Review by Frank Plowright
With the UK once again overseen by a long term Conservative government, it seems right to look back at an earlier time when that was the case via You Are Maggie Thatcher. Polarising throughout the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher was nonetheless elected UK Prime Minister three times despite her policies considerably broadening the gulf between rich and poor. Like the 2020s Conservatives, she sold aspiration by setting people against each other, and it’s safe to say writer Pat Mills despises her. Artist Hunt Emerson doesn’t seem too fond either, drawing on both Steve Bell’s newspaper strip version and the Spitting Image TV show puppet for his caricature.
Beyond the opening explanatory pages, You Are Maggie Thatcher makes no sense if read sequentially. It’s a game book, with the reader cast as Maggie, and prompted into making the decisions that she would to increase her popularity and ensure another election win. Mills offers the options, and once the decision is made the reader turns to the appropriate page to discover the result, and continues from there.
Despite Maggie and her ministers now having faded into history, many of the problems Mills references remain contemporary. Deciding whether or not to ally with a US invasion, to continue with nuclear power, or to manipulate statistical figures all have 21st century equivalents, and the malicious glee with which Emerson caricatures the ministers gives them a personality whether or not you know who they are. He also puts a lot of effort into the rest of the art, filling the pages with montages or packed panels of rampaging police mobs or the consequences of a nuclear meltdown, and there’s a great nod to Heironymus Bosch.
Mills manages to keep his vitriol in check through the awareness that for every outcome where Maggie is successful, there’s one where she comes a cropper, these illustrated by Emerson for maximum embarrassment. One imagines the page of her tied to the ground and being force-fed manure still hangs in Mills’ office somewhere. His triumphs and disasters are creative, and what seems to be one may ultimately be the other, which is clever, and he’s equally scathing about the quality of the political opposition, in case that matters. There are nods to Psycho, a rhyming sequence and a truly monstrous Maggie.
This isn’t the career defining work of either creator, but working through the game remains fun, and despite only being 86 pages, there’s a density due to the effort on Emerson’s part in bringing Mills’ scenarios to life.