View profile

To Mek or Not to Mek, That Is The Question

Comics, FYI
To Mek or Not to Mek, That Is The Question
By Graeme McMillan • Issue #22 • View online
Kevin O'Neill fans, or archeologists of comics history, get ready to get excited.

A forgotten piece of comic book history makes an unexpected return next week, with the re-release of Mek Memoirs. Originally self-published by creators Chris Lowder (Kids Rule OK, Dan Dare, and plenty of other British comic strips of the 1970s) and Kevin O’Neill (Nemesis the Warlock, Marshall Law, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and a lot more) in 1976, the 20-page mini-comic features tales of robot mayhem that feel like the secret origin for much of what O’Neill would go on to do at 2000 AD years later – as well as reading like a more frenetic, gloriously over-the-top take on the war genre that was central to British comics of the period. It is, to be blunt, absolutely glorious. 
The new edition – published in a limited edition of 400, and without staples at O’Neill’s request – is the first release of Dark & Golden, a new imprint from a couple of British comics luminaries, Douglas Noble (creator of Really Horrible Folk and the Pocket Chiller series, as well as, on an entirely different note, the amazing Jings! Comics! Help Ma Boab! blog) and Tom Oldham of Breakdown Press and celebrated London comic store Gosh! Comics. To someone like me, Dark & Golden is a dream come true: an imprint intended to bring the lost pieces of British comics history back into the spotlight, including some from genuinely unexpected sources.
I talked to Oldham and Noble via email to find out more, and in the process just made myself more excited.
Let’s start at the beginning: What is Dark & Golden, and how did it get started?
Dark & Golden is a new imprint intended to seek out and republish British comics that have, for one reason or another, slipped between the cracks of history, and that we feel deserve greater attention. It’s run by Tom Oldham, of Breakdown Press, and Douglas Noble of Strip For Me. Dark & Golden is one of those things that grew out of a conversation about a creator who had seemingly dropped out of view, and all the work he’d done that was sitting uncollected. That quickly grew into “someone should collect that” which led right into “we should collect that”.  
Essentially, we are building a set of books that should always have been in the library – the things that we would happily have grabbed off the shelf if they existed. Our hope is that Dark & Golden will be something like the BFI Flipside of British comics, highlighting formative work and forgotten masterpieces - things that are historically significant to British comics but have somehow fallen into obscurity.
The imprint is, according to PR, “dedicated to charting a less travelled course through the history of British comics.” Generally, British comics history has tended to be overlooked, even though it feeds so heavily into the more explored American comics history through the British Invasion; outside of books like Thrill Power Overload or David Roach’s Masters of British Comic Art, I can’t think of many recent examples really trying to deal with it. Are there particular areas that you’re both already planning for future releases?
In British comics at the moment, we are very lucky in that Rebellion’s Treasury of British Comics line has been doing great work in returning a chunk of mainstream UK stories into print, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the similarly wonderful job that Hibernia have been doing in pulling out favorites from the Fleetway and Eagle archives. We see ourselves as complementary to those lines – finding things originating in the small press, or venues where you maybe wouldn’t have expected to find comics at all.
The thing about the British comics scene up to the end of the 80s was that they were everywhere, not just coming out from IPC & DC Thomson*, or tucked after the TV listings in the newspapers – but they were in the music press, and computer magazines, motorcycle magazines, all sorts. Brett Ewins even did a strip that ran on the back of crisp packets. The small press exploded at the time too, with a hundred different titles for all tastes. 
It’s those things that we’d like to shine a light on – bringing them back into the conversation to deepen our understanding of what British comics have been and could be. There are a wealth of artists who didn’t get their due at the time because they were appearing in the wrong place, or weren’t seen as part of the comics world. We’d even be tempted to go back to works before comics - exploring the connections of cartoonists of the 18th & 19th centuries to comics as we know them now. The goal is always going to be how we can make the world of comics a bit bigger.
Mek Memoirs feels ideal as a place to launch the imprint: Kevin O’Neill is a big name (and one providing new art for the project), and Memoirs in particular feels like a lost piece of proto-2000 AD world building, which ties in with 2000 AD’s recent 45th birthday celebrations. Was this something both of you had known about for awhile, or did it come to light while researching potential releases? 
While Mek Memoirs wasn’t the title that pushed us into setting up Dark & Golden, as soon as it came up in conversation we knew it would be the right choice to start the line. We had previously only seen photographs of it and heard of the prices that rare copies of it turning up on ebay were fetching. It seemed like something people needed to be able to get hold of. 
Part of the idea of Dark & Golden isn’t just nice editions for today, but also getting those books into libraries of record, so that future historians of comics will have access to the work. As you rightly say, Mek Memoirs is an important part of the conversation that has been neglected – our hope is that this will go some way to correct that.
How did O’Neill get involved with all of this? 
Kevin has a relationship with Gosh! Comics in London, where Tom also works, and Tom knew that Gosh had planned a celebration of Kev’s work over the year, including a new print and a new edition of Hibernia’s Cosmic Comics, so we were able to suggest the reprint of Mek Memoirs on the back of that.  We were surprised and delighted to find out that Kev was not only up for making it happen, but had also retained all the original art (including things never seen before) and would be happy for us to make new scans to present the work better than it had ever been seen before. Kev also created a fantastic new cover for this edition, for which we will be forever grateful.
The new edition of Mek Memoirs is not only a (very) limited edition, but also as the official description has it, “in accordance with the artist’s wishes… presented without staples.” Will future releases follow similar models where they’re as much objet d’art as, well, comics? 
We will be looking at each publication on a case-by-case basis. As editors we’ll have ideas about what best serves the work, but the artists will always have input. Some releases might be facsimile editions whereas others might have radically different presentations to their original appearances. We’ll also be looking at providing some kind of contextual material, whether essays or interviews, in order to underline why this work is important.  
What is next for Dark & Golden, after this initial release? Can you offer teases for what’s coming up?
At the moment we are just getting final confirmations on our next few titles, but teasing is always nice, so let’s be very cryptic. We’ll hopefully have something coming from an artist that Douglas has work by on his wall, from creators south of Watford and on the road, work that covers the spectrum and comes from other undergrounds. It’s going to be fun.
Copies of the new edition of Mek Memoirs will be available in Gosh! Comics and via the Dark & Golden online store this Monday. 
* IPC and DC Thomson were the two biggest comics publishers in the United Kingdom for much of the latter half of the 20th century; IPC, which was also at various times known as Amalgamated Press and Fleetway, was the publisher that created 2000 AD, Starlord, Action – the controversial British one, which most Americans aren’t aware of but has an utterly fascinating story behind it – and a whole host of titles aimed at girls including Princess Weekly, Tammy and Misty. DC Thomson, meanwhile, was responsible for The Beano, The Dandy, Commando, Starblazer, and Bunty, amongst many other titles.
Without these publishers, the U.S. industry likely wouldn’t have seen the likes of Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, to name just a few, never mind the many British creators who got into comics via reading stuff published by these companies as kids. Even to those of you who didn’t grow up in the U.K., the history of British comics is very important to where American comics are today.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Graeme McMillan

A newsletter about comics, the comic industry, and comic book culture.

In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue