Bluffers Guide to 2000AD

Bluffers Guide to….2000AD

OK, so there is this thing I don’t understand…

Only the one thing?

Funny. So there is this one thing about comics I don’t understand…

I refer you to my earlier answer.

Right then. Do you want the question or not?

OK, tell me what it is that you don’t understand.

Well, we live in a time where American comic icons seem to be everywhere. They’re on TV, at the movies, and with a certain amount of credibility they haven’t always had.

That’s monetary success for you.

Sure. But whilst I get why say, non-English language comics don’t get the same attention, because they’d have to be translated and what not, why aren’t there any big British comics hitting the mainstream in the same way?

Well actually foreign language comics have done pretty well; Asterix and Tintin have been staples for years, at least in the UK. Manga, coming over from Japan is another success. But I guess you’re really asking about the state of British comics, and its fair to say that there is a fairly diverse and thriving indie scene with one big hitter; 2000AD.

Ah now I’d heard of that. Is that still around?

Very much so.

Did they have to change the name?

Definitely not. But the fact that it was called 2000AD at a time when that was a long way in the future tells you something about its longevity, after so many of it’s contemporaries have fallen away. Well, I say “contemporaries” but that’s a long time ago now.

Before the year 2000, I suppose?

Of course. 2000AD was first published in February 1977, dropping into a British comic landscape dominated by War and Sports stories, and titles such as “Victor” and “Battle”.

That sounds really quaint.

Perhaps, although one of 2000ADs founders, Pat Mills, would later go onto write one of the finest British comic series ever – Charley’s War – for Battle Action Weekly from 1979, and there is nothing quaint about that.

Point taken.

However, the real driver was a desire by many of the comics founding contributors to be free from the sorts of stories that they were writing at the time. They wanted to tell stories that were more anti-authoritarian, more violent, and generally more “out there”. They also predicted that the next big thing was likely to be more Science-Fiction based than War Story based.

Which was right!

Judge-DreddIndeed it was. Probably the biggest name at launch was venerable British action hero Dan Dare, a 1950s character in the square-jawed adventurer mould. The character was owned by IPC Media, 2000ADs first publisher. In fact, 2000AD’s most famous character doesn’t appear until the second Issue: Judge Dredd. He quickly became the comic’s star attraction and has pretty remained so ever since.

I think everyone has heard of Dredd, right?

Well, most British people perhaps. I’m not sure 2000AD ever travelled well. But looking back it’s amazing how fully formed Judge Dredd is, even in the early strips. The character is intended as the ultimate law-man: a brutal and oppressive authority figure in a post-apocalyptic future. The look of the comic, initially drawn by Spaniard Carlos Ezquerra endures to this day. There is also a dark and very British, sense of humour to a lot of Dredd’s stories. They are a mix of satire, bloody slapstick and gallows humour.

I Bet kids loved it.

Of course they did, but so did the adults. As 2000AD moved into the 1980s it started to fill out its roster with the “big hitters” that still fill the pages, on and off, today. Strontium Dog, a tale of futuristic bounty hunters, launched in 2000AD’s short-lived sister comic, Starlord, in 1978 before appearing in 2000AD, as did Ro-Busters and the slightly more famous ABC Warriors. Nemesis the Warlock first appeared in 1980, and Rogue Trooper in 1981. A character like Slaine is a relative newcomer, dating from 1985.3714633-comic

And all of these are still around?

Yes, in fact one of 2000AD’s biggest strengths has been the ability to keep these characters running over a long period. But like its big American cousins it hasn’t always managed to launch new ones. The 1980s were probably the comic’s heyday and most of the British comic scene’s biggest names have walked through the publication’s doors.

You’re going to say Alan Moore, aren’t you?

Because he’s the only British comics writer you’ve heard of?

No. I’ve heard of Neil Gaiman too!

Excellent, because both of them wrote for 2000AD. Moore started in 1980, creating a lot of characters and writing a lot of strips for the book, most famously The Ballad of Halo Jones, intended to be another sprawling epic set over several years, but Moore fell out with the publishing team and it was never finished.

Isn’t he famous for that?

Yes, he is. But in fairness to Moore, creator rights has been an issue for 2000AD and there have been periods where the comic has been pretty chaotically run. Some strips have never been republished, or characters never re-used, due to disputes over ownership and royalties.

So money, basically?

Yes, and it’s been a problem for the “Big Two” as well, over the years.

Moore and Gaiman then. Who else?

2000-AD-Xmas-issue-Greg-StaplesWell, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Bryan Talbot, Dan Abnett, Cam Kennedy, Brian Bolland, Kevin O’Neill, Garth Ennis and pretty much most of the British Comics writers and artists that have gone onto bigger things have contributed over the years. 2000AD has been a great incubator for talent, as well as keeping many of its early contributors writing for it still.

But you seem to be saying it leans more heavily on established characters?

Gosh, that’s a sharp question.

Sorry. It does happen.

No, it’s a good question. It is fair to say that the mainstay of the comic remains its “big names” but many of them have changed and refreshed over the years. In theory, Judge Dredd is one long continuity, allowing them to do interesting things like the fact that he has aged over the years, and there are even some characters who we’ve dropped in on over the years, to see them growing up and living their lives. It’s pretty neat, and contrasts favourably with the artificial stasis that most comics live in.

So Dredd is going to die of old age at some point?

Possibly, yes. His age has certainly changed his character, and recent stories have had, on occasion, a more thoughtful Dredd more worried about “Justice” than “The Law”. It’s also a sign that the book has aged with its readership; with more mature or introspective stories popping up along the way. But you need to bear in mind that 2000AD is an anthology, so each issue has several stories.

If you don’t like this story, the next one is along in a minute?
Exactly. There is also the monthly Judge Dredd Megazine, launched in 1990, intended to be dedicated to telling more stories set in the Judge Dredd world. It’s more open now, but continues alongside its bigger sibling.

Right then, so the big question is, where do I start?

At the beginning of course!

Very funny.

Actually 2000AD is keen to keep bringing in new readers and seems gratifyingly aware that its long-term survival relies on bringing in new blood for creators and readers both. To this end they regularly do “clean start” issues designed to be jumping on points, with every story in the issue just starting out.

Clever idea.

Yep. Of course, they also do a good line in trade collections of older stories, neatly combined for easier reading.

Do you have any recommendations?

I think that’s a tough one; like I say it’s a very diverse, anthology series and everyone will find something different to like. So I tell you what, lets through it open to the gallery, and see what they think….

0a6597cd-4b45-4c16-bb8d-c25afb7c0ad2Dion: One of the first big story lines I read was “Judge Dredd in Oz”. The story followed the escape of Sky Surfer Marlon Shakespeare, aka Chopper, from imprisonment in his quest to enter the World Skysurfing Championships in Australia. I love the epic scope of the journey to Oz, I’m always sucked in by the breathless pace of the storytelling and I get a real kick out of the fact that Dredd and Chopper blur the boundaries between protagonist and antagonist. I’m no sports fan but this one is well worth a read!

Dean: What got me into 2000AD was the Ten Seconders. I’m one of the minority of relatively new readers. I started reading when I was doing my AS levels way back in 2004.

What kept me reading 2000AD, however, was Nikolai Dante.

Dante’s story was a great ride and got pretty intense as it developed towards its conclusion. A swashbuckling bastard son of a powerful house suddenly gets sucked into the intrigues of the upper classes. It was a great series. It had intense action, humour, suspense, a love story and epic scope.

Other favourites are Kingdom and Brass Sun.

Ronald: I was a reader when it first came out and I was only nine years old – I still have the first 100 or so issues (including the cover gifts that came with them: space spinner, biotronic stickers & the red alert wallet!). Ten years later, I passed the mantle to my brother and next thing I knew we were queuing up outside Forbidden Planet in London for Simon Bisley to autograph our books! Here’s highlights of those first 100 issues:

  • Judge Dredd – Futuristic Dirty Harry on steroids
  • Harlem Heroes – Futuristic Harlem Globetrotters playing flying roller-ball on steroids
  • A.C.H. 1 – The Six Million Dollar Man on steroids
  • Dan Dare – The post war classic British strip re-imagined on steroids
  • Flesh – This is a brilliantly original story about a future starving world travelling back in time to harvest dinosaurs for food
  • Robo-Hunter – A futuristic Philip Marlowe-esque detective on steroids
  • Invasion – The combined forces of future North Korea and Russia force invade the UK and are confronted by cockney trucker on steroids who fights back – Jason Statham built his whole career around this character.8e5c2120-daea-012f-a77a-005056960004

What can I say… there were a lot of steroids around in the 1970’s!

Best defining story: Judge Dredd “The Cursed Earth”, with all the original stuff they got sued for (McDonald’s, Burger King, and the Jolly Green Giant took them to court for using their copyrighted characters without permission AND depicting wars between rival gangs, headed by the Burger King and Ronald McDonald – including scenes of Ronald executing a gang member who spilled a milkshake. They lost the case and had to publish a half-page retraction and agree never to reprint the offending four part story again).

Barry: I am pretty sure that 2000AD was the first comic I started buying with my own money (thanks newspaper round!) as before that it was my brother’s hand me down Marvel comics. My favourite character switched from issue to issue. Sometimes it was Judge Dredd, sometimes Rogue Trooper, Johnny Alpha or Slaine but my favourite story arc never changed – Judge Dredd’s The Apocalypse War. The storyline just blew my mind back then with some truly mouth dropping cliff hangers and the lengths that Dredd himself was prepared to go to to fight back…epic stuff.

So hows that for diversity?

There’s a lot there, certainly.

A lot of people took to 2000AD as kids (in whichever that applies) and it acts as both a gateway drug into the comics world, but also it stays with them. It truly is one of the great British institutions now, which is ironic when you consider how counter-cultural it has always set it stall out!

Well, us Brits do love our irony….!

Matt Farr

Contributions from the Geek Syndicate team.

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