Heartbreak Hotel

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Number One: Teen Angels in Anguish. Cover by Barry Kamen.

Among the recent uploads at the Internet Archive is a complete run of Heartbreak Hotel, a British magazine six issues of which were published in 1988. (More or less…I think the first issue may have appeared at the end of 1987.) Heartbreak Hotel differed from other bi-monthly publications by being predominantly a comics magazine, but it also differed from other comics magazines by a) having the contents of each issue themed to follow a different musical genre, b) running articles by and interviews with people who had little or no connection to the comics world, and c) being a lot more openly sympathetic towards gay men and lesbians than any other magazine aimed at a general readership. The latter stance was a political one in 1988. This was the year when the Thatcher government, growing hubristic after a third election win, passed a Local Government Act whose notorious Section 28 prevented authorities from “promoting homosexuality”. The clause was designed to prevent Labour-run councils from funding gay and lesbian support groups, as well as to stop teachers from mentioning homosexuality in sex education lessons. The editors of Heartbreak Hotel, Don Melia and Lionel Gracey-Whitman, were a gay couple, so the magazine stood against the repressive atmosphere of the time without being too polemical or too serious. The polemic was more overt in affiliated publications Strip AIDS, a benefit comic for the London Lighthouse (a residential and daycare centre for people with AIDS), and AARGH (or Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia), a collection of comics taking a stand against Section 28 which was the first publication from Alan Moore’s Mad Love imprint.

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The other notable feature of Heartbreak Hotel was the attention it gave to new artists, to women artists, or to people who weren’t drawing generic action/adventure strips. The first two issues appeared while I was working on the last pages of my adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu so I sent the magazine some sample pages and was subsequently invited to meet the editors at the launch of the next issue in London. I spent a somewhat nervous weekend in the capital; this was my first introduction to the wider comics world, and my introversion in those days was a lot more pronounced among strangers than it is today. I met Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie for the first time (separately—they weren’t a couple at that time), and was amused when Don made a point of telling me that he and Lionel were gay, something he evidently felt he had to declare even though it had been (for me, at least) quite obvious from the editorial stance of Heartbreak Hotel, as well as the camp graphics scattered throughout the magazine’s pages, and the fact that the publisher was co-named “Willyprods”.

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Dave Gibbons spills the beans in issue one.

The format of the magazine was established in the first issue: five or six strips based on songs that suited that issue’s theme, together with interviews or features, some of which also matched the theme. “Spill It!!” was a regular feature in which a different artist had a page to create an autobiographical piece in strip form, and there was also a column about comics and related matters by artist/writer Trina Robbins. I’d initially hoped to draw something for the psychedelic issue but by the time I posted my photocopies that number was already being prepared for print. I did turn up in the fourth issue, however, in a short news piece which announced the publication of the Caemaen Books edition of my Haunter of the Dark strip.

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Also from issue one, Alan Moore recounts his trip to the USA.

A more important outcome from my journey to London was Lionel’s offer to run The Call of Cthulhu in BLAAM, a spin-off comic that Willyprods/Small Time Ink was planning. Heartbreak Hotel had been inundated with work by talented newcomers so rather than make them wait for a slot in the parent magazine the editors decided to launch another title to provide an additional outlet for new creators. Lionel had been very impressed with my Lovecraft story, and also assisted with its conclusion when he suggested that I add an extra page to help the pacing near the end, something I did, and which I’ve been grateful for ever since. The first issue of BLAAM, printed on tabloid-size newsprint sheets, came bundled with issue five of Heartbreak Hotel. The idea was that BLAAM would continue separately as a free publication thanks to a combination of low production costs, advertising, and Don Melia’s contacts at Titan Distribution. This was all very exciting, especially when two more issues of BLAAM appeared soon after. My strip was slated to run in number four or five but Willyprods/Small Time Ink didn’t publish anything more after December 1988. I was disappointed by this but not for long. A year later I’d started working on the Savoy comics, and Steve Bissette offered to publish the Cthulhu strip in Lovecraft Lives, a book he was planning for Kevin Eastman’s new enterprise, Tundra Publishing. That one didn’t work out either—the stars weren’t right for a variety of reasons—but all this attention, and the enthusiasm shown by everyone involved with Heartbreak Hotel, made the comics world seem like a good place to be. For a while, anyway.

Continue reading “Heartbreak Hotel”

Weekend links 85

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Group I (Convertible Series, 2010) by Monir Farmanfarmaian.

The four albums recorded by Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis under the name Dome are being reissued by Editions Mego together with Gilbert & Lewis’s Yclept album. I always preferred Gilbert & Lewis in their Dome incarnation (and Colin Newman solo) to the punk and post-punk stylings of their former band, Wire. Dome were (among other things) eccentric, awkward, noisy, hypnotic and experimental. Their recordings seemed to go largely unnoticed in the early 1980s so it’s good to see them being reissued.

A Children’s Treasury of American Cops Brutally Attacking Citizens: “…it takes quite a lot of tax money to keep a bunch of vicious thugs overfed and dressed like junior Darth Vaders with their portable hard-ons, on the off-chance some college kids might one day peacefully sit outside to protest this nation’s revolting descent.”

• “Stevenson, as has been said, was disarmingly candid about the material he borrowed for Treasure Island. One name, however, is missing from the extensive catalogue of self-confessed ‘plagiarisms’.” John Sutherland at the TLS.

• “Messiaen’s advice was revelatory. ‘You have the good fortune of being an architect and having studied special mathematics’, he told Xenakis. ‘Take advantage of these things. Do them in your music.'”

• “They always said punk was an influence. Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, what a load of old shit that was. It’s Thatcherite art care of Saatchi & Saatchi.” And don’t ask Jamie Reid about the Sex Pistols.

Dennis Cooper is interviewed at Lambda Literary. I was surprised last week to find my recent post about William Burroughs’ The Wild Boys linked on a feature about the novel at Cooper’s blog.

Cosmic Geometry: The art of Monir Farmanfarmaian at The Paris Review. Related: Monir Farmanfarmaian at the Haines Gallery, San Francisco.

• Paleolithic phallic art suggests that many early European men scarred, pierced and tattooed their penises.

FACT mix 301 is a selection of dub tracks, dubstep pieces and Middle Eastern songs compiled by Kahn.

Who left a tree, then a coffin in the library?

The Little Journal of Rejections (1896).

Clive finished another painting.

The Great Salt Desert of Iran.

Keep Drawing.

• Troisième (1980) by Colin Newman | And Then… (1980) by Dome | The Red Tent pts I & II (1980) by Dome) | Jasz (1981) by Dome.

The biter bit

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For the Love of Disruptive Strategies and Utopian Visions in Contemporary Art and Culture No.2 by James Cauty.

I usually wouldn’t bother writing about the over-rated and over-valued Damien Hirst—I’ll leave that to heavyweights such as Robert Hughes—but one story this week toasted the cockles of my black and cynical heart. Before we get to that, some context is required.

Hirst unveiled his diamond-coated platinum skull, For the Love of God in June 2007. Later that month, artist John LeKay complained that Hirst swiped the idea from LeKay’s series of crystal skulls made in the early Nineties. Hirst certainly knew LeKay at that time and interviewed him for a gallery catalogue in 1993.

(LeKay) said: “I would like Damien to acknowledge that ‘John really did inspire the skull and influenced my work a lot’. Damien’s very insecure about his originality. He used to say, ‘You’re a better artist than me’.

“He can be affectionate and is fun to be around, but he struggles to come up with ideas. It takes years of work to develop something. My stuff with crystals took a lot of research. You don’t just get there. He’s impatient. He’s a lazy artist.”

This wasn’t the first time Hirst was accused of laziness or even plagiarism. In 2000 he was sued for breach of copyright by Norman Emms after he made Hymn, an over-sized copy of Emms’ model for the Young Scientist Anatomy Set. That dispute was settled out of court only to be followed in 2006 with an accusation of theft by computer artist Robert Dixon who claimed that his geometric model of a flower, True Daisy, had been copied by Hirst for a piece entitled Valium. Judge the similarity for yourself.

Fast forward to December 2008 when a teenage graffiti artist who calls himself Cartrain created a collage which includes a photo of Hirst’s skull. The £200 that sales of this netted him also drew the attention of the Design and Artists Copyright Society and Hirst himself who demanded both the money and the artwork. Cartrain said:

I handed over the artworks to Dacs on the advice of my gallery. I met Christian Zimmermann [from Dacs] who told me Hirst personally ordered action on the matter.

I think this is the point where one has to start using the word hypocrite, don’t you? Others think so too, among them Jimmy Cauty (ex-KLF) and Sex Pistols sleeve designer Jamie Reid whose website Red Rag To A Bull describes itself as “a radical institution dedicated to the pursuit of “FREEDOM, TRUTH and JUSTICE in the art world and BEYOND”. And also overblown statements.” Inspired by Cartrain’s treatment, Cauty and co have been producing their own riffs on Hirst’s skull as a deliberate act of provocation. Cauty says, “Unlike Cartrain and his gallery, we are not intimidated by lawyers and if an injunction is issued, we will simply ignore it on the grounds of freedom of speech.” Reid calls Hirst a “hypocritical and greedy art bully”. There’s some funny stuff on their site, all of which is for sale as limited edition prints.

All of the works below are for sale and once TWENTY MILLION POUNDS has been raised ALL the proceeds will go to make an exact copy of a sculpture known as “For the Love of God”. This will then be sold for FIFTY MILLION POUNDS and the THIRTY MILLION POUND profit will then be used to repay the Street Urchin his 200 quid, help other Street Urchins and also feed starving children in Africa and Sussex.

Hirst will no doubt be grudgingly amused by the attention even if it is for behaving more like a grasping corporation than an artist. He’s also become the subject of another artwork by Eugenio Merino, For the Love of Gold, which depicts the corporate entity inside one of his vitrine tanks shooting himself in the head. All of which is silly and juvenile but then the only response much contemporary art deserves is a silly and juvenile one. People are naturally tempted to wave a red rag in the face of the pompous or the hypocritical. More power to them.

Update: Damien Hirst in vicious feud with teenage artist over a box of pencils