Tuesday, February 13, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #13: Diggle Talks Pt. 2

Ten years ago Andy Diggle joined 2000 AD as assistant editor, his first job in comics. He's now a rising star for US publishers like DC and Virgin, with a string of accolades for his writing. Yesterday I ran interview extracts from a conversation we had via email for my forthcoming THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD book. Now, here's some more home truths...


While I was still just the Assistant Editor, David gradually let me have more influence over the direction the stories were taking, I suppose because he could see that’s what I was passionate about. I started requesting outlines from the writers before they began scripting, so we could try to fix any plot problems before they arose. I remember thinking that Tor Cyan and his mysterious background was far more interesting than the rest of Mercy Heights. I just didn’t think a hospital drama belonged in 2000 AD - our heroes should PUT people in the hospital, not work there.

So I asked John Tomlinson to take Cyan out of the wards and put him in a warzone. I saw a lot of dramatic potential in this character, who was created to kill, struggling to overcome his baser instincts. What he needed was a quest. So we hit upon the idea of him heading out into the galaxy to discover how he was related to the original Rogue Trooper. Unfortunately, the story never really took off, largely because John was working full time at the BBC and couldn’t devote as much time to it as he would have liked. Still, Kev Walker and Colin Wilson produced some absolutely stunning artwork for the series.

Andy volunteered to work with Pat Mills on the synopsis for Slaine: The Secret Commonwealth, getting the character back to his roots and less like Doctor Who with an axe...

The time-travel element had been present in Slaine ever since the battle with the Time Monster in the very first episode, as Pat was quick to point out. Nevertheless, there was a widespread feeling that the saga had begun to lose its way since Slaine’s “death” and subsequent travels through time. I asked Pat to come up with a “back to basics” story which would return Slaine to the Celtic milieu which was so much a part of the strip’s lasting appeal.

I loved the idea of Slaine returning to his own time, only to find his kingdom soured by the last vestiges of the Drune Lords. Unfortunately, I felt the initial structure was a bit back-to-front. Pat’s outline for the epic originally started with a huge battle, and ended with a peaceful ceremony in which everyone made friends. It just seemed a bit... anticlimactic. Pat worked very hard to give me the kind of story I’d asked for, but as he himself put it, “The well was running dry.”’

Diggle sought out former 2000 AD creators whose work he admired and lured them back to the comic...

I approached Steve Moore because I’d loved the Pressbutton and Shandor stories he wrote for Warrior. Red Fang was one of the first series I ever commissioned. Steve had it pretty much plotted out when I first met up with him, so I just let him get on with it. At that point I was still learning how to strike the balance between too much editorial input and too little. With Red Fang, I think there was probably too little.

Diggle became editor in July 2000, as the comic was being taken over by Rebellion...

The first thing I did as editor was to issue a mission statement to try and enthuse the creators, a kind of “manifesto” on how to make 2000 AD great again. It’s all about giving the readers a fast, dense hit of action and imagination - a “shot-glass of rocket fuel,” as I put it. I thought 2000 AD had lost its sense of its own identity in the 1990s, lost sight of its core appeal, and I wanted to bring back the old-school vibe while still keeping it fresh and original. I think it’s the editor’s job to lead from the front, to give the creators a sense of what to aim for. I wanted to strike the right balance between classic characters from veteran creators and new strips from new talent.

But the transition from one management to another created problems, not least because 2000 AD was still based in the offices of its former owner, Egmont...

I later heard from another editor that I’d been described as a “trouble-maker” by the Egmont management. This editor had apparently been told that being seen to be friends with me might harm his career at Egmont. So yeah, I think it’s safe to say we didn’t quite fit in.

As soon as Rebellion bought the comic, Egmont withdrew all support from us - with the exception of Production Controller Sarah Colley - despite the fact that they were still officially publishing 2000 AD under licence. Suddenly, all the PR and marketing, licensing, advertising, archiving, distribution and so forth - in other words, the work of a publishing company - fell to [assistant editor] Matt [Smith] and I, in addition to editing a 32-page weekly comic. We were pretty much left to fend for ourselves, and found ourselves constantly putting out fires.

Fast forward eighteen months and Diggle decided to resign. He had scripted a popular strip for the Judge Dredd Megazine called Lenny Zero, and wanted to pursue his dream of being a writer...

I’d never intended to make a career out of editing, but I was surprised by how quickly I became jaded. I took it upon myself to try and turn 2000 AD around, but eventually I felt I’d done as much as I could with it. The editorial budget was just as tight as it had been at Egmont, and pages rates and contractual issues made it almost impossible to win back creators who’d been lured away by American publishers. At the same time, it was hard finding new writing talent. I’d published the creators’ guidelines and instigated the Pitch Fest at DreddCon and Bristol to give new writers a better chance to get a foot in the door, but in the end there just weren’t enough hours in the day to nurture new talent.

Meanwhile, the wonderful changes which had been promised by Rebellion were happening too slowly - if at all - for my notoriously limited patience. I was unhappy with the way certain aspects of the business were being handled ... I felt frustrated and powerless. Lenny Zero had made me realise I’d much rather be writing than editing, so rather than just sit there and whine about it, I decided to put my money where my mouth was.

He did return to 2000 AD as a writer with Snow/Tiger, a heady mixture of high-octane action and post-9/11 geo-politics. What inspired that series?

Short answer: George Walker Bush. Longer answer: It actually started out as a spec HAWK AND DOVE pitch for Vertigo. I just wanted to write something that felt very current, right up to the edge of the present. We were living in strange and dangerous times, and I wanted to capture that in an action story. When Vertigo turned it down for being “too mainstream”, I just filed the serial numbers off and re-tooled it for 2000AD. But I think the tone of it - that mix of widescreen action and current affairs - probably fed quite effectively into the creation of THE LOSERS.

2000 AD was commissioning a lot of 46-page stories during this period. What - if any - problems did this cause you while writing Snow/Tiger?

None at all. I’d originally planned it to be 88 pages in US format, a mixture of paranoid politics and extreme violence - so I just took out the politics and left the extreme violence. Hey, it’s 2000AD!

Looking back on the series, how well did it achieve what you set out to do?

Well enough, I suppose. It was never meant to be anything more than a bit of dumb fun, to be honest, and I suppose it succeeded in that. Looking back, it’s all a bit corny and clichéd, and the characters are horribly one-dimensional. But there’s a part of me that always tries to see both sides of an argument, and to defend points of view that I don’t necessarily agree with, and I think that came across to a degree. The fact that the story pissed people off on both sides of the political spectrum suggests I probably pitched it about right. One reader got really wound up, claiming the story must be anti-American because villain was American, apparently without noticing that the world-saving hero was American too. People just see what they want to, I guess.

If I ever do more SNOW/TIGER, it’d be nice to develop the characters more, immerse them in a far more morally ambiguous situation and just let them figure it out for themselves. Make it more of a slow burn. But that kind of storytelling doesn’t lend itself well to a format where something has to blow up every six pages.

What are the chances of further Snow/Tiger stories in the future?

I’d love to write more, and I’d love for Andy Clarke to draw it - but sadly it’s all about paying the mortgage right now, and I’m still selling my soul for the Yankee dollar. Maybe after I’ve burned all my bridges in America I’ll come crawling back to Tharg with my cap in my hands. Time will tell.

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