I can recall exactly where I was 40 years ago when I didn’t buy the first issue — or ‘prog’ —of 2000 AD. The just-launched sci-fi comic, featuring ‘space-age dinosaurs’, ‘the new Dan Dare’ and a ‘FREE SPACE SPINNER’, i.e. a mini frisbee, looked quite exciting and, at 8p, good value for pocket money; but, as a regular nine-year old consumer of Whizzer and Chips etc., I stuck with my usual comedy fare and opted for a copy of Buster instead. It was a decision I soon came to regret (eh readers?)
I can also recall exactly where I was when I bought the most recent issue of 2000 AD — in Gosh! Comics in Soho a fortnight ago. Times may have changed but the future has not. ‘BORAG THUNGG, EARTHLETS!’ writes the magazine’s editor at the front of prog 2018, as he has done every week for the past 40 years, ‘Call me The Mighty Tharg, your genial green guide to the zarjaz Thrill-plosion that is 2000 AD!’
Like the Mail’s Paul Dacre, Tharg the Mighty is rarely seen in public but has steered his publication through changing, challenging times while displaying an unerring instinct for giving his readers exactly what they want. In this issue: Sinister Dexter; Kingmaker; and of course Mega-City One’s Judge Dredd — he is still, indomitably, the Law (and would no doubt be greeted warmly by Mail readers were he not at least in part satirical).
There is plenty about Judge Dredd, his creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra and 2000 AD’s originators Kevin Gosnell and Pat Mills, in David Bishop’s Thrill-Power Overload, first published ten years ago and now substantially revised and expanded by Karl Stock as part of the comic’s extravagant 40th birthday celebrations. As with the Daleks and Doctor Who, the helmeted dystopian law-enforcer was not actually present in that first issue, but Dredd was soon synonymous with the comic and became a significant part of its success, spawning two big-screen adaptations: the excellent recent Dredd by Pete Travis and Alex Garland, and the earlier Sylvester Stallone abomination we never talk about.
For those who have measured out their lives in progs, this is a glorious book, a 100,000-word compendium packed with full-colour illustration and background information about some of 2000 AD’s most successful and enduring characters: Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog, D.R. & Quinch, Nemesis the Warlock and, erm, Big Dave, ‘the hardest man in Manchester’ (look him up).
Similarly the roll-call of writers and artists who have contributed to the comic over the years is extremely impressive — Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons, Grant Morrison — and many of them were interviewed by Bishop and Stock for Thrill-Power Overload; definitive seems an appropriate description.
But the book can also be read both as an account of the challenges of producing an illustrated magazine week in, week out, under often perilous circumstances, and also as a chronicle of the enormous changes in the British publishing industry since the 1970s. One former staffer recalls the effect on morale of yet another takeover:
I was shell-shocked. First we were four in King’s Reach Tower. Then they moved us to this awful building where we became two. Then Simon left and I become one. I remember Pat [Mills] saying I’ll never create another character for you because you don’t pay royalties — like it was my fault. Thanks Pat! It’s a hard enough job to do anyway.
For all its debt to American comics, and the fact that its editor is a green-skinned, authoritarian egoist from the planet Quaxxann, there has always been something tremendously British about 2000 AD. Its mixture of action, grit, humour and, yes, social realism could have originated in no other star quadrant; and the story of its survival from that first prog in 1977 to the present day is a similarly British one of pluck, determination and defiant piss-taking. Happy birthday 2000 AD and, in the words of the Mighty Tharg, SPLUNDIG VUR THRIGG!