Wednesday, February 28, 2007

ITV moving from reality TV to more drama

A report on The Stage website should cheer legions of would-be TV drama writers everywhere. ITV is opting to commission and broadcast more dramas this summer, instead of buying in a third series of reality show Celebrity Love Island. Is the tide turning towards more script drama and away from Z-list celebrity programming? Is the evidence of ITV drama controller Laurie Mackie's presence bearing fruit? You be the judge. You can click the link above for the whole article, but read some highlights below...
A spokeswoman told The Stage: “Traditionally in the summer we have not aired very many first run, original dramas, but this year that is the plan. The message is that actually, instead of being the part of the schedule which is traditionally lighter this year, the summer line-up looks more like a spring or even an autumn one.

“It is absolutely a conscious decision to opt for more drama, and also more entertainment, rather than come up with another reality-type show. Drama has always been a strength at ITV and we know that we are defined as a channel by our drama - that is what the audience likes.”

The broadcaster has lined-up a mix of dramas as it attempts to toe the line between pulling in new, younger audiences with edgier, faster-paced shows, in the style of Spooks, and maintaining its appeal with its traditional heartland of older viewers from the north of England.

You wool be exterminated!

Repeat after me: we are the masters of wool! We are the masters of wool! See more Dalek crochet madness here.

28 Days of 2000 AD #28.2: The End

The thing that's always struck me about 2000 AD is the loyalty it inspires, not only among the readers, but also among its creators. When I was editor in the second half of the 1990s, artist Mark Harrison literally worked himself so hard he got taken to hospital. I sent him this letter, which Mark recently rediscovered and emailed back to me. Forgive the language, but I was making a point. Much as we love 2000 AD, it's not the most important thing in the world. Our lives, our families and our health should come first...

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?"

28 Days of 2000 AD #28: Jason Kingsley

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.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #27.1: John Ridgway

A bonus interview transcript, this time with artist John Ridgway. It opens with the 2000 AD artist recalling how he came to illustrate Luke Kirby...


I was approached to draw it. I think I was approached because of the type of work Alan knew I’d done in the past. I’ve got a feel for the countryside and old world things. In the 60s I was in my twenties, I’ve got quite a good recollection of what the 60s were like. I’d done something slightly similar for the Transformers comic, a Luke Kirby style of boy. Alan knew what sort of work I could do.

I’ve always preferred a more natural scenery, trees, mountains, fields and animals to the confines of Mega-City One. Having drawn Hellblazer for a while, I was sick of cities!

You did Twister, a Dredd story that covered the transition from the strip being black and white to full colour…

That was fun. Again, I think it was quite an unusual story for Dredd. That had a fantasy, fairytale element to it. It takes me back to the sort of stuff I would really like to do in comics. Again, you’ve got the natural scenery, the fantasy element. It was the gritty bitterness you get with the Dredd stories a lot of the time. It was a completely different atmosphere.

You also drew iconic Dredd story The Dead Man…

I’m not sure whether I knew in the first episode, but I certainly knew very early on the Dead Man was Dredd. It was set out in the wilds of the radlands, all natural scenery. It was nice to be able to draw that. I’ve always wanted to draw a western and that’s about as close as you could get to Clint Eastwood and a western –duster coat, the same sort of hat Clint used to wear. The attitude was the same too, don’t say much and shoot the feller if he looks the wrong way at you.

The Mike Fleisher-scripted space drama Junker – 95 pages long…

It felt like a hundred and 95! I always took it as being serious. But there was never any real detail as to what you were looking at in there. I remember talking to Richard Burton when I got the first script and asking him about the spaceship, what sort of size it was, Junker’s ship. He’d no idea. He gave me Mike Fleisher’s number and a time to ring him. I rang him and apparently got him out of bed. He was a bit irate about this. I asked him about the details of the ship and he said make it any size you want.

In those first episodes it was a ship that towed in a wreck for salvage. I saw it as a space tug. Later on it became sufficiently sophisticated and large enough to hold all these machines that could cut up a battleship and store it inside somehow! It was sort of like the TARDIS. There was no real description of his pal, Razzamatazz. I had no idea how tall he was or what sort of build he was. I need he had tail, I knew he had teeth. But he suddenly developed spikes in a fight! It was this sort of thing that was going on.

I had no idea what I supposed to be doing with it. I would have loved to have drawn a real space opera. I was trained as an engineer. If I do anything about spaceships, I like them to look like they’re going to work. That story just rumbled on. I was given no description of the female character in it, who turned out to be the villain. I drew her in a skin-tight costume. Near the end she was supposed to be hiding about her person this jewel! The only place I could think of was in the helmet she was wearing! There was a design on the front of the helmet that could conceal the jewel. It was just chance she happened to have that, otherwise I’m not quite sure where she might have hidden it!

It was really quite disappointing to work on that. I thought at the start it was going to be something which could really work. If you look at the first page, one of the spaceships floating around in that junkyard, is the Anastasia from Dan Dare. Dan Dare is the love of my life as far as comic strips go. It carried on, just disintegrated.

I think if I’d got all the story at once, and been able to go through it and understand what was going on, I could have played it better. I was flying blind on that story, all the way through, no idea of where it was going or what was happening next with it.

Darkness Visible…

Nick Abadzis. (Bit of a Vertigo story?) I suppose it was a bit. It didn’t seem out of place to me, there was quite a wide variety of stuff in 2000 AD – Luke Kirby, Brigand Doom. I was never keen on the Hellblazer stuff I did for Vertigo.

Luke Kirby – anything you want to add…

I think Alan’s wrong claiming he was sole creator. He set it in the 1960s, but he didn’t create the 1960s. He didn’t create the backgrounds, the scenery – he suggests them in the script, but that’s what a writer does, they suggest things for the artist to go and create. The Luke Kirby character was the same as the little boy in The Iron Man story written by Transformers by Steve Parkhouse. If you say photographs of my eldest son at that age, you’d know where the figure of Luke Kirby came from. To suggest he was sole creator is a little bit naïve, really.

I liken it to Pope Julian the Second claiming that he’d created the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I don’t know how writers think along those lines. The creative process is very involved for artists.

I was disappointed I couldn’t carry on doing Luke Kirby. I didn’t mind if Steve drew it, I’d worked with Steve in the past. I loved the stuff Steve did for Doctor Who and Warrior. I thought he was one of the best writers of comics I’d ever come across – it’s a crime he doesn’t write more, he ought to be castigated or something!

28 Days of 2000 AD #27: Simon Geller

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.

Monday, February 26, 2007

International sign language module

A moment of YouTube gold as a Scandinavian rally driver explains what happened to his navigator. Think of it as an international sign language module - of sorts.

It was thirty years ago today...

The 30th anniversary issue of 2000 AD appeared on my doorstep this morning, complete with a free badge and book. Hard to believe it's been a decade since I edited the 20th anniversary issue, Prog 1033 - time flies when you're dealing with the future. Elsewhere, the BBC News website has a good article commemorating the anniversary, featuring contributions from Pat Mills, Alan Grant and Ian Gibson, amongst others.

2007 Oscar results

Martin Scorcese had a good night at the Oscars, finally getting the Academy Award he's deserved so many times in the past. I think The Departed is the only Best Picture nominee I managed to see and it left me underwhelmed, but at least it was better than The Gangs of New York, IMHO. When the nominations were announced back in January, I took a punt on whom I thought might win. My hit rate was not good, with only the most obvious choices matching up to reality. This year's winners [and my choices where I picked it wrong] were:

Picture - The Departed [I choose The Queen as a longshot]
Actor - Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Actress - Helen Mirren, The Queen
Supporting Actor - Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine [I went for Eddie Murphy]
Supporting Actress - Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Director - Martin Scorcese, The Departed [I went out on a limb with Stephen Frears for The Queen]
Original Screenplay - Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine [another longshit with Peter Morgan for The Queen]
Adapted Screenplay - William Monahan, The Departed [I went with Todd Field and Tom Perrotta for Little Children]

UPDATE: Obviously, one of the categories above features an unfortunate error. It should read like this:
Original Screenplay - Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine [another longshot with Peter Morgan for The Queen]

28 Days of 2000 AD #26: Alan Davis

Artist Alan Davis was not one of 2000 AD's first wave of great British artists, and he'd already started making a name for himself elsewhere before getting work on the Galaxy's greatest comic. But he worked on two much-loved series for the weekly and - with Alan Moore - co-created one of 2000 AD's funniest strips. When I interviewed him for the original THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD features in 2002, the articles had already gone past his early contributions to the comic. So a fair chunk of what you're about to read is previously unseen material. Time's running out for the 28 Days of 2000 AD blogging project, so rather than split this interview into two halves, here's the whole thing in one monster posting. I started by asking Alan how he got from drawing Captain Britain for Marvel UK to the pages of 2000 AD...


It was Richard Burton who approached me. He’d seen the work on Captain Britain and asked me to try out for 2000 AD. In the office there was Richard, Steve and Robin Smith, who was the art editor.

Harry 20 on the High Rock was your first job for 2000 AD...

Originally I wasn’t meant to be doing it all. There was a guy called John Watkiss that had already been secured to do the story and I was only meant to be helping him out. The way that it worked was that when Richard had got me along to the 2000 AD offices, Steve [MacManus] wasn’t really too impressed with what I was doing. He didn’t really like the idea of having an American style artist for 2000 AD. So I was almost on probation, I suppose, in a way.

I was going to have to try to keep up with John Watkiss. As it turned out, John Watkiss dropped out and I was left to do the whole thing myself. That meant I was actually doing 36 pages of pencils and inks a month at that point, just to meet the deadlines because I was also doing Captain Britain and Marvelman at the same time.

[When did you sleep?] Not very often! It was just one of those things, it had to be done. It was my first job and I wanted to prove that I was reliable. Steve actually was very nice to me because I got the work in on time. He made sure I was paid on time and, in one case he actually paid me in advance, because it was coming up to Christmas. As it turned out, I was treated very well.

I used to send it down by Red Star from the local railway station. I didn’t have a day to spare to bring it down. I should say that it was a good time to work in comics. Robin Smith was incredibly helpful on the art side. Richard helped me over the bumpy part until I was accepted by Steve. From then on it was pretty much plain sailing. When I started working in comics I had no idea what I was doing. I was just having fun and a bit of extra money.

What do you remember most about Harry 20?

There’s a number of things. Shortly after I started working on it they told me I had to be on The Tube, the TV show on Channel 4. That was like a key moment of my life because I was just terrified of doing that. But I was forced to do it.

As the strip went, when I was given the work, it was like we don’t want you to do what you do, we want you to be more like this. But then as it went on…

Originally, I was meant to be doing the third and fourth episodes, and John Watkiss was meant to be working on the first and second. I’d finished the third one when Steve found out there was no work done on the first and second. So it was would you mind going back and starting like afresh. Get these two done, they’re more urgent. Then it was this guy will be doing the fourth and fifth. Then, it was no, he’s not doing that so go on. It was always a bit madcap.

The first episode I did wasn’t really the first episode I was working on. It was a learning experience but it was also coloured by the fact that it was my first real taste of deadline hell. But as the story went…

I remember there were a couple of things that really grated, because I was very much into science fiction. Having someone open their spacesuit in outer space and things like that… I would be constantly railing, saying you can’t do this. At one point Harry was meant to open his cell window and throw something into outer space! In another one he was supposed to have opened his spacesuit and slipped something inside while in outer space.

The one I couldn’t get them to change was the first time Harry escapes. He goes to an old module floating around Earth. He gets in and he opens his faceplate and puts on an oxygen mask, which is obviously something you couldn’t do. You’d be decompressed as soon as you opened your spacesuit. But that was in the script and it was the only way it could be done. That was the only one I wasn’t allowed to change.

Were you aware at the time that Harry 20 had been rewritten by Alan Grant?

I’d been told this but I looked at it and thought… Even at that time I was used to a higher standard of writing, and that’s not to criticise anyone involved. It was just that I was more used to new wave writers than old school writers. So I was constantly pulling things apart and seeing how they’d be in real life. Yes, but it’s action-packed. That was a minor thing, really..

Most of all, I was enjoying the fact I was working in comics. The work from 2000 was what allowed me to go fulltime. When I was working for Marvel UK, I was doing a regular job. The work from 2000 meant there was no way I could stay in a regular job. So there was also the added stress of thinking I’ve got to make this work. But, I’m sure that’s the same in any other job…

The next job you did for 2000 AD was a Time Twister written by Alan Moore, which introduced D.R. & Quinch – what can you recall about that?

What happened was Steve MacManus didn’t want Alan and I to work together. By that time we’d already got a reputation, working on Captain Britain and Marvelman. He didn’t like the idea of us having the triple, working for 2000 AD as well. Alan had come up with this thing for DR & Quinch which wasn’t really the way that it turned out in the end.

When I first started working at 2000 AD, I’d been categorised as a superhero artist. After doing Harry 20 I was categorised as a gritty, realistic artist. I really wanted to do something different, just to show that I could do it, pad out the portfolio. I liked the idea of doing something more cartoonish.

Steve didn’t want DR & Quinch to be done cartoonish because they already had Sam Slade, Ace Trucking and something else that were all in a cartoon style. He really wanted DR & Quinch to be gritty and realistic and that was why I was put on to it. If you look, you can see that the first issue of DR & Quinch is drawing more rendered than the later ones.

[Future Shock: The hyper-historic headbang] That one I was given because it had already been given to three other artists who, according to Steve, couldn’t make nor tail of it. Since it had been commissioned, he said see if you want to have a crack at this and see if you can make it work.

DR & Quinch were brought for further stories, which were published in early 1984. Were you in favour of reviving them?

I obviously loved drawing them. When you’ve designed a character, it almost like flows off the end of the pen. It doesn’t take… It was maybe the fastest work I ever drew, DR & Quinch, because it didn’t take any real concentration in being consistent, drawing real people or anything like that. It was just drawing ugly Disney characters, Leo Baxendale approach, throwing stuff down. Anything you did was alright.

In an interview with the Comics Journal in 1990, Alan Moore says you and he both put a lot of nice work into Dr & Quinch and some of it is amusing. What’s your favourite of the DR & Quinch stories?

I don’t really know if I’d say I got a favourite story. There’s certain incidents that… When you’re drawing something that makes you laugh yourself as you do it. I think thing I did that was when I had Quinch break the fourth wall, when he looks out at the readers and raises his eyebrow. I should say the reason why was I thought DR & Quinch was meant to be like Animal House. I didn’t know anything about OC & Stiggs, which was where Alan was getting his inspiration from. In the Animal House movie, there’s a scene where the John Belushi character looks out at the camera and raises his eyebrows. I started doing that sort of thing in DR & Quinch and that made me laugh – the absurdity of the eye contact with these crazy characters. I think all in all, it was just completely wacky, the dafter things you could do, the better.

[Mind the oranges, Marlon.] Alan didn’t know what he was going to write there. When he did it, he said it was blank blank oranges blank. I’ve got the original script and in it he says I’ll figure it out what this means later on.

Alan also expresses misgivings that DR & Quinch makes violence funny, which he doesn’t think is right. How do you feel about that?

After working on DR & Quinch with Alan, I went back to it to do DR & Quinch’s Agony Page. That I got more reaction from people who couldn’t believe I’d basically been involved in a story where they skin cats. A few people I know are cat lovers and they were appalled that I would take any part in something like this. I just thought it’s funny. It is comedy violence and to a degree, it’s no more violent than any other things but there’s more of a point to it. I mean, other cartoons. Other cartoons you’ll have pointless violence.

DR & Quinch – I always thought there was a real sensibility to it but at the time we were doing it, it was around the same time The Young Ones were on TV. I don’t know, maybe I don’t intellectualise things enough. I just enjoy it!

Three years later DR & Quinch returned for DR & Quinch’s Agony Page – how did that come about?

I think it was originally meant to be a page of text with spot illustrations. I said I wasn’t really interested in that. I wouldn’t mind doing them as stories. I think what happened was Jamie Delano had written the first page as three separate letters being responded to, which would just be like floating heads and lots of text. I took each letter and made it into a story. Basically using the response as the basis for a more narrative flow.

I can’t really remember how it started, other than that. Why it was Jamie or anything else, I just can’t remember.

After nine Agony Pages the idea was dropped – do you know why?

I think that part of the problem was that Jamie wasn’t very happy with the fact that I’d taken this thing and gone the other way. My primary interest in comics is storytelling. It’s not the art, it’s not the writing, it’s the story. Something that’s just a text page with spot illustrations doesn’t really interest me. So I think we were at odds on that and I wasn’t really prepared to carry on without, because then I would have been getting rid of him (Jamie). That was more why it finished, rather than it not being popular.

[First writing and drawing example?] I’ve always done it. Harry 20 – I actually virtually rewrote the last two episodes to try and make them work, because I thought they were nonsensical. I argued the odds over different things.

I think the first thing I queried was on the very first issue, the way the High Rock was meant to work. I’d been given a text description of how the High Rock looked, how it operated. When I read it I thought this just doesn’t sound logical. So I actually made a model of it, bits of cardboard stuck together, just to prove that it wouldn’t work. That was the first time something got changed.

After that I was always trying to prove things. By the end of it, Steve pretty much let me change whatever it was. That was right from the start. Story has always been the most important thing to me. If I can’t suspend my own disbelief, how can I expect anyone else to?

The last story you drew for 2000 AD was a Judge Dredd story called Bat Mugger. According to legend, this was meant to be a dry run for a Judge Dredd and Batman crossover book – myth or reality?

I’d been asked to do the Judgement on Gotham book for DC. The Bat Mugger was really just a warm-up. It’s not really a dry run. It was just you’re sitting talking to people about doing a project together for DC and they say well, would you like to do a little one for 2000 AD? Get used to drawing the character. That’s how it came about…

Finally, what’s your favourite work from all that you’ve done for 2000 AD?

I honestly hate everything I’ve ever done. Once I’ve done it, I just see all the faults. I don’t like looking back at old work too much. I just hope one day I think I’ll figure out how to do it. There’s always room for improvement.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #25: Brian Bolland Pt. 2

Brian Bolland was among 2000 AD's most acclaimed artists in its early years, but also one of the comic's least prolific. Here's the second half of the transcript for the interview I did with Brian for THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD. It begins with him recalling the creation of iconic Dredd villain Judge Death...


They decided I would do all of that. I do remember them asking when would I be able to turn that in. I gave them a fairly realistic estimate. We did lots of sketches of the characters. I’m sure John sent me reference of Devil Fish and all sorts of things. I’ve got alternative versions of those characters – one of them had tentacles coming out of his mouth.

How much costume was described in the script and how much was you?

I really can’t remember. I know in JDL, when the other judges came, somebody sent me some reference. I can’t remember how Judge Death was described, at all. I’d been looking at Kevin O’Neill’s work – he drew a lot of characters with portcullises for faces. It’s not the sort of look that would have popped automatically out of my head. I think it’s got a very strong Kevin O’Neill influence. I don’t know why Death’s barefoot!

According to legend Debbie Harry was the model for Anderson – true?

She pretty much was… The thing I always found about drawing for 2000 AD was we never got to draw women. There just weren’t any. I don’t know why. I think it came out of the tradition that boys comics and girls’ comics were separate. There were artists in America whose work I admired who did gorgeous women and I wanted to have a go at it. I thought this was a great opportunity to draw a sexy looking girl. See if I could draw that.

She was based on Debbie Harry. I think I did a Forbidden Planet advert and I draw a lot of famous people into that, such as Debbie Harry and David Bowie. I think I must have just drawn her. I’m not sure she’s particularly Debbie Harry…

The thing I remember about her was she had to be bright and breezy, sort of smile a lot. She had to be the very opposite of Judge Dredd and the very opposite of her adversary, Judge Death. That seems to have gone, somehow. There’s a wonderful line by Dredd: ‘I have no guilty secrets.’ To me that bright-eyed face was absolutely key for her.

[Her body language – first appearance, casually leaning against door frame] That was obviously in the script, in the story, she was that kind of character. There’s one scene where she’s taking off her boots and flexing her toes. I haven’t looked at these stories for ages!

John Burns ought to be drawing her, he was always a great good girl artist.

You drew only a few episodes of the Judge Child saga, but these include the introduction of Hershey – now Chief Judge – and Jigsaw Disease. Was the surreal world featured in jigsaw disease written specially for you?

Hershey, she was always the opposite of Anderson, they were like light and shade. She was always stern, clipped looking one. I wanted the hair to look like a helmet and always gave her a scowl.
I don’t ever remember being told something was being written for me, because I was good at drawing a particular thing. The whole experience of drawing Judge Dredd was an incredibly creative thing. You were stretching your imagination to its limits, all the time. Where do I go to do that kind of work again – aliens in tutus? Giant cups and saucers!

I always liked that cover and I remember Nick Landau didn’t like it (Prog 177).
[Star Wars cover] They sent me the toys to use as reference for the drawing.

Judge Death Lives is among your best-loved work on Dredd – memories?

[Fear’s cloak] I did that – guilty as charged! Oh God, I’m so sorry. [Gin trap] I think John must have asked for him having bear traps as shoulder pads. For Mortis – my mother and father in law live in the Lake District and we used to go walking on the Fells. I remember bringing home a sheep’s skull and using that as reference for Mortis.

You have drawn some of the most iconic panels in Dredd – No, Not the teeth!, Gaze into the fist of Dredd, I’m with Rowdy Yates Block – why do you think those single images have stood the test of time so well?

{Gaze] It was a good panel, wasn’t it? To me, Mick was the great Judge Dredd artist. He defined the character and evolved him over a period of time. I don’t think of myself as an instigator of anything. I don’t think of myself as a visionary – I’m just a copier. I can only draw what I’ve seen. I put together elements I’ve seen and try to gloss them up a little bit, as best I can. I always think of Mick as the Dredd artist. I suppose some of the key elements were down to me, but I always put that down to the fact that people somehow prefer a glossier style to an impressionistic style.

Your last strip work on Dredd was the final part of Block Mania – memories?

That was one of my favourites. I was quite pleased with the drawing. It was an action story. Some of my favourite stories in terms of satisfaction with my own drawing, they were not very exciting stories. Some of my favourites were done by Carlos or Mick - I always regretted not drawing the League of Fatties, all those wonderful characters.

I was quite pleased with that last story I did. [Rowdy Yates Block] I loved the anachronistic block names, they were always named after people who were slightly past their sell-by date. The Rita Tushingham Block – even when that story was written, she was an actress who hadn’t been heard of for some time. People that John remembered…

[1979 – BB did 3 covers for regular Green Lantern.] Around that time envoys were being sent from DC to see what talent there was in Britain. They came to the SSI and flirted with us and tempted us over to work. I knew I was going to go there eventually.

Banned Dredd strip from Prog 500...

That was our chance to whinge about the company. I can’t remember what the thrust of it was, but it was good fun. I remember when we were doing it, I said surely they’re not going to let us say this? We were allowed to write it ourselves, you see. But I was told it would be fine. Later on, of course, somebody rung up and said it’s all going to have to be rewritten. I don’t remember the issue that was in, I haven’t got a copy of it.

2000 AD was squarer than the normal size, fatter than A4. When I used to take it to the photocopying centre, they always used to photocopy the middle. So I’ve got these copies of my work with all the outside edges trimmed off!

[Creator rights issues…] To be honest, there are all sorts of issues with creators’ rights and they’ve always taken second place in my heart to what I really wanted to do. I was such a DC fan, it just seemed like going to Mecca for me to work for DC Comics. There were nagging grievances…

Also, you’ve just got to move on. Drawing Judge Dredd did require a lot of creative juices and after a while you do burn out a bit. I did draw 40 or so covers for the Eagle Comics reprints. I’ve always thought they were some of my best work on the character. I got to do the covers for stories I didn’t draw originally, like the League of Fatties. There was the great dark humour and irony in Dredd that Americans didn’t get. So I was very pleased we put something in an American comic book format containing the curious irony and dark humour.

[Stolen artwork issues…]

It really pissed me off. I think was I glad to see the back of 2000 AD when I discovered so much of my artwork was missing. What really happened was… The whole process of returning artwork… I don’t know who was pushing for that but there seemed to be a lot of people pushing for that to happen. They were dragging there heels about it. I tried to speak to people about it and getting fobbed off by secretaries.

Then you had to pay for transparencies to be made of your artwork before they would return it. I don’t remember what the fee was, but there was a charge and it was like the final insult. We had to catalogue it too. We had to provide them with a list of all our pages, where and when they had appeared. I didn’t get round to it for a while, I was trying to work.

Finally I made a deal with Forbidden Planet – they would catalogue it and collect it for me, and buy it off me. It was them that discovered… When they presented the list of artwork, over 100 pages were missing. Some have filtered back since. There were about 115 pages missing from the 280 or so I had done. It was a lot, nearly half.

I was fortunate that I had previously borrowed some of the very best pages to go into an exhibition somewhere. So I do have the Gaze page. About 10 of my favourite pages I had already claimed back, otherwise they would have been the first to go. I think IPC only decided to give the artwork back when they ran out of space and had to shift the archive to Deptford.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #24: Brian Bolland Pt. 1

Brian Bolland was among 2000 AD's most acclaimed artists in its early years, but also one of the comic's least prolific. Here's the first half of the transcript for the interview I did with Brian for THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD. It begins with him recalling what he was doing before joining the weekly...


January 1975 until sometime in 1977 I was drawing Powerman for Pican Publications. It was published in Nigeria and later reprinted in South Africa. Ron Tiner changed some of the panels. The people behind Pican were teachers who wanted to bring literacy to Nigeria. Everything had to be very simple, no breaking the panel borders. Which was good because it taught me discipline. Powerman was a generic superhero. The stories were quite banal. I met the artist Siku who comes from Nigeria and he remembered reading it as a child.

You first work for 2000 AD was the cover to Prog 11 – how did you break in?

My agent and Dave’s agent and Carlos’s artist was Barry Coker of Bardon Press Features. Our careers were being managed with him. He had connections with Spanish artists and links with IPC. He was putting the right people together. When 2000 AD was being put together, I think he was approached to provide artists. I don’t know whether Jesus Blasco who was in the first issue, I don’t think if he was one of Barry’s.

We had a meeting in Barry’s office where we were being shown the dummy for 2000 AD. Me and Dave went in, and Dave started in the first issue. I carried on with Powerman for the next six months or so. We didn’t know whether 2000 AD was going to be a big thing but I was quite keen to see how it looked. But I couldn’t get my hands on the first issue, it sold out straight away.

British comics were in rather poor shape if you were a new artist, trying to break in. You had to have an agent. There were no science fiction comics, they died out with the Eagle. When I first went to Bardon, they got me drawing samples for Napoleonic war stories and romance stories, all sorts of things.

You were drew covers on 2000 AD for the next seven months – why?

Some of them were pretty dreadful! They did these things called Supercovers. They said just come up with ideas. They wrote a little paragraph explaining the cover. I just sat down with a blank piece of paper and just came up with vague ideas. They were probably inspired by things like Strange Adventures in the 60s. I quite liked the Prog 27 cover with the astronaut and the frog, but the coverlines didn’t really relate to the picture.

Nick Landau says he had to lobby hard for you to get a strip commission. That came in Prog 41 on Dredd, part two of Mega-City 5000 – memories?

I ended up doing that because I was asked by Nick. We were a little club of comics fans. WE had all met at the 1972 comic convention at the Waverley Hotel. All of us had somehow met at that and got to know each other, all comics fanboys. Nick asked me to draw my first Dredd strip and a lot of my subsequent Dredd work came via Nick.

Prog 45 – Dan Dare cover – two versions…

That was a very quick cover. Some of those covers were done very quickly. I drew him in profile, his head. I think somebody in the office redrew the head. They stuck a new head over the top, looking directly at the reader.

Next you drew six episodes of Dredd on the Moon – whose idea to give Dredd a cape? It looks kind of superheroic!

He had a cape? I cannot imagine that! His helmet a lot from story to story. I always credit Mick with the evolution of the character’s look. I don’t know if that’s unfair on Ian or Carlos but I always thought it was Mick. He was the one we were all watching. Every time he turned in a story he’d moved on somehow. I remember turning up with a cover and Mick’s story had turned up that day and everyone was squatted around a desk, looking at the new developments. Slightly new shape to the helmet and the eyepiece changed shape…

The picture of Dredd’s face – that was a 1940s actor called Rondo Hatton. I’ve only seen him in one film.

The Cursed Earth saga ran for six months, yet it only had two principle artists – yourself and Mike McMahon – was that a strain? Hero or anti-hero…

There was always this kind of pull – was Dredd a hero or an anti-hero? I always preferred him as an anti-hero myself.

I was always slow, so the pressure was on Mick and me. 2000 AD paced me, they knew how quickly I could do something. They would schedule ahead to get my stories in.

Dave Gibbons inked you on several episodes...

That’s right! I must have been really up against it for time, then. Dave inked one of the Tweak episodes.

Euro artists got £53 a page on early progs, but British artists only got £49…

That needs to be told! We never felt good about the management, at all. We always felt they thought of us as chattels, slaves. We were some sort of humanity on a level beneath them. We didn’t even know their names. If you tried to contact them, you were fobbed off by secretaries.

Where did the pen name of Bollo come from? It appears on some of your early 2000 AD covers...

I called myself Bollo on a few occasions, I think it was a hangover of fans days. Dave Gibbons was Gibbo, I was Bollo…

Do you have a favourite episode of your work on Cursed Earth?

The Mt Rushmore double spread – that was a good one, wasn’t it. The first episode of Dredd I ever did had a double-page spread. I always hated a dps, because I was used to doing little boxes from Powerman. I remember I was at somebody’s house with Nick and Mike Lake. Mike was coaching me on how to fill a dps, because he was a big Jack Kirby fan. It might have been Land Race.

The Jolly Green Giant – that was a rushed one. I quite enjoyed that one. There are certain pages that worked well, but they’re dotted around the place – they’re not all in the same story.

There was a toy tie-in – the Killdozer, it was a real story. They gave us this toy to draw it into the story. The script said I had to draw the Killdozer driving up the face of Mt Rushmore. There was no way this thing manage it, but I just drew what I was asked to do. It was going pretty much vertically. It didn’t look very convincing to me, but there you go!

I was always able to detach myself from the story and just concentrate on the technical aspects. So, there are certain pages where there are fewer errors, those are always my favourites, but they are scattered all over.

Apparently the JGG can never be reprinted, but it is available on websites. People know they can’t control it. I don’t think anyone’s reprinted the whole story, in print or on the internet.

A generation of artists rose to prominence in the early issues of 2000…

I guess we were that comic fan generation. American comics came into this country in 1959 and that kicked me off on American comics. I suppose that applies to the whole generation of people like me, Dave Gibbons… I always acknowledged the fact I was an American comic book artist trying to work in a different medium. At the time I don’t think 2000 looked like an American comic, particularly.

You only drew a few episodes of the Judge Cal saga – why? Burnt out?

I don’t think I was burnt out. You feel more comfortable that you won’t lose your job if you get a night’s sleep. I was more and more taking advantage of being given extra time to do my work. I timed myself once and it took me 12 hours to ink a page. I’ve never been able to estimate how long it will take to draw things.

On the Cursed Earth I came across the idea that if I had a single figure to draw in one panel and a crowd scene in another, I would make the crowd scene a small panel and the single figure a big panel.

You only ever seemed to drew Dredd for 2000 AD – why?

I did draw the Walter the Wobot as another entity, because it was comedy. 2000 AD always was eclectic. I mean, it stole things from everywhere. If there was a good idea on the go, 2000 AD would give it a fresh spin. It took things we recognised in our culture and put them in a slightly different context. I don’t think I’ve ever found anything with the mix of black humour like 2000 AD. It’s sad, really…

The brief advent of web offset printing…

I had to suddenly learn how to paint. I suddenly how to buy myself pots of inks and learn how to apply colour. I only ever drew one story in colour.[Alien Zoo in an annual.] I found it such hard work! My colour sense wasn’t very good then. I can just about compose colours in a single image to make them look balanced, but I’ve very rarely drawn colour in an entire comic strip page and balanced them all. It’s clever for people who can do it.

Friday, February 23, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #23: Dark Bish-OP Pt. 4

In preparation for writing THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD, I interviewed myself about my experiences with 2000 AD. Here's another chunk of excerpts, beginning with my memories of Prog 113, which a series of stories about Dante and his Romanov siblings...


Robbie write a slew of these stories, aimed at developing the characters of Dante’s half-siblings. As a series these probably went on too long and suffered from having too many different artists drawing them. Dante is best with just one or two regular artists.

Prog 1125 – Scorpion Dance – lotta Dredd threads come together, DeMarco quits...

That story was the culmination of a bunch of plot threads Wagner had been developing since 1995 – the Frendz, DeMarco and her infatuation with Dredd, Judge Jura Edgar of the PSU. It was great to see it all come together.

Prog 1127 – Eurocrash begins for SinDex...

That was probably the first of the big epics in 1999. It became a year-long saga for Sinister Dexter as their partnership fell apart, the city of Downlode was nearly reduced to rubble and the deaths of several main characters. Up to then Sinister Dexter had been a comedy strip with a few serious stories – 1999 completely reversed that. It went on too long, but it was a great run of stories. You felt anything could happen, anyone could die – all bets were off.

Prog 1128 – Balls Brothers begins...

That was the first new series Wagner had created for 2000 AD in a decade, at least. Outright comedy strips have a hard time with the readers. They prefer grim and gritty to grinning. Humour in the context of adventure and jeopardy is fine – just look at the success of Robo-Hunter. But pure comedy is rarely a hit. About the only example I can think of is D.R. & Quinch. So the Balls Brothers struggled to convince the readers, despite having creators with the calibre of Wagner and Kevin Walker attached. A shame, I really liked it.

Prog 1135 – first Banzai Battalion...

The Dredd strip is very good at generating new characters who can then go on to enjoy their own adventures. That just shows how talented Wagner is as a writer. Banzai Battalion first appeared in this prog and immediately struck a chord with readers. They were an inspired creation and have come back at least two times since. Great fun.

Prog 1141 – Doomsday begins, ends 1164...

The problem with Dredd mega-epics is that it strains credibility for cataclysmic events to be happening in 2000 AD’s Dredd strip but not rate a mention in the character’s own Megazine. You end up with anomalies like Inferno, that never got mentioned once in the Meg. On the other hand, readers who only buy one of the two titles take umbrage when mega-epics appear in both titles as a crossover strip.

Doomsday was an attempt to resolve that dilemma. It featured a mega-epic storyline in both titles, but with the action between told from different points on view in each one. The episodes in 2000 AD followed what happened to Dredd while the Megazine concentrated on what happened to Mega-City One and particularly former Judge Galen DeMarco. In the end Doomsday was a good yarn but only a partial success at achieving its aims.

May 1999 – Rebellion first tries to buy 2000 AD...

I found out about this by accident. I was due to go on holiday for a week. On my final day I came into the office early and found a fax to managing director Julie Goldsmith about a proposal for Rebellion to buy 2000 AD and the Megazine. The fax had been sent to the machine near our desks, instead of to Julie’s private fax machine in her office. I took the fax upstairs and handed it to her, causing great consternation. The negotiations had been kept very quiet and the editorial team was not supposed to know. But now the secret was out.

I got very excited at the prospect of Rebellion buying the comic. Both Andy and I were getting increasingly frustrated by Egmont Fleetway’s attitude to 2000 AD. It was just a cash cow to the managers, and they were trying to squeeze every last penny out of it. They didn’t care about the future of 2000 AD and were doing nothing to develop or promote it. Rebellion seemed like the white knight, charging in to save us.

Then it all went wrong. The deal fell apart and we were left right back where we started. Andy and I meet Jason in a Soho pub afterwards and persuaded him not to give up on the idea. But the collapse of the Rebellion deal led me to make a major decision. I’d been editing the Megazine and 2000 AD for nearly a decade, I wanted to move on. I could see that if I stuck around any longer I’d be in danger of getting trapped, unable to find work elsewhere. I tried to find other opportunities elsewhere within Egmont but to no avail. So I started applying for jobs elsewhere.

Prog 1149 – Devlin Waugh transfers to 2000 AD from the Megazine...

Another Megazine refugee comes to 2000 AD. The Dredd reprints had been replaced by Preacher but there was still no room for old favourites like Devlin. In 1999 pre-millennium tension was reaching its apogee and Sirius Rising was commissioned to accompany that. Sirius Rising was one of the longest non-Dredd stories ever to appear in the weekly, running over six months. It would have been even longer but I had to make John Smith cut several episodes from the middle and kept the ending as tight as possible.

Prog 1151 – Rose O’Rion gets own series...

Rose O’Rion had made her debut in Pulp Sci-Fi and proved popular enough to merit a sequel. This was her first full-length series but it never quite worked. Lots of potential but no pizzazz. Artist Andy Clarke would go on to bigger and better things.

Prog 1161 – classic Dante tale The Courtship of Jena Makarov begins...

This was the big one, what everything else had been leading up to for nearly three years. By the time the story finished, the Empire was at war. The final episode was heart-breaking stuff and I don’t think Simon Fraser’s art has ever been better. A gem in a run of gems.

Prog 1164 – lost Hap Hazzard story published...

I discovered this artwork while cleaning out the drawers during one of our frequent shifts inside the office. Hap Hazzard had first appeared in a Future Shock written and drawn by Steve Dillon. He did another five Hap Hazzard strips between 1988 and 1989, but only four of them had seen print. The fifth got lost in the mists of time and eventually turned up a decade later. The script to accompany the art had long since disappeared, so we needed a new script. With Steve’s blessing, we held a competition inviting readers to have a go at writing a script to fit the art. A bit of an oddity but still fun.

Prog 1165 – Nemesis Book X at last...

With the year 2000 fast approaching, the time seemed right to wrap up a lot of lost ends from 2000 AD’s past. One of these was Nemesis the Warlock. He had appeared in short stories and teamed up with other characters, but there hadn’t been a major Nemesis series since Deathbringer back in 1989. The time seemed right to present the tenth and last book of the saga, The Final Conflict.

Henry Flint’s art was a revelation. He really went for it, trying to capture that old school feel in his pages, right down to laboriously cutting up sheets of aged mechanical tone to get the same effects on his art the original pages of Nemesis had. His art seemed to evoke the spirit of early Kevin O’Neill without trying to be a clone of O’Neill’s unique style.

How did Prog 2000 come about?

I can’t remember who first suggested publishing a 100-page, end of year special issue – but I remember lobbying long and hard for it to happen. There was concern from management that readers would not be willing to pay £3.95 for Prog 2000, but I believed in the concept. Sales did rise whenever we published one of our 48-page progs that stayed on sale for a fortnight. By having the issue on sale for longer, we gave people more chance to see and buy it. Even allowing for the fact Prog 2000 would be on sale over the Christmas and New Year holidays, I was still convinced it would out-sell regular issues. It did – we sold thousands of extra copies, sales went up by 40%.

Once we’d got approval to do Prog 2000, I wanted it to be a very special edition. For a start, this was to be the final issue before the year 2000, so it had to reflect reaching that milestone. Also, I wanted it to be my final issue as editor. That didn’t happen because the job I thought I had lined up at another publisher fell through. But I still wanted Prog 2000 is be a real landmark, something everyone involved could be proud of.

We got Mike McMahon back drawing a Dredd strip in 2000 AD for the first time since Block Mania 18 years earlier. We got Dave Gibbons back drawing a Rogue Trooper story in 2000 AD for the first time in 18 years. We got Kevin O’Neill to draw the final ever episode of Nemesis the Warlock. John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra brought back Johnny Alpha as Strontium Dog for the first time in nearly a decade. It wasn’t just old favourites either. Prog 2000 had the epilogue to Dante’s Courtship story, which sent the saga hurtling towards war. And it began Glimmer Rats. I’d have to say Prog 2000 was the best single issue I was ever involved with. Everything after seemed like an anti-climax.

Prog 1178 – Badlands © Abnett & Walker...

That was an example of high-quality emergency filler. Kevin Walker had pitched it to 2000 AD when John Tomlinson was editor. It got turned down but the samples never got sent back. I found them just at the moment when another series went horribly late. I needed filler in a hurry. Dan and Kevin agreed to rework their original strip, adding new pages and revising the script. It worked quite well in the end – better than having five shoddy Future Shocks instead!

Prog 1183 – Dante’s Tsar Wars begins, planned for 5 books, becomes four...

The war between the Tsar and Romanovs had been brewing since the first episode of Dante three years earlier. The Tsar Wars saga was originally planned as five books of eight parts each, running to a massive 240 pages. John Burns painted the first book, The Rudinshtein Irregulars. He had mostly been painting Dredds for 2000 AD but requested the chance to do a Dante script. I later discovered he was passionate about the style and setting of the series, having always wanted to paint something like it. His painted pages a revelation of Dante, giving it a depth and lustre not seen in previous episodes that had been coloured line art.

Prog 1186 – Dredd clones revealed, leads to new Judge Rico...

This was a real bolt from the blue, a Wagner curveball. Introducing the young clone of Dredd made a lot of readers question whether Old Stony Face was going to be phased out. It also gave John a chance to further incorporate Dredd’s brother Rico into the mythos. That story is notable because it’s the only time you get to properly see Dredd’s face in the comic. He is shown as a young cadet in Prog 1187 for one panel, drawn by Simon Fraser. I remember Wagner was less than impressed about that, but it never occurred to me there would be a problem. Dredd is so young in that image – it gives you no idea what he would look like as an adult with his helmet off. The story title, Blood Cadets, was recycled from the aborted Dredd Fortnightly dummy prepared in 1984.

Bishop resigns!

In March 2000 I gave Fleetway three months notice that I was resigning as editor. My wife had got a job in Scotland and I decided I would quit and go freelance. I was felt burnt out and Andy was so eager to get hold the comic and make it his own. I knew it was time to go.

Ironically, just after I handed in my resignation, Rebellion reappeared on the scene. Jason and Chris still wanted to buy the comic and its characters and so negotiations started again. I was almost tempted to stick around, it felt like a new beginning for the comic – that was what I wanted. But I also wanted to be do other things and Rebellion’s arrival wouldn’t change that. Plus there was no guarantee the deal wouldn’t fall apart again, just as it had in 1999.

Fleetway buggered about for weeks on end before finally seeing sense and appointing Andy as the new editor. Once they did I gave him total control of the comic and I resumed editing the Megazine for the third time. Fleetway agreed that I would continue editing the Megazine on a freelance basis when I left, while the Rebellion takeover ran its course.

Prog 1191 – first Tales of Telguuth...

Andy was a big fan of Steve Moore’s writing for Warrior, particularly Axel Pressbutton. Andy was very good at searching out his comic heroes from the early 1980s and getting them to work for 2000 AD. Steve Moore agreed to create new strips for the weekly. Tales of Telguuth was a fantasy series with an anthology format. The stories were mostly one-off tales, set in this magical world. It wasn’t really my cup of tea.

June 2000 – Bishop resigns, Diggle becomes editor, Matt Smith joins...

I left at the end of June, just as Rebellion was taking over. I’d only been gone a week or two when I was back again, flying down from Scotland three days a week for three weeks to help Matt get the comic out while Andy was away on his honeymoon. I kept editing the Megazine freelance. I thought it would only last three or four months but I ended up doing that for a year and a half!

Prog 1200 – Red Fang debuts, 2000 gets thinner, price rise to £1.40...

The comic got thinner again with Prog 1200. Other companies in the Egmont empire were reprinting 2000 AD material in US comics format, which is smaller and thinner than 2000 AD had been. Also, Fleetway had hoped to penetrate the US comics market too. So we made the comic thinner to get it into the same proportions as American comics. That took readers a while to adjust to, but you don’t notice it at all now.