude to their superpowers.  More recently, Channel 4’s excellent Misfits did it bigger and better and shows the Young Ones potential in telling it like it is, but I still think Brats has something pertinent – and certainly offensive – to say, to challenge the world of fantasy currently on offer.

BratsBizarre_EPICcover_01

Marvel ran a limited series of Brats Bizarre in Epic Comics

BratsBizarre2001A_01

The new Brats Bizarre line-up.

Brats Bizarre 1991_07_small

Life in the Brats Bizarre mansion, 2001.

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24 thoughts on “BREAKFAST OF THE VANITIES – Brats Bizarre recalled in Comic Heroes

  1. I have the 2012 numbers for the French comics Market (newsstands publications not included).
    In France there were 5786 graphic novels (hardcovers for the most part) published. That means up to 500 books per months! (but it is usually November and December that are insane).

    Here are the 3 main groups of publisher:
    Glénat (917 titles): Glénat, Glénat Comics, Glénat Disney, Glénat Mangas, Glénat Québec, Glénat Suisse, Drugstore, Treize Étrange, Vents d’Ouest.
    Delcourt (888 titles): Delcourt, Delcourt-Akata, Tonkam, Soleil, Soleil$Manga, Quadrants
    Média part (718 titles): Dargaud, Dupuis, Graton, Kana, Lombard, Lucky$Comics, Blake& Mortimer, Urban Comics, Fleurus/Édifa/Mame Mediatoon.

    Source: http://www.acbd.fr/images/stories/ACBD_BILAN_2012.pdf and nexux4 from BDGest forum.

  2. Regarding that dream, there is also ‘Breakfast of Champions’. I read somewhere (this may be false) that BOC was written as a means for Vonnegut to eliminate characters who kept turning up in his stories, a proper send off of sorts. Some of whom had strange powers.

    I’ve never had much time for superheroes either. It was 2000AD that opened comics up to me and once I started collecting I was given ‘Masters of Comic Book Art’…and via that book I discovered many of the great European comics. Sadly, I still think 95% of comics not worth looking at. But I’m a huge fan of the 5% that actually do good, new, thoughtful, challenging work. But spandex, gymnastics, pneumatics…it’s all anabolic’s!

  3. I’d tend to agree with that. I think Marvel started the trend in the mid sixties by aiming their books squarely at the college crowd, but some other publishers were definitely heading that way within a decade. Then again, back then companies like Harvey and Gold Key were still putting out a lot of kid friendly stuff throughout the seventies (as Archie still do).

  4. Remy’s comments make for interesting reading. (Sorry, Remy, I can’t do the ‘accent’ above the ‘e’). I think we’re on the same page, Tony, perhaps just looking at different panels. While it’s true that a lot of ’70s comics were still ‘accessible’ to younger readers, the balance of them had begun to be slanted towards slightly older readers than in the ’60s. (Back then, comics were for kids, but some teenagers and adults read them. In the ’70s, it seemed that comics were aimed more at older teenagers, but still kid-friendly.) It was a trend that got more and more pronounced as the years wore on, undoubtedly assisted by the factors you mention.

  5. Ironically, I realize commenting on this post that the last super hero comics I have bought (has been a while now) was written by you Pat (your Batman or some 2099 comics, can’t really remember) 🙂 . Happy new year to all!

  6. This quote from Tony “Publishers started gearing their product to an older market because those older readers were now the ones keeping them afloat” has made me think a lot about the shift that the us comics has displayed in the late eighties (the “dark and gritty” turn). I also agree with Kid when he stated that “Marvel and DC should’ve continued to slant their comics at kids which adults could also enjoy”. Like Pat often pointed out, in France kids do still buy a lot of comics. And the children comics best seller are indeed works that adult can also enjoy and buy too. The actual number one best selling series, is a children comics called Titeuf. It is sold in the classic 46 pages hardcover book at the price of 12 €. Glenat, its editor, has printed 1 000 000 copies for the first print just for the French speaking market. This is the highest physical print of the year, including any other library book (comics or novel). Regarding these numbers there is clearly no fatality in the downfall of the US comics industry, but surely bad choices have been made in the US market. Paradoxically, if Alan Moore’s works of the late eighties (along with Frank Miller’s) have initiated the shift towards adult content in the US comics books, he is also the one whom has tried to produce latter super hero comics enjoyable by Kids as well as adult (‘1963’, ‘Supreme’, ‘Tom Strong’). Sadly, these examples remained isolated and well in the past now.
    I will finish this post with a brief presentation of the French comics market regarding the super hero genre. I’m 43, and I have been addicted to comics 30 years ago with the US super hero comics. These comics were only to be found at that time through newsstand distribution, all translated. Nowadays they are still distributed in floppy forms in the newsstand network (and there is much much more titles), but they are also sold in hardcover format in comics shop, Wallmart style shops and Virgin/hmv style shops along with the numerous ‘Franco-belgium’ comics and manga. All translations too. There are also at least 3 or 4 monthly comics magazine (i.e. magazine just talking about comics) sold through the newsstand distribution, and one of them is totally dedicated to US super hero comics. Again, our kid are no different than the others so there is no fatality.

  7. There were certainly titles aimed at an older age group, but still plenty of others which still had a more ‘all ages’ feel. I don’t think DC in particular really started pushing towards the older end of the market until the early eighties and the success of Swamp Thing and New Teen Titans. I think we might actually have had extensive high street distribution of US comics over here rather later than they did in the US, oddly enough. It seems to have stopped in the very late eighties. I was living in Portsmouth in ’89 and you could still find American comics in newsagents there, at the time.

    Happy New Year, one and all!. .

  8. Sure, but they had already started to be aimed at an increasingly older age group in the ’70s, quite a few years before becoming exclusive to speciality shops. These shops only cemented an already growing trend. At least, that’s how it seemed to me at the time. In the early ’80s, comics were still available in newsagents, as well as shops like FP, etc. They were in Scotland anyway.

    Happy New Year when it comes, by the way.

  9. Thing is, once they lost newsstand distribution (which was the choice of the retailers, not the publishers) the only place comics were being sold was speciality shops, and the majority of their customer base were adults. Aiming for the kids would be fairly pointless once the majority of kids never got to see a comic. You don’t often see kids in comic shops. When I started frequenting places like the original Forbidden Planet in the early eighties, I was about 15, and I was frequently the youngest person in there.

  10. Tony, on your earlier point about the letters pages, there’s no way of knowing if that’s the majority viewpoint of a comic’s readers as only a tiny percentage of them ever actually write in. And out of the minority who do, the editors will choose what they consider the best letters. I remember the Buster sub-editor admitting to me that he sometimes had to make letters up because they got so few genuine ones – and Buster ran for nearly 40 years. Which is not to suggest that 2000 A.D. did that, but their letters reflect only a tiny part of their audience.

    As for your more recent point, although there’s a great deal of truth in what you say, it isn’t the whole story. I believe that certain creators started to get embarrassed by being associated with what was regarded as a format for kids and started to slant them at a more adult audience. This alienated some younger readers, resulting in falling sales which necessitated higher prices, which takes us up to your thoughtful observation. However, whichever version came first, I think companies like Marvel and DC should’ve continued to slant their comics at kids which adults could also enjoy. I find it very hard to get enthused about today’s crop of comics from the ‘Big Two’, and it seems that I’m not alone in my view.

    Right , that’s comics sorted – let’s tackle global peace next.

  11. I think it was a necessity. The eighties saw the arrival of new forms of entertainment which competed with the comics for kids’ cash, and the comics lost, in part because prices were unavoidably starting to rise beyond what the kids could afford to pay for them after having been kept artificially low for years. Publishers started gearing their product to an older market because those older readers were now the ones keeping them afloat.

  12. Tony, I wasn’t so much trying to imply that British comics were lacking in quality (compared against U.S. mags or not), merely that huge sales (as they once had) isn’t necessarily an indication that they were all brilliant. (Kids hungry for entertainment will buy whatever’s available to them.) I’m sure there was always a professional competence to them, but did they all have that ‘magic’? I doubt it. Actually, not wishing to put words into Pat’s mouth, but the fact that he found U.K. comics ‘depressing’ seems to suggest that he was less than impressed by them.

    As for the U.S. comics industry ‘growing up’ – I rather suspect that was the start of it’s downfall.

  13. Hello Pat,

    I wasn’t aware of this new 2001 Brats Bizzare line-up??? Was there any material published? I own the stories from Toxic! and the 1994 Epic miniseries and will be delighted to put my hand on other material.

    But more important: “I’ve been proofreading the deluxe collected edition of Marshal Law”. If you have a minute, could you point out if some of my ‘wishes’ concerning this edition (see here http://whatisahero.over-blog.com/article-the-marshal-law-definitive-edition-86648732.html) have been fulfilled ? (apart the spin-off stories of course which I know sadly are not part of it).

  14. I think you’re underestimating 2000AD and Dredd readers, Kid. Read some of the letters pages and you’ll see that many of them are well of the satire and it’s a major part of why they like the strip, and always has been. As for your inference that British comics were somehow lacking in quality by comparison with their US counterparts, I find that baffling. Unlike Pat, I like superheroes (if they’re done well) but mainstream American comics have been about little else since the sixties and I find that rather depressing. At least the British comics of the sixties, seventies and eighties had a bit of diversity, and as far as the quality of the product goes, I’d say 2000AD, Star-Lord or even Battle were often head and shoulders above most of the stuff Marvel or DC were putting out at the time. There were notable exceptions, like Jim Starlin’s Warlock, Doug Moench’s Master of Kung Fu or pretty much anything written by Steve Gerber, but I don’t think the US comics industry really started to grow up until the British invasion of the early eighties, and sadly much of it’s been regressing again for years.

  15. My point being, ‘though, that as Superman and Batman are considered ‘the daddies’, superheroes are seen as the ‘parents’ of the industry, not your particular tastes. True, this applies mainly to U.S. comics, but they’ve tended to influence how things were done in this country over the years, at least to some extent. Captain Hurricane, Adam Eterno, Typhoon Tracy, Janus Stark, Tim Kelly, etc., may not have worn costumes as such, but they were ‘superheroes’ in every other sense of the word.

    Our comic industry was once very healthy as you say, but that wasn’t necessarily conclusive proof of the product being particularly good (as you finding British comics depressing perhaps attests), merely that there wasn’t much else for kids to spend their money on. Look how that’s changed and how it’s affected sales to some degree. By the time I was freelancing for 2000 A.D., I found it very American in the way it was presented. I won’t dispute your point about French comics, not knowing anything about them – apart from Asterix the Gaul. that is. However, back in the day, publishers in this country recognized the fact that American comics were extremely popular and sought to cash in on the phenomenon with publications of their own. True, The Eagle, perhaps Britain’s most successful comic, was conceived as an antidote to what was regarded as American excess, but it tended to follow the form if not the content.

    Also, I’m not persuaded that the majority of Dredd readers are ‘in on the joke’. Back in the ’60s, despite Johnny Speight’s assertion that he was taking the mickey out of racists and bigots, Alf Garnett’s audience were mainly in agreement with his point of view. I doubt that most people recognized it as ‘satire’. I suspect that it’s the same with readers of 2000 A.D. and the Megazine today. If British soldiers do indeed have 2000 A.D. in their backpacks, then that’s a scenario which is actually quite worrying, as I always found that readers regarded the bloodthirsty and violent aspects of the comic as the big attraction.

  16. Why, Pat, you surprise me. Looking down on superheroes is surely akin to hating one’s parents? Without them, there’d probably be no industry to work in. Nothing wrong with a good ol’ bit of wish-fulfillment fantasy from time to time. Soldiers in WW2 had Superman comics in their backpacks; the only soldiers who’d have Judge Dredd in theirs would be Nazis, I’d imagine. Fascist states was what they were all about.

    • Not my parents, Kid. I grew up without reading super hero comics until I started in comics in my 20s. Then Judge Dredd creator John Wagner suggested we should look at them as a possible writing market. I did and found them really depressing for reasons I explore in Marshal Law. Our British comic industry was very healthy and owes nothing to super heroes. E.G. Tammy (girls comic which once sold 250, 000 copies a week) and 2000AD. I went out of my way with 2000AD in disavowing any connection to super heroes, because they stand for something completely different. Similarly the beautiful French comic book industry is actually bigger than the American comic industry although it doesn’t advertise itself so much, so not everyone is aware of this. And the French – equally – owe nothing to super heroes in the creation of their comic industry. The satire in Dredd is not always there, but this is more to do with its origins and interference by the management board when we started which led to some changes of direction. But, in its heart, it still takes the piss out of authority and fascism in a way that Brits particularly enjoy. I imagine there’s a few British soldiers in Afghanistan who have 2000AD in their backpacks.

  17. Oddly enough, I was reading the Epic Brats Bizarre series (or part of it) not long ago. Great stuff.

    Though getting back to the opening paragraph, I feel obligated to point out that Jack Kirby did not just do superheroes. Not by any means. There were very few genres the King didn’t turn his hand to at some point.

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