Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Alan Moore Obscurities: Skizz (2000AD #308-330)

"Gimme a break.  This isn't a film Loz, this is Birmingham!" - Roxy

Of Alan Moore's three series for 2000AD, 1983's Skizz is the definitely the least remembered and little celebrated by those who do remember it.  Skizz was Moore's first on-going strip for 2000AD with art by the talented Scot, Jim Baikie. Lacking the cult humour of D.R and Quinch (which I have covered) or the thematic richness of The Ballad Of Halo Jones (which I shall be covering), even Moore himself at first found little to commend about the adventures of cute alien who fell to Earth and who found himself trapped in the grim circumstances of the working class during the early years of Britain under Thatcher.  Moore was given the brief to write the series when E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was due to come out, by the time the series debuted in the UK, E.T had become a a huge hit and on course to become the much beloved classic it is regarded as today. Alan Moore despised the strip pretty much from the off, describing it in an interview that November as "that horrible E.T. rip off I did for 2000AD, you've got this cuddly little alien that everybody likes who's having a really bad time on Earth 'cos everyone's beating on him 'cos he's little (that's the plot so you needn't read it)." Quote from Hellfire, reproduced in Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore by Lance Parkin. But is Skizz deserving of Moore's ire when looked back on today? Let's see shall we?

We begin with the alien who will be christened Skizz in trouble in his spaceship as it passes Earth.  He ends up having to make an emergency landing.  His ship addresses him as Interpreter Zhcchz and tells him the ship is going to self destruct with him inside it to prevent contaminating of a backwards, "restricted development" planet.
Skizz's ship goes Boom.
Zhcchz manages to persuade his ship to let him go by shedding all his technology except his exo-suit and he is allowed to leave.  His ship goes boom and Zhcchz finds himself on the outskirts of Birmingham circa about 1982. Horrifying.  He staggers into the city repeating to himself:

Zhcchz: "I am interpreter Zchhcz of the Tau-Ceti Imperium and I am not afraid."

He is afraid though.  There is too much oxygen making him feel dizzy and the gravity is to light so he keeps falling over.  The buildings are alien to him and he wonders "what can they be like, the creatures that built these horrifying monuments?"

He stumbles upon a pub fight that has spilled onto the pavement.  He notes that the planet's inhabitants are some kind of evolved ape, the fight frightens him and he runs.  He keeps running until he reaches suburbia.  He looks for a place to shelter and secretes himself in a nearby shed and feels "safe at last."

We are then introduced to "Roxy", a teenage girl who is living in the house Zchhcz is sheltering in.  A boy called Darren is calling up to her, hoping he can take advantage of the fact her parents are away to get off with her.  She sends him away with a flea in his ear.  Later in bed, she hears something moving downstairs. 
Roxy discovers a terrified Skizz.
She grabs a poker and goes to investigate and finds Skizz in the shed.  After her intial surprise she approaches him saying she won't hurt him and he reaches out and holds her hand.

"You're not from around here, then?"

Roxy brings the terrified Zchhcz into the house.  He hides behind the sofa while wrestling plays on the TV and thinks of all the aggression he has seen so far, and of Roxy - "why should this one be any different?"

Roxy offers him some coffee which he takes, then drops, recoiling from the heat.  She shouts at him for making a mess and he cringes away from her.  She apologises and calms him down and ruminates that he's obviously from space and cleverer than humans, "we never seem to meet any stupid spacemen" she says.

She thinks he's too puny and nervous to be an invader and asks his name.  She repeats her name to him and his interpreter skills start to kick in and he repeats, "Rrrahk-see" back at her, then tells her he is called "Zhcchz" and takes off his helmet so she can see his lips.  She dubs him "Skizz" which is what I shall call him now, as that is how the other characters refer to him.
"Skizz" introduces himself.
He sleeps downstairs that night and in the morning Roxy, realising it's a weekend and that she doesn't have to go to school spends some time with Skizz trying him with breakfast.  He eats some toast but has to run and throw it up.  She wonders if baby food might be better for him.

We then cut  to the antagonist of the story, a bespectacled government investigator called Van Owen, (who has a clipped, posh accent hence some weird spellings in stuff I quote from him) out with a team looking at the scene of the explosion where Skizz's ship self-destructed.  He demands a sniffer dog because he believes something walked away from the crater.

Back with Skizz and Roxy, trying him on muesli has made him sick as well, and Skizz worries he won't be able to eat anything here. Van Owen gets his sniffer dog but it can't find a trail.  Then Van Owen sees tracks left by Skizz and says there is a "three legged space monster... and it's slep in the middle of Birmingham."
Van Owen (right)
Roxy goes out and buys baby food and runs into her friend Loz who has an older, unemployed man called Cornelius with him who is a blatant expy of Yosser Hughes from "Boys From The Blackstuff", right down to the catchphrase, "I've got my pride."  Loz offers Roxy a lift home and she takes him up on the offer.  On the way they are stopped by Van Owen who asks if they have seen an escaped animal.  They all say no, and he lets them go.  Back at Roxy's, Loz offers her help if she needs it and she thanks him and goes inside.

Roxy feeds Skizz the baby food and he doesn't throw it up.  He sleeps on the sofa feeling very unwell.  Roxie goes to school and finds that creepy Darren told everyone he spent the weekend at her place, she confronts him and smacks him one.  Then as the lessons go by she worries about Skizz.  When she gets home she finds him unconcious and calls Loz, telling him to bring Cornelius and the van.
Loz and Cornelius.
They arrive and she shows them Skizz, she has some half-formed idea about getting him to the hospital.  Skizz wakes and watches as Roxy and Loz discuss what to do with him.  Loz advises her that they need to get him proper medical help and cites the film E.T. as an example of what to do.  He says in E.T. they handed the alien over to the authorities and "they didn't hurt him.  They wanted him to get better."  Although he admits he didn't see the whole film. He calls the hospital and soon Van Owen and his goons show up in protective gear.

They also take Roxy, Loz and Cornelius into custody.  Cornelius freaks out and hurls a policeman through the window.  They have to tranquilise him.  Later when he has recovered, they quiz him about Skizz but he says nothing except that he has his pride and do they need a pipe-fitter?

Van Owen goes to talk with Roxy.  He accuses her of habouring an alien spy for three days, "did it ask about our satellite defences?  Ennything about out politics?"  Was it threatening and that's why she won't talk.  She just asks him what he has done with Skizz.  Van Owen says he is elsewhere.
Van Owen being a prick.
#He tells her they won't be pressing charges against her, Loz and Cornelius.  She says he doesn't frighten her.  He says she is fifteen right?  A minor, and her parents are in the room next door, yanked away from their holiday.  He shows her into their room and when her father asks her to account for herself she just says "Beam me up, Scotty."

We then get images of Skizz dreaming he is safe and sound on his home planet.  Actually he is hooked up to a machine that has got the virus he is suffering from under control, and "he's going to live."  As he dreams, Van Owen and the other scientists observe him.  Roxy meanwhile is feeling guilty about handing him over to the government as is Loz.

Loz is in the local pub and is shown a copy of the local newspaper with the headline "Space Monsters In Birmingham" which fingers Loz, Cornelius and Roxy as involved. Skizz's dreams turn to nightmares and he cries out, Van Owen says:

Van Owen: "Get a language machine installed in there.  I want the thing talking English in two weeks and after than... It's all mine."

Skizz is put through an English teaching course.  He is shown images and what to say when he sees them.  When he sees the symbol for a female he says "Rahk-see".
Skizz learns English.
Over at Roxy's house her father is furious that Skizz's existence and their link to it has been leaked to the press.  Roxy says she didn't tell anyone it must have been a neighbour.  She yells at him that Skizz was:

Roxy: "... a damn sight more human than you'll ever be!"

She storms off to school where people tease her over the article.  Even her teacher makes an alien joke at her expense.  Back with Skizz, he says his first sentence, "Yuu urrr veee aylens!"

In the local pub a reporter bothers Cornelius about Skizz.  He gets angry and smashes a glass against the bar and the reporter beats a hasty retreat.  Days pass and Skizz masters English, so van Owen starts interrogating him.  When Skizz says he crashed on Earth because it was the only planet in the solar system that could support life and he had to make an emergency landing because his ship was failing, Van Owen refuses to believe his reason why.
Don't bother Cornelius if you know what's good for you.
Van Owen asks how he managed to learn English so quickly, and Skizz says it is because he is an interpreter.  Van Owen quizzes him about Roxy and asks what she told him about their national defence and the army.  Skizz sadly says he now knows why Roxy said that Madness was better than The Police.  Roxy sits brooding at home then rips up the newspaper article and thinks to herself:

Roxy: "Hang on Skizz, hang on.  I'm coming."

Roxy, Loz and Cornelius meet up, Roxy wants them to help her get Skizz back.  Loz isn't keen and Cornelius worries that it would affect him being able to get a job.  What about your pride, appeals Roxy, which makes him mad. She apologises to him:

Roxy: "I'd be alright if I knew what they were doing to him.  They could be doing anything couldn't they?  I sit at school and think about all the things they could be doing to him and he's screaming.  They'll break him and send him mad."

Cornelius then says he probably won't ever get a job so he'll help her as he feels sorry for Skizz, like him there is plenty he doesn't understand.  Loz reluctantly agrees as well.

Skizz about to be operated on.
Skizz meanwhile is on an operating table.  Van Owen wants a scientist to cut Skizz out of his exo-suit because its military applications could be vast.  Under protest the scientist cuts and is electrocuted by it and killed.  Van Owen immediately blames the death on Skizz.

At the local snooker club, Loz starts rallying support to help get Skizz.  He speaks to a radical friend of his who did some work at the army base after "trying to smash the system from within."

Skizz tells Van Owen that his people's technology has advanced so far that they don't need weapons, the only things they have that could be compared to weapons are "snuffers" which destroy suns.  This shakes Van Owen and he leaves Skizz for now.  Skizz thinks that he won that round but then becomes sad that he had to use the threat of destuction to "take pleasure in that single instant of awe and fear in the face of an enemy."  As he sits in his cell he thinks:

Skizz: "He had managed to seize a small, pathetic victory... but the game had been lost. Lost forever."
The "Snuffers".
The plan to rescue Skizz goes into action.  A couple of giant stuffed wallabies are stolen from a nearby warehouse.  A bunch of leaflets are distributed about a protest at the army base.  Three dozen rats are liberated from the university labs.  The local laundry delivery man is locked in the toilet and not discovered for three hours thanks to a bribe given to his co-worker by Loz.

The protest goes into action, while the guards up front deal with them round the back a car stops to"ask directions", the guards open the boot and all the rats run out, the man driving says they have plague.  With protesters and rats running amok, the laundry van is waved through, it has Loz and Cornelius in it.
Operation: Rescue Skizz!
They disguise themselves as doctor and scientist and Loz tells the guards he's here check on Skizz because of the plague danger.  He is given the key to Skizz's room and they take him away in a laundry cart, leaving a stuffed wallaby "sleeping" in the bed so no one notices he is gone for a short while.  They make their escape in the van while someone on a scooter drives away with what looks like Skizz riding pillion, but when Van Owen and his goons catch up, it's another stuffed wallaby.

Roxy waits anxiously then Loz and Cornelius arrive having switched to Cornelius's van and she is reunited with Skizz in the back.  He tells her "it is good to see you."  Van Owen organises an armed police manhunt with instructions to shoot Skizz's rescuers much to the disgust of the senior cop there.  Loz meanwhile says they need to get Skizz out of Birmingham then they can tell the wider media about him which should make him "untouchable".

Skizz: "That is good... I have.. grown tired... of people touching me."
Skizz and Roxy reunited.
They keep driving until the reach Roxy's house, she goes inside and tells her angry father that she's doing the right thing like he told her too.  He demands, "isn't family important?  Isn't the law important?"  Cornelius then throws a chair through the window and points at the sky:

Cornelius: "Look up there!  Look at it!  There's nothing as important as that!  Not even pipe-fitting!"

Cornelius and Roxy leave in the van with Skizz.  Loz meanwhile has returned to the pool hall where Van Owen tracks him down and tries to threaten him before realising Loz's friends outnumber him.  Loz tells Van Owen to get lost, but Van Owen says he remembers what type of van Cornelius drives and that they shall be on the lookout for it.

Roxy is freaking out a bit, going on the run from family and school and she isn't sure she can be an actress without O'levels. "I quite fancied being a star" she says.  Skizz apologises saying he has denied her the chance to be a comet. "Star" corrects Roxy, but she says that although she wants to be a star, Skizz is from one and that makes him special.
Uh oh...
As they head out of Birmingham an armed police unit spot them and start to follow.  Loz meanwhile is mobilizing the local population to help out.  Roxy tries to comfort Skizz saying they can help him get home as they have got as far as the moon themselves.  Skizz tells her his first lie, "I have nothing.. to worry.. about."  He realises there will be no happy ending for him.

Loz tells Roxy's dad that she is in danger from Van Owen, so he agrees to come along to be another "witness".  The van hits the Spaghetti Junction which Skizz thinks looks like an abstract art piece.  The police catch up with them but Cornelius rams them.  Van Owen authorises shoot-to-kill but Loz and friends catch up and block the police so the van can escape.
Van Owen is a sore loser.
But Van Owen grabs a gun and shoots out the tyre which causes the van to flip.  Cornelius climbs out raging mad and goes to attack, but Van Own shoots him.  This shocks everyone, even the police there.  Roxy attacks him but Van owen knocks her back with the rifle butt, Skizz attacks as well, but Van Owen brushes him off too.  Roxy and Skizz sit on the ground, Roxy protecting Skizz saying she doesn't want him to die.

Then suddenly lights appear in the sky and other Skizz like aliens descend from a huge ship overhead and apologise to Skizz for taking so long to come and get him.  Van Own tries to shoot Skizz before he can leave, but Cornelius, who is still alive picks him up and hurls him over the edge of the raised up portion of road they are on.
Skizz's people come to a last minute rescue.
Now it's time for Skizz to leave, he shakes Loz's hand, and gives Cornelius a big hug.  Roxy says "no words Skizz" and gives him a kiss and then he is beamed away and the ship leaves.  Once aboard, one of his fellow aliens ask what the "monsters were like."

Skizz: "They were cruel and ugly.  There was so much despair.  And so much love... Some of them have style and some of them have their pride... and some of them... some of them are stars."
Awww, all of my feels.
And that brings the book to it's end.  Well, I found this to be an utterly charming tale.  Yes it's a derivative mash-up of E.T. and Boys From The Blackstuff, but it has likeable character work on its side. With Roxy especially feeling very like a proto-Halo Jones as a young and ordinary woman thrust into extraordinary circumstances and stepping up, as well as being a strong female character in her own right.  There's something very sweet about a whole community coming together to help the outsider and defying the authorities in doing so.  The art by Jim Baikie is excellent, he has a lot of story to cram into a limited page count but he manages it without it feeling over-busy.  Skizz is something of a punching bag it's true, but he is drawn in such a way that you can't help feeling sorry for the trials he goes through and the ending, though cliche, is the sort of happy ending I like in my comic books every now and then.  Alan Moore himself looked more kindly on this strip later in his career citing the ability to build characters, structure a longer running plotline and work with Jim Baikie as making it worthwhile in retrospect. Skizz will always remain one of Moore's lesser works, but it's one worth seeking out as an important step in his early development as a writer as it whetted his appetite for doing (in his words) "something better".


  1. this must be obscure becaue I've never heard of it! looks pretty cool though, love the art :)

  2. It's definitely a VAST improvement on the other Jim Baikie and Alan Moore collaboration I have covered here, the awful "Deathblow: Byblows". Yeuch.

  3. Oh my days, I appear to have slipped into a strange parallel universe where everybody, including 50% of its creative team, thinks that Skizz wasn't that good. Prithee, fair maid, wake me up when reality resets itself.

  4. I didn't know what to expect from Skizz, because the biog of Moore quoted spends exactly half a page on it, I was pleased when it turned out to be a sweet and non-cloying UKisation of E.T. With great art. But yes, very underrated it seems.

  5. Alan Robertshaw28 July 2016 at 13:21

    "Flippi Nek!"

    Really enjoyed this the first time round. Looking back now it does seem very 80s; but that's not a bad thing. It captured the mood of the time so well.

    It had a particular resonance because it was so grounded in 'normality'. Even the setting, Birmingham rather than say London, really helped that. The characters were highly sympathetic without it being forced. You really cared about them, especially poor old Cornelius. The "not even pipe fitting" line was hilarious, but it was also so moving. Pipe fitting was so important to Cornelius (which had a real sense of pathos) so it was so actially very profound when he declared there was something even beyond that.

    In lesser hands lines about who are the real alyens and some people being stars could have been a bit cringeworthy, but in the context of this story it worked; and it didn't feel a cop out that there was sort of a happy ending. You felt they deserved that.

  6. It is a truly charming piece of period nostalgia and shows Moore's deftness for creating characters with deftness and brevity. And you're right it could end up goopily sentimental, but Alan managed to avoid that for an unabashed happy ending. I never read this at the time, so it was a real treat to acquire and write of for this blog.