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Sunday, 26 February 2017

Happy Birthday 2000AD - 40 years old!

The vast majority of this article first appeared back in the distant days of early 2013 - ah we were so innocent and naive! Scottish independence was still a possibility, the idea of leaving the EU was a mad mans dream and talking about mad men, the notion of some thick as two short planks reality TV host becoming the US president was only in some post apocalyptic writers imagination. Good times.

I decided that in order to celebrate the 40th birthday of the worlds greatest ever comic I would like to join the throng (never wanting to be left out of anything) and do my little bit. It seemed fitting to re-publish my own little love letter to 2000AD as my little birthday celebration- besides which it also meant that it would save me a whole heap of work working on something new. The piece is pretty much as it was in its 2013 form, save my a few spelling & grammar corrections (what a surprise, I hear you say) and a tiny bit of reformatting.

So here you are 2000AD - Happy 40th Birthday!!!!'

The very first copy - It used up every penny I had!
I openly admit it - my obsession with Science fiction has few, if any boundaries. I don't regard myself as an sci-fi aficionado or snob……. and certainly not an expert. I love H.G Wells, Jules Verne, Star Trek, Star Wars, Solaris and Spaceballs all with equal abandon. I'm often asked what began my obsession with this genre (well actually, I'm never asked that question…… but let's just say for arguments sake that I am), my reply is rather simple. So once more we take a walk down one of the lanes of my memory, just take my hand and all will be made clear.

It began when I was 10 years old. 

One afternoon I was walking home from school with Ian, who happened to be my best mate at the time. The trip normally would take about 30 minutes to get home, it should have only been only 10, but you know how young boys are. About three quarters of the way home he started talking about a new comic that had come out just that week. "It's not like the usual ones we get, it's not like ANYTHING else" …. I distinctly remember the emphasis he put on the word 'anything'. 

Now, my dearest 5D blog reader, you need to be aware of the comic landscape back in the later 1970's. It was incredibly competitive - weekly sales were through the roof of many well established titles and the average shelf life of new comics was usually, at best, just a few short years. Many kids had their specific favourites and we were no different - I had yet to fully embrace the wonders of Marvel comics and so at the particular time we were obsessed with the war comic 'Battle'. Also being a bit of a football and cricket freak, i was also a huge fan of the sports comic Shoot!.  So, as for many comic buyers, it was going need something special to take me away those particular affections - I was very set in my ways you know.

Now this is where the makers of 2000AD were either very fortunate, or very clever. By 1977 the genre of Science fiction was moving away from the niche market that it had always inhabited to becoming mainstream - and we're talking big time mainstream of monstrous proportions! The success of a certain Star Wars movie, together with Close Encounters of the 3rd kind et al meant that a huge Science Fiction Tsunami seemed to be taking over popular culture at the time…..and I mean it was everywhere! You couldn't turn on a television without seeing a light sabre, droid or an alien of any type. The timing was perfect. 2000AD was a comic that tapped into this cultural explosion and not only that, it was edgy, it took chances, it was intense and in parts it was shocking at times. So much so that some of those early stories would would be problematic these days in terms of acceptability.

The artwork and story lines had an immediate sophistication that put it's competitors immediately in the shade. Indeed few, if any, of the competing titles at the time which were also trying to ride the science fiction Tsunami lasted very long and soon fell by the wayside. My friend Ian was quite right (as he usually was in most things), 2000AD wasn't like anything else. The very next day after school finished I used up the only pennies that I had and bought that very first copy.

The first copy, and the immediate ones that followed each week, were intensely seductive in their mixture of futuristic offerings which at times pulled no punches when it came to mixing in a little horror and gore. It was to this, and many other pre-adolescent boys, the punk rock of comics - it tested the boundaries of taste and daring and simply went places where the mainstream comics dared not tread. I distinctly remember my dad one day picking up one of the early editions and exclaiming that the blood and guts in one of the story lines was far too much for a boy of my age - I sulked for a week until he finally relented. For the next few years the characters and stories were my constant weekly companions - my already existing interest in science fiction now became an obsession.

The comic has now passed into its 35th year of production and going on nearly 2000 editions, a testament to its enduring and endearing quality. A quality that has been brought to us from what reads like a who's who of literary and graphic British talent, many of whom have crossed over into Graphic novel, literary novels, television, cinema and the wider American comic market. Peter Milligan (Tank Girl),  Grant Morrison (Batman: Arkham Asylum), Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Dave Gibbons, Mark Millar, Garth Ennis, Brian Talbot, Brian Bolland and Alan Moore have all become synonymous in many other areas. Indeed, many others that initially cut their teeth on 2000AD went on to succeed in America, with huge influences in the Marvel and DC universes. 

So here is a brief recollection of some of the characters and features from MY particular era of Britain's finest contribution to Science fiction.

Judge Dredd

The very first appearance of ole' Happy Joe 
Without doubt the single most iconic creation to come out of the comic, having crossed over into the wider social consciousness in everything from pop art to feature films . By the way, one of the movie adaptations is terrible, the other, much much better…….sit down Mr Stallone, you know which one I'm referring to as a waste of celluloid. 

Dredd didn't actually appear until the 2nd edition of 2000AD, though he has appeared in every single edition since then. His character was Inspired by the cop ' Dirty Harry' played by Clint Eastwood, a tough, unrelenting policeman who was more than prepared to kill the bad guy first than waste time going through the annoying bureaucracy of the justice system. Judge Dredd is entrusted with the ability not only to enforce the law, but also to instantly select the appropriate level of extreme justice on the spot – often this means execution. Initially set in 2099, he fights his crime in Mega-City One, a huge dystopian monstrosity of a city which stretches down the entirety of the U.S. eastern seaboard. 

I must admit here and now that this character was never my absolute favourite of the comic. I'm not sure why, possibly his character me me all too often fell into the realms of caricature. However, the huge sprawling epic storminess such as The Cursed earth and The Robot wars took the reader into story arcs of complex and thought provoking beauty.


Flesh was an intriguing premise for a story, and one which I remember being hugely enjoyable for its quota of horror and gore levels of art. The plot essentially provided an entertaining explanation as to how the dinosaurs actually became extinct - there's no life destroying meteor here. Instead, in the future meat has run out. However, time-travel is now possible and so the prehistoric monsters find themselves being herded and farmed for their meat by cowboys from the future.

The first story-arc ran for the first 19 issues of the comic and also appeared in the 1977 annual, which I remember proudly receiving as a Christmas present that year. 

Of course, this being 2000AD, things didn't run smoothly for the time-travelling dinosaur meat farmers - with many of the cowboys being devoured in the most delicious of gory ways. 

Perhaps the most memorable of the characters from this story was one of the dinosaurs,  the half blind Tyrannosaurus Rex, Old One Eye. Basically, he's had enough of these pesky humans farming off his mates and starts fighting back, which essentially means eating them.  The humans main protector comes in the form of Earl Reagan, a Marshall who is charged to protect the humans and fight back the dinosaurs. Lovely Gory stuff.

Tharg's Future Shocks

“Out in the vast reaches of the universe, there are an infinite number of stories waiting to be told. From the lowliest denizens of backwater galaxies to rulers of entire star systems, anything is possible in these twisted tales. Abandon your preconceptions, expect the unexpected and take a trip beyond the edges of imagination…"

Tharg the Mighty, alien editor of 2000 AD 

The future shocks were couched firmly in the tradition of classic series such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits - weekly singular self contained short stories taking two or three pages of the comic, often accompanied by a nifty little twist in the tail ending. The series of stories didn't actually begin until prog 25, starting with a story by Steve Moore and would prove to be an introduction for a plethora of new writers and artists such as artists and writers and creators such as Alan Davies and Grant Morrison.  

Similarly to Judge Dredd, the future shocks have taken a life of their own outside the confines of 2000AD, with a range of separate graphic novels and collections of the stories being published. Two collections of Alan Moore's Future Shocks (Alan Moore's Shocking Futures) and Time Twisters (Alan Moore's Twisted Times) have been recent and much welcomed additions to my own collection.

The Shocks are a fantastic assortment of darkly funny, sometimes unsettling and often demented twisted tales of sic-fi horror set in times and worlds where nothing is ever at it appears to be. Always one of the favourites parts for me of each prog.

Other notable inclusions of the early progs were ; 

Invasion, where Britain in 1999 are invaded by the nasty Volgans ( thinly veiled Russians) and a terrific tale of residence against the occupiers takes place

The Harlem Heroes - they play the futuristic sport of Aeroball which is now the most popular sport on the planet.

M.A.C.H 1 - John probe is a British secret agent who volunteered to undertake a ground breaking experiment which enhances his physical strength, speed and agility using the super duper secret procedure of 'compu-puncture'. Any similarity in looks and abilities to The Six Million Dollar Man are purely, er, coincidental.

Dan Dare - vaunted at the time as 200AD''s flagship character, the old comic strip hero from The Eagle is once again fighting the good fight against the dastardly Mekon.

On a slightly depressing note to finish….. 

When the comics first came out I did what most boys did. I bought them, read them and then threw them away. Thoughts of keeping them for posterity, looking after them and maybe even selling them never entered my mind at 10 and 11 years of age. However, when I was 16 I found out that an acquaintance at school had the first 200 copies, most of which I was assured were in good shape. They were mine if I wanted them……. for free. Of course I bloody well wanted them. 

This time I treated them with the respect that I now believed they deserved - they were read again and again of course (I'm not that disciplined), but they were also kept in individual plastic covers for protection and had pride of place on my bedroom shelf. I don't ever recall planning to keep the collection in order to eventually sell them as it simply never occurred to me that comics could ever become collectors items. They became a guilty pleasure. The bottom line was that even as I was at an age when I should be outgrowing comics (hence the derision I heard from my friends and parents at the time). Every few months I took them down from my shelf and gently unwrapped them from their protective covering to read each one from cover to cover. I was still transfixed by the incredible mix of science fiction and horror. Stupidly I was a little ashamed of my nerd-dom…….not any more!

I managed to keep them until I was nearly 20. I may have read them a little less as the years had progressed as newer forms of science fiction & horror (and the female gender) began to captivate me, but they were still there on my shelf and were indeed looked at on occasion. They were always, if nothing else, a welcome connection to my childhood obsessions. That was until one day when I decided to change their protective covers for new ones - all the comics has been placed (naked) on the floor beside my bed, ready for the 're-covering' the next day. That night, I went out on the town for a friend's birthday bash, got drunk, came home the worst for wear. I awoke the next morning to discover that I had thrown up during the night and destroyed virtually every copy……

When I checked back in 2010 about how much the first 3 editions alone were selling for to collectors, reasonable condition ones like mine were going for approximately £150 each. Well, Bugger.

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