Compared to other nations, the British reading public has a very odd attitude towards comics, cartoons, and graphic novels.
The bande dessinée art of France and Belgium is regarded as obscure and downright peculiar, Italy’s fumetti are seen as excuses for sexist male fantasies and Japan’s manga comics, read by adults on every Tokyo subway, are dismissed as deranged fantasies. In the USA, Marvel has proven to be the saviour of Hollywood, yet various attempts to launch new, illustrated narrative forms here invariably fail. We fear being considered childish because we still recall The Beano, The Dandy and Viz.
Persepolis, by Iranian-born Marjane Satrapi, and Logicomix, about the foundational quest for mathematics, by a respected Greek novelist and a theoretical computer scientist, changed the playing field, and our ignorance seems churlish. Paul Gravett’s indispensible guide 1,001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die, is an extraordinary work that carefully explains what we’re missing and why. Thankfully he finds room for John Glashan, the Italian-Scottish artist who failed to make his name as a portrait painter.
One can’t help feeling that Glashan chose the wrong subject matter, as he was rubbish at faces and brilliant with elaborate architectural detail. He dropped the “Mc” from his name and became a cartoonist for Lilliput magazine, channelling his personal bitterness into his work, but adding a level of Scottish surrealism. Although his hand-lettered output often consisted of single panels, he had an epic eye and was drawn to grander, longer tales involving tiny bearded fools and insanely baroque mansions. These stories juxtapose clever penniless tramps and greed-filled millionaire capitalists, engaged in quests that lead to lunatic battles of wills. Glashan delighted in placing inapposite words and phrases together, so that you’re liable to find “Mayfair” and “fried bread” or “chateau” and “meths” in the same sentence. If surreal humour is an acquired taste Glashan is the litmus test, and I’ve always been disappointed by those who fail it. The artist once stated: “Being funny is not funny. Humour is seriousness in disguise”, and the undertones of melancholic failure in his work make it all so much funnier.
He published at least six collectable books, but not the wonderful Genius, featuring his hero Anode Enzyme, which appeared in The Observer from 1978 to 1983. Later he happily settled to landscape painting. He died in 1999, and it is a mystery that no complete compendium of his works has ever been published.Reuse content