Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Reprint This! Tales from Beyond Science: The Rian Hughes Collection

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 reason that Rian Hughes is not on enough bookshelves is that the guy didn't - for some mad reason - spend very many years working in comics. He's found greater flexibility and reward working in design than in sequential art, and that's great if you collect XTC albums and want them to look good, but it's a real downer if you like great-looking comics. Fortunately, most of Hughes' comic work was compiled by Knockout in their fine 2007 collection Yesterday's Tomorrows, which I reviewed last month over at the Bookshelf. That volume does include one of his pieces for 2000 AD, the Grant Morrison-scripted Really and Truly, but that's only about a third of his otherwise unreprinted strips from that comic. If you're sitting comfortably, I'll tell you exactly how Rebellion needs to put together a simply excellent volume that will put all of Hughes's 2000 AD work in a single tome.

Tales from Beyond Science was Hughes' first series in the venerable British weekly. It was a little anthology series in which strange fortean tales are related by some elderly gentleman from the comfort of his club, and all the stories are very fun. Six episodes appeared in the spring of 1992, and were followed by two others in special editions. Half of these were scripted by Mark Millar, and while I'm generally no fan of his work, it would be churlish to suggest there's anything wrong with these early efforts, which are remarkably creepy and effective. You can certainly catch the lingering fumes from Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol influencing Millar, who told stories about strange government agencies, radios to the dead and missing chunks of time, but with Hughes bringing his own unique sensibility to the presentation, the stories feel very unique and unlike anything else in comics. Alan McKenzie and John Smith each also contributed two stories apiece. McKenzie's are a little whimsical, Smith's more grounded in modern horror, but they're all winners, and it's a genuine travesty that the series wasn't continued after this wonderful beginning.

Really and Truly arrived in the summer of 1993. This eight-part story is a psychedelic rollercoaster about drug smuggling, only it features a fabulous car, a dust-covered Russian cosmonaut, sumo gangsters and giant flying houses. It's like a sixties Saturday morning cartoon blown up to widescreen. Morrison boasted that he wrote the whole shebang in a single night while tripping on E. If we're brutally honest, it sort of shows, but Hughes makes the script's deficiencies look like brilliant ideas. The experience of reading Really & Truly is spiced up with its very clever lettering and unconventional design choices. It's certainly a very nineties strip, and unquestionably dated, but the same can't be said of Hughes' next, and thus far, last contribution to 2000 AD...

I've talked about Hughes' time on Robo-Hunter at pretty good length before, including an article at my Thrillpowered Thursday blog. To recap, the writer Peter Hogan was brought in to salvage the John Wagner / Ian Gibson classic after it had fallen into some disrepair at the hands of some other, lesser, talents. Hogan wrote five stories of varying lengths, four of which - thirteen episodes - were illustrated by Hughes.

Friends, I'm telling you, comics just don't come better than Ian Gibson Robo-Hunter. But Hughes, he's up there, too. Peter Hogan really knocked these stories completely out of the park. They're whimsical, silly, incredibly inventive and clever, and Rian Hughes was absolutely the best man in England not named Gibson to illustrate them. He created a wonderful world for Sam Slade and his nutty associates to run around in. It's a slightly decaying technopolis populated by bubble-headed droids who've walked straight out of 1950s advertising calendars, armed with space-age zap guns, widgets and gizmos. For lighthearted, unexpected, whimsical detective adventures, this strip is the business, and if you have never seen it, you are missing out.

So that's the story: Hughes' work for the prog comes to 29 episodes, plus six cover illustrations and a star scan on the back of issue 842. Rebellion typically issues collections based on the many ongoing series from their titles, but there are a few precedents for a creator-centered work. Both Alan Moore and Frazer Irving have had releases devoted to their work, and I suggest to you that Rian Hughes certainly deserves similar consideration. They should also see what he'd charge to draw "La Revolution Robotique," but that's another pet obsession of mine. So how about it, Rebellion? Feel like making the world beyond science a glorious reality?

No comments:

Post a Comment