Thursday, August 31, 2006

Free at last! Free at last!

Well, it's done. I have officially delivered the manuscript for THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD. Must admit, I pine for the days when I used to print out two copies of my latest tome and get a black cab across London to the publisher's office to hand in the book. Pressing SEND doesn't have quite the same quality of triumph and majesty, but such is life. The manuscript came in at 119,557 words after some cutting and polishing, so bang on for my 120,000 target. Many thanks are due to Alan Barnes and Steve Holland who read through the first draft and offered no end of helpful suggestions, corrections and notes. That's all I've been doing for the last three days, turning my 122,000 word draft into the finished manuscript.

of course, how finished it is remains to be seen. Editor Jonathan Oliver has to read the damned thing now and offer his comments. I'm still vaguely hopeful one or two people will still get back to me with their thoughts and recollections about certain events, such as Fleetway Film and Television. It's not the end of the world if they don't, but it would give the extra sheen of authority to the endeavour. the script-writing team of Dows and Clayton were last to sneak in, sending me their comments about Bison and Synnamon with about two hours to spare.

Not sure how often I'll be updating this blog from now on - certainly not most days as has been the case for the past month. I've got other projects on which I need to focus, so TPO will be a Somebody Else's Problem for the most part. But I will pop back in here every now and then, to chart the book's progress from manuscript to publication. In the meantime, below is the dedication I've suggested for the book.
This book is dedicated to the millions
of 2000 AD readers who have enjoyed the
comic since 1977 - without them, it would
not exist; and to the memory of letterer
Tom Frame – rest in peace, Tom.

Monday, August 28, 2006

They think it's all over...

...and they'd nearly be right. I have just typed two words so beloved by authors everywhere: THE END. Yes, TPO is finished, at least the first draft is. I'm still waiting on a handful of people to get back to me. If their input arrives in time, I'll cheerfully dive back into the manuscript to include the most cogent comments. If it doesn't, I won't lay awake at night weeping into my pillow about the missing piece in my big, fat book about the history of 2000 AD.

Of course, there's a few things I'd liked to have secured. Never managed to get in touch with Mark Millar, despite the fact we live less than fifty miles apart. Didn't manage to persuade Richard Burton or Alan McKenzie to go on the record. And no doubt there will be many more slips betwixt computer and published tome, but overall I'm remarkably pleased and proud of TPO the book as it stands. Now there's just the small matter of printing out all 122,356 words, sub-editing them and incorporating changes. Meanwhile, here's your extract for today.
A week after Leatherjack’s debut, another new series with a lengthy development history finally saw print. Williams had scripted early episodes of Breathing Space years earlier, but artist changes caused a lengthy delay in the strip’s gestation. ‘I fancied doing a noirish murder mystery in the Dredd universe,’ the writer recalls, ‘and Luna-1 seemed a great setting, like a western frontier town. I wanted to write a standalone - no sequel, no attempting to set up a longstanding 2000 AD character. Unfortunately, it was hugely delayed. Pete Doherty did a gorgeous job on the initial episode, but couldn’t draw any more. Eventually Laurence Campbell took over and, again, made it look absolutely lovely, but that took a while to sort out. There’s a lot of things I love about Breathing Space – its mood, its narrative structure, the whole look of the series. I was being quite experimental with panel layouts. On the downside, it’s very difficult to do a satisfying whodunit in 45 pages when you only have a small cast. That’s something I discovered after the event.’

The long delay in preparing Breathing Space for publication meant it was soon followed by another Williams’ series, The Ten-Seconders, illustrated by Mark Harrison. A post-apocalyptic tale about a handful of humans fighting superhuman oppressors, to some it read like a metaphor for US interventionism. But Williams says the allegorical inspiration came from something much closer to home for 2000 AD. ‘The theme of The Ten-Seconders was the American comics market versus a more British, 2000 AD sensibility. This small, struggling group of rather acerbic, violent individuals were fighting a war against a global superhero epidemic. So there were lots of quite parochial British references from the resistance … contrasted with these big, over-dramatic, bombastic superhero archetypes. In series two we’ll be throwing a group of Vertigo-style characters into the mix as a third party. There’ll be lots of fighting, gunfire and explosions too, of course.’ Caballistics Inc illustrator Dom Reardon is taking over as artist on The Ten-Seconders in 2007. ‘Dom’s pages look beautiful, but they won’t be appearing anytime soon,’ the writer says.

The success of Caballistics Inc’s drip-feed approach to storytelling was used as a rough template for Harry Kipling (Deceased), a new character introduced by Spurrier and Boo Cook in February 2006. ‘It started with Boo and me decided we have a mutual appreciation of all things not quite normal,’ the writer recalls. ‘We were tossing about some ideas and kept coming back to a quirky central character killing Big Strange Monsters, as seen through the eyes of a more down-to-earth companion. At some stage we went from monsters to gods. A lot of stuff all just slotted into place in response to questions we asked ourselves: we want Harry to fight gods? Why would he do that? We got a fully-formed universe with its own squiffy logic and fucked-up laws of physics. By running the series in short squirts, we’re letting the stories and the characters do their thing without rushing to let the readers know everything up front. They can just bloody wait.’

Friday, August 25, 2006

Who says politics is boring?

Hmm, I was probably optimistic in expecting to finish the raw first draft of TPO today. I've been ploughing my way through the post-Diggle era, but have only gotten as far as spring 2004. There's still plenty of new Thrills and old school revivals to be covered yet. Plus I'm still waiting on responses from a few creators to my questions - Ian Edginton has promised me a fistful of facts and thoughts, for example, and he's been a key contributor to 2000 AD over the past four years. So I'm not finished yet, but the end is in sight. Target wordcount remains at 120,000, but the running total is now up to 115,372. Here's your extract of the day...
Diggle returned to the weekly twice in 2003 as a writer. He shared script duties with Wagner on the Dredd/Aliens crossover Incubus, before flying solo on Snow/Tiger, a heady mixture of high-octane action and post 9/11 geopolitics illustrated by Andy Clarke. ‘Snow/Tiger actually started out as a pitch for Vertigo,’ Diggle admits. ‘I wanted to write something that felt very current, right up to the edge of the present. We were living in strange and dangerous times, and I wanted to capture that in an action story. When Vertigo turned it down for being “too mainstream”, I just filed the serial numbers off and re-tooled it for 2000AD. I’d originally planned it to be 88 pages in US format, a mixture of paranoid politics and extreme violence - so I just took out the politics and left in the extreme violence. Hey, it’s 2000AD! It was never meant to be anything more than a bit of dumb fun, to be honest, and I suppose it succeeded in that.’
The political content stirred up a hornet’s nest of argument on 2000 AD’s letters page. ‘The fact the story pissed people off on both sides of the political spectrum suggests I probably pitched it about right,’ Diggle believes. ‘One reader got really wound up, claiming the story must be anti-American because villain was American, apparently without noticing that the world-saving hero was American too. People just see what they want to, I guess. Looking back, it’s all a bit corny and clichéd, and the characters are horribly one-dimensional. But there’s a part of me that always tries to see both sides of an argument, and to defend points of view that I don’t necessarily agree with, and I think that came across to a degree.’ Any plans for more Snow/Tiger stories were put aside when Diggle signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

TPO is still surprising me, after five years

Way back in the dim mists of time - okay, more like the latter stages of 2001 - incoming Megazine editor Alan Barnes asked me to write a series of articles detailing the history of 2000 AD. Five years later, I'm fast approaching the end of this mammoth project, after nearly a hundred interviews with dozens of creators [some of them up to six times to get the full story]. But even after all I've learned and been told, I'm still discovering new things and being surprised by what people say.

For example, artist Chris Weston sent me a fistful of answers to questions today about his work on such 2000 AD series as Indigo Prime, Canon Fodder and Rogue Trooper. He was refreshingly frank in his comments [don't worry, Chris, you weren't too frank!] and told me something I never knew. It's a joy to still be finding out fresh and interesting facts, even this late in the project. It means the TPO book will be full of new and startling material, not simply a flaccid retread of my original TPO articles.

Let's put it another way: the articles published in the Megazine ran to some 78,000 words. At four this afternoon I reached the end of those articles and the running total of my wordcount was 111,535. That means the book already contains 43% more material than appeared in my original articles. And that's before I incorporate all the new material covering everything that's happened since the comic turned 25 in February 2002. I'm guessing the final book will be 50% larger than the articles, not to mention the old text had been completely revised.

Regulars to this blog will have noticed nothing much happened yesterday. I was busy with another project and TPO got shoved to the back burner for the day. But I've been back on it fulltime today and added another 8000 words, so I'm fast making up for lost time. Not long to finishing line now! Right, on to today's extract. Here's Andy Diggle talking about his falling out with Pat Mills over ABC Warriors...
Acrimony also soured the return of the ABC Warriors. Diggle had long been a fan of the Mills’ classic characters: ‘I very much wanted to see them back in the comic and back on track, so I asked Pat to create a Deadlock-on-Termight solo series, return Sláine to his Celtic roots, and bring back the ABC Warriors in an old-school action story free of Khaos Magick trappings.’ ABC Warriors returned to 2000 AD for a new epic set on Mars, The Third Element. At Diggle’s request, Mills’ scripts divided the fifteen-episode saga into shorter stories, each to be drawn by a different artist. ‘It took over a year to get the scripts in. When they finally did arrive, they fell a long way short of Pat’s best work,’ Diggle believes. ‘He had said that writing the series was like “pulling teeth”, and frankly it showed. We see Mek-Quake die in a crash, but then suddenly he’s back to normal in the final episode because they’ve fixed a “computer virus”? It didn’t make sense.’

‘I was especially unhappy with the first episode, and foolishly took it upon myself to punch up some of the dialogue. This wasn’t like the misunderstanding over the subbing on Dante, this was me deliberately re-writing Pat’s dialogue. It was a lapse of judgement on my part, and I shouldn’t have done it. Jason Kingsley said that if I wasn’t happy with Pat’s writing, I was perfectly at liberty to get someone else to write it, but I didn’t want to do that. Obviously what I should have done was ask Pat for re-writes, and moved the series back in the schedule - again. Instead, I let my anger and frustration get the better of me. It was the culmination of a long line of frustrations, and I’d simply run out of patience. Everything was always someone else’s fault - mine, previous editors’, the artists’.

'I had tried to take a collaborative approach to story development, but with Pat it was disastrously counter-productive, as he deeply resented what he saw as my “editorial interference”. Unfortunately, my working relationship with Pat had been strained from the start. I found him to be confrontational, aggressively overbearing, and unable or unwilling to accept criticism, and there were numerous occasions on which I felt I was being unfairly attacked. If Pat was unhappy about something, he went into instant full-on attack mode, rather than simply picking up the phone and trying to resolve things amicably like anyone else.’

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Whole lotta love

Today I have mostly been writing about the latter days of the 1990s. I was editor of 2000 AD at the time and it was a fractious, frequently unhappy period in the comic's history. Happily, it survived being turned into a cash cow by Egmont and would be bought by computer game developer Rebellion in the year 2000, but we didn't know that at the time. I can't tell you how strange it is reliving these events with the benefit of hindsight, but at least I'm familiar with the material!

New material is being added to TPO all the time. I interviewed artist John Ridgway by telephone yesterday afternoon, and he had some illuminating things to say about working on Luke Kirby and Junker. Art editor Colin Wyatt recently sent me answers to questions about his time on the comic, from early 1978 until the summer of 1980. Relevant quotes and facts from both interviews have now been worked into the existing narrative. The end is in sight for TPO. My target wordcount is 120,000. As of this moment, the draft manuscript has swollen to a mighty 103,296 words - not long to go now. Here's your extract for the day - a bit shorter than usual, but you can't have everything, can you...
In July the last of the strips commissioned before Bishop’s arrival finally saw print. I Was a Teenage Tax Consultant was a creator-owned comedy by Wagner and Gibson that had been in development since the early 1990s. It featured a rebellious youth who becomes dependable and staid after being bitten by a rabid accountant. ‘It’s fun to take an old cliché and give it a new twist,’ Wagner says. ‘It took so long to see print, because nobody else thought it was as funny as I did.’

Gibson believes the story went off half-cocked. ‘John had been toying with the idea for so long, I think it had gone stale on him. He’s much better when he does Dredd style stories, but he wanted to do a more romantic story. By the time it ran, it didn’t work anymore – it never had any steam. It was kicking around for a long time.’ The deadline was exacerbated by Gibson taking four months to deliver the artwork for each six-page episode. I Was a Teenage Tax Consultant was in preparation so long, the comic had changed size by the time the strip was ready.

The editorial team was forced to put a border above each page to make the art fit. In the late 1970s, Gibson had a reputation for being incredibly fast and reliable. ‘David Bishop can vouchsafe that as being a total lie,’ the artist says. ‘When I worked for him, I stretched deadlines as far as possible – seeing how far I could go before he would snap!’

Monday, August 21, 2006

Typing about myself in the third person

TPO has now reached the section where I spend a lot of time writing about myself in the third person. It's somewhat disconcerting to type Bishop says this and Bishop did that, but there's no other, more elegant solution I can find. Marcus Hearn did a fascinating series of articles about the history of Doctor Who Magazine recently and encountered the same issue. He would lapse into first person for sequences involving himself, something I found most irritating at the time.

I've decided it's better to keep the prose style of TPO consistent throughout, even if it means typing about myself in the third person. That David Bishop, he's such a flipping blabbermouth, too! Anyway, your extract for the day lurks below. The end is in sight for this draft, I hope to get it nailed down by the end of the week. Target wordcount: 120,000. Current total: 96,116.
Sinister Dexter had transferred into 2000 AD earlier that month for a short run of stories. Bishop admits he was not a fan of the strip initially and did not plan to bring it back. ‘At first glance it seemed like a cheap knock-off of Pulp Fiction. I was ready to retire Sinister Dexter permanently. But another strip due to start in Prog 990 went late, so I called Dan and asked him for another five episodes.’ By the time these finished, Sinister Dexter had begun gaining some traction in the weekly reader popularity poll. ‘It was second or third favourite in the comic by the end of run. The readers thought it was good and I was started to enjoy it too. I asked Dan for a full-length series.’

The 2000 AD team found itself also looking after the Megazine in April when freelance editor Tomlinson was axed by Fleetway. ‘When Jon Davidge left and the new regime took over, they were inexplicably hostile to freelancers,’ he says. ‘I was costing them a great deal more than someone already on staff, so perhaps it wasn’t too surprising. With hindsight it was a good time to go.’ The Megazine began reprinting large chunks of the Dredd epic Necropolis to save money. This drastic step was designed to ensure the title would still be published in 1997. The strategy succeeded, but the Megazine was badly wounded by the choice and needed years to recover.

Eco-warrior witch Finn returned in Prog 991 for Season of the Witch, a new story by Mills, Skinner and Paul Staples. The series was subsequently dropped from the comic’s stable of returning characters. ‘Finn was quite popular with a section of the readership, but I felt the strip was in danger of duplicating the appeal of Sláine,’ Bishop explains. ‘I asked Pat to concentrate on the latter instead. Bringing Finn to an end created room for the new series and characters that other creators had in development.’ The new editor was not worked with Mills before but was well aware of the writer’s reputation as a strong willed, charismatic creator. ‘There seemed to be only two ways of working with Pat – confrontation or caving in to him. When editorial teams angered Pat, they were liable to get an earful down the phone from him. He called it a pre-emptive strike. In the office it was known as a Mills bomb. I decided it would be easier to restrict him to a single strip in the comic, and Sláine was by far the most popular of his creations.’

Friday, August 18, 2006

That movie

TPO reached 1995 and the Judge Dredd film today. Happily, I can reveal that I recently conducted an email interview with Danny Cannon, director of the movie and now a producer, director and writer for the TV series CSI. Today's extract features an extract from that exclusive interivew, probably the first time Cannon has talked about the Dredd movie in at least a decade...
More writers and directors came and went in the early 1990s. Finding someone who could capture the future lawman’s essence was problematic, as scribes were either too reverential or dismissed Dredd as a fascist bully. Trying to decide which Dredd story to tell from the character’s long history was another issue. Pressman preferred the supernatural foe Judge Death, but Lippincott and Nicoletti felt it would be impossible to make the alien superfiend work on screen with technology available at the time. Matters were complicated further in 1992 when an action movie mega-star got interested in 2000 AD’s anti-hero.

‘Arnold Schwarzenegger came to us, out of blue, and told us he wanted to be Judge Dredd,’ Pressman told Killick. This unintentionally created a contractual squabble with another producer that stalled progress for nine months. Schwarzenegger ultimately chose to star in The Last Action Hero instead, but his brief interest did raise the profile of the Dredd project. Even more important was a decision to hire Terminator 2 co-writer William Wisher to write a draft of Dredd. ‘Once we had that script it was like night and day,’ Pressman said. ‘Suddenly there were lots of possibilities.’ It was Wisher who opted to give Dredd an origin story, basing it upon The Return of Rico one-off by Mills and McMahon first published fifteen years earlier in Prog 30. The Wisher screenplay attracted executive producer Andy Vajna, who drew up a partnership deal and swiftly got the movie into preproduction. He showed the script to Sylvester Stallone, who also committed himself to the project. In 1993 Stallone was still a box office superstar around the world, although his appeal had been waning in the US. Now the project needed was a director with the passion and persistence to bring the elements together.

Enter Danny Cannon, a young British filmmaker who had grown up reading 2000 AD. ‘I liked Flesh a lot,’ he recalls. ‘ABC Warriors, Future Shocks, Strontium Dog and Nemesis, these were the stories I looked forward to reading – and Dredd, of course. Cam Kennedy, Ron Smith and Dave Gibbons were super talents. I used to send a lot of illustrations to 2000 AD when I was a teenager.’ One of these appeared in Prog 534, published in August 1987. Cannon had sent in his concept for a Dredd movie poster. The image so impressed the editorial team they devoted a whole page to it and launched a competition for other readers to design a Dredd film poster. Cannon’s effort revealed a fondness for the 1982 science fiction classic Blade Runner. He suggested Ridley Scott should direct the Dredd movie, with Harrison Ford as the future lawman and Daryl Hannah appearing as Psi Judge Cassandra Anderson. Twenty years on, Cannon views his teenage effort with wryness. ‘I think I used a Bic ballpoint pen. It’s unfortunate the illustration that got published looked like such a rush job on bad paper.’

Target workcount: 120,000. Current wordcount: 86,910.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

How offensive was your summer?

Well, after a day and a half of attending various events in Edinburgh, today was all about getting back to the grindstone. Happily, I've reached a point in TPO where I'm only having to incorporate a modicum of new material, unlike the massive revisions of the early chapters. Part of today's work was on the infamous Summer Offensive, when Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and John smith were given a much freer hand editorially to revitalise the comic for an eight-week stint. The results were controversial, to say the least. As an extract, I've pulled out three paragraphs where Morrison discusses Big Dave and Really & Truly. Expect swearing ahead. Today's wordcount total: 81,872.
Really & Truly was designed to feel like dance music, according to Morrison: ‘Upbeat, breezy, pointless and cartoony – a kind of Josie and the Pussycats with narcotics. I took a couple of Es and just wrote all 48 pages in a day. It’s not difficult. I took lots of drugs in the 1990s, I wrote comics every day – obviously there was a huge crossover. I do it every week now without Es but I think it definitely added a sheen to that strip. Like Ecstasy, it takes over your head and plays with you for a bit. Then it’s gone and you’ve learned nothing except how nice the world can look when it has a smile on its face. Really & Truly is no award-winner but it has a certain throwaway charm.’

The most enduring and outrageous strip in the Summer Offensive issues was Big Dave. The opening four-parter saw Manchester’s Hardest Man hired by then British Prime Minister John Major to attack Saddam Hussein in Target Baghdad. This was followed by Monarchy in the UK, where Big Dave tackled the Royal Family and earned himself a three-in-a-bed sex romp with Princesses Diana and Fergie. Considering all that’s taken place since these stories first appeared, it will require a brave publisher to reprint them in Britain anytime soon.

‘I consider it one of the best things I’ve ever worked on,’ Morrison says. ‘We were expecting some flak but the truth is most people liked it. Big Dave was originally intended as the Viz-type strip in our relaunch. We wanted to do a satire which was not so much political as directed towards the media. The captions in Big Dave were based on the journalistic shorthand of Sun headlines; it was patriotic, jingoistic and taboo-breaking. The mistake we made was in thinking die-hard comic fans were au fait with the ideas we were discussing. I was shocked by the number of readers who couldn’t grasp the satirical aspects of Big Dave at all, in spite of the fact they were nailed to every page. Give years later the same detractors were all reading Loaded and laughing at South Park, so they can all fuck off.'

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Toxic shock

Short stint today, as I'm off to Edinburgh for a BBC event this afternoon. Spent much of the morning reliving events surrounding the failed 2000 AD rival, Toxic!, hence the headline. Total wordcount: 120,000. Current total: 73,306. Right, here's your extract...
Prog 700 was the first issue to launch such a promotional push. It introduced two all-new series, brought back an old favourite and gave readers a sneak preview of a forthcoming story. Wagner was dealing with the aftermath of Necropolis in the Dredd story, while Grant and Ranson collaborated on an emotive Anderson Psi Division serial called Shamballa. Mills and new artist Carl Critchlow offered a teaser for a new sword and sorcery saga starring two old favourites, Nemesis and Deadlock. The two new stories were both drawn by artists best known for their work on Deadline.

Tank Girl co-creator Jamie Hewlett collaborated with Peter Milligan on the surreal serial Hewligan’s Haircut. ‘That came about fairly organically,’ the writer recalls. ‘We wanted to work together. We would meet either in his home in Worthing, or mine in London. We started from scratch with a character that was a fusion of our surnames. We wanted to create a story that would give Jamie’s art full scope. I went away and distilled the notion of a haircut that affected reality.’ The quirky comedy was a hit with readers, but proved to be Hewligan’s last work for the weekly. He’s now best known as part of the best-selling rock group Gorillaz.

The other Deadline alumnis featured in Prog 700 Wired World creator Philip Bond. He illustrated Time Flies, an anarchic time travel tale scripted by 2000 AD newcomer Garth Ennis. The scribe from Northern Ireland had broken into comics with his heartfelt work on Troubled Souls and True Faith in Crisis. Now he was invited to write for the weekly he had worshipped as a boy. Ennis is less than gushing in his assessment of Time Flies. ‘I think if you examine it in detail you’ll find it was, in fact, crap. 2000 AD asked me for a series and that was the load of balls kicking around in my head at the time. Very, very nice art but the story was a load of crap.’

He also pitched a revival of Bill Savage from one of 2000 AD’s earliest strips, Invasion. ‘Savage was always one of my favourite characters as a kid, this terrible shotgun-wielding thug from the East End – just sheer genius. I had him twenty years later escaping from a lunatic asylum in Canada, convinced he was still in England and the Volgs were still in charge. He would go on a rampage and kill everyone – there really wasn’t much more to it than that! Very definitely for the best that it didn’t happen.’ Ennis later wrote Savage into the 25th anniversary prog Tharg story, satisfying his long-held ambition. The character would get a much more serious comeback in 2004 when Mills and Charlie Adlard launched a resistance army story, called simply Savage.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Robinson's crusade

I spent today in three different decades. Former 2000 AD sub-editor Roy Preston sent me some very helpful answers about his time on the comic in the late 1970s, so that got incorporated into the early chapters of TPO. Then I finished off the last chapter covering the 1980s and plunged myself into the 1990s. Lots of material from Hilary Robinson about her experiences writing for the weekly, especially about how she asserted her ownership of the characters in Medivac 318, Zippy Couriers and Chronos Carnival. I don't think Hilary's ever been interviewed, so that's another exclusive for the TPO book. Of course, you'll have to buy the book to read that sequence. Today's extract is from earlier in time, when she first started writing for 2000 AD:
Writer Hilary Robinson from Northern Ireland served her apprenticeship scripting Future Shocks. ‘I had no burning desire to write comics,’ she admits. ‘I had been writing science fiction and fantasy short stories. A young artist called John McCrea wanted to break into 2000 AD. He asked if I would write him a story he could draw and submit.’ When that was accepted, Robinson decided to see if there were more opportunities at the comic. ‘Being a science fiction fan, I already knew 2000 AD. Writers are always looking for outlets, so I thought I’d have a go. But it was just another place where I might get published, as far as I was concerned.’ She found the brevity required for comics a good discipline.

‘I mostly worked for Richard Burton, who either accepted a story or he didn’t – mostly he did. I found him very helpful … however, it was the artists who really taught me how to write a script for them. Richard was not keen on writers and artists talking to each other, but I kept in constant touch with those I worked with regularly and I learned a lot from them.’ After having a handful of one-offs accepted, she was invited to submit ideas for longer stories. Robinson offered a deep space medical drama series that became Medivac 318. But parts of the strip and its main characters had already been published elsewhere.

‘They all pre-dated my entry into 2000 AD, which is why I have fought to keep my copyright on them.’ She turned one of her short stories into a script for the first episode and it was accepted, with Nigel Dobbyn chosen as artist. ‘The only debate we had was over the title. I wanted to call it Medivac Station and Richard didn’t seem to like that. I renamed it Medivac 318 after my extension number at the hospital where I worked. Richard said I couldn’t have a number in the title. I asked him what the comic was called.’
Wordcount target: 120,000. Today's total: 69,136.

Friday, August 11, 2006

60,000 words done; 60,000 to go

Well, I've just passed the halfway point on TPO. My wordcount target for the book is 120,000 words and my running total as of this moment is 60,076. Don't ask me why, but I find any book easier once I reach halfway, as if my subconscious believes it will be all downhill from here. The magical moment was reached in the midst of a paragraph about John Smith creating Tryanny Rex in 1988. It's taken me half the book to reach 11 years into the comic's history. Obviously, that leaves only 60,000 words for the remaining 19 years, but a hefty chunk of the first half was devoted to the comic's pre-launch period.

I keep a running comparison of where TPO is against how many words my original TPO articles needed to reach this point. I know, I know, how anally retentive is that? But it's proving a valuable device to keeping track of my progress. The original articles [in their uncut form, before I trimmed them to meet the individual 5000 wordcount limit required by the Megazine] ran to a little under 78,000, not counting a separate 5000 word piece I did on IPC comics publisher John Saners. The TPO book is contracted as being between 110,000 and 120,000 words. I don't want to undershoot or add so much new material I run overlong. That way lies madness, trust me.

So, where am I with the running comparison? Well, the Tyranny Rex section in my original articles put me a whisker over 38,000 words. That means I've added 22,000 words of new material as I pass halfway. I'm pretty much bang on target, as things stand. Of course, my original articles stopped at 2000 AD's 25th anniversary issue in 2002. By the time the TPO book gets published, there'll be another five years of Thrills and spills to cover. Hmm, I wonder if Rebellion will let me have some extra wiggle room? Must try and get editor Jonathan Oliver on the phone next week. Right, here's your last extract for this week...
Zenith was one of the last projects MacManus had been involved with before taking a three-month sabbatical from comics. ‘The way Grant explained it and the way Brendan designed it, Zenith didn’t look like a superhero strip,’ he says. ‘It was a story in the classic 2000 AD vein, characters with weird aspects. It felt very British, perfect for the comic.’

Burton was full of praise for the strip when interviewed for 10 Years of 2000 AD. ‘I can usually gauge a good strip if I will stop whatever I’m doing when the script comes in … and read it straight through. I’m doing that with Zenith at the moment. It’s the first time we’ve actively gone out to do a super-powered character in a British comic. We knew we wanted to do something like this, but do it the 2000 AD way - not like a straight, super-powered character, flying over buildings and leaping in a single bound, all that sort of thing. We were very fortunate to get the services of writer Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell as artist. All the indications are we’ve got a new, classic 2000 AD series, which we’ll hopefully continue into the future.’

Zenith was everything Burton predicted and more, injecting fresh life into the weekly. Morrison and Yeowell would create four series of Zenith for 2000 AD over the next five years. The strip pioneered the idea of superheroes as celebrities, something that’s since become a recurring theme in many American comics. ‘Zenith has managed to stand the test of time better than some of its contemporaries and still reads like something quite current,’ Morrison believes. ‘It’s no surprise that the superhero figure … has become a projection of global celebrity. I find it a big naff actually – I’d like to get back to secret identities and heroes who do good and ask for no reward.’ He credits Zenith with getting him noticed and paving the way for a lucrative career in American comics. ‘It influenced a whole generation of superhero stories, and is currently much more influential than Watchmen or Dark Knight. In that way, I think Zenith is a whole lot more like Marshal Law than Pat Mills might care to admit.’

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hanging with Halo Jones

Spent a lot of today writing about The Ballad of Halo Jones, one of 2000 AD's most acclaimed series. Started with Alan Moore and Ian Gibson designing the characters and concepts for book one, and am about to launch into the making of the third and final Halo Jones tale. As a consequence, the TPO story moved through 1984 and 1985 - eventful years by anyone's standards. For today's extract, I've chosen Alan Grant talking about the aborted Judge Dredd mega-epic, City of the Damned. As you're about to see, the writer is no great fan of artist Kim Raymond. Kim, if by some freak mischance you're reading this, look away now. Everybody else, prepare for harsh language...
City of the Damned suffered an ailment common to mega-epics, using four different artists to keep the strip going. Steve Dillon launched the story but Ron Smith, Gibson and Kim Raymond had to be brought in to meet deadline pressures. Grant is still angry about the last of those artist ‘Fuck! Fuck! We tried and tried to stop Kim Raymond ever doing Dredd again. We called up every fucking week to complain about it. Some really poor artists have done Dredd and Kim Raymond did the worst Dredds of all. It stank! I’ve seen other Kim Raymond art and it wasn’t bad, but it was like he missed the point of Dredd – maybe he was trying to rush it out. Ugly art.’

The third and final adaptation of a Stainless Steel Rat novel began in Prog 393, giving Rogue Trooper a brief respite. When the future warrior returned in Prog 401, his bio-chipped brothers in arms got new bodies. But a deadly virus destroys their nervous systems, forcing them back onto bio-chips. Rogue was forced to start a new quest, this time searching for a cure to the virus. Finley-Day was joined by artist Ortiz, but the glory days had past for Rogue. ‘We couldn’t bring ourselves to kill him,’ MacManus admits. ‘So he stumbled on.’ Rogue’s troubles were fast becoming a metaphor for the comic in which he appeared. Several of 2000 AD’s established series were coming to the end of their natural lives, just as the talent drain to American comics was becoming an ever more pressing problem. Then there was the issue of creators’ rights, something about which IPC and its management refused to budge.

Wordcount target: 120,000. Today's wordcount: 52,761.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lots of Alan Moore in today's bits of TPO - Skizz, D.R. & Quinch, Chronocops and The Reversible Man. Even more Moore tomorrow as I tackle the genesis of Halo Jones, where Ian Gibson make some decidedly interesting comments. Got nearly 6000 words under my belt today, which is just as well because next week's threatening to be problematic at best. Into Edinburgh all afternoon on Tuesday and then all day on Wednesday for two non-TPO projects.

My deadline for delivering the manuscript is the end of this month - that's 120,000 words required in 22 days' time. The running total? 47,472. Quite a ways to go yet, methinks. Anyway, here is today's extract, coving the creation of Harry 20 on the High Rock. In space no one can hear you scream. In Harry 20, no one can hear you opening the spaceship window, it seems...
Another series that had been lingering in development hell was Harry 20 on the High Rock, written by Finley-Day. He says the space prison drama was inspired by the 1979 film Escape From Alcatraz, starring Clint Eastwood. ‘That’s very much what it was, the idea of a prison satellite. I thought that would be the next stage in how you get rid of people.’ Another inspiration was the book Papillion by Henri Charriere about life on the notorious Devil’s Island prison. ‘It was about sticking people somewhere so they’re out of the way.’

Robin Smith says the scripts for Harry 20 had been around for ages before they finally saw print in Prog 287, published in October 1982. ‘It had to be used because it had been paid for. In Gerry’s original scripts a character reached into his spacesuit to take a spanner out. There was a chase scene in another Gerry script – maybe it was for Dan Dare – where a character bashed out the window of a spaceship and started shooting backwards. Alan Grant rewrote that.’

‘Gerry was really good at coming up ideas,’ Grant says. ‘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.’ Grant believes he was still on staff at 2000 AD when given the job of fixing Finley-Day’s efforts on Harry 20. ‘When Gerry delivered the first script, I took it to Steve. 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. We had a slight falling out about this. I said I had been employed as a sub-editor, not a writer. This required a major rewrite job. Steve agreed to pay me freelance rates to rewrite the whole of Harry 20. It was more to put right all the things that Gerry got wrong, I had to cut it by about 60 per cent because he over-wrote everything. My job was to put the scripts into publishable form, which was good practise for me.’

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Who ate all the pies? Not Sam Slade

Well into 1982, chugging along nicely. Busy trying to untangle the genesis of Slaine, so will have to finish that tricky task tomorrow. In the meantime, here is today's work in progress extract...
April 1982 brought the return of Robo-Hunter, after almost two years out of the comic. Sam Slade moved to Brit-Cit, as Grant began co-writing the series with Wagner: ‘I was anxious about starting work with John on Robo-Hunter, because I had enjoyed his work on it so much when he was writing the strip alone. But I really got into it. Sam Slade is just a great character, the hard put-upon P.I. for whom everything always goes wrong.’ Robo-Hunter became almost a permanent fixture in the comic for the next eighteen months, with Ian Gibson drawing every episode.

The first story of the run was The Beast of Blackheart Manor. ‘We were censored on that,’ Grant recalls. ‘Throughout the story we had Sam commenting on the pies at Blackheart Manor, how good they were. He kept walking off frame to get another pie. All these people were getting murdered. The last episode was going to reveal as Sam bites into another pie that’s where all the dead bodies had gone. This was how the robots made money, selling the pies to tourists. But we weren’t allowed that. We couldn’t have a hero being an inadvertent cannibal.’

Even the most innocuous phrases could cause problems. Both Grant and MacManus recall a sound effect in Robo-Hunter being censored. Barry Tomlinson had taken over from Bob Bartholomew as the managing editor responsible for passing each issue of 2000 AD as fit for publication. ‘The original speech balloon on Prog 278 had Kidd saying, “Do something, Slade! I’m gonna pop!”,’ MacManus recalls. ‘Tomlinson said you can’t have the word pop on the cover, it means fart.’ But MacManus says getting approvals from Tomlinson was much less difficult than it had been with Bartholomew. ‘Barry gave the comic a much easier ride. The comic was so successful by then, it made him look good around the building. All the other titles were slowly dying. Rather than censoring the comic, he gave it marks out of ten every week.’

Target wordcount: 120,000. Current wordcount: 41,122.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Getting a good groove going

After two weeks of flailing and flapping, I'm definitely getting a good groove on with the book version of TPO. I locked down the 70s last week and am now well into the 80s - the golden age of 2000 AD by the reckoning of many people. The first half of that decade shouldn't take long to revise, simply because I don't have a lot of new material to add. The second half of the 80s will require more care, as I tore through it with an indecent haste when TPO was a series of articles for the mighty Megazine. Major innovations like Zenith were skimmed over all too quickly, something I'm keen to address with this revised and expanded book version. Now, on to today's extract:
Readers expecting to buy Prog 165 in May 1980 were given an unpleasant surprise – publication of 2000 AD was halted for five weeks by industrial action. The National Union of Journalists called a strike at IPC, obliging the editorial team to stop work. MacManus says strikes were an all too common occurrence. ‘We often had strikes because the NUJ clashed strongly with IPC. The comic department always got dragged into these things. One was about free coffee, another was about demanding management pay us a reading allowance for buying reference material. The free coffee strike was a bit silly.’

Unsurprisingly, John Sanders is less forgiving about such incidents. ‘Enormous damage was done to the Youth Group by the 1980 strike, and by all the other stupid strikes the staff got themselves in to. After five weeks you lost all reader credibility and they switched their allegiance to DCT titles, which were not union controlled. These strikes were very common and they were almost always about money. I would say the most militant union officials at IPC were in the Youth Group. I decided to make a point. We would have to lose a title or two to concentrate our resources on fewer titles when the strike was over. The one I wanted to close was 2000 AD. There were two reasons for this. One was that it had the most militants around it, and the other was its closer would make the greatest impact on the rest of the Youth Group staff.

‘For several days I was determined to shut down 2000 AD. Gradually other people persuaded me this move would not be in the ultimate interest of Youth Group profits, although they agreed with me it would probably be in the interests of the Youth Group. But something had to go.’ Sanders instead shut a newly launched girls’ comic with very high circulation, whose editor was one of the NUJ militants within the Youth Group. ‘The staff lost their jobs. The whole thing was tragic.’ Sanders had been an NUJ member since he was 17, but says unions were becoming a festering sore for publishers. ‘These strikes were about greed and self-destruction. They did more endangered titles – they ruined them.’ 2000 AD’s editorial team remained ignorant of their brush with cancellation. ‘All these plans were kept from the staff, who never knew how close they were to losing their jobs. If I had owned the company at that point, I would have killed 2000 AD there and then, not the new girls’ launch, and I would have enjoyed doing so.’

Wordcount target: 120,000. Today's wordcount: 35,413.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Goodbye 70s [one for all you Yazoo fans]

Right, that's the 1970s section of TPO put to bed, for the most part. I'm still waiting on Colin Wyatt and Roy Preston to get back to me with their answers, but I've worked my way through 2000 AD's genesis and early development. I'll incorporate the material from Colin and Roy when it arrives, neatly augmenting what I've already gleaned from other creators and editorial staff of that era.

When TPO was originally serialised in the Megazine, it took three articles and 15,000 words to get to the end of the 1970s. For the much revised and expanded book edition of TPO, that same period of time has equated to a shade under 30,000 words. I don't expect the 1980s will expand quite so much, but there's still a lot of fresh materal to be incorporated into the narrative.

In TPO's Megazine incarnation, 1985-1989 was covered with almost obscene haste, as editor Alan Barnes wanted the whole thing done in 12 articles. He relaxed that stricture later on, so I don't expect the 1990s to grow much from what originally appeared in the Meg. But the current decade hardly got much a mention for obvious reasons in the original articles, so there's no shortage of good stuff to be added there. Anyway, here's today's extract from the work in progress...
By the summer of 1979 it was apparent Tornado would soon be cancelled. Alan Grant recalls the circumstances surrounding the failing title’s merger into 2000 AD. ‘When it was first suggested, Steve MacManus – to his credit – said it was a terrible idea, the two comics were not compatible. Unfortunately for Steve, he went on two weeks’ holiday. The day after he left somebody – I can’t remember who – told me it was my job to supervise the merger in Steve’s absence. I said no, I’d wait until Steve got back to sort it out. This person said it’s got to be done in the next two weeks, how can I persuade you? I said you can try financially!’

Grant says he was paid a bonus of £500 – six times his weekly wage – to oversee the merger. ‘I thought, well, fuck the principles, they’re going to do it anyway! I could have said no and they would have just got somebody else to do it. I took the money and did the work and when Steve came back he was unpleasantly surprised to discover he was now the editor of 2000 AD and Tornado!’ Grant also collected £5 from Sanders after winning their wager whether Tornado could last six months. The title was folded after twenty-two issues. ‘Sanders asked me how I knew it was going to be a failure,’ Grant recalls. ‘I said it wasn’t as good as 2000 AD.’

‘Tornado failed because it wasn’t good enough and the staff bear the brunt of responsibility for that,’ Sanders says. He dismisses as science fiction the idea of a bonus payment being made to facilitate the Tornado merger. ‘Do you seriously think I would have paid £500 to Grant to do that while MacManus was on holiday? I didn’t run the sort of organisation where the editor could refuse to do something I told them to do – that would have been anarchy.’ And the five pound wager? ‘I always forget losing bets, but I’m glad I’m remembered for honouring them. Grant should never have been involved in a bet like that, anyway, it was against the spirit of the company. But that was Grant. He was an excellent staffer, but a trouble-maker.’

Wordcount target: 120,000. Today's wordcount: 29, 678 words.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Burb, baby, burn: How Inferno left 2000 AD charred

Spent the day trying to fit together the pieces of the puzzle regarding a 2000 AD strip called Inferno. There was one incidence of ultra-violence too many in the future sports story, and the fallout from that saw ersatz editor Nick Landau removed from the title. I've got quotes from many of the key players, including: managing editor Bob Bartholomew, who blew the whistle; editor Kelvin Gosnell, who was away on holiday when the stomm hit the fan; art editor Kevin O'Neill; and Landau himself. I've also been promised some answers from Roy Preston [2000 AD's sub-editor at the time] and Colin Wyatt [then art assistant on the comic], so hopefully they shed some more light on what happened. Anyway, here's an extract from the work in progress - what follows may well change before TPO goes to print. Contains swearing, by the way...
Trying to determine exactly what happened next is problematic at best, due to conflicting memories and the passage of time. Landau believes management censorship cost him his job on 2000 AD. ‘You could demolish a robot and get away with that. Strips like Flesh were pretty close to the knuckle. The one that used to come under the most scrutiny was Inferno – that was heavily censored. I ended up getting transferred to Battle because of that story. The situation frustrated me at the time because I ended up standing alone in the firing line. Both the editor and managing editor approved pages before they went to press, I was only the chief sub-editor.’

Bartholomew believes Gosnell was responsible for 2000 AD’s troubles. ‘Time and time again he went over the top with an excess of violence by IPC standards. Kelvin paid a nominal lip service to my position, consulting me – telling me – about certain writers and artists, but he got short shrift when he actually complained to Sanders about my “interference”.’

Gosnell angrily denies any suggestions he was culpable for what happened with Inferno. ‘I did not “approve” the offending strip because I was on fucking holiday! Landau was running the comic when Inferno was in 2000 AD, I had no control over it.’

Wordcount target: 120,000. Today's wordcount: 24, 490.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Judge Dredd: The Bladerunner Connection

In 1987 a 2000 AD reader called Danny Cannon sent his design for a Judge Dredd movie poster in to the Galaxy's Greatest Comic. The editorial team was so impressed they published it in Prog 534, devoting nearly half a page to the picture. Eight years later the real Judge Dredd film was released, helmed by young British director Danny Cannon. Funny how these things can come full circle, isn't it? The mock-up suggests a heavy Bladerunner influence at work, with Ridley Scott as suggested director, Harrison Ford taking the role of Dredd and Daryl Hannah as Anderson. But what part would Christopher Walken play?

Right, on to today's extract. Actually, it's gone midnight so this is yesterday's extract, if you want to be pedantic. Me, I just want to sleep.
Invasion had finished in Prog 51, supplanted by Colony Earth, written and drawn by Jim Watson. Bill Savage and the Volgans might be gone, but the new story was much the same – macho hero versus invasion force, except this time they were aliens. Colony Earth was soon replaced by Death Planet, a short-lived deep space thriller by Hebden and Lopez. This gave way to a serial that was pure B-movie: Ant Wars. Gerry Finley-Day created this unlikely tale about giant ants attacking humanity in South America. ‘It was inspired by one of the best science fiction film around, Them! The ants were ultra-intelligent, outsmarting human beings, just like enemy soldiers. In one episode the ants infiltrated the Rio carnival by hiding under a float, so nobody noticed them. The series was only a quick thing, a quick fix if I remember rightly.’

The writer regrets not making more of the idea: ‘It was around the time of the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Scotland was the only British team that had qualified. I had the idea there should be a mad Scots football supporter and an English embassy official trying to get him home, who get caught up in events. There should have been more interplay. We used it straight on the plot, rather than as characters. There could have been more mileage in it, the two guys could have kept meeting the ants all over the world – there’s always a football match on somewhere.’

Ant Wars inspired O’Neill to produce a strikingly different design for the front of Prog 78. ‘We did a black and white newspaper-style cover, with just red on the logo. I didn’t ask if we could do it. Sanders apparently went ballistic.’ The Rio carnival episode inspired another bit of mischief. ‘There was a topless woman shown in a parade. I looked at this and thought we’ll have to change it, but we’ll let Bob Bartholomew see this so he has something to go apoplectic about – maybe he’ll let something else though. But he didn’t say a word about it. So I let it go to press thinking he’d go berserk when it come out, but he never said a word. I don’t think anyone ever spotted it!’
Wordcount target: 120,000. Today's wordcount: 21,607.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Credit cards, Starlord and more

Feel like I starting to get a firmer grip on this project. Today's chunk covered the introduction of credit cards, the decision to launch Starlord and the consequences of that. I'm amazed how much material I had to leave out my original TPO articles for the Megazine. Some of the key moments in 2000 AD history are covered in such brevity as to render the storytelling utterly staccato. 'This happened, and then that, and then this and then something else! Next issue: more stuff happens!' Hopefully the book version gives everything a bit more breathing room. Right, here's today's sneak peak:
For Gosnell, the task of launching what became Starlord proved a poisoned chalice. ‘The early days of 2000 AD was a time I considered the happiest, most productive and rewarding days of my life. It’s hard to convey the sheer, raw enjoyment and creative satisfaction I derived from being involved with that launch. I believed in 2000 AD passionately, tried to carry on the fierce, committed, unique creative spirit with which Pat had inspired me. I gave my heart and soul to 2000 AD. I laughed, I felt good – it was a time of joy. Then Sanders tasked me with launching another science fiction comic, which became Starlord. I didn’t want to put my creative resources into launching a look-a-like for something very good, I thought that was totally wrong. But somehow I got talked into it. I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.’ Gosnell discussed the new launch with Mills, but his mentor was non-committal. ‘I learned the craft of making a comic from Pat. If he had said tell Sanders to stick it, I would have. Starlord shouldn’t have been done. It was like trying to bump-start Concorde uphill.’

Mills’ reticence may have stemmed from a chill in his relationship with the Youth Group’s assistant managing director. ‘Sanders wanted to come in with Starlord hard and fast. I thought it was far too soon, and said that Kelvin should settle in on 2000 AD before starting a new comic. But I was already in Sanders’ bad books for refusing to create a female 2000 AD. I would dearly have loved to do this because of my background in girls’ comics, but I wanted a share of the profits. Sanders said it was impossible, so I left.’ Mills’ involvement with Starlord was restricted to creating and writing a strip called Ro-Busters. ‘I did this really as a favour, and as a way of pissing off the managing editor who pitched an idea to me about ex-servicemen with super power who deal with disasters. It was a dreadful idea and I bypassed it by doing Ro-Busters, which he loathed – so I knew my story would be a hit.’

Target wordcount: 120,000. Current wordcount: 16,873.