Written by Seth
Remember the early 90’s? New decade, just had the second summer of love, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, adult comics are the next the big thing. Comics are growing up, a higher more respected profile for our beloved medium, there was a perceived adult market for the all the hip and pretentious strips and anthologies bigged up by the style and music magazines. Sadly, perception was all it was, the hype failed to turn into sales, leaving a rainforest’s worth of painted art and often indecipherable storylines on the newsagent shelves, or in the warehouse on SOR. You’d think they’d have learnt from Warrior, wouldn’t you?
You had “Deadline”, of course, “Blast!” (great, if only for “Lazarus Churchyard” and the Peter Bagge reprints), “Toxic” –ex script and art droids answer to “2000ad” pre Prog 500, “Crisis” – Fleetway/ 2000ad Group’s, too worthy, overly preachy and certainly towards the end of its’ life living up to its’ name (but that is a column for another day, when I’ve had time to read them all again). Arguably as a riposte to Crisis’s po face, Fleetway perversely launched a competitor to its’ own title – Revolver. Revolver pitched itself as a mix between Deadline, Warrior and the direction 2000ad was heading in at the time, heavily influenced in design by the acid house and baggy movements of the time.
Revolver had a high profile launch – a signing tour (much as “Crisis” had had) articles in “The Face”, “Time Out”, “NME” etc, strong creative teams (if not all known for comic work), high profile subject matter, and a scattershot approach to a genre, music biography, politics, farce and, well, … “Rogan Gosh” : all you have to say about that is it’s from Milligan/McCarthy – that should give you an idea.
“Revolver’s” lead strip was a revamp of 50s science fiction hero “Dan Dare”, coincidentally (perhaps?) like its’ big brother 2000ad 13 years previously. Written by Grant Morrison and drawn by the underrated Rian Hughes, this wasn’t Dark Dare Returns, but a forseeable extension to Dare’s world rather than a radical reinvention, but with added grit. It was during this period that Grant Morrison was in fervent anti Thatch’ mode (see also “St. Swithin’s Day”, “New Adventures of Hitler”). Set firmly in Dare’s science fiction, but the emphasis leaning heavily on conspiracy. Violent and in places quite graphic, written by Morrison as a thinly veiled allegory of 80’s/90’s UK, it also demonstrated the love and respect both creators had for the character and its’ creator Frank Hampson.
“Purple Days” was an entertaining Jimi Hendrix biography, written by music journalist Charles Shaar Murray, and drawn by “Crisis” alumni Floyd Hughes, flipping between Jimi’s early years, the very end of his life and a dreamlike spiritual journey. Well written, well drawn (though the paper quality didn’t do it favours) only the first book was ever published. Murray can write comics, and I would like to have seen the end of this, not sure why he didn’t do anymore (unless anyone knows different).The faux spirituality is a little clichéd now, kind of like listening to the Verve for more than 3 songs.
What can you say about Rogan Gosh? Milligan and McCarthy let loose, worth picking up the collection published by Vertigo. Don’t read in bite sized chunks, consume as a whole, relish McCarthy’s glorious art, savour Milligan’s purple prose, scratch your head in bemusement as to what the bloody hell is going on. There was an apology published in issue 5 for transposing two of the pages of the strip in issue 4 – wouldn’t have a made a difference, still all a bit bizarre. It’s a tale of identity and spiritual enlightenment, and heavily influenced by Milligan’s love of James Joyce, Kipling and McCarthy’s fondness for Asian comic strips, a heady brew, but put some time in with it if you like their other stuff. Combined they always produce something special.
“Happenstance & Kismet”, written by Paul Neary and drawn by Steve Parkhouse was the out and out humour strip. Parkhouse was once hailed by Grant Morrison as the greatest British strip artist, I have to say not sure if I quite agree, but I do love his work. The strip follows the escapades of a former jockey who meets up with a translator and his fiancée, the daughter of an Australian newspaper baron (no prizes for guessing who that is based on). This survived the death of “Revolver” and went onto “Crisis”, art is fabulous, inventive, imaginative, kinetic, the story rambles, too much is going on too quickly (at least for this welsh boy) and it jumps all over the place, plot threads spinning out everywhere. It’s not as clever as it thinks it is, re reading the 7 strips here, I soon got lost. Not sure if it’s because it shares artists, but I think it tries to replicate the “Bo Jefferies” saga, but just didn’t work for me.
Shaky “ Bulletproof Coffin” Kane contributed a two page strip – “Pinhead Nation”, nonsensical, surreal Jack Kirby pastiche, which he seems to have made a career out of – good on him, but I never quite got it. Clearly he is popular, but not to my taste, big shrug of the shoulders from me.
Finally, there was “Dire Streets”, by Julie Hollings. Of all the strips, this is the one that sticks out for all the wrong reasons, just didn’t fit in with the rest of the comic. Perhaps I’m not the intended audience but this is just a bit limp, it tries to be the comic strip version of a soap, but I couldn’t engage with the characters and it just wasn’t funny. I’ve read Hollings’ “Beryl the Bitch”, and that had bit more of an edge, the jokes were better for a start.
There were a mixed bag of one offs backing the regular strips up by varied and starred creators. Si Spencer, Sean Phillips, D’Israeli, Ian Edgington, Glenn Fabry, they verged from the touching “Waltz” to pretentious and pointless “Nine Inches to A Mile”.
The mag’ lasted 7 issues, plus two specials, one “Halloween” and a “Romance” special post mortem. The specials were mixed bags, some great strips from Si Spencer (with art from Indigo Prime’s Ed Bagwell), John Smith (complete acid head genius), contributes a fantastic romance tale with his regular oppo’ Sean Phillips, Neil Gaiman & Mark Buckingham contribute great strip on a “Tales of the Unexpected” style, plus early work from Garth Ennis and Mark Millar, before the latter’s dialogue sounded like it was being written for an 80s action movie.
Clearly, and despite what the final editorial says, it wasn’t a success, not even from the start.
Why was this?
Lots of the adult comic wave fell at the first hurdle in the 90s. The only comic aimed at teens and up that succeeded was one that was based around Old Stoney Face, an existing property (and we’ve had some VERY dodgy periods) few (if any) lasted a year. “Deadline” kept going as it became a self styled “style mag for underachievers” the strips were parts of its make up, but not the main draw. “Revolver” was stylish, but schizophrenic, it had no identity, the mash up of genres didn’t help. Perhaps if it had more strips of the calibre of “Dare” or “Rogan Gosh”, rather than diversifying into the realms of comedy drama and music biography it may have lasted longer – or perhaps the adult comics boom was nothing but an illusion.