Tag Archives: Spring-heeled Jack

Comics at the British Library

Action 1976-77, by Jack Adrian and Mike White. Action, used with permission from Egmont UK Ltd.

The British Library’s current exhibition, Comics Unmasked: Art And Anarchy In The UK is one of their best for a while. A thematic study of seditious comics in the UK, it covers a lot of ground without over-cramming – a consistent fault of BL exhibitions to date. And while exhibitions devoted to books can get a little frustrating – essentially, you are staring at hundreds of book covers you cannot read – comics work perfectly as you can read a single page and at a glance grasp an awful lot about the concept from the artwork and a couple of panels, such as this from Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s London classic From Hell.

From Hell, by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell published by Knockabout Ltd. 1999 (c) Knockabout

Another plus is that the exhibition never makes excuses for its content matter so we are spared yet another analysis of why comics are for grown-ups. Instead it shows that comics have always been for grown-ups, right back to George Cruikshank (whose work is presented in a tremendous juxtaposition with an OZ strip about Edward Heath). The exhibition also takes a bold step by looking at the historical inspirations for comics writers’ love of magic and fantasy, with exhibits including John Dee’s spell book, the first draft of Crowley’s Diary Of A Drug Fiend and one of his tarot cards. These items are somewhat tenuous, but they are also marvellous and suggest an area a future BL exhibition could explore.

Original painting of Aleister Crowleys tarot card 'The Universe', on loan from The Warburg Institute. Photography (c) Tony Antoniou

There are several items with particular London resonance or import. I was fascinated by Riot, a book written in the immediate aftermath of the 1981 Brixton riot about which I’d love to know more. I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of Batman with Spring-Heeled Jack. There were also several contemporary strips, including Janette Parris’s Arch, about life in Archway, and Katriona Chapman’s contribution to Ink + Paper about renting in modern London. Oh, and there was a comic written by William Burroughs during his London sojourn.

Riot

Riot

Spring-Heeled Jack

Spring-Heeled Jack

IMG_2515

Other countercultural exhibits included a beautifully bound copy of IT, with the cover a reprint of a Situationist comic the publishers had found stuck on their office door (or a lamppost, I forget which) and a comic about the Nasty Tales trial, the IT spin off that was charged with obscenity.

The Trials of Nasty Tales, 1973, cover art (c) Dave Gibbons and Richard AdamsThere’s also loads of stuff on Batman and Superman, with particular reference to the work of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, while Moore’s Lond0n-set V For Vendetta is a recurring motif. And there’s a decent amount of 2001, including Judge Dredd’s helmet and a never-reprinted Judge Dredd strip about a war between fans of Burger King and fans of McDonald’s – featuring a psychotic Ronald McDonald – that has never been reprinted for fear of a law suit. I also learned that tedious busybody Dan Dare of the Eagle had originally been created as an intergalactic space vicar, which probably explains why I never much liked the man.

Judge Dredd's helmet loaned by DNA Films - producers of 'Dredd'. Photography (c) Tony Antoniou

Now do you want to hear the flaws? There were only three I really noticed. One was the design, which was never quite as weird and psychedelic as I’d have liked (though that may be why I am not an exhibition designer). Another was that there wasn’t enough about the artists, who while by no means neglected were never quite given the attention and praise they deserve. And finally I’d like to have seen more about the development of the grammar and rules of comic book art – how artists have torn up the traditional episodic, thought-and-speech-bubble panel-based framework – which was addressed only superficially towards the end. These though, are little more than quibbles. Go see.

V for Vendetta mask on a manequin in Comics Unmasked. Photography (c) Tony Antoniou

 

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Morrissey and London: ‘I like it here, can I stay?’

Like many adolescent boys who thought they were cleverer than they really were and were scared of girls, I was obsessed with The Smiths and Morrissey.

The Smiths are a Manchester band, but by the time I became a fan, Morrissey had – like so many Northerners – fled the provinces for London where he spent the next few years revelling in the size, confusion and culture of the Big Smoke. Instead of Whalley Range and the Moors Murders, he sang about Earl’s Court and the Krays and as he entered his ‘Glam Nazi’ era he became obsessed with distinctly London aspects of working-class life such as skinheads, West Ham and the Cockney Rejects.

This was Morrissey’s London period; you could argue it began with the Smiths songs London (1987) and Half A Person (1987), and lasted until he was hounded out of the capital for going a bit crap around a decade later. Sure, London still cropped up in later songs – 2004’s Come Back To Camden, for instance – but the love was gone. He would later sound like any other tedious expat whn complaining to the NME that ‘if you walk through Knightsbridge on any bland day of the week you won’t hear an English accent. You’ll hear every accent under the sun apart from the British accent.’ But it was fun while it lasted.

Interesting Drug (1989)

Although Morrissey’s previous solo singles were very London-influenced, this was the first – rather odd – video to be clearly filmed in London. But where? The red bus glimpsed at 1:21 may tell somebody with better eyesight than I. Is it a 34, placing this somewhere between Barnet and Walthamstow?
Update: Comments suggest this is Battersea, so not the 34 after all. Maybe the 37?

Our Frank (1991)

A pretty poor song, but the video marks the start of Morrissey’s skinhead obsession – it was not long after this that he took to performing before a skinhead backdrop and brandishing the Union Jack at Finsbury Park. There are lots of buses here, and also a gorgeous ghost sign at 1:47. But where is it shot? Charing Cross Road? The City? Victoria? Anybody?
Update: Comments place this definitively as King’s Cross.

We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful (1992) 

I hated this when it came out, but I was wrong because it is brilliant and the video is a treat as Morrissey wanders around a still not-quite-gentrified Wapping with the gang of bequiffed young boys who have put a smile back on his own thin and youthful face. Most Morrissey fans get a kick out of seeing the old boy looking happy, which is why his recent ‘love’ album, Ringleader Of The Tormentors, got such strangely good reviews. The abandoned pub in this video is now the Turk’s Head cafe and you can also catch a glimpse of Oliver’s Wharf, which was one of the first warehouses in the area to be redeveloped into housing.

You’re The One For Me Fatty (1992)

An awful song, but an unmistakable setting as a young skin takes ‘fatty’ on a date, while Moz whines about how ‘all over Battersea’ there’s ‘some hope, and some despair’, over a shot of the power station. Interestingly, a scene from one of Morrissey’s favourite Northern kitchen sink dramas, ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ was filmed by director Karel Reisz around here, in Culvert Road, Battersea. Of Reisz, we’ll hear more later.

Boxers (1995)

From the start of Morrissey’s decline – and height of his obsession-with-male-physicality – this ho-hum single was filmed at the legendary York Hall, Bethnal Green, as can be seen in the rather elegant closing shots.

Sunny (1996)

Such a terrible song I didn’t know anything about it until now, as I had long lost interest in Morrissey at this point, but it’s filmed in Victoria Park in East London. And the cover featured this iconic Morrissey shot, outside old Kray haunt the Grave Maurice (now, I think a fried chicken shop).

There were many other London influences in Morrissey’s songs at the time, with the Kray-referencing Last Of The Famous International Playboys, the song Spring-Heeled Jim (a reference to the Victorian London monster Spring-Heeled Jack), the song titles Piccadilly Palare and Dagenham Dave, and the album titles Your Arsenal and Vauxhall & I, as Morrissey explored the seamy side of London life. He was also rumoured to be making his first acting appearance at around this time as the South London gangster Charlie Richardson, although sadly that never came to pass.

I’ll leave you with one last example. This clip is of Kennington kids discussing the infamous case of Derek Bentley, who was sentenced to death for his part in the shooting of a policeman in Croydon, and it comes from Karel Reisz’s classic London documentary ‘We Are The Lambeth Boys’. It was sampled by Morrissey for the track Spring-Heeled Jim, which featured on the Vauxhall & I album. How much more London can you get?