¦ Features ¦ Alan
Grant interview part 5
You also wrote
'Strontium Dog' with John Wagner and art by Carlos Ezquerra. Originally this was
Starlord's answer to 'Judge Dredd', but Johnny Alpha was a much softer character
than Dredd's and much more human. With a sort of 'Shane'-like Western feel to
the strip, you seemed to really enjoy writing the character, is this correct?
Dog (Art by Carlos Ezquerra)
Both John and I have always maintained that Johnny Alpha is a superior character
to Joe Dredd. Johnny is a human being, a victim fighting back, the underdog; Dredd
is a machine with limited discretion, an oppressor, the tyrant.
Any attempt to
soften Dredd destroys the character, so he's locked into something unchanging;
fortunately, Mega-City One takes up the slack by producing an infinite variety
Yes, I really enjoyed
writing Johnny Alpha--though as with Dredd, the character was always more John's
How did the
epic 'Portrait of a Mutant' storyline for 'Strontium Dog' come about?
When John and I first started writing together, he already had a page or two of
notes on an epic about Johnny's childhood. He was keen to do it sooner rather
than later, while I wanted to wait till I'd found my feet on the character.
quite rightly. And it was a great story. There's actually a bit more to it, but
because other people are involved ('the innocents', as it were) I'd prefer to
say no more.
This was perhaps
the pivotal defining moment of the series, humanising Alpha as a character, as
well as bringing up many overtly political points, dealing with fascism and racism
(the quasi-fascistic police force 'The Kreelers' are replaced at the end with
a new police force, but one made up of all the disbanded Kreelers, for example).
Also, at the end, mutants are still treated as second-class citizens, whilst their
leaders are exiled from Earth. Did you think that people would be able to deal
with such political complexities in what was
ostensibly a children's comic?
Unfortunately, Portrait of a Mutant wasn't the most popular Stront story we ever
did. That honour falls to Bubo and the Bad Boys, an all-action 4- or 5-parter
than we rattled off in one day...whereas we were lucky to get one part of Portrait
written in the same time.
It was always one
of the beauties of 2000AD that stories could be told on two levels, whether consciously
or not. Many Dredd and Stront tales are superficially just action and killing,
so can be enjoyed by our younger readers, while those older can appreciate what
subtlties lie behind
How did you
come to decide to kill of Alpha's Viking partner Wulf? And did you enjoy the compelling
consequences of this in 'Rage', the story in which Alpha tracks down and murders
John, more than me, was tiring of Strontium Dog. He really wanted to kill Johnny
off, but not in a rush. So killing Wulf came first, which led to one of our best
Stront stories, "Rage". I think it inspired Carlos, too, because his
art was superb on the series.
When we split our
partnership, I took Strontium Dog. Knowing John wanted him dead, so nobody could
ever write the character again (ha, some hopes!), I finished him off.
I'm pleased to
see that events --i.e. writing an unused Stront movie proposal-- have brought
John and Johnny back together.
moment that many 2000AD fans would have trouble forgiving (Art by Colin MacNeil)
And why did
you decide to kill off Johnny Alpha? Did you think it would be such a longstanding
fan 'controversy', and what do you make of the recent revived 'Strontium Dog'
by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra?
No, we didn't think it would be a long-term controversy. You'd have to ask John
what his precise reasons for wanting the character to perish were--I really only
enacted them. I know that he didn't want anybody else to write it. In the same
way, of course, we didn't want anyone else writing RoboHunter...and Mark Millar's
stab at the series demonstrated precisely why we didn't want anyone else writing
The most recent
Stront story, Traitor to his Kind, is John on top emotional form. More power to
his creative elbow. If publishers had half a brain, they'd be lining up to pay
John millions for creating, say, 20 new characters for them.
When you joined
Robo Hunter alongside John Wagner and Ian Gibson, the strip moved more into the
realm of out and out comedy. How did you handle the balancing of black comedy
with drama in these strips?
The reason RoboHunter went for comedy at the expense of drama is that --at least
with 2 writers-- humour is much faster to produce than emotional work. Humorous
writing is a synergy, greater than the sum of its parts, whereas emotional or
dramatic writing (with 2) is always a compromise.
I'm going to try
to reclaim the darker side of RoboHunter with the next Samantha Slade series,
which I should be working on now rather than answering questions.
Was Ian Gibson
a good collaborator to work with? As you still work with him on the same strip
today, how has your working relationship developed?
starts slaying (Art by Ian Gibson)
Ian is a great humour artist, one of the very best, and it's another of life's
unfair jibes that lesser artists have achieved more, while his full potential
has never been appreciated. He almost always brought more to the story than the
script asked for--that said, however, it's not a hard task to look through the
latter RoboHunters and pick out the pages which he didn't bother pencilling before
It's a great shame
Alan Moore went off to work for the US when he did, as the Halo Jones series was
dear to Ian's heart; had it been completed, I'm sure it would stand today as his
Although we were
quite friendly at one time, Ian and I haven't seen each other or spoken for about
15 years. He still draws a great RoboHunter, though.
How did you
originate Sam Slade's two foils: Hoagy and Carlos Sanchez Robostogie, two characters
you obviously enjoy writing?
has the credit for both characters. He created them while we were sharing the
house in Essex while I worked editorially for 2000AD, so I was aware of them and
gave John feedback. But they're all his. Stogie by the way was based on Carlos,
who likes to chew on a good cigar.
How did you
come to create 'Ace Trucking Co.', one of the most successful humour strips in
2000AD's history? Was it simply an obsession with CB radio?
I don't think John or I has ever listened to or spoken into a CB in our lives.
John's brother was visiting us from the States around 1980, and he brought one
of those dictionaries of truckers' slang language. John and I figured (how wrong
can you be?) that CB would take off in Britain, too, and set out to create a series
that would get there first. Well, we got there first, but nobody else ever followed.
It was a laugh,
The series provided
the venue for Italian artist Massimo Bellardinelli's best ever artwork. What was
he like to work with as a collaborator? There is much Internet speculation as
to his whereabouts – are you still in contact?
and GBH (dead) (Art by Massimo Bellardinelli)
Having worked with Massimo on Blackhawk, I was an ardent fan of his art. Knowing
he was going to draw Ace, we tailored the story to his strengths. We never met
him, never spoke to him --all contact was via his agent, a guy called Giolitti.
I started writing little messages to him in my scene descriptions, and he'd often
send replies with the art. He sent me several original drawings he'd done of characters
from the Blackhawk series.
I've since heard
this questioned, but I was told a couple of years back that Massimo had died of
Is it true
that 'Bad City Blue' was originally part of a pitch for America, some of which
eventually found its way into The Outcasts?
Not as far as I recall. Bad City Blue was written specifically for Robin Smith,
because he wanted to do an SF story.
Q: You not
only wrote a multitude of strips, for 2000AD, but also contributed with John Wagner
to Eagle, Scream and Roy of the Rovers, amongst many others. In fact you wrote
so many stories that IPC management decreed that you had to hide your names under
a multitude of pseudonyms, such as T.B. Grover, Alvin Daunt and F. Martin Candor,
amongst many others. At that time, was writing for comics just a question of quantity
– write as many as you can 'before the balloon goes up'?
It was more a question
of--companies like Titan were coming in, republishing our work, making a lot of
money, and we get frag all. Movie options were being bandied about, with sod all
for us. Also, we discovered --usually by accident-- that our stuff was being reprinted
in Malaya, Singapore, Spain, Denmark, even apartheid South Africa... without a
single kroner, rand or bean to us.
Writing at high
speed was the only way we could justify what we were doing, and earn a decent
wage, instead of pitching for TV or movies. We wanted to work in comics, but IPC
and other publishers seemed to be intent on dissuading us from staying.
At one time we
were writing under 14 different aliases.
I'm worried that I sound mercenary. Maybe I am, but we all have to earn a living.
Imagine writing Dredd for 10 years, then meeting a guy at a party who says "Now
that's a coincidence. I'm being paid £100K for the Dredd movie script and
I think the concept is shite." Do you tell him how much you admire him, or
do you headbutt him all the way to the bank? And how do you feel about the company
makes it possible for you to be humiliated like this? Or say you're doing the
San Diego convention, and a guy comes up wanting to shake your hand and say thanks
for all the great ideas. "What ideas?" "The ones in the Lobo comic.
I'm the Lobo screenwriter,
and I'm just lifting whole swathes from the comic and putting it in the movie."
"For how much..?" "$100K." No fraggin' wonder he's thanking
me, and no fraggin' wonder the amiable though muscular Val Semieks had to physically
restrain me from pummelling the fellow. Take it from me, it becomes your hatred
of the company, rather than the
money or the quality of your work, that keeps you writing.)