Tor.com comics blogger Tim Callahan has dedicated the next twelve months to a reread of all of the major Alan Moore comics (and plenty of minor ones as well). Each week he will provide commentary on what he’s been reading. Welcome to the eighth installment.
The two-year span from the beginning of 1982 to the end of 1983 were big years for Alan Moore. In that time, he moved from a dabbler in comics, a music magazine cartoonist at best, to a revolutionary comic book writer. 1982 saw the beginnings of “Marvelman,” “V for Vendetta,” and his run on the Marvel superhero known as “Captain Britain” (which I will write about for the next few weeks, beginning next Monday). As those strips were running, he was not only churning out “Future Shocks” for 2000 AD, but he was also offered a chance to write his first serial for that most popular of U. K. comics magazines.
The offer was basically, “hey, there’s this big movie coming out called E.T. can you do a version of that for us?”
And he did. It was called “Skizz.” And Alan Moore has repeatedly claimed that he never saw a single minute of E.T. by the time he wrote the comic.
“Skizz,” 2000 AD #308-330 (IPC Magazines, March 1983-August 1983)
Maybe now’s the time to confess — putting Alan Moore aside for the minute — that I don’t much like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and didn’t much like it back when I saw it in the theater at age 10. I’m the only person I know who actually prefers the by-all-objective-standards-terrible Atari video game to the widely-considered-classic film. At least the video game wasn’t saccharine sentimentality poured on top of white-bread naiveté. Or, if it was, I never found out, because I am still trying to figure out how to get the little lumpy guy out of that damned pit.
What I understand now, but didn’t understand at age 10, was that Steven Spielberg’s ode to childhood innocence is a humanistic fable. I just always thought it was a really lame sci-fi movie. I was a kid who grew up on Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back and had a best friend who read the Alien novelization right in class next to me (we were both too young to see that movie until the later glories of VHS). E.T. just couldn’t compare to that stuff. It was a suburban fairy tale with an ugly, pot-bellied little guy as the “monster.” I’m still kind of baffled that it caught on with the public the way it did.
Anyway, the 1982-1983 version of Alan Moore was directed to rip it off for 2000 AD based just on the premise and maybe some ads for the movie.
You’ll note that while “Marvelman” and “V for Vendetta” are spoken about in hushed tones by elbow-patch, pipe-smoking academics, and while “Captain Britain” is regarded as “that early Alan Moore thing that’s actually pretty good,” no one ever talks about “Skizz.” Even the Wikipedia page is little more than a sentence and a list of some follow-up series by the artist.
Has Moore disowned “Skizz” the way he has many of his other comic book work? When the “Skizz” movie is made, six years from now, will Alan Moore demand his name be removed from the credits?
How great would a “Skizz” movie be, by the way? An cinematic adaptation of Alan Moore’s adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s E.T.? That snake may eat its own tail too quickly to even register.
But wait, you don’t know how great a “Skizz” movie would be, because I haven’t told you about the comic yet.
It’s mostly…good. Goodish.
In not adapting E.T. but taking the same starting point (wimpy alien crashes on Earth, needs humans to help it survive), Moore ends up covering the same narrative ground as the film, but with a different social message. Basically, it looks like Moore saw the trailer for that movie, identified a few component parts – young protagonist to aid the alien, government scientists closing in, lights from a spacecraft above – and built a plot around it.
But as Alan Moore reports – as quoted in the quite-good history of 2000 AD, by David Bishop, entitled Thrill-Power Overload, — “…it wasn’t swiped from Steven Spielberg, not at all, but there’s an awful lot in there that owes far too much to Alan Bleasdale.”
Bleasdale, probably relatively (or completely) unknown in America then and now, was a prominent BBC television writer of the early-1980s, a master of the kind of social realism that the French were once known for, a century earlier. Bleasdale’s work, specifically The Boys from the Blackstuff – starring the man-who-would-be-Peter-Jackson’s-Theoden, Bernard Hill – depicted the hardscrabble working class life and the harsh realities of perennial unemployment in Liverpool.
For a fun Saturday afternoon, watch Bleasdale’s version of a man trying desperately to get a job and then watch a Romanticized American version of a similar story – something like “The Pursuit of Happyness.” It won’t make you feel good, I warn you, but it will make you throw your Will Smith collector’s mug into the trash and start pulling out the musty Emile Zola novels of your youth.
What makes “Skizz” worth reading – an entertaining Alan Moore snack of a comic book saga – is that Moore takes Spielberg’s outline (as decoded from that quite-bad trailer they passed off on audiences back in 1982) and thrusts it into the depression-stricken streets of Birmingham, England. Instead of an idyllic American suburb, with hoodies and bicycles, Moore gives us a lumpy little alien (drawn by Jim Baikie to resemble a martian kangaroo) amidst punks and pipe-fitters.
Our hero isn’t the noble, dorky Elliot, it’s the defiant (but amazing-hearted) Roxy O’Rourke, rebellious 15-year-old city girl.
And though Skizz, as the title character and alien in question, isn’t much of a character in the comic, he’s honestly more developed than E.T. is in the film. At least Skizz has a bit of an internal life – some dialogue, a bit of a dream sequence – and when we first see him handle his crashlanding on Earth, he endearingly repeats, “I am interpreter Zhcchz of the Tau-Ceti Imperium and I’m not afraid…”
Zhcchz = Skizz, when heard by Roxy, and that’s where the name comes from.
So Moore gives us a dose of social commentary, juxtaposed with the help-the-alien-survive-Earth plotline, as we meet Roxy’s friends in post-industrial Birmingham, including Cornelius, the jobless would-be pipefitter who seems pulled directly from the Alan Bleasdale television scripts and thrust into a soapy-social-protest sci-fi melodrama.
The simple-minded, but heroic, Cornelius, even has a catchphrase: “I’ve got my pride.” That becomes a recurring joke/button throughout the series, cut short by his seeming death at the hands of the authorities. I won’t spoil the whole thing for you.
Moore also gives us Mr. Aubrey and Mr. Van Owen, government operatives, the latter the lead scientist/alien-pursuer from the ‘Special Emergencies Commission.” He ends up in one of the radiation suits we see in the E.T. movie trailer, and he gets to play the role of the villain in the comic. Presumably, there’s some social commentary in his accent, as he gets the phonetic dialogue like, “Did it threaten you? Is thet why you’re efraid to talk? Eh, missy?”
Unless that’s just supposed to imply that he’s Dutch, and that is menacing enough.
Van Owen just can’t understand what Skizz wants, or what kinds of threats he’s hiding. In Van Owen’s world, everything from outside – everything he can’t control or categorize – is a force of evil. But Skizz explains that his is a pacifistic race of beings: “When…technology…has reached…a certain level…weapons…are redundant. When you already have…all that you need, then…why fight?”
That’s the core thematic passage of the comic. A Special Message from Alan Moore.
And there’s one more too, again not from rugged Roxy or even the dim-witted but brave Cornelius, but from the alien Skizz, reflecting on humanity: “They were cruel and ugly. There was so much hate and despair…and so much love… / …some of them have style… / …and some of them have their pride… / and some of them… / … some of them are stars.”
Cue the John Williams score.
In the end “Skizz” is as sappy as any Spielberg movie, and it’s all too neat and tidy – and must have seemed really out of place amidst the scratchy irreverence of the other 2000 AD strips of the time – but it’s still satisfying in its movement from scene to scene and the characters and setting are so well-defined, and interesting on their own, that the whole thing just ends up working as a whole.
It’s better than E.T. if only because it smashes its fable into the harsh light of the lower class lifestyle.
But it probably wouldn’t have worked as an Atari game. It wasn’t until decades later that pipe-fitting became cool.
NEXT TIME: Captain Britain Prologue…via Doctor Who?