Thursday, February 12, 2009

87. A shot glass of rocket fuel

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

July 2000: And suddenly, things change in a very, very big way. It goes like this:

Oxford-based 'super developer' buys the award-winning and highly influential science fiction weekly 2000AD

July 6th 2000: Rebellion has made the acquisition of the year - literally - with the purchase of the sci-fi action comic 2000AD from publisher Egmont International. The Oxford-based software developer will assume creative control of the magazine's content (all other publishing and distribution will continue to be carried out by Fleetway), while looking to maximise the potential of the many characters and storylines which the franchise has created (in both commercial and creative terms). There will be no interruption to publication.

2000AD occupies an unequalled position in the world of science fiction, having been published for more than 23 years. During this time, the comic has introduced a number of the genre's most popular characters (Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Sláine, Rogue Trooper, Nemesis and many more) as well as launching the careers of some of the UK's most successful comic writers and artists, including John Wagner, Alan Grant, Pat Mills, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Cam Kennedy, Brian Bolland, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.

The first issue of 2000AD ('Prog 1' to use the comic's own terminology) hit the streets on February 28th 1977, for the down-to-earth price of 8p (or 17 Galactic Groats on Mercury) and featured a number of characters and stories which went on to enjoy huge popularity, including M.A.C.H. 1, Flesh and Invasion. It was not until Issue 2, however, that the publication's most enduring and notorious icon, Judge Dredd, first appeared. At the height of its popularity, the comic (which has just published its 1,200th issue) sold more than 120,000 copies per week.Rebellion and 2000AD "I am only too happy to confess that I have been an avid 2000AD reader since Prog 1," says Rebellion's Chief Executive Officer, Jason Kingsley. "However, that doesn't mean that this deal was done for sentimental reasons. 2000AD is not only a goldmine of intellectual properties, it is also a hugely enjoyable read. We are looking forward to helping this top quality publication to achieve its fullest potential."

Rebellion's acquisition of 2000AD will allow the team full use of more than 700 characters and series, not only in computer games, but also in films, as action figures, in collectable card games and in any other suitable merchandising vehicle. Also, it is possible that some of Rebellion's own characters and storylines - beginning with the forthcoming Gunlok (to be released by Virgin Interactive later this year) - will make it into the pages of 2000AD.

In addition to its new owners, 2000AD also has a new Editor, Andy Diggle, who adds: "This is a very exciting time to be taking over the editorship of 2000AD, with a new look and a new owner. There is so much untapped potential within our universe of characters that the sky's the limit in terms of licensing and branding. But our first priority will always be the comic itself: sci-fi and fantasy action with skewed black humour, bizarre imagination and attitude. The best of the old and the best of the new!"

"As fans of the galaxy's greatest comic, we will do everything within our powers to make sure that 2000AD reaches its widest possible audience on Earth before we expand into other galaxies - ridding the Universe of all thrill-sucker infestations along the way, of course," says Kingsley.

Diggle himself had this to say, in a forwarded-and-forwarded email which was posted to the alt.comics.2000 ad newsgroup:

Dear All,

Please forgive the impersonal nature of this email, but it seemed simplest to send the message out to all of you at once...

As some of you already know, 2000 AD has just been purchased lock, stock and barrel by Rebellion, the Oxford-based computer games company. By one of those weird cosmic coincidences, this happens to coincide with the debut of 2000 AD's new design and my first week as editor.

From now on, 2000 AD's editorial staff are employed by Rebellion, and although Fleetway will still be handling the publishing side of things on a contract basis, Fleetway no longer has any editorial control over the title. We will be relocating to new offices in central London in a few weeks, after I have returned from my honeymoon (it never rains...!). In the meantime, any freelance invoices should be sent to me at the Fleetway address.

Most of the details can be found in the attached press release, so I'll keep my own comments brief. Jason Kingsley, CEO of Rebellion, has been a fan of 2000 AD since Prog 1 - which means that for the first time, 2000 AD is owned and controlled by people who care passionately about it!

This is the beginning of a very exciting time for the Galaxy's Greatest Comic. Rebellion is a young, dynamic, pro-active company with real media clout, so I think we can look forward to an unprecedented level of commitment in pushing the 2000 AD universe of characters to potential licensors for video games, movies and merchandising in general. And about time, frankly!

On a more personal note, I'd like to say this really is a new beginning for 2000 AD, with a new owner, a new editor, a new format and a new Millennium ahead of us. I hope that together we can turn 2000 AD back into the creative powerhouse that it has been at its best.

It's all about giving the readers a fast hit of dense, imaginative, blackly humorous sci-fi. Or, to use my own well-loved (if tortured) metaphor, it's about distilling a barrel of weak lager into a shot-glass of rocket fuel! If you want to know more, please feel free to drop me a line...


Diggle had earlier detailed some of what he was talking about in a widely-circulated "manifesto" which would be posted to the newsgroup in October, and which is currently available, via Google, here. The part that resonated the most with me went like this:

2000 AD readers talk about getting their weekly 'hit' or 'fix' of Thrill-power, and they're only half joking. The comic should be a drug; a jolt of raw, unrefined energy and imagination. We aren't there just to raise a faint ironic smile on the readers' lips; we should blast them into a whole new reality! 2000 AD should be fast, dense, bizarre, twisted, funny, insane, rebellious, dark, ironic, imaginative and exciting! We should blow the readers' minds wide open, and give them something they can't get anywhere else!

What we should never be is bland, derivative and familiar. 2000 AD should be the comic other people copy... not the other way round.

Over the eighteen or so months that Diggle's in charge of the comic, he hits a lot more frequently than he misses. Prog 1200 opens with a John Wagner/Cam Kennedy Judge Dredd storyline in which some freedom-loving citizens take to their flying surfboards to blow up Justice Department's omnipresent spy-in-the-sky cameras. Nobody draws skysurfing as well as Cam Kennedy. Also on board this week are new installments for Sinister Dexter by Dan Abnett and Simon Davis and Nikolai Dante by Robbie Morrison and John Burns, along with Red Fang by Steve Moore and Steve Yeowell, about which more next week. Joining the lineup in the next issue is a four-part Missionary Man adventure by Gordon Rennie and Jesus Redondo, a Spanish artist who had worked in the pages of 2000 AD, Starlord and some of IPC's romance comics in the early 1980s.

The other interesting thing to note is that, with Rebellion's takeover, there's a size change for the comic. It's as tall as it was before, but an inch narrower. It now has the same proportions as a traditional American comic, just a little larger. In 2003, there will be an aborted attempt to repackage newer material into US comic-size, with none of the distortion of the artwork that was commonly seen in repackaging attempts in the 1980s. The line, however, will be cancelled as soon as DC and Rebellion announce their year-long liaison, and the solicited episodes of Mike Carey and Andy Clarke's 13 will never emerge in that format.

At any rate, while the last several years, under Rebellion, have been pretty amazingly thrill-packed, and we owe them our thanks for the continued survival of the comic, it has always struck me as very odd that so little has come of the "full use of more than 700 characters and series" for merchandising, as was noted in the initial press release. There would be a kind-of-okay Dredd vs. Death video game, and a pretty good Rogue Trooper video game, and, working in reverse, a comic adaptation of the game Wardog, but the first-person shooter based on Strontium Dog has steadfastly refused to appear. Never mind all the video games we should have based on, ohhh, say, Sin Dex, or Slaughterbowl, or Pussyfoot 5, or Low Life, or some kind of racing game. Why am I playing Crash Nitro Kart when I could be playing Supersurf 14? And why were the action figures parcelled out to that Marvel/Legenday line which was only sold at Wal-Mart and died before we got the Mean Machine figure? And why...

Ah, well. At least the graphic novels are fantastic; Rebellion has certainly got those right. More about those next week, along with Red Fang and the astonishing return of Tharg's Future Shocks! Be here!

(Originally posted Feb. 12 2009 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

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