♦Tripwire’s Contributing Writer OLLY MACNAMEE spoke to 2000AD and Tank Girl artist Rufus Dayglo about politics and comics…
‘I hate Fascists, and this new world order. It’s our job to ridicule them’: Interviewing Rufus Dayglo on Last Gang In Town
As one of my favourite reads of last year, it was a no-brainer to reach out to artist, Rufus Dayglo and ask him about Last Gang in Town, the London scene at the time of the Punk explosion, as well as other influences at work on one of the most British infused comics to have come out of America (via Vertigo) in a long while.
Olly MacNamee: First off, let me congratulate you, Simon (Oliver) and all the all of the gang behind Last Gang In Town. What a blast it was to read. I assume you had a great time illustrating their criminal, subversive, seditionaries’ antics?
Rufus Dayglo: Drawing Last Gang in Town was a lotta fun. As someone who grew up as a little Punk Rocker, and a Londoner, getting to draw a comic about Punks in London was a real treat, and a great opportunity to pay tribute to bands I loved, places I have been, and the people who inspired me to be a noisy little Punk. People like Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), Joe Strummer (The Clash), Don Letts (DJ, and film maker), Mark Perry (Editor of Sniffin’ Glue and Alternative TV) and many others. I drew in many places special to me, like the Astoria Theatre in Charing Cross Road (Now sadly gone, a victim of Crossrail, but where I saw a million Punk rock gigs), Pellicci’s Café (where I used to get breakfast in Bethnal Green) and Soho, where I worked for many years. It’s a love letter to London. And I got to draw all my favourite punk clothes; old Seditionaries’ stuff, Lewis Leathers jackets, and stripey mohair jumpers! There are so many hidden jokes, band references, and people hidden in there, as well as friends shops and bands.
Having Simon to collaborate with was very special, he’s fucking hilarious, and has a very dark sense of humour. He’s also not just an insular ‘comic book’ guy, he’s done other stuff in his life, so his references are clubs and crazy people, and some really weird shit! We got on very well.
I also got to work with Giulia Brusco, which was awesome, as I have long been a huge fan of her colouring, but could never afford to work with her on my little indie books, so having DC Vertigo behind the project meant I got to work with some awesome people.
Steve Wands, our letterer, did great stuff too; a real pro! He did lots of freehand wonky stuff, which really lent it self to the art. He is a very sympathetic collaborator!
OM: It seems to me to capsulate all that is great about British comics and the British comics tradition: situation comedy, toilet humour (literally!), visual gags a go-go and a very British irreverence for authority figures. Was that part of the intention behind this heist caper?
RD: Yeah, we were actually asked to do the series because Shelly Bond is such a huge Anglophile. She WANTED us to do a European-style book for Vertigo about Punk. But, ironically, We had some really incredible awesomely bad reviews from disgruntled Americans which said things like, ‘If you don’t like British comics, avoid this series’!!!’ Ha-ha! I loved how much it confused people. We were also described negatively as ‘a beehive on acid’ and the reviewer hated our book so much he bragged he hadn’t even read it but still gave us 1/10 and said we were the worst comic DC had ever released!!! It was so perfect; it was just like the reviews the original Punk rock albums got in 1976 by old hippie music press. I wanted to use these reviews on the TPB cover as a blurb, but DC refused. Ha-ha!
Simon and I both definitely wanted to poke fun at the establishment. It was written before Trump stole his election, but I already saw how it was gonna go, so in the last issue I have him eating the world, and in another panel he’s vomiting over the poor (with his cock nailed to his forehead). I hate Fascists, and this new world order. It’s our job to ridicule them. Fuck these people. I did a pinup of Trump as a chapter page for the TPB, but DC Legal said it had to be censored, as they are afraid of offending Trump. It’s so weak: It SHOULD be our job to offend him! He’s offensive. He is a fascist, and as my grandfather would tell me, the only good fascist is a dead one.
OM: Do you think some of the gags were lost in translation, maybe, as a result of its quirky Britishness? I mean, I could see some readers casting you out as ‘pinko-socialists’ after reading this comic and in this current political climate. Would many even get the reference to The Clash’s Last Gang In Town, the title of your book?
RD: Definitely!!! But, there is nothing wrong with being confused. I hope people will discover little references and jokes in the fullness of time, like when we had Lord Lucan hanging in a gibbet below Buckingham Palace: we finally find out where he disappeared too! I am sure that meant absolutely nothing to an American reader (as many references to things in American comics mean little to me, as a European). Many of the names, and locations are nods to London and the original Punk scene, like the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel. My humour (and Simon’s) has always been about Pop culture, and obscure references: it’s what Indie/Punk was all about; being oblique. Making allusions without necessarily explaining. I love it when I am rereading a book, or listening to a favourite song, and a reference I previously had missed or misunderstood falls into place. That is what art should do; open up in stages not be handed to you on a platter, because that is boring and holds no mystery.
Our book alienated a lot of reviewers, as most reviewers now really aren’t journalists, just guys in their Mums basements tapping away complaining about Batman’s tights; reviews have been hijacked by ‘fans’. Reviewing and journalism are like any other profession, you need training and sadly there is no standard now; you might as well be reviewed by the bloody Fox News. Ha-ha! I am saying this all very good naturedly by the way, I don’t really care, but I find it very amusing how seriously some ‘reviewers’ take things and how much misdirected vitriol they will use in an effort to stand out from all their contemporary amateur Reviewers.
OM: The pop-cultural references of that time – linked to Swinging London, the punk explosion and a vast array of media of the era – abound aplenty. Some are more obvious than others. But, what were yours and Simon’s influences going into this? What were you keen to include? It is very evocative of the times when you read it.
RD: I wanted to reference the things that affected me and made me fall in love with music, and pop culture. I named the Gang’s band ‘Heavy Mannerz’ as both a reference to The Clash, and their influence, Prince Far I. Pop Culture in the UK has always been very multicultural and Reggae and Roots style heavily influenced punk, in sound and look. The Punk designers borrowed heavily from reggae single sleeves, with the military stencil lettering and cut up imagery.
The other BIG influence for me was the women in Punk. Poly Styrene, Soo Catwoman, Jordan, The Slits, Penelope Houston etc. I wanted this to be a love letter to all these amazing women who changed my life. When the book was first proposed the Gang was supposed to be like The Clash; 4 white guys. That was not the London I know. I pushed hard to make it a female gang and when we compromised on some male characters (I wanted Billy to be asexual, I was vetoed) I made sure they looked like Londoners. Don Letts, the awesome Roxy Club DJ, filmmaker, and member of Big Audio Dynamite was my inspiration for Johnny Johnny, one of the gang members; because Punk was not just white guys with spiky hair. To me this was what was important. I wanted young kids who dreamt of being punks to see this book, and think, ‘Fuck yeah, I can do that!’
OM: And, while it is set in the past (and not-too-distant future), it certainly strikes a chord with contemporary society; the rise of racism, neoliberalism, a dying Empire and a failing system. Was this intentional? If so, we still seem to be failing to learn from past mistakes.
RD: Very much so. Simon and I are both ‘pinko’ Socialists/liberals and we like people and hate authority, hate Imperialism, and the disregard now for people’s basic rights and dignity. We very specifically changed the ending of the series to reflect what was happening right outside our doors, with the then upcoming American election and rampant unregulated free market Capitalism at the expense of all of us working people. The rise of the Alt Right, Fascism and all this shit, it’s real. We MUST NOT ignore it. Our children’s futures depend on us making noise, rebelling, defending our neighbours and our communities, and defending the vulnerable. The new Fascists have very specifically dispensed with facts, discredited science, research and evidence and they want the populace to be anti-intellectual as well. to revel in stupidity to keeps us servile. It’s our DUTY to be smart to use evidence and imagination and defeat these Monsters of Stupidity and Ignorance.
OM: And, let me be the first to congratulate you on predicting the rise of The Donald. I think you were the only comic to predict this man’s rapacious ambitions. What does an America overlorded by such a man hold, do you think/fear?
RD: It’s a turning point in history. We are presently abandoning the ideals we have held since The Enlightment, and turning towards Despotism. Activism and dissent has never been needed more than NOW. We all wondered what we would have done against Hitler and the rise of fascism, well now is our time to fight fascism. We have to defend diversity, multi cultural ideals, tolerance and kindness. We have to make art, good journalism, and defend science and research. We have to stop buying CRAP from companies who are aligned with the likes of Trump and Rupert Murdoch. They are the enemies of freedom, real choice, and creativity.
Imagination is our best weapon.
I want to create more characters about people from different parts of the world, tell stories about other lives, that can both entertain… and hopefully make us realize we are all in this together.Comics is a great weapon against fascism, but we have to defend it against censorship, and moral cowardice. Do we need another Batpants book? Why not try and make something that fucks with the dominant paradigm. Don’t just tow the party line and make more junk; let’s make heroes that mean something. Comic books will inspire a gay kid in Omaha, or a Muslim kid in Bradford to make a book, start a band, or change the world!
OM: Is it time for us to push back, do you think, on a local level, and globally? I’m a firm believer that the individual can make a difference. Whether that is a figure like Gandhi or a teacher, a nurse, or a parent even.
RD: Now is the time for us all to push back, hard! We can all make a difference. Teach your kid about social justice and kindness, help a neighbour, start a class for local people, help a refugee, go to a protest, start a petition, boycott shitty companies, donate to a charity, volunteer, make a mural, make a fanzine, start a band, make a book.
We can all do something. And like falling raindrops, we can create a tidal wave of change!
OM: Were there any red lights you found you weren’t allowed to cross? I couldn’t help noticing that one of the chapter pages in the trade paperback seemed to be somewhat censored? It seems to once be a caricature of President-elect Trump, right? Is this a sign of a New America dawning already? A fearful America? A divided America?
RD: Yup, When working with big companies they have legal departments. I pushed hard and managed to get Trump in the comic, as it was clearly parody and satire and that is legal. Legal balked at TWO of my chapter page: one of which had Black Lives Matter (DC wouldn’t allow it as they claimed it was a political group) and the Nazi Trump image, which again although CLEARLY satire, they shied away from, as they didn’t want to risk legal action. It is of course their prerogative, but I still dislike it. It reeks to me of McCarthyism, shying away from a fight with fascism…tow the line. I believe it is our job to challenge things.
OM: So, for the uninitiated, and in just one sentence: how would you sum up Last Gang In Town?
RD: Punk Rock Heist mentalist silliness poking fun and taking the piss out of the Queen and the Royal family and the rise of the Cheetos-Nazi shitebag Donald Trump. Start a band, smash the status quo, and change the world, while guzzling 3 pints of lager and a bag of chips!!!
Last Gang in Town is available now in tpb or digitally if you like. And, it’s a cracking read.