Pat Mills had a dream last Friday night.
Of a razor-sharp Space Spinner, of the kind given away with the first issue of 2000AD, flying through space, then slicing through the heads of people. He woke wondering if there was a story there.
Pat Mills was at the 2000AD 40 Years Of Thrill Power event, held in Hammersmith today. As the creator of 2000AD, the room was packed, and he had lots to talk about, especially with the release of a new novel written with Kevin O'Neill, Read Em And Weep, that fictionalises their early writing and publishing experiences, as a series of thrillers set in the seventies.
He talked about always being driving, as having submitted his first story to the BBC when he was nine, thinking he was running out of time. But also of an era writing with John Wagner in a garden shed, to a formula that utterly bored him, for kids comics. and a time when he wrote on very long wallpaper in a typewriter, so that the act of simply changing the bore wouldn't bore him further.
He believes that the British comics industry, by not following the European market or using a model like Games Workshop, or sharing the publishing rights and revenues with the creator, has seen people having to rush their work in order to make a living – and that has restricted the growth of the medium.
And how comics for Pat were stuck in the past, as the rest of culture was changing. He talked about his favourite, in Hotspur, Big Brutus, about a man riding around villages on a big horse, getting into various adventures, which Pat thought was beautifully written, but left Pat wondering who else aside from him would read them.
Talking about his barbarian comic book Slaine, he complained that we minimise our Northern Europe heritage in favour of Roman and Greek culture. That we have the equivalent of Jason and the Argonauts in our country, but rainy, wet, cold and grey. That Celtic myths are not as structured as the Norse, they are slightly weird.
He talked about how the majority of pop culture heroes are middle class and upper class, and is incensed that we do not have enough working class heroes, but in reality, in the field, it is iinvariably working class guys who will be leading in times of danger or stress. It's often not the officer but the sergeant but the ordinary guy. He believes people are more likely to want to read about heroes you can identify and that's why Charley's War was popular. He believes there are far too many elitist heroes, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and says that the more you look at it, the darker and nastier it is. It's just that it's taken him this long to be this articulate about it.
Marshal Law was not that, he was unemployed initially, then he was a hospital orderly – but always hated superheroes.
Recently DC Comics republished Marshal Law as a collected volume and it did well enough for DC to approach them for a crossover, Marshal Law Meets Batman.
Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill created a preliminary proposal for DC that was approved, that outlined their conflict, but a change at the top saw DC Comics pull the plug but as Pat says "you can imagine what Kevin had in mind" with the story of an alternative Earth with Marshal Law killing, many different Batmen from across the dimensional realities and piling them up. Which does seem a little like recent Superman plotloines – but with the antagonist and protagonist.
Talking about Read Em And Weep, also created by Kevin O'Neill, it told us it was initially a sitcom pitched to BBC TV about a seventies kids comics publisher who hates children.
Originally pushed through by the producer of Spaced, it eventually rejected by the BBC for being too niche. And then rejected by BBC Radio 4 for being too visual. And so, then recreated as a series of thriller novels. He elaborated upon which of the events based on real life, including strips being rejected for having black leads, a rejected strip with a black boxer, being reinterpreted in the book as a black footballer. Volume one lays the foundations, and things get worse for the protagonist from volume to volume.
He did have a great deal of regret for what happened to Battle, a war comic running alongside 2000AD that found itself merged with the Action Force comics storylines based on GI Joe, and ultimately dooming the comic from the more realistic wartime stories it previously told.
He believes that the same state that caused him to create 2000AD and to create Crisis, is here again. That we are living in the future that 2000AD predicted, and how Carter and Reagan attacked by 2000AD then, seem so innocent and acceptable in the face of Donald Trump. The armageddon is no longer round the corner…
But comics can be cathartic in such times. talked about writing the comic strip Invasion, with the invasion of Great Britain by Russia (edited to the Volgans to avoid upsetting the Russian embassy) and was only convinced to do it when John Wagner said he could have Margaret Thatcher shot on the steps of St Paul Cathedral.
I do wonder what he has planned for Donald Trump…