Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
When I was a kid growing up in the United Kingdom in the mid-’70s, it seemed like all the comics I read had flamboyant and entirely fictional editorial staff. DC Thomson’s Warlord was purportedly edited by Sir Peter Flint, who was also the lead character in the comic. His nephew Fireball (yeah, I know!) similarly “edited” the publisher’s other action anthology Bullet. Looking back, this tradition was something of an affront. Sure, it seemed like innocent fun and games, but given DC Thomson’s longstanding corporate failure to credit creators by name for their work, it begins to seem more sinister.
I’ve since heard the theory that the art assistants at DC Thomson in Dundee, Scotland, were so scrupulous about whiting out the signatures artists tried to sneak onto their pages because of paranoia that IPC in London would poach their best talents. That had happened before, in 1964, when the great Ken Reid and Leo Baxendale changed sides and caused a massive shift in the balance of power between the Big Two of U.K. comics. Hiding your editorial staff behind fictional identities seems more threatening from the position of adulthood and hindsight: The publisher is saying we can replace you and no-one will even notice! How’s that for job security?
Reed Beebe is a huge fan of the British sci-fi comic 2000AD. How big a fan? Here, let him explain it:
To celebrate 35 years of 2000 A.D., I furtively encoded Tharg the Mighty’s name in fan letters published in 35 comics, over a ten month period. In my fan letters, I used an acrostic (the first letter of each sentence in the body of my fan letter together spell out “THARG”). For example – “The Shadow is back? Hallelujah! And Garth Ennis is the writer? Right on! Get this book in my hands ASAP!” These “Tharg Code” fan letters can be found in the letter columns of 35 comics from six publishers.
Tharg the Mighty is, of course, the real editor of 2000AD, a space alien who has human minions such as editor Matt Smith carry out his wishes.
Beebe told me in an e-mail that he has been writing letters to the editor of his favorite comics for about two years now, and he has been playing around with adding little puzzles and poems to them, but the 35th anniversary of 2000AD inspired him to do a longer, more ambitious project.
His letters can be found in comics as diverse as B.P.R.D., Vampirella, Fantastic Four, Savage Dragon and, closer to home, Judge Dredd Megazine; there’s a complete list of issues with coded messages at the link above.
Quickly becoming the defacto reporter-of-record for comics on the mainstream industry scene, prolific writer Douglas Wolk is taking his critical eye to a bastion of UK comics publishing: Judge Dredd. In his new blog, Dredd Reckoning, Wolk is delving into the long-running Dredd stories from 2000AD and other outlets beginning with his first stories from 1977.
Although Dredd is a unifying figure for British comics fan, he’s largely been held at arm’s length by American audiences like a distant relative they just can’t warm up to. At one point, DC even attempted a U.S. Judge Dredd series drawn by a young Michael Avon Oeming that failed to grip audiences. This critical assessment of Dredd could be an eye-opening journey for American readers who want to know more but don’t know where to start or how to appreciate the work.
And this isn’t the first time that Wolk’s embedded himself in a narrow comics subject and went at it. His blog 52 Pick-up provided a week-by-week, blow-by-blow annotation of DC’s 52 series. Wolk has written about comics for Rolling Stone, Wired, and released a long-form, award-winning book on comics called Reading Comics.
There’s no word yet if Wolk will attempt to review the botched Sylvester Stallone flick from the 1990s, but here’s hoping.