Christmas Live! (Part 4 – The Conclusion)

Previously in Panto – Deed Poll to  Prison, Thames IslandsWoolworths songs, and now the conclusion

“Welcome: To the Palace of the Mountain King!” yells Joe Longthorne. He’s cross-legged in fanciful silver ball-gown, plumes of white feathers around the collar. Sat upon The Iron Throne, a peacock’s splendour of daggers elevated upon cascading steps, he motions his head downwards to Jetfire, Heller and the others. All are caged but for John Craven.

king joffrey longthorne John Craven Betrayal

“Driving home for Christmas”, he harks, “These people are just the same as me!” Risen from his throne clapping, he ponces grandly down to meet them. He teases ruby fingernails along the bars of Jetfire’s cage. “Well, well. What have we here? A Transformer. More than meets the eye, I’ll say! Aye Eye!” he laughs now. “Well my darling. I must say I’ve never tried to impersonate one of yours. What crimes have you committed?”

“ government won’t allow me to live here, unless I work for the arms companies. But I ha-have a degree in neuroscience that could help many people.”

“I see, you’re, caught” Words tickle out as Longthorne reaches through the bars and strokes Jetfire’s arm.

“You sold us out John Craven. You’re a traitor!” yells Heller, unable to control himself.

Longthorne laughs again. A light girlish laugh, at first endearing like the best bowl of cereal then obsequious, as if steeped in milk for four days. Yet not sour.       “John is here at my pleasure. Think what we could do by ruling together John. I could dress for you and you could dress for me. Lipstick and eyeliner, oh, it’s so much fun.”

“Well, it’s not out of the question” said John raising an eyebrow and smiling.  With the same smile he shakes his hairy head like a jolly dog. ‘No’. “No, I’m afraid it wouldn’t work Joe.”

“Oh come now. I’ve dressed as hundreds of celebrities. But the truth looks so good on you.”

Miley Merrick rattles her cage fiercely and slides to it’s base. Tori reaches through. “It’s okay Elephant Girl. You’ll be noticed soon.”

“You there! Let those women go!” demands Carnacki.

“You’ve had so many identities that you don’t know who you are anymore. Who’s really in charge here?”

Heller saw Longthorne was shaken by this observation and pressed home the advantage. “Did they do to you what you’re going to let happen to John Craven? Filled full of wires and zapped with shocks to become just another tool of the State?”

Longthorne rages. “What about you Autobot? Do you think I’m just a weapon?”

Jetfire spoke with sadness.

“I just know myself. I’m Jetfire. That is who I am and I’m glad of it. I can think of nothing worse than not knowing who one really is.”

Just then the ground quakes.

John Craven rushes to the window. “Joe, it’s the London Met dressed as Boba Fett. Hundreds of them.”

Six officers enter the room and surround the prisoners as the news-reader darts behind Tori’s cage.

“Whooooo disrupts my Coronation?” asks Joe.

“Coronation Longthorne? This is bad comedy!”

It was the Wooden Blocks. Haunting mannequins, ghosts of expression. Daniel Cameron, and with him his lieutenants Neil Clegg and Gordon Osborne. “Why are these scroungers not in rehabilitative security at the Winter Snaps?”

“You serve at my leisure Daniel.” cautioned Longthorne.

“Oh?” Cameron’s face puffs like a blowfish. He turns to Neil and Gordon. “Haw Haw Haw Haw” he yawps and they echo his cackles. “We serf at his leisure?”

The words sound baby-speak, mocking, twisted.

“HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW” and for a full minute all the politicians and guards hawed.

“Joe, if you can be anyone, don’t be a no-one”, says Jetfire and there is silence.

“Who played you Joe?” asks Heller.

Joe looks over to John Craven beaming back a broad smile. He tosses bunched keys across the room.

“I won’t allow it!” yaps Gordon and stamps his feet three times. “It’s not fair, it’s not fair!”

Now see Joe Longthorne punch Neil Clegg in the face.

“Target Special Agent Longthorne!” yells Daniel Cameron.

Every heavy firearm in the room raises to Daniel Cameron’s head until he is clear of their sights.

“He’s slipped into costume!” calls one of the shock troops, aiming his weapon at Gordon. All guns turn. Everyone is still. John Craven and Tori Amos pause with those caged, watching, considering. Then, Daniel Cameron moves. He’s running off stage there, like a big yellow-belly scaredy-cat and is shot full of rapid bangs. The sound echoes around Chumberly Village Hall. You could almost run around later with your friendsand pretend to be shooting Daniel Cameron, that’s how loud it was. The London Met Boba Fett shock troopers turn on each other. Their guns are squeezy washing up bottles with water inside and they squirt shots and fall to the floor. There is one left standing.

“Joe Longthorne!” he says, approaching Neil Clegg. He detaches his cartridge from his gun and shakes it up and down then opens it by screw top. He bashes the base of it and tomato ketchup drollops out and covers Neil Clegg’s bloody nose. Then the trooper kicks him in the bollocks.

“Arghieee, that really hurt. Mummmieeee!”

Our heroic band are out, rescued, but Miley Cyrus bum-rushes the Shock Trooper into an open cage and it closes behind the two of them. Captain Heller’s gun points to the Chancellor’s head. The Surfer comes around to join him.

“Not so fast Gordon Of Osborne.”

“I knew we’d find out who’s really behind this.”

Osborne pulls his own face off. “He was inside one of those Shock Troop uniforms.” says Joe, who were beneath the mask. “I dressed him in it after I punched Neil Clegg.”

“I’m glad” says John Craven.

“Now I am free I can begin to heal this battered heart. Thankyou, my new friends.”, he says eagerly shaking the robot’s hand. “I have something for you.”

Joe reaches into his pocket and pulls out two small books, which he gives to Jetfire and Captain Heller.

“Passports: Jetfire, for your citizenship and Captain Heller – we’re going to need a good leader to take this country from the dark ages. What do you say? Will you stay and help?”

“And forget all this ever happened?” asks Heller sceptically.

“I agree. And don’t you all have homes to go to?” asks Carnacki. “Now, shoo! Off you pop! Out into the street!”

And with that the performers exit, pushing Miley and the trooper off-stage.



* * * Curtains * * *


‘Do they Know it’s Christmas?’ charges towards the speakers. It’s a cover version by Rammstein. The actors bow; we clap.


“Well Ta Gnat Thank Gad It’s Tham, In Staidddd of Yoo”


They take a second bow and throw out Punk prowls and Kung-Fu kicks.



* * * Curtains * * *






A Christmas Panto, hyperlinked in one part, two part and now 3.

Blue curtains part, we hear a long fart, draws us to the contorted Miley Cyrus on the pavement with the rest. They are sad. Behind them a grey grill front Woolworths store shot with red flame. The flames are really convincing. Not at all like that puny bright red foil cut into star shapes with pinking scissors because real scissors couldn’t be found. There is an advert in the window for an ‘Apple iSelection Box – Reduced To £249.99″. Tori Amos lifts a red aluminium can from the floor and throws it viciously across the stage were it clatters, rolls from sight. John Craven lifts his head up.

“Coca-Cola are putting people’s names on the side of their cans. They even got John!” he beams.

“That one was Jose. One of their murdered Colombian plant workers range” she admitted sadly.

Nobody spoke. They sat by that intersection of grilled up shops. Carnacki lifts the larger part of a smashed bauble from the ground. Miley Cyrus rocks to and fro beside him and he turns to calm her.

“No Miss Merrick. I wish we could go to Lapland, or Greenland. But our only hope is to stomp out this tyrannical power structure at it’s source. We must wait for the bus to Whitehall.”

“This isn’t how Christmas was in my day.” quipped Craven, sensing the darkening. “My father bought me my first knife, made of chocolate. It was an unusually warm Christmas Day, and after family time, he’d take me down to the local river and we’d test out our new fishing equipment together. We’d catch a few chocolate fish. But it was in the Summer, when we’d sail the Chocolate Seas together, that the real magic happened.”

The players are silent.

“What do you suppose is the worst Christmas song?” asked The Silver Surfer.

“The one that really gets me is that drumming song. You know, it’s really chirpy. Its as if it’s being sung by the Boys Brigade as they give biscuit tins to pensioners. But it’s all just a lead up to the central refrain.” Jetfire chokes on his words, he’s crying. “‘I wish I was at home for Christmas’.

“Stop The Cavalry by Jona Lewie.” says The Surfer, pleased at his recall.

“Its actually an anti-war song urging disarmament”, says Heller.

“And now we’re set for the firing squad. This Longthorne will want us executed surely.” said Carnacki matter-of-factly.

“You know what I can’t stand?” says The Surfer. “’Driving home for Christmas?'”

Carnacki raises his elbow and bobs his pipe. “That’s a fine song!”

“You Kiddeth Me! The tune sounds like he’s dancing up a motorway! ‘I look at the driver next to me. He’s just the same?’ It’s wretched vomit.” he snarks.

Carnacki moves uncomfortably and John Craven puts his arm around him and looked along the row.

“At least you know what you’re getting. The tune and delivery tells you it’s melancholic outsider pop, and it quickly establishes itself as having popular base appeal. Chris Rea is the poor man’s Tom Waits and he never pretends to be anything else. He’s antidotal to that other Chris – De Burgh.”

That’s a good argument. How can you not like John Craven?

The grizzly freighter Captain raises his arm and speaks with confidence. “The Band Aid one.”

Tori laughs. “It’s like ‘The Walking Dead’, that song.”

“It’ll put years on you!” smirks Heller slyly.

“Dung! Duh-Dung!” says Tori, slouching slowly to her feet. She jerks towards the front and her chin protrudes fatly. Her motions are like a zombie, screwed up mocking eyes and teeth.

“Dung! Duh-Dung!” said Heller, shrugging his dust-jackets’ shoulders out, and flapping his arms by his sides.

“Duuung!” yelled Miley.

Tori pulls a cigar from her pocket and took several puffs, rasping out, “Its Crusmus Tummm”

Heller at the edge of the stage beckons a pensioner in the front row. He pulls a large service revolver from his jacket and presses it firmly against the man’s nose.

“There’s no need to be afraid” he sings with a smile to screaming children.

“A-At Christmas Tie” sings the man visibly shaken. Heller releases him and he falls back onto his chair.

“We let in light and we banish shade!” boisterously delivers Carnacki.

Christmas Live 3

“Duuung!” yelled Miley.

“And in our world of plenty” sings Jetfire rubbing his armour breast-plate.

“We can spread a smile of joy” sang John Craven.

“Purt Yar Marand Teh Weld @ Crusmus Tum” screamed Miley Merrick flapping about like a seizure crashing into The Silver Surfer.

Like a finely honed classical ballet dancer he strides. “But say a prayer” Down on one knee, he placing elbows on the other and joins hands to meet at his face. “Pray for the other ones”

Jetfire raises his arms, and his two wings become four, rotating to form an amazing spectacle. “It’s hard, but when you’re having funnnn” His tones are those of a desperate alien and his large hands wrap over his ears which resemble over-sized headphones.

“There’s a world outside your window”, Craven hopefully offers you and Carnacki warns , “it’s a world of dread and fear.”

“Where nothing ever grows, no rain or winter snows” sing Glenn Howerton and Alison Brie. They square off in a mock kung-fu tournament. Then, the seven performers lift their feet, delivering the hook line of the song together. “Do. They. Know. It’s. Crisp. Mass. Time. At. All?” The jolly tune kicks in now and they bulk up. They clomp around the stage, dancing like exuberant mad young things wearing clogs. Miley Merrick marks the beats, drowning out the vocals.

“Bum Bum Bum Bum Bum Bum! Bum Bum Buuum Bum..” and she is the first to fall out of formation. She clatters into Woolworths and a cage falls from the shop-front. Amos and Carnacki are by other buildings, and if on cue grills by them become the backs of cages that fall from the rafters.

“What demonology is this?” calls Carnacki.

Miley is yelping and the others have stopped singing.

“Oh now look.” pleads the Surfer. “I’ve never been against Longthorne. I’m completely harmless!”

But it was too late for he too had wandered into a trap.

“Stand still!” calls Heller, just as cages fall upon the Surfer and Jetfire.

Captain Heller and John Craven stagger back towards one another. Heller looks around tactically. To the audience, back to the shops. His prison falls from the sky, boxing him on all sides. He looks through the bars at John Craven.

“Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?” he screams.

* * * Curtains * * *

Christmas Live! (Part 2)

A Christmas Panto hyperlinked in four parts,such as part 1


* * * Curtains * * *


“Some say it’s to do with the opening of the Blue Peter Time Capsule. My other sources say the Wooden Blocks. You know the wooden blocks? Thatcher, Pinochet, they have long noses but not much else. Simple head, feet and frame. Except when they move. They don’t make a sound as they stomp, but as their feet lift off the ground…. it’s as if thunder scares the Poles, and the clouds plummet.”

Do you know Judge Dredd, 2000A.D.? Charley’s War and Marshal Law the comics? Pat Mills is a writer who made them. He doesn’t look sixty-four, closer to fifty. He is a little left-wing and is bluntly unimpressed with your shortcomings. He wears a scowl, dirty fair hair and a brown, light leather jacket, all of which suit him for the role of…

“Captain Drew Heller, the resistance man! The hero of Zoidstar. I thought you looked familiar.” says Tori. “This freighter pilot is the number two enemy of Whitehall.  He’s taught whole continents to rise up and influenced a generation through his graffiti.”

“So we really are in with the high risk offenders” scoffs The Silver Surfer.

The group are stood left of centre against a dirty blue painted backdrop of a river. Our eyes are drawn to their feet were Miley Cyrus rolls with her pants down on the artificial grass covering the stage.

Carnacki stands apart too, at the back under a solitary twisted tree. He looks out the distance at you, audience. To his right you can make out a seventh figure sat in darkness at a table.

“We appear to be on an island.” remarks the Victorian Ghost-Finder. “What is going on here Captain Heller? This ‘prison’, does not appear modelled on a  Panopticon?”

“It’s more Australia than Alcatraz.” says Heller roughly. “You’re familiar with the story of how they set me up?”

Brightened are the two lights on the fibreglass above Skyfire’s eyes.

“They contracted you to ferry prisoners to a planet with anthropomorphic war robots. These ‘Zoids’ picked the prisoners and your crew off, killed them. Drained of firepower the Zoids would be vulnerable to Cybersol Corporation’s military forces and their plan to capturing a working ‘Zoid’.”

Heller picks up the tale.

“However the Tories identified with Blue Zoid factions and Labour with the Red Zoids. Amidst this the Communist Party were seduced by Krark’s United Zoid Army. The mission was a failure. This was because the Zoids were on average twelve centimetres high and their weapons were imaginary. But damnit! I lost my son Griff on that job. They will pay for that.”

“Have you still got the receipt?”

“What does this have to do with our current situation?” asked Tori, noticing the single prison number on his jacket.

“We’re part of a similar experimental programme here on Thames Island. It’s really just an estuary. But we are guarded by monsters from a weird science breeding programme.”

“Thut fulm was tuh-rrible.” said Miley Cyrus and punched a finger in her nose hole.

“Tell me”, continued Captain Heller, “What recently do you know of Operation Yewtree?”

“This again?”

“Is that it?” asks Skyfire, pointing to the tree.


The Silver Surfer sighed sensing seeking something sourced spoke.

“The last I had heard the operation to arrest seventies and eighties on sexual charges led to the shooting dead of Timmy Mallett and his cousin Christopher “Big” Biggins. The Agents of H.A.P.P.Y., Figgis, Glover and Binnis also went missing.”

“Who’s that?” asked Thomas Carnacki at last, glaring at the seventh man.

They approached Prisoner Number One and the light revealed an older man, dark hair in side-shade, a broad grin and twinkling eyes. He wore a black blazer with white trim over pressed shirt and trousers.

“You’d have to ask a news-man.” he said.


There was a good height and slim build to him when he stood, and he carried himself as a nexus of pleasantries.  Then a pause and the sound of Miley Cyrus The Elephant Man slurping repeated. This carries on even as Skyfire’s recognises him.

“You’re John Craven!”

“I’ve heard of you.” said Tori. “The news reader who never lies.”

He laughed at that did John Craven, who was played by himself.

“I-I’m a huge fan. I-I’m Skyfire”, and he shook his hand eagerly.

“I know. Isn’t your name’s really Jetfire. I heard you were wrongly convicted. You may as well wear the name you’re comfortable with.”

Jetfire blushes.

“Not so fast!” called out Captain Heller in a way that causes even Miley to stop licking and pay attention.”Craven, you’re as guilty as the next news-man of the stories that you don’t report. You’re too likeable, and besides, I’ve read Watchmen – Ozymandias.”

The air is electric and the wind is wee-wee.

“Could it be you’re behind it all?” asked Heller. “Oh yes. The perfect man who evaded termination, while his generation fell around him.“

Carnacki grabbed a soggy broken bark from the ground, The Surfer squinted, even Tori twitched for her concealed jewish harp.

“Tell me Captain”, Craven responded lightly. “Because you’re a smart man. Did you ever hear about the arrest of Joe Longthorne?”

“Huh? They took him in early. Everyone knows that.”

“Well now I didn’t put that story out. Can you remember your source on the Longthorne arrest?”

Carnacki approaches Heller and stands in front of him. We see how each mirroring the other’s confusion in their expressions.

“You all remember Joe Longthorne? Of course you don’t. But try. He was the top celebrity impersonator of our age. He made his living from being a chameleon. From Brighton to Dundee, he played them all. He was at hundreds of people and places! Do you suppose a man like that wouldn’t be deep in black ops?”

“But he’s more than that. His policies flow through every channel, inform every paper, jump at the web and smudge every paper. It’s not just the 1970s Longthorne is erasing. He even had Weird Al Yankovic killed to protect his secrets. And those little babies that were murdered…”, and here John Craven appears to cry searching for their names, “Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, My god, he murdered those children in their cots and blamed it on King Herod!”

“It’s true.” says The Surfer after a stunned minute.

“Operation Yewtree arrests for crimes this man may have committed under fake identities.” Captain Heller lets the words out slowly, as if he can’t quite believe the enormity of the tragic conspiracy, yet knows it in his heart to be true. “Or to remove his opponents from the board.”

“What do we do now?” asks Jetfire.

Heller was firm.

“We’re going back.”


The island was quite small, only the length of the stage, and it seemed like the band were walking and not moving.

“Come on then Lakes Seven” urges Heller.

“This isn’t a lake, it’s the River Thames.” says Carnacki.

“No. It was a play on Blake’s Seven” he informed him.

“But William Blake isn’t here.” says Carnacki, confused.

A red spotlight illuminates the stage and a three headed monster of vile wart-eyed women with curlers on their bun heads hiss and scream. Each have necks like E.T. the extra live part 2

“Ghidorah!” shouted Jetfire.

“The Harpies!” called Tori.

“UTSH CRUSTMUSSS!” it guldered serpentine, with the voice of Noddy Holder.

In fact, it was three arms inside three cardboard tubes, each padded out with foam, masking tape and a mix of turgid mud paint. A balloon at the end of each wrinkles with photo faces of Julie Burchill, Rebekah Brooks and Jan Moir. Miley Cyrus puts her hand in her bum and producing poop flings at the monster. However, Carnacki is holding up his soggy wooden bark and Miley’s faeces strike the weapon and bounce off, assuming the form of Quality Street and Cadbury’s Roses which hurtle towards you. Then Thomas Carnacki, who can detect when there are ghosts or as is more common, a scientific explanation, well, he became aware of your presence. He is looking at your eyes right this moment, do you understand? You are looking at him and he says, “Reader, you must help me to distract this triumvirate of evil, you must say to them, we’re over here! You’ll hear them call to you, ‘Where are they?’ You must say to them “We’re over here’ and then we will sneak towards them and bang their heads. Go on reader! We depend upon you this hour. Say to them ‘Over here!’, 1…2…3….I need you to be really loud now. The fate of reality, our whole existence depends on it. Remain sitting were you are and say the words. 1…2….3… Do you see? Do you understand what is meant by this? Can I have your word that you will perform this task? I assure you no ill will or malignancy will come upon you if you do exactly what I say. Trust me now, ‘Over here!'”


The faces would be popped of Burchill, Brooks and Moir. Three dead skin minging harpies, their tiny heads would be exploded and glitter would come out.  This allows the heroic rebels a trip across three stones joining Thames Island with the bank.  Captain Heller, Jetfire, Carnacki, John Craven, all hop. Tori Amos hops, Miley Cyrus hops!

The Silver Surfer sets his board over the stones and runs across it.



* * * Curtains * * *


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


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.