I am very, very happy. My copy of Sleaze Castle Etcetera: The (in)Complete Final Cut Vol. 1* hit my doormat a few days ago, and I have been revelling in it ever since. My relationship with Sleaze Castle, and the assorted spin offs that it has spawned** goes back to the UK Comic Art Convention 1995, when I met the writer and artist team of Dave McKinnon and Terry Wiley, and more importantly, their creations Jocasta Dribble, Panda Domino, Twing, the little happy creatures***, and all the rest of the crew.
I wrote about Sleaze Castle a while ago, when I reminisced about how good it was and looked forward to the re-release of all that vintage comicky goodness. Then I started to worry about what my wife refers to as "Peasholm Park Naval Warfare Syndrome".
You see, when I was very young, my family would visit the coastal town of Scarborough in the summer. We went there a lot, and when the beach disappeared beneath the tide, we would move a few hundred yards inland and explore the town's largest gardens, known as Peasholm Park. Every weekend in the summer, I would be thrilled by the "Naval Battles" fought by huge model battleships**** across the park's lake, complete with explosions, gunfire, dramatic music and ariel bombardment. I bloody loved it. The I got older, and we stopped going.
More than a quarter of a century later, my wife and I were visiting Scarborough when we saw a poster announcing that there was to be a naval battle that very afternoon. Suddenly I was six years old again and I dragged my less than convinced spouse away from the sand and into the park. There, on a little floating island in the middle of the lake was a man sitting at an electric organ. The first disappointment. I remembered the man on the little floating island, but in my memory the music had been swooping and dramatic. In reality, the musical accompaniment sounded more like half time at a hockey game.
I was more pleased when I saw the battleships, which cruised majestically around the lake, but the gunfire and explosions were more, well, fireworky than I remembered, and then, the final blow, came with the attack from the air. In my memory the jet fighters swooped down from all angles, skimming the surface of the water, then diving down to bomb the hapless ships below. My adult eyes saw that they were plastic models on hooks that a man was sliding down a wire – a realisation that was reinforced when one of them got stuck.
Don't get me wrong – it was still fun. But it was nowhere near as impressive as my memory had made it over the years. Ever since, whenever I wax lyrical about brilliant things I remember from the past my wife, who is wiser than I am, has gently reminded me of Peasholm Park Naval Warfare and kept my expectations on a realistic footing.
Which is a long winded way of saying that for me "Peasholm Park Naval Warfare Syndrome" is that slightly disappointed feeling you get when you revist something you loved in the past and find it doesn't match your memories. ***** Was that going to happen here? Could Sleaze Castle possibly be as good as I remembered? I mean, I know that the comic's co-creator Terry Wiley is producing astonishingly brilliant comics now, but he's got twenty plus years more experience than he did when Sleaze Castle started. In the world of English Literature his work on Sleaze Castle would count as mere "Juvenilia" – could it really match up to my memories, or would reading the pleasingly solid hard backed tome that dropped though my letterbox conjure up the image of a little plastic jet dangling pathetically from a washing line.
I needn't have worried.
The experience of reading Sleaze Castle Etcetera: The (in)Complete Final Cut Vol. 1 is in fact teg very antithesis of Peasholm Park Naval Warfare Syndrome. It's actually better than I remember. I'm still in the first half of the Sleaze Castle section of the book, and it's interesting that Wiley's early art is a little more cartoony than his more recent style, but the cleanliness of line and honesty of expression that characterises his work on Verity Fair is every bit as evident in this early work from the late eighties/early nineties.
In short, it appears that Wiley has always been a genius, and I am more than a little jealous.
But you see Wiley's more recent work is as writer/artist. He's a supremely talented one man band. Did I mention I was jealous? Sleaze Castle, the story of Jo Dribble, and her trans-dimentional friend Panda as they negotiate student life in the North East of England, and the political machinations of the bizarre alternate reality that Panda calls home. The words here aren't Willey's, but flow from the honeyed pen of Dave McKinnon.
When Sleaze Castle came to a somewhat abrupt end McKinnon seems to have more or less given up comics, which strikes me as a tragedy, because his talent for dialogue and his slightly scattergun approach to plotting makes for utterly engaging character driven action. I remembered that I loved Jo Dribble and her friends, but had genuinely forgotten just how much – and I know I have more delights to come, as I move out of Sleaze Castle and into Petera Etcetera, the chronicle of Jo's sister Petera, which Wiley illustrated and was written with charm and wit by the late, and much missed Adrian Kermode.
Of course, rather disappointingly we're missing Willey's illustrated prose Surreal School Stories, which tell of Jo's adventures before University, when she was a pupil at the gloriously eccentric Tycho Brahe School for Girls, and this is a shame because not only are they fabulous they would complete the set rather nicely, and I'd like to be able to settle down with a bottle of dog****** and read everything. I suspect that would be a rewarding experience, because it really is remarkable how closely the world of Sleaze hangs together. (Very early on, for example in a strip that was written in the late eighties, Jo ponders the face that Verity would be much more confident in a particular situation. That's Verity as in Verity Fair of course…)
The whole thing reeks of talent, quality and style, and you should get yourself a copy. Now. Because so far as I can see, the rest of comics is going to hell in a handcart. Case in point? Alan Scott turns out to be gay. This has, I think it's fair to say, caused a wee bit of comment on the interwebs and elsewhere, and I can't help being more than a little bemused by it all.
I mean seriously, unless you're a massive fan of the original Green Lantern******* why would you care? Seems to me that the basic personality of the character is changed less by this than Hal Jordan was changed by turning him into Paralax, and all the Green Lantern fans survived that.
There is, I suppose, the argument that making such a change to an existing character is bad because it trashes the history that has gone before – and there are circumstances where I'd have some sympathy with that – really, there are. It's just that this is DC folks! Just over a year ago they screwed up seventy years of continuity and chucked it in the bin. While the whole "New 52" thing is not without its flaws, it seems to have turned out reasonably OK, and it most certainly sets a precedent. Basically, if you can make Amanda Waller thin, and Barbara Gordon walk, you can make Alan Scott gay.
It's just, well, Alan Scott?!
It might just be me – I've never been a Green Lantern fan, but he doesn't strike me as a particularly high profile character. I understand why they didn't make this change with Bruce Wayne (too much innuendo over the years would have led to undesirable co
verage in the mainstream press) or Clark Kent (the whole Superman/Lois Lane thing is too integral to the mythos to mess with) but surely, if DC wants to make a point******** surely it would make sense to do this with a character non comics readers have actually heard of. Hal Jordon, maybe. But Alan Scott?
I don't get it. I honestly don't.
I am lead, therefore, to an ugly conclusion. I hate to think like this, and I really want to believe that DC have made this adjustment in the spirit of encouraging equality. I just don't. To me this smacks of tokenism, which to my mind isn't really a good thing. It does, of course, send a signal that DC is in favour of equality, which can only be good. It's just that it's a bit half arsed – if you want to send a signal, then reinventing Alan Scott's sexuality doesn't really catch the headlines. It's bound to piss off the usual suspects*********, and it allows DC to file its "politically correct" credentials. Does it really progress equality? I'm not so sure.
In the end, we are still at the point where the people who don't give a toss about whether a character is gay or not**** ******still don't give a toss. Those people will read about the new adventures of Alan Scott, or not, depending mostly on whether they're a fan of the original Green Lantern, and whether the stories are good. Those people who have an issue with same sex relationships*********** are going to continue to be outraged, and whilst the world will continue to revolve, it will not be changed one little bit. Are you getting that I'm underwhelmed? I really am. I see that DC is trying, and I applaud that. I just don't think it's actually making much of a difference.
**Surreal School Stories, Petera Etcetera and of course, Terry Wiley's current project, Verity Fair…
***Who, frankly, look remarkably like condoms. I've always wondered about that. I have a little happy creatures badge, and whenever I wear it people assume I'm making a statement about family planning and sexual health. Have to say, it's started one or two interesting conversations in the bar…
****Seriously big – about twelve feet long, which when you're six years old is a seriously impressive model boat.
*****British Sci-Fi fans of my age will experience a similar feeling if they watch the seventies BBC series "Blake's 7"…
******Buy the book. Jo will explain what that is on Page 31.
*******And that simply can't be all that many people…
********And if they don't, why do it?
*********I understand that the Million Moms were less than pleased, for example…
**********That is to say the people who are reasonable and right.
***********That is to say, people who need to adjust their attitudes a little.