Throwback Thursday for Towel Day: When 2000AD’s Tharg went Hitchhiker’s

Since today (25th May) is Towel Day, the annual day of remembrance of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy creator Douglas Adams, we thought we’d remind 2000AD‘s alien editor Tharg of his declared interest in all things 42.

Today an international phenomenon, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is  (as if most downthetubes readers needed reminding) a comedy science fiction series created by Douglas Adams. Originally a radio comedy broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1978, it was later adapted to other formats, including stage shows, novels, comics, a 1981 TV series, a 1984 computer game, and 2005 feature film.

The series follows the galaxy-spanning reluctant adventures (or, rather, misadventures) of the last surviving man, Arthur Dent, after the Earth is demolished by a Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

Archive documentary director Kevin Jon Davies (who’s also co-host of the London Film and Comic Con) has sent us a personal letter from the editor of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, written back in 1981 when he was an animator at Pearce Studios. Kevin was fresh from working on the Hitchhiker’s TV show and he’d supplied the comic with some art for a feature – Don’t Panic and the show’s logo.

The article was published in Prog 227 in August 1981 and includes photographs of the series cast such as Simon Jones as Arthur Dent and David Dixon as Ford Prefect.

Massimo Belardinelli's original art for the cover of 2000AD Prog 227
Massimo Belardinelli’s original art for the cover of 2000AD Prog 227

2000AD Prog 227 - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy feature
The letter, probably written by Richard Burton, reveals Tharg’s frustration at 2000AD reader enquiries about his relationship with series character Ford Prefect (who, like the Green One, also hailed from Betelgeuse) – and makes tantalising reference to a second series of Hitchhiker’s on TV which, sadly, never happened.

Former 2000AD editor Steve MacManus suggests this letter was written by Richard Burton as it's his "Tharg" signature on it
Former 2000AD editor Steve MacManus suggests this letter was written by Richard Burton as it’s his “Tharg” signature on it

Hitchhiker’s was cancelled shortly after the magazine published,” Kevin tells us.

The second series would, apparently, have been based on Adams’ abandoned Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen project, instead of simply making a TV version of the second radio series.

The reasons for its cancellation are unclear, the result of dispute between Adams and the BBC, but elements of Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen were instead used in the third novel, Life, the Universe and Everything.

Later this year, Kevin will be part of the team making a new BBC radio series based on the sixth official book in the Hitchhiker’s series, And Another Thing written by Eoin Colfer in 2009.

Dirk Maggs is due to adapt and direct, as ever,” Kevin tells us. “It should be on Radio 4 in time to mark the 40th anniversary of the first show in March 1978.”

Towel Day 2005, Innsbruck, Austria, where, by his own account, Adams got the inspiration to write the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Creative Commons/ Beny Shlevich
Towel Day 2005, Innsbruck, Austria, where, by his own account, Adams got the inspiration to write the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Creative Commons/ Beny Shlevich
The latest issue of IDW's Dirk Gentle's Holistic Detective Agency (#8) homages Towel Day
The latest issue of IDW’s Dirk Gentle’s Holistic Detective Agency (#8) homages Towel Day

Towel Day, celebrating the life of the wonderful Douglas Adams, was chosen at random that first year in 2001, a couple of weeks after he died. Fans openly carry a towel with them, often an all-purpose survival aid in the series, or share their folded animal towels to demonstrate their appreciation for the books and the author.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

While the phenomenon that is Hitchhiker’s only had a brief brush with 2000AD, the series was adapted into comics, all written by John Carnell, a terrific writer who did some great work on The Real Ghostbusters at Marvel UK and co-created The Sleaze Brothers with Andy Lanning.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 1 - Cover
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy #2 - Cover

A three-part comic book adaptation of the novelisation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was published by DC Comics, in conjunction with Byron Preiss Visual Publications in 1993, with art by Steve Leialoha.

This was followed up with three-part adaptations of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in 1994 with layouts by Leialoha and finished art from Shepherd Hendrix, and Life, the Universe and Everything drawn by Neil Vokes and John Nyberg in 1996.

• For absolutely pretty much everything you need to know about Towel Day visit www.towelday.org. Help spread the word about Towel Day (#towelday): tweet, blog, post in forums, share a link in Facebook, make art, etc. And don’t forget to tell the Towel Day site about events you organise on Towel Day

• On Towel Day, carry a towel. Where? Everywhere. 

• Proudly show the world you’ve observed Towel Day! You can post your picture and watch others’ on the Facebook page or in the Flickr group. Videos are cool there too, as well as on YouTube

• The music video of the “Towel Day” track featured above, composed a few years ago by Sicilian composer Alessandro Sbrogiò is performed by the Magister Espresso Orchestra, directed by Denis Feletto, and the video is animated by cartoonist Valeria Cozzarini.

The video is full of references to Adams’ work and shows musicians on their galactic journeys, wearing housecoats and towels, on Chesterfield sofas, among whales and teapots. The album Banda Vaga which includes the track “Towel Day”, is available now

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a “freelance comics operative”, currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY.

John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor.

He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY.

Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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