Sunday, July 30, 2006

Revitalise an industry? Me?

Just finished my answers to a Q&A about the British comics industry for a scribe writing an article for Nude magazine [no, its not that kind of magazine - Nude bills itself as going beyond the counter-culture]. The first question kind of threw. Here's the question, with my endlessly wittering reply below it...
You are credited with revitalizing an industry in decline. What are your memories of the state of the comic scene you were entering and how did you begin to reverse the tide?

I wish I could claim to have revitalised an industry in decline. The harsh reality is that British comics were no better off when I resigned from editing 2000 AD in the summer of 2000 than they were when I became assistant editor on the soon to be launched Judge Dredd Megazine in the summer of 1990. I’d like to my efforts as an editor helped keep the Megazine and latterly 2000 AD going through a troubled decade for British comics.

When I joined the British industry in 1990, there was an upsurge of interest in comics. The hyping of graphic novels like Maus, Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns in late Eighties created media awareness that comics weren’t just for kids anymore. There were comics for grown-ups, like Deadline, Crisis and Revolver. American companies started setting up UK branches, while local publishers got excited about the opportunities. There was a bubble of genuine enthusiasm, fuelled by significant investment from the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman. Comics were hip, thanks to characters like Judge Dredd, Tank Girl and The Bogie Man, all about to cross over on to film or TV.

Within five years the bubble had well and truly burst. The Dredd and Tank Girl films flopped, while the BBC’s adaptation of Bogie Man [starring a pre-Cracker Robbie Coltrane] sank without trace. All those British branch offices closed down or were sold off, all those daring new comics for grown-ups got cancelled. The second half of the Nineties was a shite period, which most of the British industry spent hanging on by its fingernails, hoping things would get better.

The Megazine spent much of the Nineties on Egmont Fleetway’s kill or cure list, never more than a few issues away from cancellation – but it survived. 2000 AD celebrates its 30th anniversary in February, something that seemed impossible in the Nineties. A managing director predicted the weekly would fall below breakeven by the end of 1996. Ten years on from that death sentence, it’s still going. I’d like to believe I had a role in keeping the last great British adventure comic alive. But I suspect my greatest contribution was finding and nurturing new British comics talent.

When 2000 AD was launched in 1977, it captured lightning in a bottle. There was a generation of new talent waiting for it, many of whom had been working for underground comics, unable to find an outlet for the sort of subversive, multi-layered stories they wanted to tell. Writers like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Mark Millar, Garth Ennis and Alan Grant could never have transformed US comics without 2000 AD giving them a place to emerge, to hone their craft and let loose their imaginations. Artists like Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, Kevin O’Neill and Simon Bisley became US stars thanks to their time at 2000 AD.

But by 1990, it appeared to many creators that 2000 AD had become a closed shop. My mentor Steve MacManus – who edited 2000 AD during its golden age in the early Eighties – told me when I joined the industry it was my duty to search out the next generation of great British talent. As a consequence, I helped launch and/or nurture the careers of Andy Diggle, Robbie Morrison, Frank Quitely, Trevor Hairsine, Dean Ormston, Peter Doherty and Simon Fraser. I’m happy to say my successors have carried on that responsibility, finding yet more wonderful talent, such as Frazer Irving, Simon Spurrier and Rob Williams.

1 comment:

Simon Fraser said...

For HEEEEES a Jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good feeeelow...

And so say all of US. Oy!