2000 AD Prog Slog

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Prog 1017 12/11/96

It’s four progs old already. The definitive demonstration that current editorial, let’s call him David Bishop, doesn’t fundamentally understand 2000 AD. Those shitty Men in Black characters from Vector 13 have usurped Tharg as the fictional editorial helmsman of 2000 AD. I can’t tell you how much I hated this first time around. Every week I was waiting for Tharg to return and dish out some righteous wrath on the blue skinned little bastards and every week, for what seemed like forever, there they still were droning on and on and on in the output box.

I have never read David Bishop’s book Thrill Power Overload. Not out of protest, I’ve heard good things about it and I’m sure it’s fine, but because I’ve got 2000 AD taking up enough of my life at the moment. However, when I’ve flicked through copies in the shop (it looks very nice, by the way), there’s one sound bite that leaps out at me every time, the one where Bishop describes Tharg as an ‘anachronism’.

Anachronism?! Tharg isn’t an anachronism! He’s the foundations upon which the comic stands! He’s the force whose arms hold the diverse range of characters together! You can run a sword and sorcery strip, a future cop strip, an ill conceived western strip all in the same comic and it makes complete sense thanks to Tharg. Give Vector 13 editorial credit for it all and the whole structure destabilises and starts to crumble.

Reading Tharg’s editorials for The Slog knowing this change is about to happen has been interesting because it’s clear that whoever wrote them, let’s call him David Bishop, couldn’t find the character’s voice. I’ve already said here that his tendency was to just list the strips in that issue, but they also read like he kept forgetting he was supposed to be in character. It’s like somebody would read the editorials he wrote and say, “David, you’re meant to be Tharg not David Bishop, remember? Stick a couple of ‘Zarjazes’ in there and refer to the writer and artists as ‘creator robots’ and you should be fine”.

I can imagine the circumstance that led to Bishop making this decision. Sales of the comic were dropping like a stone thanks, in part, to disappointment in the film and he was under pressure to do something about it. I guess that included thinking the unthinkable and dropping Tharg altogether. With the benefit of hindsight, I know that all things pass and eventually the mighty one returns. At the time, however, I didn’t just think this change was misguided but a display of absolute arrogance. Was the shake up going to be so dramatic that, by the end of it, all we had left were personality free strips such as Vector 13, Black Light and Outlaw?

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  • Yup, this is definitely still worth ranting about.

    By Blogger Mark, at 10:22 pm  

  • I remember as a teen I hated Tharg to be honest. He just seemed so out of place to me then. I've grown up, I've learnt and I've sat in a darkened room alone for long hours thinking about how silly I was paying penance for how daft I was.

    Even in the hieghts of such teenage, acholol fueled (no doubt) maddness even I can't imagine thinking replacing Tharg with 'The Men in Black' was anything like approaching a good idea!

    Though while I've ranted about David Bishop before I'll say again to his credit the comics was in a much better place creatively at least when he left than when he took over.

    By Blogger Colin, at 8:37 am  

  • "I’ve worked with six different Thargs. Most were everything a good editor should be: decent, courteous, helpful, professional. A couple – one in particular – were total dudes: encouraging and supportative beyond the call of duty. Lovely guys. Another one, though, was a complete twat. One of the biggest pricks I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter."

    Just read an interview with Kek-W. Hmmm?

    By Blogger Mark, at 10:03 am  

  • I think not understanding Tharg shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes 2000ad great. It is like Christmas, we all know Father Christmas is not real and yet it is nice to see his face staring at us from a card. I do not want to see the CEO of Amazon looking at me on a christmas card even if that is where my present came from!

    By Blogger Victor Resistor, at 11:51 am  

  • Dark bishop did seem to piss off a lot of creators and fans at the time. With good reason too.

    I mean considor how good robohunter under hogan and huges was. (theres an really nice strip created for an aborted annual coming up that sums up how good that run was)

    yet bishop for reasons unknown to me hated hogans work causing strontium dogs and durham red to be pretty much unfinished.

    and then we get guff like outlaw and those grey assholes stealing our tharg...

    By Blogger David page, at 2:12 pm  

  • That Kek-W quote would seem to fit the bill as Bish-OP was the last Tharg that he worked for, and even then the work (Canon Fodder II) was commissioned by John Tomlinson. I remember reading the letters from 1033 onwards and being annoyed that he started calling readers Earthlings rather than Earthlets. I know that it's a little thing but that's kid of the point, it's such a little thing and to get it wrong like that just shows a general apathy to a tradition the readers actually like. I always get kind of defensive about Bishop because he was my first proper Tharg and he was also responsible for editing JD: LoTF which was a great kiddy version of Judge Dredd that Rebellion is sadly lacking today. Of course that doesn't excuse the fact that a lot of dross did emerge from his time as Tharg. As you've put it here Paul, a lot of it was personality free and bland and it's telling that a lot of the stuff bishop commissioned from this era didn't stick around.

    Fortunately he manged to turn it around towards the end of his tenure and, as a reader, I'm still grateful to this day that he helped organise the sale to Rebellion and I sympathise that he really did have a difficult job editing both the Megazine and 2000 AD in an era where Egmont seemed bound and determined to bleed them both dry and kill them off, but he did have a lot of misfires and it's only with the benefit of the hindsight provided by this blog taht I'm really starting to see them.


    By Blogger kennyevil, at 10:39 am  

  • *Sorry that should be last Tharg Kek-W worked for until Matt Smith.


    By Blogger kennyevil, at 10:40 am  

  • I think Bish-OP is given too much credit here as regarding turning the comic around. I agree he did promote new talent, but a lot of the talent he promoted was dreadful and was often at the expense of great creators that he annoyed so that he could bring his boys into the prog.

    Under his editing I stopped reading. Yes the Mailler/Morrison period was rubbish, but the comic was still readable. Things like Outlaw and the space girls, life less ordinary and witch world just inspired annoyance and completely turned me off 2000ad for many years.

    I think the influence of Andy Diggle needs to be promoted further here, as it was his intervention and disareements with Bish-OP on fundamental points that seems to have stopped things getting worse.

    By Blogger Victor Resistor, at 11:31 am  

  • Very true Victor. Since Diggle's tenure as Tharg was so brief (6 months I believe) I sometimes forget that he was the instigator of the change of philosophy 2000 AD took on. I'd say that between the two of them changing the editorial direction and helping to arrange the Rebellion deal, it's safe to say that they pretty much saved 2000 AD from death. It's frightening to think what would have happened had Diggle not come on board when he did.


    By Blogger kennyevil, at 12:31 pm  

  • Diggle wasn't editor for long but it is my understanding that he had a big influence whilst assistant editor. He had a very strong idea of wahat 2000ad should be and how it should be addressing the needs of long term readers and not trying to court those who have no interest in 2000ad through headline grabbing like BLAIR 1 and the sex issue.

    By Blogger Victor Resistor, at 3:44 pm  

  • Mark, I didn't think I ranting. I thought I was showing restraint.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:28 pm  

  • Colin, I've never hated Tharg but I have taken him for granted. In general, I went through a phase of not caring for fictional editors, but that's the worse it's ever got.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:30 pm  

  • Whoever Kek-W is talking about, it's pretty scathing, Mark.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:31 pm  

  • Victor, or the Vector 13 Men in Black replacing Santa one year in everything. Actually, now that I think about it...

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:33 pm  

  • David, I think it was a case of Bishop forcing change and leaving his stamp on the comic. Some things he did were good, but the things he got wrong were waaayyy wrong.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:35 pm  

  • Don't know who's responsible, but I think the quality of progs does start to improve somewhere round here. Having Sinister Dexter and Nikolai Dante as newfound pillars of the progs does keep the average quality up even with a few misfires still to come. And the headline-grabbing phase really only lasts about a dozen issues.

    By Blogger James Moar, at 5:37 pm  

  • Thanks for the comment Chris. I pretty much agree with you. In Bishop's defence, Sinister Dexter and nikolai dante are still around and they started during his era I think. I've never read an issue of JD: LoTF and was tempted for a while to include it in The Slog but decided against it.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:39 pm  

  • Diggle's impact on the comic is after my time but, from what you guys say, his involvement is important.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 5:42 pm  

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