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Author Topic: George Orwell On Comics  (Read 6434 times)

Frank

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George Orwell On Comics
« on: 22 September, 2018, 12:33:02 am »

Sort of.  A fascinating survey of the weekly story papers that were the forerunners of the violent sci-fi crap that rotted our brains and stunted our emotional development. I strongly encourage you to read the full (magnificently written and acutely observed) text here - what follows are heavily-edited passages chosen to highlight how little has changed in the last ninety years.

Some proper nouns may have been changed for my own amusement:
 

George Orwell: Boys' weeklies

You never walk far through any poor quarter in any big town without coming upon a small newsagent's shop. Probably the contents of these shops is the best available indication of what the mass of the English people really feels and thinks.

Certainly nothing half so revealing exists in documentary form. Best-seller novels, for instance, tell one a great deal, but the novel is aimed almost exclusively at people above the £4-a-week level.

The weekly paper with a smallish circulation and specialized subject-matter only exists because there is a definite demand for it, and these stories reflect the minds of their readers as a great national daily with a circulation of millions cannot possibly do.

Here I am only dealing with a single series of papers, the boys' twopenny weeklies, often inaccurately described as ‘penny dreadfuls’. What the circulations of these papers are, I do not know. The editors and proprietors refuse to name any figures,

The heroes of these papers continue week after week and year after year, never growing any older. Very occasionally a new character arrives or a minor character drops out, but in the last forty years the personnel has barely altered.

All the principal characters are still having much the same kind of adventures and talking almost exactly the same dialect. And not only the characters but the whole atmosphere of 2000ad has been preserved unchanged, partly by means of very elaborate stylization.

The stories are signed ‘John Wagner’ and 'Pat Mills’, but a series lasting forty years could hardly be the work of the same person every week.

Consequently, they have to be written in a style that is easily imitated — an extraordinary, artificial, repetitive style, quite different from anything else now existing in English literature.

There is a constant, untiring effort to keep the atmosphere intact and to make sure that every new reader learns immediately who is who. By a debasement of the Dickens technique a series of stereotyped ‘characters’ has been built up, in several cases very successfully.

Sex is completely taboo; occasionally girls enter into the stories, and very rarely there is something approaching a mild flirtation, but that is all it ever amounts to. Even the bad boys are presumed to be completely sexless.

The editors evidently expect their readers to be aged round about fourteen, but it is quite common for people to write to the editor and say that they have read every number of 2000ad or The Megazine for the past forty years.

It is well worth getting hold of some back issues simply to have a look at the correspondence columns. What is truly startling is the intense interest with which the pettiest details of life in MC1 or Tir Nan Og are followed up. Here, for instance, are a few of the questions sent in by readers:

'How old is Johnny Alpha?’ ‘What rank is Rogue Trooper?’ Can the Council Of Five overrule the Chief Judge?’ ‘Who is the Prime Minister of Brit-Cit?’ ‘Where is Downlode situated?

It is clear that many of the boys and girls who write these letters are living a complete fantasy-life. The characters are so carefully graded as to give almost every type of reader a character he can identify with. If one studies the correspondence columns one sees that there is probably no character whom some or other reader does not identify with.

The mental world of 2000ad and The Megazine, therefore, is something like this:

The year is 1977 — or 2018, but it is all the same. You are a 10-year-old boy, Noel Edmonds is on the telly, and the pound is worth a pound. Everything is safe, solid and unquestionable. Everything will be the same forever and ever. That approximately is the atmosphere.

Merely looking at the cover illustrations of the papers which I have on the table in front of me, here are some of the things I see. On one, an engineer is lighting a stick of dynamite while a steel robot feels for him with its claws. On another, a man in airman's costume is fighting barehanded against a rat somewhat larger than a donkey. On another, a nearly naked man of terrific muscular development has just seized a lion by the tail and flung it thirty yards over the wall of an arena

Death-rays, Martians, invisible men, robots, helicopters and interplanetary rockets figure largely: they owe a great deal to H. G. Wells, who, rather than Jules Verne, is the father of ‘Scientifiction’(?). Naturally, it is the magical Martian aspect of science that is most exploited.

The other thing that has emerged in the boys’ papers is bully-worship and the cult of violence. Instead of identifying with a schoolboy of more or less his own age, the reader is led to identify with some single all-powerful character who dominates everyone about him and whose usual method of solving any problem is a sock on the jaw.

This character is intended as a superman, and as physical strength is the form of power that boys can best understand, he is usually a sort of human gorilla. You get real blood-lust, really gory descriptions of the all-in, jump-on-his-testicles style fighting, written in a jargon that has been perfected by people who brood endlessly on violence.

But, after all, it is the lack of development that is the really striking thing. Foreigners are exactly the same figures of fun that they always were. If a Chinese character appears, he is still the sinister pigtailed opium-smuggler of Sax Rohmer. If a Spaniard appears, he is still a ‘dago’ or ‘greaser’ who rolls cigarettes and stabs people in the back.

George Orwell: ‘Boys' weeklies’
First published: Horizon, No. 3. — GB, London. — March 1940




von Boom

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #1 on: 15 October, 2018, 08:35:37 pm »
Yank mag has taken on an entirely different meaning today.


Frank

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #2 on: 15 October, 2018, 10:28:15 pm »
Yank mag has taken on an entirely different meaning today.

Rented a Betamax video called Animal Farm, once. Can't believe Orwell wrote such filth.



The Legendary Shark

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #3 on: 16 October, 2018, 06:51:21 am »

Very interesting, Frank, thank you.


Frank

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #4 on: 16 October, 2018, 07:22:21 am »
Very interesting, Frank, thank you.

The link to that article takes you to an online index of Orwell's entire corpus. If you've never read Orwell's essays, you're in for a treat. He really was one of the greatest writers the English language produced:

http://orwell.ru/library/index_en



Proudhuff

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #5 on: 16 October, 2018, 10:26:32 am »

 If a Chinese character appears, he is still the sinister pigtailed opium-smuggler of Sax Rohmer. .

George Orwell: ‘Boys' weeklies’
First published: Horizon, No. 3. — GB, London. — March 1940[/size][/i]

That will be the enlightening Red Fang then?
I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!

JayzusB.Christ

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #6 on: 26 October, 2018, 10:14:14 pm »
Everyone should read Orwell's essays.  They made me a better person.
“Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”

Richard

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #7 on: 26 October, 2018, 10:55:37 pm »
How much room for improvement was there before you read them?

JOE SOAP

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #8 on: 26 October, 2018, 11:35:32 pm »
Everyone starts with a complete works of Orwell sized gap on their shelf. Don't even attempt to make a cup of tea without consulting him first.
« Last Edit: 26 October, 2018, 11:37:12 pm by JOE SOAP »

JayzusB.Christ

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #9 on: 27 October, 2018, 10:20:02 pm »
How much room for improvement was there before you read them?

About 98%.  Currently about 96.

I would love a pint at The Moon Under Water, the finest pub that Orwell never visited.
“Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”

Smith

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #10 on: 28 October, 2018, 11:43:21 am »

von Boom

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #11 on: 28 October, 2018, 05:40:37 pm »
Everyone starts with a complete works of Orwell sized gap on their shelf. Don't even attempt to make a cup of tea without consulting him first.
Without a doubt my favourite his essays.

Tiplodocus

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #12 on: 01 November, 2018, 05:56:32 pm »
And he's right about sugar. Two weeks when neither me or my big brother could be arsed  to go to the shop to buy sugar cured me of that.

Mind you, I'm a red bush guy now, so what do I know?
Be excellent to each other. And party on!

von Boom

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #13 on: 01 November, 2018, 06:39:29 pm »

Tiplodocus

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Re: George Orwell On Comics
« Reply #14 on: 01 November, 2018, 06:49:24 pm »
I quite often go for a red bush and a nakd bar.

And wish it was as dirty as it sounded.
Be excellent to each other. And party on!