Wednesday 17 March 2010

2000AD changed my life

So far this month, as part of my Graphic Novel theme, I have had great articles from author A.G. Taylor and fellow bloggers Liz of My Favourite Books and Adele of Unbound. I guess it is only fair that I write a piece about how comics and graphic novels have played a part in my life.

Like many boys growing up in the 1970s I was a Beano fan. I bought it every week without fail (in fact we may even have had it delivered with the newspaper). I joined the Dennis the Menace fan club (even though it meant cutting a small rectangular application form out of my precious comic), and once in receipt of my membership card and badges I regularly greeted my friends with the password D.I.N.G. in order to hear the D.O.N.G. reply (even now I will not divulge what these two words stand for).

And then, in 1977 along came Star Wars. That's all it was known as in those days - nobody I knew even mentioned the "A New Hope" subtitle in those days. Then on 8th February 1978 Marvel UK released the Star Wars comic and I was hooked. Money was tight in our family (by this time I had a younger brother and two younger sisters) so we could only afford a small number of the Star Wars figures, and hardly any of the vehicles, but at 10p a copy I was allowed to have my weekly Star Wars comic. I loved this comic - it took me beyond the story of A New Hope and created many more exciting adventures for my space heroes. Unlike The Beano, I refused to have this delivered, for fear that it would get damaged by the newspaper boy, so I would religiously walk into the newsagent oppposite school week after week to hand over my 10p for each next edition. Obviously, as a child and not a collector they were well read and therefore didn't stay in pristine condition so even though I still have them today I would doubt they are much good to a collector..... even if I did want to sell them (which will never happen).

Without unpacking them I can't remember exactly how long I bought it for, but I reckon it was about three years, and then in 1982 along came 'the next big thing' to grab my attention - the re-launch of Eagle. Unlike other comics, the Eagle was a mixture of drawn comic strips alongside photo stories, similar in look to those found in girly comics of the time, but certainly not similar in content. At the time these photostories were something a little different but looking back now (and yes, I do still have my Eagle collection) they have dated badly, and my favourite three stories are the same as they were then, and all traditional drawn strips: The Tower King, The Fifth Horseman and The House of Daemon.

My absolute favourite was The Tower King - a solar-powered satellite malfunctions, thus bathing the planet in a form of radiation that makes the production of electricy impossible. I guess like some form of constant EMP. Set in a very unfamiliar London, the story follows the adventures of Mike Tempest, the Tower King of the title, as he acts as leader to a group of Londoners in their Tower of London sanctaury. At the age of 11 I had little understanding of the Cold War or nuclear bombs so this was my first taste of a post-apocalyptic storyline..... and I loved it. It had warlords fighting for control of the city, a cult that worshipped human body parts, mutants living in the Underground and a train converted into a bad-ass battle wagon by a group known as Wreckers. This story rocked and led me to hunting out more of this type of story, namely Jerry Ahern's Survivalist series.

Like many comics of this type, eventually the quality of the stories gradually declined, and with it my interest in reading comics in general - I became far more obsessed with 'normal' books, although I would still regularly read my beloved Tintin and Asterix books. None of my friends read comics, I was the oldest child in my family so I had no older sibling to influence me and looking back I know I missed out on a great deal. No Marvel. No DC. Nothing. But this all changed in 1989 when I discovered 2000AD. I was in Sixth Form at the time and a close friend had recently been raving about this comic his older brother had brought back from university. This friend also happened to sit on the Common Room committee, and one of his first actions was to get 2000AD Monthly added to the list of subscriptions - a welcome change from The Economist!!! And I even remember the very first issue I read (pictured). The list of writers and artists who have contributed to 2000AD over the years now reads like a Who's Who of the comic world, including the likes of Alan Moore, Bryan Talbot, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison.

2000AD was brutal compared to any of the comics I had read before this. The comic is most noted for its Judge Dredd stories featuring the titular character, one of a team of tough, unforgiving lawmen in the huge Mega-City One, a city so big that it stretched up most of the East Coast of a post-apocalyptic USA and had a population of over 400 million. In these stories people died horribly violent deaths, criminals were vicious, reality TV programmes saw people dying live on TV, and being hugely obese became a 'sport'. Consider my mind totally blown!!!!

Much as I loved the Judge Dredd stories, it was one of his fellow Judges that had me captivated. Call me a sad loser geek but I fell in love with Judge Anderson. And who wouldn't? Anderson brought not only beauty to the stories, but also humour and sensitivity (referred to as personality defects by her fellow Judges) whereas the only emotion Joe Dredd semed to show was anger, as he obsessively enforced his beloved Law. Anderson also had the toughest villains to defeat - is there any villain more deadly then Death (or in this case Judge Death?).

In the last few years 2000AD have started reissuing many of their classic stories in mighty 300+ page volumes. Anderson: Psi Division is one of their more recent releases and I treated myself to it as an early Christmas present last year. These stories have aged very well, and although only printed in black and white, the quality of the graphics is outstanding. This is not always the case with these reprinted volumes, as in the early days of 2000AD the graphics were sometimes simplistic (by today's standards at least). Some reviewers have been a little critical of a number of these volumes, stating that the graphics are poor, and that these volumes will only appeal on a nostalgic level. I would beg to differ - yes, the illustrations are not what we would expect to see in a comic today, but the stories often more than make up for this. These stories have everything a comic-loving boy could ask for: exciting characters that have been given depth through many stories; loads of action; sarcastic humour; and lots and lots of violence!

My other two favourite regular features in 2000AD were Rogue Trooper and Strontium Dog. The first volume of Rogue Trooper stories in this series of reprint albums has only just been released and I do not yet own a copy so I cannot comment on the quality of the graphics, although I remember them to be pretty damn good at the time. Rogue Trooper is a genetically modified soldier, with blue skin and whose equipment has the personalities of his dead comrades embedded as bio-chips. Set on Nu-Earth, a constant war is being fought between the Northers and the Southers, using a vast array of deadly chemical and biological weaponds which have poisoned the planet for good. Due to his engineered state, Rogue is immue to pretty much all of these poisons - he really is the ultimate eilite soldier. 

The art work for the Strontium Dog series has not been as successful at meeting the test of time in my opinion. The graphics in these reissued volumes may disappoint young people today who have been bombarded with high quality graphic novels and web-comics in full colour. The stories themselves get better as the series progresses and the characters are developed further and story arcs are created. If you intend to buy any of these, and you have never read 2000AD before, then I would recommend you start with the Judge Anderson and Rogue Trooper volumes; die-hard fan boys may shout me down for not trying to 'sell' the Judge Dredd volumes but there are so many of these I wouldn't know where to start recommending. If you are a fan, please add a comment to this post and guide new readers in the right direction.

I may have stopped buying 2000AD Monthly after I left university and teaching took over my life, but those stories still have a place in my heart, and I am determined to try to build up a collection of these new volumes as they are issued, although looking on Amazon I already have a lot of catching up to do. Some of the stories and characters from 2000AD that others adore do not hold the same level of appeal for me (for example, Halo Jones and Ace Trucking) but if your local library stocks volumes of these then they may prove to be your thing. Go out and find one of these volumes - it may just kick off your very own love affair with the magic of 2000AD.


  1. Must disagree with your comments on teh Strontium Dog artwork. I think is stood the test of time perfectly and shows many of todays artists how comics should be done.

  2. I totally agree with W.R.Logan. Sure, the artwork doesn't re-print perfectly in the smaller format of these collections, but fundamentally it's still outstanding (in my humble opinion). I am a huge fan of everything that Ezquerra produces, so I guess I'm slightly biased, but I find it hard to stomach any criticism (or implied criticism) of the work of the great man, who after all was co-creator of two of British comics' most iconic characters (Dredd and Alpha).

  3. Hi guys

    I knew I would upset someone with that criticism. Let me expand on it a little, but first please believe me when I say I love the Strontium Dog strips. We decided to buy several of these volumes for the school library, and the first ones we got were Vol 1 and Vol 2 of the Strontium Dog Search/Destroy Agency Files. At the same time we have also invested in many other Graphic Novels including Hellboy, Dark Knight Returns, Spiderman and so on. The reaction from the boys at school has been lukewarm with regards to SD compared with these others, saying that they find them less clear to follow. There was certainly no criticism intended of Ezquerra's work - the man is a true legend.

    Chris - you are right in saying that the format has not helped with the clarity of the reprint so maybe this is the main reason the boys haven't warmed to them. Like I said in my post, these days young people just getting into comics and graphic novels have been spoiled for choice by the huge variety of high quality full colour publications available to them. Perhaps in my eagerness to share a little of my nostalgic passion for these stories with a new generation I should have bought them at a later date when they had tired of the other books.

    I have recently bought the Defoe 1666 Graphic Novel for myself, having spotted it in a bookshop, and intend to review it on my blog before the month is out. I love it and I think the b/w artwork is stunning, and I am determined to get a copy for school and see how ir fares against these other popular full-colour books.

  4. Ah, a fellow devotee of b/w! Try some of Mike McMahon's early work on Slaine - very evocative and atmospheric, and, I reckon, never bettered. Or Steve Yeowell's lovely pens on Zenith - completely different from McMahon but also very effective.

    Glad to hear that you're a fan of Mr Ezquerra!

    In this day and age in which we all face a constant onslaught of colour and rapidly changing images and noise, some of the best b/w artwork in comics stands out more than ever before (for me at least).

  5. Colour colour everywhere - just refreshing to see black an white line work.