¦ Features ¦ Matt
opinionated, all words that can’t be used to describe the current Mighty
One, Matt Smith, but quiet, polite and intelligent certainly are. I met Matt at
the Octocon convention in Ireland recently, where he agreed to an interview. Here
are the results.
First off Matt,
tell us how you got the job?
I was working in
the book publishing industry at the time. I saw the job advertised, applied for
it and got it. I was Andy Diggle’s assistant for 18 months, and when he
left, I got the job.
is credited with turning around the fortunes of the comic, what was it like taking
over from him?
Very daunting. But Andy was a lot of help, he was there to give
me advice, and I tried to continue to bring the energy he gave to the comic.
add that, with these first two questions, your intrepid reporter hadn’t
his tape recorder on, so the answers are from memory.
One of the things
you have been doing with the comic is bringing back older characters, like Savage
and Robo Hunter...
really a conscious decision. In some cases it might seem like a good idea, or
it might be somebody’s suggestion. In the case of Savage, which might be
of interest to 2000AD Review readers, is the fact that I saw a poll on 2000adreview
asking which characters you would most like to see back. Top was Ro-Busters and
second was Savage.
That got me thinking
about where we could go with Savage, initially I was thinking of doing something
slightly comical. Bill as this demented character who’s still reeking revenge
for his wife and kids.
I was talking to
Pat and realised that we could actually do it straight. Actually do it in real
time, because the invasion took place in 1999, so we could set in 2004 occupied
Britain. And as it turned out, it became very topical, coming out at the time
of the Iraqi invasion. When the scripts had been written, this hadn’t occurred
by Mills and Adlard
It was Charlie Adlard, when he was doing the art, he was basing the uniforms on
American uniforms. It was then we realised how topical it would be.
In terms of Robo
Hunter, Samantha Slade has always been mooted as a character. Ian Gibson has had
the character designs on his website for ages. John Wagner called and said ‘Have
you thought about doing this Samantha Slade thing?’ He wasn’t interested
in doing it, but was happy for Alan to write it. I would never have done Robo
Hunter without Ian doing the artwork.
I enjoy it. It’s
light fun, and works as a counterpoint to the grim and gritty tales.
I am conscious of the fact that we can’t rely on the past too much. I do
wonder sometimes if there is too much reliance on bring characters back, when
they should be put to rest.
But on the other
hand, it can work to our advantage. I’ll sometimes get letters saying ‘I
haven’t picked up 2000AD for ten years, but bought it because I saw Sam
Slade on the cover.’ So in that sense, it’s great to bring a character
back that has a strong resonance with the readers. But on the other hand, you
don’t want to put the nail in the coffin of a character, and just let them
go with dignity.
to get the mix right, of classic characters and new stuff. You’ve always
got that bedrock, Dredd, Slaine, Nikolai Dante is on the way to becoming one of
those classic characters, so that you can put in new stuff, that might be slightly
different, and if people don’t like it, they’ve still got these classic
You try and do
Are there any
other older characters you’d like to see brought back?
Not really no.
I mean, there are some stories you’d like to see. I would like John Smith
to write more Indigo Prime stories, but I am conscious of the fact that maybe
it’s time to draw a line under some of the older stuff.
I think Rogue has
pretty much run it’s course. Durham Red has finished her story
So no, I can’t think of any other I’d bring back.
there about seeing the poll on this site. Do you look around the fan sites a lot?
Yeah, I usually
take a look at the 2000AD message board, mostly when the new prog comes out, I
have a look and see what the reactions are. And the reviews on 2000AD Review,
I read the comments. Not always do I agree with them, but you pays your money
you takes your chance. I sometimes take a look at alt.2000ad to see what scojo
The web fans
tend to be the most vocal. Do you pay attention to them?
difficult. There must be something like two dozen regular posters on the message
board, and that accounts for the tiniest fraction of the readership. So just because
they hate a story, it doesn’t mean to say the whole readership does. Sometimes
the views that come in on regular letters are completely different to those of
the message board. I take note of criticisms, but that’s not to say they
influence my decisions. But it’s changed with the advent of the internet.
Suddenly people can put up their opinions within minutes of reading the prog.
And also they can put up their theories, about stuff that might not necessarily
be true, might not necessarily have any basis in fact. Not just about the stories,
but about the way things are done in 2000AD, the way it’s are put together.
You put this up on the internet, and suddenly it’s considered as fact.
So it’s changed,
now readers are much more vocal.
vocal readers, can I ask you about Synnamon, which got a lukewarm response from
the public, or Valkyries, which didn’t...
coming back for a new series. I felt it was a character that could develop. I
like a character that can come and go in a nine part series, or a shorter story
of a couple of parts. Like the great way Strontium Dog, in the old days, would
go from a long story to a shorter story and always have a presence in the comic.
So I try to have series that can do that. Low Life is one, Cabballistics Inc as
well. And Synnamon is another one. Colin and Chris have got strong ideas about
where they can take the character, so I think there’s some mileage in her.
As for Valkyries.
It was an unpopular story, but that’s the way it goes. It was in the comic
for six weeks, and then it went away. We’ll always try different things,
try new artists, otherwise things will get stale. You’ll have the same characters,
the same artists...
I think one
of the problems with comic fans is that they don’t want change..?
But at the same
time they complain when you don’t do anything different. Which is something
illustrated perfectly with things like Siku’s Dredd.
In the end it all
comes down to subjectivity really. It just happens that some artists are more
popular that others.
But yeah, readers
are reluctant to see change. To a degree.
It can be frustrating,
it certainly was for Graham, who was the designer, he’s now left. He came
from a background of magazine publishing, and didn’t have a lot of interest
in comics. But he brought a good design sensibility to 2000AD. He wanted to broaden
the ideas on the covers and things like that. He was very involved in the Durham
Red photo covers, he was very much interested in creating something different
than the standard 2000AD cover.
While the comic
will look the same week on week, there will be this branching out, trying something
different. We print so much material that you’ve got to chance things occasionally,
because that one little thing might bring somebody new in.
Could you take
us through the day to day assembly of a prog?
Well, scripts are
written months ahead. But if we take something like a Dredd script, John Wagner
will e-mail it to me. Usually with a John Wagner script it’s pretty much
Then find an artist
who suits the subject matter, and who’s available. The artist will have
two or three weeks to do the artwork. The art is sent in, sometimes as physical
artwork, but more often than not on CD. The art is imported into a Quark Xpress
file, the script is edited and subbed according to how the artist has interpreted
the script. Sometimes an artist will do something that is not necessarily on the
script, maybe take a panel onto the next page... Then lettering, adding logos,
next prog line, letters page if it’s needed, then it’s up to the printers.
So how do you
go about matching a story with an artist?
genius that is Droid Life
Story matter is
a prime concern. If it’s slightly comical, it’ll go to someone who
does comedy well, if it’s slightly dark, again you get an artist who can
A lot of it just
comes down to availability. Sometimes the artist you want can’t do it on
time. Sometimes, and this isn’t a big problem, it comes down to budget as
well. I have a budget I have to stick to, and if you find you’re running
out of money, then sometimes you have to go for an artist who doesn’t cost
as much as another.
As an aside, the
reason that Droid Life hasn’t been in 2000AD for a while, is that it’s
usually about this time of the year that I have to look back at the prog and see
how much money I’ve spent out of the budget, and realise I’ve got
to save some money quick.. Every time I put a Droid Life in 2000AD it has that
little more cost, so I’ve been saving some money by leaving Droid Life out
of the prog.
got the Christmas prog coming up, so I’ve got to keep enough money in the
budget to cover the cost of that.
Who do you think
is the best new writer or artist that you’ve brought in?
really hard> I think Dom Reardon has really flourished in Cabballistics.
From his very first story, he’s gained strength and confidence in his artwork.
And Boo Cook, who I think is going to be the new Frank Quietly.
has gone from strength to strength in his scriptwriting. He had a few Future Shocks
under his belt, and his first longer story The Scrap gave him that extra leeway
to tell a longer story... Lobster Random obviously, it seems to have gone down
I think of the
newer writers, I think Al Ewing is doing good stuff.
would you give to anyone sending a submission? What are you looking for?
With art work,
always send in a strip submission, sequential art. Too many submissions are pictures,
which don’t say anything about how well you can tell a story.
Always send in black and white. If you ink your own stuff fine, if not you can
send pencils. But always black and white, because bad colouring can ruin a submission.
And just send photocopies.
In terms of what
I’m looking for, remember that 2000AD is an action comic. I want to see
a sense of drama and fluidity. Sometimes
submissions are very flat, or just a series of head shots of characters talking.
must be for one off, five page stories. Don’t try and write a Dredd story.
Try and be original if you can, think of something that hasn’t been done
before. But there have been so many stories over the years, you might right a
fairly conventional story, in terms of the setting, but if you give it that tweak
it might make me pick it up.
A lot of scripts
that come in are just, you know, ‘Two guys having a fight’. I want
to see a plot unfold, something that will draw the reader in. Give it some subtext
too, so it’s not just ‘Guy lands on planet, planet explodes’.
I thought that
the Future Shock that I ran fairly recently, about the prison escape, I mean,
it didn’t get overwhelming praise, but it’s a good example of what
a Future Shock script should be like. It had a plot, a characters you sympathised
with, it had wit, it had a subtext: it was about more than just the surface action.
So giving that
extra substance, that extra quality, means that it’ll move up from being
just the average script.
Lewis and Gary Crutchley recent Future Shock
have enough room in the five pages to cram in all the plot that you’ve got.
Write the script, revise it, go back and trim it some more. Don’t infodump
the reader with captions, make the back story reveal itself through the action.
So what about
the DC deal, do you think it’s going to help the comic in the States?
I hope so! It’s
a great opportunity having DC distributing in America. We can get into places
that don’t normally pick up 2000AD.
2000AD is known
in America, They are aware that it’s this comic with a tremendous amount
of history, but getting hold of it weekly, and the fact that it’s an anthology
as well... it helps that they’re collected into books.
It not only helps
with getting people to read them, but with film opportunities. It’s great
that you can just give them a collected book. What I’ve heard is that a
lot of the American producers have a hard time understanding 2000AD's format.
They’ll read a story, and go, ‘Why’s it gone black and white?
It’s a different story? I don’t get it.’
It’s great to have it out there, and I think it really stands up well to
a lot of the American comics.
Among the DC
reprints will be a collected edition of the Dredd/Batman team-ups. Is there a
chance we'll see more of these, or crossovers with other DC and 2000AD characters?
It’s been suggested that we do more crossovers, though
nothing’s definite. Dredd vs Superman seems to be top of the list, but we
feel it’s important we do crossovers that make sense, rather than just pitting
characters against each other purely for the sake of it.
Are there any
2000AD properties, apart from Dredd, which are attracting the interest of the
continuing to pitch properties to studios, and an interest has been shown in some
– but if I say anymore I’ll incur the wrath of The Mighty One!
How did you
come to write a Dredd novel, and did you enjoy the experience?
Black Flame publisher
Marc Gascoigne asked if I’d be interested in writing one, and the idea appealed.
It had been an ambition of mine to write a novel, so this was an ideal opportunity.
Drawing on elements from the short story that I wrote about five years ago and
that won the Random Literary Abuse comp that appeared on the Class of ‘79
website, I wanted to write a very grounded Dredd story, heavily influenced by
one of my favourite writers, James Ellroy. Love all that stuff about corrupt cops
seeking redemption, and Pete Trager, the Wally Squad Judge in ‘The Final
Cut’, has crossed the line more times than is healthy... It proved quite
an exhausting experience, writing a 72,000 word novel as well doing the day job,
but I’m glad I did it and will be interested in seeing the response to it.
Have you plans
to write any more novels?
Once the Dredd
one was done, I was glad to have my evenings free again, but I’ve been recently
thinking about a Strontium Dog novel. I’ve got a plot forming... But maybe
I’ll see how ‘The Final Cut’ goes down first!
a few of the Metro Dredds, what about writing a strip for the comic?
Ever since I’ve
been at 2000 AD, it’s always been considered frowned-upon for the editor
to write for the comic. A certain predecessor in the late 1980s used to publish
a lot of his own material with – how can I put this politely? - not entirely
successful results, and it ends up harming the quality of the comic. You can’t
be objective about your own work. Plus it’s not as if there’s a shortage
of freelance talent. And it tends to be the route that editors goes freelance,
anyway – Pat Mills, John Wagner, Alan Grant, David Bishop, Andy Diggle,
etc – so if I wanted to write for 2000 AD I’d have to pitch something
to my successor and take my chances with everybody else. Writing some of the Metro
Dredds was born out of necessity to turn out a lot of scripts quickly, as we needed
to get the artist working on six months’ worth of daily strip.
you give us an idea of the good things we've got to look forward to in the coming
soon - American Gothic
good! Squaxx dek Thargo demand no less! OK, there’s Synnamon and Red Seas
mini-series to take us up to Prog 2005, which features complete Caballistics,
Samantha Slade and Dredd tales alongside the start of new series for Nikolai Dante,
Slaine, and future sport Thrill Second City Blues by Kek-W and Warren Pleece.
February sees more Low Life and the debut of Tiger Sun, Dragon Moon by Steve Parkhouse;
March sees the return of The V.C.s and horror Western American Gothic by Ian Edginton
and Mike Collins... Pencilled in for Summer is the return of Shakara and Savage,
not forgetting epic sci-fi saga Leatherjack by the Firekind team of John Smith
and Paul Marshall... It’s all Thrilltastic!
to Mike Carroll, and to Matt for his patience.