A novel written by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill
Published by Millsverse Books – 296 pages
The Story: 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 Review: Recently released as a digital ebook, Read Em and Weep Book One – Serial Killer is about to get the full physical release. If you are lucky enough to have a ticket to the upcoming 2000AD 40th Anniversary Event in London (11th February), then you can get a copy from the creators direct at their table.
Set in the suit-wearing 1970s Fleet Street but the attitude is all The Sweeney with a dash of Clockwork Orange and If?, it’s a book that brings into sharp focus just how important it is to write with the emphasis on character, some bile, a wry grin and, during the writing, possibly with a bottle of Scotch at hand.
Not since the memoirs of the likes of Groucho Marx or Spike Milligan have I read something that comes close to their appeal – until now. Anarchic and frenetic, but involving a small and charismatic cast this is a novel that is also subversive and, I note with glee, a little bit grubby around the edges. The perfect conjoining of Old School BBC elocution and gob-fuelled punk anger.
“You’re a lazy serial killer.”
I have read, re-read and pondered this novel for a while now, having been lucky enough to see a preview copy some time ago – but under strict instructions to remain tight-lipped until now. Pat Mill’s and Kevin O’Neill’s work in and outside of 2000AD has always been an inspiration to myself and to fans worldwide. but it is this novel, this naughty incitement to murder, this satirical and edgy tactical missile of darkness which ranks up there with their best work.
“You can’t have a story about a black footballer, son.”
As you follow the novel’s band of sarcastic, hedonistic, plotting and planning groovers from the 1970s, you are reminded what a great and creative playground the era was and wonder why it isn’t used for setting stories more often. It is an era that I remember well, back when I was a grubby-faced child and voracious comic reader. I marvelled at the pages of weekly comics like Action, Battle, Hotspur, Valiant and more. They would magically appear in the smoke-filled newsagents I regularly haunted – and I had no ruddy idea of where they came from. (And who knew what vile creatures newsagents could be?)
This world of (almost) gone and forgotten weekly adventure comics is base camp for what spins out into a murder story and a cat and mouse chase to solve another.
“Crying and swearing, well mainly swearing…”
This is very much the story of the acid-tongued, dry witted dreamers who created all our favourite and, on occasion, thoroughly life affirming characters. These characters, or perhaps slightly more nasty imaginary ones, are also blended into Pat and Kevin’s story – jumping in with both feet and, on occasion, executing some cruelly hilarious action.
(Given the story’s setting in a fictional publishing house with more than a few nods to a well-known comic publisher of the same era, you could also spend all weekend trying to figure out who was really who. I’m sure that there must be phone calls being made to Pat and Kevin asking “That ain’t me, is it?”)
Of all the characters in the novel, I dare you not to fall in love with Joy. She’s a creature of her times and is full of cynical coolness and some straightforward take-charge sexuality.
“You are more vegetable than boy!”
But, and here is the cunning and clever twist, there is also murder afoot. I don’t wish to spoil anything, but this novel is full of bloody intention, delivered in a style and method that will take you by surprise. The nostalgia of the times is a perfect setting for a few deaths, quite a bit of torture and the odd bit of rather badly-executed sexual intercourse.
“Peddling filth to our nation’s children…”
It was an absolute joy following the characters through the 1970s London I remember. A London full of pubs with their stinky regulars, phone boxes and porno cinemas. When parties had the odd hostess trolley floating around as well as the odd baggie of thai sticks.
Mills describes this period as full of change, both in the field of comics where the old guard of pipe-smoking nine to fivers is being taken over by some fresh new talent; as well as changes in the wider world, which is finally becoming that fresh and new playground of the permissive society and all that it promised.
You could argue that Read Em and Weep Book One – Serial Killer has echoed in the themes explored in TV’s Life on Mars, but set in the world of comics and publishing, rather than the police. But this has more of a genuine feel, it manages to be harsher in its settings whilst displaying front and centre some dark as fuck humour.
For this reader it is the dialogue that is this book’s Most Valued Player. It flows with such naturalistic energy. The plot is shaped by conversations that never once come off as exposition. It’s also the little asides that will raise a smile and a chuckle (you’ll see that I have included a few zingers of quotes in this review). Everyone you hear talking these days does so with long streams of cliche and catchphrase. But this brought back those clever men and women you used to hear talk, full of vinegar and verbal smackdowns. These gems are translated onto the page time and time again.
“Girls love wolves…”
Read Em and Weep Book One – Serial Killer is a book that will make you smile. It will definitely make you want to find out what will happen next and it will also make you want to click over to Google and find out who and what is true from the period in which it’s set.
It also made me (and I feel that I was easily led there) click over to eBay and buy a shed load of these now musty smelling but glorious comics.
If I had any complaint, it would be that I wish that the book had been longer or that the second instalment, Goodnight, Johnny Boy, is available right now.
“He never touched his spotted dick…”
Chatting to the creators, I understand that this book has been gestating for a while now. At first it was almost a TV series, then a possible radio show and now a novel.
And about bloody time! This is a book that kicks the arse of all those banal page turners that you see in the train station WHSmith.
Read Em and Weep Book One – Serial Killer is a book with teeth. It will flick you in the balls with a towel and get off with your girlfriend behind your back. It is full of nuanced speech and setting, full of energy and cunning and most of all you will devour it and ask where the next serving is coming from.
The last few pages hint that this may be taking an unexpected turn somewhere else… we’ll just have to wait and see!
Highly recommended. 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.
Right – I’m off to find someone to put “Punctuate Me!” on a T-shirt.
Many thanks for reading.
Antony Esmond is a comic reviewer and writer – his hips don’t lie.