A few years ago I was the editor of Liverpool’s only student newspaper, cunningly named Liverpool Student. I was the second editor of four and, like those who preceded and followed me in the role, found it an exacting task.
In amongst editing, picture editing, subbing, proofing, pagesetting, outputting and liaising with printers and ad execs I drank heavily, slept lightly and lived off the wares of the Hardman Pizza company around the corner. I became ill with stress and the lifestyle that came with editing the paper.
So half way through the year I tried to find something to take my mind off the in-fighting, political intrigue at the unions and universities and general stress of it all. Much as I enoyed the job, worrying about third team JMU soccer results and the lunatic political dogma bored me as much as it probably bored our readers after a while.
The result of all of this was Blackman & Robin, dreamt up in a pub between myself and Che Burnley. Ben Hau and Paul Hardman helped with the design and suddenly Liverpool Student was publishing an outrageously stupid and deliberately provocative comic strip that became an instant hit.
A heady blend of parody, pop-culture references, bizarre celebrity cameos, deliberately shoddy design, a preference for the scatological and a desire to offend the kind of people who hang around students’ union political offices; the strip soon grew from three panels to a whole page.
Later the strip was published in a magazine that a group of us created between 2003-2005 – Black+White Magazine. Che became a minor celebrity in the city as a result. We retired it before the last edition before we genuinely offended someone.
Blackman isn’t a massive extension of Che’s personality – he likes bacon, booze and wrestling – but ‘Robin’ is a foot-high chain-smoking homosexual. Their natural enemies are people who embrace political correctness for all the wrong reasons and, as Che is black and Ben is Chinese (via Leicester), we felt qualified to poke fun at these types.
An unlikely cast of characters grew from the original concept, including Bobby Robson, David O’Leary, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Ricky Tomlinson, Alexei Sayle, darts player Les Wallace, Alex Ferguson and Gerard Houllier sprang up, based on people we liked, disliked, or were in the news at the time.
It’s hard to discern now, but B&R’s modus operandi was to point out the hypocrisy and cant evident among many of the people who aspire to be student politicians. If we got a rise then so much the better.
When I look back now I’m not sure B&R is even defensible on the grounds we set out at the time. While our intentions may have been noble enough, the result is pretty much an obscene tits’n’willies comic strip that wouldn’t be out of place in a Viz knock-off.
Thing is, I still find it hilariously funny. Admittedly it’s my creation – the fairly obscure references will leave most nonplussed, the celebrities make sense only if you share our likes and dislikes and there’s a huge parade of characters based on people we knew.
Nevertheless, I’ve decided to republish them on the blog, if only for the benefit of the people I made it with.
We weighed up a Capital of Culture edition of the strip last year as a limited run, but the results were so absurdly over-the-top, and likely libellous, they didn’t really merit it.
Maybe one day, Blackman & Robin will be needed again. Until then, wonder at the two strips below.
• You’ll need to click on the links to view them at full size. They’re fairly hefty, so may take a few seconds to load. Click on them again to view them even larger.