A late triple deckerA column article, Fool Britannia by: Regie Rigby
Well, hello. Yes, I know I’m late, very late, and I know I said it wouldn’t happen again. So sue me. I have a good reason though, or at least an inescapable reason. As I write, I am very happy. This, at the moment is unusual. However, I am, at the moment, as cheery as a cockney in a Hollywood film. This is because I am in my favourite place in the whole world. As I write, I’m about a hundred yards from the beach in the very far north west of Scotland – a place I esteem above all others*. This part of Scotland is as close to perfect as a place can be, but it does have one major drawback. The mobile coverage here is abysmal. Since I’m relying on mobile internet to post this stuff, this has presented a bit of a problem. Hence the late, triple sized edition which will have to be posted when I finally manage to get my laptop in range of the interwebs – which may well not be until I get home. Sorry about that, but being here, amongst mountains, lochs and coves that I have come to know intimately over the last few years has set me off on another train of thought. Why aren’t there any Scottish superheroes? Well, alright. I’m sure there are one or two****. But as a rule when a Scot turns up in anything that isn’t a Vertigo book he or she is generally a ginger haired tartan wearing freakshow who says things like “Hoots mon!” and “Jings!” Now. I’ve spent a lot of time in Scotland over the last few years and I can honestly say that I’ve never heard anybody say either of those things. Not even in jest. Now. On some levels, this is utterly unsurprising. American comics have something of a tradition of using astonishingly clanky stereotypes. Londoners always have terrible sub-Dick Van Dyke “It’s a jolly ‘olliday wiv you Marry Poppins!” accents, French characters are always eating cheese and so on. You can take one of two positions on this. You could suggest that such stereotypes, be they Scottish, English or anyting else, are utterly deplorable. Or you can take the view that such things are essentially shorthand and move on. Either way, it doesn’t help with the whole lack of Scots Superheroes thing. It’s not like there’s an issue with Scots characters. There might be a shortage of superheroes, but there are many many Caledonian characters, at least in UK comics. 2000AD brought you the incomparable Middenface McNulty, mutant resistance leader-cum-bounty hunter and Kenny Who?, the Cal-Hab artist who never quite made it in the Big Meg to name but two off the top of my head. And then you have pretty much every character in The Beano and The Dandy. After all, D.C. Thompson, the publisher of these stalwarts of the UK humour market are based in the great Scottish city of Dundee, and all of their characters with the possible exception of Dennis the Menace***** are essentially Scottish, from Desperate Dan to The Three Bears. Their idioms are Scottish******, as are many of the pastimes they indulge in*******. So. Scottish. But not superheroes. I can’t for the life of me think why there aren’t any. Looking at American comics there are, of course, a lot of American superheroes. As you’d expect. But there are also English superheroes there. Captain Britain is the one who immediately springs to mind. Don’t be fooled by the “Britain” tag. There is no way that the good Captain has anything to do with any other part of the British Isles. He’s very, very English. There are Irish superheroes. African superheroes, eastern European superheroes********. Hell, there are even superheroes from France*********. It’s a strange thing, but having asked the question I find that I have no real answers. Except perhaps… Who is writing and drawing the American comics? An awful lot of them are Scots, and that gives me the start of an idea. You see, you’ll have noticed that I haven’t told you where my perfect corner of Scotland is. And I’m not going to. Because I love this part of the world and frankly if too many people turn up they’ll ruin it. And I don’t really want to share. I suspect that the Scots who write comics feel much the same way. You see, Scotland is not all that big, as nations go. Seriously, drop it in the middle of somewhere like, say, Nabraska, and you’d struggle to find it. This is something of a problem, as one of the things********** that makes Scotland so appealing is the fact that it’s empty. Tell lost of people that an empty place is brilliant and before you know where you are, it’s full of folk, and no longer brilliant. That’s why there are no Scottish Superheroes. The Scots who write comics don’t want to attract attention. And I’ve just ruined it. Bugger. So, moving swiftly on… Something that’s caught my attention lately is the rise in what I would, back in the nineties, have dismissed as mere porn comics – the sort of thing that fourteen year old boys might buy because they couldn’t get anyone to sell them Playboy yet. And of course, the readership of titles like Zenescope’s “Grimm Fairytales does still contain a fair measure of young boys looking to get off on some sexy pictures. But it also seems that, rather unexpectedly – at least to an old fart like me – such comics also have a sizeable readership of smart young female readers who utterly, utterly buy in to the whole ethos and aesthetic of the comics. I had, perhaps rather cynically thought that features like the Zenoscope girl of the month were fictions – pictures of professional models pretending to be readers dressed up as the sexy characters from the comics. It turns out that no, the girls features on the website really are readers and fans. I know this because I am reliably informed that one of the regular customers at my LCS is going to be a “girl of the month” in the near future. This is confusing to me. You see, back in the old days I used to bemoan all the so called “Bad girl” art that often literally leaped off the shelf at you from the covers of the comics on the racks of my comics store. Back in the nineties I was, frankly, somewhat embarrassed by all the tits and ass the comics browser was subjected to as they perused the shelves. The whole “Comics Book Guy” experience that was so neatly parodied by the likes of The Simpsons and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman************. Basically, I was of the opinion that that sort of thing put female readers right off, and contributed to making comics stores the relentlessly male-centric deserts that they pretty much were back then. I was also of the opinion that the way to get comics taken seriously was to get women interested, and the way to do that was to get rid of all the bizarrely proportioned naked female flesh from the covers of the comics on the racks. Now, while such comics continue to not be “my thing” ************* I have to concede that I was demonstrably wrong about that. There clearly is something about this kind of art that appeals to girls in their late teens and early twenties. Something that appeals to such a degree that they want to actively participate in it. I regret that I can’t offer you any pithy analysis of this phenomenon because I readily concede that I just don’t get it. If anyone can explain it to me I’m very keen to hear it. For now, I guess I’ll just have to rearrange my prejudices. I’m still not adding it to my pull list, but it’s made me think. The fact that actual girls might like “bad girl art” is, however, a little less strange to me than the fact that Disney have just taken over Marvel. Now, I know that this isn’t exactly news, and that everyone who is anyone has said their piece on this subject already. A lot of the reaction has been negative – but I’m not so sure. I mean, on the face of it, the Magic Kingdom and the House of Ideas do seem to be a bit of a mismatch. Disney can be a little twee, while Marvel is nothing if it isn’t action packed. On the other hand Disney is relentlessly successful while marvel has, on occasion come dangerously close to going out of business. But over the years Disney has proved a couple of things beyond all doubt. For a start, they are more than capable of handling iconic characters. Spider-Man and Captain America are, of course, massive, but bigger than Mickey Mouse? I don’t think so. I mean, obviously these are very different icons. If they treated Spidey the way they treat Mickey, that would be absurd. I mean Spidey would end up plastered all over lunch boxes, his face adorning socks and kid’s slippers. I mean can you imagine how demeaning to the character that would be?!************** But the clever thing about Disney is that over the years they’ve proved more than capable of stepping out of their cuddly comfort zone. Look at Pixar. Very clearly they are a part the Disney empire, but they also have their own clear identity and do their own thing. I honestly can’t see why Marvel couldn’t do the same. And look at the possible benefits. Younger readers may not recall, but I can certainly remember Marvel’s brush with Chapter 11 bankruptcy a while back. The House of Ideas managed to extricate itself from that predicament, but in a world beset by the credit crunch and falling comics sales, I can’t help but think that the company’s future can only be more secure as a division of the Disney Corporation. Then of course, there is Disney’s undeniable experience in making movies. I’m sure this will not be a universally accepted view, but I reckon that one of the most successful ways Marvel has attracted new readers over the last few years has been to make movies featuring its vast stock of characters. Some of these have been little short of awesome – The X-Men, Spider-Man (although not Spider-Man 3…), and the first Blade movie all spring to mind. They have, in point of fact, gotten rather good at this film malarkey, and being part of Disney gives them access to all sorts of resources, facilities and expertise they might otherwise find difficult to obtain. The ability to finance movies must surely also be considerably increased, which should do a great deal to ease the progress of any new Marvel movie projects. Of course, from our point of view, as actual readers of comics the ability of Marvel to get movies made is something of a peripheral issue. We should never forget the fact that for the most part, your average mundane will always be more familiar with the movie or TV version of a character, but even so surely what we really care about is the comics – the original source. Is the Disney take-over going to have a negative effect on the comics themselves? I don’t think so. I should concede at this point that I’m not really so much of a Marvel fan these days, so I’m not that worried either way but that’s by the by. Disney is a company that makes films and runs theme parks. It doesn’t make comics, and I don’t really believe that it has any intention of starting to do so. Within limits*************** Marvel editorial staff are going to have the same kind of freedom they do now. What Disney wants is the characters. The fact they come with a functional comics book company attached is somewhat incidental. In the end, I strongly suspect that the relationship between Marvel and her new parent company will be similar to that between D.C. and Time Warner. The suits from the top will occasionally intervene if the crazy funny book people look like they might cause some corporate awkwardness – think of the way The Boys suddenly disappeared from the schedules to reappear at Dynamite – but other than that they’ll leave things well alone. What will change is that Disney is going to be insisting on “first dibs” on the intellectual property. Unless you’ve already got a binding contract to use a Marvel character in your theme park ride, or your movie, or your ad campaign the people you’re going to have to convince to let you use it will be in an office in the Magic Kingdom. That might be a slightly harder sell. At the end of the day, I reckon that any changes your average reader – that is to say, you and me – notice will be changes for the better. *And trust me – for a Yorkshireman like myself to acknowledge that a place outside Yorkshire might be in any way superior to the Marvels that lie within the Greatest County** is a very big thing indeed. **I have heard Yorkshire described as “God’s own county”. This is bollocks. If God existed, and were a Yorkshireman, the world would be much, much better than it is at the moment. People would know how to pronounce “Scone” for a start.*** ***For the record, it rhymes with “stone”. End of discussion. ****And I’d love to hear about them. Don’t care who published them, or if they had a circulation of less than two. If you know about a superhero who happens to be a scot, please let me know. *****The Beano’s Dennis the Menace is an odd creation. He’s actually rather loathsome if you let yourself think about his behaviour too much, and I wouldn’t want to wish him onto Scotland (or indeed any other nation) without good cause. Please don’t confuse him with the mischievous little blonde scamp from American comics. Their Dennis is a harmless imp. Our Dennis is brutal, malicious frankly psychotic – if not psychopathic. I have always rather liked him. ******They would talk about a “Carry out” rather than a “Take away”, for example. *******When I used to read the Beano as a kid, for example the Beano characters would always play Curling in the winter. For years I thought this game where they slid stones across a pond was something made up. It wasn’t until I caught coverage of the Curling competition in the Commonwealth Games at some point in the nineties that I realised it was a real sport. Apparently it’s quite popular in Scotland. ********Although it’s interesting to note that as a rule the African and Eastern European characters tend to come from places that don’t exist, like “Wakanda”, “Latveria” and wherever it is that Geoforce from the Outsiders came from. There’s a column for another time… *********My all time favourite of these being the wonderful “Surrender Monkey” who appeared in one edition of X-Statics - still in my view the best superhero team book ever to see print. **********Only one, but it’s a big thing… ***********Whether it’s a flying Batmobile or Peter Parker’s web shooters, even comics that are allegedly set in the here and now are full of techno gadgets that simply can’t exist within our current technological limitations. ************To my shame I can’t remember the issue number – it describes how one of the women featured the The Doll’s House story arc goes to a comics store to buy a comics to leave on the grave of Wanda, a trans-sexual character. If I had more time and was a proper journalist I’d go and find the issue and give you the issue number and stuff, but I’m more than five hundred miles from my comics collection and away from the internet, and frankly it’s just too hard. Those of you who want to know will have the answer from Google in less than a minute anyway, so I figure I’ll get away with it. *************I’ve written before about how I just don’t get comic book porn. Leaves me utterly mystified. **************Which would clearly be wrong. Oh, hang on… ***************Because Disney is pretty careful of it’s reputation and I can’t imagine it would want to be associated with something like The Boys or Lost Girls, but then I can’t imagine that Marvel would either – that just isn’t what they do.