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.’