Monday, April 14, 2014

Skizz Energi

Reading Alan Moore's simple but effective Hammerstein story in the ABC Warriors Solo Missions made me nostalgic for the 1980s and his earlier writing style. I know this will sound like a scratched record but back when he was a great story-teller and not a member of some wizarding illuminati. So I picked up my copy of Skizz, written by Moore in 1983 with art by Jim Baikie and lettered by Tony Jacob.

I remember reading this when it appeared in Progs 308-330 so this must be after my first comics gap which ended when I picked up the Warrior summer special and got hooked on Marvelman and V for Vendetta. According to David Bishop's splendid history of the comic Thrill Power Overload Alan Moore had been asked to produce a 2000AD serial to cash in on the success of E.T. The brief was for a story about a boy and an alien, Moore's response was "Can it be a girl, and can it be in England?" And so we got the marvelous tale of the Tau Cetian interpreter Zhcchz who crash lands in Birmingham, and the teenage schoolgirl Roxy O'Rourke who finds and befriends him.

And it is all terrific stuff and breaks the mould in classic 2000AD style. I always think of Halo Jones as being Moore's best female character, but I had forgotten how good the feisty Roxy is. In fact the cast of characters assembled by Moore and Baikie here are all splendid. The Yosser Hughes inspired Cornelius who has "his pride" is particularly moving, and there is the terrifying villain, Van Owen, who is much more sinister than any of the scientists from E.T.

The Birmingham setting is particularly effective for me as I grew up there, and I love how this is a very working class story. There are no comfortable middle class American homes here, it's set in the garden sheds and pubs of a post industrial Midlands city where people are struggling to find work. It's as if the Boys from the Blackstuff met something from another world and found a connection with alien life that puts them in direct conflict with the Earth authority figures they are more used to.

Jim Baikie's black and white artwork is lovely and captures the classic feel of those comic book stories from the 60s and 70s but with his clever science fiction designs for Skizz and his ship thrown in as well. Unfortunately the 2005 trade I'm looking at has a few of the reproduction issues that dogged the recent Halo Jones re-issue, presumably not all the original art plates survive and some of the pages are copied from copies. If I had one other criticism it would be the rhythmic episodic nature of the strip where you learn to expect a punch line coming on every fifth page, something that Alan Moore was very good at producing back then.

Overall though this is a classic, one of the half forgotten gems from 2000AD in the 80s. A perfect story which outdoes the original inspiration. If you've never discovered Skizz then do yourself a favour and track down a copy. It's Moore and Baikie at their best and features another of those memorable 2000AD heroines. 5 stars from me. And it's got some back matter by Alan Moore himself, with early character sketches by Baikie, and the covers. That's what we want, Rebellion!

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