Book Review: Comic Book Punks, Karl Stock

Comic Book Punks

Karl Stock

Published by Rebellion Publishing – November 22nd, 2023

If you ask anyone what year punk started you’d be forgiven for saying 1977, it’s certainly the year that there was an explosion of punk bands on the scene. The first punk album though was released by The Damned in 1976. The same can also be said for the comic scene at the time. While it would be 1977 that will be remembered for the introduction of 2000AD, it would be its shocking predecessor, Action comics in 1976 that would kick off a comics revolution. The creators at the heart of this revolution truly were Comic Book Punks, setting out to overturn decades of comics tradition with shocking, and at times downright subversive material.

Alan Moore, 1985. Credit: Jackie Estrada

Karl Stock’s Comic Book Punks is not for the fainthearted. This is in part due to the fact that it tries to tie together the careers of every British writer and artist to touch a comic, and when some of those artists can be considered “the biggest names in comics” with careers that have in themselves been subject to equally titanic tomes this is no small task. As a result you have a book that skips forwards and backwards through time more than Dr Who in his Tardis. This disjointed timeline however is an inevitable result of how the careers of so many people interact over decades of history.

Mark Millar. Credit: Steve Cook

You may also be forgiven for thinking that it concentrates on the careers of the creators responsible for the seminal 2000AD, especially given 2000AD being owned by the book’s publisher, Rebellion. The problem here is that 2000AD has been the most influential British comic for almost 50 years, responsible for launching the careers of so many artists and writers that it is impossible to tell the story of British comics without mentioning it somewhere. It’s an influence felt not just here in Britain, but across the globe, with many of 2000AD’s writers and artists being responsible for reinvigorating the American comics market and creating the blueprints for DC Comics’ and Marvel’s resurgence in the 1980s.

Grant Morrison, 1991. Credit: Jackie Estrada

With so much going on there can be a feeling of information overload, and there is a lot of information. But within this data dump there is a goldmine of knowledge about how the comic industry works, interspersed with bits that make the reader exclaim “I did not know that”. While some names are well known for their comic connections, the Alan Moores and Neil Gaimans of the industry, there are other surprising moments, such as reading how bands like the Pet Shop Boys came to be.

Brian Bolland. Credit: Steve Cook

The musical connections don’t stop there of course, along with bands using comic characters for lyrical inspiration, Anthrax have a song about Judge Dredd and Transvision Vamp have one about Halo Jones, there have even been bands turning up in the comics. Nowadays it seems every band out there has their own graphic novel, with US comic creator Z2 covering everyone from Elvis to Iron Maiden. The creators themselves have attained rock star status, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Neil Gaiman for the singer in a band with his trademark black leather jackets. It doesn’t just stop there either, you’ll be as likely today to see a fan having a comic themed tattoo as you are to see someone with their favourite band logo.

Dave Gibbons, 1988. Credit: Steve Cook

In the end this is a book about rebellious youth and how they influenced a generation. It’s how comics grew up, and changed forever. It’s also telling that while most comics today have changed beyond recognition, compare an issue of The Beano today to one from 40 or 50 years ago, only one has stayed relatively untouched. 2000AD is still going strong, if no longer selling the numbers of progs that it used to do in its heyday, and still acts as a springboard for aspiring writers and artists. The punks are here to stay, and as they say in the music industry, Punk ain’t dead.

Review by Mark Bestford