Interview with Kevin O’Neill here
Amy: Forgot to mention that the monster in the picture to the left of Terner two pages previous is from Night of the Demon, and, yes, it is indeed a demon. Night of the Demon, based on M.R. James’ short story Casting the Runes (it’s the entire short story), features yet another Crowleyalike and Haddo death hole/assumed identity, Dr Julian Karswell, a nasty wizard who sets demons on people who attempt to defame him. I probably don’t need to tell you that he meets a sticky end at the hands of one of his own summonings, but I just have, so there you are. It’s funny the way Terner has the picture framed like a family snapshot. Again, it suggests that he doesn’t take this occult business seriously enough. Then again, it probably serves the function of a gargoyle too.
Perhaps it was a gift from ‘Felton’. Maybe it’s signed.
Amy: The Flying Cylinder nightclub is the League’s version of the UFO Club (I don’t know the ref, but Flying Cylinders are one of the more famous UFO ‘types’ – the one in the video looks like a shadow to me), proving ground for bands like Pink Floyd and The Soft Machine and graphic designer’s Haphash and the Coloured Coat, and, later, a key inspiration for late eighties house/balearic clubs Spectrum and Shoom. It’s cool that the colour scheme inside seems to be modelled on the famous flyer above (you could say the action here is taking place *inside* the flyer).
Andrew: Norton tells us what the specific reference is, doesn’t he? “Ah, yes. From Wells.” – though it’s interesting that they’d name a club the Flying Cylinder so soon after the second Martian invasion (the one foiled by Bernard Quatermass).
One of the interesting things about this story, and one that I’ve still not quite worked out my position on, is the way it works within conflicting narratives of the sixties. The UFO Club, and much of the action around its League-verse counterpart, is part of a very particular narrative of the time – one promulgated mostly by Barry Miles, which says that Miles and his millionaire friends like John Dunbar and Peter Asher, who all hung around in the Indica Gallery and bookshop and the UFO Club and were vaguely friendly with a few pop stars, were what was really important in the 60s.
Of course these people, much like their LA equivalent Kim Fowley, never really did anything of note themselves, but were just acquaintances of those who did.
And while they might think that the important things about the time were the underground papers and the UFO Club and the be-ins and happenings, these events were attended by at most a few thousand people in a country of sixty million, most of whom had no clue they were even happening. For most people, the big event of 1967 wasn’t the 14-Hour Technicolor Dream, with its Pink Floyd performance and Yoko Ono art happening, but Steve and Elsie Tanner marrying in Coronation Street. The big hit singles of 1967 weren’t psychedelic freak-outs but Petula Clark and Englebert Humperdinck.
And at first glance, if you just look at the plot of this story, Moore appears to have bought into the Miles version of the 60s. But throughout the story, in the background figures (many, but not all, added by O’Neill), we see the 1960s that is remembered by most of the people who were there (and if you can remember the 1960s, you were there but had to work in a factory or as a postman or something because your daddy didn’t own Kent) – On The Buses, the Carry On films, Andy Capp, Steptoe And Son, holiday camps…
And this is one of the important things about LoEG, which I think gets missed when you look in isolation at each individual element and try and note where it came from. In large part LoEG is about refusing to make choices. Most narratives – scholarly or otherwise – about a time and place choose specific elements from that culture to try and fit everything that happened into a story, erasing the lives of the majority.
In contrast, LoEG deliberately fits in as much as it can, the experiences of everyone of every age and class (at least insofar as those were reflected in the media of the time). Not only that, its very format acts to undermine the idea that the Miles clique were the ‘important’ people of the time – all the little people, the background characters, have their own stories too. We might happen to be following the stories of a few self-absorbed people right now, but that doesn’t make them special – half the people they pass in the street have saved the universe at one time or another.
Amy Orlando, in his mercurial talisman, is shifting back and forth more rapidly between masculine and feminine roles as the change takes hold. A few pages before, when ze was propositioning Allan, he was all doe eyes and fluttering eyelashes, but now he’s every bit the sexual predator, winning his pissing contest with the, practically an infant in Orlando’s terms, foppish Adam Adamant easily – Adamant’s rapier paling into insignificance alongside, ahem, ‘Excalibur’.
And if Orlando is to be believed, he really did fuck Merlin.
I always enjoyed the idea that Merlin, the hirsute Sorceror Supreme of Arthur’s court, was, in his youth, a beautiful randy demon boy with hypno eyes. He looks so sexy and alien in this picture, and Orlando kind of horrified that she’s been seduced by, well, a child. It’s almost as though, as he got older, Merlin became progressively more earthed, more human. For those of us familiar with Mr Quimper in the Invisibles this makes a certain kind of poetic sense – the world accreting around the skin, getting heavier, fairy gold crushed to dross before the end. Merlin as a reverse Superman - born a god, died a man.
Amy: And now we must take a moment to reflect on matters sartorial.
It’s like the Justice League or something, isn’t it? And maybe that’s not too far off the mark. The Sixties’ obsession with all things classical aside, the Black Dossier saw the introduction of a character who may well, by this time, be considered a style icon, ruler of Horselburg and reputed Goddess of Love, Queen Venus. While Venus is never shown dressed in amazonian togs, it seems quite likely that being a Roman Goddess she would favour same. I find the idea that she, and a certain conspicuously unmentioned DC super-heroine, would’ve inspired a trend for strong, empowered women to dress in the colours of Paradise Island very satisfying. The great thing about the leagueverse is that these figures aren’t simply symbolic/mythic, but real, and that being the case they’d have enormous influence – the needs of the culture, its dreams, made flesh and getting shit done. I reckon Julia must be about 40 here and, whatever you think of Haddo, her involvement with magick has seen her transformed from a timid little girl to a hard-as-nails woman who absolutely owns her sexuality (and if her outfit’s anything to go by, in all likelihood a sword).
There seems to be a great deal of confusion wrt Hunchback, but Andrew, in our emails, has nailed it. Sure, we all know it’s the League’s version of Oz, but do you know why?
Andrew: Well, Hunchback could be either Oz *or* IT. Oz because one of Crowley’s later books was called Liber Oz. IT, on the other hand, had Kenneth Grant on its editorial board, so I’m actually leaning towards it being both of them…
In some ways, it’s easier to make a case for the magazine we see being the more commercially-minded IT, which was run by the Miles clique, since its cover is essentially an advert for the Rutles’ then-new animated film Yellow Submarine Sandwich.
On the other hand, Oz not only (in its original, Australian, incarnation) was involved in exposing organised crime, but no-one who knows about the infamous Schoolkids’ issue can avoid thinking about it when looking at this comic.
The schoolkids’ issue of Oz became a cause celebre of British liberal and counterculture people in 1971, when it was the subject of a lengthy trial under the Obscene Publications Act. The editors of Oz had decided to let a bunch of schoolboys put together an issue of their magazine, without any editorial interference, on the grounds that children were people too and deserved a voice and so on.
As anyone with the slightest clue would have guessed straight away, the result was stuff like this (TRIGGER WARNING for those who get easily upset by depictions of rape – though if you are one of those, then LoEG probably is not for you):
Yep, that’s the head of a beloved children’s anthropomorphic comic character, pasted crudely onto a redialogued Robert Crumb cartoon in such a way as to give our children’s character an enormous erection and have him rape a sleeping woman. The relevance to the current subject is left as an exercise for the reader.
(In fact, I only noticed after reading this section that the picture of Rupert with an erection there is semi-reproduced as a mural in the occult bookshop in this story, though here it’s a picture of the LoEG Rupert, the creation of Doctor Moreau, and likewise the photo of the topless woman used on the cover appears as a poster in the bedroom).
By calling it the “schoolkids’ issue”, the publishers were deemed to have been promoting the magazine to children (though in fact they were meaning it was created by children) and imprisoned, though later released on appeal. This was the first of a number of high-profile anti-free-speech cases, like the conviction of the editors of Gay News for blasphemous libel a few years later, that had a chilling effect on free speech in the UK and contributed to the more repressed pop culture of the 70s.
Amy: Let me introduce our friends, and Crowley’s, the Soldier and the Hunchback.
The answer and the question, form and not form, the world and the void. Crowley, and later Robert Anton Wilson who commented extensively on these figures, saw the Soldier and the Hunchback as a revolving unity, Yin and Yang style, the answer becoming the question becoming the answer, a fundamental dynamic of all creation. Obviously in the case of the magazine, like in all good journalism, it’s only the question that concerns us. The Haddo/Crowley connection, though, adds a touch of mysticism to a magazine that is, afterall, an artifact of the counterculture, which, in the Sixties, often leaned in this direction.
Andrew: And obviously (but sometimes one must point out the obvious) the League’s own symbol is the question mark.
Amy: I love Mina’s look of fear before entering the shop. Sure, occult shops are more scary in the world of the League and she could be walking into a trap, but maybe she’s nervous because she knows she and Julia are going to fuck. Moore doesn’t shout about this stuff, but it’s all there.
Now I might be going a bit silly here, but I think Julia’s pendant is in the shape of Torquemada’s head. We’ve already discussed his eponymous Nemesis here, but Torquemada’s got less of a look in. I should probably explain. Torquemada is a villain from the pages of 2000AD, a futuristic Hitler who has dedicated his life to wiping out all alien species. If Nemesis represents the Other, the Outside, Kaos, then Torquemada is the Known, Structure, Law. As I said last time, even though Torquemada and Nemesis are from the far future, due to all their hopping around in time it’s fairly likely they’re present in 1969 in the form of myth - and that, like many myths, they’re understood allegorically, and perhaps revered, by the mystics of the League’s reality. In short, Julia, but maybe not Haddo, who probably knows better, may well view both characters as complex symbol systems representing a fundamental, universal duality. Either that, or they’re viewed as spirits/daemons.
Another relevant thing about ol’ Torquey has to be his ability to possess the bodies of weaker minded men. Like Haddo, Tomas de Torquemada just will. not. die. I know, I know, it’s tempting to assume that he *is* Haddo, but I’m not so sure Haddo’s all that bad. He’s a nasty piece of work, yes, ruthless, maybe sociopathic, but I still think his Great Work might be all to the good (mainly because Crowley himself was an enigma, beyond Good and Evil mayhaps, and Moore’s obviously a big fan – he wouldn’t besmirch the memory of the beast by making Haddo uncomplicatedly evil).
And all this because Kevin O’Neill, who drew Nemesis incidentally, can’t get enough of the characters and fancied sneaking them in. You see what happens, Kev? (For those who’re new here, we don’t give a monkeys for authorial intent!)
Mina’s an interesting character because, no matter how much weirdness she’s seen or however many threesome’s she’s enjoyed in Horselberg, some part of her is still an uptight music teacher out of her depth. She somehow retains both of these conflicting positions, the otherworldly adventuress who’s ‘seen off Count Dracula, Moriarty and the Martian invasion of 1898′ and the straightlaced, profoundly unadventurous girl from Surrey. It’s weird. I can never work out which side of her’s the more pronounced, the more *real*. I’m not sure it’s worth the effort trying to figure it out. She contains multitudes and all that. Her cautiousness in this scene makes a lot of sense, though. Afterall, as I said before, she could be in danger, the pills could be poison, etc.
Julia really hits her sore spot when she refers to her as an ‘old lady’ and a ‘victorian prude’ – these are the things Mina’s determined not to be, can’t be, for the sake of her own sanity. Precisely because it comes naturally to her Mina’s conservativism is something she’s self consciously in conflict with all the time. She’s determined to be part of the world, not timeless and outside it. I think it’s unlikely, but it occurs to me that Julia, whose comments are so completely on the nose, might know who Mina is. One of those sexy villainesses who wants to fuck the goodie before they fuck the goodie, so to speak (I always liked these sexy tensions in James Bond movies – female baddies in the Sixties and Seventies were always carrying on like femme fatales…). I mean, those of you who’ve watched Warlock will know that Julia is pretty high up there in the cult’s hierarchy. She may well have led the group of cultists who murdered Basil. This woman isn’t a pushover – she’s been on this scene for a long time now, and, while she may defer to Haddo, she’s probably a formidable magus in her own right. I’m not coming down on either side here – I just like the delicious, dangerous uncertainty.
One thing that especially arouses suspicion is the way Julia cuts Mina.
One has to wonder why Moore included that in the script (if he did and it wasn’t just Kev getting kinky). There’s all sorts of sympathetic magic that relies on hair and blood and suchlike. Probably all sorts of sexy magicks…
And all sorts of curses.
The tarot cards on the table were designed by the nice old lady we met in 1947, Lady Frieda Fink-Nottle, and exist in our world as the Thoth deck (here they’re the Set deck – Set being the Egyptian God of Chaos, a principle to which Haddo obviously feels a profound attraction). The cards are laid out in a classic Celtic Cross spread. Here’s a breakdown of what each position means.
Alright, so we can’t see many of the cards, but I think that’s Wealth in the Distant Past position, which makes sense given that when Mina started out with the League she was given the opportunity to start again, she fell in love with Quartermain and together they bathed in the waters of life and became immortal (Wealth is particularly relevant here because it represents physicality/the material world at its most abundant). But after you’ve hit the ten of discs, the pinnacle of wealth, there’s nowhere to go, but….
Next in the position of External Influences, in direct contrast to Wealth, we have Ruin – the malignant energies surrounding the League at this time, in short Haddo’s curse, working to undo everything, all of Mina’s ‘riches’.
These energies are aided and abetted by the next card, the Tower, in the Hopes and Fears position. The obvious interpretation is that Mina fears for her little League and its sudden, unexpected implosion, but I think there’s a more interesting interpretation here – that she secretly desires it. She, like all of them at this point, is suffering from such profound ennui, such a deep existential nausea that I wouldn’t be surprised if she not only wants to see the League fall to pieces, but also herself. The Tower, like a vast standing stone, a rock of ages, could easily describe Mina and her immortality. She wants it over. She wants….
And Death is in the last position. The Shatterer of Worlds. The Final Outcome.
Some of you may know that old gag in the Invisibles where Boy draws a death card during a tarot reading and Robin tells her ‘sometimes Death means exactly that’, or thereabouts, well in this spread nothing is open to interpretation – it is catastrophically, unyieldingly, indeed laughably, bad. I’d love to see what the other cards were. LULZ.
I think one could argue, if one was really pushed, that the cards describe the sexual experience too. The physical body undergoing ‘ruin’, or erotic ‘dismantling’, leading to orgasm, the Tower, and the little death. You can do all sorts of creative readings with the cards. Love ‘em.
Love doing these annocomms too.
Amy: Allan’s ‘we heard that other girl screaming’ line is so ludicrous that the only way it can be properly explained away is by total and utter denial.
In the interview we just did with him, Kevin O’Neill describes drawing Allan as a young man as ‘difficult’. I see what he means. Allan really is an old fart. Mina’s all anal and whatnot, but at least she knows it, at least she’s trying to expand her boundaries, her mind. On the surface Mina’s uptight, but with the soul of an adventurer, whereas Allan’s the reverse. I doubt, for instance, he could countenance a full on ‘gay’ experience, not with a man who’s all man at any rate. Orlando still has to bat his eyelashes and giggle before Allan takes it. Aaah, it’s all so messy and complicated and that’s one of the reasons why I like this comic.
Amy: One of the more interesting features of the League’s world is that, post WWII, there have been a couple of (ostensibly) left wing dictatorships both in England and the USA, in the form of Ingsoc and, now, Max Foster’s presidency. It may be that Moore feels that this is a case of there but for the grace of God, etc.. Afterall, it wouldn’t have been that strange for some nations to have responded to the right wing nightmare of the 40s by veering completely the other way. There’s probably something in here about the nature of power and organised societies generally. We all know Moore’s an anarchist.
(You know it does make me laugh, the way O’Neill balances out all the futuristic cars, etc. with stuff like the protstrate tramp lying in a puddle of piss a couple of panels over.)
Moore does the obvious but frankly unexpected thing with this book, placing the responsibility for their little league’s demise squarely at the feet of Mina, Orlando and Allan. Haddo might be the catalyst, but it doesn’t take much unpacking of lines like the above to reach the conclusion that the group would’ve eventually folded anyway. This is another example of Moore’s assertion that time is the real villain of this book. Haddo’s just the colourful icing on the cake.
The cut to the Seven Stars group shot in the next panel only underlines the finality beneath the surface of her off-the-cuff rebuff. As I said earlier, we don’t know exactly how the Seven Stars fell apart, but we know it was bad. The context here unpacks Mina’s invisibility ‘power’ in a new way, lending an extra poignancy to the idea of an invisible woman, a literalisation of her deep alienation. She must feel so alone.
Apart from Universe who can probably do all manner of things and Zom, who, well, likewise (so long as it involves turning wimps into musclemen), I love the purity of the powers on display here. It’s such a lovely little touch having Marman’s feet barely touch the ground, as if air’s his real element, it reminds us of just how wonderful and alien flight really is. Invisibility, electricity…. This team is from a more dignified age when people were still impressed by people firing lightning from their fingertips. It’s lovely to return there, if just for one panel, to the time before the, err, post-modern superhero. It’s all so old fashioned it borders on alien, as though it’s all new again. I can’t wait to see how Moore plays with this stuff in 1964.
In Celtic mythology the Seven Stars, or the Pleiades, were associated with winter and mourning, which was always going to be an ill omen. Marsman and Satin are basically aliens, and in Satin’s case a criminal, and they’ll probably have difficulty adjusting to, say, if the Dossier’s anything to go by, Captain Universe’s uptight earthman conservativism. In fact that guy’ll probably find living next door to what at the time will be a beatnik club very difficult indeed. I’m expecting tension all round. And, seriously, what the fuck *is* Zom?!?
Moore must also be aware of the theosophical connection here, the seven stars of the Pleiades acting as lenses for the Galactic Logos and manifesting on Earth in the form of divine rays, each with a specific occult quality. Fuck knows who represents what at the moment, but it’s interesting that the rays, before they reach humanity, pass through the Master of the Ancient Wisdom, suggesting a guiding hand behind the Stars, similar, perhaps allied, to the Blazing World.
Don’t you just love the sexual subtext contained in that little spark of electricity between Thunderbolt and Electrogirl?
God, Universe looks so stiff!
Lol. I told you O’Neill’s acting was excellent, didn’t I? All you need to know. Right there.
I’m fascinated by the tensions present in characters like Captain Universe, actually, the way they somehow embody the future but are, often, defending value systems that are borderline Victorian and rooted in early 20thC capitalism. As I said in my 1910 annos, it’s arguable that these sorts of omega level characters may retreat further into old fashioned modes of thinking just to feel more human. The other option may, understandably, terrify them.
PAGES 41 & 42
Amy: I love Furbur. Moore manages her transition really smoothly from screen to panel, keeping her spiky mystery intact. I said Performance was a male space earlier, didn’t I? Well maybe I should have said that it has a male focus but a strong female lead. Furbur holds her own with Chas just as well as she does here with Carter, completely uncowed and unimpressed by his macho bullshit. In fact in the film she actually acts as an overseer, almost guiding the entire body swapping, umm, ritual. In both cases the gangsters, in contrast to Furbur and her knowing, confident sexuality/riddling, appear completely out of their depth. In Performance she is portrayed as, in equal parts, amused and frustrated by Chas’s lack of understanding, and, in 1969, with Carter’s, scathingly dismissive (‘piss off back to fucking little gangster world’). Part of me wants to view her as an up-her-own-arse scenester, too cool for school, with no time for squares, however I think it might be more than that. But I’ll get onto that stuff in just a minute.
Another thing that makes the transition well, if slightly less convincingly, is 81 Powis Square itself. I talked before about how the house is an island constructed by Furbur/Terner between two worlds. Terner literally ‘turning’, transforming, transgressing the final border of personhood at film’s end. The house’s TARDIS-like sense of depth and freefloating liminality is achieved in the film via its ‘doorways’ of hippy drapery and mirrors, endless ‘corridors’ formed between suspended racks of fancy dress, mazes of bedclothes within which to become tangled and lost, maybe even losing one’s self, and a perpetual, candlelit twilight, which, in its complete disregard for location and time, resists the idea that there ever was an ‘outside’. O’Neill doesn’t quite hit it here, but the props are in place, the lighting is spot on, and, yeah, there is the feeling that Carter is crossing over into an autonomous zone, a twilight zone – that this is a world unto itself where the rules are very, very different.
So all that needed saying, but what really needs saying is….
Laraine is fucking brilliant! Upon their first viewing of Performance I expect everyone finds themselves asking the same question: is that….. thing….. a boy or a girl? Seriously, I had to check IMDB just to be sure (she’s a girl). The really interesting thing about Laraine, though, is the way she personifies the film’s (and to some extent the comic’s) themes of gender permeability and existential indeterminacy. Laraine literalises Furbur’s evocation, discussed last time, of a being both male and female, not hermaphrodite but slippery, unconstrained by categorisation. Here Moore makes Laraine’s role/function explicit by positioning her as an actual emanation of the personalities residing within the house, a familiar conjured by their magic - a walking, talking homunculus expression of Terner’s desire to slough his ego by metamorphosing into the unknowable Other. Ze’s the shadow of Haddo’s mystical breeding programme, the magickal child (‘mum’, ‘dad’) of these two budding amateur magicians.
That Laraine is a familiar has creepy, unpredictable implications, however. For all hir exaggeratedly ridiculous surface level subserviance (all that stuff about making tea, all hir mumming and dadding), there’s the feeling that something mindfuckingly terrifying and powerful lurks behind hir mischeviously deferential smile. Hir shifting gender perhaps denoting a being struggling not to become, to earth itself, to take form, but rather to free itself from same (the queerest and, therefore, the most likely reading). Like Terner, a being imprisoned, bound. God help everyone if it ever gets free. Whatever, knowing what we now know about hir, it seems highly likely that Laraine has a massive hand in all the events of this book and, later, Roeg’s film.
But the question one has to return to is: how much does Furbur know about what awaits Terner? She certainly seems the more sorted of the two, the more clued in. When she chastises Laraine for making Carter’s ‘fucking little gangster mind hurt’, is she just a Mum on autopilot, slapping her child’s wrist for mucking around without a thought for the content of hir naughtiness, or is she fully aware of ‘the gangster what Terner’s been expecting’ ? Is she aggressively dismissive of Terner not just because she thinks he’s an uncool dick, a violent hypergendered anachronism, but because she knows this is just a dress rehearsal for the events of Terner’s future? Whatever the case, this is the first embryonic expression of the deep magic that sees Chas arrive at her doorstep. A ghost story that, if only Jack Carter had drunk the tea, if he had eaten the fairy food, may have shouldered its way into the real, into full text.
But not yet, Dad. Not yet.
PAGES 43 & 45
Amy: Mina may not be the only leaguer who’s taken out a little sartorial life insurance today. I mean, I might be mistaken, but is that one of the Eyes of Zoltec Orlando’s wearing around his neck?
If it is Kelly’s eye then, Kelly being an active superhero in 1969, I’d like to know how ze got it. Maybe it was just lying around the Seven Star’s headquarters. Regardless, the Eye will make hir invulnerable on top of hir immortality. We still don’t know how the immortality works, though, do we? Can these guys be killed, or will they regenerate like Wolverine? I reckon Alan’s saving the answer to that one for next time around. Whatever the case, I suspect they can feel pain. The Eye is probably a solution to that problem, Kelly always emerging unscathed from whatever it was this time, swords, nuclear explosions, with only his clothes in tatters.
Allan’s clearly been fishing around in the ‘Star’s washbin too.
Were the Seven Stars ever a brand? Did they come packing PR? I thought that was only superheroes in the nineties? Perhaps some of the cooler ones, Mina or Satin, thought it would be groovy to get some T-shirts made up? You can just see Universe scowling….
It’s hardly worth commenting on the cyclical perspective of immortals that Orlando nods to here when he describes the festival goers as reliving their childhoods and resembling the inhabitant of Troy.
Mina, in contrast, is running kicking and screaming away from this POV and its implications, and her desperate need to locate herself in time, to be hip and of the moment, sees her popping that pill and the plot plunging headlong towards its grim conclusion.
PAGES 46 & 47
Amy: One of the dangers of the psychedelic experience is the way we try to shoehorn it into simple classifications like ‘fun’. While this is okay for uppers and the rest, acid, or in this case tadukic acid, is a drug that aggressively resists such reductionism. The net effect of this tendency to lump all druggy effects together under the banner of recreation is a lot of people ending up at events like the one depicted in these pages suddenly finding themselves deeply alienated and frightened. Mina, a woman with serious problems and insecurities, whose decision to take the drug rests on same, was never going to have fun on TAD. She was never going to lose herself in that crowd, in that scene, but she was always going to stumble, lost, through it. O’Neill perfectly captures this menacing new perspective as it settles over her, her fellow festival-goers taking on alien, threatening gaits, the contents of each panel bending, rippling, as though stretched across the surface of one of those soap bubbles, fragile and ready to burst at any moment. That isn’t wide eyed wonder on her face, but terror. She should have remembered her Leary. The set and setting are both completely wrong here.
I suspect the magically inclined Moore probably does feel the Love Generation were frighteningly ignorant of the violently transformative energies they’d contacted and that’s why he bookends this instalment of Century with two very bad trips.
It’s interesting to sit here writing this with the comic sat open on the pages being discussed and a Stones in the Park mpg stuck to my desktop hipstermaticing away at the edge of vision. It really makes this final act pop, brings everything up into 3D. VR comics. The pre-concert Jagger/Terner interview intercut throughout only underscores how fantastically naive the scene is, all his talk about ‘everyone getting together to embrace each other’, etc. contrasting disturbingly with the distinctly un-Californian vibe - the crowd’s swearing, the vox pops with festivalgoers talking menacingly about how ‘…it should all be fine unless he (Jagger) kicks off’, the generally slightly grotty atmosphere – and the shadow of Altamont which looms over the whole thing, just a few months into the Stone’s future. On reflection all these events, Woodstock, Hyde Park, Altamont, seem to contain the shape, energy and narrative of the entire late 80s/early 90s rave scene, with its drug fuelled blissed out beginnings degenerating into ecstasy cut with detergent and gangsters policing the door of the Hacienda.
And speaking of criminal lowlifes, one group of revellers conspicuously absent from these pages are the British Hell’s Angels, who, in a dress rehearsal for Altamont, served as impromptu security for the Hyde Park event. It was in all likelihood their success at keeping the peace in Hyde Park that led the Stone’s management to employ the American Angels in a similar capacity later that year, with fatal consequences for the Stones, the hippy dream and at least one member of the crowd.
(That is one fantastic link. Follow it.)
Before we continue our discussion of all things psychedelic, I feel I have to nod to the joke embedded in the commemorative plaque above. Moore, oh he of the titanic photographic memory, contrasts these words with the some of the last spoken by Hyde before he marches off to dance a polka-del-muerte with the Men from Mars.
As Campion Bond in a rare poetic moment put it – ‘The British Empire has always had difficulty in distinguishing its heroes from its monsters.’
Alan makes good on his promise.
And we’re back in…. Those who’re…. uh, experienced out there will be familiar with the trick O’Neill and Moore employ throughout this sequence, where Mina is shown to alternate between deep immersion in her trip and brief moments of clarity, of reconnection, as a consequence of conversation with other people. This is an effect common to all trips, whether on acid, one of the many varieties of psychedelic mushrooms or, in this case, the fictional TAD. One minute you’re back in the room and lulled into a false sense of security by the sudden earthing, the world snapping briefly into sharp focus, the next you’re under again, the kindly couple you were talking to just a moment ago’s words reverberating like a cranked up tape loop across the interior of your neon drenched skull.
Not only does Moore capture the first tell tale sign of coming up – the echo – nicely here, but the transformations of the word self into ELF, know into WOW and on into ONO (‘Oh No’, or, of course ‘(Yoko) Ono’) are a clever example of the way everyday objects take on tricksy, potentially sinister, new meanings viewed through the prism of psychedelics.
PAGES 48 & 49
Amy: This image was one of the hot contenders for Bobsy and Beast’s classic classics list, and it’s not hard to see why. The League has always been a genuinely collaborative project, with each of its creators, Moore and O’Neill, equally invested, sharing the load. Here, though, Kevin’s obviously been given free reign and the results are fantastic. I’ve always argued that there’s a barely restrained monster lurking in Kevin’s ink brush, a monster generally trammeled through story and panel border, but occassionally, gloriously, allowed off the leash to wreak havoc. This book, with its looser, more fluid art style, has been building to this point – a technicolour inkblot explosion, Wilhemena Murray’s head, cracked wide like Mr. Humpty’s shell, its contents spilling out everywhere, and all presided over by the quicksilver ghost of a Victorian monster. This is the psychedelic sixties League-style, and it was totally groovy of Mr. Moore to wait until just before curtain fall till he had it make an appearance. What did you expect, a car chase? A rooftop battle? This is the lightshow one expects from the 60s, not CGI, the opener for a set piece only a couple of pages over that the period deserves. Believe me, there’s nothing more action packed than a tab of acid. It starts out so small, and suddenly…. it’s everywhere, a double page spread.
The festival takes on fouth dimensional perspective here, the whole thing seen from ‘above’, through God’s fish-eye lense, Mina’s world exploding forth from Hyde, at last too slippery for his outstretched arms to contain. Here, Hyde, representing as he does the League’s entire monstrous shambling history, becomes an iron key unlocking the door marked ‘Do not enter’ hidden away in the basement of Mina’s mind, a door now flung wide on its rusty hinges. This is the return of the repressed and never has it looked so vibrant, so colourful, a constellation of Martians, galleywags, superheroes, invisible men and pirate captains who may or may not pilot yellow submarines, revolving there, suspended, caught in the gravity-well of 1898.
How can one mind contain so much? How can anyone process all that? It’s time for some serious catharsis. Mina’s about to break.
Amy: This is a particularly effective sequence, I think. For starters the way the scenery disappears into blackness leaving nothing but Allan, Orlando and the pavement serves as a subtle reminder that, by this point, there’s only one path ahead of our characters, all other options having dropped away. They have to follow this thing through, now, to its gloomy conclusion in 1977, a tiny band of leaguers ploughing through the dark who will, of course, eventually slip from view too.
And yet again I’m struck by Moore and O’Neill’s lightness of touch. No showy visuals here, just the quiet miracle of two tiny men striding, Jesus-like, across the surface of the oil, Haddo’s black mirror. There’s so much impossibly weird shit Moore could show us and instead he opts for images like this. Yep, I love the man’s restraint.
Andrew “The word is law, the law is love”. And so by paraphrasing Crowley’s “Love is the law, love under will” and the Beatles’ The Word (as well as recalling the Gospel of John) we get to the heart of the problems with the 60s counter-culture.
While ‘free love’ is a noble ideal, once it becomes a dogma, it’s as repressive as any other, and from very early on there was an evangelistic element to hippiedom (“Now that I know what I feel must be right/I’m here to show everybody the light”) that created a conformity within the hippie movement at least as powerful as that it was reacting against.
“Why don’t we do it in the road?” is a fun question to ask, but for the (male) self-appointed leaders it quickly turned into “if you don’t do it in the road – and anywhere, any time, and with whom I demand it – you’re an uptight frigid bitch.”
Loving one’s neighbour is a wonderful idea, but a law forcing one to love one’s neighbour would quickly become far worse than the worst imaginable tyrannies. In fact “The law is love” bears a strong resemblance to those slogans of the previous decade – “war is peace”, “freedom is slavery” and “ignorance is strength”. Possibly Haddo had more to do with the Ingsoc regime than might at first be apparent?
Amy: Crowley on love.
There really is something quite fucked about watching the normally empowered Julia acting all subservient and pathetic around Haddo.
And speaking of women in the thrall of powerful men…..
I think along with Alf Garnett and Jerry Cornelius Penny Lane was probably one of the first refs I picked up on during my initial read through of 1969. The trouble was, while she looked the part, I knew the Kate Hudsonalike above couldn’t be her. Penny, who’s fifteen (I think) in Almost Famous, would be roughly eleven here, too young for a professional groupie. She certainly wouldn’t have boobs, that’s for sure.
But having done a bit of research, I’ve had a bit of a rethink.
It’s difficult to track down Ms. Lane’s exact origins. Some reports suggest she’s a fictionalised Cynthia Plaster Caster, infamous member of groupie group the GTOs, who took casts of her favourite rock star’s penises, others that Cameron Crowe (writer/director of Almost Famous) based her on a girl called Penny Trumble who he befriended back when he was on his first writing assignments with touring rock bands in the early 70s, but the vast majority seem to agree, and Crowe’s quotes seem to confirm this, that she’s an amalgamation of two women, Buebe Bell and Geraldine Edwards.
There’s very little information available on Edwards, but as member of the ‘Baby Groupies’, a group of teenagers who did the rounds of the rock circuit from about 72 onwards, she would have had her fair share of famous lovers. The ‘Baby Groupies’ acquired their name because many of them were below the age of consent – some of them as young as fourteen – and this being the case it’s possible Moore’s having a (rather off colour) joke with us here. Perhaps the girl in the panel above *is* Penny Lane afterall, a groupie since birth.
But that’s not the most interesting thing about this mystery girl. Oh no. What’s really interesting, and kind of alarming, is that it seems Geraldine Edwards is the great granddaughter of….. you guessed it.
Just as with the Donald Cammell connection it’s both very cool and very creepy, not to mention a bit magickal, that Crowley’s waiting in the wings of the negative space around the text to ambush the budding researcher. He really is the ghost in the margins here. Whatever path you take away from him, even as far as a Kate Hudson movie, you wind up running smack bang into him again, just like Karswell fleeng his fiery summoning in Night of the Demon.
So, anyway, what have we learned? That that’s Penny Lane freaking out at a rock concert staged by a band whose lead singer she may or may not have screwed, a lead singer who’s about to be possessed by her great grandfather?
(P.S. Oh how I hope this is all nonsense and Moore/O’Neill didn’t intend any similarity to Penny at all! So good!)
Andrew: One question that seems to have come up a few times with regard to this – I’ve seen it come up in a Twitter conversation I had, and in Chris Sims’ review on ComicsAlliance – is whether it is worth reading a comic with such referential depth as this one. Now, unsurprisingly for someone who just wrote an entire book tracing the references in a superhero comic (see sidebar) I think the answer is “Yes, obviously”, but it’s something that needs discussion, I think.
Firstly, I don’t think there’s that much more referential density in this story than in, say, League volume 2. In fact I’d argue that this is much less reliant on references to other texts – League vol 2 takes place entirely parallel to the story of War Of The Worlds, whereas this story takes place on its own terms, the one big centrepiece event being something that happened in real life:
What I think is different is that here the references are more specifically British. Whereas up to World War II, roughly, British and American cultures had been coupled together – based mostly on the written word, things could travel freely, and so Wilde and Twain, say, were equally well-known on both siddes of the Atlantic – after World War II, American culture essentially became cut off from that of the rest of the world. While we got Gilligan’s Island and The Beverly Hillbillies and Bewitched, America never got Hancock’s Half Hour or Steptoe And Son or Til Death Us Do Part (except, in the case of the latter two, as remakes – Steptoe became Sanford And Son and Til Death became All In The Family).
In fact a curious thing has happened where the US version of the 60s has actually overwritten the British version to an extent in the British collective psyche (I first noticed this at a Beach Boys gig, when songs that were hits in the US but not over here got massive cheers, while the songs that were hits over here but not in the US went over to near-silence), and one of the interesting things about Century: 1969 is how it’s resisting that, how defiantly British it is. But we talked for example a little in part one of this how the long-hair-and-beards version of hippiedom was definitely an American thing (and in large part a West Coast-specific thing) in the 60s, only spreading to the UK in the 70s.
So that might mean that it requires more work for an American audience than some of the earlier volumes do, while not seeming any harder to British people.
But there’s still the question of whether a piece that relies so much on others’ work – and that requires an interpreter of sorts for many people to understand is actually a worthwhile work.
Now, everywhere outside comics, this is a fairly obvious, settled question. Every work of art requires familiarity with conventions of the medium, and with something we might as well think of as a canon. A filmmaker can insert a homage to the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin, and know that the audience will recognise what she’s doing – if not necessarily through familiarity with the original, then with all the other homages to it in everything from Revenge of the Sith to The Magic Christian to Naked Gun 33 1/3 to Brazil.
And in literature, most of the great Modernist works work in much the same way as LoEG – whether it be The Waste Land, Ulysses or Pound’s Cantos, these works depend in large part for their effect on the reader’s recognition of references to everything from Chaucer to Thomist theology.
On what some might call a lower level, Carl Stalling’s wonderful music for the Looney Tunes cartoons (Spotify link) is made up in large part of collages of other people’s music. Half the humour in the cartoons comes from being able to recognise Melancholy Baby or the Blue Danube (though this has backfired somewhat – Dave Sim talks about how all those ‘your favourite classical tunes’ albums should have the pieces labelled things like ‘mother duck swimming ahead of three smaller ducks’ so people will know which ones they are).
Quite simply, it’s impossible for a work of art to exist outside a cultural context. And those comics fans who worry about the density of references in League seem to have no problem with, say, the way in which any random Geoff Johns comic is literally incomprehensible unless you know the last thirty years of DC Comics continuity. Moore and O’Neill are using Turner and Lovejoy and Carter in much the same way (though with infinitely better artistry) as Johns will use Mongul and Mister Terrific.
But finally, I’d question the idea that this really requires that much in the way of background knowledge anyway. Certainly the story is improved if you know of Turner’s later fate, but all you really need to know is ‘satanic rock star a bit like Mick Jagger’. And yes, the references to Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen are fascinating hints at Haddo’s big plan, but all you really need to know is ‘spooky black magic bloke doing spooky plans’.
Is Century: 1969 worth reading? That is, of course, up to the individual reader to decide. But there’s a good storyline to it, it deals with interesting and important themes, and it’s written, drawn and designed by some of the most important artists working in the medium today. Fundamentally, the references only add to the story if you know about them, they don’t detract from it if you don’t. This isn’t some opaque Finnegans Wake-esque puzzle. It’s an adventure story, and a good one.
Though it has its flaws, but that’s for part four…
PAGES 52 & 53
Amy: The only real life analogue I, and it seems Nevins and co, can find for Prospero’s talisman is John Dee’s Hieroglyphic Monad. Whilst I can’t pretend to understand the shape in any great detail, I know enough about sacred geometry and alchemy (my Dad’s a sacred geometer) to at least guess at one of its functions – mapping creation. It’s a simple geometric progression that can be achieved with nothing but two sticks at either end of a rope. To start with a stick is placed in the sand, with the other dragged around it in a circle. This simple action creates the sign of the Sun, the mother, the divine matrix of all things. From there another circle can be drawn bisecting the first, creating the Moon, the horns at the top, the first reflection of the divine. From the divided unity of the two circles can be yielded the structure of the cross, the four earthly elements/directions, representing creation, or the universe, which is then placed below the circles that generated it. And finally the shape resolves itself in the sign of Aries, the ram, signifying the age of Christ, the divine finally descended into matter.
That’s my tuppenthworth anyway. Probably bollocks.
I also like the way the shape hangs from the moon as a ‘saddle wire, a dee’.
Thomas Marvelo Riddle.
This is one of those times where you have to forgive Alan for not having read the source material. Speaking of weird abberations wrt age, Tom should probably be about 43 here, so I guess I’ll have to put his youthful good looks down to magical enchantments and whatnot – something fairly easy, even tempting, to do – evil always feeling foul but looking fair, as the Sam Gamgee put it. It’s easy to explain away the teaching at Hogwarts thing too. Certainly this is what the vain and megalomaniacal Mr. Riddle would like to be doing, indeed probably feels he should already be doing, if only the entire wizarding community weren’t standing in his way. In fact it’s likely that these concerns are paramount in Tom’s mind at this time, nearing as he is the end of his fifteen year sabbatical, between the years 1945 and ’70, where he pursued the secrets of the dark arts all around the globe and came into the full extent of his magical powers. This is a troubling lacuna for Harry Potter scholars, a period when, like so many mystics and magicians from Gautama Buddha to Batman, Tom Riddle vanished from the map. It’s fun to attempt to fill in the blanks, though. There are a raft of fictitious evil remarkable men Riddle could’ve met with during his lost years. You can picture him up there on the plateau in the biting cold with the Sensei training in the black kalas, binding creatures from the pit in the catacombs of Castle Mordo, or mastering the bloodsoaked secrets of the puzzle box, the abandoned japanese monastery where he found it now a doorway to Hell.
Tom Riddle is probably the most interesting feature of the Harry Potter books because he’s the most flawed, his quest to conquer death, a quest he shares with another, even more powerful wizard with whom we’re already acquaintied, fueled by that most recognisably human set of motivations: fear of finitude, pain and loss. Riddle, too, is also the most well travelled magician in the books, and, apart from maybe Harry Potter and Ginny Weasely, perhaps even more so than them actually, in all likelihood the one most familar with the muggle population, their customs, society, hopes and fears, who comprise the vast majority of the planet’s human inhabitants. So he’s educated, worldly and evil. No wonder he enjoys a good rock concert. Quite frankly, if he wouldn’t Cruciatus Curse me on sight, and he wasn’t TEH PERVERT, of all Harry Potter’s cast of characters Tom Riddle’s definitely the wizard I could see myself enjoying a drink and spliff with. I like the implicit idea here that Riddle’s basically mucking about in his ‘gap year’.
Both Potter and League timelines agree on roughly when the world’s wizarding community began to significantly diverge from the lay, sometime around the 1600 when Queen Glory died and our real world witch hunts were taking place. Around this time the wizards began to erect their own hidden infrastructure within the strange angles of our own, wizard hospitals, banks, shopping districts, meeting houses and even non-local goverment in the form of the Ministry of Magic. Hogwarts was built long before all this, but one should probably view it as the beginning of the trend. By the time we arrive in 1969 the schism is so vast most people are unaware that real wizards even exist. This is what in my opinion makes people like Haddo so much cooler than Dumbledore and the rest, their bravery, their lack of concern for wizardly convention. It’s likely that had he even sought a place at Hogwart’s Haddo, being muggle born, would’ve been turned down on the spot, but you get the impression Oliver’s a wizard supremely unconcerned and unimpressed with the world of, ahem, *straight* wizardry. Haddo and Riddle really represent a counterculture which may well have rocked the wizard world as much in the Sixties as anything in our own, indeed leading to its first genuine revolution beginning in 1970 and Riddle’s reemergence on the wizarding scene as Lord Voldemort.
I love the 70s as wizarding’s black, nihilistic punk rock decade. I bet there were progressive wizards, people like Dumbledore, who caught onto the revival of mysticism and magic in the muggle culture in the Sixties and thought that perhaps the two communities might be united again, who felt genuinely crushed when all their hopes and dreams were reduced to fairy dust by the infighting, the waves of disspearances and anti-muggle feeling that attended Voldemort’s rise to power over the course of those ten years. Certainly the appearance of the Death Eaters mirrors the sudden burst of fascist feeling and the emergence of groups like the NF in our own.
But we now know all of this was Haddo’s doing. More on that next time.
We’ll leave you here to mull over these depressing thoughts as the band take the stage and the feedback whine washes away the last cheers and murmurings from the suddenly hushed crowd, and Mina, crouched over the endless black toilet bowl of forever, begins to moan, la nausee rising up her gut to her chest:
‘Oh, GOD. OH GOD. I’M SO OLD….’
Things fall apart.