MISTY LIVES!

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So delighted with the imminent reprint of Misty by 2000 AD, and the huge interest it’s generated.  I’ve just done an interview with Samira Ahmed for BBC Radio 4’s art and culture show Front Row for broadcast tonight at 7.15pm (6 Sept 2016).  And The Herald has a great in-depth Q&A with me on the subject (Graphic Content: Pat Mills tells the behind-the-scenes story of 1970s girl horror comic Misty).

But of course, that interest in Misty (and girls’ comics in general) has always been there. I first wrote the below post in October 2012 as a digression on a series of posts I wrote on Judge Dredd, back when the idea that Misty would actually get a decent reprint seemed like an impossible dream. In terms of reader comments, the Misty post is probably one of my most popular blog posts.

So here we are in 2016, and 2000 AD have done a fantastic job of reprinting two popular Misty stories: Moonchild (written by me, art by John Armstrong), and Four Faces of Eve (by Malcolm Shaw and Brian Delaney).

Coincidentally, I’m in the middle of writing the first text novel in a series with Kevin O’Neill that could be described as a darkly humorous alternative history of UK comics publishing in the 1970s.  And right this very week I’m writing the fictional account of how Misty was created. You could say, it’s my own vision of how Misty could have been.

The novel series is called Read Em And Weep Volume one is called Serial Killer. Did I mention that it’s also a thriller?

If you’re a fan of murder mysteries, flawed and eccentric characters, 70s nostalgia, insider knowledge on creating comics, childhood revenge, and film noir (it’s got a lot of noir!), you’ll probably like Read Em And Weep.  It’s due out in February 2017 and volume 2 will be published later the same year.

I’ll be releasing more info over the next few months (look out for a cover reveal at the end of October), so click here if you want to stay in touch and get the latest news.

One more thing: I also wrote a series of posts called The Formula around the subject of Misty, prompted by questions from Catherine, a PhD candidate studying scary kids’ stories, who was producing a sample Misty-inspired comic as her final project. She wanted to know how comics are produced and this prompted me to explain some of the inner workings of the creative process. So if you’d like to know more about creating comics, with particular reference to Misty, check out Part 1 – Inspiration.

And here’s my original October 2012 post!

Apologies for this digression from the Judge Dredd story, but there is so much interest in Misty – the female 2000AD – that there is now a Bring Back Misty Facebook group.  Because Misty was connected with the origins of 2000AD, I thought I’d talk about it here.

It was the last few weeks before I left 2000AD and I was looking forward to starting work on my next creation: Misty. I took the title from the film, Play Misty For Me and my plan was to use my 2000AD approach on a girls’ comic: big visuals and longer, more sophisticated stories with the emphasis on the supernatural and horror. My role models were Carrie and Audrey Rose, suitably modified for a younger audience.  John Sanders and I had several meetings to discuss its content and we could both see how it could be a hit; potentially bigger than 2000AD as girls comics sales were always higher than boys. (On launch: Tammy: 250,000 copies per week; 2000AD: 220,000 copies per week; Misty: 170, 000 copies a week. Approximate figures.)

But given the success of 2000AD, I felt if I was going to create another hit for IPC juveniles, I should really have a share of the profits. John Sanders said his board of directors would never agree but I wouldn’t budge either.  So I left and went back to freelancing. Later, I relented and agreed to be the consultant editor for Misty and guide it on its way, but without taking responsibility for it, like 2000AD. I also agreed to write the lead story for Misty – Moonchild – inspired by Carrie; and later Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel, inspired by Audrey Rose, a story about reincarnation.

Without my direct involvement, the stories were not as hard-hitting as I would have liked them to be and some punches were pulled. There were far too many short, self-contained stories, some a bit weak, not enough serials – which are vital to hook the reader – and more than a little “old school” thinking slowly starting to creep back in. Despite this, Misty was still very good, the art was fantastic – often better than 2000AD – and it was very much  part of the Comic Revolution. Here’s how Will Brooker, author of Batman Unmasked and an expert on popular culture recalls Misty: “Pacts with the devil, schoolgirl sacrifice, the ghosts of hanged girls, sinister cults, evil scientists experimenting on the innocent and terrifying parallel worlds where the Nazis won the Second World War.”

The pages below give you a taste of Misty (apologies for the poor scan quality).  They’re from Moonchild, by me and John Armstrong, the top artist in girls comics. And my short story called Roots.  Don’t know the artist, I’m afraid, but it’s beautifully drawn. I’ve blanked the last picture out which was too safe and reassuring and was added by editorial, against my wishes. I wanted it to end on this note of horror with no punches pulled. Some of my other horror stories were similarly toned down by editorial, applying “old school” thinking – not to scare the readers “too much”.

Next are three pages from The Sentinels by my colleague Scottish writer Malcolm Shaw about a tower block which shares an alternative reality with a Nazi-occupied Britain.

Many Misty readers recall The Sentinels with particular affection. Malcolm, who sadly died very young, was same generation as John Wagner, myself and Gerry Finley-Day (creator of Tammy). Why was it mainly guys on girls comics, I hear you ask? Answer: because all the younger female magazine journalists looked down on girls comics and didn’t want to write or edit them, aspiring to teenage and women’s glossy magazines instead.

Malcolm was a brilliant writer of girls comics and also some early Judge Dredds. We started Jinty together, dreaming up a selection of stories, before Mavis Miller (previously editor of June) was appointed editor and turned it into a very successful comic with a strong science fiction edge. Malcolm really deserves a separate article on his important contribution to the Comic Revolution, but I only worked with him for a brief period, so my knowledge of his work is rather limited, I’m afraid. Another of his excellent Misty stories was Four Faces of Eve about a girl who looks absolutely normal but is really a female Frankenstein’s monster-  she’s actually made up of four girls. That was a truly awesome and scary serial with great art by Brian Delaney.

I’ve always regretted not creating Misty the way I created 2000AD. I’ve little doubt if I had, it would still be around today and it could have changed the British comics landscape for the better.

Alas, Misty eventually died, for the reasons I’ve given, but it’s still well-thought of to this day.  Many of us hope it could be reprinted with collected stories, just as 2000AD stories have been successfully collected. There’s a huge archive of supernatural girls comic stories from Misty that would make a great Best of Misty which would appeal to new readers as well as nostalgia readers and their daughters. Although they would need to be the right stories. A Misty Souvenir Special (2009) bombed because – as Misty  readers confirmed to me – it was The Worst of Misty. Whoever put it together hadn’t got a clue what the comic was about and just slung together a collection of boring features, text stories, and “nice” safe, mildly creepy, self-contained comic strip stories.

But it seems to me there is a chasm in the market for female comic readers.  Significantly, Twilight,Vampire Diaries and House of Night are in the same genre and are trying to fill that gap by adapting their text to graphic novels. And Misty works for us guys, too, of course. Great stories and great artwork cross generations, age-groups and gender.

To assess if this was still the case, my wife and I did a straw poll of local kids aged 8-11. The feedback on our poll was very encouraging. The kids read episodes from three stories:  Moonchild, The Four Faces of Eve and my Glenda’s Glossy Pages (a supernatural story I wrote for Tammy) and enjoyed them all.  Here are just two of their many positive quotes:

Moonchild

I loved how it was building up and how they discovered her powers after a while. I would like to read more of those sorts of comics.

The Four Faces of Eve

It’s really exciting, and it always leaves a mystery at the end of each page.

Clearly they are timeless classics, rather than ephemeral.  None of these young readers thought they were old fashioned.

A contact of ours (Jo Bevan) is passionate on this subject and recently carried out a larger, more detailed survey on kids’ reading habits, with encouraging results.  Over two thirds wanted to see more comics available.  Jo is active on the influential Mumsnet and started an interesting thread where many mums were complaining that there were no decent story-based comics for their daughters – or  their sons, for that matter.

I know several women in the media who grew up with and were influenced by Misty, just as 2000AD inspired many artists, directors and writers. A few months ago it was mentioned in the Daily Mail You magazine where renowned artist and designer Julie Verhoeven found Misty’s dark and mysterious content an inspiration.

As John Freeman (Down the Tubes) said to me, “With writers Jacqueline Rayner out there (as well as yourself) pushing girls comics, why the hell is no-one reprinting them?”  Jacqueline’s Guardian article is here, and she also has a very entertaining blog on the subject.

Good question. And with films like Hunger Games – a typical girls comic story – and Black Swan and Twilight, doing so well, how risky is it to do a Best of Misty?  My good friends at Titan Books had the option to reprint Misty, but unfortunately they couldn’t find anyone to edit it at the time. That’s totally understandable. It is a specialist subject and you do have to know which were the cool and popular stories. (Damn! I should have suggested I’d edit it, just to get it out there.) So Titan handed the project back to copyright holders, Egmont, who have since turned down at least one publisher from reprinting it because they weren’t big enough. They may be hoping for a larger publisher, but I fear only Titan is the likely contender. I’ve suggested it to other publishers I know but it’s simply not their genre.  So it doesn’t look good at the moment, but we can still hope. If Egmont gave Titan a new license, I’m sure it would do well for them.

If you’d like to see Misty reprinted, do give Bring Back Misty a look. Or ask Titan to reconsider (readerfeedback@titanemail.com).  Or I’ll pass on your thoughts to them. If there’s no-one else available, I’d edit a collection, just to see it return.

I hope to come back to the subject of girls comics soon because that’s where the Comic Revolution actually began with Gerry Finley-Day, creator and first editor of Tammy. Bunty was great, but Tammy was revolutionary!  For example, these astonishing stories from the early 1970s, all created by Gerry:

Slaves of War Orphan Farm. The wartime evacuee farm is run by the cruel Ma Thatcher (based on Mrs T, then infamous as Thatcher the Milk Snatcher) and was truly terrifying with the evacuees having to fight, escape and defeat genuinely evil monsters.

Ella on Easy Street – a profound and cool attack on middle-class values with beautiful artwork by Casanovas. Ella sabotages her parents plans to better themselves. She wants to stop them becoming high-achieving yuppies because she fears it could break up their happy family.

And Aunt Aggie: a working class, eccentric, ‘salt of the earth’ TV personality and national treasure with a heart of gold who makes children’s dreams come true on her mega-popular TV show, visiting orphans and helping the sick and the vulnerable. Behind the scenes, she cheats and mocks kids, hates them and lives a secret life of luxury, driving around in a customised Rolls-Royce. The heroine is Aunt Aggie’s orphan side-kick who sets out to sabotage her cruel plans.

Okay, sorry for that interruption, my normal Dredd chapter will be continued in my next post with:  “Don’t mention the Silver Surfer”.

2016 edit: If you want find out more about my new novel, Read Em And Weep: Serial Killer, due out in February 2017, click here to stay in touch!

DREDD – EXIT WOUNDS

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, and PART FOUR: JUDGEMENT DAY.

PART FIVE: EXIT WOUNDS

John Wagner, seeing his character successfully up and running, thankfully came back to Dredd. It was a huge relief. He wrote a Dredd serial where the robots of Mega-City One rise up in rebellion, which proved his excellence as a writer.  The rebellion was led by robot messiah “Call Me Kenneth” whom John dryly pointed out to me at the time was a carpenter by profession.  Three months after 2000AD had hit the newstands, Dredd finally became its most popular character.

Although, soon after I left, I’ve been told the Judge then began to drop again in the popularity poll.  I think these were the stories shortly after the Robot Rebellion, but before Brian Bolland began drawing the Dredd on the Moon saga. In order to hide this from the powers-that-be, the votes were rigged to make Dredd seem more popular than he actually was, to ensure he stayed in the comic.  Someone in authority thought it would be a good idea to “rest” him for a while, even though I had designed all 2000AD serials to be ongoing.

The voting system must seem rather curious and obsessive today.  Some editors had the most elaborate graph charts, recording the success or failure of individual stories and the episodes where they were especially popular or unpopular were noted and analysed. But it was surprisingly accurate, although biased towards action, which usually meant subtle episodes would not go down so well. The system worked until the split between younger mainstream readers – who still filled in the forms, and fans –who didn’t – made it difficult to interpret them correctly. Today, the forums provide similar feedback, although it’s always down, ultimately, to editorial judgement and preference.

In the weeks up to our launch and after, I co-wrote Dan Dare with Kelvin Gosnell, basing the alien Biogs on some pretty hideous microscopic bugs I’d seen in the National Geographic. I also wrote Flesh and many of the Mach Ones, with further important contributions by Kelvin Gosnell and others, but I couldn’t continue to write or rewrite everything in the entire comic and, anyway, It was time for me to go.  My brief from the publisher was to create a Comic Revolution, never to remain with one particular title.

My plan had been to stay with 2000AD until it was rock solid, so it couldn’t be destroyed the way Action had been destroyed, see it through its first important twelve weeks, plan – and edit wherever possible – the stories for the following three months, and then move on. I’d already discussed my next creation with John Sanders and he was keen for me to start. It was to be called Misty, (I took the title from the film Play Misty For Me), a girls comic version of 2000AD with the emphasis on the supernatural, rather than sf.

But I was still leaving 2000AD and Judge Dredd alone in a toxic and hostile desert and expecting them to thrive. It would not be easy.

Here’s how Dez Skinn, creator of Warrior magazine, describes that desert:

I was around 25 when I was told that no matter whether my ideas were any good, I could not become an editor until I turned 30. The thought of another 5 years as a sub-editor, regurgitating the same tired old 1950s formulae, coupled with my 1975 proposal of a horror weekly named CHILLER being turned into THE BUSTER BOOK OF SPOOKY STORIES was enough! I was out.

When I told the editorial director, John Sanders, that I was resigning, he asked how long I’d been at IPC. “Five years,” I replied.

To which he said, “I’m surprised you didn’t leave years ago”.

Here’s a similar view by Annie Parkhouse.

I started on Lion with Geoff Kemp as editor. Initially he was not happy to have a girl on his staff but I felt we had a great working relationship. Then he was also editor on Jet and Thunder, where I was the only art staff.  

When Jet and Thunder failed, [it was cynically just more of the same], I was sent to Valiant, which I hated. Geoff protested to no avail. It was like being at school. All joy was sucked out of the job.

I was only at IPC for 2 years before going freelance, but because I was young it seemed like ages. The resistance to change was why most of the young creatives left within about 6 months around 1972. I left in the October, Steve (Parkhouse) the following April.  

Like the previous comics in the Comic Revolution, Battle and Action, 2000AD was hated by the old regime. Thus when John Wagner and I created Battle, we were told it had to be top secret so they couldn’t interfere and make trouble with the union.  We worked on it in an office kept locked at all times and when other editors asked what we were doing, we said we were working on a braille comic for the blind.  When the managing editor eventually discovered what we were really up to, he saw it as a huge betrayal and cut me dead in the street.

Now, rather than celebrating 2000AD’s success, which was providing employment for four full-time staff, he called me in and told me – with ill-concealed glee – how sales had dropped about 5,000 copies each issue from a starting high of somewhere around 220, 000. The fact that this drop was peanuts didn’t matter to him. There was the hope the drop would continue and this dangerous rival to the old comics would end up in the bin.

Then there was the tragically “lost” strip by Ken Reid.  Long before Monty Python, there was the brilliant Ken Reid.  His surreal cartoon strips, such as the original Frankie Stein, George’s Germs, The Nervs, Jonah and Face Ache are often Pythonesque, sometimes even more insane, yet equally funny.  A few weeks before 2000AD was due to go to press, I learnt that there was a brilliant Ken Reid cartoon strip he had produced for a dummy that had never been published!!! The same managing editor thought it was disgusting and condemned it to the vaults.  It concerned the hideous mutant survivor of a nuclear war who had a horrible “thing” on his back and every week he would try and kill himself.  But each week the thing on his back would prevent him.  So if he jumped off a cliff, the thing would turn into a propeller and fly him to safety etc.  You can just imagine how Ken would have drawn it!  How deliciously foul and what a wonderful antidote to all those saccharine strips in Whoopee! et al.  Just what I needed for the back cover of 2000AD.  I had 100 per cent power to do what I wanted with 2000AD, so I requisitioned the strip from the vaults. But the old regime told me that it had mysteriously “disappeared” and could not be found. Yeah, right.

Sir Patrick Moore

Later, after I’d left and was safely out of the way, there were also serious plans by the old regime to revamp 2000AD, turning it back into traditional two page stories and having a celebrity column: like Dick Emery who hosted the Airfix page in Valiant.  I know they invited astronomer Patrick Moore, host of The Sky At Night, to write this column in 2000AD because I was shown the postcard he sent them where he agreed to write for “this wretched little comic”. It could have been worse: it could have been Jimmy Saville.

But whatever sabotage the counter-revolutionaries were planning, I knew Judge Dredd, at least, was in safe hands with John.

Dredd’s success was not just due to the stunning look of the hero and the quality of John’s writing, but also because the standard of some of the other stories, which had plenty of merit and uniqueness of their own, and should have also been number one characters, was to slip more than a little.

END OF PART FIVE