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2045 AD And Beyond

Comics, FYI
2045 AD And Beyond
By Graeme McMillan • Issue #13 • View online
2000 AD celebrates its 45th anniversary this week, meaning that the current Tharg talks about where the anthology is today, and I recommend 45 stories from the last 45 years of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. Scrotnig indeed.

In February 1977, the world was invaded by aliens from the planet Quaxxann. Well, one alien in particular: Tharg the Mighty, the fictional editor of the very real British anthology title 2000 AD, which celebrates its 45th anniversary this week.
Self-described as “The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic” – GGC for short, as you’ll soon see – 2000 AD has, I think, a legitimate claim to that title with a back catalog of work by creators including Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, and countless others who are part of the Comics Establishment of the past half century. With each weekly issue – opening with an editorial page still helmed by Tharg, a guise each real world editor takes on – the anthology title continues to offer a mix of stories that gleefully skips around with genre and tone, anchored by the faithful six-page presence of the series’ breakout star, Judge Dredd. 
I asked the current Tharg – Matt Smith, who celebrated 20 years as editor of the title last month – about the anniversary, the series’ evergreen characters, and keeping things new almost 50 years after the anthology’s launch.
The actual 45th anniversary falls on this Saturday, but does the anniversary already feel like a thing of the past for you, because of the amount of advance work required to keep the prog* rolling?
Well, it’s true that the majority of the material has been in place well in advance, so the 45th doesn’t hold any surprises for me… though there’s always that one strip whose late delivery of pages gives you a mild panic. 
I have to keep looking ahead: commissioning for the Regened** progs that are coming up, the summer special, wondering if that strip I’ve scheduled is really okay to run there or is the artist going to need more time…
You’ve been with 2000 AD for more than two decades at this point, and you became the longest-serving editor back in 2020; you’ve been there since the 25th anniversary of the series, and were editor for Prog 2000 a few years back, too. Does that influence how you put together an anniversary issue at this point? Is it second nature, or does each successive issue get more difficult because you’re trying not to repeat yourself?
It becomes more difficult trying to come up with new ways to mark the milestones. Back in the 25th birthday issue, I did ‘A Night 2 Remember’, which was a series of one-pagers by different creative teams as the various 2000 AD characters partied at the Ministry of Sound, which was kind of a modern take on the controversial ‘Thargshead Revisited’ in Prog 500. Now, fast forward twenty years, I’m hanging a musical hook on the 45th as we celebrate 45 Revolutions Per Minute. 
But it’s important that these anniversaries aren’t just about the nostalgia: 2000 AD isn’t cloaked in the comforting fug of the 1970/1980s, it’s a modern comic that’s always coming up with new stories and showcasing new creators. So the milestone should point the way forward too.
Talking about that – one of the things that makes 2000 AD rare is its continued commitment to not just playing the hits over and over again. Given the title’s history, and the multiple iconic creators its featured throughout its run, many making their reputations with 2000 AD work, do you feel pressure when working on new material? What’s the process like of bringing in something new at this point — do creators pitch to you, do you ask for specific types of stories, genres, etc.?
It almost always starts with a pitch from a writer, sometimes with the artist in place. Occasionally, an artist will have an idea or a character/concept, and I’ll find a writer to work with them on it, as what happened with Zombo, The Zaucer of Zilk and The Fall of Deadworld. Very rarely I ask for something in particular, like urban horror (Cradlegrave), future sports (Second City Blues), or a Mega-City undercover series (Low Life). 
You’re conscious that there’s a portion of the audience that wants to see the classic characters, but at the same time the creators want to be coming up with something new: Dan Abnett is happy writing Sinister Dexter, which he’s been doing almost constantly since 1996, but he’s also coming up with Lawless, Feral & Foe, Brink and The Out, which are proving equally popular. 
There’s also the passage of time to consider, as creators that worked on the classic material either start to take a back seat as with Pat Mills – so Slaine and ABC Warriors, for example, are no longer the regulars that they used to be – or unfortunately are no longer with us, like Carlos Ezquerra, who’s passing meant Strontium Dog is on indefinite hiatus. So I have to navigate this, making the material produced in 2022 good enough to be considered modern classics.
I want to ask for teasers of what kind of new is coming this year, but that’s likely a little too cheeky.
I’m using the all-ages Regened specials as springboards for some new series and ideas: the post-apocalyptic Enemy Earth by Cavan Scott and Luke Horsman is getting a full-length series this year, and we’re also seeing the debut of Lowborn High by David Barnett and Anna Morozova, which is kind of like if Hogwarts was a rundown inner-city comprehensive. Karl Stock and Xulia Vicente are also doing The Unteachables, which is a twenty-first century take on the old Action strip Kids Rule OK.
Judge Dredd is, of course, a staple of 2000 AD at this point; he’s practically the singular embodiment of what 2000AD is, thanks to his success across the decades. Are there other characters or series that feel as if they will always return in some form or another to the title? You mentioned Slaine and Strontium Dog above, both of which feel like they should fall into this bracket…
The respective creators are no longer working on Slaine or Stront, so their return is unlikely.
What about Rogue Trooper, which hasn’t been seen for more than a decade as a standalone strip, but has expanded to include other serials set in that universe…?
Rogue is one who could return at some point, but it feels like his story is played out. Gordon Rennie and Simon Coleby are doing interesting stuff in his world with Jaegir without him having to make an appearance. Similarly, Alec Worley and Ben Willsher have rebooted Durham Red to great effect, being respectful to the character but doing their own thing.
Are there creators you’ve always wanted to get for 2000 AD who have remained immune to Tharg’s charms to date? What kind of thing makes someone feel appropriately 2000 AD-ish?
It tends to be the crime/horror stuff: action-led, occasionally blackly comic, very thriller-ish. There’s a few creators whose work I read, and I think they’d do good things in the prog, but they’re now fully working in the creator-owned field. There’s also a few ex-2000 AD alumni who’d I love to get back in the GGC, but whose global stardom has put them out of Tharg’s reach.
Best of 2000 AD is returning this year, and the Essential Judge Dredd collections have started coming out. There’s also the Apex Edition collections of some of the most famous artists who’ve worked on the series. Is the idea of using this historical, back catalog kind of material to break into the U.S. market something that’s on Rebellion’s mind, as a whole? Is “breaking into the U.S. market” something that 2000 AD and Rebellion even cares about, at this point?
Rebellion has always been interested in widening the reach of the material. Because 2000 AD is a UK weekly anthology – and a larger size to boot – it doesn’t fit with the standard US monthly format; it’s sold through Diamond in the US in monthly packs. So, the convenience of Essential collections is all about making it easier for getting this material into people’s hands, and giving them a place to start. 
As someone who reads 2000 AD and its collections primarily digital, has the 2000 AD app and webstore made a difference in breaking into the U.S.?
Digital has undeniably helped, but people still want something physical to read.
Having been the longest-lived editor to date, what do you think you’ve learned about what makes 2000 AD successful? The title’s been particularly stable for more than the past decade or so, and it’s definitely the longest streak of quality the series has had… probably ever, really. You clearly know what makes 2000 AD tick, so what would you tell your younger self, if given the chance?
I think you’ve got to really be a 2000 AD fan and reader to have a good concept of what works in the anthology. I didn’t read it from Prog 1 – I started in 1985, and had the Best of 2000 AD monthly to help fill in the blanks – but was a regular Squaxx*** from then until I joined editorial in 2000. A lot of the time you commission material because that’s the kind of thing you’d like to read yourself, so you have a similar mindset to the audience. I think some of the times where 2000 AD went wrong in the early nineties was that editorial at the time didn’t have a feel for the material – when you see where classic characters were handed to writers that didn’t get it, the tone goes all over the place. The editor should be able to spot that, and realize it isn’t working, and that comes from being steeped in the prog.
I’ve made mistakes over the last twenty years, where I’ve commissioned series that just didn’t connect with the readers. Something happens between greenlighting the pitch and the finished work, where it just doesn’t quite come together. Fortunately, there have been plenty of others that have proved popular. So I guess I’d pass on to my younger self this advice: trust your gut.
* “Prog” is short for “Programme,” which has been the 2000 AD equivalent of saying “Issue number” since the series launched; not content with having a fictional editor from a fictional planet, 2000 AD has an entire language of terminology built around it.
** 2000 AD Regened is the branding for special all-ages issues of the weekly comic that have been running since 2017. Initially launched as a Free Comic Book Day special, they’ve been popular enough to be increased to four issues a year.
*** “Squaxx” is the shortened version of “Squaxx del Thargo,” which “translates” as “Friend of Tharg” – part of the series’ fictional language that means, basically, anyone who’s a regular reader of the title. There’s also “Borag Thungg,” meaning hello, and “Scrotnig,” which means “exciting,” and apparently comes from a writer accidentally mistyping the word “escorting.” The more you know.
It struck me, thinking about the anniversary, that a significant percentage of those reading might not have sampled 2000 AD, and be scared off by the four-and-a-half decades’ worth of material to choose from. For those people, please enjoy the following list of 45 2000 AD (and, in a couple of cases, Judge Dredd Megazine, the spin-off launched in 1990) stories to give you a good idea of what’s on offer. All of these are available digitally as PDFs or CBZs via 2000 AD‘s online store.
The Day The Law Died (From Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 2), The Apocalypse War (From Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 5, also in The Essential Judge Dredd: The Apocalypse War), Letter from a Democrat (From Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 9, also in The Essential Judge Dredd: America), Revolution (From Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 11, also in The Essential Judge Dredd: America), Necropolis (From Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 14), Day of Chaos (From Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos - The Fourth Faction and Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos - Endgame), The Small House (From Judge Dredd: The Small House)
Dredd is the quintessential 2000 AD strip, and with good reason; when done well – which, honestly, describes the majority of the 45-year run to date – it’s an astonishingly versatile strip that recalls nothing as much as Will Eisner’s The Spirit, if The Spirit happened to be about an unemotional super-cop in a police state a century or so from now. From the above, The Day The Law Died, The Apocalypse War and Necropolis are big action stories that mix in other genres for extra spice, while Letter from a Democrat and Revolution lay bare the political structure of the strip in masterful fashion. Day of Chaos and The Small House are both, in their ways, political dramas, and explorations of how the continuity and history of a strip can open up story potential, rather than become insular and self-referential. (Take notes, American comics.)
The Schicklgruber Grab (From Strontium Dog: The Search/Destroy Agency Files Vol. 1), Portrait of a Mutant (From Strontium Dog: The Search/Destroy Agency Files Vol. 2), Rage (From Strontium Dog: The Search/Destroy Agency Files Vol. 3), Bitch (From Strontium Dog: The Search/Destroy Agency Files Vol. 4)
For my money, Strontium Dog is perhaps 2000 AD’s most underrated strip, despite it being a fan-favorite since its 1978 introduction. Pulpy and bearing no small amount of Western in its DNA, it centers around Johnny Alpha, a mutant bounty hunter who searches the galaxy (and, occasionally, time itself) for the biggest payday without losing his humanity; despite that description, it’s also one of 2000 AD’s funniest strips; “The Schicklgruber Grab” sees Johnny and partner Wulf Sternhammer go after none other than Adolf Hitler, for example.
The Beast of Blackheart Manor (From Robo-Hunter: The Droid Files Vol. 1), Last Lug to Abbo Dabbo (From The Complete Ace Trucking Co. Vol. 1)
Robo-Hunter was another long-lived strip from the early years of the title. Originally a sci-fi update on noir tropes, it veered more and more heavily into broad comedy (and, occasionally, racist tropes) as it continued. This story’s particularly fun for the heavy-handed, editorially constrained, hints that there’s more than a little cannibalism happening in the background. Ace Trucking Co., meanwhile, was another comedy strip from the same writing team of Alan Grant and John Wagner, with a surprisingly simple hook: It’s trucking comedy, but they’re all in space and using fake space CB lingo. 
All Hell on the Dix-I Front (From Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu Earth Vol. 1), You Only Die Twice (From Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu Earth Vol. 2), Cinnabar (From Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu Earth Vol. 4)
Rogue Trooper’s genre was named, simply, “future war,” which was if nothing else entirely descriptive; the earliest stories in the series – co-created and initially illustrated by Dave Gibbons – are thinly-veiled WWII stories in space, which are a particular joy in their own rights. “Cinnabar,” which ran late in the series’ original run and was written by John Smith, is something more akin to a 1980s sci-fi horror movie a soldier has accidentally wandered into… which is exactly as good as it sounds. 
Heroes’ Blood/The Shoggey Beast/Sky Chariots (From Slaine: Warrior’s Dawn), Slaine: The Horned God (From Slaine: The Horned God), A.B.C. Warriors (series one) (From A.B.C. Warriors: The Mek Files Vol. 1), Terror Tube! (From The Complete Nemesis the Warlock Vol. 1)
Writer Pat Mills was one of the real movers and shakers behind 2000 AD’s creation, and a mainstay of its creative staff for the first quarter century if not longer, creating a bunch of different concepts to thrill readers. A.B.C. Warriors and Nemesis the Warlock share a continuity and, as both continue, an obsession with “order versus chaos” as told in a particular English (and, to me, a particularly upper class…?) manner, but the earliest episodes of each are exciting in a dirty pulp manner that can’t be denied with art from the likes of Kevin O’Neill, Brendan McCarthy and Mick McMahon. Slaine, meanwhile, is Mills building his own Conan the Barbarian out of celtic myth; for all its historical violent appeal, it’s never been better than the early episodes drawn by McMahon, whose art on the series is nothing less than revolutionary in its sketchy blockiness, and the Horned God cycle, which is painted in Frazetta-esque glory by a young Simon Bisley.
Chrono-Cops (From The Complete Alan Moore Future Shocks), DR & Quinch Go Girl Crazy! (From The Complete D.R. & Quinch), The Ballad of Halo Jones Book 1 (From The Ballad of Halo Jones Vol. 1)
One of 2000 AD’s claims to fame is publishing early work by Alan Moore; certainly, the sci-fi kitchen sink drama The Ballad of Halo Jones is arguably one of his three big early works alongside Miracleman and V for Vendetta, but his short comedy work – like D.R. & Quinch and the many Future Shocks (one-off five-or-six page stories) – is arguably more fun to uncover. There’s a lot of joy to be found in Moore’s silliness of the early ‘80s. (Chrono-Cops, notably, is one of the first times he worked with Watchmen collaborator Dave Gibbons.)
Bad Company (series one) (From The Complete Bad Company), Sooner or Later (From Sooner or Later), Hewligan’s Haircut (From Hewligan’s Haircut)
Peter Milligan has been a mainstay of 2000 AD since the 1980s, and still makes the occasional appearance in the anthology courtesy of his long-running Bad Company series – think the “future war” genre of Rogue Trooper but filtered through underground comics and M*A*S*H*, of all things – but, just as Moore got the chance to hit some comedy high-notes in the early days, so did Milligan, and with some great collaborators: Sooner or Later re-teams him with Brendan McCarthy, while Hewligan’s Haircut was co-created with Tank Girl and Gorillaz’s Jamie Hewlett.
Zenith (Phase One) (From Zenith: Phase One), Zenith Phase III (From Zenith: Phase Three)
Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell’s Zenith remains one of my favorite works by either creator, especially Yeowell’s beautiful inkwork in the third series. What starts as a relatively straight take on the Watchmen model of superhero revisionism in the first series has, by the third, become a tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of the superhero event comic that refuses to play by the rules, and includes one of the greatest fake-outs in the entire superhero genre.
Indigo Prime: Killing Time (From Indigo Prime: Killing Time), Firekind (From Firekind), Revere (From Revere), Cradlegrave (From Cradlegrave.)
2000 AD can boast that it’s helped many writers break into the American industry, but John Smith is the one who, for the most part, got away. The U.S.’s loss was 2000 AD’s gain, and he remained a staple of the title for more than two decades, offering up all manner of new and weird concepts on a regular basis. Killing Time is, essentially, “Doctor Who meets From Hell,” Revere is post-apocalyptic teenage angst as filtered through the Tarot, Cradlegrave a suburban body horror story, and Firekind… well, bluntly, Firekind is James Cameron’s Avatar more than a decade earlier. 
Low Life: Hostile Takeover/The Deal (From Mega-City One Undercover Vols. 2 & 3), Welcome to Badrock (From Lawless: Welcome to Badrock), Call Me By Thy Name (From Devlin Waugh: Blood Debt)
There’s been an entire industry built around Judge Dredd spin-offs in the past quarter century or so, thanks to the existence of the monthly Judge Dredd Megazine title as well as a number of series in 2000 AD itself. Low Life is one of the latter, a series about undercover cops in Mega-City One that demonstrates that no-one can stay clean outside the sterile world Judges normally live in. Lawless plays with that idea, as a marshall on an alien planet finds her own way to keep the peace – think Elmore Leonard writing Dredd as a western, and you’re halfway there – while Devlin Waugh is entirely its own beast, named after its central character: a Vatican-employed exorcist who’s also a vampire. And, as seen in the relatively recent “Call Me By Thy Name,” his sidekick these days is a dildo possessed by a demon. You know, as you’d expect.
Planet Zombo (From Zombo: You Smell of Crime and I’m the Deodorant), The Zaucer of Zilk (From IDW’s The Zaucer of Zilk collection)
What’s that, you say? You want early work by Al Ewing that shows off the humor and pop cultural nous that his Marvel writing only has the space to hint at? 2000 AD has you covered.
Shako (From Shako), Summer Magic (From Summer Magic: The Complete Journal of Luke Kirby), Book 1: The Killing Game (From Button Man: The Killing Game)
Three little-known attempts to broaden 2000 AD’s appeal beyond sci-fi from its first two decades. Shako is the story of, as the strip puts it, “the only bear on the CIA death list,” which tells you everything you need to know, really; Summer Magic is a take on British supernatural stories and horror set in the 1960s that predates Harry Potter by more than a decade while trading on some of the same tropes; Button Man sees Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner take things in a more grounded direction with a tale of a hitman marked for death by his former bosses. 
Leviathan (From Leviathan), Brink (series one) (From Brink Vol. 1), Strigoi (From Jaegir: Beasts Within), The Wheel of Worlds (From Brass Sun: The Wheel of Worlds), Thistlebone (From Thistlebone Vol. 1)
To end with, five stories from the past decade or so (Leviathan is actually from 2003, I admit), displaying 2000 AD’s restlessness and desire to keep offering up new ideas and new series. Leviathan is about an eponymous cruise liner that disappeared from our world and ended up… somewhere else; Brink is what happens when Douglas Adams and Ridley Scott decide to rewrite HBO’s True Detective and set it on a space station; Jaegir is a reboot of Rogue Trooper, told from the point of view of the bad guys; Brass Sun is what Steampunk would be if it weren’t embarrassing; and Thistlebone is pastoral horror, A24-style.
2000 AD Prog 2270, the official anniversary issue complete with Brian Bolland cover, will be released in U.K. stores and digitally internationally on February 23. (Alongside the start of a new Judge Dredd storyline written by character co-creator John Wagner, there’s also the first episode of a new Brink series, and an Indigo Prime one-off that is likely to raise some eyebrows for longtime fans of that series.) 
Other anniversary releases for the title this year include The Best of John Wagner and The Best of Carlos Ezquerra collections, as well as the just-released 2000 AD Encyclopedia and the upcoming Brian Bolland Apex Edition and Judge Dredd: The Mick McMahon Apex Edition oversize art books. More information about 2000 AD anniversary books can be found here.
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Graeme McMillan

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