Matt: How much pressure came with editing an iconic comic like 2000 AD?
John: The main source of stress on a 32-page, full colour, fully-originated weekly comic is deadlines. I was incredibly lucky when I edited 2000 AD in that the freelancers tended to turn things in on time; writers and artists are free-spirited, sometimes flaky creatures and to corral them into the rigid confines of a weekly schedule can be akin to herding cats. Very rarely someone (more often an artist than a writer, though there’s no hard and fast rule) would go AWOL, but there was invariably another available to fill in and we never went late on sale. Now and then we’d have to break a series and drop in a Future Shock to allow the artist time to catch up, but the readers rarely complained.
Matt: What makes a quintessential 2000 AD strip (if indeed there is such a thing)?
John: The mere fact that I’ve been asked this question, let alone attempted to answer it, might suggest that I regard myself as some kind of authority on the subject. I don’t – and I’d be suspicious of anyone who claimed to be. Despite having written a bunch of strips for 2000 AD over the years and edited a lot more in my time as Tharg, I’m still just guessing around. Maybe it’s because the audience has seen it all before. Or maybe there IS no quintessential 2000 AD strip – after all, if a writer or editor ever discovered the formula and tried to impose it on the writers every strip would be the same, and that wouldn’t work.
Obviously it helps if it’s set in the future, though that’s not compulsory. Ostensibly a science fiction mag, 2000 AD has always been a pretty broad church, incorporating fantasy, horror and (in my case, anyway) kitchen sink drama.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve always thought that the most effective 2000 AD strips are those that leave the reader feeling afraid, appalled and slightly ill. It’s a tricky formula to pull off, but when it works it’s instantly identifiable. It was there in the early series of Flesh, in John Smith’s work, in the best Dredd stories and it’s there in abundance in Al Ewing and Henry Flint’s Zombo. There may not be an archetypal 2000 AD strip, but Zombo comes pretty close in my opinion. And if there’s a quintessential 2000 AD writer/artist team, those two are it.
Matt: You’ve (fairly) recently returned to writing Dredd for 2000 AD after a break of some years. How do you write a Dredd? Both how do you and how does one write a Dredd?
John: Another thing I’m still trying to figure out. Judge Dredd has changed and evolved quite a bit in its long history, the jokier, action-based strips giving way to more layered, political stories. This has much to do with the evolution of John Wagner’s writing, since he’s still the main Dredd writer and therefore sets the tone. He certainly didn’t need any guidance from me when I edited 2000 AD. As a strip Judge Dredd appears to have grown up – however, though I love the current approach I still kind of miss the old school stories. So I tried to hark back to them in the few I’ve written recently.
Like most good SF, Judge Dredd isn’t really about the future. It’s a grim satire about today, current social, political and scientific trends extrapolated to terrible extremes. And it’s not easy to do – particularly as the present day becomes increasingly difficult to satirise, and London in particular seems more like the Big Meg with every passing year.