Today's the grand finale for 28 Days of 2000 AD, so here's first of three helpings from the THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD archives. Jason Kinglsey and his brother Chris run Rebellion, the Oxford company that bought 2000 AD from Egmont UK in the summer of 2000. Below is the transcript of an interview with Jason from October 2002, starting with his recollections about the tortuous process of acquiring the Galaxy's greatest comic...
The deal was rejected absolutely twice, and I had to change the team that was helping me out with it, since there were some personality clashes going on. Also there was absolutely tons of paperwork to go through with at least two filing cabinets worth of documentation. Also we had to visit Denmark several times to speak to the controlling group over there, rather than speak to the publishing group over in the UK.
Finally, there were loads of last minute changes and methods to go through - have you ever seen six lawyers agree on anything unless they've been discussing it for at least an hour? The final 'signing' of the documents took 18 hours of meetings... yes 18 hours in a room...
Fast forward to Spring 2000 and the deal is back on the table. Why did it succeed the second time?
Originally we just wanted to license Johnny Alpha for a game, which they didn't want to do, then we managed to convince the powers that be that we were a good home of the comics. Also I think we had built up a level of personal trust that is always needed in deals like this. And Egmont has had time to think through what they wanted.
Why did Rebellion want to buy 2000 AD? What did the company hope to achieve with it? How successful has it been at achieving that hope so far?
Chris and I wanted to buy it for many reasons. Firstly and in a most unbusinesslike way, we wanted to rescue it and make it better. Secondly, it would fit in with the type of creative work we were doing in the games area, mostly dark sci-fi with a twist and some violence, so I believed we understood the comsumer of this sort of thing (people like us). Thirdly, it would help give Rebellion another area of business in which to operate. Fourthly, it gave us licenses to use in games, films of whatever we wanted to do, and finally it was ongoing so we could help shape its future.
So far we have achieved more than we thought possible. There have been a few bumps along the road, but I believe that we have improved the quality of both publications - we've most radically altered the Meg I think, as it needed lots of energy putting into it (no offence taken I hope - I think you did a fantastic job with the limited resources we made available to you!) We've managed to add to the budgets of both magazines and put only as much reprint into the Meg as is necessary and worthy.
Contributors are being consulted about the clarified contract we are proposing and we're getting feedback from our creators on that. Subscriptions handling was radically changed, and we have doubled the number of people subscribing to both magazines which is fantastic, whilst maintaining our sales at the newsstand, so readership is up, not as much as I would like of course, but its going in the right direction!
We've managed to get RPG's out there, metal miniatures going, a computer game Dredd vs Death is on its way, others to follow, and several films are working towards principal photography, so looking back, yes I am pleased with what we've achieved so far, but there's more to follow.
Although Egmont Fleetway sold 2000 AD, the Megazine and attendant characters to Rebellion, it was still involved in some capacity?
Egmont publishes the magazines under contract for us. We get to be protected by their scale of publishing, and have an on-going working relationship with them, for advice and general feedback. With our knowledge of all things digital, we've even been helping them with some aspects of digital publishing.
In the Autumn of 2000 the comic moved to its own offices near London Bridge. How fraught was that transition?
It was a good thing, but loads of hassle for the guys working there who all did a wonderful job. The offices were small, but self contained, and they managed to keep on publishing a weekly comic through the transition and beyond, so hats off to Andy, Matt and Steve for doing that.
In July 2001 the Megazine was relaunched as 100-page Volume 4 #1. Why? How well has it worked?
We wanted to differentiate the Meg from 2000, and we looked at the price point and decided we needed to put the price up but offer even more value than before - the distributors said we were mad, but sales stayed exactly the same as they had done before. It gave us a quality magazine to stand on the shelves alongside others. We still have some more changes to go with this though, and will be experimenting with the format in the future. Sales are up, so I think that speaks volumes.
What areas has Rebellion been able to exploit (e.g. subscriptions) that Egmont Fleetway was not able to do? Why?
We looked at the way subs were handled, and the phrase 'badly' springs to mind. We extracted ourselves from the previous subs house, and moved to Perfect Mailing who are also associated with Sci-fi Warehouse, which we thought was a good fit, as some of their customers might like to subscribe to our magazines, and they do a good job too! Maybe I just like to ask questions of any process, and get it better rather than
thinking I know it and it can't be improved.
A year later Andy resigned as editor. How big a set-back was that?
It was expected, just not quite then. Andy, as anyone who knows him will agree, is a strong personality and he very much wanted to do his own thing with writing, so it was a mutually agreeable parting of the ways, with a little bit of panic from us thrown in for good measure. Matt has risen to the occasion and is doing a fine job.
Matt moved with the comic to Oxford and Alan joined. How well has the editorial team settled into Rebellion HQ?
I think they've settled in very well, they now have more staff and especially in the IT department have the support they need. Alan has been instrumental in changing the Meg, and Graham has delivered top quality design work, with Simon on production. The team is working well and happily with the usual weekly/four weekly pressure points that come with print deadlines. (At least that's what I think.)
The Dredd vs Death video game seems to have been in development almost since Rebellion bought 2000 AD. How close is it to fruition?
It started with a small team, who developed the tools to make the game and a demo, now we've a full team on it and we'll deliver it next year. We had a playable version this ECTS in September which was very stable and fun, now a ton of single player stuff has to go into it and lots of play testing and balancing has to be done.
What other characters are likely to get turned into videogames?
We've put together a Rogue Trooper demo and some other characters have been digitally brought to life, but all those are at a very early preliminary stage - so don't expect anything to be released next year.
What can you tell me about film projects involving 2000 AD characters?
We've just released a fund raising scheme through the government Enterprise Investment Scheme legislation to raise money to invest in 2000 AD based films. It is going well, but only time will tell. The Dredd scripts are written and we are now planning the next stages of production. There are several producers interested in other characters, and since the success of Spiderman etc there seems to be an awakening in Hollywood about the possibilities of films from comics, which can only be for the better. Watch this space.
There had been several new initiatives since Rebellion took over the 2000 AD audio adventures, Titan Books reviving its line of reprint albums and Rebellion launching its own line of graphic novels. How well have these worked?
They've all worked very well. Titan have released several of the titles that have been done before, particularly by big name writers in the States. We've been putting our own plans together for story-led albums to be released over the next few years, so we have bit of a different emphasis there. We wanted to put books together of the less mainstream 2000 AD material for the fans rather than the mass market. I think the two approaches complement each other well.
What does the future hold for Rebellion and 2000 AD?
The future's bright, and we'll increasingly look at ways of making the characters come alive in the big and small screen, whilst building up the core print values of both publications. We might even do other magazines too at some stage where they add to the portfolio of titles. Rebellion will continue to make games for itself and other people.
Why does 2000 AD survive when so many other comics have failed?
Because it's the Galaxy's Greatest, of course... actually it's because we have a loyal readership who believe in quality and value, and enjoy the speculative fiction each week. Without the readers we wouldn't exist.