Between 1978 and 1990, two Brits — writer Peter Milligan and artist Brendan McCarthy — collaborated on a string of bizarre and wonderful comics, most of which are collected in this oversize volume, “The Best of Milligan & McCarthy.”
“We felt we were fine artists doing comics,” they note, “seeing what we could get away with, bending the rules of what was possible.” They both attended art school in London just as punk rock was revolutionizing the country’s youth culture, all of which is obvious from their first collaboration, “The Electrick Hoax,” a free-form weekly strip created for the music newspaper Sounds, involving messy caricatures of the Sex Pistols. The duo hit their stride with projects such as “Paradax” and “Freakwave,” in which McCarthy adopted a visual style that was even freakier and louder than the weirdest pulp comics he’d grown up on, and Milligan crammed the panels with text that reads like a vulgar mash-up of Stan Lee and “Gravity’s Rainbow.”
Coherence was never the team’s strong suit — their “Rogan Gosh,” a psychedelic salute to the intersection of British and Indian culture, abruptly changes direction every few pages. They were committed to punk immediacy, to hyper-vivid surrealism and to smashing formulas, even their own. The infamous “Skin” is a gruesomely violent story about a thalidomide-deformed skinhead in early-1970s England, and its pastel colors (by Carol Swain) provide the one sustained exception here to the eye-popping, super-saturated tones McCarthy favors. After spending years rejecting the idea that comics should look like movies, McCarthy moved on to a career in film and TV design (and has occasionally returned to drawing comics, including last year’s peculiar miniseries “The Zaucer of Zilk”). Milligan went on to write the left-of-center superhero series “Shade, the Changing Man” and “X-Statix.” The stories they created together are lurid and blunt and ragged around the edges, but decades after their first appearance, most of them still look like they’ve been beamed in from another world.
Wolk is the author of “Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean.”