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Home ¦ Features ¦ Alan Grant interview part 3

Steve Parkhouse - A 2000 AD Review Interview

12th January 05

Part 3

Back to part 2

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
My Beautiful Laundrette - A tale from Mega City 1 (Art by Nik Williams)
Having written a number of 'Future Shocks' and 'Time Twisters' for 2000AD, do you think these are still a useful way for discovering new talent?

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 themselves.

What caused 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 pretty peeved.

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.

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
Judge 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 first step?

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 a
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.

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
Owen Krysler - The Judge Child (Art by Mike Mc Mahon)
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?

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.

How exactly 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 dialog.
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 on Robohunter.

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
Democracy - 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.

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
It Pays to be Mental - Art by Ian Gibson
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.

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.

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