Britain was troubled in the late seventies. The unions were on strike and dead bodies were piling up in the streets; or was it garbage? There were power cuts when the coal miners stopped work and industry became even less industrious than usual as the lights went out. In desperation the public voted Margaret Thatcher into power, a polarising figure who led us into an age of riots and street protests. Brixton burned. Saint Paul's in Bristol burned a bit too and I lived quite near. Punk rock arrived and rebellion was in the air.
Rebellion owns 2000AD now, of course, but in the beginning - February 1977 - it was put out by staid Scottish publisher I.P.C. Magazines. The management were pipe smoking ex-cavalrymen in tweeds. Pat Mills, one of the founders, says that British comics were dire at the time, especially the boys stuff. Mills says the girls comics were more intelligent and had some emotional depth. He quite enjoyed writing them. However, a boy grew up reading funnies like the Beano and the Dandy but after that had nowhere to go. Well, he did, actually. He could go read the American comics like I did and like most of the creators of 2000AD did.
So Mills founded Action a realistic, violent comic which fell afoul of the censors. He was trying to give kids the feel of those movies they weren't allowed to see, like Death Wish. Then someone told someone at the publishers that a film called Star Wars was going to be huge and SF was the new trend. Keen to cash in they agreed to let Mills start a new SF comic called 2000AD. It was still in the British anthology format but slightly different in that each strip had five or six pages per episode rather than two. This gave the artists and writers more leeway. Older comics tended to have about nine small panels to the page. With more room the artists could do bigger, splashier layouts in the style of those American comics many of them loved.
Not that 2000AD was an American clone. No, sir. I think the Comics Code Authority would have jumped on it like a ton of bricks. 2000AD was largely built up by the creators interviewed here: Pat Mills, John Wagner, Grant Morrison, Neal Gaiman, Dave Gibbons and of course many others. Pat Mills, as his interviews show, is a feisty, rebellious fellow of Irish descent with a sincere grudge against the middle class, the Catholic Church and the English establishment. The others were young free spirits with anarchic tendencies but I get the impression he was the driving force. They all loved comics as a medium but wanted to do something different, and did. 2000AD was full of violence, gore, shocks etc. but also had a sense of humour, generally black. In 1978 I was at that age where you feel silly reading comics and want to pursue girls and drink (Neil Gaiman confesses to the same thing here) so I didn't read it at the time but I have read a lot of the collected reprints and I think the dark wit was best thing about it. Pat Mills was a fan of the English satirical magazine Private-Eye and that had some influence.
There are loads of interesting facts here. Judge Dredd started out slow but became more popular as time went on. The favourite strip at first was some violent fellow called M.A.C.H. 1. The film gives background information on such famous strips as Strontium Dog, Slaine, Rogue Trooper, ABC Warriors, Halo Jones, D.R. and Quinch and the joyous little Future Shocks, short stories where new writers cut their teeth. All the writers say that the discipline of doing Future Shocks, having to tell a proper, structured story in such a tiny space, forced them to do better and was a great training exercise. Future Shocks were the foot in the door, not just one but ten or twenty sometimes before you'd get more work. Alan Moore did about forty before he managed to land a whole strip for himself. The rest is history.
Big Al is missing here. I guess he didn't want to take part. Everyone else says nice things about his work, unsurprisingly, and Neil Gaiman deeply laments the fact that The Ballad of Halo Jones was left unfinished. He said Moore took two hours one day to tell him the rest of the story and he ended up in tears. Moore has gone on to other things now so we're unlikely ever to see it, alas.
Karen Berger features a lot, too. Who she? Karen is the young lady from DC Comics who came over here with Dick Giordano, poached all the 2000AD talent and took it off to America to do other things, mainly with the Vertigo imprint. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland were the first to go. For a while 2000AD became a shop window for American companies, something that Pat Mills deeply resented. Happily, some of them remember their roots and still do work for it now and then, just for fun.
Disc one is the main story of 2000AD and it's terrific. Plenty of splashy graphics on show as you might expect. It's mainly told through interviews. Disc two features the extras which are extended interviews with the same people. Pat Mills' was about an hour! In some ways Disc 2 was even more interesting that Disc 1.
Together they make a fine, engrossing package. I was glued to the screen. This is a must have for any fan of 2000AD and any comics historian.