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Last Updated: Monday, 26 February 2007, 11:33 GMT
30 years of the future
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

(All images copyright 2007 Rebellion A/S. www.2000adonline.com)

It was once for children, now it's much loved by adults but the authors of legendary British comic 2000AD are shocked how many of their predictions have come to pass.

Imagine a society where cities blend into each other to form massive conurbations. Imagine a society where obesity is rife, mass unemployment is a fact of life and downtrodden citizens will do anything to become rich or famous.

Imagine a society in the grip of such chaos and crime that it is necessary to give law enforcers the power to punish offenders on the spot without a trial and where everyone is constantly surveyed by video cameras.

Like so much of science fiction, the comic 2000AD, celebrating its 30th birthday, has to cope with its "predictions" coming to pass rather more quickly than expected.

The comic's most famous character, the unblinking dispenser of justice, Judge Dredd, has become a byword for excessive authoritarian powers.


It's the column and headline writers' first port of call in this time of concern over both anti-social behaviour, and the powers used to combat it.

As Britain has toyed with the idea of giving police officers more and more authority, the papers have talked of "an army of Judge Dredds" and "Judge Dredd powers".

It might only be on-the-spot fines for vandals and burglars being suggested now, but the newspapers seem to think it's a slippery slope to Mega City One, the massive urban nightmare that provides the backdrop to Judge Dredd.

2000AD enjoyed its debut in 1977 after IPC sub-editor Kelvin Gosnell suggested the magazine's publisher needed a science fiction comic to take advantage of the space mania likely to be prompted by the release of Star Wars.

Complex character

The comic was to follow on from the boys' titles Battle Picture Weekly and the controversially-violent Action. It was firmly aimed at children, but from the debut of the John Wagner-created Judge Dredd in the second issue, it was soon parodying the politics of the time.

Pat Mills, co-founder of the comic and the writer of many of the early Judge Dredds, says staff were used to writing on two levels.

Slaine (All images copyright 2007 Rebellion A/S. www.2000adonline.com)
Celtic hero Slaine marked a departure from future-gazing
"As newspapers become more like comics so comics become more like newspapers.

"There are no happy glossy futures in 2000AD. If you look on the back of the very first Judge Dredd prog [issue] there is a wonderful view of Mega City One and there are all these spy cameras everywhere. It shows in some area the present has caught up with it."

Alan Grant, a long-term writer for both Judge Dredd and Batman, said that the comic was shaped by the cauldron of politics in Thatcherite Britain.

"Many of the stories we wrote were taken from the headlines of the newspapers. We just put a futuristic spin on them.

"There were genuine social problems, particularly from the Thatcher days. It was obvious to us that Britain and the whole world was turning into a right-wing society.

Rampant crime

"We were trying to have a laugh rather than make people shiver. I sometimes feel guilty about presenting fascism as entertainment."

Judge Dredd, for those who have never come across the helmeted lawman, was empowered to act both as police officer, jury and judge in a city where crime was rampant.

Halo Jones (All images copyright 2007 Rebellion A/S. www.2000adonline.com)
Halo Jones was conceived to appeal to female readers
Elsewhere in 2000AD the eternal issue of immigration provided the basis for another dystopian fantasy.

Mills created Nemesis the Warlock, along with the artist Kevin O'Neill, an alien "freedom fighter" on a future earth where humans live underground and blame aliens for the ruination of the surface.

The strip was a satire of both religious fundamentalism and ethnic cleansing. In it, the planet's dictator, Torquemada, a descendant of the Spanish Inquisition, gleefully leads a genocidal crusade against anything non-human.

Mills explains: "The central premise is that if human beings ever did colonise other worlds they would probably be regarded as monsters.

"The evidence of this is the effect of western European colonisation on the rest of the world. All I was doing was to translate that into space."

Futurology

The writer was amused when Torquemada's slogan "be pure, be vigilant, behave" was daubed on the Berlin Wall in the 1980s.

But while Torquemada is a good old-fashioned villain, Judge Dredd is a complex character for liberals to deal with.

Comics historian Paul Gravett, co-author of Great British Comics, notes: "He is a huge bully. But there are readers who quite like the idea.

2000 AD FACTS
First published in 1977
Cost 8p, now costs 1.75
Judge Dredd has teamed up with Batman on four occasions

"We show in my book a picture of a modern day policeman - they look just like Judge Dredd. In many ways we are living in Mega City One."

And the exploration of possible economic systems of the future provides a rich vein for 2000AD's writers.

Grant says futurology of the 1950s and 1960s, where writers predicted a world of leisure as machines took over most of the work, provided a jumping-off point for many of the strips.

'Great literary works'

But instead of a world where everyone leads a constructive life in the absence of work, the mass unemployment in some of 2000AD's strips is utterly corrosive.

In one of the comic's few strips aimed at girls, the Ballad of Halo Jones, the central character starts the story in "the Hoop" a massive floating ghetto for the unemployed, known as "increased-leisure citizens", tethered off Manhattan.

2000AD also had time to tackle themes such as cloning and genetic engineering, in Rogue Trooper, where a modified soldier fights in an endless war on a barren planet.

And Invasion told the story of a guerrilla war against foreign invaders looking to capture oil resources. But the country was Britain and the invaders were the rather Russian-esque Volgans.

It is easy to suggest the heyday of British comics is over, with 2000AD's sales down to 20,000 from their high of 100,000 a week in the 1980s.

"The comics market, sadly, is dying because the Playstation has taken over and comics can't compete," long-term artist Ian Gibson muses.

"Most comics I have come across haven't realised that they have lost the battle. They haven't changed their format. They need to tell stories. They are not producing great literary works and I don't see why they shouldn't try. The Playstation will never tell stories."


Send in your comments using the form below.

There were so many poignant tales in that comic. Ace trucking co. and rogue trooper were among my favourites. The worst thing they did was to let Sylvester Stallone play Judge Dredd. He totally misunderstood the role. It was painful and gave it such a bad name. Marvel exercised far more editorial control of their films and now they are huge. But 2000AD always had the quality on print. Incidentally Judge Dredd was named after a few Prince Buster songs about a judge who would sentance 'Rude Boys' to 400 years.
Athos Athanasiou, London

Excellent article but Ian Gibson's comments are a load of rubbish, there are plenty of 'Playstation' games which tell intricate and interesting stories. I'd also suggest that 2000AD have done quite well out of video game versions of their characters and stories.
Rob Sykes, Tipton

"The comics market, sadly, is dying because the Playstation has taken over and comics can't compete," says long-term artist Ian Gibson. That's one of the LAZIEST arguments given for the decline in readership of graphic fiction trotted out today.
PyD

As Dredd would say, "Drokk"! I remember the first thing I bought with my pocket money each week was 2000AD, my favourite story being Judge Dredd. Looking back it was quite a complex and adult character for kids to read about., although a toned down version of Pat Mills other excellant character "Marshall Law".
Judge Clement, Newport (MegaCity Cymru) South Wales

I loved 2000AD, and have done since I saw my first issue. It's just amazing dark and twisted, with the most fascinating stories, and complex character. btw, girls didn't JUST read Halo Jones - my favourites were Judge Dredd, the Torquemada story (the artwork gave me nightmares - still does) and the wonderful Rogue Trooper (you should have tied him in with troops in Iraq).
Michelle, London

Circulation figures may be down, but I think this i just a symptom of ideas / stories etc moving from one platofrm to another. If you look at Games such as Gears Of War, the 2000AD style artwork and storylines draw the player in like 2000ad used to do for me in the 80's. I'm not suggesting that the comic will ever die.. or that a game can raise deep political questions (yet) but it seems as though there are many concepts and styles shared between the two formats and that can only ba a good thing.
Nick Smith, London

I've read 2000AD since 1977 and it is scarily pressient, as your item suggests. Its always entertained me, whilst making me think. Good to see a nod to the classic Nemesis stories, that I've always seen as a warning about the less savoury Human traits. The current Dredd story line (Origins) is a classic in the making and seems a bit close too home, when you look at what has happened over the last 10 years.
Chief Judge Bennett, Rad lands of East Anglia (Colchester)

2000AD was ace! Writers such as Grant Morrison with Zenith opened up a whole new world to me. As for future predictions - what about Pat Mills 2000AD spin off - Crisis? A country ruled by an authoritarian government where global warming was a reality!
Nic J, East Yorkshire

God I loved 2000AD. I still have some of the earliest editions somewhere up in my attic 30 years later. There were so many great stories and characters but it was the artwork that blew me away everytime. Extraordinary. Someone needs to remake Dredd properly. Stallone was completely miscast. Great memories.
Rich, Ireland

I've been a happy reader of 2000AD for around two decades. The great thing about the comic is that it has grown up and changed to suit its maturing audience (it can't be a coincidence that its worst period coincided with the average readers being in their late teens), and I wouldn't have it any other way. As far as I'm concerned, this last two years has seen the comic on pretty much an all-time high. However, it's a great shame that nobody is prepared to launch a simialr title aimed at today's children. I couldn't honestly recommend 2000AD for the under-tens these days - too much violence and nudity. There's a gap in the market, and defeatist remarks about kids only wanting their Playstations won't help fill it. The success of Doctor Who has demonstrated that children aren't quite as obssessed with games and the internet as their painted, and it's to be hoped that a visionary will launch something as big as 2000AD into the currently near-empty marketplace.
James Mackay, Oroklini, Cyprus

Picking up on Ian Gibson's closing statement to the article perhaps the comics should consider weekly publications to the Playstation using CD as a format rather than paper ?
Matt Brown, Broughton, UK

2000AD was and still is a great comic. It's a crying shame that it's probably going to die. It's imagination and originality was incredible - and in many ways (pardon the pun) way ahead of it's time. We could probably learn a lot from it's visions of the future - like the vision of 1984, that was in reality only wrong by about 12 years.
Dave, Kidderminster

2000AD has had a canny knack of future spotting. One Judge Dredd story concerned the 'organ leggers' - criminals that stole or 'acquired' body parts for sale - we are pretty much seeing that reality today. Great comic, John Wagner and co. should all be knighted.
Alan Maine, London, UK

I collected all the first 100 issues when I was a lad. They'd be worth a fortune now, but my Mum binned them in a spring clean one year. Aaaargh ! I remember some great stories: Strontium Dog, Tharg's Future Shocks. They had some Dan Dare & The Mekon for a while. My favourite was M.A.C.H.1. which was based on the 6 Million Dollar Man. Ah the nostalgia !
James Clancy, London

2000 AD sometimes has dealt with adult themes with surprising subtlety. If you'd like stunningly accurate and well-informed comment & prediction, try and get hold of 2000AD's political offshoot CRISIS which ran for several years in the late 80's, but which is just as relevant today. The first two headlining strips, New Statesmen and Third World War, simply could not be bettered as explorations of American politics, Globalisation, genetic engineering and colonialism. How did it ever get published? Not hard to explain why it's no longer still around...
Paul Watson, Blackpool, UK

Any cartoon character that inspires the US metal band, Anthrax, to record I Am The Law is OK in my book!
Richard, Kingston upon Thames, UK

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