| The Really Heavy Greatcoat (1987)
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Publication Date: February 1987 - Ongoing
Country: United Kingdom
The Really Heavy Greatcoat comic strip first started in the pages of On The Beat, created by John Freeman, which later became Off The Beat, two guides to local happenings in the region surrounding Lancaster, England. (This On The Beat should not be confused with the magazine of the same name from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.)
Over time, the titles folded, but the idea persisted, and is now published as a wholly online enterprise, primarily on the downthetubes.net (which also features an archive of the strips) and also Virtual Lancaster, for which the strip was revived in late 2001.
The strip was originally conceived in The Moorlands public house, Lancaster, during a drunken sprawl of a conversation. As the pub began to close for the night and those involved prepared to stagger into the night, cartoonist Nick Miller almost fell over picking up John Freeman's greatcoat, commented on its heavyiness (sic) -- and a legend was born.
The strip is largely written by John Freeman and the main stip always drawn
by Nick Miller, and is a self-published work. (A spin-off, The Underversity,
was drawn by Beano artist Paul J. Palmer)
The basic premise of the strip is that a modern day man has bought an old
military greatcoat which, having survived since at least the Napoleonic wars
and being exposed to drugs and hippy culture in the 1960s, has now achieved
sentience. It is also capable of time and space travel, and has very deep
pockets. Since it has several centuries of experience, it is able to comment
from a unique perspective on modern day events. Generally, it doesn't like
what it sees. (The real greatcoat, still owned by John Freeman was originally
purchased in Lancaster market some time in 1986 complete with Air Raid Patrol
warden insignia from World War II, since removed because car drivers kept thinking
he was a traffic warden).
The Greatcoat's two recent wearers - John and now, Kevin -
are relatively idealistic men. Thus, the strip, despite its odd setup, is largely
political satire, with the coat and its wearer doing verbal battle over modern
British life. Other regular characters in the strip include John's long-suffering
parter, Jo, and Kevin's streetwise girlfriend Alex.
Thanks to the writer's long experience in comic books and sci-fi genre television publishing (he has edited both Doctor Who Magazine and Star Trek Magazine) and written strips for Marvel Comics and Judge Dredd: The Megazine), the series sometimes takes a satirical view of science fiction as pop culture. This, combined with cartoonist Nick Miller's distinctive and highly regarded style - he has enjoyed a varied career working for several British titles - has brought The Really Heavy Greatcoat a following well beyond its original Lancaster audience, especially since going online.
In 2005, a selection of strips was published in The Norm #8 in the US, published by Michael Jantze, and in 2006, new strips began to appear in issues of Comics International. From #198, these are strips drawn initially for the magazine and will not appear online until the issue in question goes off sale.
The Really Heavy Greatcoat also appears on the comics-to-mobile/cellphone
service ROK Comics: Nick Miller is drawing modified versions of both exisiting
and new strips so they work with presentation on cellphone/mobile screens.
No serious attempt will be made by this database to catalogue the early incarnation of the strip by its On/Off The Beat issue numbers. These something-less-than-newspapers would simply be too difficult to track down except for those who might have been alive in Lancaster, England in the late 1980's and 1990's. We include this title mostly to pay tribute to the artists' hard work and point you in the direction of the websites where it can be currently enjoyed. This work has no appreciable monetary value to the collector.
For these reasons, only key strips will initially be catalogued here. Creator and character will therefore include this work, but not in its entirety. The "issue titles" for The Really Heavy Greatcoat will be used to give you a rough guide to which publication was carrying the strip, and when.
Number of issues cataloged: 4