Friday 25 December 2015

Panel 26: The First Christmas Card

Panel 26: The First Christmas Card

The final "stop" on my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London for 2015 takes on a seasonal note…

The tale of the first commercially produced Christmas card is well known. The year was 1843, it was the idea of this fellow…

… who lived here in Hampstead…

… and it looked like this…


The card was the work of John Calcott Horsley, rector and treasurer of the Royal Academy, painter of historical scenes and illustrator.

A handy cartoonist, too, if his Christmas card is anything to go by.

In the 1880s he became a subject of the cartoonist's satirical pen when he opposed the modish French practise of painting nude life models.

Punch magazine dubbed him "Mr J. C(lothes) Horsley" and presented him thus…

1,000 cards were produced and sold at a shilling apiece (!). They were published by Joseph Cundall at 12 Bond Street. Tip your hat as you pass by Christmas shopping…

Friday 11 December 2015

Panel 25: Danger Mouse

Panel 25: Danger Mouse

He's BACK!

Beloved cartoon superhero of the early '80's Danger Mouse, the greatest superhero in the world, has returned to our screens in a triumphant reboot. The fun started on CBBC on Monday. I'm delighted to report that London retains her starring role.

The opening episode set the tone beautifully, using many London landmarks both old and new. Indeed the montage of London buildings kicked off the blizzard of daft gags that were the trademark of the original cartoons way back when. We saw The Gherkin, City Hall, the Tennis Racket…

…and The House of Cards…

Who doesn't love a wisecrack at the expense of modern architecture?

I blogged about the original Danger Mouse earlier in this series – click HERE to catch up with that post – in a post about Sherlock Holmes-flavoured cartoons. (Alongside DM I looked at Daffy Duck and Porky Pig as Holmes and Watson.)

There are two big changes in the new-look DM: The Sherlock references are gone, with James Bond much more to the fore. And the production values are much MUCH higher.

The original Danger Mouse was created on a shoestring budget and had a pleasingly ramshackle feel to the collage backgrounds. In the original a white polar landscape was often deployed as a cost-cutting exercise. Similarly, there were a great many "Hey! Who put the lights out?" scenes – again, no colours, only black with eyeballs blinking away. One could always recognise Danger Mouse even in a black out: he wore an eye patch so only one eye was blinking. Necessity is the mother of great comic invention!

Glad to see that budgetary restraints featured as a running gag in episode one.

Best of all, the galloping theme song remains intact, albeit with an up-to-date drum track, over the breathless opening credits.

The opening credits are worthy of special mention with the highly-stylised London landmarks flashing by in a chase sequence reminiscent of James Bond in The World Is Not Enough. And our favourite running theme on The Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London pops up yet again. Remember Spiderman was at it, putting Big Ben & Tower Bridge on the same page…

Danger Mouse joins in the more-bang-for-your-buck fun by getting those two famous London monuments into the same shot…

All-in-all it's lovingly done and beautifully voiced. Congratulations to everyone involved! And welcome back Danger Mouse!

Danger Mouse in on at 6:00pm UK time on CBBC. The BBC Danger Mouse website is here:

(Our screen grabs were taken from BBC iPlayer which is available to viewers in the UK. Go to to watch.)

P.S Another olden days classic, Scooby Doo, is in for the reboot treatment later this month with Be Cool Scooby Doo. If the Mystery Machine swings into London town, I'll blog about it right here. In the meantime, catch up with Scooby Doo in London in an earlier post from this series.

Friday 4 December 2015

Panel No.24: Big Ben & Über

This post originally appeared on The Daily Constitutional in September 2015.

Panel No. 24: Big Ben & Über

When I was nine years old  I saw the movie Planet of the Apes on the telly. The final scene stays with me to this day…


Having escaped slavery in the world of the apes, marooned astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston, sans shirt of course) drops to his knees before the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, and bellows: "We finally really did it ... You Maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!"

Just remembering the scene – stark, un-scored – brings back the chills of the nightmares it created for weeks afterward. That was the stuff that sleepless nights were made of in a Shadow-of-The-Bomb childhood back in the 70's.

The scene haunts me yet. But I hadn't thought of it in a while. Not, that is, until I popped into Orbital Comics recently and saw this…

Suddenly I was nine again. The heart-stopping cover image brought those childhood nightmares roaring back.

There's a lot going on this powerful cover. The colour of the sky makes me think of that famous Churchill legend, his comment, upon seeing the southern sky aglow on the night of the Crystal Palace fire in 1936: "It is the end of an age."

The statue of Boudicca at the north end of Westminster Bridge is first broken, then dwarfed and finally usurped by the Übermensch superhuman fighting machine as she holds the Union Flag like a souvenir atop County Hall.

Über is written by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Daniel Gete. It is a World War Two alternative history, envisaging a stalemate in May 1945 when the Nazis develop a new secret weapon, the Übermen. It is both a dark subversion of the superhero and a thoroughly gripping thriller.

I've visited Über already on this tour. Regular readers will remember that its explicit wartime subject matter created a quandary for this blogger. On the day I sat down to cover it, back in January, the first rumblings of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity in Paris began to filter through (catch up with the post HERE).

The landmark chosen for the cover of this comic book (episode 27, the last in the first cycle of the Über story) underpins one of our running themes in this virtual tour: if you want to set your location as London, draw Big Ben as your centrepiece. We've now visited that famous clock with The Fantastic FourDeadpool AND SpidermanScooby Doo and not one but THREE Disney films.

I'd love to have been party to the process that ended in Big Ben chosen for the cover. Did they consider St Paul's Cathedral? Would St Paul's have worked? It comes to mind because of Churchill's oft-cited remark during the worst days of the Blitz, "At all costs St Paul's must be saved."

It would have made a nice historic chime but, ultimately, Wren's cathedral is probably too redolent of the Capitol building in Washington D.C to "read", especially for North American readers.

That Big Ben represents parliament and power makes it a natural choice for this cover. If you want to show an emasculated Britain, then snap-off its most powerful symbol of democracy. It's a masterful piece of graphic storytelling and typical of the Über narrative so far.

This talk of emasculation reminds me of another piece of WWII mythology: it is said that, had Hitler emerged victorious, he planned to remove Nelson's column from Trafalgar Square and plant it at the heart of Albert Speer's new Berlin. True or not, you don't have to be a Freudian genius to see the symbolism in that one.

Trafalgar Square and other Westminster locations featured the last time we posted about Über in this series (catch up with that post HERE). Über will return to comic book stores in 2016. And while I'll miss the London locations - the next part of the tale moves to the United States – I'll look forward to following its harrowing narrative.

The collected Über Vol 5 will be published in November this year. 

Kieron Gillen also writes The Wicked + The Divine, which featured as panel 10 of my "tour". Click HERE to read that post.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Panel No. 23: Putney Bridge & Rivers of London

Panel No. 23: Putney Bridge & Rivers of London

I've crossed a lot of bridges in this series so far. Tower Bridge in particular is much-loved by cartoon and comic book artists. It featured in my earlier posts on Spiderman and Deadpool from Marvel comics. 

That grand old structure is part of the instant visual grammar of London, as discussed in those earlier posts. 

But aside from location, what is it about comic book artists and the bridges of London?

First and foremost, the dramatic potential of a bridge is undeniable: it can be the beginning of a quest or a homecoming.

Then there's bridge as metaphor, a monument to mankind's flimsy conceit that water has been conquered. Which brings us back to drama once more with the ever-present prospect of being driven from the bridge by forces beyond your control. Did he fall… or was he pushed?

In the context at hand, it's important not to forget perspective. Those talented individuals who draw our comic books just love to rub our merely mortal noses in the vanishing point!

The choice of bridge is also revealing. Like a great London Walks guide, the cartoon artist who wants to root her/his story in true London won't just scrawl Tower Bridge shaped like some Gothic hashtag and add the caption "Tower Bridge". The best ones go off the beaten track.

In our series so far I've also crossed the Archway Bridge known to locals as "suicide bridge", a perfect location for the supernatural hipsters of London in The Vinyl Underground. Workaday London Bridge is used vividly to illustrate alternative lifestyles in the glorious Metroland. And Battersea Bridge adds a subtle, dowdy, Len Deighton-style flourish to the otherwise Ian Fleming-ish world of spy thriller Velvet.

I have bridges on my mind because I've just picked up issue no.1 of Rivers of London down at Orbital Comics…

The action opens at Putney Bridge…

As a story it's been around for a while now – Ben Aaranovich's original novel was published back in 2011 and met with great critical praise. In its pages we join the adventures of Peter Grant, a young police officer who works in the small division of the Metropolitan Police that deals with magic and the supernatural. The book is woven with London myth and lore and is perfect for comic book adaptation.

Mr Aaronovitch shares the writing credit on this version of his tale with Andrew Cartmel (a prolific writer who once worked as a Doctor Who script editor), with art by Lee Sullivan (Doctor Who magazine). The comic book also features a wonderful appendix addressing the history of Putney, opening with the memorable line about this riverside neighbourhood being "deeply confused about whether it's cutting-edge trendy or just ridiculously suburban". Nicely done.

With the tale so deeply embedded in the legend of London, I'll probably return to this comic book later in our series (at the moment I'm updating this little "blog walking tour" about once-a-month) but in the meantime I'm anticipating that Rivers of London could well take the place of Über (which is going on sabbatical) as my new fave non-superhero comic book.

Visit Titan Comics website here:, follow them on Twitter @ComicsTitan and become a fan on Facebook

Lee Sullivan, whose work features above, is available for commission – you can visit his website here: and you can keep up with him on Twitter @LeeSullivanArt

Adam's Rock'n'Roll London Comic Book Fanzine Issue No.1 is available now!

You can buy it online (in print AND download) or directly from the author on the Rock'n'Roll London Walk! (You can help yourself to a FREE download sampler HERE.)

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Panel No.22: Big Ben & The Fantastic Four

Panel No.22: The Last (For Now!) Fantastic Four

These are tempestuous times in the Marvel Universe. First we had to deal with the death of Deadpool (regular readers will remember he visited London HERE) and now the Fantastic Four are no more!

Say it ain't so.

With issue No. 645 of the original Marvel superhero team's adventures hitting the shops last week, we finally bid farewell to Reed Richards (Mr Fantastic), his wife Sue Richards (Invisible Woman), Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) and Ben Grimm (the Thing) who have been saving the world together since 1961.

As battle raged all around them in the exciting finale, we were pleased to see dear old London was given a cameo appearance…

… in the shape of Big Ben of course. Which I have discussed in no less than THREE posts on this blog. Yes, Big Ben has been very popular with American cartoonists down through the years!

Farewell Fantastic Four! Thanks for including us in your final bow!

Visit for more on the Fantastic Four!

Panel No.21: The Vinyl Underground

Panel No.21: The Vinyl Underground

Words by Si Spencer, Art Simon Gane

"Suggested For Mature Readers". They're not kidding with this one. The Vinyl Underground ran for an all-too brief 12 book run in 2007-08 and combines the tarnished glamour of Britpop with the violence of the brutal Michael Caine movie Get Carter.

Written by Si Spencer (whose writing credits also include TV soap EastEnders) it is a bleak mix of damaged antiheroes, occult crimes and weird sexual ritual. Had it been set anywhere else I fear I may have put it aside long before the end – it's wildly gory and gruesome. But what kept me going was the writer's palpable love-hate relationship with this city of ours and his knowledge of its history.

London is woven into the DNA of this comic. Not only is it shot-through with William Blake references, it also teems with Big Smoke lore. From the death of "God's Banker" Roberto Calvi, found swinging from Blackfrairs Bridge wearing "the Devil's Neckinger" back in '82, to Roman roads to World War II, those in thrall to the psychogeography of London will not be disappointed.

The locations really get down to the London nitty gritty, too. Artists Simon Gane, Ryan Kelly and Cameron Stewart take Spencer's story well off the beaten track – I blogged earlier about The Wicked + The Divine which goes into similarly obscure corners of London.

In The Vinyl Underground we stop by Bunhill Fields, Canonbury, the New River, Islington and Paddington Green, among others. When we do swing by the big ticket items – "main site London" as the P.R types call it – we are treated to an imaginative use of the familiar sights. Take the cover above, for example: Britpop-meets-Traitors' Gate.

My favourite location is another bridge (again we blogged about London bridges earlier in this series with the pop music fantasy Metroland & the thriller Velvet ). This one is the Hornsey Lane Bridge…

…often referred to by its chilling nickname Suicide Bridge. The frame above really captures both the precipitous bridge and the thundering river of traffic in the man-made chasm beneath. Designed by Sir Alexander Binnie, and also referred to as Archway Bridge (it spans the Archway Road) it is a cast-iron replacement for an earlier brick bridge designed by John Nash.


The Vinyl Underground is published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC. You can buy it direct from the Vertigo website

Friday 20 March 2015

Panel 20: #Willie Rushton

Panel 20: Two Willies

Willie No.1

I started my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London at St George's Church in Bloomsbury in the company of William Hogarth. 

It's only appropriate, therefore, that we bid farewell (for now) to this series by visiting Hogarth's grave in Chiswick

Willie No.2 is rather more up-to-date. Willie Rushton.

Long, long ago, before airheads, boors and one-man-blands dominated our television screens, the broadcasters used to let people like Willie Rushton into our homes.

He wasn't much to look at, I'll be frank. But whenever he came on screen, there was a palpable sense that life was just about to become that little bit better.

Willie Rushton (1937 - 1996) was the complete all-rounder. Writer, comedian, cricket fan, actor, satirist and cartoonist.

He was a fixture of the legendary satirical TV programme That Was The Week That Was in the 60s. He drew cartoons for The Daily Telegraph and many other publications. He was a cornerstone of BBC Radio 4's most august programme, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue from 1974 - 1996. He was one of the founders of Private Eye. He stood for parliament in 1963, running under the slogan "Death To the Tories" and polled a mighty 45 votes.

An early 70's L.P sleeve featuring Rushton's cartoon's

I first became aware of Mr Rushton on a 1970's TV show called Quick on the Draw in which cartoonists such as Rushton and the great Bill Tidy would come up with cartoons on the spot. I'd pay double the license fee to see Steve Bell and Martin Rowson on such a show today.

Many of us would rather that Rushton was still ineligible for a blue plaque. Alas he qualified for one in 1996 by dying at the age of 59. He is much missed.

His plaque can be found at Mornington Crescent underground station, commemorating the daft gameshow Mornington Crescent, such a beloved featured of the aforementioned radio show I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.

That he made us laugh is an achievement great enough.

That he was a founder of Private Eye, the last remaining satirical magazine in this country, makes him every bit as important a figure as Hogarth. I get the feeling that he would have hated the pomposity of that statement, but I believe it to be true.

He is at least worthy of having a gyratory system in his honour, an honour already bestowed upon Willie No.1…

My own personal tribute is to hashtag him (see blog post title). I wonder if we can get him trending?

Willie Rushton's ashes, legend has it, are interred on the boundary line at the Oval cricket ground in South London.

Folks, that's it… for now. I do hope you've enjoyed this series. I've had a lot of fun compiling it and for that reason, as well as the glaring omissions (Where's Punch? Sydney Paget? The Simpsons?) I hope to add extra stops to this tour gradually over the coming months.

Thanks for reading!


London, March 2015

Monday 9 March 2015

Panel 19: From Hell

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Tuesday 3 March 2015

Panel 18: Metroland

Panel 18: Metroland & Velvet

A few weeks ago I blogged about Orbital Comics on this Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London. Oribital is my regular Wednesday haunt and the guys have kindly added a couple of recommendations to our tour. Their first was The Wicked + the Divine (catch up with that post HERE), and here are two more beginning with the glorious Metroland.

Camilla at Orbital made this a personal recommendation – an indie comic set in London, Metroland is described by the publisher as "a soap opera of music and time travel". A perfect description, this: what great band story isn't a soap opera? And in a field such as pop, which is constantly drawing on its own past, time travel is not only a perfect metaphor for the modern music business, but also a fun device to create a world where Kurt Cobain and John Lennon are still among us. Smart and fun – everybody strives to be that. Metroland gets there without breaking a sweat.

Created by Ricky Miller (words) and Julia Scheele (art), the series is currently on issue 2 and is peppered with great London locations, not least the view from Greenwich (with a lovely literary allusion in the speech bubble, Du Maurier fans!)…

(The line is an echo of the famous opener of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca – "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…" We discussed Daphne Du Maurier's grandfather,George Du Maurier, and his contribution to the world of cartoons in an earlier post HERE.)

The indie band in our tale – Electric Dreams – live in a small castle in Greenwich…

The "small castle" in question is in fact Vanbrugh Castle, designed by architect and dramatist John Vanbrugh (1664 – 1726). I can almost feel the moment when inspiration struck Ms Scheele (or, indeed, Mr Miller), beholding the almost-Gothic, mediaeval-inspired pile at Maze Hill and thinking, "THAT would make a fine hideout in a comic book!"

Westminster is also featured, alongside City and Docklands locations, but my personal favourite panel of all is in Issue 2 wherein Kathy loses her job and trudges across London Bridge…

… travelling the "wrong" way, i.e. away from conformity, away from the 9 to 5. We can see the crowds thronged in the background, part of the more-than-quarter-million-strong workforce of the City, all heading north. Crossing southward over London Bridge is one of my favourite London journeys and it is captured beautifully here. 

Metroland is my new favourite comic.

Metroland is Published by Avery Hill and you can buy the first two issues from the Avery Hill website

Julia Scheele's website, featuring originals for sale and details of how to commission her work, is here:

Here's how to find Vanbrugh Castle…

A London bridge also features in issue no.1 of Orbital's third and final recommendation, Velvet by Brubaker & Epting…

… a cold-war thriller bursting with 60's-inspired gadgets, guns and gear. 

(Is that Battersea Bridge? Looks like it – if you can correct me, drop me a line.)

The guys at Orbital say: "Focusing on the British intelligence agency in the 1960s, Velvet is the story of the quiet secretary whose mysterious past as top field agent comes to light as she is framed by her superiors and is forced to go on the run."

Velvet is published by Image Comics

Thanks to all at Orbital for the recommendations! It's Tuesday as I blog this so tomorrow is new comics day – go and see the guys at Orbital!

Friday 27 February 2015

Panel 17: Gosh! Comics

Panel 17: Gosh! Comics

I've already pointed you in the direction of Orbital Comics in the Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London. And before my 20-part series ends, you should also check out Gosh!

Gosh! is not only a great comic book store – well-stocked and friendly – but their events are top notch, too. Visit their website (see below) to keep up with their signings, talks and workshops.

There has been a Gosh! comic book store in London for as long as I can remember. Its former home was near the British Museum but it can currently be found doing its bit for turning back the tide of corporate dullness in Soho.

Another thing to love about Gosh! is that they give pride of place to indy comics, right at the top of the stairs – you can't miss 'em if you're heading down to the comic book and back issues section. Support your local comic book store and support your local comic book artists and creators at the same time.

Soho itself provides rich pickings for cartoons and their creators. Being an iconoclasts' paradise Soho is a natural home for cartoonists – Private Eye is based here (see earlier blog post). The defining events of 19th Century Soho, the cholera epidemics, also inspired some famous and angry cartoons. Perhaps most famous of all is A Court for King Cholera

… by John Leech, published in Punch 1852. Twenty years earlier George Cruikshank had already poked fun at a profiteering medical profession in an earlier outbreak of the disease…

The Gosh! website is at

1 Berwick Street, 

Open 10.30am – 7pm
Seven days a week

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Panel 16: Fleet Street

Panel No.16: Fleet Street

We can’t leave out Fleet Street on our Cartoon and Comic Book Tour of London – even though the national newspaper industry has long since abandoned its spiritual home.

Fleet Street as a metonym, however, is still going strong. And it doesn’t seem to want to go away. Twenty-first century TV and radio presenters still refer to the British press collectively as Fleet Street. To put this in perspective, The Daily Mail, one of the UK’s most popular papers, set up shop in Kensington as long ago as 1988. Yet Fleet Street as a moniker persists.

The nationals may have moved on, but any paper worth its salt still has a cartoonist – even though it was reported in UK Press Gazette that The Daily Express was keen to dispense with the services of their political cartoonist, news that broke back in January on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo murders.

The Express once had a cartoon legacy the envy of Fleet Street. Their strips included Rupert Bear and James Bond, and their political cartoonist was the famous Giles. No English home was complete without a copy of the Giles annual. 

Giles was a Londoner by birth, born Ronald Giles in Islington in 1916. His topical cartoons often featured the family that became his signature, headed by the doughty (and I always thought faintly sinister) Grandma. His collections are still published annually, some 20 years after his death, and can be bought in the bookshop at the Cartoon Museum.

The Daily Express is also the only British paper to publish a cartoon on its front page almost everyday since 1929 in the shape of the Crusader…

The crusader was the brainchild of legendary newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook. Beaverbrook bought the Express in 1916 back when he was plain old Mr. Max Aitken.

The crusader was the emblem of his campaign for free trade between nations of the empire – an initiative he hoped would benefit his native Canada. In 1951 when Churchill was elected as Prime Minister, he disappointed Beaverbrook with his abandonment of traditional imperial policies. In reaction, The Beaver slapped chains on the Crusader – a gesture that was repeated when Britain was invited to join the Common Market (a forerunner of the EU).

The Crusader remains the emblem of The Daily Express to this day.

A version of the Crusader, rather more battered and forlorn, represents our great satirical magazine Private Eye

It would be inaccurate to say that rumours of Fleet Street's death have been greatly exaggerated – no national newspapers are left here, and Reuters moved away in 2003. And since the journalists left, other despised and unpopular professions have since moved in with the arrival of the bankers and the lawyers. (How's that for an unholy trinity?) But there is one famous name left standing in the once infamous Street of Ink: D.C Thomson.

D.C Thomson is the publisher of the Dundee Courier, the People's Friend story paper and the famous Sunday Post. The titles are built into the fabric of its Fleet Street HQ…

The Sunday Post is published weekly in Dundee and features the legendary cartoon strips The Broons and Oor Wullie, originally drawn by the Lancashire-born artist Dudley D. Watkins – whose work can be seen at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury.

Oor Wullie is Scotland's answer to Dennis the Menace…

…while The Broons features a cartoon family that holds as dear a place in the hearts of Scots as Giles's family occupy in the affections of middle England…

(I have a theory about Wullie's hair: given that the creators and writers of The Simpsons plough such a rich furrow of Scottish wit with their Groundskeeper Willie character, even referencing Baron Ross of Marnock, the former Willie Ross MP in one gag – pretty nuanced stuff! – I'm prepared to stick my neck out and claim that Oor Wullie is the inspiration for Bart Simpson…)

Wullie & Bart. Separated at birth?

You can buy Broons & Oor Wullie books and merchandise direct from D.C Thomson here:

The Broons strip was famously parodied as The Broonites written by Fountain & Jamieson for Private Eye magazine, to poke fun at our former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The artwork is by the excellent Henry Davies, who works for The Beano and has also drawn for the official Broons! (He shares great cartoon related stuff via his Twitter feed @BeanoArtist and you can buy his originals direct from his website.)

You can subscribe to Private Eye magazine at

As a child growing up in Scotland it was always a race to get to the copy of The Sunday Post before my father. If my father got there first he would pore over the comics for what seemed like AGES, chuckling away while I stood jealously by.

Oor Wullie and The Broons have appeared in The Sunday Post since 1936 and it is claimed that Watkins, along with David Low, was listed as an enemy of the Third Reich for his satirical portraits of the Nazi leadership – see our earlier post for more on that topic.

Mr. Watkins was also the creator of Desperate Dan for The Dandy (here's Dan on a first class stamp)…

… and worked for the legendary Beano – again, the last man standing of the classic British comics, and a periodical of which I remain an avid reader…

When the D.C Thomson offices closed last year for a makeover, they chose neither the Sunday Post nor the Evening Telegraph to brighten up their windows, but pages from The Beano…

Here's a map to Fleet Street and D.C Thomson's HQ…

I'll be calling by D.C Thomson on the next Publish & Be Damned walking tour, which looks at the history of journalism in Fleet Street. It meets at Temple Station at 2:30p.m on the 2nd of May 2015. I'll even bring my Broons and Oor Wullie annuals along for you to look at at… as long as you promise not to hog them for as long as my dad.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Panel 15: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Panel No.15: The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O'Neill) is the comic book I come back to more often than any other. First and foremost it's an exciting tale, an old school adventure, a rip-roaring yarn. Beneath the Boy's Own exterior, however, lies an intoxicating gallimaufry of conspiracy, literary references, alternate history, old myths re-examined, new myths coined, lovingly observed historical details and a welter of London locations.

It is the fag end of the 19th Century and the Empire is in peril. The new century looms and with it a new world order armed with an alarming array of new fangled machines. Only the most extraordinary characters can save us now…

As a blend of fact and fiction, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would be fun enough. The added dimension of mingling fictional characters of the past with newly minted creations, however, creates a new level of fascination. The interweaving of adventure story and Alternate History adds further piquancy. Sounds a bit heavy? Never fear. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen never forgets to be a thrilling comic book.

But the great by-product of the book is that it throws us back upon the source material that it references so freely in the narrative. It is so well written and executed that it genuinely feels like a part of the 19th Century canon of adventure stories.

Mina Murray, the wife of Jonathan Harker in Dracula (having reverted to her maiden name) is the driving force of the League. Indeed it is she who is charged with leading that most dramatic of set-pieces, Rounding Up The Team. First she enlists Allan Quatermain (of Rider Haggard's King Soloman's Mines and sequels) a dissipated shadow of his former heroic self. Captain Nemo, Doctor Jekyll (and Mr Hyde, of course) also join in the fun, as does a deliciously sordid Hawley Griffin (AKA the invisible man). H.G Wells is a recurring reference, with his War of the Worlds being woven into the narrative near the end of the collected volume one.

Cameos include Mycroft Holmes (the original Sherlock Holmes's Smarter Brother!), as shadowy as Conan Doyle implied him to be in the Sherlock Holmes stories and Auguste Dupin, the legendary French detective of Poe's Murders In The Rue Morge.

Illustrator Kevin O'Neill also joins in the referential fun, my particular favourite page being his introduction to Chinatown

so redolent of a crowded Gustave Dore composition

The tale has spawned a number of sequels, each wilder than the last. It makes me wonder: with each flight of fancy, is writer Alan Moore making sure that Hollywood will stay away from his work by making his tales unfilmable? The writer has a famously spiky relationship with Hollywood's watered-down adaptations of his work. Whatever the reason, it's a wild ride with Moore and O'Neill and later volumes cover 1960s London and right up to the present day, with an ever-increasing Greek Chorus of literary characters crowding in. It's fun to spot them, but if you miss the references (and I'm sure I've missed a ton of 'em) the story can still enthral. Moore is not an easy writer to follow (as I said, it's a wild ride) but he's never elitist and no reader is excluded from the narrative. 

The London location that I'll choose from the book is the League's hideout from early in the series, the British Museum… 

I choose this not only because the collection at the BM features a number of cartoons (including work by George Cruikshank) and that it's also handy for the Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street, but because I'd rather like to have a secret lair there myself!

The book's London references are a delight to a London Walks guide and when I make passing reference to them on my London Walks, I can always identify kindred spirits in comic books by the delighted looks on their faces. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the work of Mr Moore generally, inspires great devotion in his fans. The alternate history material is both provoking and witty – this last best illustrated in the tale of Hyde Park. Did you know how Hyde Park got its name? No? Well read on, gentle reader, read on in Messrs Moore & O'Neill's blockbusting comic. You can buy The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen at Orbital Comics on Great Newport Street.