Lord Horror

Posted: 1st July 2017 by Christian in Blog

So there’s some interesting ‘free speech’ discussion in comics right now. I find the notion of art hostage to politics suspicious. Let me tell you a story that might illustrate a point. Just a quick one.

In the 1980s, Savoy Books were a store and publisher who’d survived 60s New Wave of Science Fiction. If you like Ballard and Moorcock, early champions. They published a book called Lord Horror, and a spin off called Meng and Ecker.

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Lord Horror, and for space, I’m going to include disparate works here, is obscene. Horror exists in a hallucinated WWII. He’s loosely based on Lord Haw Haw, a British born Nazi propagandist who used to make pro Nazi speeches on pirate radio. Reborn as a switchblade punk nightmare of thigh highs and razors.

Horror exists, as I said, in hallucination. He stalks the streets of London, stabbing Jews, eating Jews, fearing the blacks and the gypsies and all the rest. It is bloodthirsty and cruel. Meng and Ecker are rapist mutants, obscene and vicious. It is dealing with the unthinkable horror and vileness of Nazis by being vile and horrific. Death and pain and cruelty are the currency of this world. A world where fascism has its way.

And then. John Coulthart took over the art and did the graphic novel ‘Reverbstorm’. A staggering work, not only did this announce Coulthart as a new master of fanastic and dark illustration, it became an incredible story. Modernism itself, the imaginary life of Europe before WWII and the Nazis haunts horror. Jazz music, pre superhero comics, James Joyce, more and more are used. It becomes the peer of Mirbeau, de Sade, Lautreamont. This is not the clever fictions of Deighton or the considered grief of Bellows. This is a primal howl of sickness and despair at fascism, written as it began to live again. Only a witless fool could think this obscene! You don’t have to like it. It is strong beer indeed.

Dark and terrible and austere but not obscene! Only the philistine or censor could do aught but respect it.

Meet Chief Constable James Anderton.

by Sefton Samuels, bromide fibre print, 1983

by Sefton Samuels, bromide fibre print, 1983

Anderton was basically that copper from The Wicker Man. An uptight and dangerous Christian moralist. Anti gay, anti black, anti worker. Anti child. Just… the very image of a Tory Catholic. He was very keen on things like blasphemy laws and had no time for free speech.

He had Savoy raided over and over. Copies of Horror seized. Britton, the writer, gave Lord Horror a speech in which the word ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ was replaced with ‘Jew’. Britton did time over that. They put him in jail. Meng and Ecker, banned in ’92.

Now, imagine in this day and this age, that kind of a book being published. Imagine a book which starred a punked out sexy Nazi hunting Jews and fighting off the forces of the Allies. Imagine a comic clearly outrageous by our own politics and the rise of the Right again, again, again! Dismiss a book if you like. Misunderstand it. Be disgusted by it. True art isn’t so easily digested. They’re not all Pixar and they don’t all fit into childish heuristics like “punch up, punch down.” This is the world, guys. It’s never that simple.

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We owe it to ourselves to not kick out against art. We owe it to artists to give us truth as they see it and that is all we owe them. But we must greet them in good faith. Art cannot be made safe and it cannot be made to fit in with the now and we must not ever try to muzzle it. You don’t have to like works like Lord Horror but by God, we are obliged to protect it.

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