Thursday, February 01, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #1.1: Pat Mills Unplugged

Back in December 2001 I start researching the history of 2000 AD for a proposed series of articles to coincide with the comic's silver jubilee in February 2002. That project kept getting bigger and bigger, eventually becoming 15 articles published over a many months in the Judge Dredd Megazine. I've since revised, expanded and updated those articles for a book called THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD, due out this spring. It was crucial for those articles that I secure interviews with creators and editorial staff from 2000 AD's logn history, especially those who were there at the start. The key person I had to get was Pat Mills, launch editor and writing dynamo responsible for so much of 2000 AD's continuing success. Pat agreed to be interviewed via email and we began a long correspondence. Here's the beginnings of what Pat sent me as we started the process...


I think there has been a lot of revisionism on the history of 2000 AD, because the reality doesn't often suit the neat image many would like to present. (e.g. origins of Dredd). I think the only condition I would make is I would really like an undertaking that my thoughts on creators (like John and Ezquerra, Angie and myself) and their importance would be covered fairly fully.

I think creators have often been overshadowed by developers (McMahon, Bolland etc). It's not to take away from the developers' importance which was crucial. But it's to try and put a spanner in the works of the revisionists - like Titan; where sometimes, reading their intros, you think Ezquerra doesn't count and that it took the developers to make Dredd an icon. That is terribly, terribly, unfair on Carlos ( who created Mega City) and John, too - because it's like his writing was secondary, which isn't so.

Similarly Mach One, antique as he is now, was the rock 2000 AD was built on in the vital first three months - not Dredd. That's unpalatable, even to me, but very true and very important. (I deliberately and calculatedly came up with a low brow MacDonalds burger character for instant gratification. I knew Dredd would be over some of the readers heads to start with) I In none of the cases I've quoted you can see I've anything to gain by saying this other than the truth and the knowledge of how difficult painful it is to start with a blank sheet of paper and create something from nothing. Although in Mach One's case I knew if I carried on writing, it would have probably been as popular, maybe maintained its lead over Dredd. I stopped after the first three months writing it or getting others to write my stories. It was too exhausting. The subsequent Mach One stories were average, so it died the death. There is a long precedent for the instant-hit character like Mach One in boys comics and really we fumbled the ball there.

Coming back to Creators... they really have been overshadowed by developers and this really needs reversing. I've always called myself a developer of Dredd, although it's right on the edge in my case, and I could easily have classified myself as a co-creator way back. But, partly for karmic reasons, and also as a creator myself, I knew that John coming up with the idea, however embryonic (and whatever its origins - some of which it would be foolish to record in print, but I might tell you strictly off the record), even though he didn't like Carlos's version, and his walking off the set when the publishers went back on a deal doesn’t matter. That embryo idea is what really counted.

I think its why I'm so hostile when occasionally another writer helps himself to one of my stories - Flesh recently - because I can remember how much time I put into starting it. Cursed Earth is also an interesting area - some of the issues that raises don't fit the official and revisionist view of Judge Dredd. Put simply, the lesson of the Cursed Earth and its huge popularity, was not learnt, so - as far as I know – the revisionist view tended to play down the great opportunities it presented in terms of character and dramatic development to the point where the city is often now seen as a hero, rather than the hero. In my view that was a mistake, the sustained popularity and longevity of the character and its merchandising ability obscures the mistake, but doesn't cancel it out - hence one of the reasons why they had so many problems with the film scripts on Dredd.

Everyone got used to the character walking with a creative limp so they don't notice now, but any professional writing editor would confirm the character has a limp. No one has ever wanted to grasp the nettle on things like this and, of course, the passage of time makes it almost irrelevant now, a different road has been taken, but I know as a creator that whatever problems aren't resolved in the opening issue of a character will haunt that character in perpetuity. Those problems on Dredd of course go right back to the beginning and the difficulties I had getting it okayed by management.

The official history says Kelvin Gosnell was a junior staffer at IPC, saw an article in the Evening Standard in 1975 predicting sci-fi would be big in 1977 and he suggested launching a sci-fi themed boys' adventure weekly. You and he were given the go-ahead, him on staff, you freelance. Reality or fiction?

It has that whiff of revisionism which I notice constantly cropping up in 2000 AD's history where facts get bent around generally to minimise or lessen individuals input to fit some agenda-driven retro-perspective. Kelvin suggested the idea to me. I passed his proposal on to Sanders, the publisher. He gave me the go-ahead. Kelvin remained in the competitions department while I spent a long, lonely, frustrating and very stressful year creating the thing entirely alone - and getting a lot of back-stabbing by editorial morons who wanted the comic to fail, because it showed up their own inadequacies. I was entirely solo apart from very brief periods of input from John Wagner and Doug Church.

Having got the okay from the board of directors, (an extremely difficult job, which involved conning a bunch of old men who should have been publishing Boy’s Own Paper) I then drew closer to launch date and knew I would need an editor. Although I could have edited it myself, I had no desire to do this because this would have involved compromise; something I refuse to do. I had an extremely low opinion of the editors available to me at that time. I had with great reluctance in the past appointed two editors to be my successors on two past successful projects - Battle and Action. I really didn't want one of the losers (or rip off merchants) available to be editor of 2000 AD; the animosity towards me as an outsider which I kind of enjoyed meant the powers that be would have done their best to screw the comic up (and later they came very close).

I felt I owed Kelvin something for suggesting the idea (which he hadn't been paid for) so I then asked him for be to be appointed editor designate. He started shortly before the comic was ready to be launched and his input was valuable on Mach One - because of his technical knowledge; and Dan Dare - because of his science fiction knowledge. I stayed on the comic until the 12th week, by which time I was sure the comic was a success despite the internal war of hatred against us by the comic establishment. I felt it was therefore safe to place the comic in Kelvin's hands and depart back to freelance-land. By now I'd had three successes. The publisher wanted me to start a fourth - a comic that later became Misty. But I wanted to spend more time with my family, so I said no and was only involved as a consultant.

How, when and by whom were you approached about the project that became 2000 AD?

Sanders wanted a third success - if it hadn't been 2000 AD it would have been something else. Because I had the track record, he knew I could make it work. I realised science fiction would be hellishly difficult to do, so I thought about reviving Dan Dare. I nearly got away with web off set colour, but got my ass kicked by Sanders for approaching another publisher to try and arrange this. He was probably right to do so. As you can see, the atmosphere at the time was a jungle with everyone jealously guarding their power-patch. The only guy I had any respect for was Sanders; the others I thought should have been traffic wardens.

Having come up with the idea of reviving Dan Dare, a guy who owned the rights to Dan Dare at the time, Paul Da Savery, got interested. He tried to buy the comic out and involve me in a share of the profits. A complex deal that's maybe not worth itemising here? This prospect interested John – he and I would finally get a percentage for all our hard graft (which shows how naive we both were about publishers) and that's when he came aboard, bringing Dredd with him. When the deal collapsed, he left and was right to do so. I think he felt betrayed and I think that was true. I felt the same way and I told John Sanders I'd had enough - I was going back to freelancing. John was desperate to keep me - because there really was no one else who could write and edit and make the vision of 2000 AD happen; no one had the skills or the experience; Kelvin was in competitions and had only written a couple of stories for Action. Everyone else was the establishment. Sanders had seen enough to know he was about to get something special. He tried hard to persuade me, but I was quite determined to walk away.

Then he offered me a very large sum of money per week to do it, which would still be pretty good by today's standards - e.g. you could comfortably live on it now

It was worth the misery - so back I went to do 2000 AD. Because I was being paid such a large sum, it made me work even harder. Otherwise I'd have felt so guilty if it bombed which the traffic wardens at IPC were praying it would. I really owed John Sanders for having faith in me and I was determined not to let him down.


wcdixon said...

Monster posts man...awesome.

SK said...

Very interesting. One question: as someone who went through a Dredd phase in the mid-90s (mainly fired by Stephen Marley's excellent Dreddlocked), but was never a huge fan, I wondered what exactly you thought the 'creative limp' Mills refers to is, and how it relates to the Cursed Earth aspect of the setting, and what the 'revisionist' version of this history is? Mills writes as if everybody interested will already know at least the official story, which may be in general true, but I dont' and I still find it intriguing.