The strange worlds of Alan Class

astounding-stories-130-001In the latest issue of SFX magazine (edition 231, on the shelves now) I’ve a feature about Alan Class comics, the wonderful reprints of old SF and superhero comics that you used to find primarily (it seems like) in seaside resorts in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

I had the privilege of interviewing Alan for the piece, and he’s a wonderful chap, full of great memories about his days producing these curious little comics.

When the piece goes online at SFX I’ll link to it here.


Letraset, photocopies and staples: Early adventures in publishing

A tiny moment in time, solidified, fell out from between two books as I searched on the shelf for something completely unrelated.

It was a copy – probably the only surviving one – of a fanzine I produced in the mid-1980s, entitled Vox… yeah, I know. This was actually before the music magazine, OK? Vox had gone through a number of incarnations, from about 1983 to 1986.

I started it in 1983. I was thirteen. This particular issue was volume 2, number 1 – numbering had always been haphazard, and I’d decided on a clean slate because, thanks to a free plug in the letters page of a Marvel UK comic at the time, I actually had contributors who weren’t me. It felt like a proper fanzine. Vol 2, number 1, according to the little copyright notices I put on each page, was largely put together when I was fourteen, in 1984. It must have taken me a long time to save up to have it photocopies, because there’s a review of a Simple Minds gig at Ibrox in June 1986 that somehow snuck its way in there prior to photocopying.

By this time I would have been 16, and I would have lost interest and discovered girls, underage drinking, and Adidas trainers.

The bulk of this issue is made up of several episodes of a “galactic epic” as I call it in the editorial, Second Genesis, written by Steve Tanner with art by Simon Ecob. Strangely I crossed paths with Stever Tanner quite recently, when we both had a piece in an issue of the British comic Murky Depths.

I wonder, though, what happened to Simon Ecob? Roger Gibson, who wrote a piece about trying to find fame? Geoff Lamprey – didn’t I know him from the X-Men Fan Club, or something? It’s all so very distant now… And writer John Smith (was that even a real name?) and artist Chris Young, who turned in that great little three page strip at the end?

Anyway, if you’re interested in what a comic/magazine thrown together by a teenager with scissors, Pritt Stick and Letraset back in the long-gone pre-internet days of the 1980s looks like, I’ve scanned the whole thing in to Scribd, below. Have fun.

Our sentence is up.

It’s the sort of cosmic joke that is the stock-in-trade of the author in question’s own work – somebody went and made comic writer Grant Morrison an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours.

Those familiar with the world of comics will have doubtless, upon hearing the news that a Grant Morrison of Scotland was to be given the honour, have smiled wryly at the coincidence of whichever lollipop man or tireless charity worker or minor local government official this really was sharing a name and country of residence with the writer of some of the most extraordinary comics of the last couple of decades.

Then – when a cursory double check revealed that, no, actually, it was THAT Grant Morrison who someone in power thought worthy of an actual gong in the Queen’s birthday honours –  well, this particular comics fan was pretty much speechless for a short while.

I haven’t met Morrison personally but I’ve pretty much read all of his comics as well as his non-fiction book from last year, Supergods, in which his deconstruction of the superhero myth was entwined with his own autobiography. The terms of granting the MBE – it’s for “an achievement or service in or to the community which is outstanding in its field and has delivered a sustained and real impact which stands out as an example to others” – can’t really be argued with when you consider Morrison’s oeuvre, from indie wunderkind to mainstay of British classic comic 2000AD, to writer on some of the biggest superhero properties in the world, such as Batman, Superman and the Justice League.

But still the question is begged of whoever put Morrison’s name down for this: Have you actually read any of his comics?

A self-confessed “sci fi punk” in his youth, Morrison writes in Supergods how the epiphany of punk rock – in all its “God save the Queen, she ain’t no human being” glory – gave him purpose at the age of 18: “Ugly kids, shy kids, weird kids: It was okay to be different. In fact, it was mandatory”.

While punk might have given way to sharp suits, a shaved head, the occasional underwear photoshoot and an oft-repeated claim that he had an encounter with pan-dimensional aliens, Morrison retained his punk sensibility and extremely anti-authoritarian stance throughout his work.

Take, for example, one of his early works, St Swithin’s Day – a classic tale of a proto-emo teenage outsider who decides one day to go to London and assassinate Margaret Thatcher.

Or Big Dave, from 2000AD, in which Manchester’s hardest man faces off against a Royal Family (including the Queen, Phil and Charles) who have been replaced by robots.

Or his mini-series for Vertigo (DC comics’ bizarre/adult arm) Vimanarama, which starts with a Muslim hero from West Yorkshire and ends up with the entire Royal Family and Tony Blair’s cabinet stripped naked and begging for their lives.

But for that real, head-shaking wonder at who didn’t really do their research at Birthday Honours Central and who’s going to be called into see the boss sometime this week, check out the Invisibles.

This was Morrison’s biggest, best and most ambitious comic to date. The Invisibles ran from 1994 to 2000 and was a sprawling counter-culture epic that took every conspiracy theory available, turned it on its head, kicked its arse and snogged it to death. It might all be a coherent narrative or it might be one big chaos magic spell or it might all just have been a five minute hit from an inhalable video game for one of the characters. The Invisibles might have been about the Outer Church, which controls everything around us, and the Invisibles, guerrilla revolutionaries fighting the control, or it might not. One thing is certain; when slow sales almost got the title cancelled in November 1995, Morrison exhorted in the letters page of the comic for readers to partake in a mass, simultaneous wank to use a bit of sex magic to boost sales. It appeared to work.

But however you slice it, you can’t deny one of the central threads of the admittedly unclear narrative of the Invisibles concerned the efforts of the conspiracy to encourage someone who just might have been Princess Diana to procreate with other-dimensional entities to create a “moonchild” to rule the world, the conclusion of the series being a fight to stop the horrific hybrid’s coronation in Westminster Abbey in front of Britain’s higher classes.

Maybe the whole MBE thing is an Invisibles plot. Or an Outer Church conspiracy.

Or, just maybe, Queen Elizabeth II has wider reading tastes and a much wickeder sense of humour than anyone dared imagine.