Stephen Baskerville writes
After 30 years, Jim Dandy In The Underworld is finally back– and for the first time in full colour– in the splendid digital anthology Aces Weekly (Volumes 19 and 20 to be precise).
(Read the first week's installment for free right here:)
"But who is Jim Dandy in the Underworld, and why should I be even vaguely interested in finding out?" you may ask.
To which I offer this reply: "An all-but-chinless wonder [who] finds himself condemned to a nightmare world that does not know the benefits of Haute Cuisine."
When I add that this quote was written by none other than comics legend Alan Moore, I hope that may be enough to stir your vague interest.
He wrote this in his introduction to the premiere issue of Harrier Comics' anthology title Swiftsure (circa 1985), which featured the very first appearance of the "all-but-chinless wonder".
Two years earlier, the call had gone out: Martin Lock, unsung hero of independent British comics, was looking for new ideas for science-fiction and fantasy strips, and Alan Moore had agreed to act as Editorial Consultant. As I was already a massive fan of Alan's writing on Captain Britain, V For Vendetta, Marvelman and Swamp Thing, how could I resist submitting my very best sci-fi idea – the one which I'd been patiently saving for just such a moment. There was only one problem – no such idea existed! Luckily I was young and foolish enough to imagine I could invent one on the spot and in my usual idiosyncratic manner I took a dog-eared copy of the Communist Manifesto, a well-worn videotape compilation of 1970's "Carry-On" films (the humour would come from the latter and the politics from the former – or possibly the other way round) a smidgeon of an old Marc Bolan album, and a dash of the Orpheus myth, et voila! Jim Dandy In The Underworld was born.
In a single page of artwork and a one-and-a-half page synopsis, Jim, his reluctant sidekick known only as 'A',the domed overcity christened the Upper Crust, the seething array of hyper-industrial smokestacks and grotesque pleasure-palaces that fill The Underworld below,and the entire outline of the first story arc were all set out in word and image, and duly submitted to Harrier Comics HQ.
Amazingly, when Martin Lock forwarded my idea to Alan for the great man's consideration, he wrote a 3-page response to an initial submission that was only half that length, and still began his letter by saying "sorry if what follows is a bit rushed and brief"!
What actually followed was an incredibly-detailed consideration of the whole Dandy In The Underworld idea from every conceivable angle, and mentioning Karl Jung, Michael Moorcock, Mervyn Peake and S Clay Wilson along the way.
But as you'd expect from a writer as perceptive as Alan Moore, he knew exactly what to focus on:
"To me, the strength of the idea lies in the single startling image of the affluent Over-City raised on stilts above the ghettos of the under-city. Whether intentional or not, what Stephen has here is a powerful visual metaphor for the concept of class structure, which if used properly and without overstating the case could provide a strong thematic lynch-pin around which the whole story could revolve naturally."
Anxious not to overwhelm a novice writer/artist with his own brilliant ideas, however, he was also at pains to stress:
"I like the strip and don't feel inclined to mess with it overmuch."
So, to my great surprise, Jim Dandy In The Underworld was selected for publication, and ran in the first 7 issues of Swiftsure.
Now, thirty years later, that same story, complete with invaluable input from master storyteller Alan Moore, is being published in Aces Weekly by another master storyteller David Lloyd, and I feel very lucky to have had the assistance of two such titanic talents.
But what has all this got to do with the 'Multitude of Multiversal Captain Britains' which feature in the title of this ramble?
Well, looking back over old correspondance and artwork shared with me by former editor Martin Lock in preparation for this new edition of Jim Dandy, I was struck by the postscript to Alan's letter which I've quoted from liberally in this article already, and which I'd either never seen before or unaccountably forgotten in the intervening years. It referred to some fan art I'd sent previously to the editors at Marvel UK, and which had evidently been passed on to Alan at some point. He thanked me for:
"…the brilliant full page illo of Captains Britain, UK, Albion and England. The sight of the four of them together probably went some way to inspiring me to use all four characters in my final CB episode , along with Captain Commonwealth, Captain Airstrip One, Captain Empire, Captain Angleterre and Kommandant Englander."
Needless to say I was massively flattered to even be mentioned in connection with the ending of that fantastic Captain Britain story, let alone be cited as a partial inspiration for it.
Clearly, what this shows more than anything is what a generous chap Alan Moore is to even suggest such a thing– and I'm sure he'd have come up with that ending without any prompting from anyone, let alone a bit of fan art from me.
But did I ransack my old portfolios in search of that Captain Britains illo I drew all those years ago, to bask in the undeserved reflected glory of the greatness that was Moore and Davis' Captain Britain?
YOU BET I DID. And here it is… in all its wonky glory!