The Great Unwashed by Gary and Warren Pleece, Escape Books, 2012

The Great Unwashed – basically the lost forgotten Koh-i-Noor of the 90s English comics scene, bit mucky with inky beer and fag-ash, looking great for a rub up – collects a bunch of UK 80s/90s strips from the Pleece Bros’ here again-gone again comic cum ‘zine Velocity, Atomeka Press’ seminal anthoogy A1 and…

… Look, I don’t know, I was like ten years old and a hundred and thirty seven miles away, and we’re talking about a handful of pamphlets produced across maybe eight years by a pair of blokes who I bet can’t remember the exact or even vague publication details themselves. All you need to know is it’s a collection of old strips from the crest of the not just for kids days, handsomely repackaged by the kindly Mr. Paul Gravett’s reawakened Escape Books imprint and available in finer comic shops or an internet near you now or soon.

A few, okay a lot, of key and very famous over there* creators excluded, English comics are a lot less… just ‘less’ than the ones produced by our Tory-free and soon to be entirely autonomous Northern British cousins. If English comics ever had a significant ‘scene’ or  true golden-shower moment then it happened when The Great Unwashed and a few other incredible books were being made by a bunch of ridiculously talented south coasters and northbrooksiders, living within a few miles of each other and a few metres of the Channel. That last sentence should have both the terms ‘zeitgeist‘ and ‘genius loci‘ in it, but they wouldn’t fit.
(*’Over there’ isn’t Scotland, as that ungainly paragraph might lead you to believe, no, in this instance by ‘over there’ I mean ‘over there’, as in y’know ‘the other place’.)

If English comics are going through a mini-Renaissance at the moment, and y’know it’s a thought you could have a bit of fun with, in the right place with the right people: talking about at one end Glyn Dillon‘s hip priest  bit and the aptly named Phoenix at the other (and seriously if there’s an English-language comics industry worth talking about in twenty years time it’ll be because of the work The Phoenix is doing right now), then The Great Unwashed coming along at this moment is  akin to the rediscovery of the Greek and Latin texts of classical antiquity. It’s that good. It’s a lot better than that.

You’ll know Warren’s art already (and will be stunned at how huge an influence he must have been on your Phillipses and Adlards) but you’re probably less familiar with kid brother Gary, sweet and tender hedonist, sensitively absurd observer of the messy splurt and gurgle of human life as it smears itself over space and history. He’s someone worth talking to, so we did.

Well we didn’t, I just emailed him really. In an effort to avoid the crushing tedium of most interviews with comics people and in a nod to the ‘comics are the new rock and roll’ thing, very current with the period The Great Unwashed strips were created in, and which you just know they all really had their fingers crossed about, I didn’t bother with a proper interview at all but just nicked a list of questions from an old issue of the much missed weekly musicological journal Smash Hits. H from Steps, if you’re wondering.

Huge thanks to Gary for not telling me to fuck off and answering the questions with as much vim, humour and honesty as he did.

Smash Hits: 1. How well mannered are you?

Gary Pleece: I’m OK, actually. I open doors for elderly folk, I’m quite respectful all in, I think it’s important to be kind. One thing I hate more than anything – no, two things – is when I open a door for someone or let someone pass in a car and it goes unrecognised. I fume and utter obscenities hopefully audible enough to be heard if on foot, or if it’s in a car, the most frantic gesturing I can manage in the short time I have to make an impact in the eye of the offender. And yes, I very much respect my elders, unless they vote Conservative, of course.

2. Do you ever check your hair when passing a shop window?

Er, yes. But these days it’s in the futile attempt to convince myself my thinning pate has somehow just sprouted a miraculous new wheat coloured mane.

3. Are you misunderstood?

Yes, most definitely. I have a very clear view on things and who I am and why I’m here, but I find that hard to translate to people, so I try through comics and it only leads people to look at me oddly and go ‘you’re messed up’ when they’ve read my stuff.

But to me, I am always peeling away the layers of everyday life to reveal the open sores of people’s lives, either in my head or through written word and that’s the truth, right there, the best we can do. How can anyone be truly happy? It’s all a show. People shy away from the truth and aren’t interested in the Unwashed and yet theirs is the most interesting story to tell. We’re fed shit sandwiches by the government and press everyday and told to ‘work hard’ or be punished. Rise up! #Unwashedunite!

The fool, however, is a happy man.

4. When was the last time you fell over?

Yesterday. I’m having osteopathy presently and my pelvis is twisted so I keep tipping over, as if on a pirate ship in an episode of Mr Benn.


5. Do you ever cheat at Monopoly?

No. I only squat.


6. Who do you think are the most over-rated band around?

The Wurzels.

7. What was your biggest hair disaster?

Early 80s perm. I used to love Brookside and Damon, the scally in it and so I went for a perm at the back, casual football hooligan like his, a look so prevalent on the terraces at the time. I had a fascination with a lot of scouse culture back then, still do in some weird way, the music, fashion and football. But can’t stick the accent. Dahling.


8. Cows moo, sheep baa, pigs oink, what do goldfish do?

Oscillate Wildly.


9. When was the last time someone tried to punch you?

When I was 15. I thought I was ‘hard’ and started taking the piss out of this bloke on his bike. He pulled over and landed a barrage of punches on me. I found out next day he was the local toff school’s boxing champ. That was the last fight I was in.


10. Where would you like to live when you’re older?

In one of the Regency flats on Brighton seafront. Or Barcelona.

11. The answer is ‘no way, no way’…what’s the question?

I danced with angels and dropped drugs with Bobby Gillespe. A few times. Or is that the other way round?

12. Are you terrified at the thought of going down the dumper?

I presume this means dying or things getting bad? The last 3 years have been pretty tough, so anything from hereon feels like perma fellatio.


13. Are you ever mistaken for another famous person?

I have been mistaken for Hywel Bennet the actor, Howard Clark the golfer and Tony Hancock the manic depressive comedian. Now that’s a night out with a bunch of lookers.


14. Do you have a special pair of ‘pulling’ pants?

I have tried to convince myself I have, but no.


15. What last made you really angry?

Any absolute and utter shite that comes out of either Cameron or Osborne‘s silver spooned gobs. I know it’s obvious, but…

I also really hate this ‘cul/nt of ‘Boris‘ too; a degenerate buffoon, a right wing hag who ‘simple’ folk ‘love’ because he’s not a fucking lying suit like Clegg – is that all you have to do to be loved?? Need I go on? It’s a fine line though between the lack of intelligence in the voter and the vileness of the politician as to who makes me more angry…


16. Are you a lover or a fighter?

I hate fighting, but I’m wary of love…


17. When was the last time you caught the bus?

The other day when it was raining. I felt like a failure. Thatcher said ‘only losers take the bus’ [immortalised in song so excellently by Fatima Mansions] and it made me feel…Unwashed. So, I was with with my people, but I have this strange detachment from the people I champion. And buses smell of defeat. And dogs.


18. Do you believe in life after death?

No. But sometimes I’m not sure. It’s quite a romantic notion, but I’m unconvinced by romance. Seeing the Dennis Potter interview with Melvyn Bragg was one of the most affecting pieces of television I’d ever seen. When he talks about the blossom, being the blossomest blossom he’d ever seen, I knew it was someone describing something he’d never see again. For sure. At that point it was clear he was walking into death and there was no turning back. It was a turning point in my thoughts about it all, actually.

19. What’s your favourite drink?

Guinness, as long as it is accompanied by 6 oysters.

20. Have you ever had a dream about someone famous?

Yes, Kevin Bacon. My wife was having an affair with him and everytime I see him, I can’t get his turned up nose, irritating non descript weedy face out of my mind for several days later. It’s irrational and yet it has an ongoing affect on me. The phrase ‘bacon sandwich’ keeps popping perversely into my mind at the same time. Unsettling.


Cheers Gary. Go and buy The Great Unwashed, it’s brilliant.

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