At last the complete printing history of
"The Adventures of Luther Arkwright"
by Bryan Talbot
Luther first appeared in Mixed Bunch Comics published by Alchemy in 1976 as part of the Brainstorm Comics series. the 7-page strip, "The Papist Affair", was really an excuse for me to try out a line and wash technique in comic strip. The story was basically a short comedy-adventure, and had Luther as a mercenary in a Catholic 'Tudor' parallel. He's hired to recover "the sacred relics of St. Adolph of Nuremburg", that had been stolen by "a buncha male chauvinist priests", by the "Sisters of Charlotte" - a gang of machine-gun toting, cigar-smoking nuns. It was all very tongue-in-cheek, even down to Luther shouting "Eat leaden death!" at one point.
After a brief siege at "Stonehenge Minster" and a fight with a kung-fu archbishop (who was referred to as a "disruptor"), Arkwright steals the relics for himself: "I'll get a good price for these at the Vatican".
As you can tell, Luther was quite a different character in this story - a mixture of Clint Eastwood and Moorcock's "Jerry Cornelius", but there was a hint that he was working for some higher power, his mission being the maintenance of the equilibrium of parallel worlds, whatever that meant.
It was only after I'd finished the story that I started thinking of the possibilities of the situation. Parallel world stories had been around for years - especially in SF pulp magazines - but I'd read a lot of Moorcock and it was his view of alternative time- streams that appealed to me.
The story and atmosphere began slowly to take shape as I worked on other comics. I changed Luther away from the Cornelius-influenced character until he had (I think) a unique character of his own.
Stylistically, much of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright was a reaction against the majority of American comics of the time, which had become bland, incestuous, and formula-ridden, and I wanted to produce a comic that was as sophisticated as I could make it and contained none of the stuff that most adults thought of as childish. Hence, rather than employ the American-style 'shorthand' technique, I used an illustrative style derived from Victorian etchings, Hogarth, Dore and some of the European comic artists, mainly Moebius. I did away with 'whoosh marks', thinks bubbles, silly sound effects, and exaggerated foreshortening. I tried to tone down down the melodrama that seemed inherent in most comic books - characters who stood with their feet two yards apart, gestured wildly and pulled the most ludicrous faces at the slightest provocation. In 1978, after finishing "Amazing Rock and Roll Adventures" for Brainstorm, I was approached by Rob King of the Edinburgh SF Bookshop who was in the process of putting together Near Myths and the story, which by now I'd plotted completely, had an outlet.
The Adventures Of Luther Arkwright started there and ran in Near Myths 1 to 5 from 1978 to 1980 consisting of 41 pages of what would eventually be Book One. It was in chapter form, most of them having chapter titles such as "Napalm Kiss" (borrowed with permission from Mike Matthews), "Shadows" (the meditation sequence) and "Affair of Honour" (the duel sequence).
Near Myths was the first British "ground-level" comic (as opposed to "underground") and was the immediate forerunner to Warrior. It was the nearest thing we had in this country to the European Metal Hurlant and A Suivre and the American Star Reach. Grant Morrison, now one of Britain's foremost comics writers, scripted and drew his first strips for Near Myths; Tony O'Donnell likewise, who went on to work for DC Thompson, Redfox and Ghostbusters. Graham Manley is now a full time designer and illustrator and drew the first of Pat Mills' Diceman strips.
The chance of picking up copies of Near Myths is pretty slim these days, since the publisher's back issues were pulped in about 1983.
In 1979 a four page chapter of the story, "For a Few Gallons More", appeared in Moon Comics 3 published by Birmingham's Arzak Press. I'd always enjoyed Mick Farren's and Chris Welch's "Ogoth and Ugly Boot" stories and, as I was seeing Chris quite often at the time, thought that it would be fun to do an Arkwright/Ogoth "jam" strip with him. This chapter, which chronologically comes before the Duel sequence, was not included in the album as it clashed stylistically with the rest of the work. It was reprinted last year in Sideshow Comics #1, an ad. for which appears elsewhere in this issue.
With the demise of Near Myths, Arkwright had to hand around until 1982 when Serge Boissevain of Never Ltd. brought out Pssst! magazine. It ran through issues 2 to 10 (all in 1982) with 50-odd pages of new material and a few minor changes.
Pssst! was truly ahead of its time. Serge wanted to produce a European-style comic magazine containing a mixture of adventure, humourous and experimental strips. It was printed on top-quality glossy paper and had a large proportion of full colour strips plus a free poster every issue. Contributors included Angus McKie, John Higgins, David Jackson, Dave Thorpe, Shakey Kane, Paul Gravett, Alan Craddock, Bob Wakelin, John Watkiss and Mike Matthews. It failed because it was too innovative. Today, magazines such as Escape, Heartbreak Hotel, HB and Deadline sell to a market that just didn't exist then. Pssst! was the first of this kind of comic.
It was fortunate that the magazine lasted for ten issues as the story had only just reached its first natural pause. Never Ltd. reprinted the episodes as Arkwright Book One: "Rat-Trap" in softback, December 1982.
Luther, without a publisher, was now in limbo again. I went off to work on "Scumworld" for Sounds and "Nemesis the Warlock" for 2000AD. Pat Mills, apparently, had been an Arkwright fan since Near Myths and asked for me as Kevin O'Neill's replacement when Kev left the strip to work for American comics. When Pat asked me to draw Torquemada, Britain's favourite comicbook villain, seen for the first time without his helmet, he specifically asked for him to resemble a younger version of General Standish.
In May 1984, TSR UK's Imagine magazine ran a Luther Arkwright Role-Playing Game, "The Fire Opal of Set". This was a joint effort by me (who knew nothing about RPGs, but gladly contributed background information, the full-colour cover for the magazine, and a two page strip wherein Rose Wylde briefs the Zero-Zero team - called Valkyrie Team Beta, would you believe!) and James Brunton, who is currently finishing off the definitive Arkwright RPG. The article submitted by James for this magazine is a small part of the work that he has put into the game.
Meanwhile, Arkwright was still in Limbo (and, I believe, some readers were in Purgatory) waiting for the continuation of the story. Book Two, "Transfiguration", was eventually published in January 1988 in softback, complete with a free poster. The nine- issue, American-format Valkyrie comic editions had begun in September 1987, eventually catching up to previously unprinted material by issue #7 (An aside - did you know there are nine Valkyries in Teutonic myth?) Issue 1 is now sold out completely - apart from any that remain in comic shops' stocks.
Book 3, "Gotterdammerung", should be out any day now. I'm currently working on a 6-plate Luther Arkwright portfolio that's being published this Summer, hopefully to coincide with another UK tour. From this month I'm working for DC Comics on the "Hellblazer" annual.
This year should also see the first of the American editions of The Adventures Of Luther Arkwright from Dark Horse Comics, complete with American comic-style speech bubbles. I look forward to your comments on those.
To readers, from those who have followed Luther from the beginning and had to endure the seemingly endless intermissions, to those who just picked up "The Disruption Spiral" last week, I offer my sincere thanks for supporting me and allowing me to complete this labour of love.