Thursday, January 1, 2009

Reprint This! The New Adventures of Hitler

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One missing gem is THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HITLER by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell. This instantly-controversial 48-page story, set in 1912 Liverpool and featuring the luckless painter who'd later become the planet's most infamous man slowly losing his mind in a strange adventure with bicycles, bulldogs and 1980s pop stars, has been serialized twice. Each time it prompted an outcry from journalists on slow news days and commentators who thought little of Morrison using controversial topics to get his own name in the press.

The New Adventures of Hitler was an incredibly surreal story set in the early 1910s in which Hitler, then an aspiring painter, lodged in a Liverpool bed & breakfast for a few months. There, he lost his mind amid a torrent of 20th Century British iconography, with strange cameos by Morrissey and Margaret Thatcher, as he was ordered to search for the Holy Grail. The use of real characters to tell a story about a magical, fairytale Britain populated by some of its most iconic faces and names would have only been slightly eyebrow-raising, but using Hitler as the protagonist was a bold, risky move. It infuriated many readers, along with plenty of people who would have never purchased the magazines where the serial ran anyway, but who read stories about the controversy, fueled by certain British newspapers. These were interesting examples of how the late '80s trend of media reporting on "adult graphic novels," led by the mainstream success of Maus or Watchmen, would occasionally be sidetracked by reporters looking for a sexy angle to spice up stories.

Grant Morrison had already made a name for himself as one of the most popular and celebrated writers in American and British comics when the series premiered. With ongoing mainstream work for DC and for 2000 AD, he undertook some experimental work for smaller publishers in the late 1980s, including the similarly controversial St. Swithin's Day, in which an unemployed kid goes to London to assassinate the prime minister, for the now-defunct Trident Comics. Steve Yeowell had previously worked with Morrison on Zoids, Zenith and a one-issue fill-in on Doom Patrol. Here. his artwork is given a remarkable sheen with some really novel coloring that incorporates patterns, mosaics and other cut-out images, heightening the dreamlike, haunting feel of the series.

The series first appeared as twelve weekly four-page episodes in the Scottish magazine Cut in 1989. Cut was an arts and culture magazine of some notoreity, although there appears to be little information about it online today apart from references to the ensuing controversy. The next year, the story was reprinted across four issues of 2000 AD's twice-monthly sister title Crisis, each compiling three of the original weekly episodes.

At only 48 pages, the work is a little slim, but it occurs to me that St. Swithin's Day is similarly out of print - it was last collected by Oni in 1998 (and somebody who borrowed my copy of that never returned it) - and the two of those would make a nice edition together. Round it out with a decent essay or two, and some notes about the two series' controversial appearances, along with an interview with the writer and some sketches from Yeowell and Swithin's artist, Paul Grist, and you've probably got a pretty good 120-page book. I recall that Yeowell drew the young Hitler again in a 1990 cover illustration for Amazing Heroes which featured a Morrison interview, so that could be included. I'm not sure who could tackle such a project, nor whether Morrison, who (I'm totally guessing) might own the rights to both series, would back it, but I do feel strongly that the work of major writers in comics should remain in print for new readers to enjoy, so I certainly hope that some publisher looks into such a project. How about it, somebody?

(Originally posted January 01, 2009, 12:19 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)


  1. featured your article on my website, cbrsg.blogspot
    interesting write up and yes i would join your wait in getting a copy of this in collected format.
    ready now..

    and wait......

  2. I'm sure Morrison and Yeowell would have the rights. If no one's bothered about doing a new edition, no one will have done a rights deal.

    A complication could be the colouring by Nick Abadzis and the late Steve Whitaker which went into the Crisis run. This could technically be the property of Egmont, who bought the 2000AD comics group, unless the Crisis material was sold as a job lot to Rebellion.

    Not sure if Dark Horse didn't once consider a US edition.