Thursday, May 10, 2007

6. Getting Lost With Luke Kirby

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write. You can bookmark this feature and skip the rest of my Livejournal by clicking the "2000 ad" tab below.

Prog 887 was published in May 1994. Last time we had three Millars and a McKenzie, and this time it's two McKenzies and a Millar. The latter writer's Babe Race 2000 continues, as does The Clown by Igor Goldkind, who's joined by Greg Staples on art this time. Staples has other colors than brown in his palette and the result is much better looking than the previous episodes by Robert Bliss. Unfortunately, Goldkind's story has hit "head-scratching" at this point, so Staples is painting something less than engaging.

John Tomlinson, using the "Sonny Steelgrave" pseudonym that he shares with McKenzie, contributes the second half of a two-part Judge Dredd story illustrated by Clint Langley. This year, Langley has contributed some amazing computer-enhanced work on The ABC Warriors, but this is early in his career and it's frankly a big green and black mess, full of jagged edges and teeth. His signature even looks like a heavy metal logo. The script seems tailor-made to his work in the early 90s, such as Dinosty, so Tomlinson gets points for writing to his artists' strengths. Alan McKenzie, meanwhile, brings another fun Bradley adventure, this time sticking the skateboarding menace into a four-part take on The Prisoner of Zenda. Simon Harrison is the art droid for this one, meaning everybody looks like brilliantly-colored statues made from mucus.

Yes, there was some damning with faint praise in those two paragraphs. Fortunately, we've got The Journal of Luke Kirby to take up the slack.

We're coming to the end of the third Luke Kirby serial in this issue, and it's a real shame that it did not continue beyond McKenzie's departure from the comic. It was always the odd strip out: slow-paced, magical and rural, and with a protagonist as young as many readers. The initial artist was John Ridgway, but the great Steve Parkhouse has stepped in at this point, and his work is just excellent.

Originally intended as a pitch for Eagle around 1987, Luke Kirby found its way into 2000 AD instead, where there was some consternation about whether the series was right for the comic. It's set in the early 1960s and features a young boy learning the family tradition of magic and coming up against supernatural opponents. The stories are told very well, with unusual, off-setting imagery, like a depiction of one of Hell's levels being modern London, so crowded and full of miserable people that Luke can barely stand it.

Luke himself is a very strong central character. He's mostly on his own (without the strong support system of other young magicians which lets certain other superstar magicians of children's fiction accomplish anything), and comes across as a sad, lonely boy, nursing some genuine inner hurt after the deaths of some close family members. He's a very sympathetic character, and he's totally got my son hooked. Over this run, he's really enjoying Dredd, and Missionary Man over in the Meg, and Luke Kirby. Nothing else is interesting him, suggesting that spotlighting a character around the age of 10 or 11 is a pretty good idea for an anthology comic to do every once in a while.

(Incidentally, McKenzie, Ridgway and Parkhouse had worked together about ten years prior to this issue. They were the team behind the first year of Sixth Doctor stories for Marvel's Doctor Who Magazine - McKenzie as editor - before Parkhouse stepped down. McKenzie scripted the second year on his own. I don't think they ever really captured the essence of Doctor Six - grouchy, loud, antiauthoritarian and a total hero to any child who's recently been told to clean his room - but they had some neat ideas.)

Anyway, Luke Kirby's one of those annoying strips that has never been collected. Over at his website, The Story Works, McKenzie has made a similar claim to the one Grant Morrison's made over Zenith: he never formally assigned copyright on the series to the publisher, and consequently it resides with him. The corporate response - and McKenzie will understand that I'm the fan who wants reprint collections on his bookshelf and will toe the corporate line to get 'em - is that the copyright got signed over when the writers and artists cashed the paychecks. On the other hand, it's not exactly a court fight that Rebellion can really afford to lose, since the resulting negative precedent would end up costing 'em a sizeable chunk of their back catalog. That's why the copyrights, trademarks and ownerships are all signed out in legalese upfront since Rebellion bought the comic in 2000 and you don't get these sort of quibbles these days.

So since nobody wants to test those ugly legal waters, Luke Kirby sits in limbo. That's a shame, because any reader who's enjoyed Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic or that superstar magician kid would totally enjoy Luke Kirby, plus you'd get more of Parkhouse and Ridgway's great art back in print. You could do those 46 episodes in one big book or two thin ones (the first 22 episodes in one and the last 24 in the second; that would be a perfect split.), and my kid could take them to school. He'd like that, and so would yours.

Next week, I'll talk about something my kid didn't like. At ALL. But I did...

(edit: The introductory paragraphs of this article were revised on Sept. 4 2007 to clarify that the Dredd episode was scripted by John Tomlinson, and not by Alan McKenzie. In the comments of the LiveJournal entry, Mr. McKenzie offers further input on Luke Kirby's copyright situation. --Grant)

(Originally published 5/10/07 at LiveJournal.)

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