2000AD in it’s nearly 40 year history has managed to carve itself a nice little niche in the history and culture of the UK, which is quite the thing for a comic that for much of it’s history has been ignored, hated and despised by the guardians of British culture.
Futureshock! The story of 2000AD, is a splendid documentary produced by Sean Hogan and Helen Mullane that outlines the well-worn history (to comic fans like myself) of 2000AD from it’s origins from the ashes of Action (2000AD’s genetic father as it were) to it’s heyday up til the mid 1980’s, and then it’s decline as talent was picked off slowly by DC Comics and then by some appalling management that nearly saw the comic die before Rebellion came in and saved it in the year 2000.
Most of all though it’s the story of Pat Mills who created 2000AD when publishers IPC tried cashing in on the predicted SF boom in the wake of Star Wars opening in the UK in December 1977. Trying to a create a slightly less violent version of Action but with a SF feel was fairly easy, but I remember at the time as a wee boy that loved Action that it’d not be the same, and it’d certainly not be as savagely violent as Hook Jaw, the everyday story of a shark that’d eat anyone, including kids!
But my ten year old self never had to fear. 2000AD was as violent, brutal and uncompromising as Action was, indeed, it went further because it could hide behind the tag ‘science fiction’. So strips like Judge Dredd (later to become a term used to describe totalitarianism in the UK) and my personal favourite at the time, Flesh (the story of cowboys from the future travelling back in time to harvest dinosaurs for the people of the future’s demand for meat) filled my bloodlust.
It wasn’t til I got older that I realised just what 2000AD was doing so I realised that Judge Dredd was a fascist, Strontium Dog was an allegory about discrimination and Flesh was about consumerism. All dripping in heaps of gore and violence, but at it’s heart the comic was saying more, and Mills in Futureshock makes this point well as this was it’s point. Mills was trying to sneak in serious issues under all the violence, and also having writers as good as John Wagner with him to transform something like Judge Dredd to a higher lever, then it became true that for people of a certain age, 2000AD was an essential weekly experience.
In fact from around the summer of 1977 til I’d say, 1984, 2000AD was in it’s prime. Then as documented in the film creators started being headhunted by DC Comics for American work, so the likes of Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore led the way as the so-called ”British invasion” started and over the next dozen years or so, DC employed Alan Grant, John Wagner, Grant Morrison, Brett Ewins, Pete Milligan, Brendan McCarthy, Jamie Hewlett, Neil Gaiman, Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, Cam Kennedy, Bryan Talbot, John Higgins and lots more as British creators filled DC’s ranks, changed American comics, and even had an imprint created for them by DC called Vertigo Comics.
Pat Mills also worked for American publishers, but rather than stay at DC, he also worked for Epic, an imprint of Marvel Comics who published the quite glorious Marshal Law. Mills though did work doing some comics for Marvel’s 2099 line of comics too, but all the time he went back to 2000AD where I think barring Marshal Law and Charley’s War, is where he’s done his best work.
So it’s perfect for the story to be told as essentially Pat Mills’s story because he encapsulates everything about what made 2000AD so fucking essential up until at least prog 500.
After then for me although 2000AD produced a lot of great stuff the Golden Age was over, and once the comic hit the 90’s it hit a steep decline thanks partly to the comic changing ownership several times, and the editorship of Dave Bishop and later, Andy Diggle. This is the best part of the film as no matter how much or little you know about 2000AD, this bit of it’s history so dealing with Dave Bishop’s disastrous time in charge had to be done as it nearly killed the comic off for good. I’d given it up a long time before this point, but still picked the odd issue up, but during Bishop’s era it was at times totally unreadable.
Bishop’s always been a divisive figure in British comics. In fact I remember one UKCAC in the mid 90’s a Famous British Comic Creator telling Dave Bishop how much of a cunt he was to his face in the bar. I also remember another such creator telling a possibly libelous story about him so needless to say the man was a polarising figure. As was Pat Mills to some people, but Mills was never ‘management’ in the sense he was a Yes Man doing the company’s wishes. Bishop was. That all said, Bishop comes across the best I’ve ever seen him in the documentary and Andy Diggle (whom I’ve never met so can’t judge personally) comes over dreadfully as a slightly petulant, passive-aggressive person which when confronted by Mills’s straight edge ‘fuck you’ attitude also looks evasive. It’s a fantastic segment and finally lays dead to the myth of comics documentaries that it’s a lovely job and there’s no viciousness or hate in the industry….
Another good point Mills makes about the comics decline is that certain creators used it as a launchpad to get American work. Some people flitted back and forth, but mainly most never came back once they’d cracked the US and indeed, I know of a couple of creators who were not exactly shy of telling people of their plan and in their cases it mainly worked out for them.
Thankfully though the story ends well as video game publisher Rebellion buys 2000AD, and under the editorial hand of Matt Smith the overall quality has increased so the comic’s future looks assured as it expands across the planet.
By the end of Sean Hogan and Helen Mullane’s great film I only had a couple of minor complaints. It could have done with another 15-30 minutes to give a bit more context for people not familiar with the ins and outs of the comic’s history, plus it’d have allowed the film a bit more breathing space as it flies by as it is. The petty moan I suppose is the terrible thrash metal opening music….
I’d highly recommend Futureshock! The story of 2000AD as one of the best documentaries on comics you’ll see, but also as you’ll see, a reminder of just what 2000AD has done for British culture, art, music and indeed, everything as it seeped slowly into the public’s psyche. Buy the film online at the likes of itunes, or buy the DVD, it’s not expensive and it’ll be vastly worth it!