ANDY DIGGLE INTERVIEW - TRIPWIRE VOL 4 ISSUE 6
It seems as if 2000 AD and its sister comic Judge Dredd Megazine are both going to some really interesting changes. What has caused this creative burst?
Well as you may already know, 2000 AD and the Megazine were purchased by computer-games developer Rebellion last year, at the same time as I became editor. That was just one of those fateful coincidences. Rebellion's owners Jason and Chris Kingsley are massive 2000 AD fans just like me, and we're all working hard to make the comic as bold and exciting as it was when we first got hooked as kids. So if you're seeing a creative burst at the moment, I guess that means it's working - we're all just pouring our passion into this thing, and hopefully it shows in the quality and vitality of the material we're publishing.
It is to my understanding that we can find some strips with horror themes in 2000 AD now. Can you explain the thought behind this and maybe introduce Carver Hale and Necronauts?
Well, the great thing about an anthology title is that you can tell many different types of story. 2000 AD has always had a fairly dark sort of flavour - a lot of the humour is very black. And when I started talking to our fans at conventions, I got the feeling their tastes would probably run to the dark too. I had a hunch they'd be into the idea of something horror-based, so I asked the audience at Comics 2000, "Who'd like to see a contemporary horror story in 2000 AD?" Almost every hand in the room went up, and I figured, I'm onto something here. I spoke to Mike Carey on the way out of that very panel and asked him to come up with some ideas for a 2000 AD horror series. He was already writing Lucifer for Vertigo, so I knew he was at home with dark, edgy material.
What he came up with was Carver Hale, a supernatural thriller set amid a gangland war in present-day London. Carver's an enforcer for an East End mob boss, but he gets killed in, like, the first episode. He ends up being re-animated by the demon Cheleb - the Weaponsmith of Hell - who possesses the bullet lodged in Carver's heart, and imbues his sawn-off shotgun with infernal power. It begins a kind of twisted symbiotic relationship between Cheleb and Carver - they hate each other, but they need each other to survive.
Some readers have accused Carver Hale of being derivative of movies like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels - but I just don't see it. Lock, Stock wasn't even mentioned when we were developing the series - when Mike first pitched me the concept, it was a medical bag full of scalpels that Cheleb possessed, not a shotgun! Perhaps it was the Cockney dialogue which reminded people of Lock, Stock - but being a Londoner myself, I didn't give it much thought. Our touchstone was always, "Imagine if Clive Barker had written The Long Good Friday."
I also greenlit Gordon Rennie's Necronauts proposal, which I think he'd pitched to Tundra years ago. It's set in the 1920s, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos stories. Rather than populate the series with famous fictional characters - which has been done to death by people like Kim Newman and Philip Jose Farmer - Gordon thought it would be fun to feature real-life characters like Harry Houdini, Charles Fort, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Lovecraft himself. After all, these guys lived such weird and interesting lives, who needs fictional characters?
When we attached Frazer Irving to illustrate the project, his artwork just went through the roof, and proved to be a big hit with the readers. Frazer's turning into a real star, he was just born to draw this kind of material, and I reckon he's going to be a big name in the future. Now he's just finished A Love Like Blood, a new horror series written by John Smith, and the first few episodes are getting rave reactions. So yeah, I think horror is something you'll probably be seeing a lot more of in 2000 AD!
There seems to be a somewhat return of creators lately. Grant Morrison's short but fun return to Zenith was one and now Garth Ennis on a new Judge Dredd epic. Any comments or thoughts on that?
Sure, it's very much a conscious and deliberate policy on my part to try and win back the most talented creators. Let's face it, most of the biggest writers in the American comics market over the past ten years have been guys who cut their teeth on 2000 AD - Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Pete Milligan. I just want to stop this perpetual "brain drain" whereby we end up losing all the most talented creators to American publishers.
Of course, 2000 AD is very much the David to the American Goliaths like DC Comics, with a global mega-corporation like Time-Warner-AOL to back them up. So we have to be more guerrilla-style about it. Sure, we don't have much money to throw around - but we're a hell of a lot more fun to work for! Our writers don't get mired in all this corporate bullshit and endless bureaucracy like the Americans, and they can write much weirder, darker, funnier, edgier material than they could get away with for the US market. We're like the smart little mammals scurrying between the feet of the lumbering American dinosaurs - and we're evolving fast. How's that for a tortured metaphor?
So yeah, Grant has returned to Zenith, Pete Milligan is writing a new series of Bad Company, and Garth has just finished this twelve-part Judge Dredd series called Helter Skelter with Carlos Ezquerra. Garth's a big 2000 AD fan, and there are several other classic characters he's expressed an interest in taking a crack at - although nothing's set in stone yet.
It's true of our artists as well - we've won back guys like Cam Kennedy, Carlos Ezquerra and Colin Wilson. They all get big offers from other publishers - but it just wouldn't be as much fun, y'know?
Some of the more "classic" 2000 AD characters are now returning to the Galaxy's Greatest Comic. Who can we expect to see back in action?
Well, I always try to strike a balance between old-school characters and new ideas, so it's basically a question of whether a "classic" character still has life in them. Sometimes a character just goes on past his sell-by date, and you just have to retire them with what dignity they have left. But I think there's still plenty of scope for characters like Robo-Hunter and Rogue Trooper - they just need a good creative team who'll respect the source material, but still do their own thing with it.
As for what's in the pipeline, Pete Milligan is writing more Bad Company for Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy to illustrate, and John Wagner will be writing a new series of Strontium Dog just as soon as Carlos finishes Helter Skelter. As I said, Garth Ennis has pitched a few ideas for reviving old-school characters, but I can't really talk about the details until it's all finalised.
Tell us about the relaunch of Judge Dredd Megazine.
We wanted to re-brand the Megazine to look like what it is - 2000 AD's upmarket sister title - so we're re-launching it on 4th July as Volume IV, issue one. It's more than doubling in size, with 100 pages, high quality cover stock and prestige format perfect binding - although fortunately for the readers, it isn't doubling in price!
The new-look Megazine is going to feature a mix of new and classic material, kicking off with an all-new, full-colour Judge Dredd story by John Wagner and Cam Kennedy. The story's all about skinny kids being sent to Fat Camp to gain weight - a satire on society's obsession with weight and eating disorders, imbued with John's gleefully malevolent brand of black humour.
As for the reprint material, it's by something of a "Who's Who" of British creators. There's D.R. & Quinch by Alan Moore and Alan Davis, Ro-Busters by Pat Mills and Dave Gibbons, and Lazarus Churchyard by Warren Ellis and D'Israeli. I believe future strips may well include the original A.B.C. Warriors by Pat Mills, Kevin O'Neill, Mike McMahon and others, and Button Man II by John Wagner and Arthur Ranson - the most requested story in Megazine history.
Jock and myself have done another Lenny Zero story, which is a two-parter. I wrote the first one as a freebie for the Megazine last year and put the money towards a Frank Miller cover for the Megazine's 10th birthday issue. Frank did the cover but we weren't able to use it for various reasons - but then Lenny Zero turned out to be a hit story anyway, so I was happy. I was quite flattered by the readers' feedback, especially because they tend to be a fairly cynical bunch, bless 'em. They were saying, 'He's the editor, he must be a crap writer', which is fair enough. But it was well-received, so David Bishop commissioned a sequel.
I'm just hoping we can hit another home run this time rather than suffering from the dreaded 'Second Album Syndrome' and producing something that's disappointing. It was easy to surprise the readers the first time round because they didn't know what to expect, whereas this time it'll be harder to pull off. But I think it's actually a better story than the first one, more complex. I've got the character where I wanted him in the first place, which is essentially "Elmore Leonard's Stainless Steel Rat in Mega-City One". I originally just wanted to do a story about a criminal rather than a cop, and just to make the character more interesting I figured, what if he was a rogue undercover Judge? And that became the central plot, with some major consequences for the character.
It's proving to be a lot of fun. Jock's wonderful to work with, definitely my favourite artist at the moment. I think he's one of these guys who's just born to draw for 2000 AD. He grew up reading it and while you can see his influences in the work, he's gone beyond that. Also, really nice bloke, really professional, fun to work with.
So will you and Jock be working together again in the future?
Yeah, we're planning to do more work together, not just Lenny Zero but stuff for other publishers. I'm currently working up several pitches for DC, Cool Beans, Com.X, Marvel's new mature imprint and so on. I'd love to take a crack at Judge Dredd Versus Superman - there are so many wonderful ironies and conflicts to play with there. We've discussed a mini-series called London Calling, which is about a female investigator, a former heroin junkie who now works for a drugs rehabilitation centre and gets embroiled in a gang war. There's Brock, about an insane homeless guy who believes himself to be pursued by demons, and who is trying to atone for a life of just incredible evil before he gets dragged off to Hell. There's Skip Tracer, an action-comedy about a present-day bounty hunter who gets mixed up in a plot by a Colombian drugs cartel to buy a decommissioned Soviet submarine to smuggle drugs to the American mainland. There's Deep Time, which is kind of Planet Of The Apes with dinosaurs. There's a supernatural western called Lazarus Crowe. I keep throwing all these ideas at Jock and he's like, "Yeah, that sounds cool, let's do it!" But of course you can't do everything at once, especially as being the editor of 2000 AD is more than a full-time job. So I'm just having to prioritise my projects at the moment.
Personally I'm a great believer in mainstream genre comics - crime stories, westerns, contemporary action adventure, whatever - with a definite beginning, middle and end. The mini-series that collects up into a graphic novel which you can sell in regular bookstores. I look at the movies and TV shows that are popular the world over, and ask myself why no-one is doing this in comics. Stuff that appeals to the guy in the street who likes Die Hard and Lethal Weapon and Quentin Tarantino movies, but wouldn't walk into a comic store if his life depended on it. If comics are going to survive, let alone prosper, we have to start appealing to the mainstream. I mean, those are the kind of comics I like to read, but how many people are writing them? Brian Azzarello, Greg Rucka, a few others. Not many.
But I've been quite heartened by what Joe Quesada's doing at Marvel, he seems to be turning it into the kind of company I'd like to write for. He's putting the emphasis back on high quality storytelling, and this new Mature Readers imprint sounds like they're broadening their horizons outside the superhero ghetto. Basically he's saying, "Let's pay decent money to get talented creators to produce good comics that people actually want to read." And this is considered radical. I mean good for him, absolutely, butâ?¦ isn't this just common sense? I mean, what did we all think we were doing for a living?
The UK has really spawned some of the finest creators working in Anglophone comics today. Anyone you think is going to be all over the place soon?
Well, I've already mentioned Frazer Irving and Jock - I think they're going all the way to the top. They're both really nice guys with their own very bold, very distinctive styles - and they meet their deadlines too! They jointly won the Best Newcomer trophy at the National Comics Awards, and you can see why - they had already reached a very high level of quality before you started seeing their work in 2000 AD. You'll be seeing a lot more work in 2000 AD from both of them.
Kev Walker has been one of our mainstays for several years now, doing amazing fully-painted work on the A.B.C. Warriors - but recently he's radically altered his style, veering towards a heavy black line with understated, European-style computer colouring. It's very bold, reminiscent of Mike Mignola's work on Hellboy, and it's starting to turn a few heads. I wouldn't be surprised if other publishers tried to poach Kev.
I think another guy to watch would be Andy Clarke. He's recently perfected a very delicate, highly detailed inking style which is just to die for - somewhat reminiscent of Travis Charest, perhaps. Andy's working on a new Mike Carey series called 13, featuring 2000 AD's first punk hero, and again, I think this series is going to put him on the map.
As for writers, it's much harder to get noticed. We get send literally thousands of story submissions every year, but of course it's much more time-consuming and difficult to give constructive advice to would-be writers. With artists, you can immediately see if the layout, anatomy, inking or whatever needs more work. But with writers it's much harder. A lot of would-be writers don't know the first thing about subtext, structure, drama, dialogue or character through-line - but they think they know everything. What can you tell them? "Write a better story!"
There are a few guys who are sort of bubbling under at the moment. Si Spurrier is a very young writer - maybe 20 years old - who is very determined, and a real fountain of ideas. He doesn't yet know a great deal about the mechanics of drama and so forth, but that's just craft - it can be taught. I reckon that in a few years time, he could well be doing interesting work that gets noticed. I hope so.
Talking about creators from the UK, there is a new line of Graphic Novels in the works featuring long out of print stories by some fan favourite writers and artists. Tell us more!
Yeah, we've renewed our partnership with Titan Books, who started out publishing 2000 AD graphic novels 20 years ago this summer. We're very keen to get these books out to the wider comics-reading public, and we're making sure they're visibly branded as official 2000 AD products. The series launches in July with the much-requested Complete Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson, and Judge Dredd: Emerald Isle by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. They're the guys behind Preacher, and we figured we may as well get the whole team together - so Glenn Fabry has painted the cover for the book.
We're aiming to keep a balance between classic old-school 2000 AD material and more recent work by hot creators, for which there's a bigger demand in the US. The first year's worth of books will include Judge Dredd: Death Aid, Judge Death, DR & Quinch, Frank Quitely's run on Missionary Man and - hopefully - Zenith. Titan will be publishing a new graphic novel every month from July, and with over 35,000 pages of material to use, we're kind of spoilt for choice. Of course, fan-favourites like Strontium Dog, Bad Company, Robo-Hunter, Rogue Trooper and Ace Trucking Co are all likely candidates for the Titan treatment. Watch this space!
What can we expect from your office next?
Well, we've been spending this first year making up for the neglect 2000 AD suffered at the hands of the previous publishers, concentrating on stuff like retail, distribution, subscriptions and, of course, making the content as good as we can! Now we can start to expand, and the new line of graphic novels is just the first step. We now have an official 2000 AD website (www.2000ADonline.com), and we'll be running the second official 2000 AD convention - DreddCon:2 - in Nottingham this September. Rebellion are well into developing a Judge Dredd Versus Judge Death computer game, featuring a revolutionary new graphics engine, and we have several irons in the fire regarding film, TV and animation deals. We're looking at numerous merchandising opportunities, including the possibility of 2000 AD novels and archived back issues on CD-ROM. All in all, it's going to be a very exciting twelve months!
London, June 2001