In this world of pervasive social media, we begin to forget that everything was not always available at the click of a mouse button. But when you read some comics, it can still remind a few of us over-30s that the best insider jokes or Easter Eggs if you prefer are the ones you discover for yourself. This can be anything from the mention of a piece of popular culture to spotting a joke by the artist.
Let’s start off by showing you what I mean. In Starblazer issue 127 The Death Reaper, published in 1984, which was written by Grant Morrison and featured the art of Quique Alcatena, it proves that while Grant has written many strange and esoteric comics, he certainly has a wry sense of humour. After all, who but a Scot with a dry wit would think of using the pithy Scots phrase of “like snow off a dyke” to name three throwaway characters?
However, there were other bits which I either got straight away or took me ages to find out why this worked. So let’s go for a couple that I got straight away even as a pre-adolescent.
When the Volgans began to round up British citizens to execute them for the work of the Resistance in Invasion! in 2000AD, it was a scenario that worked well for this Commando fan as I recognised the idea. And for it to feature Wembley stadium in the same year that saw half the pitch transferred to drying greens the length and breadth of Scotland was quite exciting for the 9 year old me. But the hairs really stood on my neck for the fact that it used lyrics to a song that I recognised and that was just fantastic. And probably helped to hook me on comics for life. And the fact that those lyrics came from a 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical mattered not a jot.
And writing that last paragraph reminded me of another in-joke that I had not thought of for years in the fact that 2000AD and Starlord featured one double act that paid homage to the enduring partnership of Rodgers and Hammerstein with this pair that featured in Ro-Busters, a Thunderbirds spoof that rescued for profit rather than altruism.
Before I disgress even further, there was another 2000AD scene that used popular lyrics to great effect in “The Return Of Rico” in issue 30 when Rico Dredd returned from his 20 year sentence on Titan to get revenge on his brother Joe. Joe had to kill his brother, but rather than keep him the two dimensional fascist cop that he was in danger of becoming, Pat Mills used the title of The Hollies’ biggest hit to perfection in this scene.
So not only did you feel part of the comic as you could understand some of these references, you could feel a little bit more involved as if you can find one Easter Egg, surely you can find more?
And there is another few in 2000AD that teased me, but kept me hooked. For example, how many growing up in the 1970s knew that Judge Dredd featured a homage to a 1960s Western series? I know I didn’t and it was only in the late 1980s when I caught an interview with Clint Eastwood that I realised that Rowdy Yates Block was referencing his character from Rawhide.
And one from the pen of the mighty John Wagner in what has to be one of the best one shots ever written is Bury My Knee at Wounded Heart. This one featured in the Judge Dredd Megazine and the title is a reference to the Dee Brown book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. This is an Easter Egg worth investigating if you are interested in the history of Native Americans and how badly they were treated. The John Wagner story is just awesome and one of the most touching things that I have ever read. And the art by Pete Doherty is a perfect compliment to John’s story.
And to give 2000AD full credit, it referenced popular culture so well that even now 30 plus years later, I still get a thrill of excitement when I see some of these references.
However, before I get too carried away with my enjoyment of 2000AD, there is at least two other British comics worth mentioning for in-jokes and a bit of insider knowledge. And if you have read Viz, you will have a pretty good idea of which one I am going to mention next and that was their send up of Black Bob who was a stalwart of The Dandy from 1944 until 1982. I was a big fan of Jack Prout’s art on Black Bob but I still had to laugh when I opened an issue of the Viz in the 1980s and found Black Bag, the Faithful Border Bin Liner. Just so you can get the joke and it’s a great excuse to dig out a bit of Jack Prout’s art, here is the original and the parody.
One last one before I complete this article. It is fairly easy to spot the source material for anyone who has spent a bit of time in Scotland. And to make it ever better, the artist is now a comic superstar, but still an all round nice guy who I hope to have a pint with one of these days. And that story was The Greens, which featured in Electric Soup. And the artist was a fresh faced Frank Quitely (aka Vincent Deighan). The problem is that all of the scripts are definitely aimed at the grown ups so I will just make do with posting the one and only original piece of his art that I am fortunate to own. And the reason I own it is due to the generosity of a certain Mr S Montgomery of Falkirk.
There are many more that I could select, but I have just put in these few to make you smile and hopefully generate a bit of discussion. Keep the faith folks and keep smiling.
All imagery (c) their respective companies