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Home ¦ Features ¦ Alan Grant interview part 4

Steve Parkhouse - A 2000 AD Review Interview

12th January 05

Part 4

Back to part 3

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
Dredd visits Oz (Art by Brendan McCarthy)
Did you ever tailor your writing if you knew a particular artist was drawing a Dredd strip, like regulars Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland or Brendan McCarthy?

Yes, although it wasn't possible nearly as often as we'd have liked, purely because of the insane deadlines for a weekly comic. Often a script would be written with a particular artist in mind, but have to be given to someone else to ensure 2000AD would come out that week. The first solo Anderson series was written with Brett Ewins in mind. 'Chopper in Oz' was sparked by Brendan, who sent us a couple of books of Australian photos and urged us to get writing. Judge Death was written especially for Brian, The Fink for Mike, Vark for Kev O'Neill, Pirates for Ron Smith.

Your first 'Judge Dredd' Mega Epic proper was 'The Apocalypse War', the preceding episodes of which ['Block Mania'] was almost an epic itself, introducing Orlok the Assassin, as well as saying goodbye to artists Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland and Judge Giant, Dredd's main supporting character. What was it like to lose the two artists who had practically defined the look of Dredd during his formative years.

It was harder to lose Mike than Brian, simply because Mike produced about 3 times as many pages as Brian in any given time period. I was disappointed when Mike quit, because originally he was going to draw the whole Block Mania saga. I remember he called us up after Part 1 and said "Are they all going to have thousands of people fighting and dying?" "Yes." "I can't draw all these people. I quit."

Not to say Brian wasn't missed, too. He didn't draw all that many Dredds, but a high proportion of them were important to the mythos, and his meticulous, detailed artwork always set standards others could only gasp at.

Both John Wagner and you have said since that you wished you could have written a more 'heroic' death for Judge Giant. However, do you think that one of the strengths of 2000AD is that major characters like Giant, Wulf and Johnny Alpha could meet more low-key, realistic fates, the type of which would never be sanctioned in an American comic at that time? What did you make of the vociferous reader reaction to Judge Giant's low-key death?

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
Giant checks out(Art by Steve Dillon)
Yes, I feel that is one of the strengths of 2000AD (although, as you'll have noted, comics publishers don't like to see characters die because it cuts off the money supply).

When we wrote the death of Giant, I thought it was a great idea to kill him off in such a casual, natural (for a judge) way. But when the reader outcry came, I was startled and forced to see things from their point of view. As far as they were concerned, we (or, rather John, because Giant was his character) had worked to make them
like/enjoy/love a character. Then we killed him off like he meant nothing at all.

Yes, we should have invested more time in his death. He should have had an entire episode to himself. But hey, life is a learning curve. Neither of us will make the same mistake again!

The following epic 'Apocalypse War' welcomed artist and visual creator of Judge Dredd, Carlos Ezquerra, back into the fold, drawing every episode of the mammoth tale. Was it reassuring having Dredd's co-creator back on the strip after such significant artistic losses?

Carlos is probably the only artist in the country who could have pulled that off. In terms of comics and their creation, the man is a genius. I love working with him. Once, early in our working relationship, he called me up about a Strontium Dog script I'd written for him. He slated me for putting in "too much scene description. I am the artist. I decide what goes in the picture. In future, you give just a 1-line description, yes?" Yes, Carlos. But I'd have loved to see what happened if he ever worked with Alan Moore.

It wasn't until I read the Apocalypse War in its collected Titan form that I realised just how amazing Carlos's feat had been.

The story has quite a complex arc, building from the slow-boiling plot of 'Block Mania' to the all-out war story of 'The Apocalypse War'. How far ahead did you plan the strip, and how did you find slogging through a massive twenty-five part epic?

We planned it out as far as John and I ever planned out anything. I.e. we wrote down on a piece of paper "Toxic substance in water supply--turns out it's Orlok--precursor to big nuclear war attack and Sov invasion." Then we started writing.

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
Dredd shows us just how much of a bastard he can be (Art by Carlos Ezquerra)
The 'Apocalypse War' seems to have become the defining Dredd story, destroying half the city and dramatically reducing the population, but also through to Dredd's final act of nuking out East-Meg One. Do you think that this nudged the strip in a new, darker direction, with Dredd cast as much less of a hero?

I guess it did, though I don't think we consciously intended it to work out that way. It's just as likely that it was our own warped sense of humour. We did note from reader reaction (remember the Voting Coupons?), however, that the nastier we made Dredd, the more popular he was in the ratings.

The next abortive attempt at writing a Dredd epic was 'City of the Damned', a sequel of sorts to 'The Judge Child Quest'. Why did you wrap it up early, and was it difficult knowing that every two years or so you would have to produce one of these epic stories?

Neither John nor I minded doing epics --in fact we used to look forward to them as a break from the seemingly endless 1- and 2-parters.

We made a mistake right at the start of City of the Damned by opting for a time travel story. Both of us, especially me, hate time travel tales (unless they're of the Time Twister variety). By the time we got to Part 5 or 6, we were actively not enjoying what we were writing. Always better in those circumstances to wrap it up as fast as you decently can. It always shows when writers and artists are doing what they want to do, and that's not what we were doing. So we canned it. Boy, was I glad.

Do you think 2000AD should try once again attempting long mega epics or have readers' attention spans made this more difficult?

No, I think they can still be done...and no doubt will be done. I know John still has ideas for epics that we talked about 10 years ago, stories that would be as valid today as at any time.

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
Dredd's feelings on democracy were less than enlightened (Art by Jeff Anderson)

What led to the insertion of the 'Democracy' strand in 'Judge Dredd'? There was a sense that the strip was moving Dredd into a more overtly fascistic direction – was this the aim? Did you want to explore some of your own political ideas in the stories?

Democracy was an accident--see my answer above, about Baffin Island nudists. But once we got the idea, we saw that it made sense as a counterbalance to what Dredd was really: a fascist.

John and I both loathe enforced authority--which is what democracy comes down to in the end, as well. It would take someone like me to write it--I've known John for nearly 40 years--but a decent university thesis could be written on "Similarities Between Judge Dredd and John Wagner's character in 1978".

I didn't get to explore my own political ideas in Dredd--I saved them up for the Anarky stories when I was writing Batman for DC.

How did the Daily Star Judge Dredd strip come about, and was it tiring writing a newspaper strip on top of all your other writing work? What do you think of its recent successor, the daily Metro strip?

I can't remember how it came about, but it wasn't tiring. It was a challenge to write in a different format, and we did some pretty funny stuff.

I've heard good things about the Metro Dredd, but I haven't read any of them.

Is it true you had an argument, with Steve MacManus about re-writing 'Fiends of the Eastern Front'? And following this, were you paid to 'doctor' the dialogue on Gerry Finley-Day's scripts for 'Harry 20 on the High Rock' as is rumoured?

We-ell, time adds colours of its own to any scenario. I don't recall arguing with Steve about it, but I do recall complaining after heavy rewrites I'd done on other material. Obviously, rewriting is part of an editor's job...but this was above and beyond the call of duty. I said I'd do it if I was paid. No problem. Harry 20 followed the same route.
In both stories, the essence and ideas are all Gerry's; what I did was make them intelligible to readers.

Gerry was a great ideas man, but his finished product left something to be desired.

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