The closest thing we have to a documentary about Action

Action is the legendary British comic that was essentially the precursor of 2000AD thus cementing its history as one of the most influential comics ever published in the UK. With 2000AD being 40 this year, and Action celebrating its 40th anniversary last year we’re getting further and further away from an important piece of comics history.

Imagine then my joy at stumbling across a number of videos on You Tube with interviews from Jack Adrian, Ramon Sola and Pat Mills. It looks as if an Action documentary was being made but these tantalising wee snippets are all we have of it which is a shame as it really is a piece of comics history which needed documenting like this.With Titan Comics publishing new Hook Jaw comics it seems relevant to document this now for the next generations. I’ve included in this blog all the clips I could find but if anyone finds or knows more feel free to point it out on the comments.

Steve Dillon’s death is a massive loss for comics

This afternoon the brother of British comics artist Steve Dillon confirmed that his brother had passed away.

glyndillonsteve

That’s all the detail we have, and we should have now because the details are for friends and family. We don’t need to know anything else bar that the world of comics has lost someone who for decades had been lynchpin of British comics. Indeed, friends of mine who’ve known Steve for years are in mourning as this was utterly unexpected, and that this comes after he’s enjoying the financial rewards coming from the success of the TV adaptation of Preacher, which allowed him the freedom to do what he wanted is painful.

Like many fans I first saw Steve’s work in Hulk Weekly, the flagship title of Dez Skinn’s Marvel UK revamp, where he not only drew the Hulk, but a Nick Fury strip written by Steve Moore. He was 16 and this was 1979.

nickfurydillon

These early strips are rough in places, but for a 16 year old to turn out such a high quality level of work with his own very distinct,clear style was extraordinary, so its no surprise that Steve was not only finding more work with Skinn at Marvel UK, but 2000AD leapt in to grab him. During this period he and Steve Moore created the popular Dalek killer Abslom Daak for Doctor Who Weekly.

ablomdaak

While for 2000AD, he worked on a variety of strips (including some Future Shocks with Alan Moore) before bagging the art duties for Judge Dredd.

judgedreddandersondillon

I loved Dillon’s Judge Dredd work. True it was smoother than Esquerra or McMahon’s art who I adored, but this was a crisp, clear Dredd who wasn’t boring which is what I found Brian Bolland’s too smooth Dredd. If you’re reading this with only knowledge of Dillon’s DC or Marvel work, then it’ll read like he was massively prolific which is because he was. During the same period he was also doing art for Dez Skinn’s Warrior and the Laser Eraser and Pressbutton strip, again written by Steve Moore. This I think is my favourite work of this early period of his career.

warrior1

He could have also been the artist for the return of Marvelman too as Alan Moore suggested him as a possible artist to Dez Skinn, who went for Garry Leach, but we did get a tease of what could have been in Warrior #4 where Dillon did draw a few pages of a Marvelman strip,

marvelmandillon

Dillon had also picked up a reputation by now of being fast, talented and quick. He was also great fun at marts and conventions where you’d see him in the bar, and at the first big Glasgow comic convention in 1985 I had to try to find him from the loo when he was a bit too tired and emotional. Steve had a bit of a reputation as a drinker, though friends have said in recent years he’s come off the bevvy but let me make it clear here; in the 80’s and early 90’s there were a number of creators and fans in the British scene who could drink all night at cons and often did, myself included.

Steve though was a nice guy. Even when years later at a party in London for Deadline, the magazine he helped launch and edit,when I brought it up he laughed it off, thanked me, and bought me a pint.

By the late 80’s Steve’s work filled 2000AD, sometimes it was brilliant, sometimes it looked rushed, but it was there for not much longer as Steve was being courted by DC Comics, as were many other creators from the UK, but Steve took time to break. Skreemer was his first taste of DC Comics, but it remains still a sadly under-appreciated work.

skreemer4

Then in Hellblazer #49 he drew a John Constantine Christmas story. Entitled Lord of the Dance and written by Garth Ennis it was a little bundle of joy for those who enjoyed the drink.

hellblazer49

Ennis and Dillon clicked as a creative team. Both liked going on the piss, both were from working class backgrounds and they started a run on Hellblazer from #57 that was magnificent. The pair then created Preacher for DC’s Vertigo imprint.

preacher1

Preacher was the perfect mix of Ennis and Dillon. As a comic it was probably DC’s finest comic of the 90’s and last year a television adaptation was finally broadcast which managed to capture some of what was in the comic. Sure, his superhero stuff was alright, but I always felt him wasted on spandex, as he was able to make pages of people just sitting around talking to each other seem extraordinary. Not in a flashy sense, but in a ‘I’ve managed to capture a truth’ sense, something few artists for Marvel or DC have managed to do in the last few decades.

Lured to Marvel, Dillon drew a number of titles, from the Punisher with Ennis again writing, to Wolverine. Although his work was fine here, I wasn’t taken with it. It didn’t have that joy his other work had, and it felt odd seeing him doing material as mundane as superheroes though when he worked with Ennis (who despises superheroes) it worked a treat. Few creative teams have a spark where both feed off each other. Ennis and Dillon had that. That team is now never going to create anything new ever again, and a number of people who knew Dillon as a friend, or knew him through his amazingly long career and body of work are at a loss tonight as this is a loss. He had years left in him and 54 is no age to go these days.

So I wish well for his friends and family, and I extend a debt of gratitude for his work from those early days at Marvel UK to his recent success with the Preacher TV series.Thanks for the work Steve and thanks for the pint..

preacher2

40 years ago Action changed the face of comics forever

In the year 1976 British weekly comics were stuck in a rut. Roy was still of the Rovers, Commando Comics killed more Nazis than the Allies and Russians did in WW2, Billy still had his Boots, and the Boy’s Adventure Comic needed something to drag it kicking and screaming into the 1970’s. Publisher IPC had tried something different in 1975 when they let Pat Mills and John Wagner loose to create a new war comic called Battle Picture Weekly. More visceral than the 1950’s style of war comic published for decades in the UK, Battle sparked something in kids that read it, and with strips like Major Easy, Darkies War, Johnny Red and probably the finest comic strip published in British comics, Charley’s War, Battle made a name for itself but it was just a taster for what was to come.

In 1976 saw the next creation from the mind of Pat Mills. On Valentines Day 1976 Action was published for the first time and it’s effect on kids all across the UK was extraordinary.Myself, I never got on the bandwagon til the second issue because it had a cool picture of a shark on it and I nagged my mum to buy it for me as it had an iron-on transfer.

action2

I utterly LOVED that transfer. I also loved the fact that the cover stars were a tough looking bloke threatening to kick your face in by leaping off the cover and a shark called Hook Jaw that did things like this…

Hookjaw1

To a horror film obsessed child this was gold dust. I could read violent, gory fun every single week for only seven pence an issue and the creators seemed to be talking to kids like me. Sure American superhero comics were fun, and the odd issue of Creepy or Eerie managed to sate my prepubescent urge for violence and gore but Action had a sense of humour decidedly British plus it seemed like the creators didn’t give a fuck about upsetting people. In that time just before Punk broke this was a revelation, especially to people far, far outwith the London bubble that Punk existed in at the time.

Imagine seeing this cover. You’d be insane not to buy it with your pocket money or pester your folks to buy it for you!

actiondeathgame1999

For 36 glorious issues Action gave us the adventures of Dredger, a British secret agent that wasn’t bred on the fields of Eton; Death Game 1999, a Rollerball rip-off (all of Action’s strips were ”dead cribs” meaning the basic idea was lifted from a film of the time) given a outrageously more violent twist; Look Out For Lefty, a football strip unlike any other previously in British comics; Blackjack, a story about a boxer which is the first time a British comic had a black character as a lead; and of course Hook Jaw.

Hookjaw

Kids had found a Boy’s Adventure Comic that spoke to them in 1976. They owned it. Kids like me owned it. Kids like me ran out to the shops to buy it and read it first every week. I still read some of the other titles IPC and DC Thompson produced, but Action was something special and we knew it. Today with the internet it’s impossible to not find something that speaks to you, but in 1976 that wasn’t the case. Action was seismic. It changed everything, shook up the industry in the UK, proved Pat Mills was a genius and set the ground for IPC to commission a new science fiction comic called 2000AD that’d cash in on the projected SF boom that’d come from some film causing a buzz in America called Star Wars. If they got a good year out of it then they’d be happy. 39 years later 2000AD is still going strong.

Yet 2000AD would never have existed were it not for Action, nor would it have happened had Action not been banned with #36, though some copies of #37 were printed and indeed, one sold recently for £2555!

Once the likes of Mary Whitehouse had trained their eyes on Action and declared it morally bankrupt the game was up. Our comic was taken from us and although after a hiatus of a few months the comic did return it wasn’t the same. Dredger was a bit less course. Lefty was a bit nicer. Hook Jaw even ate people off-panel and only ever ate bad people. Everything kids like me loved was gone. Action limped on for a while before it was eventually absorbed into Battle, but by this point most people didn’t care.

Action’s legacy though is enormous. It gave birth to 2000AD. It pushed British comics on, and injected a rebellious Punk attitude into comics not to mention those that read those comics. It made us consider other things we’d never thought of before while enjoying heaps of violence and gore but it also showed to kids the power of the establishment in censoring something that threatened them. After all you can’t have kids reading comics that question authority that they can buy from anywhere? No, much nicer to go back to nice heroes.

2000AD managed to hide much of it’s rebelliousness in it’s SF settings, so it was ignored til it was too late to do anything about it. Action in that sense acts like a herald proclaiming the greater thing to come. Reading it today four decades on many of the strips don’t hold up. The scripting is clunky, not to mention flat, but when it shines, dear, god, it shines bright still. Hook Jaw especially is simply demented reading, even today nothing comes close to it.

I’d recommend searching out Martin Barker’s excellent book, Action – The Story of a Violent Comic for the comic’s history. Back issues are easy enough to come by, but complete runs of the essential 36 issues plus a summer special are harder to collect. Do so though because this is a vital bit of British comics history. For me it makes me feel like a wee boy enjoying the thrill of Hook Jaw devouring his next victim for the first time over and over again…..

What I thought of Futureshock! The story of 2000AD

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!

Hookjaw

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.

prog500

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!

What I Thought of Judge Dredd: Superfiend

This new web series is produced by Adi Shankar producer of the 2012 Dredd film which was actually very good indeed, if somewhat lacking in the sort of humour you’d find in Dredd’s stories in 2000AD, and indeed much of the satire was missing but Dredd was a great action film that at least tried to tell a stripped down Judge Dredd story.

Judge Dredd: Superfiend is Shanktar’s thank you for fans of the Dredd film and it’s an unauthorised adaptation along the lines of the quite excellent Punisher film he did with Thomas Jane and Ron Perlman. Dirty Laundry is probably the best of the ‘bootleg’/fan films that are around because it’s suitably grim and depressing, because, well, it’s the fucking Punisher!

Superfiend suffers from taking a needlessly grim take on Dredd while at the same time trying to be flippant along the lines Alan Grant and John Wagner would manage with what looked like ease, but I know involved a lot of working out so they’d get the tone right. The story centres round Judge Sydney, a psychopath when we’re introduced to him kills a rape victim so he can kill the rapist legally under the law of Mega City One. Right away the tone is astonishingly jarring for what has been billed as a Judge Death versus Judge Dredd story, and from there we’re launched into a flashback in Sydney’s life where we see his father was a mobile dentist who would torture and kill people with young Sydney’s help.

After an encounter with the Judges, young Sydney decides to become a Judge, and one of his early tests is to execute his father. This really is all setup so we can see Sydney to be a bastard who we don’t really care about, in fact, most of the characters in this we couldn’t care about. When Sydney is taken over by Judge Death even Death seems like he’s going through the motions and Dredd himself doesn’t even show up for the first few episodes and then he feels like a cardboard cut-out of the 2000AD Dredd or that awful version of Dredd that pops up in American comics that’s supposed to be Dredd but isn’t.

And here’s the problem with Superfiend. It’s fun but it only really feels like Dredd by using the characters from the comics, but turns them into echos of what they were, or are introduced and dumped so quickly their introduction seems fairly pointless. It’s a fun series of films but it’s really for newer fans brought on after the Dredd film, or indeed, anyone not 100% familiar with the nearly 40 year history of Judge Dredd.

It’s a pity as there’s potential with Judge Dredd to do more than just fights and violence which is what writers like Pat Mills, Alan Grant and of course, John Wagner have done, but this is really for passing a spare 30 minutes or so if you’ve got nothing else to fill it with.

 

My top 20 Comic Book films-7-Dredd

I did my top 20 horror and SF films last year, and found doing the lists to be more fun than expected, so in a massive bit of logic here’s my top 20 films adapted or inspired from comics. I need to point out I mean comics, not ‘superhero comics’ which is a lazy, and incorrect way to describe a wonderfully varied medium and it’d also cut out some bloody good films!

Previously, in this list at #20, X Men19The Crow18Heavy Metal, 17, Spider Man ,16The Avengers, 15Danger: Diabolik, 14The Dark Knight Trilogy , 13A History of Violence12Kick Ass , 11,Spider Man 2 , 10, Barbarella9, Batman Returns and 8, X Men 2.

The streets of Mega City One are a hard place in Dredd.

Image

This is the second attempt to bring John Wagner and Carlos Esquerra’s strip from 2000AD onto the screen and the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd film, which frankly, isn’t bad if you ignore Stallone as soon as he takes his helmet off. Thankfully no helmets of any shape or description come of Dredd’s head in this film, though heads do suffer a number of various injuries in the film.

Thankfully Karl Urban isn’t as vain as Stallone so he keeps the helmet on and does a virtually perfect job as Dredd, though the problem is that the film doesn’t have the satire on modern society that Wagner and other writers, chiefly Pat Mills and Alan grant, have filled the strip with over the years. In fact, Dredd feels in places a little bit like a John Carpenter action film which is a compliment, but again there’s none of the humour you’d see there. The first Judge Dredd film may have been mainly bollocks, but it at least captured the sense of fun of the comics and of course, the production design was vastly superior to Dredd, but that film had the money to spend, even if the script was awful.

The lack of humour and satire in Dredd aside, the film works perfectly as a Carpenter-esque stripped down action film with Judge Dredd and his rookie Judge Anderson trapped in a Cityblock (a skyscraper holding millions of people) fighting to get to the top and stop an evil drug lord. That’s the plot. It’s thin but it’s enough to hold down the film and get it to do what it needs to which is introduce a stripped down Judge Dredd for an international audience and it, mainly, works.

Sadly although it did well in the UK and some other parts of the world, the Americans went in their droves not to see this which is a pity considering the frankly awful action films that do well there.

Anyhow, it’s unlikely we’ll see a sequel, or indeed any future film featuring Judge Dredd, so enjoy this one.

Next up, have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?