A long, long, time ago, British bands such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and The Who took the American art form of rock and roll and decided they were better at it than we were. That period of time is referred to as the British Invasion because no one from the Revolutionary War was alive to say that isn’t funny, it’s disrespectful to those who fought and died against the British; they were our oppressors and wouldn’t let us drink our tea.
Comic books are also an American art form, around longer than rock and roll. Not so long ago, a few Britons took that and decided they were better at it than we were. That period of time is also referred to as the British Invasion because of reasons.
Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison were at the forefront of this invasion in the 80’s. They revolutionized comic book storytelling with works like The Watchmen, Sandman, and Animal Man, respectively,.
Author Greg Carpenter examines their contributions and postulates that this leads to the inventory of the Modern Comic Book Writer. You know what a modern comic book writer is, right? They give us the brooding, sullen hero with the weight of the world on their shoulders, bemoaning how difficult it is to have strange abilities far beyond those of mortal men. (Boo Ho you can fly! Get over yourself!)
The book itself doesn’t offer much in biographical anecdotes on what it is specifically about being from the U.K. that made these guys great writers but he does give you a deep dive into what made their stories great.
Blatantly titling each chapter after a British pop song (e.g. Let It Bleed, Paperback Writer) Carpenter takes us from the beginning of their careers, writing for British comics and publications, such as Miracle Man, Doctor Who and 2000 A.D., through the actual Invasion at DC Comics, to their current whereabouts.
As he charts where Moore’s, Gaiman’s and Morrison’s careers converge, or diverge in some cases, he stops to give an in-depth analysis of their works including modern-day classics such as The Killing Joke, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and more.
Fortunately, Greg Carpenter knows what he’s talking about as he is a university teacher of modern-day literature, writer, and regular contributor at Sequart, a website and publisher of books of all culture that pops.
Perhaps because of Carpenter’s academic background, the book does come off like a text-book. It’s dry and dense and filled with footnotes however, to the best of my knowledge, a book this scholarly about comic books and graphic novels rarely comes along.
I’ve read about 60% of the titles Carpenter talks about in this book: mostly Moore (Swamp Thing, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, etc.), some Morrison (a majority of Animal Man, some Doom Patrol, and Arkham Asylum, and a bit of Gaiman (a fair share of Sandman key issues, and Stardust) so it was interesting for me to see Carpenter’s analysis on such familiar titles like Watchmen or Sandman. It gave me a bit of a new perspective on them. As far as the books I haven’t read, I now have a solid idea on which ones I should pick up or just not even bother with.
Carpenter does include a small smattering of pages from the comics to illustrate his thesis, but I recommend having the actual books on hand to get the full impact of the analysis. It’ll be like comic book college.
Aside of reading about the writers’ techniques, I am a sucker for some biographical info. What is it that made these Brits come across the pond and with their deconstructionist and iconoclastic stories turn the comic book world upside down? I never really found out, which was what I was looking for.
Not to take anything away from Moore, Morrison or Gaiman, but the title suggests that the Modern Comic Book Writer would not have existed without the British Invasion happening. I say thee, nay!!
Citing only anecdotal inferences of quotes or footnotes from interviews. The British trio strived hard to work for either of the big publishers and when they came across the pond they brought with them their British sensibilities.
British writers aside, I feel it was a natural progression from the silly and fun stories of the 60’s and 70’s to the more adult stories of the 80’s and on. At the time, works by Frank Miller (Dark Knight Returns) and Marv Wolfman (The New Teen Titans) and others were also helping to shape the medium. (Marvel’s contribution was giving us gimmicky comic book covers)
These British writers also grew up reading Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and Denny O’Neil and were taking these concepts a step further, much like how Lennon and McCartney, and Jagger and Richards listened to American blues musicians.
I feel that, and this may be just my personal experience, the nerdy kid in the 70’s was being laughed at for reading silly comic books because adults remembered the campy 1966 Batman TV show. Viet Nam, Watergate, and the Cold War told us to put away such childish things. It was time to grow up. What happened instead was that these writers showed this “silly” medium can be more than people dressed as bats or talking plants, it can be used to discuss real world topics and provide metaphors on social issues, that these comic books can be expanded into graphic novels and be as complex as any prose story can be.
Moore, Gaiman and Morrison arguably contributed to comic book storytelling more than their Americans counterparts, they just happened to be British, and they just happened to have started working at DC at roughly the same time.
Although Carpenter didn’t coin the phrase British Invasion, perhaps a more accurate title for his book should have been Three Great Writers: Who Happen to be British and Started writing for American Comics in the 80’s.
Full disclosure: a digital review copy was provided by Sequart to What’chaReading
As far as we know, Juan Pineda is not British nor related to the Royal Family (although DNA tests are pending)