Thursday, February 16, 2017

It's 2000AD's 40th anniversary!

2000AD celebrated 40 years of publishing with a convention in London last weekend, and from all accounts it was a fantastic day that gave readers an opportunity to meet contributors past and present. 

The actual anniversary of the comic is this weekend as Prog 1 hit the shops on Saturday February 19th 1977 (with the official launch day being Monday 21st February - see the ad below). Back in those days, comics carried the cover date of the following Saturday, misleading some modern fans to think it was actually published on 26th February. (In fact that's the day 2000AD Prog 2 came out.)

It's an impressive achievement that 2000AD is still being published, making it the most successful British adventure comic since Commando was launched in 1961. A special anniversary edition will appear next Wednesday, February 22nd, alongside the regular weekly issue.

2000AD was launched back in the days when new comics were always backed with TV advertising and heavily promoted in other comics from the same publisher. Here's a four page advert that appeared in Battle Picture Weekly the week before the launch...

Although 21st Feb was the official publication date it actually came out on the 19th.

This ad is the very first appearance in print of Judge Dredd!

I can remember buying the first issue (which I still have, now lacking its free plastic frisbee) and noticing how different 2000AD was compared to existing UK adventure weeklies such as Victor or Tiger. To be honest it took me a couple of weeks to get used to it, because I initially thought the splash pages and longer stories were too derivative of American comics. Admittedly at 17 (as I was in early 1977) I was going through an "I'm too old for British comics" phase so I wasn't exactly its intended readership. However by the second issue I was well and truly hooked and realised that this was something more distinctive than any other comics of the period, and that it could appeal to all ages. 

It was evident to me even then that the people behind the new venture understood that comics had to change to survive. (As Pat Mills, the creator of 2000AD has since verified.) Indeed, 2000AD had replaced Valiant on the schedules, which had folded a few months earlier, proving that the old style comics, great as they had been, were no longer appealing to boys of the 1970s. Comics have always needed to keep up with the tastes and styles of each generation and 2000AD was really on the ball. 

Here's a few things in that first issue that stood out to me back then... 

Opening up that first issue 40 years ago we were greeted with a dynamic "in yer face" way of introducing the strips that served to kick off the comic with a bang, whetting our appetites for what was to follow.

Invasion was the lead strip. I instantly recognised the artwork as that of "The Steel Claw artist" as I called him (an uncredited Jesus Blasco) so that appealed to me straight away.
Flesh and its bloody violence felt like something Action would have published before it was neutered. Unsurprisingly it was written by Pat Mills, who had been Action's original editor (and was editor of 2000AD). Time travel and dinosaurs? Great stuff.
Dan Dare was given the luxury of the full colour centre-spread in those days when comics were mainly black and white. Although I hadn't been a follower of the original Dan Dare I really didn't care for this version. However, Belardinelli's artwork drew me in. I liked it even more when Dave Gibbons took over the art duties later.
Dan Dare was intended to be the main attraction of those early issues but the true star of 2000AD was promoted on the following page. "Next week, meet... Judge Dredd". A pocket illustration by Carlos Ezquerra heralding a character who would become one of the most popular in comics.
M.A.C.H.1 was the strip I had a problem with. The character looked and dressed like Steve Austin from TV's Six Million Dollar Man and the strip was obviously inspired by the show. It felt somewhat derivative but as time went on M.A.C.H.1 put its own spin on things and developed in a far more interesting direction than any Bionic Man episodes.
Sports strips? Not for me usually, but Harlem Heroes was worth a look. Solid, enjoyable artwork by Dave Gibbons and, again, a story that soon developed in an interesting direction.
The one thing that 2000AD had more than any of its companions or rivals at that time was IMPACT! The strips were presented in a bold, exciting way, free from the quieter, formal layouts of Tiger and suchlike. Admittedly, DC Thomson's Warlord had done this first, and Battle was using this method too, but 2000AD did it better in my opinion, and the dark humour that became part of the comic was another bonus.

Although I still buy 2000AD every week I do miss the raucous style of those early issues, but we have to accept that time moves on. (Otherwise we'd all still be reading Comic Cuts by candlelight.) The original dynamic logo of 2000AD is still my favourite but it's probably not sophisticated enough for today's readers. Indeed, the loud, punky tone of those 1977 issues is perhaps too immature for the older demographic the comic is pitched at now. 

Photograph © Lew Stringer
2000AD still features work by some of the top talents in the comics industry giving us 32 pages of all-new Thrill-Power every Wednesday. The fact that it's survived when all the other weekly adventure comics have long shuffled off to that papershop in the sky proves that evolving its look and approach was the right thing to do.

Anyway, if you're not already a regular reader, treat yourself to 2000AD this coming Wednesday. I'll show some preview pages from the next issue this weekend.


Here's the TV ad for 2000AD Prog 1 that ran on television 40 years ago:


(If the YouTube video hasn't embedded properly on you device you can find it here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYBN2joXUoo )

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(This is an updated and revised version of a couple of posts from several years ago. All artwork scanned from my collection and Copyright ©Rebellion.)



As I mentioned at the top of this post, there was a 40th anniversary event for 2000AD in London last weekend. I wasn't there myself but from all accounts it was a great success enjoyed by all. John Freeman's Down the Tubes blog has some excellent reviews and photos from the day, which you can see here:
http://downthetubes.net/?p=36680

8 comments:

John Parker said...

Superb, Lew. I came into 2000AD a bit late as I was buying Marvel and DC only at the time. Fortunately, I was able to buy an almost complete collection of the first 100 or so a few years later at a church fair. I think it's heyday for me was between 1979 and 1984 (roughly).

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, they were definitely good years for the comic. Wish I still had those! Have probs 1 to 198 but another box up to Prog 400 went missing years ago. Think I accidentally sold it to a dealer when he came to pick up loads of other boxes. Ah well. I'd probably never get around to re-reading them.

Paul McScotty Muir said...

I vividly recall picking up the first issue of "2000AD" (first 4 actually)in my (then) local newsagents and thinking what a lot of rubbish, this will last for 6 months and merge with the "Valiant" and that will be that. One of the many reason I do not review comics :)

Lew Stringer said...

Even IPC management expected it to fail, Paul, but thankfully it had good editors and contributors that inspired a solid readership. Under lesser hands it could easily have been another Jet or Thunder.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong with Thunder and Jet. Too bad today's comics aren't more like those with rip roaring adventure and the like.

Lew Stringer said...

You seem to be overlooking the fact that Thunder and Jet were complete failures even back in the 1970s. They lasted for 22 weeks. Hardly a template for any modern comic to imitate.

Admittedly they had few good strips between them; Von Hoffman, Black Max, Adam Eterno, but overall Thunder and Jet were not popular comics and it was time for the grittier approach of comics such as Battle and 2000AD.

Anonymous said...

You forgot Faceache!!

Lew Stringer said...

We were talking about adventure strips but, yes, Faceache was the best thing to come out of Jet.

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