Monday, November 7, 2022

Kevin O'Neill Interview, Dublin, 7 August 2011

I interviewed the late Kevin O'Neill in Dublin one Sunday afternoon in 2011. It was a good day. Here's the interview, along with my note to the editor of the Forbidden Planet blog, where it originally resided. The FP blog still exists, but all the old content is gone, so today seemed a good day to republish this myself. Kevin O'Neill was a good man, and he shall be missed.


Here’s my recent interview with Kevin O’Neill. The thing is, the interview was done at midday on a Sunday, and I think both Kevin and myself were a bit bewildered at doing something like this at a time like that. So, it’s disjointed in parts, we both tail off the ends of sentences sometimes, and I regularly break the most fundamental rule of interviewing, which is that the question should never be longer than the answer. In fact, seeing as we seemed to get on well almost from the beginning, it quickly became a conversation, rather than an interview, although you can see me trying to drag it back to a Q&A format occasionally. However, having said all that, I think I’d rather have it exactly as it is [including this explanatory note, if you like, Joe], as this is what was actually said, pretty much exactly. I could do a version that is tidied-up, and has a more linear flow, if The Editor wishes, but here it is, as is, for the moment.

One of the things that you’re not going to get from reading this is how entertaining it all was. Occasionally I’ve marked the bits where we did a lot of laughing, but most of the time it was all very good humoured. Really, you had to be there...


Interview with Kevin O’Neill

Conrad Hilton Hotel, Dublin

Noon, Sunday 7th August 2011

Pádraig Ó Méalóid: ...It’s now recording. Most of my recordings start we me saying, ‘Is this thing on?’ Now... How was the signing? Was there a good crowd?

Kevin O’Neill: It was good. It was good fun. Really nice people.

PÓM: Yeah, Kevin’s very good, Kevin in the Forbidden Planet, I’ve known him a long, long time. 

Eh, I have a list... I was reading an old interview, and looking at your Wikipedia page, and things like that. Right, 1969. You actually started as an office boy on Buster in 1969, I think, didn’t you?

KON: 1970, yeah.

PÓM: Yeah, you were 16, so 1970, yeah. So, you kinda have some recollection of 1969, actually 1969, which you obviously don’t with the previous stuff, so some of what you’re doing is... were you working in London then?

KON: Yes I was. What happened was, I had a place in art school, or could have had a place at art school, but my dad had to retire from his health, so I was the next one in the family to be a breadwinner, you know, it was that kind of thing. I couldn’t afford to go to art school, so I thought I’d get a job.

PÓM: Actually, I was going to ask you – are you from a large family? With a name like Kevin O’Neill, there some Irish connection...

KON: Yeah, my dad’s from Tipperary, Clogheen, and my mum’s got Irish blood in her family, so it’s a fairly big Catholic family, you know, a Catholic neighbourhood, an Irish Catholic neighbourhood.

PÓM: Where was that?

KON: South London.

PÓM: Yeah, ‘cause I’ve been looking at Punk Rock recently, because basically thirty -five years ago now it started happening, and one of the things with that is there was a lot of people, Johnny Rotten - John Lydon, Elvis Costello, lots of people who were of Irish extraction, and that seemed to be one of the things that fuelled it, and I was wondering...

KON: It is a curious... and in America as well, you get people like Frank Miller, who was certainly a Catholic...

PÓM: Was there anything like that... I think there was a certain amount of that in the people who were doing comics in the UK at the time as well. 

KON: Pat Mills has an Irish Catholic background. He was an altar boy.

PÓM: Do you think all that nasty dark Catholic stuff did something to you all?

KON: I’d say it’s fuelled more of my artwork than I probably give it credit for. When me and Pat get together we credit it for quite a bit of inspiration, the Catholic background, the very old-fashioned way we were taught. The nuns were brutal, I just remember, they were really brutal.

PÓM: I was taught by the Christian Brothers – I remember telling somebody at one stage that I was almost disappointed that, I was one of the people that wasn’t abused. It’s a terrible thing when you know you’re too ugly even for a Christian Brother!

[General laughter]

I may clip that bit out. I may not... 

But yes, anyway, so, what sort of a family were you from? What size of a family? You said you were the next breadwinner after your father.

KON: There were five of us, and I’ve got a surviving older brother. No-one did any art or writing in the family, my dad was a building worker, a scaffolder. I just loved comics when I was a kid, and I wanted to know how they were done. There were no conventions in those days, there was no...

PÓM: It was all completely anonymous, nobody had any idea...

KON: Absolutely, yeah. I remember writing to IPC to find out who the artists were on some of the strips. When I worked there years later they told me they used to tear up letters from kids. They couldn’t be bothered. It was terrible.

PÓM: Really? That’s terrible!

KON: That was why at 2000 AD we always made a big effort to answer letters, because it was important to people.

PÓM: Yeah, a mate of mine is still very proud of the letter he had published in 2000 AD. I think it meant something to people.

KON: I remember when I was a kid, the first letter I got with my name written on that wasn’t a birthday card was from Marvel Comics. I sent them a little drawing of Captain America when I was a kid, to Stan Lee, and I got a lovely letter back from Flo Steinberg, his secretary, to say, ‘next time you send artwork, put some backing board, ‘cause it gets all scrunched in the post.’ Kinda ‘keep it up,’ you know, it was just encouraging, which was really nice. It had the Incredible Hulk on the envelope, really exciting.

PÓM: Which must have been pretty cool to find dropping through your letterbox.

KON: They went to the trouble, they had a nice connection with their readers, so that was good. But IPC, when I joined it, when I was a kid, it was all ex-servicemen, and it was very strict – it was like a continuation of school, really. It was very, very regimented, and very old fashioned – strict on time-keeping, keep you late after work if you got in late, having to work your lunch hour, all that stuff.

PÓM: I suppose they had to churn this stuff out every week, I can’t see how it could have been conducive to...

KON: No, the military background probably helped enormously for efficiency – put the fear of god into you not be late with stuff, yeah. And it was a machine for producing material. You get good stuff that comes through the machine, and that kind of process, but you could feel it was the early seventies, and everything was changing in society, except them. They were like, this is the way we do it, comics are for kids, there’s no older readership, anyone who’s older is a delinquent or something, we don’t want their money – so that was the atmosphere. So it was really Pat, Pat Mills and John Wagner coming along that changed everything. They did new comics, Battle and Action and then 2000 AD. 2000 AD was an explosion...

PÓM: Pat Mills was involved in things like Misty as well, wasn’t he, writing all these really dark, strange, sadistic girls’ stories.

KON: Pat had his fingerprints all over...

[Brief interlude while refreshments are ordered...]

PÓM: So, yeah, 1969. I’m looking at the pages here... I mean, you put so much stuff in in the background, is there any, in this case, any of your mates, or anything like that, or people you knew at the time? 

KON: There is in the Hyde Park sequence – let me point it out. Alan asked me to include something...

PÓM: Funnily enough, just a couple of weeks ago on Sky Arts they showed some footage from the Hyde Park concert. Did you see that? It’s something that Granada made – it was bizarre, ‘cause the day they showed it, the next day was the release date for that [Century 1969].

KON: On this page, that is Steve Moore, Alan Moore’s best friend, the comic writer, and that’s Bram Stokes, who owned the first comic shop in Britain, and they were... Alan sent me a photo, just that image of them sitting on a bit of grass watching, so I included them in.

[The picture is the bottom frame two pages after the double splash of the Hyde statue in Hyde Park. The pair of them are sitting under a pink Peace sign. Let me know if you need a scan for this, and I’ll send it along.]

PÓM: Yes, that particular one I though must be someone in particular. That’s not, is it? [Pointing to the figure sitting to Steve Moore’s left.]

KON: No, no. 

PÓM: This is the thing – by the way, Jess Nevins, I was mentioning on Facebook that I was coming in to see you, and he says to send his best regards...

KON: Oh yeah! He’s alright, Jess.

PÓM: We correspond a bit. He was doing the annotations for this one and he’s already got lots of them online, and I send him some...

KON: Yeah, I usually see it when he sends me the manuscript of the book, and I put notes in for stuff, yeah...

PÓM: I was saying, you remember 1969, were you aware of all this stuff, The Stones and...?

KON: I was the right age, I suppose, being born in 1953, I was just the right age for The Beatles. It seemed a change from the old... My brother was a Teddy Boy, so growing up I was very aware of the shift from the fifties to the sixties. The sixties began about 1963, effectively, you know, and everything was changing. So, yeah, I was a long-haired kid at school, and then it felt very old fashioned at IPC, it was all short-back-and-sides. They hated the outside world – you walked through a door and you were back in the fifties. It was interesting – I’m glad I saw it, I saw the end of days, the end of the old way of doing comics, really, the old-fashioned way. I did hate working on Whizzer and Chips, and things like that, because it was pretty boring, week in and week out.

PÓM: How is work coming on 2009?

KON: I’ve done twenty-eight pages, a third of the way through. Yeah, it’s going very well. It could be out next spring.

PÓM: That’s not bad!

KON: By my glacial standards, that’s almost like speeding...

PÓM: Yeah, Alan is always blaming you for things being late.

KON: Well, he’s right! His scripts are usually finished years in advance.

PÓM: Well, you know, I agree with him when he’s saying, people complain about deadlines, but in ten years’ time, nobody is going to say, ‘Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if it had come out on time.’ I certainly agree with that. 

If you’re doing 2009, the visual references that you generally chuck in, I mean, is that going to be difficult? Say, particularly the background things?

KON: It gets very, very difficult – copyright, trademarks, and things like that, yeah, very difficult. We just have to be crafty, fly, don’t use anything – the law is pretty complicated nowadays. It doesn’t inhibit the book really, ‘cause there’s so much else going on, particularly in the next one, yeah, we can strip things in the background, I think that’s fair use...

PÓM: Yeah, yeah, particularly if you’re not literally borrowing the character in character, if you like.

One of the things, when I was reading about your previous work, you do seem to have had a couple of instances where people just really took a dislike to your art style and your artwork. The Comic Code Authority did, I think, and IPC did with some of the stuff in 2000 AD. How do you feel about that?

KON: It makes me laugh, really. The reason I ended up at IPC was kind of an accident, really. I tried to get a job at Odhams, Odhams Publishers – Smash! and Wham! and Pow! I loved as a kid – and they’d Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid doing magnificent work, so I wanted to work with them, on those papers, but they’d just been bought by what became IPC – the Daily Mirror group – so I was directed to Fleetway House, and was swiftly made aware that they didn’t like the way Odhams did comics, they were trying to beat that subversive nature out of the artists who took over, like Ken and Leo. It was a great shame, because they were absolutely brilliant.

PÓM: Ken Reid and Leo Baxendale, and people like them – there was Dennis Law and... They were the ones who revitalised the Beano and things like that, and it is their work that is remembered and is important. Yes, editorial interference... You’re with a new publisher, and does that give you a lot...

KON: Oh, it’s totally different, because the problem with League was – well, you probably know the story: originally it was just for WildStorm, when WildStorm were independent, but WildStorm, before we even started, were sold to DC, and Jim Lee sorted that out so that the League book was protected, it was...

PÓM: It was meant to be firewalled, but it wasn’t really.

KON: No. The inevitable happened, and DC gradually crept into the picture more and more, so the dam was always going to burst with Alan. Alan’s... he’s a very, very patient man... no means no – you can go so far... They seemed to do things, whether by accident or design, that deliberately made things even worse than they were to begin with, which was quite bad. So in the end it just became untenable, and it’s, I think, the one ABC book that Alan actually owns with an artist, so we could take it away to someone else...

PÓM: It was always the case that all of the other stuff, the Tom Strongs and Promethea, and all that, were all owned by WildStorm - owned by ABC comics, which was owned by Wildstorm, which is now owned by DC – but the League, and only the League, was a separate entity – I’m not entirely sure why that was – are you?

KON: I think it’s a by-product of... the film rights were sold before the comic was even – before the first issue was written, just based on a synopsis – and part of the contracts was that the publishing rights belonged to the creators, so it was embedded, and I think we weren’t strictly meant to be part of the ABC one, we were just subsumed into it.

PÓM: I suppose from a marketing point of view, it was handier for them. What did you think of the movie? Did you see the movie?

KON: I didn’t recognise anything, you know. I got sent the screenplay, and I remember opening it up and thinking, I must have the wrong thing. It was set in Venice, and the Bank of England, and all this kind of stuff - Leonardo’s plans, it was a crazy thing, really, it was crazy. But it was a vehicle for Sean Connery – once they said that... If Mina’s not the prime character, you’re immediately off on a tangent, and it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

PÓM: And they do kinda do this thing where she does something vampirey, and I always though one of the endearing things about the League is that there’s always this possibility that she might have been infected with, quote-unquote, some sort of superpowers, or whatever, but that never actually manifests, and we’re always left wondering if there is or isn’t.

KON: Exactly, yeah. It doesn’t really bother the film makers that they’d be left with, ‘what’s this woman doing here?’, whereas in our book she’s the strongest character, she’s just very formidable, she controls everybody, and runs damage on everything, so she’s possibly the only character who could have kept Hyde and the Invisible Man together and in the same place at the same time. But, yeah, I have to say, they dabbled with it so much on the film. But it’s never going to stop – people are always going to ask about it. It’s repeated and repeated, it’s on TV all the time.

PÓM: Yes, it was on quite recently. Last night, I think, Watchmen was as well, which is just a truly dreadful, dreadful film. I did at one stage try to persuade Alan that V for Vendetta was quite good, of the movies, of all of them...

[Sound of Kevin O’Neill choking]

PÓM: ... but I don’t know how completely I succeeded. But of all of them it’s the one I like. 

What... I’m looking at my notes here... [sound of papers being gone through] Yes. Research. How much research do you have to do, or is this stuff you’ve already read, or do you say, ‘let me go out and find what I can that relates to 1969,’ or 2009, or whatever?

KON: Well, it’s funny, ‘cause Alan would have done tons of research doing From Hell, of Victorian London, but I had loads of books on Victorian London, where I grew up in south London it was very old, the buildings were very old, it was near Woolwich, and the old docks, near the old bombed-out buildings, it was fascinating, so I grew up with quite a few books. What I did was re-read all the Victorian novels, and started to work my way out to curious things like Richard Marsh’s The Beetle, a fantastic barmy book which you’re not too aware of, maybe...

PÓM: I know the name, and I don’t know an awful lot more about it...

KON: it outsold Dracula, back in the day, but he sold... he needed money desperately, so I think he sold the copyright for like ten pounds, or something, and lived to regret it for the rest of his life. He never wrote another book near as popular, but it outsold Dracula. It’s completely mental, absolutely mental, very disturbing. So it’s fun, it’s actually fun researching, and finding... reading The Mysterious Island and going, ‘oh yeah, Nemo’s actually an Indian character,’ an Indian background, and that influenced the way the Nautilus was done, it was the whole way we handled him: before it was either James Mason or a man from the old engravings with the white beard, a Father Christmassy sort of character. So, yeah, the research is pretty important. Now it’s just, it’s finding... once we started – originally we just had the main characters interacting with each other, and I think at one point Alan said, ‘let’s have the coach come from the Charles Dickens book,’ kinda thing, and then somebody thought, ‘oh, we can start using lots of things like that,’ just in the background, shop names and stuff, but when you come closer to the present everything is possible: newspapers, cans of food – there’s a fictional version of almost everything nowadays, but it is kinda bonkers. Since the Black Dossier it’s just nuts, ‘cause we feel a slight obligation to make the effort to find a fictional version of almost anything you see.

PÓM: One of the things I noticed in 1969 particularly is that, a lot of it is actually reflecting what was happening in the real world at the time, and they are, rather than just being fictional characters and having adventures, they’re also reflecting real word stuff - there really was a Rolling Stones, and there’s a band in this, there was a Hyde Park concert, so that’s a kind of a strange extra layer to it that wasn’t there before.

KON: yes, and the Norton character, the Iain Sinclair character, he’s talking from the real world into the fictional world.

PÓM: Yes, I noticed that very much...

KON: Which makes it fascinating, ‘cause they’re completely baffled by what he’s saying...

PÓM: I think everyone is. I’ve attempted to read books by Iain Sinclair, and I’m kinda going, ‘I’m none the wiser.’ I’ve made a couple of efforts at Slow Chocolate Autopsy. Have you read Slow Chocolate Autopsy?

KON: Yeah, I love Iain’s work. It’s a very particular style, though, isn’t it?

PÓM: It certainly is that, yeah.

KON: His writing on London is fascinating, I must say.

PÓM: To go back to Jess Nevins:  the fact that Jess, and a huge amount of contributors from all over, at this stage – everyone send them on to him – that they’re doing that, and you have these annotations, and you have this... there’s a kind of a symbiotic relationship between the two in a way.

KON: There is now, yeah. When we first saw what Jess had done, on the first series, we were completely astonished. We knew while we were doing stuff, maybe a couple of people will get this, but it doesn’t really matter if they don’t, ‘cause it just amused us, but when we saw that people actually quite like it, and they actually like contributing to the notes and stuff, and he was seeing connections that we hadn’t made, and he was occasionally seeing things which we hadn’t intended, but he missed other bits and pieces.

PÓM: Something I came across, just yesterday, somewhere completely different – on the internet – was a reference to... the Rolling Stones did the second gig, the second Hyde Park free concert. The third one, the last band to play, their last song was called ‘Out Demons Out,’ which I thought was fascinating. I must get the name – I’ll drop the name of the band into the interview and pretend I knew it all along... [It was the Edgar Broughton Band.]

KON: Yeah? I didn’t know that. How interesting. I’ll tell Alan that, ‘cause he’s quite interested in coincidence.

PÓM: Yeah, sometimes these things, these extra layers just add themselves.

KON: I know, absolutely, yeah.

PÓM: I think as well, the great thing about the annotations, and uniquely of any other artwork, is that everyone gets to... everyone gets the opportunity – I mean, it’s like we were all sitting there, waiting for the off, waiting for the thing to be published, waiting for Jess to put up the first set of annotations so that everyone could then go, ‘yes, that’s this, and that’s that.’ You don’t do the internet?

KON: No, nor does Alan. No, it’s funny, we’re completely distanced from it, so we just, we see the manuscripts, which is the first time I see any of the notes, and then I just add stuff for Jess – my annotations. I’m fascinated to see this big block of material, you know – and we keep trying to outwit him, as well, but we’ve never, no matter how obscure, there’s always someone out there. It’s really weird – the book had only been published a couple of days and some young guy mentioned in one of the comic shops how he liked Zom of the Zodiac. Now, Zom of the Zodiac is like, so obscure, but there’s always somebody on the internet, I suppose, who knows these things.

PÓM: The other thing is, it does bring these things back into... there must be people – I have tracked down some of the old source material, or gone looking – I got a copy of Performance, several months back at this stage, and I’ve just picked up the video for... the DVD of The Rutles, because I haven’t seen it in years, and I was going, I remember The Rutles! So in a way you’re giving a new lease of life to some of this stuff as well, I think.

I have a question here that says, ‘Was DC difficult towards the end,’ but I think we might have kind of covered that...

Anyone you really wanted to use that you couldn’t? Any characters? Or that you couldn’t find a way to use?

KON: Nothing major, I don’t think. I mean, it’s a pity, as you mention Marvelman, it’s a pity we couldn’t have used Marvelman, ‘cause I always liked him when I was a kid, I thought he was a fantastic character, but it’s... it’s one of those characters that is now almost toxic, anyone who touches Marvelman, it’s like a curse, you know, you just want to pass it straight on, which is a terrible state of affairs for the character to end up in.

PÓM: As I said, I’ve researched the thing in enormous detail for the past several years. The book was going to be called Poisoned Chalice, because both Alan and Neil refer to it as a poisoned chalice in different interviews I saw, and now I find that my own curse of Marvelman...

[Earlier I had mentioned to Kevin that the book I’ve written on Marvelman is now without a publisher, as MonkeyBrain Books, who had contracted to publish it, were taking a break from publishing, at least for the time being, leaving it without a home for the moment.]

KON: Isn’t that weird? 

PÓM: And even Kimota!, George Khoury’s updated Kimota!, seems to be on permanent hold – that was meant to be – there’s an updated version, and that hasn’t come out either, so it’s kind of bizarre...

KON: I was saying to someone yesterday that it was really odd that Marvel are printing the old black and white stuff in too expensive editions that no American kid would even understand. I mean, if ever a strip that needed a softback cheap edition...

PÓM: Like the stuff they usually do, the big, thick old Spider-man... The story is bizarre beyond all belief and – there’s one thing I came across, which is... the Millers, and because of some stuff that the son had been publishing, reprinting some of the American real nasty stuff, the EC things, you know, this brought about the Children’s and young Persons’ Harmful Publications Act in 1955. There was only one prosecution under it, in 1970, which was the Millers themselves were prosecuted under it, and even that as well, that fifteen years later they were prosecuted under this thing that they brought about themselves...

KON: And Mick Anglo is still alive.

PÓM: Mick Anglo is still alive. I get the impression from the interview he did recently with Marvel that he’s not all there, really, it seemed to me, you know. But even the whole argument about whether he owns it or not, I don’t... he was commissioned to do it, and to a very specific brief – the Millers, and I’ve reason to believe Fawcett were aware of this as well. I got to have some correspondence with Arnold Miller, who was the ‘and Son’ in L Miller and Son... I’ll have to cut all that bit out.

KON: I’m sorry about that. It was an interesting digression for me, because I’m fascinated by the story. I’d love to read it.

PÓM: I’ll print it out, all 95,000 words of it as it stands, and send it on to you. 

Right. Do you have any other current work? 

KON: No. Pitifully, this is all I do, you know. I know it sounds... someone asked me the other day, ‘Well, obviously you’re doing...?’ and I just burst out laughing. If only I’d the time to do anything else. People think I’m dead for two years, and then a book comes out, you know. Apart from Dodgem Logic I haven’t done anything else. There might be some new pages for the Marshall Law collection next year, when that finally surfaces – hopefully.

PÓM: I was going to ask you – so is that due next year?

KON: I hope, yeah. We keep trying to get a date out of them. It’s got an editor, I think, for the reprint, but nothing’s been put together yet. We’ve contracted to do it, so it will happen. I’ve no idea when.

PÓM: That’s Top Shelf...? 

KON: No, we’ve took it away from Top Shelf. It’s DC. DC are doing it.

PÓM: Oh, is it? Oh, I see!

KON: Which amused us greatly, ‘cause Paul Levitz when he was there I think hated Marshall Law with a great vengeance.

PÓM: You haven’t foresworn from ever working for DC again then, obviously.

KON: No, not really. I’ve never had any big falling out with them. I’d the same reasons to be uncomfortable that Alan had, with certain people – Like Paul Levitz, we just didn’t get on, none of us really got on...

PÓM: And he was one of the people who was making things difficult, wasn’t he, with Black Dossier...

KON: Yeah, Paul has a very particular idea of comics, and how DC should function. He had his way, but it didn’t leave much wiggle room for people like us, you know. I’m sure we just made him very uncomfortable.

PÓM: Aggressively independent people like yourselves! And quite rightly... Yes, the Marshall Law omnibus. It’s going to be quite big, I think, isn’t it? It’s one volume?

KON: I think they’re going to split it into different volumes. I think with the retail climate being what it is, you don’t have to do a big volume – I don’t see how anyone can afford it anymore, spending a hundred dollars on a box set of something. Maybe later, to do a nice big edition would be cool – but I like trade paperbacks, I like the affordable versions of things.

PÓM: I think the trade paperbacks are lovely to read, but things like this [I pull a copy of the slipcased two-volume hardcover Absolute edition of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume one from my bag] ...

KON: They’re nice editions.

PÓM: The Absolute editions. They’re very lovely things to have, even if it almost never gets taken down.

KON: I know, I know. The same with my version, yeah.

PÓM: You know, books aren’t just for reading, sometimes books are just for having! And... Actually, there’s a thing – because you’re not on the internet, you don’t have any dealings with the internet, but you’re going to do something set in 2009 – in 2009 the internet does play a large part in people’s lives, just in general, so are you going to make any effort, or are you just going to blithely ignore it?

KON: Well, we do have scenes with mobile phones, which for us is like inventing the atom bomb, or something! [Much general laughter] Actually, Alan doesn’t have a mobile phone. At least I’m slightly in the late twentieth century, if not the twenty-first century. But, no, funnily enough, let me think...

PÓM: I think Alan is actually going backwards, because there was something I was reading recently, where he said he no longer has a television...

KON: That’s right. They turned the signal off, the analog signal, and he... you see, he’s forgotten why he was making the stand, he’s completely forgotten why, but he doesn’t miss having a TV. So, yeah, you’re right, he is rolling, gradually rolling back to the Spinning Jenny, or something like that.

PÓM: Yeah, I saw something that Leah wrote about him, at some point, saying he doesn’t believe in the twenty-first century... A man is entitled to his beliefs, I suppose.

KON: I was telling him I was dreading drawing the present day, because I realised that all the stuff I’ve drawn since I started was avoiding the present day. Everything was either the future, it’s alien, it’s superheroes, it’s abroad, it’s anything that’s not my world, the real world around me. I just wanted to draw to escape from that, when I was growing up. But drawing 1969 now is drawing a historical period for me, even though I probably would have found it less interesting...

PÓM: And even ‘77...

KON: Yeah, it was a nice shift, actually, it’s such a short gap between those periods, the shift in society was massive.

PÓM: Slowly but surely actually the League is filing in... you started in 1898, and we have something in 1910, we have something in the 1950s, and the sixties, and the seventies, and then there’s the one-shot he was talking about doing with Mina and the Seven Stars, is that a kind of a plan...?

KON: That’d be in 1964, that’d be set in.

PÓM: There’s another incident with Mina in Arkham that gets mentioned a couple of couple of times. Is that ever, are we ever going to find out what that is?

KON: Yeah, we’d like to do that, cause that’d be a kinda big – Alan’s a huge Lovecraft fan...

PÓM: Yeah, no shit!

KON: ... and my first published work was a HP Lovecraft fanzine illustration, the first thing I ever had published, so... We’ve certainly not made our mind up what the next book will be. It might be the supergroup, but we’re checking out all the... just checking out if it’s possible to do that, really. Or it’ll be a big Blazing World epic, which we’re quite keen to do, and I’d still like to do more with the Golliwog, I love the Golliwog character. The Americans seem a bit baffled by it... I was at a signing and a lady came up to me, a Black photographer, and she said, ‘Look, I really like your book...’ I knew what was coming, she said, ‘I really liked the Black Dossier, but I have a problem with the,’ I think she called it a pollywog. I explained, oh, it’s actually a really heroic Black character, in fact it’s the only heroic Black character of the fiction of that period. It was created by Florence Upton, it’s not a racist character at all. Her mother wrote the verse to accompany her illustrations. She didn’t copyright it – her spelling ends with a double G, golliwogg – she didn’t copyright it, everybody ripped it off, they changed the spelling and ripped off the image, and all the minstrel kind of golliwogs were post her, or contemporary with her. Her original inspiration was I think a minstrel doll which is in the museum back home, the toy museum.

PÓM: I have to say, with golliwogs, as a kid a golliwog was this toy, this creature, I had no concept it was meant to be a caricature...

KON: I’ve heard that a lot. I didn’t, when I was a kid, I never saw it as a black character, I saw as like an alien thing...

PÓM: yeah, so I think Alan’s take on it is... if you were to ask me what it was I’d say, ‘a strange looking... creature.’

KON: And the relationship with the Dutch dolls is pretty authentic, actually – the books are very, very odd. They were hugely popular – a lot of children’s illustrated fiction of that period, there’s a kind of slightly erotic undercurrent running through them. The Arthur Rackham illustrations, there’s a lot of nudity in those illustrations which you wouldn’t have seen when I was growing up, but they were in the old books that I was buying.

PÓM: Things like Peter Pan, I suppose, and especially Alice...

KON: The Water Babies...

PÓM: the old story about Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell is a thorny subject, although comprehensively covered by Bryan Talbot in Alice in Sunderland! 

What am I going to ask you next? I don’t know. Yes! Em, no, not that. You really do, your artwork is quite slow. I mean, is... As I was saying, Alan is always saying, ‘well, it’s Kevin’s fault.’ He’s always blaming you for everything. He also blames you for trying to drive poor Jess mad. Is it just that, I presume it just takes as long as it takes. Is it all research, or...

KON: It is. I was saying to someone, you’d think as I get older it would get quicker, but... I suppose, because we keep shifting time-period as well, it’s starting over again. I got quite used to the Victorian period by the conclusion of that era, 1910 was close enough that it wasn’t a big shift, but the Black Dossier drove us mad.

PÓM: Yeah, I suppose Nemesis and Marshall Law were really, between one thing and another, fantasy landscapes that they were in, if you like, whereas this had to be some semblance of...

KON: It is, yeah. When I first started, I was going, ‘I can’t even do this,’ because there was lots of scenes of people talking, sitting around, which I’ve never really drawn before – everyone’s running, or being blown up, or chopping heads off, things like that. So, yeah, that was a big shift for me, so I really did slow down, and I tried to lose a lot of bad habits as well, which you pick up when you’re doing other stuff, you know. I’d been doing a lot of fill-in issues of DC books before starting League, I wasn’t doing Marshall Law – we couldn’t find a publisher, by the end it was impossible to find a publisher for Law.

PÓM: Yeah, it was jumping all over the place.

KON: The nineties were a really bad time for comics, they were really sliding down. Comic stores were going bust, Marvel did their own distribution, do you remember that?

PÓM: Yes, kinda...

KON: It all went horribly wrong so, yeah, I was just filling in. The League came along at the perfect time for me, but I did have to think, right, OK, I’m going to draw this really differently to anything else.

PÓM: How did you end up getting the gig at League? 

KON: It’s odd. I went to Comic Showcase in London – Paul Hudson, it was his shop, he was a friend of mine. I walked in the door and he said, ‘Oh, I hear you’re doing a book with Alan Moore.’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I’ve got to ring Alan tomorrow about something else, nothing to do with working together.’ But I don’t know what he means, that just scuttlebutt. I rang Alan, we were talking about some IPC stuff, contract things, stuff from the old days, nothing very important, but right at the end of the conversation he went, ‘Oh, I don’t know if you’d be interested, but I’m sort of thinking of this idea, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and it would be...’ and listed these fictional characters, and it’s the best idea I’ve ever heard. So he said, I’ll send you a synopsis, and he sent me a synopsis, which was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. So I said, yeah, fine, I’d love to do it, and it started like that. Then we talked about the characters, so when the first script was being written we could have embedded in it the Indian heritage for Nemo, and we talked about the state Quatermain would be in by that point – I’m glad we didn’t, we were talking about giving him African tribal scarification, tattoos and things on his face, but it wouldn’t have given him much of a stealth capability, going undercover.

PÓM: No, when he was sitting, in the 1950s, sitting in the bar, waiting for Mina to lure Jimmy Bond...

KON: We became so obsessive, I found all the Quatermain stories I could, and there are quite a few short stories by Rider Haggard which have fascinating bits of information, so I’d ring Alan up and say, I’ve just read this story about Quatermain’s youth, where he saved a girl from fire, and she has – and it’s his first love – and she’s got a scarred neck from the fire. And that’s great, ‘cause Mina’s got a scarred neck, which ultimately we’ll reveal, so we could embed that straight in, by complete chance. But then we had the bed scene – Alan describes Quatermain getting undressed with some trepidation, and he’d be beaten up and scarred from various things in his life, so I read all the stuff again, keeping notes of when he was savaged by a lion, what bit of his body had been savaged, where he’d been shot. So all the bullet holes and everything, the scars from the lion, they’re all in the right place – I don’t know if anyone... I don’t think I even mentioned it to Jess, ‘cause that might seem too mad, completely mad...

PÓM: I’ll send him a copy of the interview, so he knows. But I think the thing is, when you do research like that, even though people may not get all of it, I think it does enrich the finished work.

KON: It feeds through to the audience somehow. When I was a kid, most of the Mad paperback stuff, I didn’t understand the Jewish humour, but I kept going back, and I gradually got to understand it, because I was studying it, figuring it out. I just liked the attention to detail, the feeling there’s more to this than meets the eye, maybe.

PÓM: Are you happy to continue to do this - I don’t know if I can say ad infinitum - until they take your pen out of your cold dead hand?

KON: I said to Alan, I made a horrible mistake a couple of years ago, I worked out roughly how many books I’ll have left in me, then I got quite scared – I forget what I worked out, I’ll just pretend I’m going to have a very, very long Mick Anglo sort of life that’s going to run well into the future, like Will Eisner or something. No, they take a devil of a long time, these books, they tend to get, they get more ambitious as they’re going along, so...

PÓM: Are you suggesting, as Alan gets madder and older, and comes up with madder and madder things...?

KON: Yeah, ‘cause no-one’s stopping us... I suppose if the Black Dossier hadn’t sold, it would have made us sit back and thing, well, OK, to keep going, we recalibrate another way to do a mad book, and see if that mad book works, but Black Dossier surprised even DC.

PÓM: I love Black Dossier. I was re-reading it – every so often I take them down – and there’s stuff in 1969 which is in Black Dossier. Let’s say, there’s stuff in Black Dossier which only really clicks into place... so it’s not just a source book for the previous volumes, but a source book for...

KON: Yeah, absolutely, and the text carries a lot of material if people do read it. I know the Black Dossier, people were expecting the third series, a conventional series...

PÓM: Yeah, a lot of people refer to it as the third volume, which it actually isn’t...

KON: It isn’t.

PÓM: No matter what they try to say. I think I might have run out of things to ask you. I’m going to ask you if you’ll sign one or two things, and what the possibility is of your drawing me a little picture...?

KON: Of course, yeah, no problem. 

PÓM: I’m going to leave this running anyway.

KON: I’ll be careful what I say!

PÓM: No no! Don’t worry. Unless it’s safe for publication, you know. How did the thing in Gosh go?

KON: Oh, that was crazy. We didn’t get out until almost nine o’clock that night, and we started about two.

PÓM: Yeah, you were at two, ‘cause Gary Spencer Millidge was in before that with his book.

KON: Yeah, it was nuts. It was fantastic – they started queuing at eight o’clock. Alan attracts huge crowds – one guy flew over from Texas, and Alan said to him, ‘You’ve come from Texas?’ And he said, ‘I’ve come just for you,’ and Alan said, ‘well, are you going to go sightseeing?’ ‘No, I’m flying back tomorrow!’ Alan has no passport, unless you fly to Britain you’re not going to see him, you’ll never see him. 

PÓM: I’ve tried to lure him to things over here numerous times. I’m hoping that... I have some paper, if that’s any use to you?

KON: That would be useful, yeah, ‘cause I’ve just realised I’ve got no...

PÓM: Just in case, I stuck a few sheets in here. This is a terrible question to ask a man, but are you now financially comfortable on the back of all of this? If you like, you know, it’s making you a living?

KON: Yeah, it does make a living certainly, yes. It’s one of those businesses, you put a load of effort, you put more effort in than you’re possibly sometimes rewarded for, but if you’re in the business only for going into an art business just to make money, going into advertising, or something like that, it’s a hugely unsatisfying sort of career path if you wanna do kind of wild stuff. No, we just love comics, so as long as there’s an audience who can keep it viable, you know...

PÓM: I think with something like this, and with, let’s say, a lot of Alan’s work, he’s proved that you can actually stick to your principles, and you can take the harder road, and still you can be successful. And huge quantities of talent and genius and things like that possibly also help. I’ve always admired him for the very fact that he is uncompromising.

KON: Yeah, I know. Alan, he’s turned back huge amounts of money on principle, you know, and suffered as well. People don’t really understand it. It seems to annoy people as well, they say, ‘well why don’t you do this for the money, or that,’ whereas the point is... It really annoys American Hollywood people – ‘if he doesn’t want the money, what does he want?’ He actually doesn’t want anything, he wants them to go away, and they keep offering him more...

PÓM: I’ve seen interviews with him where people are asking him essentially... do you know what I was going to ask you to draw? Any possibility of Mina with Alan Moore? Would that be possible? 

KON: I’ll try...

PÓM: OK. Well, I can ask no more than that! I mean, I read interviews with Alan where people are asking him about Watchmen, and about the Watchmen movie, and about stuff that, if anyone had any sense, they’d know he’s not interested in talking about, that annoys him, and so on. And then the interviews are published and people say, ‘Ah, there he is giving out about Hollywood again,’ and he’s only doing it because people are asking him what his opinion is about stuff that they should know he doesn’t like. 

KON: A lot of stuff, quotes from Alan, are misunderstood, because they don’t hear the voice behind it, because Alan’s very, very funny, he’s a very funny man, but they can seem very dry, dry comment.

[I continue to ramble on as Kevin draws.]

PÓM: A friend of mine says this a lot, that the thing that people don’t seem to get with Alan is how remarkably funny he is, and he’s very dry, very droll. He’s lately been hanging out with comedians and scientists...

KON: Yes, that’s true. 

PÓM: A dangerous mix!

KON: Yeah, he’s great buddies with Stewart Lee. Yeah, I heard him on radio recently, Alan...

PÓM: He’s doing a lot of bits and pieces of all sort of strange stuff...

KON: People think because he doesn’t go to comic conventions, he’s a recluse, as if life is only a comic convention – he does a monstrous amount of work, he’s always active.

PÓM: Yeah, and he does seem to do an awful lot of work in Northampton itself, and the community. I think essentially Alan believes that Northampton is the most important place in the world. I believe the same thing about Dublin, and we’re both correct. And my wife puts up her hand there and says, ‘you’re both wrong, it’s Waterford.’ [Deirdre had come along to take photographs...]

I think I’ve run out of things to ask you. You see, I came along with a list of things here, and I know when I’m interviewing Alan, I ask Alan a question – you know you’ve got an hour, right – the terrible fear is that that question is the only question you’ll get to ask, because he’ll go, ‘Well...‘ and ramble on... Talking about art, I saw there was a photograph of you with a guy called Tom Mathews, who’s an Irish cartoonist, at the signing yesterday – white hair, moustache...

KON: Yeah, I remember Tom.

PÓM: Tom, as far as I’m concerned, it Ireland’s greatest cartoonist, his stuff is fantastic. He was saying, you draw a cartoon and maybe, weeks, months, years later, somebody looks at it and laughs. But you never hear that laughter. At least when you do these signings...

KON: You get feedback, which is great.

PÓM: Because otherwise it is a very solitary occupation. I suppose with Alan and yourself, he does do these famous monstrously long phone calls, so there’s an ongoing feedback there, I suppose, between the pair of you.

KON: Yeah, absolutely.

PÓM: I think at this stage I genuinely have run out of things, so I’ll turn this off. Fifty minutes, we got...

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Future Shock! The Story of 2000 AD


I wrote this piece in 2017, for inclusion in the booklet in the Blu-Ray version of Arrow Video's re release of 2015's Future Shock! The Story of 2000 AD. I imagine enough time has passed for me to be able to post it here without upsetting the people who originally paid for it! And, rereading in now, five years later, I'm still pleased with what I wrote.

1976 was an interesting year. The sixties were long since over, and their promise of peace and love had somehow not come to pass. Long hair and flared trousers were increasingly out of place in a world that was crueller than it used to be. Into the increasingly commercialised social and cultural world left behind, the Sex Pistols launched their brief but hugely influential assault on the ears, wardrobes, politics, and morals of British youth, much to the abhorrence of pretty much everyone in the establishment. Their concert of 4 June 1976 at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall would become the stuff of legend, the spark that lit the fire for Punk Rock’s anarchic road map to nowhere, and the launching pad for a thousand other bands. Predictable, the mainstream press hated them. Old hippies really hated them. But the youth of the day loved them. Revolution was in the air, mere anarchy was loosed upon the world, and something had to change. 

A few months before that, in February 1976, a British comics’ writer and editor called Pat Mills had created Action, a socially realistic comic in the style of, amongst other thing, Richard Allen’s then-popular Skinhead series of pulp novels, and containing stories so violent that a crusade was started against it by right-wing social campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who would also turn on the Sex Pistols, soon thereafter. Her crusade was eventually successful, and Action was closed down. But Pat Mills had other ideas up his sleeve. If he couldn’t do his social commentary one way, he would do it another. 

Pat Mills already had form in the UK comics business, having started working with DC Thomson as a sub-editor - which generally meant making the tea and removing all efforts by the comics’ artists to sign their work, a process known as ‘bodging’ - before going out as a freelance writer, along with his long term partner and co-conspirator, John Wagner, an American-born Scotsman with a liking for a lot of violence in his work, much like Mills himself. Action and 2000 AD would be Mills’s first major works, but he would go on to play an important part in numerous other influential British comics of the time, including girls’ comic Misty, Crisis, and Toxic! But 2000 AD is undoubtedly the jewel in his crown. 

There’s this weird old trick, if you’re a writer, that if you want to make an unpalatable point about something, you disguise it as fantasy. George Orwell did it with Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. JRR Tolkien did it with Lord of the Rings. Jonathan Swift had done it with Gulliver’s Travels, way back in 1726. And that’s what Mills did in 1977, with 2000 AD. The name reflected a then unimaginably distant future point, when surely things would be different to how they were in 1977, although not necessarily for the better. There was a hint of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a suggestion of Star Wars. They were going to use the future to teach us lessons about the world we were living in, right now. 

Right from the start, 2000 AD was just what the comics readers of Britain wanted. Up until then, British comics with titles like Victor, Valiant, and Warlord had been produced by anonymous men in cardigans and slippers, smoking pipes and publishing endless stories about how the plucky English Tommies had beaten those dirty Gerries in World War Two, stories which simply weren’t relevant to anyone, in the harsher and less forgiving light of the nineteen seventies. Unsurprisingly, the British comics business was in a sharp decline by 1977, when IPC Magazines launched 2000 AD. It sold 200,000 copies of its first issue, and is still being published today. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that it changed the face of comics forever, both in Britain, and further afield. 

Which is not to say that the opening line-up was perfect, but it was certainly promising. Harlem’s Heroes, a kind of futuristic take on the Harlem Globetrotters crossed with the recently released film Rollerball, but with jet packs and lots of violence, gave a glimpse of the comic’s future, as did Flesh, a strip about time-travelling cowboys, travelling back to prehistoric times to farm dinosaurs for their meat. Less successful was a revival of Dan Dare, which simply never got the traction on the public’s imagination that it once had. 

2000 AD broke with established British comics publication standards in virtually every way imaginable. One of the ways it differed from other comics was that it attempted to treat its readers as equals. They published letters and artwork readers submitted, entered into dialogue with them via the letters’ page, with Tharg the Mighty, the comic’s green-skinned Betelgeusian editor, awarding prizes to those he particularly liked. They also regularly held polls to find out what the readers did and didn’t like. One of the things the readers really liked was Judge Dredd, created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, which first appeared in the second issue, and is the comic’s longest running character, having appeared in virtually every issue since then. What is unusual about Judge Dredd is that, in a comic that could be seen as left-leaning, he is an ultra-conservative and neo-fascist future policeman; judge, jury, and executioner rolled into one, ruling Mega City One with a ruthlessness that early twentieth century fascists could only have dreamed of. Despite this - or indeed because of it - he has been the readers’ favourite character virtually from the start, and any attempts to moderate his behaviour into something more human have been violently resisted by them, every time the subject comes up. And the readers’ wishes were always seen as being paramount, so Dredd stayed as he was, if not more so. These days older readers, once crusty anarcho-punks, or black and purple satin-clad Goths, but now all settled middle aged suburbanites, still read his adventures, and still love him just the way he is. 

Judge Dredd wasn’t the only strip the readers loved which also carried a less than covert political content. There was John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s Strontium Dog, on one hand a story about intergalactic Search and Destroy bounty hunters, or SDs, but on the other addressing issues of racism and segregation in a grim future. And Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill’s Nemesis the Warlock is arguably an allegory for and reaction to their childhoods as Irish-descended Catholics being educated by middle-aged nuns preaching hellfire and brimstone, whilst probably going through the hellfire of menopause themselves. It’s not difficult to see that the same processes were at work here as were influencing punk rock, with Irish-descended artists like Johnny Rotten, Elvis Costello, and Shane McGowan, amongst many others, growing out of the oppression of the No Black, No Dogs, No Irish mindset that was still common at the time. Another story by Mills, Sláine, which was loosely based on Irish myth and legend, was a less political representation of the broader Celtic ancestry of these islands. 

One important area where 2000 AD broke ground was in the use of female characters, especially in what was seen at the time as being largely a boys’ comic. The title character in Alan Moore and Ian Gibson’s The Ballad of Halo Jones remains a high point in the characterisation of an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. Other noteworthy female characters from the comic include the schoolgirl Roxy from the story Skizz - a sort of cross between the science fiction of ET and the grim social realism of The Boys from the Black Stuff, and which I still cannot reread without getting a little tear in my eye at the end - and Judge Anderson, originally a supporting character to Judge Dredd, but popular enough to soon feature in her own stories. 

One decision, to actually name the creators who worked on their stories, was to have long-reaching, and possibly even world-changing, consequences. Traditionally, in the UK, comics were produced without any information of any kind about who wrote or illustrated them - in fact, most people though they were probably created by machines, if they gave it any thought at all. Within the first year of its existence - in fact, to be exact, in issue #36 or, more correctly ‘prog’ #36, in October 1977 - 2000 AD initiated the use of what were called ‘credit cards’ - a small text box in the bottom right-hand corner of the first page of a story, containing the names of the writer, the artist, and the letterer in it, which meant that for the first time readers knew who was responsible for the stories they liked - and didn’t like. It’s true that American comics had been naming their creators for decades, but this was the first time it was systematically used in the British comics industry. At that time, the American and British comics industries were both figuratively and literally separated by a vast ocean, but the decision to put in those credit cards was to change that, in ways nobody could have predicted. Once those writers and artists were named, it meant that their names became their calling card, and with recognition came attention in the fan press, and the ability to use that fan attention as a bargaining tool. Naming them brought not only recognition, but gave them far greater control over their own destinies within the comics business. 

At around the same time as 2000 AD first appeared a group of British comic retailers and fanzine publishers had between them set up the Eagle Awards, to honour comics and their creators, named after the 1950s Eagle comic, which was at the time considered as the high point of British comic creation. Although the awards were originally designed to focus on the creators of the American comics that the people behind the awards were interested in, within a few years names from UK comics started to appear on the polls. 

One of the very first names from 2000 AD to appear as a winner in the Eagle Awards was writer Alan Moore, in 1983. Years later, Moore would say that ‘the comic industry awards are all voted for by thirty people in anoraks with dreadful social lives.’ Despite this unflattering assessment, across the Atlantic, in New York, there were American comics companies who must have taken them seriously, because it was in that same year that DC Comics editor Len Wein asked him to take over writing their ailing Swamp Thing title. It was heading for inevitable cancellation anyway, so there seemed no harm in letting this English guy play with it, just to see how he did. And what he did was change it utterly, and within a few months elevate it into one of the most important and influential comics in America, then and since. 

Alan Moore was not the only British creator from 2000 AD to work on the other side of the Atlantic, nor was he even the first, as artists Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons had been there before him, working on Camelot 3000 and Green Lantern Corps, respectively. But Moore was different, because he became the first superstar comics’ writer, on either side of the Atlantic, and undoubtedly became the greatest, too. Without 2000 AD there might have been no Batman: The Killing Joke, created by Moore and Bolland, or Watchmen, created by Moore and Gibbons, or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, by Moore and Kevin O’Neill. 

Other British comics writers who did early work in 2000 AD went on to become important across the pond, too. Writers like Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, and Grant Morrison, all helped to bring a modernity and a complexity to mainstream American comics storytelling that simply had not existed before, and undoubtedly shaped that industry into what it is today, where every bookshop has a Graphic Novels section, where comics writers win major literary awards, and where every university worth the name has courses and degrees in comics’ studies. And it wasn’t just the writers, either. Besides the abovementioned Bolland and Gibbons, and Kevin O’Neill, artists like Simon Bisley, Alan Davis, Steve Dillon, John Higgins, and Bryan Talbot all brought their own distinctive styles with them to American comics, so much so that O’Neill’s first major work there, Alan Moore’s Tygers in DC Comics’ Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual No. 2 in 1986, was immediately objected to by the Comics Code Authority, set up in the wake of the moral panic about EC’s horror comics in the 1950s, who, rather than point out any individual issues with his work, as was usually the case, said the whole thing was objectionable from start to finish. DC chose to ignore their objection, and the CCA has now been consigned to the wheelie bin of history, whilst Kevin O’Neill’s work continues to go from strength to strength. 

This current documentary, this aptly named Future Shock!, takes its name not only from ‘Tharg's Future Shocks’ - a blanket title for one-off short stories by various creators in the comic, originally created by the late Steve Moore - but also from Alvin Toffler’s highly influential 1970 non-fiction book, Future Shock, which defined the title as meaning that sense of ‘too much change in too short a period of time,’ surely a concept we can all appreciate all the more in these troubled times. It is full to the brim of famous names from the past, present - and undoubtedly the future - of this wonderful comic. Something like forty different people, mostly writers and artists from 2000 AD, but also editors, comics’ scholars, and others, tell the story of the comic from its conception, and original reception, through some rocky times here and there, due to differences over the rights of creators to their creations, and some bad marketing decisions, to their position now, in safer hands, and stronger than ever. 

These days 2000 AD has at least one second-generation writer, with Leah Moore following her father Alan into their pages. Alan Moore himself does not appear in this documentary, but none the less his presence permeates it, as does that of its former editor and co-creator Pat Mills, who very much is in it. One other sad omission is current Judge Dredd writer Michael Carroll, who used to be my postman, here in Dublin. Although only writing Dredd stories since 2011, he’s already up in the top five most prolific Dredd writers. Perhaps for the next documentary, in 2057, beamed directly into our brains from the smoking stump of King’s Reach Towers, when he has neutralised all the other contenders, and finally ascended the Throne of Tharg, he’ll talk to us, surrounded by an army of Nth generation Moorebots, Millsdroids and Kevborgs, still producing the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. 

2000 AD and its writers, artists, and editors, have, in its own very special and very British way, irrevocably changed the cultural landscape around us. The year the comic is named after has come and gone, but for some of us 2000 AD will always represent the future. May it ever be thus. Splundig vur Thrigg, Squaxx dek Thargo!

Monday, March 14, 2022

Poisoned Chalice Press Titles Now On Sale!

 Now, after having problems with Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), and having had all my titles removed from their online store, I have now listed all my titles so far up on Lulu. So, if you're looking for any of the following books, just click through the link!

Poisoned Chalice: The Extremely Long and Incredibly Complex Story of Marvelman (and Miracleman)

Mud and Starlight: Interviews with Alan Moore 2008-2016

Steve Moore: The Hermit of Shooters Hill

Let Me Ask You This! Interviews with Comics People 2008-2021 Vol I

Monday, August 31, 2020

Robert ‘Pen-Face’ Farren: The Man Who Wasn’t Flann O’Brien


Writing to Timothy O’Keeffe of British publishers MacGibbon & Kee on 19 August 1961, about
the cover art for his forthcoming novel The Hard Life[1], Flann O’Brien said,

Many thanks for your letter of the 15th August and copy of acting cover. I detest that photograph because 1) I don’t believe it is a photograph of me at all, and 2) whoever the man is was floothered[2] when the picture was taken. I Feel any biographical material should be omitted, particularly the disclosure that Flann O’Brien is a pseudonym. There is no point in it if the real name is also given. Incidentally, if a pen-name is admissible, why not a pen-face?

Little did either of them realise that the individual elements required to bring Flann’s conjecture in that last sentence into being were already in place, although he would not live to see it come to pass...

For whatever reason, there are only a handful of good photographs of Flann O’Brien in existence, so you get to see the same ones turning up quite regularly. He’s usually pictured wearing a hat and an overcoat, sometimes with a wall, or a public house interior—or even a wall in the interior of a public house—somewhere in the background. 

There’s one in particular that has in recent years appeared both on the cover of the Everyman’s Library edition of The Complete Novels[3] and the front cover of the first issue of The Journal of the International Flann O’Brien Society[4], aka The Parish Review[5], as well as sundry other places. It even features on a postcard as part of Penguin Books’ 100 Postcards from Penguin Modern Classics[6] box set, as well as in countless places online. And it’s easy to see why designers would choose it—it’s a black and white photograph of the top half of a relaxed, friendly-looking man, with the obligatory hat and overcoat, who has one hand up to the lower part of his face in a contemplative manner.

There are two things that mark this one out from the other photographs, though—for one thing, the subject is wearing glasses, which is not the case in any of the rest, and, for the other thing, the man in the photograph isn’t actually Flann O’Brien at all, despite all the above sources saying that it was.

This is how it all came to light: On Saturday 2 December 2017 the Irish Times published Professor Anthony Roche’s review of Flann O’Brien: Problems with Authority[7]. Accompanying the review was a photograph of three men sitting at adjacent tables, two on the left-hand side, and one on the right, which is subtitled as ‘Comic novelist and humorous columnist Flann O’Brien (right) in the Palace Bar in Dublin circa 1945. Photograph: Hulton Getty.’ The man on the right is not, as you might have surmised, Flann O’Brien[8]. The photograph was certainly taken in the Palace Bar, though, and is actually a companion to one mentioned above, and almost definitely taken at the same time.

Three days later, on Tuesday 5 December 2017, a letter appeared in the Irish Times that read,


Sir, – In a book review by Anthony Roche on a collection of essays concerning Flann O’Brien (Books, December 2nd), the caption on a photograph identifies the figure on the right as Flann O’Brien. This is in fact Robert Farren (1909-1984), poet, broadcaster and Abbey Theatre director. He was my father.

Hulton Getty has issued various versions of this photograph over the years with this misidentification; it appears in at least two British collections of Flann O’Brien’s works. 

Apart from the fact that I recognise him, it is known—and your resident Flannorak, Frank McNally, will I’m sure confirm this—that Flann never wore glasses. 

The figure lighting a cigarette in the photograph is the novelist Francis MacManus (1909-1965), an exact contemporary and close friend of my father. – Yours etc, 


The same photograph of the three men was published alongside the letter, this time re-subtitled as ‘The Palace Bar in Dublin circa 1945. The figure on the right is Robert Farren’...

The following week, on Thursday 14 December 2017, the self-same ‘resident Flannorak[9],’ Frank McNally, in his regular Irishman’s Diary column in the Irish Times, had written a piece called ‘The Phantom Flann—An Irishman’s Diary about the framing of Brian O’Nolan for a photograph he wasn’t in,’ and subtitled ‘O’Nolan spent his career pretending to be other people. And sometimes even the other people were not who they were supposed to be.’ An extract follows:

On behalf of Flann O’Brien fans everywhere, I offer belated thanks to Ronan Farren (Letters, December 5th) for solving a mystery that had perplexed our community. 
For some time past, Flannoraks were aware of an ever-more-widely circulating photograph, supposedly of the man himself, from Dublin’s Palace Bar, circa 1945. It had even appeared on reprints of his books. But although the location was entirely plausible, as was the hat, the bespectacled figure was clearly not Flann. 
My best guess was Niall Montgomery, his friend and collaborator, who did actually wear glasses. But I happily bow to the authority of our letter writer, who assures us the mystery man was his own father, Robert Farren, aka Roibéard Ó Faracháin, the poet. The file is hereby closed. Getty Images, please copy. 
It is not without aptness, however, that the real-life Brian O’Nolan should have been supplanted in this way: even to the extent, eventually, that the picture accompanied the review of a new book about him in The Irish Times, the paper his other main pseudonym, Myles na gCopaleen, adorned for 26 years. 
He of all people would have understood the existentially-threatening condition implied in a common Hiberno-English phrase: ‘He’s not himself lately’. O’Nolan spent his career pretending to be other people. And sometimes even the other people (eg Myles, often written by Montgomery[10]) were not who they were supposed to be.

 Both photographs were still to be found on the Getty Images website shortly after all of this appeared, still tagged as being Flann O’Brien, but not long afterwards a search with his name in it yielded no results, nor does it to this day—he had been erased, and had become a sort of Orwellian unperson, a situation that Dermot Trellis in At Swim-Two-Birds might have sympathised with, if it wasn’t for the fact that he had been erased himself.

The Third Man
Now, there’s nothing I love more than a mystery, and the more intractable it is, the more I like it. As far as I could see, there were several questions that I wanted answers to—various variations on those old what, where, when, why, and who kinds of questions. Who took the photographs, and when and where did they take them, and for what reason? Why did they end up on the Getty Images site, and how did they end up being misidentified as Flann O’Brien? And who was the mysterious third man in that group shot?[11] There was digging to be done, so I started with what I definitely had: that photograph.

According to the information on the reverse of the Penguin Books postcard, the photograph is © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis[12], whereas the inside front flap of the dustjacket on the Everyman’s Library book says that it’s © Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images. And, as indicated above, the Irish Times had subtitled the picture as Photograph: Hulton Getty. There were several names attached to the photograph, and I’d need to find a concrete starting point for all this to help me make some sort of sense of what had happened, like why there were so many different names, for a start. In cases like this the Internet is our friend, and the much-maligned Wikipedia is always a good starting point. So...

The most recent iteration of the various related corporate entities whose names are attached to that photograph is, the online presence of Getty Images, Inc, whose headquarters are in Seattle, Washington, having originally being founded as Getty Investments LLC in London in 1995
[13]. Essentially, they buy up older photo agencies and archives and digitize their collections, thereby enabling worldwide online distribution. In 1996 they bought the Hulton Picture Collection for 8.6 million pounds, which gave them the rights to some fifteen million photographs from the British press archives, dating back to the 19th century. Getty bought this collection from Brian Deutsch, where it was originally called the Hulton-Deutsch collection. Deutsch had, in turn, bought the collection from the BBC, who had bought it in 1957 from Sir Edward Hulton, who had set up the Hulton Press Library in 1945 as a semi-independent operation to manage the growing photographic archive of Picture Post, a British photojournalistic magazine published by the Hulton Press from 1938 to 1957.

Once the magazine folded Hulton apparently lost interest, as he sold the archive—a move that, in 21st century hindsight, was perhaps not as financially astute as he might have thought. Still, with Picture Post we have arrived as far back as we can go, and exactly where we need to be, as it turns out[14]. And we have managed to touch base with every single corporate name under which that photograph was attributed—Getty Images, Hulton Archive, Hulton-Deutsch Collection, Hulton Getty, and Picture Post—except Corbis, about whom I’m just going to quote a large chunk of text from Wikipedia, because it’s just too bewildering for me to try to succinctly synopsise, as I write this, so you may read it or not, as you please:

[Corbis] was founded in Seattle by Bill Gates in 1989 as Interactive Home Systems, and later renamed Corbis. The company's original goal was to license and digitize artwork and other historic images for the prospective concept of digital frames. In 1997, Corbis changed its business model to focus on licensing the imagery and footage in its collection. [...] In January 2016 Corbis announced that it had sold its image licensing businesses to Unity Glory International, an affiliate of Visual China Group. VCG licensed the images to Corbis's historic rival, Getty Images, outside China.

 So now you know—although we’re strayed very far from our original starting point. None the less, the date of some sort of semi-amalgamation with Getty in 2016 doesn’t quite explain their name being on the back of that Penguin Books postcard, as that dates from 2011. But there’s only so far we can go chasing down rabbit holes that are also potentially cul-de-sacs, so that’s as far as I’m going on this particular one.

Was any of this relevant, though? Well, yes, I thought it was. The two photographs, especially the one of Robert Farren, lovely and all as they were, were obviously professionally taken photographs, rather than simply the product of happenstance. The attribution of the photograph as having been taken in 1945, whilst it would prove to be wrong, was nonetheless at least a pointer in the right direction, and the fact that the date coincided with the establishment of the Hulton Press Library in the same year might not be entirely a coincidence, but simply a misattribution based on someone presuming that one date was the same as the other—although we’ll never know for sure. And, by now, I was sure that that this was all converging on the fact that those photographs had featured in Picture Post around that time. Everything seemed to point towards that—that they were almost definitely professionally taken, that they had been on the Getty Images site, and that one of the founding blocks of that collection had been the photographs from the Hulton Press Library, itself the archive of Picture Post’s photographs. And the attribution on the back of the postcard had even specifically mentioned the magazine. So all I had to do was to figure out how to prove that...

My next stop was the website of the National Library of Ireland. They had just one issue of Picture Post in their catalogue[15], it looked like, dated 11 April 1942. Could this be the one I was looking for? It certainly looked like it might be[16]. There was a feature in it called ‘In Eire To-Day,’ which was also the subtitle the issue was catalogued under. I no longer live in Dublin, but a week-long visit there to go buy books at the annual Trinity College Booksale meant I could easily go around the corner to the NLI and have a look at it for myself. And that’s exactly what I did. But, before I went, I would still occasionally put various possible search terms into Google, to see if I could find some combination that would throw out a viable result.

I wish I could remember what specific terms I used that night—it is likely to have been as simple as ‘Robert Farren’ & ‘Palace Bar’—but the very first result returned was for the Getty Images website, for an entry tagged with the date 11 April 1942, a date I had seen only a short while before on the NLI website. It is absolutely true to say that the hairs on the back of my neck, at least proverbially, stood up. I had, finally, found what I was looking for. The truncated Google search result (with my putative search terms highlighted in bold, as it would have looked) read, › detail › news-photo > irish-wri... 

Irish writer, broadcaster and Abbey Theatre director, Robert... 

... Abbey Theatre director, Robert Farren at the Palace Bar in Dublin, April            1942. Original publication: Picture Post - 835 - Abbey Theatre - pub 11th                 April 1942.

Clicking through the link brought me to a page on the Getty Images site with that familiar photograph of Robert Farren, but now with text saying,

Robert Farren 

Irish writer, broadcaster and Abbey Theatre director, Robert Farren (1909 - 1984) at the Palace Bar in Dublin, April 1942. Original publication: Picture Post - 835 - Abbey Theatre - pub 11th April 1942. (Photo by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

It even had the photographer’s name listed. Most importantly, it stated quite clearly that the image had appeared in a particular issue of the Picture Post, and that issue of Picture Post was equally clearly listed on the National Library of Ireland’s online catalogue. And, as I said, I was going to be in Dublin within a few days, and would have an actual copy of the very issue of Picture Post that had that photograph of Robert Farren in it put into my own trembling hands. This part of the mystery, at least, was solved. Except that it wasn’t...

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

The 2020 TCD Secondhand Booksale took place in the Exam Hall in Trinity College’s Front Square from Tuesday 18 to Thursday 20 February 2020. On one of those days I was also going for a stroll up to the National Library of Ireland, which was at most five minutes away, and my precious documentary proof would be there waiting for me. I entered through the tiled and pillared rotunda of the entrance hall, bade a good day to the security guard on duty, deposited everything except an iPad Mini, a pencil, and a note book in one of those ‘set your own secret combination on the lock’ glass lockers, and ascended the marble and stone staircase which so many other great intellects had ascended before me, presented myself at the front desk in the main reading room, and asked the librarian behind the desk to supply to me forthwith my issue of Picture Post. He pointed out that there were actually two different issues of the magazine on the catalogue, and not just a generic listing indicating they had a copy or copies of Picture Post, and then a specific listing for the actual issue they had provided a date for, which was what I had convinced myself I was looking at, that first time I had looked it up in their catalogue. None the less, I had the date I was looking for to hand, and they did actually have that issue so, after having gone off for a pot of tea in the excellent Café Joly on the ground floor whilst it was being retrieved from the archives, I returned shortly thereafter and, finally, I was given their copy of Picture Post #835 published on 11 April 1942. I was, at least on the inside, incandescent with excitement.

I sat down at my desk, put the magazine down on the support cushion, and turned the first page. The first few pages were almost all advertising, as was the fashion at the time, except for some remarkably jingoistic readers’ letters on page 3—somewhat understandable in light of the war, I suppose—and a contents list on page 5. The promise of the front page, with its IN EIRE TO-DAY strapline was certainly fulfilled by the contents listed: An article by Cyril Connolly called ‘Neutral Eire is Slowly Changing Under the Impact of the World’s War’ runs through the whole thing, taking in photo features like ‘Eire, Land of Talk,’ ‘Dominant Influence in Eire is the Catholic Church,’ Can Eire Defend Herself?,’ and ‘In the Abbey Theatre,’ all of which took up pages 7 to 15. Somewhere amongst all that, surely, I would find a photograph of Robert Farren, and maybe even a previously undocumented image of Flann himself?

I turned the page once more. And I kept turning pages, until I got, not only to the end of those pages that covered the Irish content, but to the very back page of the magazine itself. And not one of those pages contained a photograph of either Robert Farren or Flann O’Brien. I was sure I must have missed a photograph, or somehow turned two pages at the same time, or in some other way overlooked the very thing I was looking for. So I went back to the start, and checked everything—the date, the issue number, and then scrutinised anew every single photograph on every single page, making sure as I did so that I was checking every consecutive page number, just in case. But to no further avail. That photograph, which was originally said to be Flann O’Brien, but wasn’t, was also not in the issue of Picture Post I was told it was in. The very magazine that had been the bedrock of what became Getty Images had deceived me not once, but twice, with the same image. What on earth was going on?

I did the only thing possible, which was go through it all again, even more carefully. The thing is, there were photographs taken in the Palace Bar, in the ‘Eire, Land of Talk’ section, and of the Abbey Theatre, accompanying the ‘In the Abbey Theatre’ section, obviously enough. There’s a photograph of legendary Irish Times editor RM Smyllie in his office, another of him in the Palace Bar, along with journalists Alec Newman and MJ McManus, and one further picture from the Palace, showing a person identified as ‘Pierce Beasley’[17] talking to artist Desmond Rushton. And the photographs of the Abbey show both an interior and an exterior of the original building, with the useful information that it had once been a morgue. There’s a photograph of a scene of a pub fight[18] from Seán O'Casey’s The Plough and the Stars, and half a dozen head shots of actors, and one more photograph of an Abbey Theatre producer. But none of these people were who I was looking for.

I conceded defeat, handed the copy of Picture Post back to the person behind the counter, and went back to the Booksale, and eventually back home, unsure of what had actually just happened. However, I was not without either resources or further plans.

I decided the possibility existed that there might have been different versions of the individual issues of Picture Post. After all, there were local editions of papers like the Sunday Dispatch, which would publish Myles na gCopaleen’s Column Bawn column in the early 1950s in their Irish edition, so maybe there had been different local editions of Picture Post for different markets? I’ll tell you now that this wasn’t true, especially seeing as this was during the war years, when such extravagances weren’t exactly welcomed. None the less, it did lead me to buying myself a copy of the 11 April 1942 edition of Picture Post, just to see. But the contents of that were exactly the same as the one I’d already looked at, of course—although it did mean I had a chance to do more than just have a look through it in the library.

There was that other Irish-themed copy of Picture Post, though. The one I’d originally overlooked on the NLI online catalogue. I bought a copy of that, too, just in case. But it was a complete non-starter, for lots of reasons. If nothing else it dated from almost two years earlier, 27 July 1940, which meant it pre-dated the first Myles na gCopaleen penned Cruiskeen Lawn column in the Irish Times by nearly three months. And most of the Irish contents in that particular issue was about showing how poor we all were, it looked like. So that particular cul de sac was entirely cut off.

As a last resort, and seeing as I actually had access to me own copy, I set myself to reading Cyril Connolly’s essay in the April 1942 issue. It would be fair to say that it was at the very least condescending, and often substantially worse than that, and there were quite a few ‘Oh do you fucking think so?’ moments, as I read through it. But, near the end, I found this: 

Culture itself struggles on, not really taking that advantage of being out of the war which culture should, but represented by some interesting young poets and writers. There is Robert O’Farocháin, a gifted young poet, Francis MacManus, a novelist, Flann O’Brien (a Gaelic Beachcomer), Donagh McDonagh, a poet whose father was executed in 1916, and the story writer, Niall Sheridan.

 At last I had found at least a tenuous link between that photograph, originally thought to be Flann O’Brien, but later revealed to be Robert Farren, aka Roibeárd Ó Faracháin[19], and the 11 April 1942 edition of Picture Post. Was there any way to explain why the photograph wasn’t in that issue, though, even though it was listed on the Getty Images website as having been so? Maybe there was.

In the Wikipedia article about Picture Post there’s this paragraph, with bold emphasis added by myself: 

As the photographic archive of Picture Post expanded through the Second World War, it became clear that its vast collection of photographs and negatives, both published and unpublished, were becoming an important historical documentary resource.

So, if there had been a batch of photographs taken in the Palace Bar by their stringer photographer, Haywood Magee, which were for that issue, it would be reasonably that some would be used, and some not. And the unpublished ones would probably be in the Hulton archive alongside the published ones. Somewhere along the line, possibly when they were being digitised for the website, or possibly well before that, someone made a partially educated guess about who was who, going on the above paragraph from Cyril Connolly’s essay, and decided that the nice man in the black hat looked a bit like the only one of that group that there were a handful of photographs of to provide any sort of comparison, and tagged it as Flann O’Brien, and further presumed that, if the photographs were taken for that issue, then they must have been in that issue, and all the pieces fit together at last. The secret origin of Flann’s Pen-Face was revealed at last.

There were still a few loose ends that needed tying up, but I think I can provide answers for those as well. Who was the third man in the photograph that contains Robert Farren and Francis MacManus?

It’s likely that he was one of the five young writers listed together—
Robert Farren, Francis MacManus, Flann O’Brien, Donagh McDonagh, and Niall Sheridan. The first two are already in the photograph, it’s definitely not Flann, so it’s down to Donagh McDonagh and Niall Sheridan. From various online photographs of McDonagh I’m pretty sure it cannot be him, so that pretty much leaves Niall Sheridan. And there’s a certain resemblance between that third man and a grainy old photograph of him from the Irish Times. Perhaps somebody in the know will read this, and can confirm or deny that. And, if it is indeed Niall Sheridan, then Flann might not be in the picture, but at least one of the occasional (but not often) substitute Myles na gCopaleens is.

The one other thing, to go right back to where I started out, is the business of Flann’s letter to Timothy O’Keeffe of 19 August 1961, about the cover art for his forthcoming novel The Hard Life, where he said,

Many thanks for your letter of the 15th August and copy of acting cover. I detest that photograph because 1) I don’t believe it is a photograph of me at all, and 2) whoever the man is was floothered when the picture was taken.

I Feel any biographical material should be omitted, particularly the disclosure that Flann O’Brien is a pseudonym. There is no point in it if the real name is also given. Incidentally, if a pen-name is admissible, why not a pen-face?

The thing is—and this is very much the leitmotif for this essay—that cover for MacGibbon & Kee’s original 1961 publication of The Hard Life has no photograph, whether of Flann or anyone else, anywhere on the dustjacket. Nor is there any biographical material, and therefore no disclosure of the author’s name being a pseudonym. But this particular mystery at least has a more easily found possible solution—none of the things Flann objects to in that letter are in the UK first edition, but every part of it is to be found on the inside back flap of the dustjacket of the American first edition, published by Pantheon Books of New York in 1962. This is what it says:

Flann O’Brien was born in County Donegal a few years before the First World War. In 1943 Time wrote: “On one Irish matter there is no argument in all Eire: the favorite Irish newspaper columnist is Brian O’Nolan, who write for the Irish Times....O’Nolan, a novelist, playwright and civil servant, writes a six-a-week column titled Cruiskeen Lawn (The Little Overflowing Jug) under the pseudonym Myles na gCopaleen (means Myles of the Little Horses)....” Since then, Flann O’Brien has let down none of his three personalities: he has continued to be Ireland’s favorite spoofer and iconoclast in the Irish Times; he has been Secretary to three successive Ministers in the Irish Local Government and is Principal Officer of the Town Planning section; he has written several plays in Gaelic and has seen the extraordinary first novel that he wrote in his youth, At Swim-Two-Birds (Pantheon, 1951), rhapsodically acclaimed in England when it was reissued there last year. The Hard Life, written in a completely different style from that of his first, Joycean novel, represents the fourth dimension of this versatile writer.[20]

And the article was topped by a photograph. The photograph, unlike much of the information in that paragraph, dates from the same time as the book and, although there is no doubt that the man in it does indeed look floothered, there is no doubt that it is Brian Nolan himself, only a few years before his untimely death in 1966. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, as he might have put it himself.

[1] The Hard Life, Flann O’Brien, MacGibbon & Kee, London, 1961; Pantheon Books, New York, 1962

[2] Maebh Long, in her excellent The Collected Letters of Flann O’Brien (Dalkey Archive Press, Dublin, 2018) added a footnote to this, saying that it was an Irish colloquialism meaning drunk. I can offer no further or better explanation.

[3] The Complete Novels, Flann O’Brien, Everyman’s Library/Random House, London, 2007

[4] Now known as the Journal of Flann O'Brien Studies.

[5] The Parish Review #1, International Flann O’Brien Society, Vienna, 2012

[6] 100 Postcards from Penguin Modern Classics, Penguin Books, London, 2011

[7] Flann O’Brien: Problems with Authority, Ed. Ruben Borg, Paul Fagan, & John McCourt, Cork University Press, Cork, 2017

[8] Nor was the photograph taken in 1945, but I’ll be coming to that later on.

[9] Although some of us prefer Flanneur.

[10] I take issue with the use of the word ‘often’ here, but that is very much an argument for another day, and one that Frank McNally is not entirely unfamiliar with upon my part. Research, as ever, is ongoing.

[11] Was he by any chance a policeman, and did he have a bicycle? No, probably not.

[12] I have a few copies of that postcard—although it originally came as part of a set of 100 postcards some sellers, both in the actual and virtual marketplaces, break up these sets, and sell the postcards individually—you can buy the entire box online for something like €15, so even selling them for a mere £/$/€1 each, there’s plenty of profit to be made. I have it on good authority that, certainly at the time the inadvertent imposture came to hand, that Penguin UK had about 2,000 boxes still to hand. Anyway, I like to have a few to hand to send to people, particularly since I found out about the inadvertent imposture on the sitter’s part.

[13] The Getty in Getty Images is Italian-born Mark Getty, who holds an Irish passport, and is the grandson of John Paul Getty, the oil tycoon, once reckoned to be the richest private citizen in the world, and notorious for his penny-pinching ways. Still, he’s dead now, for all the good it did him, and sure there’s no pockets in shrouds.

[14] To synopsise the foregoing paragraph: Sir Edward Hulton set up the Hulton Press Library in 1945, which he sold to the BBC is 1957, who sold it to Brian Deutsch in 1988, who then sold it to Getty Images in 1996. Who, at the time of writing, appear to still own it.

[15] There’s actually two, but I didn’t notice that the first time I looked. And there’ll be more about that a little further on, anyway.

[16] There had been an article by Allen Barra in the Wall Street Journal on 17 March 2011 (aka Saint Patrick’s Day) entitled ‘Flann O'Brien—Tall Tales, Long Drink,’ which was accompanied by the now-familiar photograph, subtitled ‘The author/columnist at the Palace Bar in Dublin, 1942.’ So this date was looking possible, as well.

[17] He was born Percy Beazley, but later used a gaelicised version of his name, Piaras Béaslaí, so misattributed here, regardless of which language you’re talking about. Piaras Béaslaí wrote an Irish language science fiction novel called Astronár, which I’m looking for a copy of. If you have one, get in touch!

[18] Presumably on the basis that, if you can’t get a good pub fight in an Irish pub, then one on the stage of the Abbey Theatre is probably the next best thing.

[19] So, once again, with Robert O’Farocháin, Picture Post had failed to get an Irish writer’s name right, in either language...

[20] It’s amazing how many errors, mistakes, and out-of-date material you can get into one paragraph, all the same, isn’t it?