Comics That Moved Me: Third World War

A re-blog from the archives of my regular column for Alltern8; Comicking.

Crisis first five covers

Front-loaded with sequential design and a timeline of atrocities flowing. A futureworld of Pat Mills’ evidence-founded speculative horror. Artist Carlos Ezquerra’s rich figure drawing and the painted colours seemed to move in the heat of South America with its dust and its fire and sheer assault. The slums, the shanty-towns and the barrios; the expressions and adrenaline of fear and the barking army-life. The opening salvos of Crisis, a fortnightly magazine from the makers of 2000AD. As a publishing operation, it appealed. 2000AD was as the time bogged-down by more continuity than Marvel and DC, and it’s readers seemed like a clique of a club: they didn’t want me there. Crisis took the science-fiction genre and rammed it past those worlds detached to me. Lead strip Third World was about things that were happening around me, there and then.

The British Government had instituted compulsory national service from age 18 to work in the poorest countries of the world. They were to protect the interests of multinationals (a new phrase to me then) from the trigger of a gun, if necessarry. The focus was a unit of teenagers charged with re-educating and re-orientating locals. They did this reluctantly, through fear of the threat of force, or through blind faith and ignorance. Unlike a 2000AD story, we weren’t often treated to discussions of active conspiracy to liberate from an unjust system. This was comics realism. Sometimes you just have to follow orders, thousands of miles from your lovers.

3ww subversion

02 3WW free gifts

Third World War has been accused of many things. The characters sometimes lapsed into sociological text-book mode: Haralambos-speak. A fan, Hipsterdad, has referrred to them as “two dimensional” and “only open-minded insofar as they reject conventional society in favor of paganism and rebellion.” The character of Trisha was the type of olde christian. Practicing the faith at the time, she enabled me to see the hypocrisies of some of my fellow Christians’ attitudes and question other characters’ responses, which largely consisted of bullying her. In retrospect, it was Dawkins, perhaps filtered through Mills’ motor-noise soundtrack of The Dead Kennedys, Napalm Death and Chumbawamba. In the affluent part of Belfast, I didn’t know any blacks or punks or soldiers. Stereotypes are not useful for relating to specific people or scenes, but can be helpful fixing in on a broad-area signal. Dave Merrill at the above link is of the opinion that 3WW was so guilty of soap-boxing it was “soap factory-ing”.


Crisis more covers

The format of the strip: two fourteen-page installments, allowed for a quick presentation of a story, before moving on. Mills and Ezquerra didn’t waste their breath. Immediately readers were told about psychological warfare battalions (which our cast were part of), Agent Orange and free fire zones (cattle grazing land prepared by napalm). I was introduced to phrases like “Low Intensity Conflict” and the global horrors of the debt crisis engineered and fed on by Western bankers of the IMF. One story focussed on Coca-Cola’s links with death squads, forces which continue to be complicit in the murder of trade unionists in Guatemala, twenty years before Mark Thomas’ would write Belching Out The Devil. Before he would write about Britain as one of the world’s major arms suppliers to repressive military regimes in the form of CS gas, leg irons, armoured cars, surveillance systems and gallows. In one discussion of strobe guns a character remarks, “Its okay, its been tested in Northern Ireland”. Mills wrote about torture and disappearance, child soldiers and secret police. He talked about food irradiation and sterilisation, while Alan Moore was still pottering about with his giant naked blue man’s penis.

The glossary accompanying 3WW provided reference points in the form of book lists, NGO reports and documentaries, as well as historically-verifiable facts. Throughout its life Crisis retained links with the Green movement and Amnesty International, demonstrating that the news didn’t end with where the News would have you believe. You could get active and involved and for god’s sake, make an effort.

After the initial first book of seven stories (fourteen issue) closed, Mills became more interested in race and policing in London. This new narrative scene timed with format changes in the magazine and started a trend which allowed for Crisis’ death knell. Warren Ellis, writing at Artbomb, had this to say on its demise,

“And when it all fell apart, as it was always going to do, the idea of adult graphic novels in Britain largely went with it. The money was pulled. No-one at Fleetway was going to get a second shot. No other publisher – being careful and scared – was going to put their money on the place where the floor fell in.

And, to this day, no-one’s really been back there.”

Sputnik on Fortunecity has a page with a few details of Crisis and 3WW and I’ve just made a blog with a few transcriptions available.

Neither of these are well-formatted but they are informative. Third World War has not been reprinted recently, bar a few Flickr users, although there is a 2000AD thread (rightfully) calling for Book 1 to be reprinted.

I have it from my sources that we may be seeing the return of a commercial British political comic from one or more publishers in the forthcoming year.  I reckon Warren would visit.

With Leonard Rifas Pt.2: Maps and Webcomics and Cyberactivism

A re-blog from the archives of my regular column for Alltern8; Comicking.

Earlier in the week I spoke with Leonard Rifas, cartoonist and publisher behind EduComics, about language, comics and Second Life. You can read that here. This time around we continue our chat about relaying messages between the virtual and the local.

Andy Luke: Given that comics is slang for ‘maps’, perhaps a narrative told using Google Maps or the like might have potential.

Leonard Rifas: I had not heard “comics” used as a slang word for “maps” before. It reminds me that I had a piece in comics format published in the Journal of Geography in 1996, in which I described a method I had worked out for drawing world maps from memory.

As for how comics might blend with maps, I keep imagining finding a program someday that would allow me to automatically translate spreadsheets, databases and other kinds of information into virtual landscapes where characters could explore and have adventures.

My doctoral dissertation, The Dataforest: Tree Forms as Information Display Graphics, was my first try at playing with the idea of using virtual environments as information landscapes. Around the time I finished that project, the field of information visualization started to really take off, but I lacked the necessary skills in computer science or statistics or even sufficient skill as an artist to get in on it. As that field develops, the technology becomes cheaper and more available and trickles down to hobbyists, so I hope to build some of the data-dreamscapes I’ve been thinking of eventually. Actually, the problem holding me back has been lack of time more than lack of tools.

I think maps and comics can fit together in many ways. I’ve incorporated maps into my educational comic book stories since I started in the 1970s.

Above: from A Method for Sketching World Maps (ERIC-locked)

Below: All-Atomic Comics, 1976

All-Atomic_Comics_(1st_edition_front_cover)

AL: The potential of cyber-activism in the comics form: do you suppose this is something that brings new life to both?

LR: I think it can. I remember in 1985, hearing excited reports about how this rapidly approaching new information technology of the Internet would transform political organising. Now it would be hard for me to imagine living without it, and yet I feel the groups I participated in before the internet had arrived won bigger successes by going out in the streets and stopping traffic with our protests than the groups nowadays have achieved, with their daily click-here emailed petitions to our elected representatives. (I report that as my feeling. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places for internet organising success stories. Perhaps I’m making the mistake of looking to the left for my examples rather than looking to the right.)

I take back what I said about being unable to imagine life without the internet. Last summer I took a two week vacation during which the only keyboards I touched were ATMs. It turned out not to be hard at all…. as long as I’m on vacation.

AL: One of my favourite educational activist pieces is Mills and Ezquerra’s “Third World War” which ran in the British Crisis in the nineties. Do you have any favourite edu-activist or informational comics?

LR: I’d like to read that series. In common with many other people, I think Joe Sacco has done outstanding work with informational comics, including his recent Footnotes in Gaza
I have many favourite informational and activist cartoonists. I don’t write as many reviews as I’d like to, but you can see some of my opinions in back issues of The Comics Journal.

AL: Any chance of including a brief media list of what you’re currently reading?

LR: I can’t make it brief. I usually read many books at once. Today I bought a remaindered copy of The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh of Homer and read Wallace’s chapter, “A (Karl, not Groucho) Marxist in Springfield.” I also pre-ordered The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen, which I’ve been anticipating for decades. My bathroom reading for the last several months has been Willis Barnstone’s The Restored New Testament: A New Translation with Commentary, Including the Gnostic Gospels Thomas, Mary, and Judas. I particularly appreciate how he exposes and explains the anti-Semitism in the New Testament. Mostly, though, for today’s reading I’ve been grading papers, which I enjoy.

AL: Watching and listening to?

In the background, I’m listening to Smashing Pumpkins: If All Goes Wrong. I often listen to folk music on web-radio: KBCS in nearby Bellevue, Washington and KPFA in Berkeley, California. I especially recommend Robbie Osman’s archived show “Across the Great Divide.”

Earlier today I watched Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street for the first time. I look forward to Alice in Wonderland.

AL: What are you eating at present?

LR: My wife is in Taiwan on business this week, so I had snacks instead of meals: lots of peanut butter and tomato open-faced sandwiches, (vegetarian) kim chee on tofu, “Craisins®” (dried cranberries), some handfuls of almonds and walnuts, apples, a bell pepper, Veggie Patties, some ibuprofen my doctor recommended for bursitis… basically anything handy and easy.