Thursday, 4 December 2014

D.R. And Quinch's Totally Awesome Guide To Life (2000AD #317, #352-359, #363-367, 2000AD Sci-Fi Special 1985)

"Y'know a kiss on the hand might be quite continental, man.  But tactical thermonuclear weaponry is a guys best friend" - D.R.

I'm starting a loose theme month of UK originated comicbooks, with a look at what is probably Alan Moore's most popular work for venerable UK sci-fi comic 2000AD.  Although The Ballad Of Halo Jones is unquestionably his best work for 2000AD that strip was somewhat unpopular with the readership at the time, whereas D.R and Quinch were very much appreciated by the then audience of mainly teenage boys. Alan Moore is sometimes unfairly pigeonholed as a "serious" writer, and his out-and-out funny stuff is rather relegated in importance in relation to his "serious" works (although even his most "dark" work Watchmen contains loads of jokes, wit and wonderful ironies that make the grimness much easier to bear.  There is much humour to be found in every Moore work, if you happen to be receptive to it).  D.R and Quinch is his best known comedic work, although the recent reprints of things like The Bojeffries Saga have finally put some of his finest comedic writing back into the comics mainstream.

Anyway, D.R and Quinch. Now the collection I am looking at today is the Titan Books one from 1986.  This contains all the Alan Moore and Alan Davis 2000AD strips not the later, Jamie Delano penned strip the "Agony Page". There is a more recent collection with every single D.R and Quinch stip in it, but if you're not a completist, the "Totally Awesome Guide To Life" can be picked up for mere pennies and has the added bonus of being the same page size as the originals, avoiding the sometimes cramped appearance the more modern reprints of UK comicbook material can have.

Before we begin it's interesting to note that Alan Moore himself has practically disowned this strip while simultaneously nailing it's enduring appeal.  As quoted in Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life Of Alan Moore, he has this to say about it:

Alan Moore: "D.R & Quinch are probably the comic strip I shall ask to have eradicated and destroyed upon my death bed. What D.R & Quinch are is a continuation of the great British tradition of making heroes out of juvenile delinquents. If you imagine Dennis the Menace with thermonuclear capacity you are probably pretty close to the idea of D.R & Quinch."

He later clarified this saying:

Alan Moore: "It makes violence funny, which I don't think it right. I have to question the point where I'm actually talking about thermonuclear weapons as a source of humour...there are a lot of good things about D.R & Quinch.  I think Alan Davis and I both put a lot of nice work into it and some of it is amusing.  But it has no lasting or redeeming social value as far as I'm concerned".
Introducing D.R.
That's harsh, coming from the man WHO GAVE US THE SHIT SANDWICH THAT WAS FRIGGIN' VOODOO!!! GRAGH!!!  *pant pant* Well, fie Mr. Moore.  It may now be one of you more obscure works, but it's held up over the years and still feels funny and fresh to my jaded eyes.  So without further ado, lets have a look at the strip in question and hopefully you'll be on my side rather than Alan's when we're done.  The artwork alone makes it worth tracking down.  Rereading Alan Moore and Alan Davis's work on Captain Britain it's amazing how quickly both improved, and no wonder Davis went onto a very successful career in US superhero comics.  Here he gives every character a real weight, and isn't phased at all by the number of wacky aliens he has to draw nor the ridiculous situations DR & Quinch find themselves in.  If you're a fan of Davis, this early work of his stands the test of time as much as the writing does for Moore.

D.R & QUINCH: HAVE FUN ON EARTH - Our terrible twosome made their first debut in 1983, in what was called a "Time Twister".  Time Twisters and Future Shocks were short stories often containing a surprising twist that 2000AD used to test-drive new writers and artists before offering them the prize of an on-going series.  Moore was an absolute master of the short story form and ended up with three series in 2000AD as a result. Skizz (his first), The Ballad Of Halo Jones (his best) and DR & Quinch (his funniest), which span out of this one eight page story. 

It's interesting that Moore chose to frame D.R & Quinch within a British tradition of mischevious anti-heroes, as they were actually inspired by two American National Lampoon characters called O.C. and Stiggs.  The pair of them are alien students, Waldo "D.R." (for "Diminished Responsibility") Dobbs, (who looks a bit like a Marvelverse Skrull with a quiff) and Ernest Errol Quinch, his muscular purple skinned companion in crime.  This first tale sees Quinch writing up how he and D.R exacted an elaborate revenge scheme, and amusingly the credits for the story have "E.E Quinch" as writer, rather than Alan Moore.

It begins with Quinch writing that he and D.R had been suspended from college due to Dean Fusk finding stolen good in their locker. So get their elaborate revenge the borrow a time-flyer and go to the pre-history of "this utterly worthless filth-ball planet called Earth"  Using thermonuclear weapons they alter the shape of the continents and then start intervening throughout history to inspire humans to make it out into space.
Intefering in Earth history armed with nukes.
Back in D.R and Quinch's present, humans have arrived in space and met other aliens. Dean Fusk is a member of the "League for Disadvantaged Planets" that Earth is to be inducted into.  D.R and Quinch get a good seat to watch what happens when it gets to the part of the ceremony where Earth is projected on screen.

Quinch: "The shape of the continents in the northern hemisphere spelled out 'Dean Fusk is embezzling the canteen fund' in Centralian...while the southern hemisphere  read 'Mrs Fusk is a convicted shoplifter and their horribly ugly son is a known snitch'"

Naturally for this grave insult, Earth is blown up.  Dean Fusk falls apart after that and QUinch and D.R get back into college when they accused the Dean of having criminal tendencies and that he planted the stolen goods in Quinch's locker.  Quinch reflects that it was a summer well spent and with that it ends.
Earth goes Kaboom.
So eight pages that created a monster.  You can see why it was popular, it's silly and over-the-top and the characters come of as villainous but likeable.  No wonder it was popular enough to gain a spin-off series.

D.R & QUINCH: GO STRAIGHT - The strip begins with D.R and Quinch in court, the judge reads off a long list of charges including "forging sacred relics" and "transmuting base metal into gold." D.R. says they are sorry and "want to give up their irresponsible ways".  The Judge says if they perform an act of charity then he'll reduce their sentences by a century or so.

D.R then discovers where the Judge lives and that he has an empty house nextdoor. They then visit their friend Pulger, a maniac and unstable war veteran. Then they set up a charity for "the rehabilitation of dangerous ex-servicemen" and make the headqarters the house next door to the Judges.  Who is displeased by all the noise and violence that kicks off.  He says threatens D.R with burying them when sentencing comes around.  But D.R says their charity is a success and the Mayor will be visting.
Pulger the loony war vet.
The Mayor arrives and is very pleased with them taking care of ex-servicemen.  D.R. fulsomely praises the Judge and says it was all his idea.  Then the crazed Pulger having flashbacks attacks the Mayor's party along with the other ex-soldiers.  As D.R and Quinch relax in a luxury hotel spending the last of the charity grant money, we find out the Judge was held responsible for the massacre and that D.R and Quinch have escaped judgement.

D.R & QUINCH: GO GIRL CRAZY - THis strip is a nice little parody of the ending of Grease.  Quinch is horrified when one day he goes round to D.R's and discovers he's been acting well-behaved and normal.  That is because he is in love with a girl called Chrysoprasia. He also reveals he's joined her drama club and is playing the romantic lead in a play so he can't hang out with Quinch much anymore.

Quinch: "Could this be it? No more extortion, no more fraud, no more putting pirahna bees in rich kid's lockers? Could this be.. the end of D.R and Quinch?"
Of course not.  Quinch grabs Chrysoprasia and takes her back to their secret hideout and shows her a lot of home movies showing him and D.R up to all sorts of mischief.  He hopes that this will put her off D.R but it backfires as she turns from a sweet, innocent girl into "the kind of woman Waldo deserves" and her new name shall be "Crazy Chrissie".  She forces Quinch to go get her boozed up and armed and they crash into the theatre where D.R is performing on stage.
Quinch's plan creates Crazy Chrissie.
D.R is annoyed that she ruined his scene and when the cops arrive and demand to know who is responsible for all the mayhem, he places the blame squarely on her. As she is taken away D.R ponders how he could have fallen for her and decides it was being driven temporarily insane by chemicals in a vegan meal he had a month ago and the strip ends with D.R and Quinch off to seek revenge on the restaurant.

D.R & QUINCH: GET DRAFTED - This story begins with D.R apocalyptically hungover.  He opens a letter from the War Office and it is a draft notice for him and Quinch.  When they get down to the enlistment office, D.R is curious about what weapons they'll get:

D.R: "He showed us a vast quantity of dangerous weapons. Many of them were so utterly horrible that I had not dared to believe they could exist. I felt totally patriotic."

Things seem to be going well until they get to basic training and have to suffer under a nasty drill sergeant right out of Full Metal Jacket. They are sent to fight on a planet called Ghoyogi and D.R writes a letter to Quinch's rich mother asking if she can get them out of this situation.
War is hell.
D.R then accidentally subjects his own side to some friendly fire, and as a punishment, he and Quinch are locked up in the penal stockade with a "psycho".  Luckily he turns out to be Pulger from D.R and Quinch: Go Straight.  He has a convoluted plan to get out, involving him putting on a dress like Klinger in M*A*S*H and using a weapon he carved from soap.  He also has an escape tunnel and D.R says they should just use that instead (although Pulger is already in the dress).
Alan Davis's art really is wonderful on this series.
So they use it to get out, and Pulger admits he didn't dig the tunnel himself it's part of a network of tunnels dug by a native Ghoyogi species called "Snufflegruffs".  They bump into one who turns out to be large and aggressive.  Pulger stands and fights it while D.R and Quinch run away.  They find another exit and pop up in another cell.  This one belongs to Chrissie and she is not pleased to see D.R again. She starts beating the crap out of him saying she had to become a mercenary for the Ghoyogi to survive and got captured and placed in the penal stockade.
Oh hai Chrissie how u been?
Before she can beat him some more, Pulger pops up closely followed by the Snufflegruff who bursts through the stockade walls and allows them to escape.  Unfortunately they bump into a group of marines, then a group of Ghoyogi soldiers.  Caught in the middle, D.R asks why they don't all just get along.  This doesn't go down too well, but before they can get shot to pieces a huge spaceship appears and a huge creature comes out of it.  The soldiers all scatter in fear, but it's only Quinch's mum come to rescue them and D.R, Quinch, Pulger and Chrissie all depart with her.  D.R has some profound thoughts about what happened to them, but forgets them the next day and the strip ends.

D. R & QUINCH: GO TO HOLLYWOOD -  This story allows Moore and Davis to have fun including lots of nods and parodies of famous actors and so on. The strip begins with our protagonists meeting a tramp and giving him some money for coffee.  In gratitude he tells them he used to be a famous screenwriter in Hollywood ( a planet called Hollywood, not the deceased Earth's version) called Torquetto Jubbli.  He developed writes block and the studio head told him to leave, but gave him two tickets to come back if he had an idea.  Which he finally has done and he brandishes his script before falling down apparently dead.
D.R and Quinch make their mark.
D.R immediately grabs the script and they search his body for the tickets and set off for Hollywood.  Once there they start throwing their weight around in a restaurant to "get noticed" and this works, and ends up with famously hard to understand "Marlon" arriving and letting them know he'll work with them. The studio head is impressed they have a Torquetto script and asks them what it is about:

D.R: "Well, like I can't exactly reveal that to you right now...but the third word is probably oranges"

The script is almost totally unreadable, not that this prevents D.R from improvising a movie from it. Helped along by the fact Marlon reads the script and declares it a masterpiece. D.R mixes in oranges, flamingo's, nuns and dead fish together for a big set piece.  Unfortunately Marlon gets squashed under a big pile of oranges, though this inspires the name of the film as "Mind the Oranges, Marlon".

Things don't go quite right.
Being interviewed after the film wraps by a fantastic charicature of then UK film reviewer Barry Norman he notes that their film has become a cult success but has resulted in them being ostracised by Hollywood.  Then another critic, Clive James, reviews the film in a slightly pretensious way and D.R and Quinch leave Hollywood counting their money.  Back home the "dead" body of Torquetti is where they left him. Suddenly he revives and declares he is off to Hollywood with his script.  Too bad for him that the studio head has said he'll kill him if he sees him ever again.

D.R: "Hey, that's showbiz man."

D.R & QUINCH: GET BACK TO NATURE:  This final eight pager was written and drawn when tensions between Alan Davis and Moore were running high due to Moore blocking reprints of Captain Britain and the mess over Marvel/Miracleman was on-going.  So neither's heart seems to be in it any more.  D. R and Quinch are running a summer camp for kids called Camp Apocalypse.  They do such responsible things as throwing kids into poisonous plants to indentify them.  Kill birds for them to identify and introduce them to large vicious creatures by mistake.  When the parents arrive to collect them, the kids are running riot with guns and D.R and Quinch are making a quick getaway.  And that was that for the Moore/Davis D.R and Quinch.
Worst Summer Camp Ever.
D.R & Quinch is well worth seeking out despite Mr. Moore's objection to it.  Yes it's incredibly lightweight compared to his more "serious" works but it's not half-arsed like most of his Image work, at this point in his career even something like D.R & Quinch feels important in understanding Moore's development as a writer.  Also, unusual for sci-fi it doesn't feel dated and the fun references to pop culture are done in such a way that doesn't throw you out of the narrative if you don't get them.  Alan Davis' art is superb, that almost goes without saying.  It's probably best the strip ended when it did though, overstretching a joke can really kill it, so better leave folk wanting more than allowing the strip to wear out it's welcome. The Ballad Of Halo Jones is still his 2000AD masterpiece, but D.R & Quinch run a close second and is probably more accessible, so if you haven't read much of his UK comic work this is as good a place to start as any.  Do it!


  1. i really like alan davis's art on excalibur and the x-men, i should check this out it looks cool!

  2. Being a DC girl myself, I didn't see much of his US work until recently but what I have seen is very good, he really found a niche with the Captain Britain characters further adventures. But you should check this out if you like his art, and you get Alan Moore words into the bargain :)

  3. Okay, so in the light of what the Allies did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki it's probably wrong to make jokes about nukes. On the other hand, (a) jokes about nukes must have been a welcome way of relieving the tension in the 1980s, when it must've seemed as if politicians really did view them as toys, and (b) I never had Alan Moore down as a particularly PC kinda guy.

    Waldo Dobbs' distinctive dialect is a pleasure to read, and at least nobody got raped.

  4. It's always nice when no one gets raped in an Alan Moore series, it's his most unsavory trope.

    I think making fun of stuff like nukes is cathartic. I was alive at the time nuclear paranoia in the 80's was at it's highest and appreciated both DR and Quinch's approach and the Watchmen one as well.

    Moore's gift for creating dialogue that sounds naturalistic was one of his biggest influences on the comicbook industry. I have a hard time reading pre-Moore comics because they sound so stilted now.

    1. On the bright side, that makes them easier to laugh at.

      Alan Moore can write Victorian dialogue that doesn't sound stilted, preposterous or artificial. Sadly, Mike Leigh can't.

  5. It's amazing how much the dialogue "makes" a Moore comic. I'm putting together a review of one of his very much lesser works for January and if Moore wasn't credited, I'd never have guessed it was by him because the dialogue is so.. blah. And it has rape in it too. But the art is hilarious, makes Rob Liefeld look good, so I am still enjoying writing the review.