An Open Letter to Non-English People Writing Hellblazer.
(Special thanks to hilarious comedian/lovely bar man at The Half Moon, Gareth Royal and wondrous photographer Nathalie Fonnesu who makes me look a thousand times cooler than I actually am. I’m writing this whilst wearing fluffy slippers.)
Ah well, it was fun while it lasted, I suppose.
I attended a Hellblazer panel a while back, hosted by the always lovely Alex Fitch. During that panel it was announced that there would be a DC Universe version of everyone’s favourite degenerate Scouser, John Constantine. Silence followed the news. ‘Would…anyone be interested in reading that?’ they asked. We all looked around at each other. Nobody put their hand up. Pete Milligan then asked ‘Who’s going to keep reading my Hellblazer.’ We all cheered. I suspect that reaction might have prompted giving the rather good Justice League Dark to Pete. Especially after the collective groan that went up after we first met DCU John at the end of Brightest Day.
So, I quite enjoyed Justice League Dark (Or ‘Shade The Changing Man And His Mates’ as it should have been called.) I’m not as up to date on the news as I ought to be, so I wasn’t aware that Pete was only writing 8 issues and that he’d be followed by Indie Darling, Jeff LeMire. And, um. I’ll be honest, it’s a taste thing on the whole. I have nothing against Jeff’s comics, it’s just that I have nothing for them. I thought Sweet Tooth was, well, boring. Normally, I’d just let it drop and stop reading there, but there’s something to be said here, and it’s this:
DEAR AMERICANS/CANADIANS! SCOUSERS AND COCKNEYS ARE NOT, REPEAT NOT THE SAME THING!
I think I get this. To you lot, our country seems to be some kind of class warfare combination of A Merchant Ivory production, Austin Powers, Harry Potter and we all grow up to be Helena Bonham-Carter, Nigella Lawson, Michael Caine or Hugh Grant. We are obsessed with tea. Considering the old saying ‘In America, a 100 years is a long time, In Britain, a 100 miles is a long distance.’ then I could see why you might think that a country that’s smaller than some of your states would have something of a uniform culture. The truth is, I’ve lived in the Wandsworth that Richard Curtis laughably portrays in Love, Actually. Man…if you started knocking on doors in the SW18 singing Christmas Carols,…well something would happen. It wouldn’t involve Martine Mccutcheon
The key thing to understanding England is, despite it’s size, it’s made up of a countless number of ethnic and economic tribes. We may pass ourselves off as a multicultural, raceless society, but the levels of unspoken segregation up and down the land are incredibly high. Even a reasonably well off white male like myself is aware of the number of doors closed to me because of the simple fact that I’m essentially a chav who went to the library instead of going to school. That and I sound like Sid Vicious explaining Noam Chomsky via the vernacular and delivery of Neal Cassady. So, it isn’t as simple as England switches between a Guy Ritchie film, a Tim Burton flick nor the Narnia like England of Bridget Jones.
Heck ,we’re so fractured as a culture that even in a place as small as London, there’s a massive divide between North and South London (I don’t just mean The Thames, although that is a big part of it.) Sarf Londoners have a misconception that North Londoners live in an evergreen paradise filled with High Art, drinking tofu flavored milkshakes and attending Haiku rituals whilst wearing tweed, whilst Those in the North feel The Sarf resembles a combination of a parking lot and a dump, written by Dickens where stout, bald mean in wifebeater shirts beat dogs while their wives wash clothing by beating it against a rock. Obviously, both preconceptions are sweeping generalisations, as anyone who’s tried walking through Green Lanes in North London at 3am or been to Richmond in South can tell you.
So as you can gather, if the difference between bits of London are so chasmic, then the 170 plus miles between London and Liverpool? Yeah, a different world united only by language and consumerism. We might drink the same Starbucks, but our inflections, intonations, speech patterns are pretty dissimilair. Writing a Liverpudlian with Cockney dialect is a bit like giving Batman a Cajun accent
Or, I don’t know? HAVING JOHN BE PLAYED BY KEANU REEVES!
Here’s the thing, most British superheroes are crap. We just aren’t designed for it as a culture. The success of American comics over here was, and is partly down to the fact that they seemed like artifacts from a strange land. As much as we try to emulate that formula, it just comes across like, well, this….
I’m aware the above was a homage to Fawlty Towers, but there hasn’t been much better. Even Captain Britain was only really interesting when his ensemble cast made him fade into the background. Warren Ellis tried on his otherwise astounding run on Excalibur, which bring a tear of nostalgia to the eye. Obviously there are exceptions, but they tend to not be part of the unfolding monthly tapestry of the DC Universe which John has become a part of. Now, I’m not demanding John grow a moustache or start saying ‘Now Then, Now Then!’ all the time. I appreciate that John is a person and no the Comic Avatar of Liverpool, but it strikes me that his saying things like ‘Squire’ and suchlike are a result of general ignorance of regional dialects rather than a creative decision to make John really like talking in a similar fashion to Danny Dyer.
However, in an attempt to turn this around I will suggest that there was one rather famous Liverpudlian who might be worth listening to get a better idea of the speech patterns, and also Craig Charles, Alexi Sayle (making my point much better than I have here.)and a host of others (And sadly, Cilla Black. Sorry about that.)
And if you still don’t understand why this is awkward for us Brits, I want you to imagine this:
The Son of a Pharmacist who would come to define the face of The United States Of America.
A Film Star who came to promience after his memorable role in John Ford’s Stagecoach with his trademark drawl and slow walk that took him to over 100 starring roles. This summer, The Duke’s life is portrayed in a blockbuster biopic, directed by Richard Curtis starring.
This Summer…Benny Hill IS ……..DUKE!