Here's another helping of interview transcript with Steve MacManus, one of 2000 AD's longest serving and best editors. It begins with him recalling when Robin Smith left and the comic lost the right to have its own, full-time art editor in the mid 80s...
IPC did introduce a bullpen system but I thought that was more around 85. Robin would know, he’s the guy who left. What happened was the MD said he had plans to introduce a bullpen system. Robin said that’s not cool for 2000 AD. The guy didn’t listen and bullpen system was introduced when we moved to Irwin House, end of 85, early 86. When we moved there, that was the opportunity to put all the designers in one room. It meant Simon and I were on our own, so they’d ripped the heart out of the four-man team, by stripping out the designers. You never quite knew who was going to be letrasetting the title that week. Often it would come in as though they were designed Roy of the Rovers or Tiger, it would be awful.
Debut of Glenn Fabry on Slaine in Time Killer. Where did Glenn come from?
As I understand it, he was working as a petrol pump monkey near where he lived in Shepperton. He sent Pat some samples, who sent them on to us. Maybe Pat even said I’ve written Time Killer and I think I’ve got two artists for it – this guy Fabry and Dave Pugh.
Towards the end of 85 there’s the final Wagner/Grant/Gibson Robo-Hunter story, Farewell my Billions (435-443). It’s not in the official 2000 AD index and I don’t know if it’s ever been reprinted. Your recollections of this?
That’s the one where he’s very old and Ian drew him a bit like Ernest Hemingway. The big beard, fat. Him and Hoagy were on a desert island or something…
Letter from a Democrat – Alan Grant says it was originally about protesting nudists but editorial asked for it to be changed. So it became a political story, starting the democracy saga…
I’ve no idea. Another good editorial decision! (irony)
What can you remember about Diceman? A Simon Geller & Pat Mills project?
That had its origins when Pat did a series of Slaine – Time Killer. At the end of each story was a two-page role-playing format that Gary Leach did. At that time, Games Workshop guys were writing roleplaying books. Pat experimented with the concept in Slaine. That went down quite well. That turned Simon on hugely and I think he said to Pat why don’t you make a magazine out of this? Simon and Pat worked bloody hard on this thing, dealing with Gil Page. A few issues were published but I don’t think Simon or Pat got much backing. It hadn’t really been done before.
Wulf got killed off in Max Bubba (#465) – a turning point for Strontium Dog?
When you’re a sidekick for Johnny Alpha, the odds are you’re going to get killed off. That sacrifice was brilliant because it led to Rage, where Johnny hunted down the people who killed Wulf. Twenty-one parts. That was just brilliant, everyone was right there behind Johnny, urging him on to get the guys who killed Wulf. In that sense it was worth it. It provided a huge amount of mileage for the strip.
Simon remembers being around for the making of Prog 500 cover – he says getting your art on the front was a big deal – recollections?
He was around for that. 500 came out in December 86. He didn’t leave until January. I think Robin did the design and every artist had a square to fill with their character. They came in about half-up, so the actual artwork wasn’t very big. Each square could sit in the palm of your hand. We photostatted them as they came in and pin them on a chessboard. Each day you’d come in and somebody had thought no, I’ll just move him there. We were all moving bits around, trying to get the right effect. But I still don’t think the final thing was right. There was a couple of characters on the back that should have been on the front. I’m not sure Tharg deserved to be on the front.
How did Bad Co go from a Wagner/Grant/Ezquerra strip to Milligan et al?
I don’t think Mad Tommy was in the original Wagner/Grant strip. I’m convinced it’s something we suggested to Pete as a laugh. The name is more of a Milligan name, because he’s called Mad Tommy Churchill – that’s a very Milligan name.
It was drawn by Brett Ewins. His experience on Rogue suggested him as the perfect war artist. You’d have to ask Pete how that came back, I’m not sure. Bad Co was originally done for the Judge Dredd dummy that didn’t happen, so everything that was done was put in the drawer and over time fished out for repurposing, as its called now.
There was no call to bring Bad Company out of the drawer because Rogue was doing so well. I guess once Rogue went into The Hit, it stopped being a future war strip. I guess that opened the way for Bad Company…
Durham Red introduced in Strontium Dog: Bitch – a replacement for Wulf? Durham originally to be called Chelsea Blue?
We never knew about that. We were just happy to get their female Strontium Dog introduced. She was probably introduced as a replacement for Wulf, as least partially…
Early 87 – you go on sabbatical – Burt (Richard Burton) becomes editor, Alan McKenzie joins as freelance assistant. Were you happy to leave 2000 AD to them?
I wasn’t sick of the sniping so much as shell-shocked. First we were four in IPC. Then they moved us to this awful building, where we became two. Then Simon left and I became one. At the time, people were leaving – one kind of felt quite alone. I threw in the towel, said that’s it, I’m going. They said steady on, why don’t you go to America for three months and come back with an idea for a new comic. I said alright then. Richard was there, we brought him in. He brought Alan in to help him and I went off. March 23rd and came back on the 14th June – two weeks early. That’s not even 12 weeks.
For the people in the office, they blinked and I was back – you know how quick time goes on a weekly. For me it felt quite a long time, ten weeks.
DR & Quinch agony pages – did you have anything to do with that?
I think that was Richard and Alan…
Maxwell acquiring Fleetway in July 1987 – what do you recall about that? Was it thought a good thing or a bad thing? Were you aware IPC had tried to sell the comics division to DC?
That’s right, that Summer Maxwell bought the company when I got back. His son came over and said I’ve bought you all. It’s all going to be jolly good. Work hard! When you’re on 2000 AD, you’re quite insulated, you’re in your own little bubble. It didn’t seem to matter who owned us. No-one ever really interfered. But by the same token, they never really bothered about you. You couldn’t win freedom, but you couldn’t get someone to say we’ll surrender rights and stuff. I don’t think I was particularly bothered.
When I got back they asked me for the dummy. I said I didn’t have one. So I sat in an office, far away from 2000 AD, working on ideas. That’s what I was doing all that time, I wasn’t really involved with 2000 AD. (Sell to DC?) I wasn’t aware of that. Often you’re the last to know, when you work within the building.
I seem to recall you saying Zenith was the first thing Grant Morrison ever pitched to you, but you made him write Future Shocks first before letting him script a series – true or false?
That’s probably true, but you’d need to talk to Grant. I know Steve Yeowell had done a Future Shock. When I got back, a couple of episodes had been written and drawn. (Prologue script sent to Brendan March 10.) I must have sent that to Brendan. Only I would have written Superhero in the mark-up book. That’s me, then. I must have sent out the scripts, or maybe just for him to do the designs.
How radical was the idea of 2000 doing a superhero strip like Zenith?
The way Grant explained it and the way Brendan designed it, Zenith didn’t look like a superhero strip. It looked like a very cool guy with, at first glance, a wicked pair of shades. The basis of it was set in WWII which was home territory for me and readers of British comics. It was done so straight and so perfectly. It was a story in the classic 2000 vein, characters with weird sides to them. It didn’t feel like an American superhero story at all. It felt very English and perfect for 2000.
At the beginning of 1988 Wagner & Grant split their writing partnership. Alan began writing Strontium Dog and Anderson solo, while John wrote Dredd and other strips. What effect did this have on 2000 AD?
Alan really seemed to get into Stront – The Final Solution, that was a long story.
ABC Warriors return with sms and Bisley on art. Nine years since first ABC series – why so long? What was reader response like to Bisley?
I wasn’t anything to do with that. I do remember a conversation with Simon where I said how are you going to ink. Simon said I’ll probably ink it with a piece of bread or something. Simon was the ultimate I’ll use anything to create my work artist.
Luke Kirby was originally written for Eagle but Alan showed it to Richard who bought it for 2000. How well did it fit in the comic?
Don’t know anything about that (Kirby from Eagle). Their description of it was 2000 AD does Rupert the Bear. I thought this’ll be interesting! It didn’t happen for me personally but I’m not really into magical stories myself.
During 1988 Deadline launched – what effect did this have on the 2000 AD editorial group? A need to raise the game?
That was interesting. They launched Deadline and they sent Jamie (Hewlitt) and Philip (Bond) round to us to show their work. I thought it was just brilliant, pre-Tank Girl. It was all there. I didn’t think it was right for 2000 AD. Crisis and Deadline were two very different things. But as a whole, they said the British market is full of creativity again. The whole market perked up after years of slow decline. Igor Goldkind created this scene, orchestrated it out of nothing – young adult comics are hip.
Prog 589 – glossy, separate covers – more colour pages inside – keeping up with the competition or essential action?
It had changed size, which meant it shifted from letterpress to litho printing. So it had the option to have more colour and separate covers. That was probably organic, but Richard would have been pushing for that. He was always very good at trying to get the company to give him a better quality of paper for the magazine. Being the editor of 2000 AD at that point did give him some clout to unclench the purse strings.