I can’t let our brace of 2000 AD 35th anniversary posts go past without adding in a personal view on the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. 2000 AD has always had a very close place in my heart and been hugely influential in how I view comics – you see I was there right at the start, in 1977, with Prog 1 (and the free Space Spinner!). I’d be around nine and a bit years old, the perfect age, loved science fiction and loved comics (having been raised, like many kids of that decade on a great weekly diet of Brit comics and some US imports), I was the target audience for this exciting new comic. There was MACH 1, an obvious but hugely enjoyable take on the then enormously popular Six Million Dollar man, except our hyper-powered super agent came complete with a computer in his brain, essentially making it almost a double act, there was the super cool Harlem Heroes (come one, any team with jetpacks has to rock!), the Cold War coming to comics with Invasion.
But for me back then my two favourite strips in that first issue and the subsequent early Progs had to be Flesh and Dan Dare. Flesh – science fiction cowboys from the far future travelling back in time to tussle with dinosaurs as they hunted them for their meat in a hungry future (“the real reason the dinosaurs became extinct”, as it was billed), I mean cowboys with laser gun, time travel and big, hungry T-Rexs stomping about, what wee boy wouldn’t love that? Sheer fun. And I love that over the years the team at 2000 AD would create links back to those early strips, so years later in Judge Dredd we’d see dinosaurs re-created Jurassic Park style by future science and kept in dino zoos, including Satanus, biologically descended from the original Flesh’s Old One Eye, the giant hag T-rex who was as much a leading character as Earl Reagan and the nasty Claw Carver.
And for the first year pretty much my favourite character wasn’t Dredd (who didn’t arrive until the second Prog) but the revived Dan Dare. Partly because it was some cracking space adventure and partly because it was my introduction to this most classic of British comics characters. My dad would often enjoy a look through my weekly treasure trove of comics back then (Battle, Warlord, Beezer, Beano, Topper and more – so much fun for just a few pence each week), and when it came to Dare he told me about the original that he had read as a boy back in the 50s, my first inkling of the character’s history and the start of a long love for the original Dan Dare and the wonderful, clear, imaginative comics art of Hampson and his team (years later I’d repay dad for all those comics he bought me by getting him the huge Hawk Books reprints of classic Dare done in the proper, large tabloid format). And of course the fact that dad was enjoying these strips alongside me made it all the better.
But back to that new style Dare in early 2000 AD and my first brush with the wonderfully bizarre artwork of Massimo Belardinelli. I think Massimo’s art was a huge part of what made early 2000 AD Dare my favourite strip at the time. I’d simply seen nothing like it before, just a kid brought up on imported DC issues and weekly British comics, this fantastical alien artwork for creatures like the Biogs blew my tiny mind. A little later in 2000 AD’s run the mighty Kev O’Neill would continue that process with his astonishing artwork on Nemesis; at that young age and with no easy access to specialist comics stores I had no idea of the rich heritage of amazing science fiction and fantasy art and comics that existed in France and the rest of Europe back then, but 2000 AD educated me in those schools without me even being aware of it, expanding my young mind as to what a comic could do, what comic art could look like, so my tastes grew and became wider, more appreciative of different styles and open to a variety of different comics from around the world when I got older. I really have to thank creators like Belardinelli, O’Neill, Bolland, McMahon, Ewins and McCarthy for educating a young mind in the oh so cool things the comics medium could do. It makes me smile to think that 35 years onwards the comic is still pushing the envelope, I mean just look at the fantastically diverse and fascianting art D’Israeli has made for Stickleback and Lowlife, just look at McCarthy returning this year with Zaucer of Zilk, or Henry Flint’s cool Zombo.
And that right there is another reason why I still love 2000 AD – not just because it still brings us a great mixture of interesting new artists and writers alongside the veterans, but it still allows them to create something new and fresh and intriguing. And it continues to give a perfect testing ground for new talent to hone their craft and launch their new idea from, essentially one of the major lynchpins of the Brit comics industry, offering that place where new writers and artists can be tried out in short stories (think Alan Moore writing all those short, 2 page Future Shocks), or getting their first series, where they have a chance to develop their style knowing that because 2000 AD is in the classic British anthology format they don’t have the added burden of carrying the entire weight of a Prog on their own back, the load is spread out across five strips, all offering something different. I’ve always liked this approach, it really gives creators the space they need to develop – and looks what many of them have gone on to do, not just the major names like Moore or Grant reworking the very nature of comics here then doing the same on a bigger scale in America, but folks like Brett Ewins and the rest of his cadre growing out of 2000 AD to create comics more suitable to the now teenage readers who had started off with 2000 AD but were getting older and still wanted comics, but something which would appeal to their new tastes as they got older, and look, here comes Deadline (and Crisis and Revolver – I’m not saying these might not have happened without 2000 AD existing first, but I doubt they would have happened when they did or the way they did).
My comics reading, like my prose reading, has expanded over the years, I find myself appreciating all sorts of works and styles, but when I look back to my formative childhood reading years I still maintain a lot of my ability to appreciate these works was influenced by 2000 AD and the writers and artists who shaped it; they made me more open to the medium and if they hadn’t I wonder if I’d have been editing this blog for the last seven years or if like many others of my generation I’d have read comics as a kid then drifted away from them as I got older. I hate to think on the wonderful reading I’d have missed if that had been the case, but it wasn’t, I grew up with 2000 AD and then followed its alumni in their later works aimed at that older audience, trying new things, experimenting, keeping pace with my growing reading tastes.