2000AD was launched in February 1977, so the decision to produce a related annual that year must have been made fairly early. (Annuals appear in the shops in late August and are assembled months before that.) Thirty years on, 2000AD endures, published every week, and has gained a loyal fanbase. The traditional 2000AD annual has been replaced by a now-traditional 100 page Christmas triple issue, but its content - a varied mix of strips and features, - remains constant.
As 2000AD was a young comic 30 years ago, the first 2000AD Annual was a little more traditional than subsequent books would be. The cover, by Gerry Woods, looked like a generic Fleetway annual and its 128 pages featured content fairly similar to traditional IPC boys' adventure annuals. However, the 2000AD style wasn't easy to subdue, and the comics distinctive artists still managed to make an impact.
Only a few of the weekly's artists made it into this first annual. Whether this was because the rates were lower or because they simply weren't asked is unknown, but it was common for IPC annuals to feature artists not normally associated with the weekly versions. However, the book kicked off in good style with a full colour 10 page Dan Dare strip drawn by regular artist Massimo Belardinelli. This new version of Dare was unpopular with the purists but Belardinelli's skill at illustrating alien creatures made him a natural for this modern interpretation.
Belardinelli was also the artist on a one-off sf story The Dream Machine which also ran to 10 pages. Unfortunately in those days IPC had a tendency to use spot colour on some strips, usually red or blue, but Dream Machine was coloured with a garish orange.
The orange spot colour was also used on one of the two Judge Dredd stories within the book. Both drawn by Mike McMahon, one of the regular Dredd artists from the weekly, the second story (in black and white) was a sequel to the Judge Dredd strip from issue two, featuring the criminal Whitey Logan.
Kevin O'Neill, then working on the staff of 2000AD, supplied the three page short story Hunted for the annual. I've always enjoyed Kev's distinctive style (even right back to a couple of gags he drew for Cor!!) and this must have been one of his first strips for 2000AD. Kev's style has always evolved and matured and Hunted looks completely different to today's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. However even this early work shows Kev's ability to create grotesque aliens, - and drawing the animal-like hind legs of the hero would have been good practice for his later design for Nemesis the Warlock.
No credit boxes appeared on the strips back in those days, (I think Kev was the instigator of that later) but Kev and Keith Page managed to sneak in their signatures on their pages. The other strips carried no identification but John Richardson's style is evident on one of the M.A.C.H. 1 stories.
Nestled between strips such as a ghosted Harlem Heroes story and White Fury (a prequel to Shako the killer polar bear from the weekly) were the usual IPC features that always padded out the annuals. In this case it was an article on the Space Shuttle and a page about space theme stamps. (IPC seemed obsessed with the notion that their readers were stamp collectors as their boys' weeklies always featured adverts for stamps.)
No work by Dave Gibbons, Carlos Ezquerra or Brian Bolland featured in the book but overall, the 2000AD Annual 1978 was a close representation of the weekly at that time. It still seemed more creative and energetic than the other IPC annuals of that year, and Belardinelli's aliens probably gave a few kids nightmares on Christmas Day. But I bet they were back for more the following week, buying the next issue of the comic.