In 1977, betting on the popularity of science fiction movies and television, 2000 AD was born. The magazines or ‘progs’ are a weekly affair, containing multiple stories running in episodic form.
Since the beginning, 2000 AD has gleefully introduced us to worlds containing mutant bounty hunters, robot hunting mercenaries, secret agent cyborgs, time and dimension travelling anti-heroes and of course, Judge Dredd. The stories, thought-provoking and irreverent at the same time, continue to set the standard for science fiction comic books.
There seems to be no end to the amazing talent the magazine draws and develops. Alan Grant, Mark Millar, Garth Ennis, Simon Bisley, Dave Gibbons, Dan Abnett, Neil Gaiman, Brian Bolland, Kevin O’Neill, these are just some of the past and present contributors to 2000 AD. The full list contains many of the most influential artists, writer, colorists of the last three decades.
This weekend I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Smith, Editor of 2000 AD and representative of Tharg the Mighty, about the history of the magazine, and coming to America.
Dave Powell: You’ve been Tharg the Mighty for a few years now. What is your greatest responsibility as the apparent spearhead of an alien invasion of Earth?
Matt Smith: Well, those of us who work for the Mighty One are only his human representatives on Earth. We are merely his minions. As such, my chief responsibility is not to screw up all the good work that has been done by my predecessors over the past 34 years. So many great writers, artists, letterers, colorists and editors have worked on such exceptional stories you want to uphold the grand tradition that has been set. 2000 AD is one of the most influential comics that the UK has ever produced, and you have a duty to maintain its integrity and the quality of the material published within its pages.
Powell: What creator do you feel has defined 2000 AD most?
Smith: Impossible to choose just one — Pat Mills and John Wagner were there right at the very start, and they have that sense of irreverence and black humour that’s integral to 2000 AD running through them. But Alan Grant has also proved an important contributor as well as artists such as Brian Bolland, Mick McMahon, Kevin O’Neill and Carlos Ezquerra. All are uniquely British (or European) creators that contributed to make 2000 AD what it is.
Powell: What is the future? Are there any new projects you’re excited about?
Smith: The future is always exciting — this is the Comic of Tomorrow, after all! We’ve just started a new line-up with Prog 1740, featuring the likes of Savage, Zombo and Sinister Dexter. A major new Dredd arc begins in “Day of Chaos” in Prog 1743 (out 29 July). Prog 1750 (out 7 September) will feature new series of Indigo Prime, Low Life and Ampney Crucis Investigates. Later in the year, we’ll see the return of Nikolai Dante and Strontium Dog as well as new strips such as Grey Area by Dan Abnett and Karl Richardson.
Powell: What story do you feel has been the best or most influential since you’ve become Editor-in-Chief?
Smith: We’ve seen some great Dredd stories over the past few years — “Sin City,” “Total War,” “Origins,” “Tour of Duty” — that have all advanced and influenced the future of Mega-City One. Always pleasing to see new stories go down well like Caballistics, Inc., Kingdom, Stickleback or, more recently, Absalom.
Powell: For American readers who have never read 2000 AD, why should they pick it up?
Smith: Firstly, because it’s better value than most US comics — while the standard seems to have become 20 pages of strip per month for $3, 2000 AD gives you anything between 26 to 29 strip pages every week — and if you buy it digitally from www.clickwheel.net it’s yours for $3 a pop. Secondly, it’s a blistering mash of action and adventure, SF, fantasy and horror, without a superhero in sight. If you like your comics dark, violent and grimly humorous, then this is for you. Thirdly, it’s been home to some of comics’ most celebrated creators — Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Garth Ennis, Simon Bisley, Glenn Fabry, Mark Millar, Steve Dillon and Jock, to name just a few, all had their early work published in its pages. Fourth, there’s a stunning variety of art styles, from fully painted to black and white — 2000 AD embraces a wide range of artists and lets them cut loose, rather than chaining them to a production-line, comics done by committee mentality. If a US reader wants a taster, they can download the free 2000 AD Originssampler from clickwheel.net, which contains the first episodes of some of 2000 AD‘s most famous stories, including Alan Moore and Ian Gibson’s The Ballad of Halo Jones and Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill’s Nemesis the Warlock.
Powell: How is this comic different from American comics?
Smith: For a start, it’s weekly rather than monthly — 32 pages every Wednesday. Secondly, it’s an anthology, so there’ll be on average five stories running in every issue, with each episode being 5-6 pages each. There’s a mix of colour and b/w art, and the characters tend to be of the anti-hero variety — gritty, anti-establishment types. And it’s a very fast, dense read — a hit of supercharged Thrill-power right between the eyes.
Powell: Judge Dredd has been running in 2000 AD for over 30 years; what keeps him relevant as a character?
Smith: Although the strip is set in the 22nd Century, the stories are more often than not pulled from the headlines today, so the madness of Mega-City One is only one step further on from what we’re experiencing now. Many of the futuristic inventions created for the strip by John Wagner, Alan Grant and others have since become reality, and the concept of a policeman dispensing summary justice is growing closer, so all this helps makes Dredd as vital as he’s always been. The political subtext of Dredd — a populace ruled by the iron grip of the Judges — is always going to have continued relevance.
Powell: What other characters do you think American readers will come to love?
Smith: If you like Dredd, then you should enjoy Strontium Dog, about a mutant bounty hunter — they’re cut from similar cloth. Conan fans should appreciate Slaine, the Celtic barbarian warrior. Plus there’s Genetic Infantryman Rogue Trooper, war-robots ABC Warriors, gentleman thief Nikolai Dante, alien students D.R. & Quinch… if you like fast-moving, exciting comics, then you’ll like any of these.
Smith: The amount of the weekly comic that ships into the US via Diamond is comparatively quite small, soif you want your local retailer to stock it, ask them to order it — the more retailers that stock it, the bigger chance that people will be exposed to the material. We have a growing range of trade collections released specifically for the US market distributed through Simon & Schuster, including the Judge Dredd Case Files — you can see the current list of books by searching for 2000 AD atwww.simonandschuster.com. Hopefully, the forthcoming Dredd movie will also help point people in the direction of all these great stories.
Powell: As someone who edits a weekly comic for a living, what is your reaction to the recent rash of weekly American comics (52, Countdown, Trinity)?
Smith: I haven’t read any of them so can’t comment on whether I thought they were successful or not. In the UK, the weekly publication schedule is something of a tradition for newsstand comics — I imagine it took the US publishers by surprise just how much it eats up material!
Powell: Now that the American market is opening up again, do you fear that talent drain that happened in the late 80’s?
Smith: No, it tends to be a fluid process. Some UK writers and artists get picked up by US publishers, others find their way back to 2000 AD again. There’s always talent out there!
For 34 years, 2000 AD has been going strong. Now they are expanding their market to America. Be sure to tell your comics retailer to order 2000 AD through Diamond Comic Distributors or if you prefer, you can download directly from www.clickwheel.net!