Friday, September 11, 2015

No. 45 Tom Tully RIP

First Prog: 1
Final Prog: 283

Total appearances: 218
-including his work for Tornado, and the final run on Mean Arena. These were credited in the Progs to ‘A. Ridgeway’, but this is very likely Tully himself, under a pseudonym or in collaboration.

Creator credits:
Inferno*; The Mind of Wolfie Smith; The Mean Arena

Other writing credits:
Harlem Heroes
Judge Dredd
Dan Dare

Notable character creations:

Wolfie Smith
Matt Tallon
Artie Gruber
The Harlem Hellcats (but not, I think, the Harlem Heroes?**)

Notable characteristics:
Sports stories that riff on the film Rollerball – you know, where the main character is the absolute best at his chosen sport, but his manager is more or less openly trying to kill him because he won’t shut up and play ball.
Also characters motivated by greed, revenge and other base instincts. With snappy banter to go with it.
Eeeeeevil villains, who are often also ugly.

Mr Chubb and Mr Torso. Don't trust these guys.
Art by Massimo Belardinelli

Definitely don't trust this guy. And he's not even the main villain!
Art by Jesus Redondo

And death. Lots and lots of death.

So much death that a) it nearly got 2000 AD cancelled on teh grounds of excessive violence, and b) Tharg couldn't even find room to squeeze it all into the page count.
Art by Massimo Belardinelli
On Tom:
Tully was a regular writer for the IPC stable of comics. According to Thrill Power Overload***, he had a reputation for being somewhat cynical about spinning stories out for as long as possible, on the grounds that he got paid per episode, not per storyline. As a result, over 280 Progs he was one of the most prolific of all writers, although only on a handful of stories.

For whatever reason, he was the go-to man for sports stories. This started with Harlem Heroes, a series that morphed into Inferno. Same main cast of characters, same basic thrust, but in many ways feels like a very different beast.

Obviously the most noticeable difference comes from the artists involved. Heroes had Dave Gibbons, who focussed a lot of attention on large close ups of graceful humans swooping through the air, punching, kicking and occasionally throwing a ball into an impossibly small goal. Many of the players were hidden underneath crazy costumes, but it was very much a celebration of the human form.  

All art by Dave Gibbons
Inferno, by contrast, was at ground level and involved motorcycles, fire, spikes, and weird semi-human characters rendered by the lunatic whirl of Massimo Berlardinelli.

Don't expect subtlety...
Art by Massimo Belardinelli
My dim memories of the two series also suggest that Harlem Heroes was generally more focussed on game mechanics and actual games, while Inferno had much more behind the scenes shenanigans. I could be wrong, though. What both stories definitely had was a noble, manly hero who butted heads with ignoble, slimy corporate villains – who were supposed to be on the same side. 

Fighting with opponents before the game
Art by Dave Gibbons

Fighting with thr management after the game
Art by Dave Gibbons

They also had, I think, a cast of distinct characters who traded sharp words as often as blows in a way that was always entertaining. Sure, there were clich├ęs aplenty, from the young hothead to the cool-headed old hand, but there was also a brain in a robot body and a sort-of Neanderthal. Oh, and a motorcycle chick who turned out to be a robot.

Best sexy/scary robot/lady ever
Art by Massimo Belradinelli

Tully sustained all this for 76 episodes in a row – and even the then, the final episodes were a mad rush to just get the story done.

For his next trick, he took Dan Dare off his spaceship and into a full-on space opera with alien princesses, a golden laser-glove, high treason, and behind it all, the Mekon in cackling villain mode. This time, the story was left hanging to the consternation of some, but perhaps not many.

'Dan Dare: Servant of Evil' in a nutshell
Art by Dave Gibbons

 Personally, I much preferred Tully’s original creation, the Mind of Wolfie Smith. I’ve not read much of his first outing in Tornado, but the idea is that he’s a ‘normal’ teenage boy with all manner of psychic powers. For Tully, ‘normal’ means somewhat underprivileged and unloved, large chips on his shoulder about society at large, and generally being utterly selfish. Wolfie Smith is a fantastic character. I say this in all seriousness. He’s such a dick, and he’s got sort of limitless power but no imagination about how to use it beyond stumbling into weird adventures.

Suprisingly, Wolfie Smith has no friends
Art by Ian Gibson

Wolfie doesn't even want friends - he just wants female attention
Art by Jesus Redondo

Wolfie will do pretty much anything for money.
Art by Vanyo

The strip itself become something of a joke for Tharg, and the actual stories weren’t always great, although who doesn’t love a bit of Jesus Redondo art? I think he’s a character who could come up trumps with a reboot, although the late 70s setting helps and that might be a weird fit for a Sci Fi comic in 2015.

Plenty of action when Wolfie Smith's around.
Art by Jesus Redondo
Tully shifted back to sports for his final and most epic saga, the Mean Arena. Protagonist Matt Tallon, another sports superstar, was more in the vein of Wolfie Smith than John ‘Giant’ Clay. Which is to say, he was a massive dick with a chip on his shoulder. Also, he was the world’s weakest cyborg.

Somewhere, Tanner from Night Zero is laughing.
Art by John Richardson

Stories revolved around the essentially ridiculous game of Street Football, which is kind of a mildly futuristic version of the medieval version of football, and would actually make for a pretty neat movie or even TV series I reckon. And, apparently, the story was very closely copied from a novel called KillerBowl, by Gary Wolf. The mild futurism comes in the form of androids and psychics, as well as invasive commentators and other reality TV style shenanigans. But the game play is essentially: run with the ball and throw it into the opposing team’s goal. 

Along the wasy, you kick your opponents in thechest
Art by Eric Bradbury

If Tully had lived in the era of predictive text, his computer would've had
'Panel x: Tallon kicks the ball into the goal' at the top of the list.
Art by Mike White

But the main thrust was Tallon’s quest for revenge against people who killed his brother and generally made his life miserable. Tallon’s antagonistic relationship with his teammates was generally fun, but the series did get stale as the premise proved not to be strong enough to stretch to nearly 100 episodes.

Tully's characters generally don't go in for caring.
Art by John Richardson

Local Annie is every bit as hard-edged as Matt Tallon
Art by Steve Dillon

And that was it. Tully was dispatched, never to be summoned by Tharg again. A handful of future sports stories have appeared here and there (Mean Team book 1: excellent; Second City Blues: a noble failure) – is it time to try again?

That's a lot of gravestones right there. Maybe if Inferno was sold as a slasher film, it'd've been more poular?
Art by Massimo Belardinelli

More on Tom Tully
There’s an interview here that covers his Roy of the Rovers work, although it isn’t actually Tom Tully in the interview!
Scoring goals is always delightful
Art by Dave Gibbons
-sadly he seems to be otherwise neglected.
His short bio on the British Comics Wikia is worth a glance.
It suggests that reports of his death have been exaggerated in the past - but Mike Molcher recently referred to it on a 2000AD forum post so I'm going to say I believe it.

Personal favourites:
The Mind of Wolfie Smith: The Evil of Matthew Hobb; Book 2 (following Barney’s naming)
Mean Arena: most of The Southampton Sharks, aka Book 1; The Jensens

*technically a continuation of Harlem Heroes, but it feels more like a spin-off; essentially a new series with some of the same characters as the old series. I guess Pat Mills or, more likely, Kelvin Gosnell had a hand in some of the details, but let's credit Tully, eh?

**It's not clear whether Pat Mills actually invented the basic plot and original cast, and then gave it to Tully to script the stories, or if he just asked Tully to do a future sports story with unspecified Harlem Globetrotter analgoues. Tully did sterling work with the characters either way.

***I haven’t mentioned this book for ages. Once again, I urge you to get hold of a copy!

1 comment: