With the 28 Days of 2000 AD blogging project concluding tomorrow, here's a luxury length entry. This is the transcirpt for a 2002 interview with former assistant editor Simon Geller. He was Steve MacManus's right hand man during one of the weekly's most beloved periods, so getting his perspective was crucial for THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD. Happily, Simon provided some fresh insights into this classic spell for the comic. I began by asking what he was doing before joining the Nerve Centre...
I was working for IPC. My first job at IPC was writing photo love stories for a magazine called Photo Love. These were like comics, but with photographs of models and you put speech balloons on them. I worked on a series of teenage girl mags for about three years. Then I mentioned to a boss how fed up I was getting with it and he said you should go and get a job with 2000 AD!
I’d never walked on to the same floor. IPC was in a 30-storey tower block, it still is, but I never happened to have walked on to their floor before, so I didn’t know much about them. I suspect I was just plonked in there without anyone asking Steve MacManus, the editor, whether he thought it was a good idea or not. And there I was. That was it! The last one I worked on before going to 2000 AD was called Oh Boy!
How did you get the job on 2000 AD? Roughly when was this?
Roughly when was it is a bit of a challenge. I went round to Steve’s house a few weeks ago and we were trying to work out when it was. We didn’t get very far, I’m afraid. Sometime in the 80s. [Definitely before Robin Smith quit, end of 84.] It’s all a bit of a blur. Halo Jones – I was very much aware that Steve and I were in a minority for liking it, in the sense of it not being a big hit. I was there then. [DR & Quinch get their own series.] I was there for that. I never worked with Bolland, so I was post-Bolland. [Cry of the Werewolf. Steve Dillon artwork?] Don’t remember it but I used to work with Steve all the time. Steve was a bit a new artist when I was there. [Sláine starting?] I’d been there for a while when Sláine started.[Skizz – around then?] Definitely not. [So, second half of 83.]
According to legend, Halo Jones was a flop initially in 1984 and then became considered a classic later, after Books 2 and 3 in 85 & 86 – myth or reality?
Definitely not an initial classic. Definitely lots of what the hell is this? Steve stuck to it and then it picked up speed and then people realised they were on to something special.
Were Moore & Gibson asked to put more action into Book II?
If they were asked, it was by Steve. I don’t remember really having that much to do with Alan at that stage. When I talked with Steve recently, he said I was instrumental in doing Halo Jones. That’s news to me! I think it was a team effort. Certainly, we – I don’t remember asking them to pep it up at all.
But if you think about it, I guess she was a very non-2000 AD or any other boys comic kind of character. The first book had a future shock feel to it which I think worked. But it was a girl and a fairly girlie girl at that. I’m not surprised. It definitely isn’t a myth, it was initially not well received.
Were you involved with creating the dummy for the Judge Dredd fortnightly?
Don’t remember that at all. I do remember the Judge Dredd Daily Star strips which were given to me. They were the bane of my life, because they were so appalling and the people at the paper were so appalling, but I don’t remember the Judge Dredd fortnightly at all. I’m surprised that that was when I was there.
The Star strip moved around a lot. They liked it a lot at the paper, it was very popular. I remember it as a Ron (Smith) job and I remember the Saturday thing [weekly, one-off stories, double-deck strips.]
The Dredd fortnightly line-up – Anderson gets a solo story, the original version of Bad Company by Wagner/Grant & Ezquerra, The Badlander by Alan Moore, Blood Cadet (with art by Ian Gibson), The Blockers (a one-page soap opera set in a citi-block with art by Casanovas) – what can you recall of these?
Bad Company I do remember. I did work with, it was my project with Pete. Bad Company from the start. If you’d said to me what are the origins of Bad Company, I would have said me and Pete Milligan sat down and created it – which just goes to show how reliable I am as a witness, really! Obviously I don’t remember or didn’t realise at the time that we hadn’t originated it.
Who replaced Robin Smith as art editor of 2000 AD?
I can’t remember! I remember Robin, I remember Robin’s wife Lucy. But I don’t remember somebody coming in to replace Robin. The posse I remember as a permanent foursome were me, Steve, Paul Leatherland and Robin. Somebody must have replaced Robin but I really don’t remember that.
I seem to remember what happened was they reorganised the comics division, shifted us out of IPC into a place called Irwin House across the road and put all the art people into one big room. In fact, art processing was not done as part of the comic’s editorial team.
[Mid 80s, IPC was looking to sell off comics division.] It was still IPC when I was there, I never worked for Maxwell or any of those other guys. I do remember transferring over to Irwin House, which was just over the other side of Stamford Street – a few minute’s walk. I remember being there for a good year. They had a big pooled art room, they shared the work.
[Irwin House a.k.a. Vermin House] I liked not being in the Tower – it made it so much quicker getting to the pub! And we did. It really was a lager-fuelled time. Lot of fun. I still refer to it as the best job I ever had.
Chopper becomes the Midnight Surfer in '85 – the most popular Dredd story of that year – art by Cam Kennedy – stand-out memories of this?
I remember that. I know it was very popular at the time. Cam, obviously, we’d been more used to using on Rogue Trooper. It wasn’t that outstanding a character for me. I thought it was okay, but a bit corny. The surfing thing didn’t do anything for me personally.
Reprint title Best of 2000 AD Monthly was launched in 1985 – whose idea? Why? How successful was it?
I don’t whose idea it would be. Could well have been a publisher figure or Steve’s idea. It was just taking advantage of reprint, but then the history of British comics is one that’s totally fuelled by reprint – especially Scottish comics.
Rogue Trooper finally tracked down the Traitor General in 1985, like the Fugitive getting the One Armed Man. Should that have been the end of Rogue?
He should never have been allowed to get him (the Traitor General). It was a mistake, in retrospect. Of course, it should have been the end. Once you’ve got him, it’s exactly like the Fugitive getting the one-armed man, that’s a really good analogy. You can’t then have Hey! Let’s have a one-legged man! But that’s exactly what we did, because he’s such a great character. Who wants to bury Rogue?
As I recall those days, it wasn’t so much a commercial thing. One of the things that was so exciting about 2000 – that it really was very creative. The conversations wouldn’t have been we can’t let Rogue die, the readers will be furious, or we won’t sell as many comics. They were more likely to be we love Rogue, he’s fantastic. We can’t let him go!
It was one of the things that made it such a good job. It really did feel a lot of the time like it wasn’t that commercial, so much as almost like fans. It felt like a creative thing, not a financial thing. It should have been the end of him, yes.
[So why did he find the Traitor General?] I don’t know. Almost certainly on a whim. So many decisions were. On a whim we might have said oh for pity’s sake! It would have been that terrible thing you do when you are a young journalist, I think. I’m fed up, so therefore it should happen. Rather than is the reader fed up yet? You don’t have that objectivity, when you’re younger.
Rewriting Gerry Finley-Day scripts seems to have been one of the banes of editorial life on 2000 AD. What can you remember of this?
I think Gerry came from an old school that also spawned Wagner and Mills and Grant. The difference being that those guys were able to become pop stars and Gerry was still rooted in the old hack days. But really they had an awful lot in common those guys, more so than not. More than the young up and comers like your Milligans who had no rooting in old fashioned comics and writing them.
So I would diss Gerry less than now than I did at the time when I was green and didn’t know what I was talking about. I think he was just an old school comic hack. Looking back, I see so many great qualities that at the time I didn’t recognise. He never complained about what we did to him or said to him. He was very prompt. He was okay – but they [Gerry scripts] were appalling things to have to edit. (laughs) It just wasn’t as much fun doing a Gerry Finley-Day thing as it was doing anything else. You were not going to pick up a GFD script and laugh or gasp. And, of course, that was exactly what you did with a Wagner & Grant script. They were a creative treat. Even Gerry’s best friend wouldn’t describe his work as a creative treat.
2000 AD had an amazingly stable line-up in 1985 with only two series – the Anderson solo strip originally planned for the Dredd fortnightly, and Mean Team by Alan Grant & Belardinelli – particular memories of these?
Loved Anderson, thought she was brilliantly drawn. Very sexy, very exciting, well worth the segue. I don’t really remember that much about Mean Team. The competition for stand-out memory is quite tough. The Wagner and Grant scripts for Dredd stand out. Halo Jones was stand out, some of the Sláine stuff too. Mean Team played a role but I don’t think it was stand out stuff.
By 1986 a new generation of writers begins to emerge on Tharg’s Future Shocks – people like Grant Morrison, John Smith, Neil Gaiman – how important was it for the comic to find new blood?
I don’t remember John Smith’s name, he may have been sending in Future Shocks when I was still there. We used FS as a training platform. That’s what its role was. It wasn’t because we though they were such sensational stories. It was a great way of seeing if someone’s any good – tell you what, mate, do us a FS – and then it was a great way of leading them from their into a series.
It was such a huge jump from I’ve never done anything and I’m living in an attic in Romford, to could you do a 12-part series for us? So FS became a very useful stepping stone. It gave them a chance to see what the discipline’s like. You can’t give us an excuse for not handing it in, you have to. I don’t remember a single FS that was worth the paper that it was printed on, but I do think they did produce people like – well actually Milligan I had a stronger relationship with than any of the names above. I would almost have a beer with Milligan.
[Finding new blood.] At the time it seemed absolutely vital. The recurring theme for me and Steve was that we were on the receiving end of permanent grumbling. Mills was the doyen of the moaners. All of them were into grumbling quite a lot. They were looking across the Atlantic, seeing how feted writers were over there, how great the rights deals were, how great the money was. There was a lot of permanent moaning.
So one had a sense of they’re doing us a favour bothering to write. So there was a sense of having to get new blood in with some urgency. [Full court press from DC, attending UKCAC etc.] Maybe that’s what we were reacting to. FS weren’t just for writers, they were for artists too.
I really rejected 2000 AD for five years after I walked away from it. It’s only now that I’ve got a more cazz (casual) attitude towards it.
By this time, you had all the hype surrounding Dark Knight, Watchmen, creator’s rights – creators leaving to work for DC and other US companies – was this becoming a major problem?
Quite right too, it was the Dark Ages. It was the DC Thomson approach and, quite rightly, they were kicking against it. Now it would never be stood for by anyone.
Diceman was a magazine version of the role-playing craze of the mid-1980s What can you remember about that?
It was my project. I don’t remember whose idea it was but Pat Mills was the key figure. Steve said okay, you go do that. I think he knew I was getting itchy feet by that stage. I was fantastically excited about Diceman, I thought it was a great idea – I still do. It didn’t sell enough to justify itself.
Pat was brilliant on that. He’s pretty passionate about anything he’s working on. He put so much into it, so much thought, so much research in it, so much work into it. I loved and still love that idea of the role playing magazine. Perhaps it’s absurd, but I love the idea of not knowing where you’re going to go next. I just thought it was very clever. I’ve got fantastic memories of Diceman, it was great.
One issue of Diceman featured Margaret Thatcher – why? How?
I’ve absolutely no idea. I do remember Pat being delighted at who was drawing it and seeing it was a coup to get them. I think it was somebody thought to be a great characterturist, which it had to be. I was so proud of it, I thought it was great.
Metalzoic was published in 1986, the first creator owned strip to run in 2000 AD after being previously published by DC. How did that come about?
Echoes of ABC Warriors I guess. I thought it was great, but I don’t remember much about it. [I operated on my own Brian.] It was a mis-print. The coverline was meant to read I operated on my own brain. When it came back from the colour house it said I operated on my own Brian. We changed it and after it had gone to press we suddenly realised Brian was funnier. That’s one of Steve’s big regrets.
Steve MacManus thinks you left sometime during 1986, before Prog 500 was published in December. Can you remember when you left?
He’s wrong about Prog 500. I remember the huge debates about which picture would go where on that quilt cover we did. Huge, huge kudos was to be had by being on the front page instead of the back page. Enormous discussions went into it. I was definitely there when that was done. But I may have gone soon after that.
One of the things that’s impossible to get across to people who’ve never been in the office when work’s come in, is how exciting it is when you look at it full size. The full size, the full colour – you thought these are works of art. I felt that way about the Prog 500 cover. So many outstanding pieces of art. And when they printed it you think oh, it looks crappy – because it’s crappy paper and it’s quite small. We were fantastically over-excited, I think it was one of Steve’s great achievement – but you wouldn’t think it to look at it. That was one of the frustrations about 2000 AD – the production values never matched the quality of the people working for it. Like asking Hitchcock to work with a handheld Polaroid. You could see the talent, but why aren’t people swooning?
I was definitely there then (for Prog 500) but I may have left shortly after that.
Why did you leave 2000 AD?
I think three years I was there. I’d always had a vision of doing what Pete Milligan was doing. I felt more advanced that Pete in knowing magazines and how they worked. I was conscious that he was being a fulltime, freelance writer and I thought that’s what I wanted to do. Then an old friend from my photo story days who had become an editor phoned me up and said did I want to be a deputy editor? So I left comics and went to work in magazines. That was Mizz, a proper magazine…
After you left 2000 AD, you took over writing Rogue Trooper. How did that come about?
Badly. I think I didn’t want to say goodbye to it. It was a fantastic time. Career-wise, there was no question it was the right thing to do. It was impossible to not want to be involved. I think (writing) it’s so easy! I know it’s easy, I’ve seen how those guys do it. Of course, it’s not easy at all. The Wagner & Grant thing seemed so easy to do. And I’d been so steeped in it on a weekly basis for three years. I thought I could do that.
I don’t know if I’ve go the talent to do it if I gave it fulltime attention, but I certainly didn’t have the talent to do it in my spare time when I was busy being a deputy editor on a magazine. That was always doomed I’m afraid.
You turned Rogue into a hit man for aliens – what was the genesis of that?
Desperation, I’d of thought! Very easy to destroy, difficult to create.
24. Looking back on your time with the comic, what is your favourite?
Halo Jones. I regret not having more to do with DR & Quinch. Alan had done most of his DR & Quinch work before I got there. And I only enjoyed briefly a fantastic story, which I think was about Hollywood. I just thought that was absolutely seminal and I regret not having my hands on more DR & Quinch, but what I did have I really enjoyed.
Halo I really enjoyed. I thought Dredd was outstanding, I liked Anderson. I looked working with Steve Dillon, thought he was a good guy. The pool playing and the pinball.