Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man
Medium: comic
Year: 1991
Country: UK
Writer/artist: Pete Loveday
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 25 July 2023
russell the saga of a peaceful man
Russell is the hippy hero of Big Bang Comics, which I believe is the UK's most successful underground comics series. This collection is dedicated to Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton and fits perfectly with their work in tone, style and sense of humour.
What's different about it is its observation of British counter-culture. This is fantastic. Every grotesque cartoon face on every densely cross-hatched page feels instantly recognisable. Pete Loveday seems incapable of drawing anonymous characters. Similarly, he's having a ball sending up all the idiots, loons and preachy hypocrites he knows in this post-hippy 1980s culture. (He loves them and it's clearly the world he identifies with, but that doesn't mean he can't take the piss as well.)
He knows it backwards, obviously. See his analysis of festivals. He's also capable of sharper commentary than you'd expect, e.g. the two-page sequence where Russell escapes from loonies by running off in drag. This is a familiar comedy beat that we've all seen a million times... but Loveday does interesting things with it.
Don't binge this. Dip into it. Read a couple of pages at a time. (These kind of underground comix are so dense that that's quite a good way of reading it.) It has storylines, yes, but Russell himself is an oddly passive protagonist. He seems half-stoned most of the time and he doesn't really want anything. He just drifts around. He bums around with his friends, goes to festivals, accidentally starts fights in pubs, etc. He has a political conscience, but he's far less militant about it than his friends and mostly he's just getting high, drunk or in trouble.
I'm a little surprised that this series isn't better known, but it is very firmly rooted in its counter-cultural world. Half the UK will read this and see the non-stop adventures of twats they'd cross the street to avoid. (Russell also meets right-wing nutters, though, including policemen who've been drawn like Judge Dredd.) I admire these strips and I think Pete Loveday is enormously talented, but I don't actually like the people in here. They're certainly far less lovable than Gilbert Shelton's heroes (or even, in his misanthropic way, Robert Crumb's.) Oh, and it's wildly unsuitable for children. Drugs, sex, nudity, toe-severing, etc.
It is, though, fascinating.