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Sunday, August 06, 2017

Review: Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!

Back in 1978, Leo Baxendale's autobiography A Very Funny Business was published. It was the first behind-the-scenes account of British comics that I'd read, and it was a complete eye-opener for me. Leo's accounts of creating his characters was the main thrust of the book of course, but his recollections of how the business was often mismanaged and how creatives were sometimes poorly treated was a revelation. It prepared me well for what to expect when I embarked on my own comics career a few years later.

Now, Pat Mills has written his own story of his life in comics; Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! is, like Leo's book, a sharp insight into the world of British comics and should be required reading for anyone venturing into the arena. Anyone who's met Pat knows he doesn't pull his punches and his book reflects that. I admire his courage for revealing this warts and all picture of the UK industry while he's still working in the business as it's something most of us would shy away from doing for fear of losing our work in reprisal. It could be argued that "you don't bite the hand that feeds" but sometimes biting one's tongue isn't ideal either. This is an important book that serves as a realistic counterpoint to the rose-tinted nostalgic view of 1970s British comics. 

Pat's story begins at the dawn of his comics career, when he and John Wagner were working in a garden shed, trying to earn a decent living by cranking out scripts at a fast rate for the likes of Cor!! It moves on to reveal in depth Pat's creation of Action and 2000AD and his co-creation of Battle, Misty, and more, and the conflicts with management that took place. "The suits" have often held back the potential of comics in Britain so it's good to see such a key figure as Pat Mills pointing to examples of where things went wrong. 

The mid-1970s was a pivotal time for British comics and Pat's creativity cannot be underestimated. The old style comics such as Lion were dying, new comics that followed the same tired formula such as Jet barely survived for six months. I dread to think what would have happened without the passion and creativity of Pat Mills and others at that time to shake up the industry. 

Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! is a very compelling read, and a well written account of the industry from the 1970s up to the present day. In reviews such as this the word "essential reading" is often overused hyperbole but in this case it fits the bill perfectly. 

The book is available in digital and print form, as well as a recently released audio book version. 

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