Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dan Dare looks a bit like?

OK, so this is really childish, but on re-reading some really early Dan Dare, as illustrated by the mighty Massimo Belardinelli, I couldn't help notice that his rather high cheek-boned, somewhat weedy, and regularly open-mouthed rendition of Dare...

...looks a lot like a certain high cheek-boned, somewhat weedy, and regularly open-mouthed British starlet:


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Monday, September 17, 2007

shedding a tear

Most weeks, 2000 AD will make me laugh. Often, it will make my eyes widen in astonishment at some new horror, or else simply bask in the glory of a concept well executed. But every now and then, the human side comes through, and we are treated to moments of genuine poignancy. Some writers (mentioning one name, Robbie Morrison...) like to play this card a lot, which can sometimes lead to diminishing returns. Luckily Tharg is one hand to keep to overall ratio down. Frankly, the comic wouldn't work if these sorts of scenes were given to us weekly, but it's important to note that it wouldn't be as good if they never occured, either.

Let's get straight into it, eh? We'll ease our way in with a panel that could have been simply an establishing shot, introducing us to the villain of the piece, an alien Nosferatu creature. But somewhere between writer John Wagner and artist D'Israeli, they've decided to make us feel sorry for this murdering beast. The eyes have it, I think.

This one's also playing it subtle, with writer Abnett building some personal tension, and then artist Williams nailing it in the last panel:
Even without knowing the backstory of dead comrades, we can tell exactly what's going on here, and it's all about emotion. Whoever said that Abnett was all comedy? I'm suddenly seeing a massive similarity with US comics writer Peter David, another king of comics comedy who in fact delivers the poignant moments rather a lot (too much?). But I digress...*

As I said, Robbie Morrison wields the poignancy hammer with wanton abandon, but he is at least rather good at it. The Adventures of Nikolai Dante hold up especially well because Morrison infuses nearly all the characters (and there is a large supporting cast here) with small arcs of emotional progress. Who didn't shed a tear at the plight of Maguerite, first mate of the Pirate Queen?

Of course, one couldn't do justice to the topic without a little Alan Moore, who is clearly a big sap at heart behind all the intelligence and magic philosophy whatsit. In Halo Jones Book 3, we are reminded in every episode that war is not nice, and that it changes people. There are many haunting moments to pick up, many of them to make you stifle a laugh even as you gulp down the horror - I'm thinking of those soldiers on Moab getting splatted by the extreme gravity - but this one is I think my favourite, just for sheer absurdity:
And at last, some actual tears. Tears from a telepath, so no surprise there. But tears from a villainous villain of truly evil proportions? How can any writer get away with that? Well, Alan Grant can. A bit like with Dante, Judge Anderson went through a phase of trying to capture the heart, and it largely worked. But enough is enough, and for me this moment was the appropriate climax, when Anderson (and Orlok) are shown with true intensity just how unkind man can be to other men, all too often outweighing the kindness...

*Yes, this is very cheap of me. Sorry. (David had - perhaps still has - a regular opinion column called 'but I digress'. It's funny and occasionally poignant)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ace Trucking Co

Oh yes! It's time for a quick look at 2000 AD's longest running comedy strip, Ace Trucking Co. The space truckers were just beginning their final stint in the comic when my older brother started reading, and it was one of the few strips I could cope with, a veritable breeze of a read alongside the non-sense of Sooner or Later, or the somewhat impenetrable Bad City Blue, and those Dredd episodes drawn by McCarthy and other dark artists.

That said, I got the distinct impression that the strip wasn't all that well liked. I don't know where I got that impression from; I suppose there must have been reader letters saying how much they preferred the older stuff. The Garpetbaggers did go on a bit, and the film references got a bit annoying early on. Nowadays, of course, squaxx are clammering to have it all reprinted in some format or other, and even for a revisit to the characters with the likes of Boo Cook or Steve Roberts on art duties. It could happen, I suppose. I definitely find it funny that a series that the writers tried to kill off twice (by sending the hero to Jail, and into the heart if a Sun, respectively) ended up coming back twice, and was only killed off basically by writing a very silly story. As a (mostly) pure comedy strip, it succeeded admirably. I'd say second only to Dr & Quinch. But then, so many of 2000 AD's stories are comedies in disguse that it's a tough battle to say which work best (one only has to look to Robo Hunter, Sinister Dexter, Armoured Gideon and so on to find examples of this).

Enough of this, let's review what it was all about. Thrill Power Overload tells us that the point was a) to capture a certain fad for CB radio slang that apparently was big in the early 80s, and b) to give Massimo Belardinelli some whacked-out aliens to draw. The result - truckers in space!

In a nutshell, a typical adventure for truckers in space involves going somewhere, picking up cargo, taking it somewhere else and probably trying to smuggle something along the way, or at least race against a rival trucker. Avoiding pirates as necessary. Ace Garp of the pointy head is the theoretical brains of this operation, backed up by mechanic Feek and biffo (i.e. muscle) GBH. Not forgetting the cynical voice of Speedo Ghost, the computer who controls the trucker's faithful spaceship. Now that I've written it down, it seems that there really is a lot of mileage in the set-up, but in my head the stories aren't so much the thing, it's all about the comedy dialogue, and the mutual distrust between Ace and his crew. "Bang in them goomballs" is a cry that sums up the slang of the garpiverse for me, and I can't deny that the phrase rings in my head whenever I make a long journey anywhere. The fact that the average word balloon in Ace Trucking makes no sense but is at the same time entirely intelligible is astonishing, and a mark of genius in the writers, I feel.

Back to the characters, Ace Garp is one of those people who refuses to believe that his crew are not also his friends, no matter how often they shower him with insults and simple loathing. I guess they must like him a bit, or at least trust his schemes in the long run or else they'd leave. GBH in particular seems to hate him, noticable in that he rarely talks at all, and when he does it's pretty much always to disparage his boss.

Of course, Garp nearly always does come through with a plan to get out of whatever trouble he's responsible for. And doesn't he just know it, the smug but likeable git.

(there were two Ace Garps for a while, which worked surprisingly well, I thought, since they're exactly the same as each other personality-wise. In equal measure loving each other as realising how they can be). Inevitably, something must go wrong at the end, ensuring that the crew will always need more work.
I think between them writers John Wagner and Alan Grant must have used every possible reason to have their heroes win millions only to lose it again, thus ensuring further adventures for the likes of Ace Trucking, Sam Slade and Strontium Dog, three strips all about heroes who theoretically earn enough money to be able to retire every other outing (funniest of the lot being Strontium Dog's Middenface McNulty, who frequently spends his (and often Alpha's) bounty on week-long benders). It's a rare talent those two have.

Last word on Ace Trucking Co - what's up with Feek the Freek? He was one of my favourite characters as a child, and I still have a lot of time for him, but I can't help but worry that he's a little bit racist. Obviously he's an alien, but he's definitely styled after a certain western stereotype of an oriental, down to his loincloth and of course his speech patterns. The fact that he's the smartest of the Garp crew I guess redresses the balance to some extent, but for whatever reason, I cringe inside now when I read his signature 'no hee hee' dialogue.

You know, it's worth pointing out that all these scans are taken from but one Garp adventure, but really these panels could appear in any of 'em. Just insert a different villain, and maybe a few wriggly worms, and of course a little Belardinelli self-portrait...