Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Jamie Hewlett
Collecting stories first published in 2000AD #700-707.
Mad as a hatstand. Skill, fab and brill. Well hard and wicked. You Brits have such a wonderful vernacular!
In 1990, I was a full-on video game enthusiast. I bent the knee to the twin gods of Nintendo's Italian plumber and Sega's speedy hedgehog, and worshipped monocular deities in neon-lit temples, feeding them coin of the realm hand-over-fist in return for some brief amusement.
Before long, I discovered that the better missives and hymnals to the pixelated idols I worshipped came from the mother country of the Commonwealth. Compared to the American glossies, the UK gaming magazines contained less PR guff and more insightful analysis, peppered with ribald humour and colourful turns of phrase of the sort I've used above. Magazines such as C+VG, SEGA POWER, NINTENDO ZONE and (my fave) MEAN MACHINES soon became staples of my reading diet, and proved to be a far greater education for me in the British outlook than any number of BBC costume dramas.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly, I also became a fan of 2000AD's output at that time. (Indeed, some of the mags I read featured ads for contemporaneous games based on Rogue Trooper and Judge Dredd.) The very first issue I picked up was Prog 700 - and underneath a hard-hitting Sean Phillips cover was Dredd (as usual), Psi-Judge Anderson, my first exposure to the ABC Warriors, and two strips of a comedic bent. One was 'Time Flies', detailing the travails of a time-travelling British fighter pilot, by a young Garth Ennis and Philip Bond. The other was 'Hewligan's Haircut'.
And now for something completely different, to coin a well-moneyed phrase.
Arty, pretentious, incoherent; vivid, insightful, funny - Peter Milligan and Jamie Hewlett's magical mystery tour is all those things, but never boring. If you want to get all highbrow about it, imagine James Joyce dictating to Salvador Dali, with absurdist dashes of Orwell, Dick and Stan Lee. Moreover, it is an undeniably British venture - the ghosts of classic Spike Milligan, Monty Python, et al have been conjured up...and they're wearing white blankets with the eyeholes cut out.
When we meet Hewligan, he's about to be released from the asylum he's long called home. In an effort to appear sane, Hewligan cuts his hair with some National Health Service plastic scissors - but the result defies both gravity and belief. He walks out of the sanatorium with a bouffant 'do, punctured with an impossible hole...and into a world where Hewligan seems to be the sanest man alive.
For its first few 'partings' (that is, chapters), HEWLIGAN'S HAIRCUT treads the well-worn plot path of 'innocent lost in a world not of his making', and while it relies on humour to distract from the plot's familiarity, Hewligan's plight is made abundantly clear. Surreal asides involving his dinner literally disagreeing with him ("Maybe it is your fault [the world's gone mad]. You're dislikeable enough...") - among other psychotic episodes - engage the reader with their askew view of the world.
But then the story settles into a semblance of normality, as Hewligan encounters fellow loon, Scarlet O'Gasmeter. While their romance develops, the tale sprints helter-skelter towards the rationale (however irrational) behind Hewligan's warped hairstyle and why the world is out of kilter - suffice to say, both are interrelated. Such exposition, though, distracts from the journey Hewligan and Scarlet undertake, which is the end unto itself - not the destination.
HEWLIGAN'S HAIRCUT is a riot of sensory overload, but at times it does smack of art-school self-conscious posturing. This preciousness seems to be Milligan and Hewlett's way of calling attention to themselves - as if to say, 'Hey, look what we can do!' - but despite their reach exceeding their grasp at points, you have to admire the risks they take (especially running alongside the likes of staid old Dredd).
This was my first exposure to Peter Milligan's writing (which means I had the likes of BAD COMPANY and ENIGMA to look forward to), and it's quite the primer. Such is the deftness of the language employed by Milligan, you're willing to overlook the rickety nature of the plot. It's not unreasonable to label HEWLIGAN'S HAIRCUT as fluff, but it still has a decided point to make about the alienation endemic to life in the 21st century.
Even before Gorillaz, you could tell Jamie Hewlett was a pop star - all visuals and attitude, but with talent to back it up. Within the pages of HEWLIGAN'S HAIRCUT, he pays tribute to the likes of Warhol and the Cubism movement, while packing the background and margins with enough detail and hidden jokes to make the likes of Sergio Aragonés jealous. Above all else, HEWLIGAN'S HAIRCUT is a feast for the eyes - not unlike a late-70's punk band performing in a museum.
I would hesitate to call HEWLIGAN'S HAIRCUT essential. It's fun and colourful - in many senses of the word - but all too brief (barely 48 pages, in fact). That brevity, though, ensures that HEWLIGAN'S HAIRCUT doesn't outstay is welcome - which may be just as well; having an escaped lunatic roaming around in your personal space may be good for a laugh, but I wouldn't want him to stay.
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