Thursday, March 31, 2016

No. 64 Jim McCarthy

First Prog: 37 (but as a mainstay, 500)
Latest Prog: 1961 (before the latest book of Bad Company, a Future Shock in Prog 1310)
Total appearances: 142

McCarthy's imagination and colour palette are equally vibrant.
Words by Grant Morrison

Creator Credits:
Bix Barton
The Grudge Father
Kid Cyborg

Other art credits:
Bad Company (series inker from beginning to end)
Rogue Trooper (inking again)
The Geek, a one-off from Crisis that I have no memory of
A bunch of Future Shocks, including some of the very first)
…curiously, no Dredds.

Notable character creations:
Bix Barton
The Grudge Father
-is Kid Cyborg notable? Time, and perhaps one day a long overdue reprint with the Megazine, will tell…

Are you the future, Kid Cyborg, are you?
Words by Kek-W
Notable characteristics:
Generally anarchic. Sparkly – but also grungy. Absolutely not shy of gore. Has a way with raised eyebrows and body language generally. There’s something inherently earthy and fleshy about his work that I find v. appealing.

On Jim:
McCarthy got his start in the Prog inking over the top of his good pal Brett Ewins’s pencil art on two of the very earliest Future Shocks. For reasons unknown, Ewins made a go of it alone after that, until the launch of hot new series with Prog 500, Bad Company. McCarthy was on fire for that seies. And, in turn, he began to get work as an artist in his own right. Now, I’m not much of one for being able to recognise the work of different inkers, but I will say that McCarthy full artwork looks amazingly like one would expect based on his inking style.

McCarthy inking over Ewins. 2000AD was despatching zombies decades before they were cool.
Words by Peter Milligan

A helpful panel showing Rufus Dayglo's un-inked pencils next to the inked version.
That shadow on Danny Franks's jumper, that's classic J. McCarthy.
Words by Peter Milligan
Which is to say, thick, lush, vibrant, fun and a little bit loose.

McCarthy inking over himself. Everything feels so tangibly present, doesn't it?
Words by Peter Milligan

I’m not sure there’s much to say about Bad Company that hasn’t been said already. It’s excellent, it’s gorgeous. The ink work is no small part of that!

The changing face of Danny Franks.
Words by Peter Milligan

This cover is McCarthy’s own work (B.E. on the cover is presumably Brett Ewins, who may have inked?) – you can tell by the teeth! It’s entirely in keeping with the series style.

How do decayed zombie glands generate saliva anyway?
I suppose it’s inevitable when friends/family learn to draw together, but it can’t be denied that Jim does share some stylistic DNA with both Brett Ewins and baby brother Brendan.
Check out the faces and lapels in this early Bix Barton panel…

That attire is pure Brendan McCarthy, no? And the eyebrows + clothing creases are Ewins all over.
But the shiny bodywork on the car, and the delightful clouds - that's all Jim.
Words by Peter Milligan.
Around the time Jim and the Prog moved to more colour, his work took on much more of a life of its own. It becomes, for want of a better word, rounder. Or maybe that’s just the presence of women, a species almost entirely absent from Bad Company.

Rotting fleshbag turns into hot babe - does that count as body horror?
Words by that man again, Peter Milligan

A lot of the charm of Bix Barton is in the world around him – the flying car, the endless clouds, the general air of a Britain slightly off to the side, if not in the future. (Although the series is, I think, technically set a few years into the future).

And so to the Grudgefather, ‘based on an original grudge held by Jim McCarthy’. Wordplay aside, I assume what that means is that it was McCarthy’s idea to explore the ramifications of human cloning, how this would intersect with religious faith (apparently by completely superseding it, while retaining a largely Roman Catholic flavour). Also key is the idea that once human cloning was perfected, there’d be no more room for new beings to appear – our spirit essences will simply hop from body to body, with the genetic engineers sorting it all out for us.

McCarthy's art really came into its own with this series. And I do love the main character design, with the face mask that actually holds his constantly rotting clone-flesh together.
Words by Mark Millar
So it’s more fiction than science, but a neat premise. What may or may not be more of a Millar influence is the fact that the series ended up being amongst the goriest ever to see print. It’s total body horror, in the most Cronenbergian, pre-CGI oozy vein-bursting sense. Yum! Also: squish.

"She unzips her DNA like a favourite dress." How do you draw that??
Words by Kek-W this time.

As with Canon Fodder, scripter Kek-W took over for a more coherent, more intelligent but less lurid second series. Meg floppy, please, Tharg!*

Teaming with Kek-W then yielded McCarthy’s last hurrah (until Bad Company made its recent, triumphant return): Kid Cyborg. I dearly wanted to love this series, but it’s not quite all there. The design for Kid himself is pleasing. He’s part robot, part creepy but significantly heroic in demeanour. He’s teamed with a neat pair of companions. Vector 13’s Men in Black put in an extended cameo, essentially as villains, and McCarthy draws them particularly well, with all the menace of bureaucracy hidden behind there sunglasses and grey skin. There’s the plot itself, which is sort of about contemporary politics and mass media and all that. Frankly, it needed to be a 24-part epic to squeeze it all in, but that was never gonna happen in 1994.

Eaerly episodes had an old-school, Visible-Man type vibe.
Words by Kek-W

Aaah, the early 90s, when JFK conspiracies were all the rage.
Words by Kek-W

Which brings me to another point – what McCarthy was doing, during his central tenure under Tharg, was its own thing. You know, like most 2000AD artists have always done their own thing. And it was part of what gives the lie to the ‘lost its way in the early 90s’ tag of the comic. I’m not going to pretend that Bix Barton or the Grudgefather are/were among the all-time great series, but they’re both exactly the sort of thing that should be in a British Sci-Fi / dark humour comic.

Also, what a cover! Floating eyeballs never go out of style.

McCarthy, of course, went on to forge his own path as a comic strip rock biographer, presumably never looking back too hard at 2000AD. Good for him! And also, welcome back.

More on Jim McCarthy:
His own blog
An interview centred around his most famous work, the Kurt Cobain graphic biography**
The second half of a discussion panel with Alex Fitch***

Personal favourites:
Bad Company: all of it
Bix Barton: Barton’s Beasts; Lovesick World; Bloated Case of the Fatted Keef; Nigel, the Napoleon of East Finchley
The Grudge Father (especially Skin Games)

A deliciously gooey Nemesis star scan, during his socially conscious years around Book IX

*Not least because it’ll annoy all the people who are getting upset that Realm of the Damned is too gross for their tastes.
**In my experience, it's a constant presence on the shelves of any bookshop that deigns to have a Graphic Novel shelf (actually, Waterstones and Foyles are both pretty good for this, and they're about the only chains left) 
***Still not me, much as I envy his position as the next Paul Gravett (Fitch is to Steve LeMaq as Gravett is to John Peel: discuss)

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