The Discontinued Adventures of Superman and Crispin
by Charlie Galbraith

Arthur Scullery was in the bath when he got the call. He was so surprised and excited by the news that he accidentally jerked the phone into the bathwater, electrocuting himself and blowing every fuse in the house. At least that was the story as Arthur told it. He was no stranger to fabrication; in fact the two were very well acquainted.

What is certain is that on the twenty-first of February nineteen seventy-five, Arthur got the news that he and his writing partner, the illustrator Richard Clifton, were being head-hunted by DC comics.

The next day the two of them flew out to L.A. to negotiate their contracts; they began work on Adventures of Superman within the week. Arthur must have been on the edge of his seat the whole way over – there was no way he could have known that he would be making the return journey on his own, and for good, inside of three months.

This was a strange move in many ways for DC: Richard and Arthur had been producing The Lonely Furrow for three years and it had recently celebrated its fiftieth issue. Bleak and hopeless in tone, it told mainly of rural tramps and hedgerow disputes that frequently ended in murder-by-trowel. It never really seemed to fit with the image of Superman, but perhaps that was the point. Superman, it was thought, had not moved with the times, had become too clean-cut and polished, an overgrown boy-scout in a ludicrous cape.

There were whispers that it was really only Clifton they wanted, that it was Clifton’s drawing that could revitalise Superman’s image, without Arthur’s bizarre existential tramp narratives and his chronic dependence on the absurd. Arthur and DC Comics never fit, and neither did Arthur and L.A. His tall shambling frame always seemed out of place, like a Norfolk scarecrow pitched in the sand on Venice Beach. He was massively at odds with the lifestyle there, and something about the mix of heat and glitz and tanned musculature did strange things to this already strange man. He became obsessed with celebrities, spotting them, stalking them. He maimed himself in his third week in the city trying to liberate a bust of Napoleon Bonaparte from Martin Sheen’s house, getting his leg trapped between the actor’s barbed steel gates. The police found him trying to chew it off like a coyote. He never took an apartment in L.A., preferring to rove with his peculiar limping gait, mainly sleeping outside on the beach. This didn’t sit well with DC; L.A. was no town for a tramp. This odd behaviour led to all sorts of rumours that The Lonely Furrow was in fact autobiographical, based on Arthur’s life. He was even questioned about a number of disappearances in Sussex on his return to England, which came to nothing of course. Yet all of these personal eccentricities would have been tolerated if he had produced for DC. Well, he certainly produced something. He produced Crispin.

Crispin was a two-year old Yorkshire terrier that Superman, or Clark Kent rather, purchased for himself in the first issue Arthur and Richard took charge of. The dog in many ways came to dominate the comic over the first issues the two Englishmen helmed together. There was no mention of Lois Lane in any of those issues; supposedly there was not enough affection in Clark for both her and the dog. She made way for Crispin, as did practically everything else. The issues all followed an almost identical course.

Typically, Clark Kent would hear some heinous crime in the distance, burst the buttons of his shirt, and rush into the nearest telephone box, emerging as the man of steel. He would be clutching poor Crispin’s lead in his hand the entire time; and, seemingly forgetting this fact, would launch into the air at breakneck speed, dragging faithful Crispin by the neck. What would follow were several panels of Superman’s silhouette against a blue American sky, with Crispin’s little frame hanging from his lead, choking and spluttering, little legs scrabbling at the air for any kind of purchase. Finally Superman would land and go toe to toe with whatever villainy was around for that particular issue, but the focus would remain entirely on Crispin. There would often be over twenty consecutive panels of little Crispin lying on his side with his eyes watering, exhausted tongue lolling out the side of his mouth as he desperately worked the bellows of his lungs, dragging air through his crushed throat, never knowing how long he would have until he was next torn choking through the wild blue yonder by the man of steel. And that was, essentially, the comic, as Arthur and Richard made it – a little Yorkshire terrier struggling for breath in the foreground, as epic narratives were played out entirely in the background. The world would be threatened, then saved, but all the reader would see was an explosion, or a blur of blue and red, some henchman flying through the air followed by a painful thud, all from the extremest distances, and then finally, perhaps, a ticker tape parade would pass by the poor stricken dog before he was cruelly yanked up, up, and away. DC tolerated it until the fifth issue, when Arthur had pushed it a little too far.

They followed the by now well-trodden path up until one day, after saving the day, Superman grabbed Crispin’s leash and accelerated into the air so quickly that he pulled poor Crispin’s head off. Superman, realising what he had done, returned to the ground and gathered up Crispin’s dismembered corpse and flew it carefully home. He placed poor Crispin in a bin bag, tied it shut at the top, and took to the air once more, landing eventually in a secluded plain somewhere in the mid-west: a barren expanse with a titan hole in the middle of it, brimming over with stuffed bin bags; a mass grave of former Yorkshire terriers called Crispin. Superman wiped away a small tear before tossing his faithful friend on the pile, and flying off into the distance. The final panel of the issue, and of Arthur’s career, depicted Clark Kent entering another pet-shop to begin the bloody cycle anew.

Of course, DC hit the roof, demanded an explanation. Richard Clifton put the blame solely on to Arthur, claiming innocence though he had illustrated every narrative his partner ever produced. Arthur got the sack, returned to England, and never worked again.

Charlie Galbraith recently graduated from Glasgow University. Since then he has moved back in with his parents, and now divides his time between writing fiction, waiting in line at the job centre, and scratching himself. He is currently feeling disillusioned and rudderless, which seems like an appropriate response to the circumstances.