I interviewed dozens of creators for THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD, my forthcoming tome about the history of 2000 AD, some of them up to half a dozen times. Pat Mills is the comic's creative father, the man who pulled it all together at the start and who continues to be an important contributor to the weekly thirty years later. He sent me vast screeds of his opinions and memories via email. Here's another extract from those no-holds-barred communications...
THE THOUGHTS OF PAT MILLS #2
What's the biggest myth about the development and launch of 2000 AD?
Dredd being the reason for its success. Dredd's popularity came later once the comic was a proven success. We knew it would happen, and it deserved it, although I still have strong views about an all stars comic, but if there was a star in the early issues, it was Mach One. I personally revel in this because it proves my darkest theories , most of which are unrepeatable here - although I may have hinted at it earlier!
In conversation with Kevin [O'Neill], I recalled a couple of things you might find useful: We all hated the space spinner free gift; which we rightly regarded as too young. This brought me into a clash with Peter Lewis the free gifts manager, who I'd already clashed with on Battle and Action. On Battle, I wanted to have free German stickers featuring Rommel's Afrika, Iron crosses etc. Peter, who had a magnificent military moustache and was the holder of the military cross threatened to resign if I got my way. I pointed out to him on Battle that we'd get lots of bikers reading battle if we gave away German stickers. He said we didn't want to attract those kind of readers. Sadly I lost.
So when it came to 2000 AD, I was all set to really fight to get away from the wretched stuff he wanted us to use (they had a warehouse of the bloody spinners already). We persuaded him to accept the biotronic stickers; but he refused my idea of brain bags as a free gift . Like the Mars Attacks aliens, kids would have stuck pulsating brain brags over their heads with gruesome eyeholes. I am convinced we'd have sold even more copies of 2000AD if we went for that. I know some readers avoided issue one because they thought the spinner was so naff. That's one of my big regrets. I should have fought him harder and had a different cover for Prog One.
You didn't ask me about press and media reaction - there were many interesting aspects there. For example, Tomorrow's World were desperate to feature us as they heard about Tomorrow's comic today. But when they saw copies of the comic, they changed their mind. This caused us considerable amusement.
Ditto the Guardian's reaction to us... Michael Moorcock slagging us off in the Guardian along with other older generation people who loathed us... my hand delivered reply to the Guardian , writing as Tharg, (suggested by [John] Sanders), which that politically correct and humorless organ didn't print. Let me know if you want that story.
You've probably already realised from what you've heard that the real story of 2000 AD is the number of mindless morons who tried to screw it up - in my view quite deliberately ; rather than out of ignorance . Some further examples of this:
- We wanted to do a fan club - turned down
- Kevin brought in a Star Wars poster mag and said we should do the same. Yet another Managing Editor said "No. There would be no money in it"
Today, 2000 AD should be where Games Workshop is. Because we both started at roughly the same time. The fact that 2000 AD is not is directly down to the morons I've mentioned who thwarted us at every stage ; and it sounds like Kevin , Kelvin and others have mentioned. It may not seem so from your perspective, but in terms of what could have been, the incredible potential at the time , and what was lost, I would say the morons sadly won. That's why I say "Damn them to hell" and I hope you quote me on that!
During this Decembeer 2001 interview, Pat talked about the genesis of early 2000 AD series Invasion. He subsequently revived the strip in the weekly, renaming it Savage...
Fairly late in the day, when many of the launch 2000 AD stories had already been written, [publisher] John Sanders came to me with two politically motivated ideas. The first one I am not going to talk about it, because it's even more questionable in these politically correct days. I focussed more on his second idea. He wanted a story where the Russians invaded Britain. He wasn't interested in the characters as such, just the idea of an invasion. I asked why would the Russians invade Britain? "They're after our oil." I couldn't work up much emotion for the Russians as bad guys, so he told me to go away and read the Gulag Archipelago, which I did. I still felt lukewarm about the idea. He then ran down a scenario which included Margaret Thatcher being shot by a Russian Commissar on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral. Suddenly I was interested.
The character of Bill Savage, resistance leader, that followed now seems somewhat dated. But that kind of Sweeney/Callan/working class hero was popular at the time. A similar character, Dredger, was very popular in Action. More importantly, I've always felt there was huge potential in resistance stories. It didn't matter if it was Germans, aliens or Russians. Look at the Matrix. The idea of your country being invaded by an external force is great dramatically. I did some research on it - there was a popular paperback series at the time along similar lines ; and there was a classic Orwellian style story about a Russian invasion. If you think of 1984, you can see the other possibilities. It was a story I wish I'd controlled and thought about more, and written more directly on later episodes. I think if I had it might have achieved more of its latent potential.
Although Invasion was only mildly futuristic, this was deliberate because science fiction - pre-Star Wars - had a bad name, particularly in comics. They were seen very negatively, not least by kids who regarded them, often quite rightly, as "stupid". Science fiction comics in Britain had died the death; super hero comics were not popular; and I knew why - they didn't follow certain rules of drama and character that were necessary - for a British sensibility at least. So it made sense to start with an identifiable world to get readers into science fiction and fantasy
After episode one, subsequent episodes were written by Gerry Finley-Day, I think, with some input from Kelvin and we may have written a few "in house" which was not uncommon. Probably some one-off episodes were written by various other writers
The dynamic realism of Blasco's art on Episode One was crucial . It looked great and gave the comic an immediate impact. On later episodes it was popular enough - middle of the road, which meant it had a following, but it was never a Mach One which was the top story in 2000 AD.
The change from Russians into Volgans, because John Sanders couldn't get away with the original idea, and the media reaction is a whole story in itself.