Tuesday, September 15, 2015

This is Dreddland '90 - 25 years ago today


On September 15, 1990 a new monthly comic called Judge Dredd The Megazine was published for the first time. It was cover-dated October 1990, but officially went on sale the third Saturday of the preceding month for reasons too arcane to recall. A long-mooted spin-off from 2000AD comic, the Megazine was launched with a special party at the 1990 UK Comic Art Convention in London for the cream of British creators at the time - plus me.

I was assistant editor on the new title, having joined six and a half weeks earlier as the first issue was being prepped for repro. Back in those pre-digital days you had to begin the long production process six weeks ahead of publication. I had originally applied to be assistant editor on Revolver, another new monthly launch from the House of Tharg. I didn't get that job but Steve MacManus hired me for the Meg, working as his assistant.

I had little to do with the initial run of issues, which were largely complete when I arrived with stacks of art already in the plans chest. 1990 was the era of fully painted strips, created half-up or even double publication size. The talent in the first run was incredible: writers John Wagner, Alan Grant and Garth Ennis; artists Cam Kennedy, Jim Baikie, Colin MacNeil, John McCrea and Peter Doherty; plus cover artists Glenn Fabry, Sean Phillips and Duncan Fegredo.

The Megazine might have been all Dredd and his world all the time to start with, but there was plenty of breakthroughs behind the scenes. The first issue sold more than 50,000 copies, triggering a royalty payment to all the creators featured in it - that had never happened before on a Fleetway title. There was a satirical magazine inside the issue, the Mega-City Times, created via desktop publishing - a first back when titles were still put together with glue and scalpels.

I learned my trade as a comics editor under the expert guidance of Steve MacManus, the unsung hero of 2000AD's golden age during the first half of the 1980s. He taught to employ the best creatives you can find and get out of their way - let the talent do its thing. He also encouraged me to find the next generation of British comics creators and nurture them. Giving a new writer or artist their first pro job was often the most satisfying part of my work on the title.

Warren Ellis and Frank Quitely got some of their earliest gig on the Megazine. The comic helped launch the career of creators like Robbie Morrison, Trevor Hairsine, Jim Murray and many others. It broadened the range of Dredd's universe with the first out and proud gay character in Devlin Waugh, and provided a home for creator-owned strips like Al's Baby. And the Megazine certainly had the liveliest letters page in British comics, not for the faint-hearted.

I became editor in 1991, and took the title fortnightly after 20 issues. I switched to editing 2000AD at the end of 1995, but frequently oversaw the Megazine after that. Even after leaving to go freelance in 2000, I have been in the title a few times - scripting Fiends of the Eastern Front: Stalingrad serial, and writing the history of 2000AD articles that became TPO. I haven't been in the Meg for quite a while, but I still read the title which it has a special place in my heart.

There have been so many amazing strips in the Judge Dredd Megazine [as the name eventually became], it seems churlish to pick one out as my favourite - so I'll choose two. America by Wagner & MacNeil is a stone-cold classic that still carries a visceral punch [there's a fresh tale by those creators starting next month in the Meg, don't miss it]. Those 62 pages raised the bar for storytelling in the Dredd universe, ensuring the Meg had its own identity.

My other choice is Bury My Knee At Wounded Heart by Wagner and Doherty. It's only nine pages long, a one-off Dredd in Megazine Volume 2 issue 46, but that story has the emotional impact of a sledgehammer. It reduced me to tears when I read the original script, and Pete's art was the perfect expression of John's delicate, heartfelt tale. In a title full of guns, death and grimness, that story is proof there's more to the Meg than you might expect.

Congratulations to the Judge Dredd Megazine for 25 years of continuous publication, a rare feat for any British comic these days - and here's to another 25 years. Right, I'm off to listen to some Candy Flip, and hope the rumours about Margaret Thatcher being pushed out are true. Step on!


Dominic Carver said...

I still have that issue :-)

Unknown said...

Happy 25th anniversary, you big brash beautiful Megazine, you!

John Smith said...

That was me, that was!