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Home ¦ Features ¦ Dan Abnett Interview Part 1

Arthur Ranson - A 2000 AD Review Interview
18th September 04

2000 AD - Dan Abnett interview
The new Sinister Dexter collection
Interview by Richmond Clements

Dan Abnett is nothing if not prolific, with many original series under his belt as well as successful re-launches of old time favorites like Durham Red and the VCs. Dan took some time out from writing every comic in the world to answer a few questions for us.

Let’s start with a question right out of left-field. What made you want to write comics?

Because at age eleven or twelve, that’s what I did. I wrote and drew my own comics. When, at the end of my college career, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, comics was something to try. So I took the plunge.

Can you tell us how you got started in comics?

I wrote to Marvel UK when I was out of college and they offered me an interview. I thought they were just being nice to me, but it turned out - coincidentally - that they were advertising for two editorial trainees and assumed I was answering the ad. I got one of the positions and worked there for several years as a trainee and then an editor. It was really valuable experience. The pay was... let’s say not great... so everyone subsidised their earnings by doing some freelance - lettering, colouring, scripting, whatever they could do. I wrote an Action Force strip on spec that was accepted, and from that point on, doing scriptwriting at weekends and of evenings became my other job. Eventually, I quit the day job.

2000 AD - Dan Abnett interview
Action Force

You said you used to draw your own comics too, so was becoming an artist ever a possibility?

Almost, but not quite. Maybe, if I’d kept at it and really, really worked. Far too late now. I went with my strength. I play guitar too, not too badly, but I’m never going to be a band.

You seem to write a colossal amount of stuff. I’m guessing to do this you must have to write to a pretty strict working regime?

Yes. Very focused. I expect a minimum of 2000 words per morning and five pages of comic strip script per afternoon. I seem to produce my best stuff when I’m under a little pressure.

You write in a load of different genres, from horror to superheroes. Do you have a favourite?

No, not actually. I love writing the novels and they’d probably be what I would choose if I could do only one thing, but there are some things that I’d really miss. Sinister Dexter, for example. I love writing that. And working with Andy Lanning on the superhero books for the US. We’re still doing that together after all this time because it’s so much fun bouncing ideas off one another.

2000 AD - Dan Abnett interview
Superman by Abnett & Lanning
(image by Ed McGuiness)
How restrictive, with what you can do plot ways and with the character itself, is it to work on such a huge character as, say, Superman?

Inevitably huge, but different for each ‘huge character’. I’ve found writing for Dredd, Batman and Dr Who very intimidating because of what has already been done with them. Writing Legion of Superheroes was a monumental task because of the scale of the continuity (all those characters!). Superman, ironically, has been an unexpected pleasure (also Majestic, by extension, for the same reason). I've never been a huge fan of Superman or Superman-type, all-powerful, invulnerable heroes. I’ve never understood the dramatic appeal compared to, say Batman, but writing them has opened up real creative doors. Somehow, because Superman is so ‘impossible’, anything is possible.

Among your many comic jobs, you have in your time, been editor of Toxic! And Strip. How does being an editor compare with writing?

Learning the basics as an editor has, I think, stood me in really good stead as a writer. It’s made me quite self-critical, in a very useful way, and I’d like to think it’s made me receptive to editorial input. Editing had its moments, but writing is definitely the thing for me.

Can you ever see yourself going back to editing? Maybe even as Tharg?

No. I’m simply not good enough an editor. And some of my experiences of the industry in the old days were pretty awful. They were invaluable as lessons, and armoured me very well for being a freelancer. But I’d not much fancy going back now.

2000 AD - Dan Abnett interview
Legion: Foundations

Do you have a preference between comics and novels? And have you ever thought about stretching your wings into screenwriting or stage plays?

I prefer writing novels to comics, just. Screenwriting just doesn’t have the same appeal (for me) as novel writing. Having said that, I did write a Dr Who audio for Big Finish this year, which was a play by any definition, and I really enjoyed doing that.

What about doing a Big Finish Dredd adventure? Or does your busy schedule just not allow that?

That might be interesting. Though I’d rather do a SinDex or VCs audio... ;)

You work for a number of different publishers. How do they compare with each other, in respect to the amount of leeway you are given to do your own thing with strips and characters?

Everything is subject to company approval, whatever you’re doing and who ever you work for. I guess a creator-owned project for Dark Horse or DC (just for example) gives a little more leeway, but those opportunities seem to be rarer these days. On a level playing field, though, 2000AD is about as creatively open as anywhere. Matt (Tharg) knows what he wants, but there is a buzzy feel about 2000AD, a sort of “where can we go next?” type feeling.

2000 AD - Dan Abnett interview
More Superman
Your work with Andy Lanning has been, to say the least, successful. Have you ever tried to lure him over to 2000AD with you?

We tried, one or twice. Not sure why it didn’t work.

How does it compare writing yourself and with a partner, and what are the mechanics of the working relationship? Who does what?

I don’t think I could write with just anyone, but several people over the years - Andy most successfully and extensively - have proved to be great fun to collaborate with. It’s great for comic work, because you can throw so many ideas around, fling things out and then shoot them down. We can push each other, inspire each other, and also tell each other when something’s dumb. It can be a very entertaining process - probably why Andy and I still do it fifteen years later. I doubt the process would work at all with something like a novel. Andy and I get together once every couple of weeks for a day and brainstorm, developing pitches, ideas, beat sheets. When something’s approved at beat sheet level, I take it away and script it. Andy’s very much an ideas person rather than a script mechanic. When it’s written, it goes back to him for a read-through and then on to the editor. Unconventional, but we’ve made it work so we’re happy.

Go to part 2
 


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Original content (c) 2002 Gavin Hanly (contact 2000AD Review).