Thursday, August 30, 2007

2000 ADverts

One way to tell how healthy 2000 AD is as a sales property is to see how many of its pages contain adverts. If there are lots of ads, especially for big name brands, then it means that some executive somewhere is pretty sure that the comic is being read by a lot of people who might buy their product. Before you get your coat, I'm not here today to give you a detailed analysis of which brands used 2000 AD during which time periods (my God, who would do that? Who?) Instead, I want to talk a bit about what happens when that advertising space doesn't get sold. Yes, it's time for the comic to start advertising itself. Sometimes, this seems like cheap space filler:

But sometimes, the creative droids put a lot of energy into it, and genuinely do reinvigorate a love for all things thrill-powered:
Leave it to Kevin O'Neill to dash of a page of aliens, robots, mutants and weirdness.

Of course, this internal ads are necessary sometimes, to alert the squaxx to exciting new products available NOW:
What's with Tharg's face? He's so blown away by his own Annual that he's turned into Beavis. Someone's been tinkering with Ezquerra's art, I'd say...

And then there's that perennial favourite, Tharg's round-up of thrills to come:
I love these pages, and wish we'd have them a little more often. But frankly Tharg is very open these days about new thrills, so there's probably not that much room for more, especially if he wants to keep a few surprises.

But the classic style for me is the half-page pose which takes a panel of art from next week's episode and shoves an attention-grabbing headline on top. Cheap space filler it may be, but a little hype can go a long way to increasing the excitement of your average Prog.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Wagner and Grant show

For a brief few weeks, it so happened that the entire line-up in 2000 AD was written by just one person. Well, two people who worked together on everything and shared payment based on who typed up the final script. Yes, it's John Wagner and Alan Grant, hiding behind a host of pseudonyms, from TB Grover on Dredd, to R. Clark on Anderson Psi Division. The Progs in question were 469-472 and then 475-479, the odd short future shock aside.

It's a commonly held view that these two stalwarts are the best writers to ever work on the comic, so was this period back in 1986 the best ever? Let's take a look...

First up is Judge Anderson in 'the Possessed' - my favourite of her outings. This sequence shows classic Wagner/Grant 70s movie hardness as she silently removes and arrow from her shoulder. Hard as nails, with the Ewins drawn haircut to match. And along the way, there's some fighting, some balck humour, and some idiot citizens dressed up in robes. A solid outing.

Think Anderson is tough? Well that's nothing on the bruds who populate Bad City:
Stocky dialogue, stocky art, stocky story. I don;t really know what that means, but frankly this strip was trying to hard to be hard, and ends up a bit empty for my taste. Again, we get characters who fight, cuss hard sucker, and occasionally give us a laugh in the form of violence. More 70s-ness from Wagner, Grant and Robin Smith, an art droid who I find all too perfunctory. The man can draw, but he doesn't bring out the sheer bravado of an Ezquerra, or the exciting flourishes of Belardinelli or Gibson.

Look, here's Dredd breaking up a stoning in his own inimitable style. Jesus was never this entertaining. The Dredds of this time were mostly one and two parters, with art chores mastered by the likes of Cam Kennedy, Ian Gibson, and John Higgins. Most of the stories were about citizens, perps and general MC1 craziness, and less about Dredd and the Judge system. Which suits me fine, and allows for, you've guessed it, piles and piles of black humour, with a bit of hardness thrown in.

Ostensible humour strip Ace Trucking Co is actually funny, but really no more so than the rest of the comic; Wagner and Grant just can't help themselves. The only thing marking this one out as overt comedy is the plot, which is pure silliness. Less hardness in this strip, although GBH provides a bit of that. Rather, we get the caustic wit of Feek the Freek (who comes across as just a little bit of a racist stereotype these days...), and a bunch of chickens.

Rounding up the stories is Strontium Dog, in the middle of one of the longest runs the character had in the comic, stretching from Progs 419 to 606 with nary a pause for breath between stories. To some this might have felt interminable, but just at this precise moment the tension is riding high, as Johnny must deal with the death of partner Wulf. Wagner, Grant and Ezquerra show grief as they are wont to do, with more than a pinch of hardness:
In the ensuing stories, the focus is on Johnny's anger and general disdain for everyone he meets, but of course there are lashings of humour, and even a billion dollar kiss. Rage is one of the great stories to run in 2000 AD, but in many ways it's diluted by appearing alongside so much Wagner and Grant-ery that it's all a bit samey.

Let's be honest, these two writers know what they're doing, and they know how to write for 2000 AD. Each of these strips has a distinct voice, but maybe it's too much?

Of course, Tharg would never let just one writing team do the whole comic (would he?), so there's an antidote on the back page of each of these progs. You couldn't get less Wagner and Grant than Sooner or Later. A comic treatise on unemployment and politics - or maybe pretentious tripe - most likely both, from the minds of Milligan McCarthy and Riot. I kinda like the idea of it, although I rarely enjoy any individual episode. Lot's of cheap puns, so that's always good, I guess

I have no major point to make. I'll leave the last word

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pat Mills - more scans, more opinions

Over on the 2000 AD online website there's a small debate about the genius or otherwise of Pat Mills, in particular whether his new stuff is as good as his old stuff. I've posted here before about why I think Mills is a genius, but with a few more back progs under my belt, let's add a bit more fat to the fire, eh? Although to be honest, I think a lot it can be summed up by the fact that when looking through back Progs to find classic 2000 AD pictures, moments and dialogue, Mills has an extremely high rate of delivery. See above for an example!

Of course, Mills isn't just about throwing out crazy ideas. There's also the odd bit of politics. Check out this incarnation of Torquemada (from 1989, I believe), dressed up as a neo-nazi, but looking remarkably like one Tony Blair...

In that particular book of Nemesis (IX), Torquemada, Nemesis and Purity all end up in England just slightly in the future. Torquemada rises quickly through the ranks of police chief to politiian, while Nemesis hangs out in goth clubs. The art by Hicklenton was fun but often confusing, what with all the girls looking very similar, and the sense of the story made harder to unpick with there being at least two incarnations of Torquemada around - or at least, I think there were two. Anyway, there's some violence, some student drama, and generally everyone is lambasted by Mills except Purity Brown, who is all moral-high-ground after finding out that Nemesis is evil.

It's no secret that Mills is all about the women. Which is to say, he supports the idea that women should be / actually are in charge; men just think it's the other way around. Or something like that. Maybe he doesn't think that at all, he just thinks it's an interesting hook for some of his stories to explore. Who knows?

Of course, a more casual browsing of many Mills stories will reveal a penchant for manly men. The likes of Slaine, Finn, Savage and Defoe are the sort who will get wade into a fight first and ask questions later. Actually, none of these characters are that interested in asking questions - that's women's work. They won;t even lift a finger to help unless they can see some immediate gain in it. I love this sequence from Dungeons & Dragons era Slaine, in which he ends up saving the day, but only because it happens to suit his frame of mind...

Slaine and Finn have certain features in common, but I for one am sad that Finn was apparently put aside in favour of Slaine. They could have both kept going, couldn't they? I guess the surface similarities were too off-putting. Namely, both characters are essentially stupid manly men, who charge into battle at the behest of a (the?) goddess. But beyond that it's quite different, isn't it? Slaine stories sometimes have a sense of being a bit anti-progress and anti-civilisation. Finn on the other hand is firmly rooted in civilisation, and seems to be more concerned with being anti-corporate. Also, just because of the modern-day setting, Finn has the freedom to pick on different targets than Slaine, such as this brief exchange:

Mills writes a sensitive hero, too, looking to the likes of the ABC Warriors, MACH One and Greysuit, although of course the violence is never far away; it's just accompanied by questions and the odd shedding of tears.

The other great thing about certain Mills heroes, be they sensitive or brutish, is just quite how stupid they are. As a rule, I like to get behind a character who can outsmart as well as outdraw his enemies (see Johnny Alpha, Judge Dredd and even Rogue Trooper for classic examples). Sure, Mills occasionally shows his heroes outwitting their foes, but just as often he'll show how brute force is often just more important than being wily. One is reminded of Flesh Book 3, in which the newly evolved 'smart' dinosaurs are no match for the slavering hordes.

The remarkable thing for me is that these buffoons can end up so likeable and readable. In real life, I wouldn't want to be in the company of any Mills creation, except perhaps MACH One, mostly because they'd beat me up just for being a bit of a wimp. But I can still get behind them, or at least be fascinated by them, in the stories Mills tells. Weird. Here's Finn, being the kind of man I absolutely hate in the real world, but somehow comes across as deeply enviable in this small comedy sequence. Wish fulfillment?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Jigsaw Comics 9: a plague of lies