Review: AARGH!

Artist(s): Alan Moore, Bryan Talbot, Jamie Delano, Kevin O'Neill, Mark Vicars, Neil Gaiman, Rick Veitch, Shane Oakley, Steve Bissette.

I don’t write about politics on this site, but the recent rise to power of Conservatives in the UK for the first time in 13 years made me think of one of the heinous laws that the Thatcher government brought to life back in the 80s. I’m talking about the infamous Clause 28, a British homophobic law created by the Thatcher government to forbid the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities, including schools—that law was repealed only in 2003. I’d like to use this opportunity to remind everybody of its link to one of the most important, and most gay-friendly comics writers, Alan Moore.

Kevin O'Neill's very funny contribution

Moore might be well-known as a gay-friendly writer (there’s an article waiting to be written, there), but his most personal contribution to the fight against homophobia is probably a bit forgotten. Back in 1998, just after becoming famous as well as celebrated for Watchmen, he launched Mad Love, his own publishing company, and with AARGH!, a magazine-sized charity project, published his first title1. AARGH! (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia) was designed to bring money to a gay & lesbian organization fighting against Clause 282. At the time, Moore was living with his wife Phyllis and their girlfriend Deborah Delano3, making him closer to the queer community than he’s probably been before or since, and he got lots of friends and acquaintances, mostly straight but some queer, to contribute strips, one-pagers or short stories to AARGH!.
Some of them were already, or have become, well-known, such as Dave McKean, who drew the wonderful cover, or Neil Gaiman, a writer now known to be gay-friendly. Others were a surprising choice, like Dave Sim, the author of Cerebus, who would publish in 1994 an anti-feminist pamphlet which could hardly be seen as gay-friendly, or Frank Miller, not known for any pointed thoughts about masculinity, who wrote and drew a short strip entitled RoboHomophobe which I thought completely missed the point. There were also a lot of contributions by British artists, including lesbian artist Kate Charlesworth, gay artist David Shenton and future Moore collaborator Kevin O’Neill.

The high points of this anthology were for me three stories: Growing out of it, by Mark Vicars, Jamie Delano and Shane Oakley, From Homogenous to Honey by Neil Gaiman and Bryan Talbot, and The Mirror of Love by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch.
Growing out of it is the real life story of a gay man, Mark Vicars, from youth to adulthood, a journey fraught with dangers, and “now here comes Clause 28″, as the conclusion states. Oakley’s art gave the story a kind of manic energy and dark humor that was well-matched by Delano’s script, making this a moving account of the difficulties faced by young gays at the time—not that much has changed in that regard, it seems to me.
Mark Vicars, Jamie Delano and Shane Oakley have agreed to let me post their story here, so enjoy:

From Homogenous to Honey is something else entirely, and a proof of Gaiman’s talent for seemingly simple, but striking, ideas. Imagine a world where the very idea of homosexuality has been erased, including the work of arts, the artists themselves, the societies that didn’t have a problem with it…what are you left with? The chilling answer is right below, thanks to Neil Gaiman and Bryan Talbot, who, a few years ago, also agreed to let me post their story online (it has also been posted at Talbot’s site):

The last strip I want to comment on is, for me, one of the most moving gay-themed story I’ve ever read. In only 8 pages, Alan Moore covers the entire history of humanity from a gay perspective, using both an informative narration and a lyrical tone that, frankly, brought tears to my eyes when I first read the piece. He manages to convey the hardships of same-sex love throughout the ages, without being preachy or simplistic, and writes what is essentially a primer on the subject by focusing on love and beauty, well-served in that regard by Rick Veitch and Steve Bissette (two of his co-creators on this Swamp Thing run),who offer dense and detailed pages.
This strip was reprinted in 2008 by Rick Veitch in his self-published collection Heartburst and other Pleasures, but is also spawned another important book, also titled The Mirror of Love, this time a revival of Moore’s text alongside photographs by gay artist José Villarrubia. I’d written a few words about that book a few years ago, so I’ll just point you there.

From The Mirror of Love

Despite a few less than convincing contributions (but then, that’s the case with most anthologies), AARGH! was a milestone in terms of comics artists’ involvement in queer causes. It took 15 years to completely repeal Clause 28, and it would be stupid to claim that AARHGH! played a part in that. But sometimes, taking a stand is as important as the result of that stand, and Moore and (most of) his colleagues certainly took a firm and clear stand with their contributions to this anthology.

  1. If you’re interested in finding a copy of this magazine, you’ll have to hunt the back issues sellers, and be ready to spend dozens of dollars (two examples: Mile High Comics and My Comics Shop).
  2. Moore speaks about that in various interviews, including this one from 2000.
  3. Deborah Delano has recently written an article about being a lesbian and a teacher for Moore’s latest self-publishing effort, Dodgem Logic. This essay is in the fourth issue, which sports a very pretty gay love cover by John Coulthart

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