With the 40th Anniversary 2000AD celebration this weekend in London, we’re delighted to bring you this extract from Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill’s new novel, published by Millsverse Books, set in the wold of 1970s comics publishing…
Be advised this extract is not for sensitive souls (or very young ones)…
The 1970s is a dangerous time for kids… An even more dangerous time for adults who do them wrong.
Meet comic book editor Dave Maudling: The world’s laziest and most cowardly serial killer… although, actually, he’s never killed anyone himself – yet. Instead, Dave has been including lethal information in his stories, hoping that they will result in an early demise for his readers.
But something unexpected and wonderful happens: the kids instead use the homicidal details that Dave provides to target their oppressors – abusive adults who believe they are above the law.
Meet Jean, Dave’s femme fatale mother. She’s glamorous. She’s dangerous. She’s dead. And she wants him to solve her murder.
But curiously, despite casting himself as Villain in his life story, Dave is actually becoming something of a hero.
Dave works around the corner from Fleet Street, at Fleepit Publications, publishers of Britain’s most popular magazines.
Working with him is girls’ comic editor Joy, a beautiful but foul-mouthed Glaswegian who doesn’t take any crap and is heroically pursuing her ambition to subvert the world of comics publishing. And fantasist Greg too, Dave’s assistant editor, who likes to dress as his movie hero of the day and is only sleeping with Joy because he thinks her famous dad will help him get his novel published.
The next day, a frozen Greg escaped to Liverpool Street, looking forward to the warmth of the train journey home to Colchester.
Dave, now in his civvies, and Joy went to see Jaws at the Odeon in Edgware Road. It had a massive curved screen, 75 feet wide and 30 feet high, and the great white shark seemed to leap out of the screen at them as Joy chain-smoked and Dave chewed nervously on his pipe.
Unusually, there was no support film and every seat was taken.
The film was so exciting, Dave forgot to hit on Joy. Even though her fur was as gorgeous as she was. He snuggled up to it once or twice until she glared at him to stop. She’d taken it off, so this was understandable.
His mother had taken a back seat in his head over Christmas, ever since he had rejected her shocking new suggestion for cracking her case now that he’d drawn a blank with Annie. ‘No, we’re not having this conversation, mum.’
‘Hear me out, Dave.’
‘Sorry. I’m not listening.’
‘But you want to know who the murderer is.’
‘No, you want me to know who the murderer is.’
‘Well, I’m living inside your head, so what’s the difference?’
‘Mum, there are some things I will never, ever do, and what you are suggesting is number one on the list.’
‘But it’s the best way.’
‘We’ll talk about it later, dear.’
‘No, mother, we will not.’
As Dave and Joy came out of the cinema, he told Joy he had a surprise for her. He was going to take her somewhere special for a meal.
‘Where? Where?’ asked Joy excitedly. She’d noticed he hadn’t brought her a present, or even a bottle, for Christmas and this would surely make up for it.
‘I want it to be a surprise,’ he replied. After Jaws, he felt it would be the perfect end to the day and a real treat for her.
They walked part of the way to their destination on the Seven Sisters Road so Joy could smoke a spliff. She talked about her plans for White Death, which sounded scarier than Jaws. It wasn’t just the opening Australian beach scenes where a bikini-clad swimmer is graphically eaten alive. Or the subsequent episode, after the fall of Saigon in April 1975, when an American gunship, fleeing Vietnam, ditches in the ocean and White Death goes into a feeding frenzy,
feasting on the drowning soldiers. The follow-up episodes she described to Dave were even more nightmarish.
He definitely made the right decision choosing her shark story over Greg’s, he decided. Not that he had any choice.
‘Give me the job, or I’ll do a dirty protest in the men’s toilets,’ she had warned him.
‘No one would notice,’ he told her.
But he admired her determination, and Greg’s version was crap, anyway. His new comic was taking shape. He had really wanted call it Street, but he knew the board would never understand why. So he’d settled for Aaagh! which was now the official title of JNP66.
They continued their journey to Dave’s mystery restaurant by bus. On board, Dave told her about Greg’s shark story and she howled with laughter at just how bad it was. It was important, Dave decided, to make Greg look really stupid, just in case his rival changed his mind and tried to get back with Joy. From the way she was hanging onto his arm and laughing at his jokes, he had the distinct feeling he was going to get lucky tonight.
Greg’s version was called Moby Jaw. It featured a giant killer sperm whale that attacked and ate people.
‘Did you research this story, Greg?’ Dave had asked him. ‘Are there, in fact, any fresh water whales that swim up the Thames to spawn? And can they crawl onto the bank of the Thames, singing their mighty songs? Like this scene where Moby Jaw attacks people in Piccadilly Circus?’
‘It just crawls for short distances on its flippers,’ said Greg defensively.
‘Before reviving itself in a local swimming pool.’
‘It’s a stirring saga of the sea.’
‘The river, actually. And Inspector Ahab of the Yard is determined to track him down and kill him. How difficult is it to catch a whale in the Thames? I’d have thought it was No Hiding Place.’
Joy was doubled up laughing. ‘Oh, no more, Dave, please,’ she giggled as the bus pulled over at their stop on the Seven Sisters Road, ‘or I’ll wet myself.’
‘Yes!’ thought Dave. ‘Making Greg look a complete cock has earned me extra brownie points. I am definitely going to get lucky tonight.’
They walked the final short distance to the restaurant.
‘So what do you think, Joy?’ he smiled at her. ‘Are you ready for your Christmas treat?’
‘Aye, you bet,’ she said happily.
And he indicated his special surprise restaurant.
‘Here we are. What do you think, Joy?’
‘What … what is this place?’ said Joy, looking up at the unfamiliar golden arches and instinctively backing away from it.
‘It’s called McDonalds. It’s only the second McDonalds in Britain. There are going to be many more of them, Joy. You’re looking at the future.’
Joy went white and took a step back.
Dave was concerned. Perhaps she was coming down with something? He had better get her in the warm. He helped her through the welcoming doors of the restaurant.
Inside, Dave had a quarter-pounder with cheese for 48p. He just knew Joy would appreciate his Yuletide budget choice. Although she did seem rather quiet as she ate her McMariner fishburger for 30p.
‘You know what they say? “It’s a difference you can taste”, Joy,’ he smiled.
‘Aye. Aye. That is so true,’ she sighed, looking miserably around her.
She seemed rather withdrawn for some reason and he wondered if her depression was returning. He sipped his coke and held it up for her inspection. ‘It’s the real thing,’ he said conversationally.
She lit an ordinary cigarette and didn’t respond, so he started to sing the famous song: how he would like to buy the world a coke. But, for some reason, this was not to her liking and she stopped him with a glare. Perhaps he was out of tune?
Then she talked about some report her father had written on Coca-Cola, Guatemala and trade unions. She was very passionate about it and got quite angry at one stage, but it sounded pretty boring to him so he didn’t pay it much heed. He was too busy imagining them making love.
He wondered why the famous commercial bothered her so much. He knew she’d been at Woodstock, maybe it reminded her of it? Made her feel nostalgic? She was clearly not in the mood for ‘snow-white turtle doves’ just now. Maybe it brought back other negative memories of the sixties for her? Yes, that must be it.
‘The peace and love thing was difficult for you, wasn’t it, Joy?’ he suggested gently.
‘What do you mean?’ she growled menacingly, her Glaswegian accent coming out.
‘When you were at Woodstock? Letting the sunshine in?’
‘Screw the sunshine. I was totally out of my face.’
‘Yes, that’s what I meant. I couldn’t imagine you with flowers in your hair, dancing naked in the rain. Although I’d very much like to,’ he added as an afterthought.
‘You haven’t got a clue, have you, Dave?’
Still in soft drink mode, he sang his reply, ‘ “Help me find the way.” ’
‘Fuckin’ hell,’ she said.
She shook her head sorrowfully. ‘You have no idea who I am.’
She started to talk about her parents. They’d met in the Bohemian world of London’s Fitzrovia. Her Australian journalist father became famous for his savage attacks on the establishment: McCarthy, Malaya, Palestine. Her mother, Coira, was a beautiful and successful Scottish actress who stayed true to her working-class roots.
Joy explained that she tried to uphold the values her parents had impressed upon her. Despite their wealth, they had insisted she had an ordinary state education. Although, of course, she explained, the Scottish education system was infinitely superior to the English, anyway.
They had told her about the evils of the multinationals. ‘That’s why …’ she looked around the burger bar and tailed off.
‘Ah!’ Dave suddenly realised. ‘That’s why you like being here! So you can be true to your working-class roots? I knew it was the right choice.’ He felt very pleased with himself. ‘And they taught you about value for money, too.’ he added knowingly. ‘As you’re always saying, “Many a mickle makes a muckle.” Another Coke?’
She was lost for words.
Then she tried again. She explained she had a career plan in her head. Every magazine she worked on must lead her closer to her great goal.
‘And I’m going to make it entirely on my own,’ she insisted proudly.
‘Apart from when you got a job on Oz, thanks to your Dad’s Australian connections?’ suggested Dave.
‘Apart from Oz,’ she said hastily. ‘You see, Dave, everything I write and edit has to have a purpose.’
‘So what was the purpose of those dope reviews you did for International Times?’
‘Apart from those dope reviews. I need to understand popular culture in all its forms in order to create the future Glass business empire.’
‘Ah. So working on Everlasting Love will be useful?’
‘Apart from Everlasting Love. That’s just shit.’
‘So is most popular culture.’
‘And I intend to change that.’ She leaned forward purposefully, ‘I have a vision, Dave. Not just one Time Machine. But a chain of Time Machines.’
‘You’re going to be a Time Lord?’ said an awed Dave.
‘And I want to be a publisher, too. I can reach the masses in a way my dad never can. That’ll show him,’ she smiled to herself.
‘We connect with kids at the most impressionable time of their lives,’ she continued. ‘Look at all the stupid things they do because some idiot has put them in a comic.’
‘How do you mean?’ asked Dave nervously.
‘Playing hide and seek in an old fridge. Putting fireworks through a letterbox. Playing on the bings. Slag heaps,’ she explained for the benefit of the Englishman. ‘Trying to breathe air through a plughole.’
‘So irresponsible,’ agreed Dave.
‘We have a huge influence on them. You know what they say? “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.” ’
‘It was true in my case,’ agreed Dave. ‘Although The Spanker readers may need longer.’
‘Don’t you see, Dave?’ she leaned forward and whispered excitedly. ‘Comics are the ultimate in subversion.’
‘You … you’re the enemy within?’ Dave gasped.
‘Yes, Dave. I am the enemy within. And I’m not talking about that episode of Star Trek.’
‘You want to change the world? To make a difference?’ These were alien concepts to Dave.
‘Is that so wrong?’
‘It’s unheard of in comics.’
‘I know. I’ve heard Ron on the virtues of complacency.’
‘Oh, yes,’ nodded Dave. ‘Ron believes in stasis. Although not passionately. That would require effort.’
‘There’s this huge market out there waiting, and it’s all mine.’ She hastily corrected herself,
‘Ours, for the taking.’
‘I’m in awe, Joy. Speaking as a man who has always cherished failure, who knows there is no light at the end of the tunnel, who sees no future for himself, except as editor of Budgie Mirror, I can only admire your dream from my rungless-ladder on the wrong side of the tracks.’
Her beautiful brown eyes filled with tears. Once again she was revealing that softer, gentler side that Greg insisted she had. She leaned forward and held his hands. ‘What happened to you, Dave? What did they do to you?’
‘Well …’ He took a deep breath.
‘No. No. I know. Let’s not get into all that again.’ She gently removed the liquorice pipe from his mouth. ‘You poor, pathetic, strange, innocent man-child.’
‘You sum me up so well.’
‘Come on.’ She stubbed a second cigarette out on her half-eaten fish burger and got up.
‘Where … where are we going?’
‘Home.’ She whispered in his ear, ‘I am going to fuck your brains out.’
‘Joy, that’s …’
‘No. Don’t speak. You’ll spoil the moment. Again. Let’s go.’ She turned to leave. ‘Hurry. Before I change my mind.’
Dave hurried. He noted that this sympathy shag idea of Greg’s really worked. He must be pathetic more often. And they should also eat at McDonalds more often.
Back at Joy’s, she was unaware of the cold, as usual. She stripped off and climbed into bed.
No longer wearing his gorilla suit, Dave had a sense of what Greg had been through. An icy blast whistled through the apartment and he shivered, despite himself,
‘It’s the open plan,’ Joy explained.’I knocked down that wall with a sledgehammer.’
Dave felt it was expected of him to begin with a romantic prologue, but she quickly interrupted him, ‘Dave, there’s no need. Just get your kit off.’
‘This is the seventies, Dave.’ She held up her hand. ‘D’you see any rings? D’you see any babies? Come on. Hop in and hop on.’
He did and moments later he was embracing her. ‘Oh, Joy. This feels so right. You’re like exquisite white china. So delicate. So smooth, so …’
Joy frowned. ‘I rejected that script of yours last week. We’re going to have comic sex, are we? Rejected comic sex.’
‘What was wrong with it?’
‘You make me sound like a toilet.’
He tried again. ‘I long for your Holy Grail, Joy …’ he began passionately.
‘I hope you’re wearing a shield,’ she replied. ‘Let me see.’ She looked under the covers.
‘Oh. You’re a hobbit.’ He paused, mortified. ‘That’s all right. Come on. Take me, Dave. Take me now, you word beast. I want every paragraph. No editing. Punctuate me! Punctuate me!’
Highly recommended, Read Em and Weep will be available to buy at the 2000AD celebration this weekend from Pat and Kev (Read Antony Esmond’s review here – and special thanks to him for suggesting this extract). Head over to amazon.co.uk to buy yourself a digital or physical copy of Read Em and Weep Book One – Serial Killer. Then head over to MillsVerse and find out more about the book.
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.