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I just got in from my last day tutoring (I managed to find four willing victimsstudents this year) as all of my pupils have their exam tomorrow. It’s been a lot of hard work with four very different individuals requiring some extra assistance to get the best out of themselves. But I’ve enjoyed it. Some days it’s been 6 hours, sometimes a couple of hours in an evening, but I find these sessions often help me as a teacher, realising that I need different materials and techniques for the same topics.

And then they go and get me nice things to say “thank you” before they’ve even sat the exam let alone got their results…

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Ah, memories. I used to get tons of comics and annuals when I was a kid. Although I’ve stuck with 2000AD, I used to get a load of the more “child friendly” ones in the runup – Whizzer & Chips, Whoopee, Nutty, Buster and all that stuff. A year or two ago, Rebellion Publishing (who now own 2000AD et al) managed to purchase the rights to a lot of these titles, as well as a huge library of material.

So as well as reprinting some classic strips from creators such as the incredible Leo Baxendale, they also have carte blanche to create new strips using the old characters, bringing them up to date a little. This is their first effort, a bumper issue headlined “COR!! BUSTER” but featuring characters from perhaps eight or nine different comics. I was sold by a couple of things – the faithfulness to the original characters and, in some cases, artists; and the little pop culture references. There’s one in particular on the final page of the Kid Kong story that had me giving a genuine guffaw followed by a chortle.

Happy Birthday, 2000AD

Cover of the first issue of 2000 AD, 26 Februa...
Cover of the first issue of 2000 AD, 26 February 1977. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those who aren’t aware, 2000AD is a weekly sci-fi comic produced in the UK. Originally, I think, under the ownership of Fleetway – one of the biggest comic companies going in their day – it was more recently bought by Rebellion who have done an incredible job of raising its profile and ensuring that the publication will be around for many years to come.

Thirty seven. That means it was first published in 1977, the same year as Starburst magazine‘s first incarnation and some film called Star Wars. Indeed, 2000AD was released to jump on the sci-fi bandwagon created by George Lucas’ blockbuster. Such was the way back then – quick release, short run, then pinch the more popular characters to put them into your flagship title.

Only 2000AD surpassed all expectation and became a flagship title. Starlord was published to run alongside it as its peak, lasted a few months and a couple of still-familiar faces (including Strontium Dog) joined the ranks of 2000AD. Hell, even the mighty Dan Dare graced the pages of 2000AD for some time, in between incarnations of The Eagle.

But when did I start reading it? Given that I wasn’t even four years of age when the first issue came out, I’ve obviously not been reading it since day 1 – although I have managed to go back and fill in all the gaps with the help of pretty much all of my Christmas money one year.

I started reading in the early 80’s. I would have been 10-11 years old and to this day I cannot recall why I started reading. Therefore I’m blaming Tharg the Mighty and some kind of mind control device. I just remember going to the newsagent’s where I worked (Sunday deliveries) and asking them to hold it for me every week. I don’t even know if I’d read it before then. Maybe an annual or something.

Prog 446

What I do remember are little moments around then. One in particular was walking to school with my new issue. It was a sunny day, because I was with a friend and leafing through the pages. The cover depicted Messerschmitts attacking Mega City 1 after flying through some kind of hole in time. After a quick Google, I’ve found this to be prog 446 from November 1985. Not my first issue, but one I remember for some reason.

Then there was the short-lived Diceman series which jumped onto the “Fighting Fantasy” bandwagon. Comic-quality storylines involving choosing your own path, sometimes with combat based on rolling dice. Brilliant.

Judge Dredd got his own fortnightly title in 1990 (the “Megazine”) which, though now monthly, is also still going strong. He was played by Stallone in a risible film in the 90’s and again, far better, in last year’s “Dredd” – but was one of the key influences on the original RoboCop. Dredd has battled aliens from Mars, Batman, the Joker, Lobo, Aliens and a Predator or two. He’s also featured in at least two computer games, a role playing game and a desktop wargame. Then there’s his musical influence (the band Mega City 4 and Anthrax’ “I Am The Law” to name but two).

Rogue Trooper has ended up as a computer game and a desktop game, Strontium Dog ended up in development hell as an idea for an ongoing TV show.

But it’s not just the characters. A huge number of writers and artists making their way in US comics cut their teeth in the pages of 2000AD. It’s a testing ground, and still a risk-taker – something that the “big two” in American comics can’t afford. They’ve tried stuff that’s fallen utterly flat… but, hey, it’s an anthology comic so there are always other stories in the issue to back it up.

For a single title to last this long is staggering. To maintain ongoing quality and to be making a bigger imprint on other media now than it ever has is incredible.

I’m the proud owner of a (near) complete collection of the weekly comics, annuals, spin-offs and so on. The amount of merchandise these days is a little out of my budget, but I did get a fantastic Dredd-themed cake for my birthday and treated myself to a similar tattoo last year. I can’t wait until our son is a bit older so we can start going through all these old comics that dad keeps in the loft and share the excitement I had reading them for the first time.

So happy birthday, 2000AD. Thirty seven years old and in far better shape than I am at forty. Long may you reign!

For those who think I only complain

2000 AD logo.

Well, I’m going to complain about the fact that you think I only complain. I’m going to do so by also spreading a little credit where it’s due.

Sad fact first: I’m 37 (that’s not the sad fact, though it’s pretty depressing) and I still read comics (that’s the sad one). Specifically the British anthology 2000 AD. It pops through my door every week (as does the Judge Dredd Megazine each month) and I own every single issue bar about a dozen of them. Not bad for a comic that will celebrate its 34th birthday next month. The current issue is number 1717.

Anyway, here’s the email I just wrote to the letters page. I just wanted to make sure that, even if it doesn’t get published, the creative team behind this issue’s Judge Dredd story get the credit they deserve.

I’ve not written in for several years, but prog 1717’s one-shot Dredd story “In Control” deserves an email. I’ not going to analyse it in-depth or waffle on. Suffice to say that I frequently enjoy the single episode stories more than the lengthier arcs, but “In Control” was one of the finest I’ve seen in a long time.

The Carroll droid (as well as having a most excellent surname – any relation to Newcastle United‘s number 9?) has produced something fast-paced, humorous and from a viewpoint which I don’t believe has dominated a Dredd story before. Fraser/Caldwell’s artwork fitted perfectly – I always like the wobbly miniature characters in Fraser’s crowd scenes – and Parkhouse is a superb crafts-droid when it comes to lettering.

It always makes this Earthling feel warm and fuzzy inside when the Galaxy’s Greatest manages to pull off something like this. After over 1700 issues, a story that still makes me go “wow”.

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