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2000 AD Prog Slog

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Prog 104

Last night I dreamed that I was three hundred progs ahead in The Slog. I was worried because I had been reading Halo Jones for several issues but had still not got around to blogging about it. When I woke up and remembered that I was only on prog 104, I wasn't sure if the nightmare was the dream or the reality.

Things of note that happen this prog: Ron Smith draws his first Judge Dredd strip (well, I think it's his first, anyway) and Strontium Dog returns. This means that this prog contains sixteen pages written by John Wagner.

There is also an ad for the first issue of Tornado; the new weekly that is amalgamated into 2000 AD in a few weeks time. I have decided not to read Tornado for The Slog. This is because none of its strips go on to have a lasting affect on 2000 AD like those that came over from Star Lord have. But I will admit that last night's dream has helped me to come to this decision.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Prog 102

When it was announced that Prince Andrew was to marry Sarah Ferguson and we learned that she was known to her friends as 'Fergie' I was really looking forward to seeing panels from the Judge Dredd epic 'The Day The Law Died' being reproduced in the tabloid newspapers. It never happened as far as I am aware.

Script robot John Wagner's dark sense of satire and the absurd is really coming to the fore in the current Dredd epic. Last prog, Judge Schmaltz gives a moving final speech before dieing. The other Judges present walk away from his body, remarking on his bravery. Suddenly, Schmaltz sits up again and continues his speech where he left off before dieing again for good this time.

We also get to meet Fergee, the under city dweller being driven mad by the constant swarm of flies buzzing around his head. Already we've seen him drop a net onto his head in an attempt to catch the swarm (they just flew through the gaps) and, coming up in an episode I remember from reading before, he tries to kill them by running head first into a wall.

Thinking about it, making comparisons between this Fergee and a future member of the royal family might have been a bit much even for the British tabloids during the eighties.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Prog 100

My memory isn’t the most reliable of things but it tells me that traditionally, celebrating a hundredth issue of a comic isn’t something British publishers always did. I put this down to what could also be another trick of my memory, British comics not normally being numbered. American publishers were more interested in celebrating a centennial than us British. It’s 1979 and I wonder if this is because British readers are still resistant to all things metric, what with it only having been officially around for a few years.

On the surface, this prog makes an attempt to celebrate its one hundredth issue but fails. In the Nerve Centre, Tharg tells us that as part of the celebrations, he’s giving away two ten pound prizes this prog instead of the usual one. That’s very generous Tharg, but if only you had mentioned this a few weeks ago; I might have sent you something. There is also the first of a four part poster reproduction of the classic cover to prog 61 by art robot Mick McMahon. That would be fantastic but it’s reproduced on the same low quality newsprint that the rest of the comic is printed in. In fact, it’s not even printed to the edge of the page for easy assemblage later on.

However, there’s stuff happening here that is worth communicating with home about. Both Robo-Hunter and Dan Dare return, at last. John Wagner writes thirteen pages, admittedly using his pseudonyms John Howard and TB Grover. Dave Gibbons draws fourteen pages which is amazing as he barely seems to manage that a year these days. All in all, this is the best way to celebrate a numerical landmark, I would say.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

99

Given that a lot of readers are waiting for the continuation of Dan Dare and Robo-Hunter, both thrills having been pushed aside by the arrival of Star Lord, starting Angel about a month back seems like a dismissive move by Tharg. In Angel, after crashing his state of the art plane, a pilot finds that the circuitry from the navigation computer has fused with his body giving him enhanced physical abilities. Angel sits somewhere between The Six Million Dollar Man and MACH 1. If you've read MACH 1 then you will know that it was pretty damn close to The Six Million Dollar Man already so sitting between the two is quite an achievement.

There has been a run of space ship semantics on the back pages recently; diagrams of the fictional crafts that have appeared in the comic over the last couple of years. Although I think a good looking spaceship can be a bit cool, I've never been the slightest bit interested in this sort of detail and have only been glancing at them during The Slog. I mean, is anyone really interested enough to learn what pretend fuel powers the pretend ship that, let's face it, they had forgotten about, anyway? "Oh, that's where the engines are" and "oh, that's where the little people sit when they're flying it". Usually I wouldn't care but every now and then, I think that this could be a beautifully drawn pin-up by Brian Bolland instead.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Prog 97

There was a moment while reading Flesh II a couple of episodes back where I thought that I was actually exposing myself to an astute satire of the food industry of the 1970s and that the strip wasn't just about rampaging dinosaurs with pea sized brains scooping up cowboys by the dozen with their mouths, after all. It was the moment where the plantation boss decides to punish his unruly staff by limiting the number of lumps of meat per portion of stew from ten to eight.

My memory of food during the seventies is that there were two types of pies; meat and non-meat. We didn't necessarily know what type of meat there was in the meat pie and given the amount of sawdust and toenail clippings that probably went into the mix there might not have been any at all. Ironically, the non-meat pie couldn't be guaranteed to be meat free and therefore was likely to contain it. When we were fed pork chops, my dad ate every, last piece of it (except for the bone, of course). When I cut off the rind of fat he would usually say, "but there's still meat on that", take it from my plate and guzzle it down his throat like a hungry baby bird

The seventies must have been filled with a lot of people like my dad, who had lived through years of rationing and were now enjoying the relative abundance of meat. It didn't matter how it got to their plate. To them, vegetarianism was a was a faddish phase experienced by spoilt, middle class hippies whose parents probably had access to pork chops throughout the war years anyway.

I wonder if a modern Flesh strip would have the food standards agency criticizing Transtime for the human flesh, clothes, and boots found in their dinosaur meat products. Or a twenty third centaury Gordon Ramsey swearing poshly as he gets chewed up by a Tyrannosaurus Rex during a visit to a plant in the Jurassic period for the TV programme The Great Dinosaur Menu.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Prog 96

Having drawn the majority of The Cursed Earth story, art droid Mick McMahon's page rate seems to have slowed down slightly to every other episode of The Day The Law Died, the current Judge Dredd epic. Still, in comparison with most of his peers and the rate at which his comic work appears in 2007, he is still alarmingly prolific.

We are currently experiencing what I think of as the second age of McMahon. After starting his Judge Dredd career being told to mimic the style of Carlos Ezquerra (the first age), he is now drawing in very much his own way. Each page is a wonder a to look at. His work seems both spontaneous and considered; despite his rate, nothing looks to be drawn in haste but it all has the feel of having been put straight down onto the page. I could quite happily look at the full page illustration of the citizens of Mega City One walking out into The Cursed Earth for hours, if I didn't have another one thousand and five PLUS annuals and specials to get through for The Slog. No one draws a smoldering ruin, a collapsed wall, a city skyline or a spiritually beaten crowd like Mick McMahon.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Prog 93

Due to industrial action, it’s been a month since the last prog. This is the seventies and absolutely everyone went on strike at some point or other. Even kids in our school went on strike at one point, I remember. Admittedly, I don’t recall what over but I do remember it lasting about twenty minutes until the nuns threatened us with detention and the strap.

Had I actually been buying 2000 AD at this time I would have been visiting the newsagents several times a day worried sick that I had missed it or something. Prog 93 would have become an obsession, an absolute focus for me. Instead, I’m laughing at my peers of 1978 from the benefit of 2007. Ha ha, I only had to wait half a day before getting to read Prog 93. In fact, I wouldn’t even describe it as waiting as I was doing stuff and didn’t even think about it. I bet you wish you were me.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Prog 92

The amalgamation of Star Lord into 2000 AD has been the cause of anxiety for some readers. In this prog’s Nerve Centre, Earthlets Richard Turner and Kenneth Robertson have written to Tharg asking when Robo-Hunter and Dan Dare will return, both of these thrills having stopped on cliff hangers a couple of months ago.

To make things even more bewildering to us all is that the ad to comic strip ratio has increased meaning that the average number of thrills per prog has dropped from five to four. Nine of this issue’s thirty two pages are non-comic strip, four of those are editorial and another four are paid for advertisements. This means that even though it was probably possible to squeeze either Robo-Hunter or Dan Dare into the comic, Tharg for some reason (probably financial) has chosen not to. Somebody somewhere must be cross about this.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Prog 90

Another thing about the amalgamation is that as well as having to decide which strips are to survive the process Tharg also had to choose which creator droids did too. This prog’s Future Shocks strip is drawn by Carlos Pino. Art Robot Pino drew the majority of Ro-Busters when it ran in Star Lord but since the strip moved over to its new home, the art for it has been split between artists that you would associate more with 2000 AD; young upstarts such as Dave Gibbons and Kevin O’Neill.

This process has reminded me of what was behind 2000 AD’s success at the time which was to place emphasis on a tighter, younger group of creator droids whereas Star Lord had more a traditional feel to it. If 2000 AD had embraced more heartily the more institutionalised looking creators from its sister comic it would have resulted in a less focused, more wishy-washy title. Basically, it would have ended up being a lot less punk.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Prog 88

There are a couple of things that I think are interesting about this prog’s Ro-Busters story. I think that this episode might be the first to be fully drawn by Kevin O’Neill. Art Droid O’Neill is the artist that I most associate with 2000 AD robot strips from around this time although given the number of other artists who I have seen draw Ro-Busters so far as part of The Slog I find myself wondering why I would think this. Obviously, this is down to his distinctive style. His clean, fresh, draughtsmanship lends itself more to drawing machinery than to people.

This episode also references the Volgans, the republic responsible for invading Britain in the Invasion strip. I’ve already talked about 2000 AD’s flirting with the enclosed universe, but this struck me as interesting because it raises a question. As Ro-Busters has recently transferred over with Star Lord, was it the intention for the strips from the two comics to exist in the same, single universe? Or, is this a very quick reaction to amalgamate Ro-Busters into 2000 AD more completely?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Prog 86


I’m back at 2000 AD and this time I’ve bought with me Star Lord!

As a kid, when comics amalgamated together which was common place during the seventies and eighties, I totally bought into the hype that this was something to be excited about. It never occurred to me that this was happening because either or both of the titles had under performed in some way. To me, the best of both titles would be preserved resulting in a single, stronger comic and there was now space available in the newsagents, left by the cancelled weekly, to be filled by something exciting and new in the near future. It was natural selection at work before my very eyes but with comics.

As an adult in 2007, if a comic starts at all, when it fails it disappears without a word never to be heard from again. Or it lasts to go on and on and on, surviving on the fond memories of its current readers’ parents or the stagnant buying habits of loyal customers.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Star Lord 22

I won in an eBay auction and received this issue of Star Lord just in time for The Slog. I have no idea what I would have done had this not happened. Used it as an excuse for a break, I guess, and let my slightly feverish brain cool down, but then that isn’t in the spirit of the experiment is it. Ahead of me is a clear run of 2000 AD until somewhere in the 900s. I’m missing a sci-fi special from the early eighties, but that wouldn’t prevent me from continuing on with The Slog theoretically. And this is presuming that I’m not going to include comics like Tornado as part of the experiment.

Well, I was expecting either unfinished or hastily wrapped up stories this issue but this didn’t seem to be the case. Admittedly, Mind Wars was packed full of story twists and developments but, let’s be fair, every single episode has read like that from the beginning. In truth, all four strips finished quite naturalistically. I imagine that the decision to stop publishing Star Lord must have been a quick one so it makes me wonder how the creators of the strips were able to do this. Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters had short run stories, so finishing those should have been easier than say, Mind Wars, which, three pages into the first episode, was already a saga. In both its and Holocaust’s case, Alan Hebden cleverly established early on the solution to the strips’ dilemmas. It meant that in the event of an abrupt end he could tie up the story without leaving any loose ends. I’m a little bit impressed, actually.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Star Lord 21


Another thing that I find interesting about Star Lord is the difference in productivity that Strontium Dog artist, Carlos Ezquerra, seems to have. Later, when the strip appears in 2000 AD, Ezquerra is the artist who draws the majority of Johnny Alpha's adventures (and there have been a few) with the exception of, ironically, the last story (but more about that another time, I suspect). Ezquerra is the artist I think of as the European equivalent of John Byrne; the guy you go to if you need a page a day drawing. I don't suppose that his productivity increased that dramatically in such a short space of time so I wonder if he had other gigs going on. I do know that he painted covers for Marvel UK's short-lived war comic, Fury around this time. Was he drawing a strip for Battle then too? This would explain why Strontium Dog missed issues of Star Lord and had episodes drawn by Brendan McCarthy and Ian Gibson.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Star Lord 19


I found myself thinking while reading this issue that there is absolutely no indication that in less than a month Star Lord as we know it will be no more. It's like spending time with someone that you know is about to die and not being able to tell them. Okay, it isn't, but it is vaguely like reading a story where a character that you are very fond of is destined to kick the bucket shortly.

I also thought about the covers. The paper quality and cover design of 2000 AD is more in line with that of most UK comics at the time, which is pretty lo-fi. Star Lord has a higher paper quality and fully painted covers weather that fits the tone of the strip that it is referring to or not. They reminded me at the time of the science fiction novels that my dad had on his bookshelves. I remember once asking him when he thought I would be old enough to read his John Carter: Warlord of Mars books and he replied, "fourteen" with such confidence that I felt that age must have been proven in science labs. I think that this is another reason why I didn't buy Star Lord at the time; I wasn't yet fourteen years old yet.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Star Lord 17


I think that this is the first time since starting The Slog that I've had a déjà vu experience, where what my front memory is telling me is at odds with what my back memory is saying. Like I said, I thought that I had never read a copy of Star Lord before but the moment I read this issue's episode of Strontium Dog it felt really familiar. Of course, both memories might be right. I might have read the Strontium Dog story in the form of a reprint elsewhere also long ago, just not as long ago as 1978.

In the strip, drawn by Brandon McCarthy (who at this time, seems to be the artist Star Lord and Tharg go to when the regular guys need a break), Johnny Alpha meets up with his sister. This is the bit that triggers the déjà vu because I seem to remember being unnerved by her although I don't remember Alpha ever having a sister. Basically, she looks exactly like her mean and moody bounty hunting brother. She is even the same height and has the same haircut, except she has boobs and hips. The sight of her stirred up old, confused, pre-pubescent feelings that I would rather forget; she's attractive but at the same time she isn't.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Incidentals

Commenter Ken Davidson has made me aware of a problem where those of you who use feeds can't use them in regards to The Prog Slog Blog. My knowledge of RSS feeds and the like is very nearly non-existent but I have done some investigating and it seems almost definitely down to me changing the blog domain name from the 'blogspot' one to a specified URL (www.2000ADprogslog.com). Obviously, because buying that domain name has cost me money, I don't want to switch back. Besides, I've tried and I can't see how to do that even. So, if you're reading this and you know of a solution to the feed problem then please let me know.

For my entry about Star Lord 14, I rattled on about its newsagents coupon being called "Card of identity". In actuality, I was talking about an ID card for robots that a reader had mocked up and sent into the comic. Basically, I read that issue too early in the morning and then wrote that entry from my sleepy memory. I don't even know for certain if what I said about 2000 AD and their pre-printed newsagents coupons before going off on one was true in the first place! I guess only continuing The Prog Slog will tell.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Star Lord 16


As much as I am pleasantly surprised by a lot of the stuff in Star Lord, its Ro-Busters that I always knew would be my favourite. Who can resist a strip about the unlikely friendship between a war droid and a garbage disposal robot being sent on rescue missions too dangerous for humes? I know I can't. It’s two working class blokes frequently witness their less-abled colleagues regularly dieing in industrial accidents thanks to doing the same job that they do and who don't even have enough self-esteem to wonder where Health and Safety are.

I keep thinking while reading Ro-Busters how Aardman Animation might have been better off making this into a film instead of, say, Flushed Away (which I have always presumed to be rubbish because the massively overrated Shane Richie provides one of the voices). It has all the ingredients of a good but undeniably British film including one robot with an old style telephone stored inside his cheat, another who salutes management whenever he's asked to do anything and a third whose defiant personality is described as being down to a microchip malfunction. Of course, the comic strip should be enough but you can't blame me for wanting the rest of the world to know why I like it so much.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Star Lord 14


Some of you may remember the reservation coupons; the name and address slips that readers of comics during the seventies were encouraged to fill in, cut out and hand to their local newsagents. They usually started with the words, "Dear Mister Newsagent, please reserve/deliver for me one issue of (insert comic name) every week." I never filled one in and handed it over because I never wanted to damage my comics (despite what I said during my trimming-the-edges-off-the-first-twenty-progs-of-2000 AD-so-that-they-were-the-same-shape-as-my-collection-of-Marvel-UK-comics anecdote). I wonder how often readers did this. I can just imagine newsagents being baffled by the slips and losing them.

If they were baffled by the plainly worded slips for some comics, they must have been completely stumped as to what was being asked of them when they got handed the coupons from Star Lord and 2000 AD. I seem to remember Tharg having fun and smattering his with some alien speak. (If I was any sort of proper blogger, I would sort through my eBay win boxes and confirm this to you).

In the latest issue of Star Lord, I notice that its coupon is called "Card Identity". I don't really know what to say about this other than there is a little space for readers to stick a photograph of themselves to it and that this is nearly thirty years ago.