What happened next: the Seven Dwarfs

sevendwarvesthanksgiving1The years after Snow White left the forest to marry the Prince proved to be difficult for the seven dwarfs.

Speaking at their annual meeting, Doc identified two clear threats to the mine’s future. First was the obvious demographic time bomb: all of the dwarfs were ageing, male and childless. Secondly, production was suffering from the fact that only three of the seven dwarfs – Happy, Grumpy and Doc – were actively working regularly. Sleepy was often absent on account of his chronic lethargy, Sneezy was almost perpetually off sick. Dopey, meanwhile, frequently simply forgot to turn up for work. Bashful suffered such from such chronically low self-esteem that he could rarely be dragged out of his room.

In addition to a long-term suggestion that in future, dwarfs be given more promising names (Doc’s own name was conveniently vocational, but what chance had Dopey ever stood?), Doc proposed a recruitment drive. Within weeks, the mine had five new dwarfs: Botany, Philately, Arty, Greedy and Paranoia.

Doc privately anticipated problems with Greedy and Paranoia while Dopey was forced to admit he had thought there was a dwarf in the group called Greedy already. But with their respective private interests in flowers, stamp collecting and art, Botany, Philately and Arty soon became a credit to the team. That Easter, Arty even produced a long portrait of the twelve dwarfs sitting at a long table, eating supper together. Noting one of the dwarfs in the picture didn’t have a beard, Paranoia began to speculate that one of the dwarfs was secretly female. But it actually turned out to be Dopey.

Greedy betrayed the other dwarfs soon afterwards. Paranoia exposed him: he had privately sold the mine on to unscrupulous developers. The mine was closed almost immediately and converted into luxury flats

Confronted by Grumpy at a meeting, Greedy defended himself:

“It’s simple economics.” he argued, lighting a cigar. “Sure, the mine’s making money now but what about in ten years? It was only a matter of time.”

Some thought Greedy sounded like the evil Queen who had been overthrown some time before. “There is no such thing as society, only individual dwarfs.” He went on. “The state doesn’t owe you a living, you know. You should all get on your bikes and whistle while you look for work.”

In practice, the community was devastated. Some of the dwarfs briefly found employment when Greedy opened a call centre but they lost their jobs again when he relocated it to Mumbai a few weeks later.

His self-esteem shattered, Bashful spent more and more time in internet chat rooms. Dopey spent more time in bed than Sleepy and the other dwarfs noticed his room started to smell suspiciously of acrid smoke. Doc, too, who actually had no formal medical training (his doctorate was in Media Studies), struggled to find work. Even Happy was on Prozac.

The only distraction for the dwarfs was that Snow White had returned, her marriage having failed after the Prince had cheated on her. “There were three of us in this marriage,” she said. The dwarfs weren’t sure about the Prince’s new wife at first but ultimately concluded she was closer to the Prince in age and intellect and probably had more in common with him than Snow White had.

But aside from that, Greedy aside, nobody lived happily ever after.

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Book review: Viz Annual 2017 The Bookie’s Pencil

(Gentle readers, be warned…!)

Viz has been available nationwide for well over thirty years now, but let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you’ve never heard of it, as surprisingly, many people haven’t. The first thing to emphasise is that this is anthology based on an adult comic and so not suitable for children. Or, for that matter, prudish or sensitive adults.

Once upon a time, Viz annuals were called things like “The Big Pink Stiff One”. This one is called “The Bookie’s Pencil,” a euphemism which I’ve never heard anyone use. Can we conclude from this that Viz has grown more subtle over the years?

No, it hasn’t.

The formula has remained largely unchanged. Comic regulars include:

Roger Mellie: The Man on the Telly:  A TV presenter who is notoriously foul-mouthed when off air (and sometimes when on).

Spawny Get: A character whose luck varies dramatically from frame to frame, usually ending with him implausibly having sex with a large number of attractive women.

The Fat Slags: Two promiscuous overweight Geordie girls.

Spoilt Bastard: Almost self-explanatory. A git who bullies his pathetic elderly mother into getting whatever he wants. This is generally one of the cleaner stories as is Mrs Brady, Old Lady, a geriatric who complains that no one will give up their seat for her on the bus and thus stands throughout even though the bus is virtually empty.

Often it is the newspaper, Top Tips and Letterbocks pages which provide the highlights.

In short, enter if you dare. A lack of squeamishness and an understanding of the traditions  of British comics and north-eastern regional dialects will all prove an advantage.

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Book review: Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore

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In 1978, Alan Moore decided to quit the job at the Northampton gas board and dedicate himself full time to breaking into the comics industry as a writer. It was a high risk strategy. He was twenty-four years old and his young wife was pregnant. But Moore saw it as his last chance to exchange a job he hated for a career he loved.

Success came slowly with occasional one-off stories (Tharg’s Futureshocks) in the new science fiction comic 2000AD. Later, came Skizz, D.R. and Quinch and my own personal favourite, The Ballad of Halo Jones. More success came through the short lived and inappropriately titled Warrior comic (it was not war-related at all). Moore provided the backbone to the comic between 1982 and 1985, most famously with V For Vendetta, set in a late 1990s futuristic fascist dystopia. He also wrote Marvelman, now known as Miracleman, a promising superhero strip derailed by a legal dispute with Marvel Comics. This proved an forerunner to his greatest success, DC’s The Watchmen.

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Today, Alan Moore is still in Northampton, in his sixties and is renowned as one of the most successful comic writers ever albeit one with a bit of reputation for disputes with his employers or prospective filmmakers attempting to adapt his works (Moore has famously never seen any of the four films directly based on his own comics).

His fascinating story is detailed thoroughly by the always excellent Lance Parkin in this comprehensive biography.

Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore by Lance Parkin, published by Aurum Press (2013)

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RIP 76 years of The Dandy 1937-2013. A timeline

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The Dandy, Britain’s longest running comic has gone forever. After ceasing to exist on paper last December, it now no longer exists in digital form either.

As a tribute to the comic which brought the world Desperate Dan, Korky the Cat and Bananaman, here is a timeline of The Dandy’s long history:

1937: The Dandy begins. It is originally called The Dandy Comic and is unusual for a comic of the time in using speech bubbles. Korky the Cat is on the front page. Inside, Desperate Dan, an incredibly strong man from the Wild West also features in the comic from the start. He is “desperate” in the sense that a desperado is desperate.

Another story in the first issue is Keyhole Kate, a nosey girl prone to looking through keyholes. She proves remarkably enduring, appearing until 1955 before (after a ten year break) enjoying a long return run in Sparky comic in the Sixties and Seventies. She returns to The Dandy in the Eighties and Nineties appearing on and off until the end.

1938: The Beano, The Dandy’s sister paper, which eventually features Dennis the Menace and the Bash Street Kids, begins. It continues to this day.

The first Dandy-Monster Book (later The Dandy Book or Annual) appears for the first time too.

1939-1949: Wartime (and post-war) paper and ink shortages force The Dandy and Beano to go fortnightly. The two comics come out on alternate weeks.

1940: Korky the Cat starts to speak. Initially, he was a silent character.

1945: Keyhole Kate appears on the cover for one issue only, breaking an otherwise uninterrupted 47-year run for Korky the Cat.

1944: Black Bob, a fictional Border collie, first appears in a text story. He later appears in The Weekly News and in eight books during the 1950s and 1960s.

1954: The first Desperate Dan Book appears. Technically, it was not an annual and only appeared again in 1978, 1990, 1991 and 1992.

1961: Public schoolboy, Winker Watson first appears.

1963: A Dandy-Beano joint Summer Special appears. The first Dandy Summer Special appears in 1964.

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1967: Bully Beef and Chips first appears. Bully bullies Chips until 1997.

1975: Peter’s Pocket Grandpa appears in the comic lasting until the early 1980s. It has a similar premise to the early 21st century BBC children’s series Grandpa in my Pocket although also resembles the 1940s Dandy strip, Jimmie’s Pocket Grandpa.

1984: Korky the Kat is replaced on the cover by Desperate Dan after a long run. Korky continues inside, however, and appears next to the front page logo until 1998.

Dimples – a tearaway toddler – begins in The Dandy.

1980-1985: DC Thomson produces Nutty comic featuring spoof superhero Bananaman. The strip is a huge success and is turned into a memorable TV cartoon between 1983 and 1986 voiced by the performers from TV’s The Goodies (Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie). The strip, Cuddles also begins in Nutty in 1981.

1982: The first Dandy Comic Libraries appear.

1985: Bananaman’s popularity doesn’t save Nutty (although doubtless prolongs its life). The comic merges into The Dandy in 1985. The strip Bananaman continues to this day. Cuddles from Nutty becomes the lead character in a new comic, Hoot in 1985.

1986: Hoot folds and merges into The Dandy. Cuddles and Dimples – two quite similar strips – merge into one. The two toddlers later mysteriously become twin brothers and later, mysteriously again, older and younger brothers.

1984 – 1987: Bananaman has his own annual. He is the only Dandy character to ever get his own annual for four consecutive years although technically was still in Nutty for the first two of these (Nutty, unusually for the time, never has its own annual).

1993: The Beezer and Topper merges into The Dandy. Beryl the Peril which began in The Topper in 1953 appears in The Dandy on and off until the end.

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1999-2000: Cuddles and Dimples briefly replace Desperate Dan on the front page. This proves unpopular with readers and Desperate Dan replaces them again after the two are found to be “too naughty”.

2004: The comic is dramatically revamped becoming glossier, bigger, more TV-orientated and more expensive. The price was raised from 70p to £1.20. This is the first of a series of big revamps which, depending on your view, prolong the life or help finish off the already ailing title. It is a challenging time for the industry: most long-running British comics (except The Beano, Dandy, 2000AD, Viz and Commando) folded in the Eighties and Nineties.

2005: Korky the Cat is dropped after 68 years in the comic. Reader polls suggest he is much less popular than he was. The strip had been undergoing various upheavals since 1999.

2007: The Dandy had another update, going fortnightly, becoming more magazine-like and being renamed Dandy Xtreme, priced at £2.50. The first issue has Bart Simpson on the cover. Regular characters no longer regularly appear on the cover. Some feel the comic has lost its identity.

2010: A counter-revolution! Of sorts. Dandy Xtreme becomes The Dandy again and goes back to being weekly. Every story from the Xtreme era with the exception of The  Bogies, Desperate Dan and Bananaman is dropped. Korky returns. More celebrity parodies appear.

2012: The Dandy’s 75th birthday turns out to be a sad time. The comic ends and goes online. Bananaman, now The Dandy’s third longest running story starts appearing in The Beano and The Dandy online.

2013: The Dandy Online ends bringing to an end the Dandy Era.

Farewell. Thanks for everything. You will be missed!

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80 years of The Beano : A timeline (1938-2018)

Happy birthday Beano! If you’ve never read it, here’s what you’ve missed…

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1938: The first edition of the Beano appears, dated 30th July. The Dandy started the previous year. Stories include Big Eggo (the cover story centred on an ostrich), Pansy Potter: The Strongman’s Daughter and the more enduring Lord Snooty and his Pals which lasts into the 1990s.

There are only twelve copies of the first issue known to still be in existence.

1939 -1949: Due to paper rationing, the Beano and Dandy both appear on alternate weeks, rather than weekly.

1940: The first ever Beano Book. If you own one without a year on the front, it must be from between 1940 and 1965. If it’s called The Magic-Beano Book, it must be from between 1943 and 1950 (the regular comic was never called this). The one below is from 1948.

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1940-43: Musso The Wop appears, the racist title of a strip mocking Italian fascist leader, Benito Mussolini. The real leader was overthrown in 1943 and the strip ended.

1948: Biffo the Bear appears and immediately knocks Big Eggo off the front page. Eggo disappears forever in 1949.

1950s: Despite (or perhaps because of) the threat provided by TV and new comics like The Eagle, the Fifties is something of a golden age for The Beano with most of its most famous stories starting during this decade.

1951: Dennis the Menace appears, undoubtedly the comic’s most popular and famous story.  By strange coincidence, a US strip with the same name about a similarly mischievous but blonde brat started in the same week. The American one was usually just called “Dennis” in the UK to avoid confusion. Cartoons and films of the US version started to appear in the UK after the Eighties.

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Biffo remains on the front page. Dennis’s distinctive black and red jumper appear after a few weeks and Dennis’s friends Curly and Pie-Face as well as Softy Walter all appear from the early Fifties onward. Gnasher comes later.

1953: Three major stories Roger the Dodger, Minnie the Minx and Little Plum all begin. Little Plum (“your redskin chum”) ceases to appear regularly after 1998.

1954: The Bash Street Kids (initially called When The Bell Goes or When The Bell Rings) appears. There were initially a vague and often changing large group of pupils eventually settling down to a hardcore of eight: Danny, Sidney and Toots (brother and sister), Smiffy (stupid), Erbert (short sighted), Plug (ugly), Spotty (spotty and has a very long tie), Wilfred (face partly obscured by jumper) and Fatty (obese)

Cuthbert Cringeworthy (the teacher’s pet) first appears in the Bash Street Kids from 1972.

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1955: The first Dennis the Menace book appears. It is available most years until 2010.

1959: The Three Bears, a Wild West take on the fairy tale featuring blunderbusses appears (until 2011).

1964: Billy Whizz races onto the page for the first time.

1966: The Beano Books have the dates on the cover from now on.

1968: Gnasher appears alongside Dennis the Menace for the first time.

1972: Babyface Finlayson – appears (on and off) from now into the 21st century.

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1974: Dennis replaces Biffo the Bear on the cover after a twenty-seven year run. Biffo ceases to be in the comic regularly after 1986.

1975: The football-obsessed Ball Boy kicks off.

1976: The Dennis the Menace Fan Club begins.

1979: The Bash Street Kids book (just called The Bash Street Kids) starts appearing most years until 2010.

Rasher, Dennis’s pet pig gets a story of his own.

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1980: Smudge (a bath-averse boy) appears in the comic, lasting into the 1990s.

1982: The first Beano Comic Libraries (small book-like comics with one long story in) appear.

1985: Ivy the Terrible, the Toddler Terror,. makes her first appearance.

1986: The terminally unlucky Calamity James arrives at The Beano.

Gnasher goes missing in a well-publicised story, only to return with a new puppy Gnipper who has one solitary tooth (a new story Gnasher and Gnipper appears). Gnasher is male. Who Gnipper’s mother is, is never explained.

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1988: The comic is revamped for its 50th birthday. Extra pages appear and more colour is used. Many other British comics fold in the Eighties and Nineties (The Beezer, Topper, Buster, Whizzer and Chips). The Beano does well to survive.

1991: The comic’s oldest story Lord Snooty ceases to appear regularly. Some blame John Major’s “classless society.”

1993: The Beezer and Topper merge into The Beano.  The Numskulls – who live inside and operate a human body – now appear in The Beano. The comic goes into full colour for the first time.

1994: A new look politically correct Bash Street Kids are unveiled. The new look is quickly abandoned after a fierce public backlash. Some suspect it is just a publicity stunt.

1996: A Dennis the Menace cartoon appears on TV. Voices include Billy Connolly and Hugh Laurie.

1998: Birth of Dennis the Menace’s sister Bea.

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2002: The Beano Book becomes The Beano Annual.

2004: Dennis the Menace becomes the longest running strip in Beano history (it became the longest-running front page story in 2000). As of 2013, the most enduring strips are Dennis the Menace,  Minnie the Minx, Roger the Dodger, The Bash Street Kids followed by the previous longest-running story, Lord Snooty.

2007: The Dandy undergoes a dramatic and probably ultimately fatal revamp, becoming Dandy Xtreme.

2009: Another new TV series, Dennis and Gnasher begins. It continues until 2013.

2012: The Dandy ceases to appear in print and becomes The Dandy Online. Bananaman, the third longest running strip in The Dandy now appears in The Beano and Dandy Online.

2013: The Dandy Online formally ends. The Beano has another revamp for its 75th birthday.

2016: Beano Studios is launched. It is described as “a brand new multimedia Studios set up to create, curate and deliver mischievous entertainment for kids worldwide”.

2018: With weekly sales figures hitting an impressive 37,542, The Beano approaches its 80th birthday.

May there be many more!

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Top ten 2000AD stories which should be made into films

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Chances are, if you like any comic at all, the last few years will have seen one of your favourites be made into some sort of film, with adaptations ranging from both the biggest to even the most obscure comics and graphic novels. Some, such as 2000AD’s most famous story, Judge Dredd, have been filmed more than once.

But which other stories from the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic are ripe for a big screen outing?

Sam Slade: Robohunter

The pitch: Like Blade Runner. Except funny.

Like Blade Runner, John “Judge Dredd” Wagner’s Robohunter took its inspiration from Philip K. Dick’s novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It was always much more fun than Ridley Scott’s film though (which it predates). Sam’s colleagues included Kidd, an obnoxious man trapped in a baby’s body and the idiotic android, Hoagy. His first mission saw him trying (and failing) to bring order to the colony Verdus where a full-blown robot revolution had occurred.

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Rogue Trooper

The pitch: Blue movie.

Thanks to Avatar, The Watchmen and The Smurfs, cinema’s latest “blue” period may have peaked a few years ago. But the blue genetically engineered warrior Rogue, trapped in an eternal war on the desolate Nu Earth is the only 2000AD character other than Dredd to have ever got his own annual and could work well on screen.

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Button Man

The pitch: The Hunger Games for grown-ups.

Not to be confused with Children’s ITV’s Button Moon (note: nobody has ever done this), this was a rare non-sci-fi outing for the comic. The premise – hired killers are paid by rich clients or “Voices” to hunt each other and fight to the death for sport – is so cinematic that it’s surprising it hasn’t been filmed already. In fact, Dreamworks bought the rights some years ago. But, as yet, there is no film.

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The Ballad of Halo Jones

The pitch: The girl from tomorrow.

Before he became the beardy comics legend behind The Watchman and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore wrote a lot for 2000AD, notably this unusual female-centric strip which saw its heroine progress from life in the claustrophobic 40th century metropolis The Hoop, to a job on a luxury space cruise liner to ultimately fighting a future war on the time-distorting planet Moab.

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Nemesis the Warlock

The pitch: Alien insurrection.

Nemesis is the alien leader of Credo, a resistance movement fighting the neo-fascist forces of the malevolent, futuristic masked megalomaniac Torquemada. With catchphrases like “Be pure, be vigilant, behave!” the villainous Torq is the real star of the strip. It’s a nice twist having humanity as the villain, although in general, Pat Mills’ story is probably a bit too weird to make into a film.

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Slaine

The pitch: The Celtic Conan.

Pat Mills’ Slaine, the musclebound warrior of the Land of the Young, Tir Nan Og, may be steeped in Celtic mythology, but it did start around the same time as the first Conan films. Despite unique twists (the whole thing is related by Slaine’s morally questionable dwarf sidekick Ukko and Slaine himself is also prone to warp spasms – don’t ask), a Slaine film might struggle to escape from such unfair comparisons.

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Chopper

The pitch: Surfs up!

A spin-off from Judge Dredd, Chopper – real name: Marlon Shakespeare -first appeared as a teenage graffiti artist not unlike a Mega City One version of Banksy, in the early Eighties before transforming into a world champion in the illegal sport of sky surfing. This could actually be brilliant, although risks comparison with the Silver Surfer (already brought to screen in the terrible Fantastic Four sequel). And as any Eric Bana fan will tell you: there is already a film called Chopper.

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The ABC Warriors

The pitch: They, Robot.

Robotic fighting unit and sometime allies of Nemesis the Warlock (see above), the two most famous Atomic Bacterial Chemical Warriors – the wittily named Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein – first appeared in Ro-Busters, a sort of robot version of Thunderbirds, which appeared in 2000AD’s sister paper Star Lord, before merging into 2000AD in 1978. Oddly, Hammerstein has already been in a film, cropping up randomly in the first Judge Dredd movie.

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Strontium Dog

The pitch: Alpha male.

In the future, a nuclear conflagration has left a sizeable minority of mutants, all forced – for some reason – to work as Search and Destroy agents (or “Strontium Dogs” basically bounty hunters) by the unsympathetic “norm” majority. The coolest of these is Johnny Alpha, accompanied by his Viking sidekick Wulf Sternhammer (“A skull to crack with the happy stick und Vulf is fine!”). Alpha’s mutation gives him white eyes but it also enables him to read minds and do all manner of cool stuff, so who’s complaining?

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Anderson PSI

The pitch: She’s always in your mind.

Another Dredd spin-off but let’s face it, the psychic female Judge was the best thing about the recent Dredd film. She could also be pitched against Mega City One’s ultimate super-villain, Judge Death. Altogether now: the crime is life, the sentence is death!

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Why there are no conservative comedians…anywhere.

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Ooh! Naughty BBC Radio 4! Apparently they’ve been producing approximately five times as many jokes about the Tories as they have about Labour! It seems the Daily Mail were right about the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation all along! Go back to Moscow, commies! If you love China so much (or indeed anywhere that’s actually communist these days. Laos?) why don’t you go and live there? Why don’t you marry Raul Castro? Come on BBC! We know you want to.

Well, no. Actually the BBC have an excuse and to be honest it’s a pretty good one. It seems that there are not enough comedians of a conservative ilk around. Caroline Raphael, Radio 4’s comedy commissioner admits they have trouble recruiting comics from the Right. And before anyone splutters at this, think about it. It may well be true.

I’ve bored Chortle readers on the subject of the dearth of conservative comedy talent before (http://www.chortle.co.uk/correspondents/2011/12/02/14451/clarkson_has_taught_us_one_thing%3A_right-wingers_arent_funny) and do not intend to repeat myself. But last time I did not really seriously consider why there are so few famous funny Tories about.

The obvious explanation is that the Tories are the leading party in government. Were Labour in power there would clearly be more jokes about them as indeed I am sure there were, were a similar study to be have been commissioned before 2010. This also explains why the Sunday Telegraph (who conducted this recent count) also found a larger than expected number of jokes about the Lib Dems.

This doesn’t fully explain why there are five times as many jokes about the Tories than Labour though. That is a wide margin, after all.

Could it be that Labour are less inspiring comedy targets than the Tories are? This too seems plausible. But it also seems odd. If the Opposition is struggling, they would surely provide ripe targets for satirical bullseyes. Spitting image, after all, didn’t let Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party off the hook in the Eighties. Is the public really so enamoured with Ed Miliband as in the days of early Blair or Obama, no satirical barbs can touch him? I very much doubt it.

Is the Beeb itself the problem? It would actually seem not. The issue extends way beyond the BBC. As I’ve discussed before, the entire comedy circuit inclines to the Left, not just the studios of Radio 4.

The Telegraph suggests that the left wing environment of many comedy clubs might be preventing right wing comedy talent getting through. But why should the comedy world be any more left wing than anywhere else?

Telegraph writer Dominic Cavendish suggests this might be because the circuit tends to favour younger comics. But even assuming older people are more likely to be conservative (something I don’t necessarily accept anyway), this doesn’t explain why older comics tend to be more left leaning assuming that they have any viewpoint at all.

It’s not hard to imagine a conservative comedian. The tabloid-sequel views of Jeremy Clarkson would fit the bill even though he’s not technically a comedian. Are we ever likely to see a popular comic who defends the bankers and the Tories and who rails against the unemployed, benefit “scroungers”, the EU and asylum seekers? I don’t know. I’m also disinclined to think many comedians deliberately stifle their conservative views for public consumption. I don’t think they ever had those views in the first place.

Perhaps it’s simply the case that the bohemian creative world of the arts will always spawn more socialist firebrands than conservative cheerleaders.

Or to risk an old joke myself, if you really want to see a bunch of conservative comedians, take a look at the government.

 

 

Dredd: A film review and poem.

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Who’s that man with the helmet on his head?

It’s 2000AD’s top lawman, Judge Dredd!

Britain’s own Pete Travis directs,

(Perhaps too keen on slow-motion effects).

How good’s this one? Out of 5, say 3,

Much better than the Stallone monstrosity,

Thank Grud this time Dredd keeps his helmet on,

Inside is New Zealand’s Karl Urban.

Mostly in one building, something you’ve seen,

If you watched, Assault on Precinct 13.

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Here’s Judge Anderson: resident psychic,

She boosts the film as Dredd’s female sidekick.

Brit Lena Headley is Dredd’s nemesis,

If you don’t like violence, give it a miss.

Dredd speaks like Robocop: “Twenty seconds to comply!”

But really, I’d think hard before you buy.

For Dredd fans will enjoy: he is the Law,

But others may find this a bit of a bore.

Is Judge Dredd gay?

ImageSo Judge Dredd is gay. Or rather, he probably isn’t.

The latest Dredd story Closet which featured in the long running comic 2000AD, appeared to show the 22nd century Mega City One lawman entwined with another man in a gay club. The caption read: “I guess, somehow, I’d always known I was gay. I was just too scared to admit it.”

Judge Dredd, lest we forget, is an ultra-macho big chinned lawman of the future has been appearing in the British comic 2000AD since 1977. Inspired loosely by the characters Clint Eastwood played (particularly the Dirty Harry films) but transferred to a futuristic setting, Dredd dispenses instant justice to the masses of Mega City One, a chaotic post-apocalyptic metropolis built on the ruins of New York. Dredd is just the foremost of many “Judges” who are effectively imbued with the powers of police and judiciary and can sentence “perps” on the spot.

So is Dredd gay? Certainly, I never remember much about him having any sort of love life when I read the comic. But it seems not. Apparently the character in the strip is not Dredd at all but someone in fancy dress as the judge, at a gay club. As Dredd never removes his helmet and all judges look pretty much the same with their helmets on, this would actually be a fairly easy disguise to perfect, assuming you had the requisite chin. Presumably the story was a ruse to boost sales just as the second film version of Dredd comes out on Blu-ray/DVD.

The news is a bit disappointing in a number of ways. Firstly, the current author of the strip, Rob Williams has said Dredd “may well be gay, straight or bi” but that was secondary to his passion for the law.

“Although, can you imagine what would happen if that repression ever fell away, just for an instant? Sure, Dredd could be gay,” Williams said.

So why not make him gay then? Dredd is often referred to as a “fascistic” anti-hero but only in the sense that civil liberties and democracy are ignored in his world. Sexuality rarely comes up in 2000AD. And making Dredd gay could have been a major coup for the comic. It is a missed opportunity.

Worse still, is the reported reaction of some fans to the news of Dredd’s possible sexual orientation. Some have apparently threatened to burn their 2000ADs.

I’ve always liked to think sci-fi fans are an open minded, liberal bunch. Unfortunately a fair bit of evidence suggests that at least some of them are anything but. Witness the absurd reaction to the news that Star Trek Voyager was to feature its first woman captain in the 1990s.

Similarly, some seem to have missed the satire of a story set in a fascistic future by reacting to the news of Judge Dredd’s rumoured gayness by responding in a decidedly fascistic way themselves.

It is odd that science fiction fans so accustomed to stories set in the 22nd, 23rd and 24th centuries, so often still seem to have attitudes rooted in those of the 19th.

Comics of the Eighties: Whizzer and Chips

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Whizzer and Chips was an unusual comic in many ways. For one thing, it had a strange dual status. Whereas Whoopee! and Wow!, another comic of the Eighties, was the result of two comics merging together, neither Whizzer and Chips had ever existed as separate entities (there was, in fact, a very old comic called Chips but this was wholly unrelated). Whizzer And Chips was always Whizzer and Chips from the moment it started in 1969 until right until the point it finally merged into the slightly more enduring Buster in 1990.

“Two in one: two times the fun!” was the slogan. Although, in fact, no more pages in total than any other comic of the time, Whizzer, (although labelled ‘Whizzer and Chips’ on the cover, never just ‘Whizzer’) began from the first page onward, while Chips, in theory, a separate comic with its own title page, began about a third of the way in. Whizzer would begin again (with no real fanfare) at some point towards the end, something I didn’t even notice for a while as I assumed everything after a certain point was counted as Chips territory. I seem to remember the comic vaguely encouraged you to detach the Chips segment from Whizzer. I never bothered. At the same time, the two comics were “not to be sold separately”. I doubt anyone ever tried: they would have been two very short comics.

Incidentally, as I remember the annuals never had a separate Chips section. On the other hand, the short-lived comic library series would take turns being either Whizzer or Chips: never both. The annuals tend to look better on screen, incidentally, hence why I’ve mostly used them instead of images of the regular weekly comics here.

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Although there was no real difference in the type of content provided by the stories in each section, a fierce rivalry was encouraged between the two comics. Readers who favoured Whizzer were known as “Whizz kids” while those who preferred the other bit were less attractively known as “Chip-ites”. I think I was both at different times although like everyone else I suspect, I always read both to get my money’s worth (Whizzer and Chips did, after all, cost 22p in 1984). Occasionally, one story would ‘defect’ from Whizzer to Chips or vice versa. Eagle-eyed readers could also try to spot “raiders” from the other comic on a weekly basis. For example, Sammy Shrink might appear in the background of the story, Fuss Pot.

The lead story in Whizzer was called Sid’s Snake (titter ye not!) about a boy who had a pet snake called Slippy. Shiner, the main story in Chips had an ever less promising premise, focusing on a boy called Shiner who repeatedly received ”shiners,” that is, black eyes.

As with many comic stories, I can only admire the ingenuity of anyone who could make such a flimsy premise endure, in this case, for over twenty years. Given a week to think up as many scenarios about a boy receiving “shiners” as I could, I think I would struggle to come up with even one. Yet the author or authors of Shiner must have come up with over a thousand. And who in the world has ever received multiple black eyes anyway? Surely his eyes would have been ruined? Shiner was, in fact, supposed to be an aspiring boxer. I suspect the strip rather glossed over the realities of boxing as a profession.

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What other stories were there?

(I admit, I now have no idea which of these stories were in Whizzer and which were in Chips):

Joker: A boy obsessed with practical jokes. He always wore a buttonhole which squirted water at passersby. This story made me briefly obsessed with the idea of going to a joke shop. This was difficult as there were few of these anywhere by the Eighties, at least none that I could find. Certainly not in my hometown of Peterborough anyway.

Fuss Pot: One of the few girl characters. Began every sentence with “I am fussy about…” e.g. “I’m fussy about getting the right shoes”. This actually quickly grew tiresome both for the other characters but also for the reader, at least if the reader was me.  Like Joker and Sammy Shrink, she first appeared in the Seventies comic, Knockout.

Junior Rotter: A juvenile parody of J.R from the TV series, Dallas.

Sweet Tooth: A boy with one prominent tooth. He loved confectionery but was constantly being menaced by an obese bully known as Greedy Greg.

Pongo Snodgrass: A beautifully-named strip about a disgustingly rancid boy. I think this had ended by the time I started reading the comic (1984) but I remember him from the monthly Best of… anthologies.

Sweeney Toddler: Another great name for a story about a malevolent infant. Sweeney terrorised his family and dog Daft Henry. He spoke in a weird babyish fashion e.g. “Me’s having lots of fun today readers!”

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He actually joined the comic from Whoopee! Which merged into Whizzer and Chips in 1985 but (Wikipedia tells me) had actually first appeared back in Shiver and Shake comic in 1973. He should really have been a teenager by the time I was reading.

Worldwide School: A weird one about a travelling international school presided over by a Mr Pickwick-style headmaster and peopled by a class of national stereotypes.

Lazy Bones: Fairly self explanatory. A very lazy boy.

Sammy Shrink: Again, a bit obvious. A tiny boy.

For whatever reason, I lost interest in being either a Whizz-kid or a Chip-ite by the time I reached secondary school age in the late Eighties. A lot of other children must have been the same, as the comic ended after twenty-one years in 1990. By that time I was so immersed in 2000AD, Viz, The Eagle and trying to produce my own comics with friends (as well as schoolwork obviously) that the comic I’d been so mad about when I was seven, died without me even noticing.

But let’s not forget it today, eh readers?

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