Skin

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1992 | Tundra Publishing

Story: Brendan McCarthy
Script: Peter Milligan
Art: Brendan McCarthy
Colour: Carol Swain
Letters: Tom Frame

This book has an interesting history in that, at one point, it was banned before publishing. It’s not surprising, but at the same time, there’s always something else equally bad that seems to avoid the radars based solely on the points of view of those making the call. As times pass, their tolerance rises and the stuff found so offensive in the past seems like nothing.

This book about a fifteen-year-old skinhead Thalidomide (it’s an untested German sedative invented in the 1950s that shouldn’t have been used while pregnant. It caused quite the range of deformities, though predominantly foreshortened arms and legs). The story came from the writer’s past having lived at the era when skinhead culture was prolific and a time when the Thalidomide deformed children were dealing with puberty. It’s an interesting vision of what a person’s life as both would be like.

The beginning of the book has a nice explanation of Thalidomide and it’s effects to bring readers up to speed without the need of research. The pages have fragments of layered news articles and the chemical model of the drug. Very nicely done.

There is also some text regarding the story’s setting in the 1970s and just what their place in skinhead time and culture was. Another nice bit of useful information to get the reader properly acclimated to the subjects involved. It’s also displayed in the same manner as the previous article.

Martin was one of those Thalidomide babies. His mum took a pill to stop herself puking when she was pregnant. Bet she puked enough when she saw Martin.

The writing is surprisingly good in this book. I had an idea of how offensive, and foul the language would be and was certain I’d buckle. However, it’s written in a compelling fashion that dragged me into the horror of his life. The foulness can be difficult for me to stomach at times because I don’t like excessive amounts of it period. At the same time, though, I feel the kid has a right to be foul and angry.

The narrator is as cold, and bitter as Martin. It works well. There’s a lot of anger here and it’s sickening to believe that the people responsible got off easy and it just seemed to be brushed aside like nothing.

The fact Martin is a skin really didn’t affect me much. You don’t see them do anything anymore awful than what any other teenage gang does. That’s what they were like back then before they were politicized, as the beginning text explains.  And since they didn’t do any of our minds visions of actions we’d expect skinheads might do, it didn’t phase me at all. Martin was just a teenage victim of a German wonder-drug that took to gang life with limitless anger to vent.

There is some satisfying revenge in this book after he pays a visit to the Maxichem man he pegs as responsible. Chops his arms off and ties them to his little hands and stands there grinning. I chuckled at that part, but also felt so sad for him. He could have used some good family therapy to help cope with his life and he might not have gone totally barmy.

I didn’t hate this book. It’s haunting, really and it stuck with me for a bit after I finished, so I looked up some stuff about thalidomide on my own only to sink more into the murk. It makes me feel sick to the stomach.

This is a great tragedy I could have seen as some politically driven indie film back-in-the-day. It almost screams for it. It’s not exactly something I’d re-read often, if ever, being of depressing subject matter, but I would recommend it to my friends interested in reading something dark drawn from historical truths.

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