The Curious Case Of Brendan McCarthy's Paradax… And Zenith


British journalist Laura Sneddon has been writing a series of articles for The Beat, breaking down the legal quagmire of comic books created for 2000AD, when it was part of IPC, Fleetway and Rebellion. Those who managed to reclaim their creator ownership of concepts, those who didn't and what this might mean for the situation regarding Zenith.

strange daysIt also inspired comics creator Brendan McCarthy to write a response in the comments, in which we get another history, including that of his own Paradax….

As you weren't around in the 80′s and privy to actually what was really going on back then with that small bunch of people who were blazing a trail in the British comics industry, let me add a few insights:

Back in the day, the only new thought on superheroes were from Alan Moore in his version of Marvelman. I didn't particularly like the strip (finding it a continuation of the wordy, purple 'Don McGregor' school of writing) and wanted to make my own, new statement about the superhero concept. I invented Paradax! in the early 80s, and asked the question, 'what would it be like if an ordinary guy down the road became a superhero?', which over 30 years ago, was a fairly novel approach: He would drink, smoke pot, fuck girls, watch himself being interviewed on TV, be an annoying self-infatuated asshole obsessed with stardom, have a manager, and take the money and run. I designed Paradax with a big exaggerated Superman 'S' quiff for hair and based his look a bit on the 60′s Kid Flash. I then added street clothing as I figured that realistically, he would look like a dick wandering about in a skin tight yellow outfit. This was all light years from Alan Moore's 'grim n gritty' take, and Paradax was the only other version of a superhero coming out of the UK at the time. (This is some years before Zenith.)

I fleshed out the storyline and took it to Peter Milligan to write the script. Pete knew almost nothing about superheroes, and that was appealing to me, as he had no reverence for the genre. Paradax! appeared in Strange Days 1 through 3 and was our only attempt at a superhero. In tone, it was throwaway, sexy, breezy, a bit like a catchy pop single disguising a big fuck-off statement (like the Sex Pistols' singles)…

Strange Days was a bit 'left-field' from the straighter 2000AD world and soon the 'groovier' people in comics (like Grant Morrison) were gravitating over to our scene rather than the 'Alan Moore school' of comics seen at Warrior. Grant was besotted with our stuff, as it was a totally new and original manifesto for what comics could be and a vital part of the 80s British Invasion in the USA. We talked comics and movies and above all music at many a gathering.

Grant approached me to draw the Zenith strip he was pitching to 2000AD, and initially I was quite interested. I designed a bunch of characters from his pitch, but as I read the full scripts later on, I saw that he was lifting quite a lot from Paradax!. The other story elements in Zenith, apart from the Paradax-inspired 'media superbrat' stuff seemed like the usual comics fare – 'super soldiers' and all that magick/Dr Who stuff he was into. That bored me, as I'd heard it all before… I couldn't see the upside of illustrating a strip that was essentially ripping off my own original thought, so I passed on drawing it. Let me stress, that Steve Yeowell drew it far better than I would have. His work was really good, and he was absolutely the right guy for the job.

When I see it written that Zenith was some sort of brand new take on superheroes, the 'first of the celebrity superbrats' etc, well, I do tend to spit out my cawfee… Even the 'magickal' stuff in Zenith wasn't original (2000AD had to pay off some artist for having his stuff ripped off later on in the series).

I liked some of the later ones with Robot Archie, etc… When it got a bit more surreal, and more of it's own thing. It was fun.

Zenith is a pretty good strip, but it is derivative of my own Paradax! material. There is a 'greatest hits' collection of my 80s work coming out in September, THE BEST OF MILLIGAN & McCARTHY, which includes the Paradax strips. You can have a look and make up your own mind. Note the dates, and that one strip preceded the other. One's the original, one's the version. I never produced much stuff in comics, I was a very slow artist – and eventually moved onto TV and film as I got bored with drawing these influential strips that were picked clean for ideas. My stuff never sold in huge amounts and I felt I said what I had to say in comics and wanted some new creative challenges. And to make some money.

Around that time Grant asked me to design stuff for 'Kill Krull Krew' (I think it was called) and Doom Patrol. I designed lots of the original designs for DP, and maybe a year later Grant bumped into me at a British comic convention and told me he was having trouble coming up with a good HQ for the team. We chatted and had a laugh and at some point, I suggested a transient transvestite street called 'Danny The Street', (which was based on The Beatles' terraced houses in 'Help!' and Danny La Rue, a bizarre transvestite lounge-singer act seen on British TV in our younger days). Grant added the bunting and written notes in the windows etc and made it all work. He gave me a credit in the issue of Doom patrol that DTS debuted in. But curiously, Grant has subsequently claimed that he invented Danny The Street whilst walking backwards around Paris in a Situationist hash-trance… or something. And that's annoying to me, as he can't admit that what many consider to be the best idea in Doom Patrol wasn't his…

You need to take what Grant says about Zenith and his earlier career with a pinch of salt. There's a lot of revisionist legend-buffing going on…

Some of us were actually there.

Laura responds to Brendan in the thread and it looks like we may be getting some additions to future articles…

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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