The Sixth Sense, But With Punks And Punchlines: Punks Not Dead #1 By David Barnett, Martin Simmonds & Black Crown

by Oliver MacNamee

This week sees the release of the fourth title from IDW imprint, Black Crown, as Punks Not Dead moves into the neighbourhood courtesy of writer David Barnett and artist Martin Simmonds. And, like it’s predecessors, it has one foot in reality and another firmly placed in the weird and wonderful; in this case the supernatural world of ghosts and spooks; government and otherwise.

Fergie Ferguson is the child of a single mother. A single mother who will do anything to appear on TV, and the kind of Jerry Springer-like affair that emerges and dominates daytime telly when normal people are out of the house and unaware of this kind of dire, parasitical programming. Well, it’s on a return visit from London and a fraud appearance on such a show –  back up north to Preston – that Fergie encounters the ghost, or so it would seem, of Sid Vicious; lead singer of The Sex Pistols and dead for these past 40 years. Stuck in Heathrow. Talk about a living Purgatory. Imagine the music he’d have been forced to listen to. That alone would have me banging on the gates of Hell to let me in!

But “boy meets ghost, ghost follows boy home” isn’t much of a story, now is it? Thankfully, we get to meet government spook and supernatural expert, the ageing matriarchal Dorothy Culpepper and her Department of Extra-Usual Affairs. There’s a suggestion, from her own desk, that there is more to Sid than first meets the eye. Hell, even the ghost of Sid may not be aware of his true nature.

This is a book that makes no excuses for being a very British-feeling book, but one which can easily be picked up by US readers, as the theme of broken families, bullying in the school yard, and fancying the girls who are way out of our league are universal. But, punk did come alive in the UK, albeit after The New York Dolls and others opened up the scene, primarily. It’s an added bonus that Fergie resides in the north of England, rather than the south, as is usually the case with any comic set in Britain. Preston, or rather Manchester just up the road, has its own strong uncial heritage with Oasis, The Stone Roses and before them, New Order and The Buzzcocks, hailing from the city.

As well as a British setting, it also has a very British comedic sensibility to it, too. The story of Sid’s entrapment at Heathrow is both funny and somewhat believable too. It’s farcical, but fitting for a punk rocker like Sid. And Simmonds on art dazzles with bright, colourful compositions that pop off each page. Culpepper may be a miserable grey woman, but her clothes never left the Sixties. A time when she was most alive it would seem. Whatever happened to her in the intervening years is something I am already interested in finding out, meaning this isn’t just the story of a boy and his pet ghost.

Its a great, choppy first issue that establishes all the main players, but also keeps a mystery about Sid, the astral plane form whence he came, or for that matter, why Fergie can see dead people at all! Lots of questions left in the readers’ mind, but it’s also a satisfying first issue that blends comedy with the supernatural, offering something of the air of a well written British sit-com to proceedings. A very British flavoured book then; something akin to The Sixth Sense but with punks and punchlines.

As for the apostrophe absent title? I don’t know yet, but I imagine it’s got more to do with The Exploited own apostrophe absent debut LP than it does with The Clash’s own grammatically accurate Punk’s Not Dead. Time will tell, I hope. I mean, if we all gave up on proper punctuation, imagine what wed have instead. Anarchy in the UK, I imagine.

Punks Not Dead #1 is out now from Black Crown/IDW.

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