Sunday, December 31, 2017

Jim Baikie

As mentioned elsewhere, my entry point into 2000AD prog-wise was the early 300s, and in those initial issues a short-lived strip was begining to wind down.

Skizz, by Alan Moore, was the story of an alien interpreter from Tau Ceti crashing to Earth and evading the Authorities with the help of a local kid. It was E.T, I knew, but I also recognised that Moore had other things to throw into the mix: this wasn't the autumnal suburban hills of California that Interpreter Zhcchz was dragged into, but central Birmingham amid the bleak early 80s winter of Thatcherism, record unemployment and bleak opportunity Its human protagonist is Roxy, a girl - still a newish thing for 2000AD and in retrospect predicting Moore's realisation of the same in Halo Jones.  In short, it's E.T meets Boys from the Blackstuff by way of a little bit of contemporary TV (Philip Sandifer nods towards the likes of Minder and Grange Hill, but therese are minor influences at best), and while the clash of realism and fantasy would recur in the years that followed in the comic, this was the first roll off the slipway, and one of the best-remembered.

Key to me is Moore's script alongside the art of Jim Baikie, whose time at 2000AD was just beginning, Baikie had come from a variety of UK illustration jobs, often working on various licensed products and titles (Monkees, Star Trek, Hammer House of Horror, Look In and Countdown, for which he provided some Doctor Who art) plus forays into TV spin-offs such as Charlie's Angels, The Fall Guy, and more recently, Terrahawks. Like Moore he had a previous association with Warrior magazine, and was imported into Tharg's team from there. Baikie has a pen-based apporach, with  nice heavy brush on shading anfd a flowing approach to his linework. I can see a lot of contemporaries in his work - Jim Burns and Steve Parkhouse in particular. He likely co-created the look of the kangaroo-like Skizz with Moore, but he could do fantasy well enough - although it's the realism in his work which sells Skizz and becomes a recognisable trait in his work. Baikie's humans arent the elongated strips of sinew that Mick McMahon rendered the likes of Dredd and Slaine, nor the beefcake slabs of muscle under Bisley's tenure, but realistic, unexaggerated forms. His Dredd looks harder for this, and importantly for Skizz, his Lol,Roxy, and tragic no-hoper Clarence Cardew look as though they've come off a Birmingham high street - their fates accrus a pathos because of their recognisability.

Outside of Skizz Baikie also turned his hand to Dredd, helping out with the mega epic Oz, and providing some memorable shot stories and one-shots - in particular the three-part Hitman with its loathsome, toad-like human assassin, and the classic In the Bath which features early 90s cranky Joe Dredd doing what he does best... well,that would be telling.

Baikie went beyond the parent comic to work on spin-off Crisis, where he collaborated with John Smith on the action-oriented New Statesman, as well as turning up Stateside for a brief run on Star Wars. The relaunched Eagle magazine saw him team up with fellow Scot John Wagner for their dinosaur romp Bloodfang, which I look forward to covering in a future instalment of Where Eagles Dare.

In the early Nineties he returned to Skizz for the second series as an artist-writer, giving the story a more satirical edge, but the first story remains the superior, and I'd say so because of its more worldly elements. 'Reliable' is an epithet I apply to a lot of artists who turn in just that sort of work - consistent, faithful, relatable, and it's no dismissal agaist the likes of innovative artists like those above. Blaikie's work remained no less recognisable and was always faithful to its subject. Those first few encounters with his work in Skizz made a big impression on me, and no doubt will remain for some time.

Rest in peace, sir.

Jim Baikie 28 February 1940 – 29 December 2017

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas 1987. Respect!

2017 is guttering its last light, and to many I'd imagine it's goodbye and good riddance. But before we leave it all behind and ride the shopping trolley into oblivion, let's enjoy this moment in which, at the Monkeyhouse at least, a real sense of Christmas cheer has genuinely descended.

Your writer, once a few days of non-work had passed, finaly shucked off a year's work worries and just learned to enjoy the brief time off. His wife of now sixteen years (for whom he is eternally grateful) found her groove in seasonal craft and no wooden clothespeg is safe. Meanwhile, Jet Jr has 'clicked' with Christmas, his days filled with revised wish lists and enquiries about the physics of Santa's chimney-related speliology.

It would be ill-fitting, therefore, to select a Christmas song which is anything but traditional, and so in 2017 I'm going back to the classics. Thirty years ago to 1987, in fact, where an SAW-revived Kim Wilde and a peak-powered, late lamented Mel Smith have joined forces to squeeze out a cheesy hit for Comic Relief. Here's the other Mel & Kim with a distinctly Eighties' take on the Brenda Lee yuletide belter:

Look at that. Look at it! So Eighties with the big hair, the obligatory Ray Bans, Curiosity Killed the Cat, random video effects and the quaint 50s nostaliga of it all - including the Mekon! I've just watched it with the sound down and it's still watchable for one key ingredient: Melvin Kenneth Smith, one of my favourite UK comedians and his marvellous ability to mug his way out of any situation, however ridiculous.

Sure, his erstwhile comedy partner Griff Rhys Jones is in the mix, but for me Mel was the greater talent, his presence a mark of quality on many projects outside their combined efforts Not the Nine O'Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones. One of the things I want to do in 2018 is reacquaint myself with his short-lived sitcom Colin's Sandwich, featuring Smith as the titular sandwich would-be horror writer and his take on British comedy's most enduring couple: the middle-aged man and his neuroses.

But I'm drifting. Outside it's a balmy 25 degrees, the hills are scorched and water restrictions loom for Wellington, but inside this house there's a little piece of northern hemisphere tat to mark the occasion and see us through. So Season's Greetings from Jetsam and the Simian family, and here's to a wonderful 2018.