LAST GANG IN TOWN is a manic miniseries spanning decades and genres. Debuting in shops today, it’s the story of a band of outcasts in 1977 London who jump from a stage in a rock club to the stage of international crime. For our very first Vertigo creator commentary, we asked LAST GANG writer Simon Oliver (FBP: FEDERAL BUREAU OF PHYSICS) and artist Rufus Dayglo (Tank Girl) to give us some background on how they put together the first issue’s climactic sequence, when the gang play their very first (and very last) gig in front of a studio audience. It’s set on pages 18, 19, 20, and 22 of issue #1.
Simon: The Heavy Mannerz gig at Madame’s Wong's in the first issue is a biggy…and not just because of page count or that it happens to be the last big set piece in the first issue, or any of that, but because it’s where I think that crime/punk mash that I’m trying to pull off in this book comes together in an unholy kind of rubberized way.
Rufus: I grew up at punk gigs. Usually at the front on the left. You go less deaf in front of the bassist!
When Simon described the gig in LAST GANG it was as a drier Soho strip club. Like the old Pardsise Club where the Pistols played when the Marquee wouldn't touch them. A bit like the Roxy. In a basement. Dank and yet sweaty.
Luckily I've fallen down the stairs at many venues like this in Soho off Wardour street. All of them smelt like piss.
Simon: As much as LAST GANG IN TOWN is a book about music, I didn’t want it to be about music. (I know it makes no sense, but you’ve come this far, so bear with me.) Don’t get me wrong, music is great and all that, but it rarely works on the page or in the movies, simply because somewhere along the line, somewhere in the meat grinder it passes through, it loses that spark, that special, intangible “something” that makes it exciting and gets our juices going. All that exciting juice gets sucked out and you end up with any number of soul-sucking, sausage-factory musical biopics (struggle - fame - sex and drugs - redemption, anyone?)
So my idea for this book was to take that special “something,” extract the juice like bone marrow, that creative chaos and energy that was punk at its best, and by blunt force and sheer ignorance hammer it into another well worn genre—crime—to create a red-headed, glue-sniffing, bastard stepchild for Vertigo to keep in the attic and feed offal every Wednesday for a few weeks before they take it around back and kill it.
So, throughout the book, as you’d have guessed and hopefully seen as you’ve, of course, already read it, we have the gang kind of skirting by the “real world” —it’s a kind of alterna-history of the time period, punk is happening, the country is mindlessly marching towards the Silver Jubilee, the Sex Pistols are a real thing, M****** M****** wanders through at various times, but I’ve taken some serious blinding liberties with what’s real and what’s not.
Rufus: Punk is about fun. It's about you and your mates nicking a cider and dropping strip lights off of car park buildings. It's about taking the piss out of the “real” world. It's about making things on your own terms.
I wanted readers to feel like they were stuck in the gig. Their shirt covered in someone else’s sweat and lager. Stumbling out afterwards smelling like a pub toilet on Sunday morning.
Clothes were important too. Your jacket was a thing of pride. I remember seeing pictures of the Clash. They had Lewis Leathers ”Lightning” jackets. That's what I wanted. That's the jacket Joey nicks from the bikers/roadies at the start of issue one. She has a little “Rabbit” lock around her neck. They were the padlock of choice for discerning punks. Just ask Sid. (Consult your nearest ouija board!)
Seditionaries’ boots and mohair jumpers, nicked from the Kings Road. Thanks, Vivienne!
Simon: This Madame Wong’s scene is really the closest we come to Joey and Billy heading down a more boring traditional path…this is their BIG GIG—this is it—the world at their feet. Joey’s up on stage doing her thing, an angry, snarling ball of pure energy, imploring the audience with every atom of her pissed-off being to “BE UGLY, BE IMMORTAL”...and for me, that is the heart of punk in four simple words, the heart of what it was before it consumed itself and became just a commodity to be repacked and sold back to us. Joey isn’t up there because she wants to be rich or famous, or be a rock star, or any of that shit, she’s up there simply because she has nowhere to go, nothing else to do and really why the fuck not?
It’s something that gets lost behind the couch cushion of popular culture, something I don’t think we have right now—that permission to fail. We want to be perfect, ten out of ten, A+, all the time, we want everything to be spot on right out of the gate. We’ve grown inpatient, we’ve grown stale, we’ve grown too scared to take risks, and it shows. To create anything, and I don’t care if you’re Picasso or baking a bloody cake, you have to silence that little voice telling you not to take risks, reminding us to fear failure, to fear making a fool of ourselves.
Punk gave everyone permission to fail, permission for everyone to get up there to be a band and be really fucking terrible. But that didn’t matter. It sounds stupid as fuck, but it didn’t matter how bad you were, that wasn’t the point. What was the point and what mattered was that you were doing it, claiming that space back from the prog-rocking, self-indulgent-driven, Rolls-Royce-in-the-swimming-pool crap that music had turned into—represented here of course by the “Pink UFO” character (and all the jokes about him buying a cheese farm, which were
stolen inspired by a guy in Sleaford Mods ranting about the guitarist in Blur—thanks).
Like a particularly virulent strain of herpes, suddenly overnight, there were thousands and thousands of punk bands. Most faded just as quickly into obscurity (thank god, because they really were shit, remember), a few became famous, some infamous, but a special few became famous not for what they did, but for what they didn’t do (which is as punk as you can get)—and in my mind that’s the category Heavy Mannerz fall into. They’re right up there in legend with Flowers of Romance and London SS (if you know them I won’t bore you; if you don’t, you’re on a computer, I’m guessing you have fingers, look them up yourself, you lazy bastards).
This is it for Joey and the band: one gig, one night on stage, better to burn brightly than fade-a- fuckin’-way (and become the Rolling Stones). Music’s all very well, but once Joey’s done that, it’s on to something else. Zero idea that fate is about to come knocking in the form of Ava and her criminal masterplan, but Joey knows this music business shit isn’t for her—that somehow she, Billy, and Alex (who they haven’t crossed paths with yet) are destined for something bigger than two albums (one good, one made of outtakes and demos as a cash in) and one day waking up to find a dead groupie jammed in the tour bus fridge.
Also I know Rufus is writing something on this scene as well, but take a moment to really stand back and look at the art—okay—take a look. Great, isn’t it? Like really great.
As a comic book writer, you hope the artist can deliver something sort of close to what you wrote, that the story doesn’t get lost in translation between you and them. We hadn’t worked together before, but this is the scene where I knew Rufus could deliver that and more.
A great artist takes the story, tells it, and then gives it a big push further down the track to the next station. That’s what Rufus brings—Pink UFO and the feather deal he’s wearing—that’s how I described him and that’s what Rufus brought to life, but in a way that doesn’t just nail him but takes him three stops past the three-line description I gave in the script.
Another example, I wanted a punk gig in a sex club. Upping it a notch, I described a club full of pogoing rubber gimps. Rufus did that, and added the rubber chicken—above and beyond in my mind—and once I realized I was dealing with an artist who would add rubber chickens willy nilly…well, the rest of the scripts from here on are all about me throwing visuals at him to keep up.
Rufus: I added in some of the silly shit I saw happen at gigs. Audiences throwing pennies at the bands. A rubber chicken doing the rounds.
Drawing Pink UFO was fun. He's a guy who's been at the top, and not kept his eye on the ball. A cocaine-driven ego-fucknut who's just had his inflated ballbag burst by a bunch of snotty untalented kids who still manage to have more attitude and fun than him.
One thing I generally don't like about Punk in comics is its drawn or written by people who thought punks were scary. Who probably never talked to one. I wanted to get across the humor. All of my punk mates were funny as fuck. Even in the clothes they wore.
Drawing this stuff in LAST GANG has been a thrill. Simon grew up going to bands. Having a laff, and mucking about too. He gets it.
Simon: So, sayonara, wankers. Read the rest of the book, or at the least look at the pictures, and enjoy.