Wednesday, February 28, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #28.1: Gordon Rennie

Gordon Rennie is not afraid to voice an opinion. Over the past ten years he'd co-created and written many of 2000 AD's best new strips, so he was an essential interview subject for THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD. Here's the transcripts from two interviews I did with him, the first section from October 2002 and the later material from August 2006. It begins with his recollections of getting work on the Judge Dredd Megazine...


Well, deep down, I've always suspected that David Bishop only hired me to annoy his colleagues over at the 2000AD editorial desks. Other than that, I pitched an idea, the editor liked it. He bought it. As for how it came about....I dunno, I didn't much like the 'world judges' idea, which seemed to be 27 different blander flavours of Dredd in a different uniform. I always liked the Cursed Earth as a setting, religion - for reasons that I don't understand - seems to be a running theme in a lot of different stuff I do, and I don't like sci-fi much. (Being basically a Western, the strip has always been very low-tech). Mix it altogether and you get Missionary Man.

You didn’t start writing for 2000 AD until 1995/1996 – why?

New editorial team, new wave of creators, new ways of thinking. You can't help but notice the sudden inrush of new (and old) creators to the comic when the ancient regime finally got shown the door, people coming over from the Meg etc. Basically, a whole bunch of us who had been working on the Meg had been 'locked out' of 2000AD for various reasons, even though the Meg had been winning the awards that used to be naturally go to 2000AD.

You also wrote a lot of short stories for Judge Dredd: Lawman of the Future. How valuable was that experience?

Pretty valuable, in terms of delivering short sharp story bites. I'm still quite fond of some of the shorts I wrote back then. Stuff like The Fatty Olympics etc.

Your first series for 2000 AD was Witch World – what were the origins of that? What were the effects of having six different artists work on it?

Chopping and changing artists every few episodes didn't help, but the fact that the series was generally just crap to begin with was probably the biggest drawback. Of everything I've ever written, Witch World is easily the one thing I wish I hadn't done. One or two Vector 13s aside, it was the first thing I did for 2000AD, a comic that's been part of my life for 25 years, and the fact that it was hackneyed old rubbish is still a source of eternal mortification.

It came about when I and a number of other writers were asked to put together pitches for a new fantasy strip, with guidelines suggested by the editor. I didn't think my idea was much cop when I came up with it, I still didn't think much of it when I pitched it, and I absolutely fucking hated it while I was writing it. Still, it taught be one valuable lesson - money considerations aside, if your heart isn't in something, then don't take the work.

However, I still console myself with the though that, if my idea was the best, then just how fucking bad were some of the others that got rejected?

In 1998 Missionary Man transferred from the Megazine to 2000 AD – why?

As I recall, the Magazine was definitely on the slide then. Budget constraints meant that it was being filled up with a lot of reprint material, with little room for original material. Missionary Man was one of the most successful Magazine-originated strips, and, like a rat deserting a sinking ship, hopped aboard 2000AD quite happily. It was certainly easier and more satisfying writing it as 5-6 page weekly episodes than in 7-page chunks for the Meg, with a month between each episode.

I think the main 2000AD Missionary Man stories - Goin' South and especially The Promised and - were the best stories I did for the character. It seemed fitting, though, that the character went back to the Meg later on for his last ever (as least as far as I'm concerned story), which was The Land of The Dead.

In 1999 you collaborated with Mark Harrison on Glimmer Rats. How successful was that strip? What inspired it?

Sven Hassel novels and a certain oblique pretentiousness. The strip certainly divided people - some people loved it, some utterly loathed it, which is better than a shrug of general indifference, I suppose. Moi, je ne regrette rien. It seems to have some longevity to it, since it now been reprinted in various formats in various languages in various parts of the world. The spectre of Glimmer Rats II ocassionally shakes its gruesome head at me.

In the year 2000 you began writing Dredd stories for 2000 AD. Many writers have tried and failed when it comes to Dredd. How hard a character is he to get right?

I don't think it's that difficult to get Dredd right, although there seems to be plenty of evidence to the contrary. Being a miserable Scots git seems to help get a handle on old Joe and his wacky world. Merely being Scottish, or just being a git in general, doesn't seem to be enough on its own, however.

What’s the secret of your success?

Being a miserable Scottish git, of course, just like John. That, and a genuine appreciation of the character. Some of the worst damage done to Dredd was when he was written by writers whose contempt for the strip and its readers came shining through in every story they were allowed to write. Also, you have to write him as what he is, and not what you want him to be, so he's not just a simple fascist thug or a tough grizzled cop with a heart who shows his secret human side to dying blind kids. Bleeeuch.

Your next creation was Necronauts with Frazer Irving. IIRC this series was originally mooted for Tundra eight years earlier – why the long delay? just sat around in a box for years as about a two-page rough story synopsis, gathering dust. I always knew it was a great story premise. I could have Vertigo-ed it up and submitted it there, but I don't think some of the funnier things in it - eg. Charles Fort swatting zombies with a cricket bat - would have survived the transition. I'm glad I wrote it in 1999 rather than 1991; my writing's stronger now that it was then, and I think the story greatly benefited from the long wait. Also, Frazer Irving wasn't around in 1991, and his contributions - not just in the wonderful art he produced, but also as someone to bat ideas off - was invaluable.

Was it part of a conscious drive from 2000 AD editorial to do more horror strips?

I think so. There certainly seems to have been more horror in the comic
since then.

In 2001 you wrote Satanus Unchained, a Pat Mills creation. How did Pat respond to you writing his character?

Heh. I really only got the edited highlights of Pat's reaction - it was Andy Diggle who manfully took the full brunt of the exploding Mills Bombs. I believe Pat didn't much care for someone else picking up the loose story thread he left dangling a quarter of a century ago. Which is a pity, since the Dredd versus Satanus rematch, is, I think, one of the great 2000AD unfulfilled story set-ups, after Pat took him off into the Nemesis saga instead. I very much enjoyed writing it, I thought Colin MacNeil did a bang-up job on it, and it seemed pretty popular, maybe even being the
earliest opening salvo of the later 'Old Skool' Summer Assault of 2002. The synopsis for the sequel - Satanus in Mega City One, against Dredd - is still gathering dust on my hard-drive.

This year you took over writing the original Rogue Trooper. How did that happen?

Tharg phoned me up and asked me to do it. I hummed and hawed - as far as I could see, Rogue Trooper in all his various incarnations seemed to be a bit of a writers' graveyard - and then agreed to do it, after reading through piles of old progs and drawing out some of the things that interested me about the strip, which was mainly the setting of Nu Earth itself, and the idea that Rogue is a completely artificially-created being. A living war machine, which doesn't seem to have been explored that much in the past.

What’s it like writing such a legendary character?

Fun, but, well, while I understand the reason, drama-wise, for their existence in the story, I could sometimes cheerfully kill whoever thought up the biochips. One of them, maybe, but THREE of them? And with the contrived names gimmick? My first reaction was to ask if I could change a few things, like maybe dump or rethink Rogue's biochip buddies, but that wasn't possible - the series was very much supposed as a return rather than another reboot.

What lays ahead for Gordon Rennie in 2000 AD?

More horror. More Dredd. More Rogue. More miserable Scottish gitness.

Why do you think the comic has survived all its competitors?

Because it's been able to evolve, and because a lot of talented and committed people haven't been afraid to pour blood, sweat and tears into the thing over the years, sometimes for not too much reward. There's a lot of people we should all still be very grateful to for the comic's continued existence.

2006 questions: How did Caballistics Inc come about?

It was originally pitched when Andy Diggle was editor. Or maybe assistant editor. He didn't like it, and chose Carver Hale instead as the 2000AD horror strip. That was rubbish, and I knew Andy had been wrong to reject it, even though the original version differed quite a lot in tone from the strip as it is today. Matt Smith gave it the go-ahead a year or two later. Frazer Irving was the artist attached to it then, but jumped ship to go do somethint else. Dom Reardon came in and gave it a different visual style which again - and to its betterment, I think - moved the feel and focus of the story further away from the sensibility of the original pitch.

You've opted to tell shorter stories on this series, drip-feeding background information to readers - why?

I prefer the shorter story format - whenever I've done longer runs on anything, I seem to have got bogged down on some of them. The drip-feeding in Caballistics seems to create the illusion that that I know were it's all going and wht it all means, but quite frankly I've quite often made a lot of it up as I went along. Drop some things in as they occur to me, and see where it takes the story, long-term. For example, having Jenny Simmons possessed by a demon in the very first series, or killing poor old Professor Brand,weren't planned at all until I sat down to write those particular episodes where they occured, but - well - in the case of Demon Jenny, you can see just how much that spun out into dictating the direction of the the ensuing several years worth of stories.

Which Caballistics story works best in your opinion and why?

I don't know. Probably one of the earlier ones.

What does the future hold for Caballistics?

All things going according to plan, I imagine it will be winding down in the forseeable future - maybe in the next series or so - with a few to bringing it to its natural conclusion. If it does appear after that, I can see it being in a noticeably different format or incarnation. I wouldn't want it to be one of those fan faves of yesteryear strips that gets dragged out past its obvious conclusion point, to no great effect.

Lately you've been as frequent a contributor as Wagner to Dredd, if not more so. What would you say if 2000 AD offered you the strip as a permanent gig?

"Can I get back to you on that?"

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