Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tharg the mighty

So who is this Tharg person anyway? I guess there has long been a fashion for fictional hosts of an anthology comic, going back to EC and their Crypt keeper, not to mention circus ringmasters such as PT Barnum. But it still surprises me how long Tharg has endured, especially since his only real characteristic is extreme arrogance. Nonetheless, he has added something to 2000 AD - perhaps along the lines that the comic feels like it's meant for the fans, that Tharg is on our side, and he listens to our requests for new and old strips alike. His opening missives in the Nerve Centre are all too often a little dull and repetitive, but occasionally it just works:
(I do apologise for the poor scanning quality here. If you click on the picture and zoom in, you should be able to read the text. Maybe)

Ah, it's been fun watching Tharg evolve over the years. And I always liked the way he had those three-handled scissors mirroring the misprint common to many a magazine cut-out coupon...
Plenty of artists have had a go at him, but presumably those who got to deliver his Nerve Centre visage were being rewarded for something.

So we've seen Tharg go from a photo to Ezquerra to Bradbury to Ewins to Hughes to Steve Cook (in the post Men in Black era?) to Boo Cook today. and probably a bunch of others I've missed. Obviously many other artists have drawn the mighty one (Gibson and Smith did a fair few strips as I recall), but not many have been called upon to depict the man up front. I guess the obvious impetus for these changes relates to the human behind the alien. The 2000 AD website helpfully lists all these incarnations, and I believe they deserve more celebrating.

As always, I need to stress that I've never met any of these fine men (and apparently only one woman, shame). I only know the comics they've produced, and the occasional comment on the internet (I saw Matt Smith and Alan Barnes on a panel at a DreddCon once). Oh, And Bish-Ops excellent and open reportage columns in the Megazine, of course. It's clear form those pieces that it's impossible to really know how much each Tharg has controlled the decisions about what to print in 2000 AD. But with that in mind, let's see who's best, eh?

Well, obviously Pat Mills, for starting the whole thing. And Kelvin Gosnell for keeping the quality high enough that the comic built up a long history. Without him 2000 AD might be just another name in a list of forgotten comics form the 70s. But the comic didn't really get amazing until Steve McManus took up tenure, and I'd say his was the most consistently thrill-powered run. So maybe he was best? Richard Burton was in charge of something of a decline, but he reached some trendy heights, and perhaps it was he who opened up the comic to a maturing audience?. McKenzie and Tomlinson didn't have long, and although their time (the 900s) isn't exactly fondly remembered, it had a charm that I enjoyed as a teen. I have a soft spot for McKenzie as being the new Pat Mills (although not quite as good, and now sadly lost to comics anyway). And then David Bishop came along, for what seemed like a very long time, managing the Megazine as well. Tireless. Surely he's the man who rescued the comic from a certain inevitable oblivion, despite the publication of certain really rather poor strips. Then Andy Diggle injected a new sense of anarchy and urgency, followed by the steady hand of Matt Smith, who has somehow managed to usher in a new age of thrill after thrill to rival the MacManus years for fun, and overtake it in sophistication. Or maybe that's just because the readership has aged a bit.

Alright, alright, I didn't exactly come out and say who is best, but then I'm not an idiot, am I? Some of those people might get wind of this blog, and I don't want to upset anybody. I will say that anyone remotely interested in the lives of Tharg should reserve a copy of the upcoming Thrill Power Overload book by the mighty Bishop. And if you can't wait until next month for that, head on over to his blog, where the man is celebrating 2000AD all this month with various extracts and opinions on his experiences and the experiences of those before him. (It begins here). The man is a dedicated journalist, and comes across as being largely in awe of the creative talent he was privileged to work with. And is modest enough to know that his own comics efforts were not 2000 AD's finest. I guess this fact is easier to swallow given that his 2000 AD novels are amongst the best.

David Bishop, of all Thargs, we salute you.


Blogger Stephen Reid said...

Great Blog!
Keep up the fantastic work. I love 2000ad!


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