Safe European Homes (Hellblazer 300)
Nevs Coleman — 02-Mar-13
– Mos Def, “Rock n Roll”
It’s the night I’m going to read the final issue of Hellblazer. I’m wearing a long coat, going to an Irish Boozer and drinking Guinness with an ex-girlfriend. I throw another ex’s heart into the Thames. It seems like a good idea to stick on as many Pogues songs on the jukebox as possible whilst watching the locals get irate about the football and flicking through a magazine about the spirit of 1977.
Johnny Thunders is on the cover. I try to read the mag, but every feature is either another piece on one more “seminal live gig that you HAD to be there for” (just in time for said gig to be released on special blue vinyl). Or one more 60-year old bass player hyping up another comeback tour of that band who played a couple of gigs with Joe Strummer back in 1979, and hey, these kids today, what do they know about REAL PUNK, anyway?
A few weeks ago, I went to see one of that kind of band. Missing a few original members. Smug, paunchy, no bite left on the nostalgia trail, nothing to fight for but an attempt to rekindle past glories. The audience was a Saxondale day out. The band kept playing their hit single and guilt-tripping us into cheering for the song as “It’s what (insert dead lead singer’s name here) would have wanted.”
I left midway through, there was nothing to see here but dinosaurs that didn’t know they were dead. Is there anything less punk than cheap nostalgia and the sentimentality of looking for approval and recognition simply for being alive enough to drag yourselves up to the stage?
Which brings us to Hellblazer 300.
John’s dead, then. Probably. In such a way that he can be brought back, if need be. 300 is a reasonable wander through the loose ends of John’s friends and loves. Thankfully, this wasn’t the schmaltzfest I was expecting. (John lives, they outwit the Devils and retire somewhere nice.in the country. Awww.) Dreary speculator types can be sent to Hellblazer 298, where he actually died, and in a better world, this would lead to a comic featuring Epiphany (John’s wife, well, widow now). This isn’t a better world, and we’re getting a New 52-friendly title called Constantine. No idea what it’s going to be like, but all of NuJohn’s appearances not written by Pete Milligan have been … Dick Van Constantine, for my money.
You can probably tell from both my tone and brevity that I was unbothered by the end of Hellblazer. Certainly a lot less than I was expecting, given that Hellblazer was the comic that shaped my attitude when I was a kid and I’ve played “Mucus Membrane song” at a few secret gigs I’ve done. Also, Guinness. I probably would have drunk a lot less Guinness if I hadn’t wanted to be John so much.
It’s fair to say, I think, that the end of Hellblazer is essentially the end of the real Vertigo. The one that was a consolidation of the stranger ends of the DC Universe in part unified to stop people asking when Batman and Shade, The Changing Man were going to have a team-up. The attempt to suggest to people that mainstream comics could be interesting literature for adults given the correct marketing and trade dress. Vertigo, before it attempted to become a Neil Gaiman factory, gave us Kill Your Boyfriend, the Millar issues of Swamp Thing, Adventures Of The Rifle Brigade, Philip Bond’s Angel And The Ape, The Filth, Preacher andTransmetropolitan (sort of).
Which was fine and good. For the time. Now when I look at Vertigo, there’s nothing there that’s going to kick anybody’s frontal lobes open the way The Invisibles did. Just Fables (or “What if Sandman didn’t have that pesky ‘ending’ thing?” as I like to call it) and new ways to try to sell you the Sandman comics over and over. (This month: The Absolute Annotated Editions with Digital codes that allow you to download Stephen Fry reading the whole 75 issues to you. And a napkin personally snotted on by Neil Gaiman.)
“Good Times pass, But so do the Bad.’
But what’s more important to me than Hellblazer 300, is where I’m reading it.
I’m in an Irish pub on one side of the Thames. The pints are £3.40 a Guinness. Around me, there’s a jukebox with not too many lights, hardboard over the window where it’s been smashed in last week, a pool table, a fuck-off great telly playing Sky Sports. It’s pretty busy. There’s Irishmen here, Jamicans, Welsh, Pakistanis. They’re alright in there. after a few jokes about my reading comics down the pub, we play some pool, listen to a bit of Dexy’s, bit of Judge Dread. Nice and Smooth.
Later, wander over to the other side of the Bridge to meet some mates. Place is rammed with doughy, rosy-cheeked white people in tweed and corduroy looking generally pleased with themselves. Over the P.A, one of the bar staff’s iPads plays a soft, lilting voice of a man singing that his girlfriend doesn’t love him anymore.
The guitarist in my band is trying to get served. He looks Indian. It takes a while, although he’s been going there for years. Raj, who runs the off-license across the road, is trying to sell raffle tickets to benefit the local youth centre that the local kids don’t go to, so they laugh and mock him with that cod Welsh/Indian accent that comfortable white people have been doing since World War II. I have my usual wild eyes, unkempt hair, I treat shaving as an option and my Iggy Pop hoodie is held together with pins, so it takes me a while to get a drink as well.
There’s a scene that happens frequently in Hellblazer. It’s that moment where, just for now, The Big Bad is dealt with. Shattered and fragile, John, Chaz and (Girlfriend Of The Month) go to a pub in London and reflect that at least there’ll always be a boozer. They look wistfully, GOTM says something like “Are you going soft on us, John, you old rogue, yers?” Orangey hues, Cut to shot of outside of pub. Sun coming up. End. Be back next issue.
In my head, just around the corner from that pub, five bald, stout men dressed up for St George’s Day’s, pissed up and Paki-Bashing Ahmed. Shouting “GET OUT OF OUR FUCKING COUNTRY!” There’ll be a report on the telly. People will tut and tweet about the outrage. Two weeks later, a BBC presenter will be involved with the Jimmy Saville scandal, or somebody will find traces of Guinea Pig in a cheeseburger, and everyone will just forget about Ahmed. Not out of malice, just because that’s how we are.
Maybe we’ve had our time. Sid’s dead. Joe. Johnny. Malcolm.
Maybe it’s time for a new voice. One not made of grumpy middle-class white men bringing their attempts to pretend they’re 17 years old full of speed. Maybe the nice twee people with degrees have had their chance and made it clear they’re only interested in amusing each other.
I keep looking at my Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook feeds. At Newsarama, Bleeding Cool, Forbidden Planet International. All the usual channels and I see nice projects, and probably worth checking out, but maybe we’ve had the voice of comics for too long. Maybe we’ve absolutely drained the well of the disgruntled middle-class white man in London now. I keep looking at these pop up shops, exhibitions in Soho and fancy paper projects and wondering “Who is this stuff FOR, besides affluent clique scenesters?” If you’re a non-white kid or a woman outside of the scene who doesn’t like networking, then how do you get onto that ladder of exposure so that you can get paid to create comics?
Well, as I like to say, pointing out the problem is only half the equation. The other half is trying to create a solution. I don’t know much about what goes on outside the mainstream of comics, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, so here’s my idea:
I don’t have much in the way of exposure, just these articles and my weekly ranting over on BAMF!, but what I’d like to do is use that space is to promote people who are turning out new comics work who you don’t normally see getting a push. I’m not going to recommend stuff I think is rubbish, because if a joke is crap, it doesn’t matter if Chris Rock, Christina Aguliera, Chris Brown or Chris Martin tells it. I am willing to get together with a couple of mates who have their ears closer to the ground than me and discuss things, and if we like it, I’ll RT, push and generally do what it takes to get you noticed. Deal?
By the way, I’m perfectly willing to accept that someone is already doing this. In fact, I’m hoping they are, but given the glut of comics that I’m totally not seeing out there by anyone besides middle class white people, maybe as many of us trying to shake things up isn’t the worst thing in the world.
(If anyone’s really upset, just remember that John can’t be actually dead. He still has to be alive for what I consider the real ending of Hellblazer, which is Hellblazer: Bad Blood by Jamie Delano, Warren Pleece and Philip Bond.)
Here’s to you, Mate. Time to move on.
(Nevs Coleman has too many Ex-Girlfriends and terrible sins in his past. Maybe we need better role models. Apologies to those expecting a straight review of Hellblazer 300. I thought this was more important. )