A short interview with Alan Grant

The two busiest people at the Moniaive Comic Festival (September 7th to 8th 2002) must have been Sue and Alan Grant. Despite all of the comings and goings, Alan was kind enough to take time out of his hectic weekend to answer a few questions for the 2000AD Message Boarders.

Alan is an amiable Scot and passionate about a great many subjects; he certainly doesn't hold back in expressing his opinions but he has that rare talent of being able to do so without seeming rude. You may also notice that he politely takes time to name check the artists and co-creators he works with.

Mr. Tips: Do you ever surf the 2000AD message board?

Alan Grant: I have to admit that I don't. Our email connection is on my wife's computer and she's usually using it for work. So if I want to look at the internet at all, I have to do it at very unsociable hours.

Can you tell me a little bit about the Moniaive Action Project and the reason for this festival?

We started the project last year when the whole of our district which is known as Glencairn was hit by "Foot and Mouth" disease. Tourists stopped coming, people were thrown out of work and we decided that something had to be done to save the village (Moniaive) because it seemed to be dying. So my wife, myself and several other concerned members of the village got together and started the Moniaive Action Project.

We decided it would be best to each try and produce something within our field of expertise. And because I've got so many friends in the comics world that I can lean on and get them to come here for nothing, we decided we'd hold a comics festival.

Last year was really successful, we had seven hundred people and we raised sixteen hundred pounds for village funds. The money was split between the pre-school nursery and the Evergreen old people's club and the rest of it was used as capital to hold a Moniaive Folk Festival a couple of months ago. And we're using the money we made from that folk festival to finance this Comics festival. The idea is that every project for the village should be self-financing and we use the profit from the previous project to finance the next project.

And it's pretty lively here today.

Yes, despite the rain which was pretty unbelievable earlier on. I'm just glad that so many people are willing to brave it.

On to comics: what are you working on at the moment?

Well I'm working on a three part story for the Judge Dredd Megazine. I'm doing a load of stuff for "Northern Lights", the cannabis smokers magazine. And I've just finished a teleplay and I'm afraid that because of a non-disclosure agreement, I can't say who it is. But it's a character that I've been associated with for more than a decade. He's quite well known throughout the world and he's a violent bastitch!

What would you say are the biggest things you've learnt between getting your first "Tarzan" stuff published and the things you are working on today?

Well, I've learnt many, many lessons. One of which is "Never trust anybody unless you've got a written contract". And even if you have got a written, signed contract don't trust them anyway because they'll just get their lawyers to change it.

That's remarkably similar to John Wagner's answer.

(laughs) That's the major lesson that I've learnt. I've learnt other lessons about how to put stories together etc. and how to take shortcuts in characterisation but the major lesson is "Try to keep as much power as you can for yourself". Don't let other people take your power from you because they will try to at every step of the way.

Given that John Wagner has left Judge Anderson in a coma, who gets to write the next instalment?

I'm writing the next Judge Anderson. They've already asked me if I can do a new series for the start of next year. And I have NO idea how I'm going to get here out of there but you can have faith, it will be done, she will be there when she's needed.

And hopefully (it's not definite yet), Arthur Ranson will be back drawing it. Arthur is doing the Ultimate X-men at the moment for Marvel and unfortunately Marvel are paying him more than 2000AD pay him.

I think the favourite character that Arthur has ever drawn is Judge Anderson. He's doing X-Men even though he doesn't like them because as he says, "The older I get, the more I like money, Alan".

Maybe I can get the message boarders to throw in a few quid.

(laughs) Hopefully I'll be able to persuade him.

So do you ever do things like put a character in a ridiculous situation to pay John Wagner back for nicking your sausages when you shared a house?

We have done that kind of thing, yes. Not so much nowadays; generally speaking we act more grown up and mature about it but in the earlier days when we worked together, it was the thing to do. If you were writing one episode and someone else was writing the next, you just left them in the stickiest position you could possibly find.

Are you a regular reader of other comics and if so, what are you reading now?

Oh Yes. 2000AD, Judge Dredd Megazine, Northern Lights. I read EVERY fanzine that I can get my hands on. And DC still send me their monthly bundle of comics.

I have to say, and this is a personal opinion, I'm not trying to put an objective viewpoint on it, that the quality of much of DC's material has gone downhill since they got rid of me and a lot of the other people that were working there at the same time. They've tried an experiment which in my opinion has failed. I don't know if they are big enough to admit that but sooner or later, the bosses at Warner Brothers are going to turn around and say "Look, it's about time you started making a profit instead of losing money on these great characters".

Mmm. I might have to check that statement with the lawyers!

AG laughs.

There's a lot of cross-fertilisation of media going on at the moment. Is there anybody outside of the world of comics that you would like to work with?

Well, I've actually been lucky enough at the moment to work with two such people. One of them is a Danish toy engineer called Christian who just creates these amazing models for LEGO and he really is brilliant. And the other is a guy called Alistair Swinnerton who is one of the co-creator's of LEGO BIONICLES. He and I and John Wagner and Cam Kennedy are working together trying to make this property that John, Cam and I have come up with the NEW BIONICLES. I can't tell you the name of it but I can tell you that much about it.

Last time they made a Judge Dredd movie, they didn't get in touch with you or John until it was too late?

Yeah. Generally speaking, in the movie business, the people who produce and direct these movies are so egotisitical and so up their own arses that even if they are incapable of writing a movie script, they would rather do it themselves than employ someone who knows what they are doing. And I have seen this happen countless times over the years.

I've seen Hollywood companies spend over a million dollars buying scripts which were junk and then they turn round and phone up the original creators; "We're stuffed, do you think you could help us out?" They could have saved themselves a million dollars if they'd gone there in the first place. But that's fairly typical of how the movie industry works.

What story are you most proud of?

Ever? There are quite a number. I have a favourite story for every character I've written.

For Judge Anderson, it's a tie between SHAMBALLA and CHILDHOOD'S END. SHAMBALLA was drawn by Arthur Ranson and CHILDHOOD'S END was painted by Kevin Walker. I really enjoyed myself writing both those stories.

With LOBO, it's not a proper story. One day I woke up with the idea for it and I just sat down and did it. That was BOUNTY HUNTING FOR FUN AND PROFIT. Obviously stories like THE LAST CZARNIAN, I have a great affection for them but BOUNTY HUNTING struck me as the perfect sort of LOBO book.

For Judge Dredd, I guess it would have to be the very first democracy story that John Higgins drew, although I've got several favourites.

For Batman, again I've got lots of favourites. One favourite was a three-parter that featured Etrigan the Demon that ran in "Detective Comics" 601, 602 and 603. Another one was the one-off that appeared in "Shadow of the" Bat 213 that was called "The Nobody"; basically it was an explanation of why Batman does what he does.

For Strontium Dog, it's got to be Portrait of a Mutant. John and I really enjoyed ourselves on that.

In different stories you've covered drug use, child abuse and forced extinction. Are there any issues that you'd like to address that you haven't had a chance to?

I set forth my political viewpoints quite frankly and openly in the "ANARKY" comics that I wrote. Having said that, I'd like to write a comic about the coming destruction of Iraq. What's going to happen there can be applied to anywhere in the world. The leaders of our nations, who are supposed to be there to represent the people who voted for them are unilaterally going to kill and maim tens of thousands of ordinary people. They are using our tax payers money to do it.

We gave them an authority to work for us, to improve our roads, to do things for our old age pensioners, to improve our roads; and what are they going to do with that authority? They are going to use it to blow up people exactly the same as us. The only difference is that these people live in another country and they happen to have a dictator. I would really like to address that in a story because I've got very strong views on it.

I'd like it to cover the swing from how he was a good dictator fifteen years ago.

Yeah. Exactly. He was a good dictator when he was killing the people we wanted but now that he won't kill the people we want, he's a bad dictator. Yeah, that's an issue that I'd very much like to tackle. I've actually got a story worked out. Unfortunately, it may never see the light of day because Arthur Ranson is to be the artist on it and I want to keep rights to the story. It's a creator owned story and I don't want to give it away to 2000AD or to DC or anybody else. 2000AD won't publish it unless I let them have the rights to it.

I may try and publish it myself but that's a very, very expensive thing to do because artwork is very expensive to pay for. So it's not just like I would be paying myself for writing the story, I would have to pay Arthur for doing the artwork too. And then I'd have to pay to have it published and distributed. So you are talking about the possibility of losing an awful lot of money. It's just possible that I will say "OK", and rip the idea up and nobody will ever know what it was except me and Arthur.

Except for everyone that reads this. Thank you for your time.

Thanks again to Sue Grant for allowing the interviews to take place and to Wake for publishing them on the website.

Coming Next: Cam Kennedy on Dredd, Rogue and how he'd never seen Star Wars until he was asked to draw "Dark Empire".