A celebration of forty years of 2000AD – and all its inspirational joy and anarchy – through five memories of the future.
Gentle reader: What one thing has had the biggest influence on how you view the world? Is there a single thing that has fired your imagination and given you endless delight and inspiration?
For me, the biggest formative influence on how I see the world was probably a comic named 2000AD*. A weekly British comic which is – against all odds – still in publication today**, and which celebrates its 40th birthday tomorrow (Sunday 26 February 2017 – the very first Prog*** bearing the publication date of 26 February 1977).
Two quotations from the 2014 2000AD documentary Future Shock describe perfectly the impact of 2000AD:
“For a nine-year old boy, it was life-changing.”
2000AD created “a generation of anarchists.”
I want to share here five memories of the future, each inspired by 2000AD.
In my very young years I was lucky enough to get the odd Prog, and to receive the 1979 2000AD annual (see below) as a Christmas present. But 2000AD fully captured my imagination with Prog 263 in 1982. Like the quotation above says: “For a nine-year-old boy, it was life-changing.” I got this edition of 2000AD on a family shopping trip to Tesco at Weston Favell in Northamptonshire. Judge Dredd had hit the closing chapters of his epic nuclear conflict story The Apocalypse War (this particular chapter resolving the preceding cliffhanger in which Dredd appeared to have killed himself. He hadn’t, after all!). Most of the other stories were midway through their current arcs. It was all slightly confusing, yet impossibly exciting and inspiring. But there was so much more going on than I could first appreciate. Another voice in the Future Shock film notes that ”the multiple levels of reading are what make 2000AD work.” I’m sure nine-year-old me didn’t realise it at the time, but these words are spot on. At their best, 2000AD stories were characterised by a satirical, sceptical and deeply humanitarian viewpoint – albeit one couched in mayhem, destruction, anarchy and the blackest of black humour.
Two. As important to me as Public Enemy
2000AD was a pivotal influence on my mind, and on the minds of so many now middle-aged personages (predominantly gents, but by no means all). This single comic created “a generation of anarchists,” as Grant Morrison puts it. 2000AD’s cultural influence has been extremely pervasive. Yer Robocops and yer Terminators are explicitly 2000AD-inspired. On a less surface level, 2000AD has profoundly influenced the perspectives of so many people. In the world of music alone, artists as diverse as Madness, Lemmy and DJ Food (who has posted a beautiful gallery of snaps from the London Cartoon Museum’s 2000AD exhbition) are or were 2000AD fans. I particularly relate to the following quotation from Portishead’s Geoff Barrow: “2000AD is as important to me as Public Enemy and Eric B & Rakim.”
Three. An embarrassment for all concerned
Quality is subjective. You might perceive your latest piece of work to be weak. But that it is no guarantee that your audience will have the same view.**** I absolutely loved the aforementioned 1979 2000AD annual. But I recently discovered that its creators hold it in significantly lower esteem. In his memoir The Mighty One, former 2000AD editor Steve MacManus
confesses that budgets were ruinously tight for that particular project:
“The producers did the best they could, but even so that second annual must have been a bitter disappointment to the 2000AD reader on Christmas morning. Of its 128 pages many were generic science-fiction strips dredged up from the art library and passed off as 2000AD content. It was an embarrassment for all concerned.”
I love the idea the idea that what one person views as utter rubbish might be a route into a magical new world for another. The germ of any idea can go off in the most unexpected directions.
Four. Get a typewriter
In late 1988, a quintet of 2000AD artists and writers – including firebrand original 2000AD creator Pat Mills – did a signing at the short-lived Forbidden Planet comic shop in Central Milton Keynes*****. I was in attendance, taking with me a scrappy notepad containing a comic strip I’d been writing and drawing for my schoolfriends. At the signing I was too shy to show my efforts to the 2000AD types. But my friend Aaron was pluckier than me, and passed it to Pat Mills on my behalf. Bless him, the leather-jacketed Mr Mills took a look through whilst puffing on a cigar. His considered advice to me?
“Get a typewriter.”
Mr Mills saw immediately back then that whatever little ability I had to string a sentence together exceeded my ability to draw a half-decent picture. Although I didn’t follow his words to the letter, looking back I suppose I’ve made my living up until this point mainly on the written word.
Five. Its Brutalist architecture
My most recent 2000AD-related moment of mind-blown wonder happened just last week. Reading Mr MacManus’s Mighty One book, I was amazed to discover that the company for which I work published 2000AD at its height (the 10-year stretch from 1977 to 1987). MacManus describes South London’s King’s Reach Tower (later to be immortalised as 2000AD’s “Nerve Centre,” and now apparently known as South Bank Tower):
“Once finished, it dominated the skyline, but its Brutalist architecture promised nothing more than a decent view from the upper floors. However, the building was to be occupied by IPC Magazines, owned by Reed International.”
The complex path of corporate buyings and sellings means that 2000AD has long since ceased to be a part of my company’s portfolio.****** But I am seriously proud that my employer once published what its readers fondly refer to as “the Galaxy’s greatest comic.”
How could I never have known this before?
2000AD: You have meant more to me than I could ever hope to say (and I’m sure the same goes for a great many others). Many happy returns.
* The other three biggest influences on my outlook on the world – and undoubtedly also on my love of language – are (the BBC TV series of) The Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy, Monty Python and (the second series in particular of) A Bit of Fry and Laurie.
** Its name unchanged, despite the year 2000 – which once seemed an impossibly farflung future (well, to nine-year-old me it did) – having now moved resolutely into the rearview mirror.
*** 2000AD readers will know that each individual issue is referred to as a “Prog” -short for “computer programme,” I believe)
**** For a beautifully-told tale of how vast the gap can be between the creator’s view of their work and how it appears to their audience, I strongly recommend you take a listen to legendary US talk show host Dick Cavett on Alec Baldwin’s Here’s The Thing podcast. Cavett shares a remarkable tale of recording one episode in the depths of black depression, then finally getting to watch it back on video years later. Please do lend an ear to what he has to say.
***** Astonishingly, I’ve just discovered a youtube video from the day Forbidden Planet, Milton Keynes opened. Mercifully, I was not there that day…
****** Other former parts of my company’s stable include – so the combined forces of Mr MacManus’s book and Wikipedia inform me – Country Life, NME, Melody Maker, Horse & Hound, Anglers Mail, Yachting Monthly and – particularly unexpectedly – Sanderson’s wallpapers (which apparently used to hold the copyright for William Morris’s wallpapers).