Back in the mists of time (or 1977 as we also called it). Before the video game revolution, before mobile phones, and before superhero movies had real special effects. When Star Wars, was the only Star Wars movie and the Sfi Channel was not even a wink in a TV producer’s eye. Something happened in the world of comic book publishing which remains in many ways unique even now. The self-proclaimed Greatest Comic in the Universe was born, and for me at least that is just what it was, or would be when I started reading it 18 months later after the slightly ill-fated Starlord which tried to repeat its success merged with the big boy of British comics.
Starlord, which I had read from the first issue, was perhaps my first flirtation with grief as I mourned its passing. It had gripped me from the first issue, and I had been there at the start. 2000AD, on the other hand, was foisted on me because I wanted to keep reading my favourite strips. I was in truth a little aggrieved by this, (I was also eight years old, the death of my favourite comic loomed large in my psyche). I almost refused to buy the new combined 2000AD featuring Starlord, as it was obvious to me who was the shark here, eating up the little fish.
However, nine-year-olds are fickle with their grieving and 2000AD’s editor, (who it was alleged was a green skinned alien from Betelgeuse but was, in fact, Steve MacManus who took over the job just as the two comics merged and did it for the next 10 years) knew exactly which strips he wanted to retain from the junior partner.
Two of the mainstays of the early years of 2000AD in Strontium Dog a space western and Ro-busters a thunderbird like a disaster team run for profit and staffed by robots started out in Starlord. Over the years they have morphed and changed, and driven by the storytelling 2000AD is famous for they became greater than the original workaday strips which fascinate the eight-year-old me.
Johnny Alpha, Strontium Dogs main character’s back story was developed into an epic that looked at racism and fascists through the lens of mutants and the Keelers. Doing that most subversive of things, educating young minds while entertaining them. Much of my own abhorrence of racism and the far right I can trace back to reading 2000AD and the long-running ‘Portrait of a Mutant’ Not bad for a strip that started bout as a bounty hunter western set in space.
Ro-Busters too took on a flashback story with ‘Hammerstein’s war memoirs’ telling the tale of one of the old strips two star robots. Hammerstein being as he was a hammer fisted first generation war droid fight a war for humans, against humans and despised by humans. This new strip further morphed over the years to become the A.B.C. Warriors, a strange mix of the ‘Seven Samurai‘ (or Mek-nificent seven) and weird techno-sorcery. Once again this opened up a young mind to some strange concepts, with a cross-dressing but hyper cool sniper Joe Pineapples and techno-sorcery wielding robot monk Dreadlock were at once both utterly weird and utterly wonderful.
Thrown into this mix of my two favourites from Starlord were the king of British comic book characters, Joe ‘old stoneface’ Dredd. A strip which has never short of a bit of subversive satire. Staring a Character that has lived long with me ever since, replacing even Johnny Alpha in my fertile mind as my favourite character. Dredds world has always juggled satire and action with hard-hitting ideas, but its real power is and always had been in the storytelling. It’s not so much Dredd as the other characters that you encounter in hie world that make Dredd’s universe so compelling.
Take, for example, Copper the graffiti artist, a kid who see’s no future for himself as he sits in schools that teach him how to be unemployed, so he sets out on a personal mission to become the king of the taggers. Until that is Dredd manages to put him away, but not before he pulls off the ultimate tag on the statue of Justice itself. (which dwarfs the statue of liberty in Old-New-York…). Then Copper comes back a few years down the line as a sky surfer, making a bid to win a highly illegal race, before escaping to OZ to live in the out back. Only to return to surf once more a few years later, older, wiser and even more cynical about the world around him. He is just one of the hundreds of characters who come and go but draw you into Dredd’s world.
If you watch the Dredd movie from 2012 (and if you haven’t you should), you can see a chopper tag high on the side of one of the blocks. A moment of personal glee when I finally found it after watching the movie several times.
Beyond Dredd and my old Starlord stalwarts, there was Rogue Trooper, Sam Slade, Nikolai Dante, Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine, Halo Jones, Sinister, Dexter, the VC’s and dozens of others ran through the pages of 2000AD and formed a backdrop to my imagination as a child. But more than this the comic grew with me as I got older. The simple hard fast action of the late 70’s gave way slowly to cleverer more reflective strips as the years went by. At the same time, I grew to look at the world through older eyes that looked for layers in story telling. I came to understand that you could talk about homelessness, depression, mental health, racism, sexism, politics, indeed anything through the lens of science fiction, fantasy or just good story telling. A story, in the end, could be about anything, but a good storyteller could work other things into it. Tell a ripping yarn and tell a truth or two about the world as you see it into the bargain.
Cider Lane, my first novel, was at heart a love story, but one that talks about depression, drug abuse, self-harming, bullying, grief and a dozen other ‘serious’ subjects at the same time. Mostly it does so by not talking about them directly.
Passing Place, which I consider more in keeping with 2000AD traditions, does much the same as Cider Lane, in that it works some big subjects into the thread of its story. Such as who we are and how we perceive the universe but it does so with a subtle touch ( at least I hope it does).
The point of this all is simple, without 2000AD there would have likely been no Passing Place, no Cider Lane, no Hannibal Smyth (who you’re yet to meet but sits on my hard drive waiting for a second draft) or Maybes Daughter (ditto). Because it was 2000AD as much as anything that taught me about stories. All the authors I later read built upon that fertile foundation it is true, but as a linchpin, 2000AD was always there.
I stopped reading 2000AD about ten years ago. Not for any reason other than I missed a few issues, made some changes in my life and never got back into it.
But next week there is a landmark, Prog 2000.
The 2000th issue of a comic which way back in 78 when it merged with Starlord in a desperate attempt to salvage something of the two titles looked to be dying.
It’s an institution, A great British institution of storytelling at its purest. Satirical, smart witty and wonderful.
Seems a great time to restart my subscription…
Update…. as the 4oth anniversary draws near.
I did update my subscription and I subscribed to the Judge Dredd Megazine as well. The storytelling is as good as ever. There has been the odd story where I have clearly fell a little behind by not reading the old girl for a few years, but on the whole, it’s like slipping into an old band T-shirt and going off to see a gig. You catch up, and if you’re a bit befuddled by a story you can check on the internet to get the history of the charcters your confused by. Still finding a giddy smile crossing my lips when I get home after a hard day to find the latest copy in the doorway. So my advice, worth little though it may be. If your a lax Squaxx dek Thargo, take a chance on the old thing. I certain have not regretted doing so.
Splundig vur Thrigg ….. Judge Hayes
#2000AD #prog2000 #Dredd