'Where did she go? Out. What did she do? Everything.'*
When I was little, my family and I would go and stay at my parents’ friends’ house in a small village in the heart of the English countryside. They were the cookie-cutter cool and hip couple, with two elderly cats, an authentic 1970s set of egg chairs (the ones from Men in Black, you know?), and a house that was a mix of rustic Victorian architecture and distressed modern. They were also big fans of comic books, with Edward Gorey volumes stacked up in the toilet. It was through the visits to their house that I first met Halo. She was on the wall of the spare bedroom, immortalised on black paper in white pencil, and signed by the artist (!), measuring in at A2 paper standards. At the time, she was possibly one of the creepiest things I could have looking at me when I was trying to get to sleep. I had no idea who she was and why these weird people had a poster of her on their wall.
It wasn’t until I read the first book of Halo Jones that I finally understood. The first copy of The Ballad of Halo Jones was published in 1984 by British comic house 2000 AD, and the story was written by Alan Moore (of Watchmen fame) and illustrated by Ian Gibson. From the first page of Halo Jones, depicted in erratic strokes of ink, it is obvious what the theme of the series is- escape. I could see why my parents’ friend liked her, in their rural family home. The attraction of Halo is that she is an ordinary girl- only eighteen when the story begins- who is stuck in a rut on an impoverished space colony called the Hoop. There is no convoluted backstory about her being the destined queen of an ancient civilisation, or a gun-toting, wise-cracking ‘strong female character’ (although those can be good, if done well). In the beginning, she simply lives in a flat with her best friend Rodice, her guardian Brinna, and Brinna’s robot dog, Toby. I have not read any other pieces of Alan Moore’s work, and therefore cannot judge for myself if it is really problematic, but what he manages to create with Halo Jones is a female character that is emotional, believable, and who changes her life completely after a personal tragedy by taking initiative and escaping the mundane world she lives in.
Halo Jones is a comic strip that focuses on females, but does not fall into the same old trap of pitting women against each other, specifically over the attention of a man. What we get instead are close relationships between women (namely between Halo and Rodice, and later between Halo and Toy Molto) that even have potential to become something more romantic, even though it is tragic when moments like these comes around. There is even an appearance of character that could be seen as genderqueer: the Glyph, who ultimately saves Halo’s life and identifies as neither a man or a woman, having swapped so many times before they cannot remember. Halo’s character design is typically attractive, but she is not over-sexualised, and neither are her relationships with her female friends, which are more poignant than anything else. To keep on with the theme of character design, tumblr has recently been afire with fans of cartoons (rightly) complaining about the fact certain animators find it ‘too hard’ to add diversity in body types in their female characters, even when there are animated films with huge casts of men that all vary hugely in appearance. In Halo Jones, we are introduced to Toy Molto, the towering, muscled hostess on board the space ship Clara Pandy, the rough and ready members of the all-female battalion that Halo joins, the old woman indigenous to the planet Moab who refuses to leave it until her cause is won.
You can see why I was sort of obsessed with it. You know that one kid who has discovered one thing, and suddenly wants everyone to know about it too? Yeah, that kid was me. To me, Halo Jones symbolised freedom, the power of initiative, and also the power of normal people. Halo is bored and unhappy, and decides to do something about it. She does not experience a perfect life after leaving the Hoop- far from it. She is attacked, becomes the aggressor, has a period in which she shaves all of her hair off and gets drunk a lot, but she comes out of it wiser, and in ownership of her own destiny (not like that, Britney). The Ballad of Halo Jones only occupies three books, but for that I am glad (apparently they were going to have a fourth book in which she became some sort of slave and tbh I don’t think I could deal with that) (also Ian Gibson started selling a topless print of her, which apparently was part of an idea for a further story. Don’t defile my heroine, Gibson ), especially since the end of the third book is so open-ended. I won’t spoil it in case you decide to read it.
So here’s to Halo Jones, heroine of my blossoming teenage years, and oft over looked spacewoman. In a way, Halo Jones’ lack of celebrity in the world of sci-fi comics is rather fitting- at the beginning of book two, she is quoted as saying ‘Anyone could have done it’ when speaking about her adventures. And that is the true message of Halo Jones, and more specifically, for her female readers. Halo is not extraordinary. Halo is a normal woman you could meet on a normal street in a normal town. If Halo Jones can escape a life that does not fit her, so can you.
*tagline for The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson
song of the day: something that might fit well in the soundtrack of a film adaptation of halo jones