¦ Features ¦ Alan
Grant interview part 2
What was it like
to write for Girls' titles and within the type of 'kitchen sink' melodrama that
they frequently produced?
I'd say it's harder
to write girls' material than it is to write for males, and I'm pretty sure John
Wagner and Pat Mills would agree with me. Boys' comics demand a lot of action,
so it's easier to skimp on characterisation and actual story. Girls' material
is generally heavily character-based and involves more twists and turns in the
The emotions involved
are different, too --female material is more often about creating harmony, ending
dissent, everybody becoming friends...while male material is much more likely
to involve murder and wild revenge.
I enjoyed writing
romantic fiction. It was only when I tried to create a story formula, or template,
which I could subsequently use over and over that I became disillusioned with
the genre. When I left IPC to go freelance for the first time (circa 1972) I had
a whole heap of commissioned material to write. In the end, I didn't complete
You had something of a checkered career history before entering comics, including
working as a bus conductor, caretaker of a mansion, and studying to become a Minister
of Divinity! Do you sometimes wish you'd kept on the straight and narrow path
towards the priesthood?
Ha! My path towards the priesthood was neither straight nor narrow. It was, however,
accidental. When my first stab at a freelance career went pear-shaped (mainly
because I lacked the self-discipline to make myself sit down and write each day),
I decided it would be nice to go to college for a while. I enrolled and spent
6 weeks in college before the Principal discovered I already had the qualifications
I was studying
for and demanded the return of my grant. On the carpet in his office, I concocted
a story about how I wanted to refresh myself before going on to Uni. "To
study what?" he wanted to know. I knew if I said English, or Philosophy,
or just about anything, he'd try to get me into Dundee Uni, which was the last
thing I wanted. So I lied and said "Divinity", thinking I'd hear no
more about it.
I went in on the
Monday morning to find a note on my desk telling me I was no longer a college
student, but started that morning at St Mary's College of Divinity in St Andrews.
If you hate authority,
it's very hard to love God. They told me I was one of the most original thinkers
they'd had, but expelled me anyway.
How did you
move into 2000AD editorial?
John Wagner asked me to try writing a script for the proposed new comic "Starlord."
The result was a story called 'Earn Big Money While You Sleep'; if I recall, it
was wrongly credited to TB Grover, presumably because John re-wrote about 30%
I had to go London
to visit the puzzle publisher, and John took me to meet Kelvin Gosnell, then editor
of 2000. Kelvin offered me an editorial job on the spot, replacing Steve Macmanus
who was being promoted to Chief Sub on 2000AD.
I believe you
turned down an offer of a job as the chief sub-editor on Tornado within a month
of starting work for 2000AD. What were your reasons for remaining with 2000AD?
I did, and it caused
considerable consternation at IPC. Nobody had ever turned down a promotion before,
especially when it involved a large percentage hike in wages. I was called before
the managing director to explain myself. For me, 2000AD was the comic of the future...what
I'd seen of Tornado marked it as a comic of the past.
title was 'Heroes'. It was changed about a week before publication of issue *1,
after one of the directors' grandsons said he didn't like Heroes.)
I felt that any
sensible publisher would be focusing all of their assets and abilities onto their
strongest title; at that time, 2000AD had immense potential. IPC could have taken
over the world if they'd played it correctly. Instead, IPC was intent on the short-sighted
policy of creating a sub-standard clone. I told the MD outright that
Tornado would fold within 6 months; he bet me £5 it wouldn't. When it did,
he paid up, and asked how I could possibly have known it would fail. The answer
2000AD was conceived,
created, written and drawn by a gang of relatively young creators who were passionate
about what they wanted to do, who loved doing sci-fi satire, who'd have done it
for nothing if IPC had only asked. Tornado, in contrast, was created for no other
reason than that 2000AD had been a success. It was a shame--I hate to see any
comic being closed down--but nobody loved it enough to make it
Later, you were also paid a bonus of £500 to oversee the merger of Tornado
with 2000AD whilst Steve MacManus (then editor of 2000AD) was on holiday. How
did you handle the merger?
This was typical
publishing politics. The shakiness of Tornado's circulation had already been noted,
and Steve Macmanus was on record as refusing to integrate Tornado into 2000AD
if the former folded. So they waited till they went on holiday.
Steve and I had
an up/down working relationship, but I didn't want to be disloyal to him so I
refused to do it. I was told they'd bring in someone from another department--make
no mistake, the merger was going ahead whether we wanted it or not.
I figured I had
to make the best of a bad deal, so I asked for cash in return. They agreed.
The merger itself
was no big deal. The unofficial rules said we had to take 3 characters from the
old comic--Blackhawk, transferred from the Roman arena to a space arena; Wolfie
Smith with his ESP stuff; and I think the 3rd may have been Captain Klep, although
I can no longer remember the details.
There wasn't a
whole lot of work to do. Steve was pissed off on his return, but there was nothing
he could do about it.
has described you as: "one of the gentlemen of British comics, who really
did put a lot of time into his job. If there were people who had talent, he would
encourage them." Was it satisfying, from an editorial point of view, to discover
talented new writers and artists for the comic?
Way back in 1968, when I was working for DCT, I came up with an idea for a new
series for the New Hotspur boys' comic. The editor told me to go away and write
it up--I wrote 11 2-page episodes. Totally lacking confidence, I left it on his
desk rather than hand it to him personally. A week later, I found my manuscripts
back on my desk with a standard DCT rejection note appended: We have considered
your manuscript and it is not suitable for us.
I felt gutted.
Not a word on why it wasn't suitable, whether it was well-written or shite. I
can't say that I took a solemn vow to redress this wrong in the future, but...
When I started
work editorially for 2000AD (around Prog 96), I was horrified to discover they
had 2 massive steel filing cabinets stuffed with letters from readers. These were
continuing to flood in, anywhere between 20 and 100 letters every single day;
the items for the letters page were chosen by sticking a hand in a mailsack and
publishing what came out. I guess there may have been 4 or 5,000 altogether.
I'd felt at DCT, I took it upon myself to sort through and read every single letter.
I ordered a huge batch of photos of Tharg to send out, then answered all letters
I thought deserving of reply, including the 100s of art samples.
Anyhow, I guess
the habit stuck. I hate to see wasted talent, and my training --and possibly natural
propensity-- is for editorial rather than writing. I encouraged everybody I thought
I detected even a grain of talent in. I claim no kudos for the subsequent success
of many of them --their talent brought its own rewards. But often luck rather
than talent is the determinant in whether or not something is published. I
tried to redress the skewed balance. I've been touched to see thanks to me in
print from many writers and artists--Gordon Rennie, Robbie Morrison, Craig Houston,
Chas Gillespie, Kev Sutherland spring to mind. Grant Morrison's every word had
been rejected by 2000AD until I interceded (shameful though it was that I had
to, when he's one of the best comic writers in the world.) For my sins, I was
even responsible for getting Mark Millar into print.
I remember Steve
MacManus handing me Alan Moore's first 2000AD submission, with the words: "I'm
going to reject this, but I don't know why. Can I get a second opinion?"
As soon as I read the script --it was a Future Shock about a trucker-- I knew
we had a new writer for the comic. Only problem was --the story was too wordy.
I sat down to cut it myself --remembering my experience with DCT-- and was amazed
to find I couldn't do it. Alan had written a script which was so well-integrated
that I couldn't cut it without rewriting the whole thing! So I took the diplomatic
route out--I wrote back to Alan and told him if he could cut the word count by
around 30/35% we'd buy it. He did, we did, and look where he ended up.
been freelance for 23 years now, I still receive material from would-be writers
and artists, at least on a weekly basis. Every letter answered!