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From Iky Mo To Lord Horror:

Representations Of Jews In British Comics

You know how it is with buses - you wait for ages and then three come along one after the other? Well, the same seems to be true of British peer-reviewed academic journals about comics. Following the launch by the International Bande Dessinée Society in June 2008 of European Comic Art, this year has seen the arrival of both the Journal of Graphic Novels & Comics from Routledge and Studies in Comics from Intellect Books.

I’ve been involved in all three, contributing the opening essays for the first volumes of European Comic Art on Gianni de Luca: Thinking Outside the Box, and of The Journal of Graphic Novels & Comics in the form of the essay below on Representations of Jews in British Comics, as well as assisting as Reviews Editor for Studies in Comics. Who would have thought that the UK, of all places, would ever boast three serious semi-annual journals on comics?

And all three publications are also supporting the Comica Symposium: Transitions, a free one-day conference on 5 Novevember 2010 in association with The School of Arts at Birkbeck, University of London. Speakers now confirmed include: Maggie Gray (UCL); Chris Howard (SOAS); Sarah Lightman (Glasgow); Ben Little (Middlesex); Catriona MacLeod (Glasgow); Ernesto Priego (UCL); Nicola Streeten (Lincoln); Maria Vaccarella (KCL); Sarah Zaidan (Kingston). Organised with Tony Venezia, the day will conclude with a wine reception. For more details and to reserve your free places in the 180-seater conference hall, please visit the Comica Festival website. I hope to see many of there for what promises to be an exciting, illuminating day. 

How visible have Jewish characters been in British comics and how have their representations, by Jewish and non-Jewish creators, changed over the years? This investigation was sparked by my visit to an exhibition at The Jewish Museum in London in 2001 of the work of Jewish cartoonists in Britain, past and present, entitled Some of my best jokes are Jewish. Perhaps the most familiar to me of these were Harry Blacker alias ‘Nero’ and Mel Calman and more recently Neil Kerber and Louis Hellman.

I could not help noticing that cartoonists such as these have tended to concentrate on single panel cartoons, and if they did produce strips, they incorporated little specific Jewish content. Turning from single cartoons to narrative comics in search of Jewish themes, my research to date has unearthed only a handful of relevant strips in Britain, unlike the phenomenal and diverse Jewish contributions to the medium in the USA. In fact, once I had decided not to consider Jews represented in strip adaptations of Bible stories, literary classics or biographies of historical figures in Eagle and elsewhere, overtly Jewish characters proved to be notable by their absence, whether in leading roles or supporting bit-parts.

Whenever the few Jews did appear in British comics before World War Two, they would mostly conform to caricatural stereotypes, a staple of early, insensitive comics expression. Thereafter, when more enlightened times caused those to vanish, so did almost all representations of Jews. Ariel Kahn, senior lecturer at Roehampton University, London and contributor to The Jewish Graphic Novel, suggests that, ‘unlike its American counterpart, the Anglo-Jewish community was at pains to be “invisible” post-War, and this invisibility extended well into the 20th century.’ Nevertheless, in more recent years, a few intriguing, sometimes controversial exceptions, have emerged.

1. A portrait of Iky Moses by Marie Duval from Judy, 1867

Looking back to the Victorian era, the the earliest Jewish character in British comics, with the most significant profile (in both senses), must be Isaac Moses (figure 1). More commonly known as Iky Mo, he was accomplice to the very first popular British comic strip star, Ally Sloper.  Both Ally and Iky were introduced together in a one-page, seven-panel strip by Charles Ross in the August 14th 1867 edition of Judy, a new twopenny rival launched that year to undercut the threepenny satirical magazine Punch.  ‘Judy’ was the name of the long-suffering wife of Mr. Punch in the slapstick puppet shows, so it was an appropriate title for a magazine aimed at lower-class, lower-income readers, including women. In fact, from 1869 the illustrator on the Sloper comics in Judy was unusually a woman, one Marie Duval, signing herself ‘MD’, the pen-name of Isabelle Emilie de Tessier, born in Paris in 1850 and the new young wife of Mo and Sloper’s creator and writer Charles Ross, fifteen years her senior.

2. One of several weekly episodes of Ally Sloper in Judy,
which gave Iky Mo top billing.

Nearly eighty of their collaborations were compiled into a one-shilling paperback in 1873.  In Ross’s introductory mock-biography of Ally Sloper, he described Iky Mo as ‘ of a wandering tribe, upon whose tail it would take you all your time to drop a pinch of salt.’ (Ross and Duval 1873, p.1). Although he is much less grotesquely caricatured than the bald, bulbous-nosed, Micawber-like reprobate Sloper, Iky’s name, prominent nose and black locks would have indicated to every reader that he was unmistakably a Jew from London’s East End (figure 2).  Ally Sloper mostly enjoyed top or sole billing and later was promoted to his own comic and aggressively mass-merchandised, but through most of their seventeen years in Judy  Ally and Iky ‘...operated in tandem…’, as the pioneer comics historian Denis Gifford noted, ‘...thus establishing the double act’. (Gifford 1976, p.27). They were truly Victorian forerunners of such comedy duos as Abbott & Costello or Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis. In a pairing of opposites, Iky played the smoother, brighter, more handsome straight man to cohort and stooge Sloper.

Iky Mo was frequently the brains behind their invariably disastrous money-making scams, while it was Ally who more often than not got the worst of any retribution. In the ironic recounting of their first joint venture, Some of the Mysteries of Loan and Discount, a penniless Iky suggests that the two of them open a Loan Office and ‘...advertise loans without the least enquiry or the slightest security’.  Naturally, this offer draws crowds to the Moses and Sloper office, but their dodgy business never gets started due to ‘...Ally’s idea of Twopence for a Form of Application.’  The fiasco ends with a picture of a would-be borrower’s boots ‘...with which Mr. Sloper became personally acquainted.’  Again and again, they would try any dodge, from selling tickets to a magic lantern show when they had no lantern to promoting a dangerous automatic shaving machine, in order to persuade people to part with their money first.  As social historian Peter Bailey observed, ‘...their exploits are a warning against the traps and deceits of big city life, yet they are less threatening or sinister than Sykes and Fagan [from Dickens’ Oliver Twist] whose characterisations they may have echoed.’  (Bailey 1983, p.11)

While it may be fair for comics historian David Kunzle to denote Iky Mo as ‘...never independently interesting’ (Kunzle 1990, p316)  presumably because he never acts except with his partner, Iky plays a significant role in 37 of the first 79 episodes compiled into the 1873 collection, and in a dozen cases enjoys sole or first credit in the episodes’ titles.  Many times, without Iky’s idea there would be no story.  Although Sloper may fall out with him or go off alone on his travels to report on the Franco-Prussian War or to find Doctor Livingstone, the two are soon reunited. ‘Moses and Sloper made up their little difference. They never bore malice.’  Their friendship does get tested, though, for example when Iky tries cashing in on sympathy by faking Sloper’s death and it is discovered that ‘It was all a got-up thing of that there Moses!’

From 1884, in Sloper’s second incarnation as less a working-class petty criminal, more a man about town, aspiring gent and F.O.M. (‘Friend Of Man’), in detailed single cartoons in Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday exuberantly illustrated by W. G. Baxter, and then W. F. Thomas, Moses was gradually separated and sidelined.  Sometimes he would show up in cahoots with the drunken derelict Mr McGooseley, as in a Baxter cartoon at the races on Derby Day, showing Sloper in a carriage pouring champagne for some beautiful girls, while Iky is tucked in the bottom left corner, taking bets.  ‘Ere you are, 1000 to 1 against anything - the old firm, Moses & McGooseley.’  The original ‘old firm’ of Moses and Sloper could still occasionally get into trouble, as in the November 9th 1890 cartoon drawn by Thomas, where both of them are arrested for ‘conducting a Betting Club’ upstairs at the Judy offices.  But by and large, Moses became an increasingly marginalised member of the cast and all but vanished.  For example, in a cartoon near the end of its run from November 26th 1910 (Half-Holiday ended in 1916), Moses, still with his pronounced nose and dark curls, has changed his name and address to the respectable ‘Mr Moss of Park Lane’ and is now running the ‘Ally-ctric Cinema’, where Ally is employed as a ‘Shuvverin’ or doorman to encourage the public inside. During the brief revivals of Ally Sloper after the First World War, Moses or Moss were nowhere to be seen. 

Until the outbreak of the Second World War, when Jews appeared in weekly comics, they would be crude caricatures, but no worse than those of Chinese or Black people, or indeed of any foreigners, treated as little better than obliging objects of amusement rather than targets of malicious xenophobia.  The fact that comics have long relied on broad stereotypes of various races and that these portrayals reflected the commonly held prejudices of white Britons at the time may explain these portrayals, but in no way excuses them.  To give an example, one strip from Big Budget, November 24th 1900, illustrates ‘Another Letter from Wun Li, the Chinese’, who is hoodwinked by ‘Levi’, a big, bearded Jewish tailor in Petticoat Lane.  The naive Chinaman is tricked into paying the vast sum of ‘two-poun’-ten’ for a ‘royal’ top hat, supposedly ‘...made for de Prince of Wales, only it didn’t fit proper’, and is then given a ‘free’ suit of clothes.  Another Jewish character of this period was ‘Nosey Mosey’, as in Moses, drawn as usual with a large nose and a black beard.  He was one of ‘The Three Beery Bounders’ , three drink-loving tramps, drawn by an unknown cartoonist signed ‘Jan’ for Funny Cuts from 1897 to 1900.

Between the wars, in the Twenties and Thirties, Jews in Britain made up less than one per cent of the population, and half of them were living in London’s East End, Iky Mo’s home territory.  In 1932 Sir Oswald Mosley set up his ‘Blackshirts’ and through his British Union of Fascists tried to spread the fear that Jews were taking over the country, urging the public to support Hitler’s campaign against them.  One former Union member was the Brooklyn-born William Joyce, who, on being expelled in 1937, founded his own fanatical, Hitler-worshipping, British National Socialist Party and later made pro-Nazi propaganda radio broadcasts to Britain from Germany in the aristocratic guise of ‘Lord Haw-Haw’.  He was a perfect subject for Radio Fun, a weekly comic launched in 1938 as a companion to Film Fun. The editorial to Radio Fun No. 74, dated March 9th 1940,  introduced a new strip drawn by John Jukes under the headline Lord Haw-Haw - Public Fibber No.1:  ‘Dear Readers,- another grand surprise for you this week!  To-day we start a new series of funny pictures about Lord Haw-Haw of Zeesen.  Now you’ve all heard about that very stupid man who broadcasts from Germany every day in English and tells all sorts of fibs about the state of the war.  Well, now we’ve got him in pictures, and I think you’ll agree he’s a scream.’  In these half-page satires, Jukes caricatured Haw-Haw as an upper-class twit in spats and a monocle, dubbed ‘The Broadcasting Humbug from Hamburg’, whose boastful lies always get found out in the end.  No overt reference was made to his racist fervour and only a few months later, wartime paper shortages reduced Radio Fun‘s page count and ‘Haw-Haw’ was dropped, never to return.

During this period, it is surprising that anti-Semitic humour never insinuated itself into the panels of comics, but the publishers enforced their editorial policy of avoiding any political or controversial issues, a sign of how deliberately insular and bland the medium had become, and they stuck to providing ‘harmless’ fun.  Nevertheless, the tired cliché of the big-nosed Jewish pawnshop-owner did persist as an easy joke. Only with the outbreak of war were British publishers properly sensitised to the possible damage of such distortions, when they were used by the Nazis in their virulent anti-Semitic cartoon propaganda. As Graham King and Ron Saxby have pointed out (1985, p.143), ‘...some harm was undoubtedly done because an unjust image of the Jew was communicated to millions of formative minds, shaping prejudices likely to persist long after the original stereotype was judged to be cruel and unrepresentative.’

3. The popular characters of comedian Issy Bonn were adapted into comics in Radio Fun, drawn here by Reg Parlett in 1950.

Among the Jewish comedians who were popular both in British music halls and on BBC radio was Issy Bonn (1903-1977), who was still going strong after the War.  On October 11th 1947, in Radio Fun No. 470, a strip was launched starring ‘his famous Finkelfeffer Family’ from his act.  In early episodes, the enterprising, money-conscious Papa Jakey Finkelfeffer spoke in a broad accent: ‘Vot a snuisance! He is coming to der front door for der back rent a veek too soon!’.  In a typical story from 1950, illustrated by Reg Parlett (1904-1991),  Finkelfeffer complains - ‘Oh, Yoi! Yoi!’ - that his tailoring business is suffering because all the street noise is driving punters away (figure 3).  In a final twist, when the builders finish next door, a rival tailors, ‘I. Snatchem’, has opened and is stealing customers.  The series ran each week until 1959, first drawn by Alex Akebladh (1886-196?) and later taken over by Bertie Brown (1887-1974).  By the later years, all trace of his accent had completely disappeared, in parallel to shifting societal attitudes towards towards the Jewish community and its increasing integration and assimilation. The Finkelfeffers became a family like any other and the comedy relied more on everyday life and the latest crazes. In one 1957 episode, Papa and his two boys get so hooked by the new ‘skiffle’ music that they try cashing in by forming their own band, but their raucous playing at the ‘Café de Posh’ restaurant drives the diners away and they wind up being forced to do the washing up.

‘The Finkelfeffers’ were the exception and even they eventually assimilated into a typical British family.  Once publishers banished any caricature of a Jew from children’s funnies, they apparently never featured any other explicitly Jewish contemporary characters again in post-War British humour comics.  As for the action-adventure genre mainly aimed at boys, Britain had won the War and would go on winning it, over and over, in the new genre of war comics in weekly serials and in complete 63-page stories, aimed at slightly older readers, in the new small ‘Picture Library’ format.  These included: Air Ace (545 issues, 1960-1970) Battle (1,706 issues, 1961-1984) and War (2,103 issues, 1958-1984) from Fleetway; and Commando (over 3,500 issues since 1961, and still going) from D C Thomsons. Astonishingly, in all these hundreds of stories, the two publishers purposefully omitted the subject of the Holocaust and virtually never mentioned the Jews. They saw these comics as exciting adventures aimed at young boys aged 9 to 16, potential army recruits.

Peter Richardson, editor and publisher of the fanzine Achtung! Commando, asked George Low, current editor of Commando, the only war ‘Picture Library’ still being published, whether he would ever consider dealing with the Jewish question, to which Low replied, ‘I feel it is too important and emotive an issue to tackle at our level.’ (Richardson 2001, p.13).  Richardson has located only two Commando stories that have hinted at some of the darker aspects of the Nazi occupation of Europe.  Richardson explains that in ‘Nazi Nightmare’ in Commando No. 2480, ‘the emaciated and pyjama-clad victims are merely referred to as slave workers and the story rapidly acquires the mantle of a cloak and dagger epic involving A-Bombs and Nazi Scientists. One worker is referred to as an Italian pilot, but there is no reference to Jews whatsoever. ‘Adam’s Army’ in Commando No. 2975 appears to be based on the Warsaw Ghetto and does make mention of the Jews, albeit briefly.’  On just one page, Nazis are shown herding people, ‘many of them Jews’, into trucks to an unspecified ‘unknown destination’. It seems the true horrors of the War cannot even be suggested, because they would be too disturbing and real for these gung-ho advertisements for macho bonding and sanitised combat.

Comics targeted at girls began with School Friend (1950), Girl (1951) and Bunty (1958) and flourished through to the Eighties, although they have now totally disappeared, Bunty being the last to go in 2001. Throughout their thousands of pages, their female protagonists tended to be British or European, or less commonly girls from British Empire or Commonwealth countries.  Others might come from more ‘exotic’ locations such as China, Japan or the South Sea Islands, but again it seems that specifically Jewish characters are conspicuously missing.  In a random sample of some seventy post-war annuals and comics, girls’ comics authority Mike Kidson kindly shared his findings, that the only peoples not represented at least once were Finns, Turks, Icelanders… and Jews. Considering the enormous variety of races and nationalities that girls’ comics featured, this cannot be an accident but must be a matter of policy.

Most of Britain’s national newspapers seem to have operated a similar policy in their comic strips, while the country’s two weekly Jewish papers, The Jewish Chronicle (founded 1841) and The Jewish Telegraph (founded 1950) have never run any strips in their pages, only cartoons.  This probably reflects a wider cultural snobbism towards the medium.  For a short period, The Jewish Chronicle did try some experiments in the children’s pages, running worthy educational comics such as Danny and Dinah to teach basic Hebrew, and a rather dry Cartoon History of Anglo-Jewry by Phineas May.

4. Details from Corinne Pearlman’s “The Non-Jewish Jewess”
from the all-women’s issue of The Jewish Quarterly, Autumn 1992.

Leaving behind the relatively tame and uncontroversial fields of children’s comics and family newspaper strips, I have searched for Jewish content in Britain’s small but persistent alternative comics movement.  Successive generations since the late Sixties have continued to be inspired by the American underground comix movement, triggered by Robert Crumb’s Zap in 1967 and advanced by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly’s Raw in 1981, and by two of their strongest thematic innovations, those of totally candid, confessional autobiography and of taboo-breaking, anti-establishment subversion. In the autobiographical category, Corinne Pearlman has produced mostly first-person strips about her life and has come to deal quite regularly with her Jewish heritage. This began when she was asked to contribute to a special all-women’s issue of the cultural journal, The Jewish Quarterly, in Autumn 1992. She had to admit, as she voiced in her strip, that unlike Art Spiegelman or Aline Kominsky-Crumb, ‘I’m neither the child of a survivor, nor the loving daughter of a Jewish American princess’.  Instead, Pearlman jokingly portrays herself as ‘The Non-Jewish Jewess’, wandering in ‘Life’s Dark Wood’, ruminating about ‘Who am I? Where do I belong? Should I have a child? Shall I got to Waitrose?’ (note 1), and confessing tearfully that her parents are assimilated (figure 4).  This is a subtle exercise in self-analysis, examining the effects of her disconnection from the Jewish religion and her contradictory feelings about her assimilation and lack of identity (note 2).

In a one-page sequel, ‘More Tales of a Non-Jewish Jew’ published in Sofa, Pearlman writes about her move to the Brunswick district of the Sussex seaside town of Hove, and how, despite her lack of Jewishness, she is intrigued to find links with her Jewish background in her new surroundings: the many synagogues, the Jewish food counter, the Hove Lawns where her father used to promenade as a child in the 1920s. For all her avowed non-Jewishness, she cannot help feeling both drawn to and remote from her roots, as she continues her autobiographical musings in The Jewish Quarterly since 2004 through a regular strip entitled Playing the Jewish Card. ‘The strip is very much about exploiting, as well as exploring, identity - almost an act of bad faith, given that I don’t have any. The strip is about being English and Jewish and what, if anything, connects me to other British Jews, coming from a classic assimilated background. Guilt about Palestine and embarrassment about Israel is part of that, so there’s a certain amount of hand-wringing in the strip, as well as investigations of Jewish burial grounds north of the M25, how to have a very Jewish Christmas, and what would happen if the Archers had a Jewish character.’ When I asked her about the lack of explicitly Jewish characters and subjects in modern British comics, she suggested, ‘One of the prevailing characteristics of British Jewish life is to keep one’s head down. My strip makes me uncomfortable, yet it allows me to do comics, so I continue to raise my head slightly over the parapet.’

In the underground tradition of shocking, visionary outrage, championed by such iconoclasts as S. Clay Wilson in the USA and Vuillemin in France, come the Lord Horror comics written by David Britton and published by Savoy Books of Manchester.  Founded in 1976 by Britton and Michael Butterworth, Savoy have consistently courted controversy by publishing the cutting-edge writings of such now-respected authors as William Burroughs, Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock, Charles Platt and Jack Trevor Story, by launching graphic novels and comics aimed at adults and by retailing their products, which had been rejected by every distributor, through their own stores in and around Manchester.  The city’s Chief Constable since 1976, James Anderton, nicknamed ‘God’s cop’, carried out a personal crusade to crack down on bookshops and distributors, obtaining over 1,000 search warrants in just five years. Despite as many as sixty intimidating police raids, as well as charges, convictions and prison sentences under the Obscene Publications Act, store closures and voluntary liquidation, Savoy’s commitment to the transgressive remained uncompromising. The Court cases which have ensued, the notoriety attached by them to the company and subsequently the injustice done to Savoy, have tended to distract attention from the comics themselves.

In this climate, Savoy pushed the limits still further in 1989 with the publication of David Britton’s Lord Horror prose novel and his two related comics starring the character and his deranged sidekicks Meng & Ecker, illustrated by Kris Guidio joined later by John Coulthart. Britton loosely based Lord Horror on the notorious Lord Haw-Haw, who in Britton’s fiction, lives on as the albino madman, who, true to his name, is as virulently anti-Semitic as ever and at some points carries out extreme violence towards Jews. In a further deliberately provocative ploy, Britton modelled his Goebbels-like ‘John Appleton’ on Chief Constable Anderton and ‘hijacked’ Anderton’s own inflammatory speeches against homosexuals by substituting ‘Jews’ where he had attacked ‘gays’.  The novel was the first book to explore Auschwitz and the Holocaust and to explore the mind of a Fascist fictionally, without using any sympathetic characters. More broadly, with its blackly-humorous, absurdist style, it took a very dark lens to the world.

5. Lord Horror: David Britton and John Coulthart incorporate Picasso’s Guernica into this extract from Reverbstorm No. 5, or Volume 1, No. 12, of the Lord Horror series from Savoy Books.

Following a front-page expose on September 15th 1989 by The Jewish Telegraph in Manchester, the police again raided the Savoy offices and three of their shops and seized their stocks of the novel as well as the first issues of both comics. Once more, Britton and Butterworth were charged under the Obscene Publications Act. The Lord Horror novel and comics were calculated to offend, and they succeeded.  But offensiveness is not the same as the legal concept of obscenity, defined by the Act as content that would ‘deprave and corrupt’ the type of people likely to buy them.  Under Section Three of the Act, designed to deal swiftly with undisputed pornography, publishers could choose to forfeit their material, instead of going to the trouble and expense of contesting their case before a jury. Nevertheless, government law officers had given an undertaking to parliament in 1964, that any ‘serious’ publishers charged under Section Three should be given the option of a jury trial. Savoy Books were never given that choice. Instead, their publications were judged in 1991 according to a single magistrate’s personal morality and found guilty by him of obscenity.

Subjected to immediate seizure of their stock and facing an order for all of it to be destroyed, Savoy managed to raise funds to fight an appeal in the Crown Court in 1992.  Their defending barrister, Geoffrey Robertson QC, explained the novel in detail to a panel of one judge and two magistrates, putting its anti-Semitic views and violence into context and pointed out the balancing passages, which clearly editorialised their conclusion that the Nazis acted with the people’s ‘permission’ and that anti-Semitism and other forms of racism are latent in society and its demand is still openly catered for in mass media.  David Britton, whose father was Jewish, had insisted to The Jewish Telegraph that his writings were not anti-Semitic, only his creation, Lord Horror, was.  ‘If you are going to do an anti-Semitic character, then you have to do it to the one-hundredth degree. It does concern me that some Jews might find it upsetting, but others would accept it for its reality. There is no point in pretending that these sort of people do not exist.’  The panel overturned the earlier decision and declared that the Lord Horror novel was not obscene after all.

This was not a total victory for Savoy, however, as the panel still upheld that the Meng & Ecker comic was obscene and that all copies should be burnt.  Judge Gerard Humphries QC ruled, ‘The comic is more luridly bound and it is more likely to attract attention from the less literate.’  He also stated that it was a ‘glorification of racism and violence. It contains pictures that will be repulsive to right-thinking people, and could be read, and possible gloated over, by people who enjoy viciousness and violence.’ He concluded: ‘We do not consider it in the public interest that it should be put on sale.’  Apparently, the panel could not conceive that comics might be read by anyone except children and the uneducated, or might dare to tackle adult, controversial subjects.

This ruling led to further raids and all of David Britton’s other Lord Horror and Meng & Ecker comics becoming the subject of further charges. In 1995, yet again a single magistrate declared them obscene.  Michael Butterworth and illustrator John Coulthart gave evidence, but, as they recall, the prosecution ‘complained insistently about the (perceived) “Nazi propaganda”, especially about its affect on children, whom they saw as the sole audience for the comics.’  At the Royal Courts of Justice in London in July 1996, Savoy appealed against this conviction and the fact that they had been denied a trial by jury.  Without explanation, Manchester’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had decided that Savoy were not ‘serious’ publishers, despite twenty years of radical publishing, and so were not entitled to a jury trial when they asked for one.  Pressed to provide any evidence, the CPS claimed immunity due to the Public Interest and so were not required to justify their decision.  Savoy’s conviction was upheld and their entire comics line was deemed obscene and destroyed.  They considered appealing to the European Court but in this case were advised against it.

Since their defeat, the raids have stopped and Savoy have defiantly continued to distribute and publish, but the loopholes in the law that allowed this to happen have yet to be addressed.  As Michael Butterworth explained, ‘The precedent set is not a good one. In ‘liberal’ England serious publications deemed by the police to be beyond the pale, can be burnt. Publishers can be condemned without juries by prosecutors hiding behind the euphemistically entitled ‘Public Interest Immunity’. And a single magistrate sitting in Manchester can decide what the rest of the country should read.’

There is no denying that the Lord Horror spin-off comics are grotesque and provocative, an assault on the reader’s senses, taste and morals. Unlike the columns of grey text in the novel, their meticulous pictures freeze the most shocking imagery on the page for all to see. The horror is not hidden within typeset words or inside the reader’s mind but pictured in frames and permanently on view. It is a mistake, though, to isolate a particular offensive image and remove it from its text and context. These comics have to be understood as a whole, as darkly satirical and morally questioning horror for adults, intended to revolt, disturb and stimulate debate. As Butterworth commented, ‘Although, as a comic, [Meng & Ecker] is more’lurid’ - the judge’s word - we believe that the issues it tackles, especially those about racism, to be as serious as those found in the book.  Incidentally, the achievement of ‘luridness’ involves a degree of aesthetic sensibility and satirical talent on the part of the artist. The judges appears to think of it as unintended. In our case, it is most certainly an intentional effect.’ (note 3)

Aside from his essential appearance, sporting his wild topknot of hair, the comics prototype of Lord Horror introduced in the first two pilot issues in 1989 bore little relation to the altogether darker and more serious incarnation established shortly after.  It is unfortunate that the explicit, scattershot burlesque of pop culture and public figures in these two comics was much more widely circulated and visible than subsequent episodes.  Understandably, Savoy now insist that this version should be ignored as a failed experiment to develop the character and do not allow any extracts from these comics to be reproduced.  Drawn and apparently mostly written by cult rock illustrator Kris Guidio, his ornate trash aesthetic was better suited anyway to the nine issues of extreme Meng & Ecker farces from 1989 to 1993.  Even so, Guidio helped evolve the more sobre and chilling Lord Horror in the five-part mini-series Hard-Core Horror in 1990.  This concluded with the arrival of new ongoing artist John Coulthart. His visionary, visceral illuminations of a monumental, mechanised deathcamp proved so evocative, that Savoy Books insisted that Britton’s accompanying texts be removed from the caption boxes, which were left blank.  Since 1994, Britton and Coulthart, with some contributions from Guidio, have been collaborating on a Lord Horror epic entitled Reverbstorm.  Coulthart’s fevered drawings, part Hieronymus Bosch, part H.R. Giger, truly horrify.  Reverbstorm grafts visual and verbal sources as diverse as the Picasso’s Guernica and Burne Hogarth’s sinister ‘Ononoes’ from his Tarzan comics, or the writings of James Joyce and the song lyrics of popular English singer Jessie Matthews, who in the alternate universe depicted in the comic, surprisingly became Lord Haw-Haw’s wife, into a complex, harrowing dissection of evil in its many forms.

Perhaps the greatest taboo which Savoy seem to have broken is not that they took as their subject the 20th century’s greatest horror, the Holocaust, and its lingering aftermath of racism, but, most unforgivable of all, that they put this subject into what is still perceived by many as a medium exclusively for juveniles and illiterates. This may also at least partly explain why the majority of comics in Britain have for so many years fearfully avoided dealing with Jewish issues, or indeed any potentially controversial issues. The prejudice against comics among the British establishment and media, their ‘anti-comics-ism’, has more recently shown some signs of fading. For example, in 2001 Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan won The Guardian’s prestigious First Novel Prize, the first graphic novel ever to win a British literary award. Then again, Ware won by only one casting vote and the decision caused a furore. The occasional progress such as this should not make anyone underestimate how pervasive and deeply entrenched this anti-comic snobbery remains. Prejudice, whether against Jews or comics or any misunderstood minority or medum, does not disappear overnight.

I am very grateful to the following for advice and research: Carol Bennett, Philip Boys, Michael Butterworth, Alan Clark, Ariel Kahn, David Kerekes, Mike Kidson, David Kunzle, Corinne Pearlman, Peter Richardson and Roger Sabin.

Bailey, P., 1983.  ‘Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday: Comic Art in the 1880s’,  History Workshop Journal, No.16, Autumn.

Gifford, D., 1976. Victorian Comics , London: George Allen & Unwin.

King, G., Saxby, R., 1985. The Wonderful World of Film Fun, London: Clarkes New Press.

Kunzle, D., 1990. TheWonderful World of Film Fun, London: Clarkes New Press

Richardson, P., 2001. ‘An Interview with George Low’, Achtung! Commando No. 3, Spring/Summer 2001, Battle, East Sussex: Peter Richardson

Ross, C., Duval, M., 1873. Ally Sloper: A Moral Lesson, Some Playful Episodes in the career of Ally Sloper, late of Fleet Street, Timbuctoo, Wagga Wagga, Millbank, and elsewhere; with casual references to Iky Mo. London: Judy.

1. Waitrose is a better class of British supermarket supposedly popular with Jewish shoppers.

2. ‘The Non-Jewish Jewess’ was reprinted in 1992 in Fanny No. 3: Immaculate Deception by Dissenting Women.  In correspondence, Corinne Pearlman explained to me, ‘I wasn’t entirely happy being characterised as a ‘Dissenting Woman’: my whole point was that my relationship to the Jewish religion had been non-existent, so therefore I had nothing to dissent about!’

3. From ‘An ordinary day for justice, not a sad one’, a letter to The Jewish Telegraph, August 14th 1982.

Posted: October 3, 2010

This essay originally appeared in the first issue of The Journal of Graphic Novels & Comics.


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The Jewish Graphic Novel:
Critical Approaches

edited by Samantha Baskind
& Ranen Omer-Sherman