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‘Hookjaw Archive’ (review)

Written by Pat Mills and Ken Armstrong
Illustrated by Ramona Sola and various
Published by Titan Comics
ISBN: 9781782768043
Released 8/30/17 / $34.99

 

As an Anglophile of long standing, British comics have been on my radar for at least 35 years. It was rare to find any in the US but I was regularly buying the weekly 2000AD by 1980. It was the sci-fi theme and the title’s self-referential sense of humor that initially attracted me and talented creators like Alan Moore, Carlos Ezquerra, Alan Davis, and Pat Mills that kept me coming back for more.

Unbeknownst to me at the time was that in 1976, just prior to 1977’s creation of 2000AD, Pat Mills had also created a similar weekly newsprint comics title called Action.

Now, at the time, there were a lot of UK comics series about sports, war, and comedy. Football heroes (soccer to us yanks) dominated the field of weekly comics. Action itself even debuted a footballer series called Play Till You Drop.

It was the Mills-created Hookjaw that attracted all the attention, though, and that was not necessarily a good thing! Inspired by the mega-hit 1975 feature film, Jaws, the concept was essentially to make the giant shark the hero of his own strip. But, of course, sharks eat people. And thereby came the problem.

I’m on record as not being a fan of sharks in movies, TV, comics or even real-life. I’m also not a fan of gratuitous blood and gore in comics, especially comics aimed at kids! That said, I make a bit of an exception for Hookjaw because it does have a kind of important place in homegrown British comics. In his too-brief Introduction, Pat Mills outlines the story of Hookjaw and the controversy the strip begat in England. More of this story can be found in the book’s backmatter.

The bottom line, though—important or not important in the evolution of UK comics—is that Hookjaw just really isn’t very good. Every story seems to exist just to find increasingly clever ways to offer up sacrificial victims of all sorts to the sparkly teeth of the title creature. The strip, like most of the country’s strips in those days, was usually in black and white, but on those occasions where it DID appear in color, there was a lot of red ink used.

The writing is quickly stretched to the limit and repetitive. The art is done up in that perfectly good but almost generic long-standing European style for boys’ comics. It wasn’t until the arrival of 2000AD that we would really start to see unique UK art stylists like Kev O’Neill and Mike McMahon come into their own.

Hookjaw received complaints, and the violent stories were toned down…although based on the evidence provided, not much and not often. The rest of the Action stories were fairly standard boys’ paper stuff and the title ceased publication after only a couple of years, taking Hookjaw with it. There’s an ad in the back of this book for a new graphic novel revival, though, which, in the wake of Sharknado, might take off.

From a historic view, I appreciate this collection and its thoroughness. Reproduction—at least in my PDF review copy—borders at times on shoddy with the color strips a bit “muddy.” The problem, as I stated before, is that Hookjaw on every level is more interesting than it ever was good.

 

 

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