Recently celebrating its 40th anniversary, Nick Triani looks back at how the British comic 2000 AD started his life-long love of the strip. In this first of two parts he returns to the origins of an enduring classic.
It’s hard to remember exactly at what age I got hooked on comics. When I was about six, my parents both worked nights, so I would be packed off to a nearby family who would babysit me. They had a boy who was my age called Anthony. Me and Anthony started getting interested in comics. The Beano being the main one initially, but as we grew a little older, more adventurous fare started to pique our interest. When I was 10, a title arrived that not only changed my worldview, but revolutionized British comics forever.
Action was launched by Fleetway in 1976 (just in time for the fully fledged sonic assault of punk), and was instantly dubbed ‘The Sevenpenny Nightmare’ by the Sun newspaper. Here was a comic that was anti-establishment, extremely violent, cinematic and often dealt with topics not usually featured in the conservative environs of comics for boys: working class secret agents that play dirty (Dredger), corruption in football (Look out For Lefty), youth on a violent rampage (Kids Rule OK), the good German soldier (Hellman), the black boxer fighting racism (Blackjack).
Action was visually raw, the violence and blood quota literally dripping off the page. British comics had never seen anything like it, and of course, it didn’t last long: after 30 odd issues Action comic was banned
Action‘s flagship story Hook Jaw, was a familiar yet incredibly savage tale of a rogue, great white shark with a taste for human flesh. Action was visually raw, the violence and blood quota literally dripping off the page. British comics had never seen anything like it, and of course, it didn’t last long: after 30 odd issues Action comic was banned. The establishment finally acted against the anti-establishment. A much watered down version of the comic appeared a few weeks later, and eventually the title was merged with the descent War comic Battle and then gradually disappeared altogether. Action was extremely popular in its initial run, shifting over 160,000 copies weekly. It really felt like the traditional youth titles that were full of ‘boy’s own’ adventures had run their course. The kids wanted something grittier – I know I did. But Action, and the people behind it, had got a taste of something different stirring. Action’s creator Pat Mills soon had other ideas.
On February 26th, 1977, the first ‘Prog’ of 2000 AD hit the newsstands. There was something incredibly familiar about the comic – Pat Mills at the helm gives you some ideas. Yes, it was billed as a sci-fi comic, but many of the creatives who had worked on Action were now found in this new comics’ pages. Even more noteworthy was the realism and violence which had so categorized Action was all present and correct within 2000 AD. The fact that the comic was edited by an Alien ( Tharg The Mighty) and the stories were set in some random future time, somehow meant the spotlight didn’t hit 2000 AD as hard as it did Action. Of course, that didn’t mean 2000 AD was just some violent fantasy title; political themes and ideas were still present and being introduced to a very young readership. Harlem Heroes continued a corrupt sports theme (and debuted the first work of one Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame). Iconic old-school British sci-fi character Dan Dare was re-introduced to the pages of 2000 AD for the first issue (the twist being international illustrators would give Dare a different flavour). Savage dealt with a ‘Vulgan’ invasion of Britain (actually, it was really a smokescreen for a Russian invasion) whilst Mach 1 and Flesh made up the more generic sci-fi fare. The second issue of 2000 AD was the landmark however: it was to introduce arguably the most enduring and influential British comics creation of the modern era, Judge Dredd.
My personal interest in Judge Dredd continues to this day. I’ve been collecting the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files for a few years now. All the strips in consecutive order, bound as large graphic novels. I’m on volume 20 now. Dredd is a strange creation. Set in a future, post-apocalyptic world (the action happens about 100 years from now), Dredd is an elite policeman patrolling the streets of North America’s sprawling Mega City One. Wiki is quite succinct in its Dredd description: “He is a “street judge“, empowered to summarily arrest, convict, sentence, and execute criminals.” Of course, that only gives you a glimpse into Dredd’s world. Dredd’s co-creator John Wagner also runs a fine line in black humor (Dredd is laconically funny at times) whilst cleverly inserting current day pop culture references in most strips. Political angles pass through the various story arcs – the idea of democracy and authoritarianism remains a recurring theme. Dredd’s visual co-creator Carlos Ezquerra, was certainly inspired by a mixture of actor James Coburn and Clint Eastwood‘s Dirty Harry, and made Dredd a lean and lithe looking operator with a big chin and a big gun. Later, these oversized qualities were even more emphasised by sometime illustrator Mike McMahon. Famously, we’ve never seen Dredd’s full face, the helmet – whatever the situation – almost always stays on.
Many words have been used to describe Dredd: fascist, authoritarian, immoral and so on. One of the charms of Dredd is that he’s certainly a ‘bad guy’ that we can root for. Judge Dredd is a satire, and a very good one at that. In a recent article about the politics of Dredd, Michael Molcher perfectly summed up how Dredd has evolved over the last 40 years; “Dredd has gone from a noble, even heroic, guardian who maintains that all are equal beneath the totalitarian boot-heel of the law, to the upholder of a brutalising authoritarian system.” Yes, Dredd can be violent and cruel, but the humor is always visible and the Dredd world is rich in character and jaw dropping weirdness.
One of the charms of Dredd is that he’s certainly a ‘bad guy’ that we can root for
As a ten year old, Dredd certainly fired my imagination with a knowingness and absurdism. This Dredd world was in many ways, all grown-up. Dredd for me is the bad guy who stands up to the bully, fulfilling some deep seated revenge fantasy against my foes. Of course, in my own mind, I would deliver the same cool, nonchalant one liners Joe Dredd, Future Lawman so effortlessly dispatches. Dredd is my imaginary-macho-alter-ego, flexing muscle in leather and chains (yes, Tom Of Finland is not so far from Dredd’s stock uniform). In my dreams, Dredd is dispensing death with his lawgiver to those people I’m too cowardly in real life to simply say fuck off.
Dredd is my imaginary-macho-alter-ego, flexing muscle in leather and chains (yes, Tom Of Finland is not so far from Dredd’s stock uniform)
I highly recommend a few story arcs such as the Caesar-like imaginings of ‘The Day The Law Died’; outside of Mega City One’s walls adventure ‘The Cursed Earth’ and especially the heavily political ‘America’ story arc; democrats become terrorists – a perfect story for these Trumpian times. ‘Old Stoney Face’ still resonates with our concerns as our freedoms diminish and the rise of the right continues to go unchecked. In this aspect Dredd remains an important pop-culture artifact forty years on; the political undertones of Dredd’s future world implies as much in 2017 as when the character was created in the late 1970s.
Of course 2000 AD has been so much more than merely a vehicle for Dredd. The comic has been a growing cult, appealing to young teenagers and adults alike, with a wide range of storytelling that’s kept the subversiveness to the fore – Pat Mills original blueprint for a daring and anti-establishment title has on the most remained. 2000 AD in many ways has been aware of a certain kind of American comics intuity, but its Britishness has set it apart from Marvel and DC. One could make a claim that some of the writers and illustrators who were first handed their debut at the comic have come to define the state and importance of the medium over last 40 odd years (and most certainly taken that British angle on the comic into the American market and graphic novel world). It’s an impressive roll call of creatives that 2000 AD has nurtured in its time. Amongst the standouts who got their start or made their name at 2000 AD are Simon Bisley, Brian Bolland, Garth Ennis, Alan Grant, Dave Gibbons, Steve Dillon, Frank Quitely, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Ian Gibson, Jamie Hewlett, Cam Kennedy, Kevin O’Neill, Bryan Talbot and a host of others.
‘Borjazz’, ‘Drok’, ‘Grud’ and ‘Splundig vur Thrigg’ are just some of the words that insiders, those ‘thrill seekers’ attuned to the ‘Galaxy’s favourite comic’ will reference on a weekly basis. Following 2000 AD has been a badge of difference for me (or it felt like that). As I got older my friends probably thought I was a bit weird still reading that sci-fi comic. But for us in the know, it was also a mark of individuality. Looking back at the title years later, I do realize the comic perhaps lacked diversity within its pages (there really weren’t so many women creators for example). But it was a comic with a political conscience, that to this young boy was seemingly ‘right on’ and knowing.
Looking back at the title years later, I do realize the comic perhaps lacked diversity within its pages (there really weren’t so many women creators for example). But it was a comic with a political conscience, that to this young boy was seemingly ‘right on’ and knowing.
If I’m honest, I haven’t read the title for 20 years, as moving to Finland curtailed my mainline to Progs. Even sadder is that 20 years worth of 2000 AD – along with a complete collection of Action comic – which were jewels in a crown of a collection I had, have been stolen. It was a collection that covered all that was good in British comics over a 25 year period, with many different titles and over 4000 comics, often including complete title runs.
To say 2000 AD influenced the adult I became is certainly on the table. As my interest in comics has been rekindled in these past years, it is heartwarming that something that was so crucial and bought the idea of attitude, anti-establishment sentiments and subversion to my young mind, is still around to influence yet another generation. Pick it up sometime and discover a future world.
In Part two, along with Anna Jokela’s illustrations, Nick discusses some of his favourite characters who graced the pages of 2000 AD over the years.
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