If you were to think about a list of ‘lost’ comic books that really need – in fact, demand – a reprint, what would you come up with? Alan Moore’s ‘Miracleman’? Morrison’s ‘Flex Mentallo’? Ennis’ ‘Hitman’? A reprint of IPC’s ‘Scream‘ title from 1984? The heavily politicised UK title ‘Crisis‘ from the late 80’s? What about Marvel Comics 70’s / 80’s Science Fiction titles like ‘Micronauts’ and ‘Rom’?
Some of those would be near the top of my list (and the good news is that we should be getting the full Marvelman / Mircaleman story from the 80’s reprinted. If you need more history on the convoluted and painful tale of Marvelman / Miracleman, see here.
However, top of my list would be an excoriating attack on Corporate villainy and cowardice, and its effect on one tragic, angry young man. At the top of my list would be ‘Skin’, by Pete Milligan & Brendan McCarthy.
Skin is a 48-page graphic novel written by Peter Milligan, from an original story from the illustrator of the book, Brendan McCarthy, with stunning colours by Carol Swain. Within those seething 48 pages is some of the most angry, poignant, bitter and tragic comic literature ever published. And it was thanks to an unlikely source, Kevin Eastman, creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that this story ever did get published. Originally destined for the Fleetway title ‘Crisis‘ in 1990, it was rejected because of objectionable content. With the stories controversial subject matter potentially making it unpublishable, it was Eastmans Tundra Publishing that eventually picked up ‘Skin’ in 1992, putting it out as a graphic novel.
It tells the story of a young skinhead, Martin Atchitson (aka Martin ‘Atchet), a 15 year old with Thalidomide birth defects (clearly seen in the image above), growing up in early 1970s London. He is a ‘Skin’, or Skinhead, a predominantly white youth cult (though influenced by Black / Afro-Caribbean culture) that was mainly active in the 1960s and 1970s, before its style was appropriated and politicised by right wing extremists who believed in anti-immigration and carried out ethnic violence and football hooliganism.
The depiction of this subculture is authentic, with all the Skinhead style on display – Cherry Doc Marten boots up to and covering the shin, Braces over the top of a Mod-ish shirt (like a Ben Sherman) or Fred Perry, with tight jeans rolled up to show off the full boot. Martin is accepted as a member of a local Skinhead gang, led by the violent, unpredictable Johnny Gorman. That acceptance is limited though, with the likes of Gorman and other gang members Steve Bennet and ‘that prat O’Donnel’ all, to some degree or other, bullying Martin because of his disability.
Martin himself is also unpredictable, a mix of adolescence and impotent fury at his condition, leads to violent rages and his sexual urges manifest themselves in near sexual assault. A lot of this content can be uncomfortable to view, but none of it is ever gratuitous. When ‘Cross-Eyed’ Ruby, a girl Skinhead who obviously has feelings for Martin, educates him on the drug Thalidomide and its terrible effect on him, his rage becomes focused, crystallised, and a terrible denouement to this affecting story is set in motion.
Sadly, as mentioned earlier, this profoundly affecting comic is out of print, and unlikely to reappear any time soon. However, copies do turn up from time to time on Amazon and ebay. Also, a group, Modern Life is War, produced a song called ‘Martin Atchet’, which is a tribute to this fantastic piece of work. There is a link to a youtube video here, which includes some of the artwork from ‘Skin’ – be aware that it is not for the young or anyone who is likely to be offended.
I have no idea is this is the case (I merely surmise), but I can see how Shane Meadows could have been inspired by this work to produce his own portrayal of Skinhead culture, ‘This is England‘. Both protaganists are outsiders within a subculture that are by definition outsiders. Both protaganists rail against injustice, having both suffered tragedy. Both portrayals are authentic to the Skinhead subculture. It may not be the case, but ‘Skin’ is an affecting experience. Once read, and it can be easily done in one intense burst, it stays with you. Not easily forgotten, ‘Skin’ needs to be reprinted, so a new generation and a new audience can appreciate an important piece of comic book fiction.