The last words in Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD belong to Pat Mills, a man who generally dominated proceedings. Director Paul Goodwin, along with producers Sean Hogan & Helen Mullane, have provided fandom with a substantial, key work by rounding up a veritable roll call of players and participants for their oral history of Britain’s greatest, or at least most influential, comic. Mills, as one would expect, is the focal point here, enthusiastic as ever to take the audience through the magazine’s birth and rocky development, in a warts and all tale of acrimony and politics that both threatened to undermine and ignite the series.
When IPC’s Action comic ploughed into the editorial buffers in October 1976 on account of its violent content and — for a kids’ comic — perceived political agitation, Mills simply changed tack, retaining the aborted book’s edge, whilst adding gritty sci-fi themes – not a proposition that sat well his publisher. Paradoxically, it was something he was reluctant to do – Mills mentions his regrets over the “retreat” into sci-fi, in order to explore the issues and mores of the day. Plus IPC themselves initially wanted to bury the project, a move now seen as something of a point of pride among Kev O’Neill and his new colleagues, who he liked to refer to as “ the gang of reprobates”.
Those reprobates, like the magazine’s readers, were mostly male; John Wagner, Alan Grant, Dave Gibbons, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Chris Weston and Brian Bolland are among the many players who have either worked for or been influenced by 2000AD. Later in the film, Emma Beeby, Leah Moore and others claim that the magazine did appeal to women creators and readers, even though, as David Bishop admits, it was hard for women to break into a comic that was so geared towards a male readership. There’s more plain speaking about 2000AD‘s drastic slump in the 1990s under the unwieldy ownership of Egmont Fleetway, including various attempts to harvest its characters for other media and some misfiring attempts at satire. “We are not Private Eye,” comments Andy Diggle, ruefully.
The film is a warm, affectionate tribute made by fans for fans, but it isn’t without its blind spots. It covers the friendly takeover by publishers Rebellion in 2000, but skims over the decade and a half since; current editor Matt Smith appears just once, in the last few minutes. There’s no discussion of the sister publications that have been and gone, including Starlord and Crisis; or indeed of the Judge Dredd Megazine and its successful extension of the franchise. Inevitably Alan Moore is spoken of frequently yet is completely absent. Of course, running time is limited, but there are always more pithy comments from Pat Mills to fill in the gaps. His advice to both publishers and readers inclined to mess with 2000AD rounds out the film and hasn’t changed in 38 years: “Piss off. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Leave it alone.”