Disco 2000

 

Comics, to me, are as important a piece of literature as any other. Like all art some are better than others, some exemplify all that is good about comics others exemplify all that is bad but to dismiss the entire genre as childish or in some way ‘low art’ is itself truly childish. I read both books and comics from roughly the same age. From between the ages six to twelve was my heyday of comic books until they took a back seat and throughout my teenage years read a lot of books I felt I had to read and I now realise wasted a lot of my time in doing so. I returned to comics in my early twenties and read all the comics I should have been reading instead and was rewarded in doing so. I’ve read plenty of great and rubbish comics when I was young but looking back some were absolutely excellent and informed my reading later in life. Throughout my life though some comics persisted, some comics I bought when I could and always returned to characters and strips out of sheer delight and fascination. One of those was Batman in any and all his incarnations, the other was 2000AD.

2000AD celebrated its 40th birthday last week and judging by Twitter it is in rude health, despite certain worrying moments where sales slipped and discontinuing the print edition was mooted. 2000AD is one of the few British comic books still going and more importantly thriving (along with the similarly iconoclastic and anarchic VIZ) which is one of the many reasons I love it so much. It was also an early stomping ground for and launched the talents of some true luminaries of the comic book form. The likes of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Brian Bolland, Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, Pat Mills, John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, Alan Grant and many more besides were all featured early in their careers by 2000AD and whether you read comics or not believe me the cultural landscape would be MUCH poorer without these people in it. People generally tend to think of Judge Dredd when 2000AD is brought up and he is undeniably the superstar of the comic but the likes of Slaine, Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog and even its ‘Editor’ the alien Tharg has gone on to achieve wider acclaim. Not least for a largely independent comic to last 40 years is an achievement in and of itself. It continues to foster new comic writing talent and its ‘Future Shocks’ shorts (one of the few comic strips that canvas from open submissions which I myself have submitted to in the past (to no success)) is still going strong too. They even took on characters from discontinued British magazines like Dan Dare from Eagle comics, another character I have an inherited love for. In short 2000AD is nothing shy of a British institution.

I first read 2000AD by mistake. There was a hardware and second hand bookshop in my old hometown (yes such a thing exists) and as a kid I was always on the hunt for books to read. With my chum we’d go to different bookshops in town (of which there are now considerably less) and have a hunt around. In this particular shop there was a bargain bin for old comics in which you could buy a bundle for something stupid like 10p. My friend liked this because he was a fan of old second world war comics of which there seemed to be an unending supply of. Some of these I enjoyed but even at that young age war porn put me on edge. Instead there were several bundles of 2000AD comics from the early 80s and on a whim I bought a couple of rolls. The first thing that surprised me was they were printed on newspaper like my sister’s Beano and my Dandy used to be, by then I was used to the far more glossy (and expensive) covers of American comics. The printing was also a bit more ‘vintage’ as we call it now, serrated page edges, print holes, colour codes on the inside margin, etc which was unusual but what surprised me more was what was inside. First and foremost, blood, guts and boobs were in each ‘Prog’ in some form or other which to a young kid was a fantastic discovery and a thrill that I had somehow got away with buying these comics. More than this was the illicit thrill of actually more dynamics in a comic. I had discovered that in Batman and DC in general things were a little darker and lines of good and bad were blurred a little more but in 2000AD ‘Good guys’ didn’t exist. Everyone was generally horrible or cruel or had their own selfish agendas and wherever there were ‘good’ people, or at least those with morals that extended beyond themselves, they were punished or beaten down or turned. Importantly however this wasn’t portrayed as a good thing, everyone and everything was terrible in 2000AD but it was pointing and laughing and sneering at this. This was basically my first introduction to dark satire, my genre of choice, which I would find later in abundance in the likes of Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker. With 2000AD though everything was fair game and it wasn’t simply satirised but lampooned, made grotesque, then violently eviscerated. I read and re-read those 10 or so comics 100 times. I wasn’t allowed to buy the current editions back then as they had that damn warning on the cover ‘Mature content. For adults only.’ Not long later it turned out my father was working freelance with some of the artists and designers from 2000AD and would bring home new Progs every so often so I circumvented this problem but only occasionally. Since then I have only bought the odd prog (again similar to VIZ) but when I do I’m always delighted to find every comic strip is still as dark, as angry, as cynical, as sardonic, as biting, as graphic and as FUN as it was when I read those out of date 80s editions as a 10 year old.

2000AD holds a unique place in comics alongside the likes of the Beano, the Dandy and VIZ because, for me at least, they are exemplars of a certain British way of thinking and our sense of humour. I am not a patriotic man, certainly not these days, but if I were asked to explain what being British meant I would probably say to read these comics for the answer. British comics, like American comics, exist in a fantasy version of their home nation; a world of park rangers and strange garage inventors, eccentric vicars and fascist bobbies, a world where the protagonist is a Menace, a freak, dirty, grumpy, an upstart and all with a pig-headed, stubborn refusal to accept a lesser lot and cow tow to those who tell them not to which is similar to the American comic style but the difference is who they are fighting. Typically Spider-Man fights the purse snatcher for the nice police/state/corporation whereas the Brit fights that establishment tooth and nail. Every character in 2000AD is cynical, skeptical, original and stubborn, unlike America where the heroes are typically squeaky clean or fight for ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’ or that malleable thing ‘Liberty’, British comics aren’t interested in Heroes, we want actual every people, people from council estates, the working class, the ugly, the unpopular. 2000AD has never attempted to gloss over the disgusting neglect in British society and never afraid of where to lay the blame or point the finger. Where Captain America fights for the maintenance of the status quo, Judge Dredd does the same but in a dystopia where he is undeniably a right-wing, totalitarian monster. It is no coincidence Dredd was born in the UK of 1977 a year of Strikes, a rise in Conservativism in local elections, the release of ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’, the ‘Troubles’ in Ireland, the release of ‘Star Wars’ and most soberingly a year in which the Yorkshire Ripper was claiming more victims. Whilst American comics offer an escapist fantasy and obliquely reinforce the will of the state and the American Dream, British comics show life as it is now from the gutter up, aggressively denouncing those in power, be it through the depiction of an imperialistic ‘Teach’ or a fascist cop, or representations, though sometimes problematic – some pretty dubious sexual politics being the worst offences – , of leaders or the general public as gullible or naive fools. These are a far more honest, if extreme, and dare I say it responsible approach to depicting the world.

Today serial print media is in decline, more people read online and spending is at a low and yet 2000AD perseveres. I myself (under-employed yet again) am unable to afford the special 40th Anniversary edition but I would definitely urge you to. The Dandy ended its print edition some years back which broke my heart but was understandable and the majority of kids weekly literature is generally limited to some commercial tie-in that’s either short lived, some imported American run or just plain rubbish. Luckily we have new kid on the block, The Phoenix, which flies the Brit comic flag proudly and whilst it doesn’t go to the extremes of yesteryear it is certainly a breath of silly, weird and action packed fresh air in the comic book market. For me though 2000AD stands front and centre, most certainly not waving a flag, but forging ahead into the dark and scary political landscape of nationalism and fascism that we are witnessing, to mercilessly take the piss, send up, mock and generally laugh at it all. So thank you Tharg and everyone past and present at 2000AD for maintaining an uncompromising publication and remaining resolutely human. Drokk yeah.

In Defence of Curses

*This post will contain very strong language start to finish so if you are of a sensitive disposition or are easily offended don’t be a cunt about it and fuck off now*

I recently had a poem published in Penguin’s ‘Poetry of Sex’ Anthology edited by Sophie Hannah. As you may gather from the title it was a collection of poems about the ‘Physical Act of Love’ i.e. Shagging, Fucking, Doing it, nobbing, slap and tickle, how’s your father, knee trembler in the alley, boning, screwing, buggering, dicking, the old in and out, scissoring, on the job, posh wank, bit o’the other, etc etc etc.

My poem has come in for a bit of a pasting it must be said: A friend of mine described it as fucking misogynistic (which I don’t think it is) and a reviewer in The Times described it as “irredeemable in its witless procession of profanities”. What I am not twatting well going to do is write a long piece defending my poem. Fuck that. Its a poem, it speaks for itself, it can defend itself and certainly doesn’t need me to stick up for it. I am going to defend my use of language within the poem as this seems to be what has warranted such arse-fondling ire.

‘Haikus to Fuck To’ is my poem and as the name implies its about fucking. Not having sex, not procreating, not ‘making love’, not shagging or anything else; its about fucking. To my mind fucking is a great description. There are plenty of different types of sex but the word fuck and in this case its verb form is wonderfully articulate and summons up the exact sense of mind I wanted to present. ‘Making love’ sounds like a slow and romantic act, sex just sounds slightly dismissive like the couple who have been at it for a few days and are relating the third bout, a shag sounds like something you’ve done that’s a bit naughty spur of the moment, and there is nothing wrong with any of the above and I have indulged in all of them but I wanted to write a poem about Fucking. Fucking is carnal, lustful and passionate, something the word itself relates wonderfully. It also imparts the necessary secrecy and the, not in the way you imagine, violent nature of the act itself. Fucking was the perfect word. ‘To fuck to’.

Swears are shitting necessary. Stephen Fry said it really cunting well when he said “The English language has its stately homes and castles and equally has its slums”. As any economist or sociologist knows extreme wealth cannot exist without extreme poverty, likewise buggering sumptuous words that impart the best in us cannot exist with out the cocksucking hideous and mother fucking blunt elements that portray the worst. We need swear words to counter balance what we say everyday, it is in a very small way an act of resistance on our part to use them in everyday speech let alone in a book or public address.

Curse words as they are sometimes known are just fucking that. Words of curse.

“curse |kəːs|

noun

1 a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something …”

So says the dictionary. These could be long speeches condemning the object of hate to a woeful end or a “magic word” that cast its spell over something in hopes of destroying it. These curses were no doubt well thought out and – early on – probably in Latin so they probably extended to some sort of versification i.e. They were lyrical. This meant they struck a subliminal chord with someone hearing it so it sounded cruel and nasty even if you didn’t know what it meant. This is immediately apparent in our ‘curse words’ now. The way we have whittled down our swear words to almost extreme economy is because not only do they have the weight of hundreds of years of usage and the arseing horrible meanings they inflict but they are also perfectly sculpted works of auditory art.

Lets look at the big three: Shit, Fuck and Cunt. All four letters and they all end with those crashing stops – ‘T’ and ‘ck’. They are physically harsh to say. You cannot soften the ends of these words without dropping the letters entirely. The ‘T’ at the end of shit can be dropped but the blunt end is still implied as the ‘i’ sound is unresolved. Fuck sweeps open with the ‘F’ sound before crashing to a halt with the double tap of the ‘ck’. That’s impossible to deaden. Cunt is still considered the worst. Not least because of its sexually derogatory and sexist overtones but because it is the harshest to say. It starts with a hard ‘c’ a hard ‘uh’ sound followed by a hard ‘en’ and finishes with a solid ‘t’ that is practically a smack in the face. There is no letter you don’t pronounce and every single one is a hammer blow. These words are tailor made to be curses and could not be anything else, even without their connotations.

For this reason I still maintain they are works of fucking art in the English language and are some of the only words that carry impact or make people shy away or simply refuse to say them. In short that is gold dust for a poet. Words being a writer’s main currency, swear words – like archaic or forgotten words – are like shit-gargling £50 notes. But like anything of this nature it is the rarity that makes them impactful, overuse and repetition will kill a word or at least strip it of its meaning (another thing poetry deliberately dwells on, as I discussed previously). There is a wonderful South Park episode where they are allowed to say Shit continually through the episode and has a counter tallying up the amount of times it is said in the episode. It literally treats Shit as a “Word of Curse” and it awakens a group of magical warrior knights who bring down armageddon with a giant fire breathing dragon. Obviously this is hyperbole for comedic effect but it rings true. Having slums next to every stately homes, school, hospital and museum might be a bit much in city planning, likewise with language. Swear words serve a purpose but overuse removes them of their jizz-palming purpose.

My poem used these words for purpose. I tried my best not to repeat myself and use as many differing swear words as I could within the poem so it would have an accumulative effect. The words I used in the poem that are deemed not fit for children or mixed company: Tits, Cock, Dick, Wank, Pussy, Cunt, Cum, Fuck and Minge, each word being perhaps wince inducing but with such high density and consistency would make for an impactful poem. What I think was more unpleasant for people was their sexual context, it is a very anatomically descriptive poem and such strong language in a sensitive area of discussion was perhaps too much for some. In this way it worked too bloody well and what I discovered is how for all the right wing press’ arguments for us being a promiscuous society with no morals or taboos left to break, it seems a few little four letter words set in an ancient Japanese poetic form can still turn people’s stomach and rile them to revolt. For this reason swear words are really sodding GOOD. They make a point better than most words and in less time and syllables than other words.

Having lived alone for some years now, I found my language gets worse and worse (or more colourful as I like to cunting think); akin to that sailor talk people frequently speak of. As such when out with friends I find I swear a lot more freely and realise people look slightly embarrassed or at least look around the pub to ensure no one heard me. I remember getting sent indoors while doing a reading of a play about Thomas Beckett at school due to a, in my opinion highly literate and articulate, slew of profanities. The reason I resist the use of the word ‘Profanities’ is for this reason. The idea that these ‘Curse Words’ being ‘magical’ or in a true sense ‘pagan’ are “Against God” and frankly: Fuck that. There is far more cause for ‘Profane’ language than saintly language. We have obtained more from nautical and service language in everyday speech than anywhere else so “sailor talk”, to me at least, is far more valuable than any saintly speech. So my delightful reviewer who (for some reason) perceives wit as being the chief weapon in a poet’s arsenal, declaring my poem in equally cliched journalistic alliteration a “procession of profanities” I consider the shart-darting highest compliment.

In many ways this has made me think of swear words more as ‘Curse Words’ than before because they do almost seem to cast a magic spell. Like JK Rowling’s brilliant subversion of “Abracadabra” in Harry Potter into “Avarda Kedavra”, the worst of the ‘Unforgivable Curses’, the ‘Killing Curse’, swear word’s meanings have altered and changed but their power is still present. Depending on how or where or when they are delivered a curse can be as powerful as those magical curses wizards and witches would bring down on their hated enemies. Love me or loathe me for my appreciation of such ungodly words but as a self-proclaimed “wordsmith” they are some of my most precious fucking tools in my cunting wonderful shitshed.

Poo cum titty willy bum.

P.S. The path to good swears is a long one and the path to enlightenment is and always will be Viz and its saintly work ‘Roger Mellie’s Profanisaurus’. Buy yourself a copy and cry with laughter. Contrary to newspaper criticism some of the sharpest and funniest WIT comes from portmanteau swearing, crass imagery and out-and-out silly words. Pick it up in a bookshop, pick a page at random and scare people around you by collapsing in a fit of very loud guffaws. You fucking well deserve it.