Review: Forget Miracleman, the Bojeffries Saga is the out of print Alan Moore masterpiece of 2014
By Alan Moore and Steve Parkhouse
Knockabout / Top Shelf
“The night wore on, and a fine drizzle of ironies in the small hours led to a bout of serious events just before morning. All the next day there were scattered circumstances, and that’s how it was in England”
I’d say that The Bojeffries Saga is undoubtedly the funniest of Moore’s writing, elegantly and comedically matched by the fluid stylings of Steve Parkhouse. But more than that I reckon it’s one of his very best.
Funnier than the hilarious D.R. & Quinch? Definitely. Better than Watchmen? Oh yes. Better than V For Vendetta? Yep. Better than Miracleman? Without question. Better than From Hell? Hmm… depends on my mood, but right up there.
The best pull quote I’ve ever read to describe the Bojeffries comes from the back cover, where the Independent’s Mike Moran (oh, the irony in that name Miracleman fans) says this;
“Think the Munsters written by Alan Bennett high on episodes off Coronation Street, all beautifully rendered in a style equal parts Robert Crumb and the Bash Street Kids’ Leo Baxendale”.
Oh, that’s annoyingly perfect, getting all the comedy, all the weirdness and all the quintessentially off-kilter Englishness of the thing in there. When I read this in the pub earlier this week I could only come up with Goon Show anarchistic surrealism running riot, Universal Monsters and classic silly Sci-Fi tropes all set against a working class background of family life, factory fortnights, Christmas in front of the tele and the turkey, work dos that end in a good fight and nights out that end in dismal disappointment. (Yeah, I prefer Moran’s quote too. I’ll live with the disappointment.)
I remember reading the first episode of The Bojeffries Saga in Warrior comic (#12, 1983, that one up there), no doubt following a trail from Moore and Davis’ Captain Britain to Marvelman et al.
I can still remember the confusion of my 12-year old self upon realising that the same Alan Moore who wrote the superheroics of Marvelman and the sort of superheroics of V For Vendetta also wrote this incongruous, perplexing, bizarre comedy of a rent collector and a family of weirdos. Confused I may have been, but I was (thankfully) bright enough to enjoy the challenge, young me aware of it being different and being attracted to that, getting some of the gags, intrigued by those I didn’t.
And as the years went by it cemented itself as one of Moore’s best, up there in my opinion with From Hell, and way better than either Watchmen or V For Vendetta. It’s a delectable combination of entertaining, funny, endearing, social realism tweaked just slightly, an honest reflection of a set place and time, and completely, totally, brilliantly clever.
This collection contains (nearly) every Bojeffries thing published to date, the only things missing a few extras from the Tundra edition (which we’ll speak more of later). Knockabout/Top Shelf have wisely (in my opinion) decided to ditch the colours of the Tundra collection and return to simple, glorious black and white, all the better to showcase Parkhouse’s artwork. In total, there’s nine Bojeffries stories in here, 8 reprinted from hither and yon, and one completely new 24-page story thrusting the family firmly into the modern era, all talk shows, tell-all book deals and ‘sleb Big Brother appearances.
But despite the brilliance that is to come, that very first Bojeffries story remains my favourite, that first experience of the weirdness of the Bojeffries staying with me all these years. The super-exaggerated characterisation of Trevor Inchmale, bespectacled and bicycle riding rent collector with a penchant for whiling away the hours inventing titles for his autobiography. “Call me Inchmale, The Rentman always knocks twice, Mein Rent”… the list goes on and on and on.
When Inchmale parks his bike at the Bojeffries he doesn’t realise how his life (indeed, his very atomic structure) is about to take a particularly hard left turn into strangeness. He’s here to talk rent arrears, a century’s worth. He’s investigated, he’s spent months watching the house and its strange residents…
Weirdly enough, that’s the exact same scarf worn by the foreign gentleman who answers the door, a hairy foreign gentleman rather concerned about mentions of a dog…
“Right, Inchmale. Council. I’m coming in. Don’t try to stop me.”
“So, another member of the family, eh? There are rules on overcrowding, you know. Five people at least, not counting a baby and a dog.”
“Yes, a dog. Didn’t think I knew about the dog, eh?”
“Døck? Vhere is døck? You show me døck?”
“I rather think that you’ll show me, sir. I have a warrant.”
“Vørrant? You are pøliz come about døck?”
“I never ate døck! Voss nøt døck anyway. Voss Pøødle.”
Oh, poor Trevor. It’s beginning to dawn on him that he’s not in the company of his usual rental clients. The next page after that little revealing conversation with lovely, hairy Uncle Raoul, is the comedic gem that sold me for evermore on Bojeffries. Just the look on poor Trevor’s face as he meets the rest of the family….
And that last line. oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear.
So, that’s the Bojeffries, not your normal sort of family, all held together for way too many years to be natural by dad, Jobremus Bojeffries. The baby in the basement could keep Britain running for years on the nuclear power, Uncle Festus is a vampire, Uncle Raoul a werewolf, the children Ginda and Reth both have their own particular foibles, and Grandpa, well Grandpa is “in the last stages of organic matter”, and waking him up and poking him in the sinuses is not a good idea….
The rest of the stories are just as weirdly funny, or funnily weird, whichever you prefer. Or both. You’ll see Uncle Raoul on a work’s night out, unaware of the full-moon and unfortunate to misjudge both the calendar and the company, you’ll see Uncle Festus, he of the pallid complexion and gothic garb, venturing forth for his very early morning soya blood (“they say it’s very good in vegan black puddings”) but finding his morning perambulations sabotaged time and again; if it’s not the sun, it’s the hot cross buns, or the bloke delivering the wooden picket fence not looking where the pointy end is going.
Eldest daughter Ginda takes the spotlight in the mercilessly funny “Sex, with Ginda Bojeffries”, opening with this delicate female flower reducing a couple of builders to quivering wrecks…
Moore tackles so much in Bojeffries, each time nailing the comedy whilst also making his point; sexism, sexual politics, racism (institutionalised and general), living and working in 80s Britain, and British culture in general, revelling in the uniquely British idiosyncrasies of it all.
Parkhouse matches Moore beat for beat, whatever change of pace or style is called for, the artist delivers, perfection, artistically and comedically.
Take “Our Factory Fortnight”, where the entire family head out for their perfecrtly old fashioned, 50s throwback holidays (bar grandpa and baby who can’t fit on the bus and would both constitute some form of dire national biochemical or nuclear emergency even if they could). Two weeks away at not so sunny ‘Sparklesands’ caravan camp, where there’s been a full enquiry into just why the sands are quite so sprkly and everyone’s advised to hire the lead lined wind breaks for added protection.
It’s done as an old fashioned pictorial story, Rupert the Bear fashion, it’s nostalgia done pure Bojeffries style.
Or consider “Song Of The Terraces”, where Moore and Parkhouse present the morning events on your everyday street of this mythical, weird Britain as a light opera with libretto. Oh, it’s clever almost to the point of showing off. But it’s also quite magnificently brilliant.
The whole thing ends first with a very typical (well, for the Bojeffries at least) Christmas tale of presents, boredom, family tensions and extravagant dinners (Raoul absolutely did not snack on reindeer earlier)…
“Somewhere a traditional Reliant Robin trilled plaintively from a snowdrift. Statistically, people killed themselves, drank heavily, and listened to Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’… although not necessarily in that order…”
And the volume bids us farewell with the aforementioned 24-page catchup strip, “After They Were Famous“, the family spread far and wide, the old house ramshackle, Reth’s tell-all book the reason, little oik that he was. Family reunions can be troublesome and difficult at the best of times, but throw in a decade plus of seething resentment and the disparate life and career paths of the Bojeffries clan and it’s a reality TV show waiting to happen… failed MP, remarried shellsuited Jeremy Kyle watcher, Goth act ‘Pram of Shit’ lead singer, Big Issue vendor …
“Biggish Shoes! Who vill buy my biggish shoes?“.
The only real criticism I can throw at this work is one of format. This long out of print masterpiece deserves the best, and in an era where every crappy superhero book seems to get this deluxe format or that extra special hardcover edition, this really does deserve more than the (admittedly very well done) paperback with French flaps edition from Knockabout / Top Shelf.
However, that ridiculously minor grumble aside, this is essential reading. The best thing Moore’s ever written? Could be. A comedic masterpiece from Moore and Parkhouse …. without question.
“And so, as our plummeting standards meet the rising ocean coming the other way, we kiss England on the cheek and say goodnight…
And then, come the morning, we leave silently before England awakens.
Because she’s a minger.”
Oh, and as promised, just in case you were wondering about the missing pages from that ’92 Tundra collection, here they are….