Thursday, February 08, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #9: Alan Grant Pt. 1

Alan Grant joined 2000 AD as a sub-editor in the late 1970s, but left after less than two years and became a freelance writer. He still contributes scripts to the weekly now, nearly thirty years later. I interviewed him numerous times during my research for the THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD book. Here's the first of several excerpt from those interview transcripts, as Alan talks about his first few months on the staff of 2000 AD...


I started round about Prog 92, 94 and I was then until round about Prog 180. Colin Wyatt was the art editor, Steve MacManus was the chief sub and Robin Smith was the art assistant. Kelvin Gosnell was the editor, but he was more concerned with the new comic he was bringing out, Tornado. After having been with IPC as sub-editor on 2000 AD for as little as two weeks, although it might have been a month, I was offered promotion to chief sub-editor on Tornado before it was launched. I turned them down which upset the managing editor, Bob Batholomew, quite a lot. He couldn’t understand why anyone would turn down the chance of promotion and more money. I could him it was because the comic was going too be a failure. He insisted I go to John Sanders, the publisher at the time, and repeat this heresy.

They didn’t seem to have any way of telling, these guys, of deciding whether something had quality or not. They were used to selling comics in quantity. That was all that mattered to them. Sanders and I put on a five pound bet that Tornado would be dead within six months. I think in the event it lasted 22 issues. Sanders paid up the five pounds and asked me how I knew it was going to be a failure. I said it wasn’t as good as 2000 AD!

The merger with Starlord introduced Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters into the pages of 2000 AD, replacing Inferno and Ant Wars…

The truth was there was so few comic writers around at that time, people who knew who to do it, in the way that Wagner and Mills knew, for instance, that IPC were still using a lot of their old time writers like Tom Tully. He’d been a mainstay of IPC since the 1960s, if not before. But his stories were always very slow and quite hard going. We used to try, I as sub-editor, would try to get him to speed things up. I would ask him if he couldn’t condense three episodes into one, for example. Once, in the pub, he explained to me why his stories had very little forward momentum to them. He said most of his stories could be told in only three or four episodes. If he did that, he would only get paid for three or four episodes. If he could spin it out to 20 episodes, he would be paid four or five times as much for doing so. I suddenly understood!

Quite often now, when I read certain stories by other people, it’s quite easy to see where it’s been padded. A one-part story that gets turned into two parts. I don’t deny I’ve done it myself, Wagner and I were masters at it when we set up together as freelancers in the 1980s. The reason was we didn’t get any royalties, which meant you were stuck with just your page rate. If you did two six-page stories per week and the page rate was something like £20, you were earning £240 a week. We were getting copies of 2000 AD stories sent in to us from around the world. Danish versions, continental versions – not the whole comic, just the stories they wanted, usually Judge Dredd.

I was on staff when that all started and sharing a farmhouse with John, and I know how cut up John was about how his work was being reproduced all over the world and he didn’t get any fucking money for it. I felt really angry on his behalf. I had several, almost stand-up fights with John Sanders and his deputy John Purdey about trying to win rights for the writers and artists. At that time artists didn’t even get their artwork back. It was all piled up in these vaults, supposeful filed away. Much of it was just scattered all over the floor. People used to walk all over the 2000 AD artwork, it was disgraceful.

Sanders and Purdey (Purdey was more concerned with the day-to-day running of the girls’ romantic comics rather than boys’ comics) – they knew perfectly well that a company like IPC, it’s main value lies not in what it’s selling now, but what lies in its back catalogue. They had comic stuff going back 30 years. The annuals were budgeted so you had to use 30% reprint. But what could you do?

IPC also had a rule about mergers. When they told me they were merging Tornado into 2000 AD, I said why not do it in name only, why take any Tornado stories into 2000 AD? But they said the rule was that you had to have 40% transferred across. The merger with 2000 AD was quite interesting. When it was first suggested, Steve MacManus – to his credit – said he thought it was a terrible idea, the two comics were not compatible and he, literally, refused to preside over the merger.

Unfortunately for Steve, he went away on two weeks holiday and the day after he left. I can’t remember who it would have been who came in to see me, and told me it was my job during Steve’s absence to supervise the merge of 2000 AD and Tornado. I said no, I’m not doing it. He said you’ve got a job, you’ve got to do what you’re told. I said no, I’d wait until Steve got back to sort it out. He said it’s got to be done in the next two weeks, how can I persuade you? I said you can try financially! So they gave me £500 – six times my weekly wages. To get that for two weeks work above my normal pay… I thought, well, fuck the principles, they’re going to do it anyway! I took it and did the work and when Steve came back he was very unpleasantly surprised to discover he was now the editor of 2000 AD and Tornado!

[Steve MacManus was offically editor by this stage?] Kelvin had moved on to the next comic he was going to bring out, which was the revamp of Look and Learn, their educational magazine which had been running since the 1960s. It became Look Alive and lasted only five issues. Tornado was originally going to be called Heroes and the theme was every story would be built around a different kind of hero. It’s a long, long time since I’ve seen an issue.

When you joined 2000 AD, it had already merged with Starlord, bringing in Ro-Busters and Strontium Dog. Steve says this gave 2000 a big quality kick up the arse…

It did in many ways. Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters were obviously superior products to the stories they replaced. But it didn’t go down well with the readers of 2000 AD. But, in the end, the storm was weathered. The readers had two choices – buy the merged comic or don’t. Usually when this sort of thing happens, editorially a decision is taken just to print the letters that are for it. We decided to print a representative sample of all the letters we got. They were still writing in six months, even a year later! When Tornado merged they had something to really complain about!

Kev O'Neill talked about him and Nick lunching Pat to get him back writing for 2000 AD. On the first few Ro-Busters for 2000 AD he retained some rights…

He certainly did with the Terra-Meks story he did with Dave Gibbons. Pat stamped the back of each page ‘First British serial rights only’ with the official NUJ stamp. As far as I know, he and Dave still retain the rights to that story. You can understand what writers and artists got so annoyed, when they saw their work being reprinted time and time again.

I went to Mauritius in 1982 and saw a pile of right wing magazines imported from South Africa, full of pictures of white men with guns standing by piles of dead elephants. There are the back of it were six pages of Judge Dredd. Because the magazine had such a right wing point of view, it looked like Dredd had been create specifically for it! John and I were mortified when we found out. They could have eased the pain by paying us for it, but they didn’t!

Dan Dare returned in Prog 100…

I think he came back mainly because Dave Gibbons wanted to do Dan Dare, I think it was one of his lifelong ambitions. That’s probably the major reason it came back because it hadn’t been a particularly popular story. It had been expected to be 2000 AD’s most popular story when first launched but despite Massimo Belardinelli’s phenomenal artwork, as it went on the series became less and less popular. It lost out to characters like Dredd, and Bill Savage.

By the time I started there, Flesh was trading on the reputation it got from the first series which Pat himself wrote. I don’t think Pat wrote Flesh Book II, if I remember correctly, the guy I replaced as sub-editor on 2000 AD, Roy Preston, he was actually the script writer or one of the script writers on the second series of Flesh. I’m pretty sure I can remember Roy sitting in the 2000 AD office writing his scripts. He was probably not the best choice. At that time, if you were sitting at a desk and you looked like you didn’t have anything to do, some editor would come along and ask you to do a story.

That’s the downside of not having a stockpile…

All the time, all the time. We worked six weeks in advance. I can’t remember a single issue where everything was ready when it was supposed to be. Ever! It was a constant struggle. Six weeks wasn’t enough but that was how we used to do things.

Steve said when he came on board the merger was set, so he made Prog 100 the place he would put his stamp. Strips like Angel run before 100…

My memory’s not 100% any more, but I think that was commissioned by Kelvin. The subject matter is very Kelvin. It was written by a guy called Chris Stevens, who should never have been a writer for 2000 AD. The kind of stuff he was capable of writing was not 2000 AD material. I don’t know whatever happened to him. There was a whole cadre of people who hung around the offices who got items of work just be being around. There were several artists who if they hadn’t kept coming into the office wouldn’t have got work.

One of the first things I remember about my time on the comic… At that time they were doing so many comics they had a general bodging department where there were maybe twenty artists, letterers and bodgers doing sound effects and what have you. The lettering on 2000 AD was so huge it was covering all over this exquisite artwork. I took a copy of the comic into the department and said look, you’re covering up all the artwork! They said what about it? I said the artwork’s too good to cover up. It’s just a fucking comic, isn’t it? No, but it’s a good comic! The kids want to see the artwork! From when we went web offset I started to get on to them to make the lettering smaller. It didn’t make me very popular, because it made their jobs harder!

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