The cat gets it
Sinister Legends
from Savoy

b y   A n d r e w   D a r l i n g t o n

Strange Adventures 31 (1991)

  Horror spotTHE EIGHT-FRAME SEQUENCE under examination begins with a Garfield look-alike zip-a-dee-doo-dahing down a cartoon Manchester street. Meng leers grotesquely; "EU-FUCKIN'-REKA!" explodes in vile block letters across the graphic. Next: 'Garfield', eyes right, a little uncertainly, a question mark bubbling from his head. "Up, Topsy. Up, my Joy," and out comes Meng's huge, thick-veined penis. By frame five it's being masturbated furiously in the futuristic blur of Duchamp's Nude Descending A Staircase. 'Garfield's' question marks multiply alarmingly. And "SPLAT!!!", a massive deluge of ejaculate erupts across the picture with only 'Garfield's' eyes visible through the spermatazoic tide.

"Meng, I have seen you gross and I have seen you gross," comments Ecker coolly, "But today, it must be said, I see you excel." Meng is too preoccupied to respond as he is in the process of eating the sperm-drenched cat.

A case could be made that there are many who'd delight in inflicting such retaliation on Jim Davis's appalling feline monster. And anyway, there's a certain moral logic later in the issue when Meng is sodomised by (a look-alike) Bugs Bunny's carrot. But it's this incandescent page from Savoy Books' Meng & Ecker No. 4 that's currently subject to certain...(subjudice) litigation, the details of which can't yet be divulged (See note below).

The Meng & Ecker comic-book series from the demonic trinity of David Britton, Michael Butterworth and artist Kris Guidio, are also the perpetrators of another series, Lord Horror, whose exploits trail saliva and entrails across a further seven issues. Devotees of black humour, the bizarre and esoteric, the downright frightful, the sick and the nasty, those who fully appreciate taking creativity and raw imagination to and beyond the edge of the known, should support and defend their right to inflict and offend. Indie comic publishing has seldom come on so strong or stood so naked. At least not since EC's Crypt Of Terror and Tales From The Crypt were suppressed to extinction by imposition of the Comics' Code Authority at the behest of the vengeful forces of conformity rampant in 1950s America.

Guidio's art is exquisitely shocking beyond belief. An artful vortex of style theft and appropriation, pillaging decades of past, present and future, wilful, spiteful, and—at times, lethally accurate. He's a Beardsley of excess, technically brilliant. And even if Lord Horror No. 7, by new Savoy artist John Coulthart, is too strong for the squeamish—a genuinely stomach-wrenching overkill of atrocity with its blank text panels, ramming the sheer inadequacy of words into the face of racial holocaust, and the real horrors of fascist evil—it's in the interest of all who value freedom of expression that the petty litigations and moral guardians ranged against Savoy are overcome.

The Savoyards have already been busted under Section Three of the Obscene Publications Act for 'producing and distributing'. Then there's 'Garfield'. With more to follow...

"It's unlikely Savoy will be the same afterwards," concedes Mike. "Dave plans to concentrate on writing more than publishing, post-trial (and its after effects), and I shall be helping him. Publishing will still continue and so will the records. We are still keen on arranging for a Lord Horror film. The artwork for the first few comics in the planned Reverbstorm series is almost complete and (with artist John Coulthart taking a stronger hand) is looking visually stunning; the partnership of Dave, Kris and John (Kris and John executing Dave's ideas) has improved with time and is reaching its pinnacle with these new issues. The artwork for yet a further Meng & Ecker comic also exists, as do layouts for the proposed Monoshock comic—a new, female character..."

Savoy has gone from wild to wilder. Mike Butterworth was an architect of New Wave science fiction—his admission provided by his disturbing short story Girl in New Worlds No. 162 (April 1966), and on—tangling with the beast of commerce to provide six Space 1999 TV spin-off novels including Planets Of Peril and The Psychomorph (1977), plus novels mythologising the Hawkwind psychedelic band—The Time Of The Hawklords and Queens Of Deliria written with Michael Moorcock (who is billed as Producer/Director). Moorcock contributed an introduction to a 1969 Arrow anthology The New SF, commenting that Butterworth "has never written a word of conventional narrative in his life and sprang full-grown from the head of (William) Burroughs whose work first inspired him to write...but Butterworth uses and adapts Burroughs' own techniques to suit his own particular vision." That vision has become more extreme with the intervening years.

David Britton shunted into publishing via his fantasy art 'zines Weird Fantasy, Bognor Regis and Crucified Toad, their design and fetishistic obsessions forming the ideological centre for the late Seventies Manchester issues of New Worlds he produced in league with Mike. Subsequent product from Savoy ranges from a series of controversial 12" singles by PJ Proby, to beautifully dressed books by Harlan Ellison, Samuel Delany, Michael Moorcock, Charles Platt...and ultimately to Dave's incendiary Gothic terror-de-force, Lord Horror. A startling, brilliant novel that tap-dances across Hades. A novel that sets the tone for, and introduces, the characters for the comic-books.

The third ingredient, sending the combination into critical mass, is artist Kris Guidio. According to the blurb on Savoy's 1988 Sinister Legends collection of his work, Kris "is hardcore. He stands between Lord Byron and Aubrey Beardsley on the one hand, and the junk trash culture of Lou Reed and Johnny Thunders on the other." His "inspired visual mythology" sucks in a history of sleeve-art work for The Cramps, fine line illustration and caricature, lyric strips for Roky Erickson, OZ spot art, black 'n' white SF, sweetly evil eroticism and the Black Terror. He even scored a minor indie chart hit as The Mogodons which reached No. 8 on the Rough Trade listing.

Meng & Ecker are the direct result of all that hellish miscegenation. The first issue relates their origins:

"...the twins were born joined at the hip. Many years later they were surgically separated by Dr. Mengele, Auschwitz 1942. Meng is trying to grow breasts and wants his bollocks taken off so he can join the Women's Movement. Ecker is saving up to send him to a backstreet cosmetic surgeon in Paraguay."

There are additional elements from Ken Reid's Fudge and Speck in those origins. Bits of Butterworth and Britton in Meng & Ecker too. Across the first four Meng & Ecker issues the image banks of this world and others are plundered—Judge Dredd gets a walk-on part (the Mighty Tharg's writ has yet to arrive); James Anderton of the Manchester Police godsquad gets beheaded; Jonah of The Beano gets buggered; Anita Brookner exchanges heads with SF fantasist C L Moore—Martin Amis with William Hope Hodgson; Wayne Hussey of The Mission (one of Guidio's old pals), Popeye and PJ Proby make guest appearances . . . And then there's the Garfield look-alike.

The artwork is never less than stunning, with some brilliantly conceived sequences of meticulously drawn anarchy. Lord Horror stars in an alternative world history strewn across five issues, Hard Core Horror. A monstrous creation in hugely exaggerated Mohican cockscomb, Horror's titles are harder, more visceral, more brutally nihilistic. Based loosely around WWII Nazi William 'Lord Haw-Haw' Joyce, and his perverse romance with incomparable movie starlet Jessie Matthews, it goes on to chart his inexorable descent to the Concentration Camps, and insanity. Horror has cannibalistic tendencies. He offs both Woody Allen and Freddy Krueger in a single issue and a blur of black comedy. He gets a mouth-watering blow-job from Jessie. Heads are lopped, entrails splattered. Arthur Askey and James Joyce make guest appearances.

Ramsey Campbell is quoted to the effect that "Lord Horror makes most horror fiction look tame and safe—awesomely grotesque, unstoppably imaginative, hideously funny." He also gets to guest in an issue (Meng & Ecker No. 3). Colin Wilson commends the Lord Horror project as "an exercise in Surrealism", comparing it to experimental novelist Georges Bataille.

"Artistic ideas expressed in these adventures may not coincide with your beliefs," declares Meng & Ecker No. 1, "but that's the price you pay for freedom of speech, playmates."

On a scale of narcotics, Savoy are heroin.

Savoy note to the above: The United Features Syndicate case against Savoy took ten months to resolve and cost Savoy £20,000 in fines and court costs when the court found against Meng & Ecker No. 4. A mere 2,000 copies of a barely-distributed comic were apparently enough to threaten the future revenues of a multi-million dollar organisation. As a result, this issue is now unavailable for sale or reprint as long as it contains the offending pages. Collectors are advised to keep their eyes peeled for copies that got away before the shutters came down.

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