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Home ¦ Features ¦ Alan Grant interview part 2

Steve Parkhouse - A 2000 AD Review Interview

12th January 05

Part 2

Back to part 1

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
Classic Bunty action
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 plot.

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 a single
story.

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% of it.

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.

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
The doomed Tornado

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.

(Tornado's original 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 was simple:

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
a success.

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.

Alan Moore 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.

Remembering how 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.

Despite having 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!

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