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...


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