Continuing a long and proud history of acerbic political satire within its pages, 2000AD has taken a pointed swipe at President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with its latest cover by Mark Harrison.
The comic’s latest cover gracing Prog 2125, on sale this Wednesday (3rd April), depicts alien immigrants from the strip “Grey Area“, sneaking through a gap in a familiar looking fence, emblazoned with anti-alien slogans.
Science fiction and fantasy stories have cast a mirror (often, darkly) at the contemporary world, be it in Gulliver’s Travels, pouring scorn on various political systems, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea with its commentary on war, through to modern stories such as China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.
(The latter of course has its own wall, which Donald Trump infamously tried to hijack for his own political ends apparently unaware of how it’s used in both the cargo culture novels and TV series).
Comics, too, have long proven more than able to offer commentary on the modern world and thanks to the comic’s creator Pat Mills and writers that included John Wagner, 2000AD has been doing it since Prog One back in 1977, most obviously through the pages of “Judge Dredd”, but political satire is often part of other strips, too, either overtly or with astute subtlety.
With its setting in an alien immigration “holding area”, “Grey Area” is an action-packed adventure thriller following the heavily-armed enforcers of The Grey Area, a huge ‘Exo Segregation Zone’ in future Arizona where aliens wishing to visit Earth are quarantined.
Dan has used the series to explore contemporary attitudes to immigration and hold a mirror up to inflammatory rhetoric and politics on the issue.
The connotations behind the strip are pretty apparent, and never more so when condensed into this latest 2000AD cover image, as series artist Mark Harrison cunningly draws not just on contemporary politics and the proposed design of Trump’s controversial wall, but also the shifting use of iconography by often competing political groups.
“I wanted to depict an alien family escaping the Grey Area and have the father nervously regarding the ‘Welcoming signage’,” Mark reveals. “The mother is dubious about the first steps into a ‘Brave New World’ that would have obvious parallels to images we have seen on the news.
“I wanted to express in part ludicrous officialdom in a humorous way,” he added, “so I looked at Area 51 and any signage referring to immigrants that seemed ‘official’ and found a sign created in the 1980s by a Caltrans worker, John Hood, after deaths of illegal immigrants on the freeway, a sign designed to save lives has also been appropriated by some supporters of the Far Right who may not be aware of its original meaning.
“With that in mind I adapted it as a flyers for such human groups outside the Grey Area expressing their dissatisfaction, along with using the warning signs as target practice!
“The warning signs themselves also parody the alien encounter clichés found in science fiction films; an acceptable fiction to make the grey more black and white and palatable and to popularise the “Easy narrative” over the complex and more nuanced reality.”
In the real world, the Caltrans signs, erected at at a time when attempts to enter into the United States through California ran into the thousands each year, now markedly less, have mostly been removed. In 2017, just one remained, placed between two wooden poles in a concrete median in the northbound direction of Interstate 5, just before a sign that says “Welcome to California.”
A photograph of one of the signs hangs at the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. (The original proved too large for permanent installation).
It’s not the first time Navajo artist John Hood’s work has been parodied, of course. Back in 2011, for example, Banksy reinterpreted the image while visiting Los Angeles, adding a kite to the hand of the man, transforming the frantic race towards an unknown future and destiny in an extravagant scene.
Interpretations of the sign have featured on T-shirts, coffee mugs, murals, political cartoons, wallpaper, book covers, the cover of a punk CD, a bogus magazine cover, a metal sculpture, etc. Political interpretations include the characters outfitted as Mayflower Pilgrims and the characters.
“2000AD has always used parody and satire to lampoon and undercut contemporary politics,” notes editor Matt Smith, “from the overt authoritarianism of ‘Judge Dredd’ to the prejudice faced by characters in ‘Strontium Dog’.
“Mark’s ‘Grey Area’ cover continues this tradition of not shirking from satirizing populist politics.”
• 2000AD Prog 2125 is on sale in print and digital this Wednesday 3rd April 2019 | Web: 2000ad.com
• Los Angeles Times, 2017: With only one left, iconic yellow road sign showing running immigrants now borders on the extinct