Flashback February: 2000AD

♦2016 is an anniversary for Tripwire. It marks the 24th anniversary of the magazine, which began back in February 1992. So for the rest of February, we shall be representing some of our classic moments over the past 23 years. In 2013, we commissioned a number of new articles for our Tripwire 21 book and one of them was a piece that celebrated 21 years of the writer David Baillie reading that most influential of anthology comics 2000AD so here it is again…

21 Years, Creep

A look back at the past 21 years would be incomplete without a piece on the impact that 2000AD continues to make on comics. So we gave our man DAVID BAILLIE the task of picking the 21 most important creators from the galaxy’s greatest comic…

It horrifies me that I’m now old enough to have been doing anything of note twenty one years ago. But I have to be a man and face facts. In April 1992, (twenty-one years ago, almost to the day) I bought my first ever fresh, newly minted copy of 2000AD. I’ve been buying it every week since.
It wasn’t the first 2000AD I’d ever purchased. I had hundreds stacked in numerical order in various cupboards and wardrobes all over my parents’ house. But none of these had been new, I’d hunted them down at various car boot sales and market stalls all over the country. Every comic shop owner in Edinburgh and Glasgow knew the nature of my addiction, and would greet me with a list of recent 2000AD-related acquisitions whenever I paid them a visit.
2000AD holds a special place in my heart. We were both born in 1977, we both used to be a slightly different shape and it is my earnest belief that we’re both massively under appreciated by the world’s media. We also have a reciprocal financial arrangement. In my my teenage years I spent most of my pocket money tracking down 2000AD back issues, and these days 2000AD pays my rent.
I remember that day as if it were yesterday. My mum and I were travelling from Glasgow to Manchester to visit her twin sister, my Aunty Margaret. The sun was shining and we were both in good spirits. My mum, however, was dreading the long bus journey. I couldn’t wait. You see, I’d packed two A4 binders full of classic 2000ADs which I planned to re-devour for the fifth or sixth time. I was prowling the concourse of Buchanan Street bus station, eagerly waiting for the boarding announcement when I spotted it hidden amongst the glossy magazines in a news kiosk. 2000AD Prog 780.
It had simply never occurred to me to buy a new issue of 2000AD. There were so many old ones to track down, after all. Hundreds of stories to be pieced together, years after they’d been published. I mean, surely I’d just buy this week’s issue from a market stall in five or ten years time. What was the rush? Right? But the cover of issue 780 had grabbed my attention and would not let go. Judge Dredd pounded towards me, ready to leap off the page, his Lawgiver poised as he outran a cover-wide explosion with no obvious concern for his own well-being. A banner on the cover promised me new ABC Warriors from Pat Mills (who at the time I assumed was some sort of ethereal warlock, living in an entirely different reality) and luscious acrylic art from Kev Walker, who I knew could do no wrong. There was also a free gift – a credit card wallet bearing the beloved 2000AD logo. There was no use fighting it any longer. I surrendered my 50p and walked away with the first new issue of 2000AD I’d ever bought.
So when Tripwire said they wanted an article about the 21 most important figures in the last 21 years of 2000AD, I knew I was the man for the job. After all – I was there for every one of those years as they happened.

 

21. Andy Diggle
Diggle took over as editor in the year 2000 and quickly sent out a memo to creators, setting the agenda for the next few years.
‘It was all about giving the readers a fast, dense hit of action and imagination – a “shot-glass of rocket fuel”. I wanted to strike the right balance between classic characters from veteran creators and new strips from new talent,’ as he told previous editor David Bishop for Thrill Power Overload, the history of 2000AD that Rebellion commissioned to celebrate the comic’s thirtieth anniversary.

20. Anthony Williams
A fan-favourite artist whose work has appeared regularly throughout the last two decades of the comic. Strips he has drawn range from the bonkers (and under-rated) Kola Commandos, some classic Dredd stories (like Wagner’s Wot I did During Necropolis and Garth Ennis’ A Man Called Greener), the only 2000AD story to-date that has led to a question being asked in the house of Commons – Big Dave (as written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar) through to recent stints on the revamped classic, the V.C.s and Sinister Dexter, both in collaboration with Dan Abnett. A fine body of work!

19. Chris Blythe
A master colourist, Blythe has a gift for understated palettes and an ability to set the tone of a story with laser-precision. This is never more evident than when he’s colouring Judge Dredd, where his hard work makes very diverse artists’ interpretations of Mega City One look like they really might exist in the same world. Blythe eschews a host of Photoshop techniques commonly used in the industry and prefers to hand render form, textures and effects in Painter. He’s also tried his hand at writing, having scripted five Future Shocks for 2000AD and Angel Fire, a graphic novel with the artist Steve Parkhouse.

18. Colin MacNeil
Unfortunately a lot of what MacNeil is particularly famous for at 2000AD falls outside our remit (Chopper: Song of the Surfer, America, The Death of Johnny Alpha) or else he’d appear a lot higher in this list. But the work he’s produced in the last 21 years has been exemplary, marking him out as an archetypical and highly influential Judge Dredd artist.

17. Kev Walker
Kev Walker’s luscious brush strokes first graced 2000AD in a period when painted art was often muddy, confusing and homogeneous. His work on the ABC Warriors story Chronicles of Chaos and Judge Anderson instantly blew all of his competition out of the water. In recent years he has adopted a more paired-down chiaroscuro style, influenced by Mike Mignola but at the same time undeniably his own. His sense of storytelling and composition is admired throughout the industry and his art has appeared on some of the most memorable stories in 2000AD’s history.

16. Boo Cook
This artist drew his first sample pages with a Bic Biro but was encouraged by then-Tharg Andy Diggle to use a more traditional tool for his first commissioned work. Boo’s début opened the stylistic floodgates at 2000AD once more, heralding a new age of visual experimentation.

15. Rob Williams
A Welsh writer whose first work was the creator-owned series Cla$$War for small UK publisher Com.X. This lead to a number of highly acclaimed series for 2000AD, including the eerie Breathing Space and Low Life, which explored the lives of undercover Judges, or the Wally Squad as they’re otherwise known. He’s also responsible for the unforgettable character Dirty Frank, and two pitch-perfect episodes of Judge Dredd – Outlaw with Guy Davis and Meat with Dylan Teague.

14. John Smith
Smith was the first writer to create a connected universe for his 2000AD tales to exit within. The Smithverse is a Byzantine web, the strands of which reach through Tyranny Rex, Indigo Prime, Firekind and Pussyfoot 5. Smith is a master of the weird, and employs a battery of surrealist techniques to produce his mind-bending epics. The incredible high regard he is held in became obvious when he unexpectedly ended the recent series Dead Eyes by having characters from Indigo Prime appear for the first time in two decades. Which led to many fans actually, literally exploding. (Okay, not literally.) I would also recommend checking out Slaughterbowl and his recent simmering horrorfest Cradlegrave.

13. Simon Davis
With his first work for 2000AD, Davis boldly took painted comics into  stripped-down, expressionist territory. His pages are still hand-delivered to the editorial office, affectionately known as the Nerve Centre, where they are carefully scanned for publication. It’s just been announced that Davis is to be the new artist on Slaine. I asked him what 2000AD meant to him.
‘I used to read it when I was young, it has had and still does, some of the best writers and artists working for it… It has been consistently good and simply put, I couldn’t have done full colour painted strips for 20 years for any other comic. I love its uniqueness and ability to span sci-fi and horror whilst still keeping its sense of humour… It’s quite simply ZARJAZ!’

12. Frazer Irving
Another stylistic maverick and another Andy Diggle find. No one draws like Frazer – from his first monochromatic work, where he mastered using negative space to stunning effect on the relatively large 2000AD page, to his transition to the purely digital realm, he continues to produce stuff that causes the readers, en masse, to gawp.
‘2000AD was less about the characters and more about the creative environment for me. The people that worked there as creators and production/editorial gave each “era” its specific magic, and when I started with them I felt totally at home with every aspect of it, as if it was destiny. Prior to that period, I hadn’t had much interest in the mag, so it was luck/hand of god that I ended up there when I did.’

11. Alan Grant
Originally tasked with merging Tornado with 2000AD in 1979, Grant went on to form a successful writing partnership with John Wagner, often co-writing Judge Dredd under the pseudonym T. B Grover. But all of that was well before our 21 year cut-off point. In more recent years, as a solo writer, he’s penned many a Dredd, whole swathes of Robo Hunter, a well-remembered fantasy called Mazeworld and the epic star-spanning adventures of Psi Judge Cassandra Anderson.

10. Henry Flint
It’s impossible to overemphasise the influence a definitive Dredd artist can have on the perception of the character and the rest of the comic as a whole. As the years roll on it becomes harder for a new artist to make their mark on the world of Dredd. There’s just so much to get to grips with – the architecture, the uniform, the chin. Henry Flint is the latest to do so. It didn’t take long for him to become a fan-favourite and in 2004 he won Best Artist at the Diamond National Comic Awards. Also notable for providing the art on the fabulous Shakara, written by Scot Robbie Morrison.

9. D’Israeli
2000AD has excelled in cultivating inimitable artistic talents and D’Israeli the D’Emon D’Raughtsman (Matt Brooker to his friends) is the perfect example. Previously a colourist on Miracleman and an inker on Sandman, D’Israeli came into his own in the year 2000 when he drew three Future Shocks from his own scripts. A productive partnership with writer Ian Edginton was to follow, as were a series of stylistic transformations – first towards a process which used carefully crafted 3D Models and the vector tools of Adobe Illustrator, and then a new virtuoso style which started as a tribute to the complex collage work of Argentinian artist Alberto Breccia.

8. Gordon Rennie
His Wikipedia entry says that he describes himself as ‘a grumpy Scottish git’. Having never met the man I can neither confirm nor deny this for you. Rennie began writing comics just over twenty years ago (and indeed wrote a few columns for Tripwire many moons ago) and most of his best-remembered work has appeared in 2000AD. Stories such as Missionary Man, Necronauts and Storming Heaven with Frazer Irving, Rogue Trooper (he also wrote the script for the game), Caballistics Inc. and Aquila. He was hailed as the heir apparent to John Wagner and shortly afterwards announced that he was quitting comics to work in the games industry. (Although he says he was misquoted and has returned to comics since then.)

7. Dan Abnett
Mr Abnett is one of the most prolific contemporary genre writers known to man. He famously works seven days a week and is the second most credited writer in the last twenty one years of 2000AD’s history. His Sinister Dexter may have started out as a Pulp Fiction pastiche, but its longevity proves that it has become something a lot more complex and interesting. Other epics his pen has produced include the V.C.s, Durham Red, Kingdom and the recent politically-flavoured hit Grey Area. (Although my personal favourite is Sancho Panzer from 1998.)

6. Robbie Morrison
Two words: Nikolai Dante. Perhaps the most highly regarded character in 2000AD’s recent history. A sprawling epic that began in 1997 and related the Russian rogue’s life during bitter war and even more bitter peacetime. Last year’s final episode surely brought tears to a thousand eyes. Morrison was also responsible for the brilliant Shakara with Henry Flint.

5. Jock
His cool, stripped-down style has become synonymous with Judge Dredd. When the new Dredd film was still in the planning stages, Jock was the artist the production team called upon to design the world and re-design the Judges’ uniform. Jock flourished at 2000AD and his work on Dredd was instantly iconic.

4. Pat Mills
The man who created 2000AD 35 years ago is still a regular contributor. His recent works include Invasion, Defoe, Greysuit, the continuing adventures of the ABC Warriors, and of course Slaine is still going strong after all these years. I asked him what makes 2000AD different. ‘I always knew it was a very special comic because I’d had a year to prepare it and had created some powerful characters, who would be rendered in a unique way that was influenced by the pre-super hero art in America such as 1984, Weird, Eerie, with artists like Mike Kaluta and Bernie Wrightson and the French Metal Hurlant and its translation as Heavy Metal with artists like Corben, Druillet and Bilal.’

3. Carlos Ezquerra
He designed Judge Dredd. (That alone would be enough to justify his place on this list, since that uniform has appeared in 2000AD more often than any other design.) His futuristic cityscapes inspired co-creator John Wagner to set Dredd further into our future than he had originally intended. His gloriously gritty European art style is the first port of call when a Dredd mega epic is in the works. Once, my friend Leon asked him why he inked those little dashes around the outlines of his characters. ‘It makes the page move,’ he said. The man is a magician.

2. John Wagner
A man of few words, a classic Wagner panel description reads: ‘Dredd. Bike. Grim.’
No one writes Judge Dredd like John Wagner. He created him. Many say he’s the best comics writer in Britain. Few disagree.

1. Matt Smith
Of course, the answer is obvious. The person who’s had most influence over 2000AD in its last 21 years is its current editor Matt Smith. The longest reigning editor in 2000AD’s history, having taken the helm in 2002. He picked up Favourite Editor awards at the Eagles in 2007, 2008 and 2011 and this year steered the comic towards its first Eisner nomination.
‘It’s hard to be objective on my editorship, but I’m always striving to put together a good-looking prog, with a nice balance of stories and art, and I think I’ve achieved it on a few occasions,’ Smith told me. ‘It’s hard to believe that in 2000AD’s 34-year history that I’ve been editing it for just under a third of its life!’

2000AD Flashback www.tripwiremagazine.co.uk

www.2000adonline.com

 

 

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