What happened to all the socially conscious comic creators?
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The kids are revolting. And some of them are rioting too, the gits. Whether you want to roll over them with tanks or give them a cuddle, there’s no denying that Britain in 2011 is in a bit of a state. The economy is on its arse, unemployment is riding high and Jeremy Kyle is still on the telly. Grim, whichever way you look at it. And yet, to look at the arts, from comic books to music to TV and film, you’d think everything was fine and dandy.
All of which is pretty weird, really. Historically, times of trouble have given birth to some of the most vital and interesting works of art, especially in the comics world. The most obvious example is the influx of socially minded, forward thinking writers and artists who rose to prominence in the UK at the end of the ’70s and early ’80s. Whether late flowering children of the ’60s or young turks channelling the idealism and energy of punk, they made the British comic scene the envy of the world, and did so with an eye on what was happening on high streets up and down the country.
In the pages of comics like Warrior and 2000AD , Britain’s political and social issues were examined by writers who were aware that their role as artists required them to attempt to address what was going on. While no-one is suggesting that comic creators should have the answers to all of the world’s problems, there was a time that they were at least aware that truly great stories, as well as having fully realised characters, well thought-out plots, crazy sci-fi ideas and all that jazz, must also, fundamentally, be about something to truly resonate.
Whether talking about Pat Mills’ gloriously anti-establishment Nemesis The Warlock or Raymond Briggs’ heart breaking evocation of the consequences of nuclear war Where The Wind Blows , it’s clear that the News At Ten was more of an influence than Top Of The Pops . You could argue that all this was the result of a more politicised era, but it’s still worth considering that some of the most loved strips ever to come out of the UK had their feet firmly rooted in reality. There would be no V For Vendetta or The Ballad Of Halo Jones if Alan Moore hadn’t been keeping a keen eye on the headlines.
The question is, then, where the hell are all the writers and artists putting 21 st century Britain under the microscope? Of course the likes of Mills and Moore are still active and producing fantastic work, but where is the new guard, ready to tackle the problems blighting Blighty today? Certainly, you could argue that both Marvel and DC, in their own way, have attacked ‘issues’ head on, albeit in a less than subtle way, and writers like Kieron Gillen are doing their best to inject something more than muscles and megalomania into the brains of True Believers.
Yet the ability of British creators to take on home-grown problems and give them an airing in a creative and productive manner seems to have disappeared, or at least been marginalised to the point of invisibility. Maybe the next great hope is too busy stuffing his drugs hole with super smack and lobbing a bin through the window of his local Dixons to be bothered with writing a modern masterpiece. Which would be an almighty shame – after all, the pen is mightier than the riot shield. Here’s hoping that creators can re-connect with what matters before all we’re left with are comics with less substance than Wonder Woman’s pants.