This is the introduction written by Michael
Moorcock for the Dark Horse edition of the complete trade paperback edition
of the Adventures of Luther Arkwright, and is copyright 1997 by Michael
There's something solid and Northern English
about a name like Arkwright
It suggests a man with his feet on the ground, prepared to look facts
in the face and to do something about them if he has to. Luther, on the
other hand, suggests a foreign quality, even a exotic, slightly visionary
tinge which would once have been a little disturbing to the average inhabitant
of the Lancashire mill towns.
Nowadays, of course, those old weaving towns, which gave the Northern
industrial landscape its character, no longer have the same stereotypical
image. Be-shawled and be- clogged, shuffling at dawn over the hard cobbles
to the factory gates, the workers were the epitome of ground-down wage-slaves.
They took the brunt of the "Hungry Thirties."
Nowadays, when they have jobs at all, the workers are much more exotic.
They may well still be the epitome of wage slavery, but they wear saris
and turbans, and many speak Bengali as their first language. Even Mr.
Gradgrind the mill owner is probably now called Mrs. Patel. The average
inhabitant of the mill towns is as likely to worship at a mosque or a
Hindu temple and still think of the Indian sub-continent as the motherland.
The British Empire, in miniature, came home. Britain went from being the
hub of the largest and most widespread imperium the world had ever known
to a small, crowded nation that had become, almost overnight, multi-ethnic.
It was a bit of a shock to the average native.
The conscious and often principled dismantling of the Empire which happened
rapidly after 1946, with the coming to Parliament of the first great socialist
government, was accompanied by a shortage of manpower caused by the Second
World War. Citizens of the British Commonwealth, mostly from the West
and East Indies, were encouraged to emigrate to the United Kingdom to
fill the thousands of jobs - most of them low paid - which were urgently
After South Africa left the Commonwealth over the issue of apartheid,
many South Africans also arrived, together with Nigerians and Ghanians.
Frequently idealistic about the "mother country," they found
prejudice, wretched exploitation, poverty, and a climate which, if you
weren't born to it, can suck the soul from your eyes.
The absorption of these new cultures into the host culture was not as
dramatic as some predicted (Enoch Powell, the "intellectual fascist"
of the Tory Party warned that racial conflict would bring "rivers
of blood" to Britain) and from the beginning there were people dedicated
to the cause of social justice who, myself amongst them, eventually saw
some of their idealism formalised in the Race Relations Act which made
active prejudice, racial slurs and the like, illegal.
Alone, no such act ever changes society, and it did nothing to convince
the skinheads and crypto-Nazis, but it does set the standard to which
that society aspires. It says that the active expression of racial prejudice
is unacceptable in a civilised world. Framed when memories of the Goebbels
years were much fresher, the act certainly had respect for words and pictures.
It admitted that they could kill.
In England, it did not stop the sentiently challenged from abusing and
attacking Pakistani women and children or beating up old black men or
kicking a boy to death, but 1 it did give the victims some means of restitution,
and it told them that they had specific recourse to the law. Of course
it didn't stop racist policemen ignoring complaints (or indeed compounding
them!), it didn't stop real life, with all its shades and variation happening.
It didn't stop many people being humiliated, insulted, and attacked. But
it did set a standard. A goal.
Britain needed goals. She needed, in fact, a whole new future. As she
tried to reinvent herself from her self-image as the burdened mother of
a thousand lands to become the European nation she had never accepted
she was, many other social upheavals occurred. The imperial ghosts continued
to haunt her. The problem of Ireland, whose Protestant population wished
to remain within the United Kingdom and whose Catholics did not, was acerbated,
originally by "Reverend" Paisley, the Unionist adventurer. The
Falklands folly, which need never have been resolved in violence and cheap
flag-waving, seemed to say it all. If ever two politicians were deeply
grateful for the chance to go to war and make cheap capital of human life,
Margaret Thatcher and George Bush were. Now, one goes raving mad and travels
about America pretending to be the Queen, while the other looks enviously
at his predecessor who stands strong chance, in the trials of history,
of getting off on medical grounds. But one thing's certain, they always
have the blood of the dead on their hands. The ambitions of these greedy
brutes permeates the pages of Luther Arkwright. His quests are quests
for alternatives, for a better way.
In those golden years, which were not really an illusion, before the
rich organised their attack on us, general prosperity increased significantly
and, for a while, so did civic power (the poor were getting richer and
the rich were not quite so rich as they had been). 1960s Britain was "swinging"
as far as the international community was concerned, and the extraordinary
vital mix of cultures had made the country probably the most creatively
productive in the world. Ireland, as well as African America and Lancashire,
gave us The Beatles and all the other extraordinarily talented musicians
who changed the aspirations and capacities of popular music forever. All
the arts thrived.
The spread of wealth resulted in a consequent spread of social justice.
Macmillan's Tory party neither dared to nor cared to dismantle the social
programmes introduced by their predecessors, and when Labour was re-elected
in the 1960s, further enlightened legislation gave us for a while probably
the best universally available health and education systems, free recourse
to the legal system, and much else. Although there was still a lot to
fix, and we were beginning to understand the drawbacks of any orthodoxy,
liberal or otherwise, it looked like we were getting to Utopia in the
fast lane. We began to discuss what we were all going to do with so much
leisure and wealth and equity. .
Thatcher and Reagan represented very different interests to ours. They
were in some ways the figureheads, following the direction of Big
Business, who offered rhetorical legitimacy for an extraordinary grab,
back of power by private capital from the public. They'd been planning
it for years. I used to hear them, when I worked in Fleet Street in the
early 1960s, talking about "expanding into the public sector."
The old edicts of our common law that that which concerns all, shall be
determined by all - were ignored, even mocked. This powerful minority,
which owned most of everything already, had no respect for us. The public
institutions and utilities, designed to create a fairer society, were
their chief targets. They corrupted the rhetoric of public debate, they
claimed publicly owned services didn't "work" - i.e. they provided
a service, not a profit.
Representing the interests of big business and preaching a free-market
philosophy of world deregulation even crazier than the communism it sought
to defeat - a universal panacea somehow based on total internal competition
which made a nightmare of most ordinary lives they gave us a set of old-fashioned
shoddy "solutions" which got their friends and clients very
rich indeed and the rest of us quite a bit poorer. They made virtues of
greed and disharmony. The lie became a standard instrument of social intercourse,
in government, in business, and, eventually, throughout society. It also
inevitably introduced uncertainties and miseries into our world which
soon translated into violence and cynicism, eroded the quality of fife
of millions, and continues to destroy it to this day. It was quite a radical
change - more so in Britain, perhaps, than in America - and it was quite
a lot for the average thinking person to cope with.
In the face of all this rapidly gained experience and change, just on
the cusp of the radical shift when we stopped being a community of citizens
and instead were encouraged to become a loose confederation of independent
consumers, creative artists were having a hard time.
The British cultural explosion which was first exemplified by the phenomenal
success of The Beatles and other rock bands, as well as movies comics,
and literature, occurred as a result of all these various experiences
and social tensions. Faced with turning their experience and concerns
into concrete work, many talented creative people looked to the conventional
forms - the legitimate, respectable forms - and found them incapable of
describing these daily realities. Indeed, if you tried to use them, they
tended to distort what you needed to say. I had earned the large part
of my living writing commercial comics in the '5O's and early '60's, and
the techniques I had learned were very useful to me when I came to start
writing the Jerry Cornelius stories, my first real attempt to match my
writing to my observations and experience of my own world - the rapidly
changing world of the '60's, the early years of the computer age. I was
trying to describe, if you like, a "post modern" a well as a
post-war world, using techniques which somehow achieved that better than
more orthodox writing. Most science fiction and popular music of the time
was crap, but it did offer us very useful methods and images.
Much of the talent which in an earlier world would have gone into conventional
forms was now seeking better ways of expressing itself. The first "pop"
artists - Paolozzi and Hamilton in England, Kitai, Warhol, and Co. in
the U.S. drew on comics and science fiction for their images and for a
while gave a certain intellectual respectability to those genres. But
in a way, this was still the response of "high" artists desperate
for subject matter, something to rejuvenate the existing forms. The people
who in my view were making genuine innovations were doing it mostly unrecognised
and unheralded by the establishment (almost a credential) and they were
doing it within the culture.
Out of this general movement, which gave us a vast range of different
expressions, came New Worlds, the magazine I edited, together with the
so-called science fiction New Wave when people like Ballard, Ellison,
and Sladek started throwing some effective literary hand grenades about.
In England this movement coincided and married with the experimental rock
music movement as well as movements in poetry, painting, and film-making.
From this same vibrant mix surfaced the new comics writers and artists
like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Bryan Talbot who were inspired by the
dynamics of American comics exemplified by the likes of Jack Kirby and
Stan Lee, by earlier artists like Mac Raboy and Bob Kane, by the high
standards of people like Frank Hampson, Don Lawrence, and the Embleton
brothers, by the products of the infamous and legendary Mick Anglo studio
(which I had worked with), and by the new science fiction. They had the
same impatience with genre as the 'New Wave' science-fiction writers.
They wanted the form to do more. They wanted it to say something. They
wanted it to express their experience.
Amongst all this fine and impatient talent, Bryan Talbot soon began to
stand out. By the late 1970's he had established a reputation as an original
storyteller - one of a handful of graphic artists (Moebius, Chaykin, and
Simonson are others) who can tell a tale as well as they can draw one.
He was marked by the ambition of his stories, as well as their skill.
Here was something far more original and idiosyncratic than anyone had
attempted before - essentially a way of describing not only what was happening
to England but also to the larger world, whose problems the U.K. frequently
mirrored. An alternative history of modern times. And, of course, because
Talbot was using a popular form to do this, it was also a very good, romantic,
inventive, fast-paced yarn.
The Pop artists who had borrowed so much from comics and science fiction
a few years earlier were still essentially taking surface elements, isolating
them, and introducing them into what was often highly academic art (Warhol
is a good example) in some ways similar to the decadent academic art of
19th century France, where ideas of aesthetics and in refinements of those
aesthetics become more important and often more interesting than the subject.
Popular artists, on the other hand, are not allowed such luxuries. Substance,
story, and astonishment is what the audience demands. It can't be talked
into buying what it doesn't like. Your living doesn't depend on convincing
an establishment that you are worth millions at auction. It depends on
entertaining an audience - and keeping it entertained. The popular artist
is called upon to master fundamental techniques which the Pop artist might
imitate but rarely understand (in terms of their real narrative function,
for instance). Narrative is very important in comics of all kinds In fact,
dynamics have to be considered as well as aesthetics. The superb black
and white pages of Dudley Watkins, for instance, which are masterpieces
of counterbalance and clever, unostentatious, internal design, almost
certainly borrowing from Beardsley and the Robinsons, inspired many British
artists, as did the classically good drawing and meticulous colour work
of Hampson, Lawrence, and Ron and Gerry Embleton (all of whom I was privileged
to work with). In a graphic illustrator, aesthetics are the hidden bones,
sinew, and life-stuff of the drawing, rarely advertised and never the
subject. What is more, a kind of social consciousness frequently prevails
in the work of the ambitious popular artist, perhaps in the tradition
of Gilray and Hogarth, whose very directness of approach can make a very
effective attack on the status quo and its evils.
Where this goes wrong is when the graphic artists become successful and
self-indulgent, demanding that the public enjoy their skills rather than
the story. We have all seen the unfortunate results. Other writer/artists
have the good instincts and sense to make greater self demands and teach
themselves new techniques which rise to that ambition, so they are always
trying - always straining for something extra - and it is this which gives
their work at least part of its vitality. This is what is great about
Talbot, and it explains his steadily growing reputation. He clearly follows
the Stephen King maxim that if you have the good fortune to be successful
at something, it is your duty to try to get better and widen your ambition,
to improve the climate for everyone.
I think Luther Arkwright - a kind of alternate history of the British
Empire and its ongoing effects - improves all the time. He remains one
of my own personal favourites and one of the best examples of what a talented
/ writer/artist can do with a form. I believe that the reason the story
remains so fresh and interesting is because under all the glorious invention
and wild adventure, glamorous characters and exotic machinery, Talbot
deals in fundamental realities and makes stern self, demands.
He is interested in reality. He is curious about reality. He isn't, thank
God, afraid of reality. His dialogue with the real world continues. His
attempts to frame and communicate his real experience become increasingly
complex and sophisticated. Certain proof of this came with the publication
of The Tale of One Bad Rat, an admirably original use of the medium and
one of the most coherent graphic novel ever published, which demonstrated
not only how far Talbot had come from his early successes, but how far
the genre itself could be taken.
There is nothing light or academic about the subject Talbot is prepared
to tackle! His taste for reality is as strong as his talent for fantasy.
He comes from an area of England which, while often wild and beautiful,
has a longer history of industrial exploitation and mass poverty than
of widespread wealth, and he can see the unpleasant results of the loony
Right's appalling, self-serving, financial and social policies. But he
is neither pessimistic nor especially cynical. His visionary instincts
tell him of a better world, perhaps a slightly more exotic world, which
we might even achieve name one day. Rather as Luther Arkwright's name
suggests to me - his Northern feet are firmly on the ground, but his visionary
head is up there peering around, reporting from the clouds.
And what great reports they are! I am looking forward to the next Luther
Arkwright. It gets better all the time. And so does Bryan Talbot.
Enjoy this wonderful story however you choose. There are plenty of levels
you can experience it on. I know you'll get at least as much out of it
as I do. If you're reading it for the first time, I envy you!
Port Sabatini, Texas