“I knew the dog before he came to class…”

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I first came across Charlie Brooker when I was about 8. He used to draw comics for CeX, the shop he worked in when he was a student. They were called “Here’s Toby”, and were used for ads in Gamesmaster and other magazines. They looked like this:

I thought they were funny, but didn’t pay them much mind.  How often do you care about who drew an advertisement?  A couple of years later, my dad bought a PC for university and my love affair with computers began. I started getting a magazine called PC Zone, now sadly defunct, which focused mainly on video games available for the platform, and contained some truly brilliant writing delivered by a witty and intelligent team. I haven’t seen anything like it since, which is a shame. The gaming press could use a voice like PC Zone’s in these times.

I’ll save the PC Zone chat for another entry, because I still have one issue from those days which is close to my heart. For the moment, I’ll say I had my preferred writers, like Duncan MacDonald and David McCandless. David McCandless had been with the team since the first issue, wrote with a bitter sense of humour, and was by all accounts a god at Quake. Nowadays, he does highly-regarded design work that you’ve probably seen in a hundred blogs and The Guardian. You can see it at his website, informationisbeautiful. He also did a TED talk on the visualisation of data.

You’ll notice he slipped in some video game references there. Clearly, he’s a talented guy who’s doing well, but his success is dwarfed by that of my favourite writer, Mr Charlie Brooker.

Angry graduate in the PC Zone days.

I loved Charlie Brooker.  I noticed he’d also done the CeX cartoons I remembered from older magazines, so he was already in my good books.  His reviews weren’t great, admittedly (games were either amazing or dreadful, no middle ground), but his miserable temperament cracked me up. His style was reminiscent of early Chris Morris, tempered by his schoolboy sense of humour. I especially enjoyed his regular ‘Sick Notes’ page, in which he’d invite hate mail and respond to it in his signature caustic manner. He also drew cartoons, edited together pictures and generally did stuff that had nothing to do with games, which gave the magazine a lot more variety than its competitors. In one of his most notorious features, he prank called a number of game developers, posing as a clueless dad in need of tech support, recorded the ensuing conversations and put them on the cover CD. Looking back on it, I find it astonishing he didn’t get fired, let alone be allowed to present it as content. I guess it stands as an example of how unique PC Zone was.

I used to have that issue. I wish I’d kept it.

He also had a website at superkaylo.com, which was unfortunately taken down about a decade ago. He probably found it a significant source of embarrassment when his later career began to gather steam, but it had some gems. I particularly miss his fake advertisements for holidays, which bore some similarity to his TV Go Home website. He also recalled a time when he put a dab of his urine on a photo of a model. I’m still not sure if that was true or not. Oh, and I always remember him saying “I fucking HATE drawing comics”, which struck me as odd for someone who drew so many of them.

I eventually stopped reading PC Zone and Charlie Brooker left not long after. I noticed a writing credit for him in the Brass Eye Special, and he went on to do Nathan Barley. A couple of years later, he was immensely popular. Now, I think of him more as the guy who does Screen Wipe and turns up on game shows, but for a while it was a bizarre feeling, hearing people talk about him. It was like finding out someone you went to primary school with became a movie star.

But I’m glad he’s done so well. I’m glad other people had a chance to read his writing. The 13 year old version of me thought he deserved it, because he made me laugh and influenced my writing, if not stylistically at least in spirit.

Good on you, Brooker.

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One Comment on ““I knew the dog before he came to class…””

  1. Adam Strover says:

    Holy crap! I remember those comics/ads from (I think) Mean Machines Sega, which was one of the few British gaming magazines available here in Australia back when I was a teenager in the 90s. I remember the ads quite well, because they were actually genuinely amusing. I had no idea they were by Brooker, who has become one of my all time favourite comedians/commentators, alongside David Mitchell.


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