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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Happy Birthday to 2000AD

2000AD Prog 1 was published on Saturday February 19th 1977, so today is the 35th anniversary of the comic. It's an impressive achievement that it's still being published, making it the most successful British adventure comic since Commando was launched in 1961. A special anniversary issue will appear this Wednesday, February 22nd.

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. (You can see the four page ad that heralded the launch in a blog post I did five years ago here: )

I can remember buying the first issue (that's the very copy I bought, shown above, 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, and 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 issue 2 I was hooked and realized that this was something that could appeal to all ages and that the people behind the new venture understood that comics had to change to survive. Indeed, 2000AD had replaced Valiant, proving that the old style comics, great as they had been, were no longer appealing to boys of the 1970s.

I don't have the time or the inclination to write an in-depth analysis on the comic, and it has been discussed widely over the years anyway, so I'll just show a few scenes from issue 1 that stood out for me at the time.

I felt the intro page was a bit of a "filler" back then, but it was a typical 2000AD "in yer face" way of introducing the strips and kicked off the comic with a bang.

Invasion was the lead strip. I instantly recognized 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 centrespread 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.

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 legend.

Now, 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. No matter though. As time went on M.A.C.H.1 put its own spin on things and developed towards 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 developed into 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 formula layouts of Tiger and suchlike. Admittedly, DC Thomson's Warlord had done this first, but 2000AD did it better in my opinion, and the black humour that became part of the comic was another bonus.

Although I still buy 2000AD every week I do miss the style of those early issues. That original dynamic logo is probably considered 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. A shame, because although the weekly still features work by some of the top talents in the industry I feel the comic itself has lost some of its edge along the way. But, comics can't stand still and the fact that it survives proves it can still find an audience.

Anyway, if you're not already a regular reader, treat yourself to 2000AD this coming Wednesday with a cover by none other than Mike McMahon, extra strips, and a free poster to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic!

The original 1977 TV ad for 2000AD No.1:


Robert said...

Great post. I too bought the first issue of 2000AD though was considerably younger than you were and therefore was really more into Mach 1 than anything else (Flesh seemed particularly gruesome at my age). You've done well keeping your first issue so pristine. If memory serves, I ripped the cover getting the spinner off.

alexander matthews said...

Wonderful stuff, Lew. I stopped buying 2000AD about 10 years ago when I felt it going downhill, but I kind of regret that. Might start buying it again when my favorite ever 2000AD artist Brendan McCarthy returns with The Zaucer of Zilk!

How good a film would Flesh make? And I love the consistency of Pat Mills-the Volgans are still going strong in ABC Warriors.

Andy Boal said...

I think 2000AD is a lot better now than it was ten years ago, but that's perhaps because I think John Wagner is at the very top of his game now, and Al Ewing is a fantastic member of the new writers club in particular.

Still a most remarkable anniversary, with a lot of life left in the comic.

George Shiers said...

I like the advert! I'd really like to see the one for Whizzer and Chips - anybody know where I can see it?

Lew Stringer said...

It's possible the TV ads for most of those old comics exist in some archive somewhere but I don't think the Whizzer and Chips ones are online unfortunately.

m.lawrenson said...

The thing I find interesting about 2000AD is that 30 years ago, the average age of its readers was probably 10. But now, it's probably more like 40.

I never bought it. I remember inheriting an issue from a cousin (in a large pile of old Tiger issues). Couldn't make head nor tail of it. Obviously he couldn't either, because there was only one.

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