Sunday, 13 July 2008

Russell, the saga of a peaceful man.

For those of you who don't know, 'Russell' is the comic-book creation of British artist and writer Pete Loveday. Since the early 80s, the esteemed Mr Loveday has been charting Russell's rise from perpetually stoned and confused hippy to....err, slightly older perpetually stoned and confused hippy.

Although Russell is indeed the focus of this quite fantastic and very funny series of comics, they are much more than an insight into the paranoia of the habitual spliff-head. Set against the backdrop of the socio-political mess that was Thatcherite Britain, it's an acutely observed insight into England at that time from the point of view of various subcultures that were either around at the time when Thatcherism took hold, or sprang up in reaction to it. The forces of law and order were beginning to turn a disapproving eye towards the festival scene, corporate greed was running riot, media-induced apathy was beginning to set in. Trapped in the middle of all this is Russell, up to his eyeballs in magic mushrooms and riddled with self-doubt. If you were one of those who frequented festivals and/or the associated underground scene during the 80s and early 90s, then you'll be familiar with Russell's world.

When I was in my late teens/early twenties (it feels like a lifetime ago!), I identified with Russell, as I'm sure did many others who followed his adventures. Russell's a good bloke, a peaceful bloke, and life and circumstance have led him to the bustling underground festival scene of the 80s/early 90s - hippies, punks, bikers, rastafarians, CND activists, earth-mothers, spiritual seekers, spiritual charlatans, acid heads, women's libbers, anti-globalization protesters, drug dealers, zen gurus, new-age travellers, self-sufficient smallholders, alternative healers. To Russell, all these people seem secure and confident in their roles, and may even in a worst-case scenario be in on some great secret that Russell has been denied knowledge of.

In Russell's world, nothing ever quite makes sense, nothing ever seems to go his way. He finds himself confused and paranoid, alienated from all, even the sub-cultures in which he h
as taken refuge. Russell's best friend, Andy the Punk, appears to be more than happy with his lot of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, which just seems to highlight Russell's problems. His love for politically correct woman's libber, Felicity, is unrequited, and he finds himself constantly trying to avoid the crushing embrace of Eve, an ageing earth-mother, who believes that Russell is her one true soul-mate.

Taking psychedelic drugs by the bucketful doesn't help Russell, but he just can't say no, perhaps wondering if each trip will be the one that finally rids him of his hang-ups and opens up his mind to the beautiful life experiences that those around him seem to be experiencing. Of course, it never happens, and after every trip, he simply returns to being himself - paranoid, perplexed, pissed-off at life but too stoned to do anything about it.

For me, the main thing about the Russell comics is the humour. His adventures are never anything less than hysterically funny. Of course, identifying with our reluctant hero helps in this respect, but regardless, it's very finely observed, very witty, and somehow manages to take the piss out of alternative lifestyles whilst actively promoting them. We have Russell experimented upon, placed in an artificial womb full of amniotic fluid as part of a rebirthing process from which he will supposedly emerge fresh, clean, revitalised and rid of all hang-ups. We have Russell and Andy trying to make a bit of quick cash by setting up a disposable toilet-seat stall at the Glastonbury festival - anybody who's done a festival will know of the infamous sanitary situation. And then there's the 'Russell takes a trip' stories, where we follow him through a series of wild hallucinations, watching his mind disintergrate into a quivering, paranoid wreckage.
For many years, Pete Loveday had a stall at the Glastonbury Festival, where he would sell baccy tins, fimo figurines and, of course, Russell comics. He was also involved to whatever degree in various underground publications and ventures. So, like a lot of great writers, Loveday drew upon his own experiences when writing 'Russell'. How much of Russell himself is in Pete Loveday is anyone's guess, but I like to imagine that he is, or was, as near to the real-life Russell as anyone. And if Pete ever gets to read this, I'd just like to say a big thank you. You've given me a lot of pleasure over the years and made my world a better place.

Russell's adventures can be bought from AKPress, the anarchist and radical book publisher and distributor. Get them here.

Anyone else a fan of Russell and Pete Loveday? I'd love to hear from you, leave a comment!

UPDATE - a brand spanking new Russell website has appeared recently, featuring a new interview with Pete, Russell comix and art available for sale, and talk of new Russell material at some point, if Pete can raise enough money to get it published.  What are you waiting for, get over there and spend some cash -



zillagord said...

Just a brief comment here, actually nothing to do with this post, sorry 'bout that...

...but I am excited about this blog and wanted to let you know! I am at work fooling around and must get back to business, but I found this through Psychedelic Lion (via Chris Goes Rock), and I must say, I am very keen on this endeavor. Anyone with an affinity for Tangle Edge is a kindred spirit!

I look forward to perusing your blog whebn I have an ample opportunity. Until then, just wanted to let you know I will be hanging around. Thanks for all the great stuff here, man!


Herod said...

Zilla - Funny you should mention Tangle Edge, as 'In Search of a New Dawn' is my most played album at the moment. I first got into them in the early 90s, playing 'Eulogy' and 'Entangled Scorpio Entrance' to death. But somehow, 'In Search...' passed me by, and I only picked it up a few months ago. What an album! They must have been seriously into Amon Duul 2 at the time from the sound of it, but whatever, it's a superb album, I completely love it.

And thanks for the kind and encouraging words. I'm pretty new to this whole blogging thing, but it would seem that for every 100 downloads, about 5 comments are left! So it's always great to actually get some feedback. I'll be upping music on a pretty regular basis, and I hope you find plenty of stuff here to feed your head.


Té la mà Maria - Reus said...

very good blog, congratulations
regard from Reus Catalonia Europe
thank you

pokerface said...

I used to correspond with Pete Loveday abort 20 years ago, It was a fun time as i used to send him new band demos i had picked up .
I got the band "Creaming Jesus" to send Pete some of their records as they had written a song about Russell and i think Pete did one of their Record covers, And for a thank you from Pete he sent me a Russell T shirt, which i still have to this day and is in very good condition. Sometimes in the letters from Pete he would decorate the last page with a few sketch drawings of Russell and the rest of the guys who used to appear in Big Bang Comics Last i heard was that Pete had given up drawing as his eyesight was failing him. So its nice to have some Original artwork and a T shirt , which people still think that my name is Russell as its writen at the bottom of the T shirt

Herod said...

Pokerface - thanks for taking the time to share your memories of Pete and Russell. Although I don't know the exact nature of his illness, I heard that he has problems with his eyesight that have effectively put an end to Russell and many other more important things too, I'm sure. A real shame, the guy's a true psychedelic hero.

TimSqure said...

I have a few of these comics at home and was upset to learn recently that Pete Loveday has stopped writing them. Great artwork, inciteful characterisation just brilliant comics.

Anonymous said...

nice post, i do love me some Russell! only got the Hemp Comix starring him, but this post reminded me to check out some others.

Anonymous said...

The background art work on the comics was always so intricate and rich. Regardless of the storyline, sometimes your mind could go on a wild time by just letting your eyes dwell on them for a while too long.

I was happy to find this blog. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the write up on these comics. I love them. They are really special. Amazing artwork and some great characters. Many moons ago they opened my eyes to the British counter culture.

Some good news for anyone out there who is still interested in this. Pete Loveday has started working on these again. Big Trip Travel Agency 6 was released in 2012 (15 years since the last one)

If it's successful enough the next comic will be in full colour.

*crosses fingers*

Herod said...

@ anonymous (27/09/12)

Wow and double wow! I didn't know about Big Trip 6, I thought we'd seen the last of Russell. I am so fucking happy! Nipping over to AK press right now to snap it up!

Thanks for the heads-up, man. And glad you found and liked the Russell write-up. You know, it's been a long, long time since I first came across the Russell comix, and I've read a huge amount of novels/comix since then, all sorts of stuff, but Russell would still be somewhere in my probably-never-to-be-compiled top 10 favourite writings ever!

Steve said...

I'm a little late here but I just received the latest 2013 catalogue/newspaper from A&K Distribution through the post, & couldn't believe my eyes when I espied that there was a brand new release of Big Trip 6 now out.
I still really love Pete Loveday's work & would like to thank him for all the pleasure he has given me & lots of my mates over the years!
I was lucky enough to meet him at Trewargy Tree Festival [I think that was the venue but its very all a bit hazy now, & was even at the time too, LOL] many, many moons ago moons ago.
If anyone has an old copy of Big Trip 2 for sale or knows where I can get one from please contact Steve at as it will complete my collection
Cheers Mates

Anonymous said...

I just found my Russell collection while sorting out some cupboards. As well as the Comics and books I found a letter from Pete which said that he would be doing some strips in the Bush Telegraph and the Idler, although he said that these would be recycled into the comics in Big Trip Travel Agency 3.These were part of my life during the 80s and 90s and I will never part with them. I'm missing Plain Rapper 1 and Big Bang 1 though.

I also have something called The Storming of The City which has 4 pages of about the anti capitalist Carnival Against Capital in 1999 which doesn't feature Russell. I can't remember where I got this from but it's quite possible that Pete sent me it himself.

I didn't know about Big Trip 6 until today but I'll be looking for a copy now.

Herod said...

Anonymous (27 May 2014)

It's always a pleasure to meet a fellow Russell fan, there aren't a huge amount of us around!

Pretty sure you can still get Big Trip 6 here... ...luckily, I managed to pick up every Russell ever released and I've still got them all. I still pull them out now and again and read the lot from start to finish. Wonderful stuff. Makes me wish I was 18 again and embarking upon my first Glastonbury festival. Many, many years ago...ho-hum... :)

March on Stoke said...

Trewargy :) got some Russell comics signed Pete at some beach festival . as with others off to AK now

Anonymous said...

For anyone still trying to complete their collection ebay
is your best bet. Big Trip 2 is the hardest to get but it comes along now and again. There's been a dearth of information about Russell on the web for years (this blog is one of the top results in a google search) but check this out:

ps. chuffed that my comment of two years ago has led people to big trip 6 even if it is only 5 of you :D

Herod said...

Anon - Thanks for the link to the Russell site, lots of good news for Russellheads there - Big Trip 7, Russell And The Magic Wristband, maybe even Peaceful Man 3. Can't wait, let's just hope Pete finds the time and energy to complete these.

Ed said...

Wow! Looks like I'm late to the Big Trip 6 party. So glad i found out that Pete's eyesight issues are behind him and that Russell is back!

Iceni Music said...

I love Russell, why isn't he massive?