1970s >> 1978 >> no-890-october-1978

Comic Book Capitalism

I don’t know about you, but no matter the publication, I always read the letters page first. In Debbie a girls’ magazine I recently came across a letter that struck a chord. It went on brightly about Blue Peter, show jumping — and then came the gem. “I don’t get home from school until 5.30 and then I miss half the (TV) programme. And, knowing my luck, the part I miss is the best part.”

Like I said, that strikes a chord. If you are addicted to Debbie with its “Secret of Fear Island”, “Up to Date Kate”, “Little Miss Featherfeet” and so on, real life is “I miss the best part”. As a past victim of “Cannonball Kid”, “Trained to Bust-up a Baldy’s Team”, “The Tough of the Track”, I feel that “I miss the best part.” Let’s fact it; The Hotspur, Wizard, Girls Crystal and the Rover have done us all a disservice. Having learned about the world from them — we always miss the best part. These comic books taught us that life was worthwhile; that it was exciting and dramatic. We were thrown out of school unprepared for that harsh series of cliches that capitalism really offers the young worker.

“You will enjoy it here  . . . This job carries a good pension . . . There are excellent prospects of promotion . . . With this bonus scheme it is really up to you . . . Of course you must believe in the product . . .”

Don’t know about you, mate; I was unprepared for it. In the last frame of a Cannonball Kid story our hero is depicted on top of an open-decker bus being driven through cheering crowds. He then reflects — by means of a bubble coming out of his ear —”Ah well scored a hat-trick at Wembley and bust up a Nazi spy ring at school—I wonder what next year will bring.”

Unfortunately we are not thirteen years of age for ever. Too soon we are twenty or there abouts. So we start reading the Melody Maker or the New Musical Express. It’s the same set-up though. Life is still worthwhile, exciting and dramatic. The only difference is that our villains are a little different. They are not cruel step-mothers who want to stop the ballet lessons (Debbie) or guys with big green heads from another planet (Eagle). Now the villains are the intriguing, mindless, unmusic-loving older generation.

Perhaps after the Beano, Bunty, or Melody Maker you regressed to the Socialist Worker or the Socialist Challenge. The villains there are hard-faced businessmen, multi-national companies or ‘right wing’ trade union leaders. The heroes are Lenin, Trotsky or some other “working class heroes” who are going to do something for you.

In actual fact, of course, life is not as simplistic as all that comic book nonsense would have us believe. George Orwell in an essay on Boys’ Papers once speculated whether it would be possible to change the “right wing” bias of these young working class entertainments to  a more “left wing” bias. No doubt that excited some Maoist to bizarre notions of re-writing “I flew with Braddock” to “I marched with Mao” or some Socialist Worker zealot to contemplate the propaganda value of changing “Trained to Bust-up Baldy’s Team” to “Trained to Bust-up Callaghan’s Team”.

Such notions are best left in the nursery along with all the other junk of childhood. The real villain of the piece is the way that society is organised. Everything that is produced to-day is produced for sale; the whole purpose of production on modern society is to realise profits. Every worker — “Boring old fart” or “way-out revolutionary” included — is a victim of this vicious buying and selling system. The important thing is not to climb Mount Everest in your bare feet (as Wilson of the Wizard did) but to survive in the commercial jungle of capitalism. A man or woman is not judged by how fast he or she can run (I believe Wilson once ran the mile in 3 minutes) but how much he or she owns. The majority of the population own little or nothing but their ability to work, and have got to sell that ability for a wage or salary. No wonder they feel “they have missed the best part”. The “best part” is reserved for the owners of the factories, workshops and commercial undertakings.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain wants a new society;  a world where everything is produced solely for use; where the purpose of production is to satisfy human needs; a world without wages, prices or profits. This means a complete revolution in the economic basis of society. It means the whole world’s resources are owned in common by the world’s population. Such a gigantic transformation can only come about by the conscious act of a majority of the working class. A first step in that process is to leave behind the ideas of “heroes and villains” as portrayed in the comic books of our youth or the political comic books of the “right” or “left” wing.

I started off by saying that I always read the letters page first. Well, here’s one I came across in the New Musical Express. The publication was encouraging its readers to send in what they term “smart ass one-lines”; these are usually distinguished by being more than one line and not particularly smart. One of them struck me though as being rather less silly than most; it stated:- “Life is like a shit sandwich. The more bread you have, the less shit you have to eat.” Oh Breadless Ones, ponder such wisdom.

Dick Donnelly

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