can always see the worst in their own work produced only a few months ago,
never mind twenty five years. Is it really that long? Tempus
fugit. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like bananas. Jeez. I'm
rambling already and I've only just started. I look back through a purple
I think of this first
published work as my apprenticeship in the comics medium and I freely admit
that I made all my mistakes in print. See, I'm self-taught.
That is to say, I was taught by a very ignorant person indeed. Of course I
had the same acquired knowledge of comics grammar as anybody who'd spent their
life reading them but, as for the actual drawing, I'm a slow learner. Some
artists seem to arrive fully-formed. I'm still learning.
At college, I did a graphic
design course; the wrong choice. If I'd known I'd end up drawing comics
for a living I'd have done illustration. As it was, I was taught
typography and layout (which, to be fair, has fed into my storytelling)
but I SHOULD have been exposed to life drawing, perspective, chiaroscuro
et al, all of which I had to learn from practise and library books after I
finished the course.
Also, the more I understood
about it, the more I grew to dread the world
for which I was being trained to work. I just couldn't envisage for myself
a life that revolved around advertising junk that I couldn't care less about.
I retreated into comics.
This was the golden
age of underground comics, the comics of the counterculture,
when all the staid barriers confining the medium were being ripped apart.
The innoculous comic book was being redefined
as a powerful instrument for communication. These new comics could not be
pigeonholed; they were experimental and as diverse
as the people who wrote and drew them. They were both iconoclastic
and retro. They could be as whimsical and surreal as Moscoso
and Rick Griffin, or as socially aware and gut-wrenchingly
gritty as Tom Veitch and Greg
Irons, whose Vietnam strips were literally years ahead of their equivalents
in other, more respectable media. They could be as sexist as Crumb
or 5. Clay Wilson or as feminist as Trina
Robbins, as knowingly shocking as Robert Williams
or as poignant as Justin Green, as grim as SLOW
DEATH or as funny as Gilbert Shelton.
The illustration styles
and storytelling techniques were equally diverse and groundbreaking
as the medium was pushed to its limit. Panels overlapped in new and ingenious
ways and multiple images and audacious metapanels were used for specific effect.
Drawing styles from other artforms, such as book illustration or poster
design were introduced. Influences from avant-garde
literature and art movies were incorporated, resulting in non-linear
plots and astonishing pictorial compositions. In time, this was all assimilated
into mainstream comics and had a profound effect on the medium as a whole.
There was the usual percentage
of bad stuff you get in any medium - naive, poorly executed or irredeemably
self-indulgent (which makes it sound like most
modern Fine Art) - but this definitely was an
exciting time in comics.
"If you ever do
a comic, I'll publish it". This was the rash offer made to me by Lee
Harris in 1973. I'd met Lee in his shop (ALCHEMY
in Portobello Road. It's still there - go and see)
and was in London to submit a strip to COZMlC COMICS.
The strip was accepted, but they never produced another issue, never paid
me and I never saw the artwork again. Publisher Felix Dennis, one of the "OZ
three", went on to produce poster mags and become a millionaire
with a vast publishing empire. A thinly veiled skit of him is in the strip
Lee is wonderful man,
passionate about his beliefs and interests and
with an amazing history. From being one of the first white
members of the ANC in South Africa, through his
years as a playwright and actor, to his publishing
of HOME GROWN magazine and his battles with the
law he is, in his own words, "a footsoldier
of the counterculture". I keep pestering him to write his autobiography.
It'll be fascinating.
Two years after Lee's
offer of publication I'd reached a complete dead end.
I'd finished college and been unemployed for a year. Mary, our young sons
Robin and Alwyn and I were living on the breadline. Instead of doing something
sensible, such as getting a job as a dustman
(don't laugh; I did apply for it) I decided to do the comic for Lee.
I'd aready done about
four pages of OUT OF THE CRUCIBLE whilst at college,
two of which I redrew. The other sixteen pages took me five months. I hitched
down to London from Preston, Lancashire and presented it to Lee. True to his
word, he published them and told me to get on with the next one. It was the
start of my career in comics.
I plucked the title BRAINSTORM
from the section on insanity in ROGET'S THESAURUS.
It just sounded right. There was a track of the same name by Hawkwind
(who advertised in the first issue) and it also put me in mind of the PROFESSOR
BRANESTAWM illustrations by Heath Robinson.
By 1975, the psychedelic
adventure story was already an established underground genre. Creators
such as Sheridan and Schreiber
had laid the groundwork, charting the exploits of their madcap psychonauts
in the infinite possibilities of inner space,
and were a big influence on CRUCIBLE. The tradition
goes back further, though, to ALICE IN WONDERLAND
and PILGRIM'S PROGRESS and probably beyond, depending
upon how you interpret myth and folklore.
Swiping names from my
good mate Chester West and Groucho
Marx's Dr. Hackenbush from A DAY AT THE RACES,
I had my first protagonist. I never stopped to consider characterisation;
his reactions were basically my own. One of the hardest things to do when
first drawing a comic is to ensure charcters
are easily identifiable from different angles and from a distance, hence the
beard, straight nose and glasses.
My favourite Chester
story is FROM HERE TO INFINITY. The first story
was little more than a picture book for trippers,
but the second was a lot more considered. I'd been studying classic book illustrators,
such as Arthur Rackham, and was trying to produce
a synthesis of their styles and American underground styles. The theme is
duality and the story inspired by ALICE. Like THROUGH
THE LOOKING GLASS, it can be played through as a chess
game, moves and pieces indicated by visual clues. It's also a self-referential
adventure story; the various characters and plot devices pointed out to the
readers as they happen. Yes, I was trying to be a smart-ass.
Chester has never really
gone away. Apart from his apperances in THE OMEGA REPORT
and the later SMOKEY BEARS and his parallel self,
Parsifal, in THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRlGHT
and the recent HEART OF EMPIRE, he seems to have
assumed an independent existence. BRAINSTORM
was read by many of today's "Brit Pack" writers, such as Alan
Moore, Grant Morrison and Neil
Gaiman. There are influences from BRAINSTORM in ANIMAL
MAN and SHADE THE CHANGING MAN. Chester
was "americanised" into Chester Williams in SWAMP
THING and he and other Brainstorm characters have cameos in Bob
Walker's Hawklords graphic novel LEDGE OF DARNESS,
THE BUSH TELEGRAPH and Ben Hunt's VOGARTH.
And here he is again in this new reprint.
He's also in THE
TRIBE - a strip I really didn't want to include but was insisted upon
after Mal Burns spent many long hours at the
computer carefully retouching this lost strip from an ancient photocopy that
had faded to a barely perceptible pale grey.
I first met Mal while
he was working for CARO - the Cannabis
Action Reform Organisation - for whom I'd designed a teeshirt. He had
an unbounded enthusiasm for and an encyclopeadic knowledge of underground
comics. I quickly introduced him to Lee, who brought him on board as editor.
Later Mal was instrumental in getting LUTHER ARKWRlGHT
to a wider audience in Serge Boissevain's PSSST!.
One of the great pleasures of working on this collection has been the renewal
of my friendship with Mal and Lee.
was produced for one of the 1970's incarnations of the alternative newspaper
INTERNATIONAL TIMES that never got off the ground
because the would-be publishers were so stupifyingly
stoned that they never managed to get it together (and lost the artwork to
boot). It was meant to be the first episode of an ongoing underground
soap opera of which I'd plotted the first year's storyline. I later
used the group of characters as the basis for the SMOKEY
BEARS shorts, intended to be a sort of British FABULOUS
FURRY FREAK BROTHERS, for Lee's HOME GROWN
AFFAIR was an excuse
to do a "ground-level" strip in line
and watercolour wash and was directly inspired by the JERRY
CORNELIUS stories of Michael Moorcock.
After this, Arkwright took on his own personality and I developed his own
milieu , but this was his very first appearance. Now, just having finished
the new Arkwright graphic novel, HEART
OF EMPIRE, I realise that he, like Chester, will never be far from
I'm still very pleased
with the concept and plot of THE OMEGA REPORT,
which was produced years before several comparable comic strips and films.
The artwork though, is another thing. Interesting would perhaps be a kind
word for it. All the Chester stories were drawn
using Rotring technical pens. For this story,
I tried to simulate the feel of fifties black and white private
dick movies by inking heavily with a brush and using lots of mechanical
tints in attempt to create a film noir atmosphere.
I'd never inked with a brush before and it took me three months to realise
that it was supposed to go to a fine pinpoint at the end. In case this was
published "before your time", I have to point out that the whole
story is littered with references to 70's rock music.
A few years ago I was
at a large media event at Olympia, part of which
was an attempt to interest the general public in the comic medium. I was spreading
the word to one of the punters, a large, respectable-looking
business gent, when he suddenly discovered that I was the guy who used to
do BRAINSTORM. He whooped loudly and snatched me up in a huge
bear hug, exclaiming "I loved those comics!
Thank you! Thank you!" And this wasn't an isolated incident. There's
people who still treasure the comic (usually through some fond acid memory)
and think it's the best thing I've ever done. Perhaps they're right. It's
all subjective, isn't it?
Perhaps no reason then,
to be embarrassed.
`Scuse me while I kiss
Bryan Talbot, Autumn