Saturday, February 10, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #10: Alan Grant Pt. 2

You guessed it, more excerpts from my THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD interviews with former editorial staff member and current 2000 AD writer Alan Grant. That title is a bit of a giveaway, isn't it? Anyway, here Alan talks about the return of Dan Dare in Prog 100...


It was the great white hope. I don’t think it could ever work, because Dan Dare was a product of his time, just as Dredd was. Dredd could never have been a hit in the 50s! Even with Grant Morrison’s revisionist version of it, which I found quite interesting, unless you rarely cared about Dan Dare in the first place it wouldn’t mean anything to it. As a reader, I never liked Dan Dare. I liked the Mekon. I would have liked the Treens, except that they were such push-overs. I always thought me and two kids from down the street could beat the whole Treen army! Dan and Digby makes such assholes of them all the time! I guess my generation was really ready for 2000 AD when it came along.

The line-up in 100 – Dredd, Strontium Dog, Robo-Hunter, Dan Dare, Ro-Busters: Terra-Meks. The JudgeCal saga was already running when you arrived…

Yeah, it was well under way. I remember sharing the farmhouse with John. He would watch that week’s episode of I, Claudius on TV and then use whatever elements he wanted for the Judge Cal story! In a way, that was one of things that made 2000 AD so strong in the first place - and, prior to 2000 AD, Action. The fact that they were showing their versions of things that kids couldn’t get into the movies to see, being too young. Most notably Jaws being Hookjaw. The same thing applied to 2000 AD. It was generally considered okay to incorporate and distort ideas from other sources. But the kids wouldn’t have seen the originals. That may be why comics like 2000 AD are finding it more difficult now because of the internet and video rental, everything is available to kids, nothing is taboo.

When you go back and read the early 2000 Ads, it’s obvious they were written for children but with some adult sensibility to them as well. But the thing that stands out most, rather than the quality of the writing and the artwork, was the sheer enthusiasm and vitality that went into doing them. It was something that had never happened before and everybody just threw themselves into it. 25 years later, I feel sorry for modern editors who have to try to continue that. The longer it goes on, the harder it is to get that vitality into each issue. You find a formula that seems to work and the obvious thing to do is stick to it. The amount of loyalty that 2000 AD engendered in its fans was incredible.

Web offset printing 110-127 – how good they look!

For the first time you saw how beautiful artwork could be. Even stories I didn’t like, like Tom Tully and Dave Gibbons’ Dan Dare, Dave’s artwork then – it’s as mature as anything that he has ever done. That’s some of the best artwork he’s ever produced, even though I don’t particularly like the story. I do remember when Tully’s first scripts came in, he didn’t include any photographic reference for the tough new female character. I sent Dave Gibbons photographs of my then current girlfriend, she’d done some modelling, thinking that would be cool. I didn’t hear from Dave until he brought in the artwork and he had drawn her without a fucking face! That was okay but it was very hard for teenage readers to get sexually aroused by someone who looks like a Muppet!

For me, the web offset run showed 2000 AD at its best. Other periods have come to rival it, but because I was there at the time and I was involved with it all, it made me very close to it. I had every issue of 2000 AD in bound volumes and there are entire volumes you can happily bypass! But this one is a must-read.

That run has also got Journey Into Hell…

For the first time, Carlos’s artwork was being seen at its best. These centre-spreads he did were radically different from anything that had been done in British comics. There was fantastic reader reaction. Dave did his best artwork on that Dan Dare series. Kevin O’Neill – his mind is still the same now as it was then – but he was really started to get into it.

Bob Bartholomew hated Kevin’s artwork, he would have gotten rid of Kevin entirely if he could’ve gotten away with it. Bob was supposed to read every page of 2000 AD every week but he didn’t. You could tell the weeks he did because he was always asking for changes.

At the end of one episodes of Judge Cal, Cal has one of his judges pickled in a giant jar. I think it was Brett Ewins or Brendan McCarthy who did the artwork. They had done a full page shot of this guy pickled in this jar. Bob Bartholomew got really irate. ‘Do you realise what would happen if some child drowns themselves in vinegar? We’ll be blamed for it!' For a start, where are they going to get a fucking bottle big enough? How are they going to get the money to afford all that vinegar? 'We can’t enourage children to think this sort of behaviour is safe!' But it’s due to the printer this afternoon Bob. What can we do? He said I want that page changed. It’s got to be changed! What do you want us to do? I want that image removed! I went back to the office. So we cut off the bottom half of the page and ran a next prog half-pager.

There was another example, the cover for a Judge Dredd story. Must have been a robot story. For reasons best known to himself, Kevin O’Neill had drawn the cover of a robot being burned with the initials INRI on its chest. Bob Bartholomew saw it and went fucking ballistic, probably because it was Kevin. Kevin was lucky to work again. If it had gone through, Kevin would have been banned for life by IPC. It means Jesus Christ, King of the Jews.

One of Bob’s other sparkling pieces of censorship was whes he decided Robo-Hunter couldn’t be seen smoking a cigar. But Ian Gibson had already draw pages and pages of Sam Slade smoking. So Robin Smith went through it all with a brush and a pot of white paint. So there were all these shots of Sam holding two fingers up in front of his face where the cigar should be! That lead directly to Robo-Stoogie. John created Robo-Stoogie to get his own back on Bob Bartholomew for taking out all the cigars! It’s funny how your employers can provoke that sort of reaction.

After Bob Bartholomew left, a guy called Barry Tomlinson took over his job. To give him his due, he left 2000 AD largely alone.

The revival of Rick Random? Why?

As soon as we saw it, we knew Rick should not be in 2000 AD. I don’t know whose idea it was to commission it, I really can’t remember. But it had no place being there, none whatsoever.

Prog 119 relaunch – Adventure, not sci-fi…

The Book of Robots was a good idea and well received by the readers. It wasn’t such a good idea to bring Bill Savage back. I recall Disaster 1990 going down like a lead balloon with the readership. They had grown up a bit since the early progs and they were looking for something with a bit more sophistication. Bill Savage was something they could have read in Hotspur or Lion or the older style comics…

Prog 127 – the arrival of Tornado and last litho issue…

I can’t say too much about Blackhawk. I did the merger and decided we could take in Wolfie Smith with Tom Tully still writing it. We would continue with Blackhawk but turn him into a science fiction hero, rather than an Ancient Rome hero. I recall speaking to Gerry Finley-Day about it. Gerry was a very nice guy but very sensitive and couldn’t face criticism. Rather than hand his script to your personally, Gerry waited until you were away at lunch. When you came back you’d find his scripts on your desk but no sign of Gerry.

I spoke to him and told him we were taking Blackhawk into 2000 AD. He said he didn’t want to write it anymore. He said: “I’ve exhausted Ancient Rome.” It was the talk of the office, that, for a while. I was getting advice from Kelvin on this. I had never written an on-going story before, though I had written one-offs. I really was not confident about my ability to write something like Blackhawk for 20 weeks. Kelvin said he would do it with me. After about three or four episodes, Kelvin pulled out and I was left with it. Sink or swim, I guess. It might not have been very good but Belardinelli’s artwork was such that several of the characters he created were very popular with the readers, even if the story wasn’t. I was lucky in that, at least!

Readers complained about 127 merger?

There were a lot of complaints, a lot of complaints. But it did exactly what the merger was supposed to do, it was Fleetway policy at the time. If a comic wasn’t supporting itself in five or six months, then they merged it into a more successful comic. That gave a boost in readership of 30-50%. I think that when Tornado merged into 2000 AD, it was a 30% boost to 2000’s readership, which was welcome. But then we were back to letterpress printing…

You can see the difference so clearly on the colour centre-spreads. Brendan’s colour centre-spreads were so vibrant on the litho run and here we’re back to mud again. Let’s not use ink this issue, we’ll just use mud.

Prog 140 introduces the VCs. Gerry Finley-Day is almost the forgotten man amongst 2000 AD writers…

Gerry was really good at coming up with ideas. He didn’t know how to realise his ideas, but he had a real knack for spotting something and translating it into a 2000 AD story. When he saw that Clint Eastwood movie, Escape from Alcatraz, he was able to convert it into the dumbly titled Harry 20 On The High Rock. That was a popular story, it had good artwork by Alan Davis – he did a really great job on it, I think it was his first job for 2000.

When Gerry delivered the first script, I took the script to Steve and showed it to him. I said we can’t print these scripts the way they are, the sentences don’t make sense, the word balloons are way too long. Steve said it was my job to sub-edit it. Steve and I had a slight falling out about this. I said I had been employed as a sub-editor, not as a writer. This required a major rewrite job. Steve agreed to pay me freelance rates to rewrite the whole of Harry 20. I didn’t really rewrite it, it was more to put right all the things that Gerry got wrong. To cut it down by about 60% because he over-wrote everything.

One of Gerry’s most famous picture descriptions, I can’t remember what story it was on. Panel one said full page inside outside shot with insets and then he went on to describe the scene. We couldn’t figure out whether it was meant to be an interior or an exterior! As far as we could tell, there wasn’t any insets! We puzzled over it for hours, trying to figure out what it was meant to be. You never knew what was going to come out of his typewriter!

Comics changed and Gerry wasn’t able to adapt, so he stopped getting work. My job with Gerry’s scripts was to put them into publishable form. I was paid to rewrite them , which was good practice for me. But I knew from previous jobs how much rewriting a sub-editor was expected to do.

Fiends of the Eastern Front – as far as I knew he just came in with it one day. In a strange way I thought it kind of worked, maybe it was because the readers were used to seeing Carlos’s artwork. But it didn’t stand out as wrong as say Rick Random did, even when it had good artists, or Carlos Pino’s art. We got a lot of readers writing in to say what the hell has this got to do with 2000 AD, but quite a lot of other readers liked it. They liked seeing a war strip with a difference. I have to say I was anti it to start with it, but Steve was right to go ahead with it. I’m not saying we couldn’t have printed something better, we probably could have, but at the same time I feel it became part of 2000 AD, rather than one of these intruders like Disaster 1990, Ant Wars, stuff like that. I thought (Fiends) it worked quite well.

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