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2000 AD Prog Slog

Friday, May 30, 2008

Prog 504

I thought that when Nemesis the Warlock Book Six took a break for its return in prog 500 that it would have been around for a while, a bit longer than five episodes, anyway. Tharg implied that it was a deliberate decision for the good of the thrill as if Book Six's serialisation had been broken down into equally sized, accessible units. Instead, it looks now as if the scheduling caught up with the creators as they approached the end of the book.

I've had a great idea for a new feature for The Slog, incidentally, called Pat Mills' Fascinating Facts. As you may have noticed, Pat likes to drop the occasional factual nugget into the thrills that he writes. For example, often when I'm reading Slaine, I think to myself, I must remember that fact about some Celtic celebration or other so I can impress a friend at in the future with my pseudo-knowledge of Pagan festivals. You may remember me telling you about the time I shouted out the meaning of the word "ogham" during an episode of Call My Bluff once the word appeared on the display and before the options were read out by the celebrity guests. (If only someone else was in the room with me at the time I did it). I'm reading all sorts of fascinating stuff during The Slog thanks to him, some of it I even manage to remember.

The first Pat Mills Fascinating Fact comes from this prog’s episode of Nemesis the Warlock Book Six. Apparently, the practice of scalping in North America was introduced by the white colonists and only mimicked by the Native Americans in retaliation to the acts of cruelty they were exposed to. (Although, according to Wikipedia, “there is abundant evidence that the Native American practice of scalping existed long before Europeans arrived.”

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Prog 500

If your exposure to this prog consists only of seeing it listed on eBay as a "souvenir edition; extremely rare" (which, of course, it isn't; no more so than the prog before or after it, anyway) and reading about the creator robot jam strip, Tharg’s Head Revisited, then you can be forgiven for thinking that it has a notoriety amongst long term Squaxx dek Thargo. In Tharg’s Head Revisited, each page is written and drawn by a different team of creator robots expressing their irritation at how they feel their 2000 AD work has been treated.

All I can remember about reading this strip the first time around is finding it a little baffling and, seeing it again, I don't feel any more enlightened. I find it interesting to note that both John Wagner, Alan Grant and, even, Gerry Finley-Day are all missing from the contributor list. GFD might be absent due to no longer having any ties with the comic, but Wagner and Grant must have made a deliberate decision not to involve themselves in what often reads like an in joke. All I can say is that they probably made the right decision. Unless you're Morrissey, nothing dates faster than a bunch of professionals being encouraged to engage in a group moan-in in print.

Most notorious of all the pages is the one drawn by Mike McMahon. His original page, where he talked about other 2000 AD artists plagiarising his style, was pulled, probably because Cam Kennedy's followed his immediately, and replaced by a new one featuring Ro-Jaws and Hammer-stein moaning about this. Interestingly, his new page is the easiest to penetrate and, therefore, the most enjoyable. Following this in the top five pages from Tharg’s Head Revisited is Kevin O'Neill's but only because it features another display of the artist’s breath taking craftsmanship. The page by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson looks and reads like they don't understand the remit. Pat Mills is the writer with the most to say who scripts three of the pages. To be fair, Mills is representing the artists that he's working with, but as the fourth page is written by current editorial team Steve McManus and Simon Geller, Tharg’s Head Revisited seems to actually be about what 2000 AD was when it began compared with what it is soon to become.

Tharg’s Head Revisited isn't just about letting long standing creators let off steam but also a declaration that attitudes behind the scenes are changing. It includes an acknowledgement that the readers are now growing up and 2000 AD needs to adapt to stay with them. If it was just a novelty then we could laugh and then forget about it but, actually, I feel as if it contains early indications of what I think of as the slide in quality.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Prog 499


As pre-relaunch progs go this is a pretty good one. Traditionally, they are padded out with Future Shocks and readers' art. If you're lucky, there might be the last episode of a long running thrill but usually they would have finished a prog or two before. In this prog however, last episodes to all of the long running thrills appear except for ACE Trucking Co's trip to Hollywood which came to a halt last week.


Amongst the conclusions is Rogue Trooper's five week run which sees a mysterious and superior alien race determined to bring the war between the South and the Norts to an end by appearing to our hero in the form of Venus Bluegenes and talking him into doing hits for them. Since the exposure of the Traitor General on Nu Earth a couple of years ago, this thrill has been lacking in direction. Turning Rogue in a cosmic hit-man is a conceptual change that, at the start first time around, I was enthused by but which now I remember as never really working. This episode ends with him dramatically marching through space towards his first hit. It's quite a difference to the chemical spoiled environments he trudged through in the original stories.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Prog 497

ITEM: Currently, Slaine, accompanied by Nest and Ukko, is going through a series of tests for heroes themed on the Signs of the Zodiac to see if he is worthy of becoming king of his tribe. Although entertaining enough as a tale, we all know that really, it's just a prelude to the all Glen Fabry drawn story beginning in Prog 500. Because of this anticipation, the artwork by Mike Collins and Mark Farmer seems vague and temporary; unsurprising in the circumstances, I suppose. That's not to say that the thrill doesn't have its moments, such as this prog's genuinely unnerving encounter with a unicorn. It freaked me out twenty two years ago and has freaked out again this morning. Mills, Collins and Farmer have to take credit for that.

ITEM: I notice for the first time that the pseudonym of T B Grover has been dumped from Judge Dredd and replaced by the script robots' real names of Wagner and Grant. This isn't, however, the first time that this has happened and, feasibly, their real names could have been used for months now, but it's an indicator that the old ways are being dispensed with at the Command Module...

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Prog 495


Although you wouldn’t know it from the cover, Rogue Trooper is back after a break of nearly a year! Yay! I say “yay!” but the first thing I notice is that it’s no longer written by Gerry Finley-Day but by Simon Geller and Steve McManus, the team currently driving Tharg. My understanding is that McManus, the real editor of 2000 AD at this time, believed that it is poor practice for for someone in his position to write strips for his own comics instead of professional writers so I can only guess that this is an emergency. To be fair, any strips written by him before now have been okay and Tharg’s editorials are always entertaining.

According to the stats on the official 2000 AD website, Gerry Finley-Day never writes for 2000 AD again. In fact, last I heard anything about him was via a non comic reading friend who worked with him in an office in or near to Milton Keynes three or four years ago. Whenever I mention him here, I think that I could probably find a way to get in touch with him and arrange an interview. Then I remember I am in awe of most comic professionals and all I would probably be able to squeak out at him would be, “why did you stop writing comics?”

Why did he stop writing comics? At the time that he stopped working for 2000 AD his peers were already sodding off for high paid gigs in America. Even the most British and superhero resistant of script robots managed to get work for DC Comics by the end of the eighties. Why did Finley-Day think that 1985 was a good time to give up working for Tharg?

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Prog 492

Seeing Judge Dredd Attack of the 50 Foot Woman lettered by art robot Gary Leach has made me think that I've been negligent in talking about the sterling work that 2000 AD lettering robots do. Reading this thrill made me think how much of a contribution to Dredd's tone letterer Tom Frame is making, thanks partly to Leach's hard to read hand-written-letter representation in the captions.

Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy seem to be the only creator robots giving Frame the credit he deserves by apparently treating him as an equal member of the Sooner or Later team. In the credits to this prog's episode, they say about Frame, "whereabouts unknown” as if in reference to this prog’s Dredd story.

2000 AD letterers have nearly always provided work that was above the call of duty but in the case of Frame he seemed to elevate it into an art form itself. His work was always resolutely clear yet dynamic and expressive when required. As a thrill, Dredd might have suffered from an inconsistency of look thanks to the rotation of artists had it not been for Frame's constant presence and professionalism. Tharg has a lot to thank him for.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Prog 489


After what must be about a year after we first saw his norm partner Wulf killed by Max Bubba and his gang, Johnny Alpha at last catches up with the skin faced mutie and dishes him his just deserts. Shooting Bubba in the head isn't enough it turns out. In a particularly inspired act of revenge, Alpha leaves Bubba for dead who then, after a call from an anonymous bounty hunter, is taken to hospital where, weeks later, he gets as well as he going to in the circumstances, so that, on the day of his release, Wulf’s surviving partner is waiting for him. This time, Alpha gets to see Bubba beg for his life before killing him properly. At the end of the story, Alpha admits to Wulf's ghostly apparition that the revenge isn't enough. It's a refreshingly mature conclusion after a year of single bloody mindedness.


In the Nerve Centre, Tharg prepares us for the conclusion by declaring that there is no chance that Wulf will be returning. He is dead. It's over. He is a deceased Viking. First time around, I was convinced by this and reading it now a second time, I am again. 2000 AD is different to American comics like, say, The Uncanny X-Men, where major characters like, say, Phoenix, get killed off amidst a frenzy of reader grief and publicity only for them to return to life a few months later. Death over here is final. Unless you're Judge Death, of course... or Mean Machine Angel... Or Wulf Sternhammer.


Fourteen years later, Wulf returns in a re-launch of Strontium Dog by the original creative team of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. I've not got to read any of these new stories yet but, to me, this is acceptable in principle. I imagine, Wulf's return is down to the creator robots reappraising the strip and deciding that its success is due, in part, to the dynamic between the two characters and not down to witless commercial pressures.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Prog 488

Last prog, the most recent run of Nemesis the Warlock ended mid-book with all the characters standing at the end of the world listening to Torquemada rant at the sky whilst his wife and Purity Brown bitched at each other. Runs of thrills ending mid story are becoming increasingly common now. Squaxx dek Thargo have already proved that they don't need to be told what happened previously at the start of every new episode and now they can wait weeks, sometimes months, at a time between them. Personally speaking, it's not a practice I have ever liked or considered acceptable from larger publishers. If you're a publisher the size of IPC or, say, Marvel, there's no excuse for not providing a continued run of a strip even if the art robot involved works more slowly than the agreed publication schedule. In other words, Tharg should have accumulated a greater back log of Nemesis the Warlock Book Six before scheduling it. I've always held the opinion that one of the contributing factors to the drop in sales of English language serial comics over all by 2008 is, in part, down to this attitude that keeping to a reliable schedule isn't necessary because comic fans are all completist-obsessive and will continue to buy a title no matter how long between episodes.

This prog, meanwhile, features a notable first double with the Future Shock, You're Never Alone with a Phone, written by Neil Gaiman (one) and drawn by John Hicklenton (two). In it, telephones are built with intelligence circuits and the story ends with people not being able to make calls due to the phones always being on the line to each other. An interesting little tale mainly because Gaiman's speculation about the future of communication technology is so wide of what has actually happened.


Gaiman made a bad first impression on me when I saw him appear on a panel at a convention prior to this Future Shock talking about how to write comics when he had had absolutely none published at this point. When, later, Violent Cases came out, I was irked even further by it actually being quite good. So, he was self assured, successful and a good writer. Bastard. Worryingly for Tharg, Gaiman also unintentionally suggested that the talent drain to America from the UK no longer required 2000 AD to be a part of the equation with his association with the galaxy's greatest comic being only a fleeting one.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Prog 486


Currently being serialised in 2000 AD is Metalzoic, the graphic novel by Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill originally published by DC just the once a year or so earlier. Metalzoic is typical of strips created by the pair and, more specifically, Mills at the time in that the reader is exposed to the fully conceived idea for the thrill in the midst of it, not from the beginning, and left to work it out as the story unfolds. Robots have evolved to the point where they function like animals; herding together, hunting for fuel and defending their territory.

I was old enough in 1986 to think that 2000 AD reprinting material originally commissioned and published by an American company was untypical and surprising. As far as I am aware, this is a practice I have only seen occur in recent years for the tiny budgeted Judge Dredd The Megazine with Garth Ennis' and Steve Dillon's Preacher (but not for long) and the John Wagner, Alan Grant and Carlos Ezquerra Bob the Galactic Bum. I'm fascinated to know the circumstances that led to Metalzoic being reprinted in such a way during the more affluent 1980s. My guess is that the talent drain to America became increasingly noticeable to the editorial team and although new script and art droids were coming through it was thought that creators such as Mills and O'Neill are more intrinsic to the definition and success of 2000 AD.

Why this practice started and pretty much ended with Metalzoic, I don't know either, but I do find myself wondering how differently things might have turned out had 2000 AD gone on to serialise strips such as Outcasts, Marshal Law and Watchmen. Personally, I was glad that it didn't catch on; I had a little bit of disposable income at the time and it irked me that 2000 AD was reprinting a graphic novel I already had no matter how much better O'Neill's artwork looks in black and white on newsprint than it did on glossy paper in colour.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Judge Dredd Annual 1987

This year's annual is the first where all of the lead strips are drawn by different artists. Okay, the final strip in last year's was by John Higgins where the rest were by Carlos Ezquerra but there was a sense that this was only because of circumstances beyond Ezquerra's control. For the 1987 Annual, it seems like an attempt to showcase the best artists working for 2000 AD at the moment.

The most memorable is the sixteen paged Report to the Chief Judge by Brendan McCarthy with help from "Riot". In the story scripted by the usual suspects of John Wagner and Alan Grant, Dredd is exposed to a powerful hallucinogenic. The result is a strip that could have been a lot more trippy than it actually was considering the artist involved. Instead, McCarthy delivers the stunning graphics that current Squxx Dek Thargo were falling in love with him for.


However, my personal favourite is the opener, Meanwhile..., painted by Ian Gibson. Gibson goes to some trouble to render fully the faces of the characters as if they are caricatures of people he knows. The result looks like a tribute to those movie spoof strips in Mad Magazine at the time. It's amazing to think that the artist who produces work as strong as this and his time on Halo Jones is only inking someone else's pencils on the ghastly DC Universe cross over, Millennium, soon after.


On a personal note, my eBay purchased copy of the annual has been autographed by some of its contributors, Bryan Talbot, John Wagner and Robin Smith (I think) throughout. All of the creators go to the trouble of signing pages which contains their work except for Kevin O'Neill who doesn't contribute any work to this year's book but signs a Bolland drawing of Judge Death just the same.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Prog 484


This prog's notable first is the Future Shock, Blood Sport, written by Jamie Delano. Delano isn't a script robot that I associate with 2000 AD even though he goes on to write at least one regular strip that I can think of. At this time, I saw him as the only writer brave enough to follow Alan Moore on his runs (I'm thinking of Night Raven and Captain Britain specifically) and, consequently, his work often seemed disappointing to me. Obviously, a little later, he took over from Moore as the principal writer of John Constantine for DC comics and he did a totally memorable job there.


Blood Sport is slightly too densely packed to be a memorable debut for Delano. However, it benefits immensely by the art being drawn by David Pugh. It seems unfair that Pugh has been side stepped from Slaine thanks to the popularity of Glen Fabry when his work is this good.


Art robot Barry Kitson seems to be producing quite a bit of work for 2000 AD recently. This prog, he draws the Judge Dredd story The Fists of Stan Lee. At this time, he struck me as being not much better than an enthusiastic fan. However, encountering his work from this period again for The Slog I find myself impressed at how quickly he is improving. Kitson is great at the action stuff and at maintaining the story's momentum. Whenever I've encountered his art work since, I am always surprised on how much better it looks since the last time I saw it. Either that or I have a really bad memory.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Prog 482


ACE Trucking Co pushes the fourth wall again. As if seeing art robot Bellardinelli flying a bi-plane across a page a few months ago wasn't enough, now the Aces stop the story by invoking 2000 AD's alien editor Tharg and complaining about the attention Evil Guts is receiving in the current adventure. Personally, I hadn't noticed before but now that you mention it, I did seem to be enjoying the crew's visit to Planet Hollywood AKA Earth more than usual. When Tharg appears, Guts exclaims, "Splinter me sphincter!" as if he's decided that if his dialogue is going to be limited from now on then he's at least going to go out with a bang.


Over in Strontium Dog, Johnny Alpha at last finds the first of Max Bubba's gang who killed his norm partner, Wulf. Tattoo is now wheelchair bound and working as a tattooist on a remote part of Dragan’s World. Coldly, Johnny kicks Tattoo in the wheelchair backwards off a cliff. I don't know what is more amazing about this scene; A disabled guy being kicked off a cliff or seeing the chair smash through a wall between the kick and the fall without apparently losing any momentum.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Interlude

In case you didn't know, as well as whiling away the years re-reading old 2000 AD progs and writing about it, I also write, draw and publish my own comics. Since from before beginning The Slog, I have been working on my long comic strip, or "graphic novel" as some might call it, titled There's No Time Like The Present. This is the story of a group of friends with cult TV/movie leanings with a slight science fiction conceit. (By the way, I'm rarely any good at describing my own ideas and work). Every time I complete the next 24 pages or so of the story, I publish them and just this week, I've released Part 7.

It's a big week for me as I have also released a one off comic called Dear Robert and Partner. This is a story about a guy trying to deal with noisy neighbours and was my unsuccessful entry into the Graphic Story Short Story Prize last summer. The "actual reality" (printed) version contains what I call "extras"; behind the scenes elaborations on the main strip.

If you're interested in learning more about my work then you can visit my website here. The opening pages of There's No Time Like The Present can be read there if you wish to try before you buy. There are also lots of free strips by me for you to read there anyway, including by diary in list and strip form, Book of Lists.

If you're visiting this year's Comics Expo in Bristol over the weekend, then I will also be there selling lots of comics I've done in the past as well as giving away lots of free comics from my shady past. Come over and say hello.

That's it; plug over. Thank you for your patience. Normal Slog service will resume tomorrow.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Prog 479


ITEM: In the current ACE Trucking Co story, Ace, Ace, Cap’n Blood (this universe's version of Cap'n Guts) and Feek the Freak have travelled to Earth in search of some treasure. Despite the exitance of earthman Jago Kain in earlier stories, it's still a surprise to me to see Earth make an appearance in this thrill. Nearly as unexpected as, say, Earth popping up in Star Wars.


ITEM: I don't remember, first time around, script robot Grant Morrison writing as many Future Shocks as I've read by him recently for The Slog. In fact, I only remember one, just about, and I haven't encountered that one again yet. Presuming, in this case, that he is responsible for a good run of them, I'm surprised that Rebellion, the current owners of 2000 AD, haven't collected them together in a single volume yet especially given his popularity in recent years. Maybe there is a minimum amount of pages required to qualify as a legitimate trade collection and Morrison doesn’t quite meet it.


ITEM: Judge Dredd The Art of Kenny Who? concludes this prog. Comic artist Kenny from a remote part of Scotland sells his hab to finance a trip to Big 1 Publishing in Mega City One in search of a drawing gig. However, after a disconcerting encounter with Dredd in customs, Kenny has his entire art style sampled and stolen by the corrupt publisher. My understanding is that this tale, which goes on to inspire a number of sequels over the following years, started out as a satire of this tale's artist Cam Kennedy's experiences trying to secure work in America. I'm presuming Kennedy was told by one of the big publishers that they liked his style but they could get one of their America based, cheaper artists to draw that way if they wanted.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Prog 477


When you buy this prog for 26p you get thirty two pages of 2000 AD. I'm including the front cover in this and the single paged Nerve Centre so, excluding them, that's thirty pages of raw thrill power being piped into your brain via your eyes. And it's all thrill, no fill; we're not talking about hastily thrown together recap pages or strips by unpaid but very enthusiastic Squaxx Dek Thargo. You get five strips written by John Wagner and Alan Grant between them, you get great art by Brett Ewins, Robin Smith, Cam Kennedy, Messimo Bellardinelli, Carlos Ezquerra and Brendan McCarthy and, just when any other comic would fill out the remaining three pages with free promotions or readers art, a great Future Shock by Grant Morrison and John Stokes.


There are three main criteria that creators and editors of mainstream genre comics should think about when putting their publications together. I call them "The Three As"; Availability, Accessibility and Affordability. Availability: The customer should be able to wander into a local shop to find a copy and not have to seek it out. Accessibility: By all means run long serials but there should always be something in the comic that hooks the greenest of readers. Affordability: However much the customer has shelled out for your comic, always try to give them a sense of value for money. On the whole, for 477 progs, 2000 AD has ticked all the boxes every time.

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