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Home ¦ Features ¦ Alan Grant interview part 6

Steve Parkhouse - A 2000 AD Review Interview

12th January 05

Part 6

Back to part 5

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
Doomlord (real identity unknown)
For Eagle you wrote such titles as 'Computer Warrior', 'Manix, Secret Agent' and 'Joe Soap, Private Eye'. However your most successful strip, and the most popular in the comic, was 'Doomlord', drawn by Eric Bradbury. Why do you think a story about an alien trying to destroy the Earth was so popular with the readers?

Because Doomlord was like Dredd. His philosophy is Platonic, socialistic and fascistic at the same time--the fate of the individual is unimportant, only the fate of the species matters. This makes it right and inevitable that an elite will arise to supposedly safeguard the rights of the majority (and keep them in line). And you can see the logic in his conclusions--mankind is polluting Earth to death, we're slaughtering each other with ever bigger bombs, we're on the threshold of space travel with ships bearing nukes. Shit, if I was a Doomlord I'd be putting the kibosh on the species too.

But there's another side to the tale: ordinary people are, by and large, honest and decent. It is the elites themselves which, corrupted by the power we gave them or they stole from us, are leading man to catastrophe after disaster after apocalypse.

Doomlord also had a softer side: his Coronation Street-type soap opera existence in Mrs Souster's boarding house was quite surreal, given that he'd hypnotised the landlady and her children and was murdering his fellow guests.

I loved writing Doomlord. When Eagle folded, the story should have been taken into 2000AD, and made darker. Witness the success of "The Demon Headmaster" on TV.

For Scream you wrote 'The Thirteenth Floor'. Did you enjoy being able to step outside of the science fiction bubble of other IPC titles you worked on and work on something a bit darker and more esoteric?

Another great concept, and a great story. Max the computer's warped logic and murderous abilities made the story a joy to write. Must have been a good idea, because I've seen a rash of straight-to-video movies based solidly on our story.

You also wrote 'Dan Harker's War' for Roy of the Rovers, which I believe caused a number of complaints?

The mists of time hang heavy over this one. I was off in Canada on holiday, taking snaps and notes for what would become a Joe Soap photostory. John figured we needed more work and in my absence agreed to do a story for Roy of the Rovers. He'd written the first episode by the time I got back. As far as I recall, the eponymous Dan's war was against football hooligans because they'd killed or hurt his son. His
methods were as violent as theirs--which is what drew the complaints, of course.

No matter that comic readers could switch on the TV and see running hooligan battles, or see pics of bashed-in heads and stabbed people in their newspapers, somehow it would be evil and corrupting to present this aspect of reality in a comic book.

(BTW: mention of Joe Soap reminds me that he was in fact our inspiration for the Chinatoon Bogie Man series. I'd forgotten that!)

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
Dredd misses his chance to stop Chopper (Art by Jim Baikie)
Your partnership with John Wagner eventually dissolved during the 'Judge Dredd' epic 'Oz', due to your growing differences over the direction the strip should take. Was your view that Dredd should move more towards black parody, whilst Wagner preferred a more 'realistic' approach?

Specifically, my view was that Chopper should win the race, try to escape --and get shot in the back and killed by Dredd. I figured this would: enrage all those readers who loved Chopper, but remain in the 2000AD tradition of killing off successful characters; and also give an even deeper layer of nastiness to Dredd himself.

John wanted Chopper to win, but Dredd to let him go free because he respected him.

I don't know which version, if either, finally saw print because I never read the last episode, which John wrote alone. I guess Chopper didn't die, though, 'cos I keep seeing him coming back in stories I don't read.

How did you decide to split up the strips that you both wrote?

I came back from Christmas holiday to find John had already made the list. He doesn't hang about. I got Anderson, Batman and Strontium Dog. He got Dredd and I don't know what else. We split Last American--he wrote Parts 1 and 2, I did 3 and 4.

Do you find it difficult writing Dredd today, having written so many strips in the past, and how do you see that character and his world have developed since the end of your partnership with Wagner?

Yes, I find it hard to write Dredd now. Mainly because my view of the character is rooted back around 1990, while John has taken him onward in immense strides. I rather think that stories like "Dead man" and "War on Terror" could never have been written by the two of us together. John has developed Dredd--or more precisely Dredd's
world--until I now feel like a stranger in Mega-City One.

Of your immediate solo work, perhaps the most notable is the 'Anderson, Psi Division' spin-off from 'Judge Dredd'. The character really developed both in terms of story content and characterisation as the series progressed, particularly with artist Arthur Ranson, and Anderson is certainly one of the most believable female characters written in comics. What was your approach to the character when writing the character with Wagner, and how did this change when you were writing solo?

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview

Anderson finds Judge Corey (Art by Mick Austin)

John saw Anderson as a flippant sidekick for Dredd, Robin to Joe's Batman. I used to rib him about it, but not enough for us to change her any.

It wasn't until he gave me sole control that I was able to start telling the sort of stories I always wanted for a psi. A lot of Anderson counts among what I think of as my best work. The fact that I've had one of the best storytellers in the business, Arthur Ranson, along for most of the ride makes it even more memorable for me.

I was able to explore things that interested me, rather than just poke fun at them (which is what happens when you put John and I together). I'm not a Christian, but I wanted to have Cass look into it in "The Jesus Syndrome". "Triad" was based on the personal abuse suffered by a child I knew, "Satan" was my interpretation of the bible prophecies.

Strangely, my favourite Anderson story (rather than art) wasn't drawn by Arthur. It was 'Leviathan's Farewell', where Cass's pal Corey committed suicide. It was an important story in Cass's ongoing saga, and the asshole editor of 2000AD stuck it in a special where nobody's ever seen it.

BTW; honourable mention for David Roach here, as he also drew some the very best Anderson stories.

How keen were you to remove the character from the standard Dredd tales, and move towards a more emotional and intellectual type of story?

Very. I couldn't have written it otherwise. Flippancy is great, but I wanted to find out what made her tick.

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
Anderson lets her hair down (Art by David Roach)
You've said previously that Anderson is your favourite character to write: is this still the case?

Right at this moment, no. What follows is not a complaint, merely an explanation. I had no idea John was going to leave Cass in a coma at the end of his Dredd story. So instead of focussing on an idea I wanted to write, I had to get her out of the coma, and involve magic and other dimensions and other things I don't particularly like writing.

That said, the entire Half Life series isn't bad, and has the big advantage of being handled all the way through by Arthur.

However, it's what comes next for Cass that really interests me...though at this stage I have no idea what that will be.

My favourite character at the moment is Lobo (just finished a 75,000 word Lobo novel for Warner Books) and Tales of the Buddha, which Jon Haward illustrates for Northern Lightz.

Was it frustrating having to write the character back into Dredd continuity for Die Laughing, the Batman/Judge Dredd crossover?

For me personally, yes. Because it meant I had to abandon the sci-fi and bring her back to Earth for a story that didn't actually appear till about 5 years later. C'est la vie.

The crunch point for Anderson seemed to come with the story 'Crusade', after which you've said you lost interest in writing the strip. What exactly went so wrong?

I should have learned from "Block Mania" --artists don't like drawing millions of people. Mike McMahon hated it, and so did Steve Samson. Steve's a great artist, but the story failed to inspire him (check out his Malice in Wonderland story for an example of his best stuff).

There was a bunch of negative reaction from readers.

And finally I didn't know where to take her next.

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview

Mazeworld (Art by Arthur Ranson)

You wrote three series of 'Mazeworld', with art by Arthur Ranson, which was a much more experimental type of story than usually appeared in 2000AD. What lay behind the creation of the strip – was it originally intended for Toxic!?

Yes, it was originally for Toxic. I only wrote the first episode for them, but they failed to pay so no more was forthcoming from me. It languished until Arthur suggested proposing it to 2000AD. The story was actually dearer to Arthur than to me --he specifically said he didn't want a humorous story. I'd have ended it after the first series, but 2000AD said they wanted more. It's far from my best stuff...if I recall, Arthur and I deliberately created it so it would be picked up as a computer game. It wasn't.

What did you think of the 'B.L.A.I.R 1' strip, created by David Bishop for a free supplement in prog 1034, which garnered lots of media attention but was generally loathed by the readers?

I couldn't be bothered with it. It's fun for a short while to lampoon individuals, but it does nothing to change the system. In fact, you could say it strengthens the system, because people have one more needless distraction in their lives.

Have to confess, though, I enjoyed my hour in the media spotlight. I had major interviews with newspapers and magazines from all over Europe and South America (not a single one from the US, though). I took pleasure in pointing out that, in economic terms, all politicians are parasites and destroy far more than they produce. I have some copies in Italian or Spanish someplace, but can't read them.

I believe you had a falling out with 2000AD editorial during the Steve MacManus/Richard Burton period, when you stopped writing for the comic? What actually happened?

Hard to remember why there was bad feeling between me and Steve. It may have been that I made derogatory comments about 2000AD's publishers. I do remember him boasting that he was going to break my and Wagner's stranglehold on British comics, which he did by creating the critically admired but financial black holes of "Crisis" and "Revolver".

Easier to recall why there was bad feeling between me and Richard. Although socially he's a charming and erudite man, when it comes to comics editing he's an asshole.

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview

Helltrekkers (Art by Lalia)

Very early on John Wagner and yourself were trying to establish a Judge Dredd fortnightly comic, for which you produced a number of sample strips, some of which, such as 'Helltrekkers' and 'Blockers', eventually made it into 2000AD in some form or other. What were your experiences like working on the dummy, and was it painful to eventually see it rejected?

Yes, it's always painful to see one's creations rejected. More so when John and I (and Pat, for he was sometimes involved) knew that they were wrong and we were right. I've lost count of the number of different dummies we worked on over the years, only to see our ideas crushed by the calibre of men who changed "Heroes" to "Tornado." You'd have thought they'd have realised something was a bad omen when about 8 Tornado aircraft crashed in Germany the week the comic was released.

What did you make of titles like Crisis that swamped the market in the late eighties comics 'boom', given that you said at the time that Fleetway were better off creating a Judge Dredd based comic, and building on a mature readership from there?

I still believe what I said then. They fucked up their own chances of ruling the world with Dredd, and ended up with a pathetic Sly Stallone movie.

Although I think Pat Mills (with John) is the best character creator in the country, I was no fan of stories like 3rd World War and Finn the Eco-guy. Not because there's no place for politics in comics, just that I didn't like the somewhat tedious way in which it was presented.

You're listed as 'Creative Editor' on the Judge Dredd Megazine: how involved were you with its creation and how involved are you in the Megazine today?

John and I worked on many Dredd dummies, trying to come up with different ways in which to popularise the character. Many of those ideas went into the Megazine, with which I wasn't involved at the start. As time went on, John decided he'd prefer to have me in on it, and he personally set up the deal whereby we'd be Creative Editors or consultants, or whatever we are.

Basically, once a year we appraise the previous 12 issues and make suggestions as to how the Meg can be improved. 99 times out of 100, our suggestions are ignored.

John, Mick McMahon and myself own the copyright on "Last American", which we licensed to Epic. We had them insert a clause in the contract saying they had to consult with us before selling the story abroad anywhere. I got a call from a Marvel accountant one day. "Mr Grant, this is to let you know we're selling Last American to Brazil for $20 a page and Germany for $10 a page." I said that's not enough, and as
consultant you can't do this without my consent. He said "Mr Grant, that was your consultation" and hung up the phone.

If you're offered a consultancy, just take the money and go to sleep. They don't want to pay for things they don't want to hear.

What did you make of Peter Milligan's reworking of your 'Bad Company' strip from the aborted Judge Dredd fortnightly title?

No problems with me. Pete did a good job, made it into a popular story that was fairly far removed from what John and I had been planning. I'm glad he took it on, especially as Brett Ewins (the artist) has been a good friend of mine for a long time.

What did you make of 2000AD's attempts to revamp the 'Robo-Hunter' strip during this time?

Pish. It's best not to ask me about this, for the sake of my blood pressure if nothing else.

Back to part 5

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