Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD Review
In 2007 the BBC made a short documentary series called Comics Britannia. It charted the rise of comics in the UK, but by the end had only included a cursory and thin reference to 2000AD. This undervalued the extraordinary influence the science fiction anthology comic has had since launching in 1977. Future Shock: The Story of 2000AD puts that right with a collection of interviews with some of the most famous contributors. And no punches are pulled! The history of the comic is fractious and clearly some of the bruises are still visible.
Those interviews are so fascinating director Paul Goodwin lets them speak for themselves. No host, no collaboration. So far as typical documentaries go, this is no Amy with clever editing or rare footage. Rare footage? It’s a comic! Despite the subjects being great company with brilliant anecdotes punctuated with some fruity language, they are just interviews. They are all singular too. Maybe they could have tried a round-table style with them bouncing off one another, but considering some of the history, they probably would have ended up bouncing off one another.
Paul offsets the potential monotony of endless talking heads in a couple of ways; first, interspersing them with clever short animations. Black and white original frames of iconic moments from the comic, accompanied by rock music and edited to create an illusion of animation. They can’t be under-sold, they’re brilliantly done and really capture the aggressive, in-your-face nature of the comic. And secondly, the interviews flow together creating a loose, snappy narrative. Works really well. For instance, writer Pat Mills has a few choice words to say about one of the editors, David Bishop. Cut to David reminiscing about the same period, etc. In general the editors' contributions are as brilliant as the creators’, for instance David talking about having to meticulously edit Simon Bisley’s work to ensure the phrase “bum bandit” was removed.
Ah, but Pat Mills. What an utter lunatic! He’s the star of the documentary, full of energy and hard to bottle. Mills’ anger is his inspiration and motivation. If you’re not aware of him he created some of the original iconic strips; Slaine, ABC Warriors, Nemesis the Warlock. They’re all rather blunt and full of anger. The comic and it’s predecessor Action was a thinly veiled platform for anti-establishment rhetoric and Pat was the most enthusiastic. He’s still a regular contributor to the comic and the years haven’t dulled his voice. He’s full of stories and clearly relishes the opportunity to let loose with a few home truths. Goodwin was at a screening of the film recently and said they had hours of footage of Pat. In retrospect Paul does well to make it about other people!
There are a wide range of contributors. Or “Droids” as they are known in the comic (but apparently they detest 2000ad’s alien editor, Tharg! That made me sad). You have the original old guard like the devious John Wagner (Judge Dredd), artist Carlos Ezquerra (also Judge Dredd, Spanish and hilariously needing sub-titles!) and Alan Grant, Kevin O’Neill and more. Then there was the next generation including Grant Morrison -who has had massive success in the states- through to the likes of Rob Williams. Rob is a superb writer taking 2000ad into something that must have been unimaginable back in the 70s. Well, hence the name… there was much discussion in the late nineties about what the comic would be called.
The fantastic thing about the interviews is the dry ironic humour of their strips comes straight out of their mouths. Some of the older guys come across like aging rock or punk stars who just don't give a damn (Brian Bolland comments that it was a comic for boys, made by boys). Enthusiasm for the friendly competitive old days is clear. Dangerous, risk taking and provocative, with now classic serious artists and writers. The audience were thirsty for it (Pat comments that the comic succeeded by treating the readers as equal and didn't sugar-coat anything).
There are also some great contributions from famous fans. Their affection for the comic is genuine, Neil Gaiman especially. He has a great Alan Moore anecdote, bitter-sweet and moving, regarding the famously unfinished genius of Halo Jones which goes some way to fill the gap by not having the actual Alan Moore tell it. Moore started in 2000ad writing Future Shock’s (short stories with a twist from which the film takes its name). It’s no surprise though that Paul hasn't included him as Moore is rarely seen in public these days. And this anecdote helps demonstrate the blessing and curse of 2000ad; revolutionary writing, spoilt by strange policies that meant the creators lost all rights to their work. Hence no completed Halo Jones, which Moore would have done prior to the iconic Watchmen.
The documentary also accounts for the springboard effect 2000ad had for their Droids getting success in the United States and using it as a nursery slope. They make a case for crediting 2000ad for a relatively recent shift in tone in American comics. We’re all drowning in Marvel and DC characters at the moment, but arguably their recent popularity is down to 2000ad writers and artists giving the Americans a kick up the back-side (mainly via the Vertigo label, DCs weird cousin). I love the cleanliness of Marvel and DC, but there's more soul and bite in 2000ad. And it’s no museum piece. It’s probably at its best right now so Future Shock is perfectly timed.
Simply put, no 2000ad, no Preacher. Seems like a stretch, but Future Shock makes a good case. Classic US comics tend to pander to the audience and even the darkness is softly delivered. But nothing is soft about 2000ad, a comic that revelled in horror, and the fact their characters haven’t broken into film/TV properly is criminal. Though the reasons behind that are explored too, as well as virtually proving the influence is there anyway (Robocop was Judge Dredd, guaranteed). Maybe too late to get in, but there’s no mention of Mad Max: Fury Road; some of the production design was by Brett Ewins who also cut his teeth in the comic.
I’ve been a long-time reader of 2000ad. Ironic I should have started in the 90s, when it almost went to the wall, but I knew no different then and stuck with it. If any credit at all must be paid to the horrific 90s Judge Dredd movie with Stallone, it is that the renewed interest rescued the comic and forced everyone to refocus. It was a desperate period, the strips were shallow and directionless. Future Shock charts how they pulled themselves back with help from new publishers and set an optimistic tone for the future.
As a fan of the comic for so long, I learnt little, but it’s hugely entertaining, nostalgic and affirms why 2000ad is still brilliant. Just the opportunity to put faces to names is great too, though it makes you wonder, why are so many of the Droids Scottish? Clearly the Scots were attempting some kind of coup at the end of the 70s and tried to mount it via a kids comic. Whatever, I’m very glad they did.
But what if you have no idea what 2000ad even is? Or perhaps you don’t even like comics (well done if you’re still reading then!). Future Shock is also a fascinating look at Britain at the beginning of the Thatcherite era. 2000ad’s importance cannot be exaggerated. Vital, as one of the contributors put it. Splundig vur Thrigg!
Future Shock! The Story of 2000 AD available on VOD & DVD now.