20 January 2004

Censored at Fourteen

I mentioned a couple of days ago how in my teens I had drawn a few stories for my school magazine, generally fairly rudimentary things. The first thing I drew for it was a bad caricature of my English teacher, the magazine's editor; it was a feeble thing, but generally approved of my classmates as being instantly recognisable. That wasn't hard, to be fair; all I had to do was ensure there was a scarf and glasses in there somewhere.

The following year I attempted my first ever comic strip, a clumsily drawn and awkwardly told tale throwing my school into the future into a silly Judge Dredd-type world. Moyle Park 2000, for so it was embarassingly called, showed a map of a post-nuclear holocaust Dublin with only a few islands of civilization, and simply narrated a day in the life of 'Judge Conway', who was basically my science teacher in a judge's uniform. Yeah, I know, utter rubbish. Give me a break. I was thirteen.

A year later, I attempted a rather more ambitious tale, another two-page piece, this time called Doctor Jekyll and Mr H. The premise of this absurdity was that a mad scientist would take a potion that turned him into the even more terrifying entity that was my history teacher. To be fair, the teacher in question was quite brilliant, and is a really likeable person, but when I was twelve he struck terror into me as nobody has ever done since. (I must admit that at one point I modelled my own teaching style on him.) The story was silent until the last panel, where I finally showed the supposedly more terrifying visage of 'Mr H', as he turned to the class and asked his standard interrogatory 'Do you know this?'

My drawing style had improved immensely since the previous year, but the last panel's joke relied on my having acquired a photograph of said teacher... I drew the body and background and pasted on the head. Understandably he wasn't too happy about this, or else somebody saw sense and decided to remove said photograph and simply draw a large question mark.

Fair enough. A good decision there, in retrospect. And it did feel rather cool to be censored at fourteen.

The following year I topped that. As well as pencilling all the illustrations to accompany the text in the magazine -- am astonishingly gifted friend inked them and made me look good -- I acquired a whole batch of photographs of teachers and drew a bad three page story called The Final Frontier: Where No Teacher Has Gone Before. I blush to think how bad this was. It was a Star Trek pastiche but featuring a ganseyload of teachers from my school, with my maths teacher captaining the ship and with a few other teachers making cameo appearances. One teacher in particular was mercilessly parodied with his speech patterns being replicated in a particularly offensive manner.

I was in Germany on a school tour when the magazine came out; it was available for just a few hours before being pulled. The teacher who I had viciously lampooned in the strip wasn't responsible; he was in Germany leading the tour. No, as Albert Reynolds would say, 'it's the little things that can trip you up'. One teacher* has been cast as the villain - somebody had to be -- and in the story he was melodramatically described as 'the most vicious, merciless, evil space pirate in the galaxy!' For some reason the teacher in question took offence at that. I can't imagine why. Um. Sorry.

Having been censored one year and banned the next, it probably wasn't surprising that the rather longer - eight page - story I came up with in final year was rejected outright. I'm not sure it would have been blocked had the magazine not turned into a glossy yearbook that year; the story really wasn't the kind of thing they had in mind. Fair enough. A sequel to my 1989 travesty Moyle Park 2000, I give you Judge Conway in all its glory.

For all its flaws - and there are more than a few - in some ways I'm still quite pleased with this. I showed some photographs of the story to a couple of comic writers who were in Dublin one year and Mark Miller seemed really impressed, noting that I had a 'really interesting' narrative style; he handed the snaps to Grant Morrison, who agreed.

It's odd to look at it now, packed as it is with so many injokes. The 'villain' of the story, who's rather cool really, is my old geography teacher; his full-length coat and occasional Clint references made him a natural choice for a 'Man with no name' type bad guy; almost all his sentences are direct quotations from the man himself.

I could go through it panel by panel to explain what's what, and even who's who in the crowd and pub scenes, and what the graphitti and shop names refer to, but life, I feel, is too short. Having said that, if you're interested and the comments work feel free to ask!

* Also a nice man, but one who, to be fair, terrified me at the time. 

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