Comics, FYI

By Graeme McMillan

"A Curated Mixtape for Modern Comics Readers"

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Comics, FYI
"A Curated Mixtape for Modern Comics Readers"
By Graeme McMillan • Issue #44 • View online
Think of this as a DVD extra for my Popverse Best Of 2000 AD story, if it wasn’t for the fact that even DVDs don’t have DVD extras anymore. (Man, I’m old.)

A little something different for this one, I think. On Monday, Popverse ran a story about 2000 AD’s attempts to break the US market historically, up to and including the upcoming new Best of 2000 AD trade paperback series launching later this year. In the story, there are a handful of quotes from Best of 2000 AD editor Owen Johnson about the series — but when we were talking about it via email a few months ago, he gave me a lot that didn’t make the cut. 
I felt bad about not using more of what he’d said — it was an issue of word count and the angle of the piece, not any kind of problem with anything he’d said, after all — and thought to myself that maybe one day, I’d find some way to share more of it. So, welcome to “one day.” Here’s what Owen had to say; I’ll be back at the end.
Brink, one of my favorite comics in recent years, will be serialized in the initial volumes of Best of 2000 AD.
Brink, one of my favorite comics in recent years, will be serialized in the initial volumes of Best of 2000 AD.
Why do you think 2000 AD traditionally hasn’t taken off in a big way in the US? Is it a format thing, or are American audiences simply more used to different genres and storytelling styles?
Readers want quality storytelling - which we have - and accessibility, which has historically been a challenge due to the quirks of two different markets. The simple fact is that both the US direct market and the buying habits of readers are geared towards monthly books. However, this market just isn’t set up for weekly titles (the only exceptions being experiments like the DC’s innovative Wednesday Comics or 52, both of which ran for a limited time).
Conversely, the UK’s market is based on the weekly comic. That’s as true for 2000 AD today as it’s always been - the vast majority of our readers either subscribe, and get it delivered, or they go to their local store or newsagent and buy it. We ship copies of the weekly issues to the US via Diamond UK, who bind them into packs for monthly release in the US, which comes with all the international shipping challenges and attendant cost. Also, those bundled packs come sealed - so there’s a barrier to potential readers picking them up and flicking through before deciding to buy. Browsing and discoverability are crucial features we’re missing out on.
All that said, an engaged audience doesn’t care about logistics issues, they simply want good comics and more of them when those run out! 
The new Best of 2000 AD series is a series of collected edition anthologies, showcasing – as the name suggests – the best of 2000 AD‘s back catalog. How did you go about selecting the material to use? What was your criteria?
The mission was to honor and maybe surprise our historic fans, but our priority is to expand the audience with a curated mixtape for modern comics readers who had never read a page of 2000 AD before. 
We feel Best of 2000 AD bridges that gap between original fans and new readers. So many people know that 2000 AD means socially- and politically-conscious stories that are still incredibly relevant, and are executed with all the imagination and world building offered by great science fiction and fantasy that genre readers have always loved and mainstream audiences now recognize from high concept genre TV. But getting it to them in a meaningful and timely way has been the issue.
So we’ve focused on making Best of 2000 AD as accessible and attractive to readers as possible: this means very little serialization or continuity requirements (harder than you’d think with strips that began decades ago*, with few reboots to speak of); reading volumes out of order; full color wherever possible; radical redesign by the great Tom Muller; beloved US artists gracing the covers**; and essays by leading critics contextualizing the work and its relevance today***. We want this to be the total ‘first hit, love it’ package.
We tried to look at everything through the eyes of a new reader. We have a structure which will run across all volumes: a modern one and done Judge Dredd adventure by top talent; a series of hidden gems showcasing the breadth of genre, style and subject matter that’s made 2000 AD a cult sensation; a graphic novel sized feature presentation that is often over 100 pages long, and a fun early Dredd case from the archive. All vintage material got a treatment on the colors to set it aside from other reprints and to delight the nostalgics among us. Every course is a complete meal, where possible.
We were also looking for the X factor of a story that ‘punched into today’ in terms of the art style and story. There are artists in the 2000 AD creative stable like Mick McMahon, Arthur Ranson, Jamie Hewlett that have a graphic and ‘modern’ feeling in composition and color. Reading these stories now, they just haven’t dated. Of course, there’s an editorial bias even in curation, but we think this is ‘all killer no filler’ and really lives up to the title.
This content has been road-tested on a brain trust ranging from die-hards to first-timers to ensure it was satisfying for both. We hope people love it.
Kevin O'Neill's own color work for his Nemesis the Warlock will show up in the second volume of the series.
Kevin O'Neill's own color work for his Nemesis the Warlock will show up in the second volume of the series.
Why the collected edition format, as opposed to single issues (as with the aborted 2020 series****)?
While it’s true that the industry has changed a lot over the last two years, the importance to comic book stores of re-orderable stock and the increasing relevance of the book trade was already underway. The pandemic at least gave us the opportunity to look at Best of 2000 AD and assess the best way forward.
The bottom line is we want to give people as many options as possible for ordering – re-ordering in the case of retailers – reading, and finding a permanent home on their bookshelves for this series. We believe in it and in giving it the widest audience we can.
I wouldn’t want to generalize a US readership: it’s more diverse than ever before but you have those who grew up with a healthy direct market (driven by Marvel/DC product) are now actively dictating the collected edition and omnibus schedules of publishers. Also a whole younger generation of readers, comic store folk and librarians are digital or book trade native and passionate about different genres and styles. For both, reading stories in four page chunks is alien in a binge-reading world thanks to SVOD and manga. 
So it’s all about taking the advantages of what we do, and showcasing that in an exciting way for an American readership that looks like that. This is the equivalent of having an in-the-know friend curating for you.
Also, new readers turn up all the time! It’s easy to forget that as a long-term fan. Every now and then you need to light the flare with a new format. The US Eagle reprints are remembered fondly (a touchstone we evoke with Best of 2000 AD) because of the iconic Brian Bolland covers, the incredible quality of the comics, and the accessibility of them in a fresh format. 
We’ve spent years building a phenomenal backlist in the book trade - the graphic novel line is something to be fed by the success of Best of 2000 AD. But like comics in general, it can be intimidating and hard to know where to start. This is intended as that gateway to those who are yet to dive in. 
What series are you most excited for the American audiences to discover? Is there some hidden classic that you’re eager for people to lose their minds over? 
Every story we’ve chosen does something special.
We kick off the series with the complete Judge Anderson story, Shamballa, by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson. Leviathan by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli is a moody and atmospheric stone-cold classic period piece. There’s a short ABC Warriors story by Alan Moore and Steve Dillon called ‘Red Planet Blues’ which was a delightful discovery for me, Storming Heaven by Gordon Rennie and Fraser Irving is a fusion of superheroes and psychedelic counterculture that fans of Grant Morrison will love. And we have an early Frank Quitely western in Missionary Man
The last volume is nearly completely stories set in The Cursed Earth (the Judge Dredd universe’s version of Mad Max Fury Road for the uninitiated), with critic Ritesh Babu writing a foreword to my favorite Judge Dredd story ‘The Hotdog Run’ which sees Dredd leading a field trip of Judges-in-training - a great Dredd character study and full of B-movie atomic bug fun! 
In the wake of the legendary Kevin O’Neill’s supposed retirement***** it’s great to showcase Nemesis The Warlock, which to my mind is our most iconic character after Dredd, and the distillation of the wider 2000 AD’s radical and rebellious dark heart.
What's that you say? You want Jamie Delano and Alan Davis comedy agony aunt strips? Good news, Earthlets.
What's that you say? You want Jamie Delano and Alan Davis comedy agony aunt strips? Good news, Earthlets.
Me again, now. I said this on Twitter earlier this week, but I’ve had a chance to see some advance PDFs of a couple of volumes from this series, and they’re genuinely excellent primers for what 2000 AD is and can do. I suspect, sadly, that the series might prove to be a tough sell to US audiences, purely because everything that isn’t a Marvel or DC title feels like that these days, but I very much hope I’m wrong; some of the work in these books are some of my favorite comics around. 
Best of 2000 AD launches this September, and it’s $22.99 in the US for the first volume; go and pre-order it already, just to see what you’re missing out on. (Also, go read the Popverse story, if only to get an idea of how 2000 AD was initially introduced to American audiences; I still shiver, thinking of those terrible production jobs on the Quality Comics era…!)
* This is when I remind everyone that Judge Dredd is still running in the continuity it started 45 years ago, with not even a 2015’s Secret Wars-esque pause and quiet continuity reshuffle at any point.
** Artists named for cover duty are Jamie McKelvie, Becky Cloonan, Charlie Adlard, Erica Henderson, and Annie Wu. The series was announced as six volumes, so there’s a mystery artist somewhere in the mix.
*** The critics are Tom Shapira, Chloe Maveal, Rosie Knight, Ritesh Babu, Tiffany Babb, and Adam Karenina Sherif. Yes, I’m very jealous of all of them, thank you for asking.
**** A 12-issue comic book format version of Best of 2000 AD was announced in late 2019 for a 2020 launch. It never happened because of COVID; it would have launched in April, right in the middle of Diamond Comic Distributors’ shutdown of comics distribution. Somewhere, there are probably thousands of unseen copies of the first issue.
***** O'Neill hasn’t actually retired, to the best of my knowledge. He’s even got new work in the Battle Action hardcover anthology written by Garth Ennis that’s out very soon, to prove it…!
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Graeme McMillan

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