The U.K. comics community has been getting its knickers in a twist over the whole Ian Gibson/Bristol Comic Expo "nude Halo Jones" saga. Twitter and Facebook completely blew up over it Thursday morning, with the usual mix of knee-jerk condemnation and some occasional voices of reason rising above the din.
Some sterling detective work by Paul Holden revealed that the image at the center of the dispute wasn't even originally Halo Jones, but a character from Gibson's long-gestating LifeBoat strip. I'm glad, because some of the criticism on the matter sailed too close to being personal attacks on Gibson, which made me uncomfortable for a number of reasons. For starters, "The Ballad of Halo Jones" is a longtime cause celebre for those arguing for creators' rights within the United Kingdom, especially in the matter of how oppressive the old status quo of IPC and DC Thomson could be.
Gibson is the co-creator of Halo, but sees little to no financial reward from (current owner of 2000AD) Rebellion's continuing exploitation of the character. If Gibson were to somehow try and monetize his history with the character by working on commissions or selling limited-edition prints featuring the strip's cast, would that be such a bad thing? The perspective of fans and publishers on such issues is radically different: After all, Marvel sued Ghost Rider co-creator Mike Friedrich for a similar matter. Besides, the Bristol Expo website makes it clear that all these limited-edition prints are being sold for charity.
Mind you, that doesn't excuse organizers' attempts at marketing their convention in such a retrogressive, sexist, manner. As Chris Weston tweeted, it's "one of those hate-bombs that get dropped on the comic industry: an ethical dilemma where no-one comes out looking good." The print is now absent from the Bristol Expo webpage, with a subtle rewrite removing all previous mention of the pinup-style variant. The text accompanying the John Higgins' Razorjack print still hints at the slightly leering style that offended so many.
A couple of years back, Gibson had a public falling out with editorial at 2000AD, declaring the scripts he had been receiving were no longer of a high enough quality to bother with. Even at the time, this seemed like a extremely self-destructive piece of bridge-burning: In terms of work options for a freelance British comic artist with Gibson's experience and skill set, 2000AD would appear to be the only game in town. His forays into American comics seemed to meet mixed fortunes (he writes of his frustrations while working for DC here, but seemed to enjoy his times with Dark Horse).
This current storm in a teacup has provided great free publicity for Rebellion's coincidental re-release of yet another edition of Halo Jones reprints, this time minus any existing Gibson art on the front, and instead featuring a cover by in-house designer Pye Parr. I would have guessed this was something of a snub to Gibson, who presumably would've turned down any commission new cover art; for the previous edition, in 2005, Gibson did produce a new cover image. However, that doesn't necessarily seem to be the case: Gibson seems happy enough to appear at upcoming events publicizing the release (the great London comic shop Gosh! has cheekily, opportunistically, been issuing tweets promoting just such an appearance in the middle of the raging storm). Usually reliable, Parr's cover on the new edition does seem rather, pun unintended, sub-par. It looks to me like an e-book cover knocked out by a Photoshop novice.
It makes me pine for a time in the 1980s-'90s when Titan Books had the license to publish 2000AD reprints, and issued them with amazing new covers by either the original artist or a worthy superstar substitute. (Walter Simonson's Rogue Trooper! Bill Sienkiewicz's Judge Dredd!) Surely there have been many superstar artists who've claimed Gibson or Halo Jones as specific influences who would have made time in their schedules to prepare a cover worthy of one of the true jewels in 2000AD's crown (I'll just drop a hint for Tharg by linking to this amazing tribute piece by Duncan Fegredo for starters)?
I'll just further confuse this already-knotted problem by running this image, Gibson's cover to the second collection of Halo Jones strips from 1986, reminding those who jumped to quickly condemn the man for betraying the feminist spirit of the strip, that there was always a cheesecake element present in the work. Dave Garnett of the U.K.'s left-leaning and comics-friendly The Guardian has managed to get quotes from both Gibson and Alan Moore on the matter. Moore, in typical fashion, is witty and dismissive of his past creations and previous collaborators in the work-for-hire sector ("I fail to see how my original intentions for the character are served by a long-lens shot of her with her 50th-century tits out ... In fact, rather the opposite").
Meanwhile, Gibson seems intent on bluffing it out:
Gibson said he found it "ironic that Halo would be known as a 'feminist' character", after being "attacked in the past for 'using' her and thus all women for my own nefarious ends", and explained how the topless image fits with "the ideas I had for any continuation of the saga".
"I had plans for her being pregnant – hence the bigger boobs," he said. "Also as a slave, hence the token chains and nakedness."