¦ Features ¦ Alan
Grant interview part 3
a number of 'Future Shocks' and 'Time Twisters' for 2000AD, do you think these
are still a useful way for discovering new talent?
Beautiful Laundrette - A tale from Mega City 1 (Art by Nik Williams)
The best way, as far as I'm concerned. True, there were a lot of reasonably lame
stories, and a lot of stuff plagiarised from pre-existing sci-fi books. But every
writer has to learn his trade somewhere. And only one thing ever tells you if
you're getting better: a cheque. Plus, you only have to look at them when they
worked --say, Alan Moore's series of Time Twisters-- to forget all the crap ones.
The Time Twister/Future
Shock is maybe old-hat now, but 2000 might do well to think of, for instance,
a series of one-off stories set in Mega-City One, but without the judges.
When all stories
are continuing ones, it's nigh-impossible for new writers and artists to establish
you to leave the Assistant Editor post at 2000AD? Were there problems with management
interference and censorship, in the same way as Bob Bartholomew's disagreements
with Kevin O'Neill led to O'Neil's resignation?
There was constant
interference and problems from management, some of it deserved, much of it because
management were old-fashioned and had no idea how to treat or exploit the potential
they had with 2000AD. I argued with censorship when I felt they were being ridiculous
--for instance, when they made Robin Smith halve the size of a full-page Brett
Ewins drawing of a judge being pickled (The Judge Cal saga). The
official line was that, because the judge had a smile on his face,readers might
be tempted to pickle themselves thinking it a fun thing to do (after they'd acquired
a person-sized jar and several hundred gallons of vinegar).
In other cases
I agreed with the decisions. For instance, Kev O'Neill had added the letters IMRI
to his cover picture of a burning robot. Management went apeshit, as this means
Jesus Christ King of the Jews and could be equally upsetting to Christians and
Jews alike. Despite my stint at St Mary's, I have little time for religion. However,
I saw the management POV, which was that this was a robot, with no emotions, and
could therefore not be compared with Christ. Made sense to me, though Kev was
And some of it
was so bizarre, we could only collapse in hysterical laughter, as when Bob Bartholomew
made Robin Smith go through about 25 or 30 pages of RoboHunter whiting out Sam's
cigar (in case it encouraged the kids to smoke cigars). That of course led directly
to John and Ian's creation of Stogie.
Slocum gets in a pickle (Art by Brett Ewins)
I don't mind that
kind of censorship if it's consistent and rational. But it was matters of money
and passion which led to me resigning. I was assigned the task of editing the
first Judge Dredd Annual. It was to be 96 pages, and I was given a budget of about
£2,000 (i.e. approx £20 a page to cover all script, art, lettering,
colouring). I went to see the Managing Editor to complain --and was incensed to
discover £200 had already been taken off the budget for him, another similar
sum for another senior editor (both were totally uninvolved in the production
process; neither would see the annual until it was published, but tradition said
they had to get a cut).
I let my passion
get the better of me and offered to throw him out the window (we were 23 floors
up in King's Reach Tower). He immediately said "Alan, you have to resign.
This company wants obedience not passion. If you stay, you will destroy yourself."
I resigned at the
end of the week, possibly the first job I wasn't fired from.
How did you approach writing 'Blackhawk' [Roman era Nubian centurion abducted
by aliens] as your first ongoing strip for 2000AD and the initial collaborative
writing between you and Kelvin Gosnell? Looking back, what do you think of this
I don't think it
was very good, but I'm not ashamed of it. Everybody has to start someplace. Gerry
Finlay-Day didn't want to continue writing Blackhawk, as he felt that he had 'exhausted
the Roman empire'. So Kelvin and I took a day off work, lounged around his home,
and ended up writing it ourselves.
After part 2, Kelvin's
editorial duties became so onerous he withdrew from the writing partnership. I
had to finish what we started. I struck up a really good relationship with Massimo
Belardinelli, the artist, and even when what I wrote was crap, he made it look
great. (BTW: Kelvin and I co-penned a couple of Dredd one-offs as well--one about
Big Mo, I remember, and one that totally escapes me.)
How did John
Wagner first suggest that you should write together? Had you had previous input
into stories that made the decision easier (I believe you made the suggestion
that Judge Dredd needed an opposite number, which led to the eventual creation
of Judge Death)?
I was sharing an Essex farmhouse with John, and commuting to London each day to
work on 2000AD. He often bounced his script ideas off me, and where possible I
made suggestions for improvement. I'd been taught at DCT that this was an editor's
job, to feed ideas to his writers, and it was something I really enjoyed.
When I left (see
above), I moved into London to live and write. Maybe a year later, John took ill
and was unable to meet his deadlines (which are pretty ferocious when you have
to turn out 6 pages each of Dredd, Strontium Dog and RoboHunter in a week). He
asked if we could try writing together. We did, and it was so successful we're
still doing it now.
How did you find
joining the Dredd strip mid-way through the 'Judge Child' epic? Was there a lot
of pressure to write in a particular way?
Krysler - The Judge Child (Art by Mike Mc Mahon)
I was still very much the pupil at the master's feet. I was reticent about voicing
my own ideas, in case John thought they were rubbish. But it really didn't take
long for us to gel--we have a very similar sense of humour, and we'd remained
friends since...actually, since the Saturday when we both worked at DCT and I
turned up at John's flat looking for his flatmate with a half-bottle of vodka
in my pocket. The
flatmate wasn't there, so John and I drank the vodka and repaired to a tavern
where John revealed his true competitive colours for the first time by challenging
me to a drinking contest. I ended up spending the night in the cells for drunk
and disorderly, while he went off with my girlfriend.
Male bonding, I
think it's called.
I've never actually
done this myself, but I would think it's possible to pinpoint the change in John's
writing, from before we started scripting together, and afterwards. There was
no pressure to write in a particular way--we wrote it how we acted it out.
did the writing partnership between John Wagner and yourself work? What was the
dynamic: did you each write alternate episodes, or did one of you come up with
the scenario and the other with the dialogue? I heard that whoever typed up the
script got the cheque, is that right?
We sat down on the floor opposite each other at the start of the working day,
spent an hour cracking jokes and combing the newspapers for ideas, then started
writing. Sometimes one or other of us would come to the session pre-armed with
an idea, a sequence, or a character; it was just as likely that we'd create it
there and then. We did in fact write some --not many-- scripts on our own, though
they were published under our pseudonyms. I honestly can't remember which we did
alone, and which together. All dialog was acted out, each of us taking different
parts. The entire
script was handwritten, usually by whoever would be typing it up that night. We
have never written a single script where one of us did the scenario and the other
The only time we ever did alternate episodes was on Last American, when our partnership
was teetering on its last legs anyway. If we hadn't done it that way, it still
wouldn't have been published today, we argued so much about it.
And yes, whoever
typed the script got the cheque--usually John on Dredd, me on Stront, a combination
- Art by John Higgins
The Dredd strip
seemed to really blossom during your joint tenure with John Wagner. Together you
produced some classic stories: off the top of my head there were 'It Pays to be
Mental'; 'Monkey Business at the Charles Darwin Block'; 'Pirates of the Black
Atlantic'; 'Judge Death Lives'; 'The Fink'; 'The Haunting of Sector House 9';
'Cry of the Werewolf'; 'Letter From a Democrat'; 'Democracy' and countless others.
Was this an exciting creative period in which to be working, and what do you think
now looking back on these stories?
I love these stories,
which I think stand proudly in the Dredd mythos. They were a result of the synergy
of the two of us working together and really, really enjoying what we were doing.
I remember one day we were stuck for a Dredd idea --2 in the afternoon, and we
still didn't have anything to go on. No cheques that day. I was still a bit reticent,
but I remember saying (in a wee voice) "How about a Dredd pirate story?"
Four hours later, all three parts were written. We were young (well, relatively),
we were hungry, and we were having a good laugh.
'Letter from a
Democrat' is still one of my all-time favourite Dredd stories. Funny to think
it was originally titled "Letter from a Baffin Island Nudist", but 2000AD
rejected it on the grounds the art would necessarily have to show much nudity.
We thought for about 5 seconds before we came up with Democracy as a replacement.
Apart perhaps from
the Slaine skyboats story, Mike McMahon's Fink story is the most beautiful art
he ever did. My favourite page, with Fink and Ratty, hangs on my office wall.
Pays to be Mental - Art by Ian Gibson
All of the artists
involved in the stories you mention were high calibre, too. Bolland, McMahon,
Brett Ewins and John Higgins were all hitting their stride. Steve Dillon, who
did the Werewolf story, was a revelation.