Monday, 11 October 2010

"But, Why?" :- Some Concerns From The Blogging Margins Concerning 2000 AD prog 1706

1.

What is this thing, this "2000 ad", that it should sold using the cover to this week's issue? What is its target audience, and how might they be attracted by this latest in a rarely-interrupted sequence of bizarrely unenticing covers?

What other science-fiction adventure comic, full of werewolves and zombies, future-cops and space-opera pulp shenanigans would so consistently present itself to the world with such a lack of commercial ambition, such an absence of zest and zip, such a strange counter-intuitive passivity where the business is surely the grabbing of the reader by the throat while insisting that they must now, right now, read this comic!

Indeed, what mainstream science fiction product from any medium fighting for its life in today's marketplace would consistently position images such as the above on its cover? After all, it's not just this is a relatively limp, if pleasant and competently-executed, painting, it's also that it doesn't even accurately describe what's inside the prog itself.

2.

What is it that this cover is telling the reader to expect from the interior of this comic? Well, there's a castle, a blasted heath, a ghostly and yet handsome head looking fondly on, a windswept and heart-heavy man in 19th century dress aiming a gun; why, it's a gay Gothic romance about to end in tragedy! (Perhaps the owner of t'mill is about to be shot for letting the floating head die when he tried to protect his ancestral land from the encroachment of industrialisation?) And though I really would buy a gay comic book Gothic romance tragedy, I really would, for its audacity and its difference as well as its capacity to annoy the homophobic irritants of this world, a gay Gothic romance is not what awaits the reader herein.

Perhaps, the thought occurs, this cover is a homage to those strange girls comics which once haunted the newstands, The Buntys and Mistys, the contents of which some kind folks have been good enough to explain to me on this very site. But, then, why would anybody do that? Why would an editorial team sign off on a cover that hearkened back to a genre which died long ago for want of readers? Surely that would be evidence of the kind of mouth-swallowing-tail inter-textuality which marks a decadent and commercially unambitious enterprise?

3.

It is, I fully recognise, quite a lovely design in many wistful and nostalgic ways, but it does seem to be the product of a mentality which has abandoned the business of catching the eye and quickening the pulse of the casual buyer, given that the only hint of action is buried at the bottom left-hand corner of the piece, the area of a cover most likely, I'd've thought, to be most obscured on a rack or shelf.

It's a strange business, this cover. The chap at bottom-left isn't even immediately identifiable as Dante, for he looks older and bereft of humour and dash, so it's obvious that the cover isn't aimed at diehard fans who know what they like and insist on getting what they recognise. And yet, the cover is so locked into a long-dead romance genre that it's hardly reaching out to anyone beyond the hardcore reader who'll buy the comic regardless of what's on the front of it.

In essence, it's neither directly targeting the established fanbase nor designed to attract a new one, and it seems instead to exist in a strange non-commercial space where the self-referential objet d'art might exist and not prosper.

4

But what most concerns me is that the cover seems to be not only disconnected from potential audiences, but from the content and indeed traditions of 2000 ad. For surely the pages of "The Master Of Kronstadt: part 2" herein contained more than enough arresting, exciting and quite frankly absurd images for the least engaging of artists to create a eye-shocking and exciting cover from. (*1)

Consider; there's a beautiful blond vampire in military jodhpurs who's trying to bite to death a science-fiction villain with heat-projecting powers while one-pilot laser-firing bombers attack a castle between two towers of which Dante is swinging, as Dante of course would, to save the day!

*1:- that's no coded slight directed at Mr Davis and his art, which I've consistently expressed a strong liking for within these entries.

5.

Now, what is going on here, that such an incredible source of quite frankly fun imagery is being ignored for a cover which can't even gather the force to portray the antagonist as anything other than rather handsome and ghosty in a dead Mr Darcy way? (You'd never guess that that apparition of a face represents the bad guy of the piece, would you?) Is it that folks are ashamed or even ignorant of the magazine's pulp roots, and of the vigour that a fusion of low culture and high ambition generates? Has research indicated that open conflict or an accurate reflection of the comic's contents serves as a purchasing turn-off? Is the bottom left corner of a page really the place to put the only tepid hint of threat on a cover? For, to be frank, this is just the latest in a fairly long, rarely interrupted sequence of covers which would be pretentious if they weren't so lacking in ambition and content and verve.

It's a science-fiction adventure comic book, this 2000 ad. If it's Dante's turn for a cover, I'd say that it'd be a good idea to have;

(1) an immediately recognisable Dante,
(2) an eye-catching and arresting design which doesn't have such a subdued pallet,
(3) a beautiful uniformed and teethsome vampire, a cruel heat-firing villain and our hero half-flying to the rescue,
(4) and a laser-firing plane and exploding castle too.

Because the sense of a comic book which has abandoned the search for casual buyers and indeed much of its ambition and subversive daring shines dully off a great many of these recent covers. It's as if nobody wants to reach out, laugh heartily, demand the reader's attention and reaffirm that some kinetic and profane enterprise is still being carried through here.

For it's not that the illustration isn't competent. Of course it is. It's just dull compared to the form and content that might be there, and it feels weary as well as stylish, unnecessary as well as considered, and irrelevant rather than vital. It belongs in a coffee-table book where gifted artists pay their respects to 2000 ad by imagining what the comic would have been like if it'd been a western, or a crime book, or, yes, a gay and rather fey Gothic romance.

6.


After a year of psychopaths torturing and killing people in small rooms, of Maybe and Skinner and the remarkably predictable if at times entertaining behaviour of their breed, now we have, oh dear, another apparent psychopath torturing people in a small room in "Judge Dredd". Worse yet, for the sake of the reader who's wearily familiar with the whole trick, here we have another bad guy strapping down and torturing a Judge, which also happened, oh, exactly two weeks ago. In fact, it was just two weeks ago that we were also shown Dredd taking responsibility for a Cadet too, meaning that the various rushes of deja vu that are jumping me at this moment are struggling to do anything more profound than baffle their victim with their many competing cries for attention.

And it doesn't matter if next week shows that everything isn't as we think it may be, because the effect of a cliffhanger promising more of the same after so much more of the same is to neuter the mind's ability to want to engage with what's coming. And this is especially so after last week's tale by AL Ewing, which shockingly didn't actually have one of these damn psychopathic villains so much as a group of typical Big Meg citizens behaving, in a finely exaggerated way, as typical people do, with all the jealousy, ambition, desire, and stupidity of the unpsychopathic life. Once, the key business of "Judge Dredd" was to show how the world imposed by the Judges upon the ordinary woman and man was taking typical human frailties and intensifying them even as Dredd and his breed claimed they were protecting law and order. Now we're so often away from the realm of the typical and so regularly lost in the well-worn paths of the pathological that, quite frankly, Judge Dredd's adventures are becoming, whisper it, somewhat boring.



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10 comments:

  1. Great post, Colin.

    When I took the time to review current progs on the 2000AD forum, I always made sure to mention whether or not I thought the cover of the prog I reviewed would make me buy the comic had I never read it before (the habit stems from the days when I would select which heavy metal tape had the koolest and most evile cover and which fantasy paperback had the hottest scantily clad barbarian girl).

    Last year saw a string of amazing covers, and more often than not I felt that, yes, if I had been browsing for a new title to read, I would have at least picked up those progs out of curiosity and taken a long look at the contents. You are correct that for some time we've had some - great individual covers that don't quite sell the magazine the way they should, which is a shame because 2000AD is by far the best comic out there right now (imo).

    And funny you should mention the almost unrecognizable Dante; really, outside of Dredd, 2000AD doesn't have any characters widely recognized by the mainstream. That bothers me.

    Fine review Colin. Thanks again.

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  2. Hello Matthew, and it's good to hear from you again; I was hoping I'd not said anything to alienate in my last e-mail to thee.

    And I’m certainly glad I’m not the only person who’s concerned about this long string of covers. Much of what I read elsewhere seems to feel very positively about them.

    That's a damn good point about 2000 AD not having any characters which are well known beyond the fanbase. I suspect that a part of that is that the characters lack a visual identity which is easily grasped by a casual glance. Dredd is of course better known because of all the media tie-ins, but he's also aided as an image by that helmet and eagle, by a basic visual which any artist can nail.

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  3. Colin - you never alienated me because I never got your email!

    (was it that bad?!?)

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  4. Matthew - ah! That explains it. Well, using as I do a provider which doesn't store sent copies, I shall reassemble what I sent and see how it goes. Was it bad? I don't think so, but you know my e-mails, always asking why and why not?

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  5. I never have a problem with Davis' covers, it's his sequentials I don't like. The guy's an illustrator alright, but not a natural storyteller.

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  6. Hello Mark:- actually, it's not even that I have a problem with Mr Davis work on this cover as I have with the idea that it's a cover in the first place. The work itself is absolutely fine.

    As to his skills as a teller of stories, that's something I've been meaning to write about for a good while. There are moments which I enjoy very much, and then, as you say, some problematical passages too.

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  7. Last prog had this problem too: instead of doing something that reflected the strip or Dirty Frank, we got an odd thing that gave the wrong impression of the whole damn story. And that's a damn shame.

    - Charles RB

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  8. Hello Charles - perhaps I might agree with you and suggest that these covers are far too tasteful to be covers for 2000 AD. They're illustrations that have been cut free from the source material which inspires them, at least in part, and though I'm not agitating for the return for great lurid pulp punch-ups for every week, I do think another policy would be a better idea.

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  9. Out of the post-relaunch batch, the Rowan Morrigan one (woman on bike chased by the world's biggest werewolf!) and the Defoe's seem to better fit - the last "Spirited Away!" one is less effective but still gets across that this comic has a flying zombie fighting a bruiser with a weird gun. They fit their strips and get the tones across.

    - Charles RB

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  10. Hello Charles:- I'd quite agree with you that those are the best covers of the bunch. Having said that, in my opinion - and not claiming objectivity here - both were still badly flawed in their design. The Age Of The Wolf cover seemed to be two seperate stories, with Rowan biking at the front of the frame and the seemingly-dismebodied giant wolf's head behind; it needed the wolf swiping and Rowan's bike roaring over the top of it while her hair streamed behind her, or some such kinetic device. The Defoe piece was actually rather confusing. I still look at the design and find that my eye is taken to both figures at the same time rather than the interaction between them, and for a picture of a struggle, it's rather free of action. Defoe's mask is also a problem when it can't be made obvious as such, especially to the unfamiliar reader.

    It's as if the powers-that-be are scared of shouting and laughing and making a fuss! But this is 2000AD. (The piece about Mr Gallagher's cover on the 2000AD cover blog was rather instructive, I thought, though Mr Gallgher was of course in no way unprofessional in how he discussed his commission there; it's just that a measure of FUN was edited out of his work.)_

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