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||Lord Horror: Reverbstorm
The complete series
"Surfin' bird Bbbbbbbbbbrbrbrbrbrb…awawawawawawawaaaaaah! A-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa- Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-ooma-mow-mow Papa-oom-mow-mow!"
Welcome to the nightmare metropolis of Torenbürgen, where New York's Art Deco architecture has fused with the termination machinery of Auschwitz. In this urban inferno Jessie Matthews is singing Sondheim, James Joyce is at work on a new novel and Lord Horror, ex-Nazi propaganda broadcaster and Torenbürgen's model citizen, is stalking the streets in search of fresh victims for his razors. Murderous apes infest the alleyways, Ononoes feast on the living and the dead, while above the rooftops the Soul of the Virgin Mary drifts like a swollen Lovecraftian dirigible, picking at bodies destined for the charnel furnaces.
Lord Horror: Reverbstorm is a unique graphic collaboration between writer David Britton, the author of four Lord Horror novels, and artist John Coulthart, whose book of Lovecraft-derived comic strips and illustrations, The Haunter of the Dark, featured a collaboration with Alan Moore. Reverbstorm was originally published in serial form and is now being presented in a single volume for the very first time. Britton's debut novel, Lord Horror (1990 ), was the last work of fiction to be banned in the UK; an earlier Lord Horror comic series, Hard Core Horror, was also banned by a British court in 1995. Coulthart's death-camp artwork from the final issue in that series appears in Reverbstorm as a prelude to the main narrative. There's never been a comic like this surreal collision between Modernist art and pulp aesthetics, a world where Finnegans Wake is drenched in Alligator Wine and Picasso's 'Guernica' is invaded by Tarzan's simian hordes. Ambitious, transgressive and meticulously rendered, Reverbstorm is one answer to the eternal question posed by those cultural philosophers, The Cramps: "How far can too far go?"
"One of the astonishing things about Savoy Books is how aggressive David Britton and Michael Butterworth have been not just toward sacred cows but toward their ostensible medium. Every Savoy production has pushed at the notion of what a book can be. Their signature character, Lord Horror, has migrated from novels to comics to records and finally, with Gareth Jackson's recent Lord Horror: The Dark and Silver Age, to film. The last Lord Horror book, La Squab, was less a novel than a gesamtkunstwerk in a dust jacket (with text by Britton, illustrations by Kris Guidio, and a CD of readings by Fenella Fielding). Now here comes Lord Horror: Reverbstorm, a compendium that seems to have subverted every convention of the graphic novel before the genre even came into its own.
"Reverbstorm began as a collaboration between Britton and longtime Savoy confederate John Coulthart in 1990. Somehow the project persevered through an extraordinary series of setbacks that included a lawsuit, police raids on Savoy's bookshops, the suicide of Savoy's PR agent, the death of the only local printer who would handle Savoy's inflammatory material, and Britton's second stint in jail as a result of obscenity charges. But what did not kill Savoy only made it fiercer. All this drama fueled the relentless black energy of the books, comics, and CDs the firm put out in the 1990s. Reverbstorm, with texts by Britton and visuals by Coulthart, finally began to appear as individual comics in 1994.
"To say that juxtaposition of word, image, and sound is a hallmark of Savoy's work does not do justice to the full range of techniques visible in Lord Horror: Reverbstorm. Britton and Coulthart work the gaps with the same guile that a painter brings to the manipulation of light and shadow. (In collage, perhaps, collisions are the equivalent of light and disjunctions the equivalent of shadow.) For example, the words and images in Reverbstorm sometimes get deliberately out of sync, one anticipating or lagging the other. The intervals between Britton's text and various appropriations are treated as vertical gaps with sources ranging from the "high" (lines from T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men") to the "low" (lyrics from Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "Alligator Wine"). This occurs in the visuals too. The dark architectural drawings of Coulthart, a veritable post-punk Piranesi, are broken up by renditions of "high art" (Seurat, Picasso) and pictures that look like sixth-generation photocopies from a manual of oral surgery.
"On a formal level, Lord Horror: Reverbstorm is a book in constant danger of exploding. But what holds it together, aside from the lovely print quality of the physical hardcover, is its elaboration of the Lord Horror mythos. It reincarnates trademark images and obsessions from other Savoy productions — Lord Horror, Jessie Matthews, James Joyce, Humpty Dumpty, fascism, brutality, knife fights, monsters, depravity, outré hairstyles — and situates them in an imaginary city, Torenbürgen, that you would never want to visit. Ostensibly an alternative version of 1930s New York, Torenbürgen quickly reveals itself to be an urban environment reimagined in the form of a concentration camp: population exploding, resources running out, not just violence but sadism predominating... It is a prescient vision. Lord Horror: Reverbstorm realizes in the most visceral way the world of insane extremes rapidly emerging from data on global climate change. "To write a poem after Auschwitz," the philosopher Theodor Adorno declared, "is barbaric," but what may be most barbaric of all is to realize that the concentration camp, far from being a disgrace from the past, may actually be a model for the future."
"As the son of the last British artist to be successfully prosecuted for displaying obscene paintings, I have some empathy with David Britton, the last person successfully prosecuted in Britain for publishing obscene literature. Unlike my father, who accidentally strayed into the purview of the police, Britton's prosecution in 1992 was almost inevitable. His publisher, Manchester-based Savoy Books, was raided by the police with vindictive regularity between 1976 and 1997.
"Ironically, Savoy has often been reviled as much by the left for its lack of political correctness as by the right for attacking the shibboleths of authority. It embodies a longstanding tradition of non-conformist and essentially anarchist thinking in Britain that also underpins Reverbstorm.
"This is a graphic novel, written and illustrated by Britton and John Coulthart. Part of the long-running Lord Horror series, it is set in a nightmarish dreamscape where a fantasy 1930s New York is fused with the death camps at Auschwitz. Although presented in a single volume, the book began life in 1994 as an adult comic, published in the tradition of Dickens as a piece-work. It is tempting to say that is where the comparison with 19th-century literature ends. But the mire of Dickens's world, where stories of callous modernity and human degradation go hand in hand, runs throughout this book.
"Yet unlike Dickens there is a question whether there is a story here at all. There is the central motif of the psychopath Lord Horror, a pun on the British wartime traitor Lord Haw-Haw. Horror stalks the streets repeatedly slashing people, mainly Jews, with a cut-throat razor. He still has his radio show, but beyond a Joycean tour around the fantasy city it is difficult to outline a clear narrative thread.
"The images of evisceration in the drawings are explicit. In a nod to Hollywood, Horror's victims often have to endure a bad joke before their deaths, but you only have to think of a James Bond or Dirty Harry film to get the measure of how that cheapens human life.
"And perhaps that is the point. Confront people with unmediated murder, mutilation, rape and racism and you force them to react. The police who raided Savoy assumed that reaction would be to celebrate these things, but the opposite is just as likely.
"The lack of a clear narrative also resembles modernist literature, and both Eliot's 'The Waste Land' and Joyce's Finnegans Wake feature prominently. Britton and Coulthart borrow endlessly from modernist culture, with Seurat's painting 'Sunday at La Grande Jatte' acting as a touchstone. In their drawings they pile images by Beardsley, Picasso and others on top of Seurat, so we end up with drawings that are so complex and layered, they verge on being chaotic.
"In this they seem to illustrate somewhat self-consciously the ideas of Walter Benjamin. Indeed, Benjamin is quoted at the start of the novel imagining the 'Angel of History' looking at the story of humanity as a single moment in time, each event piling on the top of the next in layers of broken images. Here Seurat stands for some kind of 19th-century order, a 'more innocent era' the authors call it, and it is on top of him they heap the wreckage of the 20th century.
"We might not agree that Seurat, a political anarchist himself, can be seen as emblematic of innocence and stability. But if you can suspend disbelief at that then the novel gains a navigable structure as a kind of fall narrative, all given life and power through strong and memorable draughtsmanship."
MICHAEL PARASKOS, The Spectator
"Mr Britton asks us to stare into the sun with him. Some of us do and, after winding our way through the tortuous labyrinth of western philosophy, rhetoric, political, artistic and scientific theory expounded in the text, we finally confront the minotaur at the centre, crouched atop a pile of human skulls and recognise ourselves with a sudden jarring shock."
D M MITCHELL, Rapid Eye 2 (1995 edition)
"Savoy flay and mock the cherished values of the Disestablishment...If it be admitted that this is a genuinely vicious body of work, it is at least one which attempts real violations of real contemporary norms, and not just the usual tepid pantomimes of rebellion...Coulthart's dark, clogged artwork is superb...The sheer darkness of Savoy's anti-heroes is true to humanity and to history in a way which other recent work fails to be."
ANDY ROBERTSON, Interzone
"A rollercoaster ride to the end of our collective night, a delirious, erotic and unbridled display of literary savagery and artistic terrorism."
D M MITCHELL, Rapid Eye 2 (1995 edition)
I have not seen in many a long series of monthsor yearsthe kind of continued dedication to the punctilious and meticulous pen and ink work put on board by your artist. It's a striking example of the need to create and the desire to shock the sensibilities of an audience with a phantasmic subject linked to a febrile and phantasmagorical talent.
"There is no clear-cut political code or ethical interpretation, because Savoy is leading us, as usual, into frighteningly unfamiliar territory...yet (in Reverbstorm) there is a strong misleading and dangerous element now present in the seductive form of rock'n'roll."
D M MITCHELL, Rapid Eye 2 (1995 edition)
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