Back in 2009 I wrote a song with Natural Self that I titled, ‘The Illectrik Hoax’, the inspiration for which came from the comic strip by Pete Milligan and Brendan McCarthy – ‘The Electric Hoax’. This was one of the first (if not THE first) creative collaborations by the pair who (with Brett Ewins) went on to create some of my favourite comics of the 80’s and 90’s – Freakwave, Paradax, Rogan Gosh, Strange Days, Skin, Hewligan’s Haircut, Bad Company, Artoons, Sooner Or Later, various episodes of Judge Dredd and more.
The strip appeared in the weekly UK music paper, Sounds, in 24 parts sometime between mid ’78 and ’79. Each one a half page telling a vaguely coherent, if disjointed, story that seemed to throw up new characters with each episode. It’s a fascinating glimpse into a team’s earliest work and you can see them becoming more confident as the story progresses. McCarthy’s art improves, initially starting out with a lot of collage, and you can see him gain confidence with his figures and many different memes that would reoccur in his work surface for the first time. There are in-jokes and plugs for characters in 2000ad dotted amongst the numerous notes seen floating around in many of the episodes and personalities like Patrick McGoohan and John Lydon make appearances.
There’s a definite sense of post-punk Britain in the strip, both in the artwork and the tone, a crumbling state gripped by strikes and pre-1984 paranoia. Interestingly, some of the character designs already mirror that of the Mad Max films that McCarthy was later influenced by, even though this pre-dates the opening of the first film by a good 6 months. In a lot of ways his Thought Police could be described as cyber-punks before the phrase was invented, a clear mash up of the then-current punk fashion and the dystopian sci-fi setting of the strip.
Last year saw the publication of ‘The Best of Milligan & McCarthy’ hardback which reprinted selections from many of the titles listed above but not the full run of ‘The Hoax’. After years of searching for back issues of Sounds for episodes and the few instances where they crop up on the web, I lucked out when an eBayer put the complete run up for sale, all neatly clipped from the various issues they originally appeared in. I intend to share these, week by week, here on the blog but I urge you to check out the excellent Dark Horse -published ‘best of’ mentioned above which can be bought HERE.
Both creators went on to bigger things with Milligan writing for everyone from Marvel to DC, Vertigo to Dark Horse – his run on Shade The Changing Man reinventing the character. Since then he’s written just about all the greats: Batman, Hellblazer, Animal Man, Justice League, X-Men (in all sorts of varieties), Spiderman, The Punisher, Thor… you get the idea, he’s a big deal in comics writing. McCarthy went to Hollywood to design and storyboard film and TV concepts for films like Highlander, Coneheads, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Lost In Space and the first cgi TV show, ReBoot. He was also asked by director George Miller to design and co-write the fourth installment of the Mad Max saga, ‘Fury Road’ which has finally made it out of development hell to be released in 2015. Now working back in comics as well with his excellent ‘visual autobiography’, ‘Swimini Purpose’, new episodes and covers for Dredd, a Spiderman / Dr Strange crossover and the psychedelic ‘The Zaucer of Zilk’ all carrying on his unique take on the medium.
NB: My different spelling of ‘electric’ was intentional and the lyrics of the track in question have nothing to do with the strip itself, it was my coded nod to two of my favourite comic creators.