2012 AD: Pat Mills Remembers 35 Years of "2000 AD"

Mon, March 5th, 2012 at 7:58am PST

Comic Books
Karl Keily, Contributing Writer
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Considered an upstart comic at the time, few thought "2000 AD" would make it to the year 2000 when it was founded in 1977, let alone its 35th anniversary in 2012. In the intervening three and a half decades, "2000 AD" has arguably contributed more to the modern comic landscape than any other single publisher. Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Garth Ennis and Kevin O'Neil are just a few of the names that might never have become household names if not for "The Galaxy's Greatest Comic." Delivering up to five new comic stories to stands every week in one oversized package, "2000 AD" is undoubtedly the reigning King of the British comic book scene and has recently started a push to finally break in to the American market.

To help celebrate 35 years of thrills, all year long CBR News will be speaking with the people behind "2000 AD" -- those who helped start it, those that made it great, and the current crew that continues to publish zarjaz comics every single week. For the very first of our 2012 AD interviews, CBR was lucky enough to speak with Pat Mills about his time at "2000 AD." Mills is the founder of "2000 AD," the creator of such classic comics as "Nemesis the Warlock," "Ro-busters," "Slaine," "ABC Warriors," and the original Tharg, "2000 AD's" editor-in-chief.

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CBR News: Pat, you started "2000 AD" 35 years ago. Did you ever think it would last this long, given how so many of its contemporaries were being shot down at the time?

Pat Mills: Yes, I knew when I started it that it was very different and could last. It had no connection with its contemporaries, which I regarded as insulting and out of touch with the readers. Although they had their moments in the past, at the time in question they were very poor.

What do you think the British and global comic scene would be like today if you had never created "2000 AD?" Thinking of how many artists and writers came out of it, Bolland, Moore, Ennis, Bisley, Gibbons, etc.

2012 marks "2000 AD's" 35th anniversary and CBR News spoke with founder Pat Mills for a history lesson
Cover art by Chris Weston

It wouldn't be good. After all, currently there's no mainstream UK comic apart from "2000 AD." Although I hear "Phoenix" is making progress. I think many of those creators would have gone direct to the USA.

Would it be safe to say that you have contributed more material to "2000 AD" than any other writer?

Probably. Bear in mind I created all the stories in Prog One and some of them are still around so it's not too surprising.

Although I think it's probably only in recent years I've "caught up." A few years back I'd have said Alan Grant and John Wagner produced the most material for "2000 AD."

Could you run down your current "2000 AD" and "Judge Dredd Megazine" projects?

Sure. Second book of "Flesh;" "Midnight Cowboys" with James McKay; "Invasion;" "Rise Like Lions" with Patrick Goddard; "Visible Man" in [the] 35th birthday issue of "2000 AD;" "Greysuit" with John Higgins; "ABC Warriors" with Clint Langley; "Defoe;" "The Damned" with Leigh Gallagher; more "Reaper" with Clint for the "Megazine."

You mentioned your contemporaries in the '70s were "insulting and out of touch" with readers. Could you elaborate on what you mean and how exactly "2000 AD" set itself apart?

The stories were silly. "Sergeants Four" in "Jet" about soldiers who tie knots in tank barrels. Paddy McGinty's "Goat" -- an alien disguised as a goat -- also in "Jet." The comic lasted 12 weeks. "Captain Hurricane" -- Valiant, who, although he had his moments in the past, was ridiculous by the late '70s. So they were out of touch with the readers who wanted more realism and sophistication and to be treated as young adults.

They were insulting to the readers because the objective for writers and artists was to bang it out as quickly as possible and the readers were not stupid, they knew, and sales slumped. I was appalled. They were also insulting because they talked down to the readers with instructions like "Continued Overleaf" at the end of the page. Like the readers hadn't got the intelligence to turn the page. Comics -- with very distinct and separate identities -- were merged into each other to boost sales with a policy known as Hatch, Match and Dispatch. Imagine "Spider-Man" merged into "Captain America." This supposedly commercial successful policy treated the readers with contempt.

"2000 AD" was different because I came from outside comics, I was not a fan so I was not influenced by traditional British comics or traditional thinking. My inspiration came from outside. And I was given a free hand by the publisher to do whatever I needed to do to shake the industry up.

I used my dislike of these contemporary comics and that energy into creating "2000 AD."

What's your personal relationship like with John Wagner and Kelvin Gosnell today?

John and I e-mail each other occasionally. I haven't heard from Kelvin in years. I don't think Dave Bishop's history of "2000 AD" did him any favors -- another example of the hob-nailed boot policy -- and I should probably sing Kelvin's praises more myself, which I will be happy to do should an occasion present itself.

You've discovered tons of amazing artists including Simon Bisley, Clint Langley, Mick McMahon and plenty more. How did you get so lucky in choosing artists?

It's not luck. It was a deliberate and ongoing policy of mine. An awful lot of brilliant artists have been lost to British comics because they weren't "spotted" and developed.

Thus, many years ago, artists like Barry Windsor Smith went to the United States because their talent wasn't appreciated in the UK. There was a whole missing generation of British artists back in the '70s because Spanish artists were cheaper. Artists need recognizing, developing and nurturing and this is what I do. Currently James McKay, for instance, on "Flesh." In times gone by, Vertigo and other US Comics used to select artists from "2000 AD" once they had gone through this process. So I would ensure I had got the best out of them before they appeared or were chosen.

About ten years back on "2000 AD," many great potential artists were lost to the comic because their talents were not recognized. You need an "eye" to spot their abilities.

Will we ever see "Nemesis" again?

No. Kevin O'Neill wanted to end the story when he left it. I kept it going until various story threads were resolved, which took longer than I anticipated. But then it had to come to an end. I miss him!

Could you foresee any way of getting new "Nemesis" material out in the future without O'Neill's consent? Either a prequel or side-story set in that world? Have you discussed it with him recently?

I think if Kevin was okay with the idea he'd say. I certainly wouldn't write one without his approval. I did do a side-story, "Deadlock," set in the ruins of the Termight world, precisely for this reason. Because I knew the readers would miss the world as well as Nemesis and Torquemada. I had high hopes for it -- and this was a way of fulfilling the readers interest and also keeping my promise to Kevin to end Nemesis -- but Andy Diggle, then editor, said no to any more. If you look at that "Deadlock" series you will see it had huge potential and was "high concept." See my earlier response about "2000 AD's" Dark Age eleven years back.

EXCLUSIVE ART: Mills' "Flesh" debuted in the first issue, and James McKay pencils the feature in Prog 1774

"Marshal Law" was one of your biggest early successes. How did it feel to finally be noticed in the US market after having success in the UK with "2000 AD" for over a decade at that point?

I was delighted. But you'll be aware that I've never had the drive to work for the States that my peers have. Europe -- France -- was always my destination and that's where I eventually ended up with series like "Sha," "Broz" and "Requiem [Vampire Knight]," the latter just celebrating his tenth volume anniversary.

After "2000 AD," a group of us tried to break into the French market before the US Market. Brian Bolland, Mike McMahon, Kevin O'Neill, Dave Gibbons, Ian Gibson, myself. We put together "Mekomania" -- a robot history of the future -- which didn't fly. It was only then that people's thoughts were more focused on the US.

The reason for all this is doubtless clear enough. The great days of Warren comics had gone and it was primarily all super heroes in the US. Conventional super heroes don't interest me. I think I dislike the supposedly cool super heroes as much as the old style ones. And I'd probably be awful at writing them.

Whereas I am uniquely qualified to write a super hero hunter story like "Marshal Law." My animosity towards them is deeper than anyone else in the business and it makes Law fun to read -- for those who share my views. Ironically, the funniest and most evil lines in "Marshal Law" often come from Kevin, who likes super heroes.

Was there ever a point at which "Marshal Law" may have ended up in the Prog?

Not really. I think he guest spots in one page. And there was talk about Dredd and Law teaming up, but who is there for them to go after? No one in "2000 AD" I can think of.

But with the prospect of probably never returning to Law -- as Kevin is busy on "League [of Extraordinary Gentlemen]" -- I do need an outlet for the feelings and values described in Law. So maybe Defoe will go after the Vizards -- elite aetheric-powered heroes -- some time soon.

There's been talk of more "Marshal Law" in the past couple years, so are you saying that's no longer the case?

It doesn't look likely, alas. But let's see what happens when the DC book comes out. You never know, Kevin could be tempted. If he was, I'd for it like a shot.

If you could pick one artist and writer for each decade for a "Best of 2000 AD" collection, whom would you pick?

Three and a half decades...

Bolland, McMahon, Kevin O'Neill, Glenn Fabry, Simon Bisley, Clint Langley.

But I'm not sure they would easily slot into any one particular decade.

Writers? Well, I'd rather wave the flag for Gerry Finley-Day who the readers loved but editorial did not (for some fair reasons and some less than fair). His influence on "2000 AD" is often ignored because "his face doesn't fit." But I'd rather than champion the underdog than praise "the usual suspects."

His creations include "Rogue Trooper," "VCs," "Fiends of the Eastern Front," [and] "Harry on High Rock."

Beware of sequels to these stories by other writers which were largely rather poor.

What did editorial have against Gerry Finley-Day?

Gerry's ideas were often rough 'round the edges which meant a lot of work for editorial. I know this to be very true because -- determined to get my one-time mentor back into print -- I revised a one-off "Rogue Trooper" he wrote as a favour to him. It appeared and the readers liked it and were overjoyed to see him back. So was I. I've begged Gerry to carry on with "Rogue Trooper" because I know the affection he is held in and none of the subsequent writers [of] "Rogue Troopers" have been as successful.

I know how bloody irritating it can be revising rough work, but I was prepared to do it because I recognize Gerry's sometimes raw talent. And so do the readers. I'd still revise them (for nothing) because I feel his talent should not be wasted. I wish we could get the guy back into comics.

There are two reasons why his "Rogue Troopers" were the best: 1) He has talent. 2) He has a military background. So he knew what he was writing about.

Mick McMahon provided the variant cover for "2000AD's" 35th anniversary prog

Okay, there are many, many reasons why his scripts are annoying if you have to edit them. But I personally can see past them. For me, his talent comes first.

Alas, we live in the real world and it would require more negotiating, pleading and twisting his arm than is viable for me to get him back. What a great loss to the comic industry.

Has there ever been a point at which you doubted "2000 AD" would survive?

Yes. When it was badly run about twelve years ago. The guys involved thought they knew what they were doing but they didn't. So "2000 AD" started to lose its identity and alienated many creators and readers. They certainly alienated me and -- because it's a comic I care about -- there's no statute of limitations on my feelings about this.

If they had stayed with the comic, I believe they would have eventually killed it. Fortunately for the last decade it's been brilliantly run by Matt Smith. It's a tough job being an editor because everyone thinks they know better, but he's avoided the pitfalls of his predecessors.

Can you pinpoint any particular pitfalls twelve years ago that left "2000 AD" in such a state?

They alienated creators and they replaced that alienation with... nothing that lasted. Any new stories that emerged during that era -- like "Dante" -- I'm sure were down to the talents of the creators. I would see rejection letters to very promising artists that were vicious and abusive. I received one myself. When Dave Bishop took over as editor he sent out a ranting hard copy circular to writers telling us all in great and irate detail how we had it wrong. No exceptions. A blanket condemnation of all of us. My copy was labeled "Mills." I assume the others were the same. I didn't expect special treatment, even though I was the creator of the comic that was paying his wages, but a "Hi, Pat, Here's my thoughts" at the top would have been civil. Such a circular could be taken as a declaration of hostilities.

I assume Editorial at the time believed that being aggressive to creators would get good results. It does not. Or alternatively they were on a power trip and just enjoyed winding us up. Possibly the latter, from what I have heard from those who were present in the office at the time. In this, they most certainly succeeded. What Bishop described once as "going over things with my usual hob-nailed boots." The evidence for this is still in the "2000 AD" letter columns where readers were encouraged to trash creators often in a personal and inappropriate manner. What possible useful purpose could such letters have? Readers would ring me up and say, "Why are they printing such awful things about you?"

If someone is not any good, you get rid of them and replace them with a new writer or artist. Otherwise you encourage them. This is what I did when I started "2000 AD." But you also have to have the insight to know who is good or bad. And how to get the best out of creators. They clearly didn't. Worse, they thought they knew what they were doing. Possibly from reading some books on creative writing, judging by the jargon they would sometimes use. But reading books does not replace talent or ability. I can read a book on swimming and can talk knowledgeably about it, but it won't actually teach me to swim.

They had some kind of vision which was highly opaque. You'd have to ask them what their vision was. I think it was partly "New Broom" and the intention to create a new "2000 AD" universe, replacing the old, rather like the Marvel New Universe. And to model "2000 AD" on other magazines like the men's mag Loaded. Or Deadline. Or Vertigo. Anything but model "2000 AD" on... "2000 AD." Why do we want to imitate Vertigo? We should be proud of what we are. "2000 AD" readers who also liked Vertigo would buy that comic line as well. They wouldn't want "2000 AD" turned into Vertigo. I'm sure the same is true in reverse.

It was a sad time in the history of "2000 AD." Sad because of all the lost opportunities and all the talented people we could have brought into the comic. I was pretty close to quitting myself, which I firmly believe -- from many other provocations -- was their intention. Paradoxically, I owe my "Requiem's" success to them. At that time called "The Resurrectionist," it was rejected by Dave Bishop ostensibly because it featured time going backwards which has appeared in science fiction novels. Er... right. I submitted it to the French and "Requiem Vampire Knight" has been a best seller in France for the last ten years, with one spin-off series and others planned. We've sold over 100,000 copies of the series.

I think that tells you all you need to know.

How specifically do you think Matt Smith turned it around? His legacy is growing into one that could rival any other "2000 AD" editor's reign, in my opinion.

Matt is the best editor "2000 AD" has had. I say that with total authority, knowledge -- after all I worked for them all -- and without being partisan. He's achieved this, I think, by being very laid back, mature, non-partisan and balanced in his views. By modeling "2000 AD" on "2000 AD." Not on Vertigo or "Loaded." It's an incredibly difficult job, because everyone thinks they know how to do it better. I'm full of admiration for how Matt steers the ship.

What are your thoughts on the new "Dredd" film? You contributed a lot to the early catalog; do you feel the movie is staying true to those roots?

I know almost nothing about the new Dredd movie but I wish it well. It's a hard one to get right but I'm sure all concerned have put everything they've got into it. The hardest job is making it actually happen -- so full marks to the producers.

I always thought everyone was too hard on the first Dredd [movie]. Okay, it got some things wrong, the script was clunky and Stallone wasn't a great choice, but there's a lot of SF films which are worse that get the thumbs up.

You've worked extensively with artist Clint Langley over the past decade, and have recently started up your own imprint together, Repeat Offenders. How did you two meet and why has this partnership stuck through so many projects together?

We got together on "2000 AD" and we share a common desire to produce great stories -- using a cinematic approach. Hence his amazing work on "Slaine" and "ABC Warriors."

Clint is doing something new and exciting with the comic genre which I think is truly unique and I want to be part of. This led to us setting up the company Repeat Offenders Ltd with our colleague Jeremy Davis. We have a number of projects on the go, kicking off with "American Reaper" which has been optioned by Xingu Films.

I'm glad you mentioned that project, since "American Reaper" is currently running through "Judge Dredd Megazine," "2000 AD's" sister publication. What has the reaction for a new property with you and Langley, as opposed to established thrills like "ABC Warriors" or "Slaine" been like?

It's gone down very well with readers. More volumes are planned, and the book version should be out in 2012. Several French and European publishers want to run it. I think we'll probably self publish the UK edition and look for an American publisher to handle rights in the States.

We've spent most of this conversation looking back, but what's next for Pat Mills and Repeat Offenders?

A film company has optioned a second RO property and commissioned me to write the screenplay, which I'm currently in the middle of. And there's a bunch of other properties out with film companies. I think we should get a result on a couple shortly.

The reality of this business is that creators are so busy creating they don't have much energy left to sell. Or if they do, their work can suffer. So we've divided our company as follows:

I write.
Clint draws.
Jeremy sells.

The hardest bit is the selling. And you need a damn good salesman with excellent contacts and perseverance. Jeremy is the best.

Stay tuned to CBR News all year for more conversations with the minds behind "2000 AD" in our year-long 2012 AD series.

Discuss this story in CBR's Independents forum.  |  3 Comments

TAGS:  2012 ad, 2000 ad, pat mills, nemesis, marshal law, flesh, james mckay, gerry finley-day, matt smith, clint langley, repeat offenders, american reaper

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