Thursday, May 15, 2008

53. Girls Less Ordinary

In October 1997, two of the most unusual of all 2000 AD series debuted. They would both be finished before the end of the year, never to be reprinted and never to be seen again. They're called The Space Girls and A Life Less Ordinary, and they're both pretty darn lousy. This is a shame, because prog 1063 does contain some very good material. There's the first part of a fantastic Judge Dredd comedy called "Mrs. Gunderson's Little Adventure" by John Wagner and Henry Flint which is probably better than any comic you've read in the last week, a good Sinister Dexter one-off by Dan Abnett and Julian Gibson, and a really creepy little Vector 13 by Abnett and Alex Ronald. So 60% of the comic's pretty great.

The UK had some pretty big pop culture exports in 1996-97. The Spice Girls released a series of hit singles, and Trainspotting, a film by the team of Danny Boyle, John Hodge and Andrew Macdonald, became one of the biggest and most imitated British movies in recent memory. The trio's next project, an odd fantasy about an heiress and her kidnapper falling in love thanks to the machinations of a pair of angels, was predicted to become another big hit. So the marketing people at Fleetway were already talking with editor David Bishop about finding some ways for 2000 AD to get some more publicity from the mainstream media when Channel Four Films asked for a meeting about a comic adaptation of A Life Less Ordinary. It's a little unfortunate that the scheduling worked out the way it did, because it meant that the eight-part comic version, which preceded the film's release by about three weeks, would run at the same time as the similarly market-led Space Girls.

That Space Girls isn't any good is no surprise, but what is odd is how utterly empty the story is. The strip was only going to run for five weeks, but the closest thing to a parody in the strip comes in the characters' wacky nicknames (such as Hyper Space and Wide Open Space). Otherwise, it's a very dull and boring affair which focusses on the villains instead of the heroines, who have nothing whatsoever to do with the world of pop music or media manipulation, two subjects which might have made the strip at least briefly memorable. The artist, Jason Brashill, had been painting episodes of Judge Dredd and Outlaw over the last couple of years. Here, he uses traditional pen and ink and the result is nowhere near as vibrant as what he'd done before. Since I often feel the reverse is true with 2000 AD artists (I believe that Clint Langley and Simon Bisley, for instance, did much better work in the 1980s and 1990s with pen and ink than paint), this may be seen as evidence of just how utterly backwards everything in Space Girls is.

I'll continue on that note next week, because there's "backwards" and then there's "upside down in the wrong dimension," which is how the Space Girls story will conclude.

John Tomlinson is listed as the writer of the series, and on the official site, David Bishop is listed as the uncredited co-writer of the first episode of Space Girls. Bishop is also listed as the writer of the Life Less Ordinary adaptation, but is not credited in the comic with it, either. Now here's a thankless job. You can't completely hold this dull, drab comic against him. Bishop had to assemble a comic script from an early shooting treatment of the movie in virtually no time at all, and then Steve Yeowell had to put the artwork together with inadequate reference of actors, costumes, locations, you name it. Turning it into a 48-page story would have been difficult enough, but with a cliffhanger every six pages?

In fact, it's been so long since I saw the film that I've forgotten practically all of its details. Without them, reading the first episode was a real chore, wading through choppy events with poor transition and even worse storytelling. It's a really bizarre experience, because neither Bishop nor Yeowell were novices when they put this strip together, and yet it feels like the disjointed work of people who'd never worked in comics and were still learning the rules. A little clue: the introductory text page with the photo of Cameron Diaz should not have been required reading to follow the comic. On that note, Steve Yeowell is a wonderful artist, and responsible for many classic thrills, but the photos that appear with each episode actually serve as a painful reminder of how much the characters do not resemble the actors who played them* and should not have been included.

Did this "marketing approach," as Bishop has sinced coined it, work? Probably not, as the "media-friendly" events in 2000 AD will end before 1998 and not be tried again. I can sort of see A Life Less Ordinary drawing in some curious readers but losing them within a week or two. However, if the Space Girls earned any readers, I'll be amazed. Hands up if you saw the name "Space Girls" and didn't think "oh, how stupid."

Next week, the wincing continues as the Space Girls meet an ignominous end.

Sinister Dexter Bullet Count: In prog 1062, Sinister takes his third bullet of the series, wounded in the back by a target called Lance Boyle.

*note: David Bishop, who was both editor and scriptwriter for the serial, clarified that 2000 AD didn't have the rights to the actual likenesses of the actors in question. So it was not that Yeowell "botched" the characters, as the original version of this entry stated, but that they weren't allowed to. This entry was modified on May 15 '08 to reflect the updated information.

(Originally pubished 5/15/08 at LiveJournal.)

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