Rogan Gosh
Medium: comic
Year: 1990
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Brendan McCarthy
Keywords: fantasy
Country: UK
Format: 6 episodes, 48 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 18 August 2021
It's Peter Milligan going full-bore incomprehensible. Originally published in the short-lived 2000 AD spin-off magazine, Revolver, here's how Milligan himself described the story in an afterword to the 1993 Vertigo reprint:
(a) It's the story of Rudyard Kipling entering the House of Smoke and, under the influence of narcotics, dreaming about the future, a character called Rogan Gosh, a boy who commits suicide, and so on.
(b) It's the story of Rogan Gosh, Karmanaut from the future, who travels back down the birth lines and reborn as Raju Dhawan. In an earlier incarnation the Soma Swami, taking on the guise of an English writer called Rudyard Kipling, tricks him into lifting his, the Soma Swami's, terrible karma.
(c) It's the story of a dreaming boy in a bedsit, mourning the loss of his girlfriend, Mazzy; dreaming of strange and wonderful worlds; and eventually committing suicide.
(d) It's the story of Dean Cripps and Raju Dhawan, who get sucked into a strange adventure where nothing is real.
(e) It's the complex death vision of a dying Scottish drugs dealer who fell from a roof in Glasgow.
(f) It's none of the above.
(g) It's all of the above.
I can't really improve on that as a description. I hadn't been expecting much from this reread. I generally love Milligan, but not when he's paying homage to James Joyce (e.g. Skreemer, Tank Girl: The Odyssey) and I remembered Rogan Gosh as being similarly "what the hell?".
To my surprise, I think the series works. In a whacked out, psychedelic way, yes, but to my surprise I found myself enjoying the trip. Firstly and most importantly, it's a love letter to India and Indian comics. Brendan McCarthy writes a fascinating introduction to that Vertigo collection about how he discovered them and Amar Chitra Katha (which is still active today) in the 1960s. It feels like the series McCarthy was born to draw. A shop assistant might have an elephant's head, a magnificent moustache and a second, burning head on top. The colours will make you think someone's slipped you acid. It's bonkers with added bonkers. I honestly can't imagine a more perfect homage to the subject matter (which to me feels specifically like a 1960s hippy trip experience of India).
Secondly, the story's overlapping interpretations include concepts like being reincarnated to go back in time. The idea of taking the whole story literally is at once laughable and, oddly, not implausible. It all feels consistent with the story's in-universe definition of reality.
Finally, the story's not always nonsense. Milligan and McCarthy have both described it as partly autobiographical. It's capable of being crude, intensely sexual (straight and gay), cynical and philosophical. There's a lout who's struggling with his inability to feel anything regarding his girlfriend. The fifth misery, the one they never mention because it's the ugliest and the most boring, is mediocrity. Heads get torn off and hearts get pulled out. "Probably for the same reason you've never felt anything: you're a moron. And because none of this is real."
It's weird. Along with Grant Morrison's Dan Dare, it's made me curious about Revolver. (Lasting only seven issues, it made the mistake of being labelled "Mature Content" and so got sold on newsstands next to porn magazines. It also contained a series by Paul Neary and Steve Parkhouse, which I want to read because I like those two creators.) I couldn't recommend Rogan Gosh to casual readers, but it stands up to rereading a lot better than I'd have thought.