Can U Dig It?

Some more ancient thoughts from the drafts folder. Quite the essay this one.

After going to Comic Con here in San Diego a couple of weekends ago (This was written back in 2008 – ed.) (about which I have some more thoughts later), and after unpacking the boxes of books that were shipped over from London in the big move, I’ve been thinking about comics and all that entails.

I’m rather excited about the forthcoming film version of Watchmen. Oh, I know, I hear what you’re saying. “Matt, you should know better than to get excited about an Alan Moore comic movie adaptation. Don’t you remember From Hell? Or The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Or V For Vendetta?”. But maybe what I’ve seen so far gives me a modicum of hope. Would you take that away from me?

I love the original collection. I wasn’t hip enough to buy the comics when they first came out in 1986 (or whenever), but I became aware of the story and the artist through the songs (songs? Mashed-up dated beatbox grebo rock studenty grooves is more accurate) of Pop Will Eat Itself. In a couple of their best and most beloved numbers, they chant series of things that they dig, concluding with the observation that, “Alan Moore knows the score” in Can U Dig It?, and going so far as to say, “Watchmen! We love you all!” in Def Con One.

(By the way, the sample “Can you dig it?” was spoken in the movie The Warriors by actor Roger Hill, who died at the end of February. RIP. -ed.)

I have a book I found in a charity shop called Beyond The Gates Of Dream by a certain Lin Carter. It is a pulp book in the truest sense, being printed on the cheapest paper and featuring a gaudy cover bearing no relation to the content. It was an interesting read, with a big foreword describing the joys of turning over the pulps at the bookstore every Saturday, before going to the movies to watch the next Flash Gordon serial episode, then coming home to listen to The Shadow or The Phantom.

My earliest exposure to comics was buying a big bundle from a jumble sale for 10p. I never really bought them new. I think the bundle had a bunch of tatty Fantastic Four in it – I still remember the early story about the Impossible Man.

I was a member of the Dennis the Menace Fan Club from the Beano, which gave me automatic membership of (Dennis’ dog) Gnasher’s Fang Club. I was also a member of the Desperate Dan Pie-Eater’s Club from the Dandy. I suspect there was some rivalry between these clubs, but i think I was too young to be aware of it. I think I still have the plastic wallets and badges somewhere.

Something else about those funnies – I didn’t find them that funny. They always depicted kids reading the comic and crying with laughter. To me even then, they seemed like an old-fashioned form of comedy. I think they’ve had to drastically change their style, if indeed they still exist.

I was always at a loss to understand who went out and bought these things every week. I was raised to be very frugal. Frivolous things things like that were frowned upon. I would make a comic last for weeks – similar to making the Sunday paper last until the following Sunday. Even now I have trouble letting go and buying stuff like that. I have this fear of getting into a situation where I have to become a collector to “keep up”. I’m not the tidiest person, but I do like stuff to be organised, and I can’t handle clutter. Living in a cramped less-than-tidy London flat taught me that.

A good example is the excellent zombie horror comic series The Walking Dead. I bought the first volume in Secret Headquarters, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I often take it out and read it again. I now find that there are eight volumes available, and I would love to read them and see what happens, but eight volumes? I just don’t have the space, or the inclination to spend and store. Oh yeah, the money is an issue too.

Another comic I bought on recommendation in Secret Headquarters was the vampire series 30 Days of Night. This was recently made into a bloody (excuse the pun) terrible movie. I’ll explain why.

The book tells us that vampires exist, and have alway been around. It doesn’t tell us about their origins or anything, but they are effectively immortal, and can withstand serious injury. A group of vampires descend upon a remote Alaskan village, Barton, which is so far north that once a year, the night lasts for thirty days. Thirty days without sunlight – great for vampires. Carnage ensues, until the townspeople, particularly the sheriff, fight back in an innovative way. Great story, fantastic splattery scratchy artwork by Ben Templesmith.

The movie didn’t change that, but it did remove some key points, and the portrayal of the vampires just ruined it. In the book, the vampire speech is written in a scratchy typeface, to give the impression of a nasty, hissing, rasping voice. But in the movie, they took this to mean that the vampires spoke a different language, and the language they chose sounded alarmingly like Klingon – that is, harsh and guttural, with overuse of the “sh” and “k” sounds. So clichéd.

The behaviour was just as bad. In the book, the vampires were just normal people, except with the teeth and all. They came in various shapes and sizes, including a little girl. During the double-page carnage scene, one of the lead vampires stands in the midst of it all and shouts that it’s “F**king fantastic!” – a realistic sentiment, given the fun they’re having popping people’s heads off like soda caps.

In the movie, they just ponced around, doing animalistic clichéd “predatory” head movements and being very conscious of the prosthetic teeth in their mouths. Lots of mouth open hissing/roaring too, although not as bad as Underworld. (Wow, that was nearly my first post here!).

Worst of all, they left out the best bit of the book. They’re all having fun in Barton, and then the big boss vampire turns up. He’s very annoyed that this gang of vampires has made such a news-worthy mess – they’re supposed to keep to the shadows and not draw attention to themselves. Don’t frighten the meat!

So, to punish the leader of the gang, he bites his head off or something vivid. Most enjoyable. Still in the movie, the cop punches through the gang leader’s head, so we don’t lose too much. Fun!