Monday 17 November 2014

John was right! Brain Damage (part one, sort of)

This is the first of a seven-part (or eight or nine perhaps, maybe even ten) look at the various titles that Galaxy Publications put out between 1989 and 1992 (and several that spun-off from those titles). It's a bit of a complicated mess, and I'm not the tidiest of folk anyway, so expect things to get slightly jumbled here while I try and piece it all together... But it'll be worth it, really! Even the worst of Galaxy's output is about fifty times more entertaining than Smut ever was - and that's even with Galaxy being most well-known as the publishers of Fiesta. We're beginning, naturally, with the first of these in a chronological sense, and it's a good 'un. It's called Brain Damage.

This is a bit of a long one this (almost a hundred images, apologies to those with slower Internet facilities), so it'd be a good idea to put the kettle on before carrying on.

Right, Brain Damage it is then - it lasted from 1989 to 1992, and was edited by "Big" Bill Hampton throughout, just so you know. Now, if we were to judge Brain Damage on the first issue alone, it's nothing special. A higher all-round "standard" of artists, granted, but it could be any other adult comic. It's even got stuff by Anthony Smith in it:

Four pages worth in the first issue

Many of the soon-to-be standard characters of Brain Damage appear, yes, but it's not until subsequent issues that we begin to understand what the comic's REALLY all about - in that, it's definitely a "right on" sort of publication. Loads of Thatcher-bashing, left-wing politics, heavy satire, general dismay at the state of the world... As the Wiki page puts it, Brain Damage seemed to be aspiring to be a modern-day Oz, with each issue tackling a different theme (war, television, sex, violence, the environment, love, horror, superheroes, France, the Sixties, and so on). It's fairly heavy-going reading a lot of them in one go (which is why it's taken me so long to put this article together), but definitely worth it once you see the kind of "stuff" that's in there - I've omitted most of the crap stuff for this round-up, and even after that there's a LOT to go through.

Going by page number in the first issue, here's the first indication of Brain Damage's intentions - Clive Walker would sum up the "theme" of each issue with a page full of cartoons of the James Gillray variety:

And a couple more from later issues:

Yeah, that'll show 'em! and so on. There's actually several of the "cartoon" variety of pages within Brain Damage, with each issue having pages from (the late) Terence Parkes, aka "Larry":

And Oink!/Round the Bend man, Tony Husband:

It's not unfair to say that Tony's artistic skills are more on the writing side of things, and a perfect example of this would be the long-running serial, The Striker Wore Pink Knickers, initially illustrated by Ron Tiner:

The story appeared in the first nineteen issues, and is definitely "one for the ages", with the dirty dealings of the gutter press and the general public's attitudes toward homosexuals still (sadly) relevant today - witness Simon's relief at finding out Jimmy is actually Jenny:

Illustration duties were later taken over by Malcolm Douglas (as "JT Dogg", also of Oink! fame), and we see the story evolve from a complicated love story, into a love triangle, then a love square, before a seemingly happy ending all leads to tragedy:

Once The Striker Wore Pink Knickers was finished, JT Dogg carried on with shorter, sillier horror-type fare, such as The Turd World War:

Hmm, something a bit more light-hearted now, perhaps... How about a couple of things from fellow Oink!-man, Davy Francis? 

Here's something from John Longstaff (aka "Cluff") now - aristocracy-based fun at Wildtrouser Hall:

Once Wildtrouser had reached its conclusion, Cluff's next target was, naturally, politicians. The Commoners is the title of this series:

Tony Reeve takes on a politically-themed strip too, with the ridiculous Watchdogs, based on Douglas Hurd and morality campaigner/all-round spoilsport Mary Whitehouse:

Mr. Reeve does a few other things for Brain Damage, such as The Secret Diary of Herbert Small (Nothing Unusual Happens to Him At All), which initially shared a page with smaller strips by Tony Husband and Charlie Brooker, before being expanded to a full page affair:

And, seemingly owing no small debt to Matt Groening's Akbar and Jeff, it's The Cuthbertsons:

Someone else now, whose name should be familiar to those who've been paying attention - Dave Colton. He does a lot of one-off things here:

That "cereal killer" joke appears no less than THREE times during Brain Damage's run. Once from Colton there, Anthony Smith does it as well, and so does StiK (pseudonym of Bill Greenhead):

But still, when the drawings are THIS good, it's forgiveable. StiK can make all the corny sight gags he likes:

Because when your abilities are THIS good, you should really be allowed to do anything you want:

Now for some violence - John Erasmus created the characters of paranoid/super-powered single mum Doris and her son Roland for Home Front, with each issue's domestic adventure having a higher bodycount than the last:

Perhaps it's unavoidable for "adult comics" to go through their run without certain "items" - one of those being photo stories. Cheap to do and most often terrible, and the ones in Brain Damage are no exception. HOWEVER... These two here, are worth a chuckle or three:

The other, seemingly inescapable trap that the adult comics seem unable to avoid is the parody-of-a-loved-children's-institution. Brain Damage has several Hanna-Barbera parodies that are so terrible I couldn't even bring myself to scan them, as well as this imaginatively-titled Tintin rip:

Carlos Delmonté and Michael Peek's Janet and Johnny:

And Doug Cameron's Watch With Mutha series:

Mr. Cameron puts himself to far better use with Rhymeword Scrubs, co-written by Ben Norris, which takes the cliché of rhyming comic character names to ridiculous new heights:

It's also customary of these mags to have a go at students - remember, this was the late 1980s, when education was free, so they were fair game and all that. Especially when a cartoonist as talented/deranged as Wendy Holden is involved:

And now we're back to the more "sociological" side of Brain Damage... Appearing in almost every issue is We Ran the World, a leftist/Marxist take on the history of Britain, written by Andy Oldfield and drawn by Mike Roberts. In this particular episode, we learn how South Africa got to be in the state it was in circa 1989:

Whilst the nastier parts of life in the UK are handled by Martin Honeysett's The Scraggs:

And Stevie Best's long-running Cameraman:

Which leads us nicely to one of several "masterpieces" that Brain Damage carries - Hunt Emerson's Arsover Tit, about a two-headed rat-like thing that, naturally, is always in two minds over the prevailing theme of each issue, beginning with tabloid newspapers:

More to come from Mr. Emerson in a later post, as there's too much good stuff for one post without the whole thing turning into a "Hunt Emerson (and some other things)" sort of post. The same rule also applies to several other Damage contributors - the somewhat sinister draftings of (the late) Kevin Woodcock:

The surreal sketchings of Borin Van Loon:

And the frustrating genius of "Lucian" - frustrating in the sense that I have no idea of who this is, and can't find any information, anywhere!

No disrespect intended toward any of the other artists here - it's just the sheer quantity of stuff from these four would make for a highly unbalanced article. For example, here's something from Joe Matthews (currently of Funny Monsters Comic fame) - beautifully drawn, but it's his only appearance in Brain Damage:

We also have a one-off appearance from (the late) John Herdman:

One of perhaps three (total) contributions from Charlie Brooker:

And this bizarre, uncredited triptych:

I've gone too far now without mentioning this - by the eleventh (or possibly twelfth) issue, Brain Damage had retitled itself as The Damage:

Why? Who knows? Maybe it's a bit catchier, maybe they had unexpected complaints from victims of head trauma, it's hard to say. And also, with each passing "volume", the contents got more and more focussed on each issue's particular theme. All in all, a VERY high quality product, is what I'm saying. And we've still not even got close to finishing here. Here's Neil Bennet's contributions - Hell's Rotarians:

And a one-off bit of raunchy fun:

There's a few more parodies too, such as these one-gag affairs POSSIBLY written by Mike Roberts:

And the fantastical $tarve Trek by PJ Polyp:

And finally, we have Kev Sutherland - he contributes a fair bit to The Damage, but the part he plays throughout the rest of Galaxy's publications (and beyond) is FAR bigger than this. For now though, here's two episodes of the pun-tastic Sam Shovel:

This thing:

And an episode of Dennis Destiny, who would later appear in the pages of Gutter - it's best opening these three images in separate tabs, for ease of reading, just so you know:

After thirty issues and an annual, The Damage ended, sort of, by being absorbed into Elephant Parts, but that's a whole other story. Where Brain Damage is as of the present day is a bit of a disappointment, being in the hands of the New York-based Untitled Project Productions. They bought all the rights to it in 2009 with the intention of making half-hour animated shows based on the characters, yet all we have from them so far is this piece of uninspiring drivel:

Ah well. SUMMARISED, Brain Damage is definitely one of the better (top three perhaps?) Viz-ish comics that came about back in the day, and there's so much more to see in there. It's always on eBay, and every second-hand comic shop I've been in seems to have several issues in stock. Go and read them for yourself, is what I'm saying. But if you find these issues, let me know - I still "need" them: Vol.1, No.3, Vol.1, No.8, Vol.1, No.9, and Vol.1, No.12.

As I say, LOTS more to come on this story. LOTS more.

One more small note - As with the Acne article, Blogger wouldn't allow me to fit every name into the "Labels" section, so a lot of them are missing from the list below. I'm working on a solution to this slight problem, you'll see.


  1. Fantastic work as ever. I remember my cousin reading a copy of Brain Damage when I was younger and moaning it wasnt as good as Viz. He's a bit thick so finally, I can see why he'd not have been impressed. All them words and that,

    1. I think there's only Adroit and Scurvy Dog that are wordier than Brain Damage! How about yourself, were YOU impressed by it?

    2. I am actually. I'd never seen a copy before and the garish covers don't really give much of the political nature away. Its almost like a more comedy sidekick to Crisis.

    3. Interesting way of putting it! Only just starting on reading Crisis (found the first 20 issues in a second-hand shop a month or so back), so there's an "angle" I can read them from. The "straight-man" to Brain Damage, that'll do.

  2. Thank you for taking me back Ryan. Nice to see the great work of everyone again. We did some great stuff back then. I'd just like to thank Andy Oldfield for producing some AMAZING Judge Smeg scripts. We had one that was never finished about the church. I think I still have a pencil stretched on a board in the attic. Great days. Thanks again

    1. Absolute pleasure, Mr. Greenhead. Were there any more Judge Smeg stories? I only ever saw the one in the 1990 annual. Those cityscapes are fantastic!

  3. Blimey, I think I remember the name and covers of these but none of the other pages are familiar at all. There's certainly a vast variety of styles though! Very interesting, thanks for posting :)

    1. The covers are HIGHLY memorable! I'll be doing a "covers gallery" in a few days, should stir some more shelf-based memories for you.

  4. I was never keen on Brain Damage, and this article has just reminded me why. And if that makes me a bit thick, so be it!

    1. It's definitely a heftier read than the rest, too me about three weeks to re-read the whole lot of them before scanning started - whereas most of the other titles I can get through almost every issue in a week.

      Easy to see why it's so dividing amongst people who usually like this sort of thing!

  5. Avast there, me hearty! ( "pirate" gag!) Phew, Ryan, what a lot of work went into this post! No wonder it took some time to do. But well worth it - a brilliant representation of one of the better Viz ( and Oink!! ) immitators. BD was the only clone that I would get every copy of, at least well into the time when it became " The Damage ", before I eventually stopped collecting, so many memories brought back here.
    Anyway, THANKS for going to so much trouble for the likes of us and for sifting through the dregs for us.
    I shall now unashamedly commence downloading all these long-lost pages for posterity! ( a-harrr, Jim, lad! Pieces of eight! ) and all that!

    1. Piracy makes the world go round, it always has!

      Some issues seem to be easier to find than others, I've seen it in LOADS of second-hand comic places, but those last few issues never seem to turn up anywhere, which is a little bit frustrating, especially when I've ended up with three or four copies of some other issues.

    2. Good idea doing a covers gallery - look forward to that!

  6. Thanks for this, I discovered my stash of Brain Damages at my parents at the weekend. I only had the first half a dozen as I got banned from the only newsagent in town that sold them for showing off and calling it a dump in front of my mate. Genuinely gutted to see how The Striker Wore Pink Knickers actually ended :(

    1. It's a pleasure, Mr. Walsh - sorry to have to ruin your day so many years later with Pink Knickers, it's a shame they had to end it like that!

      I've worked in shops where kids have tried to show off with the "This shop's shit" line - but generally I'll agree with them, they're not expecting that, ha!

  7. Some interesting thoughts on Brain Damage from Rob Yuppies and Tommy Ross over on that Facebook thing:

    Tommy Ross:
    Even though I was only about fifteen or sixteen when Brain Damage was launched, I thought it was curiously behind the times. It seemed like something Neil from the Young Ones would have bought.

    Rob Yuppies:
    Yeah it was, they were still waxing lyrical about Oz and thought they could all revisit their youths via the Viz hype.

    Tommy Ross:
    I remember when they did the 'sex' issue, the editorial said something like "this is the one that will finally get us banned". It was as tame as a kitten with a cough.

    Rob Yuppies:
    Ha ha, yeah, poor old Brain Damage. It had some great established talent working on it, but its "trying to be in with the kids" by trying to be Viz was embarrassingly off the mark.

    At least it was better than many which were to follow is the best I can say.

    Tommy Ross:
    The 'violence' issue was particularly bizarre, given that the cover was a Clockwork Orange spoof - a film that, due to Kubrick getting the yips, hadn't been legally seen in England since 1973.

    Thinking back, I don't think I ever actually bought Brain Damage, I just looked through it in the shops to see how awful it was.

    Rob Yuppies:
    Like I say, their mindset was firmly rooted to the early 70's counterculture, they had no idea what was coming out of the counterculture at the time or indeed any hope in understanding it because they'd all become part of the establishment by then.

    I doubt any of the fuckers on Brain Damage had heard of Class War or any inkling of what the anarchic humour in Viz was actually about because they were too much on a "oooh look, it's subversive!" left-wing vibe, they were just simply too hippy.

    Tommy Ross:
    They actually did a sixties issue full of 'hilarious' quips like the Who singing 'Talking 'bout my Circulation' and Paul McCartney singing 'Now I'm 64'. Utter toss.

    Rob Yuppies:
    Brain Damage just reminded me of if you could imagine Viz being bought up and published by The New English Library....

  8. I got my hands on the "French Revolution Special" as a young teenager in the early/mid 90s. So the mag made its way to Australia too.. it included the TimTim and Watch With Mutha strips you featured here, haha great memories.

    1. Wow, interesting to hear it made it that far... Just out of interest, how well do the jokes "translate" over there? Happy to reunite you with it anyway :)