I used to read the Beano. I didn’t like the Dandy. Never liked Desperate Dan. The Beano, with Dennis the Menace, the Bash Street Kids and Billy the Whizz. When I was a little older I graduated to war comics.
Warlord was the one I read regularly, but also Battle and Commando. These were violent comic books which carried on the British obsession with the Second World War, winning it over and over again, like a mad Japanese soldier on a Pacific island, unaware that the world had rapidly moved on. Think Toshiro Mifune in Hell in the Pacific, but English and skinny. With NHS specs.
Union Jack Jackson, Killer Kane and Charley’s War set in the trenches of the First World War – this led our imagination. For us children of the Seventies, the war was replayed with toy soldiers, Airfix kits and endless Alastair McLean adaptations on the TV. Germans yelled ‘Achtung!’ and ‘Arrrghhhh!’Japanese soldiers yelled ‘Banzai!’ and ‘Aiiiieeee’.
But I began to tire of war – at least the terrestrial kind – and was drawn more and more to outer space and fantasy. I negotiated a swap with my brother – all his space stuff for all my war stuff. He came out of the deal with more stuff – all my soldiers for a lousy Space 1999 Eagle landing craft! –but it didn’t really matter. It was a line that needed to be drawn. There would still be violence, yes, but now it would be limitless and involve post nuclear cursed Earths and interplanetary travel.
Already reading my way through the greats of Science Fiction, I also got a weekly hit from 2000AD that we had reserved at the newsagent in Askam. I collected them from the late seventies on. Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Rogue Trooper, Halo Jones, Slaine, Nemesis, Flesh, and Invasion – I remember the stories so well. Entire afternoons spent leafing through back issues, rain rattling on the glass as I sat on the windowsill. I’d be given the old copies by friends who had outgrown them. The same friends who introduced me to H.P. Lovecraft and the Foundation series, Frank Herbert and Philip K. Dick. One of those friends, the most influential, Jasper Bark, went on to become a horror novelist and even wrote novelizations based on 2000AD characters. He gave me encouragement to write, something I was already doing.
Christmas Eve I was in Padua and I found an anthology of Slaine by Pat Mills, illustrated by Massimo Belardini, Angie Kincaid, and Mike McMahon at a market stall. I read half of it on the train home. I had already read some old comic books that I had brought back from England where my stash takes up significant storage space in my parents’ house to this day. I don’t know what is pulling me back in. After decades of not reading comic, or their off shoots the graphic novels, I now find myself going back to them. I love the art, the curt story-telling – the beautifully extravagant characters and set pieces, the dark humour. A recent documentary about 2000AD gave some remarkable insight into the creation of the comic books I so loved when I was growing up. I had always believed I had put away childish things, as that spurious old killjoy St. Paul is always telling the Corinthians. But now I find value in these childish things has doubled – I have the nostalgia of remembering earlier enthusiasms but I have also the pleasure of reading the new stories. Judge Dredd has aged in real time. No longer the young Dirty Harry rip off, he’s now a granitey relic, a Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, dispensing the Law in a depopulated and half ruined Mega-City One.
You should resist some kinds of nostalgia, especially if it stops you from going out and seeking new experiences. But we all come to a point in our lives when we kind of know what our favourite flavour of ice-cream is, what movies get us excited, what type of thing gives us joy. And we need joy. And we need to remember how to get it sometimes. And that means delving into the past, into the roots of who we are and reading about cowboys wrangling dinosaurs, or Beserkers charging into battle, or a teeming city of endless possibility being overseen by a preposterous fascist who claims 'I am the Law!'
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.