Top: ‘Autonomous Terrace’ (1974); Centre: Cover of Issue 1 of ‘Class War Comix’ (1974); Cover of ‘The Education of Desire: The Anarchist Graphic of Cliff Harper’. published by the Annares Co- operative in 1984; Frame from ‘Class War Comix’. [The Generalist Archive']
This second post is a tribute to the talent and commitment of the artist Cliff Harper, the first proper anarchist I ever met. He lived in the Eel Pie Island commune for two years. and produced in the early ‘70s a remarkable six-part ‘Class War Comix’ which are set in a post-revolutionary Britain.
I have the original outline for the series which begins in one of the large communes where 2000 people live in a village of some 300 buildings surrounded by 1500 acres of arable grass and woodland.
Whether it was all published I can’t remember. All I have in the Archive are two copies of Issue One, one of which contains a hand-written letter in red ink that reads:
Dear tired old IT [International Times]: Please review this hopelessly utopian comik. Try and suppress your cynicism for a little while and give it a plug.
I was quite scared of Cliff at that time. He was very very particular and passionate about his work as I recall. He wore big overcoats, big boots, had a beard and pigtail and little round wire glasses. I think he thought us lot at the underground press were a bit nancy.
Strangely and wonderfully Cliff became an incredibly popular illustrator for the mainstream press, particularly The Guardian, and you can find out all about him, his work and current state of affairs on his excellent website. www.agraphia.co.uk
One of Cliff’s great heroes and a big influence on his work was the woodcut artist Frans Masereel (1889-1972) who produced more than 20 ‘wordless novels’, the most famous being ‘Passionate Journey’ – a novel told in 165 woodcuts. You can get a cheap edition from Dover Books but the nicest edition I have was published in Ladbroke Grove by The Redstone Press in 1987. This wonderful book is one of my all-time favourites.
In recent years I’ve picked up the following:
‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Masreel and published by the Journeyman Press [London/Nyack, NY. 1979/1980]
‘The Glorious Adventures of Tyl Ulenspiegl’ by Charles de Coster [Pantheon Books. 1965]. This is a hardback first edition. Its the story of the 16th-century fight by seven Lowland provinces against the might of Spain, the roots of a struggle that would eventually lead to the establishment of Belgium as an independent country. This book, first published in 1869, is considered the first great work of Belgian literature and bears comparison to Don Quixote and Panatgruel.
Like de Coster [1827-1879) Masreel was Flemish and his outstanding 100 woodcuts for this work are a wonderful enhancement to the text. Romain Rolland said of them that Masereel: ‘had allied within him the two opposing elements which are so characteristic of Tyl Ulenspiegl: the enormous buffoonery and the dark demons of the soul: violence and melancholy.’