Thursday, February 08, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #8: Steve MacManus Pt. 3

Steve MacManus is the longest serving editor in 2000 AD history, with a reign spanning more than eight years and four hundred progs. When I was researching THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD, my forthcoming book about the comic's life and times, I found myself interviewing Steve again and again - such is the depth and length of his association with the title. Even after he resigned as editor in 1987, Steve remained as the title's managing editor for another 13 years. It was only when Rebellion acquired the weekly in the year 2000 that the link was broken. So, here's more excerpt from my interview transcripts with one of the most important figures in the history of 2000 AD, beginning with his involvement in the creation of Rogue Trooper.


My recollection is that Rogue was like Muppets, anthropomorphic. Some kind of Euro-fighter. But we didn’t like it because it was a bit silly. It just wasn’t working. War stories you can’t be silly. You’ve got to be straight down the line, absolutely play them by the book or they don’t work.

Gerry took the notion of a living backpack and developed it, into the idea of having a gun that came alive, it could actually move – that was the silly thing. The three of us met in IPC to pare this idea down and arrived at the bio-chips. They were mechanical, they couldn’t move – but they had human souls. It adapted an idea from a Dredd strip, maybe it was the Judge Child. There was chip that could translate alien speech, but it was more than that. We developed it so when you pulled the chip out of someone’s head you have ninety seconds to slot it into the gun.

[The name Rogue Trooper] There’s a famous short story called Rogue Male, about a bloke who goes to kill Hitler, oddly enough – a bit like a Battle strip. It was a great story. Gerry had suggested Trooper Tube. As we developed the idea, about this soldier who had gone rogue, it just seemed obvious – Rogue Trooper.

I rewrote the first script to the point where Dave rang up and said this is more like it, I can draw this now. [Steve precis RT scripts for Dave] I think that happened, very early on. I think I subbed the first script for Dave and then he lettered it. I went on holiday and three scripts went out to Dave. When I got back Richard Burton said Dave’s really unhappy with Rogue. There was such a wonderful first episode and now it’s all gone a bit wonky. So we had to hang in there and try to figure it out.

[Colin Wilson appears.] It was easily to get other people to draw it and then rewrite afterwards at subbing stage. Colin was a new, young artist who would spring for that. There’s now story here – just draw this pictures! You couldn’t ask Dave to do that.

Ace Trucking starts…

Everyone liked Massimo, Pat, John and myself, although we’d never met him. Robin went out to meet him once. He was a very good artist but he just couldn’t draw humans. We always felt we wanted to keep him busy. Often the call would go out – Massimo’s got nothing to do. John and Alan sent him reference of some South American god or devil for the Freek. That strip was lovely, with all its CB chat. If you didn’t have the dictionary given away with the first four episodes you were stuck!

[Ian Gibson fills in] A bit of a disaster – probably a scheduling problem. [Gibson fills in for everyone.] Very accommodating, Ian – laid back. Often Ian would bring the artwork up on the train himself, you’d be so grateful.

End of 81 brought Block Mania – classic but it saw off McMahon and Bollo – the latter never drawing strip for the comic again – a crowd scene too far?

He didn’t like crowd scenes, did he? Six thousand people! We did know it was leading up to this big war story. We knew that Mike was leaving Dredd, Brian was leaving…

Apocalypse War – is this the greatest Dredd story ever?

Carlos returns. He said make sure I draw every episode. We said if you can draw every episode, you’ll get every episode. He was doing six pages a week. I think he was moving back to Andorra then, so it was guaranteed work.

Redondo draws Nemesis 1A…

A bit of a wrong turning. Titan, when they did the albums, they rearranged the book numbers. Nemesis was hot and deserved to be in the comic. Pat wrote loads of scripts and we split them between Kevin and Redondo. Pat wrote quite a few sets of Nemesis. That story Redondo drew – it probably didn't suit Kevin anyway that one, thinking back on it…

1982 – again, incredibly stable – only addition is Harry 20 – origins of that?

Happy days! Calm water, full steam ahead, sit back and enjoy it like a sunny day. Harry 20 - that was written by Gerry, then rewritten by Alan. He was freelance then. It was the usual thing with Gerry, some great ideas but needing battening down and knocking into shape. Alan cut it down. You were in this great position of having 20 scripts, ready to send out. We choose Alan Davis and another artist [John Watkiss], who became famous years later in America. A really good artist – he pulled out. We phoned up Alan Davis and said can you do all twenty? Five pages a week? He said I can do that. Every week it came in, five pages, done.

As the weeks went by the artwork just got better and better and better. It was just like – wow! This guy’s a star, a hero. There was something in his early work that persuaded you to hang on in there for him to grow. The other guy was far the better artist in terms of figure drawing. He went to join an advertising art studio. It was only later he resurfaced as a comic artist in America.

1983 brought three great new series – Skizz, DR & Q and Slaine. Alan Moore finally gets to write a series of his own…

It had nothing to do with ET, I’m sure, us asking him to do it. Maybe it did. He famously recalled Steve Dillon turning up after Alan had written it with ET on video. They watched it and Alan sat with his head in his hands. Steve said what’s wrong? n said my career is over – this film is the first episode of Skizz! Everyone’s going to think I nicked it from ET. We knew we wanted to do something with Jim Baikie.

Slew of Time Twisters and Future Shocks…

Mostly written by Alan Moore. One of those was DR & Quinch. I remember sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon. We had a gap in the comic and I this is terrible, I can’t go to work tomorrow. I picked up the phone and called Alan. I said is there any chance you could take that Time Twister and developed it into a six-parter or something? He said sure. He did and the rest is history.

Robo-Hunter coming to a halt…

Football Crazy was great, all the Brians. But I think they were running out of steam. They felt they had done enough with Sam Slade. John and Alan have always like to write the odd strip as a musical. When Ian Gibson was drawing Play It Again, Sam, he drew Maggie Thatcher’s nose like Concorde! I remember saying to Ian can you make it just a little bit smaller? I was terrified of waking the sleeping giant upstairs…

Life after Bob Bartholomew – less censorship?

Barrie Tomlinson gave the comic a much easier ride. He would have, because the comic was so successful, it made him look good around the building. All the other titles were slowly dying. We still had to take the comic to him every week. But rather than censoring him, he gave it marks out of ten – that was quite helpful.

He still had his own middle class mores. The Killing of Kidd where Kidd expands to a massive size. The original speech balloon on the cover said I’m gonna help Slade – I’m gonna pop! Tomlinson said you can’t have the word pop on the cover, it means fart. That was as bad as it got. The cover said burst instead of pop.

1982 – Dez Skinn launches Warrior…

Warrior was never going to affect 2000 AD’s sales. It was an entirely different animal in terms of where it got sold. It was like that’s not bad – it’s not 2000 AD, it’s something different. There were some nice artists in there. That was always the first thought – asset stripping, grab all the artists. 2000 AD never had a rival to make it work harder. If 2000 was Man U, there was no Liverpool to push you on. It was great when Warrior came out, because it gave us a benchmark.

1983 – IPC busy relaunching the Eagle…

John and Alan wrote a lot for that, some very good stories. It was photo-stories to start with. They got Embleton to do some Dan Dare artwork. It wasn’t a rival, but it was something new, with heart in the comics group. [Providing the bridge between Buster and 2000.] Absolutely. The Eagle was highly interactive, giving the reader involved. 2000 – you communed with the comic by reading it, except through the letters page.

The Eagle was more like a Saturday kids TV show, like Tiswas. More like Action comic had been, highly interactive. People forget there was some brilliantly interactive feature material in Action, once you got past the stories. They made you the reader do things and feel part of the title. 2000 AD didn’t have that, it was more about appreciation of the stories and art. Dave Hunt was the launch editor of the new Eagle. He had worked with John and Pat on the launch of Battle, so they respected him and he respected them. It worked very well. It was around for quite a few years.

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